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To Affirm and Inspire: A Preview of the 2013 Midwest Clinic

compiled by editors | December 2013

    The Midwest Clinic represents the best in music education. Top bands, orchestras, jazz ensembles, and chamber groups from all over the United States and around the world devote a substantial amount of rehearsal time preparing for their performance in Chicago. We asked a few of the directors bringing a group to the Midwest this year to share their thoughts on their upcoming trip, fond memories of past conventions, and opinions on music education in general.

Highland H.S. Symphonic Strings
Gilbert, Arizona
William Bitter and Amy Bennett, directors
    This school in the suburbs of Phoenix has witnessed staggering growth in the past 30 years. The school district has grown from one high school to six. William Bitter has taught in the district for 33 years and works closely with Amy Bennett, a former student who now teaches at the local middle school and also assists at Highland High School. The school is making its third trip to Midwest.

On returning to Midwest:
    William Bitter: It is an amazing experience, not just the performance but the entire process. This journey takes students to a level of excellence we cannot normally reach. The task of building up a 45 minute program during the semester is somewhat like a competitive marching band show – you keep adding a little bit more and it gets cleaner and better. In our normal routine we give a concert in October and another in December, with two different sets of literature. Working on a performance like Midwest raises student awareness and commitment.

Favorite pieces on this concert:
    Amy Bennett: I would have to say Eric Whitacre’s Goodnight Moon. It is so different, one of the most gorgeous things I have ever heard. It calls for a soprano soloist and ours is a graduate of the program from 1999.
    Bitter: She was a violinist in the first group that we took to the Midwest Clinic back in 1997. She majored in vocal performance at Brigham Young University and now teaches vocal and violin students. She is the perfect person to perform it with us.
    Bitter: My favorite is the Tchaikovsky Serenade, one of my top three pieces of all time for strings. To play that for the Midwest audience is really exciting.

Honoring a mentor:
    Bitter: One of our guest conductors is Phil Hatler. When I started teaching in the Gilbert School District 33 years ago, Phil was the band director at the lone high school at the time. I worked alongside him, directing the orchestra and serving as assistant band director for 12 years. He made me into the teacher I am today. Amy was a student of Phil’s and mine at Gilbert High. She graduated, went to college, and came back to work at her old school district.
    When I am came to Gilbert, the music program was much smaller and everything that has grown since then was because of Phil’s vision. He had the foresight to encourage a fledgling string program because he knew that was important. We tell our students that everything you have are a direct result of Mr. Hatler. He was music in Gilbert. As a former band director, he will be conducting National Emblem march. This is an unusual choice for an orchestra but it is perfect to honor his contributions to our program.

The seamless transition to high school:
    Bennett: I teach the junior high and high school, and one key to our success is long-term planning. As a junior high teacher you have to make students aware of where they are going to be in four or five years. That is the most important way to prepare them for high school
    Bitter: Highland Junior High is just a quarter mile away from the high school. Our numbers have just exploded. Because Amy teaches at the high school, the transition from junior high is painless. We usually have a 95% retention from 8th to 9th grade. This year it was almost 100%. We are fortunate that students look at it as a six-year activity.

McCracken M.S. Symphonic Band
Skokie, Illinois
Chip DeStefano, director
    McCracken Middle School is making its second trip to the Midwest Clinic, having previously performed in 2006. Director Chip DeStefano praises the strong support of the Skokie community for all areas of the arts. Though the group’s performance occurs on Wednesday, students will bus downtown all three days to take in various aspects of the convention.

On auditioning again:
    When we attended in 2006, the entire process was great. The band improves just through the process of submitting the application. We applied the previous two years, so this was our third application. We were thrilled to be accepted.

A soloist from the family:
    Our soloist is Jeff DeRoche, an alum who is a percussionist with the Canton Symphony Orchestra. He was a fifth grader during my first year at McCracken and will perform Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo. His dad, Don DeRoche, is the retired director of bands at DePaul University and will conduct the piece.

Some favorites on their 45-minute concert:
The audience is going to like a piece called Melodious Funk by David Biedenbender, a young making his Midwest debut with this work. It’s a great little piece with some jazz influence.

The clinic I would give at Midwest:
    I gave a clinic on tone and pitch in 2008. When I have a chance to visit and judge around the country that tends to be the area where I can help the most. If I were to give another clinic it would be about developing the culture of excellence and professionalism in the middle school band program.

