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September 1988 Take Our Advice – Suggestions for First Year Teachers, compiled by James Warrick

Whether you are a member of a large music faculty in a suburban school or are the music man in a small county school, your fears and insecurities as you mount the podium for your first year of teaching are the same as those of every other new director. During my first year how often I wished I could have asked the advice of the directors I read about each month in The Instrumentalist.
   On your behalf, I contacted the editors, advisors, new music reviewers, and other teachers whose thoughts have been printed recently in The Instrumentalist and asked them to cull from their experience answers to the question, “What advice can you offer a first year teacher?” I asked them to provide both a practical and philosophical answer to this question; here is what the 26 people who responded had to say.

Practical Suggestions
Tim Salzman, Director of Wind Ensembles, University of Washington in Seattle; 10 years of teaching experience; New Music Reviewer for The Instrumentalist: Spend time developing a good relationship with the head custodian. He will rescue you from many near-emergencies.

Col. Arnald Gabriel, Chairman, Department of Performing Arts, George Mason University; Retired Commander of the U.S.A.F. Band with 39 years of experience; Contributing Editor of The Instrumentalist: In your first year of teaching do not drive a more expensive car than your school principal drives.

Nancy Golden, former director of bands, grades 4-8, Lincolnwood, Illinois; 10 years of teaching experience; New Music Reviewer for The Instrumentalist: School secretaries and custodians are invaluable resources and friends; treat them with kid gloves.

Shirley Mullins, Conductor in the Yellow Springs, Ohio schools; 30 years of teaching experience; Consulting Editor of The Instrumentalist: Never schedule a high school concert during prom or homecoming week, and never ask your principal for anything on Friday afternoon.

Charles Groeling, Band Director, Roosevelt University in Chicago; New Music Reviewer for The Instrumentalist: Never program a piece the student cannot sightread. Concert preparation should not take more than four weeks in a normal high school setting. A concert program should be a spinoff of skill development and not necessarily the source of such development.

Ed Cannava, Instrumental Music Director at Arapahoe (Colorado) High School; 10 years of teaching experience; Contributing Editor of The Instrumentalist: Never purchase unfamiliar music without first trying it with your performing ensemble. Use the approval method available from music dealers.

Edward Solomon, Retired middle school teacher; 32 years of experience; Contributing Editor of The Instrumentalist: You will not always teach the most talented students. Be ready, willing, and able to teach the unteachable and love the unloveable.

Karel Husa, Kappa Alpha Professor of Music, Cornell University; 35 years of experience; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Always be well prepared and organized in class and in rehearsals. Do not think young students do not know when you have made a mistake; when you do, recognize it and do not blame them for it.

Robert Frost, 23 years of string teaching in the Cache County, Utah school district; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Be prepared to repeat everything, everything, everything.

Jack Mercer, Director Emeritus at Chaffey High School in California; 44 years of teaching experience; Contributing Editor of The Instrumentalist: While your exhausted trumpet player rests his embouchure, have him insert a fresh piece of Dentyne chewing gum under the upper lip for two minutes.

Frederick Fennell, Conductor of the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Believe in what you say; say it and play it with conviction. You never know, someone just might be listening.

Kenneth G. Bloomquist, Chairman of the School of Music and Director of Bands at Michigan State University; 30 years of teaching experience: When you stop in a rehearsal to say something, be brief and to the point, saying exactly why you stopped. For example, if the performers are out of tune, don’t just say, “Tune it up.” Tell them they are either sharp or flat.

James Warrick, Instrumental Director at New Trier High School in Illinois; 15 years of teaching experience; Consulting Editor and New Music Reviewer for The Instrumentalist: Never put your car keys on the same key ring as your school keys. If you do, you will be walking home the day your tuba player borrows your keys to look for his music in the auditorium and forgets to return them to you.

Delbert Eisch, President of the Association of Concert Bands, 26 years of teaching experience in the Racine (Wisconsin) public schools; member The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Double-check all excuses. For example, don’t let a mother tell you that the music store rented her child an out-of-tune violin.

Frank Erickson, a composer with 40 years of experience who directs his comments to young composers of band music: When playing a new number for the first time, proofread the parts beforehand. Copy the parts as neatly as possible; the better the copy job, the better reading you will get.

David Whitwell, Director of Bands, California State University; 25 years of teaching experience; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Demand of yourself two hours score study for each hour of rehearsal.

William Revelli, Director Emeritus, University of Michigan Band; 65 years of teaching experience; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Cooperate and be friendly with all faculty and admin­istration. Keep your mind open and your mouth shut.

James Ployhar, Composer/arranger with 19 years of experience: Try maintaining discipline with the eyes rather than the mouth. A silent stare of disapproval in the direction of a troublemaker can do wonders in quieting the rehearsal room.

