Posts Tagged ‘band rehearsal’

Having a Bad Day

Derek was having a bad day.  He was barely responding to my questions, and not following directions.  When I asked him to make a change to the crash cymbal part he was playing, he moved very slowly to the back of the room to get his music.  This, of course, irritated me because he was holding up the entire class and bringing our rehearsal to a grinding halt.

“Can you move more quickly, Derek?” I asked.  “Why don’t you have your music at your music stand?”

“I’m sharing with Trenton,” he said.

“But,” I explained for what seemed like the hundredth time, “I’ve told you before to always have your own music out so you can make notes in it when needed.  This kind of delay is costing you participation points,” I told him, feeling my frustration mounting.

“I don’t even want to be in Band!” he snapped.

“Why don’t you wait in the hallway?  We have one too many drummers, anyway,” I popped off, instantly regretting it.

This wasn’t the first time in 20 years of teaching that I have spoken carelessly.  And, sadly, it probably won’t be the last.  But I have always had the policy that if I mess up like this in front of the Band, I will apologize in front of the Band.  So…

“I’m sorry, Derek.  That was inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have said it.  Now, will you please wait for me in the hallway?”  Derek headed for the door.

Turning to my student teacher, I asked, “Mr. Z., will you please lead rehearsal for a few minutes?”  He came right to the podium and took over while I, too, headed for the door.

Once in the hallway, I asked in a quiet voice, “What’s going on today, Derek?  I know you occasionally have an off day, but you aren’t usually like this.  I don’t believe you want to quit Band after three years.  Is there something you want to talk about?”

Derek’s attitude changed completely.  Instead of being difficult or defiant, he was respectful.

“Me and my sister gotta go to CPS today to talk about our mom,” he said.  I had to think for a moment, but I realized CPS means Child Protective Services.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“My mom’s been doin’ drugs, and now CPS wants to ask us about it ‘cause she’s been doin’ drugs in front of us.”

It’s still hard for me to believe there are kids – a lot of them – who have to grow up in these kinds of situations.

“Well,” I offered, “there probably isn’t much I can do, but if there is, please let me know, even if you just want to come by and talk.”

Derek nodded.

“In the meantime,” I continued, “you can stay out here in the hallway if you want to.  I would understand.  But I’ll bet you would rather rejoin the rehearsal.  Let’s get your mind on learning this music and doing your best.  It will help you get this other stuff out of your head for a little bit.”

He nodded again.

“And, Derek, I really am sorry for my comment.”

“It’s o.k.,” he told me.  “I’m sorry for what I said, too.”

“No problem.  Let’s go back to class.”


Standard 10

With great power comes great responsibility.

“So, what about Jedi Knights?” I thought to myself.  We were in the middle of Concert Band rehearsal and I had just stopped the students to correct a mistake.  As I spoke I was looking around the room to see who was paying attention when I saw Keagan with his arm stretched out toward me and his hand shaped as though it were holding onto something.

“What are you doing, Keagan?” I asked.

“Trying to Force Choke you,” he answered in his best Darth Vader impersonation.

“Of course you are, but your powers are no match for mine,” I told him.

“We shall see,” he said.  Then, as though it was the most normal thing in the world, he kept trying throughout much of the rehearsal, sometimes on me, sometimes on other students, though never with any visible effect… (Of course, when it became disruptive, I quietly asked him to stop, which he did.)

At the end of rehearsal he tried one last time, so I decided to play along.

“Must…reach…my…grade book… Must…block…powers…with…Force Points Deduction… Minus… one…thousand…” I gasped, pretending to collapse onto my music stand.  At this exact moment the bell rang.

“You lose.” I said.


Years ago the Indiana Department of Education established curriculum standards for all courses taught in public schools.  The standards written for classes like English, Math, Science, and Social Studies are concrete and easy to follow.  They spell out in clear detail exactly what is to be taught at each grade level.  The idea is that if, for example, a 7th grade math teacher follows the standards, the 7th grade math students will be well-prepared for the annual standardized test.

The nine standards for music are, in my humble opinion, less helpful.  First of all, they are “music standards,” which means they were written for all music teachers.  So, some apply more to Choir classes, others to Band or Orchestra, and others to General Music.

