The Music for All Blog
The Music for All Blog

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After leaving a particularly electric clinic session with Larry Livingston at the 2015 Music for All Orchestra America National Festival, I caught up with my kids at the hotel. Many were sitting in the hallway after an intense day of early-morning traveling and all-day music making. I asked them, “Okay, tell the truth: what did you think of the rehearsal?” Thinking I was going to hear gripes and groans, I was taken aback by some of the candid answers I received: “That was the most emotional rehearsal I've ever been a part of.” “It was life-changing.” “I was reminded of why I like music.” The question we as educators often ask ourselves is, “Why bother traveling?” Traveling means more work, money, time, and energy. What are the benefits, and why should our groups take part? Here are three benefits to taking the plunge and taking your orchestra on the road:

1. A Fresh Approach

The orchestra world is small, and it is often easy for students to know exactly where they stand, especially compared to other programs in the region. With repeated exposure to the same small pool of ensembles, it's understandably easy for students to gain a “big fish in a small pond” mentality to their performances. Touring drops your fishy students into a nation-sized pond to see and hear groups they have never heard before. Hearing the best ensembles in the country can help give a great boost to a students' drive to practice, to improve, and to hear new music performed at a high level.

Rehearsals can be repetitive—we've all been there: you tell the students every day, “more bow here,” “use more bow,” “use the opposite of less bow,” “free the elbow,” “imagine the upbow is like lifting dead souls by their hair out of the River Styx, and the souls are all tall spartan warriors, so you have to really pull,” etc. Nothing seems to work. Then, a guest clinician says to the students, “Hey, you should probably use more bow here,” and suddenly the students act as if they've never before heard such divine words. Something often clicks by hearing a fresh voice, and it gets results. The MFA Festival team of clinicians—some of the best professionals in the country—works with your group and gets results, and the students often get feedback from peers at meals or student socials.

2. Helping Grow the “Orchestra Nerds”

Think back to your own middle school, high school, and college music experiences. What do you remember more clearly: the detailed process of your teacher tuning an important chord in a piece's climax, or So-and-So's wacky bus antics on a trip? Or do you remember bonding with a friend, or laughing at a joke in rehearsal? Hopefully we all have some fondness of our orchestra experience, and hopefully it was a combination of both musical and social enjoyment. To help students gain a positive musical experience, we use many tools and tricks of the trade everyday in the pieces we select, our rehearsal pacing, and the way we repeatedly make sure the kids sit up straight or hold their bows correctly. What are we doing that helps kids' social needs while building orchestral musicians? How are we helping grow “orchestra nerds”—kids that are so in love with orchestra that they don't want to leave our rehearsals? We can build memories that last a lifetime and provide social experiences that gel with a top-notch performing experience by traveling—not just a “field trip,” but a play-hard, work-hard performance tour.

3. Keeping Up with Other Areas

Orchestra programs historically have had smaller numbers than other music ensembles in schools. Part of our role in educating the next generation of musicians is to reach out and recruit as many personality types as we can. Marching bands and show choirs regularly travel and compete in festivals—it's part of their culture. Their activities make them visible. We have to work harder in this regard, since traveling is often not naturally built into our programs. We typically don't have a “pep orchestra” to send out during basketball tournaments. We probably won't flaunt matching sequin dresses for our choreographed dance numbers. With visibility brings recognition; with recognition, support, and with better support usually comes more funding, more students, and better music making. So feel free to siphon that sequin budget into your travel funds and take your concert group on the road!

– Dan Whisler, Director of Orchestras, Youth Performing Arts School, Louisville, KY 

Although universities do much to prepare music educators to begin their career, teaching music at any level in today’s schools requires the willingness to deal with “on the job” training. All young teachers, no matter the subject, must leave any ego “at the door” and must be willing to learn and improve their craft EVERY DAY.

1) Work to create and maintain a positive and professional relationship with your administrators.

