December 1, 2012

It’s Saturday morning and I am sitting in on one of our MECA Continuing Education Classes that has focused on Data Driven Instruction.  Students are presenting their projects and as I sit in the back of the room and observe their work, I am continually amazed with the creativity and great teaching that these music teachers are doing with their students…and the great, creative work their students are doing in their classes.

So many times we are just wrapped up in being so busy that we completely miss the point.  We don’t take the time to “smell the flowers.”  By gosh, we don’t have time to teach music, we have a concert to get ready for.   But as I watch the variety of projects, approaches, foci, I am totally impressed with their work.

More to follow on this …. but for now, take a few minutes and reflect on what you are doing on a daily basis and how you can bring some variety to your daily routine.   Tomorrow, do something different.  I’ll bet that you too will be impressed.


The Honor Was All Mine!

November 11, 2012

On Saturday, November 10, I  was invited to conduct the Illinois Music Educators District II Honor Band in Rock Island, Illinois (Augustana College).   For those of us who do these types of things regularly, I thought, “another honor band.”  But something was different on Saturday.  When I arrived at the site a bit early and went to the registration area, I saw the enthusiasm of the students, I saw the directors making sure they had the correct information to share with their students as to which room they should report.  One gentleman in particular, who I have known for many years and is now retired, most impressed me.  He was so excited to be there, to have his students (he now volunteers to do some accompanying work) participate.

And then came the flashback.

It seemed like yesterday that I was one of those directors, the guy checking in his students for them to participate in their district band event.  I remember how important it was for my students, how it served as an affirmation to the level of proficiency and excellence they were achieving as a member of their high school band.  How they would chat about the rehearsals, concert, and conductor after the event.  It was then that I remembered that this was “not” just another honor band.  It was “their” honor band, and it was  MY responsibility to bring a sense of honor to the event.

Rehearsals were fantastic.  The students were over the top.  It was the first time in all my years and all my honor bands that I did not have to ask any one student to be quiet, to pay attention, or to look up.  We began working on musicality from the first moment at 9:00 am, and we didn’t stop until rehearsals ended at 4:45 pm.  The last 45 minutes were especially rewarding because after we “ran” the concert in rehearsal, I turned to the students and asked, piece by piece, what could we do better?  “What needs to be worked on in the limited time we have left.”  The students offered great suggestions and had incredible insights.  It lifted the band to the next level. The sense of their ownership in the process had a significant impact on the group as a whole.

As the band performed the concert, it was one of those special times where every member was right there.  I felt like I could have done anything from the podium and they would have been right with me.  They performed at their highest level  and the applause at the end of their first number was thunderous.  It was a special concert.

After the event, I had numerous people stop and congratulate and thank me.  As my wife and I walked to our car after the concert, people literally saw me, stopped their car, got out and congratulated and thanked me for such a performance.  It was, in a way, surreal.

As I changed out of my tux and walked back to the car to make the drive home to Chicago, I thought about the day.  Where it started and where it ended.  I thought about how my perspective on the whole day started and ended, and as I shut the door and put the key in the ignition, I realized that today, the honor was all mine.  Thanks IMEA District II directors and students for such a terrific day of music making.  It was a lot of fun!

I’m Always Up For Inspiration

November 8, 2012

On Tuesday, VanderCook College of Music was honored to host John Hagstrom at the college where he played and spoke to the students for an hour.  John is second trumpet in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and one of the nicest people and finest thinkers you will ever meet.

John played for the students a bit and it was fantastic.  But the real magic  for the day was when John spoke to the students about preparing and getting ready to perform.  His message was simple but so re-affirming.  He talked about the need to have repetitions in performance, and that every time you perform a piece of music, you find spots where you can do better the next time.  He spoke of how often we all play something once and then put it away,  I realized that it is as if we are checking it off our to do list….Haydn, DONE!  Hindemith, DONE!  Hummel, DONE!   But music is not like that.  The more we hang around with, practice and perform great music, the more it becomes a part of who we are.  We not only know the music, we feel the music, we share those emotions and feelings through our performance.

John’s words inspired me.  His passion for what he does, his commitment, his sense of humor, his ability to articulate the process of going from good to great without using the labels.  It was great.  Thanks John.

There Comes A Time

November 5, 2012

On Saturday evening, I had the honor to be in Kiel, Wisconsin to hear my good friend and the chairman of our Board of Trustees at VanderCook College of Music, Dr. Lew Schmidt, conduct his final concert with the Kiel Municipal Band.  Lew has conducted the band for the past 29-30 years and it has been an integral part of his life.

As I sat in the audience, I could not help but look around the gymnasium. Every chair that had been carefully set up on the floor was filled.  The audience was full of townspeople, family, and friends.  All had come out to hear a fine community band perform, to support a family member who was also playing in the band, or to be there to thank Lew for his years of dedicated service and music making.

For these people, the Kiel Band is like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  It is an important part of their lives.  They tapped their foot to the marches, they sang along as the band played selections from The Sound of Music, and they stood and applauded when Lew was presented with a plaque thanking him for his leadership, musicianship, and vision to keep this community treasure alive.

After the concert there was a reception and everyone stayed around and talked, and all were sure to make their way over to Lew to say “thanks.” For me, it was a melancholy moment, as I look ahead to the day when I put down the baton for the final time and say, “that’s it.”  I don’t look forward to that day, but it will come, and when it does, I hope that I have the courage, class, and grace to do it the same way my good friend Lew did on Saturday night.

My old buddy Tim Lautzenheiser says, “when you have class it shows, and when you don’t, it shouts.”  Lew, thanks for showing us what class is all about.

Oh Canada!

November 2, 2012

Well, today marks the second time I will be presenting in Canada in the last two weeks.  Most recently, I was at the British Columbia Music Educators Conference in Vancouver, and today and tomorrow I am in Toronto for the Ontario Music Educators Conference.  My three sessions will include the new EEi – Essential Elements Interactive in Teaching Beginning Band in the Digital Age with Music Education – The Process IS The Product, and Sustaining Your Passion.

I am always inspired by the people I meet in Canada.  They have a true love for the arts for arts sake.  They also have a much wider range of vision.  They opened their keynote this morning with Jully Black, a smokin’ hot singer, complete with a background singer playing shaker, a one drum drummer, and an incredible guitar player who was just putting the whole thing in the pocket.  It was over the top fun.  And I wondered, what kind of reception would that have received in America?  Hmmmmm.

Music education is so much more than band, orchestra, and choir.  But we can’t discount those vehicles.  No, instead, we need to use those vehicles to open up a world of possibilities.  Oh Canada, I tip my hat to thee!

I’M Back!

November 2, 2012

After too long a layoff, I have decided to jump start my blog.  I hope to provide you with some thoughts worth thinking about.



Just Look In The Mirror!

November 2, 2012

We hear much about the need for increased music advocacy. Everybody is looking for the latest piece of research or soundbite to reinforce their belief that music is an important component of a well-rounded education. Well, while you are looking, take a look in the mirror. What you see is the most important ingredient to successful music advocacy, YOU!

Music advocacy needs an advocate. And for your program, school, or community, you are the face of music and music education Your students reflect the beliefs, standards, and musicianship that you bring to the classroom and rehearsal hall each and every day.

Tomorrow, when you head to your classroom, be the BEST musician, teacher, and human being you can possibly be. Treat your students, colleagues, and administrators with the respect that you are seeking for your program and yourself. You’ll be surprised and the results.