Progress of any kind is based on a set of decisions that will impact an outcome. Making resolutions for the New Year is a great way to set goals to foster improvement and progress in the year to come. Last year I made two resolutions to improve on aspects of both my professional and personal life and I would like to challenge you to do the same for 2016.
In the classroom: What are we getting better at today?
In the education process, objectives are stressed so heavily that they are the first check on teacher evaluation rubrics. Setting summative performance goals in the band classroom is relatively simple. However, isolating and reiterating musical concepts that connect the performance to knowledge that the student can apply in other scenarios can be overlooked in the chaos of a school day.
When our objectives are based solely on our concert music, we run the risk of students losing much of that knowledge when a new piece is put in front of them. If we isolate different objectives and work exercises outside of the music, and then connect this work with our repertoire, the knowledge is much more transferable.
Last spring I attended a professional development course led by Scott Rush where we were asked to list all the components of playing we could think of. Some examples of the components being phrasing, tuning, balance, articulation, releases, chordal functions, endurance, and dynamics. I will refer to these components as our objectives, which can subsequently be prioritized and isolated for study.
An example of isolating an objective would be to rehearse and review the staccato articulation during warm up and follow it directly with working on a staccato section in the music. To accomplish this I might create an exercise for each component of playing or modify existing warm ups in a way that isolates the objective for the day. Focusing on objectives one by one makes my band learn concepts more quickly and apply them more seamlessly.
One hurdle can be mapping the music in a way that targets all of the objectives for each instrument. One solution can be to take an example from one section, and have the entire group play it in unison. If the clarinet part contains a illustrative staccato phrase, you might write out the rhythm on the board and have everyone play it on their tuning note.
I challenge you to get to a point that you can ask yourself “What are we getting better at today?” and the answer is always a musical concept or component of playing and not a list of measure numbers.
Goals for outside the classroom, too
Being a music educator comes with many unexpected challenges. Paperwork and documentation are huge sources of work and assessment and grading can present another level of time consumption. It can be easy to be consumed by the pressure to have a successful band program and to experience fatigue from the years it takes to develop such a program. This is especially true in communities that do not have a strong tradition for music or the arts.
Part of a rich musical life is enthusiastically embracing the realization that the possibility for improvement is infinite. Even the greatest virtuoso in the finest orchestra in the world seeks to improve to reach their full potential. While the path to improvement is a noble one, believing that absolute perfection is an obtainable goal that you’ve simply failed to obtain can weigh heavily (and infringe upon) your life outside of school.
One effective way for balancing the band director lifestyle is to set goals for your home life. This could mean picking up a new hobby such as learning a new instrument, composing a piece of music, going to the gym, or taking a class. It could also mean setting limits on what hours you will stay at school so you get more time with your family. Classroom environment has a lot to do with student learning and the mental state of the director can influence this heavily. Reaching a point of balance with the workload can greatly improve the atmosphere of a class and over time will set a new culture for those in the band.
These two resolutions work hand in hand for improving a band director’s lifestyle. If you are constantly setting specific, isolated objectives for your program to improve on every day, you and your students will feel more motivated to improve. Over time the addition of realized objectives will boost the quality of the band. This will make both the director and students feel more validated in their process. Similarly, reaching goals outside of school can reduce fatigue and improve happiness which then improves the efficiency of the classroom. I encourage you to consider these areas for your resolutions this year. Each improvement you make enables a higher quality of life for both you and your students.
Justin Barr is the music director at Fairview H.S. in Williamson County, TN. He previously worked with bands at Columbia, Riverdale, Spring Hill, and Covington high schools and at E. A. Cox Middle School. He was on Brass Staff at Music City Drum Corps from 2012-2015 and marched mellophone with the Cavaliers and Spirit Drum and Bugle Corps.
Justin received his Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education Cum Laude from Middle Tennessee State University in 2013 where he studied Horn with Angela Deboer and conducting with Reed Thomas and Carol Nies.
Editor’s note: Justin’s work with the Fairview band program was recently highlighted in this SBO magazine feature.