Make sure you consult your department head and/or assistant principal or principal before making any major decisions involving the band program. Keep them informed! Don’t bug them, but make sure they know what’s going on with the band. Try to find a short time where you can sit with your administrators and give them an overview of your vision for the future. Remember that if you go into your principal and complain, it’s probably the 50th complaint they’ve heard that day. Go in with more than just the issue and have some possible solutions. Invite your administrators to concerts, contests, and festivals. If you have a marching band, ask your principal to go through warm-up and actually come on the field with the group. Make sure you provide all the current band spirit wear for your principal! Don’t laugh! It’s important!

2) Work with your most positive parents to create a band booster group.

Don’t forget to constantly thank your parents for their assistance with things like uniform maintenance, raising money and putting out the “good word” about your program. Make sure your parents understand that YOU make the decisions for what’s best for the program, but you should always listen and consider parent input. Deal with the positive situations in public and with the full parent group, but deal with any negative situations in private, either with a board of directors or your band booster president. There must be a POSITIVE relationship between the director and the booster group and that relationship must be based on mutual TRUST. Consistent COMMUNICATION is the best way for a director to earn the trust of parents.

3) Make sure your groups are fundamentally solid.

Set aside enough time in rehearsals to work on tone quality, blend, balance (especially within music), technique, intonation, and musicianship. That’s a long list, but you cannot skip steps when it comes to developing your ensemble. Remember that you can rehearse the same music for weeks and still not sound good on your concerts and at festivals if your band is not built on basics. For example, a trumpet section that understands and applies the concept of “blending” will always sound like they have better tone and intonation than a trumpet section that doesn’t understand the concept. If you can’t demonstrate characteristic sounds on the instruments, then bring in good college players or local private teachers to do so. If these folks are not available, play great recordings of SOLOISTS on each instrument throughout the year so students will always have a model for their sound. Keep in mind that many bands don’t do well at festivals because of a lack of sonority when they play. You must insist on excellence every time your group plays, whether it’s on a long tone, technique exercise or a section of music.

4) Create a culture of excellence and integrity within all areas of the band program.

Work with your students and student leaders to develop the mantra of  “excellence as a lifestyle”. That simple phrase covers work ethic, behavior and respecting others, as well as setting a standard in everything that your staff, your students and your band parents pursue. I am a big believer that the quality of a person’s life is related to their attempt to pursue excellence in all that they do. My great friend, Freddy Martin, taught me that there is no “wrong” or “right” in rehearsal. There is only “getting better”! Instead of making a negative comment to an individual or section, ask them if they can make it better the next time. With your help and suggestions, I’m betting your students will “get better” and have a positive experience in band. Ask yourself after each rehearsal: “Are my students eager to come back and make music again tomorrow?” If you’re not sure, maybe a more positive approach will help. Students need “information” more than they need to be told they are right or wrong. Make sure the community, as well as the rest of the school respect the band program. Support other areas of the school by providing groups to play at athletic or special school/community events.

5) Get better as a musician, a rehearsal technician and as a leader everyday.

The most energetic teachers are those who can’t wait to share NEW information with their groups. Attend clinics and workshops, go watch great teachers in front of their ensembles, and constantly invite other conductors or private teachers to work with your band or to run sectionals.


Surround yourself with people that are better than you in certain areas. Push yourself to become that teacher that students remember for years! Even if you only have ten students in your band, get help to make them sound amazing. Don’t make excuses about why things can’t happen at your school. It all depends on the teacher in front of the room: YOU!

- Richard Saucedo, Retired Band Director Carmel H.S., Carmel IN, Freelance Arranger and Composer

Monday, February 23, 2015

Renaissance of Traditional Enrichment

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For several of us, the term renaissance triggers memories of college music history classes where the presentation of ones hair was in direct proportion to how recently they stopped tapping the snooze button. This Renaissance is not a music style period, but a renewal of emphasis and a distinctive twist on enrichment courses in public school music education. It is a recommitment or a doubling-down on music as a tool to help students matriculate through the school system––from recruitment out of the elementary grades to the completion of grade 12.

