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."

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Pracitce Habits

Today, a student was very honest with me regarding the preparation of a portion of the All-Region music...

KID: Before we start this one, I have to tell you...I really haven't practiced the second half of this étude.
ME: Well, I appreciate your honesty--but you really shouldn't have told me that yet. Suppose it goes really well this time?
KID: Then God actually loves me.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When They Forget Their Music

A beginner showed up to a lesson without his method book, and I wanted to know why...

KID: I forgot my music again.
ME: Did you just leave it at home by accident?
KID: I forgot where my mom put it.
ME: So why did she have to put it anywhere? Do you leave it on the floor or something?
KID: Yeah, kinda.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Kids Contniue to Say the Darnedest Things About Classical Composers

As often occurs during shopping-for-solos, Bach came up, and one of the things I mentioned was that Bach had 20 kids...

KID: So they'd be the Box. B-O-X!
ME: Except it wouldn't be spelled that way. We have a student group at the college called "Music Bachs"--B-A-C-H-S.
KID: But he wouldn't get that joke, since he was deaf.
ME: Bach wasn't deaf; that was Beethoven.
KID: I always get them mixed up. I know that one of them was deaf, and one of them had weird hair.
ME: They both had weird hair...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Parents Say the Darnedest Things

On the way back from dinner, Dad fires up the satellite radio, where Pharoah Sanders is playing a wonderfully squawky solo over a soulful beat...

ME: Ahh, Pharoah...
DAD (reading screen): Are you familiar with Pharoah Sanders?
ME: Very much so. I've even seen him live.
MOM: So is he dead now?
ME: That's not exactly what I meant.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Kids say the Darnedest Things About the Calendar

The subject of septuplets came up recently, so I threw in the historical tidbit that September was originally the seventh month of the year (and October the eighth month, and so on) until the Romans changed it...

ME: And they named the two new months after their most famous Caesars.
KID: January and February?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Classical Composers

As we begin the "shopping for solos" season, it's inevitable that a piece by Bach will come up. I mentioned Bach's prominence as a composer, which led to the inevitable question...

ME: So...if I asked you to name me three classical composers, who would they be?
KID: Bach, Beethoven and...what's his name?--J. Elliott?
ME: Who?
KID: I think his name is J.S. Elliott.
ME: If you mean T.S. Eliot, he was a poet.
KID: Oops.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About High-End Horns

When a middle schooler's horn kept having to go into the shop recently, his parents were pondering letting him use his older sibling's horn for auditions (the sibling is in college and not playing at the moment)...

ME: That would be cool if you could use (sibling)'s horn. It's really nice...
KID: The Selmer? I don't even know how to use that!
ME: it's still a saxophone...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Quick Holiday Quiz

How can you tell that Christmas is coming?

1) Colder temperatures.
2) Carols playing over the piped-in music at the mall.
3) Starbucks starts using the red cups.
4) You hear oboes playing "Deck the Halls" in the adjacent practice room.
5) All of the above, but you'd prefer to avoid #2 and #4 as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things Upon Their Return to Lessons

I taught a student this week who came back for a few lessons after a six-month hiatus, and I let him know that there was space for him to return on a permanent basis if he wanted to do so...

ME: So I can definitely make a space for you if you want; I had one at the beginning of the year, but you didn't take it.
KID: I was gonna come back, but I thought I knew everything...and then I went to All-District, and I heard all these people doing all these dynamics and things, and I was like, "Crap! How do you even do all those things in one measure? It was like a sucker punch!"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Their Mistakes

During a recent lesson, I caught a kid doing a missed articulation...

ME: The C# on the third beat isn't tongued.
KID: I knew that. I was testing you.
ME: Well, I passed....

Friday, November 07, 2014

Random Kids Say the Darnedest Things

I just heard this gem from a kid (probably middle school-aged) in front of me in line at Starbucks: "I had a dream that a dinosaur swallowed me whole, and I had a lightsaber and I cut my way out."

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Happy International Saxophone Day

Happy 200th birthday to Adolphe Sax! If not for his invention, I might be a...trumpet player. *shudder*

This is still my favorite comic about Saxophone Day (possibly because it could be the only one, but still...)

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Symbols

To set it up, here's a rerun from two years ago this week:
A beginner had his first "line" from the book that actually lasted more than a single line; as often happens, he stopped at the end of the first line.
ME: So how do you know you're not done when you get to the end of the first line? What's missing?
KID (points to double bar): Black thing!
ME: What's the black thing called?
KID: Black thing!
That one cracked me up so much (mostly because the kid said it with so much determination) that I've mentioned it to subsequent beginners upon their arrival at that line, and it's become a running joke between me and some of this year's crew.

So one of them was fooled by the two-line line recently, and I asked him the same thing...

ME: So how do you know you're not done yet?
KID (points to double bar): It doesn't have that thing right there.
ME: What's that thing called?
KID : The stopper?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Kids and Teachers Say the Darnedest Things As Tryouts Approach

This weekend is All-District for my seventh- and eighth-graders, so it's dry run time...

ME: We need to run through all your scales and the two etudes, and then we'll have a mock audition.
KID: What does that mean?
ME: Thar means that you audition, and then I mock you.
KID: (gives me a sad look until he realizes I'm not serious)

Later on, the same kid missed an easy key signature note and realized it fairly quickly...

ME: Don't stop and hang your head in shame; we have a lot to do today.
KID: Is this the mocking part?
ME: Only if you miss easy key signatures like that.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Broadcasting a Happy Birthday to My Old Employer

Happy 45th birthday to my former employer, KNTU, which signed on for the first time on Halloween, 1969. And for a number of years, its studios were located in what was considered by some to be a haunted house. I wrote a ghost story many years ago on the subject for this blog, so check it out if you haven't yet done so.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kids Have the Darnedest Things Happen to Their Horns

This was a first for me: As a kid picked up his alto to prepare to play an étude, his thumb rest just broke clean in half! It split in two on either side of the large screw, with both sides falling on the floor.

But the kid was still able to play, resting his thumb up against the bottom of the chromatic F# key guard. (I told him that if he felt it rubbing up against the metal too much, he could tape his thumb up like a conga player might do.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

(College) Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Instrument Selection

During a recent combo rehearsal, I was asked how I came to choose the saxophone...

