When the teacher hears this “L” word from the parent.

liarIn a previous century, pre-cell-phone, almost pre-historic era, I had a memorable exchange when a pastor parent called me a liar when I told him what his daughter had done.

How do you think I should have responded?


As I walked into the small high school office, two band students had their backs to me as they used the counter phone. I entered just in time to hear one of the girls explaining that she was going to get home late because

Mr. Gardner called a mandatory rehearsal.

The caller’s friend, who may have already made her call home, saw me first, displaying a shocked face as I approached and asked for the phone. In front of the two band parent secretaries who also heard the student, I simply shared with the parent….

Hello, this is Mr. Gardner and there is no after school band practice today.

I handed the phone back to the girl and went on about my business in the office, not listening to the rest of that conversation.

A few minutes later, in the hallway, with no witnesses, of course,….this normally smiley, friendly, terrific student and valued bandster unloaded some vocabulary on me to express her displeasure. I might have brushed off a temporary anger burst, but I couldn’t ignore what she said — and I knew her father would agree. So I went back to the office to use the phone. Keep in mind that I had just caught the daughter in a lie.

Pastor A____, this is Mr. Gardner again. I just want you to know that your daughter just used some bad language with me that is both unacceptable and disrespectful. Because this is the first time I’ve had any trouble with her, I’m not going to write-up anything through the school, but will be giving her some temporary extra band responsibilities as discipline for her behavior.

(Details shared.)

Pastor: My daughter doesn’t curse.

Sir, I’m not giving you second-hand gossip. I’m not telling you what I heard or what someone else told me. I’m giving you a first hand report about a face to face conversation to let you know that I will require your daughter to spend some extra time working in the band room as discipline for her behavior, and wanted you to hear it from me.

Pastor: You’re lying. My daughter wouldn’t say those things and you’d better not discipline her.

The daughter later apologized, completed her mandatory volunteer work around the band room, and hopefully learned and grew from the experience.

But I never visited her father’s church.


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Posted in Communication, High Schools, Parenting, Personal experience, Public Schools, Respect, Storytelling, Teaching

My College Years with an Old Opera Singer

By John Gardner

Note: This is a personal experience story involving three years of my college life living in a home owned by a 1920’s New York opera singer. No points, no outline, nothing to teach….just a story I hope you will enjoy.

Dagley House

Not quite haunted, my college apartment was a hospital room during the Civil War. This was my college home for three years while attending the University of Kentucky. Only a two-minute walk from the music building made it convenient and the rent was cheap, but came with a price. Miss Iva Dagley, a 70-yr old former opera singer, rented five third floor rooms to college guys. Both the house and the homeowner were historic and unique. The straight parallel rows of huge trees that go out for several blocks from the house likely outlined the original entrance to the 1800’s estate. Miss Dagley (no one called her Iva) was a rising opera singer when the 1930’s Great Depression sent her home from the New York’s Metropolitan Opera.  She never talked about her life overseas or in New York, or how she acquired her wealth, but aside from the value (historic and monetary) of the house itself, the contents were priceless. I’m not surprised that she never married.

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Life at the Dagley house included an education UK could not match. She adjusted forever my dialect, diction, grammar and vocabulary.  I uncomfortably experienced how the élite deal with the ordinary, picked up breadcrumbs of how the rich keep, manage and spend money and cringed at her political prejudice and unapologetic racism.

Miss Dagley was legally blind and her cat was deaf…. which made for a hilarious combination. She couldn’t see the cat and it couldn’t hear her coming. From the 3rd floor, we would periodically hear the cat scream, often followed by a crashing pot or pan. When I ran down to check on her after one especially noisy event, she scolded me to never do that again.

Rent was cheap, but included one “errand” per month. Since there were five of us, that meant she could get out at least that often, or to get things done in or around the house. Sometimes our errand was to give a tour of the house to her guests. In my three years there I did a lot with and for Miss Dagley. I’ve highlighted a few of the more memorable.

“1791” Tapestry in stairwell. When showing some guests a thick tapestry…and noticing “1791” stitched into the lower right corner, I later asked her if it was a copy. Her blunt response, “Young man, please don’t ever again suggest that I have a ‘copy’ of anything in this house.”

Traveling with Miss Dagley was a trip. We drove her in a 20-year-old Cadillac. Faded pink, it must have been especially rare and attention grabbing in the 50’s. It was in mint condition as it was only outside the garage a few miles per month. Picture, as you read the following ordeals, how the other person involved would give her assistant a “is she for real?” look that they knew she could not see.

