A Preview from the Presenters

compiled by editors | December 2016

Practical Application of Japanese Band Methods in Urban Schools

Benjamin Das
Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.

Click It
    Japanese bands are known for their big, resonant sound, which they get in part through a small and basic piece of equipment: the wind-up metronome. More than just a timekeeper, a pendulum metronome heightens focus and helps give students a visual target to project their sound towards. Because students must look up to see it, better posture and breathing are implicitly encouraged.
    Place the metronome in front of or next to the podium on a fully extended music stand. It should be at least as high as eye level while standing. Try using it for breathing exercises, balance builders, and chorales. Put down the baton. The first few times will be a challenge, especially with your chorale. If the ensemble is having a hard time playing with the metronome, it is most likely because too few students are watching it. Try isolating two- to four-measure phrases until they can play without checking in with their music.
    A metronome will not hurt the phrasing of a chorale. This practice is less about playing with metronomic precision and more about the sway and flow of the pendulum. Once your ensemble gets comfortable watching it, you’ll find that they can still play with expression – only now with a focused, beautiful and resonant sound.
Sing, Sing, Sing
    We have all preached “If you can sing it, you can play it” before. The archetypal doo-wahs, dahs, dits, and duhts heard in most concert, jazz, and marching band rehearsals serve their purpose to help ensembles better understand rhythm, articulation and feel, but it should not end there.
    In Japan, school bands make singing with choral tone part of their routine. Whether they are singing the four parts of a chorale or practicing sing-buzz-play drills in unison, they sing with a sound that would make Eric Whitacre proud. Japan has particularly strong elementary music programs in which singing with beautiful tone is paramount. The challenge lies in that most band students in America are rarely taught proper vocal technique. Directors may find that students are either too shy (inaudible) or too ambitious (shouty) when it comes to using their voices. As a result, the sound will be unpleasant and musically counterproductive. However, there is a solution.
    Instead of singing with random syllables or the traditional articulations, many Japanese bands favor mah or maw. If you limit your group to this one syllable, you will find that a nice vocal sound is well within reach. Set a drone to F and have students stand. Next, have students hum the pitch. Encourage them to crescendo their hum until they can really feel the vibration in their face, particularly the nose. Be careful that they are not pushing sharp. Once the pitch is stable and clear, have students transition to mah by slowly opening their mouths. The biggest hurdle is meh, which happens when students are awkward about opening their mouths. Scan the room for students that aren’t fully dropping their jaw. Give them a visual cue to drop it further, and take time to address the unpleasantness of a meh sound. Sing both versions for them, get a chuckle, and ask them how they would rather sound. At this point, your group should already be singing with better tone. To push them even closer to a choral product, use all the language a choir teacher would use: stand straight, raise your soft palate, and keep your head forward.
    Our program uses choral singing on a regular basis. Although I’m not certain that Eric Whitacre would be proud of our sound, I can say that ever since we simplified and normalized the way we sing, we have been better equipped to deal with tuning, balance, and overall musicality. The beginners hum, sing, and play every note they learn. The intermediate band sings their scales, flow studies, and other technical exercises. The advanced band uses it to study harmony. If we are having trouble tuning a chord, I’ll have the ensemble sing their individual notes, and determine which part of the chord they are on. They can now make musical decisions as to how loud or soft they should be playing, and if they need to be lowering the third to play with pure intonation.

Tearing Down the Wall Between Music and Athletics

Mike Morgan
Wednesday, 12:00 p.m.

    In 400 BC, the great philosopher Plato believed that “to be a complete individual, young people must participate in fine arts as well as athletics.” It was true then and is true now. Our young people have a small window of time to participate in activities while in school, and as I have often said, school is just dress rehearsal for real life. The skills learned in music and athletics will carry students on to success in the real world. The statistics are clear. Musicians and athletes have higher grades and better school attendance. They also have lower discipline referrals, contrary to all of the stereotypes out there. Schooling should be like a puzzle; you need every piece of the puzzle in order to complete it. Too many people think that one puzzle piece should be made bigger than the others by emphasizing one activity over another. I have yet to open a puzzle and find one huge puzzle piece with a bunch of smaller pieces that fit around it. Puzzles are filled with pieces that are all the same size but different shapes, much like our youth. Young people need the freedom to participate in numerous activities that will help them lead productive lives.

