Valentine’s Day Stress and Teens

By John Gardner

valentineThis time of year can be stressful for those romantically attached, hoping to become, casually dating, good plutonic friends or single not by preference. I understand widowed or divorced, too…. but this post targets mostly high schoolers. If you have it all figured out, STOP HERE!

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14+ Ways to Volunteer for a Show Choir to help Teens Sing Their Hearts Out

by John Gardner

In a random passing in a hallway just outside a high school backstage area, a parent stopped me and asked,

“You’re the guy who writes the
blog, aren’t you?”

He went on to tell me how similar the workings of show choir are to those that I tend to write about on the instrumental side of music. He was spot on. So…

Choir Treble ClefAs a two-time show choir ‘dad’ and former volunteer director of a backup ensemble, I’m going to re-tool some articles with a vocal focus, like this one, based on a highly read band-focused post called, “14+ Ways to Volunteer for a Marching Band to Appreciate and Applaud what is Good about Teenage America. Please read, comment and share.

Nearly all choirs have a Choir Parent Organization, but in some cities, or with smaller choirs, finding enough help is a challenge. Most of the adults volunteering with a show choir have children in the group, but very few organizations would limit help to ONLY parents. Jump in. You’ll be accepted, appreciated, respected and even loved.

“The payback from watching the result of the commitment and search for excellence demonstrated by some of the best representatives of what is good about teenage America – is, as they say – PRICELESS!”

Some schools have multiple show choirs, usually a girl’s group and a mixed group. Double your contribution — and your reward.

COSTUME DESIGN. Many competitive show choirs have 2-3 separate costumes for BOTH boys and girls. Long skirts, short, ballroom style, rock style, bright colors, layers that come off. Costume changes happen back stage at a furiously fast tempo and the design must account for that. Velcro vs buttons or zippers at times, for example.

If you are a creative type, get with the director, show designer/choreographer and match the imagination to the show theme.

ALTERATIONS / SEWING. Even when students are individually measured for custom outfits, they never EVER come in fitting everyone “off the hanger”. Groups order early Fall for delivery late Fall. Students have gained and lost weight, freshmen have grown an inch, there were errors in the original measurements — or in production. Then there are rips, tears and other damage that happen during the course of the season.

Are you good at fixing, repairing, sewing? Show choirs need you.

CONSTRUCTION / PROPS. You’ve seen the stages for musicals. Show choirs can also use props. When I was a show choir parent a little over a decade ago, we were using specialty stages that had trap doors, pull apart sections and 6 levels. Each year the stage was different. And it took about 15-20 men to help get the pieces to the edge of the stage where the student performers had stopwatch time to put the pieces together and take them apart pre/post show. More recent trends are to use the host school’s risers, but then add a back wall, doorways (stage exits/entrances for costume changes), special lighting and more. If you are creative, work with the director or choreographer to put together what they want — or be one of those who construct per instruction. Days before the season opener performance, it is not unusual to see parents wearing construction belts full of a variety of tools.

The pay is lousy but the reward terrific.

ELECTRONICS / SOUND / TECHNICAL. Once they go to competition, there are people at the host schools taking care of electronics. But for rehearsals, or for when the show choir is hosting a competition, there are microphones, monitors, stage and performance lighting. And if you are more of an electrician than a carpenter, there are often lighting effects as part of the show stage prop setup to design, install, maintain and operate. The group’s stage crew will run things during most rehearsals and all performances, but they need training and some supervision.

Teaching teens who want to learn is amazing.

BACK STAGE / STAGE CREW HELP. The official group’s stage crew are students and they are the only ones permitted on or around the stage during competition performances. But especially early on, they could use some help maneuvering and manipulating equipment and props….SAFELY.

If your specialty is grunt work, this could be for you.

INSTRUMENTALIST: PERFORMER / DIRECTOR. One of the awards at competitions is for “Best Band”. Only student ensembles , with the exception of the pianist (typically), can win that award. They need a director, however, and that is difficult (and inefficient) for the vocal director who is more effective watching and listening to the bigger picture (band, choir, crew). If you have band or church choir experience, have worked in musicals and with ensembles, volunteer to rehearse, mentor or direct the show choir backup ensemble.

When my son was a senior singer/dancer in his high school show choir, I was the parent volunteer who directed the backup band. As it turned out, I was the ‘transition’ between the choir director as instrumental director (up to that year) and a paid staff director (ever since).