In many schools, secondary music features a team of adult stakeholders (teachers/directors) charged with this important responsibility. We are talking about the pragmatic case to systemically drive elective participation into classes with high potential student/teacher ratios––band/choir/orchestra––and engender a culture that strengthens these courses as comprehensive beginner through grade 12 vertical programs: A school within a school.

Music Expansion =Enhanced Economics

Music ROI GraphBottom line: the more students in your program, the better it is for the school’s finances. “Any circumstance that causes a decline in student enrollment or prevents students from participation will have a negative cost effect on the district budget” (Benham, 2011, p. 95). That is to say, expanding enrollment in secondary music can save money.

If the students are in your program, they are not in another class. The more students you have in your program, the more they are not in other elective classes. This translates into cost savings as your classes have high potential student/teacher ratios. Additionally students of the arts generate higher attendance, graduation rates, and test scores (Texas Music, 2015). Therefore, school systems promoting participation in secondary music supports inherent cost savings and improved achievement data, while providing tremendous student benefits. This is known as a high ROI (return on investment).

As a band director of a growing program I would say that it was not my job to know where the students aren’t, but where they are. As an administrator I say that robust fine arts programs increase the bang for your educational buck.

are you sure

Think Win, Win…Win

In today’s culture of choice and downloaded-gratification, we just can’t do fine arts to our students the way fine arts was done to us. “My way or the highway” will simply push kids to the information super-highway or other endeavors absent the aesthetic, cognitive, and relational benefits of our programs. A rising tide lifts all boats; therefore an inclusive approach to expand access and excellence to arts education is a high-yield recipe to serve our students, schools, and communities. Enter a renaissance of traditional enrichment.

As school systems we don’t need to invent new things for students to do. Arts can provide stabilization for education based on personalization. They build achievement on discovering the individual talents of children and putting them in an environment where they want to learn and can find their true passions (Robinson, 2009).

Literature and research-based benefits of music education––and more specifically instrumental music education––cast a long shadow over the latest (and possibly not greatest) educational fad or business-based solution to fix education. The trick is to think win, win… win. When decisions need to be made, remember: Everyone is in it for the students (win), and we all want staff to be taken care of (second win)… The trick is to scan the environment and decode/prepare/present how what you need for your students and staff is also best for the system as a whole (a win thrice).

For example, if your program would benefit from a change within the school schedule (good for your students and staff), be sure to find other classes/programs/activities that could benefit from the change. This process builds consensus, which is ultimately anyone’s most effective weapon in the politics and bureaucracy of public education.

A Systems Approach to Traditional Enrichment

Combining music expansion = enhanced economics with win/win… win, provides the foundation for strategies that have worked to change conversations from music cuts to music expansion. Every community, school, and department are different, so adapt accordingly and let us all keep working for greater student access and excellence to music education through innovation––a renaissance of traditional enrichment


- Jeremy Earnhart, Director of Fine Arts, Arlington, TX Independent School District

Benham, J. L. (2011). Music advocacy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Robinson, K. (2009). The element. New York: Penguin Group.
Texas Music Educators Association. (2015). Fine arts participation data [PowerPoint presentation]. Available January 10, 2015, TMEA Web site:

How MFA Summer Symposium can help you and your students...


Have you given any thought to what you might do differently this next year regarding your band’s marching band season?  I have to be honest, since I am the visual caption head at Carmel High School and not an actual band director, I get lots of time in the “off season” to think about marching band – while you all are doing concert band, jazz band, pep band, etc.  

Last year Dynamic Marching put out a survey about what the biggest areas of frustration are among band directors.  The results were not too surprising! One director said, “The greatest challenge is finding ways to teach the students what is beyond the notes on the page (phrasing, dynamics, balance, articulation, etc.).  In addition, when it comes to marching, we are in need of a fresh start regarding the technique of marching.”  Another director answered, “I have a very small staff and I really need to count on my section leaders.  I feel like I spend too much time pushing and pulling my section leaders to get their help and not enough time actually getting better.”  Wow! If you asked 1,000 band directors if they have similar frustrations – you would likely get universal agreement.  We all want our students to be more musical, to have great fundamentals, and to be great leaders.

