Friday, January 15, 2016

One Friday Night Each January, We Band Together

I don't do a whole lot of long-form blogging these days; besides the usual "life got complicated" thing, most of my time is spent in places like Facebook and Twitter, where posts are much shorter. But one thing I do every year is write an extended post about the All-Region Bands concert in which some of my students play.

In the past few years, there's been a "cut and paste" element to this post;while every concert is different in terms of players, conductors and repertoire, there were certain thoughts that crossed my mind every year that I felt bore repeating. But this year, as I "scribbled" down my thoughts between bands on the notes feature of my phone, I realized that there were a lot of fresh things to say, so I'm not even referencing any of the previous posts this time.

So here are the things that came to mind at this year's concert:
  • Not all regions have the same setup in terms of number of bands, etc., so here's a quick overview. Our region has five bands: A ninth grade band and four high school bands (which the freshmen can make as well, since the tryouts are on different days, but they have to surrender their seat in the freshman band if they do). Each band starts at a set time, which is listed in the program, so there's usually plenty of stretch time in between.

  • Thanks to traffic, I missed most of the freshman band this year (which was unfortunate, because I had a student in there). But I did hear of a more effective way to get to the venue for next year (heading east out of DFW to make a Friday 6:00 concert is always a challenge).

  • The conductor of the Wind Ensemble (the top band, and the last to play) and the Ninth Grade Band (the first to play) are husband and wife. I'm not sure that's ever happened in this region since I've been out here.

  • I'll briefly mention something that I say every year: I prefer the newer "wind ensemble" music (highly influenced by film scoring, in my opinion) to the older, more homogenized "band" music...but that being said, anything by John Philip Sousa or Percy Grainger is still sheer perfection.

  • And indeed, the newer music ruled the day this year, even from the older conductors (one of them noted that everything he programmed tonight was unknown to him five years ago!). Bravo to these folks for stretching a bit and staying current.

  • One upside to the new music: So many featured saxophones! Extended alto solos, sax sections used as choirs. It's obviously cool for the students (and for those of us in the audience who play saxophone) to actually hear our instruments, instead of always doubling the French horns like back in the day.

  • While the program featured many of the well-known modern composers (John Mackey, Jack Stamp, Eric Whitacre, Frank Ticheli, Brian Balmages), there were also some up-and-comers who had really enjoyable works performed tonight. I was especially impressed by these pieces: "Mekong" by Robert W. Smith; "Elixir" by Michael Markowski; "Oh! What a Morning" by Jess Langston Turner, and "Zing!" by Scott McAllister. Check 'em out; I'm sure they're on YouTube.

  • One request to the organizers: Please put first names of composers in the program instead of just last names. The composers deserve that recognition, and it just looks more professional.

  • I've mentioned in the past that this concert tends to run as efficiently as a Swiss train. While this didn't always happen this year, the time was made up by the end of the night, and the concert was still pretty much done by 10 PM. Squeezing five bands into four hours is still pretty impressive.

  • I was happy to see that all the conductors were very much engaged with the audience, which hasn't always happened in the past. When the programs (prepared well in advance) list the pieces in random order with a "to be selected from" at the top (and the lights are lowered for the performances), it's crucial to introduce every piece, so the audience knows what they're hearing.

  • Speaking of the audience, an amazing thing happened: A conductor announced in advance that the piece the band was about to play was in three movements, and nobody clapped between movements. Nobody! The conductor said afterwards that he and the band were a little thrown off by that (after all, there's always That One Guy who claps anyway).

  • But I do have to admonish certain audience members for one thing: Door etiquette. If you're going to enter or leave in the middle of a piece (despite signs on every door asking you not to do so), at least wait long enough to keep the door from slamming. While one piece (the aforementioned "Mekong") had some great antiphonal percussion, lots of other pieces had it as well, thanks to the doors.

  • But there was another positive audience note: For the first time, an announcement was made requesting that the concert not be recorded by audience members, as it would violate both copyright laws and TMEA regulations. And people obeyed this! It was nice to actually see the concert itself, not through the iPad of someone a few rows in front of me (watching the concert is superior to watching other people watch the concert).

  • I often use this space to brag on my studio (i.e. how many students of mine are in the band), but I'm teaching considerably fewer people this year due to expanded responsibilities elsewhere. Still, I had students in three of the five bands, and it's always nice to be able to stand up when the directors/private teachers of anyone onstage are requested to do so.

  • A parent asked me earlier today if I was just going to hear my students play and then leave. Not a chance! I'll stay for the top two bands no matter what; the elite college conductors who are selected to work with these bands always do a stellar job, and it's amazing to see what high school students can do in such a short time (the bands only rehearsed last night, this morning and this afternoon). This year's top groups didn't fail to impress me again.

I know what I'll be doing on a Friday night in January 2017, and I'll be sure to share my thoughts in this space once again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Kids Say the Darnesest Things About Their Relatives

The kids are on vacation for a while, and I've already taught the few lessons that were scheduled for this week, so any darnedest things that they say will be unheard by me for the time being. Here's one I forgot to post a month ago, but even though it references Thanksgiving, it really pertains to holiday travel in general:

During the last lessons before Thanksgiving, I was asking people how much practice time they had over the break...

ME: So are you driving or flying?
KID: We're flying...and that means I don't get to practice at all! I'm glad we're taking the trip, but I hate that I can't practice.
ME: Well, it's not always easy to fly with a horn, so I guess I can see the point.
KID: But why can't I bring my instrument for Thanksgiving? I bet old people would love to hear me play.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Their Mistakes

This one was having rhythm problems...

ME: Those were eighth notes there, and you played them as quarter notes.
KID: Maybe they got a promotion.

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Terms

One of my high schoolers' solos has a section marked "meno mosso," meaning to slow down the tempo (the literal translation is "less motion"). I always quiz them on the meaning of terms like that--both to further educate them, and because their answers are often funny...

ME: So what does "meno mosso" mean?
KID: A little bit of moss?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Kids Say the Darnedst Things About Church

I mentioned something to a middle schooler about my usual 7:30 AM band call at church on Sundays, and his response was classic: "That's too early! The Lord's not even awake that early."

Monday, December 07, 2015

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About All-Region Band Tryouts

I was congratulating a student of mine who made a band, and he was reviewing his results over the years...

KID: I've never come in sixth before. I wonder what it's like to come in sixth and miss it by one...
OTHER KID (who actually did come in sixth and miss it by one, and was sitting on the floor out of view, but within earshot): It's pretty depressing.
KID: No! I thought you left! You weren't supposed to still be here! I'm so sorry!
ME: Well, that's awkward....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Churchgoers Say the Darnedest Things

Many of you know that I play saxophone in the worship band at my church. This morning, I was greeted in the hallway by an elderly lady who said,"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower." (I guess she felt that she didn't know me well enough to call me "Horatio.')

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When Describing Large Objects

I was talking to a kid in the band hall recently, when another kid walked by carrying a huge bass clarinet case...

KID: That bass clarinet case is taller than most girls.
ME : It is pretty tall.
KID: It's taller than people!
ME: Girls are people too.
KID: I was just going for a broader spectrum.