The Music for All Blog
The Music for All Blog

Thought Multi-Tasking

Thursday, 28 April 2016 18:38 Written by Dr. Katrin Meidell

(Or What I Learned About Painting From Playing the Viola)

shutterstock 6696022

Recently, I purchased a home. It was built in the 1960s, and a lot of the features in the house seem to be original, or at least a good twenty to thirty years old. The house has great bones but really needed some updating. So, for the last few weeks, I have been painting, changing fixtures, replacing outlets and light switches, cleaning, and dealing with many other hands-on home-sprucing activities. As you may imagine, I have not had much desire or energy to practice the viola while doing all of this. But, throughout all of this, I did discover something interesting related to my viola-playing career.

See, as a violist, I think all of the time while I am playing, whether it be rehearsing with my trio or an orchestra, preparing for a solo recital, or especially when warming up. Other than the obvious things like, “What notes and dynamics am I playing?” I am constantly thinking about the following things: my bow hold, releasing unwanted tension in my shoulders or other parts of my body, which fingering will be easiest for the upcoming passage (or inversely, which will provide the greatest shifting or vibrato challenge—especially in boring orchestral parts!), whether or not I am clenching my jaw, vibrato connection between notes, “release and plop,”1 and a whole host of other considerations. is kind of “thought multi-tasking” within my brain is probably a normal occurrence for most musicians and one of the reasons I love to do “simple” activities, such as cycling, where there is basically only one thing to think about to execute the task accurately—staying upright!

So, a few weeks ago, as I was painting the trim in my living room, I was struck by how uncomfortable I was, up on the ladder, compressing myself toward the ceiling to get the edge of the paintbrush perfectly aligned with the trim, so as not to get any paint onto the ceiling. But I was getting paint on the ceiling, and it was so frustrating! Why was my normally steady hand so inaccurate? Why was I unable to execute this relatively simple task? And why did I care SO much if a little off-white trim paint got onto the white ceiling? I took a break and gave myself a chance to think about all of this.

See, this is my first house, and I care. As a perfectionist in just about all of the tasks I undertake, correctly painting the room in which I will spend the most time while at home is important. To me, the stakes were high. Because of this, I had been seriously clenching my jaw and had been holding tension throughout my body in an unconscious effort to control my motions and to do well.

High stakes and the desire to perform well: Sounds like any audition or performance situation, does it not? It turns out that, in my mind, painting the trim in my new living room was on the same level as performing the viola well. I climbed back up on my ladder and immediately felt my jaw clench. The ladder had taken on the likeness of the stage, and the painting had taken on the likeness of performing. I loosened my jaw, considered my body position, and decided to stand on the lower step so that I was not as contorted as before. I realized that I had been holding my breath while painting, so I made a conscious effort to breathe and continued to focus on my breathing as I again began to paint.

The “thought multi-tasking” that I mentioned earlier is something I often discuss with my students. Too often, students only think about one or two things while playing, and more often than not, they do not actively listen to the sounds they are producing. In an attempt to increase their awareness of many of the factors required to play the viola well, I ask them to list six items that they are trying to address. For example: stacked body (feet under knees under hips under shoulders), vibrato connection, relaxed jaw, loose thumbs, relaxed shifts, and breathe. I have them write these six items on a piece of paper and leave that paper on the music stand next to their music. I ask them to scan the paper before they start playing and in every rest or long note. As they start to memorize the six items, I ask them to imagine a cube, with an always-bouncing ball inside of it. Each surface of the cube contains one of these items, and each time the ball bounces against a surface, the student thinks about or executes the item listed on that surface. Because the ball within the cube does not bounce in the same order, the “thought multi-tasking” could go something like: “relaxed jaw, stacked body, loose thumbs, relaxed jaw, vibrato connection, relaxed shifts, loose thumbs, breathe, vibrato connection, etc.” It is difficult to do at first, and starting with a smaller list is perhaps a good idea. But in my experience, this “thought multi-tasking” is what helps students progress more quickly than if they get stuck in only two or three thoughts.

