Puppy Dogs and Clarinets

By John Gardner

white labrador retriever puppy dogThere is a sales technique called the “Puppy Dog” close. It gets is name from the puppy dog at the pet shop scenario:

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!

Classic music Sax tenor saxophone and clarinet in blackI 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.

Other success stories to come:

She leaves solo contest with a new clarinet after I confront dad in the hallway…

This student’s mother gets her a new trumpet after a student-teacher-parent conference…

A new sax for a student who said, “Dad said he was getting it to get you off his back.”


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Posted in Classroom Teacher, College Prep, High Schools, Music Department, Personal experience, Public Schools, Sales and Marketing, Small Business, Teaching, Teaching Music

Marching Band Dedication and Cowboy Boots

By John Gardner

Friday was Homecoming with the game preceded by a parade. One of our trombone players was driving a tractor pulling a float in the parade and didn’t expect to make it back to the high school in time to march pre-game…..but he did.

Unfortunately, the trailer with the uniforms had already departed for the field.

And no….he didn’t perform that way.

Pregame Lineup in Cowboy Boots

Posted in Assistant Directing, High Schools, Marching Band, Personal experience, Teaching, Teaching Music

Pretest shows there is work to do

By John Gardner

For teacher evaluations, I need to provide “data points” on one of my school’s five bands (Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Concert, Jazz and Marching) to ‘prove’ that I am teaching and students are learning.

One of the data points for the selected ensemble involved “music terms”. The “Pretest” is given early in the semester, prior to spending time covering the information — and the progress toward mastering that content.

The pretest had a list of items to define, identify or describe, each with three choices. Based on the circled choices, the following represents some of what I got back. Please note this does NOT represent the majority — I just thought, especially when compiled as follows, it can offer a chuckle to a music teacher’s day. And yes, it also demonstrates I have work to do.

Gimme A Break

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Posted in Classroom Teacher, High Schools, Music Department, Personal experience, Public Schools, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Reading this list exhausts me

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 12.37.44 AM

Posted in High Schools, Job Search, Marching Band, Personal experience, Public Schools, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , ,

Students are not Starfish

Starfish on the beachby John Gardner (via LinkedIn)

The starfish story (not my original) is about someone trying to make a difference and I think of it periodically when I find myself trying to balance that healthy, professional detachment from the lives of individual students with the reality and significance of those lives and my desire to make a difference by being more than “just” a classroom teacher.

Working with students is not a life or death proposition, of course, but some seem to get washed up on the beach. Here’s the story and 10 ways to make a difference.

The man was out for a walk on the beach when he noticed a boy frantically picking things up and throwing them into the ocean. Curious, he approached the boy to discover that he was picking up starfish that had washed up on to the beach — and was throwing them back into the water.
“Son, what are you doing?” the man asked.
“The tide is going out and these starfish got left behind. I’m throwing them back into the water to save them.”
“But son, there are hundreds of miles of beach. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
As the boy picked up another starfish, he threw it into the water and then turned and said to the man,

“I made a difference to THAT one.”


Teen years can be trying times.  Parents may be fighting, separating, dating and remarrying, which means the teen now has to not only deal with a break up of a foundation in his/her life, but often now has to live in multiple households. Some have to adjust to step-siblings, job losses, financial struggles and more. Then, there are the complexities of school with seemingly unending pressures to perform, trying to get through the dating games, often without an anchor or example to follow. Influenced by increasingly negative social standards, or lack of standards….. teens can get caught in the rise and falling tides. Most learn how to negotiate life’s trying currents, but can turn the wrong way, make a miscalculation or poor decision — and find themselves high and dry on the beach…..and they need help. Not every student needs, wants or will accept a teacher’s help. Sometimes the teacher’s effort is both unappreciated and unsuccessful.

But try we must…because we CAN make a difference “to THAT one”.

Ten ways to make a difference:

  1. Be real. You can’t fake it with teens, they will see right through you. If you can’t be real, you should not be there. Please leave education.
  2. Be available. How easy is it for a teen to say to YOU, “Can I talk to you?”? What if it is not during class or immediately after school? In how many different ways are you available and do students know and understand that? Do they know if it is ok to email, call, text or instant message you? When a teen says they need to talk, somebody needs be available. Be that person. Consider your use of texting and social media.
  3. Be there. Yes, you’re “on duty” at school. What about when a student is in the hospital, at the funeral home, pitching in the softball/baseball game, getting baptized, being awarded Eagle Scout status, or when their garage-type band is playing at the coffee shop? Take your spouse or your kids and just be where you can when you can. They will notice.
  4. Trust them. If you want trust, you need to give some. I have a periodic discussion about trust, abusing it, losing it and the difficulty in earning it a second time. Read: “I WANT To Trust You“. Teens make mistakes and the trust area is one of those places where they can mess up. But help them learn. Take a reasonable chance. Yes, you’ll get burned some….but you will also empower leaders to rise up.
  5. Respect them. There is a good chance they will recognize and return it.
  6. Advocate for them. Of course you have students who are financially challenged and could benefit from music lessons, a better instrument, participation in a select ensemble or some other training. You won’t always succeed, but try to find funding to help. Call the employer to help him get that job. Write a letter to help her get that scholarship. Help them with college applications their parents can’t (or won’t).
  7. Listen, really listen. Teens typically think that people don’t listen. They think adults are quick to lecture, criticize and correct, but are slow to listen. You don’t always have to have the answer. Sometimes there isn’t an obvious answer. Sometimes listening is the answer, because in allowing them to share, you enable them to find their own answer. Unless they are sharing something illegal, dangerous, hear them out. Don’t argue. Don’t interrupt. Don’t pre-judge. And when you can, share your wisdom, experience, expertise and advice.
  8. Expect and Encourage Excellence. Students will complain when the load is heavy and the challenge is significant, but they know, even when they won’t admit, that achieving excellence requires work. They want to achieve and succeed. Being there for them doesn’t mean lowering your standards. Make them stretch. They’ll appreciate you eventually, even if not today.
  9. Don’t assume. A question I ask often is, “You okay?” Simple question….and sometimes they shrug it off, but there have been many times for me that this gives them the opening to ask for help.
  10. Don’t give up. It can be difficult, disappointing and even deflating when teens mess up. Don’t give up on them. That’s what the rest of society wants to do sometimes…. They will be disappointed that they disappointed you, but your unconditional support (not approving what they do) is vitally important to them.

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Posted in Classroom Teacher, High Schools, Public Schools, Teaching, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,

Consider your problems in perspective

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 7.20.26 PMBy John Gardner (via LinkedIn)

Like many marching bands, the one I spend time with has people with various issues, the most common including problematic joints (knees and ankles) and asthma. We have some who are especially sun or heat sensitive. Our standing rule in field rehearsals to “sit out when you must” works when people respect and trust. Sometimes there are questionable excuses for minor discomforts that we would prefer they “work through”.  The problem is, that without absolute certainty that the issue is fake or minor, a challenge comes with some risk.

For those who have trouble with insignificant issues, I share the picture below, which I found on a band directors’ forum. I asked the director for the specifics — and for permission to share. Here is what he said about this girl….

She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May… a week after winning the Drum Major auditions and finishing a season of varsity lacrosse. She’s been determined to be at band camp and fulfill her role as DM despite ongoing chemo treatments. She left Band Camp 1 day early to be admitted for therapy.


When we hear stories like this, our individual problems may pale in comparison.

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

Band Director Responsibilities

By John Gardner

A few years ago, I was tasked with putting together a list of responsibilities of the head director at my school. This is a generic approximation of the band director position in a moderately large high school.

Band Director Hours

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Note: 150+ extra trips to the school for over 700 hours, equivalent to 18 – 40hr weeks.

Although there is some overlap, the above chart does NOT include the 180 school days of time/teaching.

Stack of hatsMajor decisions

Show Theme / Colors / Logo

Show Shirts; including color, design, vendor.

Basketball Shirts; including color, design, vendor.

Summer Parade Shirts; including color, engraving, design, vendor.

Color Guard Outfit(s), Flag design + performance props

Marching band uniforms; color, style, material, accessories, company, when + financing.


How many

Which ones

What class / Contest Classifications, i.e. Scholastic, Festival, Open, BOA, MidStates


Overseeing all contest logistics

Marching Band, Winter Guard, Indoor Percussion

Photographer for Band Pictures

Major Trip. 3 Hotel nights. Last trip cost @$83,000. Includes decisions about who could go/not go based on payment levels. Refunds? After trip collections? Also 22hr bus travel and night-time hotel supervision during stay.

Show Props. Organizing, overseeing design, construction, implementation.

Assembly of carts for front ensemble.

Music and design adjustments and rehearse and clean a Class A competitive marching show.

Recruiting, hiring, funding drill designer, music arranger, Color Guard choreographer, specialty coaches and field instructor.

Communicate/coordinate with the middle school directors.