The bank. “She wanted to “cash” a check. She didn’t specify why….just handed me a money bag and an envelope for the teller. Imagine…. a college student approaching a bank teller with a nearly blind senior citizen woman, and handing the teller an envelope containing a check, a note to “cash it” with specific instructions of how many of each denomination – and a money bag. I was unaware of the amount of the check until the teller summoned security, which quickly, but politely, positioned around us. Can you say awkward moment? The exchange with the teller went something like this:

Teller: “Ma’am, are you sure you want to cash this….all of this?”

Dagley: “What does the note say?”

Teller: “Yes ma’am, but are you aware of the amount you are asking for?”

Dagley: “You mean the amount for which I am asking? (She was always correcting grammar and pronunciation). Is there confusion about the amount?”

I was not surprised that they were questioning her writing, especially if she wrote it out herself. More probable is that her attorney, a frequent visitor, wrote the check, and that her signature was all over it. When signing things, she would ask us to place the pen in the general area. Her signature was huge and never went in the intended direction.

Teller: Are you sure you have the right number of zeros?

Dagley: How many zeros do you see?

Teller: Ma’am that is ten thousand dollars.

Dagley: “Yes, it is. It is in my account and I want you to put it in this bag.”

Bank officer w/Security: “Miss Dagley, may we have a word with you?”

Dagley: “No. You may not. This is a simple transaction and I want you to complete it NOW.”

I never knew what she did with that $10,000 in cash.

The fireplace store.“She wanted an insert for one of her massive fire places (note the chimneys on the house). She was using her long-sleeved white gloves to feel shapes and textures. The biggest difference between her white glove inspection and that of a Marine sergeant was she was unarmed.

Me: “Miss Dagley, those stoves are dirty.” (Ignores me.)

Salesman: “Ma’am, you are getting your white gloves dirty.”

Dagley: “Why am I getting my white gloves dirty?”

Salesman: “These are sample stoves in active fireplaces and they have soot on them.”

Dagley: “Why are you displaying dirty stoves? Show me a clean one, please.”

At the gas station. (full service, of course.)

Dagley: “What are you putting on my windshield?”

Attendant: “Window cleaner, ma’am.”

Dagley: “Soap and water. That is all I want you putting on my car.”

Sending Christmas Cards. She kept a book and tracked incoming and outgoing cards.

Me: “Here’s a card from [whoever]. Shall I address one to them?”

Dagley: “Did they send me a card last year?”

Me: “Yes ma’am.”

Dagley: “What about two years ago?”

Me: “Doesn’t look like it.”

Dagley: “Then we shall wait until next year. Next?”

Some of the rooms in her house.

Hopefully someday I will find the pictures I took.

The SILVER Room.“Probably originally a dining room, this room had a remarkable collection of only silver artifacts. It was a large room with layers of added shelves. Badly tarnished silver (I’m confident it wouldn’t have been if she could have seen it, but it was not wise to criticize anything in the house. My mother commented,

It would take a full-time person just to keep this room shiny.

The TEAKWOOD Room. Every piece of furniture was hand-carved under water. The room had a very oriental look to it, with marble serpent eyes in the arms of some of the chairs.

The centerpiece of the SUN room was a massive marble table. The tabletop was no fewer than three inches thick and, according to Miss Dagley, took seven men to carry in. Nothing sat on it. No one ever used it. It was just…..there.

The Living Room, and all the rooms on the first floor, had approximately 20 ft ceilings and hardwood floors covered with ornamental not quite wall to wall rugs. The rug in the living room had to be 60-80 ft long and over 20 ft wide. I would never be able to afford even the frames that surrounded the massive paintings and portraits. She was stunning in her twenties during the twenties. The 4 foot urns looked like she picked them up in India. At the back of the room (went from front to back of the house) was a full-size grand piano (not a baby grand). On very rare occasions, when she thought we were all out of the house, she would vocalize. Given her age, I can only imagine the power and beauty of such a voice 50 years earlier. She gave a very small number of private voice lessons. I wish I could have sat in on some of those.

The Second Floor had four large, ornate bedrooms, each opening to a common foyer that provided several chairs and couches that I never saw used. Sometimes she would have an extended-staying guest in one of the other 2nd floor rooms.

The Third Floor had five rooms. Four rooms had windows that faced the side or the back, and those had normal, although old widows in them. The room that faced the front had only one small ornamental original window that couldn’t be changed because of the historical registry. There was an electric bell installed that Miss Dagley would use if she needed to “call” one of us, or if she needed to give us notice that she was “coming up”.

Diction and Dialect

Singers must carefully and correctly pronounce their words. So did people in Miss Dagley’s presence. I once asked if she wanted me to wash (pronounced worsch) the car. She kept asking me what I wanted to do to her car until I figured out her point. Another time, I mentioned something on the “nooze“. She asked me how to spell that and when I responded n-e-w-s, she encouraged me to pronounce what I spelled. During my three years in her house, she thoroughly negated my northern Kentucky accent.

