Friday, September 11, 2015

The Years Go By, and Still, We Never Forget

Fourteen years ago today:
I was on a break from teaching, like every Tuesday, and actually spent the time of the attacks in blissful ignorance at the Rockwall Starbucks. I had CD's on in my car instead of the radio, so I totally missed the news on both the way over and the way back. I did hear someone listening to a radio on the patio and they were talking about "the second plane," but it didn't register with me at all. (It amazed me later that nobody walked inside and told us about it.)

When I got back to the school, the flute teacher stopped me in the hallway and asked me if all my students were being pulled out of school (evidently hers were). I said, "No, why?" and she told me what had happened. I spent the rest of the day like everyone else, in shocked, depressed amazement, catching the news when I could. There I was, not even two weeks into being a homeowner, and the world suddenly felt so different. It added to the pall cast over everything when I found out that the sister of a girl I graduated from high school with was on Flight 93, the one that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. (Since it's common on this day to have roll calls of the people who were lost, I'll state her name here, with a link to her foundation: Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas.)

The whole thing felt so surreal; how could anyone hate us that much? The concept of the suicide hijacking was unprecedented as well (before that, hijackers just usually wanted to go to Cuba, and that's why airline personnel were taught to cooperate with them rather than try to subdue them).

I know there are still terrorist plots being hatched, and people capable of carrying them out...but I hope nothing like this ever happens on U.S. soil again. Or anywhere, for that matter.
As I repost this in 2015, we know that the evil in our world is far from being eradicated (indeed, the past few years have seen evil showing its face even more, so it would seem). But I say once more, may we never forget, and may something of this nature never happen here again.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Marathon Band Concert That Doesn't Feel LIke One

I don't do too many long-form posts on this blog these days, but this still feels like the best medium during the Friday night every January when the All-Region bands in my region give their concert. The region where I teach is known for having strong band programs, and the result is a fine evening of music, even though the kids have had less than 24 hours (last night and most of the school day today) to rehearse the music.
And while I've blogged about Region for almost the entire twelve years in which this blog has been in existence, the post has been very similar each year, with only minor edits. But last year was a departure in several areas, and this year even more so. (As always, this post doesn't pretend to be a review of the concert, just whatever random thoughts popped into my head as I was listening.)
  • For those unfamiliar with Region, this event really isn't one concert--it's five mini-concerts. Each band has a 45-minute slot, and the start time for each band is listed in the program; even if a band runs short, the next band won't start till its posted time.

    There is a substantial amount of turnover between bands, but that may well have made room for everyone to attend, though there were seats to spare during each band. (I've never done the math to figure out whether anyone's auditorium could hold a cumulative audience, but I have my doubts, especially if kids stuck around to watch their friends in later bands.)

  • One of the things I've always observed is that the concert runs like clockwork. And for the first time in recent memory--perhaps since the set-time thing began--it wasn't exactly a Swiss train tonight. It appeared that one band didn't come out quite on time, and it made the rest of the concert run about five minutes behind. Not that it really mattered, of course, but it was just different.

  • I make a point every year to state that I prefer the new "wind ensemble" music (whose composers show a strong influence of contemporary film score writing) to the older "band" music (with its smaller sonic palette), but the two things that most resonated with me tonight were older pieces that I had played in high school and/or college. The best conductors and performers can bring new energy to old music, especially that which is an outstanding example of its genre in the first place.

  • Of the new pieces played tonight, the one that most caught my attention was "Ruckus." by a composer listed only as Standridge (let this be my annual appeal to include the usual composer info--at least first names, if not birthdates--in the programs), but a quick Googling suggests that it's this guy. Lots of fun, and there's even a jazz-sounding sax part in there.

  • This yeasr, they returned to the theme of having the top two bands conducted by college directors, and this year's duo (in order of appearance), Robert Carnoghan and Jerry Junkin from UT-Austin, were outstanding. (I also pointed out to one of my students that there was a pronounced difference in the conducting styles of the college directors, who work in a more orchestral style, with less reliance on a steady beat pattern. My quote was, "Some conductors direct beats, but these guys direct style." They're really fun to watch...

  • I always stay for the entire concert, whether or not I have students in the top band. But I would have done so anyway this year, just because of the Wind Ensemble's program. It was all of one piece, but..that piece was Carmina Burana. The entire band transcription. Played by high school students, after a mere day and a half of rehearsal. I was more than blown away. Congrats to Maestro Junkin and the students on an amazing job.

  • I was very happy that the practice of having both parents/siblings and directors/private teachers of the students onstage stand before each group performed. Most of what we private teachers do is very much behind the scenes, but it's cool to be recognized once a year.

  • Let's hear it for well-rounded musicians! Looking through the program, I counted five members of the Region Jazz band I directed back in November, and three of them were on other instruments than they played in that band--my pianist was on percussion tonight, one of my trumpets was on French horn, and one of my trombones was on euphonium. Nice work, folks!

  • And because of that experience conducting the Region Jazz band, tonight gave me an unprecedented feeling of collegiality with the directors on stage. All in all, eleven individuals were chosen to lead honor bands in Region 3 (tonight's five high school clinicians, the four from last week's middle school concert, and the two of us who led the jazz bands in November). It's a privilege to be among that number, especially in the region where I've grown up as a teacher, and also to be able to see the work of all ten of my counterparts this school year--I bet that geography alone prevented anyone else from enjoying that experience.
This concert definitely should be a marathon, but this year, it really didn't feel like it. Maybe it's because I've been to so many, but maybe it's because the music is so good, and being made by at least a few people who are really important to me.

Did you really make it through this whole post? Congrats; you're a marathon winner in much the same way as those of us who stayed for the entire concert!

I'm sure I'll be writing a similar post next year. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When They're Struggling With a Piece of Music

A beginner was playing in the key of Bb for the first time and wasn't too happy with the results. I also sensed a lack of preparation, likely because the key wasn't too fun yet...

ME: If you don't practice a piece you don't like, it's like trying to vanquish your enemy with a dull sword. You'll just nick it, and make it mad. You want to go after it with as strong of a blade as possible.
KID: Like Escobar!
ME: Who?
KID: Escobar. It's a sword in the legend of Arthur.
ME: That would be Excalibur.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Counting

During the all-important lesson on quarter note triplets (something I emphasize with my students, since I wasn't taught the concept properly until my junior year of college in percussion methods class), the following happened...

ME: So what do you get when you tie two eighth notes together?
KID: A whole note?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Unusual Accidentals

While shopping for a solo, a student ran across a less-familiar one...

KID: What is E-sharp again?
KID: E-flat.
ME: Nope. Think for a second; that can't be true.
KID: F-flat?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darndest Things About Classical Composers

Once again, during shopping-for-solos, the "list of 3" idea came up...

ME: This one is by Bach, who was of course a major composer. If I asked you to name me three classical composers, he'd likely be on the list, right?
KID: Yup.
ME: So who would the other two be?
KID: Let's see. Adam Levine...
ME: Wait, what?
KID: The lead singer for Maroon 5.
ME: Right. Ha, clever...
KID: But seriously, Beethoven and Mozart.
ME: There you go.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Kids say the Darnedest Thigns About Minor Keys

While shopping for solos, a middle schooler said he liked the major-key fast movement of a certain solo, but not the minor-key slow movement, which he described as a "creepy ghost song."