Overseeing Instrument Purchase Plan and Repair Contract for the Corporation

Seating Charts / Part Assignments

Parade Block

Marching Band inside

Pre-Game Marching Assignments / Select Music / Write Drill

Marching Drill Assignments

Multiple Fall and Spring Concert Bands

Basketball Bands (2 bands x @6 games ea)

Music Selection

Multiple Fall and Spring Concert Bands

Fall Marching Band for Holiday Concert

Jazz Band for 4-6 performances

Spring Concert Band Tour


Band office work

Retrieve/file music.

Take care of reeds, oils, sticks, and other supplies students purchase.

Make minor instrument repairs. Coordinate more significant repairs with the music store rep, including pickup, return — and keeping students/parents informed of status.

Reserve buses for all band trips; parades, contests (see above).

Complete Facility Use paperwork for each time during the year that you need the gym or auditorium for rehearsals and performances.

Collaborate instrumental purchase plan with other directors and the corporation’s financial person

Register and arrange payment for all competitions, plus acquire field trip approval and buses.

Maintain grade book.

Write weekly schedules / TWIBs. (This Week In Band), plus daily Band Camp or rehearsal schedule.

Write and publish band handbook.Register for all contests, parades and festivals.

Keep attendance records for school plus rehearsals, performances.

Make Accompaniment and practice mp3’s for individuals and for playing test practice

Write, transcribe, transpose music to fill in special parts for marching, concert, jazz music

Grant writing School Policies Compliance

Oversee school budget, complete paperwork for both deposits and withdrawals and pay vendors

Design and print programs for concerts and banquets.

Determine and create awards, plaques and other recognitions for end of year awards banquet.

Maintain “needs” list for when someone asks, for grant-writing, or when opportunities arise

Publicity: Newspapers, school announcements, website, email blasts, etc.

Maintain online calendar for rehearsals, performances

Scan, post all pep band music for download to student iPads

Maintain social media sites: web/blog, Facebook, twitter, YouTube, instagram, google+, etc.

Maintain band data base with home and cell phones and email addresses for multiple parent/guardian families plus students with separate contact info.

Design reports/seating charts (marching band, 5 concert bands, combined bands, graduation band) / parade block assignments/drill chart assignments/pre-game assignments/squads/basketball band assignments…or labels for music folders, shirts, mailings.

Organize a pre-solo/ensemble contest practice recital

Organize free piano accompanists for students unable to pay

Classroom Activities

Schedule, conduct and analyze playing tests or challenges. Assign seating for ensemble balance.

Update daily classroom announcements: Include standards, birthdays, calendar updates and enough jokes to keep students watching. Music accompaniment a plus.

Keep classroom presentable and clutter free for use by a variety of classes, ensembles and outside groups

Find ways to meet state and/or national standards without sacrificing the performance expectation overload

Create, distribute, collect health forms and ensure 100% compliance and that forms travel with the band.

Specialty Ensembles

Supervise some of the auxiliary ensembles; drumline, sideline ensemble, winter percussion, color guard, winter guard

Approve creative recommendations for specialty uniforms, flags, props, etc and oversee construction.

Collaboration with other Staff

Coordinate with choir director for rehearsals involving students in both groups

Sharing instrumentalists with show choir backup ensemble, school musicals

Share room and equipment (i.e. keyboards, megaphones, uniforms, instruments) with other teachers, classes and groups

Guidance Counselors for student scheduling and to encourage promotion of the band program

Attend meetings

School required faculty meetings, including mandatory training, department collaboration

IEP and other school meetings on behalf of individual students

Band Parent Organization, including Executive Board, Officers Only and General meetings.

Fundraising projects

“Director Reports

Collaborating with individual fee collection

Dealing with personality clashes and chaperone issues

Overseeing special committees; i.e contest, uniform, major fundraising

Design teams (drill/choreographer, music, uniform/equipment design) for marching band, winter guard and indoor percussion shows

School mandated parent/teacher conferences

Meetings requested by students or parents

School Board meetings involving related budgets and programs

Make emergency judgment call decisions / calls when a student is injured or having medical issues in rehearsal or away at competitions.

Select Drum Major(s): Includes training, practicing, recruiting judges and providing selection criteria

Organize conducting, college prep or leadership classes/seminars

Organize overnight trips (i.e. Disney). Select travel consultant, solicit board approval, promote/oversee payments.

Solo and Ensemble

Promote/Recruit Participants

Attend Solo/Ensemble festivals at District or State.