Racism and Communism

There was an African-American man who took care of her yard. His transactions with her were always from the back door (which I saw only one time when I walked around the outside of the house), never the front. One time I called her on a reference to him and she silenced me with,

I have nothing against colored people…..they’re just not as smart as normal people.

Another shocker was when I had said something about how I liked the way John Kennedy spoke:

Democrats are communists and he was one of the worst.

Curfew, Girls and the Girl Apartment

We all had a key to her massive front door. But each night, once she believed we were all inside, she would apply the additional locks. I don’t recall a time-specific curfew, but we all knew she waited for us to get in before she would go to bed, which made midnight practicing at the music building problematic. She told us that we were to call her if we ever got to the house and found the door locked. No one wanted to make that call.

One night I missed the locking, which meant having to walk to campus to find a pre-cellular-phone. Instead, I elected to use the fire escape, which required the first ladder to get to the metal roof right outside her bedroom window and then climbing the second ladder to the window of my room. Unfortunately, I mistakenly thought I had the storm window locked open and when it slammed shut, the shattered glass made a terrible noise outside her window. I looked over the fire escape and saw her bedroom light come on. I climbed inside just in time to hear the bell ring and her call, “I’m coming up”. She never raised her voice, simply asking….

Why did you break my window?

Joan and I were dating by the time I moved into the house sophomore year. Miss Dagley liked Joan, especially since she was a vocal music major. Two of the five third floor guys would have girl friends over. The other three didn’t want to put their friends through Miss Dagley’s unofficial approval process, which generally required only the first few conversation exchanges. Only the best for her boys, of course.

There was a studio apartment out the back of the house that was probably originally a summer kitchen or servant quarters. She would rent it to girls, but not to just one. She offered it to Joan, but when the second renter fell through, Miss Dagley helped her get a basement apartment down the street the provided extra income to a nice elderly couple. I spent more time in that basement than Joan spent in my attic.

Church and misc

Miss Dagley was Episcopalian. I never saw her church, although I would have loved to hear her sing. I learned two fun facts about this church. There were only six members (left). And because of her Packard story, I believe it was of a rural country variety. The reason she bought her Cadillac was because her previous car, a Packard, was so heavy that it once “sank” in her church parking lot.

I regret….

… that I never returned to visit. I learned of Miss Iva Dagley’s death from the lawyer’s response to my Christmas card. She had no family alive and the gossip, while we were there, was that it would all be left to her cat.


Posted in Personal experience

Music Literacy across the Curriculum

Music LiteracyMusic is Literacy. Language has its grammar and syntax, chemistry its symbols, physics its formulas, mathematics its equations; music also has its language of symbols and niche Italian terms. Music notation is a language composers use to transcribe musical thought to paper enabling readers who know the language to read, interpret and translate that language into aural art. Students learn to read this specialized notation language in the same way a mathematician learns formulas or the chemist applies the element symbols. In a piece called, “Andante” students learned the title is an Italian term indicating tempo, or speed: faster than Adagio but slower than Allegro. Many of the musical terms are, historically predominantly Italian. Musicians must understand that fortissimo is louder than forte, which means they also learn the suffix ‘issimo’. Allegretto is a “little bit” allegro. Dolce is nearly the opposite of marcato and if you get crescendo and decrescendo backwards, you can ruin the entire effect. If the music page tells you to rallentando and you accelerando instead, you crash. If you miss a fermata or play through a caesura, you’ll be embarrassed. Not only are there vocab words, but there are abbreviations for them as well; f, ff, <, >, ^, //.  Foreign language.

The study of music is interdisciplinary. Students studying music are also learning other subjects, like history, cinema studies, theater and foreign language.

We performed music from the movie, “The King’s Speech”, which included music by Beethoven (historic, iconic, classical), and learned some of the HISTORY of the movie, i.e. WWII, the king’s stuttering problem and the artistic effect of the music behind the speech [only in the movie] as we watched that particular movie clip. That’s history and theater.

Music is cultural. A piece called “Africa; Ceremony, Song and Ritual…” showcases 26 different drumming assignments and includes singing traditional African melodies and vocalizing tribal African sounds. We reviewed pictures of African drums, watched/listened to video/sound clips and took class time to understand how that complex sound is really not much more than several more simple rhythms layered on top of each other, often in compound meters of simultaneous duple and triple rhythms (did you get that?). If we were to correctly perform “Andante” and “Africa” in the same concert, not a single audience participant should have trouble determining which piece is European and which is African.