Many years ago, a friend of mine gave me a mobile to which you could attach your own photographs. For a long time, it had pictures of good friends from college, but shortly after starting my job at Ball State, I thought that the mobile would be a perfect “thought multi-tasking” reminder. I created colorful cards with eight of the most common requests I make of my students: relaxed jaw, loose thumbs, squishy knees (misspelled on the mobile! I always spell it “squooshy”), breathe, taffy bow (i.e., right arm weight), round fingers (right pinky), center, and release and plop. The mobile now hangs in my office, right in eyesight of the music stand at which my students perform. With the room’s airflow, the mobile gently vacillates, so that different ideas are visible at different times. Since I hung it, many students have commented that a specific idea comes into sight and they remember to focus on that item. It is a fun and decorative element in my office that also serves a useful purpose.

As I stood there on my ladder-stage, holding my paintbrush-viola, I discovered that my mind had been in a place where I thought of myself as a novice painter, worried about my execution and afraid of making mistakes. Instead of thinking about the task, I was thinking about the judgment that I, as the outside observer of the finished work, would pass. All of the same unconscious habits that I had as a young violist were active in this novel venue. I was tense and mildly nervous, uncomfortable, unbalanced on my feet, and way too worried about the outcome of my painting. e task of painting the trim had taken on the resemblance of a scary viola audition. But then I realized that I could handle this otherwise-simple task by drawing on the years of experience I had in a much more difficult endeavor. My “thought multi-tasking” went something like: “breathe, relaxed jaw, slow stroke, breathe, balance,” and I was able to execute my trim-painting much more accurately than I had been able to before I started actively thinking about what I was doing and how my body was doing it.

When I look at my new living room now, I am quite proud of how it turned out. The paint is beautiful—especially the trim.



1. “Release and plop” is a Karen Tuttle Coordination reminder for loose finger action.

Reprinted courtesy of the Journal of the American Viola Society.

Music for All Welcomes Newest Board Members

Thursday, 28 April 2016 16:57 Written by Erin Fortune

Pictured left to right: Dr. Jeremy Earnhart, Barry Morgan, and Ayatey Shabazz

Three new members have been elected to the Music for All Board of Directors: Jeremy Earnhart, Bedford, Texas; Barry Morgan, Acworth, Georgia; and Ayatey Shabazz, Biloxi, Mississipi; all with extensive experience within the music community. Music for All’s vision is to be a catalyst to ensure that every child across America has access and opportunity to participate in active music making in his or her scholastic environment.

“These three individuals bring a wealth of expertise and knowledge in the areas of education and development to the Music for All Board of Directors. The diversity of their experiences and geographic locations represents the breadth of the constituency of this national organization,” says Gayl Doster, Chairman of the Music for All Board of Directors. “Each director displays business and fiscal acumen as well as a love of music. Together they will help us expand opportunities for Music for All as we serve young musicians and their teachers and advocate for the inclusion of music education as part of a complete education for our young people.”

Dr. Jeremy Earnhart currently serves as the Director of Fine Arts for the Arlington, TX Independent School District where he helps educate a student body of 63,500 students in several world-class programs through the musical, visual, and kinesthetic arts. From the years 2009-2013, he was Director of Fine Arts for Irving ISD, TX where student participation in secondary fine arts increased by over 40%. He was also the director of UIL State and Bands of America National Champion L.D. Bell High School Band from 1998-2009.

Dr. Earnhart earned his Bachelor of Music and Masters of Music degrees from the University of North Texas, and holds certification in International Baccalaureate Music, MFA Boas well as a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Dallas Baptist University. He is an active clinician/conductor, adjudicator (including for Bands of America) a published author, and presenter for several staff developments/conferences throughout Texas and the Midwest.

He lives in the DFW Mid-Cities with his wife Gwen, named an elementary music teacher of the year, and daughter Kierstyn.

Barry Morgan J.D. is currently serving his sixth term as Solicitor General of the State Court of Cobb County. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Georgia State University and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. Before becoming a prosecutor, Barry served 12 years as a high school, middle school, and elementary school band director with the Cobb County Georgia School District. Morgan continues to remain active in the drum corps community as both an instructor and fan.