Second, they are not as specific those for core courses.  To be as clear as the math standards, Band standards would say precisely what skills each instrumentalist of the band should master during a specific year of study.  For instance, the skills a flutist must master are not all the same as those of a trombonist.

Third, some of the standards are, well, nice, and even admirable.  However, you would never read something like the following in a math standard:

7.8 RESPONDING TO MUSIC: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

7.8.5 – Identify life skills developed in music studies and activities such as cooperation, effort, perseverance, and respect that transfer to other disciplines and contexts.

Laudable as these goals are (and I believe they are), strictly speaking they are not curriculum standards.  As 7.8.5 states, they are life skills.

At any rate, whatever one may think of our music standards, it occurred to me the other day that as long as we are dealing with standards like this, there should be one more standard, which I have now typed up and added to the standards displayed on the BandLand wall.  It reads:

Standard 10:  Having Fun with Music (Having a good time making high-quality music).

This is one of those “full circle” moments for me.  Early in my career I would react strongly against those who said that the way to get students to sign up for Band is to “make it fun.”  “Band and Music are fun,” I would say.  “Playing instruments and performing well on them is fun.”  And I still believe this.  I often complained, and still do, that students are too entertainment-oriented.  Some things just take hard work, but achievement is enjoyable.  Most things that are fun take effort; Band is one of those.

But as schools have placed ever more importance on standardized test scores, I have noticed that many of the fun things students used to enjoy in school have been disappearing:  Backpack Middle School students go on fewer field trips than they used to; there are fewer convocations or special presentations to attend; our literature students used to put on a yearly Renaissance festival, but no longer.

So, while I still believe that work and fun can coexist, and that good music is worth the effort and brings its own rewards, I have lately been consciously trying to find new ways to make Band as enjoyable as possible, and also dusting off some tried and true tactics.

For instance, and this is certainly not an original idea, occasionally I let the students choose what songs we will play in their method books; even better is to let them try conducting the band.  This can be a real hoot, while also providing a number of “teachable moments.”

When we practice scales we often play them in rounds (try this with the chromatic scale on Halloween – very spooky), or with different articulations, or with changing dynamics.  The chorale books we use on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Bach and Before for Band and Classic Christmas Carols) have all four voice parts written in every student’s book.  So sometimes we turn the music “upside down” and let the bass instruments play the melody while the soprano instruments play the bass line, etc.

My wife lets her instrumental students earn prizes for practice time.  She also takes her groups to perform in public at nursing homes or, last year, at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.  This got me thinking, so this year I have organized a field trip for my band students to perform Christmas carols at the local nursing homes during school and I invited the Choir director to bring along some of her students, as well.

Three years ago I began offering students the opportunity to buy Band t-shirts with slogans like, “It’s O.K., I’m With the Band!” or “Backpack Bands:  Fighting for Truth, Justice, and the BandLand Way!” which even featured artwork designed by a talented high school band student.

This past Wednesday was the last day before Fall Break, so I brought my dog Schroeder to school with me.  The kids always love seeing him (for more, see blog entry “Is That a Dog?” from May 20, 2012).

And this past Wednesday I engaged in a life or death struggle with a Jedi Knight wannabe…

I suppose all of this is a reaction against the stale, test-driven environment toward which schools are trending.  But it is all good to do anyway.  After all, music actually is fun!  Why shouldn’t we enjoy learning how to make it?  Yes, it takes discipline and effort, but so does almost everything worth doing.


“It’s Alive!” I cried out, a little maniacally.  “Did you hear that?  You’re starting to get it.  I actually recognized the song that time!”

My sixth grade band students were caught off guard.  They have been working on a simple version of the Hallelujah Chorus for the Christmas Concert (I’m glad the Backpack School System still lets me call it a “Christmas” concert) and they are just starting to figure out the notes and rhythms.

“Now for the real work,” I said.

“What?” they asked.  “You said it sounded pretty good.”

“Oh, no, we have only just brought our creation to life.  Unless we’re happy to let it stumble clumsily around BandLand, babbling incoherently, and knocking things over – not unlike some of you – we will need to make it do more than walk and talk.”

“What do you mean?”

“Rhythms and notes are the bare bones of music; now we need to dress it up with good intonation, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and balance.  It needs to be graceful, with good manners.  So let’s get to it.”

And with that we set out to make our creation presentable in polite company.