ME: I really can't remember; it looked like a lot of fun; a bunch of my friends were playing it...so, it wasn't exactly "all the cool kids age doing it," but that was a factor.
KID: I've seen those selection sessions at school before, and it's crazy. These people who are going to be musicians...it's like picking your Pokemon at the beginning of the game, and it's yours for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Big Horns

Surprisingly, the top-band bari players at all three of my middle schools are seventh graders this year, and needless to say, there's been some adjustment to the big horn for all of them, and some new accessories for it...

ME: That's a cool harness you have there. And I bet you like it a lot more than you would a neck strap.
KID: A neck strap would break my spine!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Principals Say the Darnedest Things About Technology

An assistant principal at one of my schools came up with this beautifully misspoken sentence during a recent announcement: "If you are listening to music on your devices, you must be using headbuds."

(Reminds me of the time in my youth when my dad--the official starter for the neighborhood swim meets--called out an event as the "13-14 year-old girls' breaststyle.")

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Instruments

The bari player mentioned in yesterday's KSTDT had an interesting thing to say about his horn during his own lesson time...
KID: This is my bari. Actually, he's more like my friend that I completely control.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Transposing Instruments

A kid was looking at my roster as he signed it, and noticed the name of one of his bandmates, who had recently switched to bari...
KID: So you still teach (other kid's name)? Do you bring your bari or something?
ME: I don't have to bring my bari to teach a bari player. We play the same exact notes an octave apart. The bari is an Eb instrument, just like you and I both play the Eb alto.
KID: Oh yeah...
ME: So do you remember why we play Eb alto saxophones? (I was hoping he'd remember that our C matches the Eb on the piano)
KID: Because we're cool?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Commerce

A student recently showed up with a new horn, and we were both very pleased with it...

KID: This horn was supposed to cost $4000, but it's used, so it was only $2000.
ME (thinking $4K was a bit steep for that model, and doing a quick online search): That's interesting; I see one here on Amazon for only $1300.
KID: But you have to remember tax.
(I assured the kid that the sales tax on $1300 wasn't $700, and found out that, here in Texas; you'd have to spend almost $8500 to generate that much tax.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Instructor's Analogies

This year's All-State music has a passage where there are four sixteenth notes with the articulation "tongue one, slur three" for multiple bars. I tell my students to think "Tatiana, Tatiana" to play the articulation correctly..

ME: I think that's the easiest way to imagine that articulation. Just think of some Russian gymnast or figure skater; Tatiana is a nice Russian name that's easy to remember.
(Kid plays passage with correct articulation, but his fingers fumble and he adds a few extra notes to one beat.)
ME: Nice grace notes there.
KID: Tatiana fell down.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Foreign Languages

Most musical terms are in Italian, which is very close to Spanish, so studying the latter helps a lot with the former on many occasions...

ME: So are you taking Spanish? You might recognize this term if so.
KID: I just don't have an interest in taking Spanish. I'd rather take a more interesting language, like German or Irish.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

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 2014, we know that the evil in our world is far from being eradicated. But I say once more, may we never forget, and may something of this nature never happen here again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Unfamiliar Key Signatures

This student was playing the Eb Major scale for the first time in a while...

KID: I've never played in this many sharps before. What's the new flat?
ME: There are no sharps in the Eb scale; the new flat is Ab.
KID: *facepalm*

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When the Teacher Uses His Typical Analogies

This is a two-fer--same kid, same lesson, same concept.

ME: So I'm going to explain this in terms of food...and you know, it seems like the vast majority of my analogies involve either speaking, or driving, or food.
KID: Ha, that's true. But really, except for sleep, those are the most important things in life--talking, driving, and food.
ME: True enough--and the sleeping part is covered in music by the use of rests.


ME: So here's my philosophy on vibrato; A lot of people approach it as if it's an addition to the sound, when to me, it's really a part of the sound. So if you think of your sound as a pie...instead of treating vibrato like it's the Cool Whip on top of the pie, it's really baked into the pie. Does that make sense?
KID: Yeah, it does...and now I want pie.
ME: Yeah, I want pie, too.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

You Know You Post A Lot About the Rangers on Social Media...

...when auto-correct pumps out a sentence like "I look forward to hearing from Yu" in an email completely unrelated to baseball.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Timekeeping

The All-State Jazz ballad for saxophone this year is at quarter note = 60, so it's really easy to get the tempo, providing you own a device that most kids nowadays don't have...
ME: So remember, you can get the tempo for this off your watch (looks over at kid)..,oh, wait--you don't have one.
KID: I've been planning on getting a watch, but I just haven't had time.
ME: I see what you did there.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Private Teachers Say the Darnedest Things About Insruments Other Than Their Own

Arriving at a school where I had already reserved my practice room for the year, I found another teacher in there. I alerted her to the fact that I was here, but the room next door was open...

OTHER TEACHER: I tried to teach next door, but the room was full of suitcases.
ME (after looking in that room): Suitcases? Those are bari saxes! (smiling) How dare you disrespect my instrument like that!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When They're Just Starting Band

During this first week of school, there are a lot of kids who are still solidifying their schedules, and one of them walked into the band office at a middle school this morning...

KID: I've decided to be in band after all.
DIRECTOR: You did? Good deal. What do you want to play?
KID: I forgot what it was called.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When Quoting Their Band Directors

One of my new students told me about a meeting held at his school for incoming beginners. Evidently, his director described the first concert in December this way: "The parents will all be saying, 'Aww, they're squeaking...but it's so cute!'"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When Baseball Games Run Long

As you may have seen from the picture I posted last night, the Rangers game that I attended went fourteen innings. The Rangers threatened several times in some of the earlier extra innings, but they always missed by just a little. As the game went longer and longer, those of us who stayed till the end were lamenting the lateness of the hour.

Among those who stayed were a group of energetic high-schoolers a few rows in front of us; I overheard a few of them say that they were band kids who had an early rehearsal the next morning. Someone in the group suggested that they should go, because they might grow old before this game would finish.

But in response to that, another kid came up with the quote of the night: "No--baseball games are like Neverland! You never grow old when watching baseball!"

The 14th Inning Stretch?

