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Eight Awesome Trombone Solos

The trombone has been around since the 15th century and continues to play a vibrant role in many different genres of music. Uniquely, it’s outfitted with a slide, used to alter the pitch as it is extended and shortened, thus facilitating smooth glissandos between notes.

The sheer versatility of the trombone sets it apart from other musical instruments. In the hands of a deft practitioner its sound can rival the nuance of a guitar or a singer’s voice. “My greatest teacher was not a vocal coach, not the work of other singers,” Frank Sinatra once said, “but the way [bandleader] Tommy Dorsey breathed and phrased on the trombone.”

Here are eight of the most memorable trombone solos ever recorded.

1. TOMMY DORSEY – “I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU”

Initially recorded by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1935, this piece eventually became known as Dorsey’s theme song. The track begins with Tommy playing the melody softly so he doesn’t compromise the guitarist gently strumming underneath him. The song became a standard and has been revisited for decades by numerous artists such as Jack Johnson and his Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie and his Orchestra, and Joey DeFrancesco. Listen to it here.

2. CHRISTIAN LINDBERG – “FLIGHT OF THE BUMBLEBEE”

Performed with the sensibilities of an Olympic sprinter, Lindberg’s agile and frenetic pace creates an aural picture of a bee in flight. Unlike many other solos, it doesn’t build in intensity over time — it starts with crescendo and stays there for over a minute. The composition was written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov as an interlude for The Tale of Tsar Saltan, an opera he composed in 1899. It’s played during a moment in the story where Prince Gvidon is turned into bee by a magical swan. Listen to it here.

3. J.J. JOHNSON – “A NIGHT IN TUNISIA”

In the 1940’s Johnson played with Benny Carter’s Big Band and the Count Basie Orchestra. With the support of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, he eventually evolved into one of the most pivotal musicians of the bebop era. He’s also credited with resurrecting the relevance of the trombone, which was seen at the time as an awkward instrument that couldn’t match the dexterity of the saxophone or trumpet. In this standard, written by Gillespie, Johnson’s unique precision and style — which led many listeners and reviewers to believe that he was playing a valve trombone instead of standard slide version of the instrument — is on display throughout, but especially during his extraordinary solo and outro. Listen to it here.

4. RUSSELL SHARP – “BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND”

In this 2021 performance with the United States Marine Band, trombonist Staff Sgt. Russell Sharp offers a nimble rendition of this Scottish folk song (arranged for trombone by Arthur Pryor), easily shifting between rapid passages and lazy interludes as if putting the lyrics on display. (“Oh where, tell me where, has your Highland laddie gone?”) Bluebells are wildflowers native to the United Kingdom; in Scotland, they symbolize everlasting love. The song is usually played in a breezy flowing style, without pausing between notes, making it exceptionally difficult to play on trombone. Listen to it here.

5. AL GREY – “DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE”

Trombonist Al Grey of the Count Basie Orchestra turns in a spirited rendition of this Duke Ellington standard in this performance. By using a mute to tailor the sound of the notes, he creates an aural experience that goes beyond what the original score intended. Much like the way a wah-wah pedal alters the sound of electric guitars, horn mutes produce a different quality in the music to evoke a desired effect on the listener. Grey continues the tradition by truncating some notes and extending others, while effortlessly manipulating the slide and the mute simultaneously. Listen to it here.

6. PHIL WILSON – “LONESOME OLD TOWN”

During a 1964 live performance with the Woody Herman Orchestra in England, trombonist Phil Wilson distinguished himself with this delicate, though at times aggressive, solo. He opens with a bluesy moan that rises above the steady flow of the horn section around him, then expands the theme by adding shorter, sharper, phrases but concludes the way he started, with a high-pitched moan. Listen to it here.

7. RANDY PURCELL – “FEELINGS”

In this live performance of the 1974 soft rock ballad “Feelings,” Purcell and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson pair up in an arrangement created by the trombonist. Once they establish the original melody, the duo breaks free with expressive phrasing that reaches beyond the original sheet music. During his solos, Purcell flutters during some passages while lengthening others. When the full orchestra kicks in, this melancholy staple is transformed into something greater than its radio-friendly beginnings. Listen to it here.

8. WILLIAM BILAL – “BLACK & BLUES”

Historically Black colleges and universities, also known as H.B.C.U.s, have created environments where African-American students and other nationalities can thrive in academics and athletics. Over time, they have also developed talented marching bands admired for their musicianship and choreography. In this example, the trombone section of the Benedict Marching Band transforms Al Jarreau’s mild-mannered R&B track into a fight song. The intensity of the call-and-response between the lead trombonist and his bandmates builds throughout the piece, causing endorphin levels to reach their peak. Listen to it here.

 

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Spotlight on the Yamaha HA-L7A Headphone Amplifier

Yamaha has been scaling new sonic heights for over 30 years, introducing some of the most revolutionary Hi-Fi components the audio world has ever seen. The new flagship Yamaha HA-L7A audiophile-grade headphone amplifier is one such product. Let’s take a closer look at some of its key features.

AUTHENTIC SOUND

Electronics unit on desk next to laptop.

When listening on headphones, it’s easy to hear all the components of sound, including some that may not be audible when listening through speakers. The HA-L7A has an extremely high slew rate — something that’s essential for ultra-high resolution — ensuring that even the most delicate signals are handled with precision. As a result, every sound, from instruments to vocals and dialogue, is reproduced authentically without any unnatural coloration or timbral changes.

THREE FRONT PANEL HEADPHONE JACKS

Electronics element.

The front panel of the HA-L7A features two balanced headphone jacks that allow you to fully enjoy the detailed high quality of balanced circuitry, as well as an unbalanced headphone jack that reduces contact loss thanks to gold-plated connectors. NEUTRIK jacks are used for the XLR balanced headphone jacks, and Pentaconn terminals are utilized for the 4.4 mm 5-pole terminals, allowing you to connect your preferred headphones and unleash their full potential.

CONNECTIVITY WITHOUT COMPROMISE

Rear panel view of electronics showing where cables etc. plug in.

The HA-7A offers a comprehensive set of input terminals, including USB (type B), coaxial and optical, allowing you to connect a variety of devices, such as high-resolution DAPs (digital audio players), PCs and CD players. Because it is compatible with such a wide variety of music, video and entertainment sources, you can immerse yourself in your favorite listening content with unparalleled sonic performance.

A long thin remote control.

It also features built-in XLR and RCA pre-out/line-out output terminals, allowing the HA-L7A to serve as a standalone D/A converter (see below) or preamplifier, providing exceptional connectivity and expandability options when using an external amplifier.

SIX SOUND FIELD MODES

The HA-L7A utilizes the unique signal processing and multi-channel expansion technologies Yamaha has developed over its many years of designing AV components, including the same Yamaha CINEMA DSP Sound Field creation technology incorporated into many of our AV receivers.

The supplied remote allows you to choose from six convenient options that create optimal sound for music, video and other specific sources, allowing you to enjoy all kinds of entertainment content with a full sense of realism and immersion that takes headphone listening into uncharted sonic territories.

Screenshot.
HA-7A Sound Field options.

OLED DISPLAY WITH HIGH VIEWABILITY

View of two piece electronics.

The top panel of the HA-L7A features a large OLED display that provides a variety of information, including the input source, its sampling frequency, volume, and the name of the current Sound Field mode — all in an exceptionally easy-to-read manner. The display automatically turns off after being operated, eliminating any distraction to the sound.

ELEGANT ROTARY DIALS

Two dials on top of electronics unit.

The robust chassis is comprised of thick aluminum, as are the master volume and mode selector rotary dials. A sandblasting process provides a luxurious textural feel, contributing to the elegance of high-end audio right down to the smallest detail — delivering a supremely satisfying tactile experience.

ADVANCED DESIGN AND COMPONENTRY

The HA-L7A adopts a low-noise design that isolates the three circuit boards: the main board, the amplifier board and the power supply board. The main board eliminates any undesirable cross effects between the digital and analog signals by utilizing a multilayer design that thoroughly eradicates ground loops.

Following traditional audio principles and maintaining a low center of gravity, the two toroidal transformers employed by the HA-7A (see below) are mounted on the main frame and are prominent in the unique external design, evocative of fine modern architecture. The main transformer is located immediately above the power supply board, minimizing the power supply path for both high sound quality and a very cool cosmetic.

By using only the highest quality parts meticulously selected through repeated listening tests, the HA-7A delivers the most natural sound reproduction possible. For example, a MUSES72323, famed for its exceptionally low distortion and low-noise output, is used for the volume IC, while the power supply IC made by Analog Devices boasts low output noise with high ripple rejection. The converter section features the ES9842QPRO, made by ESS Technology.

DUAL TOROIDAL TRANSFORMERS

Two small transformers wrapped in copper wire.

The power supply section employs independent transformers for the minute-signal circuitry in the front stage and the amplifier section in the second stage, all designed to minimize noise due to mutual signal interference. The usage of toroidal transformers also significantly reduces magnetic flux leakage. In addition, the employment of bifilar winding minimizes voltage variations, which in turn enhances the stability of the power supply and imparts extraordinary spaciousness to the sound, with powerful low-frequency reproduction.

UNIQUE PATENTED AND BALANCED POWER AMPLIFIER TECHNOLOGY

Yamaha has optimized its patented Floating and Balanced Power Amplifier technology for the HA-L7A. A total of four sets of power amplifier circuits on the plus and minus sides of the left and right channels of the output stage are floated from the ground, resulting in thoroughly symmetrical push-pull operation of the output stage. Connected headphones can be driven without altering the amplifier configuration between balanced and unbalanced, minimizing any sound quality discrepancies due to different output terminals.

Diagram.

In addition, all circuitry, including the power supply, is completely independent of the ground, and all effects of minute voltage fluctuations and external noise surrounding the ground are thoroughly eliminated. This design allows the HA-L7A to deliver a natural and fatigue-free sound, even when listening for long periods of time.

ELITE ULTRA-HIGH PERFORMANCE 32-BIT D/A CONVERTER

Sparing no expense to realize superior sonic quality, an ESS Technology ES9038PRO D/A converter is incorporated, renowned in the DAC industry for top-quality reproduction of even the softest audio signals. Its dedicated master clock utilizes a crystal oscillator with ultra-low phase noise to attain highly precise D/A conversion and features an eight-channel D/A converter housed inside the chip that applies four-channel conversion to the left and right sides respectively. Utilizing this four-channel bundle delivers exceptionally high-quality audio output with broad dynamic range and superior signal-to-noise ratio. This unlocks a greater sense of enjoyment in headphone listening so you can intimately experience even the background noises of the concert hall and the most minute details in the sounds of the instruments.

The DAC processing employs two dedicated clocks: a 44.1 kHz system and a 48 kHz system that uses a high-precision crystal oscillator with low phase noise. The entire DAC section is designed to be less susceptible to external clock jitter through placement of the clock with the crystal oscillator as the master clock near the device.

BALANCED TRANSMISSION

All major stages after the DAC are unified with balanced circuitry and discrete configuration, achieving a fully balanced transmission from the D/A converter output to the headphone jack. This same type of conversion is also performed internally for unbalanced inputs, delivering the unique advantages of balanced transmission and amplification such as minimizing external noise and sound quality deterioration, while applying them to a wide range of input sources.

Additionally, when combined with headphones that support balanced drive, the common impedance of the transmission system is suppressed, further enhancing the signal separation that is crucial for quality headphone listening.

PURE DIRECT

A Pure Direct function, selectable from either the remote or the top panel, reduces noise by bypassing all circuitry that is not present in the original input source, such as DSP processing and analog-to-digital converters for analog audio. It ensures purity of the signal and enhances the sound, letting you fully enjoy the subtlest nuances in the music.

USB DAC FUNCTIONALITY

The HA-L7A’s USB DAC functionality allows DSD (Direct Stream Digital) files of up to an 11.2 MHz sample rate or 32-bit PCM files with sampling rates of up to 384 kHz to be played with asynchronous transfer under the control of the HA-7A’s high-precision clock. This greatly reduces jitter and allows accurate reproduction of even the most demanding high-resolution sound sources.

HEAVY-DUTY CONSTRUCTION

To eliminate any detrimental impact of external and internal vibrations on the audio signals, the HA-L7A has a rugged construction that combines an original design concept with parts of high rigidity. An 8 mm extruded aluminum panel forms the L-shaped top surface, while the naturally vibrating toroidal transformer is mounted firmly onto a 2 mm steel plate. Even stronger support is provided by a thick front panel, a double rear panel, and a unique housing design that features a bottom cover at the end. Through this heavy-duty housing, unnecessary vibrations are suppressed, enabling powerful yet supple low-frequency reproduction, and allowing you to completely feel the energy and realism in the music.

SOLID METAL FEET FOR STABILITY

Small cone shaped metal leg on electronics unit.

The HA-L7A’s distinct L shape is supported by five conical steel feet at each corner of the chassis, with dampers cushioned between each foot and the bottom panel that effectively suppress any vibration, allowing firm and stable support on just about any surface. Combined with the massive 11.7 lb body, all elements work together to effectively eliminate unwanted vibrations while achieving focused and realistic sound reproduction.

Check out the video:

 

The HA-L7A is the perfect partner for the Yamaha flagship YH-5000SE headphones. Learn more here.

Explore the HA-L7A.

Sustainable Excellence

We had a clear picture and script in our minds of what being an impactful music educator would look like. We’d enter these programs and elevate these kids to new heights: district, state and national events. Our programs’ names would be in the spotlight, and our students would be a part of one of those renowned programs.

We finally landed the job, got our keys and settled in. We set up everything, planned our concerts for the next year or so, but really focused on that first performance. We were ready to burst onto the scene like a rocket and show everyone how it’s done.

However, that’s not what happened. Sure, our concerts may have been successful, but we never quite gained the traction we thought we would, nor the momentum that the programs we idolized had. In fact, it turned out that our goals as directors didn’t exactly align with our school and community.

As directors of our programs, we spent countless hours and money honing our craft. We are experts in our field! Naturally, we should set the vision for our program, right? Not exactly. We learned that others had visions, too. Not just our school, but every group involved with it. The students had a vision. So did the parents, administration, alumni, community and even the guys who hung around the fence after football games.

But what about us? Are we going to abandon what we wanted? Or, even worse, will we have to give up our goals?

The word “compromise” can be polarizing. On one hand, it’s a way to unite everyone and achieve a common goal; everyone gets a bit of what they want or need. On the flip side, it might mean that no one gets what they want; instead, we just have to settle.

We love our roles, yet these positions, like many teaching jobs, come with significant challenges. Many music teachers start their careers with high aspirations: conducting concerts, participating in state events and aiming for national recognition. However, reality is different due to various factors, such as a lack of awareness or differing priorities within the school or community. Shifts, ranging from new opportunities to rebuilding post-pandemic, may alter our paths. However, viewing these discrepancies as chances to redefine success and set realistic goals can be enlightening. They may actually be opportunities to understand our community and ourselves better.

closeup of a group high five

Redefine Success

In music education, there is no single definition of success. When we see outstanding performances by nationally renowned schools at professional conferences, we see a snapshot of what can result when effective systems are put in place that allow these schools to become nationally renowned in the first place. What we do not see are how these programs’ frameworks were conceptualized, the longitudinal growth these ensembles (and directors) experienced throughout the years, or what these schools’ novice groups sound like.

It is therefore important not to view success exclusively as a checkbox of high-profile achievements, but more of a SUCCESS-ion of little victories. Where we find ourselves along our success continuum is not as important as the journey itself. Especially in programs with limited resources, success should be more about the lasting, positive impact on students’ lives, and not just reaching for prestigious recognition. This means embracing creativity and resilience, even when faced with challenges like outdated instruments or tight budgets. We know — it’s easy to say when you have everything you need.

Mariachi Case Study: In such scenarios, success could be about innovatively engaging students with what’s available, focusing on music theory and appreciation, or fostering community involvement for support. I (Justin) teach at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois, which has a high Mexican student population. In fact, many of my students grew up with mariachi music in their households. Even though I did not, I thought it would be foolish to cast this rich musical tradition aside in favor of playing classic band literature. After all, I wanted my students to be curators of their musical education, not just consumers.

After a year or so on the job, I created a mariachi band that was open to anyone who was interested in performing or learning mariachi music. As the program grew, I raised funds to purchase authentic instruments like the guitarrón and vihuela. Every year since, my students have collaborated to teach each other the artform, arrange popular songs, develop rehearsal strategies and perform throughout the community. Just last spring, our final project involved creating a mariachi-style arrangement of our school’s fight song from 1961. Students translated the lyrics into Spanish, wrote and taught each other their own parts using a modern band approach, and then they created a studio recording of the song. The entire process was a huge success and was one of the most memorable experiences of last year’s senior class. Even though this success did not come in the form of straight Division Is at a state or national festival, it wasn’t about that, nor was it supposed to be. Instead, it was more about the joy and growth in students as they mastered new concepts, reflecting the true essence of music education.

Ultimately, redefining success in music education is about shifting focus from limitations to possibilities. It’s about the small yet significant impacts — the growth, the “aha” moments and the joy of learning. Drawing inspiration from other subjects, like the collaborative spirit in science or the engagement focus in math, can enrich music teaching. It’s about creating a music class that’s more than just notes and rhythms; it’s a space for growth, connection and enjoyment. Music is about harmony after all, and that should be reflected in how it’s taught.

man holding an hourglass
Photo by ARAMYAN / Adobe Stock

Play The Long(er) Game

I (Don) have a friend who is in their 12th year of teaching. A couple of years ago, they wanted to leave their position. They felt they had accomplished what they could in their current role and believed a new job would offer new opportunities. I wholeheartedly disagreed. As a good friend, I had to be honest with them.

While a new job can present new opportunities and a fresh start, moving to a new school means leaving behind not only past mistakes but also your credibility, relationships and progress within your school and community. We’re not suggesting that people should never pursue a new job; we absolutely encourage doing what’s best for you. But in this case, I felt this educator was on the brink of a breakthrough. We discussed their current position and aspirations. It turned out their concerns were more about personal professional growth than about the school or community. Feeling professionally stunted, they struggled to find ways to improve, a common challenge for music teachers who often work in isolation.

After further discussion, they decided to stay another year or two. They embraced their weaknesses and sought help from retired teachers and current colleagues. They revamped their warm-up and technique methods, moving from what they did as a student to techniques that better served their students. They discarded limiting beliefs like: “Kids at this age can only focus on notes and rhythms” and “I can’t connect with Title I kids because I wasn’t one.”

The job became harder, but also more rewarding. The music groups improved, enrollment increased and non-music students expressed interest in joining. Open dialogues emerged, with students sharing their interests in pieces and festivals. The instructor, too, became more open about discussing students’ goals and aspirations. Together, they decided on their objectives, where to perform and how to conduct rehearsals. Within two years, the culture transformed.

The group enjoyed success, receiving festival invitations and working with visiting composers, who the students eagerly sought autographs from. The change extended to the community: home concerts became packed events with audiences respectfully silent during performances and giving standing ovations afterward. When asked about the key to sustainable excellence, the instructor pointed to the day-to-day rehearsals. These sessions, regardless of upcoming events, have turned into environments where students explore advanced concepts and, like the instructor, push through fear and apprehension. While recognition and performances are rewarding, the program’s greatest achievement is thriving within the community they created.

Patience and commitment are indispensable virtues in the journey of an educator, especially in the field of music education. Success in this realm is rarely immediate; it’s often the result of years of diligent work, continuous learning and gradual improvement. It’s crucial for music teachers to understand and embrace this “long game.”

The journey will inevitably include setbacks and periods of slow progress, but these challenges are not indicators of failure. Instead, they’re opportunities for growth and learning. Perseverance and resilience become key, allowing teachers to steadily build a program that is both robust and impactful. It’s about setting a long-term vision and taking consistent, small steps toward it, understanding that each day’s effort contributes to a larger goal. This approach helps in creating a sustainable and enriching music program that leaves a lasting impression on students.

man sitting at desk in front of laptop and other papers slumped over and looking overwhelmed

Self-Care

We love our programs and community, but they will absolutely take all the time that we give to them. We must reserve time and energy for ourselves and others in our lives. Look at it this way: You can’t miss something if you’re always around it.

To avoid burnout — a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress — music educators must adopt strategies to sustain their enthusiasm and energy. One effective method is maintaining a healthy work-life balance, ensuring that time is set aside for personal well-being and leisure. This balance is crucial in preventing exhaustion and keeping one’s passion for teaching alive.

Additionally, seek ongoing professional development. Attending workshops, collaborating with other music educators or even pursuing further education can provide fresh ideas and renewed inspiration.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s essential to celebrate small victories along the way. Whether it’s a student mastering a difficult piece, a successful small performance or a breakthrough in class engagement, acknowledging and celebrating these moments can provide a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue. These practices not only help in avoiding burnout but also contribute to building a fulfilling and sustainable career in music education.

silhouette of a group of students jumping up in celebration

Community and Culture

Integrating the cultural and community context into a music program involves specific actions like incorporating local music genres or community songs into the curriculum, inviting local musicians for guest performances or workshops, and organizing performances at community events. These steps make the music program not just an academic exercise, but a living part of the community’s cultural tapestry. For example, if a school is located in an area with a rich jazz history, include jazz pieces in the repertoire, explore the genre’s history in the region and connect with local jazz musicians for interactive sessions with the students.

Communication with students, parents and the wider community should be specific and ongoing. This might involve regular meetings or newsletters detailing the program’s progress, challenges and ways the community can contribute. For instance, if a school’s music program is planning a concert, communicate specific needs for the event, like volunteers for setup or donations for costumes, while also setting clear expectations about the students’ performance level and the concert’s theme.

Focus on cultivating a unique and authentic music program that reflects the strengths and interests of the students, rather than getting entangled in comparisons with other programs or rigid expectations of what a band program should embody. This emphasis on commitment manifests in recognizing and valuing the distinct characteristics of your school and student body. For example, if a school has a burgeoning interest in electronic music or a group of students is passionate about songwriting, the music program could pivot to support these interests, rather than strictly adhering to conventional band or choir formats. This approach not only caters to the students’ existing skills and passions but also encourages a more profound and personal engagement with music.

Moreover, it’s vital for educators to avoid getting too caught up in what other programs are doing. While it’s useful to stay informed and seek inspiration from other schools, each music program should be allowed to grow organically, based on its unique context and resources. Many schools have successfully focused on their unique attributes, such as a school that doesn’t have a full orchestra but has developed an outstanding jazz ensemble that plays at community events and local festivals, reflecting the community’s musical heritage.

Finally, set realistic and specific goals for your program that are aligned with your school’s unique environment. Instead of striving for an elusive ideal, focus on achievable objectives that resonate with your students’ interests and capabilities. This might mean prioritizing the development of a diverse music repertoire, focusing on technical skill improvement, or fostering a culture of creativity and collaboration. Celebrating these milestones, no matter how small, contributes to a sense of accomplishment and encourages continued growth and development in both the students and the program.

This commitment to the current environment underscores the notion that success in music education is not about mimicking others but about nurturing a program that is authentic, responsive and meaningful to the specific community it serves.

dart board with a dart in the bull's eye

Realistic Goal Setting

Aligning professional goals with the realities of the teaching environment is crucial for educators, particularly in music. Often, music teachers enter the field with visions of grand concerts and high-level performances, but the reality in many schools, especially those with limited resources, can be quite different. This disparity can lead to feelings of imposter syndrome, where teachers feel that they’re not living up to their own or others’ expectations. It’s important to recognize that success isn’t about replicating the achievements of well-funded programs, but about setting realistic goals that acknowledge the unique challenges and strengths of your program.

This mismatch between vision and reality can lead to burnout, which often arises when teachers feel overwhelmed by the gap between their aspirations and their day-to-day experiences. To combat this, adopt an adaptive approach to goal setting. This means crafting goals that are achievable given the specific circumstances and resources available. Focus on what can be done rather than what can’t. Because every situation is unique, we need to approach our programs with an asset-based mindset. For instance, if a school can’t afford a full range of instruments, a teacher might focus on building a strong vocal program or a percussion ensemble using affordable materials.

In low-income educational settings, adaptive goal setting involves being creative and resourceful. It might mean looking for community partnerships, applying for grants or finding innovative ways to use technology. Teachers can set goals around student engagement, musical literacy or performance skills that are suited to their particular environment.

It’s important to celebrate small victories and progress, rather than striving only for large, often unattainable, successes. By setting tailored, challenging yet achievable goals, teachers can find fulfillment and avoid the pitfalls of imposter syndrome and burnout, ultimately creating a more positive and productive learning environment for their students. Our intention is not to think about what we cannot do; rather, it’s to focus on the methods and processes by which we can achieve the goals that are important to those in our charge.

Top photo by XTOCK / Adobe Stock

Best Jazz Piano Solos

Piano has been central to the development of jazz since the early days of ragtime up to modern times. Highly responsive and able to play multiple notes at the same time, it’s an instrument that encompasses all the elements of music: melody, harmony, rhythm, texture and dynamics. The list below presents seven of the most influential and exciting jazz piano solos ever recorded.

Of course, no list of this type can encompass all the great players who are masters of the keys, but each of these artists has provided listeners with dozens if not hundreds of stunning performances over the course of their long careers. Enjoy the selections and let them lead you into the wonderful world of jazz piano!

1. OSCAR PETERSON – “SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY”

Oscar Peterson had a formidable technique that incorporated all the jazz styles of his era, from stride piano to boogie-woogie, the blues and swing. Some of the most impressive performances he ever gave were captured in a series of recordings in the mid and late 1960s called Exclusively For My Friends. Recorded on a stunning Bosendörfer grand piano in a private studio with a small audience to help Peterson’s trio feel comfortable, the song “Sometime’s I’m Happy” showcases all the best attributes of his playing. He opens with a deeply swinging single-note reading of the melody, then keeps things sparse as the bass joins in and propels the tune forward. Peterson’s solo starts at 0:48, and he turns to his mastery of the blues to draw us in. As the solo develops, listen to his exquisite touch, his perfect laid-back time and the inventive lines he spins. By 2:38, he begins to introduce block chords that emulate those of a big-band sax section. The intensity keeps building until 4:09 when Oscar calms things down and reintroduces the opening melody, buttressed by Ray Brown’s inventive bass playing. Sheer perfection! Listen to it here.

2. BILL EVANS – “SOLAR”

Bill Evans brought a lot of new sensibilities to jazz piano when he first appeared in the late ’50s. Known for his sublime touch and distinctive piano sound, he explored rich and often dense harmonies that seemed to draw from the impressionistic classical composers like Debussy and Ravel, but combined with swinging bop lines in the style of Bud Powell. When he formed a trio with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro, he found his perfect partners, and the four albums they recorded together are considered milestones in the progression of the piano trio. Their performance of “Solar” from the Live At The Village Vanguard sessions shows why. What you hear is not just a pianist being accompanied by other players; instead, the musicians are in a constant dialog, with LaFaro right up front with Evans the whole time, interacting and spurring him on. Evans’ solo starts at 0:38 and it is almost a duet between Evans’ two-handed lines and LaFaro. This continues for many choruses until 2:20, when Evans begins to punctuate his right hand lines with left hand chords, breaking the tune open into a more traditional and swinging context. This interactive style had a profound effect on players to follow, and a direct lineage can me made from this to the famous Second Quintet of Miles Davis, where drummer Tony Williams and bassist Ron Carter often spurred on pianist Herbie Hancock and the other members to change up their playing and feel at a moment’s notice. Listen to it here.

3. KEITH JARRETT – “FOREST FLOWER”

It is difficult, if not impossible to encapsulate pianist Keith Jarrett’s career or style of playing in just a few sentences, as he has covered so much musical ground during his 60+-years in the public eye. The performance that first brought him to the attention of the jazz community at large was his playing on the title tune from Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey. Jarrett was a member of saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s innovative quartet from 1966-68 — a highly successful ensemble that eventually broke out from the jazz world into rock concerts and more. Take special note when Jarrett’s solo starts at 1:16. The tune alternates between straight-eighth and swing sections and Jarrett enters with a flowing torrent of notes, easily navigating the changes in feel. His lines and motivic development are stellar, and you can hear swing, folk and near avant-garde playing all blend into a performance that is one of the all-time great piano solos. Listen to it here.

4. CHICK COREA – “STEPS”

Another hugely influential piano trio was launched when 27-year old Chick Corea went into the studio in 1968 with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes to record the now legendary Now He Sings, Now He Sobs album. No pianist before sounded like he did, and no trio was so advanced and interactive. Chick opens with an unconventional free-form performance and the main melodic figure starts at 0:47. Yes, this is jazz, but it is not coming directly from swing, or be-bop. It is fresh, modern and pointing to the future. When the solo proper starts at 1:06, the band breaks into a jagged “not quite a blues” form, played at break-neck speed. Listen to Chick’s crisp touch and articulation as he plays the quartal voicings (chords based on fourths rather than thirds that McCoy Tyner first innovated with the John Coltrane Quartet) and employs the modal language that was becoming popular at the time, often sliding in and out of the key center. But where Tyner was heavy and dense, Corea is light and deft, bobbing and weaving in and out of the music. By the time his solo concludes at 4:33, jazz piano had been forever changed. (Read Chick’s recollections of making the album.) Listen to it here.

5. HERBIE HANCOCK – “NEW YORK MINUTE”

Herbie Hancock was one of the many players who built on the harmonic innovations of Bill Evans, but he has a deeper sense of the blues, and developed a rich, probing style of playing that could vary from soft and lyrical to aggressive and highly rhythmic. His highly abstract reworking of the Don Henley hit “New York Minute” on his 1996 album The New Standard is a case in point. Herbie’s solo starts at 1:20, and he comes out swinging for the fences. His commanding style of playing alternates between very modern right hand lines supported by strong, insistent chording in the left hand, accented by rhythmic figures where he is playing off the bass and drums in a percussive fashion. A master at work, who continues to inspire and innovate to this day. Listen to it here.

6. KENNY KIRKLAND – “WHEN THE WORLD IS RUNNING DOWN”

When bassist Sting left the Police, his first project was a band comprised of young players that he drew from to help him create a new style of music, blending the power of rock with the advanced musical language and interactive playing that could only come from jazz musicians. Kenny Kirkland’s highly rhythmic tour-de-force solo on the Police tune “When The World Is Running Down” from Sting’s Bring On The Night Live 1986 recording (it starts at around 4:25) is frequently cited as one of the most impressive and exciting piano solos ever captured — and only a musician with the jazz vocabulary and rhythmic chops of Kirkland could have pulled it off. Though playing against only a three-chord vamp, Kenny takes it so many places, spinning out complex right hand lines while constantly hammering out insistent rhythms and figures with his left hand. No wonder the crowd goes wild at the conclusion! Listen to it here.

7. LYLE MAYS – “FICTIONARY”

Pianist Lyle Mays is most well known for his time in the Pat Metheny Group, where his writing and playing was a significant part of the group’s sound and success. However, his innovative two-handed technique may be best enjoyed in his rarer recordings and live performances as a leader, where he was most prominent. “Fictionary” was first featured on the trio record of the same name released in 1992, but my favorite version of it comes from a live recording of a concert from 1993 (The Ludwigsburg Concert), released in 2015. The traditional “solo” starts at the 10:00 mark, but also of note is Lyle’s almost six-minute intro that kicks off the tune. In both, ideas spill out effortlessly and develop with a logic that is astounding, making for one of the most impressive piano performances in the history of jazz. Listen to it here.

 

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Prepare for Spring Concerts

Spring is a very busy time for music programs with concerts, large group festivals, honor bands, all-town performances, and musicals. It seems like the list is endless! A lot of music to learn and so little time. First thing you must consider is what you are programming for. This Spring, I have to prepare for everything I listed above, so where do I begin? Like any other performance, programming is the first step.

Before the Performance

What are you programming for? Choosing appropriate repertoire for your event is the most important thing for a successful performance. How many pieces, what styles and genres, duration, rehearsal time, etc. will all influence your programming. Music for each of these events will vary. For example, when I take my band to New York City for a competition, I will not have all my students there and much less preparation time compared to a regular concert cycle. The music I choose for this performance will not be the same as the music that I prepare for our concert in May. The music for our All-Town Band concert in April will include a pop tune as a way to inspire the elementary and junior high students (and entertain their parents) in the crowd. Because of where this concert lands in our schedule, we will also perform a more standard band piece that we have already done before, and that’s okay! We will have a new audience, so no harm in getting another performance on something the students enjoyed playing! Whatever performances you have, plan to be efficient and trust that you know your audience!

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How many concerts are you doing? Everyone’s performance schedule is different. I used to put on two concerts a year — one in December and one in late May/early June. In between, we prepare for our state festival with a completely different program, but we never played for a “home crowd.” Now, my Symphonic Band performs three concerts a year and my Honors Wind Ensemble performs four. That means this Spring we will perform two concerts — one in March and another in May. Your schedule may be different but consider what you want to present to an audience in your Spring concert(s). Will your concert be a pops concert? Will it be a concert of standard repertoire? Will you have a guest composer and do a full program of their works? You know your audience the best, so make sure you give them a concert they will want to hear!

string ensemble during performance

Implement Chamber Music

I always have my students study chamber music. You’re probably thinking, “Why are you spending time on chamber music when there is so much more to do in the Spring than the Fall?” Trust me, this small unit will have a positive impact.

Why do I do it? Because I know the benefits of chamber music. Additionally, it is something students can do alone. Each December, after our Winter concerts, I go to the Midwest Clinic for the most rejuvenating and inspiring time of my year. However, this means that I will be out my classroom and must create hours of sub plans. You might have the same question that my students have: “Why don’t you just give us a study hall?” My answer is an emphatic no. Do you get a study hall until winter break after your math exam? You might think I’m a mean teacher, but we keep working until the very end of the year!

While I’m away, students work in chamber groups, created by me, to prepare for a small performance for their midterm exam just a few weeks later. This gives students a great opportunity to collaborate, make musical decisions and rehearse on their own. Having played in a brass quintet throughout my undergrad (shout out to The Ambrassadors), I know the immense benefits that come with playing in a chamber ensemble. Independence of parts, listening, internal pulse, tuning, balance, etc., the possibilities for growth are endless, and they will transfer to your large ensemble!

True story: One day, my students came in and asked if we were going to have chamber ensembles, and when I said yes, one of them yelled, “Yay!” Trust me, you need to consider implementing chamber music into your program, even if you think you don’t have time.

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Types of Spring Performances

Music in Our Schools Month: March is Music in Our Schools Month, and it’s a great opportunity to emphasize the importance of music education in your school. Consider having a concert to highlight the importance of music education and the experience it gives your students every day. Remember to invite administration and ask if they will welcome the audience as an introduction for the concert. Maybe you can even have them participate in or conduct a piece! For my groups, it is an opportunity to give a performance before we bring it to a large group adjudication.

male music educator with four students in concert black

State Contest: Speaking of adjudication, Spring is a busy time for state contests. Like any performance, you want to put your best foot forward for your state contest. Some states require that you program from a prescribed list. Make sure you are aware of and follow the rules set in place by your state’s contest.

Here’s a suggestion that may be controversial — If you can select your own repertoire, it’s okay to program music for a festival that the adjudicators might not know! Don’t be afraid to select a newer piece by a lesser-known composer. Of course, check your state’s requirements for programming before making this decision. It doesn’t matter what the piece is or who it is by — what matters is how your group sounds while playing it. Bonus: The adjudicators and the audience of other band directors will hear a new piece.

The Rehearsal Process

How long do you have? For my Honors Wind Ensemble, this concert cycle has 10 weeks to prepare our next performance — the longest we have had so far this year! Phew, I can breathe, right? No, because there’s more than just that one performance that we must prepare for! But I can’t complain. As I mentioned before, I did this to myself. All educators will have different schedules and timing for their concerts. As you begin your rehearsal process, consider how long you have until the performance so you can effectively plan your rehearsals.

Planning Rehearsals: With about 10 weeks before our next performance, I know when I can schedule things like spot checks, sectionals, etc. I rely on students to have ownership in rehearsal preparation all year, but more so during the Spring. Students have more sectionals to schedule outside of rehearsal to be prepared for performances and recordings. By knowing the schedule and calendar, they can plan their sectionals accordingly. Create a weekly rehearsal calendar so students know which pieces you will work on, in what order and which measure numbers. This will keep your students on top of what to work on, and it will keep you honest!

brass section during rehearsal

Students also must understand the amount of time until the next performance so they can plan their individual practice schedule. I typically give students a deadline to learn their parts, more specifically the notes and rhythms. After that time, they know that I may or may not do a spot check on their individual parts. Does this mean I ignore notes and rhythms during rehearsals? No, but those will get worked out most easily with time, and I want to get into the music itself. You can learn more about some of my rehearsal techniques in my article, “8 Unconventional Rehearsal Tips.”

Bring in a Guest: Any time you have a performance coming up, especially a state contest, it’s helpful to bring in someone to work with your group. They will probably say the same things you’ve been saying, but this time your students will hear it. If time is tight, send a recording of your group to a trusted colleague to provide feedback. If you can’t find anyone, reach out to me, I’m happy to help! Even better, bring me out to work with your group so I can reach my goal of going to all 50 states.

Record Rehearsals: Record your rehearsals frequently, if not every day, because you may miss hearing some things from the podium. When you listen back, the recording may reveal a lot of issues that you were unaware of! I have often posted recordings of rehearsals and full run-throughs for students to listen to as an assignment. They can’t argue with the truth of a recording. I have also used recordings to make a list of glaring problem spots and give them to students to mark in their parts. And on the rare occurrence when a student is missing from rehearsal (never happens, right?), you now have a way for them to make up for missing rehearsal. Nothing is better than sitting in rehearsals, but at least this way students aren’t lying on a practice log.

Project Your Score: I recently started doing this using my iPad. This could also work with a document camera if you have one available. I had heard and seen others doing this, but it wasn’t until I noticed two students looking at my score that I thought, “Hmm, this might be something they’re interested in seeing.” Actually, they weren’t that curious about the music; they liked making fun of my markings. “I like the big crescendo you drew,” one smirked. No, they didn’t.

However, now students can see my marks in my scores by projecting it on the screen behind me. Bonus: The lowered screen blocks the clock, so students can’t try packing up five minutes before the bell. By seeing the score, they can pick up on melodic motifs, harmonic progression, form and even see silly little comments I write to myself (some I never intended for people to see because they can be ridiculous) about what is going on musically. Students might make fun of me (what’s new?), but they’re understanding music at a deeper level. Who’s laughing now?

During the Performance

What to wear: This seems to be a hot-topic debate for programs around the country. What is your concert attire? Do you consider black leggings to be black pants? What is the right length for dresses or skirts? Long tie or bow tie? Jacket or no jacket? All black or black and white? You can go on forever about this with your colleagues and answers will vary. It all comes back to the kind of performance you are planning.

In my program, students have different concert attire for various occasions. Our most formal concert attire for most of our concerts and state contests includes tuxedos and full-length dresses. Do students like it? I don’t know because they complain about any attire that has buttons on it. My students have all black clothing that we wear on some occasions, but mostly for recorded videos.

There are times where students can wear whatever they like (what?!), but my one rule is that they must “look nice.” I found that “Sunday best” doesn’t mean anything to many students. To give them a clearer idea of what to wear to “look nice,” I give them different scenarios, such as going out to dinner for your grandparent’s birthday, a casual wedding, family photos, etc. We have used this dress code for a few more casual performances, mostly at graduation. A lot of students want to hang out afterward to take pictures and celebrate with their classmates who have just graduated. Now think of how weird they might feel if they were taking those pictures in a tuxedo.

female wearing tuxedo

One more note on concert attire. We all know that students feel more comfortable in clothing that fits their gender identity. Any concert attire you choose, avoid assigning gender to clothing. We give our students two options. We don’t say, “Boys wear this, and girls wear this”; instead, we say, “You will wear option 1 or option 2.” This very small act of changing our language around concert attire may seem insignificant, but it is greatly significant. Some students have both concert attires. We want to have the look of a formal tuxedo and gown, but we don’t care who is wearing what, just as long as it’s all the same.

Deportment: Anywhere I go with students I give the same speech: “We are about to walk into [wherever] and I expect you to be on your best behavior. You are not only representing yourselves, but you are representing your school, your town, your state and, most importantly, my reputation. Be respectful, follow the rules and be kind.” Now, you might not agree that the most important thing is my reputation; that statement sounds selfish. You’re right. The thing I care about most is how they represent themselves, but they’re young and might not think, “This looks bad for me,” because they know they may never see these people again. However, they will think twice about doing something if they think, “This will look bad for Mr. Duras,” because I will see those people again.

Our reputation as a group is something I emphasize and something we take pride in. The most important advice I can give you is to teach your students to treat others with kindness. This goes a long way with the people you see the most in your school, and the ones who work behind the scenes to make sure your students have good experiences. That’s right, I mean folks like the custodians and the bus drivers — the people who your students might not realize have such a large and positive impact on the experiences they get to have.

hand holding phone with QR code on screen

Programs: Depending on where you are in your career, you may have already made up your mind about what to do about programs that are handed out to the audience. There are a lot of differing opinions on this. And while I have your attention, I’m going to give you mine. You understand your audience better than anyone, so do what works for you. QR-code programs are a great way to save time and paper. Additionally, if you make a mistake, it’s much easier to update a digital file than reprint 100 programs.

Personally — and you can call me old-fashioned being born in 1995 and all — I prefer having a physical copy of a program. Depending on the performance, we might do a QR code, for example at our All-Town Band Concert that has all students 5–12 perform. That’s a lot of paper if we printed programs. However, when our audience is in a concert setting, I prefer them to not have the opportunity to click on that text message that came in while they were looking at the digital program, or open their social media app and accidentally click on a video with the volume on max. Anyone else get second-hand embarrassment when that happens? We’ve all been there.

Transitions: If you have a concert with more than one group or with significant set changes, plan ahead and get students involved to make things go smoothly. At a recent concert, we had a pretty big set change, and when we practiced it — even after telling the students exactly what to do — it took us 15 minutes in rehearsal! Ugh, how will we ever pull this off? We had a very constructive discussion about what went wrong and where we could save time. During the concert, we did it in a third of the time — I was so proud of them. Teamwork makes the dream work! Although it’s great to have a lot of students willing to help out, too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the soup.

Talking to the Audience: The amount you say to the audience also varies from person to person. For me, it depends on what needs to be said. I won’t talk between pieces unless I feel the need to say something. Sometimes it will be elaborating on the music beyond the program notes or talking about the experience we had by working with a composer or an activity that enhanced our experience with the piece. It also depends on how my jokes are received. Where else am I going to get an audience that is forced to listen to my jokes?

Sometimes you need to give the audience a break to digest the music. For example, a couple years ago, we performed Steve Danyew’s “Into the Silent Land,” an incredibly powerful and emotional piece written in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Before the performance, I spoke about what this piece meant to me. Afterward, I decided to take a moment before moving on to our next piece. I didn’t address the audience, which needed time to process what they had heard and to sit with it for a moment without hearing from me.

Before our last piece at every performance, I always take a moment to thank the audience for joining us and anyone else who has been important in the preparation of the concert. I also use that time to do a short PSA encouraging the audience that if they liked what they heard tonight to share their excitement and praise with members of the school board and school administrators like principals, curriculum coordinators, superintendents, etc. — because these people can’t make every concert (there might be another school activity that night), but they deserve to hear how the concert made the audience feel.

Other Things to Consider

Titling your concert: For the past couple years, I’ve given titles to my concerts; instead of calling them “Winter Concert” or “Spring Concert,” I’ve come up with names like “New Americana,” “MARCH,” “Connections” and “Voices.” Are they incredibly creative? No, not really, but it gives a theme for the music being performed, and it makes me more intentional with my programming. I believe it enhances the experience for the audience as they learn about and make their own connections to the music.

four students and music teacher on stage

Pre-Concert Talk: Inspired by some major orchestras, last year I decided to try something new for our final concert. I gave a pre-concert talk on the music that was going to be performed that night. I didn’t really know what to expect, and when people asked me what I planned to do during this talk, my answer was, “I have no clue.” All kidding aside, I wanted to discuss some of the music in a more in-depth and personal way with the audience — a way to bring the program notes to life. I was joined by four student soloists, and I asked them questions that I gave them in advance. It was interesting to hear their perspective on the music and share with the audience what the rehearsal process was like. Despite people having no idea what to expect (me included), it was well-received and proved to be a unique way to educate the audience. I plan on doing it again, and I encourage you to give it a shot, too!