Dispelling Brass Playing Myths
Greg Spence
Wednesday, 1:15 p.m.

    The common and simple ideas of buzzing the lips, buzzing the mouthpiece, or even blowing the trumpet can negatively affect the progress of not only beginners but full-time working professionals. Efficiency is the key to long-term improvement, and recognizing overexertion in your students is of paramount importance. Have your students take a deep breath and hum a note as freely as possible. Repeat this process with eyes closed. Get them to recognize how the expansion and reduction of the body after a good breath effortlessly fuels the sound. Use a balloon to demonstrate movement of air without squeezing. I want the lips to interact with the air as if they are the vocal cords. Students should play as they would sing.

Thrive, Not Survive: Achieving Success as a First-Year Teacher

Jonathan Villela, Christopher Yee, and Jessica Gonzales,
Wednesday, 1:15 p.m.

    Although I (Villela) knew in high school that I wanted to be a music teacher, in college I questioned myself more. I attended conventions, workshops, and teacher panels that strengthened these uncertainties. I heard phrases like “stay afloat,” “just stay one step ahead of them,” and “survive.” This led to a survival mindset; I accepted the fact that my first year in the profession would be a bad experience – a year to make mistakes and a year to misunderstand. I began my teaching career in the survival mindset, prematurely adopting negative experiences from others and making them mine.
    When school began, I worked diligently to learn the flow of my colleagues, students, and community. I triple checked each email before I sent it. I stressed about each word I uttered to my ensemble, about each sound created by my beginners. I tore through method books, called past professors, and approached my colleagues for guidance.
    My first semester at Four Points Middle School felt only like weeks. I sat across from a friend over the winter break and shared my thoughts on the job thus far. I gleamed while speaking of colleagues and laughed while sharing great memories of working with my students. I talked about my wonderful community and administration, the process of traveling to Chicago, and the memory of conducting on the Midwest stage. Retrospectively, I realized the year I had been conditioned to dread – conditioned to fail, was actually a year that I grew to treasure. Instead of failure, I found success.

Public Relations and Music Education Work Hand in Hand
John J. Gallagher
Wednesday, 4:00 p.m.

    The focus of this session is to introduce public relations and publicity techniques to the music educator – essentially providing rudimental tips on how to be a publicist for your program. Working with your school district to build good relationships with local media outlets and reporters will enable music educators to take advantage of media placements to promote concerts, festivals, and award ceremonies.
    We will discuss the difference between public and media relations versus paid advertising, how to write a news release, developing media lists and contacts, and generating a positive image for your brand. Teachers will be directed to the Press Room of the NYSSMA website for Swiss cheese template news releases on a variety of topics, an example of which is below. Just fill in the holes, get approval from your school district, and mail. (www.nyssma.org/information/press-room/press-releases-swiss-cheese/)

Optimizing the Big Heavies in Your Ensemble
David Zerkel
Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.

One of the concepts that I try to establish early on with my low brass students is the notion of the default exhale. While there are as nearly as many ideas about breath support as there are teachers, I have whittled my concept down to a simple four word mantra: Blow until you stop. The consistency with which one blows through the instrument has everything in the world to do with the consistency of the sound.
I do the following exercise with my ensemble regularly. Set the metronome at 70 and choose any scale. Have students play the most perfect eight-count long tone, free of timbral variety and pitch inconsistencies, that they can produce. Proceed all the way up the scale. Next, cut the note length in half, so students are still blowing out for eight counts, but slurring two whole notes together. Proceed up the scale and back down, being sure to repeat the top note. Now do the same with half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes, all slurred. The lesson is that we use the same default exhalation whether we play one note for eight counts or 32 notes over eight counts. This is also a great way for students to get repetitions of less familiar scales.