Good news!  We can help you with all of that.  While I am probably not the guy to fix your woodwind intonation, I am the guy who can help you and your students to establish a top-notch visual fundamentals program.  I can still help your woodwinds though… AND your brass.  How?  I have assembled a staff that is the “best of the best” that your students will not only learn from but LOVE.

Our music staff at the MFA Summer Symposium is led by Matt Harloff, Richard Saucedo, and Scott Atchison – our music team represents great teachers from some of the very best bands and drum corps in the country (Carolina Crown, Blue Stars Drum & Bugle Corps, University of Kentucky, Avon H.S., Broken Arrow H.S., Carmel H.S., Center Grove H.S., LD Bell H.S., Lassiter H.S., and more) ! Our visual staff:  Features instruction from me, Chris Kaflik, and Jordan Lalama (Carmel H.S., Broken Arrow H.S., Blue Stars Drum & Bugle Corps).

3 Skills that your student leaders need right now!


Through small-group sectionals with nationally recognized teachers, students who attend the Music for All Summer Symposium marching band track will return to your group with a better understanding of:

  • Breathing
  • Sound Production
  • Intonation
  • Ensemble Balance & Listening
  • Articulation
  • Dynamics
  • Emotion

Visual Artistry

Utilizing full-group & small-group fundamentals exercises, students who come to the marching band track learn various fundamentals of marching & movement such as:

  • Posture
  • Instrument Carriage
  • The Weight Shift / Stops & Starts
  • Upper Bodies & Slides
  • Prep Steps and Transitions
  • Timing & Articulation
  • Introduction to Dance Fundamentals


We are really working diligently to integrate the training and curriculum from the Drum Major track at camp with the marching band track.  We are well aware that the students you send to the marching track this year may be the section leaders and drum majors in the next couple of years and working with Bobby Lambert to develop leadership skills in these students is a priority for us.  They will learn skills such as:

  • Identifying the audience
  • Knowing the intent of the communication
  • Communicating the message
  • Applying the details of music and visual fundamentals to the actual style choices of the home band
  • Teamwork

For years now, I have been wondering why band directors automatically send their drum majors to summer camp, but they do not do the same for the student leaders and section leaders.  
I feel that this is a critical step that will help you to have a more successful season. Send us one or two students from each section of your band and we will return them to you  more knowledgeable and more qualified to help you and their section-mates. And – just to sweeten the deal  - your students will get to perform part of the actual Carolina Crown show for a gigantic DCI audience at the end of the week!!!  Win…. Win.

Please email me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding the marching band track at the Music for All Summer Symposium.

ConcertBand Image for Blog

The concert band is the foundation and centerpiece of the scholastic band program. The instrumental music curriculum – its scope, sequence, and standards – all emanate from this regular instruction. Marching band, jazz band, chamber ensembles, and other similar activities contribute to the enrichment of the band program and provide students with specific valuable experiences. Each has a unique role to play within the program and provides a balance to instrumental music education. However, any one alone cannot provide the breadth and depth of the instrumental curriculum or the most effective instructional strategies. It is within the concert band curriculum that individual and ensemble performance skills are more fully developed, and artistic decision-making is fostered enabling all of the other enrichment activities to be more successful.

If any one of the supplemental activities is overemphasized, in either focus or time, high standards and depth of instruction are routinely compromised. Students in the band program must study the most significant literature, demanding their highest-level skill and discerning musical decisions. While there is significant focused literature available for jazz and chamber ensembles, it serves as a valuable addition to concert study. The concert band offers the best opportunity to achieve the highest level of performance standards. It presents a thoughtful sequence of study related to individual and ensemble skill acquisition coupled with a body of literature selected for musical growth and understanding. Highly skilled, caring, musical teachers are the catalyst for the most successful band programs.