This was actually a thing at tonight's Rangers game...but it must have been what the doctor ordered, because it ended in victory: Rangers 3, Rays 2.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Minor Keys

The new middle school All-District music is out, and one of the etudes is in a minor key. While I didn't go into the same detail about minor keys that I did with the high-schoolers last week, I did play this eighth-grader the minor triad and the major triad on the piano for sake of comparison...

ME: So without getting too complicated, you can hear how the minor key sounds sadder, right?
KID: Yeah--it sounds like the soundtrack for "the Christmas that never came."

Friday, August 08, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About New Scales

During one of the high school sectionals I was running this week, I was pointing out that the third All-State étude is in a minor key. While most people learn at least a little about minor keys and scales before high school, I was curious as to how much they actually knew...

ME: How is this different from a major key?
KID: It's minor.

(Again...thank you, Captain Obvious. And this was a different kid than the one who said something similarly obvious the other day. At least this kid somewhat redeemed himself right afterwards by saying "it sounds sad.")

Monday, August 04, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Schools

I'm conducting sax sectionals for one of my high schools this week, and the room I'm using is on the second floor on the other end of the building, farthest from the band hall. The route that several students and I chose to go back was probably brand-new to me...

ME: This is interesting; I don't think I've ever been in this part of the school before.
KID: This is the upstairs.
ME (laughing, along with the other kids): Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Technical Exercises

As I've mentioned before, I use a set of technique exercises that I've dubbed the "vegetables," because--in the same way that a stalk of broccoli is less fun to eat (for most people) than a piece of chocolate cake, but the broccoli is much better for you--these exercises are probably not the most interesting pieces of music that you'll ever play, but they're also really good for you...

KID: I just don't like vegetables very much. I need something with some fat on it.
ME: So which fat would you put on these vegetables to make them tastier?
KID: Chicken!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kids Wear the Darnedest Things

Funny T-shirt on a kid at lunch: "Video games ruined my life. Good thing I have 2 left."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Parents Say the Darnedest Things

(I don't have proof of parentage, of course, so the speaker could have been an aunt, a much older sister or even a babysitter...but go with me on this.) Walking through the local outdoor mall with a friend a few hours ago, we overheard a young woman trying to encourage a toddler to walk both faster and in a straight line by saying, "C'mon, tiny human!"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest--and Most Profound--Things at Jazz Camp

I'm directing a band at the Texas All-Star Jazz Camp this week. After my band played a passage not so well and then played it much better the next time, one of my tenor players came up with this gem: "It's amazing when we count."

(I liked that one so much that I wrote it on the board.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When Riding Public Transit

While on the Atlanta airport train earlier this morning, I was amused by a conversation being held by the family next to me...

KID (maybe 5 years old): The train is farting? Mom, why is she saying "The train is farting?"
MOM: She's not saying "The train is farting," sweetheart; she's saying "The train is departing."

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

People at the Next Table Say the Darnedest Things?

I may have misheard this, since I wasn't intentionally eavesdropping, but I could swear I heard a guy at the next table at dinner tonight describe a college course by saying "that was one of the funner maths I took."
Two things immediately came to mind:
1) At least he didn't say it was "one of the funner maths I've tooken."
2) Perhaps his time in school would have been better spent taking one of the less funner Englishes.

(Yes, I have some catching up to do on this blog. I'll try to post some of the better KSTDT entries from the past few months shortly.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Mistakes (and the Well-Worn Analogies Used to Prevent Them)

Going through the major scales with a middle schooler, some confusion ensued...

ME: What note does the F scale start on?
KID: E. (thinks for a second) No, wait...
ME: Thats supposed to be an easy question, like "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?"
KID: Phil.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their (Lack of) Practice Habits

When working with a middle schooler who had been away for a few days, it was obvious that one part of the assignment hadn't improved at all...

ME: Did you look at this part of your assignment?
KID: I accidentally sleeped.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About High Notes

Working with a second-year player on the high register, I was refreshing him on the fingering for high F...

ME (demonstrates fingering): So remember, it's these three on the left side, and this one on the right.
KID: And the octave key?
ME: Oh yeah--you always use the octave key for notes this high, or you'll end up making a seal sound.
KID (ponders that for a moment): But *can* I make a seal sound?
ME (ponders as well): Sure man, knock yourself out.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Spammers Say the Darnedest Things

I got this message in an email today; at least it relates to my occupation, even if it misspells the last name of me and my theoretical wife: "Mrs.McHerney I fought the website to practice my instrument can you send it to me Please and thank you"

(I'm glad to know the spammer "fought the website," because it's always good when the site has spam protection in place. And was this person really expecting "Mrs. M" to send them an instrument, now that they've found a "practice website"? Lol)

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Ladies in Church Say the Darnedest Things

During the break before the first service, a couple of elderly ladies approached me in the hallway...

LADY: I've never told you how much I love your horn...your saxophone. It adds so much to the service.
ME: Thank you so much.
LADY: It reminds me of, oh...that famous saxophonist.
(ME, to self: Please don't say Kenny G.)
LADY: I can't remember his name, but I have one of his recordings.
(ME, still to self: I really hope you don't mean Kenny G.)
LADY: You know who I'm talking about.
ME (smiling); There are lots of famous saxophonists.
LADY: You'd recognize him if I told you. But anyway, you sound just like him.
ME: Thank you. (To self: Maybe she's a Stan Getz fan...)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Fast Notes

A beginner was looking at the last page of his method book--which is all 16th notes--and commenting on how fast the notes were...

KID: Is there anything faster than a 16th note?
ME: Sure--there are 32nd notes, with three beams, and even 64th notes, with four beams.
KID: Whoa...
ME: Here--let me play you something with 32nd notes in it, which was actually played by 7th and 8th graders a few years ago.
KID (after hearing passage): That was so fast, I thought it was a flute!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Scales

I was calling out the various keys to a middle-schooler when levity broke out...

ME: And one more scale: B-flat.
KID: (moves as if he's going to lie down on the floor)
ME: You're trying to "be flat"?
KID (grinning): That's right.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Playing

When playing the C# scale for me for the first time, a seventh grader ran into some problems. Eventually, he stopped playing and said the following: "I know how to play it...it's just that when I play it, it doesn't want to play right, because of... (makes circling motion near head with hand) my face."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nephews Say the Darnedest Things, Part 2

During my recent trip to Austin, I was watching a Rangers game on TV with my youngest nephew, who has recently started playing Little League himself. When Rangers manager Ron Washington went out to change pitchers, the name on the back of his jersey was quite visible...