Mr. Morgan continues to serve the music community as a lecturer on Legal Responsibilities of Music Teachers for Music for All Summer Symposium, many state conventions, and the 59th and 63rd Annual Midwest Clinic for bands and orchestras in Chicago.

Ayatey Shabazz is a native of Biloxi, Mississippi where he currently works and resides. Shabazz has taught elementary, middle school, and high school band in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region and he has written custom arrangements and field shows performed by high school and college marching ensembles throughout the country, as well as drum corps in Europe. He has also composed a number of original works in the concert idiom.

Mr. Shabazz received his formal training in Music Education from the University of Southern Mississippi where he also studied composition and jazz arranging under the direction of Dr. Albert Gower. In addition to his published concert works, he has been commissioned to write multiple works for ensembles in the United States and abroad, as well as music for film and television. Mr. Shabazz is also the Founder, President, and CEO of The Devmusic Company. The Devmusic Company is a global music publishing company with worldwide distribution, that focuses on quality print music for marching bands, concert bands, jazz bands, and percussion ensembles.

He is a member of multiple professional and industry organizations including American Society of Composers Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) and National Association of music Merchants (NAMM).

2016 Bands of America Hall of Fame Inductees

Wednesday, 06 April 2016 13:05 Written by Erin Fortune

2016 HOFMusic for All President and CEO, Eric L. Martin, Frank Bischoff, Former President and CEO Scott McCormick, and Frank Troyka

Music for All inducted two new members into the Bands of America Hall of Fame: Frank Bischoff and Frank Troyka. These new members were inducted on Saturday, March 10th in a ceremony at the Gala Awards Banquet at the Music for All National Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Bands of America Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have had a positively life-changing impact on Music for All’s Bands of America programs and music education. 2016 inductees were announced during the opening ceremonies of the 2015 Bands of America Grand National Championships, presented by Yamaha, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. They will be permanently recognized in the Bands of America Hall of Fame at Music for All’s Indianapolis headquarters, along with all the BOA Hall of Fame members inducted since the first in 2003.

Frank Bischoff

Frank Bischoff has been one of the most familiar faces of Bands of America for more than four decades, serving as the dean of BOA’s front sideline field and timing and penalty management. Frank has been a contributor through the years in the development and evolution of Bands of America’s show operational rules, as we migrated from a posture of rule enforcement to one that emphasizes smooth operations and field management designed to embrace performance creativity in a safe and fair competitive environment.

Frank is a living encyclopedia of Bands of America rules and an active contributor to the BOA’s Adjudication Handbook rules committee. Through his proactive approach of working with bands to comply with the rules while achieving their creative objectives, Frank has helped transform a “historically “got you” role and approach to one that embraces and actualizes our “positively life-changing experience” attitude, and environment.

Frank has been on the field for more than 150 Bands of America Regional and Grand National events, logging more than 2,500 hours of on-field service in support of BOA and the pageantry arts in America. Beyond Bands of America, Frank has also loaned his services and expressed his passion for the marching arts to drum and bugle corps shows and color guard competitions. While he gladly served all over the Midwest for drum corps and color guard contests (including Winter Guard International) in the late 70's and 80's, Frank’s passion has always been for band through his association with Bands of America events (since 1976), the Illinois State University “Band Day” (since 1977), and the Lake Park “Lancer Joust” (since 1981).


Frank Troyka

Frank Troyka began his career in 1984 as an assistant band director in Richardson, Texas’ Forest Meadow Junior High School and Lake Highlands High School. In 1991, Frank moved to Houston where he taught in the Spring ISD serving as assistant director to Philip Geiger at Westfield High School. In 1999 Frank joined the faculty of Cypress Falls High School in the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD as its Director of Bands. During his year-seven tenure, the Cypress Falls Band was a featured ensemble at The Midwest Clinic, the Music For All National Festival, and was the recipient of the Sudler Flag of Honor. Frank moved back to Richardson in the summer of 2006 when he assumed the role of Director of Bands and Coordinator of Fine Arts at L.V. Berkner High School.