Encourage and organize solo and ensemble participants, recruit pianists, ensure adequate practice and provide most participants free individual coaching sessions

Assist in individual (participation fees, pay-to-play, fair share) collections.

Write letters of recommendation for scholarships, college/job applications

Assist with auditions for area honor bands and specialty groups

I’m confident this list is NOT exhaustive, and would love to add to this list with other activities/responsibilities you experience or know about in your school.

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Posted in Teaching Music Tagged with: , , ,

Notes like these are what I teach for…

By John Gardner

Commissioned sculpture on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania

Commissioned sculpture on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania

Graduation Open Houses are over and I am receiving Thank You cards from several of the students whose events I visited. All are appreciative of my visit and my gift, but a few have little extras to add…. For those of you who think teachers do it for the money – no, THIS is why:

“It is great to know that I have people like you to help support me as I embark on my new journey at [university]. I really enjoyed music theory this year. Thank you for helping me get started on my next chapter of life.”

“Thank you for your support as I make this huge transition in life. You have been a great role model and an amazing musician I have always looked up to!”

“I greatly appreciate that you’ve helped me grow as both a person and musician over the years.”


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

5 Considerations to Making a leap of Faith

Leap of faithby John Gardner

This graphic  illustrates a scenario we all face, individually, in business, in school as well as in music ensembles. Most of us, at least once, have been to the edge, looked down, looked across and pondered the possibilities. It is easy to say you want to get better, but how do you make that leap to the other side?

Realize that not everyone WANTS to get to the other side.

Many are satisfied with the way things are, represented by this marching band member attitude:

I am okay where I am. I am not last chair, I can play my part reasonably well, I can pass the playing test. I see those people on the other side…..so much pressure, so much work, and for what? Band is a good social group. It is a good place to find a date, to make friends, to feel connected. I enjoy the bus rides, the longer the better. The band parent provided food at competitions is good and I like the freedom during the down time to hang with my friends and watch some other bands.

You are, after all, standing on solid ground. It is safe where you are. You KNOW where you are and are in your comfort zone. You look over the edge and see danger. You could fall, you could fail. You could get hurt.

WANT it….with everything that is within you.

You hear the musician who plays the more difficult solo or watch the marching band put on a crowd cheering performance. You see the elation at the award ceremony and YOU WANT THAT.

In “The Return of the Jedi”, as Luke Skywalker finally stands before his ultimate enemy, the Emperor says to the young Jedi who is viewing and considering his weapon,

You want this, don’t you?

Know that small, safe, baby steps won’t make it.

If you stand on the edge, look down and take a step, you will fall. The gap is wider than that and will require a running start LEAP.

Practice and Prepare to Perform!

Olympians don’t just show up at the games. Basketball players spend hours behind the scenes practicing boring free throws and doing exhausting repetitive fundamentals up and down the floor. The ice skater doesn’t decide at the start of the performance that a quad would be a good idea.

There is no short cut to success. You must be willing to pay the price.

The ice skater going for the quad is literally a “leap of faith”. There is never a guarantee of success, but repetitive practice, falling down, getting hurt, figuring out what went wrong and working harder to get better…..are necessary ingredients to establish confidence and competence to make the jump. A phrase I have used in rehearsals,

Like the ice skater who misses the quad, missing notes (steps, sets) in performance can hurt.

A good cartoon by Tone Deaf Comics illustrates part of this idea.

One more time

Commit to go….and then GO!

No more standing at the edge. No more looking down. No more considering the consequences of failure. Back up, focus on the other side, set your mind and then RUN hard at the edge. When the Israelites were crossing the river Jordan, the waters did not part until the priests feet touched the water, the point at which they demonstrated both faith and commitment (Joshua 3:14).

Once you commit to go, you have to “go all out”. Know where you’re going, practice and prepare, commit and go.




Posted in High Schools, Marching Band, Music Department, Music Performance, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

Huntington’s Erie Band Prepares for its 100th year

Erie Railroad EngineBy John Gardner

The last of the Railroad Bands, the Erie Band, originating in 1915  in Huntington, Indiana, is concluding its 99th consecutive year and looking forward to next year’s centennial. Of course, no one from the original band is still alive, but we do have one member who will celebrate her 50th year in the band next year.

In a 2008 presentation to the local historical society, band member Bill Richey put together this slide show. My favorite story is WHY all the other railroad bands were shut down EXCEPT the Erie Band in Huntington.

Erie Band History

Huntington Erie Community Band

Posted in Personal experience, Storytelling, Teaching Music

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