Increasingly, groups are using paid instrumentalists (college students, professionals) for their ensembles. Reasons vary:

  1. Not enough student instrumentalists available. In a small school the crossover between instrumental/vocal groups is significant, and it could be that there are too many of the better instrumentalists who are also performing or participating in the choir. It could be a lack of interest. Marching band students who sacrifice so much of their time in the summers and fall may not be willing to continue that schedule another three months.
  2. Not enough GOOD instrumentalists. A weak instrumental ensemble can negatively impact the choir.
  3. Lack of cooperation between instrumental and vocal departments. This shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately too often it is the case.
  4. Paid performers can add extra punch to a performance and many choir directors are willing to sacrifice the opportunity to go for a “best band” award (professional groups are usually excluded from consideration for that award) to get the extra musical support from (usually) higher level playing.

If you are willing to be a volunteer instrumental performer in the backup group, you will save the program hundreds of dollars they would have had to pay a ‘professional’.

FOOD. Like to cook/fix foods for big events? Like to see smiles on teen faces? Want to serve?

Show Choir Competitions are all-day events, including a solo contest, multiple ensembles (all girls, mixed, concert choir), requiring most groups to arrive early and stay the day. THEN… after the announcement of the top six groups, there is a championship round in the evening. Since all activities are inside the school (vs out in the parking lot with trailers and semis for food prep at marching band competitions), groups get through the day on snacks and concessions. But there is still a food component.

When the choreographer is in, the group may rehearse from after school until 9pm, or all day on a Saturday.

C’mon, you’ve always wanted to cook for 70, right? But hey, all those smiling, appreciative faces will make YOU smile too.

CHAPERONES. Unlike the general population of the school, music students understand the behavior expectations and how they are held to a higher standard. They understand that travel is a privilege that can be lost. Music students are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, and riding the bus with them, helping them in rehearsals and as they travel…. is really a fun job. Many chaperons are “Mama [insert name]” to the students. They understand chaperons are a reality and they do not make it a hard job. 

Chaperones get in free to competitions.

DRIVERS.The bus drivers are school corporation employees, but most show choirs have a truck or trailer to carry outfits, props, instruments, etc. Do you have a trailer they can use? If it has your logo on it – consider all that free advertisement. If the group already has a trailer, can you use your truck to pull it — or volunteer to drive whatever vehicle is available for that?

Drivers get in free too!

FUNDRAISING. In most high school music programs, both instrumental and vocal, the financial requirements involved in funding a competitive ensemble (show choir / marching band) are staggering. The girls’ three specialized, razzle-dazzle outfits for the show can easily top $800 — and they change every year. The guys in the choir won’t spend that much, but half that is reality. The backup musicians are often in tuxes and formal dresses. Students are expected to raise or pay that every year, a cost prohibitive obstacle for many.

The choreographer costs a couple thousand and the music composer/arranger another grand. Add another couple thousand for paid musicians in the backup band.

Are you good at organizing events, making calls, creating publicity, motivating people? Your skills would be invaluable.

CONTEST/EVENT ORGANIZER. A show choir competition can involve two dozen ensembles from groups travelling hundreds of miles. The host group is flying in judges from all over the country, housing and feeding them — as well as providing hospitality for directors and drivers, concessions, advertising, announcing, timers, people to help each group through their event schedule, score tabulators and so much more. Competitions are large fundraisers, but also massive undertakings. Can you help with parking, crowd control, first aid — or as a runner to take care of all the highly stressed and sometimes demanding directors?

Whatever you like to do, there is probably a job for you at a show choir, marching band, winter guard or indoor percussion competition.

GRANT WRITING. There is money out there, but the competition for it is great. Are you an experienced grant writer? They could certainly use your help.

BUSINESS MENTORING. Do you run a small business? Have a business degree? Music Directors are trained educators, not necessarily heavily trained in the business skills involved in running the “business” of a travelling competitive program. And the band parent volunteers are always well-meaning parents who want to help, but don’t always have the organizational or motivational skills that could make them more effective and successful contributors to the program.

Especially in programs organizing “competitions” as fundraisers….the organization requirements are huge — and most would accept constructive help from a local business professional.