My favorite Midwest sessions:
    I get so much out of the open rehearsals. You see the interaction and what outstanding directors do and don’t do to make ensembles succeed. Amanda Drinkwater’s clinic last year with her band was incredibly inspiring. I love watching master teachers when they forget that the audience is there and just dig in; I could watch that all day.

Westlake H.S. Wind Ensemble
Austin, Texas
Kerry Taylor, director
    Director Kerry Taylor took a group to the Midwest ten years ago and felt his current group was up to the task. His traveling party will include 59 students and several adult chaperones.

Working on a grade 1 piece with high school students:
    We try to focus on the compositional techniques of that specific piece. Our grade 1 composition is by Frank Ticheli, and my students are already familiar with his music. We talk about the compositional techniques he uses in his other works. I also emphasize the importance of shaping phrases and musical lines.

Benefits of Midwest:
    The exposure to a variety of new and old music early in the school produces considerable advances in their skills and ensemble playing. We look forward to seeing the Canadian Brass and Chicago Symphony. Traveling to Chicago in winter will be a nice change for all of us from Texas.

Favorite Clinics at Midwest:
I love to hear from of the old masters on selection of music, rehearsal techniques, and even unique experiences with their ensembles. I enjoy listening to the giants of the industry share their experiences.

One concern:
    Although we have finished the competitive marching season, our football team is expected to advance far in the playoffs. If they are fortunate, they would play in the state championship on the day we perform at Midwest. I try not to think about that.

Amador Valley H.S. Wind Ensemble I
Pleasanton, California
Jonathan Grantham, director
    A group of 57 students will travel to Chicago from Pleasanton, a suburb 30 miles east of San Francisco. Director Grantham has taught at the school for 12 years and has seen band enrollment grown from 130 to 300. The school recently turned 90 and has had bands for nearly the entire time.

A memorable commission:
    Julie Giroux wrote a heartachingly beautiful grade 3 work called Before the Sun for our performance. It is my favorite because it reminds me of growing up in a small, rural town. She captures the eloquence and beauty of morning and evening in a small community. She uses solo violin with a double-string Appalachian effect, and it is an excellent implementation of that color.

A double-threat soloist:
    My principal euphonium player is also a violin player in the San Francisco Youth Symphony and plans to major on violin. Band is her side gig. In conversation about our commission, Julie wanted to know if we had a hook. Having such a strong violinist in the band proved too interesting to pass up.

Why we auditioned:
    As the high school program has gotten stronger, my colleague Paul Perazzo at Harvest Park Middle School has looked at ways to improve his teaching. Both schools push each other to keep moving the bar forward. Four years ago when this year’s seniors were incoming students, I was impressed with their skills. Paul told me that the next two or three years of players were great as well. I knew if things played out as we hoped, our group might have a chance to go to Midwest.

A golden state of music:
    Few concert bands from California have participated in Midwest, so there is a real sense of pride and responsibility to represent both our community and our state. It seems like few know what is happening in California music education, other than stories about budget cuts. We want to help redefine that narrative.

My philosophy of music education:
    At its best your job is about the students; at its toughest it is also about the students. I have found that when the job gets difficult, it helps to focus on the faces in front of you. I wish I could go back ten years and remind myself of that.

* * *

The Clinics
    The Midwest Clinic also features master teachers, excellent conductors, and legends of the industry sharing their wisdoms. A few of the clinicians agreed to give us a sneak peek of their Midwest presentations.

Beginner Students: The Balance of Fun and Fundamentals
Alicia DeSoto and Chris Meredith
Wednesday, 10:30
    Maintaining student motivation throughout the first year is centered on students perceiving that they are progressing musically. Create a sequential system of short-term goals within a long-term project, such as a progression of increasingly complex rhythms, for which students can see measurable progress by receiving stickers for daily achievement. Sequential systems provide all students with a clear path to success and offer those who are doing well with the upcoming material to work on ahead of time. Set aside a few minutes daily to work with every beginner student on a sequential system.

Percussive Articulation
Adam Groh
Wednesday, 10:30
    College freshmen are showing up to percussion lessons unable to identify even the most basic articulation markings and indications. They wouldn’t know legato if it smoothly and connectedly slapped them across the face.  If you want percussionists to reach the same level of artistry as wind and string players, talk to them the same way that you talk to everyone else. Consider each sound that they make to be flexible and capable of changing, and give students opportunities to learn how to elicit a wide range of sounds. Ask them to interpret written articulation markings, use their ears to match the sounds of their colleagues, and think creatively about every note that they play.

