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:
In 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,
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’.
Much 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.
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.
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,
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!”
I was rehearsing one of the concert bands on Pep Band music. This particular ensemble tends to lose tempo. To reinforce my point, I started them with a metronome — and then stop directing. After some time, I would restart the metronome. I described what they were doing:
“Sounds like a gradual ritard. You’re slowing down.”
No one in the ensemble said anything and I gave it no additional thought.
But then, one of the building admins confronts me about a parent call. Parent was upset because daughter came home telling him I said they were retarded.
I asked if the Admin had a quote of what I was accused of saying. She pulls out a piece of paper reads;
“Sounds like a casual retard slowing down.”
Admin instructed not to confront the student, but to talk to the band.
One of the agenda items on the board was “music term of the day” and next to it was:
I asked the ensemble what those three terms mean.
Numerous correct answers.
Then I asked them to think back to the pep band music rehearsal last Tuesday — and I asked them what the overall group’s problem was (especially) that day…..
[We were slowing down]
Then, I shared the quote I was accused of saying…..
“I didn’t record myself, and I don’t think I said the word casual because that just doesn’t sound like something I would say. But let’s go with that for now. If I used any form of those three terms in the context of last week’s rehearsal, what do you think I was saying?”
[That we were slowing down.]
Now, let me tell you what I absolutely didn’t say — and would NEVER say….. I was NOT calling you retarded.
[Collective eye roll and OMG kinda responses.]
One four year ensemble member, said….
“You would never say that.”
We went on to talk about what should have happened….. That if/when I said something that an individual thought was offensive, out of line, or even unclear — that this individual should come and talk to ME first.
[Collective yes nods.]
And that if your parent needs to call someone, who do you think they should call FIRST?
Then…we went on into rehearsal. I responded to the Admin the results of our conversation. Admin calls the father to explain Italian music terms….and all is well.
By John Gardner
Sometimes I sit in the clarinet room during the upper level solos at Solo and Ensemble festival. There is a painful pattern of poor choices in music selection and interpretation, including the selection and performances of Sonata and Concerto pieces.
A Concerto is generally written for a Concert Hall …. for a Concert …. featuring a soloist with an orchestral accompaniment. It is normally 3 movements long; a bombastic first movement, a beautiful and contrastingly slow second movement and a flourishing climatic final movement.
Ensemble parts are usually boring, because the soloist is the feature. Only during the brief “Tutti” sections does the ensemble get to play much more than light, soft accompaniment. The Concerto is designed to “show off” the masterful soloist and it normally takes the instrument to the limits in tempo, technique and range. Mozart wrote his Clarinet Concerto for a friend considered to be a prodigy.
For a concerto performance with just a piano accompanist, as what is always the case for solo festival, the pianist is playing a simplified transcription of the orchestra score. In most cases, other than the potential of some 16th note runs in the piano part during the “tutti” sections (which can be edited or left out without drastically changing the piece), the piano parts are relatively simple, or can usually be simplified without changing the intent of the piece.
Historically, a Sonata was written as a chamber hall piece, written for a solo instrument and solo accompanist, often to be performed in a smaller setting than a large concert hall. I won’t get into the form of each of the normally 4 movements, but a sonata is more a “duet” where both instruments are of equal importance. The Sonata is usually less of a flashy piece, rather demonstrating what the two instruments can do together, often involving subjective interpretations of tempo and dynamics.
….in picking the Concerto, the most common disappointment is when the student performs the piece at a ridiculously slow tempo. I’ve heard a Rondo (generally a 3rd movement 6/8 time performed in a 2 beats per measure pulse) played IN SIX. Or… the flashy first movement at half the intended tempo. I’m all about telling students they can be slightly under the published tempo to help with accuracy, but drastically changing the tempo also completely changes the piece, in my opinion. If you can’t play it the way it was written or intended, choose something else. Of course, the other option is to commit the practice to get it to performance grade, because the only sound worse than the super slow tempo is the sloppy technique of an ill prepared piece, evidencing a problem to be addressed in a separate post perhaps…..HOW to practice.
When it comes to the Sonata, I can almost envision the selection. The student is pointed to the band library solo/ensemble music drawer and begins looking through the solo options. Scared of the heavier use of black ink on the concerto, the student pulls out a sonata because it looks easier.
Yeah, eighths instead of sixteenths, hardly any ‘runs’. This piece is for ME.
The pianist, who often only gets 1-2 times to practice with the student, and who is probably also accompanying 10 other soloists, has had neither the time to adequately prepare the tougher piano part, nor the understanding of how the two go together……hence the painful disaster at contest as a result of poor interpretation.
Pick a piece to highlight the soloist’s strength.
If your strength is technical proficiency (you can play fast, i.e. runs and arpeggios), the 1st or 3rd movement of a concerto can be a good choice. If a beautiful tone and vibrato are what you do well, then perhaps the 2nd movement of a concerto or some other solo form; such as an ‘air’ or a sound portrait type piece, might be a better choice. If you are good at playing with a wide range of emotion AND have access and rehearsal time to a good accompanist AND time to spend with a music coach who understands the particular piece selected, THEN….a sonata can be a strong choice.
Some of the lowest scores at contest are sometimes given to a decent musician who butchered a sonata, not due to poor musicianship, but to poor interpretation and understanding.
Get some expert coaching and/or listen to professional examples of that piece performed.
If you are studying privately, you should have the expert coaching you need. Your band director can often be a good source. As a director, however, I made an error a few years ago when I interpreted an Adagio tempo for a soloist. Mine was a good metronome interpretation, but not knowing that particular piece, I didn’t realize that the traditional method of performing that solo was to interpret the Adagio at the eighth note pulse and not the quarter note. The first time I heard a judge critique, I blamed the judge. The next time, when it was a different judge saying the same thing, I concluded I was mechanically, but not musically correct.