MEDICAL. Students with asthma have prescription inhalers. There are those on behavioral modification medicines (including narcotics) or with medically prescribed ankle or knee braces. An intensive performance in costume with the added stress of competition, some students need real help when they come off the stage. It is not unusual for students to get a variety of injuries (twisted ankles), wrenched backs (from picking up the girl — or from landing the wrong way after a dance move. The local show choir was fortunate for a several years when a chiropractor parent would travel with a portable examination table to competitions to work on injured dancers.

If you are a medical professional, your advice and services could be put to good use.

LEGAL. Increasingly, band and choir parent organizations are incorporating — and part of that process involves legal services. Can you help? Music groups and directors make contractual commitments to designers, instructional and expert staff, choreographers, and more. Perhaps they are building sponsorship relationships with local business.

Help them use the right words.

FINANCIAL. Choirs often have an individual participant financial requirement (in addition to outfit cost). In addition to the general fund expenses, there are individual student accounts. On a major trip year, responsibilities are magnified as families make scheduled payments into an account, or where the band treasurer must coordinate with the travel company on all those individual accounts. If you can’t be the day-to-day person, perhaps you could help set up the spreadsheet or recommend the program to use — and offer financial or bookkeeping advice.

A competitive music ensemble should be run like a business, but that is hard to do when most of those in the operation are untrained and unpaid. If you can help, please do.


ALUMS can volunteer.

BACKGROUND CHECKS. Anyone working with students must get a background check. Locally they are free and non-intrusive. If you’re building props, you may not need one. But if you are teaching students to build them, you would. If you are sewing you might not — but if you are measuring or helping students try on outfits – you do.

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Earning and receiving a great reference letter for jobs, college and scholarships

referencesBy John Gardner

As a teacher, I am periodically asked to be a reference on a job application or to write a recommendation letter for students applying for scholarships, jobs and/or colleges. Not too long ago, I got a nice thank you from a former exchange student who had just re-used the letter I wrote for her as she was applying for graduate studies toward her doctorate at a university in Germany. Because I find myself answering the same questions or asking for the same information whenever students need this help — so I’m going to organize them here and then refer students to this post when they want my letter-writing help.

How do you EARN a good letter and when do you START?

When sophomores and juniors interested in auditioning for Drum Major ask, “When are auditions?” My response is normally, “Your audition started freshman year.”

Similarly, a good reference doesn’t happen just because you ask or need one…. it happens because you have earned it during your years of association with, in this case, a teacher.

Few teachers or coaches get to know a student as well as a band director because it is often a 4-yr participation class — and especially marching band involves much more interaction than in a typical academic class. Students should realize and appreciate the value of such a letter — and work all four years to develop a stellar reputation the teacher will be happy to brag on.

Hire MeWhat makes a good letter?

I usually structure my letter to focus on multiple areas:

  1. Band experience. Which ensembles, what years, any additional responsibilities – i.e. section leader, drum major, etc.
  2. Qualification. Especially for scholarship letters, I like to emphasize genuine need and why I think meeting that need is a good investment for the scholarship provider.
  3. School experience. Grades, other extracurricular activities, honor rolls, awards, achievements.
  4. Community experience, especially volunteerism. Camps, counseling experiences, etc. Jobs.
  5. College/Career goal. What will you major in or what do you plan to do after graduation?
  6. Reputation. I like to reference the quality of friend choices, the wisdom of decision-making, and generally the types of comments peers and teachers might make.

What YOU should provide the letter-writer.

  • Resume. Resumes typically contain much of the information needed for a good letter. If you don’t have a resume, use the above list and organize information.
  • Stamped, Addressed Envelope with sufficient postage. Although I often do provide a copy to the student, the customary approach is to provide everything to the letter writer who then can put the letter in the envelope, seal it and drop it in the mail.
  • Additional Paperwork completely filled out. Often there is an accompanying application or information sheet to go with the letter and it is both inconvenient and inconsiderate of you to expect ME to take that additional time. Fill in your addresses, names and numbers. If I see that it will take extra time, I tend to procrastinate on the project.
  • TIME! The worst was a student approaching me after school about writing a letter requiring a same day postmark! C’mon…. If you want a comprehensive letter, give me time to do it. I will typically write a letter within a couple of days — but give me a week, please.

I love writing letters to help achievers because when I was where they are — there were people who went to bat for me and this is my way of returning that favor by passing it on….. Teachers don’t expect a lot in return, but a smile and a thank you can go a long way.