Philosophy of Education

To play/understand Jazz music necessitates some social studies understanding of New Orleans and how the import of slave music morphed into a style of music that the whole world understands originated in the USA. There is an academically valid reason why much of jazz, especially originally, was not written down. History again.

“Some modern educators have forgotten the call of the founder of our American school system, Horace Mann, who believed that music was essential to the education of the young for the development of aesthetic appreciation, citizenship, and thinking.”
-Alan Miller, professor of education at Fort Hays State University

Music is mathematical. When we read those markings, in addition to telling us what sound to make, they also tell us how to group them together rhythmically. It takes two sixteenths to make an eighth, two eights to make a quarter, two quarters to make a half and two half notes to equal a whole. Math.

“Music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light.”
Claude Debussy, composer

Music is emotional. Performed well, “Stars and Stripes” will evoke a significantly different response from “Taps”, or the jazz version of “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Music is used at birthdays and at funerals; to represent victory or emote defeat. It can make us cheer or cry. ….but ONLY if the musicians understand and convey the emotion in what/how they play. Psychology/Theatre!

To talk drama or choreography, we could discuss Marching Band or Show Choir.

“Music students learn about the cost of sacrifice necessary for accomplishment. They learn of the cost of loyalty and responsibility to a group. They learn of the tremendous self-discipline and cooperation required to be a member of any large and successful ensemble. They learn of pride in accomplishment and develop a self-esteem that flows over into home, work, and treatment of others.”
-Robert Wentz, superintendent of public instruction, Nevada State Department of Public Instruction

When we tune our instruments – because we know that out of tune notes together make an ugly sound – we apply a basic understanding of sound waves and frequency. We lengthen or shorten the instruments to alter pitch. Understanding vibrations, frequencies and how the length of the instrument adjusts pitch is physics.

“The word is out: Researchers have discovered a way to make kids smarter. And savvy parents are signing their children up for private piano lessons while school boards debate the role of music in the public school curriculum.”
-Joan Schmidt, Director of the National School Boards Association


Thanks to David Gardner for input.


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Thou shalt not type, text, touch or transport thy students.

By John Gardner

Teacher-Student-LoveI get the reasons. We must protect our students…..and our teachers…. and our schools.  Almost weekly we hear a national news report of a student running off with a teacher or some variation of sexual misconduct. Sometimes, a school’s proactive response is to overreact with a series of policies summed up with:

Thou shalt not type, text, touch or transport thy students. 

  • Don’t give students your cell number. Too late.

What is the difference between whether they call my cell, office or home phone?

  • Don’t text with students. Busted.

What is the difference between text, twitter and email?

  • Avoid 1-1 encounters without witnesses. The word that comes to mind is reasonableness. As a music teacher, I periodically conduct individual playing or coaching sessions in a semi-sound-proofed practice room, away from observers – on purpose. On the other hand, when possible, I teach 1-1 lessons in the music office or large ensemble room where there will likely be people coming and going. I no longer teach in my home, using the high school or university for studio space.

Should I coach in the hallway?

  • Avoid physical contact. Yes, but sometimes there is something positively powerful about an appropriate touch; a handshake, high-five, hand on the shoulder or, yes, even a congratulatory or consoling student-initiated hug.

Is ALL touching over the line?

Typing. Generally Social Media Networking. When I mentioned in an evaluation meeting that I had over half the band on my Facebook “friend” list, I was cautioned to “be careful” but not told to disconnect. My personal policy on Facebook is that I do not issue friend requests to students, but I accept their invitations. Following that caution, however, I have also created a band Facebook “page” that does not require “friending”.  I use both to make announcements, applaud achievers, encourage individuals or the band collective, and yes, sometimes, to have a conversation. Most of those conversations are schedule related, but occasionally I am counseling or consoling.

If it is okay to encourage, counsel or console a student in person, why is the media used challenged?

Texting. Is the problem the communication or the device? I have periodically said to students, “You may contact me but do not abuse that.” ….and they don’t. Nearly 100% of texts from students are about class, schedules, an idea or suggestion about the show (this year or next) or even a complaint that someone thinks I should hear. Unless I’m asking a band question, I seldom initiate a text communication, but I do respond to most texts received. For many students, texting has replaced email as the preferred communication technique.

Is that wrong? Again, what (exactly) is the problem?

Students and Knowledge DumpTouching. Yes. Yes. Especially a younger teacher must be extremely careful in this area. Perhaps I take advantage of the facts that I am old, fat, bald and ugly – and more a grandfatherly-type figure to exchange handshakes and high fives. Sometimes, in a loud crowded classroom when a student is trying to tell me something and I’m struggling to hear – I will put a hand on a shoulder; as in ‘come closer and speak louder’. I’ve also used the touch of a hand on the shoulder as a form of encouragement or congratulations. I have a perfect picture example (snapped by the girl’s grandfather as she received her senior recognition….and I have my hand on her shoulder) with the band behind me and the audience in front of me.