A teacher for over 30 years, Frank Troyka has been a part of and served Bands of America in almost every capacity possible. He has been a participating director in our Fall and Spring events and sent dozens of students to our national and regional summer camp and leadership experiences. He has been a clinician at the Summer Symposium, led the Symposium’s Marching Band track, and served on the staff of each Bands of America’s Honor Bands in the Tournament of Roses Parade. He has also demonstrated his support and passion for the organization with volunteer service on the Bands of America Fall Programming Advisory Committee. From 1997 to 1998, Frank was Bands of America’s Director of Events, bringing educator supportive initiatives and approaches to our operating model. Frank coordinated Bands of America’s first European Honor Band experience, leading more than 70 students, faculty, chaperones and guests on a tour that included performances in France, The Netherlands, Germany and the World Association for Symphonic Bands & Ensemble (WASBE) conference in Austria.

Since retiring in 2014, Mr. Troyka has been a clinician for the Wind Bands Association of Singapore, The Midwest Clinic and an active lecturer and clinician, presenting annual student leadership workshops in Texas and across the nation.

2016 William D. Revelli Scholarship: Emma Fell

Wednesday, 06 April 2016 12:39 Written by Erin Fortune

The 2016 William D. Revelli Scholarship was awarded to Emma Fell of Thompson High School in Alabaster, Alabama on Saturday, March 10th during the Gala Awards Banquet at the Music for All National Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana.

2016 Revelli Winner
Music for All Annual Fund Manager Gregg Puls and scholarship winner Emma Fell

This annual scholarship of $1,000 was created in memory of Dr. William D. Revelli, one of America’s finest and most accomplished conductors, to help one graduating high school senior each year that is performing at the Music for All National Festival study music education at the university level. Each recipient is chosen based upon his or her academic, musical and community service accomplishments, a personal essay written about music education and a nomination from a his or her band director.

Fell is a three-time Honor Band of America member, has been selected for numerous honor bands, district bands, and All State bands. She is the principle horn player for the Thompson High School Wind Ensemble, a section leader for the Marching Southern Sounds, and has even taught herself how to play clarinet to a grade 3 level.

Since each recipient must intend to pursue a degree in music education, this scholarship has become an extension of Music for All’s mission to create, provide, and expand positively live-changing experiences through music for all. Music for All also offers opportunities for students, parents, and directors to perform and improve their musical and leadership skills through its workshops, competitions, festivals, and honor ensembles.

Music for All will continue to offer this scholarship in future years and encourages all qualifying students to apply. The application for next year’s scholarship will be released in late 2016.

March Madness just wrapped up with the men’s and women’s title games. Congratulations to Villanova and UConn. It is a national phenomenon that grabs hold of sports fans as they try to determine who is win and who is out, filling out the perfect bracket, and of course always cheering for the underdog.

There is always a sense of hype and buildup for the NCAA brackets to be announced. The same could be said when we (Music for All) release the Bands of America Marching Championships band lists.


People begin to talk of who is attending what show. How many Texas bands are coming to Grand Nationals? What new schools have signed up that have never participated in Bands of America? Is there a Midwest band making the trip down south to Atlanta or San Antonio? Will there be another Hawaii band attending a Bands of America show? So many questions, but never any answers. Until now…

We are ready to announce the bands that have applied to be a part of the 2016 Bands of America Marching Championships. But remember, these are lists of ALL bands that have sent in applications, some shows may be over enrolled and include bands that will be waitlisted. 

BenDavisHS JCR 6415

Let the debates begin, throw a dart in the dark on predictions, and most of all get excited for another fun-filled season of marching band. #boa2016 is right around the corner!

View the full fall schedule here.


TS1 3346

The Bands of America Marching Championships is known year in and year out for having talented students perform at Regionals, Super Regionals, and Grand Nationals. At those events we also have special exhibition performances by university marching bands. Over the years BOA Grand Nationals week has seen the best of the best perform in exhibition including: West Carolina University, Riverside Community College, Jacksonville State University, and many others! 2016 Grand Nationals will be no different as we continue the tradition of iconic collegiate programs.