SUGGESTIONS for getting ADDITIONAL letters and help!  If a teacher has taken the time to organize and write a professional letter on YOUR behalf, consider a short, hand-written THANK YOU to the teacher. Guess who gets the better letters cranked out faster the next time?

Thanks for reading.

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Broken Trust and the Damage Bad Teachers Cause

By John Gardner

Cracking and crumbling of the word TrustAnother news story of a teacher caught up in a sexual situation with students. Sad and disturbing on multiple levels because at least two lives are damaged — forever changed. Students become hesitant to open up to and trust teachers. Parents become understandably hyper-sensitive and maybe over-protective.

Most teachers work so hard to build proper, trust-based relationships with students. 

My intent has never been to make students obey commands because I’m the authority in the classroom. I want them to listen and want to follow my guidance because they TRUST that what I am saying is best for the ensemble collectively and for him/her individually. I don’t want to be their ‘best bud’. I want to be a life-mentor, someone they will look back at 20 years from now with favorable memories of someone who helped them get through some of their high school hurdles.

Of course, there are several reasons for a student to hesitate to trust: 1) parents have broken trust between themselves and with their children — so the teen, wanting protection from future pain, erects a shield to keep people out, 2) friends break trust — so hurt teens conclude trust is risky and 3) teachers like the one in the news.

So who am I to expect students to trust ME? I get it. It makes me sad sometimes — when I sense that a student really needs to talk through something but is afraid to lower that shield. Or when I see one heading in a potentially negative life-impacting (but not physically dangerous) direction and regrettably conclude that, because it is none of my ‘business’, i.e. outside my teaching subject, that I need to stay in my space and not try to cross over into his/hers.  I do understand.

As I started writing, I realized I’ve said variations of all this before. I used the search function on my blog, entered “trust” and found the following:  Read more ›

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Sell for YOU! Keep the Profit!

Instead of selling for someone else, have you ever considered selling for yourself? $1 for $1 candy bar. As a fundraising distributor, I have known this Chocolatier for over a decade. Excellent quality — better than the national brands.

I just ordered a single case of these for someone in Htgn who will make $96 profit when sold. Earn up to $120+/case. Order 20, get one FREE.#FundraiseForYOU#KeepTheProfit

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What are YOUR Educational Priorities?

Andy Zay, one of our state politicians posted this in a facebook post.

At the time of this post, there were about 80 people who liked and responded. I posted this in response:

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Elaborations?…..

Social Media Management Services

Managing social media


Have you ever noticed that some people, and more often businesses, seem to have their name on your social media news feed when you are there? No, they are probably not sitting at their computer constantly posting and tweeting. Some have employees paid to manage their social media accounts.

Do you?

If not…. but you want the value of the exposure, consider using a Virtual Assistant to do it for you.

I use professional tools to manage multiple of my own accounts and several of others’. Some of the things I can do for you include:

  • CREATING accounts: Facebook Business Page, Google+ Verified Business Page, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram… or websites/blogs.
  • CREATE/MANAGE a “Content” file for your business that might include announcements that you want published periodically, i.e. “Follow us at xxxxx”, “Our online store is xxxxxx”, etc.
  • SCHEDULE items from that content file to appear at the highest traffic times throughout the day/week. If you have meetings or calendar events, I can also schedule those far in advance so you don’t forget.

Sceduling multiple messages


In addition to social media management, here are some jobs I’ve completed for clients:

  • Write blog posts: (examples)
    • How to choose a cleaning service for your home or office.
    • Bios on people who overcame obstacles; 50/50 men/women, 50/50 famous and obscure people, from USA, UK, Germany, Russia, Pakistan….
    • Promoting online store and products from an “English-as-a-second-language” client wanting to promote specialized Palestinian culture items.
    • Finding speaking gigs and events for a client who specializes in a narrow vertical market.
    • Finding manufacturers of high-priced (over $150) chess sets that he can sell on his multiple sites.
    • For one business services client:
      • Online checklist form for employees/contractors to use to ensure they do a thorough job.
      • Online job application.
      • Online feedback form for customers to use following service.
    • Create Reddit accounts and comment in multiple subreddit groups.
    • Educational research for a parent.
    • Music transcription, transposition and score modifications.

