Friday, January 13, 2017

The Annual Band Marathon Never Fails to Please

Even though I don't do a whole lot of pure blogging right now, you can always count on something from me on the second or third Friday in January: The annual high school All-Region Band concert in the region where I teach.

The concert is really a series of five mini-concerts, with each band--a freshman band and four high school bands (which freshmen can make as well, but they surrender their chair in the freshman band if they do), all at 45-minute intervals. That way, if family members are only attending for their kid's band, they can make way for others to be seated (I have no idea if any school auditorium could hold the families of all five bands' members, plus all the directors and private teachers, not to mention the members of other bands who stick around to see their friends play). Also, having preset starting times allows the families of the later bands to show up as close to the downbeat as possible.

As always, what follows is not in any way a review of the concert, but instead some random thoughts that entered my mind as I was listening:

  • I mention every year that, as a whole, I prefer the newer "wind ensemble" music to the older "band" music, but a well-played classic will still thrill me, especially if it's something I've played before. This year, almost all the music was new to me, save for the occasional march used to cap off a group's program. A lot of lesser-known (at least to me) new composers were represented (Ryan George, Ryan Nowland, and Daniel Weinberger, to name a few), and there are some brilliant fanfares out there that started a few bands' performances on an energetic note. And I was reminded how much I like Brian Balmages' music; it was extremely cool that the band who played two of his pieces Skyped him in during part of this morning's rehearsal.
  • One of the bands used student announcers to introduce each piece, which I thought was a nice touch. It wasn't that the clinician himself didn't talk, but it was cool to hear some different voices from the mic, and I'm sure it was a thrill for the kids (and their parents).
  • Speaking of...well, speaking, all the clinicians engaged with the audience (there have been times where some of them have barely said a word). As I've noted in previous years, since the programs often read "to be selected from the following" and then list a variety of pieces which may or may not be played, it's crucial for the audience to know what they are about to hear, or just heard. Plus, as I see it, an engaged clinician just makes a better impression on the audience.
  • Kudos to the organizers for doing something I've asked for in these pages for years: Listing composers by first and last names, instead of just last names. It's one thing if you say "Sousa" (most people won't mistake John Philip for some random guy named Fred Sousa or something), but with so many new composers being programmed, it's good to provide more information.
  • It wasn't as chronic as in years past, but there still were some problems with door etiquette among certain audience members. If you have to leave, please do so quickly and quietly, and make sure the door doesn't slam behind you. Several of the pieces had very soft introductions, and I hope none of the door slams made it onto the recording.
  • The one thing I've noticed this year that's different among the announcements to the audience is the one about TMEA licensing agreements prohibiting recording of the concerts...and all I can say is, it's about time! And believe it or not--save for the one guy at last weekend's middle school concert who had a full-on camcorder with a tripod--people are obeying the request. It's so nice to be able to watch the whole concert from anywhere in the auditorium, instead of through someone's iPad.
  • Only one more comment about the audience: I bet there's at least one person who will have better concert etiquette next time, after their not-whispered conversation wafted into the auditorium during an unexpected grand pause in one of the marches...)
  • I sometimes use this annual post as a chance to brag on my studio (as in how many of my students made the bands); it's smaller this year because of some heightened commitments elsewhere, but I still had students in three of the five bands (even if one of them made a band on an instrument other than the one I teach him). It's always nice to be able to stand up when private teachers and directors of the students on stage are recognized.
  • Even if I don't have a student in the top band, I always stay for the entire concert. Why? Among other things, because the college directors who have the top two bands always do amazing things, especially considering the short time they have (Thursday evening and Friday morning/afternoon) with their bands. Texas is famous for its school band programs, and when you combine the cream of the crop with some inspiring university bandmasters, some magical things happen. Kudos to Bobby Francis from TCU (Wind Ensemble, aka top band) and Dennis LlinĂ¡s from LSU (Wind Symphony, aka second band) for bringing so much out of these young musicians in such a short time.
This concert is always an important part of my year; I get to celebrate the accomplishments of some of my students and their friends, hear some great new music, and spend more time with some of the directors I teach with than I do during a busy school week. I know what I'll be doing on a Friday night in January a year from now, and I'll take to the keyboard again when I get home.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Kids Practice in the Darnedest Places

The Cleverness Award for the day so far goes to a couple of high school percussionists practicing in an equipment truck on a rainy day of All-Region tryouts. (I would have gotten a couple seconds of video if not for said rain.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

(College) Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Instructors

A few people missed my once-a-week class recently, and they wanted to catch up...especially when they heard there would be a quiz.

KID: So will you have mercy on the people who were out sick last week?

ME: Well...I will for the people who emailed me and said they weren't going to be here.

KID: (hesitating, looks embarrassed): I didn't know your name.

(I reminded her that, like many things, "it's on the syllabus." I also pointed out to the class that, even though my last name might be hard to remember, we'd have a completely different problem if I were Professor Jones, since they'd have to figure out which of the 29 Professor Joneses I was).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

(College) Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Music Theory

In a recent Fundamentals class, we were introducing the circle of fifths, which has a lot in common with a clock. Once we established that there were twelve possible keys, I asked the following...

ME: So what is another object that can be divided into twelve equal parts?

KID: A pizza?

(Those would be really skinny slices! And the funny thing was that I asked the class to try again, and nobody got it until I pointed at the clock on the wall. I then surveyed the class and found out that, besides myself, there were only two watch-wearers in there...)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Decade and a Half Later...and May We Still Never Forget

Fifteen years ago today (published annually here since 2004, and only mildly edited throughout the years):
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 2016, 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.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Marching Music

A high schooler who had a lesson today noted that "they gave us a copy of this thing called the Woodwind Feature. I think it's supposed to be an oboe and euphonium duet." Never mind the fact that a euphonium isn't a woodwind; has anyone ever heard of a duet between those two instruments...on the field? I'm thinking the kid misheard something. (On an only slightly related note, I'm amused that my new[ish] computer's spell check doesn't recognize "euphonium" as a word.)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Kids Say the Darnedest Things at State Solo & Ensemble

A room monitor called out for the next performer, whose name happened to be Marco. Another kid replied by yelling "Polo!"