Making Something from Nothing: Group Exercises to Build Improvisational Confidence
Taylor Morris
Thursday, 12:00 p.m.

    Although many musicians think they cannot improvise, the simple truth is that each of us is improvising most things we do throughout the entire day. The conversation you just had with your colleague was improvised. Your lesson plans when you discover the real problem is not what you thought it was is improvised. Your drive home from work when you hear there has been an accident on the freeway is improvised.
    Improvisation, like nearly everything you do, is a learned skill. You may not have worked on improvising with an instrument, and your ability to do it may be poor at best, but you cannot lack an ability to improvise. If you are an educator who struggles with the idea of improvisation, keep this in mind.
    Start small. Practice a scale with new rhythms instead of making every note even. Create a new way of going up or down a scale, skip some notes and keep some others. Play around with just a few notes at a time and see what you can create. If you think nothing of interest can be done with three notes, remember that the main melodic hook of Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy uses just three notes. If you are helping students to cultivate their improvisatory abilities, make sure they realize this, too. Im­pro­visation is not an elusive ability only some are born with; improvisation is a way of life.

Sound Practice
Marie Speziale
Thursday, 12:00 p.m.

    Young brass players have a tendency to lift their shoulders when they take a breath. This action results in a false sense of full inhalation. The reality is that they tap into only a small portion of their lung capacity and quite likely wind up introducing upper body tension and/or tightness in the neck and throat area, thereby affecting tone production and reducing performance anxiety.
    My intent is to focus on ways to help students establish habits that will help them develop a more natural, relaxed manner of breathing for easy, efficient tone production. I will discuss air flow: the direction, quality, quantity, velocity, and temperature of the air line. I will share practice tips to help students develop new habits, approach their practice sessions in an organized, thoughtful manner, and develop efficient practice techniques to achieve maximum productivity with a minimum of wasted effort and without contributing to unnecessary embouchure stress and fatigue.

Creating an Online Presence for Your Program
Brad Meyer
Thursday, 1:30 p.m.

    One of the most helpful tools to help create an online presence is to have an up-to-date website that can help people learn about your program, lit audition requirements, and view videos and photos of past performances all in one place. Creating a website can seem like a daunting task for busy directors. However, a band parent, co-worker, or friend can help set up the website and then show you how to update and edit it. The ability to update and edit things yourself is important; not only will managing the website yourself save money in the long run, it will also expedite the process of updating and changing pages because there will be no need to go back and forth with a webmaster to get your website looking the way you want it. Schedule time every month to update the site with current events and any recent videos or photos that will help people connect with your program.

Breathing and Buzzing to Beautiful Sounds
Chris O’Hara
Friday, 8:30 a.m.

    One of the easiest and greatest ways to improve playing is to play tunes on the mouthpiece. Pick a song that you know so well that you could sing it or at least hear it clearly in your mind. It is recommended that you start with simple melodies like Mary Had a Little Lamb.
    Sing this tune in your head a few times to make sure that the song in clear in your mind. Then try to buzz the tune while singing it in your head. It doesn’t matter what note you start on, as long as the tune sounds right. Try to keep the notes you are buzzing lined up with the tune in your head. When you feel confident buzzing these tunes try playing them for friends, family, or teachers. If they can easily guess the name of the tune you are buzzing then you are well on your way. As you master simple tunes, try more difficult melodies. The better you get at this process, the easier playing the trumpet will be. If you can sing it, you can buzz it.

Bowing Concepts for Musical Phrasing

Frank Lestina
Friday, 12:00 p.m.