…and more

Level 1 and 100 percent rating

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Monetizing the Band Blog

By John Gardner

Dollar SignMonetize the Band Blog…

  1. by Rewarding, Recognizing or Endorsing Band Friendly Supporters
  2. with Band-Friendly Sponsors, Teen-focused Vendors, and Family Oriented Supporters
  3. with Affiliate Marketing and Advertising
  4. using e-commerce to sell
  5. by accepting donations

As a 30-yr veteran school product fundraiser, I use words like fundraising, money-making, profit, etc. Merging that fundraising mindset with my high school teaching assignment, I look for creative “monetizing” ideas to make the band blog an income stream.

There are HURDLES

  • Sometimes education gets so disconnected from the real world it is difficult for educators and parents to view things through a business lens. I found myself recently defending an idea against a that-won’t-work-in-education objection. Here was part of that discussion:

Something I learned a long time ago in business is that if you see the same thing happening over and over, it must be working. Consider “junk” mail? That costs real-time and money to produce and mail, yet they keep sending it because it works.

Admit it. You smile when, after complaining about highway billboards, you read the one that says, “Caught YOU looking.” They work.

Imagine a NASCAR car or driver NOT covered with ads. Even sports arenas become advertisement. The Hoosier Dome became the RCA Dome and was replaced by Lucas Oil Stadium. The University of Louisville basketball team plays in KFC’s “YUM Center”.

Vendors will pay to get their name in front of potential customers and with a music group in a high school, you  offer some very targeted marketing potential that vendors highly value.

  • If the group, i.e. the Band or Choir Dept., run their funds through a school’s ECA (Extra Curricular Activity) account, can be problematic with trying to satisfy all the State Board of Accounts rules. Use of the school’s tax exempt number typically requires; a) a Purchase Order in advance, b) an invoice from a vendor and c) confirmation that the goods or services were received or completed. Selling advertisements or sponsorships work, but offering products for online sales to individual end customers takes the school treasurer out of his/her comfort zone.
  • Another problem with selling or accepting funds online is that schools need to account for every penny, and with online transactions (PayPal, Credit Card Processor) there is a transaction “fee”. Someone who “Donates” $10 doesn’t actually put $10 in the account; it might be close….$9.75, but that is a problem for school accounting.
  • Accepting donations is typically a School Board responsibility. In the local school corporation, accepting a donation requires alerting the Superintendent’s office, getting on a School Board Agenda and waiting until they have a meeting and grant approval — before depositing the donated amount.
  • There are tons of school-related policies that make a profitable site difficult. Have you ever read YOUR school board’s policies. Here is the local version. Even getting permission for a domain name is difficult. In my last attempt, there were going to be several levels of approval (HS Prin, Tech Dept, School Board) with likely negative response, mainly because of the possibility that an abandoned domain name could be picked up by a porn site.
THE SOLUTION is for the Band or Choir to have a separate, incorporated, tax-exempt status parent group.

For this post, I will assume that the band parent organization has incorporated as a tax exempt entity and has, or could have, a an income-producing site.

Here are 5 ways to monetize your band blog.