As the basis of the entire band experience, the scope and sequence of the concert band curriculum must be delivered throughout the year. This foundation then elevates the performance standards of all the well-balanced enrichment activities. With demand for student time increasing on a yearly basis, it is critical that the most productive and efficient instructional model be employed. Careful implementation of a thorough concert band curriculum will provide great program benefits and sustainability.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Competition

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Guest blog by Dr. Lisa Garner Santa
Associate Professor of Flute, Texas Tech University

There have been many debates over the years regarding the value of competition. While I believe all can be approached in respect to balance and moderation, I do think we, and our students, have a great deal to learn from competition. The aspect of competition I seem to hear most about is the motivation factor. No doubt, competition can motivate. But I think there is an aspect that is even more important: Competition offers opportunities for building resilience. As harsh as it may sound, people are going to be compared to others throughout their lifetime - in regard to job placement/promotion, relationships, creative output, and socio-economic circles. I hesitate to label this good or bad…it just is. It is however, the personal reactions to these comparisons, which can determine the individual’s sense of self-worth, confidence, and ability to experience joy in living.

We reward and praise students for “winning,” for “being the best.” And there’s nothing bad about that either…that praise is absolutely worthy, and certainly powerful if the student exerted effort toward that end. But don’t forget to praise the students who get back up and try again and again after “losing.” We must teach that effort and resilience are what promote the greatest progress and success, even for the most gifted students. Losing is an important aspect of that learning. If you haven’t lost a competition yet, consider seeking bigger competitions.

My most successful (in terms of competitions) students are those who lost many times, but did not give up. They kept entering competitions knowing that adjudication panels are often fickle, that sometimes you just have a bad day, that sometimes you get the honor of “losing” to the next super-star, and knowing that a personal best doesn’t always mean best overall. They were motivated by the competitions, of course. But the outcome did not define them. They were gracious when they lost, and gracious when they won…because they knew on a different day, perhaps with a different panel or a different set of competitors, they may not have won.

The only way to learn how to get back up after you fall is to fall. In the grand scheme of things, competitions are a safe place to do this and can prepare many for much greater challenges in life…like losing your home to fire, having your largest investment go belly up, surviving a failed relationship or losing the life of a dear one.

One of my spiritual teachers taught, “Don’t worry about being the best. Concern yourself with being really good.” At first I was like, “huh?” Being the best is what it’s all about here in Texas. But what if I focused on being a really good (in every sense of the word) flutist…what would that mean? It just might produce “winning” results and bring some peace along with it.


Lisa Garner Santa currently serves as Artist-Performer and Associate Professor of Flute at Texas Tech University where she enjoys a diverse career as teacher, recitalist, soloist, and chamber musician. Her recordings and performances receive rave reviews. As an active member of the National Flute Association, Dr. Garner Santa has been a featured performer at the Boston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Nashville, and Kansas City conventions. As a pedagogue, Lisa Garner Santa presents masterclasses throughout the United States and abroad.

Learn more about Dr. Garner Santa at

Music for All thanks Dr. Garner Santa for permission to share this thoughtful essay.

Macys---Parade-JPEGPhoto credit: Macy's, Inc.

We hope that everyone will be joining us tomorrow in starting off Thanksgiving day by watching the 2014 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! We cannot wait to watch all of the amazing marching bands!

Our friends at are providing AMAZING coverage of these bands in New York City! You can follow along with the action on Facebook and Twitter or head over to the website!

So make sure you are watching the parade tomorrow and cheering on the fantastic bands! Below is a list of all of the marching bands you will see in the parade!