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I hope some of these chaotic thoughts can help you get ready for your Spring performances, or at least recognize that you are not alone! Take what you like (feel free to reach out if you have any questions), leave what you don’t like (feel free to not reach out if you’re going to argue with me — I’m sensitive), but trust yourself and best of luck on your performances!

Top photo by KUDOSSTUDIO / Adobe Stock

The Best Romantic Comedies of All Time

Romantic comedy movies (better known as RomComs) can bring warmth to the spirit even in the depths of winter — and of course are required viewing for Valentine’s Day! Here are the top RomComs of all time.

1. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

This classic was directed by Rob Reiner and stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as Harry Burns and Sally Albright. The two first meet in Chicago after college graduation and then share a ride to New York City. Through a series of chance encounters over the years, they eventually start to fall in love. The lunch scene, filmed at the Big Apple’s famed Katz’s Delicatessen, is one for the ages! Find out where to stream it here.

2. MOONSTRUCK (1987)

What would Valentine’s Day be without this flick? It stars Cher as Loretta Castorini, a 37-year-old widow living at home with her parents and grandfather in Brooklyn, who accepts a proposal from her boyfriend but finds herself falling for his younger brother. Plot twists, pasts, futures and romance all perfectly enmesh, thanks to Cher’s stunning performance, along with that of a great supporting cast that includes Nicholas Cage, Danny Aiello and Olympia Dukakis. The film received six nominations at the 60th Academy Awards®, with Cher bringing home the Best Actress Award. Find out where to stream it here.

3. YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1998)

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star in this tale of an online romance where the two parties share no information about their personal lives. The twist is that the burgeoning couple are actually business rivals. They eventually meet but don’t discover their real connection until it finally reveals itself through an email exchange. You have to watch it to find out the rest! Find out where to stream it here.

4. SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993)

Yes, it’s another RomCom with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan but the resemblance ends there. In this uplifting story, Annie Reed (Ryan) is a journalist who, although engaged, becomes interested in recently widowed architect Sam Baldwin, played by Hanks. Having just moved to Seattle with his son, Baldwin gets on a talk radio show to discuss his feelings, which leads Reed to fall for him. Find out where to stream it here.

5. PRETTY WOMAN (1990)

This big budget film centers on escort Vivian Ward, played by Julia Roberts, as she crosses paths with Edward Lewis, a powerful corporate raider from New York, played by Richard Gere. One night during a business trip, Lewis mistakenly drives into Hollywood’s red-light district, where he meets Ward, who shows him how to operate the manual transmission shift of his sports car. Despite the differences in their lifestyles, the two end up together. Find out where to stream it here.

6. COMING TO AMERICA (1988)

Directed by John Landis, Coming to America showcases the many talents of Eddie Murphy, who created the story and also stars as crown prince Akeem Joffer of the fictional African nation of Zamunda. Seeking an escape from his upper-class life and upcoming arranged marriage, he and his best friend/personal aide Semmi, played by Arsenio Hall, travel to Queens, New York where they take jobs in a fast food restaurant and rent a tenement apartment. In search of an independent woman, Joffer eventually finds love with Lisa McDowell (Shari Headly), with whom sparks begin to ignite. Find out where to stream it here.

7. ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953)

This black and white classic stars Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, and would net Hepburn an Academy Award for Best Actress. She plays Crown Princess Ann, who while touring Rome away from her duties, takes a sedative from her doctor and falls asleep on a bench. American reporter Joe Bradley, played by Peck, finds her and takes her back to his apartment for safety. Needless to say, romance ensues! Find out where to stream it here.

8. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

Yes, it may have been filmed 90 years ago (!), but this endearing film, directed by Frank Capra (who also gave us the holiday chestnut It’s A Wonderful Life), still delivers romance and laughs aplenty. Here, Clark Gable plays Peter Warne, a rough reporter who runs across spoiled heiress Ellen “Ellie” Andrews on a Greyhound bus to New York City, who is running away from her tycoon father in Florida. Warne recognizes who she is and offers to help reunite her with her new husband in exchange for a story. Snappy patter, adventure and, of course, love follows. Find out where to stream it here.

9. ANNIE HALL (1977)

Woody Allen stars as comedian Alvy Singer as we follow the ups and downs of his romantic relationship with quirky nightclub singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The film brilliantly challenges stereotypes, contrasting the cities of New York and Los Angeles while exploring Jewish identity and other elements of psychology. It won four Academy Awards, including two for Allen as Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and one for Keaton as Best Actress. Find out where to stream it here.

10. BULL DURHAM (1988)

Mixing sports with romance? It may seem improbable, but Bull Durham manages to pull it off. Based on the real-life minor league baseball experiences of writer/director Ron Shelton, Kevin Costner stars as “Crash” Davis, a seasoned AAA catcher who is tasked with teaching and guiding pitcher Ebby Calvin Laloosh (Tim Robbins). Baseball groupie Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, eventually finds herself being romantically drawn away from Laloosh to Davis — and the story of that journey is both hilarious and heartwarming. Find out where to stream it here.

Teaching Music in High-Need Schools: Funding

The acquisition and fiduciary stewardship of funds for music programs is one of the most discussed topics in our field today. Because many high-need schools throughout the country qualify for Title I and Title IV-A funds under The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, knowing how to access and deploy these resources can play a pivotal role in addressing student and program needs.

Music programs in high-need schools face unique challenges due to limits on how these allocations can be used. However, there are ways that we can advocate for our programs, demonstrate our fundraising capacity and secure funds for the improvement of student outcomes. This article explores the importance of accessing Title I and Title IV-A funds alongside traditional fundraising, business partnerships and nonprofit collaborations to ensure the sustainability of music education in high-need schools.

U.S. Capitol

Accessing Title I and Title IV-A Funds

Title I funds are crucial for supporting high-need schools, however, the process of accessing these funds for music programs can be complex. Similarly, Title IV-A funds, designed to promote a well-rounded education and first authorized through the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, offer opportunities specifically for financing music education.

Navigating these federal funds requires strategic planning to overcome challenges, ensuring that they are utilized effectively to meet the unique needs of Title I schools. One resource that I strongly recommend to help music teachers in securing these funds is the National Association for Music Education’s Title IV-A Success Stories. It will supply you with the data and examples you need to start a dialogue with your administration and advocate for your program to receive a portion of the funds.

handshake between two people

Fundraising and Business Partnerships

Supplementing federal funds, fundraising becomes a cornerstone for sustaining music programs in high-need schools. Creative initiatives, such as community-based events, alumni contributions and instrument drives, are essential in bridging financial gaps. Through successful fundraising efforts, schools can cultivate a sense of community ownership and engagement in their music programs, which fosters more sustainability.

Local businesses can be vital allies in supporting music education. Beyond financial contributions, partnerships with businesses bring additional benefits, including access to resources, expertise and community engagement. Successful collaborations demonstrate how active a role our business community can play in supporting music programs, establishing a mutually beneficial scenario for both parties.

Nonprofit Partnerships for Music Programs

Nonprofit organizations contribute significantly to the enhancement of music education in Title I schools. These partnerships offer diverse benefits, ranging from additional funding sources to professional development opportunities for educators. Some examples of potential nonprofit partnerships include college music programs, grant funding agencies, local government, museums and other arts organizations. These partnerships not only can showcase the positive impact on music programs, they can also serve as a vehicle to show students the myriad of ways in which music can be a viable career option for them.

hurdles set up on track

Challenges and Solutions

Despite the potential benefits of federal funds, fundraising and partnerships, we know that challenges persist. Limited awareness, bureaucratic hurdles and unpredictable economic conditions can impede sustained progress. Collaborative solutions, such as community advocacy, administrative support and increased public funding can become strategies to address these challenges and ensure the longevity of music programs.

A comprehensive approach that combines federal funds, fundraising initiatives, business partnerships and nonprofit collaborations is essential for the success of music programs in high-needschools. By actively engaging with administrators, educators, community members and policymakers, we can create a harmonious environment that empowers students through the transformative power of music, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. I believe that as a society, we have the collective responsibility to prioritize and support music education in high-need schools to ensure that every student has the opportunity to benefit from an exceptional music education.

Read part 1 of this series on recruitment.

Read part 2 of this series on rapport.

Read part 3 of this series on defining success.

Read part 4 of this series on best practices.

Top photo by PROSTOCK-STUDIOS / Adobe Stock. 

 

First Look: New Yamaha Pacificas

My first experience playing a Pacifica guitar was at the 2018 summer NAMM show, when Yamaha launched a limited edition PAC612VIIFM in stunning Indigo Blue and Translucent Black finishes. That model eventually became part of the current Pacifica roster, along with an added “Root Beer” color option.

Up until recently, those 600 Series guitars led the pack (no pun intended) with flame maple tops, Seymour Duncan pickups, Gotoh locking tuners and a Wilkinson tremolo system. You may have seen demos of me playing the 612VIIFM in previous blog postings and on my YouTube channel. These guitars were (and are) eminently worthy of the semi-pro and professional musician looking for an extremely versatile, top-quality guitar at an incredible price.

Enter 2024 and the recent winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California. Media Day traditionally occurs on the day before the show officially opens to the trade and public. The Yamaha guitar team were especially revved up this year as they eagerly awaited the official launch of something very special.

That something special was, of course, the all-new Pacifica Standard Plus and Professional models, which have been completely redesigned from the ground up. I had the privilege of demoing both at the show. Here are my first impressions of these extraordinary new instruments.

Shared Features

Construction

Both the Standard Plus and Professional have a uniquely contoured alder body with a bolt-on neck joint. The maple necks are satin-finished polyurethane, with an extremely comfortable slim “C” profile. The fretboards offer 22 medium stainless-steel frets and are available in maple or rosewood. The nut material is Graph Tech TUSQ, and the Gotoh locking tuners are extremely stable; in addition, a Gotoh tremolo bridge offers smooth action for chordal shimmers, pull-ups and dive-bombs alike.

Pink and white electric guitar.
Pacifica Standard Plus in Ash Pink with rosewood fingerboard.
Electric guitar.
Pacifica Professional in Black Metallic with maple neck.

As you can see in the images above, the pickguard has also been redesigned for these Pacificas, and now claims its own identity on this type of double-cut guitar. I love its shape, and think it really helps define the contours, visual appeal and upper-echelon status within the Pacifica lineup.

Pickups

Yamaha collaborated with Rupert Neve Designs, a renowned British studio audio company, to create the new Reflectone humbucker and single-coil pickups featured on the new Pacificas.

Closeup of the body of the electric guitar.
Reflectone pickups.

The pickup configuration for both the Standard Plus and Professional models is HSS (humbucker/single-coil/single-coil), with a humbucker in the bridge and single-coils in the middle and neck positions. The humbucker can be coil-tapped using the pull-pot on the tone control, making for a total of seven pickup configurations using the standard five-way switch. All three of these unique pickups elicit a balanced tonality across all of the strings in every register of the fretboard and remain constant in volume when switching through the various pickup combinations — no mean feat!

The tonal balance between the bass and treble frequencies is exceptional, even when using higher-gain settings. Complex chords retain clarity in the harmonics, while single-note lines seem to have what I would describe as “melodic air” around them.

Acoustic Design Technology

The Yamaha Acoustic Design technology employed in both of these guitars utilizes scientific processes such as 3D modeling to devise wood-routing techniques that increase body resonance and improve the transfer of vibrations between neck and body. While you may not initially hear the difference that this advanced chambered design makes, you definitely feel the resonance in your hands, along with the increased sustain of the note vibrations.

Unfinished electric guitar body.
The chambered design of the new Pacificas.

Differentiating Features

In addition to the features common to both models listed above, Pacifica Professional guitars also sport a custom-tinted maple neck stain as well as a 10″ – 14″ compound-radius fretboard for relaxed chordal fretting and smooth, choke-free bending in the upper regions of the neck. You’ll also notice that the Pacifica script logo on the headstock has a classy, raised liquid metallic look and feel to it.

The alder bodies on Professional models receive the exclusive Yamaha I.R.A. (Initial Response Acceleration) treatment process. This essentially maximizes resonance and sustain within a new instrument for a more “played-in” feel and sound.

All Professional models are meticulously crafted in Japan and come complete with a hardshell case and certificate of authenticity. Standard Plus models are crafted in Indonesia and travel in style with a padded gig bag.

There are some exciting new colors for these two guitars, too. Regardless of fingerboard choice, Standard Plus models are available in Sparkle Blue Metallic, Ash Pink and Black finishes; in addition, those with rosewood fingerboards are available in Shell White. Professional models with maple fingerboards are available in Beach Blue Burst and Black Metallic finishes, while those with rosewood fingerboards are available in Sparkle Blue Metallic and Desert Burst.

Diagram of a variety of guitars in the line.

The Videos

I had the pleasure of auditioning these two gorgeous guitars in my studio prior to launch. In the two videos below, I wanted to demonstrate all the unique qualities these instruments possess, as well as allowing the viewer to hear the sound of the seven pickup selections, using both clean and overdriven tones.

Both models were easy to capture sonically and needed zero EQ to sit in the mix. I literally used just the pickup selections to adjust tonal balance between the treble and bass response for each of the guitar parts. The sound is augmented with some custom presets I created for my Line 6 Helix processor.

Pacifica Standard Plus Demo

The opening chord sequence demonstrates how complex chord voicings retain clarity in the mix, while the softly overdriven lead tones sustain perfectly over the harmonic structures, even when harmonized with a diatonic third above the melody.

Pacifica Professional Demo

Here, open chords with overdrive are contrasted with upper chord arpeggios that have a nice clean sound. The single-note riffs demonstrate tones in the lower register, funky, muted lead lines in the middle of the fretboard, and some additional lead lines and tasty string bends in the upper regions of the compound-radius fretboard.

The Wrap-Up

I get to play a lot of different guitars. Some speak to me in a way that inspires my creativity in the short-term, while others are simply excellent for most of the applications I’d use them for in the studio, or for live performance over the long-term. The new Pacificas do both.

These guitars cover a lot of musical ground!

The redesigned Pacifica Professional and Standard Plus bring both versatility and world-class tones to the equation, combined with stunning color options, practical design, playability and high-quality components. You owe it to yourself to check them out.

Photographs courtesy of the author

 

Check out Robbie’s other postings.

Essential Tips for First-Year Music Educators

Are you just embarking on your career as a music educator? It’s an exciting time, but you’re undoubtedly stressed and nervous at the prospect of establishing your own program and connecting with your students. We asked some top music educators — the Yamaha “40 Under 40” class of 2024 — for their top three tips for new music teachers.

Below are over 115 tips that will help you navigate your first year of teaching.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Angela AmmermanDr. Angela Ammerman
Adjunct Professor of Music Education
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia

1. Assume that all your students already like you. Don’t spend another minute worrying about whether students like you, or whether you should do more to make them like you. They do like you!

2. Stop talking so much! Students join your class to make music. As much as they love hearing about you, we want them to love making music together even more!

3. Make sure every student gets to perform in a concert at least once a year. Even if you do an “informance,” get those kids on a stage, praise their progress and let them show off the hard work that they have been doing!

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Tigran ArakelyanDr. Tigran Arakelyan
Music Director, Tacoma Music Collaborative
Executive Director, Music Works Northwest
Washington

1. Show students that you care about them and how passionate you are about the music you are working on. Music is beyond the notes. What makes you excited about that measure? What is special about a phrase or a theme? What are the conversations happening between the winds, strings and percussion? Who is the composer and why did they compose the piece? How does it relate to them today? You won’t excite every single student but if you are passionate, they will at least consider going on that journey with you.

2. Get to know your students. It won’t happen over night, but know their names, ask them to share, try to remember something that they are passionate about.

3. Think about the teachers who were most inspiring to you, and the colleagues who do exceptional work. What excited you when you were a music student in band, orchestra or choir? What inspired you when observing a colleague or a mentor teach? Plans and curriculum are great, but you must be flexible and learn to adapt.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Jeremy BartunekJeremy Bartunek
Music Teacher and Children’s Choir Director
Greenbriar School, Northbrook District 28
Northbrook, Illinois

1. Everything takes longer than you think. Make contingency plans. It’s better if you are fully prepared for the concert two weeks early because something always comes up.

2. Don’t get an advanced degree until you have a few years of experience. You don’t know what you don’t know.

3. Teaching music is a very public-facing role and involves a lot of public leadership. You will be looked to for answers (even non-music related ones) more often than you think. Improve your leadership and public-speaking skills.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Benjamin BergeyDr. Benjamin Bergey
Assistant Professor of Music
Eastern Mennonite University
Harrisonburg, Virginia

1. Ask questions, seek help/guidance and know that you’re not alone. We don’t do this work alone, so find and reach out to mentors, others through professional memberships, etc.

2. Write out your desires for classroom culture along with your educational/pedagogical philosophy. Making music is a vulnerable act, so students need to feel safe and valued in a music classroom to be able to fully engage.

3. Breathe. It can be stressful to start a new job, and it’s easy to get sucked into everything and lose perspective (or one’s health). I am a big proponent of mindfulness; find practices that help you remain grounded and healthy so that you can do this for the long haul. Remember, it’s OK if you don’t get it right the first year. Progress over perfection.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Adam BodonyAdam Bodony
Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestras, Purdue University
Artistic Director, Indianapolis Youth Orchestra
Indiana

1. This is so cliché, but never give up. If you know that this is what you’re supposed to do, you’re bound to encounter obstacles that make you think, “Should I give up?” Never give up. Keep fighting, not just for yourself, but for all those who stand to learn from you in the future. The future of our profession depends on its future leaders loving what they do. If you love music and people, you will continue on this amazing journey of music and love, and you will pass it on to the next generation.

2. Knowledge is power. Read, learn, seek out more. Get into the nitty-gritty of your profession.

3. Cultivate positive relationships with other people in your profession. Always be kind, respectful and supportive. Don’t hold grudges, don’t get offended and don’t needlessly judge everything. Be endlessly positive. All these things can co-exist while maintaining high standards. It’s hard to do but will serve you well as your career grows.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Tony BoldtTony Boldt
Director of Bands
Kasson-Mantorville High School
Kasson, Minnesota

1. Seek out awesome mentors in your area and ask them so many questions!

2. Make connections through your state and regional music organizations.

3. Join a local community band or chamber group and keep playing as much as you can. You will pick up so much from those groups that you can instantly bring back to your students.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Douglas BrownDouglas Brown
Director of Bands, Jazz Ensembles, Hip Hop and Digital Music
Middleton High School
Middleton, Wisconsin

1. Seek out a mentor and embrace their guidance wholeheartedly. In the early years of your career, you can learn immensely from replicating models established by successful educators. Find someone who can offer valuable insights and act as a sounding board for your ideas and challenges.

2. Conduct an impact assessment of your school’s course offerings. Examine which student populations are being served and identify any groups that may be inadvertently overlooked. Ask yourself how you can continue to adapt and evolve to ensure that all students are included and engaged in your school’s educational offerings.

3. Establish a partnership with a collaborator or a like-minded colleague. Remember, we achieve more when we work together than when we work separately. Collaborate with your peers to create a range of diverse, unique and meaningful educational experiences for your students. This collaborative approach not only enriches the learning environment but also fosters a sense of community and shared purpose among educators.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Charlene CannonCharlene Cannon
Band Director
Horizon High School
Winter Garden, Florida

1. Stay organized.

2. Be positive with students, parents, colleagues and administrators.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Raymond CannonRaymond William Cannon
Director of Beginning Band
Addison School District 4
Addison, Illinois

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many tricks and tips that other teachers are always willing to share to help you.

2. Build on a good foundation. Sometimes this means going back to square one. It may take some time, but the results speak volumes.

3. Be open to change. Real life and textbooks don’t always line up. You will learn a lot in your first year. Continue to listen and look for better ways to teach.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Jena CombsJena Combs
Director of Musical Activities
Flora High School
Flora, Illinois

1. Believe in every student’s potential for success to foster a thriving music program. It’s OK to have big, grandiose ideas and goals — believing in students is how you achieve them. Be realistic, but always believe greatness is achievable for your students.

2. Love your job and your family. Establish a work-life balance from the beginning to prevent burnout especially during busy periods.

3. Build strong relationships with students and parents by showing genuine interest, maintaining regular communication and fostering a sense of community and support. These things all contribute to the long-term success of a music program.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Jessica CorryJessica Corry
Band Director
Plank Junior High School
Oswego, Illinois

1. Be consistent. Band directors are notorious for trying to reinvent the wheel, but in my opinion, there isn’t much innovation to be done in the band directing world. However, the path to get to the end result is what matters. So, find out what works for your students and stick with it. See how the “best” directors get their groups to sound fantastic, play the right notes and the right time, in tune, and with a good tone.

2. Give yourself time, be patient. Our job is a daily grind. It has rewarding moments, but there are a lot of monotonous moments behind them. I was once told, “Every overnight success was at least 10 years in the making.” It’s true, I’ve lived it.

3. Find your village. There are a lot of fantastic music educators out there, and there are a lot who should not be educators. Find people who will help and build you up. Surround yourself with people who will be honest with you, while also making sure to keep you focused on the right things: the students.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Mallory DekkerMallory A. Dekker
Executive Director and Instructor
Black Hills Studios of the Arts
Rapid City, South Dakota

1. Know that at some point you will have to advocate for your program, and you might be surprised to whom, so be ready and be prepared. Choose your advocacy argument wisely. Your program and your students’ music education are worth it.

2. You hear about mental health all the time — take precautions and set up a routine now. You, your family, your students will thank you later.

3. Try something new. Do so with support (family and/or friends) and a lot of research.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Gillian DesmaraisGillian Desmarais
K-12 Music Technology and Engineering
Harmony Learning Center
Maplewood, Minnesota

1. Building relationships with your students is key. Take time to listen to them and find ways to relate to music they like. Connection is essential to learning, and building trust and respect in the classroom should start there, too.

2. You can learn so much from the teachers in your school. Take time to observe them, or if that’s too much, try and catch up with them at the end of the day. I received some of the best teaching advice from my peers.

3. Be yourself! If your personality isn’t reflected in your teaching, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Find ways to let students know who you are, and they won’t be afraid to be themselves in front of you. You can show this through how you decorate your classroom, use jokes to engage students during lectures, wear fun and cheery colors, do dance brain breaks or come up with handshakes for every student. Let your classroom mirror your true self. It’ll be the kind of place where students will want to see their own reflections in, too!

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Jeff DriscollJeff Driscoll
Music Teacher
Monroe Elementary School
Bartonville, Illinois

1. Be open to things the first year.

2. Don’t try to change the world, just get a sense of how the community and school are open to supporting your program and slowly morph that into what you want to see.

3. Remember, it’s never really your program until years down the line.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Nicholas FieldsNicholas A. Fields
Band Director
Edgewood City Schools
Trenton, Ohio

1. Remember it takes a while to build momentum.

2. As much as you have learned from everyone else, remember you will have your own unique teaching style, embrace it.

3. Always stay consistent and fair with your expectations.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Allison FigueroaAllison Figueroa
Assistant Band and Choral Director
Parkland High School
Allentown, Pennsylvania

1. You won’t be perfect, ever. Just keep learning and adjusting.

2. Students will respond much better if they know you truly care about them.

3. Let your personality come through in your teaching.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dennis GiottaDennis Giotta
Music Teacher
Southeast Local School District
Apple Creek, Ohio

1. Never underestimate your students — they are capable of more than you think if you find ways to connect with them and learn from them.

2. Do what is best for your students at all times. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. There are plenty of ways to make music meaningful and educational.

3. With so much to learn and do as a new teacher, it is easy to isolate yourself. Find time to meet with friends, talk to colleagues or find a network of people who you can talk to about work or personal things.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Brad HartBrad Hart
Instrumental Music Teacher
Peter Johansen High School
Modesto, California

1. Have a vision that expands your musical community. For your students, include a wider array of offerings to bring more students into musical learning, and make sure that your musical selections are intentionally diverse. For yourself, find your own personal musical community so that you can develop relationships that will allow you to grow as a person, musician and educator.

2. Every student deserves the best teacher. Work to make sure you are their best teacher, not just a good director.

3. Work to create an environment driven by the music and the people who are making it. Engage your students with composers, with engineers, with stage crews, professionals and amateurs, community bands, honor groups and every way they can continue with music throughout their lives.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Miguel HildagoMiguel Hidalgo
Music Teacher and Music Director
Esperanza Academy Charter School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1. Never stop playing your primary instrument.

2. Always pull your instrument out and play alongside your students.

3. Create space for your students to explore their own musical preferences.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Richard Hutton

Dr. Richard Hutton
Assistant Professor of Choral Music Education and Assistant Director of Choral Activities
Boise State University
Boise, Idaho

1. There is so much to do — take the time to build positive relationships with your students and their families.

2. Err on the side of accessible rather than overly challenging literature. Ambitious first-year music educators notoriously over-program.

3. Collaborate! Form a “brain trust” with the choral colleagues in your area and through our professional organizations.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Lily IanaconiLily Ianaconi
9-12 Instrumental Music Teacher
Franklin Academy High School
Malone, New York

1. Have courage to try something new. It can be scary and daunting to take on a new opportunity or to try and create a new experience for your students when you only have the idea and vision.

2. Don’t hesitate to ask questions! I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet so many terrific and knowledgeable colleagues across New York state and the country who are always willing to share their ideas, expertise and experiences with me.

3. Find a healthy work-life balance. It’s important to strike a healthy balance between school and everything else.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Jacquelyn LankfordDr. Jacquelyn Lankford
Assistant Professor of Trumpet
Mississippi State University
Starkville Mississippi

1. Collaborate! It is the most inspiring way to create and do things that nobody has done before. It is so easy to get stuck in your own little bubble, but when you combine your talents with those of others, you can truly do some extraordinary things with your career.

2. Leave your school! What I mean by this is go to conferences, competitions and anything else that puts you and your students into an environment where you get to be around people who do what you do. This is the best way to network, hear new music, and add to that inspiration by hearing new ideas and meeting new people.

3. Don’t be afraid to rattle some cages! There is too much of “this is the way it has always been done, and this is the way it always needs to be done” mentality. Though there is beauty in tradition, evolution must happen for us to remain relevant and to keep things interesting. We are so lucky to do what we do, and it is so important to not slip into the monotony of doing the exact same thing every day. Don’t be afraid to voice your ideas or to try something a little new or different.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Christopher LapeChristopher Lape
Orchestra Director
Upper Arlington High School
Upper Arlington, Ohio

1. Be flexible and give yourself grace. You won’t always get through everything you want to and sometimes you will have to improvise.

2. Take time to get to know your students. They have a lot to contribute to the community. When you invest in them, they’re more likely to invest in you and their learning.

3. Find opportunities to observe other music and non-music teachers. There’s a lot of great teaching and wisdom out in the universe.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Kevin LongwillKevin Longwill
Music Industry Teacher, Director of Modern Music Makers (M3)
Abington School District
Abington, Pennsylvania

1. Authenticity is key. Students want to make music, and our job is to help them make music in whatever way makes the most sense.

2. Let the kids steer and have a voice and choice in what and how they pursue making music.

3. Don’t try to do too much too fast.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Kimberly McLemoreKimberly Kraft McLemore
Vice President of Education and Community Engagement
Nashville Symphony
Nashville, Tennessee

1. Give yourself a lot of grace. No educator had everything figured out during their first year of teaching.

2. Seek out veteran educators to help guide you and mentor you throughout your early years. These relationships are invaluable!

3. Network and collaborate with partner organizations in your city to connect your students to learning opportunities. These organizations often have the staff or capacity to help plan and coordinate programming or experiences for educators and students.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Adam MurrayAdam Murray
Orchestra Director, Music Department Chair
Port Clinton City Schools
Port Clinton, Ohio

1. Demonstrating a skill requires proficiency, teaching a skill demonstrates mastery. Teach students to teach.

2. You can’t control events, but you can control your reaction.

3. When you’re in front of kids, you don’t have the luxury to panic. When serious problems happen in the classroom, take a deep breath and solve the problem. You’re the adult in the room now — congrats!

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Andrew MuthAndrew Muth
Director of Bands and Director of Performing Arts
Westfield High School
Westfield, Indiana

1. It’s going to take time to get to where you want to be. Set attainable goals and celebrate when you achieve them.

2. Relationships are the most important part. Invest in knowing your staff, parents and students. Let them know that you care about their experience.

3. It is not about you! Take “I’ and “my” out of your vocabulary and focus on the “we.” Believe in the power of what can be achieved together.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Alex MutzAlex Mutz
Director of Bands
Sam L. Martin Middle School
Austin, Texas

1. Never be afraid to ask for help. There is always room to grow and learn, so don’t be afraid to say, “I need help.”

2. Be kind to others and be social. Go out and meet other people in the field and make friendships with them. They can turn out to be some of the best decisions you’ve made.

3. Prioritize yourself. Take time off when you need to, focus on what you need as a person and make sure you are not letting yourself get overwhelmed.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Christopher NoceChristopher Noce
Director of Bands and Orchestras
Concord-Carlisle High School
Concord, Massachusetts

1. Be Open: Try new things. Invite mentors and colleagues into your rehearsals. Seek feedback from your peers and your students. Learn to take constructive criticism, accept help and be candid with your students. Allow students into the process.

2. Be Kind: To students, colleagues, families and yourself. You rarely know how much of an impact you are making at the moment, and kindness is a great place to start. Communicate clearly (“Clear is kind,” as Brené Brown writes in “Dare to Lead”). Be flexible when possible. Remember, we are always learning and growing — this is rewarding work, but it is hard work, and mistakes are part of the process.

3. Be There: So many of the folks I looked up to early in my career (and still do!) started their work in positions with struggling numbers and low achievement. It takes time to build something great, and most opportunities are not turn-key. You need to stick around to see things come to fruition.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Allison PaetzAllison Paetz
Vocal Music Teacher
Rocky River High School
Rocky River, Ohio

1. Expect a lot of yourself and from your students, and remember to be kind to both.

2. Sleep, drink water and take a sick day if you need it.

3. Don’t forget that you’re the one who decides if you’re going to have fun in the classroom. If you go into a class determined to enjoy yourself while you teach, your students will see that and will want to join in the fun.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Stephen PageDr. Stephen C. Page
Associate Professor of Saxophone and Director of Undergraduate Studies
The University of Texas at Austin Butler School of Music
Austin, Texas

1. Engage with the community around you. Teachers, administrators, parents, students and beyond, will all help you.

2. Love the process of what you do as you aim toward your goals. Work at them, and work toward them, but don’t force it. Everything comes in due time.

3. Have/start a hobby and make time to regularly enjoy it. We are whole individuals, and interests outside our work will help us find balance and enhance what we can give to all areas of our life.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Cale PattonCale Patton
Music Teacher
Gillespie Technology Magnet Cluster School
Chicago, Illinois

1. Creativity is about going where the spirit takes you and not always knowing the outcome. Today’s academia, even within the arts, is all about end goals, which can undermine true creativity. I challenge a first-year music educator to trust their instincts and to jump right in, even if they aren’t sure where it might lead. Listen to your heart, listen to your students and, most importantly, have fun and dance.

2. The hopes and dreams of students don’t always look like the music education we learned about in college. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and failures to the kids. Be you! Your students will respond best to your authenticity.

3. Listen for what activities and things your students like, but don’t pretend that’s your life, too. Don’t shy away from sharing your own musical tastes, interests and endeavors. It inspires students to think outside the box, try new things and take creative risks in every avenue of life.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Bed PedersenBen Pedersen
Director of Bands
Foreman College and Career Academy
Chicago, Illinois

1. Be your authentic self and don’t head into the classroom with a preconceived notion of what a music educator should sound like.

2. Never stop honing your musical skills, including arranging, which is a vital skill for differentiation in music ensembles.

3. Model great practice habits, they will inspire your students.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Kyle PhillipsKyle D. Phillips
Band Director
Princeton High School
Cincinnati, Ohio

1. Take every opportunity to grow and learn. Lessons can come from anywhere — from your students, your colleagues, former educators, etc.

2. Don’t give up! It does get easier.

3. Be your students’ biggest fan. Go to their athletic events, learn who they are outside of the music room and celebrate every success.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Matthew RupertMatthew Rupert
Co-Founder, Clarinet/Piano Faculty, Little Mission Studio
Co-Founder, President of the Board, Make More Music Foundation
San Francisco, California

1. Be giving of your time and always support your colleagues. I have kept in touch with a number of my colleagues from school, and we have a supportive network where we share teaching tips, challenges and solutions, and generally support and cheer on one another in all of our endeavors.

2. Never stop learning and being curious. Be eager to explore new teaching methods, new repertoire or composers you never learned about in school, and new technology to help you become better at your craft.

3. Teach more than music. Remember that learning music is so much more than learning notes on a page. Music students learn how to problem-solve, collaborate and communicate, as well as how to show creative expression, individuality, acceptance and more! Create a musical space where students can grow into great humans, who also happen to be good at music.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Julie RussellJulie Anne Russell
Orchestra Director
Blythewood High School
Blythewood, South Carolina

1. Stick with it — yes, there are hard times and weeks, but to see students go from Twinkle to St. Paul is pretty amazing.

2. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you — ask questions and be receptive. I’m here because of the people who helped and encouraged me.

3. Just go for it. Send the email asking about a crazy idea, get together and dream of big projects, and don’t be scared to pursue big dreams because people may say no … because, a lot of times, they say yes.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Kacee SandersKacee Sanders
Band Director, DuPont Hadley Middle School
Executive Director, Southeastern Women In Music Symposium
Tennessee

1. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone. The network of music educators I have found in Metro Nashville Public Schools is a resource I wish I had during my first year of teaching. Speaking for all educators, we want to see you succeed. While everyone’s school situation may be different, having a community of colleagues to collaborate with is comforting and humbling. If you do not teach in a large district where you have many music peers to collaborate with, then join and connect with your regional music organization.

2. Find something that brings you joy outside of music. As musicians and teachers, we pour so much of our identity into music. While this is a huge part of what we do, be sure to allow yourself to explore other things. Personally, I have found maintaining a collection of house plants to be a great escape.

3. Give yourself some grace. You will make mistakes. The most important thing you can do is learn from that experience. Grant yourself the ability to forgive yourself, learn the correct answer and do better. No one walks into the classroom for the first time with all the answers (see tip #1).

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Jessie VallejoDr. Jessie M. Vallejo
Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Pomona, California

1. Even if the first few years might be the hardest in terms of teaching or classroom management, it is often the time you remember the most. Your first classes of students will change you as a teacher. Don’t let the early challenges discourage you.

2. Find ways to share your enthusiasm for what you teach with your students and colleagues. Something that is fun can still be important, challenging and meaningful.

3. Naps are essential! Stay hydrated and take care of your health.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Jessica Vaughan-MarraDr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra
Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education
Seton Hill University
Greensburg, Pennsylvania

Instead of THREE tips I have a three-word tip: Find content-specific mentors. School districts will often provide a mentor for new teachers. This point person can be helpful for navigating the day-to-day questions about the school routines and culture. However, music education majors enter the profession with a breadth of pedagogical understanding while also needing continued professional development and support. Many organizations like state-level MEAs and national organizations such as ASTA have content-specific mentoring options for new music teachers. Continued professional development through participating in workshops, conference attendance and pursuing advanced degrees moves the mentoring a step further and helps new music teachers find a community of learners and build upon their professional social connections across the greater music education community.

2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Paulina VillarrealDr. Paulina Villarreal
Assistant Professor of Voice
University of Memphis, Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music
Memphis, Tennessee
Founder and Artistic Director, Cantos Para El Mundo

1. Be a student for life. As music educators, we can’t afford the luxury of being complacent. We must remain curious and continue learning.

2. Videotape your teaching as often as possible. Take time to look back at those videos and make improvements!

3. Inspire but also challenge your students, regardless of their technical development.

Check out tips for first-year music teachers from the 2023 “40 Under 40,” 2022 “40 Under 40” and 2021 “40 Under 40” educators for more invaluable advice!

Top photo by: PATPITCHAYA / Adobe Stock

Dr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra

Back to 40 Under 40

2024 Yamaha

Dr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra

Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education
Seton Hill University
Greensburg, Pennsylvania

When Dr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra started her undergraduate degree in music education at Duquesne University in 2002, she envisioned teaching beginning instrumentalists for her whole career. As she journeyed into music teacher education, her view changed. She is now the Coordinator of Music Education and Associate Professor of Music at Seton Hill University where she oversees music teacher licensure and degree completion. She also coordinates fieldwork placements, student teaching internships and music teacher education curriculum and content.

“Seeing undergraduate music education majors begin their journey into the profession, work their way through coursework and fieldwork where they explore teaching practices, and then evolve into novice music educators with excitement and interest in seeking more information is what I find most rewarding,” she says.

Though she doesn’t conduct ensembles as part of her teaching responsibilities, Vaughan-Marra hosts as many as 10 local vocal and instrumental ensembles at Seton Hill as an on-campus fieldwork and clinic opportunity for her students. “These ‘fieldwork Fridays’ help our music education majors by providing longer rehearsal time blocks for micro-teaching as well as opportunities to sit in with the ensembles performing on secondary instruments.,” she explains.

One of Vaughan-Marra’s goals with her transition into higher education was to expand her impact on the lives of student musicians. Prior to her Ph.D., she was a middle school band and orchestra director in the Silicon Valley of California. Through volunteer efforts and active membership in music education organizations, she has developed and maintained relationships with pre-K-12 music educators across the country, which “helps me stay connected to the classroom,” she says. She often invites colleagues and peers in the profession to present or work with her students at Seton Hill.

Students who graduate from Seton Hill’s music education program often represent the university motto of being “fit for the world.” According to Vaughan-Marra, “Our students are prepared for not only the music teaching experiences that parallel their education but also adaptability to the ever-evolving landscape of music education.

Vaughan-Marra co-authored a chapter (with Dr. Scott Edgar) about music teacher preparation for teaching beginning instrumental band ensembles in “The Oxford Handbook of Preservice Music Teacher Education.” She included proven practices and methods that she employed with her ensembles in the Cupertino Union School District.

“When working with large ensembles, I emphasized musicianship skill development, which moves beyond assessing the accuracy of student performances,” she explains. “Instead, engage students in opportunities to sing, move, chant and explore their aural and oral skill development through improvisation activities throughout rehearsals. Balancing between teaching technical skills and musicianship skills will result in the individual and collective motivation of the ensemble.”

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Kyle D. Phillips

Back to 40 Under 40

2024 Yamaha

Kyle D. Phillips

Band Director
Princeton High School
Cincinnati, Ohio

During the 2020 season, Princeton High School Band Director Kyle D. Phillips saw half of his students every other week, which made it extremely difficult to rehearse marching band and it also limited performance opportunities. Because of the pandemic, the already abbreviated season was made that much more challenging because the Pride of Princeton (PoP) marching band could not travel, and there were only three performances for the entire season.

“Knowing  how hard they were working and how much they love performing together, my team and I developed the Senior Showcase,” Phillips explains. “It began — and continues to be — a marching band exclusive performance, where we perform our halftime show for an audience of our fans without having to share the field with the football team.”

Senior members are celebrated that night, and together, they selected an additional set of songs to perform from each of the previous halftime shows. The event is capped off with a fireworks display, provided by the Princeton Music Boosters.

In 2017, a new event in Cincinnati — the BLINK festival, a light, art and projection-mapping event and parade — provided a huge opportunity for PoP to perform in downtown Cincinnati. The first event drew in more than 100,000 spectators. “Since then, we have performed at every BLINK parade,” Phillips says. “In 2022, we were invited to participate in the parade’s Grand Finale, an honor reserved for only a few groups — and we were the only marching band. For my students to be recognized by an outside organization for their talents was a dream come true!”  

In his eight years as the head director, Phillips has grown the band program by more than 40% — from 139 members in 2015 to over 200 in 2023. Some of his best recruitment and retention efforts include:

  • Individual meetings with each 8th grade band member in the Spring to discuss their plans for high school band and to encourage them to at least try marching band.
  • Middle school band night every year, where all 7th and 8th graders perform with the PoP on a Friday night
  • Finding extra opportunities beyond football games to add to the allure of playing in the band, such as travel and special community/city events.
  • Empower the band’s student leadership team to take ownership with regimented student-led instruction, goal setting and regular check-ins throughout the season.

    “We celebrate our successes, but we also share in our struggles,” Phillips says. “If a rehearsal isn’t going well, I encourage the band to reflect on how we can improve. I often tell students that there’s no ‘bench’ in marching band and that when one of us struggles, it reflects on all of us.”

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    Kevin Longwill

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Kevin Longwill

    Music Industry Teacher, Director of Modern Music Makers (M3)
    Abington School District
    Abington, Pennsylvania

    During the pandemic, Music Industry Teacher Kevin Longwill started Modern Music Makers (M3) so that Abington School District students could continue to make music with their friends by recording projects using a cloud-based digital audio workstation (DAW) like Soundtrap, then sharing them with their peers. “At the time, it was an interesting concept, and many students gravitated toward it,” Longwill says. “When we resumed in-person learning, more students wanted to make and share music, but they wanted to do more like form performing ensembles or take the music they made to a new level with traditional recording, production and release.”

    Longwill points out that the students are the driving force behind many of the decisions involved in the program. “The idea to form bands and to record/release original music – all came from the students,” he says. “These kids have been the inspiration behind the direction of the M3 program, and this has allowed them to demonstrate agency and authenticity in their music-making and learning. We’re excited to see where our students will steer the program next!”

    When the district shifted building structures from a junior high to a middle school, Longwill was presented with a great opportunity to adjust how to handle music technology coursework. “In this new environment, our middle school offered an ‘experience-based’ entry-level approach to music technology,” he explains. “At the high school, we establish three more years of instruction, each building on skills established in previous years’ instruction.”

    This tiered structure has proven to be immensely beneficial with middle school and high school students taking on complex projects in class and in their own pursuits. Currently, there are 127 M3 students in grades 9-12 and 105 in grades 6-8.

    Longwill’s next step was to create a venue where students could perform for more than just their friends and family — and so, the Modern Music Invitational was born. Numerous schools with modern music programs come together and play for each other. The show also provides opportunities for non-performing students to showcase their skills at working a soundboard or handling performance elements like lighting, media, etc. “While the show itself was a fantastic achievement, the additional opportunity to create masterclasses with industry professionals, including touring/recording musicians, audio engineers and music business professionals, proved to be really impactful for the students and their teachers,” Longwill says.

    He is astounded to see how the Modern Music Invitation started locally and now it is reaching students, teachers and, starting this year, future educators, from other states and parts of country.

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    Julie Anne Russell

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Julie Anne Russell

    Orchestra Director
    Blythewood High School
    Blythewood, South Carolina

    Blythewood High School Orchestra Director Julie Anne Russell has found several ways to bridge the gap between middle school and high school orchestra programs. First, she reconnected with colleague Netta Hadari to perform his piece, “Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like,” which was written for beginning strings (performed by middle school students), advanced strings (Blythewood High’s chamber orchestra), winds and brass (local teachers and professionals) and four soloists (Russell and three professional players/teachers). “At the performance, the audience and students could see the progression from first-year playing to the outer limits of what can be accomplished as an adult,” Russell says.

    This performance was emotional for Russell because she was able to perform alongside her best friend, students, future students, colleagues and her son, who was part of the middle school orchestra. “In the final measures of the piece, I actually missed a cue because I couldn’t see through my tears. I was overcome with joy with all that we had accomplished,” she says.

    Other initiatives that involve the middle school and high school include a composition unit with the middle school where students write pieces based on children’s books, and the orchestra mentor project where Russell’s high school students teach free private lessons to middle schoolers.  

    Russell is known for her out-of-the-box ideas. During the pandemic and resulting shutdown, Russell wanted students to be able to still connect with musicians and music “beyond these walls,” which has become a catchphrase for her vision of the orchestra program. Respected musicians from Hong Kong to California and many countries, states and cities in between, graciously created videos talking about their life and what they do. The unit, called “Meet the Artists,” resulted in about 12 videos explaining different aspects of what it means to be a musician and how it can shape your career.