Hugs….more rare and generally more carefully considered. Some examples, though. I periodically will exchange a hug at a graduate open house party where, usually, the student has graduated. I have received hugs after a successful solo contest performance or other such excitable moment.

I have offered hugs…. The girl stood inside the office (I sat at my desk across the room) and she was breaking down as she described and cried about her father’s verbal abuse and how badly it was hurting her. I did get out of my chair, walk over to her and offered an accepted hug.  Another time was following a marching rehearsal. I noticed a cluster of color guard girls and my first thought was that someone was hurt. When I investigated, there was a circle of encouragers trying to help the freshman who was sobbing uncontrollably and saying she couldn’t do it. I put my hand on her shoulder, she latched on to me with a significant squeeze and right there, in the middle of a dozen girls, there was a teacher-student hug happening.

Sometimes there is something about an appropriate touch that is difficult to put into words yet is worth thousands of them.

Careful, yes. Reasonable, of course. But elementary students aren’t the only ones who have love to share and who (sometimes) need a touch in return.

Am I wrong?

Transporting. When I was a young teacher, back in a previous century, I taught in a rural area and had one student who had parental permission to be in band as long as the parents didn’t have to do anything – including providing transportation to/from rehearsal. His clothes often had the stench of the family owned chicken house, which is why this boy had few close friends (literally). I transported him often — and others when circumstances warranted.

In my current position, I have transported students to the local university’s band rehearsals and concerts, to solo contest, to honor band rehearsals and more. I have driven students when they forgot something for a band trip, have injured an ankle in a field rehearsal and can’t make the moderate walk back to the high school, locked a key in their car and needed to go home to get the backup, at midnight after returning from a contest when the parents forgot to pick them up and were not answering their phones, or when expected to walk home but it was raining. When school policy says teachers cannot do that without written parental permission, administrator approval and another adult in the car.

So what do I do with that midnight student?

Responding to a different post (see below) on the same topic, a student responded (on Facebook),

Sooo basically teachers are just teachers now and not people? What about all those stories people tell of an inspirational teacher they had who helped them through their difficult time and made it possible for them to be where they are now? Is that gone too?

How would you respond?


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Posted in Classroom Teacher, Communication, Parenting, Respect, Social Media, Teaching, Teaching Music

I Swear…NOT!

By John Gardner

Surrounded Blamed

Swearing, cussing, cursing …. or whatever you want to call it, has been around forever. And lately, it seems, it has been around more than I like…..

  • he finds the door locked and, not knowing I was near, unloads a string of “words” (his term) …… for which he profusely apologizes…., but only after discovering ME!
  • “pardon my french”….. when someone accidentally slips in a “colorful” word.
  • an Oscar winner drops “the f-bomb” and makes news headlines.
  • someone attributes the word for “female dog” or “fatherless child” to describe life or another individual.


  • someone slips on tv then asks, “can I say that on tv?”.
  • edited tv/radio have certain words bleeped out and institute delays so that they can bleep or silence unwanted verbiage.
  • it seems expected in some situations (“cusses like a sailor”) and common in others (assembly line work, sports…) while it is less or not at all tolerated in others.
  • some of you legitimately question why some mentors or teachers, in particular, say and do things off campus that they must discipline you for doing on campus…. and you use that to support your position.

…. so I want to share my personal position on the matter.

If you swear in my presence, one of us must leave. I find it personally offensive, disrespectful and a sign of your limited vocabulary — and it negatively impacts my respect for YOU. Can I forgive you? Yes. Can I forget? ….ummmm no! Can you regain respect? Not quickly.

WHY do I disrespect swearing? The root of the issue, for me, is scriptural. I live by what I believe to be clear teaching against it. Yes, Jesus cursed the fig tree, but there was a significant consequence to the tree. He became “the curse” to pay a price. There are numerous references to using “the Lord’s name” in vain, or in swearing at or by things. To avoid those cautions and condemnations, or the risk of offending, I choose to communicate differently.

‘Substitute’ words. For many, substitute words make it ok and I’ve been (and periodically continue to be) guilty here. To avoid abusing “God”, for example, we substitute Gosh, Golly, Garsh (a local priest uses this one). I’ve said, ‘what the heck, or darndang, son-of-a-band parent… and others. We know what “dad-gummit” or gosh-darn-it mean. I often see variations of “effing” or “freakin” used in facebook. I used “omg” until challenged by my son. He was right. Recently, I saw “oh em gee“.

