My life has given me an interesting opportunity to interact with a LOT of band kids from all over the place and in a variety of ways. As a marching arranger, I often get to visit with the programs for which I write. As a drum corps instructor, our audition process brings us many more players that we have spots for. As a composer, I get the chance to Zoom into a band room to talk with students. And over this past year, editing virtual ensembles, I've been really into the weeds with individuals' performances.
I really can't stress enough how important it is for bands kids - from the very beginning - to know how to count.
Imagine, if you will, your first foray into triangles in geometry class and your math teacher teaching you all about right triangles, makes you memorize all the common sizes (3-4-5, 6-8-10, 5-12-13) - but never teaches you the Pythagorean theorem to be able to figure it out on your own.
Imagine being in middle school English class - I think we can all remember the stress and agony over all those spelling words. But after learning all those big and fanciful words, you don't know the definitions of them to use them in a sentence.
This is band without rhythm.
I've heard a LOT of band students, even at the middle school level, who have a pretty good sound (even if just for their age). But past that beautiful sound, sight-reading is a mystery due to their not being able to decode the rhythms on the page.
One of my greatest successes as a teacher - I worked for a year in a challenging school. My band was very small: 14 students in the class. I had 5 winds, 2 mallet players, and 7 drummers. They ranged from beginner to "could be a music major" in ability. Trying to play ensemble literature on day 1 was folly.
I spent quite a bit of time through the year teaching them music theory. Not even theory - just "Literacy." On the A/B Schedule (I saw them alternating days), we would sometimes have a 3-day band week where we'd spend 2 days on "theory." They learned how to read the notes on both Treble and Bass clefs, including ledger lines. They learned enharmonic spellings. They learned how to build Major and minor scales. And they learned to COUNT. Everything down to 16th notes. All the dots in the world. Sometimes a double-dot, just for fun (since they knew exactly what a dot meant, double and triple dots didn't faze them). We did meters with 2, 4, 8, and 16 on the bottom. Symmetric and asymmetric. By the end of the school year, kids who couldn't play a Bb scale knew how to sight-read at a good Grade 3 level.
Because of the efforts that went into teaching Literacy - rather than shouting rhythms at them by rote - the students could put together a respectable concert program over a matter of a few weeks, rather than few months.
Teach your kids to read. It makes all the difference in the world.
As I've traveled around to work with different bands - be it to pop in for a day of consulting or working long-term and in-depth - I've had many directors ask about what they need to do to improve.
While there are many various ways we all can improve regularly, one of the simplest and easiest fixes to get your program achieving on a whole new level - points better; placements better - is having a structure to the rehearsal.
Some of the programs where I've seen the biggest need for this are where I stop in and the director says "alright, we're going to start with a run-through."
Mandatory Social Distancing is my third foray into the world of multi stream video virtual ensemble projects (besides a short stint of dabbling with that certain multi stream phone app). Before working on MSD, I did two projects for the Blue Stars Drum & Bugle Corps - one of which we shared widely (the corps song) and one of which we buried and will never see the light of day (my first go at these kinds of project, and quite a learning experience).
With the publication of the Blue Stars video and with my on-going social media commentary throughout the process of MSD, I've gotten a number of questions from folks who want to do something similar: "How did you do it?" "What program do you use?" - I decided to put together this blog post to answer those questions in one place and to offer a fair word of warning.
Probably in this space is where I should mention the rippling consequences of the COVID-19 situation, the various shut-downs around the country, and of course, the need for musicians to still find a way to perform in ensembles together. If you're here reading this, I don't need to say anything more about the situation: you already get it. You might be a band director with an administrator asking you to toss together a video of your kids - "How cool would that be??"
In the words of Samuel L. Jackson from Jurassic Park: Hold on to your butts.
One of the growing headaches we face in the marching arts is the cost of copyright clearances. The challenge is that we all recognize the composers and artists deserve the compensation for their works, but the increasing expenses of getting the clearances is squeezing many band directors' budgets.
There's a great clearing house that provides quick, simple, and easy access to getting rights granted quickly and knowing your costs right away. However, that access comes at a premium, and that's where bands face a greatly increased budget. Thankfully - there is an alternative.
The last few days of my adventure in Lithuania have been pretty quiet - mostly just me working at the BnB. Here are some photos from my daily walkabouts. Check the captions for more info.
Having had a productive week and gotten a lot accomplished (and also having not spent much money through the week), I decided to go get another good dinner. Thanks again to the Lonely Planet website, I found there were a lot of higher-end restaurants in Vilnius, so I decided to give another one a shot. I discovered (and booked a dinner at) Sweet Root, in the Užupio Republic district. The dinner was stunning - easy and uncomplicated, yet very refined and delicious!
With the forthcoming trip to San Antonio for TMEA coming up soon, I've been spending a lot more time hunkered down and cranking out the work to get ready. I've kind of settled into a routine of getting up, having breakfast, going for a walk, then getting back to the BnB to get to work, putting in long hours.
From the past couple days, not a lot of new and exciting things to talk about, but here are some of the highlights...
Wanting to get some authentic Lithuanian chow, I headed over to Senoji trobelė based on a recommendation from The Lonely Planet website. The Lonely Planet and Senoji trobelė's websites both recommended reservations for a meal, but for the time of day I was headed there, I was going to take a chance. Fortunately it was pretty quiet, so I was in luck.
Unlike the other day's six-course tasting menu with all the bells and whistles, this was a pretty simple meal.
Despite waking up to a Wintry Mix this morning, I was determined to get out of the BnB, go for a bit of a walk, and see some more of the city. As the morning turned to afternoon, the weather turned from a mix to just snow, which looked picturesque outside the window - so, I got cleaned up, put my layers on, and trekked outside.
My first destination was lunch. I found a "What do to in Vilnius" post on lonelyplanet.com, and on that page, it recommended a restaurant called Senoji Trobelė (which translates to "The Old Hut"). The place serves traditional Lithuanian cuisine, so I was all about checking it out - and it was delicious (of course, you should know by now that food blogs are posted separately).
Hello, blog fans.
I haven't posted much for a couple days - pretty much because not a lot has transpired this week so far.
The biggest thing - my thought that I beat jet lag after my 12-hour sleep the other day - nope. I've pretty much been sleeping for about two hours, then away for three or four (or more), then sleeping a few more hours. So, combining not really waking up until 11:00, along with cold/wet weather, and getting work done (after all, this is a work trip), I haven't really done a lot of traveling, exploring, or anything of much interest. The most excitement I've had is a couple trips to the grocery store. The good news is, I'm growing less afraid of grocery shopping.
This blog started to talk about travel and food. Now, it's slowly expanding to cover some other topics. Stick around!