    She also spearheaded a full day of workshops and rehearsals for Richland School District 2 honors orchestra students with the esteemed musicians of Varna International. Several students were given the opportunity to perform on actual Violins of Hope, and students were able to meet and ask questions to Avshi Weinstein, one of the luthiers who restored the instruments from the Holocaust.

    A special fundraiser for the orchestra is the Painted Fiddle Project, which began in 2009. Students lead the project and are in charge of the collaborations, designing and logistics. They work closely with the National Art Honors Society where students and local artists are encouraged to paint the fiddles. “My dad, Jim Wilson, and I work together in the wood shop to hand cut each fiddle,” Russell explains. “At each concert, 10 to 12 fiddles are auctioned with proceeds going to purchase equipment, sheet music and supplies for the program as well as fund a scholarship for a local student to attend the University of South Carolina String Project Summer Camp.”

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    Matthew Rupert

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Matthew Rupert

    Co-Founder, Clarinet/Piano Faculty, Little Mission Studio
    Co-Founder, President of the Board, Make More Music Foundation
    San Francisco, California

    Little Mission Studio launched in 2014 to help meet the need for quality music education in San Francisco. Matthew Rupert and the other co-founders of the studio had been teaching privately out of their homes, and they saw the need for a school where they could combine their talents, offer more programming and improve the quality of instruction available to local students. “We started with just 20 or so students and three teachers, and we now employ 17 faculty — all professional musicians — who teach about 400 students,” says Rupert.

    The studio was recently renovated and expanded, doubling the teaching and performance space, so that Rupert and his team can continue to grow their musical community with more studio classes, recitals and ensembles.  

    “I’m really proud of our ‘composer of the week’ initiative,” Rupert says. “We highlight a new composer every week, and students collect ‘trading cards’ where they learn about the composer. We intentionally highlight diverse composers from different backgrounds and musical styles because we want to ensure that our students see themselves represented in the world of music. Our illustrator friend custom draws each new composer card, and it’s awesome to see our students learning about musicians like Clara Schumann, Nina Simone, Kaija Saariaho and so many more.”

    In 2017, the Little Mission Jam Band was formed to provide a collaborative musical experience for students. “I love living in San Francisco, but it’s an odd quirk of the city that only a fraction of middle and high schools offer band or orchestra programs,” Rupert explains. “There are so many students with no ensemble playing and performance opportunities at school. Our Jam Band is the place for them!”

    The Jam Band survived through the pandemic with online rehearsals. Multi-track performance videos were created and later, the band rehearsed outdoors in front of the studio. “So many students and parents expressed gratitude that we kept things going,” Rupert says.

    In 2021, Rupert started a scholarship fund in his mother’s memory because she was an avid supporter of music education and the arts. It soon grew into a full-fledged nonprofit called the Make More Music Foundation. “In just our first couple of years, we have awarded over $20,000 in scholarship funds to young musicians to take private music lessons that they couldn’t afford to otherwise,” Rupert says. “We also curate and host regular, free educational concerts at community centers around the city. Last year’s concert series centered on music of the Americas and featured music by Latin and indigenous composers.”

    Rupert also authored “Music for Broken Arms,” which features one-handed (for right and left hand) piano solos. No need to halt lessons for students who have injured a finger, hand or arm! 

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    Ben Pedersen

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Ben Pedersen

    Director of Bands
    Foreman College and Career Academy
    Chicago, Illinois

    In Fall 2020, Ben Pedersen was hired as the Director of Bands at Foreman College and Career Academy to restart the band program, which had been dormant for years. He spent the summer before inventorying equipment and watching hours of YouTube tutorials to repair enough instruments to send home for virtual learning.

    Once in-person teaching resumed, Pedersen recruited band members by talking to students in the halls, offering lessons after school and practicing with his door open to draw in students curious about what they were hearing. “I’ve emphasized arranging music for my ensembles to ensure students at beginning levels can play music that is historically significant, fun and culturally relevant,” he says. “Now, four years into the program, we offer five sections of band, we have won awards — Outstanding Woodwind Section at the Jazz in the Chi Festival and an ILMEA All-District selection — and about 25% of the school population participates in the program.”

    Pedersen uses his school’s location in Chicago to introduce even more musical culture to his students. “When transitioning to public school education from a career as a freelance trombonist, a primary goal of mine was to bring great Chicago artists into my school and bring my students out into Chicago’s vibrant music scene,” he explains. “Foreman has been visited by numerous guest artists, including legendary Chicago artists like saxophonist Eric Schneider and bassist Dennis Carroll, and each visit was paired with a field trip to see them play at a jazz club in the city that night. The experience of getting to meet and work with artists, then seeing them perform in the real world brings the music to life for students.”

    Pedersen also works with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Foreman hosted a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Orchestra for a clinic with our jazz ensemble. The visit was paired with complimentary tickets for students to see the JALC Orchestra play that evening at Symphony Center — an incredible experience.

    “We have also been fortunate to participate in a Jazz Institute program which pairs Chicago jazz artists with schools to provide multiple guest visits to the school as well as tickets and transportation to the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts to see prominent jazz artists perform live,” Pedersen says.

    Foreman serves a diverse student population from a range of cultures within Chicago and from around the world. Most of Pedersen’s students have not had the opportunity to play musical instruments or take a music class before. “I am proud to be able to share my passion for instrumental music and help students achieve success in an area of study that they may have never known they would be interested in. My ultimate goal is to create lifelong appreciators of music,” he says. 

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    Cale Patton

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Cale Patton

    Music Teacher
    Gillespie Technology Magnet Cluster School
    Chicago, Illinois

    In 2011, Cale Patton started teaching at Dawes Elementary School, part of the Chicago Public Schools system.  At that point, music consisted of music on a cart with no instruments and certainly no ensembles. She spent over a decade building a robust program that now includes an unconventional band program and an after-school rock band. She also spearheaded hands-on learning through performance opportunities and field trips. “An art-on-a-cart scenario is certainly not ideal,” Patton says. “However, the blank slate at Dawes along with a supportive administration allowed us to explore new ideas and to experiment with different approaches. Of course, there were failures and challenges along the way, but I never gave up hope and worked every day to connect with students and staff.”

    After several years, music was finally given its own classroom! In 2020, Dawes was awarded Fine and Performing Arts School status by the district, due in part to the music program. Because of Patton’s commitment to innovation and her track record of pushing the artistic envelope, she was asked to build a music program from scratch at Gillespie Technology Magnet Cluster School in 2024. “Gillespie’s population is even more at-risk than Dawes with a student population that is 95% Black and majority low income. While it was sad to leave Dawes, I have discovered that my calling is to bring the light of music to students who need it the most. I look forward to working with Gillespie’s students and the community to build an innovative, technology-infused and culturally responsive music program.”

    Funding her efforts at Dawes required networking and pursuing grants, which Patton says is a full-time job on top of teaching. She searches for grant sources online and pursues every opportunity possible. She has received funding, instruments and more from DonorsChoose, Save the Music (which did “save” her music program in 2017 by providing instruments to start a band program) and Give a Note Foundation (which helped with funds to purchase a sousaphone).

    Patton also reached out to local community partners. “One of our greatest partnerships was with Ford City Mall, which donated craft supplies and costume materials, as well as welcomed our ensembles to perform. A highlight for my students and me include Christmas caroling and marching the mall corridors with the Dawes band for Mardi Gras,” she says.

    According to Patton, music programs help those who need them the most. “I love to recruit diverse learners and students with behavior challenges because they need positive and encouraging outlets for expression,” she says.

    A special tradition for the Dawes marching band is playing to send off Special Olympics athletes and coaches to the games. “The band and drumline would lead the athletes on a march through the halls of the school, outside and onto the bus. The school halls were lined with cheering and supportive students and staff, waving banners and signs of support,” Patton says.

    Patton acknowledges that the Dawes band may not exhibit the traditional musical “excellence” of a wind ensemble, but “I am proud that they exhibit excellence in the areas of spirit, fun, community and inclusion. These skills will take the students much farther than a high ranking at contest,” she says.

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    Dr. Stephen C. Page

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Stephen C. Page

    Associate Professor of Saxophone and Director of Undergraduate Studies
    The University of Texas at Austin Butler School of Music
    Austin, Texas

    It’s safe to say that if you’re a student of Dr. Stephen Page, Associate Professor of Saxophone at The University of Texas at Austin Butler School of Music, you are almost guaranteed a job upon graduation. His students have nearly 100% job placement at universities and public schools, performance venues, cultural nonprofits and other companies. “One of the best things about being a mentor is witnessing students seek and discover their passion and, more importantly, their purpose,” Page says. “The biggest thing I can do is to let students be open to their own curiosity. From there, I do what I can when I can to foster things forward.”

    Page helps students connect with organizations and people who align with their interests in a way that supports turning their own motion into momentum. “In essence, the best thing I can do is to lead students on their way,” he says. “What a gift to do so!”

    Page challenges his students with studio projects that involve other subjects like philosophy and neurology. He hopes that these opportunities will create an ongoing sense of curiosity that sets each student on individual paths of discovery. “It’s been great to explore a number of things together as a studio. Whether reading books by artists of other disciplines, watching documentaries about famous chefs or exploring our brain and the ways we can better incorporate our natural selves into our work, we always walk away with something new to think about,” he says.

    Another project that Page spearheads is a UT Saxophone Studio YouTube Channel. Many performance videos have been shared on the platform, including one that’s quickly approaching 500,000 views. “New this year is a series of educational videos on all-state audition material. This series put a few of our students in the driver’s seat, performing the etudes and sharing several practice tips for viewers. We’re excited to expand on this into general topics on pedagogy and more to create a valuable resource,” Page says.

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    Allison Paetz

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Allison Paetz

    Vocal Music Teacher
    Rocky River High School
    Rocky River, Ohio

    Rocky River High School’s Vocal Music Teacher Allison Paetz enlists the community and engages students when teaching global music. “I love performing music from all over the world, but I am certainly not an expert in every culture,” she says. “I have worked with students to select music that originated in a culture that they have a connection to or special knowledge of. Then, I involve them in helping to teach the language or share information and traditions related to the song.”

    Paetz welcomes parents and grandparents to help with language if a student isn’t comfortable, and she says that her class’ understanding and connection to the music is much deeper because of those experiences. “The biggest challenge is finding the right piece for an ensemble in terms of voicing and difficulty level,” Paetz explains. “I have seen so much more music become available since I started teaching, but I would love to see music publishers expand their offerings even more. It would be fantastic to have resources beyond the printed page, especially for music that isn’t traditionally transmitted that way.”

    Ten years ago, Paetz started the a cappella group, Chromatix, because she wanted to have an ensemble that could sing challenging arrangements of contemporary popular music. The 14 members of Chromatix — the largest group yet — regularly perform at local events and festivals, and once they helped her during a presentation at a vernacular music conference.

    Like all educators, Paetz adapted her teaching approach during the pandemic, and she has retained some of the technology that she used when she taught online. “I still use some lesson plans and projects, especially those that give students the opportunity to transcribe and arrange music. For example, students in our beginning ensemble compose short melodies using a browser-based notation software, which we then use for sight-reading in class,” she says.

    Paetz has also embraced the district’s implementation of Canvas to make more resources available to students 24/7 so they can practice independently. “Recently, students recorded themselves singing with their phones while we rehearsed the same piece together in class,” she says. “Students submitted their individual recordings for a quick and easy formative assessment. That would have been a file-management nightmare before Canvas, but I can do things like that more frequently now.”

    Paetz is currently working on her Ph.D. dissertation and is conducting a study on perfectionism, stress and burnout in pre K–12 music educators in the United States. “I love what I do, but it is hard work. My hope is that my research can help identify patterns of thought and behavior that increase stress and burnout among music teachers so that we can work on better supporting music teachers and, as a result, students,” she says.

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    Christopher Noce

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Christopher Noce

    Director of Bands and Orchestras
    Concord-Carlisle High School
    Concord, Massachusetts

    “No cowards” may be a strange message to share with students, but Director of Bands and Orchestras Christopher Noce uses that phrase for students to know that they can safely and confidently make mistakes during rehearsals. “The biggest difference between a new student at Concord-Carlisle High School and one who has been in our ensembles for a couple of years is in how they handle making mistakes,” Noce says. “Our established members will quickly acknowledge their mistakes in rehearsal — often with a quick glance toward me — and we can continue our rehearsal knowing that we’re all on the same page.”

    He goes on to explain that “no cowards” is a tongue-in-cheek way to remind students to own the inevitability of an error. “It’s also important for me that we are always pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones — whether it’s singing in rehearsals, performing challenging repertoire, hollering for soloists in the jazz ensemble or cheering on the football team at home games. We take what we do very seriously, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously,” he says.

    Noce brings in conductors who will extend his students’ understanding and perspectives beyond what he can bring to the table. “I keep an eye out at festivals and conferences for folks who may enrich our learning,” he explains. “I’m very cognizant of my limited perspective and inherent bias, and I work to bring in as many varied perspectives as possible.” 

    Some core values that Noce emphasizes in his class and throughout the program include:

    • Candor: Students know that he will be honest with them and expects the same from them.
    • Community and belonging: Everyone is welcome, and Noce means it. Concord-Carlisle sponsors multiple events throughout the year so musicians can just be together and enjoy each other’s company.
    • Living composers and new repertoire: Noce participates in consortiums and commissions to introduce students and audiences to new composers and repertoire nearly every concert cycle. “We perform a lot of repertoire by living composers, and one of the greatest advantages of this is that we don’t need a Ouija board to communicate with them, and the students love hearing about the work firsthand,” he says.
    • Musicianship outside our ensembles: Many of Noce’s students perform in outside bands, orchestras, chamber ensembles, hardcore bands and as singer-songwriters. All these pursuits are valued equally for the role they play in enriching the musical community within Concord-Carlisle ensembles.

    Prior to joining Concord-Carlisle, Noce co-taught at the elementary and middle school level with Paul Halpainy for nearly a decade. They built a robust program that was more than just a feeder for the high school. “We wanted something that students could be proud of right there and then,” Noce says. “We set high standards, brought in clinicians, participated in concert festivals and even commissioned new works. The biggest investment was in the culture and community within and around our program, and it has paid dividends at the high school level.”

    Now, Noce is reconnecting with those students who he remembers teaching how to put together their instruments. “Those 4th graders are now these incredible, passionate, driven, smart, funny and hard-working musicians filling the seats of my high school ensembles,” he says proudly.

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    Alex Mutz

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Alex Mutz

    director of bands
    Sam L. Martin Middle School
    Austin, Texas

    The band at Sam L. Martin Middle School has a large Hispanic population with many coming from Central and South America who speak little English. Over 92% of band members are economically disadvantaged and a large portion have at least one accommodation. Director of Bands Alex Mutz says that being a person of color and a multilingual educator from outside the U.S. has helped him form a bond with his students because he understands what his students have gone through as immigrants. “Being able to navigate their language brightens students’ mood because they have someone who they can communicate with,” Mutz says.

    He makes sure that his students can overcome obstacles and have the tools and resources they need to succeed, such as playing professional-level instruments. “My view is: Why shouldn’t they have the opportunity to receive the same level of education as any other student regardless of their home situation,” Mutz says.

    Mutz adapted many of his lessons to accommodate non-native English speakers. For example, while certain songs are common in the U.S. like “Mary had a Little Lamb,” many of his students do not know it. “So, I try to incorporate songs that they know from their culture,” he explains. “When we are learning notes on the staff, I ask students for input and together we create Spanish versions of ‘every good boy does fine’ to help them remember the notes.”

    Mutz has also researched different phonetic approaches and words to help students learn to articulate on wind instruments, which sets them up for success.

    It seems fateful that when Mutz attended his college orientation, he decided to change his major from engineering to music. “At registration, it struck me that engineering wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to keep pursuing music, so I changed my major right there,” he says.

    Currently, Mutz is pursuing his masters in music education at Eastman School of Music on top of his work with the middle school and high school bands, and teaching private lessons. “I give the hours that I can without overly stressing myself and still being able to give maximum effort. I have a clear line of communication with my schools. It’s about perspective and loving what you do without burning yourself out,” he says.

    As a child, Mutz wanted to join the legendary Blue Devils Bugle and Drum Corps after watching their 1994 show and in particular, the featured euphonium player. When he eventually made the corps, Mutz met the euphonium player and told him that he was his inspiration growing up. “He told me that when he was young, he wanted to be like someone in the corps as well,” Mutz says. “Years after aging out, a euphonium player on one of the marching bands that I was teaching came up and told me that I was his inspiration and that he wanted to be like me. A full circle moment!”

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    Adam Murray

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Adam Murray

    Orchestra Director, Music Department Chair
    Port Clinton City Schools
    Port Clinton, Ohio

    Small schools don’t mean weak music programs!

    That’s the mantra often repeated by Orchestra Director and Music Department Chair Adam Murray, who teaches at Port Clinton City Schools, a small district with about 85 students in the orchestra program. To maintain and grow enrollment, Murray has found a unique way to includes his high school students in the recruitment process, which includes a recruitment concert and an instrument selection event.

    Each spring, Murray does a deep dive with his high school symphony into a different facet of the contemporary music industry, such as film , video games, Broadway, television, pop music, etc. In addition to learning the music, students participate in planning and executing a performance event, which includes program designing, advertising and creating related media like videos and posters. The first half of the unit culminates in a midterm project: a multimedia recruitment concert exclusively for 5th graders.  

    Phase two of the event is an “instrument selection party” where the high schoolers work in groups to plan games, playlists, decorate and help facilitate the instrument petting zoo. The Baroque Violin Shop in Cincinnati brings in dozens of instruments for every 5th grader to play and take home once they have made their decision. “Once you select your instrument and get your picture taken in front of our orchestra backdrop, the red rope unlocks, and you get to head into the VIP orchestra party,” Murray exclaims.

    These efforts not only bring in new members to the orchestra, but it also retains the ones Murray already has. “Recruitment numbers are important to me but it’s the retention number that really matters,” he says. “It’s rare that I lose a student before graduation. When Port Clinton students pick orchestra, they are investing in it for the long haul.”

    During the summer of 2022, Murray worked with administrative staff at the Firelands Symphony to extend its educational outreach program to Port Clinton. This partnership had not previously existed but has since flourished. “We have sectional coaches, access to private teachers, elementary recruitment tools and many other resources that the symphony is generously providing free of cost,” Murray says. “On the horizon, we are hoping to plan a ‘side-by-side’ with the symphony. Firelands also provides free concert tickets for all students, and our program has taken full advantage of the chance to see a professional symphony in action!”

    Murray took over the program from a beloved director. “It might have been hubris, but I never had any pretense about being my predecessor,” he says. “Since day one, I have made this program an unapologetic mirror of who I am as an educator and as a performer. I see these kids five days a week from 6th grade until they graduate. We go through a lot of life together. We are energized, we are effective, and we aren’t afraid to take risks.”

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    Kimberly Kraft McLemore

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Kimberly Kraft McLemore

    Vice President of Education and Community Engagement
    Nashville Symphony
    Nashville, Tennessee

    The Nashville Symphony’s education programming is designed to support the city’s students and educators and provide experiences that supplement and enhance the school curriculum. “We are always eager to collaborate and design new programming with our city to better serve the community,” says Kimberly Kraft McLemore, Vice President of Education and Community Engagement.

    A popular program is Music In My Neighborhood, an annual week-long residency that is designed to bring the Nashville Symphony’s programming out of the concert hall and into a new neighborhood each year. Musicians, staff and board members visit local schools, community organizations and neighborhood associations to grow existing partnerships, build new relationships and spend time listening and learning from the community about how best to highlight the amazing work already happening in their neighborhood. “We then curate a week-long schedule of programming to showcase our partnerships in that neighborhood,” McLemore says. “We want to collaborate with the community to make music for the community. It is an amazing week full of partnership and music-making!”

    Another program, Accelerando, which launched in 2015, is focused on diversifying classical music. Selected students receive full scholarship support to take weekly private lessons with Nashville Symphony musicians, participate in the youth orchestra, take music theory courses, access masterclasses and workshops led by world-renowned guest artists, and attend summer music festivals. “We also help students navigate the collegiate audition process in addition to covering visits and auditions at potential colleges or conservatories. All program activities and curriculum are designed to prepare students to study music in college and eventually go on to pursue a career in orchestral music,” McLemore says.

    The first Accelerando had six students. Currently, annual enrollment stands at 24. The program is designed for students to remain in Accelerando for multiple years, with many participating from middle school through high school graduation. “I am so proud of our Accelerando alumni who have gone on to study music at schools like Eastman School of Music, New England Conservatory, Colburn Conservatory, Northwestern Bienen School of Music, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music, to name a few,” McLemore says.

    In February 2024, Nashville Symphony will be partnering with Carnegie Hall to produce the Link Up program with 3,000 students, who will bring their recorders to the concert hall to play and sing with the Nashville Symphony during the performance. “This program is a true collaboration with Metro Nashville Public Schools that provided students with recorders and helped coordinate educator professional-development sessions,” McLemore says. “This program is an opportunity to do more than just expose young students to orchestral music. I hope this program will show them that our concert hall is a space for them to come and make music. That they belong here on our stage.”

    Another partnership is with We Are Nashville, a student festival that prioritizes access to high-quality performance opportunities and learning experiences. The festival teaches 300 choir and orchestra students that they have a voice and deserve a space in our music ecosystem. “It was an easy decision to partner with the festival as their host organization. Our city’s students deserve to perform on the Schermerhorn stage, and I’m proud to provide space for them to share their voice,” McLemore says.

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    Andrew Muth

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    2024 Yamaha

    Andrew Muth

    Director of Bands and Director of Performing Arts
    Westfield High School
    Westfield, Indiana

    Westfield High School’s music program was in dire need of revitalization. That’s when Director of Bands and Performing Arts Andrew Muth stepped in. “A successful program isn’t built in a day or a single year. We knew that it was going to take time to build the program,” he explains.

    Muth put together five- and 10-year plans that detailed where he wanted to go and how to get there, and he shared the vision with students, parents and the community. “Our goals were big and at times they felt impossible, but we always said that if we do the work, the results will come,” he says.

    This inclusive and transparent approach has paid off — there is a real sense of pride around the band program. “I am blown away everyday by the power of relationships. Our kids care about each other. Our parents are the hardest working crew, and the relationship that they have built with the program is incredible,” Muth says.

    According to Muth, success has always and will always be the byproduct of excellence. That level of excellence has seeped into their performances. “Our philosophy is that every detail matters,” he says. “This has meant that we always work with designers and vendors who care about our kids. We put shows together that create an identity that is uniquely Westfield. This means we pull from a variety of visual and musical inspirations.”

    A particularly memorable experience occurred last year at the WGI Winds finals. “As we were walking onto the floor to perform, a senior leaned over to me and said, ‘I don’t ever want this to be over,’ which made tears fill my eyes. Anytime you watch a student understand the transformative power of music, you couldn’t ask for more,” Muth says.

    Muth finds daily inspiration from his own high school band director, Bill Laughlin, who had a sign in the front of the band room that read “good enough is neither.” This phrase affects my leadership style every day. “I would never ask a parent, student or staff member to do something for the program that I wouldn’t personally do myself. I am unapologetically passionate about our kids and our program. I believe in the power of believing in the ability of your students. I go into every season and school year believing that this can be our best year yet,” he says.

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    Top Interactive Video Games

    Video games sometimes get a bad rap, despite being one of the most popular forms of entertainment on the planet. Seen by some as fodder for a lazy lifestyle, it can be tempting to imagine a couch potato sunken into the sofa with a glazed look over his eyes as he plays the dozenth hour of a war game, moving only his thumbs.

    But video games aren’t only meant for the sedentary. Indeed, there are many titles specifically designed to get people out of their seats, to move their bodies and even build up a healthy sweat. Here are 10 games sure to get your blood flowing. Play them and it will be as if you’re in your own personal fitness class!

    1. World Class Track Meet (1987)

    In the late 1980s, almost everyone had a friend who owned the Nintendo® Power Pad — that mat-like device from Bandai, which laid on the floor and allowed people to play games with their feet instead of their fingertips. Doing so got players out of their chairs and effectively exercising with one title in particular. Released in North America in 1987 (though initially called Stadium Events), World Class Track Meet allowed gamers to compete in four Olympic-like competitions, from sprinting to hurdles to long jump to triple jump, all while enjoying a deep leg workout. Preview it here.

    2. Dance Dance Revolution (1999)

    This game from Konami was released in North America in 1999 and ever since, it’s gotten players drenched in sweat and their thighs tired as they pump their legs and feet to keep up with a given song’s beat and melody. In much the same way that Guitar Hero set out to instill musicianship in non-musicians, “DDR,” as the title has come to be known, proved to many that they could dance to a rhythm like a pro. Preview it here.

    3. Wii Sports (2006)

    Released by Nintendo in 2006 along with the then-new Wii video game system, this five-sport collection was a huge success, becoming one of the best-selling games of all time. Though it provided options to play tennis, baseball, bowling, golf or boxing — all of which required gamers to stand and move their limbs — it was the tennis game that proved to be an especially big hit. Not only did the vigorous offering get people active, but many used it for social events like parties or holiday gatherings too. Preview it here.

    4. Wii Fit (2007)

    Like Wii Sports, this title, which came out a year later, offered players several exercise-oriented games, including options for yoga (with an onscreen personal trainer), aerobics (like hula-hooping), balance (with the Wii Balance Board) and strength training. It became so popular that gyms and health clubs have since incorporated it into their offerings — it’s even been used to provide physical therapy workouts for children and the elderly. Preview it here.

    5. Punch-Out!! (2009)

    Video game players of a certain age are familiar with the 1987 title Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, but a dozen years later, Nintendo released a new version that used the Wii Fit Balance Board to avoid opponents and the Wii controller to throw punches. This one can get so rigorous that you might forget you’re not actually in a physical boxing ring! With each successful round, the challenge against the skilled digital opposition gets harder and more enjoyable. Preview it here.

    6. Zombies, Run! (2012)

    This mobile game from the British company Six to Start has players running through a fictional town trying to survive an apocalypse and avoid zombies. The immersive title is also bolstered by guest narrative offerings from the likes of acclaimed Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. Playing as the character “Runner 5,” gamers take on various missions (there are up to 40 of them), dodging the undead and searching for various items in order to figure out how to stay alive. The result? Sweat, discovery and excitement. Preview it here.

    7. Pokémon Go (2016)

    Not only does this game get players out of their seats, it gets them out of their homes too. A mobile game from Pokémon and Nintendo, downloaded by some 500 million people, this title uses GPS technology and allows players to “capture” digital Pokémon characters out in the world. When the game was first released back in 2016, there were some 150 game characters to find. As a result, there were lots of people walking around holding their phones, looking for the otherwise invisible digital creatures … all while getting in their daily steps. Preview it here.

    8. Ring Fit Adventure (2019)

    There are some games that try to nudge you into fitness and then there are those that are very clear about their ambitions. Ring Fit Adventure is most assuredly in the latter category. This game for the Nintendo Switch handheld device comes with two adapters: a Pilates-like ring, and a leg strap. With each, gamers are meant to complete fun, goal-oriented physical activities that include running and jumping through courses while accruing points. Preview it here.

    9. Beat Saber (2019)

    This title from Czech designer Beat Games uses virtual reality to put you in a world where blocks are flying at you as pop music plays. The objective? Use your “sabers” (digital swords created by two VR controllers) to slice the objects, which are synced to the songs. Part-sword fighting game, part-Guitar Hero-like musical offering, Beat Saber will leave your arms feeling as if you’ve just taken part in an action movie, with many fallen enemies at your sides. Preview it here.

    10. Just Dance 2020 (2019)

    DDR isn’t the only dancing game that gets hearts racing and smiles appearing. This Ubisoft title, which includes songs from big name pop stars, has players mimicking the onscreen choreography, with their movements tracked via motion sensors or smartphone apps. Players accrue points based on the accuracy of their moves. As a bonus, you can enjoy this one on your own or compete with others in multiplayer mode. Just don’t forget to bring a towel! Preview it here.

    Kacee Sanders

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    2024 Yamaha

    Kacee Sanders

    Band Director, DuPont Hadley Middle School
    Executive Director, Southeastern Women in Music Symposium
    Tennessee

    Band Director Kacee Sanders is a firm believer in building independent musicians where her only role in the classroom is to act as a facilitator. The goal is for her students at DuPont Hadley Middle School to be thinkers and problem solvers and to be able to operate without her. “I’m not the one making the music; the musicians are. I challenge the traditional band room setting where the band director barks orders from the podium, and the musicians militaristically sit in the chairs and do what’s asked.”

    Instead, Sanders wants everyone in the room to be involved in the music-making. She tells her students that every voice and every contribution is needed to create a completely unique and beautiful performance. “I encourage my classrooms to have conversations,” she says.

    This independence also results in a supportive, positive and inclusive environment within the band. As a Title I school, most DuPont Hadley students will need music scholarships to go to college. “They work to motivate each other,” Sanders says. “They help each other and have been incredibly encouraging of each other’s successes.”

    Sanders employs social and emotional learning practices in the classroom and focuses on creating an engaging learning environment. Every Monday, students complete a “rehearsal reflections” graphic organizer with sections to set their rehearsal intentions for the week, indicate any upcoming performances and track individual, section and ensemble goals.

    She also implements several teaching strategies that actively involve students learning with and from their peers. “I believe that all students have something to contribute to the learning environment and should have the opportunity to feel valued and succeed, and I have worked to create a positive classroom culture where this is possible,” she says. 

    Sanders is proud of her role as Executive Director of the Southeastern Women in Music Symposium and considers it her biggest accomplishment and undertaking. The symposium originated as a Girl Scout Gold Award project by a former student, Mya Foley, who approached Sanders in 2021 to be her sponsor and to brainstorm project ideas. As a percussionist, Mya experienced the male-dominated landscape of the music community and recognized the need for more female representation in both the clinicians she worked with and the composers whose music she performed. The concept of an all-female honor festival began to take shape. The one-time Gold Award project has now evolved into a nonprofit organization and an annual symposium. “Our second symposium took place in December 2023, and we hosted 75 high school and undergraduate participants, who benefited from rehearsals, discussions and mentorship,” Sanders says. “The symposium has never been just an event to Mya and me. It is a testament to our commitment to increase female representation, provide a space for young women to thrive and foster mutual support among women in music.”

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    Dr. Jessie M. Vallejo

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Jessie M. Vallejo

    Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology
    California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
    Pomona, California

    How difficult is it to teach music in a STEM-focused school like California State Polytechnic University, Pomona? Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology Dr. Jessie M. Vallejo finds it enjoyable to teach courses that foster creativity, problem-solving, beauty, social justice and a sense of community in this interdisciplinary space.

    She revived some courses, such as the mariachi ensemble, which existed in the 1970s and ’80s, and the Music of Mexico course. She also started the mariachi program in 2016. Even though Pomona is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HIS), “there is still a lot of work to be done to realize our potential in serving students from diverse backgrounds,” she says.

    Vallejo developed two new courses: Ethnographic Field Methods and one on musical instruments. “The field methods class encourages students to develop research skills and interact with a community of musicians while connecting with some of their other disciplines and interests, such as history, anthropology, or languages,” Vallejo says.

    “The organology class — Theory, History and Design of Musical Instruments — is one of the most enjoyable classes for me to teach. I have always loved the sciences, and this is my way of connecting the department more directly with Cal Poly Pomona’s engineering and science areas,” she says.

    Each semester, the students in this course work with the Student Innovation Idea Labs to learn about tools and resources that may be used to build instruments, such as laser cutters or scroll saws. Throughout the class, they discuss instruments’ cultural meanings and roles in different societies, as well as social and scientific issues around instruments like sustainability of materials, endangered plant or animal species and accessibility for people with disabilities, including how to adapt instruments for different needs.

    One of her favorite experiences as an educator was the collaboration between the Cal Poly’s premiere mariachi ensemble, Mariachi Los Broncos, and Dr. Julian Saporiti (a.k.a. No-No Boy). “Dr. Saporiti’s music is rich in history lessons, and his song, “The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming,” tied together some of the overlapping experiences of Asian, Mexican and Central Americans in the Pomona area over the last century,” Vallejo explains. “The song is a great vehicle to study local history and contemporary events through performance, and best of all, the collaboration was fun!”

    In addition to teaching music, Vallejo works on the school’s transportation committee to address issues about mobility on campus. The committee was able to add a stop on campus for the Foothill Transit Silver Streak bus line, which has helped to shift Cal Poly from being a car-dependent campus. It has also improved transit on the I-10 corridor, reduced greenhouse emissions and made the campus more accessible. Other projects the committee is exploring include continuing to expand bus service, building a mobility hub and extending the protected bike lanes connecting campus to nearby cities.

    Vallejo’s research and her own life experiences have taught her the critical importance of representation and culturally relevant programming in K-12 and college settings. “Growing up as one of the few Mexican Americans in Syracuse, New York, I was frustrated that I didn’t have opportunities to learn about my culture, especially in music programs and ensembles,” she says. “I am thankful that I can help ensure that students at Cal Poly Pomona have the opportunities that I had to fight for or seek out through study abroad experiences.”

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    Dr. Paulina Villarreal

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Paulina Villarreal

    Assistant Professor of Voice
    University of Memphis, Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music
    Memphis, Tennessee
    Founder and Artistic Director, Cantos para el Mundo

    Like most higher education institutions, the song repertoire curriculum at the University of Memphis focused on “standard” Western classical repertoire. When Dr. Paulina Villarreal joined the faculty in 2020 as Assistant Professor of Voice, she was given the opportunity to reimagine the special topics repertoire courses offered at the graduate level.

    “I wanted to inspire students through repertoire and expose them to ‘gems’ that they’ve never heard of before, so I dedicated special topic courses to two distinct topics: 1) Entartete Musik (degenerate music)/songs by Jewish composers who were banned by the Third Reich and 2) Iberian and Latin American repertoire,” she says. “I am proud that today, every graduate vocal student has a few selections from underrepresented groups/composers in their performance repertoire!”

    Villarreal is passionate about finding songs by Latin American composers who have never been recorded and create high-quality audio and video clips for future performers to explore. She has also presented at national conferences and shared her knowledge of this repertoire with other teachers and musicians. “I am currently in the process of recording a whole album by Mexican composer Maria Grever,” she says. The album’s publication will be preceded by a performer’s guide so that singers all around the world can have access to this composer’s music!”

    The Nuevas canciones vocal competition began as a collaboration with Opera Memphis to introduce singers to song and operatic repertoire from Spain and Latin America. Competitors were asked to find and perform at least one selection in Spanish during the final round of the competition.

    Another area that Villareal focuses on is trauma-informed pedagogy (TIP), which recognizes that teachers and students have past and present experiences that may negatively affect teaching and learning. “It’s vital to ensure the physical and emotional safety of every student,” she explains. “Some other ways I implement TIP in the studio is being mindful of power dynamics, and always presenting myself as empathetic, open and flexible. I also constantly remind students about on-campus resources, and lead by example by engaging in self-care.”

    In 2017, Villarreal founded Cantos para el Mundo (songs for the world) to promote vocal arts of the highest caliber in the North of Mexico. The concert series is in its eighth year, and has represented artists from over 12 nationalities and promoted local talent through scholarships and vocal clinics.

    “The University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music is one of the only places in the country that challenges students to become well-rounded musicians, instead of focusing solely on one musical genre,” Villarreal says. “The school of music offers scholarships to any talented and deserving student regardless of major. Our ensembles include finance, law, anthropology and biology majors, among others.”

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    Christopher Lape

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    2024 Yamaha

    Christopher Lape

    Orchestra Director
    Upper Arlington High School
    Upper Arlington, Ohio

    At Upper Arlington High School, Orchestra Director Christopher Lape took the lead in adapting the curriculum from every other day to everyday instruction. “It’s been a collaborative and continuing effort with my colleagues,” he explains. “There’s significantly more room for growth with the consistency of daily instruction. The bulk of the transition has been updating our curriculum map and choosing method/technique books that correlate the best. It’s honestly a reflective process and I want to do what’s best for our students because we place a lot of value on our students and their musical journey.”

    In addition to adapting the curriculum, Lape has brought some innovation activities to the orchestra, including the rock band project, an idea that he borrowed from a string teacher in a neighboring district. Students divide into groups to form rock bands and choose a song (a verse and/or chorus), chart the chord structure using keyboard/guitar tablature, and figure out the melody. Once students have the basics mapped out, they choose their roles in the band (melody, root, 3rd, 5th). They have freedom to use different instruments and their voice to experiment with a variety rhythms and movement. “By the end of the project, they’ve created their own arrangements. I love this project because it gives students autonomy in something that is relevant to them,” Lape says.

    Another popular project, especially with middle schoolers, is the string sound FX story, which Lape usually schedules around Halloween. “Students step into the role of a Foley artist and experiment with different kinds of sounds that they can make on their instruments. They then incorporate those sound effects into a story that they’ve composed and perform for the class. I put a crackling campfire on the tv, turn out the lights and let their creativity shine,” he says.

    Lape co-chairs the Central Ohio String Festival, a large-group adjudicated festival that Upper Arlington High School hosts for middle school and high school orchestras. Each group performs for three adjudicators who provide written/audio-recorded feedback and a rating. Following each performance, a fourth clinician gives the group a clinic where they provide and apply feedback in real time. Last year, 30 orchestras (~1000 students) participated in the event. The goal for the annual festival is to provide growth opportunities for both students and teachers through authentic feedback from a rotating team of highly qualified string educators.

    According to parents and students, Lape’s “superpower” is developing rapport with students. He acknowledges and appreciates students for who they are in hopes that they feel seen. “I’m intentional in how I interact with students to help them build confidence in themselves as musicians,” he says. “I value their opinions and give them a voice in musical decisions and repertoire choice. If you take the time to build rapport with your students, you’ll see that they have a lot to offer. We celebrate successes and provide a safe space for struggles and mistakes. That’s how we build resilience and grow!”

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    Dr. Jacquelyn Lankford

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Jacquelyn Lankford

    Assistant Professor of Trumpet
    Mississippi State University
    Starkville Mississippi

    Promoting the role of women in music, and in particular trumpet composition and playing, is a huge driving force for Dr. Jacquelyn Lankford, Assistant Professor of Trumpet at Mississippi State University.

    She created the Women Composing for Trumpet (WCFT) Competition to add to the list of “standard” trumpet repertoire composed by women. “While there are many incredible compositions by women for solo trumpet, the only one that is considered standard by the trumpet community is the ‘Pakhmutova,’ written in 1955. It was the goal of this competition to bring light to this matter, as well as give modern women composers the opportunity to contribute to this list of standards and be recognized for their accomplishments,” Lankford explains.

    The competition announced two winners (Katie Jenkins and Madeline Lee) who were awarded $2,000 each, a recording of their work and a publishing deal with Murphy Music Press.

    Another event that Lankford spearheaded was the Powerful Women in Music Concert Series, which was created to continue to initiate ways to change the fact that underrepresentation of women is prominent in the music world. “This is true when it comes to performance opportunities for individual women performers and groups, as well as an audience’s exposure and opportunities to attend events featuring these women,” she says.

    To accomplish this, a concert series was created featuring women soloists and groups of women performers from various genres, backgrounds and ethnicities. Performers included Alexa Tarantino (Jazz at Lincoln Center) with the Jazz Band, Caeley Jackson (U.S. Navy Band) and Calypsus Brass (a professional women’s chamber ensemble that Lankford is a member of).

    Lankford strives to inspire and motivate those often forgotten or neglected in the trumpet community — so last semester, she started the Trumpet Festival at Mississippi State. Trumpet players at the high school level and beyond were able to come together for this free experience where they could learn, perform and connect. She brought in three guest artists with different genre specializations: Jason Bergman from Indiana University, Pancho Romero from New Mexico State University and Josh Kauffman from U.S. Army Blues. Each provided a masterclass, private lessons and a concert at the end of the festival. “My goal with this event was to provide accessible, high-quality educational and performance opportunities for trumpet players who typically do not get to experience them because of their location or financial situation,” Lankford says.

    At Mississippi State University, collaboration is not just something that happens between professors, the students are also inspired to collaborate often. “This includes everything from putting ensembles together for their recitals, dedicating themselves to a trumpet ensemble with a goal to compete at the National Trumpet Competition, meeting outside of any scheduled events to practice together, and even meeting to work on their audition music together,” Lankford says. “This behavior is evident in the trumpet studio, and I have seen it influencing other music students, as well as non-majors who want to be a part of this healthy and inspired culture.”

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    Lily Ianaconi

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    2024 Yamaha

    Lily Ianaconi

    9-12 Instrumental Music Teacher
    Franklin Academy High School
    Malone, New York

    Providing meaningful and memorable performance opportunities is vital to Lily Ianaconi’s role as a 9-12 Instrumental Music Instructor at Franklin Academy High School. Last year, the wind ensemble performed the piece “I Am Enough” by Marie Douglas, which was part of the 2023 California Band Directors Association Social Impact Consortium. The piece is a three-movement suite on the topic of mental health. “Our students truly appreciated the opportunity to perform a piece with such relevance and purpose,” Ianaconi says. “We really made a memorable connection with this music throughout our preparation and performance through deep conversation about mental health, underrepresented composers and diversity of wind band literature. The audience sincerely enjoyed the piece and could hear and feel the emotions of anxiety, self-doubt, motivation and fear through the music.”

    Ianaconi is always looking to add new experiences for her students, so she added chamber ensemble performances at concerts. Parents, families and audience members enjoyed hearing the different combinations of instruments and styles of music. “As music educators, we’re always searching for ways to highlight the wonderful things that our students are doing. A chamber ensemble is a terrific opportunity for students to work together toward a common goal. The student-led rehearsals give them the artistic space to make musical decisions, communicate their ideas and create lasting memories of making music together,” she says.

    A few years ago, Franklin Academy had the opportunity to host a college wind ensemble while the musicians were touring New York. “One of my former students was studying at this university to become a music teacher,” she shares. The college students spent the day with us putting on workshops, masterclasses and performances. That evening, our high school band students performed in a combined concert with the college students. It was a tremendous musical success for everyone involved.”

    In 2018, Ianaconi along with other band teachers in the county worked together to add an All-County Festival that had two additional ensembles so that more students could participate in an honor band. “At these amazing and memorable festivals, students become better musicians, make long-lasting friendships and learn more about themselves as performers,” she says.  

    Each Friday, Ianaconi ends rehearsal by challenging students’ scale playing with a fun game called “The Scallenge.” The full ensemble plays all 12 major scales together. “After the practice round when mistakes and scale sheets are allowed, students must play The Scallenge again without the use of their scale sheets,” Ianaconi explains. “If they make a mistake, they are out! After a student finishes all 12 major scales, their name appears on the wall in the band room. It’s an exciting way for students to support each other as their technique, practice and concentration improve throughout the year.”

    Ianaconi’s dedication to her students was clear during the production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” She not only directed the pit but played woodwinds and percussion throughout the show. “I quickly turned pages in my score while giving cues to students on stage with a baton in one hand and a flute in the other. I wetted my Eb clarinet reed in my mouth, tried not to touch the windchimes with my left foot while my right foot rocked a mounted tambourine with a bass drum pedal on 2 and 4 of the tune.”

    The audience enjoyed the performance and the students had an incredible time making the show a success. Ianaconi says the experience helped her grow as a director and musician.

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    Dr. Richard Hutton

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Richard Hutton

    Assistant Professor of Choral Music Education and Assistant Director of Choral Activities
    Boise State University
    Boise, Idaho

    Boise State University embraces innovation in an interdisciplinary way — something they call “Blue Turf Thinking” (named after the famous blue turf at its football field). Dr. Richard Hutton, Assistant Professor of Choral Music Education and Assistant Director of Choral Activities, wholeheartedly believes in “Blue Turf Thinking” and finds creative and compassionate avenues to teach choral music.

    “I am inspired by the pure transcendent joy of music, and I’m driven to empower my students to develop their artistic and creative capacities, enable them to be a part of a musical community and provide opportunities where they will experience the power and value of music,” he says.

