Director’s Comments September 21, 2020
September 21, 2020
Friday night was significant. I could not have been happier with the result of our week of full band rehearsals. The students made great progress—every time they played together, they showed improvement in their cohesiveness and sound. And the result on Friday night (only the third time they have played as a full ensemble since July 31st, and their first performance of any kind since mid-March) was an outstanding example of how bands CAN still provide a musical performance opportunity in the face of stifling but necessary restrictions. It was definitely something we can build upon.
However…our students missed out on all of the non-musical elements of building a band program due to our very different approach to summer rehearsals, band camp, and of course the NTI opening and resultant reduction in “together” time. Summer rehearsals and band camp are when bands traditionally “come together” as a group, incorporating our incoming students into the habits and traditions that have been established in the program over many years. That has not had the opportunity to happen with our group, and it especially shows when the students are not in “performance mode”. I’m sharing a short article with you at the end of my comments that we actually read through during our first week of classes; it might be a good idea for all parents to read it as well, and do what you can to help your child become more of a “band kid” than a “kid in band”. It really isn’t the kids’ fault—it is almost impossible to instill the “band” attitude in students you don’t see on a daily basis. Nearly all students arrive here without any clue about how important their attitude is in creating a great experience for themselves and others they work with through our band program. Our success depends on them learning how to change their attitude about what they are doing in band and who they are doing it for.
It is a fact, not an opinion. Without developing a room full of true “band kids”, we won’t maintain the excellence this program has enjoyed for the past 30 or so years.
Snap! Raise kicks off tomorrow (Tuesday). Unfortunately, we still have a sizeable percentage of students who have not completed their online account activation as of today. My first “ask” on this came prior to the Labor Day weekend, and in spite of my persistent hounding, we’re still falling short of my expectations. I’ll keep after them to do so, but without an improvement in participation level, we should expect this effort to fall short of our budgeted result. (This is another indication of what I described above…)
Our “target” is still a moving one. We have just completed our fourth week of NTI instruction, with one more week to go until we move to an A/B in-person schedule. I don’t know that it will be better or worse than NTI, but at least we will be able to work together in-person on some level. I might have a chance to learn the new kids by name/face (at least from the cheekbones up) better. How well kids and the school handle all of this relative to the virus/masks/distancing, etc. will likely determine how things will go for the remainder of the semester, and possibly the rest of the school year. Cheerful compliance will win the day.
For the next week, we will continue with our Monday and Thursday summer rehearsal schedule. Beginning with Sept. 28 and the A/B format, things will change…
In putting together reasonable rehearsal and performance alternatives for opening on an A/B in-person schedule, I’m still expecting to have an after-school, in-person rehearsal component (one rehearsal per week as usual) regardless of whether we’re NTI, A/B, or daily in-person. If we are in-person (A/B or Full time), the rehearsal day will correspond with a day the students are already in the building at 3:45 p.m. Those rehearsals will run from 4:00-5:15 p.m.; parents can pick up their student at 5:15. In addition to these rehearsals, we will have a brief rehearsal on the evening of any home football performance, much like last Friday night. I’m asking our coaches who teach individual lessons here to try and coordinate with the after-school rehearsal days until we’re back in-person/every day. These folks will probably have a greater level of involvement than in previous years in an effort to recover the ground lost over the last six months.
In case there is still some confusion…all rehearsals and performances of the band are part of the grade in the course! If a student is not in attendance, they will not receive credit for that event. Per the course syllabus, exceptions to attendance at rehearsals are at the director’s discretion (athletes at games, verified illness, and unresolvable conflicts with other school-related functions). There is no way to “make up” a missed performance. I do not like publishing a schedule that has to be constantly adjusted; as a result, I’ve tried to communicate rehearsal and performance dates/times well in advance. The situation we’re currently in makes publishing a long range calendar at this point much harder to do with any degree of accuracy. I encourage everyone to watch your email/Remind/Google Classroom/ or Infinite Campus communications.
Uniforms will be issued during the evening rehearsals this week in the hope of actually WEARING THEM at the next game (October 2; homecoming). We will come up with some alternatives for ladies who didn’t order marching shoes to get us through the remainder of the season; since we won’t be actually marching a drill, some may wear extra shoes we have in our stock, others may need to wear a low heel, all black shoe they own already. The uniform chairs (the Christensen’s) will advise what to do. Concert uniforms will also be handled; tux shirts are purchased by those in tuxes, dresses are purchased by those in a dress. You’ll receive information on all of this shortly—if you haven’t already taken care of it.
Audition music was made available to all students in their Google Classroom/Classwork. Auditions will be recorded the week of November 17-21, with the format (live or virtual) to be determined. I’m waiting on word concerning potential All-District and All-State auditions (the same excerpts will be used as in the past). Kids should NOT WAIT to begin working on these pieces; they will be graded on their performance and seated in chair order in November!