American Fork, UT
Band Director: John Miller
Band Size: 250
Herald Square Performance: Can Can

Nassau, Bahamas
Band Director: Yonell Justilien
Band Size: 125
Herald Square Performance: Medley of Sloop John B, Bagalee & Funky Nassau

Baldwinsville, NY
Band Director: Casey Vanderstouw
Band Size: 162
Herald Square Performance: Medley of Daft Punk songs

Greenwood, IN
Band Director: Kevin Schuessler
Band Size: 160
Herald Square Performance: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Henderson, NV
Band Director: Travis Pardee
Band Size: 300
Herald Square Performance: Music from The Nutcracker

Atlanta, GA
Band Director: Chester Phillips
Band Size: 225
Herald Square Performance: Bohemian Rhapsody

United States
Band Director: Dr. Rick Good
Band Size: 250
Herald Square Performance: Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off

Madison, WI Corps Directors: Chris Komnick & James Mason
Corps Size: 450
Herald Square Performance: Happy Christmas

New York, NY
Band Director: Lt. Tony Giorgio
Band Size: 50
Herald Square Performance: National Emblem March

Lexington, KY
Band Director: Jeff Hood
Band Size: 162
Herald Square Performance: Unbridled 

Cullowhee, NC
Band Director: David Starnes
Band Size: 510
Herald Square Performance: I’ve Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway

San Antonio, TX
Band Director: Tony Ruiz
Band Size: 220 
Herald Square Performance: Troika Theme


Don't miss these awesome marching bands on national television! The parade kicks off at 9am and you can watch on NBC!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Grand National Championships Photo Album

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Congratulations to all of the bands who participated in the 2014 Bands of America Grand National Championships, presented by Yamaha!

Here are awards photos, behind-the-scenes photos and selected action shots from all 94 of our bands!

Looking for more action photos of your band? Jolesch Enterprises has you covered - so make sure you check here for group photos as well as action shots that they took at the event.

If the photo stream above is not viewable for you, try this link:

The 2014 Bands of America Grand National Championships kicked off in beautiful Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis this evening with the annual Indianapolis Marching Band Tournament. The event has become a full-scale community gala, with students and boosters cheering on their hometown favorites.

The fans play an important role in the competition, as they are judged on their enthusiasm by a panel of local celebrities in the quest to win the coveted Spirit Award, which provides the winning school with a $1,000.00 scholarship. This year there was a tie, so both Broad Ripple Magnet High School and Crispus Attucks High School will get scholarships.

Fans were treated to special exhibition performances by the Marian University and Tennessee State University Marching Bands. Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy from Gary, IN also joined us for an exhibition performance, becoming the first non-Indianapolis high school to perform at this event.

Crispus Attucks HS struck gold with the choreography of their dance line, sweeping all captions to take the Class A Championship with the chart topping sounds of Earth, Wind, and Fire. Giving off an aura of an uptown dance club, Class A Runner-up Northwest HS made us want to move to the rhythms of contemporary artists Pharrell, Daft Punk, and Macklemore.

Class B winner Arsenal Technical HS presented sounds of the heartland, playing music of Aaron Copland. The toe-tapping “Hoedown” made us feel like we were enjoying a good, old-fashioned barn dance. The martial pounding of war drums propelled Emmerich Manual HS to Class B 2nd place and the award for Best Music, playing selections from “World of Warcraft.”

Shortridge Magnet HS had us smiling with their fun rendition of the classic pop tune “Louie, Louie.” With only 10 winds, Washington Community HS challenged their students with mysterious harmonies from “Cirque du Soleil,” while Broad Ripple Magnet HS honored our 16th President with “A Lincoln Tribute.” Key Learning Center brought a sense of foreboding and danger with “World of Warcraft,” and John Marshall HS drew “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd with a trio of high-stepping dancers.

Two action-filled days of preliminary performances by ninety-four of the finest Bands of America begin Thursday morning, with the highest scoring bands moving on to Saturday morning’s Semi Finals competition. The top 12 scoring bands will compete in Saturday night’s Grand National Finals, where the 2014 Bands of America Grand National Champion will take home the traveling Eagle trophy.

Tickets are still available for all performances. We invite you to join us in person at Lucas Oil Stadium, via the live webcast available at, or through our interactive blog covering all the action as it happens. Let’s break ranks and join together as we endeavor to bring these young Winners in Life to the next level! Go for it!

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