NEPHEW: His last name is Washington?
ME: That's right.
NEPHEW: He must be George Washington's son.

(I reminded him that George lived in the 1700s and Ron was in his early 60s, so they probably couldn't be father and son.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Nephews Say the Darnedest Things

My oldest one posed an interesting question at dessert time last night...

NEPHEW: Which would you rather have--ice cream with wasabi sauce, or chili with orange juice?
SISTER: How much orange juice?

Feel free to comment with your own answer...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Instructors

One of my beginners placed in the top band at school for next year, so of course, I offered congratulations...

KID: How did you know I got in Honors Band?
ME: They gave me a piece of paper saying so.
(brief pause) I was going to say "Because I'm smart like that," but I didn't know if you'd believe me.
KID: I don't think I would.
ME: Wow. No money *and* insults. I see how this is...

(Regarding the "no money" part: This was a kid who also forgot to pay me for the third week in a row. This weeks's excuse: "My parents are distracted.")

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About New Key Signatues

As noted earlier, this is the time of year when the seventh graders are learning the remaining five scales that they didn't have to prepare for All-District auditions. One of them did particularly well on the F# major scale, so it was time to move ahead...

ME: That was very good! So as your "reward," I'll give you something even more challenging to work on--the C# scale.
KID: Yaaaaay!
(after slight pause) Oh wait, that's not really exciting, is it?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Instruments

When deciding on a specific étude to pass out to a bari player, I had to check and see whether or not the horn had a specific key that's not yet standard on all baris...

ME: Let's see--your horn has a high F# key, right?
KID: Yup.
ME: Do you know how it works to make a high F#?
KID: You just push it down?

(I suppose he was technically correct here, but I was of course looking for a specific fingering combination...)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things When Contemplating Switching Saxophones

I hadn't heard it in a few years, but I was discussing this very thing with some friends just a few days ago, and now it's happened again...

KID: I really want to play the tenor next year.
ME: That could be fun.
KID: But would you still be my teacher if I did that?
ME: Absolutely. There's not a separate tenor sax teacher or anything...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Unfamiliar Key Signatures

While teaching the circle of fifths to a high-schooler, we eventually encountered the most dreaded key for saxophonists: C-flat major.

ME: That's right, C-flat, with all seven flats
KiD: I don't even know what that sounds like...

(I reminded him that yes, he does--it sounds exactly like the B scale. To drive the point home in a most sarcastic way, I played him the same scale twice in a row, calling by a different name each time.)

Jazz Education Quote of the Week

From the Thelonious Monk Institute:

"A great teacher is one who realizes that he himself is also a student and whose goal is not dictate the answers, but to stimulate his students creativity enough so that they go out and find the answers themselves." - Institute Chairman Herbie Hancock

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Unfamiliar Notes

I was teaching a beginner the Bb scale, and the newest flat in that key was new to the kid...

ME: How do you finger Eb?
KID: (blank look)
ME: (demonstrates) What is this fingering?
KID: That's D#.
ME: And D# is the same as...?
KID: D#.
ME: Which is also known as...?
KID: D#.
ME: Which is also known as...?
KID: Pass.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Kids Write the Darnedest Things On Their Music

One of my high-schoolers had something very unusual in the margin of his music: "WWMMS." I asked what that meant, and was amused at the answer--"What Would Mr. M. Say?" Evidently, writing that down reminded the kid of some things that I told him about that portion of the music.

(WWMMS bracelets available soon. Order yours today!)

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Star Wars References

This is pretty much a sequel to last Friday's KSTDT: A different kid, but the same school, same forgotten audition étude, and same response from me...

KID: So yeah, about my music...it's kind of at home.
ME: So you couldn't try to levitate it here by using the Force?
KID: I tried; it didn't respond.
ME: The Force was out of order?
KID: I guess so.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Kids (and Teachers) Say the Darnedest Things When Kids Offer Semi-Lame Excuses for Missing Their Teachers' Gigs

I obviously invited all of my students (except the seniors at one school, who had prom that night) to hear the big band I record with when we made a rare live local appearance on Saturday, but only a few came. This morning, one of them told me why he couldn't make it...

KID: Sorry I missed your concert the other day. I was gonna go, but then my friend came over and he didn't want to go.
ME: Well, you obviously need to get better friends.
KID: He's a vocalist; what can I say?

Friday, May 02, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Star Wars References

This one started with a kid walking into a lesson with no music whatsoever (and me initially freaking him out by challenging him to play his audition étude from memory...)

ME: So did you lose your music, or leave it at home?
KID: I left it at my house.
ME: So you can't levitate it here from your house by using the Force or something?
KID: I wouldn't be here if I could use the Force.
ME: You wouldn't need education, just Jedi training?
KID: That's right.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Accidentals

I was introducing the E# to a seventh grader for the first time (as part of the F# major scale), and he was confused at first as to what it might be...

ME: Let's look at it this way: What does a sharp do when you add it to a note? And I want a more detailed answer than "it makes it sharper."
KID: It raises it half an octave!

(Could you imagine what music would sound like if a sharp really did shoot the note up a tritone?)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Styles

One school's audition étude is marked Maestoso, and of course, I'm teaching the definition of that word quite frequently....

ME: The word "maestoso" means majestically. How would you play something majestically?
KID: Good?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Style Markings

Many of my middle-schoolers are auditioning on a piece of music with a section marked "stately march tempo." But that doesn't mean they all know the definition...

ME: So what does "stately" mean in terms of a march?
KID: It's known all over the state?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Musical Exercises

A little backstory first: Anyone who's been in my studio in middle school will remember a set of technical exercises I've dubbed the "vegetables" (because they may not be the most fun things in the world to play, but they're really good for you). Working on overtones with a more advanced student, I fashioned an exercise for him that strongly resembled the "vegetables" in format (play twice or more, end on a long note)...