2015 Maryland 1612

Music for All is proud to announce that The Ohio State University Marching Band will perform at the 2016 Grand National Championships. From their signature pre-show formation and tradition of Script Ohio, the playing of “Buckeye Battle Cry” and “Across the Field” (OSU’s fight songs), and their creative drill design, such as their Michael Jackson and Star Wars shows, we are ecstatic to have one of the most publicized marching band programs in mainstream media. Make sure to mark your calendar for November 12th, 2016, as The Ohio State Marching Band will be concluding our Semi-Final performances.

2015 Minnesota 1282

Make sure to follow The Ohio State University Marching Band on their social media platforms below to stay in the loop on upcoming performances, new videos, and news.

2014 Cincinnati 0609          2015 Minnesota 0807

Youtube: The Ohio State University
Facebook: @The Ohio State University Marching Band
Twitter: @TBDBITL
Instagram: @TBDBITL

Clips of The Ohio State University Marching Band:

stasa blake walls

Music for All is thrilled to share exciting staffing news for three Director-level positions.

Cam Stasa, Bands of America Hall of Fame member who served BOA and Music for All on staff from 1989 to 2010, will return to Music for All as Director of Participant Relations and Special Projects, effective mid-May, 2016. Stasa most recently served as Associate Director of Admissions at Vandercook College of Music in Chicago.

Laura Blake has been promoted to Director of Events, having served as Events Manager since 2013. Blake has been with Music for All in the Indianapolis office since 2005.

Ashlee Walls has been promoted to Director of Advancement and will oversee sponsorships and partnerships, as well as fund development. Walls joined the Music for All staff as Corporate Relations Manager in October 2014.

Music for All will publish a press release soon with more details. Please join us in congratulating these Music for All team members.

SpartanStadiumSan Jose University, Spartan Stadium

Due to final stadium schedules, Music for All is announcing important schedule changes for both of the California Bands of America Regional Championships.

The Southern California Regional, which was originally scheduled for October 22, is moving to October 29 and will once again be held in Long Beach at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The Northern California Regional, which was originally scheduled for October 29 is moving to October 22 and will be held at Spartan Stadium at San Jose State University, a new venue for this regional.

We believe these date changes are necessary so that Music for All can operate both events in venues that are of the quality that Bands of America and Music for All strive to offer those we serve.

There are still opportunities for bands to enroll in either show. You can view the full fall schedule here.

Camp Faculty Profile: Taylor Watts

Monday, 29 February 2016 16:45 Written by Erin Fortune

This is the first edition of a new series on our blog that we hope you'll find both fun and interesting! Each week we will highlight a new MFA Summer Symposium faculty member. 

Welcome to the very first edition of the Camp Faculty Profile series! Today I'd like to introduce you to Taylor Watts. This year will be Taylor's first year as an official faculty member on the BOA Drum Major Institute staff, but he is certainily no stranger to the MFA Summer Symposium! Taylor has experienced camp as a student, a SWAG team member, a Directors' Track Assistant, and now this year he is joining the ranks of our amazing faculty. We know Taylor will be a wealth of knowledge for all of those who are planning on participating in the BOA Drum Major Institute this year. Let's dive into getting to know Taylor, I hope you enjoy reading his responses as much as I did! 


Name: Taylor Watts

Camp Division: Drum Major Institute

Home Town: Kennesaw, GA

Current Location: Marietta, GA

Favorite Things About Being A Teacher:
I love watching students grow as human beings – learning to treat others with love and respect, to develop and pursue their passions, and to grapple with the inner workings of their own person. I definitely consider myself blessed to witness (and sometimes impact) the transformation of so many people during some of the most formative years of their lives.

Why do you like to come to the MFA Summer Symposium each year:
Having experienced the camp as a student, SWAG team member, Director Track Assistant, and now staff member, one thing always holds true of my time spent at Summer Symposium – no other place in my life challenges and supports me in being the best version of myself that I can possibly be like MFA. As Jamie Weaver, one of the SWAG team coordinators, always poses to our group: “We come here every summer to be who we are truly meant to be.”

What would you say to a student who was thinking about possibly coming to camp?
Take the leap, and bring any friend you care about! Camp will challenge you and provide opportunities that most people never have the chance to experience. The lessons and relationships that you’ll find here have the potential to change you in ways that you’d never imagine – they can truly change the entire course of your life!

