Beyond Their Years

Musical and Technical Excellence in Young Bands

2005 IMEA Clinic Session Proposal
Karen DeBauche & Chip De Stefano
with members of:
McCracken Middle School Symphonic Band (Skokie, Illinois)
Urbana Middle School Concert Band (Urbana, Illinois)

  1. INTRODUCTION
    1. Both the McCracken Middle School and Urbana Middle School Bands have been fortunate to have had much success the past several years.
    2. Although our programs are different in some significant ways (size, structure, etc…), we feel it is our similarities that provide the most insight into the reasons for our students' successes.
    3. It is the purpose of this clinic session to share the “secrets” of our success and provide tangible, practical suggestions to getting young bands to play at a high level.
  2. EXCELLENCE BEGINS AT THE TOP
    1. Students are a reflection of their teacher
    2. Be yourself
      1. Students will see through it if you try to be someone that you're not
    3. Set very high expectations
      1. Students will rise (or fall) to whatever standard you set for them. Challenge them!
      2. Make sure your students have everything at your disposal (especially your time) to help them meet those expectations.
    4. Maximize your rehearsal time
      1. NEVER cancel rehearsals
      2. Respect your students time
        1. Start on time
        2. End on time
      3. Be prepared
        1. Set goals for each rehearsal, let your students know what those goals are
        2. Have a plan for each rehearsal
        3. Record rehearsals often
          1. You'll be surprised what you are not hearing in rehearsals
          2. You'll rehearsal skills will improve
          3. Use fix-it sheets to save rehearsal time
      4. List rehearsal order on the board
    5. Keep learning
      1. Continue your education
      2. Observe as many quality educators as you can
    6. Take risks. Don't be afraid to fail.
      1. Apply for conferences and special performances
    7. Be relentless, never give up, and work harder than your expect your students to work.
  3. SELECTION OF QUALITY LITERATURE
    1. The selection of our repertoire is the most important decisions we make each year.
      1. The single most influential tool for student motivation is quality music played well.
      2. In the performance-based classroom, the music we select is our curriculum.
        1. We are what we eat.
        2. If we expect our students to grow musically, they will have to be challenged and presented with music of depth that will allow this growth to occur.
        3. There are many clinic sessions about selecting quality music. Discussion of young band literature is always tricky at conferences such as this one. The reasons are twofold
          1. We don't want to offend
          2. Directors, as a generality, genuinely feel that they select the best music in the world. Unfortunately, many are wrong.
          3. Perhaps the most relevant session would be on what not to play.
        4. It is most important that the musical difficulty of a work meets or exceeds the technical difficulty of a work.
          1. This is essential. If a work doesn't meet this standard, it is not worthy of your students' time.
        5. Why play that, when you could play this
          1. If your band is capable of playing grade 3 or 4 music, why play *** when you could do a movement from English Folk Song Suite, one of the Holst Suites or a Grundman Rhapsody.
          2. Why play a grade 2 march by *** when you could play a march by Henry Fillmore (Harold Bennett)
          3. Perform and authentic transcription instead of a watered down arrangement.
    2. Get through as much literature as possible each year.
      1. Too many middle school bands perform just three pieces for the winter concert and three pieces for contest season (district and state).
      2. Perform early and often
        1. Six to eight weeks is plenty of time to prepare for a performance
        2. If you don't do so already, consider adding a fall concert.
          1. It won't hurt your Winter Concert.
          2. Nothing is more motivating than standing on the podium at the start of the first rehearsal and saying, “Our first concert is 6 weeks from today. Let's get to work.”
        3. Change music as often as possible
          1. There is a point of diminishing returns.
          2. The best indicator of quality is the test of time.
          3. Don't buy bad musiIt only encourages publishers to churn out more of it.
  4. EXCELLENCE OF MUSICIANSHIP IN YOUNG BANDS
    1. Volume Painting – giving shape to phrases
      1. As the music rises, crescendo
      2. As the music falls, decrescendo
      3. Long notes and repeated pitches must have direction
    2. Information Theory & aesthetic experience – setting up an expectation, then breaking that expectation
      1. Bring out suspensions
      2. Pull back at cadence points
    3. Students must make musical decisions
      1. There is no right answer, the only wrong answer is to do nothing
      2. EKG machine – if it flat-lines, you're in trouble. We don't want our music to flat-line and be dead either.
  5. EXCELLENCE OF TECHNIQUE IN YOUNG BANDS
    1. Motor memory and tempo are mutually exclusive
    2. Make a big deal out of small notes
    3. Perception is reality, it's not hard if the students don't know that it's hard
    4. Advanced techniques that are not advanced which will make your students sound more mature
      1. Vibrato
      2. Multiple tonguing
    5. Addition by subtraction
  6. 11 THINGS YOU CAN DO THAT WILL HAVE A REMARKABLE IMPACT ON YOUR SUCCESS
    1. Set ridiculously high standards for yourself
    2. Find band programs to model yours after
    3. In the fall, program for your weaknesses. In the spring, program for you strengths.
    4. Set goals for yourselHave the kids set goals for themselves.
    5. Bring your principal and superintendent to the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic and IMEA All-State ConferencLet them see what the finest schools in the country are doing
    6. Continue learning, always strive to improve as a musician
    7. Start a private lesson program
    8. Invite the best musicians/conductors you know to work with your students.
    9. Keep kids active in area honor bands.
    10. Begin a CD recording project when the bands reach an acceptable performance level.
    11. Set high standards for the quality and difficulty of the music you perform.
  • Items to be included in our handout:
    • repertoire lists
    • comparison of both programs