ME: We're just genetically engineering our vegetables here...
KID: Cool! Then they can glow in the dark!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Alarm Clocks

A student was talking about having trouble waking up that morning; despite having a loud alarm clock, it evidently paled in comparison to his previous one: "My old alarm was evil. It broke your soul in half. It just made you want to lie back down and cry."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Music

A student was sightreading a piece with me that had a slow intro, played in 8/8 time. Though it was s challenge for him to read in that time feel, I noted that at least the piece was fairly short--less than one page in all. The kid replied, "It's so short because it's so long."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Principals Say the Darnedest Things

On the announcements at one of my high schools, a principal was discussing prom, specifically the special prom shirts that the senior class has made every year: "Prom shirts must be approved by my office in advance, or you might be in jeopardy of attending prom."

Wait...so the objective is to not attend prom?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sometimes, Teachers Also Say/Do the Darnedest Things

When trying to open the metronome app on my phone (second from left, top row, second screen), I accidentally opened my calendar app (second from left, top row, first screen). I then told the student that, while the calendar app did indeed keep time in a way, it wasn't useful for our current purposes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Terms

This time, it's the word dolce (pronounced DOLE-chay), the Italian musical term for "sweetly"--familiar to many as the name of the cinnamon latte at Starbucks...

ME: What is that word?
KID: "Dohlse"
ME: Not quite.
KID: DOOL-say!
ME: It is like the Spanish dulce. Are you familiar with that word?
KID: Yes!
ME: Whst does it mean?
KID: I don't know.
ME: I thought you did.
KID: I lied!
ME: Any more guesses?
KID: Two?
ME: No, although "doce" is twelve in Spanish.
KID: Blue?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

(College) Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Former Classmates

One of my recent combo members is an elderly gentleman who returned to music after a 50-year hiatus from playing (before taking another hiatus this semester); I use him as a shining example of how it's possible to come back and play even if your career takes you elsewhere. His name came up in rehearsal recently...

ME (to new combo member): I'm sorry you never got to meet (older guy's name); he's quite a character. He's a 74-year-old retired pilot.
KID #1: With one leg.
ME: Correct; the gentleman is an amputee.
KID #2: With one leg? So did you say he was a 74-year-old retired pirate?
WHOLE CLASS: (*uproarious laughter*)
ME: I'm not sure that pirates retire, but...yeah, good one.
KID #3: This is going on Facebook, isn't it?
ME: Yup.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

(College) Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Instructor's Playing

I player-coach in both of my combos this semester because of a scarcity of horns in the program, and one of the students had this to say after a tune where I'd taken a solo: "Do you remember what you played in the last two bars? It was very sleazy...and I really liked it."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Classical Composers

Many of my sixth-graders are preparing for their first solo and ensemble contest next month, and one had finally decided on which solo to play--a piece by Mozart.

ME: This is a good one, and it was written by a very famous composer.
KID: (Blank look)
ME: Oh, you haven't heard of Mozart? He's one of the best-known composers of all time. They even made a movie about him!
KID: I'd think that would be Beethoven with the movie.
ME: Yeah, they made a movie about Beethoven too. He's also very well-known.
KID: Wasn't he an orchestra singer or something?

("Orchestra singer"?? And I hope the Beethoven movie the kid was talking about wasn't the one with the dog...)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Music

With this one, we were done with scales and ready to move on to the audition music...

ME: Ok, let's go ahead and start the étude.
KID: From the beginning?
ME: Unless you want to start from the end and play it backwards...
KID: No, I think I'm good.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Five years ago this evening, I took an unscheduled ride on my rear end down the basement staircase at Recycled Books in Denton after my legs slipped out from under me at the top of the stairs. If I had continued the slide to its completion, I might have had nothing more than a bruised ego...but instead, I grabbed the banister to stop myself, which resulted in one leg stopping and the other one continuing. I felt and heard a loud popping sound from the stopped leg, followed by excruciating pain. A trip to the doctor later that week revealed a ruptured quadriceps tendon and a torn meniscus.

It would take a while, but I would eventually have everything surgically repaired that June, wearing a knee brace until around September and using a cane until October. It felt like a long road to recovery with physical therapy and all that, but looking back, I was really only disabled for a total of six months.

My time of recuperation was not without its inconveniences (most notably related to driving; even when I could angle my knee enough to get behind the wheel again, I couldn't use the clutch until August), but I also gained some valuable perspective as a temporarily handicapped person, and and I learned out of necessity how to slow things down for a bit. But I also found out just how much I was able to transcend my challenges with dogged determination and hard work (I resumed teaching four days after surgery, and I hopped on a plane three weeks later to attend the Sinfonia National Convention, where I freaked out the rest of the Province Governors' Council by hobbling into the meeting room using a walker).

As I look back on the past five years, I'm grateful that I made a full recovery, with only a few visible signs of the procedure, and I'm grateful to my wonderful friends and family who helped me out along the way.

TL;DR: Today is my "falliversary." I can't believe it's been five years. TS; WM (too short, want more): Click the link under "Labels" at the bottom of this post to read the whole thing as it went by, week by week.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Extracurricular Activities

I mentioned to a middle-schooler that my next lesson was at his hated rival school, and his response was "Boo!" I reminded him that he would be uniting with kids from that school as a high-schooler next year, and besides, all the sports that held pep rallies had already completed their seasons.

KID I think there should be a pep rally for fencing!
ME: Is there even a fencing team here?
KID: No, but if there was, I'd be on it.
ME: Do you really think anyone would trust 7th and 8th graders with swords?
KID: That's why there are tryouts!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Peopel From Earlier Times in History

The same kid who was putting 4/4 bars in minuets last week was doing it again today, and I reminded him of the pretend ramifications of doing so...

ME: Let me once again remind you that your powdered wig dancers are very upset right now...
KID: But they're dead!

(He also noted that "there may be some imitators out there, but it's not the same.")

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Terms

A beginner was getting to the point in the learning sequence where I introduce vibrato, so I was checking to see whether or not it had come up in class yet...

ME: So have you guys started doing vibrato out there?
KID: Vi-what-o? (pause) Oh, the wavy thing.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Thought fo the Day

If middle school hallway traffic consisted of cars instead of walkers, there would be about 47 wrecks within the first few minutes after the bell.

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Their Instructors

The subject was people messing up when someone else was in the room...

ME: I don't really get the whole thing of people getting nervous playing in front of me, though. I mean, especially compared to some people in my profession, I'm not exactly the scariest person out there.
KID: Yeah, but you do kinda look like Chuck Norris.
ME: I do? I've never heard that before.
KID: Oh, you should.