    Hutton has found deep community and enduring friendships through choir, so he provides opportunities that foster those bonds in his ensembles and showcase it to the wider community through activities like Friday night talent shows, neighborhood caroling or Valentine’s Day singing telegrams. He emphasizes that anyone who wants to be a part of the choir program will be welcomed. “The successful choral program gets everyone involved,” Hutton explains. “One of the things I love about choir is that anyone can join and find a sense of belonging. No instrument needs to be purchased and no prerequisite needs to be fulfilled. I have the joy of recruiting even those kids who will say, ‘Oh, you don’t want to hear me sing.’ To which, I tell them, ‘Teaching you to sing is our superpower!’”

    Prior to Boise State, Hutton taught at a high school where he offered a choir designed for students who required special education services. Most of the choristers were a part of the comprehensive life skills (CLS) program for students who take one or two elective general education courses where they can integrate with mainstream students. “Rather than having a few CLS students in a variety of choirs, I worked with administration to offer ‘Cougar Choir’ so students from my advanced choir could come alongside a larger number of CLS students in a supportive peer tutor relationship, which fostered an environment where everyone thrived.”

    The structured routine of Cougar Choir included greeting and goodbye songs, songs that incorporated American Sign Language, songs with movement and dance, and songs that required Orff instruments, boomwhackers and desk bells. “When I moved on from secondary to higher education, this group of students was the hardest to leave,” Hutton says.

    The music department faculty at Boise State demonstrate care for students academically and personally. “Students experience a supportive yet challenging environment and get to enjoy a large university experience in a city with a vibrant arts scene,” Hutton says. “One of our goals is to prepare students for successful careers in an increasingly interconnected global community. I am proud to equip future choral music educators with the tools to make an impact in the lives of students across the Treasure Valley and beyond.”

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    Miguel Hidalgo

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    2024 Yamaha

    Miguel Hidalgo

    Music Teacher and Music Director
    Esperanza Academy Charter School
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Music Director Miguel Hidalgo takes his role as a Latino teaching at Esperanza Academy Charter School, which primarily serves children of color, seriously. “Being a role model for my students is extremely important to me. This representation fosters a sense of belonging and demonstrates the possibility of breaking down barriers and stereotypes,” he says.

    At Esperanza Academy, the music program is part of the curricular majors track. “It goes beyond mere music appreciation to building skills that could set our students on a pathway to pursue a career as professional musicians,” Hidalgo explains. “Despite the challenges of working with orchestral and other instruments that require frequent maintenance, our students’ immense heart, passion and dedication prevail. We are excited to continue growing our small but highly spirited program.”

    Hidalgo is dedicated to supporting his students’ academic growth as he strives to instill values, build resilience and empower them to believe in their limitless potential. “I hope these actions create a ripple effect, influencing the next generation to invest in their community and contribute positively to society as a whole,” he says.

    Because he teaches students who have varying levels of musical skill and development, Hidalgo must constantly deal with changes in instrumentation. “To meet individual student needs, I simplify parts and rework arrangements to ensure inclusivity and accessibility. This approach fosters a supportive environment, allowing each student to contribute and grow, regardless of their skill level or chosen instrument,” he says.

    Many of his students start playing instruments in the 10th grade, and Hidalgo works with them to fast-track their skills with consistent hands-on practice, focusing on foundational skills and gradually building complexity. By fostering a mindset that acknowledges the journey from imperfection to proficiency, he encourages students to navigate challenges and find joy in their musical growth. “I emphasize playing examples regularly, which helps them unlock the power of listening,” he explains. “When trumpets or trombones are struggling, I will play alongside them, even if I am not playing the instrument well. By doing this, I am encouraging them to explore and accept the initial discomfort of sounding ‘bad’ to reinforce the idea that mastery evolves through persistence.”

    To foster camaraderie among students, Hidalgo encourages group collaboration and teamwork. “When the bands perform, I do not conduct the ensembles. I believe this pushes students to trust each other and emphasizes the importance of listening. This shared experience creates a cohesive bond, promoting interdependence and teaching them the value of collective harmony on and off the stage,” he says.

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    Brad Hart

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Brad Hart

    Instrumental Music Teacher
    Peter Johansen High School
    Modesto, California

    Inclusive is the best way to describe the music program at Peter Johansen High School. Instrumental Music  Teacher Brad Hart oversees the United Sound chapter at the school, which pairs students with special needs, called “New Musicians” with band members, called “Peer Mentors.”

    “During our first Spring as a United Sound chapter, a New Musician was able to travel and perform with the band at Carnegie Hall,” Hart says. “One of our Peer Mentors made the choice to pursue special education as a result of the connection and experience. The new friends and colleagues in music make real connections that is evident around campus. They know each other as musicians and as people, and we get to see the impact of those relationships every week.”

    Hart was able to create additional leadership positions for some of the Peer Mentors who can gain experience making lesson plans, reviewing how classes went and writing parts together. “It can be a struggle for sure, but at no time is the struggle not worth it,” he says.

    Another way that Hart works with special education students is with a weekly bucket drumming class for three of the school’s severely handicap classes. Students learn rhythms and apply them to performing various styles of music. “They performed ‘Sweet Caroline’ at a rally last year with our band program, and for the last two years, they performed at their field day event with student colleagues from around the county. It’s pure joy to make music with them each week,” Hart says.

    Engaging directly with the community is important to Hart, and he established a schedule of performances to do just that. Outside of the traditional school concerts, the band participates in several parades, including the Fourth of July parade with local veterans, winter city of lights parade, a holiday parade and the Airport Neighborhood parade. There are also many jazz combo and jazz band opportunities throughout the year around the community.

    Peter Johansen High School has a history of collaborating with guest artists and groups, including The Family Crest, Josh Rosenblum Band and Orquesta Dharma. In February 2024, the band will perform with Grammy-winning Pacific Mambo Orchestra.

    Hart also works with new composers and has commissioned several over the years. The school band has also performed works written by students.

    “Our program has never been as big as I want it to be because I believe every student should be in music through high school,” Hart says. “But I have always wanted to adapt to reflect who the students are and project to them ways to expand their understanding.”

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    Dennis Giotta

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Dennis Giotta

    Music Teacher
    Southeast Local School District
    Apple Creek, Ohio

    Music Teacher Dennis Giotta at Southeast Local School District established a music technology class to equip students with contemporary skills while nurturing their passion for music. The goal of the class is to prepare students not just for today, but to instill a love for lifelong musical exploration in an ever-changing world “Recognizing the evolving landscape of the music industry, I aimed to empower students with technological proficiency, enabling them to create, produce and innovate within diverse musical realms,” he says. “This class is a bridge between traditional musical education and modern tools, fostering creativity, technical aptitude and a deeper understanding of music’s ever-expanding possibilities.”

    Giotta knows that exposure to a broad range of musical styles cultivates not only technical proficiency but also enriches students’ cultural appreciation, empathy and connection to the broader human experience. “That’s why we frequently bring in guest clinicians and guest artists. Learning to play alongside accomplished musicians provides our students with a unique, firsthand insight into professional artistry and the opportunity to witness the pinnacle of musical achievement,” he says. “Guest clinicians help to broaden students’ experiences, and they are a reminder that there is not only one way to teach music.”

    Another popular class that Giotta teaches is songwriting, which came out of his interest in finding more opportunities for all students to receive a music education — not just those in band, chorus or orchestra. “This class focused on vernacular music that students would write and perform by themselves on ukulele or piano. The students would also perform their songs at a local coffee shop at the end of the year,” Giotta says.

    The songwriting class evolved into rock band after a few years so students could add some more popular instruments and have more collaborative experiences. “Students still write their own music and perform in authentic settings. They also get to perform covers of their favorite songs,” he says.

    Giotta strives to create a music curriculum that is dynamic and relevant. He seeks feedback from students, colleagues and the community, as he researches the changing landscape of music throughout the world. “Our music program is a vibrant, collaborative community where passion and creativity thrive. This collaborative approach ensures that our program continually evolves within an environment of constant refinement and adaptation,” he says.

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    Allison Figueroa

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Allison Figueroa

    Assistant Band and Choral Director
    Parkland High School
    Allentown, Pennsylvania

    At Parkland High School, the music department is one of the three pillars that define the philosophy of the district: Arts, Athletics and Academics. “Even with this level of support, advocacy always remains an active part of the job. Being visible in the community is crucial,” says Assistant Band and Choral Director Allison Figueroa.

    One area of advocacy — recruitment — is one of Figueroa’s passion projects. She believes that all incoming 8th graders would benefit from a high school band experience because band teaches students a long list of valuable life skills. “I have amplified our 8th-grade outreach with middle school band nights with the high school marching band and jazz band. We also have a meet-and-greet performance with the younger high school concert band. Parkland’s head director and I guest conduct a song with the 8th-grade band during their concerts,” Figueroa says.

    She credits the music educators at the district’s nine elementary and two middle schools who lay the musical foundation for students. Once they reach Parkland, students have the opportunity to gain further instruction in performance ensembles as well as select from a catalog of music electives.

    In addition to directing the ensembles and teaching courses, Figueroa is the advisor of the Tri-M Music Honor Society. Membership has doubled in the last two years, and students continually look for ways to be more involved in service projects, performances and fundraisers. “I enjoy finding opportunities for our student musicians to be seen and heard by the rest of the school, such as performing in small ensembles throughout the school during the holidays, Music in our Schools month, etc..” says Figueroa. “It has become something the school looks forward to, and it’s incredible how it makes a large school of 3,200 students seem a little smaller even if it’s just for a few moments.”

    Figueroa is particularly proud of a collaboration between Tri-M and the PALS (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies) hand chime choir. ”A committee of Tri-M students runs rehearsals with members of the PALS club to bring the experience of performing in an ensemble to those students who otherwise may not have the opportunity. The students perform side by side at our Festival of the Arts and our Life Skills commencement ceremony,” she explains.

    Figueroa is proud to teach at her alma mater. “When I attended Parkland back in the day, I was the eager drum major with dreams of leading my own band. I adored band, chorus and our A-wing (the arts wing) for being a place where I could feel good at something in such a large school,” she says. “Now things have come full circle and nothing makes me prouder than being an A-wing teacher who gets to usher classes of students through the same journey.”

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    Nicholas A. Fields

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Nicholas A. Fields

    Band Director
    Edgewood City Schools
    Trenton, Ohio

    Nicholas Fields, the Band Director at Edgewood City Schools, doesn’t take the responsibility of his job lightly. “A good band/music director gives students a sense of belonging and helps build character, confidence and discipline. These are all traits that build good people later in life,” he says.

    When the district faced a budget shortfall this school year, Fields compared the current budget to those from past years to figure out what were the top priorities.  “It was my goal to make our band fee as low as possible in order to allow the most participation. It absolutely broke my heart that students couldn’t participate due to cost,” he said.

    His compassion was also evident when he stepped in to help the high school band when its director fell ill in 2022. “There was no way that I would let the students not have a quality band education and successful season. I pushed them to be their best and to always keep their goal in mind when things got tough. We made OMEA State finals and earned the top rating of Superior, 1 that year. We finished the year with an overnight trip and contest performance at Cedar Point.”

    Fields also spearheaded two fun performance events for his students. The Fine Arts Festival showcases the middle school students in the district. “Choir, band and visual arts all collaborate to make this event a special evening of performances and art displays. The festival brings in a large number of our community members and families,” Fields says.

    Because he is a percussionist, Fields is especially excited about the Night of Percussion where the high school percussion ensemble performs a full-length concert of percussion-only literature. “We perform in large group settings, small ensembles and even feature soloists,” he says.

    Recently, Fields has seen evidence of the long-term impact of being a music educator. “The process of starting a student in beginning band as a 6th grader and actively being a part of their transformation into a talented graduate is awesome. Lately I’ve been blessed to be included in college graduations, weddings, birth announcements, etc. of former students. The fact that I still come to their minds in these moments is humbling and invokes unspeakable pride. It shows me that the work I do doesn’t just stay in the band room or on the practice field.”

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    Jeff Driscoll

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Jeff Driscoll

    Music Teacher
    Monroe Elementary School
    Bartonville, Illinois

    “I always say that I can’t do anything more for kids than to just show them the way. They must first be open to it,” says Monroe Elementary School Music Teacher Jeff Driscoll.

    However, Driscoll has done much more than just show students the way. In the 15 years that he has worked at the district, the music program’s offerings have grown as has its visibility. Additions include the before-school jazz band, before- and after-school vocal ensembles, the creation of a separate 5th-grade choir (prior to this, there was a 5-8 choir) and a pep band. Outside of the traditional day, there is also a four-week summer band program and a school musical.

    He credits the school for supporting the music program and being open to growing it and making it accessible to all students, as well as the parents and community for helping to build up the program and make it possible for their kids to jump in. “Once the kids realize they’re passionate about music, I can show them all the opportunities, activities and different paths that are available,” he says.

    The first step Driscoll takes is to look for areas where students don’t have an outlet. For example, starting the jazz band was an opportunity for students to play a different style of music. The pep band also played different types of music, but it also expanded the visibility of the program to a subset of the community that wouldn’t normally hear them. “A before-school advanced vocal group was started for a few years as a chance to sing other styles of music, which slowly morphed into a soprano/alto group. Then we eventually started a tenor/bass group to make sure those kids had outlets as well,” Driscoll says. “We also had a lot of kids who were dramatically minded and loved doing shows, and once the logistics within the school building made sense — which included building a second gym — we added the musical as an extracurricular opportunity.”

    Driscoll co-founded Arc Light Productions, a nonprofit community theater with Rachel Roderick, a classmate from high school. Both share a love of theater and wanted to create more artistic and creative-based outlets for kids during the summers. “We have now have two youth productions with 50 to 60 kids each summer in addition to our mainstage adult/community show, Christmastime madrigal dinner that features two children’s choirs, and a full adult choir,” he says proudly.

    For Driscoll, it’s all about providing avenues for students to be creative and successful. “Anytime I get to witness kids doing things they didn’t realize they were capable of — that’s a win for me,” he says.

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    Gillian Desmarais

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Gillian Desmarais

    K-12 Music Technology and Engineering
    Harmony Learning Center
    Maplewood, Minnesota

    The music program at Harmony Learning Center is among the first in the state to offer music production and engineering for students. “It would be my dream to see more programs like this available, especially for students in underserved communities or for students with disabilities,” says K-12 Music Technology and Engineering Instructor Gillian Desmarais. “I look forward to continuing this important work and building resources for teaching music technology in public schools.”

    Desmarais’ class is equipped with sound tech, computers, electronic multi-button controllers and a recording studio. To garner the funds for this equipment, she approached her principal with proof of research, a sample curriculum, long-term goals for students and an outline of expenses. “Providing all this documentation seemed like a lot, but it ultimately gave her enough material to approach other administrators and make a collective decision on the investment,” Desmarais explains. “Within weeks I was approved and could start planning out my dream classroom!”

    Because many of her students have moderate to severe disabilities, Desmarais can provide unique accommodations for them by using technology. “For example, with the Launchpad Pro, I can arrange LED colors and patterns of root notes and scales in a variety of combinations. With this advantage, students can improvise, create chord progressions and design melodies without having to work through additional learning barriers,” she explains.

    Her students strongly identify with the music and artists they listen to, especially hip hop. Through the lens of production and engineering, Desmarais filters out inappropriate content by creating deconstructed versions of songs. Students learn musical concepts by re-creating parts, remixing, redesigning timbres and so much more.

    A popular unit in Desmarais’ class focuses on lyric writing. By the time the unit begins, her students have already deconstructed over 20 popular songs and have been making a lot of new music in the process. “Many students expressed the desire to write lyrics, but they honestly didn’t know how to clearly organize their thoughts. That’s when I decided to build a series of interactive worksheets that students could use to practice rhyming words, develop hooks and find their rhythmic flow,” she says. “Once they mastered the process, they were able to make it their own. After the unit, a lot of students continued to independently write and asked to collaborate with other students. It was a great experience!”

    Desmarais considers the bulk of her students to be “non-traditional music students.” This term, as defined by David Brian Williams (2012), describes students who don’t participate in traditional performing ensembles and might not read music notation, but who might sing or play an instrument and aspire to a career in the music industry. By teaching via digital audio workstations (DAW), Desmarais opens a door to a world of instrument sounds for recording and redesigning as well as a workspace to capture and manipulate musical ideas. “By creating relevant original music, students gain confidence in their abilities and find meaning in sharing their art with others. It gives them a voice and I’m grateful to be part of that journey,” she says.

    In addition to teaching, Desmarais carves out time to create music. “Four days a week, I try to take a few hours after school to compose, improvise on synths, or play through traditional repertoire. I try to treat it like exercise. By exercising, I can keep those muscles strong for when I really need them. It’s also wonderfully therapeutic,” she says.

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    Mallory A. Dekker

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Mallory A. Dekker

    Executive Director and Instructor
    Black Hills Studios of the Arts
    Rapid City, South Dakota

    The nonprofit Black Hills Studios of the Arts (BHSA) was born from a for-profit concept: Bringing excellent music instructors to one place to provide various music instruction. “This one-stop-shop allows parents of multiple children or multi-instrumental children to have a place to receive service for all of their music needs,” says Executive Director Mallory A. Dekker.

    BHSA serves the community as an affordable music education facility. Currently, it has 110 private lesson students and reaches an additional 204 through its outreach program to private schools that cannot afford a full-time music educator. “I go to three private schools in the area where I teach general music classes and/or band,” Dekker says. “Sometimes I’m at a school for 4½ hours, other times, just 1 hour. Each school has its own curriculum written for them by me, and it usually incorporates a Christmas and Spring concert, and off we go!”

    Dekker and her team are applying for grants for other outreach programs, such as a ukulele group for the Girl Scouts. This would require group lessons, teacher pay and all the ukuleles,” she says.

    Because music is so important for emotional and mental health, not to mention physical health, BHSA made it a mission to make music affordable, and to work  for students of all ages and for those with ADHD, autistic and Down syndrome. Several years ago, Dekker encountered a student with Down syndrome who wanted to play the clarinet. “Since I love learning about the brain and how it works, I dove into all the case studies and research that I could get my hands on, “ she says. “I spoke with the parents several times, and talked to several doctors and special education instructors. With the plethora of information that I had gathered, I made a system that works for this student — a coding system with some auditory training; using highlighters, numbers and listening exercises.”

    After several years of study with Dekker, this student can play particularly well with minimum assistance. “It’s important to note that we develop a new system for each student, and that the student is part of the planning,” she says.

    Some of the more common tools Dekker and her team uses to work with special needs students include graphic organizers, highlighters, concept maps, jumping jacks (sounds strange, but she says it works!), directed brain breaks and crayon-coding (a term  that Dekker made up, which is essentially “color-coding with extra benefits”).

    Another way to reach her students is through online teaching, which was a necessity during the pandemic. “Currently, we have students in rural regions, who are mere hours away, to several out-of-state students, a family in Germany, and one touring the world with her family,” Dekker says. “Most of these families got their start with us in Rapid City, then moved on, and we’re blessed that they chose to stay on with us!”

    BHSA continues to grow, but Dekker has faced some limiting factors. Right now, there is more demand than instructors, and it’s difficult to find qualified people. “This demand proves that we are filling an important facet in our community. I just hope to continue to find amazing instructors so we can meet the needs of the area,” Dekker says.

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    Jessica Corry

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Jessica Corry

    Band Director
    Plank Junior High School
    Oswego, Illinois

    Plank Junior High has unique and hard-working students, according to Band Director Jessica Corry. “Working at a Title 1 school can sometimes feel like you are constantly dealing with a broken system, but once you have a little bit of success with your students, it makes all the struggles worth it. I’m always amazed at how much adversity students can take on and still prevail,” she says.

    Corry increased communication in Spanish to reach Plank’s growing Spanish-speaking population and to grow her program, which currently has 170 members. In the spring, she asks current students if they are willing to call incoming Spanish-speaking families and invite them to instrument fittings. “These calls are always very well received and appreciated,” she says.

    She also takes her band members on tours of elementary feeder schools, sends postcards to all incoming families, and holds instrument fitting days to help guide new and potential band members onto instruments that they match with best. These extra efforts to communicate with band families has worked! At the band’s recent state performance, more than 100 family members drove three hours to cheer on their students. Plank parents’ support has been unwavering, according to Corry. “They are so grateful to have teachers who will work hard for their students and are always willing to step up and support when the time comes. Having so many families come out to our performance was a testament of the power and impact of what we do daily and the importance it holds in our students’ lives,” she says.

    Corry also makes sure that she is seen throughout the day at Plank outside of the music department. She is currently a breakfast supervisor and sees students who come in early for breakfast to start their day. In past years, she was the main door greeter and was the first face every student saw in the morning. “By the end of the year, pretty much every kid in the building knew who I was and what I did. I would say that I have at least five students each year who join the band just because they wanted to take my class, or had a friend who loved band. That means something,” she says.

    Another area where Corry is seen is at in-school suspension (ISI). “I start my day working with ISI students,” she says. “I view these students as my own during this time. We go through all their classes and assignments and make a game plan of how they will work to tackle new or old/missing assignments. We also discuss how they can change their behavior or reaction to situations they find themselves in to avoid coming back to ISI. I always end the ISI period by saying, ‘I’m happy to see you today, but I hope I don’t see you back in here again.’”

    Corry recognizes the invaluable influence of mentors. “I entered education due to some fantastic music educators who impacted my life, and I wanted to pass that along to other students,” she explains. Corry is an advocate for making relationships with music educators in the area and having them come out to her classroom consistently, especially at the beginning of the school year. “Feedback from a seasoned educator has a lot more impact during the first month of the school year, opposed to a few weeks prior to a performance,” she says.

    She would like to pay it forward and be available to other educators who also teach at Title I schools. “Sometimes, we just need to know that there are other people in our situations who make it work, and all we need to do is connect with them,” she says.

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    Jena Combs

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Jena Combs

    Director of Musical Activities
    Flora High School
    Flora, Illinois

    During her second year at Flora High School, Director of Musical Activities Jena Combs completely revitalized the music program. She reintroduced choir, drama and music appreciation classes, started a rock and jazz bands, launched a beginner guitar and ukulele class (and added an intermediate class the following year) and made music appreciation dual credit. “Recognizing the need for more general and non-traditional music options, I aimed to cater to diverse student interests,” she explains. “This initiative resulted in a significant increase in enrollment. In just three years, we went from 24 students in one class — which accounts for less than 10% of the school population — to 92 students across eight music classes — over 25% of the school population.”

    One of the more popular new offerings is the rock band, which Combs proposed and established as an alternative ensemble in response to student interest in drums and bass guitar. The eight students in the class play various instruments, fostering versatility. Despite some students being new to their instruments, they practice frequently outside of class. “The rock band has enthusiastically performed at multiple events, showcasing their rapid progress by learning and assembling a new song nearly every week,” Combs says. “The rock band has not only expanded musical offerings but also sparked genuine enthusiasm for learning and performing.”

    Thanks to Combs’ efforts, Flora provides a dynamic space for each student to discover their potential and contribute to the music program’s reputation as a symbol of hard work and dedication. She credits the collective success of Flora’s music program on the exceptional dedication and hard work of her students. ”Their commitment to going above and beyond has shaped the program’s recognition for excellence and created a platform for students to shine and grow. Their unwavering passion contributes not only to individual achievements but also fosters a culture of collective success,” she says.

    Combs presented a clinic on innovative approaches to starting and sustaining non-traditional classes at the Illinois Music Education Conference, where she emphasized the importance of design, teaching methods, and strategies for student recruitment and retention. “Recognizing the need for diversification in my district, I introduced courses addressing this gap, fostering inclusivity, creativity and self-expression. These classes not only enrich cognitive development but also open up diverse career options,” Combs says.

    Teaching in a small, rural community, Combs has witnessed firsthand how these opportunities promote cultural awareness, musical diversity and enhance overall engagement and learning. She aims to guide educators in implementing such programs, making a positive impact regardless of school size or location.

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    Raymond William Cannon

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Raymond William Cannon

    Director of Beginning Band
    Addison School District 4
    Addison, Illinois

    Growing a small music program with limited resources takes vision and a lot of hard work. Director of Beginning Band Raymond William Cannon credits his fellow performing arts colleagues in Addison School District 4, an elementary district of nine schools, who share his dream for student success and program growth. “Our performing arts team has worked tirelessly to grow our program and ensure student success,” he explains. “We have worked with our district administration to modernize our facilities, provide funding for new instrument purchases and to grow and foster our music parents’ organization.”

    The music teachers ask 4th- and 5th-grade teachers to encourage students to participate in 5th grade band and orchestra, they work with their young musicians to foster a mentorship program, and they collaborate with parents to grow a robust music advocacy program. Cannon and his colleagues also reach out to the community. “Local businesses help fundraise and provide opportunities for the program. Our local community members and vendors have also helped with student-specific needs, often donating instruments and items that the school doesn’t possess or adapting instruments to meet students’ physical abilities. This allows us to always have an instrument for our young musicians,” he explains.

    Cannon went above and beyond when a young musician injured his arm. Rather than have the student join the band after he healed, Cannon used CAD software and designed a mount that would attach to a cymbal stand. After the model was created, it was printed by the 3D printing club for the student to use. The stand held the instrument, and the student was able to learn and play alongside his peers. Cannon uploaded the model to multiple band director groups for others to use free of charge.

    According to Cannon, a key to the success of the Addison music program is giving all stakeholders a voice. “Our ensembles focus on student voice and choice,” he says. “Our students and graduates have a voice in the program, which gives them ownership and encourages them to help the program grow.”

    Communication with band families is provided in multiple languages with opportunities for parents to learn with their young musicians. “This allows parents to take an active and involved role in our music program through our Addison Music Parents Organization. This organization plays a vital role in giving parent choice in our program,” he says.

    Cannon strives to teach his students that music is a lifelong activity. “Our program may be small, but we are mighty. We are very fortunate to work in a district that believes in our mission of ‘music for all.’ This mindset allows us to overcome adversity and ensure that all students have access to music education regardless of any barriers.”

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    Charlene Cannon

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Charlene Cannon

    Band Director
    Horizon High School
    Winter Garden, Florida

    Changing jobs is always stressful, but moving to a brand-new school is particularly daunting. From day one, Horizon High School Band Director Charlene Cannon focused on building a culture of teamwork and collaboration between all sections to ensure that students would be positive and helpful to one another.

    “Our first activity at our first band camp was determining what we would say when the marching band was called to attention because I wanted to make sure all students felt included as part of establishing the look and vibe of our marching band, The Sound of Horizon,” she says. “I have a frame in my office with pictures from day one and day 10 of this first band camp. The difference in camaraderie and connectedness amongst the students is evident. These photos drive me every day to continue my work on student culture and connection to ensure that everyone has a positive experience in my classroom.”

    At band camp, there were 36 students. By the second week of school, the number of students almost doubled to 68. Since then, Cannon’s program has experienced a steady growth. “I write my own marching band drill formations each year, and I did a lot of re-writing that first year to make sure that everyone who joined would be included no matter when they signed up for the band program,” she explained.

    Cannon was in a unique situation when she started at Horizon High School because a middle school opened on the high school campus at the same time, and she also served as the band director there for a year. She encouraged teamwork and friendship among the middle schoolers, which they carried with them when they entered high school.

    For students with no prior musical experience, Cannon started a beginning band class this year to ensure that there was an entry-level option. “This class is taught the same way as the other classes, just at a different pace. By focusing on their individual fundamentals, we’ve made remarkable progress in a short amount of time,” she says.

    Cannon encourages her band students to participate in other activities. “I am so proud that my students are also involved in football, cheerleading, golf, cross country, track and field, basketball, volleyball, various clubs and honor societies, tutoring and more,” she says. “I believe that participating in other activities provides high school students the chance to be well-rounded and the mindset to always try new things.”

    When Horizon opened, Cannon worked with athletics to determine a policy for resolving conflicts between sports and performing arts. “I’m fortunate to have colleagues who understand the importance of supporting these multi-talented, busy students. The band and color guard students have become excellent advocates of time management and responsibility for their schedules,” she says.

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    Douglas Brown

    Back to 40 Under 40

    2024 Yamaha

    Douglas Brown

    Director of Bands, Jazz Ensembles, Hip Hop and Digital Music
    Middleton High School
    Middleton, WIsconsin

    Director of Bands Douglas Brown has a deep passion for traditional music forms like band, choir and orchestra, but he knows that these aren’t the preferred mediums for all students at Middleton High School. “To bridge this gap, I introduced a curriculum centered around hip hop and digital music production,” he says. “This curriculum not only resonates with the changing dynamics of the music scene but also caters to a wider array of student interests.”

    The success of Brown’s program highlights the significance of evolving music education to align with the varied interests and ambitions of students. “Each year, we see hundreds of students enthusiastically engaging in these classes, which has nurtured a strong community of budding musicians in our school,” he explains. “It’s particularly heartening to witness students from this program advancing to higher education in music production and carving out successful careers in the industry, including roles as hip hop artists, producers and sound engineers.”

    Middleton has a state-of-the-art hip hop/music production lab and recording studio. Every student has access to a production cart, which is equipped with a laptop, digital audio workstation, audio interface, power conditioner, microphones, digital/analog turntables, a MIDI keyboard and reference monitors. These stations enable students to perform live DJ sets during lunch breaks and transform any classroom into a production and recording space. Brown emphasizes and appreciates the collaborative effort required to create the lab, recording studio and individual production stations. “All this was made possible through the support of our school district and the generosity of numerous dedicated and enthusiastic donors. Their contributions have been instrumental in bringing this visionary project to life, greatly enriching the music education experience for our students,” he says.

    Brown also encourages collaboration among Middleton’s diverse music class offerings. “This collaborative spirit is evident in various projects, such as when our digital music students record and produce albums for the singer-songwriter class, or when our advanced music composition class writes pieces for one of the bands, choirs or orchestras,” Brown says.

    A particularly innovative collaboration involved pairing DJs and rappers from the hip hop class with the marching band. A team of creative music writers that included students and professionals composed a marching show that fused elements of acoustic and digital music. The show featured a diverse array of instruments like multiple synthesizers, vocoders, electronic wind instruments and turntables, as well as a rapper who performed verses and spoken word poetry. A highlight was the construction of a central DJ booth on the field, complete with a wall of speakers. “This groundbreaking collaboration not only showcased our students’ diverse talents but also broke new ground in blending traditional and modern musical genres in a live performance setting,” Brown says.

    In addition to overseeing the hip hop and digital music courses, Brown also conducts the marching band, four curricular instrumental music ensembles, the percussion ensemble, two extracurricular jazz bands and has over 300 students involved in the band department at Middleton High School. “I often joke that I gave up sleep years ago, but in truth, my passion for what I do fuels me with incredible energy, especially when it comes to serving my students,” he says. “Managing the multifaceted aspects of this role is undeniably challenging, but it’s made achievable thanks to an amazing wife, who is a great musician and educator in her own right, and a team of music educators, private instructors, adjunct faculty and support staff. Each member of this team plays a crucial role, and they deserve equal recognition for the success of our students.”

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    Tony Boldt

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    2024 Yamaha

    Tony Boldt

    Director of Bands
    Kasson-Mantorville High School
    Kasson, Minnesota

    Being part of caring and thoughtful communities is what making music is all about, according to Director of Bands Tony Boldt. “Throughout my career at Kasson-Mantorville High School, one aspect of music making that I have enjoyed the most is having different groups and individuals interact with one another. Music is so much about connection,” he says.

    A decade ago, the communities of Kasson and Mantorville in Minnesota passed a referendum that included a new high school commons, a renovated gym, a new 800-seat auditorium and the renovation of the music department. Construction was completed two years later in 2016. “The community has always greatly supported the arts, and the Performing Arts Center serves as a constant reminder of that outstanding support. The space is used almost every day, and we have an amazing technical director who helps bring our concerts and productions to another level,” Boldt says.

    He promotes a student aid program, which has fostered leadership skills. “Over the past few years, these students have really become the organization leaders who keep the ship running,” he says. “We have some wonderful senior leaders who are heavily involved in our fall musical and fall band and choir activities. While we pack a lot into the fall, it allows us to create a great leadership team of seniors.”

    Performing works by up-and-coming composers has been a focal point for Boldt. His band has performed two works by composer Claire Howard, who Boldt met at the University of Minnesota Conducting Symposium. “We are hoping to expand this into a bigger commissioning project that will take place yearly,” he says.

    Boldt’s seemingly endless energy and passion come from having wonderful mentors who modeled how to create groups and spaces where everyone feels welcomed and safe. “I use the same methods for recruiting as I saw my amazing middle school music teachers — Brian Cole and Denise Pesola — used,” Boldt says. “I strive to create community in the same way my college band directors — Dr. Nat Dickey and Dr. Scott Jones — did. My two colleagues at Kasson-Mantorville — Liz Harwood and Sarah Vinzant — are fantastic recruiters and proponents of music who constantly create outstanding connections with students while eliminating barriers to entry. I’ve learned so much from all these incredible music educators.”

    Boldt also directs the Rochester Community Band, a group of about 75 musicians that range in age from 14 or 15 to 80! “So much of the recruitment for the Rochester Community Band is word of mouth through members, but I always make sure to invite local students, and we get many during the summer,” Boldt says.

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    Adam Bodony

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    2024 Yamaha

    Adam Bodony

    Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestras,
    Purdue University
    Artistic Director, Indianapolis Youth Orchestra
    Indiana

    Under Adam Bodony’s tenure as Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestras at Purdue University, the orchestra program has experienced remarkable growth. The number of students enrolled in orchestra has grown by more than a whopping 85% — from 150 during the 2015-2016 academic year to 280 in 2023-2024. The number of orchestras went from two when Bodony arrived at Purdue, to four — a first in the department’s 120-year history.

    According to Bodony, enrollment grew for several reasons, including:

    • Establishing a renewed sense of pride in being an orchestra member at Purdue, having a higher bar of artistic excellence, and creating a culture of support, understanding and kindness.
    • Establishing a collaborative and supportive relationship with other areas in the department (such as marching band, concert band, jazz band, etc.) and with other colleges in the university (such as the College of Liberal Arts and its component areas related to music).
    • Seeking out regional, national and international performance opportunities and competition participation to raise the awareness of Purdue’s program while simultaneously instilling a sense of pride in students in representing Purdue University outside of its campus borders.
    • Reaching out to dozens of professional and collegiate guest artists, guest conductors and guest collaborators. “Our orchestra students have learned from some of the very best talent the United States has to offer,” Bodony says.
    • Finally, Bodony believes the most important factor is that students “see in me and sense from me my pure love for music, even at a place like Purdue that is overwhelmingly STEM-centered,” he said.

    Bodony is also the Artistic Director of the Indianapolis Youth Orchestra (IYO), which he wants to set up as a pre-college conservatory, offering instruction in topics like music theory, music history, conducting and chamber music. After finding out that IYO families were overwhelmingly interested in these pre-college modules, he identified partners to help. “For music theory and music history, we partnered with the Butler University Community Arts School and developed a curriculum together that their staff would then teach,” Bodony says.

    For chamber music, IYO partnered with several local professional musicians from area universities as well as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Bodony developed the curriculum and taught the material for conducting, which culminated with students conducting the IYO Symphony Orchestra.

    This pre-college system ran from 2015 to 2020, but everything came to a screeching halt during the pandemic. “This academic year (2023-2024), we restarted our music theory module. Conducting and music history will be next,” Bodony explains.

    Having grown up in Indianapolis and now working with youth and college students in the city, creating and promoting local musical opportunities is important to Bodony. When he was young, he craved performance and concert opportunities and was generally supported and found what he was looking for. “It pains me to consider a young person somewhere out there in Indianapolis starving for more art, more music, more high-quality instruction, more depth, more knowledge, more everything, and not being fulfilled. That’s what drives me,” he says.

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    Dr. Benjamin Bergey

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Benjamin Bergey

    Assistant Professor of Music
    Eastern Mennonite University
    Harrisonburg, Virginia

    Knowing the immense power of music, Dr. Benjamin Bergey established an interdisciplinary major called Music and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. “While many musicians and ensemble directors know on various levels that music helps to bring people together and make our world better, this is the first undergraduate major in the U.S. that combines the theories and practices of peacebuilding and conflict transformation with musical training,” the Assistant Professor of Music explains.

    Students take core music and peacebuilding courses, and through colloquiums, concerts and community events, they experience and practice the applications of music in building peace, which increases their empathy and their ability to engage in dialogue. They must also complete an internship as well as a senior project where they combine the things that they have been learning.

    “I also designed a course called Music and Peacebuilding to engage with the growing field and networks of arts-based peacebuilders, and to explore the theories and practices to use music to help transform conflict since making music together can help bridge divides and create common ground,” Bergey says.

    As a small liberal arts college, EMU can adapt quickly to meet the varying needs of students, who have the opportunity to be involved in whatever they like. “The university culture is attuned to issues of social justice, inclusion and intercultural competency — values that are so helpful in cultivating a safe and inviting music department, which made developing a major like Music and Peacebuilding possible,” he says.

    Bergey is always thinking outside the box to come up with solutions to help his students. He transitioned the music theory curriculum to use open educational resources (OER), which is free to students. “I received a grant from VIVA Open, a Virginia-based library consortium, and adapted and developed resources for our music theory curriculum,” he says. “We had been using expensive textbooks and workbooks for a long time, but that was not necessary. This way, students do not pay for books for their three music theory courses.”

    Another solution Bergey spearheaded was during the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, he worked with others in the area to think through creative ways to still sing together in a safe way. Some used microphones and an FM transmitter to sing from their cars, which wasn’t feasible at a college. “I figured we could use PA speakers outside. All I needed were wireless microphones, a mixer, speakers and some cables to make it work,” Bergey explains. “We did that for a full year, giving students the chance to still sing during college, and we put on concerts outside for audiences, who really loved it.”

    Bergey chronicled that first summer’s set up, and the choir was featured in a documentary showing the creative ways choirs were able to sing together safely during COVID.

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    Jeremy Bartunek

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    2024 Yamaha

    Jeremy Bartunek

    Music Teacher and Children’s Choir Director
    Greenbriar School, Northbrook District 28
    Northbrook, Illinois

    Collaboration is valued at Greenbriar School, and music teacher Jeremy Bartunek finds many opportunities to collaborate with his colleagues and students to promote music, creativity and independence. Along with the school’s art teacher, he has developed full and complete artistic experiences for students. Together, they also work with other art and music teachers around the district, as well as with general education teachers to integrate learning across the curriculum, so performing and visual arts are not simply allocated to the music and art classrooms.

    “The students play an integral role in the success of our program,” he explains. “I have 5th-grade students running the sound and lights for all our shows, as well as working backstage. My goal is that I can simply sit back and relax during the performances because the kids are running the show.”

    Bartunek worked with his general music colleagues in the district to strip down the curriculum to the essentials, which allowed teachers to embellish the curriculum as they needed. For example, one of the markers is that students must successfully perform a melody with three pitches from music notation. “We left the word ‘perform’ rather vague and removed any reference to instruments, solfege, singing, ‘standard notation’ (so graphic notation could be used) or how that would be assessed,” he explains. “Some students used a recorder and standard notation, others sang and used solfege syllables, and others still used music software or created their own physical representation using manipulatives,”

    The best part was that each teacher was allowed and encouraged to tailor the teaching and assessment to their kids and specific classes while still maintaining consistency across all three elementary schools in the district.

    Bartunek founded the Northbrook 28 Children’s Choir in the Fall of 2019 with about 60 students in 3rd to 5th grade in three different ensembles. “This, of course, turned out to be a terrible time to start a choir because of the COVID pandemic in 2020,” he says. However, the choir continued to meet via Zoom and successfully “performed” virtual concerts. Today, the choir has grown to more than 200 students in 1st to 5th grade spread over four ensembles. The students have performed at community events at Wrigley Field, Northwest Community Hospital, the Northbrook Court mall and more.

    Bartunek recognizes that he is just one of many teachers and subjects that students will encounter. “I strive to make the music room a space where students are comfortable expressing themselves musically and where they feel like they can be emotionally open,” he says.

    Almost all his students are comfortable singing alone in front of their peers and using their voice as a medium for their personality. “The music room is the best room in the school (except, maybe, the auditorium) and that is because it is the most honest and open place for kids to be,” he says.

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    40 Under 40 – 2024

    2024 Yamaha “40 Under 40” — Music Education Excellence

    In 2021, Yamaha launched the “40 Under 40” music education advocacy program to honor educators who are making a difference in growing and strengthening their music programs. Now, we celebrate the 2024 group of remarkable educators who bring innovation and passion into their classrooms.  

    These 40 educators — all under the age of 40 — showcase the following characteristics: action (anticipate what needs to be done and proactively take the necessary steps that lead to a stronger music program), courage (propose and implement new or bold ideas), creativity (show innovation and imagination in achieving plans and objectives) and growth (establish, grow or improve music education in their schools and communities). 

    Each year, we receive hundreds of nominations from students, parents, teachers and administrators, local instrument dealers and mentors. The “40 Under 40” educators below have elevated music and music-making in extraordinary ways — like Cale Patton, who started with a music on a cart that blossomed into a robust elementary music program; Miguel Hidalgo, Alex Mutz, Dr. Jessie M. Vallejo and Dr. Paulina Villarreal, who bring the music of their Latin American and Hispanic culture to their classrooms and ensembles; Dr. Jacquelyn Lankford and Kacee Sanders who promote the important role women play in music through festivals, competitions and symposiums; Brad Hart, who hosts a chapter of United Sound at his high school and finds ways to help special needs students play music and feel like they belong; and Douglas Brown, Gillian Desmarais, Dennis Giotta and Kevin Longwill, who all tackled music technology to introduce their students to a completely different side of what’s possible with music.  

    All the “40 Under 40” educators have remarkable stories behind their teaching philosophies and methods. Come meet them and be inspired by them all. 

    Join us in applauding the 2024 class of “40 Under 40” educators.