  1. Reward, Recognize and Endorse Band-Friendly Supporters. The car dealer who puts an announcement about your fish dinner on his promo-sign out on the street, the water softener business that donates bottled water for the students for after performances and on trips, the coffee shop that sets up at your football games and shares a percentage of the proceeds, the funeral home that loans their limo for use as a fundraising prize, all the vendors and parents who donate items for the silent auction… a simple listing with some recognition and support can go a long way toward encouraging more. Here’s a live web sample.
  2. Allow Band Friendly Supporters to DONATE for adverts. Be sure to think through how to protect yourself from a situation where someone wants to buy ad space that you don’t want to sell them; i.e. a bar-grille, a movie rental place that includes x-rated materials, the local beer distributor, etc. You don’t need a fancy ad management tool, just design, or better, let them send you graphic ads that you can post for an agreed upon price and time. So that you can protect your non-profit status, call them ‘donations’. Get guidance from your administrators, but possibilities could include: a) only those from your band-friendly list may advertise, so only those from whom you accept donations/support.; b) local vendors who advertise in the sports programs, etc; c) band parents who own or work for appropriated businesses.Go after businesses who focus on or profit from the local teens; the movie theatre (link to their site that has the schedules and movies of the week), pizza  or coffee shops, skating rink, etc. Locally owned businesses are easier to deal with than national franchises, but sometimes the local manager has a lot of freedom.
  3. Affiliate Marketing. This is advertising that goes through a third-party who pays you a commission for click-throughs or purchases from people who follow the ad on your site. There are several vendors you can register with, such as clickbank or commission junction. Your booster group will need to have an account into which the vendor can electronically transfer earnings. Set up an account with the affiliate program, select the businesses you want to promote, get the codes (they provide) to insert into the site. Some FREE web/blog sites may not allow you to insert advertisements. Most hosted sites, including will. also has an attractive affiliate program. One blogger who administers a School of Performing Arts has set up an Amazon Affiliate account to earn commissions for the school to purchase music. Because he writes reviews to sell their books, he gets discounts on the books he reviews. Do you have a parent (or are you) willing to read/review books about things pertaining to your music program?
  4. Sell online.What do you have to sell?
    – the fundraising merchandise you are currently selling, including things like decals , scrip cards, discount cards or other items easy to mail if a customer can’t come pick up.
    – videos or recordings of your groups’ performances (make sure you don’t violate any copyrights to do that)
    – old instruments or uniforms
    – LP records, VHS tapes, etc that you haven’t touched in several years
    – items donated by vendors who want to be on your Band-Friendly list If you don’t want to add a full-blown shopping cart program to your site, you can list individual items on sales sites like eBay or Amazon and then promote and link to them from your site
  5. Accept DONATIONS online. Add a DONATE button (set up through PayPal, for example) for different specific purposes, or even for general donations to the program. Here’s one example of a page using a DONATE button to help students get private lessons.One local patron ask if it were possible to have automatic withholding from his paycheck that would be electronically transferred directly to the band’s bank account.

Need help setting up your site?

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10+ Gump-ism-style Advice Lines for Bands, Students and Parents

forrestgumpIn the spirit of Forrest Gump who put out Gump-isms like, “Life is like a box of chocolates…..You never know what you’re gonna get”, I offer the following sayings that sometime happen in band rehearsals and private studio lessons.

“Good Grades Do Pay.”

We all hear about college paying for good athletes, but they will also pay for good intellectuals. Pick up a brochure from just about any college and you’ll find a place in there where they list things like 1) Average SAT/ACT score or 2) National Merit Scholars.

If your SAT/ACT score is higher than the college’s average, then they WANT YOU because you will raise their average. To many schools, both the average SAT/ACT scores and the number of National Merit Scholars they have represent “bragging rights”. But instead of accidentally stumbling into success, strategically plan for it, and then systematically execute your plan.

The first major test is one often ignored, the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). Sophomores and Juniors can take the PSAT, which gives colleges some early information they can use to recruit. The PSAT is also the NMSQT (National Merit Scholar Qualifying test). Colleges will pay for National Merit Scholars. They brag about how may NM Scholars they have in their community. This is a test worth practicing and preparing for. Treat your preparation as a part-time job.

How much money can you make at minimum wage?

The other test(s) worth studying and preparing for are the SAT, the ACT and the SAT II’s (specific subject tests required by some schools).

“Colleges Pay for those who Play – WELL!”

Don’t ignore the ARTS corner of the Triangle-A (Athletics, Academics, Arts). I remember a conversation I had with son #1 as we sat in the driveway of his trumpet teacher’s house and I was writing that check for an hour-long lesson:

“I am paying for your college education one week at a time.
By the time you get to college,
you need to be good enough
that colleges will pay for you.”

I did not pay for MY college education. As one of five children raised in a single parent household by a polio survivor mother, I knew there was no way my family could send me to college. I knew that the only way I would get to college was for a college to pay for me to come. I wasn’t going to qualify academically and was completely non-Athletic. But by 8th grade, I realized I could play the clarinet pretty well – and set off on a track to make that my way in to college. Some of the things I did related to that:

* When my friends were out cruising, I was practicing.
(Not much choice as I didn’t have a car.)

* When my friends were going to the movies, I was practicing.
(Not much choice as I didn’t have spending money.)

* I took clarinet lessons all through high school.

* I participated in Summer Music Camps. I spent three 4-week sessions at the Stephen Foster Music Camp at Eastern Kentucky University and two summers at the 2-week Summer Camp at Morehead State University. Colleges offer camps and clinics to recruit: to get to know prospects and to give them an opportunity to fall in love with the college. In those cases, I got to study for short times with the clarinet professors at both universities. When it came time to select a college, both of those were recruiting me because they already knew me. And, of course, having intense rehearsals and master classes all day for the summer makes one a much better musician.