(Do I really remind any of you of Chuck Norris? I don't see it. But if so, that's a big step up from the days when I wore glasses and didn't have a goatee, and looked like Bill Gates.)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Not Something That Happens Every Day

This may have happened before: a random stranger comes up to me in Starbucks and asks me if I have a church home.

This definitely hasn't happened before: Said stranger turns out to be a former trombonist who studied jazz at UNT before changing her major. I think we may have gained a new Metroplexity fan (and maybe one of the Maniacal 4 as well).

Friday, April 04, 2014

If Today Had Remained As Bad As It Started, I MIght Have Just Gone Back to Bed

People sometimes refer to having a bad day by saying, "I woke up on the wrong side of the bed." Well, this almost literally happened to me this morning. I have two alarm clocks placed at opposite sides of the room, at four-minute intervals. I heard the far one (six feet away on the left) go off, and I inadvertently headed for the near one (two feet away on the right), which made me slam rather violently into my dresser. No actual injuries resulted from this, save for a mildly banged-up knee (yes, the one I had operated on five years ago) and some slightly stubbed toes. (Oh, and I may have said a naughty word when it happened.)

Thankfully, the day has been pretty decent since then. But what a start...

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About HIstorical FIgures

When I was recounting part of my Wyoming trip to a student, I showed a picture of the cool town where we stayed...

ME: This town is called Cody, Wyoming; it's named after Buffalo Bill.
KID: Buffalo Bill--he was a real person?

The Network Should "Tighton" Up Its Training in the Graphics Department

Just saw a nice closed-caption fail, as it referred to the NFL team from Tennessee as the "Tightons."

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Texas Cities

One of my schools' bands is going to Corpus Christi for their trip this year, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew that this trip would not cost them a lesson...

ME: So don't worry--I'll be scheduling around the band trip at the end of the month.
KID: It's crazy! Everyone is going to Corpus Crispy this year!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About People in Olden Times

While sightreading a minuet duet, a kid put an extra beat in a measure...

ME: Remember, a minuet is a dance in 3/4 from the powdered wig days. By putting an extra beat in that measure, you probably caused a few of your dancers to get mad at you, and maybe even fall down.
KID: Its not my fault they wore high heels!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mechanics Say the Darnedest Things

I had an amusing moment at the tire store this morning when the guy says, "You're gonna make fun of us, but...can you bring your car into the bay? Neither of us can drive a stick."

Thought for the Day

A sleepy Monday is suddenly made better by the renewed ability to listen to baseball while driving between schools.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Meet the New Group. Not the Same As the Old Group, But Equally Amazing

One of my favorite bands of all time, the Pat Metheny Group, hasn't toured since 2005, after the release of "The Way Up," the album-length composition by Metheny and longtime collaborator Lyle Mays. Since then, Metheny has done a few other projects, including a trio with bassist Christian McBride and PMG drummer Antonio Sanchez, a solo recording with an Orchestrion (a machine that plays a variety of instruments--in this case pianos, marimbas, orchestra bells drums, cymbals, and blown bottles, among other things), and the Pat Metheny Unity Band, a collaboration with saxophone titan Chris Potter, up-and-coming young bassist Ben Williams, and Sanchez. The latter group came to the House of Blues in Dallas in the fall of 2012, and you'd better believe I was in attendance.

Though rumors of a PMG revival had floated around in recent years, a couple of things changed: According to a post on the Metheny website that I can't locate at the moment, longtime collaborator Lyle Mays is evidently enjoying semi-retirement, while bassist/producer Steve Rodby is kept busy by numerous projects. And during the Unity Band tour, the guys realized that they wanted to keep the band going, but with a different twist: The ability to play nearly anything from the PMG repertoire, along with the Orchestrion music. And thus was born the Pat Metheny Unity Group--the four members of the Unity Band, plus Italian musician Giulio Carmassi, who not only does the heavy lifting of playing piano and contributing the trademark soaring vocals, but also adds eight other instruments. The new recording, "Kin (<-->)," dropped just a few weeks ago, and it certainly evokes the classic PMG sound, enhanced by Potter's woodwind artistry and an increased role for the Orchestrion. The epic-length compositions, the cinematic qualities of the music...the classic sound was back, but in a new way.

The Group's inaugural tour brought it back to the House of Blues last night, and anticipation was running high: How deeply would they dip back into the PMG catalogue? Would we really get to hear Chris Potter soloing on The First Circle or Minuano? But more than anything, the anticipation of hearing the large-group magic once again was surely on my mind, and likely those of others as well.
The concert started--almost exactly on time--with a solo turn from Metheny on his specially-built, 42-string Pikasso guitar (a tradition that dates back to the Trio tour, if I'm remembering correctly), and then he was joined onstage by Potter, Williams and Sanchez; they proceeded to play a number of tunes from the original Unity Band recording. The sound problems that had plagued the 2012 appearance were not apparent this time--Potter came through loud and clear, which was not the case at the earlier show--and the musicianship of all four players was of course outstanding.

But something seemed out of place: Where was Carmassi? And where was the new music? As much as I was loving this, it appeared to be almost a repeat of the last show.  And then it hit me: They must be serving as an opening act for themselves! A quick review of the old material, and then they'll bring Carmassi onstage and start the new music?  OK, I could see that...

And this was precisely what took place as Metheny came to the mic for the first time: The Unity Band was "opening" for the Unity Group. Carmassi was introduced, and the group proceeded to play several numbers from the new disc, which amounted to a fairly substantial set, seeing as how the opening three tunes all clock in at over ten minutes apiece. Carmassi's vocals, the various sounds of the Orchestrion (from our vantage point this time, it was easier to see the keyboard percussion being "played" by the machine)...this was indeed the classic sound, done with new twists.

The rest of the band got some break time as Metheny played duets with each of them in turn, whether it was standards (raising the roof with "All the Things You Are" with Potter; a heartfelt but energetic take on Jobim's "insensatez" with Williams) or originals (Carmassi channeling the great Pedro Aznar on "Dream of the Return") and a wild romp with Sanchez, who got to blow things wide open on his solo turn. Yet Metheny--a ball of energy as he approaches his 60th birthday--remained onstage the entire time, moving tirelessly from one tune to the next.