The Mysteries of Cello Technique Revealed
Lynne Latham
Wednesday, 11:50
    You may ask, what do elephants have to do with executing the perfect extension? If you are a cellist, everything. Hold your left hand in front of you. This is your elephant, your index finger is the trunk and the other fingers are the legs. For the backward extension, the trunk will do all the work. Someone has placed a peanut outside the elephant’s cage and the trunk (your index finger) reaches outside the cage to retrieve it. Once retrieved, the trunk comes back inside the cage. So, therefore, once the extension is completed, the index finger comes back to rest in its usual place. The thumb stays under the second finger for this extension.
    For the forward extension, someone has tied the elephant’s trunk to a tree and it is pulling away from the tree with all four legs. The forward extension is actually a half step shift up the fingerboard, where the second finger will replace the third finger in standard 1st position. The thumb will move with the second finger for good balance. The first finger (or trunk) will remain in position. The end result is that all four legs of your elephant move and F# on the C string and C# on the G string will consistently be played in tune.

Music-Induced Hearing Loss
Douglas T. Owens, Kris Chesky, Amyn Amlani
Wednesday, 1:10
    Music-induced hearing loss is easily preventable, but music rehearsals can be potentially hazardous to healthy hearing. Ensemble conductors can implement and model various strategies to make people aware of this topic. This includes understanding the importance of regular comprehensive hearing examinations, the basics regarding music-induced hearing loss (including such factors as sound pressure levels and exposure time and amount), and the inherent dangers present in ensemble rehearsal and performance environments.

Looking at Conducting from the Player’s Perspective
Rick Fleming
Wednesday, 2:30
    What is the most essential quality that one needs to be a successful conductor: musicianship, intelligence, moral standards, technique, professional connections, or all of the above? Of 24 professional players, 17 answered musicianship, four chose technique, and one each chose intelligence, moral standards, and all of the above. The 48 college players and 96 high school students asked also overwhelmingly chose musicianship, with intelligence and technique receiving the remaining votes.

Using Motivic Development and Other Compositional Devices in Improvisation
Bob Mintzer
Wednesday, 2:30
    As improvisors we strive to be composers in the moment, where what we improvise has a real sense of purpose and construct coupled with the excitement and urgency of making it up as we go along. A great improvised solo can sound like something someone wrote down a hundred years ago. The ability to do this kind of improvising takes a lot of work and consideration as to how to form our ideas in the moment and play these ideas with the rest of the musicians in the band. This clinic demonstrates some of the devices I came up with and practiced to add connectivity and a compositional slant to my improvising. By practicing a compositional approach to improvising it is possible to remove some of the randomness from the performance and create a stronger connection to the music. A good story line keeps the listener engaged. In a similar way, a well constructed improvised solo tells a compelling story.

Music, Multimedia, Education, and Audiences in the Digital World
Alex Shapiro
Wednesday, 2:30
    Composers are creating accompaniment tracks for electroacoustic works that broaden the scope of the band genre, adding to the band a new section that offers textures not found in traditional instruments. Electro-acoustic music is especially wonderful for younger players: an electronic track enables a composer to add sophisticated rhythms and extremely high and low frequencies that students cannot yet play, resulting in exciting repertoire. Musicians can download a prerecorded track, practice at home, and improve their intonation. Band directors can log on to Skype or Google Hangouts and instantly bring the composer into the band room for rehearsals, or into the auditorium to speak to the audience. Teachers and students can use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to create community and build excitement about concerts. Because many people spend a great deal of time staring at a telephone or computer screen these days, bands can devise visual, multimedia performances that go viral on YouTube. Technology is a tremendous boon to both artistry and education.

Scales and Left-Hand Technique
Kathleen DeBerry Brungard
Wednesday, 4:00
    If notes are the building blocks of music, then scales and arpeggios provide the blueprint for its design. It is most important that we lead students to understand that scales and arpeggios go beyond just the development of left-hand technique, and how they provide the blueprint for musical design. As soon as beginning students learn their first one-octave scale (usually D major) and its related key signature of F# and C#, this knowledge should be immediately connected to the music they are learning, even if this is just an eight-measure melodic line. Students should mark any occurring half-step relationships in their music. Such connections should continue throughout all new scale and arpeggio study.