    Meet the 2023 “40 Under 40” Educators

    Meet the 2022 “40 Under 40” Educators

    Meet the 2021 “40 Under 40” Educators

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Angela Ammerman

    Adjunct Professor of Music Education
    George Mason University
    Fairfax, Virginia

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Tigran Arakelyan

    Music Director,
    Tacoma Music Collaborative
    Executive Director, Music Works Northwest
    Washington

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Jeremy Bartunek

    Music Teacher and Children’s Choir Director
    Greenbriar School, Northbrook District 28
    Northbrook, Illinois

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Benjamin Bergey

    Assistant Professor of Music
    Eastern Mennonite University
    Harrisonburg, Virginia

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Adam Bodony

    Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestras,
    Purdue University
    Artistic Director,
    Indianapolis Youth Orchestra
    Indiana

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Tony Boldt

    Director of Bands
    Kasson-Mantorville High School
    Kasson, Minnesota

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Douglas Brown

    Director of Bands, Jazz Ensembles, Hip Hop and Digital Music
    Middleton High School
    Middleton, WIsconsin

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Charlene Cannon

    Band Director
    Horizon High School
    Winter Garden, Florida

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Raymond William Cannon

    Director of Beginning Band
    Addison School District 4
    Addison, Illinois

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Jena Combs

    Director of Musical Activities
    Flora High School
    Flora, Illinois

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Jessica Corry

    Band Director
    Plank Junior High School
    Oswego, Illinois

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Mallory A. Dekker

    Executive Director and Instructor
    Black Hills Studios of the Arts
    Rapid City, South Dakota

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Gillian Desmarais

    K-12 Music Technology and Engineering
    Harmony Learning Center
    Maplewood, Minnesota

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Jeff Driscoll

    Music Teacher
    Monroe Elementary School
    Bartonville, Illinois

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Nicholas A. Fields

    Band Director
    Edgewood City Schools
    Trenton, Ohio

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Allison Figueroa

    Assistant Band and Choral Director
    Parkland High School
    Allentown, Pennsylvania

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Dennis Giotta

    Music Teacher
    Southeast Local School District
    Apple Creek, Ohio

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Brad Hart

    Instrumental Music Teacher
    Peter Johansen High School
    Modesto, California

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Miguel Hidalgo

    Music Teacher and Music Director
    Esperanza Academy Charter School
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Richard Hutton

    Assistant Professor of Choral Music Education and Assistant Director of Choral Activities
    Boise State University
    Boise, Idaho

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    2024 Yamaha

    Lily Ianaconi

    9-12 Instrumental Music Teacher
    Franklin Academy High School
    Malone, New York

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Jacquelyn Lankford

    Assistant Professor of Trumpet
    Mississippi State University
    Starkville Mississippi

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    2024 Yamaha

    Christopher Lape

    Orchestra Director
    Upper Arlington High School
    Upper Arlington, Ohio

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    2024 Yamaha

    Kevin Longwill

    Music Industry Teacher, Director of Modern Music Makers (M3)
    Abington School District
    Abington, Pennsylvania

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    2024 Yamaha

    Kimberly Kraft McLemore

    Vice President of Education and Community Engagement
    Nashville Symphony
    Nashville, Tennessee

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    2024 Yamaha

    Adam Murray

    Orchestra Director, Music Department Chair
    Port Clinton City Schools
    Port Clinton, Ohio

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    2024 Yamaha

    Andrew Muth

    Director of Bands and Director of Performing Arts
    Westfield High School
    Westfield, Indiana

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    2024 Yamaha

    Alex Mutz

    director of bands
    Sam L. Martin Middle School
    Austin, Texas

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    2024 Yamaha

    Christopher Noce

    Director of Bands and Orchestras
    Concord-Carlisle High School
    Concord, Massachusetts

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    2024 Yamaha

    Allison Paetz

    Vocal Music Teacher
    Rocky River High School
    Rocky River, Ohio

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Stephen C. Page

    Associate Professor of Saxophone and Director of Undergraduate Studies
    The University of Texas at Austin Butler School of Music
    Austin, Texas

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Cale Patton

    Music Teacher
    Gillespie Technology Magnet Cluster School
    Chicago, Illinois

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Ben Pedersen

    Director of Bands
    Foreman College and Career Academy
    Chicago, Illinois

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    2024 Yamaha

    Kyle D. Phillips

    Band Director
    Princeton High School
    Cincinnati, Ohio

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Matthew Rupert

    Co-Founder, Clarinet/Piano Faculty, Little Mission Studio
    Co-Founder, President of the Board, Make More Music Foundation
    San Francisco, California

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Julie Anne Russell

    Orchestra Director
    Blythewood High School
    Blythewood, South Carolina

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    2024 Yamaha

    Kacee Sanders

    Band Director,
    DuPont Hadley Middle School
    Executive Director,
    Southeastern Women in Music Symposium
    Tennessee

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Jessie M. Vallejo

    Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology
    California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
    Pomona, California

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Jessica Vaughan-Marra

    Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education
    Seton Hill University
    Greensburg, Pennsylvania

    Read more

    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Paulina Villarreal

    Assistant Professor of Voice
    University of Memphis, Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music
    Memphis, Tennessee
    Founder and Artistic Director, Cantos para el Mundo

    Read more

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    Dr. Tigran Arakelyan

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Tigran Arakelyan

    Music Director,
    Tacoma Music Collaborative
    Executive Director, Music Works Northwest
    Washington

    Providing access to music education is the driving force behind Dr. Tigran Arakelyan’s work at the Tacoma Music Collaborative (previously called the Orchestral Recital Series of Tacoma). As the Music Director, he has developed and continued programs that give students of all ages an opportunity to play chamber music with professionals and perform as soloists with a chamber orchestra. TMC provides an inclusive environment for students to learn and grow alongside more experienced musicians and professionals. TMC’s private lesson initiative offers additional support to young musicians who do not have the financial resources to develop their skills in a private lesson setting. Its public school outreach program helps music educators with sectionals led by guest clinicians. 

    Arakelyan also started the BIPOC composer commission, which focuses on works for piano and orchestra. “We alternate between commissioning a professional composer and a young composer at the start of their career,” he explains. All these initiatives are in the early stages, and more funding is needed for continued growth.

    He is also the Executive Director of Music Works Northwest, a nonprofit community music school that provides accessible music education and experiences. In addition to providing individual music lessons, music classes, music camps and free concerts to King County residents, Music Works offers music therapy, the first organization to do so in the state of Washington. The goal of the program is to address the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of people of all ages within the context of a therapeutic relationship.

    According to the organization’s website, “We specialize in working with children and teens who identify as neurodivergent or disabled. Treatment goals and interventions are individualized and centered around the strengths, interests and needs of the client. Singing, vocalizing, playing instruments, movement to music are among the long list of ways that our music therapists work with their young clients.”

    Arakelyan acknowledges the good work of both the Tacoma Music Collaborative and Music Works Northwest. “These two special organizations provide educational opportunities and bring people together, which provides a platform for many interesting collaborative opportunities for all the people we serve.”

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    Dr. Angela Ammerman

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    2024 Yamaha

    Dr. Angela Ammerman

    Adjunct Professor of Music Education
    George Mason University
    Fairfax, Virginia

    Dr. Angela Ammerman believes that teaching music is a calling. “Not only have I had the honor to be called to teach, but I have been called to teach teachers,” she says.

    As an Adjunct Professor of Music Education, Ammerman primarily teaches music education majors at George Mason University, and plays a major role in teacher development. “I get to see students go from pre-service teachers to confident, extremely capable and beautifully passionate music educators,” she says.

    During her early teaching experience, she created the Future Music Education Camp (FMEC), which helped high schoolers learn about lesson planning, engagement, classroom management, conducting and confidence-building. Students spent one week peer teaching and one week teaching real children. Seeing students get “that spark, that little nudge, to join the ranks of changemakers and bringers of joy” is so special to Ammerman. She is working on bringing the camp to Virginia and has offered virtual training to educators interested in starting their own camps.

    In an effort to share her knowledge, Ammerman is writing a series of Music Teacher’s Guide books. The first book in the series focuses on engaging English Language Learners (ELLs) and is geared to not only improve teaching practices, but as a form of encouragement to teachers and advocacy for ELLs. “Music is one of the only subjects in which a student need not speak in order to contribute significantly,” she says. “It is in our music programs that even our newcomer students build social identity, express themselves and participate fully without speaking a word. It is in music where our students find their home away from home.”

    The second book in the series looks at recruitment and retention. Two more volumes – on classroom management and general music – are scheduled to be published in 2024.

    Ammerman’s influence is far-reaching. In 2018, she started a strings program at Hope House, a children’s home, in Chiang-Mai, Thailand. She secured instruments from her music teacher network as well as through donations (many from Amro Music) and received additional funding to buy more violins from a Chiang-Mai luthier. “I learned that great teaching often means great listening, that the most magical lessons are filled to the brim with the very things our students have taught us, and that we can find joy and love in even the darkest of times,” she says.

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    Five Tips for Blending Keyboard and Guitar Parts

    The guitar is the second most popular and played instrument in the world. The first? Piano/keyboards, of course! So it’s very likely that you will find yourself in a situation where you are making music with a guitar player, whether accompanying a singer/songwriter, or playing in a band that includes the guitar.

    Because both keyboard and guitar are commonly used to play chords and polyphonic parts (i.e., more than one note at a time), some care and planning needs to be taken so the two instruments work well together. Here are five tips for achieving a successful blend betweeen the two instruments.

    1. Agree On The Chords

    The most obvious issue whenever you are duetting with another instrument/vocalist is to first agree on what key you are going to play in, and what the chords are for the song you want to play. A vocalist might change the key from the original recorded version because it doesn’t fit their comfortable singing range, for example.

    In addition, there may be a variety of acceptable chord choices for the tune. Some players like to use the simplest chord progression possible, while others will add more complex chords, and perhaps “jazz up” their arrangement too (see below). Be sure to talk this through ahead of time and come to an agreement on what version you and the guitar player are going to use.

    2. Use The Same Chord Color Tones

    Once you have defined the notes used in basic triads and seventh chords, more advanced players may start to add what are called color tones to their chord voicings, using ninths, sixths/thirteenths and other fancy additions. You need to find out if the guitarist you are playing with wants to do this, and if so, what choices they will make. A common clash of this sort can occur when you’re both playing dominant seventh chords and you choose to add a regular ninth, while the guitar player chooses the more dissonant, but common, sharp-ninth:

    Musical annotation.

    Many songs that just vamp (stay on one chord for long periods of time) will use one of these ninth colors, but playing them together at the same time sounds really bad, as you can hear in this audio clip:

    3. Get In Rhythm

    As a general policy, it’s best if only one of you supplies the rhythmic movement and momentum in the song, so decide in advance who will be the more dominant player. It is very common for guitar players to strum chords, especially when they are also the singer. If so, you should not play busy rhythms, as you’re likely to clash. Playing long chords and very simple parts is the way to go.

    Another approach is to listen to the rhythm the guitar player is using, and try playing a simple pattern that supports any strong accents in their part. But don’t get too busy!

    Let’s look at an example of how to do that — here’s another guitar strumming pattern:

    Once again, you can use long sustained keyboard chords with a few accents that follow the pattern to support and mesh with the guitar player:

    If the guitar player is playing a somewhat busy and melodic picking pattern, the same rules apply. Long sustained chords always work.

    Taking a slightly rhythmic approach like this one can also support the guitar part well:

    There will be songs that sound better, however, if the keys carry the rhythmic feel. If the guitarist agrees, they should lay back, play less, and let you provide the dominant part on the keyboard.

    4. Stay Out Of Each Other’s Way

    Another important consideration is where on the keyboard you opt to play your part. It helps if you and the guitarist avoid playing in the same octave. Playing the keyboard chords lower or higher up will allow each part to be heard more clearly, as you can hear in this audio clip:

    Also, if the song has a signature guitar riff like the one below, you don’t want to be playing busy chordal parts over it.

    Musical annotation.

    Try playing the riff along with the guitar player, but perhaps an octave lower.

    Musical annotation.

    Or again, just play longer sustaining chords.

    Musical annotation.

    If the riff has strong accents, try playing sustaining chords mixed with a few accents to support the riff.

    Musical annotation.

    5. Use Basic Rock Power Chords Where Appropriate

    If you are playing heavy rock music in a band with one or more guitars, the guitarists will often be playing what are called power chords. These contain only the root and the fifth, using this type of voicing:

    Musical annotation.

    You should play pretty much the same type of voicing, being sure to leave out the third in your chords. I prefer only playing the root, with the fifth below it, leaving out the lower root note.

    Musical annotation.

    This smaller chord voicing (only two notes) seems to mesh better against guitar. Try using a wurly electric piano sound, or a distorted rock organ tone.

    Following these tips will get you on your way to working well with your six-stringed brethren. Enjoy!

    ALL KEYBOARD EXAMPLES PLAYED ON A YAMAHA P-515

    Check out our other Well-Rounded Keyboardist postings.

     

    Click here for more information about Yamaha keyboard instruments.

    A Brief History of Pacifica Guitars

    In the late 1980s, the Yamaha Guitar Development (YGD) office in Hollywood, CA included a custom shop that built guitars to order. Sensing a broader opportunity, Yamaha Corporation in Japan decided to create a mass-manufactured guitar based on the features and designs developed by YGD for its custom work.

    In 1990, that project came to fruition with the release of the first Pacifica model, the PAC 912. The Pacifica would become known for its versatility, making it a favorite among top L.A. session guitarists like Michael Lee Firkins, Mike Stern, Cornell Dupree and others. Over time, it would become one of the most popular affordable quality guitar models worldwide.

    Here’s a look at the eventful history of the Pacifica and how the line has evolved over the years.

    The Early Days

    Electric guitar.
    The 912 was the first Pacifica guitar to be mass-manufactured.

    The design of the Pacifica 912 was based on the work being done at YASH, but the extensive guitar-building experience of Yamaha in Japan was also hugely important. “The Pacifica was a collaboration between the custom shop in Hollywood and Yamaha headquarters in Hamamatsu,” explains Brandon Soriano, Product Marketing Manager of the Pacifica line. “Those guitars were meant to take the custom vibe and feel and feature set and bring it to a more affordable mass market.”

    “We gathered information from [local] session players, which helped us create the specifications,” adds Yusuke Ota, Product Owner, Electric Guitars at Yamaha Corporation. According to Ota, the 912 was the first example of what has been a guiding principle in the design philosophy of the Pacifica. “It’s based on the types of wood, pickups and hardware used on the YASH-built custom guitars, but made for mass manufacturing.”

    The PAC912 featured a bolt-on neck, an HSS (humbucker/single-coil/single-coil) pickup configuration and a familiar double-cutaway body shape. It also marked the first time Yamaha incorporated third-party components such as Warmoth necks, Wilkinson tremolo systems and DiMarzio pickups into one of its guitars. “In 1990, that was a new way to make guitars for Yamaha,” says Ota. “Previously, we used only original parts, which weren’t replaceable by third-party companies.”

    Outfitting Pacifica guitars with popular brand-name parts offered two benefits. First, it made the instruments more immediately appealing. Second, it assured buyers that if they ever decided to customize their Pacifica by swapping out essential parts such as pickups, tuning machines, bridges, etc., they could do so using standard-sized components.

    Expanding and Refining the Line

    In the 33 years since the PAC912 made its appearance, Yamaha released many new Pacificas in various body, neck and wood types, pickup combinations and price points. The early PAC1412 and PAC1421 models had set necks and carved tops with Yamaha proprietary RM-Pro II locking vibrato bridges, licensed by Floyd Rose. However, these guitars were quite costly to produce, so they were discontinued in 1993.

    Print advertisement for guitar.
    Print advertisement for guitar.

    The PAC1221 model released in 1990 offered a basswood body and a warmoth neck with a compound radius reinforced with carbon graphite rods, along with DiMarzio pickups in an HSH configuration and a Yamaha tremolo bar. Other features included a height adjustable locking nut and a “Total Access” neck joint that consisted of a roomy lower body cutaway, a low profile neck heel and a machined aluminum mating block extending deep into the body. It was available with rosewood and maple fretboards, both of which had distinctive inlays.

    Print advertisement for guitar.

    1994 saw the debut of the PAC904, which had a body consisting of an ash slab top on an alder back and a highly engineered neck joint, along with locking Sperzel machine heads and a tone control that, when pushed, split the bridge humbucking pickup into one single-coil.

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica PAC904.

    The USA1 and USA2 models that were introduced in 1995 had an alder body with a figured maple top (some quilt and some flame), a birdseye maple neck, Sperzel tuners, a Wilkinson tremolo, Duncan Vintage Rails and a Duncan JB humbucker pickup.

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica USA1.

    The twelve-string PAC303-12 was released in 1996. It came outfitted with three Yamaha Alnico single-coil pickups, a white pearloid pickguard, gold hardware and a Gotoh 12-string bridge with six ball ends at the end of the baseplate and the other six at the back of the body.

    In 2011, Yamaha announced three new Pacificas: the 510, 311 and 611 models (the latter two are still available today — see below), as well as reintroducing the PAC120, which offered a pair of humbucker pickups and a hardtail bridge.

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica 510V.
    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica 120H.

    There have also been a number of Pacificas with reversed headstocks. These models (which all have the suffix “R”) included the PAC 721R and 821R.

    You can actually tell a lot about the features offered by a specific Pacifica model by its suffix. For example, “J” indicates that the guitar has a rosewood fretboard, while “M” indicates that it has a maple fretboard. Other commonly used Pacifica suffixes include:

    • V = Alnico-V pickups
    • S = Single-cutaway
    • W = Wilkinson tremolo
    • H = Hardtail
    • D = Alternative body shape
    • FM = Flame maple
    • QM = Quilted maple
    • CX = Fancy pickguard
    • L = Left-handed

    Signature Models

    Yamaha also expanded the high end of the line with Pacificas like the PAC311MS and PAC1511MS Mike Stern signature models (developed in 1997) and the updated PAC1611MS available today. This extraordinary instrument features a maple neck, Seymour Duncan pickups and a visually stunning blond single-cutaway ash body.

    Natural wood bodied electric guitar.
    PAC1611MS Mike Stern signature model.

    In 1999, the Pacifica 1512CD Cornell Dupree signature model made its debut (it was discontinued in 2005). It sported a single-cutaway ash body with a sunburst finish and an SSH pickup configuration with a combination of Seymour Duncan and Yamaha pickups.

    Electric guitar.
    PAC1512CD Cornell Dupree signature model.

    Current Pacifica Lineup

    Current Pacifica models include the entry-level PAC012, which is highly affordable yet retains the essential Pacifica sound and features. It has an agathis body, a vibrato bridge and three pickups: a Yamaha humbucker and two single-coils.

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica PAC012.

    The PAC112 (part of the PAC100 Series line) has a solid alder body and maple neck, and is available with either a maple or rosewood fretboard. Its design is similar to that of the original PAC912, but with cost-effective materials that allow it to sell for significantly less.

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica PAC112VM.

    There are also a number of mid-level “step-up” guitars in the Pacifica line, such as the PAC212 and 311 models.

    Electric guitar.
    The PAC212VQM has a distinctive quilted maple veneer top.
    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica PAC311H.

    Both these instruments are constructed with an alder body and maple neck, and offer a push-pull coil-split switch for additional tonal options. The PAC212 is outfitted with a vintage-style vibrato bar and comes with one humbucker and two single-coil pickups, while the PAC311H has a humbucker and a P-90 type pickup, along with Grover locking tuners.

    The high end of the Pacifica line is currently represented by 600 Series guitars. These versatile instruments feature Seymour Duncan pickups in two configurations, pairing a TB-14 “Custom 5” humbucker in the bridge position with an SP90-1 for vintage soapbar tone (PAC611 models) or SSL-1 single-coils in the middle and neck positions for authentic 1950s chime (PAC612 models).

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica 611HFM.
    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica 612VIIX.

    All 600 Series Pacificas have alder bodies with flame maple veneer tops and a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and include a push-pull coil-split switch. Other features include Graph Tech TUSQ nut and string trees, Grover locking tuners and a Wilkinson VS50 vibrato bridge.

    Standard Plus and Professional

    The two new Pacificas released at the 2024 NAMM Show — the Standard Plus and Professional models — not only expand the line on the top end, but utilize today’s most modern guitar-making technology to provide new levels of playability and sonic versatility.

    Although much more sophisticated from a design standpoint, the new guitars harken back in many respects to the early days of the Pacifica line. “These new flagship models bring Pacifica back to its roots as more of a high-end professional-grade instrument,” says Soriano.

    All Standard Plus and Professional Pacificas feature alder bodies, maple necks and stainless-steel frets and are available with either rosewood or maple fingerboards.

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica Standard Plus PACS+12M.
    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica Professional PACP12.

    These guitars feature a new iteration of the Pacifica body that provides impressive tonal balance and is based on technology Yamaha first utilized in the second-generation Revstar line.

    “For the past several years,” Soriano explains, “Yamaha has been implementing Acoustic Design technology, which is a form of chambering, but not in the traditional sense. Usually, in the guitar world, if you hear about chambering, you picture someone just taking chunks of wood out. This is different. We had scientists meticulously doing 3D modeling and mapping out how to shape the body and take certain parts out so that the whole thing resonates as freely as possible.”

    Unfinished electric guitar body.
    The Acoustic Design technology used in the Pacifica Professional and Pacifica Standard Plus.

    Another critical factor in the extensive tonal range of the new Pacifica guitars is its pickup technology. Perhaps the most surprising development is that these pickups are produced in conjunction with Rupert Neve Designs, a company renowned for its recording consoles, preamps and other pro audio gear.

    If you’ve never heard of Rupert Neve Designs pickups, that’s because the ones in the new Pacificas are the first the company has helped create. They never would have made them at all had it not been for a chance discovery. “Yamaha has a deep relationship with their designs in the context of the Pro Audio division regarding mixers, speakers and those kinds of products,” explains Ota. “One of our engineers discovered that one of the Rupert Neve engineers liked to wind pickups as a hobby. Then he found the pickups in the engineer’s garage and asked if he could bring them back to Japan and show them to the guitar development team.”

    The pickups had an exceptionally wide tonal response due to the unique way they were wound. Yamaha and Rupert Neve Designs ended up partnering in their development of the Pacifica, naming the new pickup line Reflectone.

    Closeup of guitar body.
    The Rupert Neve Designs Reflectone humbucking pickup.

    All new Standard Plus and Professional model Pacificas are equipped with Reflectone pickups in an HSS configuration. “Positions two and four on the five-way selector switch are reverse-wound, reverse polarity, so they’re hum-canceling,” Soriano says. “They’re designed to be super clear and have an ultra-wide response, with the thought being that any player can get their sound out of the pickups. It’s like a block of clay that you can sculpt into whatever you want.”

    The new Pacificas have a striking look too. Their subtly beautiful finishes are based on those featured on album covers of the City Pop genre, popular in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the California music scene.

    Chart.
    City-Pop-influenced finishes.

    “Those covers showed West Coast scenery, but were painted by Japanese artists,” Ota explains, “and featured a distinctive Japanese sense of color.” Adds Soriano, “In the spirit of returning to Pacifica’s roots, incorporating the Japanese City Pop aesthetic made perfect sense.”

    From L.A. to Japan and back … and now available to the world!

     

    Explore Yamaha Pacifica guitars.

    Play Bass Faster and Better: Exercises for the Fretting Hand

    The idea of bolstering one’s fingers to play a musical instrument faster or better is nothing new. Back in 1830, a young German musician, Robert Schumann, invented a device to help him strengthen the index and middle fingers on his right hand. Instead of becoming a better pianist, however, he lost sensation in both fingers, which killed his chances of being a concert pianist. Today, Schumann is renowned as one of classical music’s greatest composers.

    Fortunately, there are finger-to-finger exercises that can take your playing to the next level without ruining your hands. Done properly, the four routines described below will wake up your fingers, help you consistently get clean, accurate tone, and give you the finger independence to execute tricky passages on the fly — a crucial skill for any working bass player.

    THE TABLETOP

    Let’s start with an exercise that doesn’t even require you to play bass. The premise is simple: Curl your hand on a flat surface, palm down, and lift each finger one by one. Sounds simple, right? Notice which fingers are harder to lift than others, and feel the burn when you lift two fingers at a time. Here’s what it looks like.

    THE TONY

    Like the next two exercises, this set of stretches from prominent New York bassist Tony Conniff requires you to use one finger per fret. Here, you simply play each of the patterns shown below on every string of your bass. (For all patterns, 1 = index finger, 2 = middle finger, 3 = ring finger and 4 = pinky.) If you’re on a 5-string, you might start by playing the first pattern on your G string before working your way down, one string at a time, to the B. Then start the next pattern on the B string and work your way back up to the G.

    Here’s what Pattern 1 sounds like, played fingerstyle on a Yamaha BBP35 five-string bass:

    Here’s what Pattern 2 sounds like, played with my thumb while muting with my right hand:

    And here’s what Pattern 3 sounds like, played with a pick:

    As you work through these, ensure that each note sounds cleanly and do your best to only lift the finger you’re ready to use; the other fingers should be down and in position, ready to fret. Although this exercise can be played anywhere on the fretboard, it has a special impact in the first position (frets 1 through 4), which is also the biggest stretch. Take your time and stop if you feel any pain.

    THE HUMBLER

    This drill, a variation on the Tony, is tougher than it looks. Start on your E, A or D strings (or your B string if you’re playing a five-string bass), play four notes in succession, and hold each finger down. Now lift just your first finger and use it to play the note a fourth up (same fret, next highest string) — but hold the other three fingers down. Don’t let go of a finger until you need it to fret the next note. Here’s what it looks like.

    THE SPIDER

    This stretch has been a practice room and backstage warmup staple ever since Yamaha Artist John Patitucci mentioned it in his 1991 instructional video Electric Bass. At the fifth fret, play G with your index finger on the D string, then play the fifth (D, two frets over, one string up) on the G string with your ring finger. Move up a half-step and repeat this reach to the fifth using your middle finger (A♭ on the D string) and pinky (E♭ on the G string).

    With your hand still in position, play A on the D string with your middle finger, and use your index finger to play the C on the G string, an interval of a minor third. Finish by using your pinky to play the B♭ and your middle finger to play the D♭ at the sixth fret of the G.

    Feel free to try the Spider on any set of adjacent strings; using numbers assigned to your fretting-hand fingers, it would look like this on the D and G strings:

    1 (D string), 3 (G string)
    2 (D string), 4 (G string)
    3 (D string), 1 (G string)
    4 (D string), 2 (G string)

    As you play through this, strive for consistency and give each note its full due. Need something more challenging? Start on a lower string and play octaves instead of fifths and minor sixths instead of minor thirds, as this bass player does.

    NO PAIN, NO PAIN

    As with all warmups and stretches, it’s important to stay relaxed. Start slowly and work your way up with a metronome. Keep your fretting-hand forearm relaxed. A little stress is OK, but if you feel even a hint of pain, stop and rest a minute before continuing.

    Consider these exercises a starting point. Customize them for your hands and your bass. Make these workouts your own, and your fingers will love you for it!

     

    Check out E.E.’s other postings.

    Yamaha Products at NAMM 2024

    It’s NAMM time again! Can’t make this year’s show in person? Here are some of the hottest new products that Yamaha will be displaying on the show floor.

    Pacifica Standard Plus and Professional

    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica Standard Plus PACS+12M.
    Electric guitar.
    Pacifica Professional PACP12.

    For over 30 years, Yamaha Pacificas have been one of the most popular affordable yet quality guitar models worldwide. The two new high-end Pacifica models announced at the 2024 NAMM show — the PACS+12 Standard Plus and flagship PACP12 Professional — not only expand the line but utilize today’s most modern guitar-making technology to provide exceptional levels of playability and sonic versatility.

    All Standard Plus and Professional Pacificas feature maple necks with rosewood or maple fingerboards, as well as alder bodies with exclusive Acoustic Design technology for enhanced mid frequencies. They also offer an especially extensive tonal range thanks to their unique Reflectone pickups (one humbucker and two single-coils) co-developed with Rupert Neve Designs. The new Pacificas look as good as they sound, too, with subtly beautiful finishes based on those featured on album covers of the City Pop genre, popular in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s and inspired by the California music scene.

    SEQTRAK

    Control panel.
    SEQTRAK.

    SEQTRAK is a groundbreaking music creation station that empowers you to unlock your creativity from wherever you happen to be. Capture ideas quickly through its lightning-fast, all-in-one system that includes drums, synths, sampling and sequencing, all packed into a compact, lightweight design. Create original music with two versatile sound engines, then refine with deep editing, custom samples and video creation using the intuitive SEQTRAK app. When you’re ready, share your sounds, collaborate with other artists and connect with fans using its powerful performance features and video creator. SEQTRAK has everything you need. And more.

    Montage M with Expanded Softsynth Plugin (E.S.P.)

    Electronic keyboard.
    MONTAGE M8x.

    The MONTAGE M next-generation flagship synthesizer ushers in a new era of sound, control and workflow in music creation. It provides three engines that recreate warm vintage analog synths, cutting-edge FM synths and ultra-realistic sampled acoustic instruments, with an advanced Motion Control engine that further enhances these capabilities, adding a unique fourth dimension of control to your music-making.

    Screenshot.
    Expanded Softsynth Plugin (E.S.P.) screenshot.

    At NAMM, Yamaha also announced the availability of the Expanded Softsynth Plugin (E.S.P.), which faithfully replicates the MONTAGE M in your Digital Workstation (DAW). Free for all registered MONTAGE M owners, E.S.P. allows you to create, edit and mix MONTAGE M Performances anywhere you go — without the hardware — providing an unprecedented level of stage and studio integration.

    Genos2

    Electronic keyboard.
    Genos2.

    Genos2 is the new flagship Arranger keyboard from Yamaha. Combining legendary sounds with cutting-edge technology, it can transform solo players into the ultimate cover band and also provides unlimited possibilities for composing and arranging original music. A unique Style Dynamics function allows control over every nuance of accompaniment, and an innovative Real Ambient Drums feature provides players with a virtual drum recording studio. There’s also an AI Chord mode that intuitively guides accompaniments based on what is played, as well as a professional-grade microphone input with studio-quality effects engineered to refine and amplify a musician’s voice. Users can even follow along to their favorite songs with the option to display karaoke lyrics on the built-in color touchscreen or to a TV or computer monitor via HDMI.

    FGDP Finger Drum Pads

    FDGP50
    FGDP-50.
    FDGP30
    FGDP-30.

    Yamaha FGDP Finger Drum Pads allow anyone to drum, anywhere, any time. They provide a distinctive pad layout ergonomically designed for optimal finger drumming and come loaded with hundreds of drum samples, plus there’s an internal tone generator and a built-in speaker, all powered by a rechargeable battery. There are two models to choose from: the FGDP-50 and FGDP-30. The FGDP-50 offers 26 customizable drum pads, 48 Preset Kits and 1,500 Voices (instruments) and includes a USB audio recorder as well as the ability to trigger one-shot samples or short phrases from USB flash memory, while the FGDP-30 has 18 customizable drum pads, 39 Preset Kits and 1,212 Voices. Both models include a Tap Tempo click function as well as an Aux in jack so you can play along with your favorite music, along with a USB to Host terminal that enables seamless transmission and reception of both MIDI and audio data.

    DM7 Series Digital Mixing Consoles

    Mixing board.
    DM7.
    Mixing board.
    DM7 Compact.

    DM7 Series digital mixing consoles provide unparalleled sound quality, ease of operation and high reliability that make them perfect for a wide range of applications, including live sound, broadcasting and streaming. The DM7 model is configured with 28 touch-sensitive motorized faders (12 + 12 channel plus 4 group) and provides 120 mono channel inputs, along with 32 analog inputs, 16 analog outputs and dual AES digital stereo input/output. The DM7 Compact model has 16 touch-sensitive motorized faders (12 + 4) with 72 mono channel inputs and 16 analog inputs/outputs, along with a stereo AES digital I/O. Both models are Dante-compatible and offer 500 recallable Scenes as well as onboard four-band fully parametric EQ and a variety of dynamics processing options such as compression, limiting, expansion, gate, ducking and de-esser. An optional CTL-DM7 control expansion module adds a variety of physical controls including two faders, 16 user-defined keys, four user-defined knobs and a jog wheel.

    62 Series And Custom Z Saxophones In New Finishes

    YAS-62IIIA.
    YAS-62IIIA in amber lacquer finish.
    YAS-82ZIIA.
    YAS-82ZIIA in amber lacquer finish.

    Yamaha 62 Series and Custom Z saxophones are designed to be as unique and special as the person playing it, combining a vintage aesthetic with high quality performance. At NAMM it was announced that the YAS-62III alto and YTS-62III tenor models will now be available in unlacquered finishes, along with the gold lacquer and silver-plated finishes already offered. Both, along with the Custom YAS-82ZII alto and YTS-82ZII tenor models (already offered in gold lacquer, black lacquer, silver-plated and unlacquered finishes), will also be available in a stunning amber lacquer finish that adds a touch of vintage charm, with hand engraving that provides a striking contrast against the original brass color. Stand out from the crowd!

     

     

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    See you at next year’s NAMM — and remember, if you can’t make the show in person, you can always catch the highlights here!

     

    For more information about these and other great Yamaha products shown at NAMM, click here.

    Master the Art of School Communication

    I once herd that the most problems between people are actually communicating problems. As teachers, we no that the majority of what we due involves communication. This communication must be clear. It should not be a bald-headed lie, and for all intensive purposes, it should pacifically attempts to wet our appetites for assimiliating information. (Sorry, I’ll stop taking your patients for granite here.)

    The paragraph above is a silly way to emphasize that accurate information (including spelling and grammar) is vital, but so is the frequency of communication. Here is my list of the most effective modes of communication in my program and when to use them.

    Communication Methods

    The methods of our communication matter. We must put our personal preferences aside and move to what the general population uses the most — and, of course, ensure that they are approved by our schools or districts. However, keep in mind that the most-used methods are also the most crowded. The methods listed below are how I deliver information to a larger group of people at once.

    woman holding cell phone

    Text Messages: Many schools have moved to text services such as Remind. I suggest text services for one-way communication and announcements from the program.

    Social Media: Social media can be an important way to reach people. However, the popular channels can be difficult to keep up with. By the time you have become familiar with a specific app, chances are that your students have moved on to something else. When using social media, it’s important to know your target audience. I have found that administrators prefer shorter form apps like X (formerly known as Twitter) and Threads, parents like Facebook, and students use Instagram, etc.

    Email: Email is still effective, but it continues to receive fewer and fewer responses and engagements from us. However, this is my school’s preferred method of communication, so many parents and students migrate over to this when we announce that we will be primarily using email.

    empty business-sized enveloped fanned out

    Physical Mailings: Do not dismiss the power of a piece of mail! There is, of course, some cost involved with mailings; but that being said, we get more people at a band parent meeting and better responses for concerts when I mail out a letter directly to families. For families who are non-native English speakers, I try to send a letter in their native tongue. I also typically add a line that apologizes for any translation issues. Some of our students move frequently, so make sure that your address book is updated.

    Rules for Communication

    How many times have you put information in a calendar at the beginning of the year, only to receive phone calls or emails a few months later asking when an event is happening? Or, even worse, a kid misses an event that was listed in the calendar? Your initial reaction is: “It was on the calendar.” However, here are some common observations:

    No one wants to do the same work twice; I get it. But some music teachers have this preconceived notion that everyone is as organized and on top of things as we have to be. They aren’t (and maybe some of us aren’t as organized as we think — I’m currently staring at a mess of a desk that I have had every intention of cleaning).

    Don’t Become Static Noise: Regular reminders are helpful, but we must approach these with balance. You don’t want to communicate so infrequently that items are missed, but you also do not want to communicate so much that you become background noise. I have found that a weekly posting on Monday works best. It’s simple, regular and reliable. I list the upcoming events for the next two weeks and include reminders about forms or obligations that are due.

    glasses on top of Spanish dictionary

    Translating Documents: We have a few options for translating documents. If there is a trusted colleague or parent who is bilingual, work with them to translate important documents. Depending on your program, you may benefit from creating a position within a parent club for this specific task. Of course, avoid having parents translate sensitive documents or make calls for private topics.

    Online translation services can work as well, and they have been getting a little better each year. Google Translate, ChatGPT or other AI services can translate documents that can be copied and pasted. They are not perfect, but many parents have told me that they appreciate getting the information in a manner that is easier for them to read.

    Release all documents at the same time. I put them all in an email, one translation right after the other. For paper documents, make them double-sided, with two languages on each side. This is additional time that ensures that all my students and families are receiving information that they can read.

    teacher at desk working on computer

    My Rules

    I have some self-imposed rules with my weekly updates.

    1. My updates are distributed on Monday. If Monday is a day off, I distribute the next day we are in session.
    2. Weekly updates cannot be longer than half a page.
    3. If I forget to add something, it must wait until the next posting unless it a) can affect a student’s grade or b) would end up costing someone money or time.
    4. Rule 3 can be broken for celebratory messages, such as students being accepted for major musical events.
    5. Events for the next two weeks are listed.
    6. The next major performance date is included in every weekly correspondence.
    7. Documents must be translated in order to effectively communicate with all of our families.

    Regular but non-obsessive communication helps the entire group, but it is also sensitive to the working schedules of my students and parents. Some of us reading this article may have schedules that rarely change. You may be able to say, “No, I can’t stay after school because I have to pick up my kids.”

    However, some of our students and parents do not have a regular schedule. Many of our families work hourly wage jobs and receive schedules two to four weeks in advance. One seemingly minor shift in one’s work schedule can create more work in other areas. If a parent normally works from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, they wouldn’t have a problem picking up their child from jazz rehearsal that ends at 6 p.m. However, if someone calls off or quits, and their boss says they have to stay an extra hour or two, they have to figure something out. They may be late, dinner will not be ready on time, the car will not be home for their other family member to use it for work, etc.

    This parent may have forgotten about jazz rehearsal until they received the weekly update. Once they see the message, however, they can communicate that their child may not be able to make rehearsal due to this change. Ultimately, teachers can help work out a ride or even excuse this student from the rehearsal to alleviate the family situation. The core of this problem and solution? Effective and timely communication.

    colorful school calendar
    by lateci / Adobe Stock

    Suggested Communication Schedule for Ensemble Programs

    As a father of multiple children, pandemic learning definitely altered my communication frequencies. I was getting over 30 messages a day regarding my children, and to be honest, I had to carve out time each day to read through these specific emails.

    Listed below is a suggested schedule of communication with the goal being that people are able to read the information in a timely manner.

    • Once a week: digital correspondence reminding students and parents of upcoming events and due dates.
    • Quarterly: physical mailings in either a memo or newsletter format.
      • Identify your four most important events or four groupings of events. Mail home the information on these events approximately 20 days before the event.
      • Physical mailings with my group get the best response. A letter mailed home with the school’s name on the envelope still holds some importance and priority.
      • I do not print many newsletters or emails. However if one is mailed directly to me? It goes right on the fridge or magnet board.
      • It’s redundant, but also email, text and post these mailings as well. Sometimes, people move and will not get the mailing right away. Other times, parents who are divorced may both be signed up for the emails but not the mailings. You can even send a text that says, “Please check your email for important updates regarding the solo and ensemble event.”
    • Once a semester: calendar reminders and updates. This is simply the calendar updated and printed with any important updates, deletions or additions.
    • As often as possible: good news, student highlights, music tips
      • These do not need to be required reading for parents and students, but it always helps to maintain a positive social media presence (if your district allows) with student highlights or snippets of good news in the music world.

    Effective communication remains the primary focus, regardless of the evolving channels and needs. Embracing a variety of methods — from digital platforms to traditional mail — ensures that we reach our families effectively. By maintaining a balance between regular updates and avoiding information overload, we can foster a more engaged and informed community.

    _____________________________________

    Serving the needs of all students by ensuring we implement translation services and sensitivity to the unique schedules and challenges faced by our families further exemplifies our commitment to inclusivity. Ultimately, the goal is to create an environment where information is not just disseminated, but also received and understood. As we continue to refine our communication tactics, let us remember that the heart of our success lies in our ability to connect, inform and inspire those we serve.

    Top Photo by bnenin / Adobe Stock

    Teach With Flow: Protect the Time You Have

    “Measures 17 to 24: melody, pay special attention to unifying our articulation. Here we go.”

    Group plays.

    “Thanks. Everything worked out fine, but let’s listen to clarinets and flutes only. Think about your fingerings: always, alternate, never slide. Here we go.”

    Flutes and clarinets play.

    “Thanks. Now just third clarinets: let’s take it slower and we’re only taking measures 19 and 20. Why?”

    “Because we go over the break there.”

    “Yes, correct, thank you. Here we go.”

    Thirds play. We rinse and repeat, taking it a bit slower and listening to some individuals. We build it back and have the flutes come back in, and then the rest of the band. We followed this format for a while.

    We are on track right now.

    We play measures 17 to 24 again. We are now one cosmic entity joined by music-making. The time seemingly stands still. However, several minutes have passed, and the bell is about to ring.

    “We’re done already?!” the kids ask.

    “Almost,” I say. “Let’s take one more run at this section, this time for balance. Are there any questions?”

    A trombone player: “Can I go to the bathroom?”

    ________________________________________

    There are two experiences in the classroom that I strive for. One of these experiences is the first time a group plays in tune and the room sings the pitch back to them. This usually happens around late first semester or early second semester if we’ve put the time into tone, balance and intonation. This is an irregular award for us. The first time is the most effective, and while the next step may not be as exciting, it is much appreciated: The concept of where we want our sound to be becomes the new norm that we strive for.

    elementary school orchestra
    Photo by Mustafa / Adobe Stock

    What is Flow?

    The other experience is flow. What is flow? Flow is that state of being where you are extremely focused, and time seemingly stands still or conversely it feels like it rushes by. You may have experienced a state of flow when you get lost in a great book or film or, to another degree, highway hypnosis. A trancelike state overtakes you. A state of flow can be rewarding. In some cases, it seems like we’re finally able to shut off the noise that is constantly rattling around our brains from external and internal sources. We are focused on the task at hand and not distracted by things that don’t matter or things that can’t be controlled at this moment. Flow can be difficult to create. Seemingly, the stars need to align, yet when you realize that you are in a state of flow, you can quickly fall out of this.

    There is another level to flow. Beyond the individual experience comes the group experience. Not only do we accomplish a lot when an entire group is in a state of flow, but we feel camaraderie and are connected to the human spirit. We often feel like we have created a space where people belong.

    We can find examples of flow in the professional world. Think about world-class athletic teams that just seem to be in tune with each other during a high-stakes game. I grew up watching the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s and was fortunate enough to witness Jordan, Pippen and others in this state of flow during their six championship runs. We, of course, hear, see and experience a state of flow during professional musical experiences. But flow isn’t just reserved for the pros. We can certainly strive to have flow as a regular visitor in our rehearsals.

    elementary school choir
    Photo by annebel146 / Adobe Stock

    Identifying Flow with the Students

    This is one of the hardest but also one of the most important concepts: We cannot force flow to come out at the beginning, but we can certainly create an environment where flow is welcome and will flourish. However, in a “which came first: the chicken or the egg” situation, once teachers notice flow happening, we must point it out to our students. And yes, sometimes that means sacrificing a little bit of flow at the beginning.

    The next time you notice that the group is firing on all cylinders, let them know. This does not have to last for a long period; you can certainly get into a state of flow for just a couple of minutes. But find a way to identify it and point out what happened while also relating to other experiences that students might have with flow. Ask questions: “Students, have you ever had a time where you got lost in what you were doing, whether it was reading, cooking, dancing, listening to music or even playing your instrument? What happened to the time? When deep into a good book or conversation with a friend, did you notice the world around you?”

    Now relate this to music. Maybe students have spoken to you before about being nervous about a concert, and then not realizing how quickly the concert was over. This is a state of flow — it may have been induced by nerves and fight-or-flight responses, but hey, we will take the analogies when we can get them.

    trumpet section during outdoor rehearsal
    Photo by Julian / Adobe Stock

    Forcing Flow

    Now I already said that we cannot force flow to come out at the beginning — but what I should have said that we can’t force it to come out easily. However, there are a few methods that we can use to get our students more focused, which in turn may coax out some flow.

    Try this: if there is a passage of music that is not quite there yet but within reach simply through repetition, set the stage for some almost trance-like work. This should be a section of music where everyone performs. If this does not exist in the music you have programmed, then consider using an exercise from a method book. For these exercises, break down a short chunk of music, maybe four to six bars. Go over a few intricacies — maybe the trumpets could use an alternate fingering on a specific note to adjust intonation without sacrificing their embouchure, or maybe explore some trill fingerings for the flutes.

    I set a metronome, quietly. I might even use an old pendulum-style metronome that requires students to focus to see or hear it. If I’m using the Yamaha Harmony Director, I turn down the volume as low as it can go while still being audible with no playing going on. And then, we begin about 20 clicks under tempo. If it’s successful the first time, I go up one click. If it’s a trainwreck and I know that it won’t get better with repetition (or that it might even be imprinted incorrectly if we keep going), then we stop and adjust. Then, we go back to the metronome.

    old-fashioned metronome

    We begin again 20 clicks below tempo, and we increase by one click for every single rep. We do not play on — we only play the designated measures. For younger groups, consider having students put Post-Its over the measures preceding and succeeding the bars you want to be played so the distraction is blocked out.

    There is little feedback in between reps, if any. Rather, I change the metronome to increase by one click. I signal the group, and we repeat it again. If any issues are moving faster, we simply repeat the measures at the current tempo at least one more time.

    When we’re about 10 clicks away from the target tempo, I notice that the group begins to get into a groove. They are not scattered, nor are they trying to distract each other, or, for what it’s worth, even paying attention to each other that much. They are focused on the task at hand. We keep moving — one click, one more click, eight more clicks. We are now at the target tempo, but I don’t tell them. I go at least four more clicks.

    When it gets challenging, particularly around four clicks above the target tempo for a quicker piece, I notice that students start to break a little bit. They get nervous because the segment gets more difficult. Some students laugh, others start to clench their instruments a little tighter. This is when I tell them that we are actually above tempo.

    “You traitor!” I hear from a trombone player. It’s always a trombone player, but I let it slide. And then we go back to the target tempo, where we can now play the measures with correct notes and rhythms at tempo. We then discuss our state of mind during this time.

    Admittedly, a few kids stated that they got a bit bored with it at first, but that pushing forward one click at a time consistently did put them in a state of focus. They forgot about their other classes for a bit, and their problems with friends, parents or home life.

    close up of a man with intense focus on his face

    Focus Isn’t Just Avoiding Distractions

    True focus in a music classroom goes beyond simply not being distracted or avoiding off-task behaviors. It’s about an active, intentional engagement with the music at hand. In this context, focus means fully immersing oneself in the nuances of the piece being played, understanding the interplay of different parts, and being mentally present in each note and rhythm.