* I auditioned for specialty and clinic bands. Northern Kentucky had a “Select Band” which rehearsed for 1-2 days and gave a concert. I also participated all 4 years in the Kentucky All-State Band. There was the Morehead State University Band Clinic.
* I participated in several ensembles and played a solo every year at Solo/Ensemble Festival. I received 1-II, 14-I’s and 1-I+. Both my sons surpassed that, with Son #2 achieving over 42 Gold Medal ratings in District and State in instrumental and vocal.

Son #1 did not pay for his college education. Do you notice anything similar about our paths and strategies?

Trumpet Lessons starting in 7th grade.
Honor Band
* Solo/Ensemble Festival
 – three trips to State
* Music Camp – (KY) twice
Music Camp – (IN)
Jazz Camp – (TN)
* Youth Symphony
* All-State Band
Summer Substitute with the Philharmonic Orchestra
* Everything Band
 in high school, including Marching (2yrs), Concert, Jazz, Varsity Brass (Show Choir Backup), Musicals.

In fact, there were some semesters when he would register for classes that the school would give HIM a check. That was because each year:

– $2500 each year from the Presidential Scholarship (National Merit Finalist)
– $2000 each year from the University to completely cover in-state-tuition
– $5000 from the Honors Program (ACT score, National Honor Society) to completely cover out of state tuition
– $3500 from the Music Department to completely cover housing
– $1000 from the Trumpet Studio
$14,000 … at a time when the total cost at TTU (Tennessee Tech) was about $10,500/yr.

He also received local scholarships. I recall that for one of those scholarships he called the person in charge because he missed the “postmark date” and wanted to see if he could drive it to her home (local). Her response was, “Please do, honey ….. your application will be the only one we have.” See scholarship -ism below.

Son #2 went to a Top Tier school for a state school price. That university’s current tuition is over $61,000/yr. He had the grades but not the money. An Admissions counselor made me a promise (which they kept),

“If we decide we want him,
we will get him here.”

It is sad to see high school students who are pretty good in their local band go off to top-ranked music schools to face rejection because they settled for mediocrity in high school – because they could. Some of the students I teach at the university come in as music majors never having studied privately. It is really hard to make it at the college level without specialty instruction in high school. There is only so much that can be done in the large ensemble for which there is a “free” teacher. Assuming there is some talent/ability involved, you can almost look at the concept as a “Pay Now vs Pay Later”.

You can INVEST in your training and experiences throughout high school and go for the music scholarships in college, or PAY the sticker price.

“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose — until you lose.”

I used to have a poster in front of my band room showing a rifle girl, her head down as she was dragging her rifle behind her…..featuring that quote.

“If the notes are on the paper, it is your job to play ALL of them.”

This was my response to a student who asked,  “How much of it do we have to play?” I often tell students that it is my job as a director to help mold and blend the sound, and to correct errors…… not to teach notes. Learning the notes is the student’s job.

“If you’re going to play it, you might as well play it right.”

Why hurt the ensemble and waste valuable rehearsal time when it doesn’t take that much more effort to do it right the first time?

“The view from 1st chair is much better.”

“Private Lessons can be like paying for college — one week at a time.”

“Be prepared: Make sure your parents are getting their money’s worth.”

I have had students come to clarinet/sax lessons without their music, ….. and one, without his instrument. One college music major lesson started (and ended) like this:

Student: I don’t know how to tell you this, but I just didn’t have time to practice this week.

Me: This is your 3rd week in a row with excuses. This is your major instrument. This is your major. This is just as important as that English, Math or Psychology assignment. This affects your grade too. I heard you sight-read this music last week when it was supposed to be practiced to performance-grade. I don’t need to hear you sight-read it again. You take this time and practice. I’ll see you next week.

When I was paying for lessons, I wanted my money’s worth. And I tell my students to give their parents their money’s worth, i.e. don’t waste my time or their money.

“Santa isn’t the only one who knows whether you’ve been bad (no practice) or good.”

If you engage in systematic study, your teacher/coach will get to know you well enough to know when you’ve practiced for your lesson.  Make sure your parents are getting their money’s worth.

“You can’t sight read in your lesson and get away with it. I’m better than that.”

“Like the ice skater who misses the quad, missing notes in public can hurt.”