After another tune from the new album, Metheny announced that there would be one tune left--which in this case meant one more tune until the encore(s) would begin. For this, they did indeed reach back into the PMG oeuvre for a masterful version of "Have You Heard" (I might have been among those who let out a whoop upon hearing the opening measures of this one).

But of course, the show wasn't over. Returning quickly for an encore, the group launched into another PMG classic, "Are You Going With Me?" The lengthy tune has a brief, simple melody (doubled wonderfully here by Potter on flute), but mostly exists as a relaxed groove that serves as a vehicle for an extended Metheny solo on his synth guitar that builds to a frenzy as the piece modulates upward several times, and this performance showed that a song that's over three decades old can still be amazingly fresh in these hands.

The band left the stage again, after a rousing ovation. So was that the end? Well, yes, for everyone except Pat, who closed the show as it had begun, alone onstage with his guitar, mashing up several of his well-known tunes (including "Minuano" and "Last Train Home") that hadn't made it into the set tonight.

So for those of us who loved the new energy of the Unity Band but missed the PMG repertoire, the Unity Group is the best of both worlds. Having Potter in the group not only recalls the great Metheny collaborations with Michael Brecker (on the latter's solo recordings and Pat's own "80-81"), but also adds a number of colors to the group (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet, flute and bass flute); in addition, Potter, while already a young titan in his own right, seems to have been positively influenced by his work with Metheny, as his soloing style has evolved to fit this setting. Williams is a great new talent on bass, combining solid lines, jaw-dropping solo prowess (including some great arco moments) and a beautiful sound on the instrument. Carmassi provides the necessary elements of piano and vocals in fine fashion (and I'd love to hear him play some of his other instruments live), and Sanchez is as masterful as ever, providing the cymbalistic underpinnings that drive so much of the Metheny sound, yet given lots of freedom to crackle with energy when the music calls for it. And the leader himself, perpetually young, continues to be among not only one of the finest guitarists in jazz, but one of its finest improvisers and writers. I mentioned the cinematic nature of his large-form compositions, and so many of them have provided a major portion of the soundtrack of my own life.

I certainly hope for more from this group in the future, and you'd better believe I'll be there when they return. Check them out if the tour is coming to your area.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Sightreading

(This is almost certainly a "rerun," as I'm reasonably sure that a kid has said something like this in the past.) 

We do a lot of sightreading in lessons after Solo and Ensemble, and I always emphasize the importance of checking the key signature--but sometimes after the fact...

KID: (misses key signature notes in the first measure of the piece)
ME: What's the first rule of sightreading?
KID: Don't mess up?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Forms

I do a lot of sightreading after Solo and Ensemble, and several of the kids have been reading a piece that's written in the form of a canon...

ME: Do you know what a canon is, with only one N in the middle?
KID: It's a camera!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Hypothetical Situations

It's Solo & Ensemble week for my 7th and 8th graders, so the emphasis is on "practicing performing"--doing run-throughs of their solos without stopping...

ME: So this time, I want you to keep going no matter what happens, just like you'll do on Saturday. The only reason you would stop on Saturday is if you stopped breathing--which would of course be sad--or unless the judge stopped breathing and you went over to administer CPR.
KID: No mouth...
ME: Totally understandable.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Cartoon Characters

I was working with a kid who hadn't gotten to play for a little while and was of course a little rusty...

ME: I know you're just getting back into the swing of things, so I'm not expecting you to have this whole assignment ready for me today.
KID: That's good, because I might have to call you the Grinch if you did.
ME: No, I'm not the Grinch. But here's a piece of trivia for you: Remember the song, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"? The guy who sang that is the same person who did the voice of Tony the Tiger.
KID: Who?
ME: The mascot for Frosted Flakes. He's in all the commercials. He always says, "They're GrrrrrrrEAT!"
KID: Oh, that tiger guy? I didn't know his name.

(And if you're into extreme trivia, the tiger's voice artist had a great name: Thurl Ravenscroft.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tourists Say the Darnedest Things?

SAN ANTONIO--I'm here for my annual trip to the TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) convention. After I finished talking some shop with a colleague who disembarked on a lower floor, an older couple in the hotel elevator asked me, "Is there some sort of band competition going on this weekend?"

I tried to explain (in a mere three floors' worth of elevator ride) how TMEA was a lot more than just "some sort of band competition" and how it was attended by most of the music educators in Texas and even from other states.

LADY: So they do what--they practice?
ME: Yes, the all-state groups rehearse, but there are also clinics, concerts, exhibits, things like that. We probably have around 10,000 people here.
LADY: I believe that; I think we've seen most of them.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Older Musicians

When my students start learning about jazz, usually in 8th or 9th grade, we play out of a series of books by the great Lennie Niehaus. The books were written in the '60s, which is evident by its unusual cover art, which I often refer to as "psychedelic zebra stripes."

ME: But even though the cover looks funny, Niehaus is a wonderful saxophonist and composer. He's in his mid-80s and still plays, so far as I know.
KID: He still plays at that age? Wow, I wouldn't have any air left!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Contest Judges Say the Darnedest Things

Here's what one wrote on a student's comment sheet from last Saturday's Solo & Ensemble Contest: "Make it more seamless like you are verbally speaking."

I guess that makes sense; what in the world would the saxophone sound like if the kid made it like he was non-verbally speaking?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Themselves

I was greeted in a most unusual manner by this particular beginner...

KID: Guess what--I grew two inches since the last time you saw me!
ME: That was just two weeks ago. You really grew two inches in two weeks?
KID: Yeah--I'm wearing boots!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Terms

Many of my students are playing solos with multiple movements for the first time this year, and I usually explain the time they should allow between movements as bring similar to the time between tracks on a CD. But there is one exception...

ME: The only time you'd have to go straight into the next movement is if the music says "attacca" at the end of the previous movement.
KID: If it says what?
ME: Attacca. A-T-T-A-C-C-A.
KID: Oh! I thought you said "a taco."
ME: Yeah, because you'd definitely want to stop and eat a taco between movements. That'd be really good for the horn...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Musical Genres

Several of my students are taking driver's ed at the moment, and the subject of the dreaded driving test with the state trooper came up; I mentioned that when I was a kid, it was rumored that the trooper was known to occasionally change your radio to a country station during the test, and of course there was nothing you could do about it...

