Director’s Comments July 16, 2020

Director’s Comments July 16th, 2020
Still have a few holdouts on submitting information for the band directory; hopefully we can finalize this in the coming days. Rosters in Infinite Campus for the coming year are now available, but they may well change dramatically as parents/students weigh their option to go to the Virtual Academy instead (see comments below). Symphonic 2 looks like 56 students, Symphonic 1 68, Percussion 17, and Jazz 14 (could use a few more). When I’m able, I’ll match them with the directory info for accuracy.

The Virtual Academy is not and can not be a band class. Parents and students choosing the Virtual Academy option for their academics probably would be best served through employing a private instructor for the year and returning to the program for 2021-22. There is no way a student could “practice” on his/her own and just show up for the performances. All of the work done through in-person instruction would not have occurred, and ensemble performers train themselves through the rehearsal process to “know” each others’ contribution to the whole in performance situations.

Going “virtual” would open up the possibility of taking another academic course in place of the band class, but also would likely mean these students would not return to the program at any point in the future. Lessons are great for moving the individual forward but will never take the place of the ensemble experience or all of the collaborative activities involved in producing successful performances together.

Sad, but just another uncomfortable choice students and parents may have to make based on their own situation at this point.

I would encourage all of you to read the article included with these comments at your convenience. Some of you may already have…

Drum Majors for 2020 (announced last meeting): Aaron Cook, Ashtyn Jones, and Andrew Witak. Now, let’s hope we’re able to have a performing marching band!

Summer program activities have finally begun; we had our first pair of rehearsals this week. I want to thank especially Lisa Adams for coordinating our first week check in process, and Lorena Reed for handling the instrument checkout, flipfolder and music stand concession.

Monday’s brass group numbered 44 students (a few we know about were out for this one), and instrumentation was decent (need more horn players). It was obvious that 1) the students had not played a ton recently, 2) the potential for success was definitely there, and 3) they enjoyed the opportunity to play together. As we will do tonight with the woodwinds and percussion, we worked primarily on getting back on the instruments, and did some light standing marching fundamentals. The plan is to repeat that process next week to get kids a bit more acclimated before camp week begins.

The band camp schedule is different than in past years, with a morning (8-noon) and evening (6-9) pairing of rehearsal blocks. Students will not be allowed to remain at school during the middle of the day, and should go home, relax/eat, and return for the evening sessions each day. This cuts out approximately 2 hours of playing rehearsal time each day. I have not yet determined how Friday will look for sure, but could be morning session only.

While I’m on the subject of camp: I still have not heard anything definitive from KHSAA concerning “fans in the stands” at games, or really anything else that might impact our marching band going forward. No one seems willing to make that decision at this point—and I’m relatively sure that bands are the furthest thing from their minds in their deliberations. Also, their limitations on practice time/week (six HOURS per week, per sport) have started to bleed into band camp schedules that have already been announced to band students and parents across the state. These administrative decisions (if I’m directed by admin here to align with the six hour/week requirement) would ultimately affect how camp week is done and whether we had the time or the need to even learn the marching drill to a show of any length. If faced with this prospect, any changes to our plan will be decided next week, PRIOR to camp week, and will likely involve simply continuing our two-a-week, Brass and Woodwind/percussion evening rehearsals. Right now, it’s way more important to get the kids playing together as best we can than anything else. Our camp staff has been attending the evening rehearsals and will be critical to our success later in the year regardless of the format of camp week.

I have had some preliminary discussions about spring travel, but until I hear definitively that field trips of any kind will be possible next year, it is not really time to do any more than simply think about possibilities.

The awards ceremony went very well last month; I still have a good number of awards certificates, etc. that need to be picked up. I’ll work toward getting some of those out at our summer rehearsal nights.

I have begun work on rehearsal and performance alternatives for the reopening of school; some of these ideas I floated in my last Google Meet with students. Any viable alternative that will be of benefit will include our talented paraprofessional section coaches, probably at a greater level of involvement than in previous years. While I have put considerable thought into more than one scenario, and shared them with administration here, after last night’s school board meeting and today’s administrative staff gathering to try to put together plans, I’ll have to revisit and likely redo anything I thought might work. I hope to have more than this to report to you live tonight, but that really depends upon how far our admin team has progressed in their plan for the school in one day.