Print and tv media use “f-bomb” and “n-word” as tolerated substitutes. Inserting an asterisk (*) in place of a letter of the word cleans it up. Is there any doubt what someone means to say when they spell “c**p”? I consider “G”, on the other hand, to be a perfectly acceptable substitute for “Mr. Gardner” in most cases.

Wikopedia claims one 4-letter word can be used as a verb, adverb, adjective, command, interjection, noun, and can logically be used as virtually any word in a sentence…and often is; printing an example of a complete sentence consisting of the repetition of that one word.

Have you ever been “cussed out”? Of course you have. And it normally involves 3-4 words inserted randomly and repeatedly to convey additional emphasis. Really? REALLY? Are you impressed? I am NOT!

Why must you have two sets of vocabulary? There seems to be the vocabulary you use among friends or when angry, which is totally different from what you say in school, in the presence of a teacher or work boss. Seems to me that it would be easier to maintain and expand one vocabulary so that you don’t have to remember which language to use when/where.


Posted in Communication, Parenting, Repost, Respect, Social Media, Teaching, Teaching Music

Special Education at the other end of the spectrum

The world is so full of mediocrity. Have you ever had a student at the “other” end of the special ed spectrum? You know…. the end that also requires extra teacher input and attention; where it is just as challenging to keep this student engaged as it is the lower achieving student? Why is the term “special needs student” only used at one end of the spectrum?

I once sat in on a public discussion meeting where a high-achieving group was challenging a scheduling change. I was shocked when I heard one of the presenters say….

We’re not here to teach the elite. We’re here to teach the masses.

Think about that.

It is as though we’re all about not leaving a child behind, but also about not letting anyone get ahead either. At the lower end of the proficiency spectrum we have organized “special” education with additional class rooms and facilities, employing both certified and classified staff. We develop IEP’s (Individualized Education Plan) for about 12% of our public school student body (Institute of Education Sciences) and require all building teachers to accommodate each of those individual needs.

But what about the 6% of Gifted & Talented student(s), at the high end of the spectrum; those who ace the test, ruin the curve and yet still do all the extra credit — just because it is there? For them, there are no additional class rooms and facilities, specially trained staff and IEP’s. The easiest thing to do is re-assign them as “mentors” or “tutors” so that we can pull everyone into the mediocre middle. That is the educationally correct thing to do, but who does it help …. and does it also hinder? We teach to the middle and use the achievers to help. We love the star quarterback but not the star student.

Yes, let’s do all we can to help every student, but let’s help every student. Compare the long term benefits of our lopsided investment for both students and society. When you hear about the top technology and other highly skilled jobs going to students from overseas, where do you think those countries are investing? As we correctly strive to leave no child behind, may we also more aggressively assist the academic achievers?

There are teachers who recognize the high achievers and provide individual challenges. We do have “AP” (Advanced Placement) classes designed to better prepare students for college….. but which colleges?

As you listen to or read about politicians, lawyers or surgeons focus, on the schools they attended. Are state schools bad? That’s not what I’m saying, but many of them are teaching “to the masses”. I went to both a large, inner-city public high school and a super-sized state university. I sat in freshmen writing and lecture classes with 200+ students in a lecture hall with a graduate assistant on a microphone who would never know my name. One of my sons, while a doctoral candidate at an Ivy League university, taught a freshman writing class with 15 students…. and of the three classes he taught, that was his largest. Am I claiming that not all colleges are created equal? YES!

School systems celebrate when test scores are slightly above the state “averages”. What is average? Mediocre? So, we’re all about being slightly above mediocre?

I’m tired of being the geek. I’m tired of ruining the curve. I’m tired of making people mad because I do the extra credit anyway. I want to go to a school where I can be normal, where it is okay to be an achiever.

I heard this quote when I was asking a high school senior about the choice of college. When the principal learned about his Valedictorian’s college choice, he shared his opinion:

Why not go to [XU], it is the biggest state school…..everybody goes there. It is affordable. Why out of state at such an expensive school?

I know because I talk to both students and parents, that the experience of the student quoted above is not unique.

Low achievers are helped. High achievers are heckled.

My parental experience raising two high achieving academic students is that:

…for us the system worked, but we had to work the system.

