Road to Midwest: Meet Chris Grifa

ChrisGrifaChris Grifa

Director of Bands
Creekside M.S., Carmel, IN

How long have you been a music educator? 

This will be my 10th year teaching music in public school.

What inspired you to become a musician/teacher?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very musical family. My Dad was a band director for over 30 years and still works in music education, but now on the business side, and my Mom is a really good singer and went to school for music therapy. I think with being around music and the band world since I was young, I just developed a love of music and teaching.

What is your most cherished memory as a performer or educator?

This is a hard question! Educationally, I think the end of every concert becomes a cherished memory to a degree because of what it represents. Every concert represents growth and hard work and I love the feeling of our students being happy after a great concert and understanding how much they have grown since the last concert. I think most recently though, receiving our invitation to the Midwest Clinic ranks pretty high up there!

What do you enjoy doing outside of the classroom? 

Outside of the classroom, you can find me doing a number of different things! On the music side, I enjoy teaching high school marching band at Carmel High School. On the personal side, I enjoy spending my free time with my wife Suzy either out and about, at home working on the yard or just relaxing! I also enjoy cooking, am a big yankees fan, and you can sometimes catch me playing the latest video game on PS3.

What is unique about Creekside Middle School?

Ceekside is an amazing school, with an amazing faculty, and amazing students and parents. The students expect to be pushed educationally and the teachers and the administrators are always up for the challenge. The students have so many opportunities outside of the classroom to be involved with something. From sports, to the musical, and then an overwhelming amount of clubs, from photography to Harry Potter, there is something for every student to get involved with something outside of school.

When did you start working towards selection for Midwest? Was it a long term goal for your program?

Wendy and I started talking about applying for Midwest in November of the 2011 school year. We just started talking about “what is next for the program”? The Midwest Clinic was brought up and we started talking about what it would take to even just get to the point of being able to apply. A lot of wonderful ideas came from that discussion and I truly believe that our program raised to another level that day by just having that conversation. We decided that we would go and just dive into the deep end and apply that current school year. We had no expectations and of course we were not selected, but we were able to go through the process, see what worked, what didn’t work, what we needed to improve on, and what we still as educators needed to learn ourselves. We did end up getting selected to perform at our state convention for this past school year. If you are thinking about applying, my response to you would be to just go for it. I cannot begin to tell you all of the good that has come from just going through the process.

How do you prepare the students? Do you have a customized training plan?

We have already started rehearsing our next years performing group. We had auditions in April, selected the group, then had one after school rehearsal the second to last day of school. We will have about 5 night rehearsals spread out through the summer, then a week long band camp the week before school starts. We are mostly working on individual and group fundamentals as well as reading through some of the music that we are pretty confident that we are going to perform. Mostly, just fundamentals. We have also put in some of our music that is not currently in SmartMusic, and created our own files with Finale for the students to begin practicing during the summer.

What were your expectations upon submission? Did you feel like there was a good chance of being selected?

I think that we both felt that this years group was going to be a good one. I felt confidently that we would be able to put together a good audition CD. As far as expecting to get in, absolutely not. The only thing that we can control and our students can control is the quality of our recording and that is all that we focused on. If it didn’t work out this year, we would continue to improve in the areas needed to make an even better recording next year.

What was the reaction from students/parents/administration when Creekside was selected?

It was fantastic! It was hard at first since we found out while the students were on their spring break. We wanted the students to be the first to know, so we wanted to wait to make the announcement pubic until we were able to tell the students first. We invited our administrators to the band room for the announcement and we read the first paragraph of our invitation. I think it took a second for it to sink in and they quickly moved from shock to excitement. We talk very openly with our students and they knew what the Midwest Clinic was and that we had made it a goal for our school to hopefully be selected some day. Everybody was very excited!

Will you change anything next year in preparation for Midwest?

I always imagined or dreamed that when our group (if ever) were to get selected that it would be at a point where our teaching was consistent and perfect every year! It is funny though, even as I sit hear and read what I am typing, I laugh because that statement is completely opposite of my fundamental teaching philosophy. I am the type of person that understands that I still have a ton to learn and will always have more to learn. I try my best to put myself around great teachers that not only teach like I do but also those that may have different ideas than I have and are still very successful. It always keeps me thinking about how I am teaching, asking questions, and asking myself if what I am doing is best for my students. So with that being said, I am expecting that next years group will be even better than last years because we as teachers are going to be better. We want our students to be as relaxed as possible for this performance, so I expect that we will not change much in how we prepare.

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