    It’s not merely about students refraining from talking or not playing their instruments at inappropriate times; it’s about them actively listening, analyzing and contributing to the collective musical experience. It’s the difference between waiting your turn to play and actively listening to the tone the flutes are performing with, even if you’re a percussionist.

    Focus is when our students begin to adjust their volume and intonation to blend and balance with another part. In short, students become focused when they are guided to take more control over their learning and performance.

    Routines to Automate

    Establishing automated routines as students enter the classroom is essential to create an environment for focused learning and to minimize decision fatigue. Upon entry, students could encounter a clear agenda for the day’s lesson, displayed near the entrance or on a digital screen. This could include the pieces to be rehearsed, specific focus areas for the day (like rhythm or intonation), and any necessary preparation activities (like instrument tuning or warm-up exercises). By outlining these expectations immediately, students can transition from the general school environment to the focused and structured world of music learning.

    Additionally, standardized procedures for handling instruments and sheet music, such as designated areas for instrument cases and a consistent method for distributing and collecting music sheets, can streamline the start of class and reduce time spent on logistical details. These are routines we set up early and reinforce until they become automatic.

    teacher sitting at desk being interrupted

    Protect Classroom Time: Keep Interruptions to a Minimum

    I joked in the intro about students being hyper-focused and not even realizing that the bell was about to ring. We were still in a state of flow, and then all the walls came crashing down when a kid asked to use the bathroom.

    These situations will happen at times. Use your best judgment, but in my experience, people, including students, counselors, other teachers, phone calls, emails, etc. will interrupt as much of your class as you allow them to interrupt. Some interruptions are unavoidable: if a fire alarm goes off or an intruder drill begins, sorry — these are more important than staying in your state of flow.

    When I have a guest clinician out, I let the administration and supervisors know. Magically, we don’t get many interruptions that day. If this is possible with a special guest, then it’s certainly possible during our regular rehearsals (which must be treated just as special as those with out-of-town guests!).

    Yes, it’s important to understand that everyone has a job to do. A counselor sending a call slip during your class is just trying to help a student out. A phone call during rehearsal to send a kid to pick up their lunch is important — we all have to eat. Yet, we can also work within our network to adjust or even avoid some of these interruptions. For frequent call slips, I have contacted the counselors and told them exactly what I wrote above: We’re all trying to get a job done. Yet, I politely asked if the call slips, except for emergencies, could wait until after class, or even if they could be distributed equally among classes. We were able to work out an agreement that didn’t just take from the band.

    What Do You Do When You Get There?

    Enjoy it! A state of flow can be difficult to describe, but it can be one of the most rewarding states that an artist or consumer of art can experience. We are showing students that it is possible in today’s hyper-multitasked world that yes, we can focus on one thing, and we can focus deeply.

     

    Don’t Get Trapped by “The Checklist”

    Many music educators subscribe to a success checklist. You’re not worthy until you’ve completed the gauntlet.

    Swap these milestones with ones that are relevant to your discipline:

    • State-Level Recognition: Your group must be accepted for the state music organization festival, but only in concert band, concert choir and concert orchestra. You know, the “legitimate” areas.
    • Auxiliary Ensembles: Once you’ve earned a spot at state, you can then consider your auxiliary ensembles, or “non-legit” ensembles, such as jazz, madrigals, chamber orchestras or vocal jazz. You’ll get a smaller room to perform in, but hey, it’s a plaque that says you got there! (Note: this does not apply to marching band. See the next point).
    • Competitive Milestones: If you have a marching band or show choir, you then must begin placing at contests. You can start at small shows, but then you must move on to a state show. Not that “state” show; the other state show.
    • Next-Level Aspirations: You will then go back to your concert ensemble and explore a number of other options that will instantly be recognized as the “next” level. They should have “National” in their name. If a “World” or “Galaxy” exists, or even “Omniverse,” consider skipping straight to this.
    trophy and medals
    • Individual Achievements: I hope you haven’t forgotten about your individual musicians! If a state district level exists, this is just the first step. Also, you must get more than two students in — one just doesn’t cut it. Also, at least one or two must go to state. Also, you must do this at the same time as marching band. Also, if you teach choir, triple the number of students you are expected to have at district and state. In fact, only program the district and state pieces with your ensemble.
    • Organizational Politics: If you teach middle school, you are OK to go to the grade school association contests. But if you teach high school, you may be looked down upon if you attend the state education associations version of a music contest (does not apply to Texas and Indiana). Pull out of these organizations as soon as possible, and if you can’t, begrudgingly participate at the lowest possible level while continuing to try to convince your administration that the “real” organization for music is the other one.
    • Networking but Not Really: Attend your state and national music festivals. Look people right in the nametag and then determine whether you give them your eyes or keep walking. Note: carefully peel off your “performer” ribbon from previous years and stick on your current badge. They must not forget what you’ve done!
    • The Commission: If selected for a state or national honor, you must commission a work for one of your events. You may or may not ever play this work again, but it must be commissioned and your name must be on the music.
    • The Cycle: Completed everything? Rinse and repeat. You’re only as good as your last major success! Oh yeah, and don’t forget about the kids. Let them have a pizza party or something.
    • Do All This in 10 to 15 Years: If these items don’t occur within your first 15 years of teaching, you will be an utter failure, a late bloomer or the dreaded “you know, they’re a nice person.”

    Now imagine going back and doing The Checklist over again, but this time you should be able to do it all at once. Those who don’t or can’t do this? “Well, they’re just collecting a paycheck.” “They used to be good — what happened to them?”

    Maybe some music educators did get lazy. And, maybe those who did complete The Checklist aren’t so bad. It’s those who do The Checklist expecting it to offer them some inner peace and sanctum who may come up empty-handed. The Checklist varies according to your location, discipline and expectations.

    photo art of large bubble that reflects the scene of a person standing in field

    The Illusion of Prestige

    So, you’re not a part of the club who has their ensemble selected for something. Is this really a tragedy? Why do these milestones become our identity? The irony is, often we only realize how trivial these achievements are after we’ve accomplished them.

    “It’s not about the trophy, kids! I can say that because we already got the trophy!” As with most major projects and journeys, the “why” matters. On the one hand, some of the more successful programs have teachers who have followed The Checklist journey and as a result have programs that have flourished. The students and teachers utilized The Checklist to reach a set standard and then replaced this competitive model with what they deemed to be more worthwhile performances. In other words, these programs evolved.

    But what about those who seemingly can’t escape the competitive grind? First, we must look at what hidden traps occur when we carelessly chase and repeat The Checklist as a cycle.

    Chasing Validation Over Substance: The allure of prestigious events and awards can sidetrack educators from the core purpose of teaching: enriching students’ lives through music. But hey, those trophies look really nice in the office!

    Limited Perspective: Strict adherence to The Checklist may narrow an educator’s view, overlooking non-traditional or less recognized but equally enriching paths in music education. Some teachers state they attend different contests or festivals regularly, but if the goal and intention remain the same, we are just swapping out a location.

    woman sitting at desk with head in her hands

    Burnout: Trying to achieve every milestone on The Checklist can be exhausting and may lead to professional burnout, diminishing both your music program and you.

    Resource Drain: Focusing solely on achieving checklist milestones often requires significant financial and time investment, which could be used for more individualized, beneficial educational experiences. The resources required to complete The Checklist may not be equally accessible for all schools or communities. There’s just not enough money or time in many cases.

    Neglected Innovation: The pressure to conform to established norms can stifle creativity and discourage educators from experimenting with new teaching methods or musical styles. Guidelines can be helpful and encouraging, but pushing to the next level is also rewarding. Music theory one: learn the norms. Music theory two: learn how to break the norms and have a little more fun!

    Student Disengagement: An unwavering focus on prestige can make students feel like mere steppingstones for the teacher’s career goals rather than individuals with their own musical journeys.

    Overemphasis on Competition: Some may see The Checklist as a strictly competitive mindset. Competition is necessary. Chances are if you are reading this, you had to compete for the position you are in by applying and interviewing for your job. Our students must compete to understand at least a base level of preparing and meeting a standard. Yet, competitive opportunities can be balanced with a collaborative, community-based learning environment.

    Exclusivity: Achieving milestones on The Checklist can sometimes rely on gatekeeping and politics, creating an environment where only certain types of programs or students get opportunities.

    despondent man lying in bed

    Lost Joy: The pressure to tick off items from a predefined list can sap the joy and spontaneity of teaching and making music for educators and students alike. That’s right: It’s OK to focus on having some joy. If we are only happy when we are getting applause or recognition, we may have some reflecting to do.

    Are you feeling called out? Good. But let’s get one thing straight: If The Checklist pumps you up, go for it! But if it makes you feel less than, or you’re contemplating a career pivot, give yourself the freedom to explore other paths. But most importantly, ask why?

    I’m not demonizing these organizations or their checklists. What I am challenging is this almost cult-like mindset that you’re worthless if you don’t accomplish all these things. And why are we all so desperate for external validation? Is that really what all the applause has done to us? If our program is on the chopping block, I get it: save it by any means possible and show the powers that be that the outside experts (anyone who’s out of town) value us. But if we’re trophy hunting and just collecting plaque after plaque and chasing the high, maybe our priorities are out of whack.

    Job Descriptions and Blank Slates

    Many districts aren’t so regulated when it comes to music program expectations. In the case of music program requirements, think of them this way: your job description is the minimum of what you must uphold. It’s not a restriction. Does your contract say “five home football games and three concerts?” Sounds like an endless amount of possibility, a blank slate if you will.

    Make a New Checklist

    The Checklist is not inherently bad. It can help improve your program. But it’s not the “be-all and end-all.” There are alternative ways to build up your groups and enrich your students’ experiences. So, if you are feeling like an outsider looking in, let it go. Consider your checklist. Strip away the current expectations. If alternative approaches are necessary, where can you start?

    What does success look like for your groups? This is a crucial question. We are not asking “what is easiest for our kids to achieve” or “what contests could my kids go and win?” Rather, this is an important first step in turning intentions around. If the current intentions are for the teacher’s gain, we are looking at intentions being shifted to a new checklist — a checklist that focuses on desirable student outcomes. And what are these desirable student outcomes? Those are for you to find out with your program — after all, you know your kids, school and community best. Below are a few samples of some possible events but be careful of turning this into the “anti-competitive director checklist” (there is always some other trap, isn’t there?).

    Host Guest Artists and Clinicians: Invite guest artists to conduct workshops, masterclasses or collaborative performances. This enriches your program and offers students valuable mentorship opportunities. Invite clinicians to work with your group — even if you aren’t heading to a festival! This will hands-down be one of the most effective things you can do to promote musical growth in you and your ensemble. In my time, I’ve had professional trumpet players, clarinet players, local community bands, vocalists and even a frame drummer from Syria perform with my groups.

    Invite Groups for Home Concerts: Similar to above, but this time, the guest group is the main event. Bring in groups to perform specialized concerts at your school. This provides a unique and intimate performance experience and can even feature your students as opening acts. You may have seen some groups do this with service bands or well-known vocal groups.

    concert orchestra and choir on stage

    Trips to Professional Performances: Take students to see professional performances, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to ignite their passion for music and offer them a new point of reference for excellence. We do a yearly trip to the symphony. We stop at a pizza restaurant first and then enjoy the performance. The next few days are always filled with kids in the practice rooms.

    Out-of-State Travel with Combined Concerts: Coordinate trips to perform joint concerts with students from other states, providing an enriching and culturally diverse experience.

    Push for Chamber Music and Non-Traditional Ensembles: Promote smaller, specialized ensembles like chamber music groups or non-traditional setups. These offer students a focused and intimate setting for musical development. In most cases, nothing is stopping you from turning one of your concerts into a chamber concert; the main groups can play a piece or two, and then the majority of the concert is composed of smaller ensembles showcasing their hard work.

    Community Events: I cannot overstate the importance of community events. Early in my career, I often looked at some of these events with contempt, particularly if a local small-town festival conflicted with a marching band rehearsal right before a big show. This time of year was often a divide because I knew what I was doing was best for program growth, but the kids and community wanted more involvement with the town festival besides just playing a few numbers and leaving. So, one year I bit the bullet, and we went hard at our local fest. This 30-minute performance became our priority, and we treated it like a themed concert with guest artists, audience participation, you name it. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable events we did and drove home to the kids (and director) how much we could serve our community through music.

    marching band on football field

    Revamping Your Marching Band Show: If you don’t compete in marching band, use the freedom to create a unique, multi-faceted show for football games, allowing for creative exploration and community engagement. The rules at a football game for the marching band are pretty much just “start playing at this time and stop playing at this time.” Nothing is stopping you from staging the ensemble anywhere in the stadium, including an up close and personal experience in the bleachers. Our famous move is the “push to the fence.” We start on the field, and by the end of the performance, we’re right in the audience’s faces along with the cheerleaders and poms, and they love it.

    State Organization Opportunities and Colleges: Don’t overlook the opportunities provided by your state’s music organization. Whether it’s entering your students in composition contests, sending them to future music educator seminars or attending workshops yourself, these can be valuable ways to broaden both your perspective and that of your students. Additionally, more colleges are beginning their own honor bands or festivals. The smaller festivals have the advantage of students being able to connect more with the conductor and organizers, and other students.

    person pounding gavel

    Who’s Judging?

    In the end, no one’s truly holding your feet to the fire except, perhaps, you. If you’re chasing after the validation of people who aren’t invested in what you’re doing, is it worth it?

    So, if The Checklist is your current life narrative, maybe it’s time for some soul-searching. Reevaluate what really matters in your career and consider giving yourself the liberty to define success in your own way. We aren’t lowering standards. In fact, a hard reality is that this defining success for your students will actually require a little more work, particularly if there isn’t a predetermined model. But ask yourself: Are you and your students worth this reflection, planning, and work? I think so.

    Increase Your Positivity with the 3:1 Ratio

    The first time I heard of the praise-to-criticism ratio I was in college working on completing a co-op. While my advisors mentioned this concept time and time again, I didn’t fully understand its implications until I began teaching in my own classroom and private studio.

    The praise-to-criticism ratio is the amount of positive feedback you give compared to criticism. It’s also called the 3:1 ratio because this is the ideal balance of feedback you give, according to a 2013 Harvard Business Review article on team performance. And what is classroom music if not a team performance?

    happy elementary school music class
    Photo by lordn / Adobe Stock

    Why it Works

    Speaking from experience, the 3:1 ratio works because it makes students feel encouraged and safe. Music is an especially vulnerable topic because it’s an art. This is why harnessing the power of the criticism-to-praise ratio is an essential facet to help teach young artists.

    • The 3:1 ratio reaches the very root of our psychology by helping improve motivation.
    • Feedback is personal, and this keeps the energy in your classroom positive.
    • You become a safe person to perform around.
    • It fills up your bucket or emotional bank account. In a classroom, we often talk about making students bucket-fillers rather than bucket-emptiers. But teachers need to be bucket-fillers, too. In the corporate workplace, they use the term “emotional bank account” rather than buckets. But it all refers to the same thing — no matter the situation, you can’t go wrong with an extra dose of positivity.
    happy student

    How to Enact it

    It can be more difficult than it sounds to come up with primarily positive feedback, but here are some tips on how to up your ratio.

    • Notice the good in whatever they just played. You can notice the good in whatever your student just played, even if they didn’t play anything right at all. You could say, “I love how you kept going even though it got tough.” Make a point to be positive first, and then correct the technique afterward.
    • View student mistakes with an open mind. Smile, celebrate, and explore first. Some people say a mistake is a mistake, but sometimes, a mistake is a discovery. Did your private string student accidentally hit a harmonic? Then use it as a moment to celebrate and educate. Talking about the difference between whatever they played rather than what you intended doesn’t have to be criticism. Then use the last quarter of your feedback to get the sound you intended them to play.

    Here are other ways you can offer positive feedback and make your students more receptive to the feedback we are about to give.

    • Celebrate improvement.
    • Support effort.
    • Notice their personal musical choices (dynamic choices, articulation, dynamics).

    If your classroom is having a really rough day, and you can’t find three positive things, discuss neutral things like the history behind the piece. If you completely run out of words, you can even open up the dialogue and ask the classroom as a whole to name three good things about what just happened.

    woman setting up camera to record herself

    The Power of Recording Yourself

    Recording ourselves practicing music is a common way to learn how we really sound on an instrument, but what if we apply the same concept to teaching? When I recorded myself teaching, I realized that I wasn’t using the 3:1 ratio (or 75/25) correctly — my praise-to-criticism ratio was closer to 60/40.

    Try it! Recording yourself teaching and tally the types of feedback you give. Even if you just do this exercise once a week, it’ll make a difference. At least, it did for me!

    despondent child after being reprimanded

    Be Mindfully Critical, Not Negative

    If we left out constructive criticism, every performance would be at risk of becoming an amalgamation of disorganized sound. But notice how I said constructive and not negative. Negativity has no part in the praise-to-criticism ratio.

    • Use a neutral voice and friendly body language. If your students see you holding your breath with your arms crossed, they likely know that what you’re going to say isn’t going to be positive. So, when offering constructive criticism, keep your body language and tone in mind.
    • Give the student a chance to point out the areas for improvement. Another way to progress through a difficult passage is to ask students to tell you what they could fix. Having students self-reflect is an excellent teaching tool.
    • Tell it how it is. Mistakes are mistakes, but corrections in technique don’t need to have big emotions tied to them.

    What’s Going on at Home?

    If you start fixating on a student’s performance instead of celebrating that it’s happening, you are striking the wrong note. Some students come from environments where they get 50/50 positive/negative feedback or worse. Teachers involved in the performing arts must be a beacon of positivity so students can feel comfortable enough to learn and perform, but also so they can be happy. An individualized approach to teaching the arts is a must.

    I feel this method is especially important during transitionary years like junior high. As the world continues to change around your students, aim to give them consistency.

    Some psychological studies have found better success with 5:1, 6:1, or even 7:1 ratios. Regardless, it’s essential that music teachers give out more positive words and fewer critical ones.

    chalkboard with drawings of happy, neutral and sad faces

    Try It!

    Some argue that the 3:1 ratio isn’t backed by science. The problem is that there have been relatively few studies on the 3:1 ratio.

    However, if changing the praise-to-criticism ratio has proven to lower divorce rates and increase workplace happiness, why wouldn’t it work in the classroom?

    Besides, I’ve found that this concept is best experienced first-person.

    Consider adding the 3:1 ratio into your classroom to help foster creativity, resilience, and a sense of safety in your room. Early musical experiences can set the tone for a lifetime. So, fill up your students’ buckets — and yours — with a little extra positivity.

     

    The Life of a Drum Tech

    Behind every great drummer is a great drum tech. Simply put, a drum tech’s job is to set up and maintain drum kits. But there’s more to it than that. A tech’s real job is to anticipate an artist’s needs and mitigate any problems — preferably before they arise — that interfere with a musician’s ability to record a track or play a show.

    In the case of a drum tech, this can be as simple as making sure there are enough sticks in the stick bag, taping a setlist down or tuning the drums, or as involved in designing and ordering new kits or dealing with vendors and suppliers around the world. But more than anything else, the biggest part of the job comes down to understanding the psychology of the player. A good tech will know what to say (or what not to say) before a performance to help their artist get into the zone. I’ve often said that the technical aspect of what I do (and it can get very technical) is only about 10% of the job and the rest is dealing with the people. No matter how difficult the gig, the former is far easier to learn than the latter.

    WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DRUM TECH AND A ROADIE?

    Some people in my profession dislike the term “roadie,”  but telling a random member of society that I am a “drum tech” will often garner the same reaction as showing a card trick to a dog. However, saying “roadie” will at least spark a small reaction of understanding. I do find that for a lot of us, “roadie” is used internally (among friends and industry folk) while “tech” is a term reserved for the public. In the past, you’d probably differentiate between the two by whether someone was skilled/knowledgeable or just a roadcase-pusher, but as the jobs have gotten more and more complicated (and the shows more expensive) you won’t really find anyone on tour who isn’t a part-time IT specialist. (I’m only kind of joking about that last bit.)

    A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DRUM TECH

    A drum tech is the last in and first out at any show. By that I mean that out of 30 to 100 people on a decently sized tour, I am the last one to start my work and will typically be the first one finished. That may sound like an easy gig, but my workday is generally “only” about 14 hours long. I roll out of the tour bus at around 8:00 in the morning and wander my way into the venue to look for a restroom and find coffee and breakfast. The rest of the crew is already hard at work when I shuffle in, and have been for an hour or two.

    At 10:00-ish I’ll get a radio call from the stage manager that our truck is ready to be unloaded. Our backline truck (“backline” is the generic term for band gear) also stores the monitor system, which takes up about half of the 53 feet of available space. Along with the other backline techs (the guitar techs, bass techs, etc.), we’ll round up a few local stagehands and get the gear up onto the stage. If we’re lucky, we’ll actually have room to set up but more often than not, the stage will still be covered in lighting truss and video panels. Oh well, back for more coffee. By noon we’ll have access to the stage and I’ll be able to start assembling the drum kit. In the case of Def Leppard, the drums travel already set up, bolted to a plate, and transported in a very large road case. Once the kit is lifted onto the drum riser I’ll patch in the computer racks and power things up. A quick tap check of the drum triggers will tell me if everything is working properly. If so, I can move on to general maintenance — things like changing heads as needed, wrapping drum sticks and making sure things didn’t loosen up on last night’s drive. If anything is broken, I’ll have about an hour to get it fixed.

    At 2:30, the sound and backline crew will convene for a line check to make sure everything plays correctly and sounds good, both on stage and out front. I’ll go through and play each drum one at a time until I get the OK from the audio people to move on to the next one. I’ll then check the “playback” system, which in my case is a most definitely overly complicated computer system that plays a click track for the drummer and sync time code for the video department. (If you ever wonder how the video lines up so well with all of the music cues at a show, it’s because the drummer is listening to a click.)

    Once the line check is done, I’ll finish cleaning things up (vacuuming the riser, perhaps polishing the cymbals) and wait for Rick Allen to stop by to either look things over or do a sound check. After that, I kill time (more coffee) until about an hour before the show. From then until the final encore, I’m in show mode. I’ll double-check my set lists and notes, as well as all of the hardware and electronics one more time, and then it’s off to the races once the intro song starts.

    Since Rick plays a lot of electronics, I run the computers during the show and will handle patch changes as well as monitoring the triggers during each song and making adjustments on the fly. Because I also handle song intros and time code, I have to be as close to perfect as possible. There are few things that suck worse than having 20,000 people (as well as the five onstage) turn around and look at you because you messed up. As soon as the last song is done, I hop up on the riser to grab Rick’s in-ear monitors and tell him he played great (because 99.9% of the time he did).

    Then, as the band walks down to the stage edge to take a bow, the chaos of loadout begins.

    Actually, by the time the band leaves the stage, all of my gear, minus the kit, is already on its way to the truck. Because time is money and every minute I waste getting my stuff out of the way is one less minute the lighting crew gets to sleep (their day is a lot longer than my mere 14 hours), all our stuff is designed to move out in a hurry. On a normal run-of-the-mill gig, it only takes 30 minutes from the band saying goodnight to the backline/monitor truck rolling out of the dock. (Our best time was 16 minutes!)

    Once the truck doors close, I am technically done for the day and will then turn my attention to finding a beverage and having a show post-mortem with the rest of the crew, talking about what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to be fixed or changed before the next show. Sometime between 1 and 2 in the morning, I’ll roll back into my bunk on the bus and fall asleep before waking up to do it all over again.

    THE STEPS TO BECOMING A SUCCESSFUL DRUM TECH

    If you want to become a drum tech, the best thing you can do is to be prepared for everything. By that, I mean be ready to for things to break and have a solution to fix them. If your drummer hits hard or has a lead foot, have a spare snare tuned up and ready to go, along with a backup kick drum pedal within arms reach. (Actually, even if they hit light, have those ready.) Study your player and their performances. I can often tell when there’s an issue with the hardware based on how Rick is playing. If something that is normally really busy is now super-simple, I’ll scan the kit to see if something is loose or broken. If I’m on my game, I’ll already be on the way up the riser with a replacement before Rick can turn around to get my attention.

    Which brings me to suggestion #2: Always be paying attention. I’ve done entire tours where I haven’t seen a frame of the video content … and I’m sitting right in front of the video wall. I do gigs the same way I drive, constantly scanning back and forth (like checking my mirrors).

    Last but not least: don’t get an ego about it: You’re there to help the artist create their art, not the other way around.

    TIPS FOR THE DRUM TECH

    1. Make sure the lugs are tight to the shells

    If you can’t get a shell to tune no matter what you do, I’ll bet that the hardware is loose on the inside. The first thing I do with any new (to me) kit is to pull the shells apart and inspect the mounts because this can considerably cut down the amount of time you can spend chasing your tail when time really does matter. If you like a more “open” sound to a kick drum but still want to tighten things up a bit, cut a small 5- or 6-inch square of terrycloth or microfiber cloth and tape it to the center of the inside of the front head. This will slow the head down a bit and yield a lower/punchier tone. Oh, and tune for the mic/audience, not for how it sounds for you. An open/ring-y tone might be great when you’re right in front of the drum but might sound horrible out front and create real problems for the Front of House engineer. Remember, your FOH person is there to make you sound good, so don’t fight them when they tell you something isn’t working.

    2. Bring some must-haves to every show

    The must-haves for me are probably a little different than most as USB thumb drives aren’t a requirement for everyone, but here’s what every drum tech should bring to every show:

    • Drum keys. Not one, lots of them. Have one in every pocket.
    • A good multi tool. I use Gerber but a Leatherman will do just as well; having quick access to a pair of pliers and a knife is super important when you’re in a hurry.
    • Gaffer’s tape. Get a roll or two of the good stuff: 2-inch black and 2-inch white. You can solve almost any issue (or at least get through a song) with this!
    • Moongel damper pads. Some folks love them, some don’t. If you find them to be tone killers, cut them in half … or, and this is a total secret weapon, check out a Snareweight M80 drum damper. Instant killer snare and tom tones!
    • A set of Allen keys (metric and standard). Nothing is worse than that one random piece coming loose on a kick drum pedal and realizing that no one has the proper tool to tighten it back up.
    • A DrumDial™ drum tuner. I don’t use them much these days but if you’re in a loud environment, one of these can really save a lot of time in getting your drums close to being in tune.

    Time to get ready for the next gig!

    How USB DAC Works in Yamaha Network Hi-Fi Receivers

    Whenever you listen to streaming music, you are actually hearing a bunch of ones and zeroes.

    Sound crazy? Crazy it may be, but it’s true. In this posting, we’ll describe how it all works and explain how an important function called USB DAC delivers optimum sound when enjoying music through a Yamaha R-N800A, R-N1000A or R-N2000A Network Hi-Fi receiver.

    What Is a DAC?

    Sound — all sound — begins as a movement of air. (That’s why there’s no sound in space, despite some science fiction movies depicting otherwise.) These vibrations are detected by the human ear and are converted by mechanisms in the inner ear into minute electrical signals that travel up our auditory nerves to our brain, where they are perceived as sound.

    In the late 19th century, inventors (including, of course, Thomas Edison — the most famous of them all) developed a means for transforming the movement of air into an electrical signal which could then be etched on a wax cylinder or vinyl disk. Because the resultant signal closely resembled the original, it was termed an “analog.”

    But as the delivery medium for recorded sound evolved from the vinyl record to magnetic tape to digital files, the processes required to get that initial vibration from its source to its final destination (our ears) have become increasingly convoluted. And with the advent of digital recording in the 1970s (the delivery medium of choice to this very day), things got even more complicated.

    The illustration below shows the entire process. First, the original movement of air is converted by a microphone to an equivalent (analog) electrical signal. That signal is then sent to an electronic component called an analog-to-digital converter (ADC or A/D for short), which looks at (“samples”) the signal many thousands of times per second (the “sampling rate”) and produces a series of equivalent ones and zeroes (digits). During the recording process, these can then be further processed digitally before getting stored to the Cloud or to a hard drive, flash drive or other physical medium.

    When it comes time to listen to the audio, the stream of digits is fed to its opposite component: a digital-to-analog converter (DAC or D/A for short), which changes it back to an analog electrical signal, which is then routed to a loudspeaker, headphones or earbuds … which converts it back to the physical vibrations of air that we finally perceive as a sound.

    Diagram.

    USB DAC

    The three Yamaha network Hi-Fi receiver models mentioned above — the R-N800A, R-N1000A and R-N2000A — offer a special USB DAC function via the USB B-type connector on their rear panel, as shown below. This allows you to make a direct digital connection between your computer and the input of the receiver’s DAC when you’re ready to stream audio from your personal music library or favorite streaming service.

    Screenshots.

    These receiver models offer an ultra-precision dedicated crystal clock that supports DSD 11.2 MHz native playback and 384 kHz playback. In the R-N800A and R-N1000A, it’s provided by an ESS SABRE ES9080Q Ultra DAC, while the flagship R-N2000A model has an ESS SABRE ES9026PRO Ultra DAC for the ultimate in high-performance conversion.

    These models also provide full support for Yamaha MusicCast wireless whole-house technology, making them compatible with a variety of streaming services such as Amazon Music HD® and Spotify®. You can also use MusicCast to stream Apple Music® with Airplay 2®, and you can easily listen to music anywhere in your home by linking and controlling various MusicCast devices from just one app on your smart device.

    The Importance of Master Clock

    If you’re just listening to music on the same device it’s originating from — i.e., directly from your computer or from a receiver that’s wirelessly connected to a streaming service — the internal clock in that one device is determining how frequently the digits are fed to the onboard DAC.

    But if you’ve got two digital devices connected to one another — for example, a computer and a receiver — it’s critical that both be following the same clock (a “master” clock). If each device is following its own clock — even if the devices are trying to synchronize the clocks to one another — the audio quality of the signal can get degraded and the image blurred (“smeared”) due to a phenomenon called “jitter.” The technicalities of this are beyond the scope of this article, but if you value good audio, rest assured that jitter is something to be avoided.

    The Yamaha Steinberg USB Driver

    The Macintosh Operating System (MacOS) built into Apple computers includes a high-performance low-latency driver called CoreAudio that handles clocking issues efficiently thanks to a feature called Aggregate Devices, which treats multiple sound cards and interfaces as a single audio device. However, this is not something that’s built into the native ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) driver that’s part of Windows.

    But the Yamaha Steinberg USB driver provides an elegant, and free, fix. Simply download it into your Windows laptop or desktop; when you then plug your computer into an R-N800A, R-N1000A or R-N2000A via the USB DAC connector, the PC automatically stops using its internal clock and allows the receiver to take full control of all timing issues.

    Screenshot.

    Moreover, the receiver will be pulling signal off the computer only when it needs to. Instead of two clocks trying to sync up to one another, there’s one highly accurate clock (the one based in the receiver), and it only takes control while you’re playing back audio.

    And that’s how USB DAC works in the R-N800A, R-N1000A and R-N2000A: Jitter issues and image smearing gone. In their place? Pristine audio.

     

    Learn more about the Yamaha R-N800A, R-N1000A and R-N2000A Network Hi-Fi Receivers.

    Nylon-String vs. Steel-String Guitars

    With the start of another new year, we often make resolutions to lose weight, start a workout regime, learn a new language, or take on an exciting hobby that we’ve always wanted to try.

    While learning to play the guitar won’t help you shed the extra holiday pounds, it will immerse you in the resonant frequencies of a beautiful art form that enhances overall health and the joyous pursuit of musical self-expression. Music is also an incredible language with global appeal, understanding and appreciation.

    Is it easy to learn the guitar? Well, it can be, depending on your dedication to the process and utilization of the right educational tools. But probably the biggest factor is choosing the guitar that’s best suited to your personal needs. There are three main types of six-string guitar: electric, acoustic steel-string, and acoustic nylon-string. Of course, certain musical styles lend themselves to certain guitar types. (Trying to play heavy metal on a nylon-string acoustic guitar, for example, may not be the best way to go.) That said, pretty much everything you learn as a guitar player can be articulated on any of the three.

    In this posting, we’ll concentrate on the two acoustic guitar types and explore the physical and musical differences between them. A good understanding of this will allow you to make a better-informed decision when you’re ready to buy your first — or your next — guitar.

    Physical Attributes

    Steel-string guitars

    Acoustic steel-string guitars come in a variety of body sizes, neck widths and scale lengths. The shorter the scale length (that is, the shorter the distance between the nut and the bridge), the less tension there will be on the strings, which is definitely a good thing for beginners.

    Steel-string guitars range in size from parlor size (the smallest) to orchestra, concert, grand auditorium, dreadnought and Jumbo (the largest). Choosing the right body size for your physical frame is very important for a beginner. If the guitar overpowers you in volume and size, consider choosing a smaller body style like a parlor or concert body guitar. Conversely, if the guitar feels too small for you and the strings seem too close together for your fingers and hands, consider a larger guitar body size and neck width.

    Acoustic steel-strings have two plain (unwrapped) strings: the high E and the B. The remaining four strings are wound with a bronze or phosphor bronze winding. Wound (wrapped) strings have a light ridge and texture to them, as opposed to unwrapped strings, which have no ridge and a smooth texture.

    Steel-string guitars have a higher string tension than their nylon-string counterparts, and this may initially make them harder to play, especially if you’re using thick string gauges and the instrument is not set up correctly. Ideally, you’ll want to find a guitar that has low action, meaning that the strings are close to the fretboard, allowing your fingers to easily press them down onto the frets, so the notes sound clean without your having to exert too much pressure or effort. Players with small hands may opt to choose a steel-string with a slimmer neck profile, such as Yamaha CSF Series guitars.

    Steel-string guitars are usually played with a plectrum (guitar pick), which adds a nice percussive sound to the rhythmic delivery of chordal passages and lead lines. As you progress as a player, you’ll also want to learn how to use your fingers to pick individual strings — a technique appropriately enough known as fingerpicking.

    Nylon-string guitars

    Beginners often find nylon-string guitars (also known as classical or Spanish guitars) easier to play and physically more manageable than steel-string guitars. Unlike steel-string guitars, nylon-string guitars are predominantly the same size and generally have the same scale length. If set up correctly, a shorter scale length (and lower string tension — see below) will definitely help the beginner in playing single notes as well as chord shapes.

    On these instruments, the top three strings (high E, B and G) are made of nylon and have a low tension, so they require a softer touch than their steel-string counterparts. The lower three strings (D, A, low E) are lightly wound, so they offer a lower tension and have a lighter ridge and smoother texture than wound steel-string versions.

    The overall volume of nylon-string instruments will almost always be softer than that of a steel-string, and players often adopt a fingerstyle approach on these guitars. You can strum a nylon guitar, but generally this is done with the nails on the picking hand, not a pick. The overall sound will be percussive in nature, but it will be gentler and less defined than that of a steel-string acoustic.

    Traditional classical nylon-string guitars also have a wider fretboard, with a flat fingerboard radius. Having more room between the strings may help players with larger hands. Smaller students may opt for a nylon-string guitar with a non-traditional neck width such as Yamaha NTX Series instruments.

    Sonic Differences

    As mentioned previously, all musical genres can be performed on either steel-string or nylon-string guitars. However, each will lend itself toward specific types of music due to the tone and feel those guitars elicit.

    Typical genres played on nylon-string acoustic guitars would be:

      • Pop
      • Jazz
      • Latin
      • Classical
      • Flamenco

    Typical genres played on steel-string acoustics include:

      • Pop
      • Rock
      • Blues
      • Country
      • Bluegrass
      • Folk

    My advice is that you take into account the sound, playability and overall musical approaches you lean towards before making a final decision on the guitar that might work best for you.

    I also suggest finding a nylon- and steel-string guitar of the same body size to try side-by-side. Hold each instrument and see which one feels more comfortable in your hands. If you’re not able to play guitar yet, have the store staff audition the instruments for you, and ask them to demonstrate the differences we’ve discussed here before making a purchase.

    The Videos

    Here are two videos that demonstrate the tonal differences and breadth of styles these instruments can achieve.

    Nylon-String Demo

    Nylon-string guitar is perfect for the classical Spanish flavor of the music in this video. Playing this on a steel-string could work, but would sound less authentic and be slightly harder to play.

    Steel-String Demo

    A blues tune always sounds so good on a steel-string acoustic! There’s just something pure, raw and unapologetic about the emotional content in this genre. Playing slide on a nylon-string guitar just wouldn’t work. The extra string tension and crisp tone of the steel strings allow the slide to really sing out in a musically satisfying way.

    The Guitars

    The Yamaha CG-TA TransAcoustic nylon-string and the CSF3M steel-string guitars featured in these videos are roughly the same size, so I thought that would make for a fair comparison, while displaying the vast difference in tone and musical style of each instrument.

    Acoustic guitar leaning against a park bench.
    Yamaha CG-TA nylon-string guitar.

    The CG-TA features ovangkol (similar to African rosewood) back and sides, a solid spruce top and wonderful onboard reverbs and chorus. This classical guitar has a traditional-width rosewood fretboard.

    Acoustic guitar on leather couch.
    Yamaha CSF3M steel-string guitar.

    The CSF3M features a solid mahogany back and sides, solid Sitka spruce top and a slim rosewood fingerboard.

    Both guitars have a passive undersaddle piezo pickup for recording or live performance.

    The Wrap Up

    In my opinion, choosing a guitar that suits you best may be the most important decision you make when you’re first starting out. Fortunately, there are many excellent choices for the beginner. If you can, spend a little more on the right instrument, as the guitar you select may well stay with you throughout your entire lifetime of musical progression.

    If the guitar you are trying to learn on is too hard to play, it will seriously impair your ability to learn, create frustration and ultimately cause you to give up before you even begin. But if you choose a playable, inspiring and musically resonant instrument from the get-go, you’ll want to play more, and the resultant practice time will lead to logical progression and personal growth as a musician.

    PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

     

    Check out Robbie’s other postings.

    The Prince Piano At NAMM

    In early 2016, a call came in to Yamaha Entertainment Group in Nashville with an extraordinary request: “Prince wants you to make him a purple piano.” So began a whirlwind journey that ended up with Yamaha delivering a one-of-a-kind grand piano to Paisley Park in Minnesota.

    In celebration of the artist known as Prince, this is the story of that project and how a piano transcended its role as a musical instrument.

    Prince sitting at his purple piano.
    Prince at his custom purple Yamaha grand piano. (Photograph © Madison Dubé)

    Background

    Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson) was well known throughout his lifetime for his singing, songwriting, guitar playing, recordings and live performances, but he was also a phenomenal keyboardist; in fact, piano was his first instrument. Prince’s father was a professional jazz pianist, and a great musical influence on Prince early in life.

    Early in his career, Prince was not often seen playing a piano or keyboard in concert, but he often played them on his demo recordings. In 1983, he recorded a free-form performance at the piano, likely just a rehearsal capture of song ideas to be worked on more fully later on. This was eventually released in 2018, entitled Piano & A Microphone 1983. The title came from a limited series of concert performances Prince undertook in early 2016 to flesh out a concept he had for a solo tour that would feature him performing alone at the piano. These performances would also include him reminiscing about his life, his music, and his thoughts on a wide range of subjects.

    It was during the early prep for what was planned to be a much larger-scale tour that Prince and his friend/confidante/sometime-drummer Kirk Johnson discussed the idea of using a custom-colored purple piano, and Johnson reached out to Yamaha to make it a reality. “We wanted a combination of a great acoustic piano that had an awesome look and had great sounds that could be manipulated,” recalls Johnson.

    In previous live shows, Prince had often used one of the onboard faders of his Yamaha Motif synthesizer to fade up strings behind the grand piano sound he was playing. “He was doing that for sustain,” explains Scottie Baldwin, who served as Prince’s Front of House engineer during tour dates. “He was using it as a means of sustaining a chord so he could change keys and things like that. Sometimes he would do it during a song, but often he would use it at the end of a song, knowing that a grand piano only sustains for so long, but a string patch would carry on until he made his next move and decided what song he was going to play next.”

    The Project Is Defined

    Once Yamaha vetted that the inquiry was genuine, Chris Gero, one of the company’s directors and Chief Artist Relations Executive, got involved. As he relates, “Our relationship with Prince goes back to the mid-’90s — he often contacted us to try out and buy products, ranging from digital mixers to synths, and he had bought six grand pianos for his studio. But he didn’t believe in endorsements, and so we helped him out but never did any type of promotion with him. I had met him a few times at Grammy® and other industry events, and I would say our relationship was friendly, but not close.”

    But now that was changing, and Prince wanted Yamaha to make a custom-colored purple version of the C7X SH SILENT Piano™, which he had been using for the tour dates and at his studio.

    Grand piano with lid open.
    Yamaha C7X SH SILENT grand piano.

    Prince was very specific about the shade of purple he wanted. “He and I walked around the Paisley Park building and picked the couch color he liked best,” says Johnson, “and that’s the swatch he sent to Yamaha.”

    A piece of purple cloth across piano strings.
    The swatch Prince sent to Yamaha.

    Prince had seen some documentary films that Gero had created over the years and wanted him to produce the concert opener film sequence to play before his live shows. In essence, Prince was asking Yamaha to partner with him both technically and creatively to realize his vision for the planned full tour.  This massive collaborative effort led to Prince greenlighting the first endorsement deal of his career. Per Prince’s request, papers were drawn up and sent over for sign-off on this historical partnership with Yamaha.

    Yamaha Goes Into Action

    Gero realized that exactly matching a custom color and painting the piano in a way that would hold up under the rigors of touring was a tall order, but he had the perfect partner for the job: Justin Elliott. In addition to being a master piano technician, Elliott and his wife have forged a unique career cosmetically modifying pianos to match décor, special needs and events. Needing to find a type of paint that would stand up to the wear and tear of touring and look good under stage lights, Elliott decided to use enamel car paint. After many experiments and communication back and forth with Prince directly, they finally got the color to his satisfaction. (“He loved it!” says Johnson.) The final color ended up being adopted by Pantone as a new addition to their portfolio, entitled Love Symbol #2.

    With the color selected and the piano painted, it was shipped from Elliott’s studio in Florida up to Nashville so Gero and his team could shoot the first part of the film. Chris recalls: “Prince and I came up with the concept of showing the piano being prepared and painted, and he wanted it to be sexy, and to ‘represent me.’ So we put together the concept, and had only a day and a half to shoot it. But I think the film came out well, and Prince was very happy with it. The second part of the concept was to be filmed with him when the piano was delivered to his studio.”

    Another aspect of the project had to do with the sound engine that was built into the piano. Each Yamaha SILENT Piano has a mechanism built in to stop the hammers from hitting the strings and instead trigger an internal sound engine via MIDI technology, for private practice or an expanded tone palette. As he had done with his Motif synthesizer, Prince wanted to be able to play piano layered with strings to provide a fuller, more sustaining sound for certain songs, but he had a very specific string sound he wanted. In a very short period of time, Yamaha sound designers in Japan were able to create this custom sound to load into the piano before it was shipped. “In order to get the effect of fading strings in, he’d manually switch between the Grand Piano sound and the Grand Piano / Strings patch,” explains Baldwin.

    The last request was to put the symbol that Prince had taken to using to represent himself on the piano. After some discussion, everyone agreed to place the graphic on the fallboard of the piano, right above the keys, as shown in the tweet below.

    Done and Delivered

    When the piano arrived at Paisley Park, Prince took to it right away, often playing it for hours on end. Here was his tweet:

    After about a week with the piano, Prince decided to hold an event to showcase the new instrument. Chris Gero remembers it well. “On April 16, 2016, Prince invited a small crowd to a music party at Paisley Park,” he says. “The piano was covered with a purple cloth. Then he dramatically pulled the cloth off the purple piano. He played chopsticks first, then a few minutes of classical music without singing. He finished with the piano and did not play again publicly.”

    The Prince Piano Today

    Since that time, the piano has remained in Studio B at the Paisley Park complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota, near Minneapolis. This massive facility served as Prince’s creative playground for over 30 years, and now, as per Prince’s original vision, it has been opened to the public as a museum, a recording facility and an event venue. Makayla Elder, Museum Collection Manager, explains: “Studio B is a spot on the tour that is only for ticketed VIP and Ultimate Experience guests, so it’s an upper level part of the tour. While it’s blocked off by purple ropes, it’s the only area where visitors get that close-up and personal with an instrument. It’s also the only place they get their picture taken, and the piano is right behind them, with the now-iconic logo that Prince used clearly visible in the shot.”