Better Classroom Management
Sarah Labovitz
Wednesday, 4:00
    Conductors should know their scores well enough so that they can make direct eye contact with their ensemble members while conducting and rehearsing. When conductors’ heads are buried in their score, they are creating an opportunity for an ensemble member to act out without being noticed. Knowledge of the score will also help with the pacing of rehearsals. If conductors rehearse a passage, cut off the ensemble, and then immediately begin rehearsing without thinking about what went wrong in the passage or hunting through their score they are eliminating an opportunity for the band members to begin talking. Full knowledge of the score will also help conductors cue and rehearse not only the melody but also inner lines, harmony, and percussion. If students know that they will all be held accountable for their parts, they will be more likely to be engaged in learning and less likely to be caught off task.

Using Smart Board
Jeff Nelson
Thursday, 9:00
    Using an interactive whiteboard in a band or orchestra classroom can open up a world of educational possibilities. The trick is in narrowing the large number of options down to things that fit the music program and schedule.
    Interactivity is the best means of incorporating such technology into rehearsals and classes. Find as many ways as possible to have students write musical terms, notes, and symbols on the Smart Board. Then have them play and perform what they see and create there. Interactive whiteboards work well with many web sites and help make music writing software an amazing mixture of sight, touch, and sound.

Drummers in the Jazz Band
Rodrigo Villanueva Conroy
Thursday, 9:00
    Internal dynamic balance on the drum kit is one of the most important aspects to portray properly any given style of music, all of which have distinctive stylistic qualities that should be conveyed to get the correct feel and acoustic mix. However, sometimes the way the sounds on the drum kit are put together by young drummers fail to portray a given style properly. This may be the result of learning a new style or groove from a book, article, or chart, without spending enough time listening to professional performances of it. During my presentations I introduce some interesting techniques and concepts to facilitate the assimilation of new styles and grooves. Learning new rhythms and grooves should happen in the same way we learn a new language, by listening very closely and then imitating what we heard to understand how the sounds feel and blend together from an aural perspective, without paying too much attention to how those sounds are notated on a piece of paper.

The Kaleidoscopic View Through the Conductor’s Looking Glass
Eugene Corporon
Thursday, 11:30
    Using kaleidoscopic, panoramic, telescopic, and microscopic view points to uncover and explore the layers of sonic strata within a piece brings into focus the importance of repertoire that enhances aesthetic purpose and supports educational goals. Clarity informs comprehension and is the key to connecting with and delivering the ideas and feelings embedded in the music. The primary goal of any rehearsal is to interact with and influence the soundscape while charting the aural topography. The goal of a performance is to prompt the imagination while moving someone through the terrain.
    Music ultimately takes place in the mind. It is considered generative when composing or improvising your own music or interpretive when performing someone else’s creation. However, if we interact, our choices can become generative as we search for the implied meaning buried in the printed page. We must be willing to authentically and respectfully go beyond the notation in order to make responsible decisions that achieve an appropriate and authentic idealized version of the composers work.
    A successful performance relies on 360-degree hearing, which puts the conductor inside the sound rather than in front of it. This facilitates our ability to listen deeply, make discoveries, intuit ideas, express feelings, decipher codes, deliver messages, experience change, and ultimately contribute to humanity through our art. Simply stated, music’s purpose is to link one human with another. Keeping that in mind we must remember that learning is transformative and growth is the result.

Musical Improvised Solos
Jim Snidero
Thursday, 11:30
    When it comes to teaching beginning improvisation, I focus on melodies, timing, and balance. This gives students defined material that they can then use to develop musical instincts, enabling them to construct musical improvised solos. The first step is to search out a bunch of melo-dies and melodic fragments, which I will call ideas. The best way to find great ideas is by listening to recordings of giants of jazz and transcribing them. In fact, these recordings are the best source for all elements of improvisation and jazz style. However, transcribing may be a bit daunting for many students, so in the beginning it is fine to use other sources, such as books or course material, to build a collection of ideas. An idea could be something as simple as one or two notes using a syncopated rhythm, a scale fragment, or an arpeggio. It could be a blues idea or ideas using timeless concepts such as enclosures of chord tones or lines guided by goal notes. Students should have a variety of ideas, mostly two measures or less, at their disposal so that they can assemble phrases that sound both interesting and logical.

