As the calendar year comes to an end, music education turns its attention to the Midwest Clinic. Those who will gather in Chicago include a great many current and future teachers, legends in music education, and hard-working bands, orchestras, jazz ensembles, and chamber groups, some of whose members will be hoping to see snow for the first time. We asked a few of the directors bringing a group to the Midwest Clinic this month about their preparations, as well as the lessons they have learned over the years.
Erich S. Rivero
Glades Middle School
Concert Jazz Band
Know Your Students
One lesson that I’ve learned from my Midwest preparation is that to perfect a variety of genres for our program we must approach it from many different directions. This can be a daunting task. I tackled this challenge by taking meticulous notes on my students’ progress, section by section of each piece. I record and evaluate my ensembles’ progress on a daily basis. This allows me the opportunity to reflect on what should be improved upon at our next rehearsal. I bring in numerous professional musicians from our community to rehearse sections and the ensemble. This allows for a different perspective to enhance the overall performance. We use publisher recordings and professional recordings as a resource. This helps in perfecting the style. By combining all of these resources, we are able to achieve the highest level possible.
A Mentor Who Inspired
My most influential teacher was probably my junior high band director, Mayra Cobia. She was an outstanding director that inspired her students in any and every way possible. She was a clarinet player but I remember her playing duets and trios with students on different instruments. She was always challenging all of the ensembles through difficult literature and different rhythmic counting exercises that she would prepare for us. She was an outstanding role model and educator. She demonstrated that if you are going to do something you must do it to the best of your ability.
I give my students higher grades of music than most middle schools. We tackle each piece one section at a time. We listen to different styles of music both in and out of class so they can get a better understanding of the jazz art form and styles. We work on improvisation through listening and transcribing solos from the jazz greats and expanding our knowledge of chords and jazz mode scales. This along with building a diverse program that encompasses different styles will help to create a more well-rounded musician and ensemble. Challenge and inspire your students and they will always rise to the occasion.
Two New Jazz Tunes
We have two composers who wrote pieces that are being premiered at Midwest. The first, written by Victor López, is an authentic Salsa Style piece entitled Sabor de Cuba (A Taste of Cuba). This piece has exciting melody and rhythmic beat that will want to make you get up and dance. The second piece was commissioned by the Florida Bandmasters Association for Glades Middle School’s Concert Jazz Band Midwest performance. The piece is titled One More Twice and is composed by Paul Baker. It is a medium swing chart in the style of Ellington and Count Basie that has an exciting 16-bar acapella ensemble followed by an exhilarating shout chorus.
Darcy Potter Williams
Stiles Middle School
A Balanced Teaching Style
I pattern much of my teaching style after Betty Pierce, formerly of the Grisham Middle School Band in Round Rock ISD. Early in my career, I took a number of personal days to sit in her band hall watching not only how she approached concepts but how she approached her students. I lead my band program with a healthy mix of high expectations, honesty, and humor, and much of that comes from watching her set the example. Balance your intensity with an equal but opposite dose of silliness, hilarity, or light-heartedness – whatever fits your personality. Kids will work exceptionally hard for you, but you also need to be a human in their eyes.
Music for Young Bands
Julie Giroux arranged a wonderful chorale for my band based on the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. I think the audience is going to find it a welcome addition to the repertoire for younger bands. Giroux made this music playable by this age group without making it cheesy or watered down.
Four Points Middle School
“That’s what I’m going to do when I grow up.” These were my words to David Egan, a fellow seventh grade trumpet player sitting next to me in Susan Scarborough’s band rehearsal at Doerre Intermediate School. There is power in watching someone live out their passion in a pure and genuine way. That is exactly what Susan did during my time in her band. To this day, she continues to inspire me through mentoring my directorship of the Four Points Middle School Band. She visits five times a year and spends the day with us observing, teaching, and providing wisdom. Our 20-year relationship is extremely special to me, and I am honored to have her guest conduct a special piece during our performance this December.
Stephen Peterson, at the end of my senior year at Ithaca College, said, “Make time to hang out with other music teachers your age once a week and talk about what you are doing in the classroom. Share what is going well and ask for help with what is not going well. You will be surprised by how much you can learn from one another.” I followed that advice and can confidently say that my band director family within Leander ISD and greater Austin have played a giant role in helping our band staff provide Four Points Middle School band students with the opportunity to perform at the 2015 Midwest Clinic.