    A purple piano in a recording studio with a poster of Prince on the wall.
    The Prince piano at Paisley Park.

    And now, for the first time since it was delivered to Prince, this one-of-a-kind instrument will be moved from Paisley Park and brought to Winter NAMM 2024 to be displayed in the Yamaha booth. “2024 is the 40th anniversary of Purple Rain,” states Charles F. Spicer Jr., a managing member of Prince Legacy LLC and longtime friend of Prince’s. “This event will be the stepping stone to a year’s worth of celebration of Prince’s life, and the phenomena we know as Purple Rain, both the album and the film. It is only fitting that we recognize the partnership between Yamaha and Prince that created this instrument, so starting at NAMM we plan to turn the world purple again.”

    Check out this behind the scenes video showing the making of the Prince piano.

    Coming to NAMM? Be sure to visit the Prince piano at the Yamaha exhibit on the third floor of the Anaheim Convention Center.

    Can’t make the show in person? Check out the Yamaha NAMM Page for updates on Artist performances and information about new product releases.

    Where Music Meets Leadership

    When Rachel Roberts, Associate Professor of Music Leadership at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, was a student at Eastman herself more than two decades ago, she visualized her future much differently. She recalls, “I came to Eastman as a flute performance major thinking, ‘I’m going to be the piccoloist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra!’”

    Early on in her performance career, Roberts faced a struggle that hits many young musicians: the constant stress and financial strain of living life one audition to the next. While walking the halls of Eastman, Roberts saw a flyer promoting the school’s then-new Arts Leadership Program and realized that working behind-the-scenes in the music industry might be her true calling. “I’ve been doing this type of work for years. I helped run community bands since junior high and later with high school bands,” Roberts says. “I love that back side and connection with people.”

    After she became involved with the Arts Leadership Program (ALP), a whole new world opened up to her. Roberts took multiple jobs and internships, including working for Eastman’s public relations department, interning in orchestra management for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and planning the grand opening for an outdoor amphitheater in Atlanta.

    past and present directors and co-directors at Eastman
    Past and present Institute for Music Leadership directors and assistant directors: (from left to right) Dr. Blaire Koerner, Leslie Scatterday, Jim Doser and Rachel Roberts.

    According to Roberts, the skills she learned as a performance major went hand in hand with the skills she needed on the administrative side. “As a musician, you look at a piece of music and break it down. You work in sections, you understand the whole scope of the score that’s underneath,” she says. “That’s what planning the grand opening was like. We started at the end with the grand opening, then broke down the steps to get there. ‘Who are the community partners?’ ‘What is the budget?’ It’s the same abilities applied in a different medium, behind the stage.”

    This journey ultimately led Roberts back to where she started: Eastman School of Music, where she is now Director of the Institute for Music Leadership (IML), which has been a staple of music education at Eastman since the founding of the Arts Leadership Program back in 1996. The program focuses on career development within the music industry, and it encourages students to develop a productive mindset and look at the bigger picture behind every music performance. “You can learn as many skills as possible,” says Roberts. “But the bigger piece is the mindset of how you approach opportunities, how you approach your career.”

    an Eastman student watches a performance at Rochester Philharmonic. performance
    Joyce Tseng supported the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s education department in bringing in over 9,000 students from local schools for an interactive experience.

    50 Years in the Making

    The Arts Leadership Certificate Program is currently in its 27th year, and the IML itself was officially founded in 2001. However, according to Roberts, the foundational ideas behind this leadership program have been in the works for nearly 50 years.

    In Roberts’ office sits a binder from the 1970s, filled with papers from Eastman’s first Business of Music class, which was taught by jazz trombonist Rayburn Wright. “These conversations about entrepreneurship have been going on for a long time at the school,” Roberts says.

    Even the school’s name itself honors a famous entrepreneur, George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company, who also funded the creation of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. “It fits that Eastman has this lens, given George Eastman’s history,” Roberts says. “These conversations were happening through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”

    In the 1990s, Dean James Undercofler decided to officially launch the Arts Leadership Program. “Since the IML began, it’s continued to develop [and] provide professional opportunities to musicians both on and off the stage,” Roberts says.

    student standing in Metropolitan Opera
    Noah Sesling used the special opportunity grant (offered to ALP students and alumni two years after graduation) to intern with the Metropolitan Opera in Fall of 2022.

    A Practical Performance Mindset

    “On and off the stage” is a key phrase in the IML’s philosophy, which aims to develop not only students’ performance abilities but also their knowledge of the entrepreneurial side of music. “Do you see where you can fill a niche? How can you innovate and be creative there? It’s the mindset of self-efficacy,” Roberts says. “It’s thinking like an entrepreneur, having that creative and innovative lens through which you see musical possibilities.”

    As a result of this mission statement, the IML features a variety of practical classes beyond performance, which include grant writing, music health and wellness, auditioning strategies and career preparation. Currently, the IML has two levels of music marketing classes: an introductory course and an advanced class that breaks down specialized marketing concepts.

    Auditioning classes regularly welcome guests. “We bring in faculty members to help explain how to separate from the music side,” Roberts says. “They delve into the mindset of preparation you need to be successful in any type of audition.”

    The certificate in Arts Leadership requires students to complete four credits of Arts Leadership courses, two semesters of internships, and participate in one special event like a performance or a guest visit.

    What makes this certificate unique is its accessibility. “The Arts Leadership courses are free for anyone to attend at Eastman,” Roberts says. “The certificate is available for any student at Eastman — undergrad, master’s, Ph.D., anyone.”

    performance at International Women's Brass Conference
    Student Isabella Lau attended the International Women’s Brass Conference at the University of North Texas in 2022.

    Benefits of a Balanced Education

    Because Roberts herself was among the first classes of students to participate in the IML during her undergraduate years, she can attest to the benefits of the balanced education it offers. “I love that the IML provides a menu of offerings to choose from,” she says. “You can dip your toe in, or you can dive in, such as with the Arts Leadership certificate.”

    According to Roberts, one of the advantages of completing the entire Arts Leadership certificate, rather than just taking a few IML courses on the side, is the depth of commitment the program encourages. “In earning this certificate, it shows a true focus to understanding a different side of the music industry,” Roberts says. “Individuals often come to Eastman solely to study performance. This work, through the certificate, immerses students in what it means to be in the music business today, working alongside mentors, colleagues, leaders and supervisors at an internship.”

    This past summer, Eastman’s website launched a page called Alumni Journeys, which details the success stories of the school’s alumni, both in the Arts Leadership Program Certificate and in the master’s program in Music Leadership. “We have close to 500 alumni now,” Roberts says.

    At its core, the IML pushes students to question and refine their career goals and definitions of personal and professional success. “It asks the individual to think, ‘What skills do I want to develop? What are the directions I can go?’ It asks the students to think critically about leadership — their own leadership, leadership in the industry and how they fit in,” Roberts says. “It goes back to that mindset of creativity, of being an entrepreneur, of developing that resilience [and not being] afraid to create your own path.”

    four students with percussion ensemble
    Sammy DeAngelis (second from left) used the special opportunity grant in Summer 2023 to create professional materials and recordings for his percussion ensemble in preparation of a tour.

    What’s Next?

    As the IML continues to evolve, Eastman is adding more programs for students interested in the intersection of music and business. In addition to the IML and the Arts Leadership certificate, Eastman also hosts a leadership conference, a three-day intensive program in June that will enhance a person’s leadership effectiveness.

    In September 2023, Eastman launched a program targeted at a new demographic: high school students. The Eastman Leadership Development Retreat was open to high school students throughout the Rochester area. “It’s been this natural evolution of ways to continue providing leadership development opportunities for musicians, in ways that are relevant to the industry right now,” Roberts says.

    Overall, Roberts is proud of how the IML has evolved during the past two decades and the variety of programs it continues to develop. “The IML is really a gem here at Eastman,” she says. “It’s a joy to look back at all the amazing work that’s happened with the leaders of our school.”

    Eastman School of Music is one of 10 distinguished colleges and universities selected to be part of the inaugural Yamaha Institution of Excellence program, which recognizes extraordinary commitment to innovation in the study of music. The Yamaha Institutions of Excellence were chosen for their dedication to providing unique and challenging experiences to music students through diversity of thought and curriculum. They are also recognized for exposing students to a wider variety of voices and opportunities and preparing them for the modern world of music.

     

    Teaching for Artistic Behavior

    Opening the door to Emily Meyerson’s music classrooms in the North Baltimore Local Schools in Ohio reveals what looks to the naked eye like a scene of chaos: Students may be playing electric guitars, creating electronic music on iPads, building their own drum kits out of coffee cans, or singing while their friends accompany them on ukuleles. A closer look reveals one student working on a year-long graphic novel project about music, while another conducts research on the euphonium, and another collaborates with a group of friends to form a miniature band of their own.

    This type of student-led creative exploration comes from a pedagogy called “Teaching for Artistic Behavior” (TAB). Meyerson, who teaches general music for kindergarten through 6th grade, began implementing TAB concepts into her classroom nearly a decade ago, and the process has only evolved and improved.

    According to the TAB pedagogy website, the guiding principles include statements like “The child is the artist” and “The classroom is the child’s studio.”

    The original intention of TAB pedagogy was for use in visual arts classrooms; however, Meyerson and other music teachers are now finding ways to implement the same principles in elementary music education. “So much of school has become [about] straight lines, no talking … kids have to have an outlet to be kids,” Meyerson says.

    two students next to their percussion project

    The Artistry of Music

    Because TAB originated in the world of visual arts, Meyerson first learned of the pedagogy through a friend who teaches art classes. “My best friend was hired as our visual art teacher at the elementary school. Because we were already friends, and we have similar outlooks on education, we wanted students to be able to collaborate between our classrooms. We’re both into exploring through play,” she says.

    A core concept of TAB pedagogy is the “open studio,” or a space where students can freely explore with various artistic media, setting their own goals along the way. “It’s made for visual art, so the ‘open studios’ [might include] a painting studio, a drawing studio, a sculpture studio,” Meyerson says. “I wasn’t sure what that would look like for me, so I tested out a lot of things.”

    After getting involved in TAB Facebook groups and gaining advice from other teachers, Meyerson started equating different instruments with different artistic media. The open studio became a place for musical media experimentation. “Instead of painting, it’s drumsets. Instead of drawing, it’s keyboards,” Meyerson says.

    An obvious difference between the visual and musical arts is the noise involved. While many students can work on visual projects individually, balancing the conflicting noises of students simultaneously playing different instruments is more of a challenge. “Every class brings headphones with them. Most of the instruments I have are electric: electric drumsets, keyboards, electric guitars [that students] can plug headphones into,” Meyerson says.

    Meyerson also keeps a container of headphone splitters in her classroom so two students can collaborate on a project, listening to the same source, while using headphones.

    two students with headphones on

    Students also have modifications available to keep the classroom as calm as possible. “I have a 6th grader who’s working on a project about the euphonium,” Meyerson says. “We’ve talked about, ‘You can buzz on your mouthpiece, or you can work on your fingerings without playing.’”

    Meyerson’s classroom also includes a sound-dampening studio area that the school’s custodial staff helped her build. When Meyerson’s students, like the student working on the euphonium piece, are ready to record something for their final project, they can go into the sound-dampening studio area and play their instrument at full volume.

    Though Meyerson, who was recognized as a 2023 Yamaha “40 Under 40” educator, takes some precautions against the noise, she also acknowledges that her classroom is allowed to get a little crazy. “The reality is, it’s loud,” she says. “But the kids have found a way to work through that. They’re so focused on what they’re working on.”

    Sometimes, the noise can even benefit students. When a student becomes distracted by someone else’s project, it often leads to a conversation about the different elements of music both students are exploring.

    student demonstrating percussion project

    A Typical Day for TAB

    While the open studio is a key component of TAB, Meyerson uses this concept alongside more traditional teaching methods to make sure that her students are meeting music education standards.

    A typical day for a 3rd-, 4th-, 5th- or 6th-grade student in Meyerson’s classroom begins with a seven-minute lesson. Meyerson sets a timer at the start of class, then uses this time to have the class work together. “I do a demo, or I might teach skills, or we might do little task parties where they demonstrate a certain skill,” Meyerson says. “For example, I tell students, ‘You have to show me you can do XYZ on the keyboards before you can use them.”

    Once the seven minutes are up, the rest of class time is devoted to the open studio. However, amidst the free experimentation is a quarter-long project that students can work on at their own pace. At the start of each quarter, students have a check-in with Meyerson where they present their project idea. Then, throughout the rest of the quarter, they can budget their open studio time to make progress on their project, ask Meyerson or other students for help, or experiment with different musical modalities.

    Once students have committed to their projects, Meyerson serves as a guide and facilitator, helping those students bring their ideas to life. “The fundamentals of TAB means the music studio is their studio. They’re musicians. I’m the facilitator,” she says. “Either kids are working and I’m checking in on [and] helping them, or sometimes [I’m sitting at my desk] with a line of kids who are like, ‘I have a question!’”

    sheet music composition sample

    Project Parameters

    Students have three main parameters they must follow for their projects: a) it must be related to music, b) it must be something the student is excited about learning, and c) it must be a project that shows at least three to four class periods’ worth of work.

    With those guidelines in mind, students have presented a variety of creative ideas that reflect their diverse interests. “I have a kid who’s composing a keyboard song, and his friend built a drumset out of coffee cans and tinfoil. They’re composing a song together,” Meyerson says. “I have kids who do singing projects [and] collaborate with a friend playing the ukulele. Last year, I had a group who made a band with two kids playing electric guitar, one kid playing drumset, and a singer. It was super cool to watch them as the year went on.”

    Often, students will create interdisciplinary projects that include other interests of theirs, like visual art. “I’ve had kids create children’s books before,” Meyerson says. “They can take those projects back and forth between the art studio and music studio.”

    Some students may even choose to take on a year-long project with quarterly progress check-ins. One of Meyerson’s current students is writing a graphic novel including a villain that removes all the music from the world. “That’s not a project that he can finish in six weeks,” Meyerson says. Instead, this student checks in with Meyerson every quarter to show his progress, with the goal to complete the graphic novel by the end of the school year.

    When students take on bigger projects, Meyerson emphasizes her classroom’s tenet “engage and persist.” While students may make changes to their project during the course of a quarter or school year, students must find a way to see their projects through to completion.

    two students using boomwhackers

    Building Skills, Building Scaffolds

    The “open studio” model core to TAB requires that students have some basic knowledge of music with which to explore; as a result, implementing TAB looks different in a kindergarten class than it does in a 6th-grade class.

    For her K-2 classes, Meyerson begins the school year with more structured instruction while slowly introducing TAB concepts. “In kindergarten, we don’t start any TAB stuff until the end of the year,” Meyerson says. “In a 30-minute class, we might have 20 minutes of structured activity and 10 minutes at the end where [students can choose].”

    In her 1st- and 2nd-grade classes, Meyerson gives her students what she calls “choice time,” or time where they get to explore in the open studio. Instead of choosing their own projects, students have quarterly song challenges, in which they create their own songs to present.

    By the time students reach 3rd grade, most have been slowly introduced to TAB, so they’re ready to start brainstorming project ideas of their own, managing their time to complete their projects, and experimenting with more instruments and technology.

    a student's tap song project

    The Beauty of Organized Chaos

    In using TAB pedagogy, one of the biggest obstacles Meyerson has faced is parents who don’t understand the concept. “What the kids are producing is kid-level music and kid-level art,” Meyerson says. “Parents are looking at that and saying, ‘I’m used to my child learning the same song for the Christmas program.’”

    One way Meyerson has helped parents understand the benefits of TAB is through a yearly “make-it, take-it” night that the school hosts in the spring. On this night, parents, families and community members are invited to see their students’ work. “We take what we do in our classrooms and set it up across the entire school,” Meyerson says. “The kids can be facilitators and walk their parents through what they do in art [or] music class. That helps a lot.”

    Thankfully, Meyerson has had the complete support of the school’s administration. “Our principal loves what we’re doing,” she says. “She’s been on board since the beginning.”

    Meyerson has also begun spreading the word about TAB to other music educators throughout the country. “I’ve presented at the Ohio Music Educators Association and at the National Association for Music Educators,” Meyerson says. “Other music teachers are starting to reach out to me.”

    Meyerson has noticed that other teachers are afraid to implement TAB pedagogy into their classrooms because of its non-traditional nature. “There was a day when the kids were all in here working, and I was sitting at my desk watching them work,” she says. “I was feeling so guilty! But they were really engaged and excited about what they were doing.”

    At the end of each quarter, Meyerson examines each student’s final project and asks the students to reflect on their process, often using questions like, “What is a specific thing that makes it really special?” and “What is something that was challenging, and how did you solve it?”

    TAB is not just about getting students to learn the material; it’s about getting them to think like a creative artist. “The end goal is that they’re leaving here learning how to be a musician,” Meyerson says.

    10 Essential Albums to Own on Vinyl

    So many people are jumping into vinyl these days! Whether you’re starting from scratch or are a longtime collector, here are 10 albums that every music lover should have in their record crate, chosen not just for their music but for the sound quality they offer. They represent a wide variety of genres, but they have one thing in common: They all deliver a level of magic that you just can’t get from CDs or streaming.

    1. Buena Vista Social Club – The Buena Vista Social Club

    If you can only have one record to fully engage chill mode, BVSC is it. Guitarist Ry Cooder took a trip to Havana, found some great studio musicians and produced this two-LP set of smooth, delicate, guitar-based tunes that beg for the lights to be turned down low. You’ll feel like you’re in a Wes Anderson movie … and the recording quality is out-of-this-world good. Seek out a copy of the 1998 Classic Records remaster for the absolute best sound.

    2. Post – Bjork

    Bjork has such a diverse catalog, it’s tough to decide which of her albums to go with, but Post contains such a variety of styles and textures, if you have to have only one, this is it. The combination of digital and acoustic sounds is always fluid, with layer upon layer of Bjork’s voice all blending in a spectacular fashion. Despite there being such a high density of information, you’ll get pulled in almost immediately.

    3. Abbey Road – The Beatles

    By the time the Beatles recorded this, their final album, EMI studios (now called Abbey Road) had upgraded their gear considerably, so despite being all-analog, this record has the most “modern” feel of all Fab Four releases in terms of the sophistication of the overdubs, the dynamics and the overall spaciousness of the sound. Hard-core fans may scream heresy, but check out the 2019 remixes with half-speed mastering produced at Abbey Road. Traditionalists will harken back to the earliest, first stamper British pressings of these records, which are great-sounding too, but now fetch four-figure prices.

    4. Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book – Ella Fitzgerald

    You should have this six-LP box set because no one on earth can (or could) sing like Ella. From the smoothness of her delivery to her six-octave range and creamy soft tone, it’s simply the best there is. However, these tracks somehow always flatten out when streaming, so definitely go for the vinyl version! There are so many fun songs from Cole Porter to choose from here, from the suggestive “Let’s Do It” to the apologetic but ultimately dark “Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable to Lunch Today).” Slap them on your turntable, sit back and enjoy: If you aren’t already an Ella fan, you’ll quickly become one.

    5. King of Rock – RUN DMC

    By the time of their second release, King of Rock, the Hollis, Queens trio of rappers were a solidly locked unit. Back in the early ’80s, record companies were simply pumping out hip-hop discs and not paying careful attention to the pressing quality, but Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs has just given the same audiophile treatment to this record as they did to last year’s reissue of Raising Hell and the result is brilliant. The beats hit harder, and the individual vocals now battle back and forth for attention on your speakers like you’re right there in the club.

    6. The Chronic – Dr. Dre

    You can’t have East Coast Rap/Hip-Hop in the record crate without the West Coast being represented too. I never get tired of Dre’s breakout solo record, The Chronic, which strikes the perfect balance of intelligence, sophistication and hard-hitting beats. The current 30th Anniversary vinyl reissue (now pressed as a two-record set) is the one to get.

    7. Sea Change – Beck

    Like Bjork, Beck has delivered such a wide range of records, it’s tough to pick just one, but Sea Change has such an atmospheric, cohesive groove from start to finish, this is the droid you want. Striking a perfect balance between his earlier, sillier work and later, more disjointed releases, this record is intriguing to listen to on multiple levels. Whether you’d rather just swim around in this massive pool of sound or get introspective with the clever lyrics, there’s so much here to enjoy and absorb. Find a copy of the Mobile Fidelity remaster as a double LP set. The pink one looks cooler, but the black one sounds better.

    8. Eat a Peach – The Allman Brothers Band

    If you’re not quite ready to delve all the way into the roots of the blues, here’s a timeless classic that will get you in the mood, with some solid jam band crossover to boot. Released in 1972, Eat a Peach is the final ABB album to feature bandleader Duane Allman, who fell victim to a fatal motorcycle crash at the end of ’71. The hits on this record (“Blue Sky,” “Melissa”) still get heavy airplay even today, and the sonics are incredibly lush.

    9. Tosca – Puccini

    Think you’re not an opera fan? Pick up the vinyl version of Tosca performed by Maria Callas with the LaScala Orchestra and Chorus on EMI and be prepared to think again. This rendition delivers a warmth and a presence that is simply stunning — something you just can’t get when streaming or listening to it on CD.

    10. That! Feels Good! – Jessie Ware

    OK, this may be a bit of a dark horse, but Jessie Ware’s fifth album is a high energy R&B romp that channels a bit of Donna Summer along with a dash of Diana Ross and a touch of Grace Jones, yet always feels completely original. The vinyl release sounds amazing, the songs are fun, and the wall of sound production is sure to get you shaking … in a good way.

     

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    Combining Science and Music

    I remember picking my classes for my senior year of high school. I knew I wanted to go into music, so I packed my schedule with every music class and extracurricular I could take: band, jazz band, AP music theory, jazz literature and improvisation, and guitar. More than half my schedule was music classes! To make room for these classes, I dropped science because I had already fulfilled my science requirement for graduation. Many of my friends took physics during our senior year, but I didn’t. Fast forward to today: I am a music teacher teaching a physics class!

    “Why on earth would they let a music teacher teach a science course?” Well, it all started when I was a new teacher thinking of how to expand the course offerings at Brunswick High School in Maine. After collaborating with one of my colleagues, Kait Ostrov, who was part of my new-teacher mentorship program, we decided to present a new course to the school board: The Physics of Music. The idea came from a brainstorming session to increase course offerings at our school. I knew that a lot of my students had an interest in science, so this seemed like a no-brainer. This would be the first class that could fulfill either a science or performing arts credit, and it would be the first class taught interdisciplinarily by two teachers.

    chalkboard with equations on it

    The process for presenting the course had to begin early enough so it fit into the budget season and course selections. Kait and I worked together to give a justification for the course as well as a class overview and needs. We presented that to our curriculum coordinator for the school district, who took it over from there and presented it to the school board and came back to us with any questions. The school board approved the class, and it went into the course book. The Physics of Music has been in the course book for three years; we never had enough students to justify running the course — until now.

    You’ve probably heard the phrase, “STEAM not STEM,” which is how many schools attempt to promote art as an integral part of education that has increasingly become more focused on science, technology, engineering and math as future career fields for students. Here I am doing it, folks!

    Music teachers often get defensive trying to prove our worth in comparison to core subject educators, and we have argued that “none of your favorite things would exist without music and art.” Luckily for me, my school looks at electives (in our case, music) as being of equal or similar value to core classes. So, at this rare moment of unity, this interdisciplinary course seemed perfect. Besides, what student wouldn’t want to take a class taught by two of their favorite teachers at the same time?!

    While I believe that my students are learning a lot from this class, here are some things I have learned.

    excited male teacher sitting at desk

    First-Day-of-School Jitters

    I wrote this on the first day of our interdisciplinary class:

    Everyone gets those first-day-of-school jitters that comes with the nervousness and excitement of the unknown. I certainly did as I entered a classroom filled with test tubes and beakers to teach music. All those nerves went away when class started. With a great group of six students (this is a small number, especially after I said we couldn’t run the class before because we didn’t have enough students sign up for it; but we have more next semester!) in front of us, it was my turn to explain parts of the lab that they would be doing.

    The idea of assigning labs to students is so foreign to me. Frankly, it sounds like the plot of a bad sitcom about a music teacher who lost his job due to budget cuts but is lucky to be offered the open science teacher position. (Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up!) What I realized in that moment is that although it’s a different environment, teaching in music classrooms happens the same way as other classrooms. It was so fun to walk around to different workstations answering questions and guiding the students in their first day of learning in a completely new course. Maybe I was just excited to show off my knowledge of science, but in hindsight, I was really just showing off my impeccable technique playing the whirly tube and wine glasses!

    What made this experience so natural and comforting was knowing that there was another teacher there to answer the questions that I couldn’t and vice versa. Yes, we are helping share our knowledge in our respective fields, but at a deeper level, the students recognize that they might not always have the answers, and it’s okay to ask for help.

    closeup of guitar with strings vibrating

    Learning the Basics

    As I mentioned earlier, I never took physics in high school or college. I was completely out of my element (haha, get it — elements?). I had a lot of catching up to do, but I was excited to do it. Cracking open a book about physical properties of acoustics is not something most people look forward to, but once I started, I was excited to keep going. Maybe that’s just my lifelong-learner side talking. I read, reread and took notes to grasp all the stuff I missed out on, and boy, did I feel like I should have taken physics back in high school!

    My purpose in the class (and that of my co-teacher’s) became clear. My role was to understand the scientific properties we are teaching and how to relate those to the physical things that happen when you play an instrument. For example, why does a clarinet play lower than a flute? How do sound waves get amplified from a vibrating string? What physical features of an instrument affect the frequency? How and why do we quantify frequency into pitch?

    Kait’s role was to understand the science at a deeper level to be able to explain those properties and the calculations behind them. Our specific roles helped us work together.

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    Learning from Each Other

    Early on in developing this course, we struggled to find the best path to present it to the school board. Would it be a science class or a music class? How would we convince them to let two teachers teach one class? We knew that we truly could not do this without each other. Maybe we could each learn everything we needed to know about music and science to teach the course alone, but we were lucky to be given the opportunity to co-teach the class. I get to learn every day from Kait, not only things about science, but about classroom management, differentiated instruction, varied teaching methods, etc. These are skills and techniques that I can bring back to my music classes. They say two heads are better than one — and this is a perfect example.

    a male and a female teacher collaborating

    Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

    Co-teaching is something that may feel a little unnatural at first, but it gets easier. Sometimes it feels like I have no clue what is going on and can’t be of any help explaining a topic, but I’m sure (I hope) that Kait feels the same way at times. It is fun and feels organic (another science pun) to riff (music pun) off each other. And I believe that helps deliver the material to the students in an effective way — we have a lot of chemistry (okay, I’m sorry, I’m done). Some questions come to me, and others go to her. The students know each of our strengths, and they also know that there are two teachers there to help them.

    The Value

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my co-teacher and I recognized early on how much value our respective subjects have, and how much value we have as science and music educators. That is why we knew that we could be successful offering this interdisciplinary course. It has also been nice to hear from others how awesome they think this course is. And they’re not wrong, it is pretty cool. My colleagues see the value in music classes — and I’m one of the lucky ones, I know — but it means a lot to hear from others how much they see the impact of your work.

    two students working on a science experiment

    You Can Do This, Too!

    Come up with your own ideas for interdisciplinary courses or steal ours! I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas that you could come up with that may best serve your student population. Our students excel in both science and music (no surprise that music kids are excelling, right?), which led us to the course we developed. So far, we feel like it has been successful and hope to continue running it so long as students continue to sign up for it.

    Getting it started was the hard part but keeping it going should be easy with students sharing how much they enjoy the class! We may have more ideas in the future and hope we can inspire others to offer true interdisciplinary courses. Every school is different, and the process of adding a new course is different, so talk with your principal or department chair about what that looks like for you. And be patient!

    I realize that staffing at other schools might not allow for two teachers to teach one course, but I would encourage you to collaborate with another teacher on a unit or even a lesson in some of your classes. Invite a teacher to work with you on something you’re teaching or offer your expertise to help enhance another teacher’s class. Music’s place in other disciplines is endless. I guarantee that you’ll learn a lot from those other teachers — I’m lucky to get that experience every day. Additionally, you’ll get a chance to collaborate and maybe even see the sun beyond your concrete rehearsal room walls.

    ___________________________________________

    Not to sing my own praises (and trust me you don’t want me to sing), but if this course was taught when I was in high school, I definitely would have taken it because it was relatable to the world I was about to dive into. Co-teaching an interdisciplinary course like this has been extremely valuable for me. It pushed me to grow as a teacher and as a learner. It forced me to leave the windowless rooms of the music wing and go see other people and watch how they teach. It encouraged me to collaborate more — something I preach in my rehearsal room frequently. And it made me put my money where my mouth was and make STEM into STEAM.

    How to Play Bass Guitar On (Or Around) The Beat

    For musicians, “time” isn’t just something that happens on a clock, and “feel” is more than an emotion. A player with “good time” has a solid grasp on the pulse of whatever music they play; understanding a song’s “feel” includes a deep understanding of its style. Having good time and having a good feel are two separate skill sets, and both are crucial.

    TEMPO & GROOVE

    When we talk about time, we’re referring to tempo, usually expressed in bpm, short for “beats per minute.” Having good time means not speeding up (“pushing time”) or slowing down (“dropping time”) in relation to the rest of the band, especially the drummer. For a bass player, being “in the pocket” is one of the highest achievements, as demonstrated by iconic bassist Nathan East in this video.

    The word “groove” encompasses many ideas, but in this context, it describes the feel of the music, which is related to the style (punk, funk, classical, reggae, metal, etc.) and the meter (3/4, 4/4, 5/8, 12/8, etc.). Practicing with a metronome and studying recordings are surefire ways to refine your relationship to feel, groove, tempo and click tracks. No matter what style you’re playing, it’s important to stay in time — and to adjust when necessary.

    FLEXIBLE TIME

    The great Abraham Laboriel Sr., who has used Yamaha basses on many of his 4,000-plus studio recordings, recommends that musicians learn how to place time in relationship to the click. Most of us learn to play right on the click, which is also known as “center time.” Being able to play so consistently that you “bury the click” is a skill that comes in handy while recording or playing onstage to a click in your in-ear monitor. But Laboriel also urges students to practice playing behind the beat (not unusual in pop music, especially in R&B and soul, and sometimes exaggerated in reggae), as well as ahead of the beat, which is common in rock and metal. In instances where he’s had to play to a pre-recorded track with subtle tempo shifts, Laboriel shows how it’s possible to smoothly shift between the three approaches.

    Here are some examples of playing on the beat, behind the beat and ahead of the beat, all demonstrated on a Yamaha BBP35.

    To start, here’s a bass line that’s played right on the beat, in center time:

    In contrast, here it is played behind the click:

    And here’s the same part, this time pulling ahead of the click:

    As Laboriel notes in an instructional video for MyMusicMasterclass, a drummer can make your part feel different just by the way they play. “[Many] human beings feel music naturally on the click, behind the click, or ahead of the click,” he says. “When you’re playing with different musicians, you have to know where they’re placing things, and how to adapt and join them so that your sound is in agreement.”

    Here’s an example of how the same bass line sounds with two different drummers, hard-hitting Sheila and laid-back Sean. If I play ahead of the beat with Sean, the bass part sounds rushed:

    But when I take the same approach with Sheila, the results are much better; in fact, the bass line sits right in the pocket:

    Similarly, if I play behind the beat with Sheila, things get a bit uncomfortable — the bass line can’t keep up with her:

    But when I lay back with Sean, things are much groovier. (The rhythm section that chills together, stays together!)

    Developing the ability to play in center time (i.e., right on the beat) will carry you through most gigs. Here’s the bass line right on the beat with Sheila …

    … and here it is with Sean:

    THAT ORGANIC FEELING

    Before digital recording became popular in the 1990s, it was quite normal for a song to change tempos organically. Put a metronome on while playing a classic like the Police’s “So Lonely,” and you’ll notice that it starts at 78 bpm and ends closer to 83 bpm. (Check out this fascinating set of graphs that show tempo changes in a number of well-known songs.)

    On stage, the drummer is the main timekeeper, and generally, the band moves with the drummer’s time, which could vary from song to song and show to show. But the emergence of drum machines in the ’80s and ’90s contributed to expectations for a stricter sense of time, and engineers found that a very steady drum part anchors a performance and makes it easier to move other parts around. Genres such as hip-hop, which introduced drum machines to wider audiences, influenced drummers’ approaches and made it desirable to play with only the slightest tempo variation.

    Today, many drummers play to a click track, which keeps everything — including playback tracks and MIDI events — strictly in time. Strive to be on the same page as your drummer, but keep your ears open to the juicy friction that can result from having slightly different relationships to time. And whether your band is bound together by a click track or not, being limber about time is a skill worth cultivating. As Abraham Laboriel says, “Knowing how to adapt will make you a happier and more flexible musician.”

     

    Check out E.E.’s other postings.

    What Makes a Teacher an Expert?

    The word “expert” gets bandied about a lot. Expert witnesses testify at trials. Financial experts tell us the savviest ways to save for retirement. Eight-year-old social media experts save our bacon when we can’t figure out which little button we need to tap.

    Don’t be intimidated by the concept of an expert because experts are made — not born. In fact, “the development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice and honest, often painful self-assessment,” reports Harvard Business Review. “There are no shortcuts.”

    So, what does expertise look like when it comes to teaching?

    female teacher standing at whiteboard

    An Expert Teacher Prototype

    According to published research from the University of Warwick, there are certain characteristics and traits that help define teacher expertise. Published in Educational Research Review, the study was called “Building the expert teacher prototype: A metasummary of teacher expertise studies in primary and secondary education.” As a metasummary, it pulled in data from 106 studies; three of the studies were specifically on music educators. The study includes findings from research on 1,124 teachers from around the world.

    With teaching, there are so many factors, explains the study’s lead author, Jason Anderson, Ph.D., assistant professor of applied linguistics at Warwick. How long has the teacher been teaching? What subject are they teaching? How big is the class? What are the teacher’s beliefs and personal characteristics? And as music educators know, there are probably a thousand more variables.

    male teacher holding pend to chin

    Recurring Traits

    So, the researchers tried to put their finger on what characteristics kept bubbling to the top. “Think of it as a Venn diagram, where we are looking for things that overlap,” says Anderson. As a teacher educator, materials writer and educational researcher and consultant, Anderson has supported teachers and developed materials for use in over 30 countries. The study found that expert teachers:

    • Are driven by moral duty toward their learners, which motivates them to work hard, reflect critically and exhibit unconditional care for learners.
    • Have a passion for teaching, a positive self-image and a desire to succeed in their profession, which helps them cope with challenges.
    • Have three qualities central to expert teacher professional development: reflection, lifelong learning and collaboration with peers.
    • Assess progress, spot misunderstandings and offer ongoing feedback.
    • Offer individualized support and feedback throughout the lesson.

    Rather than seeing this as a checklist of “must-haves,” Anderson suggests this information can be viewed as more of a prototype. “If a teacher notices there are things they aren’t engaging in, then these might be potential areas they could try out. Not that they should do or must do, but what they can experiment with.”

    He continues, “For example, there’s good evidence that teacher reflection is a key part of teacher expertise. Expert musicians do this, too. Do high performance teachers reflect more? Our study has uncovered a reasonable amount of evidence that they do, and it’s also linked to a sense of moral duty. This won’t surprise teachers. Or the parents who know their children’s teachers well. But it’s interesting to think about in terms of the science.”

    The study’s results will be useful to current teachers, Anderson notes, as well as for preparing future teachers, recruiting teachers, ensuring teacher quality and developing curriculum.

    teacher kneeling next to student and looking at his work

    Teaching Specialties: Does Subject Matter?

    Anderson says he was surprised that the study revealed there wasn’t that much difference between elementary and middle/high school educators as expected. “Because many elementary teachers are generalists, as opposed to subject specialists, we expected there to be differences. But we found that it’s a lot of the same characteristics that are important.”

    Still, he acknowledges, “Any subject specialist will tell you, often with a lot of passion, that every subject is different. What constitutes a good music teacher isn’t what makes a good math teacher, and vice versa. Our study looks at what overlaps between them. With subject experts, we often get so immersed in our own areas, we forget about the universals, the things that cut across all subjects. I’ll give you an example: what we call the interpersonal dimension. All expert teachers need to be able to build, hold and maintain rapport, respect and understanding with their learners. This is key — especially once you look at secondary education — that students believe in their teacher, trust them and are willing to take risks. They need to know their teacher will be there supporting them and guiding them if they run into difficulty.”

    Another area that came up in the study is adaptive expertise, or the ability to adapt to an unfamiliar situation. Anderson notes that teaching is both an art and a science. “The art is the more intuitive side of teaching. We’re trying to get as close to it as we can, without ruining it or pinning it all down, but realizing we can at least identify it.”

    Pulse Percussion and WGI Behind the Scenes

    I remember my first Pulse Percussion clinic well. It was 2016 and I was 14 years old. Back then, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I don’t remember what it was about Pulse that caught my attention, but if I had to guess, I would say it was the music composition and performance energy in the front ensemble.

    I first joined the drumline at my middle school playing cymbals. I did that for one year, then quads the next. When in a moment of immaturity, I realized how much work it was going to take to play in the high school drumline, so I picked up some mallets and started learning scales and a simple solo on the marimba.

    The first drum corps show I remember seeing live was the Blue Devils’ 2014 production of Felliniesque. This prompted a YouTube spree that eventually led to my official discovery of the marching arts and my eventual participation in Winter Guard International (WGI).

    Here’s the story of my experience as a member of Pulse Percussion.

    What Is a Percussion Ensemble?

    As defined by WGI, “Percussion ensembles consist of the marching percussion (also called battery) and front ensemble (also called pit) sections of a marching band or drum corps. Indoor percussion marries elements of music performance, marching, and theater; thus, the activity is often referred to as percussion theater.”

    Ensembles in WGI are classified in two ways: organization type, and skill level. Groups who compete on behalf of a school are known as “Scholastic,” while self-organized groups are “Independent.” Their skill level is designated as A Class (beginner), Open Class (intermediate) or World Class (advanced).

    The Allure of Indoor Percussion

    The exciting thing about participating in a marching percussion ensemble is the way groups create a movie-like environment in a high school gym by playing music unlike anything most people have ever heard.

    The Pulse front ensemble offers spots on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, timpani, synthesizer and drum set. The vibraphone players usually are given melodic responsibilities and outline chordal textures, employing various types of pedaling, while the marimba players contribute faster-moving passages using a wider variety of playing techniques and stroke types. For this reason, the hierarchy of a traditional mallet percussion ensemble generally has younger members start out on vibraphone, working towards building the strength and endurance necessary to play marimba. This was my experience. I earned a vibraphone spot in 2020, practiced relentlessly to play marimba, and eventually become a section leader.

    Smiling man next to marimba.
    The author behind his Yamaha marimba.

    I have to admit that it can be hard to take on one of those roles. It can get awkward and even tense when you know that the people around have more experience than you do, so it definitely wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows when I first competed in 2020, but as a lot of people can agree, it’s easy to look past those things when you get handed a gold medal. If I had to give the next generation of mallet players a piece of advice, it would be this: Don’t settle, but know when it’s time to move on, and remember that everyone has a life outside of rehearsal.

    My Pulse Experience

    I encountered a lot of different personalities during my time with Pulse, and many have stuck with me to this day, almost as if a part of that person lives inside me. Unfortunately, in this activity, people come and go. It’s a pretty weird feeling looking around the room for your friend to crack a joke, only to realize that person aged out last season.

    As with any music group, most of the work is put in before the competitive season actually starts. Some people view this as the hard part of the season, with competitions and performances as the reward. It’s easy to think this way, and quite honestly, it makes a good amount of sense, but that mindset always made me feel like I was constantly in a state of waiting for the season to actually start.

    It’s odd because when I think back, the most memorable moments are those that occurred during the preseason. Whether we were spending our entire break hiding from our instructional staff to see their faces when they realized we were gone, getting threatened by neighbors to stop playing, crawling through the truck on all fours, or screaming in an attempt to match the pitch of an ongoing fire alarm, I have a wealth of shared memories to look back on.

    Musicians laughing.
    A fun moment during rehearsal.

    WGI Competition

    During the 2023 season, in Dayton, Ohio, there was a storm on the day of the WGI semifinals competition. When it rains, you have a shortened warmup in a tent. It can get very loud and chaotic in those confined spaces, and while we did have tarps and towels, the wind made it difficult to keep everything dry until we got inside. As you can imagine, there are a lot of moving parts to our setup that really can’t get wet, including our P.A. system, which included a Yamaha TF5 digital mixer, four Yamaha DZR15 speakers and two Yamaha DXS18XLF subwoofers.

    Somewhere along the way, part of the stage box that our drum set mics plug into stopped working — likely a result of the rain. Emotions were running high in the tent, but I managed to find a workaround just in time before we pushed our equipment into the arena. Times like this show why thorough planning of your electronics setup is important, and why a dedicated audio engineer is invaluable to every program. Since we spend so much time at rehearsal, observant and curious members also become well-equipped to troubleshoot.

    If you were a percussionist in your high school marching band or indoor drumline, some of this might ring a bell. It can get stressful, but it’s also a ton of fun. The priority is hard work, which starts with trusting your instructional and design staff. Memorizing the music is merely step one. From there, we’re tasked with bringing the show to life. There’s a decent amount of work that goes into this, and really, it’s all about presence, confidence and flair. We shine light on every detail, whether it’s when/how we bring our mallets up and down or the vibe we aim to embody. It’s all about expression.

    Audition Tips

    If you don’t have access to an instrument, ask around. Past and current band directors are usually willing to let you practice on their equipment. If that doesn’t pan out, see if any of your friends or fellow auditionees can share access. If all else fails, and you’re in the financial situation to do so, search online for a local music store that rents instruments. At the end of the day, a piano/keyboard, practice pad — or even a pillow — will work.

    I went the rental route at first, but once I was no longer able to afford it, one of my closest friends offered to let me borrow her personal marimba. I always tell her that I’m forever in her debt, and that one day I’m going to buy her a car. She would never let me do that, so I’ll probably just pay for her dinner a few times if she doesn’t beat me to it.

    In my experience, success at these types of auditions really comes down to four things.

    1. The packet

    This should be memorized if you want to be taken seriously. Pay attention to dynamics, sequencing instructions and vibraphone pedaling (even if you want the marimba spot). Every detail matters. Don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas from the packet to challenge yourself and prepare for any on-the-spot variations to exercises. Depending on the caliber of the group you’re auditioning for, there may be an expectation that you’re able to play at a certain high tempo. Start slow and train for endurance.

    2. Your solo excerpt

    Don’t pick something cliché, and don’t pick something you know you can’t play. Remember, this is an opportunity to showcase your musicianship! A lush chorale played right is oftentimes more impressive than something super-choppy.

    For reference, here’s a list of the solos I played during my marching career:

    • 2020: O’Meara, Restless
    • 2022: Lorick, Odessa
    • 2023: Stucky, Isabelle Dances
      • IV. Stomp
    • 2024: Åstrand, Tribus Modis
      • III. Arbitrium

    Some other popular ones amongst Pulse members include:

    • Mueller, The Fairview Hymns
    • Sammut, Libertango
    • Cangelosi, Etude in E Minor
    • Marjan, Niflheim
    • Monkman, Nocturnal Dance

    3. Your mindset

    Be mentally prepared for a long, often sweaty day. Be ready to play more than you’ve ever played before. Expect the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll be asked to play something you might not have prepared for.

    4. Your attitude

    Set a realistic expectation for yourself. Do not go into auditions with an ultimatum. Your ultimate goal should really just be to make the group. Talk to the veteran members and get a sense of what it’s like to be in the group. You’ll learn a lot!

    In the Thick of It

    Here’s what a typical rehearsal weekend for Pulse looks like:

    Friday from 7:30 PM — 12 AM
    Saturday from 11 AM — 10 PM
    Sunday from 10 AM — 5:30 PM

    If your jaw dropped while reading that, don’t worry. It’s not actually that bad, and I promise I still had a life outside of “band.”