Warmups for Young Band
Bruce Pearson
Thursday, 1:30
    Few tools can be of more value to directors than the effective use of rehearsal time. A purposeful warmup is an important key to building a better band. Teaching good intonation in a group setting can be difficult and time consuming, but it does not have to be. First, teach students how it sounds to be in tune, followed by techniques to eliminate the intonation beats, all without the aid of an electronic tuner. Some of the many factors that affect intonation are temperature, pitch tendencies, balance, blend, tessitura, and the note context within the chord. All of these can be taught within the ensemble setting while using very little rehearsal time.

Ten Ways to Maximize Your Student Teaching Experience
Brett A. Richardson
Thursday, 3:00
    One of the initial ways to experience success while student teaching is simply trying to look and sound like the teacher you want to be. The first impression student teachers make can be strongly influenced by how they dress and present themselves. For young teachers on a budget, developing a professional wardrobe can be difficult at first. I suggest following the lead of mentor teachers and modeling their dress habits.
    How a teacher sounds is of equal importance. Although delivery is different from content, how someone speaks and what he says are closely tied together. Avoid filler words in the quest to fill the silence between thoughts. Inevitably there will be a moment where thoughts may occur much faster than the ability to communicate them. When this happens, practice three simple steps: Breathe (take time to pause and calm any thoughts), think (focus on the task at hand, collect ideas, formulate the way in which they would be best shared with students), and then act.

Train Young Bands to Sound Great Today
George Hayden and RoAnn Romines
Friday, 8:30
    Band directors from various states and backgrounds will join together to create a mock sixth grade band for a rehearsal that will demonstrate how directors can succeed with younger students. Learn to develop young bands with practical knowledge and a comprehensive outline that will help build a mature ensemble sound, excellent pitch, creativity, and knowledge of individual instrumental skills. We have found a leadership system that imparts knowledge at a high level, develops interactions of rigorous teaching and learning with respect and discipline, enthusiastically rewards eager students, and stimulates weaker students. This system develops teamwork, teaches the strong to help others, increases cognitive activity and builds everyone up to their highest potential.

Beginning Through Advanced Right-hand Technique for Strings
Bob Phillips
Friday, 10:00
    It is my firm belief that right-hand technique influences everything we do as string players, including intonation. Proper use of the bowing lanes, bow weight, bow speed, and bow placement is the most important thing that we can teach string students; centuries of pedagogy support this belief. Often we tend to concentrate on getting the right notes and then wonder what sounds wrong. When the tone is less than ideal, even the right notes can sound incorrect. In my orchestras and as an all-state conductor, I invest quite a bit of time on bow exercises and games and then often get comments that the orchestra sounds the best ever.
    A game I often use is Follow Me, in which the orchestra has to do what I do. I take the group through bow exercises appropriate for their level. For beginners this may be what end of the stick is on the string. For intermediate players, it may be starting with weight and releasing as a precursor for martelé. Subsequent to that, I often ask students to do anything but what I do. This way students have to perceive what I do, process that, and make a decision to do something else. My preference is to use a background accompaniment during these exercises to provide rhythmic and harmonic context. Great gains can be made with focused bow development.

From Worst Division to First Division in 52 Days
Stan Mauldin
Friday, 12:30
    How do you take a fourth-division band that is arguably the worst 3A band in Texas, in a Title 1, underachieving school district and make them first division? This clinic offers four simple leadership principles that helped Pecos High School, Pecos Texas make a first division (for the first time in decades) in just 52 days.
    One principle is that students have to show up. At the start of my first rehearsal at Pecos I had no students in the band hall. No one came on time. I started the rehearsal on time anyway, with breathing exercises, and continued those exercises by myself. Finally, the first student came in ten minutes late. The second day six students were on time; the next day ten were on time. Now almost everybody comes on time. Some days we bring donuts, brownies, or hot chocolate for those who are on time.

Teaching Improvisation to Young Musicians
Timothy Groulx
Saturday, 10:00
   Improvisation is easily approachable for every student at every level, and the sooner it is introduced, the better. Too often the first time we talk about improvisation is when a student joins a high school jazz band, which is like trying to start a car in fourth gear. Improvisation should begin in kindergarten, and it should also be a part of band, orchestra, and choir every week from beginning through twelfth grade, rather than the exclusive property of jazz programs.