A Brian Balmages Transcription
Brian Balmages has provided us with a beautiful brand new transcription entitled Lullaby to the Moon, a grade 2 lyrical piece. We originally were hoping to perform Brian’s new piece entitled, Rippling Watercolors. We loved it so much we planned to design our entire concert program around it, but lost it through the music reservation process. We were devastated. In an act of desperation, I messaged him and asked if we could commission a similar work from him. He responded that he was booked two to three years out but then generously offered to transcribe a new work he had written for string orchestra. We are in love with Lullaby to the Moon and cannot wait to perform its world premiere in Chicago.
Roswell High School
Team, Excellence, Family
The Roswell Orchestra has a strong sense of family within its almost 200 members. Above all as teacher, it is important for me to remember that these young adults we teach need positive, kind, and focused leadership from us as music teachers. I tell my students that I respect them first as a person, and second as a musician. I have seen how ego can get in the way of team building. The music experiences I give to my students are not for me, they are for them. We talk about character quite a bit in class, and I remind students that they don’t walk out of my classroom with their in-strument in their hand, they walk out with their character, and I expect it to reflect the musician and person that they want to be.
Dedicated to a Mentor
Dorothy Straub was the MENC President when I was in her high school orchestra, in Fairfield, Connecticut. In high school, she inspired our string quartet to perform in the community and school functions. As a veteran teacher, she inspires me every day to push my students with quality music, bring them new opportunities through curriculum, and reach into the community, state, country and internationally through music.
Last December at Midwest I spent time with Dorothy, and she told me about this piece she was writing about the Triple Crown. When I got in and found out that I can choose one piece to be composed, I asked if I could play her piece as my free choice, and she was delighted. I have a deep love of horses and was excited about this piece. Then, the horse races started this spring, and as soon as I saw American Pharoah I knew this horse was going all the way. The day American Pharoah won the Triple Crown was the day I was in Chicago for the Midwest directors meeting. We will be dedicating the concert program at Midwest to Dorothy, and her piece, American Triple Crown, will be premiered on our program.
Avon Middle School
Experiencing All Music Offers
The number one way my teachers inspired me was to provide me with opportunities to explore what music could be to them outside of the classroom. All of these inspiring educators taught multiple ensembles: choir, show choir, band, marching band, orchestra, chamber strings, jazz band. It was their ability in their discipline to show students that music could be a fun and enjoyable career. This taught me to search for and to provide programs, musicals, clinics, orchestra festivals, and guest clinicians to show my students, no matter the grade level, what music is and what music does for our society in this technological age.
Why the Details Matter
One lesson that I have learned from our Midwest preparation is to focus on the tiniest of details from the beginning. When we first started rehearsing our program and deciding on our final selections, it was overwhelming, and still is a bit overwhelming. However, if you can zone in on the tiny aspects of what make your particular ensemble sound great, such as great shifting skills, that will help guide, highlight, and lead you through correcting other mistakes, help you choose proper repertoire, and allows your students to find early and quick success in what they are doing.
Triangles for String Players
I show students the triangle of bowing, the pyramid of dynamics, and the triangle of placement. At the middle school level tone quality and control are always a challenge. The triangle of bowing has three sides labeled placement, weight, and speed, and in the middle is dynamics. From that triangle, we build a pyramid that has ff on the bottom and pp on the top. We then take this triangle and place it over a diagram of the bridge, strings, and the end of the finger board.
Vernon Hills High School
Vernon Hills, Illinois
Double Bass Solo
I wrote an arrangement of Vittorio Monti’s Czardas for full orchestra and solo double bass that we will perform with Lyric Opera of Chicago bassist Andrew Anderson.
Benefits of Repertoire Research
Planning repertoire that works for our ensemble, is something we’d want to play for an event like Midwest, and that fits into the requirements for Midwest programming requires a great deal of research and organization. This process has caused me to listen to a wide array of pieces through all difficulty levels, and I have gotten many exciting new repertoire ideas as a result.
Denver School of the Arts
Advanced String Orchestra
A Conductor’s Most Important Task
The teacher who inspired me the most was Charles Bruck, the legendary teacher of conductors at the Pierre Monteux School for Advanced Conductors. Bruck taught his students to have the utmost integ-rity in their score study. Knowledge of the score, including the composer’s style, was a conductor’s most important task, not conducting technique. Bruck seemed to know every bar of all of the major orchestral pieces and expected no less from his students.
The students will be working on Midwest pieces for many months. It is important to make as many connections as possible to other topics apart from working on perfecting the performance. We looked at the composers’ entire output, their place in musical history, contemporary events during the composers’ lives and any parallels we could make to other disciplines.