Alfred Reed, Professor of Music, University of Miami; 25 years of teaching experience; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: And now there abideth Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, and Timbre, but the greatest and most important of these is Rhythm. Without Rhythm, nothing can be done; with it everything else becomes possible.

Donn Laurence Mills, Chairman of the Music Department at Chapman College, Orange, California; 30 years of teaching experience; Consulting Editor of The Instrumentalist: Flatter classroom teachers. Win their endorsement. You need them.

Robert Klotman, Professor Emeritus of Music, Indiana University; 47 years of teaching experience; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Your best friend in the building is the custodian. Stay on his good side.

James Lambert, Percussion instructor at Cameron (Oklahoma) University; 15 years of teaching experience; Contributing Editor and New Music Reviewer for The Instrumentalist: Relax and don’t try to teach everything you know in one year.

James Croft, Director of Bands at Florida State University; 37 years of teaching experience: One thing at a time, whether these are rehearsal corrections or working toward ultimate goals. Beware of overload, especially of information…it can’t all be absorbed.

Vaclav Nelhybel, Composer and conductor; member of The Instrumentalist’s Board of Advisors: Try to involve the students in the logistics of the daily running of band activities. It is their band.

Frank Bencriscutto, Director of Bands at the University of Minnesota; 31 years of teaching experience: Have clearly defined achievement expectations – a curriculum – and keep students accountable.

Alvin Mistak, Orchestra Director at Evanston (Illinois) Township High School; 32 years of teaching experience; New Music Reviewer for The Instrumentalist: Know the man in charge of maintenance at your school. At a concert you will need chairs for your students to sit on and stands to place their music on.

Philosophical Advice
Edward Solomon: Never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Take advantage of and learn from the mistakes others have made, as you will not have time to make them all yourself.

Frank Bencriscutto: Be a teacher because you believe music can provide the ideals and sensitivities crucial to human existence and progress.

Alvin Mistak: There is not a band or orchestra director in the world who hasn’t had a disastrous rehearsal; don’t take it personally.

Ed Cannava: Maintain a balanced program including concert, jazz, and marching groups. Never overemphasize one area or group over another. Ensembles and combos should also be available to all students within the program.

David Whitwell: The quality of the music you provide your students is inseparable from the quality of their music education.

Nancy Golden: It is more important for the students to respect you than it is for them to like you. Establish high standards and discipline from the beginning; you can always relax later.

James Warrick: It is far more important to think of that young person in your band as someone else’s child, rather than just your student.

Kenneth Bloomquist: Be aware of the pressures (peer, parents, school, grades, etc.) that surround students and make music serve the needs of students in their daily lives. Music can provide challenge, creativity, relaxation, success, and enjoyment as well as frustration, failure, competition, and boredom. Look your students in the eye and have the courage to assess your worth.

Robert Frost: There is no substitute for a good beginning. Teach the student first and music second.

Charles Groeling: Directors should remember that even
 though they develop and improve each year, each respective class enters at the same level and goes through the
 same developmental cycle.

Donn Lawrence Mills: Your mission is to convey the importance of music to every student in the school, not just to your players.

Frank Erickson: Write music that you like – not what you think someone else (or a publisher) will like.

James Croft: Beware of unreasonable objectives. They’ll frustrate you and defeat your kids. We improve as we succeed, always reestablishing attainable objectives.

Shirley Mullins: Love your students. Teach them self-esteem, self-respect, and self-discipline. Young people need caring teachers now more than ever. It’s a jungle out there.

Robert Klotman: Students are human beings and should be treated as such. Don’t take yourself too seriously; enjoy what you are doing.

James Ployhar: Always stress the positive! Encourage the student to do better rather than chastising him for doing poorly. This cannot be emphasized enough. Build on the self-esteem of the student. It will pay enormous dividends for years to come.

Tim Salzman: Students will not care what you know until they know that you care.

Col. Arnald Gabriel: Your first-year group will not sound as good as your own high school or college group, but while struggling to teach the basic principles of music never lose sight of the artistry, the magic, the mystery, and the divinity that is music.

Alfred Reed: All music is made for someone else, not just the writers (composers), players (performers), or conductors. Without an audience it is only a rehearsal; with the audience it is a performance.

Jack Mercer: Your administrator is like a political bank. Credit him with your musical successes and watch your credit investment grow.

James Lambert: Assess each educational challenge separately to bring in your solution. Process your background but don’t hesitate to ask for help.

William Revelli: Do the very best you can, wherever you are, with what talent you have to work with.

Delbert Eisch: Never give up on any student, as it may take three lessons for some and 300 for others.

Vaclav Nelhybel: Give to your students your very best. Demand from them the same. Be persistent and kind. Praise them for their total efforts, even if the musical results are less than what you hoped for.