    This clinic is a direct result of observing and analyzing band and choir rehearsals throughout my career. We all know how important it is to observe other directors and guest conductors in rehearsal. Too often, we only observe others in our specific area. I feel it is equally important to observe other colleagues outside your specific area. For me, this started early in my career out of necessity because there were no other orchestra programs in my immediate area. Observing band and choir directors in my school district allowed me to grow as a music educator and had far reaching influences in my career.
    We are all familiar with the natural connection between phrasing and breathing. While trying to teach phrasing to my string players, I noticed that it took much longer for my students to make this connection with the bow. Even with good bowings in the music, the phrasing was often not acceptable. Students would follow the bowings, but there was no connection between the bowing and the phrase. Over the years, I started to notice some predictable patterns. This session exposes all the little habits that string students develop over the years and provides suggestions to change those habits.
    String players are presented with many challenges when it comes to finding the right bowing to preserve the musical phrase. This is especially true when the note values are inconsistent. Playing down bow for two counts and up bow for one count creates an opportunity for an accent, which may not fit the musical idea. I will present specific examples in standard repertoire along with suggestions to allow for a musical phrase. The goal is simple: hear how you want the phrase to sound, find the best bowing option, and then (the hard part) listen to make sure you performed the phrase the way you heard it in your head. Too often, string players play with unwanted accents or allow their bow to dictate the dynamics and accents. It must be the other way around. Make the bow work to create the phrase.

Fourth Finger First: Why the Order of Finger Introduction Matters
Sandy Goldie
Friday, 1:30 p.m.

    If you are frequently frustrated with the left hand position weaknesses of your beginning string students and tire of repeating requests for good left hand technique, consider what might happen if you changed the order in which you initially introduced the fingers of the left hand to students in your beginning classes. Try starting with the fourth finger first. A recent action research study (and many years in the trenches teaching public school orchestra) found that using fourth finger as the first fingered pitch in beginning string instruction had several benefits for students including improved positioning of the left hand, wrist, and arm; improved intonation accuracy; and increased voluntary use of fourth finger for violinists and violists (even when sight-reading). All best wishes to you and your students as you strive for fabulous fundamentals as the foundation for future musical success.

How to Land Your Dream Job and Keep It
Raeleen Horn
Friday, 3:00 p.m.

    In both my professional and personal life, my motto has been “You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” Being a music educator is a public and people-oriented role. A myriad of opportunities are put before us each day, and how we select and approach these opportunities can magnify or diminish how we introduce ourselves into a variety of situations. Seeking employment and landing your dream job is one thing. Retaining the job means much more than successful music making. Positive and sincere interactions with administrators, colleagues, students, and their parents is the key to success and one of the most meaningful components of being an educator.

Middle School Full Orchestra – Making It Work for Your School

Sandra Dackow
Saturday, 8:30 a.m.

    Of the many classes and levels that I have taught, nothing has quite the life-changing impact of the middle school full orchestra experience, targeted at those impressionable and fearless young musicians not yet in high school, but willing to try anything.
    Too often a full orchestra experience is postponed until high school. Both string students and wind/percussion students are shortchanged unless the foundation of full orchestra skills are established at the middle school level. When a middle school full orchestra is part of the instrumental music curriculum, the chances that the high school orchestra will be primed to perform standard, unarranged literature goes way up, benefiting the entire department and community.
    The integration of woodwind, brass, and percussion players with stings at the middle school level is not only advisable but is a richly rewarding experience for the entire music department. A variety of scheduling strategies will be explored and team teaching models discussed. Tuning of individual instruments, sections, and the full ensemble is demonstrated, along with articulation and sound production for different instruments and sections. Achieving balance and blend will be explored. The differences between orchestral percussion technique and band percussion will also be demonstrated. A range of rehearsal techniques will be presented and discussed. Sources for literature will also be shared.
    The most important idea of this presentation is to go for complete instrumentation (as complete an instrumentation as band personnel permit) right away. Many schools begin by adding just flutes and clarinets to strings, calling this a full orchestra. While these intentions are good and meant to involve the most advanced and capable woodwinds so as to minimize the rehearsal challenges of different instruments working together, I recommend, instead, to bring everyone on – especially low brass and a full, colorful percussion section. Get as many stakeholders as possible excited about the sound of a full orchestra. Even if some of the wind players are neither advanced nor facile in sharp keys, good, well-edited material that will enable a group to be inclusive and to sound full is out there. Once involved with full orchestra, strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion will want to continue if they have had an exciting experience – and these experiences are possible every place where there are bands and string classes. When the department breaks down barriers and collaborates on this task, everyone wins.