With the attitude and determination evidenced by the geek quote, David chose Duke. His SAT score was slightly above the “average” there. He went in as one of nearly 500 high school valedictorians and graduated in the top 1%, but that was okay there, where he was expected to achieve and encouraged to excel. Unlike public high schools, which must take everybody and do the best they can to educate all…..there are schools, both high school and college, that specialize. Here is a paragraph from one such school’s admissions brochure(emphasis mine):

    We want to find the ambitious and the curious, students who want to tackle issues head-on and are open to change. Ours is a community of talented learners, and we look for people who have unique qualities, who can challenge us as much as we challenge them. We want some bumps. We want some students who are well-rounded, some with sharp edges. We want people who are not afraid to undertake things that are messy, complex, and extremely difficult to do well—because they love it. We like students who already know what it means to succeed and those who know what it means to reach and not succeed and reach again. We like students who make intelligent and interesting mistakes, students who understand that only in risking failure do we become stronger, better, and smarter.

Let me be clear. We could not have afforded to pay the $58,000 sticker price of a [“top tier”] University education. As I was balking at the “early decision contract” on the admissions office table, they responded to my financial panic with:

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

And they did. They didn’t make it cheap and they didn’t make it easy, but they DID make it possible for us to pay less than what we would have paid for an in state public university. Our total contribution for eight years of college for two was about $32,000. Our total contribution for eight years of college for two was about $32,000. That’s $2,000 per semester. Where can you go to a school for a price like that?

All education should be “special”, right?

Thanks for reading,

ps Every time I’ve written about variations of this topic, I get blasted with negative feedback. The goal is not arrogance or elitism, but to encourage those who ARE achievers, or who want to be by pointing out that there are solutions for you too. And….to dispel the myths that college is all about who can afford what. Here are my bullet points:

  • Don’t choose the cheapest school based on $$$
  • Good Grades Do Pay
  • Be proactive vs reactive; make it happen, don’t just let it happen. Plan it, don’t wing it.
    • Plan Academically
    • Plan Financially
    • Plan to be Well-Rounded
    • Plan to Know before you GO


Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Parenting, Teaching, Teaching Music, Uncategorized Tagged with:

Follow your Dream

By John Gardner

Anyone with a face book can find entries like, “Ugh, have to work today” or “only 2 more hours ’til I get off”…. How many people do you know who are in jobs they hate?


High School and College students often have to work jobs to help pay their way through college…. and sometimes those jobs actually encourage them to continue the college trek. My college grunt work jobs included dishwasher, fast food handler and 3rd shift custodian and my summer work was often as a stock boy in a large Cincinnati dept store. They were not fun, but were temporary and served a purpose. Do the work and don’t complain. Focus on the goal.

As seniors (and even juniors) begin to decide on college majors and career directions, I often hear variations of, “I’d love to do music, but I want to make more money, so I’m going into…..”

“God Bless, Good Luck,
and may you and your money
live happily ever after.” -G


But what do you WANT to do? Read more ›

Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Repost, Sales and Marketing, Teaching, Teaching Music

You should never have just one reed


Playing on one reed til it breaks or dies = Bad idea!

  • You will break it just before a performance and the new replacement reed is too hard……because
  • Reeds change over time, getting softer as they go. The cane in the reed gradually breaks down from your saliva. It is gradual enough that you don’t notice it until you have to replace it.

My recommendation and why

Get a reed guard. They cost about $5 for a plastic guard for clarinet/sax players. Get one that has a place for four reeds, or buy TWO of the 2-reed variety.

Get FOUR reeds. Put them in the reed guard(s) and find a way to label the guard (not the reeds) either 1-2-3-4 or A-B-C-D.

ROTATE the reeds. Play a different reed each day. In most cases, rotating four reeds will go longer and better than playing four reeds individually until they die.

Rank/Rate your reeds.
I = performance grade
II = good for practice, but not for performance
III = maybe time to replace

After I have all four reeds broken in pretty well, once I find one that I would be comfortable using in a performance, I take an ink pen or marker and put a single verticle mark [I]on the end of the reed (that you can see when the reed is in the guard). If I have a reed that is less than performance quality, I’ll put TWO vertical marks [II]. (If/when my performance reed deteriorates, I will add a second mark to it). A reed that gets to a [III] mark is probably not worth keeping.

REPLACE a III reed with a NEW one and get it going in the rotation.

Posted in Music Department, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , ,

Web Presence Components 101

By John Gardner

Social Media Word CloudWhat is “101”? Universities identify courses by number, often using “101” to designate an “introductory” level course; i.e. English 101 for Freshman first semester, followed by English 102 second semester. Sophomore year might be “200/201″. Grad school classes may be numbered “500’s” or higher.

“Web Presence Components 101″ is written with the assumption that you have had some experience with computers and internet but consider yourself a novice when it comes to webs, blogs, social media, etc. Consider this the ‘101’ article. Watch for more.

What level describes your computer and Internet proficiency?