Thanks for all you do in support of this program! Although we still are in the dark about the beginning of the school year, it’s important that we plan ahead as best we can, concern ourselves with continuing the financial viability of the organization, and focus on making the future bright for the program. This won’t last forever, and the students need for the band program to be ready when we come out of this.
What are we really doing here?
Brad Rogers
 I’ve been an educator my entire adult life, working in what I consider one of the most important subjects a student can choose to undertake—the study and performance of music. Music and its elements can be found in and connected to every academic discipline. That students choose to become involved in actual music making in our schools is but one of many factors that differentiates music from the so-called “core” or required subjects studied in our educational system.

Fortunately, this choice draws many bright young people to our music classrooms. By any measure— academic, social, or talent potential—music kids are among the best students in any school. Ensemble directors should recognize that students under their tutelage have made a conscious decision to be in their classroom rather than elsewhere.

The influences affecting their decision will vary depending upon the student. Some may be drawn to the music classroom because their friends are making the same choice. Others may have had some prior music experience or a parent or sibling that had been involved in the past. The rigor of musical study and performance may interest those who have a strong academic background. The artistry involved in performance may lead the “creative” student into band, orchestra, or choir. Whatever the reason, once a student has made the choice to be in our classes, the real trick is in keeping them involved.

So, the initial question posed still stands. What follows will attempt to move toward either an answer or possibly more questions.

For many students involved in music, it is a way to be a part of something bigger than themselves that includes a wide variety of personalities and abilities all striving for a common result. There are other things that can provide a similar experience (like team sports, honor societies, and academic teams). Music performance especially distinguishes itself in that every person is constantly contributing to the end result. Performance ensembles don’t have a “bench” or a “second string” set of performers. Ensembles never stop to substitute musicians in the middle of a concert to give the “starters” a rest–all members play an important role in the production of the overall product at every juncture in rehearsal and performance. Music can be an unbelievably effective tool in developing great team members and collaborators—qualities that are highly valued and increasingly rare in today’s real world.

For some, doing something with friends or others with common interests is most important. The social aspect of music ensembles is not to be overlooked. Learning to work closely with others who are friends is relatively easy. Learning to do so with those who you don’t always agree with or possibly not at all encourages empathy and acceptance of the kind of diversity our society is actually built upon.

For a small minority of students in any ensemble, music becomes who they are. They can’t imagine a life without music playing a leading role in every aspect. They are usually perfectionists who ultimately end up having to live with constant imperfection. Every great performance has its flaws (unless you can edit or auto-tune them out). No one will ever completely figure out how to play an instrument or compose a masterpiece, although the rare individuals the world calls masters of the craft come closest to that goal. These students are willing to give enormous amounts of energy to both their own efforts and those of their fellow ensemble members through example and mentorship. These individuals provide a picture of what passion, commitment to excellence, work ethic, and artistic fearlessness look and sound like for everyone else in the group—in short, they embody what leadership is.

Personally, music is what makes me who I am. Decades into a career, rehearsing, teaching and performing music still excites me every day, and although I come home every day totally exhausted has never felt like work—unlike a lot of the other things happening in today’s schools that certainly do.

So, what motivates a long-term commitment to music study on the part of students who are in our classes for an obviously diverse set of reasons?

Realistically, very few of our students will become professionals in the music field—and they shouldn’t. For students who don’t necessarily feel that music is me connection, other means of creating value through their involvement must be developed.
As a music educator, I believe the most important things we must do for all students are:

  1. expect excellence from everyone involved, regardless the level of experience
  2. cultivate a sense of family, with each member knowing they have an important role
  3. provide a rich, significant diet of repertoire in every aspect of the program
  4. set incremental goals, with each one just out of reach of the current level of proficiency
  5. provide a wide variety of performance opportunities
  6. plan in such a way to put students in a position to be successful in their work

I doubt that you can leave any of the above out of your thinking and completely serve students in a music program. For example, to achieve #1, you would need every one of the others.

With that in mind, if there is a single answer to my question it has to be a little bit of all of the things mentioned above. Each member of our ensembles is there for a reason, and for some it is not the one we might think. It is up to us to find ways to understand as best we can and provide the vehicle that validates their choice of music as part of their educational experience.

Brad Rogers has been a director of bands at Oldham County High School in Buckner, Kentucky, since 1987. He can be reached at