Thanks for all you do in support of this program! I could not have gotten through the last few weeks nor through last Friday’s inaugural performance without your assistance and support…and patience. Things continue to evolve in terms of schedule, delivery of instruction, expectations of teachers and students, and even the makeup of our faculty and staff. Senior Night in and of itself is a huge event to organize, and to get it all done so well with only a few short days to plan and implement…it takes a parent group that is truly “there for the kids” to make that happen.
And now, here’s the “article”:
Band directors would make good preachers. All would agree that I probably talk too much, but I am hopeful I’ll say something occasionally that will have a positive impact, even if it’s only on one person.
I really have only one “sermon”; it just appears as though I have an unlimited supply of them. I simply have the ability to move the words around each time I deliver a “message”. Regardless of where my sermon starts, it always ends up being about the BAND—and I’m always passionate about that subject.
One of the topics I think makes a huge difference is about the characteristics that separate a “band kid” from a “kid in band”. Possibly what follows will help you determine which you are.
Anybody can be a “kid in band”—all you have to do is show up with a horn. You don’t need any particular musical knowledge or talent, or even try to develop or discover any. It does help if you are physically sitting in your chair or standing in your spot during rehearsals, but to be a “kid in band” there is no requirement that you actually DO anything. Their contribution to the identified musical goals of the group can be almost zero, but they will claim all privileges of band membership for themselves regardless. Personal needs always come before any expectation the group might have of them. Attendance at rehearsals and performances is optional depending upon their personal schedules. Sending text messages behind their music stand, talking while instruction is being given (or even while the band is playing), leaving their seat at random intervals, eating or chewing gum while playing, and generally ignoring the group effort are all part of their “participation”.
A kid in band often leaves their area of the room a shamble; articles of clothing and half-consumed food and drink are jumbled along with their music and instrument, usually in the floor. They usually need multiple copies of assignments, music, and schedules. If they are using school-owned equipment (read: fundraised for by the band), they never know how it gets broken and wouldn’t think of reporting that it is, even though they are the only one who touches it and have signed an agreement accepting responsibility for its care. Showing up late, leaving early, and pointing a finger at others or making excuses for their inadequacies are all part of their game.
Kids in band usually have great leadership skills, and work very hard to succeed in influencing others to “be like them”. They are perfectly happy with a minimum grade (or even a failing one) as long as they can be identified with the group. They generally think band should be an easy “A”, but can’t figure out why they don’t get one.
Conversely, a “band kid” is low-maintenance. Their instrument almost always goes home in the evening, and their music folder is worn through from use. These folks tend to be the first ones in the band room in the morning, would rather hang out there than go to class, and are the ones still around when the director has to leave several hours after school is out. They set up chairs and stands if they aren’t already in place, and ask if they can help if someone else is doing it for them. They pick up after the folks who leave their area in a mess; if they move something, they put it back where they found it. They are the folks who are already warmed up when the conductor steps on the podium to begin rehearsing.
Even though band kids may not be the most naturally talented individuals, they spend time working on their skills because they don’t want to let the group down in rehearsals or performance. They maintain their equipment in good working order, report problems, and accept responsibility if they had an accident. They usually complete assignments on time and don’t make excuses if they miss a deadline. They resolve schedule conflicts to meet the commitment they made to the group.
Band kids make plenty of mistakes in rehearsal and performance, but try like crazy to not let them happen more than once. They always have a pencil in rehearsals, and know why they need one. They don’t complain; they get busy. They respect the music they perform, the people they perform it with, and the organization enough to bring solid preparation and their very best effort every time the band is together.
Band kids are capable of leading a hundred of their peers without saying a word, often without realizing they are doing so. They think band is an easy “A”, and don’t feel the least bit overwhelmed by the work involved in earning it.
Great bands are the product of great “band kids”.
For a band (or any group with a common purpose and goals) to be successful, the members must agree to hold themselves and each other accountable for meeting the highest standards for participation and performance. They must also be willing to give up a portion of their “individuality” in order to embrace the expectations of the ensemble. While it is possible to have a group with only a few members willing to uphold those standards, it is impossible to have a BAND.
Everyone involved in a truly great band possesses an “A” work ethic and an “A” commitment to the others in the band. Talent and natural ability are a bonus, but quite honestly, the largest part of a director’s job should be identifying and developing those things. If a lot of the director’s energy is expended dealing with poor attitude and effort, development of that talent is a lot harder to accomplish. Most directors would rather work with “A” attitudes and “C” talent than with “A” talent and “C” attitudes—because the end result in performance is always better, and the journey there is much more enjoyable and rewarding.
“Kids in band” can become “band kids”—they are often closer to it than they can imagine. They simply have to change their minds about themselves. It is all about bringing the correct attitude and great effort to their band involvement every day.
It is the distinction between good bands and truly great ones.