    The ensemble gets a lot better every weekend, but it only works out if everyone takes care of business during the week. My rookie year was probably the busiest time of my life; I was a full-time college student working a part-time job at a restaurant, plus I had two teaching gigs. My schedule was absolutely jam-packed, but I managed to make it work. Yes, I was tired all the time (like my fellow bandmates probably were), but it was a part of my life I wasn’t willing to give up. Some advice I would offer to anyone trying to take on a similar schedule: Don’t sacrifice your sleep.

    “Pulsemas” is an exception to the normal schedule. Every year, during the holiday season, we have three or four days of back-to-back 10 AM to 10 PM rehearsals. It’s a big commitment, but it’s almost like going on a little vacation. As much work as we put in, it’s a nice break from daily life, playing awesome music and hanging out with friends. During this time, we learn our entire second movement of music and also partake in festive traditions like ugly sweaters, Secret Santa and White Elephant (this gets pretty intense), plus we put up a “Pulsemas” Tree (an artificial fir with member pictures on ornaments) and decorate our instruments with lights, garlands and ribbons.

    The Culmination

    As much as it seems like the whole point of Pulse is the music, or the visual aspect, or the production value, it’s really all about the people. Our design team crafts a perfect program, the instructional staff facilitates our learning, and the members define the culture and bring the show to life. The administrative staff and board of directors take care of just about everything else.

    Man playing marimba with a guitarist in the background.
    It’s really all about the people.

    In this activity, you spend so much time with these people that you might end up closer with some of them than you are with your family. In some cases, these people become your family. As one of our staff members likes to say about Pulse, “it’s the only place where everyone around you wants the same thing.”

    As much as I idolized past members of Pulse from a young age, I learned just how intimidating it can be to work closely with those who inspire or once inspired you. Impostor Syndrome (where you come to doubt your own abilities despite achieving success) is extremely common in this activity and its effects can be amplified with exposure to certain teaching styles. After idolizing “the greats” for so long, it can be a hard pill to swallow when you realize you’ve become one of them. While I don’t necessarily feel like I always fit within those bounds, I keep pushing because I know I have a responsibility to uphold, inspiring future generations of percussionists and pushing the envelope of achievement.

    Photographs by Mark Galasso.

    Five Reasons Why Playing Piano is Good for You

    As anyone who’s ever tickled the ivories knows, playing piano is fun! But did you know that it’s also good for you?

    Here are five reasons why.

    1. It Provides Stress Relief

    There are numerous studies that demonstrate that people who play the piano tend to experience less anxiety and loneliness. In fact, a 2013 article published in Frontiers In Psychology found that piano practice can actually help treat depression in elderly adults. But playing the piano does more than just remove negative emotions; it replaces them with positive ones by releasing serotonin and dopamine in the brain as you play — the same “feel-good” chemical neurotransmitters responsible for giving you the “chills” when listening to music that stirs you. Even just playing for a few minutes a day can lower your blood pressure. It’s so beneficial, in fact, that it’s a widely used form of therapy for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

    A smiling woman playing the piano.

    Listening to repetitive sounds engages the neocortex area in your brain, thus reducing cortisol levels, which serve to calm you and reduce impulsive behaviors. In one study published in the International Journal of Music Education, college students were sorted into groups where they either played piano, created a sculpture, wrote calligraphy or simply sat in silence. Remarkably, the piano-playing group experienced far larger drops in cortisol levels than the sculpture and calligraphy groups.

    Playing the piano requires full focus, leaving no room for other thoughts, making it an excellent non-pharmaceutical alternative if you are experiencing anxiety issues or having trouble sleeping due to overthinking. It’s also an activity that provides ample opportunities to bolster self-esteem: mastering a tricky passage of music makes you feel good about yourself and helps generate a positive outlook on life while providing a healthy outlet for creative expression.

    2. It Improves Concentration and Dexterity

    As we just said, playing the piano requires concentration; you need to coordinate your fingers, eyes and mind — even your body posture — and at the same time focus on rhythm, pitch, note duration and tempo. Every detail matters!

    A woman plyaing piano.

    Interestingly, playing a musical instrument is one of few activities that engages all areas of your brain simultaneously, so you are actually multitasking when you play the piano. Some call this ability “split concentration,” while others term it “divided attention.” Either way, it’s an integral part of playing the piano, which requires that you use both hands, listen to the notes you’re playing and work the pedals … all at the same time. Multitasking skills like these extend to real-life situations. They enable you to pay better attention at school and work without requiring you to drop everything else you’re doing. (To learn more, check out this TedEd presentation.)

    At the same time, piano playing sharpens your fine motor skills and improves dexterity. In some ways, playing the piano is like taking your fingers to the gym. As you practice, your fingers will strengthen and finger speed will increase. Good motor skills like these can not only make you more agile, but also result in increased energy overall.

    A study published in the Journal of Anatomy even suggests that the cortical mapping in the brains of pianists actually changes over time to increase finger speeds. That’s why learning to play the piano can improve motor movement and overall coordination even in children and adults with reduced motor skills.

    Reading music with your eyes and responding with your hands also serves to build excellent hand-eye coordination; this applies to learning any musical instrument. However, when playing piano specifically, you develop independent coordination skills. At times, your left and your right hand need to execute totally different movements. Your brain has to tell each hand separately what to do and how to move. And as you improve, you go from playing one note at a time to playing several in each hand. Developing independent coordination skills can positively impact other areas of your life, such as playing sports or video games, doing computer work, doing home or car repairs, even cooking.

    3. It Helps You Develop a Musical Ear

    If you play piano (or are interested in learning how to play), you’re probably someone who already appreciates music. But learning an instrument like piano can allow you to appreciate music even more by enabling you to hear details in music you may have never noticed before and better appreciate the skillset of your favorite artists.

    A piano and a speaker.

    Having a keen understanding of sounds is called aural awareness; people with this skill are said to have a “musical ear” (the opposite of being “tone deaf”). Interestingly, although having a musical ear helps you play the piano, the opposite is also true: Playing piano helps you develop a musical ear by training you to recognize tones, intervals and chords as well as helping you to develop a sense of pitch. After all, you need to listen carefully in order to play any piece of music, and only if you are able to remember how it should sound will you be able to correct yourself. In fact, it helps to hum the song that you are about to learn before you actually start to play it on your piano.

    Aural awareness is important in aspects of life outside of music too. Good aural awareness makes it easier to identify and understand sound patterns of foreign languages, can help fight dyslexia while it is still developing, and can even help you if you have trouble hearing when there is a lot of background noise (a physiological phenomenon known as the Cocktail Party Effect).

    4. It Fosters a Sense of Community

    Music is a universal language that crosses all barriers and is capable of eliciting strong emotions in both the listener and player. The piano was designed to reflect human emotion and feeling, and for hundreds of years, it has been bringing the power of music to millions of people.

    A woman playing piano in front of her family.

    Playing piano is a wonderful way of bringing together the larger community, as well as smaller groups of family and friends. And even though it’s often seen as a solo instrument, it can open up your social life! Consider joining an ensemble, playing voluntarily for a senior center or church, or starting an online or in-person pianist group in your area. Music is always a great conversation-starter, especially when you’re with others that play the same instrument.

    5. It’s Easy to Learn

    Compared to most other musical instruments, the piano is easy to play, and you can start at any age. No need to build up calluses on the fingers as with learning guitar; no having to develop embouchure and breathing techniques as with a wind instrument — endeavors that are sometimes painful and can dissuade otherwise enthusiastic students from continuing to learn. To play the piano, all you have to do is sit and press down a key. (Of course, that’s an oversimplification, but it’s certainly easier to start on piano than on most other instruments.)

    There are lots of options for piano students at every level, from beginner to professional. Most schools offer piano classes and there are plenty of private teachers everywhere; you can also get a lot from blog postings like our Well-Rounded Keyboardist series or watching piano tutorial videos online.

    Two children at a piano smiling at one another.

    So what are you waiting for? Time to start playing!

     

    Explore Yamaha pianos.

    Teaching Music in High-Need Schools: Best Practices for Student Success

    Now that we have laid the foundation for how school music programs can positively influence high-need schools and the students they serve, it is time to explore methods that have been proven to work in these settings. When many teachers reference high-need or Title I schools, they often include factors such as low socioeconomic status, higher crime rates, greater student absenteeism, and an increased risk of involvement in gang activity and drug use among other negative consequences. Some may even assume that an overwhelming majority of their students are from single parent households and are being raised by teen mothers, or “kids raising kids” as the cliché goes.

    While some of these conditions may be the reality for some students who attend these schools, we should not generalize these factors to all students. Eric Jimenez and Justin McLean pointed out may untruths about teaching in high-need schools in their article, “Dispelling the Myths of Teaching in a Title I School.” They stated that many of the things that teachers may believe about teaching in this setting are based on deficit thinking and lowered expectations for musical excellence. If you have not listened to Jimenez and McLean’s music education podcast, The Score, consider adding it to your playlist. It has become required listening for my music education majors here at Tennessee State University!

    As an undergraduate and graduate student, I was lucky to have mentors who taught me that all students can learn and reach the highest levels of academic and musical excellence, regardless of their life circumstances. One of those mentors, Dr. Shelby Chipman, Director of Bands at Florida A&M University, emphasized the importance of believing that our students can achieve anything in “Perceptions of At-Risk Students by Florida Secondary School Band Directors,” an article based on his doctoral dissertation. By creating a safe and nurturing environment, developing an effective daily routine and empowering each student within the program, we can give our students the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful not just in music, but in every facet of their lives.

    student placing a reassuring hand on the back of another student
    photo by Adobe Stock/PressMaster

    Create a Supportive Environment

    Throughout my years of teaching in high-need schools, the one factor I found to be most critical was the classroom environment. Not only did I want students to enter a clean and organized classroom every day, I also wanted them to know that our room had a unique “micro-climate” and that it was up to all of us to maintain it. I wanted students to feel safe, know that they could be open and take risks, and that I was there to support them. Dr. Gabriel Arnold’s article, “Effective Band Director Techniques for Teaching in Title I Schools,” emphasizes the importance of creating such an environment.

    I would start each year doing several group activities with the students that included establishing rules for the music room and setting goals for both individual student achievement and for the group as a whole. I scheduled a town hall at the beginning of the year and invited students, parents, staff and administrators. There, we opened up the floor to allow all stakeholders to state any ideas that they had and what they would like to see the program accomplish that year.

    When it came to the music we studied and performed, I made sure to get input and take suggestions from students so that our repertoire was made up of an inclusive and diverse selection of pieces that represented my students. Representation, identity and cultural competency can go a long way toward developing more engaging experiences for students and can be another way we let our students know that they are seen and valued.

    sign that reads "routine" with a stopwatch
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Yury Zap

    Develop a Consistent Routine

    I find that predictability can be an asset to music organizations, especially when a student’s home life or school day outside of our class may not be as routine. When I taught high school and middle school band, I dedicated the first several weeks of school just establishing and practicing procedures. Whether it was how to enter class, take out equipment, assemble instruments, knowing when to talk and when to be silent, warming up or tuning, my students could depend on the class flowing in a certain way. Though there were times when we had to deviate from our structure for other reasons — usually outside of our control — students built up enough “muscle memory” through practicing the procedures that they could easily adjust. This helped them feel very confident and comfortable in my class. It also led to students trusting that I cared for them, that I knew what I was doing as a teacher, and that I wanted them to have the best music-making experience possible.

    In her article entitled “The Role of Band Programs in Title I Schools: A Middle School Principal’s Perspective,” Dr. Lisa Williams discussed how music programs in high-need schools can positively impact student outcomes and increase the morale of the entire school. I would constantly challenge my students to take the things they were learning in my class and apply them to all their classes. I wanted our organization to serve as an example of what was possible, and by doing so, I hoped to inspire other teachers and students in our school to replicate our success. I would often invite other teachers to bring their students to my classroom for an in-school field trip and let them participate in our class and ask as many questions as possible. When students saw how my colleagues and I worked together for the good of all, it was easier to reinforce high expectations throughout the school. The band students also saw how influential they had become in the school, and I tried to empower them as much as possible through leadership opportunities.

    group of four students with arms clasp and looking out onto a sunset

    Make Every Student a Leader

    Early in my career, I realized that the band staff and the parents could only do such much. There was only so much time and bandwidth we all had for certain tasks. One summer, while planning for pre-season camp, I started to think about how we could get our students more involved with the operations and logistics of running the program. We decided to have a free leadership workshop (open to anyone currently in band) to see how many students might be interested in doing more. On the first day of the program, nearly the whole band showed up; way more than we expected! After we finished covering leadership basics, such as communication, teamwork and conflict resolution, I asked for suggestions on how we could allow our student leaders to be more involved.

    From this conversation, our show planning, dance routine and arranging teams were formed. These groups helped students with an interest in wanting to learn more about these areas an opportunity to contribute to our halftime shows and concerts in significant ways. Other students wanted to be involved in different ways, so we created student committees that mirrored our parent booster committees with groups that handled volunteering, equipment management, fundraising, administrative support and more. These committees with both students and parents helped us operate both during the school day and after school, and they provided more leadership opportunities for students.

    At the first high school where I worked, Miller Grove High School in Lithonia, Georgia, we had a simple motto: “You Must Do Something.” This referred to both our ethos and school requirement that every student had to be involved in at least one extracurricular activity. For the band, we took this statement to another level by requiring that every band student must be a leader and serve on at least one of our student teams or committees. I know that by distributing leadership this widely it can feel as if we are over-delegating. But, at the end of the day, our staff was clear to let everyone know that the director had the final word. We did this to ensure that everyone took ownership of the program while knowing that our band staff would ensure that everything ran smoothly and met our collective expectations for success.

    someone rowing in a kayak

    Stay the Course

    As we all strive to build programs that will support and nurture student musicians, we must remember that everything we are trying to achieve is an iterative process. By creating a supportive environment, developing a consistent routine in our classrooms and empowering each student through leadership development, we will see our students achieve as musicians and grow as people. If we continue to show up for our students and give it our all each and every day, they will see our example and show up for us as well.

    Read part 1 of this series on recruitment.

    Read part 2 of this series on rapport.

    Read part 3 of this series on defining success.

    Read part 5 of this series on funding.

    References

    top photo by Adobe Stock/Stanciuc

    Spotlight on the THR Remote App

    Yamaha was the first company to come up with the concept of a desktop amp — a guitar amplifier that takes up minimal space (it can literally fit on your desktop!) and offers both portability and versatility … along with a big, big sound.

    The free THR Remote app (available for both iOS and Android™), makes a good thing even better. It’s like getting an upgrade, at the cost of exactly zero dollars.

    Let’s look at some of the main features offered by this remarkable app.

    INSTANT ACCESS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD

    There are four THR-II Yamaha desktop amp models to choose from: the THR30II WL wireless electric guitar amp, the THR30IIA WL wireless acoustic guitar amp, the THR10II electric guitar amp and the THR10II WL wireless electric guitar amp; the first two offer 30 watts of power, and the latter two provide 20 watts of power.

    Whichever model you choose, the THR Remote app offers immediate access to your amp anytime, anywhere. “Wherever I’m at in the world, I can always link up to any nearby THR,” enthuses Andy Winston, Yamaha Product Training Specialist for Guitars and presenter of the video below. “The app will simply look for the Bluetooth signal the THR is transmitting, and you’ll have an instant connection.”

    “I always thought the first-generation THR was a great product,” Andy continues, “but it didn’t offer the variety of touchy-feely controls that you’d find on large amplifiers and pedals. The upgrades that we did from first-generation to second-generation THR were pretty special; for example, putting a Line 6 wireless receiver under the hood. I also like the sexy new look, with the THR30II model now available in black and white, as well as a natural brown finish.”

    It was when the second generation THR-II models came along that the app was developed. “It looks a lot more like my pedals do and it really unlocks a lot of the potential that’s inside the THR,” Winston says of the app. “When you’re ready to gig, simply put your tablet up on a stand, and you’re able to control multiple parameters in the THR that’s sitting behind you.”

    “I have three THRII wireless desktop amps in my house,” he continues. “There are two in the garage and one in the bedroom. I often use them just as a music player, streaming via Bluetooth, because I don’t always want to fire up the big stereo that’s in my living room. The sound of the THRII and its soundfield reproduction is astounding; after all, Yamaha is an audio company.” Thanks to its USB out, the THRII can also serve as an audio interface. You even get a free download of Steinberg Cubasis home recording software. “That kind of makes it the Swiss army knife of guitar amplifiers,” says Winston.

    ADDED FEATURES

    The app allows you to do many things that you can’t do on the amp itself — for example, it adds a built-in compressor and noise gate. “If you do a little country chicken-picking, put that compressor on there and it’ll smooth out the tone so nicely,” Andy explains. “Or, if you’re living in a high-gain world, turn the noise gate on and you’ll be able to stop your guitar from feeding back or having any other noise issues. It’s almost like lifting open the hood and looking at the engine that’s underneath. Plus it provides all these little fine controls that experienced musicians will certainly want, and entry-level musicians will have fun playing with.”

    For instance, the app provides three to five buttons to control each of the THR’s onboard effects, as opposed to the single “little-to-a-lot” control on the face of the amp itself. “Take, for example, the chorus effect,” Winston says. “On the app, it looks more like what you would find on a pedal, with virtual knobs for speed, depth, pre-delay, feedback and mix, whereas on the amplifier, it’s a single rotary control that’s basically just ‘chorus a little, chorus a lot.’ It’s a preset algorithm that increases as you turn the knob, but actually only about 25 percent of the knob is dedicated to that before you get into other effects. With the app, you can adjust everything about the chorusing.”

    Screenshot.
    Controlling the chorus effect on the THR Remote app.

    In addition, the app adds cabinet modeling — something that’s not available in the THR itself. All the traditional guitar cabinet models are available, including American, British, open back and closed back. Assigning a different cabinet model to each preset really helps you define your own sound.

    Other features offered by the THR Remote app include:

    • Remote access to user memories. Instantly recall any of the five stored user memories wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet, or store the sound you’ve built in the app into any of the amp’s user memory slots. It’s like having a five-channel amp on your desktop!
    • Remote tap tempo. Yes, the tuner button on the face of the THR doubles as a tap tempo control, but the app allows you to set the tempo of your delays from your smartphone or tablet — far more convenient than on the amp itself.
    • Battery life view. With the app, you can instantly see how much battery power is remaining in the THR — invaluable if you’re running the amp from its rechargeable battery.
    • Audio output control. The app provides control over the USB level coming out of the THR, as well as the level from the rear panel 1/4″ line outputs offered by the THR30II WL wireless model. The latter allows you to connect your THR to a powered speaker, enabling you to take it out of your bedroom or living room and turn it into a small stage amp, or to route unaffected “dry” signal to a DI box, mixing board or external audio interface.
    • Audio streaming EQ: Change the equalization curve being applied to streaming audio.

    Check out the video:

    What’s the Difference Between Violin and Viola?

    A violin and a viola look somewhat alike, but in fact there are numerous differences between the two — not just size, but also variations in tone and overall construction — even the bows that are used to play them.

    Let’s take a deep dive into how the two instruments differ from one another.

    SIZE

    Acoustic violin.
    Yamaha AV20 violin.
    Acoustic viola.
    Yamaha AVA5 viola.

    In general, a viola is slightly larger than a violin, but each of these instruments actually have variable sizing depending on age, arm length and finger length.

    Stringed instruments are measured from the bottom of the lower bout (the edge of the instrument) to the top of the upper bout; the neck and scroll aren’t used in “size” measurements. Violins are measured in fractions, beginning at 1/32 (or 7″) up to 4/4 (or 14″), also known as “full size.” Because violins can be made so small, kids as young as two years old can begin playing them.

    Violas, on the other hand, are sized in inches, not fractions. They range from 12″ all the way up to 18″ in body length. A full size (4/4) violin is exactly the same length as a 14″ viola, but the construction of the instrument is a bit different to accommodate the lower strings and deeper tone. (See below for more information.) A “full size” viola usually references any violas from 15″ to 16.5″. These are the most common sizes for adults.

    A chart showing the different sizes of violins and violas.

    Playing an instrument of the correct size is extremely important. An orchestral string instrument that is too small for you won’t allow you to properly navigate through all the notes on the fingerboard, while if you play an instrument that’s too large, you may not have the reach to hit all the notes comfortably. Sizing for stringed instruments is best done by an instructor or a professional at your local music store so they can ensure you’ll have the best fit possible.

    CONSTRUCTION

    Violins and violas are constructed somewhat differently from one another. As shown in the illustration below, a viola’s body has wider and thicker sides (also known as the ribs of the instrument). A viola will also sometimes incorporate thicker front and back plates (the tops and bottoms) to further enrich its deep, warm tone.

    Side view of a viola and a violin.

    TONE

    Speaking of tone, have you ever had the opportunity to hear an orchestra perform? If you listen closely to the strings, you’ll often hear a sweet, clear melody, and then a darker, richer tone gliding gently behind it. The collaboration of these two beautiful voices highlights some of the main tonal differences between violin and viola.

    Orchestral stringed instruments such as violin and viola are tuned in fifths. The violin is the soprano voice of an orchestra, and is tuned E5, A4, D4, G3 from the highest (or thinnest) string to the lowest (or thickest). This, along with its construction, gives the violin a sweet, crisp tone that provides an orchestra with a clear melody and leading voice. The viola is considered the alto voice, and is tuned a perfect fifth below a violin (A4, D4, G3, C3). The first string on a viola begins on the second string of a violin, as shown below. This allows the viola to not only provide beautiful harmonies with the violin, but warmer undertones as well.

    Violin and viola range compared to keyboard.

    Some contemporary electric violins such as the Yamaha YEV-105 have five strings instead of four; the extra string adds the low C found on the viola. These kinds of instruments are widely used in electric orchestras as well as jazz, rock and pop bands — even for solo performances.

    Five string violin compared to keyboard.

    BOW

    Violin bows and viola bows are also different. Viola bows are a bit longer in length, and have a thicker tip, but the most obvious way to spot the difference is in the frog — the square-ish part at the bottom of the bow near the tightening screw into which the horsehair feeds. On violin bows, the frog has a sharp back (usually at a 90-degree angle), while on a viola bow the frog has a more rounded, smooth back. Why is this part called a frog? There are many theories but no conclusive answer! Theories include everything from horse hooves to the vice used in its construction to its overall appearance.

    Closeup of a violin and a viola bow.

    Even with all these differences, violins and violas have worked seamlessly together for hundreds of years to create beautiful, nuanced music. The next time you’re at an orchestra concert or are listening to the soundtrack of your favorite superhero movie, see if you can hear the differences between the rich, earthy tones of the viola and the sweet melodic voice of the violin. If you’re looking to learn to play, choose the instrument that speaks to you the most, make sure you get the right size, and remember, practice makes progress!

    The Harmony Director: A Great Tool for the Music Classroom

    When the Yamaha Harmony Director HD-300 was released, music educators were very excited because it was touted as a powerful tool to more effectively teach intonation and rhythmic training. With that excitement came many questions about how to incorporate the Harmony Director in daily rehearsals, such as:

    • “Isn’t it just another keyboard?”
    • “Do I have to be a theory geek to figure this out?”
    • “How much time outside of rehearsal will I have to study to utilize it effectively?”
    • “Isn’t it just a fancy F concert machine with a metronome?”

    Any instrumental director can incorporate the HD-300 into their everyday rehearsals. The great thing about the Harmony Director is that you become more comfortable and proficient with the technology as you and your students learn together.

    If you want to develop great sound, balance and tuning in your ensemble rehearsals, there is no device better than the HD-300 to help you achieve this. Tuning in a wind or string ensemble must include aspects of equal and pure (just) temperament. Using one or the other exclusively will not create the cohesive ensemble sound you desire. With a few simple exercises, you can begin to understand which temperament is appropriate at any given time.

    What is Temperament?

    Throughout music history, different tuning systems, or temperaments, were developed and improved as composers became more creative. Later compositions required musicians to be able to move freely from key center to key center, an impossible task in early temperaments.

    For wind groups, the two most commonly used temperaments are equal temperament and pure (just) temperament. In order for wind groups to perform “in tune,” a combination of both equal and pure temperaments must be used.

    Equal temperament is the standard tuning system used today. The idea of an octave split equally into 12 half steps is a common and obvious system to use. In the course of music history, however, it is a fairly modern concept.

    Pure temperament involves the use of “pure 5ths” and “pure 3rds.” Pure intervals can be traced back to Pythagoras who used “perfect” mathematical ratios to create his tuning system. The use of these pure intervals gives major and minor triads a rich sonority that equal tempered 5ths and 3rds do not exhibit. The downside, however, is pure tempered chromatic pitches do not always sound sonorous with their neighbors. Essentially, tempering involves the slight adjustment of scale degrees to fix unpleasant sounding intervals within a scale.

    The HD-300 has the ability to change its tuning from equal to either pure major or pure minor temperament. This allows the subtle differences in sound and tuning within those temperaments to be easily heard and demonstrated.

    Which Temperament Should I Use?

    In general, equal temperament should be used when working on scales, scale patterns or simple interval exercises like this “Remington” exercise. When you are tuning a melodic phrase or harmonic progression, it is best to use pure temperament.

    Where Do I Start?

    Start with the exercises that are a part of your daily basics routine.

    Figure 1: Pure Tone Exercise

    Download Figure 1_Pure_Tone.

    The exercise above is one of the most basic sound exercises because it helps create the reflex of a pure start, consistent middle and organized end to a sound. With the Harmony Director set to pure temperament, you can also accurately depict what the most prominent overtone sounds like. Set the HD-300 to pure F major, and it automatically adjusts the C concert +2 cents. This slight tempering of pitch places the C concert where it occurs naturally in the overtone series. This exercise can be quickly transferred to any key center just by the touch of a few keys on the Harmony Director.

    The Next Step

    When students become comfortable with hearing an adjusted perfect 5th, you may wish to move on to discussing tempering in a melodic phrase.

    Figure 2: Pure F Major Mini-Scale

    Download Figure 2_Pure_F_Major.

    Begin by concentrating on the 3rd and 5th scale degree in a major key. This develops the basic concept and reinforces your initial discussion of temperament. In the exercise above, there are arrows above the flute part point up and down. In pure F major, the 3rd scale degree is adjusted -13.7 cents down from equal and the 5th scale degree is adjusted +2 cents up from equal.

    Singing the exercise along with the HD-300 is an effective way to allow students to become accustomed to the adjustments. Do not get caught up in the math with the students. Use phrases such as “slight adjustment” (1 arrow) and “significant adjustment” (2 arrows). Try to avoid phrases like “play it slightly sharp” or “very flat”. Do not confuse tuning with a tuner and tempering with your ears. Encourage students to “let their ears guide them.”

    Putting it Together!

    Tempering is both a horizontal and vertical concept. By using a triad in any key, you can help students understand their role and how to adjust their pitch within a specific chord. The same concept applies here as it did in the melodic exercise. In pure F major students who play the 3rd would adjust down toward the root (-13.7 cents) and students who play the 5th would adjust slightly up away from the root. (+2 cents). Because the Harmony Director can switch quickly between equal and pure temperaments you can allow students to hear the “beats” of an unadjusted triad versus the clarity of an adjusted triad.

    Figure 3: Basic Chord Construction in F Major

    Download Figure 3_Basic_Chord_F_Major.

    In all exercises involving the HD-300 and tempering, the most important tool students can use is their ears. Singing every exercise you play and every excerpt of music you perform is the quickest way to develop this skill in your students.

    Going Further

    As you become comfortable with simple exercises involving the Harmony Director and tempering, you will begin to see how it correlates with your concert literature. Find those places where you need to isolate specific chords or melodic content in a phrase and unlock the incredible power of the HD-300 and your student’s ears!

    All exercise excerpts included in this article are from “Ensemble: An Integrated Approach to the Yamaha Harmony Director.” Contact Fannin Music Productions for more information.

    A Brief History of Handheld Consoles

    When video games first rose to popularity in the 1980s, arcades were all the rage. Millions would visit the digital fun houses and pop quarters into big cabinet-sized machines to play titles like Pac-Man and Space Invaders, trying to outdo bad guys and get to the next stage.

    Eventually technology advanced, allowing players to enjoy gaming at home, mostly with the groundbreaking and extremely popular Nintendo® Entertainment System (NES®). But when smaller handheld consoles made their appearance, a whole new market opened up.

    Here’s the history of those gems.

    VIDEO GAME WATCHES (late 1970s)

    One of the first handheld games to garner attention was the basic 1977 Mattel title Football I. A few years later, though, companies began making even smaller gaming devices, with the first video game watches debuting in the early 1980s. A company called Nelsonic Industries kicked things off with a rudimentary gaming watch called Space Attacker, which was similar to the popular Space Invaders arcade game. Casio also offered a similar gaming watch. Soon these devices became even more varied, with options ranging from The Legend of Zelda to Super Mario Brothers to Tetris and even Star Fox. While not especially advanced by today’s standards, they were innovative due to their compact size.

    GAME BOY™ (1989)

    Although the first handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges — a feature that single-game watches didn’t allow — was Milton Bradley’s Microvision (released in 1979), the Nintendo® Game Boy, which hit the market ten years later, was really the handheld device that started it all. It offered more intricate gameplay than anything that came before it and gave users the chance to play games similar to the larger (and beloved) NES console but in a portable, battery-operated manner. The Game Boy was so popular that the device sold over a million units in just a few weeks and the many iterations released since have sold some 120 million units. After its inception, other versions have been released, including Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Pocket and, later, the Nintendo DS Lite®.

    ATARI LYNX (1989)

    The Atari Lynx handheld controller launched just two months after Game Boy. Atari had previously created a successful home console in the 1970s (known for titles like Pitfall), but this handheld system offered color gameplay right off the bat, and in a more advanced 16-bit format, as opposed to the 8-bit Game Boy. In 1991, the follow-up Lynx Model 2 was released. While Atari did have an established name in the gaming world, the Lynx system never took off like its Nintendo counterpart, with 71 games released for the Lynx compared to nearly 1,100 for Game Boy.

    GAME GEAR (1990)

    Game Gear was the biggest contemporary rival to Game Boy, more so than the Lynx or others on this list. It offered titles from its parent console, the Sega Genesis, which had achieved popularity thanks to its mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. Unlike the original Game Boy, the Game Gear also offered games in color, not just black-and-white. One issue the handheld console had, however, was that it ran on 6 AA batteries, which lasted only a handful of hours, whereas the Game Boy ran on 4 AA batteries for much longer. Later, Sega released the Genesis Nomad, though that’s considered a commercial flop today.

    TURBOEXPRESS (1990)

    Also released in 1990, TurboExpress was a portable version of TurboGrafx-16, a 16-bit home console system that rivaled Sega Genesis and was known for its signature character, the cave boy Bonk. What set this handheld device apart, however, was that gamers could use to the same slim cartridge in their TurboGrafx-16 home consoles as they could in their handheld ones, enabling them to freely swap between handheld and home devices. But because TurboGrafx-16 simply wasn’t as popular as the NES or Sega Genesis, this offering failed to sell any more than 1.5 million units, even though it was in some ways more advanced.

    NEO GEO POCKET COLOR (1999)

    This handheld from the Japanese company SNK is remembered for its innovations as well as its failure to compete with Game Boy. Today, the Neo Geo Pocket Color is noted for its clear color screen and extremely sensitive controls — perfect for combat games. Unfortunately, it was also one of about a dozen handheld devices released between the early 1990s and the 2000s (such as WonderSwan, Watara SuperVision and Mega Duck) that were commercial failures.

    PLAYSTATION® PORTABLE (2004)

    This handheld system from Sony proved to be the next major innovation in the market thanks to its advanced graphics and extensive library of PlayStation® games. Over the course of 10 years, the device sold more than 80 million units. The PSP, as it was nicknamed, could also connect to a player’s home PlayStation 2® or PlayStation 3® consoles and even play real movies. In this way, it was more like a portable entertainment system, not just a gaming one. Since its inception, Sony has released numerous sequels, including the PlayStation Vita® in 2011.

    NINTENDO SWITCH (2017)

    The Nintendo Switch is one of the most recent innovations in handheld systems, and it’s as versatile and enjoyable as any device ever made. It can be used as on its own or connected to a home television, sound bar or AV receiver like a console, and can be played by one or two gamers simply by removing the small controllers on the sides of the device. Notably, just like a modern cell phone, the Switch also allows players the option of online gaming thanks to its internet connectivity. Since its 2017 release, the Switch has sold more than 125 million units. What else would you expect from the company that essentially started it all with Game Boy?

    How YPAO™ Works in Yamaha Hi-Fi Receivers

    YPAO™ (short for Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer) is an exclusive Yamaha technology that analyzes the acoustics of your listening and viewing space so that the sound you hear is the absolute best it can be. All current multi-channel Yamaha AV receivers incorporate some form of YPAO (there are several different levels), as does the latest line of RN Series stereo Yamaha network Hi-Fi receivers, but the implementation is slightly different.

    In multi-channel (i.e., 5.1, 7.2, 9.2 or 11.2) AV receivers, the user first selects a target curve — flat, natural or front. The YPAO system then works to timbre-match your speakers to the selected curve.

    However, when you are using a Hi-Fi receiver and have only two speakers in the room, the goal is to achieve optimum imaging and frequency response, so YPAO instead matches the two speakers to each other.

    Here’s a detailed explanation of how YPAO works in two-channel Hi-Fi receivers.

    MINIMAL EQ

    With the judicious application of acoustic treatment, some listening spaces can have a flatter response (and therefore sound better) than others, but since no room is perfect, a certain amount of equalization usually needs to be applied to get things sounding as good as possible. However, Hi-Fi YPAO uses as little EQ as possible, cutting rather than boosting any problematic frequency areas.

    To understand why, take a look at this example of a curve that might be derived in a typical room after YPAO does a frequency sweep with a connected microphone:

    Graph.
    As highlighted in the illustration below, the left channel is significantly boosted at approximately 40 Hz as compared to the right channel. This could happen if the left speaker is close to a wall (which would cause low frequencies to increase due to room reflections) and the right speaker is positioned further away from any reflective surfaces.
    Graph.

    Such a situation will result in different frequency responses between the two speakers. When a low piano note is played, for example, the left channel will be louder than the right channel, and so the fundamental frequency of that note will be shifted to the left — just as if you had turned your balance control on the front panel counterclockwise from center.

    But a piano note has a whole spectrum of frequency harmonics, not just the fundamental. And the right channel might actually be louder (relative to the left) at the second harmonic (as shown below), which will cause that part of the sound to be shifted to the right.

    Graph.

    This kind of disparity can continue throughout the entire frequency spectrum, and even if it’s just a matter of a decibel or half a decibel, the imaging will be greatly compromised. A piano or a guitar that’s mixed to dead center should sound like a single instrument coming from a very focused point, but when you have a situation like this, depending on which harmonic you’re listening to, the sound is going to be shifting back and forth between left and right — even within a single note. The end result is that sonics will blur and the instrument will appear as if it’s a foot wide in-between the speakers, instead of coming from one particular spot.

    Graph.

    CUTTING INSTEAD OF BOOSTING FOR FOCUSED SOUND

    The solution comes from selectively cutting certain frequencies instead of boosting them. In this particular instance, if you try to boost the right channel to match the left channel, the result will be less than optimum because the left channel already has an artificial boost due to imperfect placement of the left speaker in an imperfect room. Boosting a frequency will also raise the noise floor in that area of the spectrum, reducing the signal-to-noise ratio and resulting in lesser dynamic range.

    In this particular example, we know the left channel is too loud at approximately 40 Hz, so we can cut that frequency range. At this frequency, the right channel looks like it’s flat, but we could be making an error there. So YPAO will also drop the right channel down to match the left channel at the second and higher harmonics:

    Graph.

    This will not result in a perfectly flat frequency response, but at least now the channels are matched, which will result in a tightly focused sound.

    Graph.

    Yamaha R-N Series network Hi-Fi receivers offer two sets of speaker terminals, allowing you to, for example, connect a set of bookshelf speakers and a set of floor-standing speakers. The R-N800A, R-N1000A and R-N2000A models allow you to store individual YPAO settings for each set of connected speakers, so the correction for your bookshelf speakers would be different than for your floor-standing speakers. And if you ever choose to run them both at the same time, an “A+B” YPAO memory slot calibrates the system for that circumstance as well.

    YPAO VOLUME

    The human ear has less sensitivity to high and low frequencies at lower volumes. At those levels, we tend to hear mid-range tones much more clearly, which is right where most singers’ voices fall. That’s why, when the volume goes down, the instrumental accompaniment — the extra layers of sound that give a song so much more depth — tends to disappear.

    The Yamaha solution comes in the form of a technology called YPAO Volume, which is essentially a loudness control that’s tied to the volume control:

    Diagram.

    YPAO Volume is incorporated in current Yamaha AV and network Hi-Fi receivers, further ensuring that all musical components are precisely balanced at every volume level. The end result is a richly fulfilling experience whether you’re listening softly or at full tilt.

    And that’s how Hi-Fi YPAO works … and why it makes everything sound so good!

    Elevate Your Guitar Playing in 30 Days

    Let’s be honest: We’ve all purchased a new guitar in hopes that it will serve to magically transform our playing to new heights of expression.

    No doubt the exciting colors and sensual curves we love so much about our instruments can inspire new approaches, songs, and even an elevated sense of performance. And indeed, improvements in your technique may occur through sonic nirvana, extended hours of practice on the new axe, or simply because your latest guitar plays better than your old one.

    But what happens when the initial rush of euphoria wears off? Do we find ourselves wandering aimlessly around a plateau of fretboard possibilities that lead us nowhere, endlessly searching for the Stairway to guitar-playing Heaven?

    It’s my job as an educator to ascertain blockages, stagnation and/or lack of progress in my students. After all, it usually takes an outside perspective to reveal the quicksand.

    The good news is that there are steps you can take to shift a low-gear malaise into high-octane territory. Here are three tips that will expand your guitar technique, musicality and chops within 30 days. This does mean you’ll have to do some work, though, so strap in and commit to upward, forward motion.

    1. Improve Your Left/Right Hand Coordination

    One of the main reasons guitar players don’t improve is that their picking hand isn’t in sync with their fretting hand.

    This often occurs with single-note passages because downstrokes are naturally stronger than upstrokes, just as ascending fretting hand movements tend to be stronger and more fluid than those going from the pinky to the first finger. This can cause timing discrepancies between the picking hand and the finger placements on the fretboard.

    A great way to address this imbalance is to employ an exercise using only upstrokes. Here’s how: Take the following chromatic passage of four notes on the low E-string: A-A#-B-C. Using only upstrokes, play the four notes, using each of your four fretting-hand fingers (one finger per fret). Repeat the sequence for about a minute, playing consistent eighth notes. Take a break, and then repeat the exercise, this time playing the notes from high to low: C-B-A#-A.

    Repeat this sequence several times, then move on to the next string. You’ll notice that the string gauges will affect your precision; that’s why you’ll need to work across all six strings. Do this for 30 days and you’ll see massive improvement.

    Note: Don’t employ this technique when performing; just use your regular alternate picking as usual.

    2. Learn to Visualize

    Visualizing chord shapes, scales and even song lyrics can help you achieve and retain muscle-memory proficiency without even touching your guitar.

    When we visualize motor skills, we are actually creating the associated neural impulses and sending those mind messages to the fingers … even if we’re simply playing “air guitar.”

    For example, play the A minor pentatonic scale at the fifth fret. As you do so, say each of the notes from low to high out loud (A-C-D-E-G-A-C-D-E-G-A-C), then play the scale back from high to low, once again saying each note out loud as you do so.

    Now visualize fingering each of those notes, and name each note as you see them in your mind’s eye. Seeing your fingers play the scale shape and making the note name associations will solidify the scale architecture, the pitch intervals and the building blocks that create melodic sounds.

    Repeat this exercise for 30 days, and each day, move the scale shape to a new fret location until you’ve done it in all 12 keys.

    3. Supercharge Your Phrasing

    Believe it or not, you can transform your lead guitar playing chops dramatically by simply shifting the start point of your licks across the beats in a bar.

    Most guitar players have a tendency to start each phrase on the first downbeat of each bar (the “one”). But when you move the phrase to the second downbeat of the bar (the “two”), a whole new melodic and rhythmic world opens up.

    Try it for yourself: Find your favorite jam track and count the beats. Take one note from an appropriate scale shape and play it on the downbeat of one. Now play the same note on the downbeat of two. Repeat until you’re comfortable playing that one note on each of the four beats in the bar, then take your favorite phrase and practice starting that lick on the downbeat of each beat in the measure.

    After practicing this for 15 days, it’s time to turn up the heat. Take one note and play it on the upbeat of one (the “and”). Do this until you are comfortable, then move on to the upbeat of two, and so on.

    Don’t try playing full phrases on the different upbeats until you can identify and perform this exercise using a single note on all four upbeats. The hardest part of this application for most players is identifying the beat and its subdivisions. Once you can do that, you’ll be able to place your licks at any point within the bar.

    Trust me, this is the cool factor you’ve been looking for. However, you’ll need to stay focused and work on it for a while before it begins to become part of your natural playing.

    The Video

    In this video, I demonstrate a couple of ways to elevate your melodic chops and phrasing prowess, with plenty of room at the end for you to jam over my chordal structure.

    In the first eight measures, I use an E minor pentatonic scale, and I’m starting each of the four two-bar phrases on the downbeat of three. The space this leaves at the beginning of each two-bar section allows me to take a relaxed approach to the melodic lines. In addition, I’m starting each new lick on the last note of the previous phrase in order to add melodic motion.

    To increase the challenge, the key modulates up a minor third to G (G minor pentatonic scale) for the next eight measures, though I stay in the same fretboard position. This helps to reinforce scale shape recognition, so try to do the same thing when it’s your turn to jam.

    The Guitar

    The guitar I’m playing in the video is a Yamaha Revstar Element RSE20 with a Neon Yellow finish. (I’ve named it “Neon Leon.”) Like all second-generation Revstar guitars, it has an acoustically-tuned chambered mahogany body for enhanced resonance, sustain and musicality. In addition, the jumbo frets on its 13″ radius rosewood fretboard keep the notes flowing and the intonation spot-on from the lowest to the highest notes.

    Author playing a guitar.

    The two Alnico V humbucking pickups on the RSE20 capture every nuance and translate them faithfully to your amplifier. The tones available from the three-way selector switch on the guitar can be further expanded by pulling up on the tone control. This “dry switch” feature effectively reduces the bass response of the pickups for a brighter sound.

    The Wrap-Up

    I know we’ve all hit the wall at times and found ourselves stuck in a wasteland of the same musical information. It’s a loop that leads nowhere.

    And then there’s the maze of development options that may or may not lead to our next level of proficiency. The question is, which path of study do we choose to find our way out?

    I always think the best approach is to determine what you are trying to achieve. Focus on the big picture  and then take small steps towards that mountain. If you’re not sure what that big picture is yet, work on solid techniques, positive reinforcement of the skills you have, and above all, be proactive and prepared to put in some hard work. With that in mind, you can get where you want to go … and possibly a lot faster than you might think. In fact, you might be amazed at what you can achieve in just 30 days.

    PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

     

    Check out Robbie’s other postings.

    Co-Directors and Assistants: Step Out of the Shadows

    Many articles and resources are tailored toward guiding head directors of school music programs, but what about the unsung heroes? Assistant directors and co-directors play a vital role in the success of a program. Starting in one of these positions is both rewarding and demanding. Let’s delve into some practical advice to help assistants or co-directors make the most of their time and navigate the school year successfully.

    The Foundation is Communication

    two women talking

    Many problems or neglect experienced by assistants and co-directors happen due to a lack of communication or a translation issues. Establish a relationship with your colleagues where you are comfortable speaking openly to them. This must be done by you — you cannot wait for this to happen to you, much like you cannot wait for students to learn their parts on their own.

    An essential aspect of your role as an assistant or co-director is effective communication. Keep open channels with your head director, students and parents, which can make the difference between a chaotic environment and a harmonious one. Clear, concise communication can preempt misunderstandings and set the stage for a successful year.

    Don’t Wait for Opportunities

    If you sit around waiting for a cue, you might miss the entire performance. I still regret not counting my measures for a performance of “Into the W