“I race cars professionally”
“I can build an engine”
Go Away – I Can’t Help You

“How do you start the car?”
“Which pedal makes the car stop?”
Go Away – I Won’t Help You (Yet)

“I drive, but have never been on the Interstate.”
“I can check the oil, but might need help with the spark plugs.”
Start Here – I Can Help You (NOW)


SITE. You need a place where people can see your stuff. Choose from free social media or web/blog sites, host your own or hire specialists to write, manage or host your media.

FREE SITE. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, etc) offer free sites or pages. And there are lots of other “free site” providers.

For free sites, your site is a directory or sub-page on someone else’s domain site. In most cases, you DO NOT have to pay for a domain name for your site/presence on a free site.

You can point a domain to go to a free site. Example: if you own a domain name [MyDomain.com] you can have that domain point to a free site.

Free sites are typically limited and include advertising.

When I use my FREE Yahoo email, I see lots of ads. I can subscribe to a premium level of service with no ads.

WordPress.COM – offers FREE sites/blogs. You can set up one account and then manage several different blogs through that account.

WordPress.ORG – offers “self-hosted” sites. You must find a host for your site, but there are many, MANY additional resources for a hosted site. One of the most notable is the ability to sell things (e-commerce).

Things that can cost you.

Domain Name. You must register a domain name with a Registrar. There is a recurring fee annually to maintain the domain. You can purchase domain address email service from most registrars, but for the price they charge to add email, you could have a hosted site.

Hosting. Unless you have a significant “server” where you have your web site, but you want a domain name to point to a full-service type of site that includes e-commerce and email, you need to pay someone to host your site. Hosting is a monthly recurring expense. Watch out for the the $1 per month gimmicks, but also, use caution when quoted over $20 per month. Most hosting includes email, and the ability to have numerous email addresses from the same domain (My email addresses from this site include: John@VirtualMusicOffice.com and JohnGardner@VirtualMusicOffice.com). You can assign email to different people within an organization. That email address can ‘forward’ to another or be accessed multiple ways.

HOSTED SITE.  This generally refers to a “paid” service, where you pay someone to allow your web data to reside on computers (servers) they own and maintain. You can have a domain name that points to a free site and you can have free hosting. Paid hosting generally includes additional services and capabilities, including domain related email addresses.

…to be continued

I offer web design and managed hosting services.

Person Holding Hire Me Sign in Crowd


Posted in Business strategies, Internet web design and ecommerce, Sales and Marketing, Small Business, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , , ,

“Is there anything on the page that you haven’t seen before?”

bourgeoisBy John Gardner

He was retired as the Director of “The President’s Own” Marine Band when Colonel John R. Bourgeois guest conducted a clinic band was made up of a corps group of military musicians, a university band and high school students from area schools.

Clinic conductors were representative military band conductors from the four major branches. Soloists were from different military schools of music.

His rehearsal technique was politely authoritative and the high school and college students were comfortable with him, but I did notice that the other military musicians’s respect included a twinge of fear. In particular, I recall a solo trombonist from the Naval School of Music who made a mistake during rehearsal  — and there was panic in his eyes as he profusely apologized and guaranteed that it wouldn’t happen again. The Colonel did accept his apology.

I will share two stories; the first about how he introduced a new piece prior to our sight-reading it, and second what he did when he was introduced to conduct the wrong piece of music and his reaction when he had to sight-read (although I’m confident it was not a new piece to him).

The first time he stepped onto the podium, he calmly started asking questions…..

Look carefully through the music in front of you. Do you see any notes on the page that you haven’t seen before — any that you need to ask me about?


Do you see any rhythms you haven’t seen before?


Are there any dynamics that are new to you or that you need me to explain?

…any new articulations?

…new road map signs?

…tempo markings?

(Longer Pause)

Well, okay then. You’ve seen it all before. There is nothing new. So let’s just play what you already know.

How could you make a mistake after that?

In the actual concert, he was introduced in error as the conductor of one of the pieces. It would have been easy for the correct person to come out, or to have the announcer correct the introduction.

But no.

The announcer introduced Colonel Bourgeois as the conductor, so he briskly walked onto the stage and confidently took to the podium.

As he was putting on his white gloves (he no doubt would have had them on for the piece he was supposed to conduct), the shocked band could hear him softly say as he was turning the pages through the score……

No new notes. No new rhythms. Nothing new in dynamics. I’ve seen all these tempo changes before. ….. Yeah, nothing new. And then, he smiled at us as he raised his baton.

I use that story periodically, sometimes as we begin to practice sight-reading for the state concert band festival.

It is an interesting concept, which means you are never truly sight-reading because you have seen it all before.




Posted in High Schools, Music Performance, Personal experience, Storytelling, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , , , ,


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