James Stephens
James Stephens

James Stephens is the Director of Advocacy and Educational Resources at Music for All.

This year, Music for All introduced its newest advocacy initiative - the Advocacy in Action Awards. In the inaugural year of this program, we received a record-setting number of applications representing music programs, schools, and communities across the United States. We are extremely grateful for those who took the time to showcase their advocacy efforts on the national stage by applying for this program.

The Advocacy in Action Awards program is a radically different call to action which collects and shares the best methods to elevate music education in your community. Mark your calendars, the 2018 award recipients will be announced Tuesday, January 15, 2019. Please join us in thanking all of these outstanding programs:

B.E. Mays H.S., GA
Baker H.S., LA
Biloxi H.S., MS
Brighton H.S., MI
Broken Arrow H.S., OK
Buchholz H.S., FL
Burrell School District, PA
Canton Public Schools, MA
Capistrano Valley H.S., CA
Carmel H.S., IN
Castle H.S., IN
Cedar Grove H.S., NJ
Cedar Hill H.S., TX
Centerville H.S., OH
Central M.S., MI
Charlottesville H.S., VA
Creekside M.S., IN
Decatur Central H.S., IN
Desert Hills H.S., UT
Desert Vista H.S., AZ
DuBois Area M.S., PA
East Central H.S., TX
Fishers H.S., IN
Glen Ridge H.S., NJ
Greenwood Community H.S., IN
Haltom H.S., TX
Hastings H.S., MI
Hastings M.S. ,MI
Highland H.S., AZ
Hillcrest Intermediate School, PA
Indian Valley School, OH
Jay County H.S., IN
Jensen Beach H.S., FL
JL Long M.S., TX
John Foster Dulles H.S., TX
John M. Harlan H.S., TX
Lake Hamilton H.S., AR
Lava Ridge Intermediate School, UT
Longwood Central School District, NY
Marshwood M.S., ME
Mater Dei H.S., CA
Morton School District 709, IL
North Cobb H.S., GA
Northbrook Jr H.S., IL
Norwin H.S., PA
Norwin M.S., PA
O'Fallon Township H.S., IL
Open World Learning Community, MN
Orleans Jr./Sr. H.S., IN
Owasso H.S., OK
Princeton City School District, OH
Prosper H.S., TX
Reidland Intermediate School, KY
Rouse H.S., TX
Rowan-Salisbury School System, NC
Spring Valley Academy, CA
St. Francis Prep, NY
St. Ignatius College Prep, IL
Tarpon Springs Leadership Conservatory for the Arts, FL
Vestavia Hills H.S., AL
Wando H.S., SC
Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, NY
West Brook M.S., NJ
Windsor H.S., NY
Youth Orchestras of Lubbock, TX

Directors Academy header

Music for All remains committed to providing educational resources and professional development tools in support of music in our schools and our communities. Our most recent program was the Directors’ Academy at the Music for All National Festival, a three-day professional development conference for directors and music education majors. Held in Indianapolis during the Music for All National Festival from March 9-11, the 2017 Directors’ Academy offered an unparalleled opportunity for colleagues to share best practices focused on our grand profession.

We kicked off the event with Thursday afternoon’s Opening Session delivered by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser to a room of over 2,300 students, parents, and educators. Over the course of three days, attendees had access to the full scope of the Music for All National Festival featuring more than 50 concerts of wind bands, orchestras, percussion ensembles, and chamber music as well as rehearsal and ensemble clinic sessions given by some of the most well-respected musicians in our field.

One of my favorite aspects was observing the student Master Class sessions, broken out into specialized instrumentation and led by Yamaha Performing Artists and members of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Witnessing the young musicians learn from these dedicated and professional musicians was very inspiring!

The most special part of the experience was having the opportunity to sit down in an intimate setting and learn from the icons of music education in our Directors’ Academy classes. Hosted by Richard Crain (Retired Director of Music; Spring Independent School District, TX) this year’s attendees gained valuable insight into the past and future of music education through the lens of four passionate educators.

Gary Green (Professor Emeritus; University of Miami, FL) shared his thoughts on the importance of being a music educator. It’s not just about teaching notes and rhythms, but more importantly making music and sharing the process with others.