Most memorable moment/interaction at camp?
Despite now serving as a staff member, I think my most cherished memory at camp still stems from my time as a student. I’ll certainly never forget my last evening together standing in the auditorium with my drum major squad embracing and shedding a few tears as we reminisced on several outstandingly life-changing years spent at this camp.

Funniest thing that has happened at camp?
It may be a bit silly, but I always enjoyed participating in the “everyday camp preparation” skit that the SWAG team puts on with Norm Ruebling. The crowd always got a kick out of our ridiculous outfits and choreography that we put together to over-accentuate our points – not to mention how difficult it was to hold a static pose in our crazy get-ups without laughing myself!

Favorite spot on Ball State's campus?
I love spending time under the bell tower, particularly in the evening. It’s such a beautiful structure.

What book are you reading right now?
Most of the books on my shelf right now have titles like The Five Love Languages and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work as I prepare for my quickly approaching wedding. Normally, however, I enjoy reading philosophy, psychology, and science articles, with the occasional high fantasy novel to spice things up.

What are you listening to right now?
Over the last few years I’ve gotten into primarily acoustic music to the tune of Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, and Mumford and Sons. I love the stories and sounds and am always impressed by the technical virtuosity of their more bluegrass-style songs.

What is ONE thing you recommend a student do at camp?
Normally I would suggest that students get outside their comfort zones and reach out to develop relationships with other campers (which they should ABSOLUTELY still do), but I have to say, as teacher as it sounds, I recommend HUGELY that all students write down every bit of wisdom that they hear during their conversations at camp (both with the staff and other students). Going back through my old binders of notes always inspires and reenergizes me, even years later – sometimes some of the truths sink in even deeper later in time.

What made you decide to be a teacher?
Truth be told, I had originally planned to go into psychology – my driving passion has always been helping people become better versions of themselves. Fortunately, a wise mentor of mine (coincidentally, a band director – go figure!) enlightened me to the opportunity for a wider spread audience over a longer period of time, and so I became a teacher!

What do you wish other people knew about the Summer Symposium?
Most camps provide students with entertaining and exciting experiences, but few other places challenge students to grow in their very being like Summer Symposium. I can certainly attest that you’ll leave camp a much stronger, bolder, and more compassionate person than you came.

What do you do when you aren't teaching at the Summer Symposium?
During the few moments that I’m not teaching or planning to teach (few and far between!), I love spending my time pushing myself physically. Most recently, this has taken the form of obstacle course races (Spartan Races, the Tough Mudder, the Warrior Dash, etc.), skydiving, and snowboarding trips!


10915202 2746076647315 7056908480793514650 n 10393993 2688844856556 2284191514704093333 n


My fondest teenage memories are of playing tuba at Benjamin Elijah Mays High School, located in the inner city of Atlanta, Georgia. Band director Summer Smith led that band program faithfully for over thirty years. Mr. Smith was more than the average band director; he was a counselor, mentor, and father figure. One of Mr. Smith’s strongest attributes was enforcing the necessary discipline and guidance to succeed in life and the classroom. His guidance was essential to persevere through all the distractors outside our classrooms such as crime, drugs, and poverty in the local community. In the face of so many distractors and excuses not to succeed, Mr. Smith always said, “it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.” He challenged his students to believe in themselves and not accept mediocrity.

After high school I used many of the lessons taught by Mr. Smith when I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. In the Marines I learned more valuable lessons about discipline, teamwork, and “a do whatever it takes attitude,” to accomplishe the mission. As a veteran teacher I have used my high school experience, training from the Marines, and college education at Florida State University to learn effective band director techniques in any school setting. The following describes ideas, techniques, and behaviors that have made my teaching in Title I band programs successful.