Mistakes are going to happen. They just are. When you watch ice skating on TV, even at the world championship or Olympic level, there are mistakes. What I often explain in private lessons is that they probably hit that jump a high percentage of times in practice. Performance rarely goes better than practice. If you aren’t doing it in practice, what do you think will happen in performance?

“Anybody can be mediocre.  Not you. Not with me. Don’t even think about it.”

Mediocre means average. Anybody can be average. When talking about the lukewarm (mediocre) church, Jesus said he would prefer that it had been hot or cold, but because it was lukewarm, he would spit it out of His mouth. The Star Wars Jedi Knight Yoda says, “Do, or do not, there is no TRY”. 

“You can practice hard now and have fun at performance, or you can have fun now…”

High school life is so much about social life and relationships. The tendency is to bring that into the rehearsal. You can take it easy now, but then be disappointed with the results — or you can work hard, pay the price and enjoy the rewards and satisfaction of demonstrated excellence.

“Do you really want me to tell you it was good — if it wasn’t?”

Students usually know if it was good or bad. There is that balance between encouragement and improvement. When that balance is achieved, improvement happens. After a tough run of a marching band show, as we were ending the rehearsal, which we usually tried to do on a ‘high note’, after another staff member gave a critique, I asked the students; “Do you want the sugar-coated version, or do you want it straight?” They wanted it straight – which enabled us to end on a ‘good note’. 


How we did it chartMuch of this is included in an e-zine called, “How We Did It” in getting our two sons through college. In their case, we spent $32,000 for $200,000 worth of education and I share the strategies we used, the experiences we had and what we learned.

You can get it through Paypal for only $4.95. I would appreciate your support and your feedback.

How We Did It

10 Anti-Excellence HS Peer Pressure Standards

By John Gardner

When I asked my high school Valedictorian son why he had chosen a particular top-tier university, he answered,

I’m tired of being the geek. I’m tired of ruining the curve. I’m tired of people getting mad at me because I do the extra credit anyway. I want to go somewhere I can be normal; where it is okay to be an achiever.

Pressure surrounds teens.

Parents push them to do better. Teachers need performance data in the ever-increasing “prove-you’re-teaching-and-they-are-learning” world of government schools.  The strongest pressure, however, can come from peers.

In handing out a “pre-test”, a beginning of a semester assessment to find out where students are on a subject, a teacher was explaining to the class.

“This is NOT for a grade. This is to help me find out where to start. If you already know most of what is on this pre-test, I’ll be able to give you higher-level work.”

A student in the class spoke up,

“Fail it!”

The message was clear.

“If we look like we know stuff, they will give us more. If we all fail the pre-test, we’ll get easy stuff to do. LET’S GO!”

Anybody can be mediocre

Here is some of the unwritten peer-pressure-code of many high schools:

  • Go easy on the pre-test. Save your effort for the one that counts.
  • Don’t ruin the curve.
  • If you turn it in early, you make the rest of us look bad.
  • If the instruction says 500 words, don’t do 501.
  • Just do what you have to do to get the grade your parents won’t yell about.
  • Don’t study at home, practice at home or do extra research at home because they’ll start expecting MORE.
  • The teacher will adjust the level of work to the level of the class. We vote for easy. Don’t mess it up for us.
  • Share your work with us…. we’ll change a few words and get away with it.
  • Teachers are the enemy. Don’t be a “teacher’s favorite”. The only time you should be “friendly” to a teacher is when you need something – or when you’re asking for more time, etc.
  • Snitches get stitches. C’mon! Who’s side are you ON?
  • If they give us the entire class period to take a test – take the entire time. If we get done too early, they will start on something else.
  • Tell your teachers what they want to hear, even if you have to make it up.
  • Use up the entire limit: number of times you can be tardy, number of times you can be called out before discipline, number of assignments you can miss, number of low grades that will be dropped…..and then use your puppy dog eyes and maybe even a few tears to plead for mercy, forgiveness and another chance — after the limit is hit.

Below are a few of the pics/graphics I try to use to encourage a different path…..

If you want to do

This pic is from the goal line of Lucas Oil in Indianapolis. Indiana bands have state finals here. Drum Corps International and Bands of America have national finals here. And…. many of my students call me ‘G’…


Get Things Done

If the notes are on the paper

You should seldom have to tellSlide29Slide30

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