Craig Kirchhoff (Director Emeritus; University of Minnesota) asked for us to consider whether or not our conducting is helping or hurting our ensemble. Kirchhoff also shared his personal viewpoint on selecting repertoire. It’s not about choosing pieces to play, but rather defining a curriculum and our beliefs about what music education should be for our students.

H. Robert Reynolds (Principal Conductor, Wind Ensemble at University of Southern California) discussed the use of batons and shared what he personally uses. Learning by listening and watching others that you respect was one of Reynolds’ themes. Look for those that use expressive conducting. Chances are the ensemble will want to match that level of expressiveness.

Anthony Maiello (Professor of Music, George Mason University) shared practical ways to develop confidence and security with the technical aspects of conducting, but also encouraged us and offered suggestions on how to move beyond technique to create emotionally engaging music with your ensemble.

This year’s attendees were inspired and rejuvenated, and reminded us WHY they teach music. If you missed out this year, it is my hope that you might consider joining us next year from March 15-17, 2018, to take part in this inspirational showcase of mission-oriented music educators who are committed to excellence.

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By James Stephens
Director of Education and Advocacy, Music for All

Often, when we hear discussion pertaining to the current state of scholastic music education, it is drenched in tones of doom and gloom. Certainly, the profession is experiencing no shortage of obstacles ranging from budget cuts to scheduling constraints. However, as of late, it has been my observation that where determination and dedication to arts education remain steadfast, instrumental music educators have afforded their students the most rewarding of performance experiences.

My recent travels, as well as positive reports from colleagues, have opened my eyes to some truly musical and well-rehearsed concert band and orchestra programs. During the months of March and April, Music for All had the privilege to present seven Regional Concert Band Festivals at a variety of locations across the country. The results have showcased some amazing teaching, wonderful musicianship, and high quality literature all present in our nation’s music classrooms.

"Music education is under a currently under a microscope. Many people are challenging the large ensemble concept of teaching students music," said Dr. Kevin Sedatole, director of bands at Michigan State University. As a frequent evaluator and clinician of the Music for All Festivals, Dr. Sedatole says, "The MFA Festivals, both national and regional, are a great example of thriving music education in the United States. I believe that the style of these MFA events, being non-competitive and more focused on music, gives great strength to the large ensemble concept of music education. As long as we keep the teaching of music as an art form at the forefront, the large ensemble format will continue to thrive."

Dr. Paula Crider, professor emerita at University of Texas Austin, having also served as a Music for All evaluator and clinician, says, "Music is essential to the human spirit. We must become more articulate spokespersons for the art of making music, so that music programs are not the first to be cut from schools. The entire spirit of the Music for All Festivals is one of shared joy in music-making and a sincere interest on the part of the conductors and musicians to learn from the experience."

Not only do these young musicians have the opportunity to perform for an appreciative audience, the post-performance clinic experience has become the "icing on the cake." I have been fortunate enough to observe some of these clinics, delivered by the likes of Richard Floyd, retired Director of Music at University of Texas Austin. Many times the ensemble has just given the performance of a lifetime, and it is through the clinic experience—working with clinicians at the highest level of music education--that these students are able to reflect on the power of live performance, as well as the importance of the entire ensemble in creating a successful performance. It is incredibly rewarding to witness that magical synergy that these young musicians experience while a skilled clinician offers some final touches.

"My message to high school directors is and will continue to be that the performance of music by ensembles is not about winning but about sharing the musical experience," says Sedatole. "These festivals offer a unique experience that celebrates music and musicianship. The opportunity to work with high-level conductors from high school, college, and professional ranks is very special."

These festivals have become a wonderful validation of the importance of music education, as well as a celebration of excellence in performance for students and their teachers.

In 2017, Music for All will expand the Regional Concert Band Festivals to ten locations including Russellville, Arkansas; Fresno, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Arlington Heights, Illinois; Lafayette, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; Roxbury, New Jersey; Cincinnati, Ohio; Salt Lake City, Utah; Vancouver, Washington. Click here for more information on the Affiliate Music for All Regional Concert Festivals.