Beginning: As a high school band director I have taught in minority communities with students of low socioeconomic status. Poverty, high crime rates, drugs, gangs, single parent households, and high pregnancy rates were all prevalent in and around the school community. Using Mr. Smith’s philosophy of high expectations, I chose to strive for goals others thought were impossible, such as maintaining a high standard of musicianship, character, and academic achievement. Initially the problem was that the students did not believe in themselves. These students were hampered by low expectations. Moreover, the students had an apathetic attitude toward school and life. To counteract this behavior, I started focusing on the whole child instead of just the music student. This meant learning more than their names and instrument. I tried to learn about a student’s family, personal interests, goals, and challenges. Next, I encouraged students to think of the band program as a family, where they were free to talk about any issue. Furthermore, the band room served as safe haven from all negative outside influences. For most students, music served as a positive release from stress that may originate from home, school, and other peers. Most importantly, influencing a culture of pride in the organization quickly turned the negative culture of low expectations into an encouraging and positive environment.

Setting the tone: “If you are not committed to reaching the highest standards of character, integrity, and musicianship, you can leave the band room and go home.” I knew I was taking a risk when these were the first words I ever spoke to my high school band. Afterward, I waited for about three minutes and then said, “Good, now you have about an hour to clean the band room from top to bottom.” I slowly picked up my briefcase and waited patiently inside my office. That first statement set a standard of the expectation. Florida State University Professor Clifford Madsen says that “We control the environment, which in turns control us.” Creating an environment of success starts with a clean and structured teaching area. In the book the Tipping Point (2002) Malcolm Gladwell explains that cleaning up a “little problem” of litter and graffiti in New York helped to dissolve a “bigger problem” of criminal activity.” Likewise, having a clean area makes a big difference in student’s behavior in class, care for their instruments, and treatment other students. Additionally, a clean environment demonstrates professionalism in the organization.

Setting Goals/ Building Organizational Identity: Along with setting the right tone, setting realistic goals and building an organizational identity is essential. During my first year as a band director I wrote a five-year plan for our goals. This list included items such as recruitment, retention, field trips, and establishing good band fundamentals. After creating goals I made it a priority to bring in staff members and volunteers with good character and integrity. These role models demonstrated the behavior and attitude that was expected in my band program. Funding for staff members was very limited; therefore, I called local colleges in the area for volunteers. Fortunately most colleges with active music departments have music service organizations such as Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma. The principal mission of these organizations is to provide service to their band program and or music programs. Unfortunately most young band directors make the mistake of trying to do everything themselves. Utilizing a local college music program was easy and the best part is most students will work for food!

As stated earlier, in most Title I band programs money is a huge issue. Being cognizant of resources in your community can aid your school. Many symphony orchestras have outreach programs designed to help young musicians. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has a “talent development program” where students in urban schools can audition to receive free private lessons. Utilizing the Symphony’s talent development program is one example of many resources a creative director might use to enhance his or her band program.

Building Identity: One of the best ways to build an effective band program is to thoughtfully develop the band’s identity. This starts with a mission statement. A mission statement is important because it lists the program’s guiding principles and ideals. My band mission statement included phrases such as, “striving for the highest in character and musicianship” and “pride in our school and community.” The next step was to do activities that promoted building pride in the band. These activities include performing for local elementary school, middle school, and community organizations. In fact participating in short performances before a teacher or parent/teacher organization meeting is an excellent way to show pride in one’s school. To that end, a director must be creative in giving students a positive avenue to perform and have success. Each success builds upon the last performance and a series of small successes accumulate over time and enhance perception of an effective band program.

Administrator involvement: Another useful technique is getting school administrators involved. This can start with acknowledging the principal or fine art administrator at all performances. Additionally, asking a band parent to prepare a surprise lunch for counselors, or ordering extra band t-shirts for administrators, demonstrates your enthusiasm for getting them involved in your program. Another great idea is allowing your principal to conduct a piece of music at a concert or main event. If you make sure the experience is a good one your principal will smile for days, guaranteed!

Dealing with challenges in school and home: Family issues such as parents working two or three jobs, students contributing to or responsible for raising their siblings, and parents with severe financial problems are most common in urban schools. When dealing with these issues remember all students should have the opportunity to participate in the music program. The “everyone should participate” philosophy is easier said than done. However, if there is a will, there is always a way. Donations of instruments from local families whose students have graduated and partnerships with music stores to provide repairs are one way to get instruments into the hands of students without the means to do so. These students need to have the opportunity to participate. More often than not, their future depends on it. Your community can also develop pride in the program as their support is recognized and produces performances.