KID: I hate country!
ME: Amen, brother.
KID: But I guess country-rock is OK; it's really just rock, with the people dressed up like cowboys.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Stores and Food

A kid I was teaching this morning has a Swatch watch similar to mine, though I pointed out that mine had the bonus of actually being purchased in Switzerland. This kid is smart enough to know the difference between Switzerland and Sweden, but he didn't have too many kind words for the most famous store from the latter place...

KID: Don't even get me started on IKEA. My mom says that IKEA is the second-worst store on the planet...behind only Walmart.
ME: I agree with you on the Walmart part...but what's wrong with IKEA?
KID: It's got two levels, and it's jam-packed, and there's only one way to go, and the people move like snails. And all the food is Swedish!
ME: What's wrong with that? It is a Swedish store, after all,
KID: It's just weird. Why couldn't they have a hamburger or something?

Friday, January 24, 2014

It's Region Band Marathon Time Again

No matter how seldom I may blog these days, I always find things to say on the night that I've attended the All-Region Bands concert every January. 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 eleven years in which this blog has been in existence, the post has been very similar each year, with only minor edits, but like last year, I seem to have come up with several new ideas. As always, this doesn't pretend to be a review of the concert, just whatever random thoughts popped into my head as I was listening.
  • Let's get my own numbers out of the way first: There were twelve in all from my studio--four freshmen, a sophomore, four juniors and three seniors (plus one more senior who plays another instrument but studies jazz saxophone with me). The fact that four out of the ten saxes in the freshman band are my students certainly bodes well for the future, I think. I was also pleased to have my studio represented in all five of the bands tonight; it had been a year or two since that had happened.
  • This concert is set up to run like clockwork--there is a 45-minute slot allotted to each band, and while a few bands started later than their posted times for the first time in a while, the whole concert still finished before its anticipated 9:45 ending. While the nearly precise schedule meant that, for "marathoners" like myself who stayed for the whole thing, there were some fairly substantial lags between bands, it worked out perfectly for the families of the students in the later bands, who may have just been there to hear their own kid's band. But the fact that five bands--one freshman band and four high school bands--can complete a concert in less than four hours, year after year, is indeed impressive.
  • Thinking about the above, it occurred to me a year ago that this event really isn't one concert--it's five mini-concerts. There was a more substantial amount of turnover between bands than I recall seeing before, but that may well have made room for everyone, 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.)
  • I still like the new "wind ensemble" music better than the older "band" music (and I have yet to make my post about how film scoring saved classical music), and this was very much reinforced for me tonight. While most of the groups leaned toward modern music, one band played nearly all older compositions, and to these ears, there's a definite difference between the two. I guess the best way I can describe it is that the older stuff was written so that things would blend together into a more homogenous sound ("like a big organ" is a common description I've heard),whereas the modern stuff (whether influenced by film scoring or not, it's the best way I can describe the sound) takes advantage of a much larger timbral palette, with different sections playing off each other and combined in unusual ways, along with a greatly expanded percussion section, with an emphasis on mallets, piano, and so on. To me, the sound just pops compared to the older works.
  • Speaking of modern, this was a new one for me: One of the bands played a piece written for winds and laptop! I've always been a fan of electronic sounds, and the ones used in this piece were tastefully done. The piece is called "Mothership" by Mason Bates; that's a name I'll be looking out for in the future.

    And who knew that you could make the All-Region band on laptop? How cool would it be to serve on that judging panel? But just imagine practicing the music for four months and then having your battery die during auditions. You'd have to carry extra batteries in your pocket the way we saxophonists carry spare reeds. (But seriously, the laptop appeared to be played by a director, or a very old-looking senior.)

  • While the audience was rather good about not clapping between movements, there were still some concert etiquette problems, mostly related to people walking in during a performance and (only occasionally) letting auditorium doors slam. I'm not sure how well this could be enforced; a big sign telling people not to enter might work, but otherwise, it would require monitors, and I'm not sure who would do that job; directors wouldn't want to miss hearing their students play, and students themselves would be put in the awkward position of having to tell adults what to do. Not sure what the answer is here...
  • The "theme" in our region for many years to get the top two directors from a major university to be the directors for the top two bands, but this year was different (though the directors of the second and third bands had former and current ties, respectively, to Texas A&M-Commerce. While all the bands did well, the top two, being made up mostly of kids who made at least Area if not State, take things to a whole new level. It's hard to believe that they're high school kids who had less than two days of rehearsal to put this together.

    (And a thought hit me tonight: Perhaps one of the reasons that these bands sound more like college bands than high school ones--besides the obvious fact that they're being conducted by college directors--is that the bands are often quite senior-laden. That means in around eight months, many of the people on stage will be playing in college bands.)

  • I only have two mild bits of criticism of the concert: For the first time that I can remember, the parents, directors and private teachers of the students on stage were not asked to stand before each band's performance. In the private teaching world, we often do our jobs behind the scenes, and I have to admit I really missed having the one opportunity (besides this concert's middle school counterpart last weekend) to stand in support of my students. I was also surprised that, while the players who made Area were recognized in the program, those who made All-State were not singled out this year. To me, that's all a bit unfortunate.
  • Quote of the night, from the concert coordinator/emcee, noting that few things in education can compare to the All-Region concert experience: "It's not as if, when you're named to the All-Area football team, that you get together and play a game after eight hours of practice." Well said.
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, January 21, 2014

Kids Contniue to Say the Darnedest Things About Classical Composers

This morning, a kid made a mistake that made what he was playing sound more like "Für Elise" than his actual solo. I hummed a few bars and the kid understood what I meant...
ME: So do you know who wrote "Für Elise"?
KID: I should know this...
ME: He's one of the famous ones. If I asked you to name three famous classical composers, who would they be?
KID: Beethoven, Bach, and...that other guy.
ME: That narrows it down...
KID: He was from Europe!
ME: That *really* narrows it down...
KID: Wagner? No, wait--he was Russian.

(Props to the kid for pronouncing Wagner correctly, despite the geographical gaffe...)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Kids Continue to Say the Darnedest Things About Geography

I was working with a kid on a solo published by the Neil A. Kjos company, and the kid noted the unusual name...

KID: What kind of a name is that?
ME: It sounds Scandinavian to me. Do you know where Scandinavia is?
KID: In England!