Sometimes it is difficult to find expert coaching in a geographic area for some specific instruments. Band Directors are usually expert in at least one instrument and may be proficient on multiple, but are not expert at all. The director can help with basics of notes, rhythms, dynamics, articulations, performance pedagogy, etc. But for interpretation, in the absence of a local coach, consider additional options:
1. Internet research. You should be able to find critique or comments on a variety of solo pieces, often as part of either a contribution from a college professor expert or from research data published in intellectual papers.
2. YouTube and other video presentations. CAUTION: Anybody can post videos and some are hideous. Better sources might include college senior music major recitals. Or look for multiple presentations of a particular piece and give extra consideration to the one with the higher number of views…..or to those that represent the pattern rather than the exception from your list of options.
3. Forums or discussion groups. Search to see if others are asking similar questions or having discussions about a particular piece. Often there will be at least one “expert” contributor.
4. Find a Skype coach. Colleges are using Skype to interview applicants. So are employers. When distance is an issue, it is an acceptable alternative. Music lessons or coaching via Skype are not common but are becoming more acceptable and available. Read more about coaching (music lessons) here.
Thanks for reading,
The original article: “With Teen Mental Health Deteriorating Over Five Years, There’s A Likely Culprit“, from TheConversation.com, was posted on Facebook by Ruby K Payne.
One of my facebook friends responded with :
Mr. G, this is not the first article or story I’ve read about the horrible effects of tech. I always wonder why when I confront the school district with empirical evidence proving my point they damn near stroke out defending the use of tech in the district. Yet, when I have asked them to provide me evidence to support the use of tech in kids and teens they never ever ever produce anything.
Used properly, technology can be a great educational tool. The Macbooks and the apps/programs students have access to through the school are great for research via search engines, for writing better papers with document processing, organizing data/numbers in spreadsheets, organizing thoughts, data and research for presentations with slide projecting programs, using collaboration tools with groups of students on a project, or even communicating with other students, classes and schools, locally to even around the world.
In our music classes, we use some fantastic Internet-based programs to teach Music Theory where students can practice learning and hearing notes, intervals, chords rhythms and more. We save making thousands of copies of music for pep band by scanning that music and downloading it onto iPads that our bands use to rehearse and at the games.
I won at $3000 grant for an Internet-based program to help students practice from a collection of thousands of exercises. With it they can practice and see on screen what individual mistakes they are making. For solo work, they can hear the piano accompaniment and some of our band arrangements are on there so that an individual can see and play his/her part while listening to the rest of the band. Amazing stuff.
The PROBLEM comes with what students do with the rest of their time. For personal stuff, most of the h/s students use their phones for music, texting, chatting, social media, etc. They come to class with one earbud in and, if teachers (me included) aren’t careful and vigilant, they can be listening to something else instead of participating in class (although that is harder to do in band class).
They will need to be proficient and comfortable with technology in just about any job they get past h/s, so I totally support utilizing it as part of what we do in that bigger picture.
The EXCESS and OVERUSE is (my opinion, not research) happening outside of school hours. That is where parental oversight becomes more important. This particular article seems to be targeting that excessive use as the culprit, not the general use.
I’m sure there are teachers not utilizing much technology in their classrooms. I don’t fault that. Some need to do a better job of ensuring time designated for completing projects and assignments during class time is properly used.
I’m glad you’re involved with the school system. Keep doing that. Before I was hired, and while our sons were in the system, we discovered that, for the most part, the system works…..but we had to constantly work the system.
And now I’m off to church, where I’ll use my phone to look up and follow along as the pastor does his scripture reading.
By John Gardner
There are surprises every year at Solo/Ensemble contest. I spend the day encouraging, listening, supporting, congratulating and consoling. Without question, the experience students gain from participation are strong.
Life is not always fair, and neither are judges. A high school principal once commented to me after a disappointing marching band result that…
“They should judge these things the way we do basketball; points happen when the ball goes through the basket.”
At the end of the day of a Solo/Ensemble festival a few years ago, when two directors were complaining to the site official about the same particular judge, the official response was that…
“…that score represents a personal, professional opinion. That is what we hire them to do.”
There are problematic (for me to justify) judges in solo/ensemble festivals: Read more ›
By John Gardner
A mother and young child go into a pet store to buy a dog. They find one, but mamma says it is too expensive.
The wise sales clerk invites the mother and child to take the puppy home for the night….with the offer to bring it back the next day if they don’t think it is worth the price.
They will NOT likely bring the puppy back.
I fell for that sales close with a car once. My wife wasn’t with me when I stopped on the lot (intentional, so I had a way out of a pressure sales situation). The smart salesperson invited me to drive the car home to show her. SOLD!
I used the “Puppy Dog” approach with a clarinet student (I will call her Sally). The first time I heard her play was in a middle school concert we attended to hear one of our sons. I didn’t know Sally, but I noticed her. It was probably 2-3 yrs later when I convinced her parents to let her study privately with me. She had incredible musicianship but was hindered by a mediocre instrument.
When I would ask about a step up instrument, she always responded about how busy her parents were. DAD WAS A SURGEON, so I knew the price was NOT an issue.
I went to the music dealer and asked if I could borrow a top of the line clarinet for a day. I asked for permission to bring it back, but assured them I didn’t think that would happen.
I took the clarinet to Sally’s band rehearsal at the high school. I told her to play it in the rehearsal and then to take it home that night to practice with at home. I gave her the amount of the instrument and asked her to return either the clarinet or a check. The next day, she handed me the check.
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Thanks for reading.