Student development: In many Title I schools, students may lack the same opportunities as students in other communities such as private lessons, attending professional concerts, visiting college campuses, summer music camps, and state/national conferences. These activities provide long lasting memories and greatly enhances a child’s musical experience. In order to provide these opportunities to students who lack funding, find ways to take school-sponsored fields trips to professional concerts and conferences. In fact, many local military band programs will perform at public schools for free. Supporting local education is part of their mission. Local college music programs also look for opportunities to perform in their area. Researching local college and professional band programs is essential to building an effective high school band program. It is also important to remember that if students are not exposed to better, they cannot do better.

Another effective activity for exposure is nominating students for festivals such as state solo and ensemble festivals or festivals sponsored by colleges. These activities are relatively inexpensive and very effective for student development. For many years I made auditioning for all-county/state mandatory for my advanced level students. Not only does this provide a measuring stick for students but also lets students observe others around the city or county. This technique is helpful in three ways. First, the evaluation process uses many of the national standards music curricula, such as “performing on instruments”, “alone and with others”, “a varied repertoire of music”, and “reading and notating music.” Second, practicing scales and preparing a challenging etude will make a student a better musician by giving them goals outside the daily expectations of the program. Third, the process can help students prepare for college auditions and the chance to earn scholarships. Not many parents in an urban environment, or any other environment, will argue with opportunities that can lead to receiving money to pay for a college education.

Discipline: Discipline in the band program is probably the most important topic. Students must have a structured environment. Again, directors control the environment which in turns controls the probability for positive actions by teachers and students. Besides keeping a clean environment, maintaining a quiet learning environment is paramount. At the beginning of each class, students need to know when silence begins. One method is simply saying, “good morning class,” the student’s response is, “good morning Mr. Arnold.” This greeting signified that all talking and movement should cease and learning was about to begin. Similar to any form of discipline, this activity took consistency and persistence. The teacher must not begin until absolute silence is established. Initially it may be necessary to work toward this goal using successive approximations, but if the teacher is consistent and contingent success can be realized. Another method is conditioning students to respect the rehearsal space. If a student leaves the rehearsal space, they must be acknowledged in order to return to their seat. By doing this, students will gain more appreciation of the rehearsal space and the function as a classroom. Another effective method is to condition students to minimize personal movements during rehearsal. Staying still will remove unwanted noises in the rehearsal environment. This may be the most difficult goal to achieve, understanding the energy that students bring to the rehearsal environment and the natural tendency of adolescents to need an outlet for pent up energy. But teaching student musicians to direct their energy and focus their attention on the musical activity while minimizing extraneous actions leads to both a better rehearsal environment overall and the personal discipline necessary to meet musical goals. Remember, discipline takes consistency and persistence.

Mentors: Among the many reasons to find an experienced educator as a mentor for yourself as a teacher, one of the best is to help you keep perspective. Keeping the bigger picture in mind helps in dealing with frustrations of daily teaching or the more challenging times that can crop up during any academic year. Another way to have positive mental health is having a fellow director or colleague that is close to your same experience level. Together you can relate to the same issues and experiences and share solutions. 

This presentation was conceived to cover topics to help teachers in a Title I school find success, but these ideas are also universally important for anyone hoping to find success as a teacher in any musical environment. The only difference going in is being ready for the hurdles and open to the challenges. At the start of my career, I was told by a veteran director not to apply to a Title I school. Fortunately, I did not listen and discovered that teaching at this school gave me the necessary skills to teach in any setting. The band program flourished and grew from thirty students to over two hundred in four years. Additionally, the band program became the pride of the community and well respected in the county. Finding success and personal fulfillment teaching in the challenging environment is possible, and I hope that anyone considering a position in an Title I school setting will see both the need and the potential as both a challenge and a possibility.

Edited and reprinted with permission from the article “Effective Band Director Techinques for Teaching in Urban Schools” (from: The Florida Music Director Magazine, Feburary 2015)

Page 1 of 41