Thursday, June 19, 2008


Oh my gosh, I have been having the time of my life teaching the local summer band camp. It runs Monday through Thursday, starting this week and running for 5 weeks, and already, I am exhausted in the best way. Things so far are really going well, I think; the kids are settling into the routine and not constantly asking me either when they get out or where they go next, the beginners are off to a good start (not as much as I would have hoped I'd have gotten through, but still pretty good, especially for 4 days of playing!), and the beginning saxes are starting to understand what bad noises are and not only how to avoid them but that one should avoid them! That's probably the most exciting thing - a few sax players are already making a tone several years maturer than they are. Fingerings? Well, that's another story. One of the veteran woodwind teachers was telling me how different the learning curves of the brass and woodwind players are; trumpets and trombones are relatively easy to make noises on and learn those first five notes, but beyond that, there's a lot of work they need to do on their own to master much more. On the woodwind side of the coin, at this level, once your kids get a good embouchure and have their hands in the right position, they can learn all the notes you throw at them with little extra difficulty.

I'm also struck each year at how true all the music stereotypes are. A sample from each of my classes :

Trumpet :
*note note blat pause note honk*
"Geez, Billy, what the heck?"
"Come on, Mr. Albing, let me do it!"
"No way, Andy, I can do it better!"

Low Brass :
*fart noise on a low Bb*

Horn :
"Good morning, horns. How are you?"
*silent stares*
"How was recreation?"
*silent stares*
"Take out your essential elements book and open to page six."
*Instant, silent complience*
"Amy, can you show us how to finger the first note of 'Lightly Row?'"
*silent stares*
*silent stares*
"Raise your hand if you're breathing"
*silent stares*

The format is difficult in the absolute sense of the word, but a dream when put in context. For example, I know that each one of my sax players could already be playing ensemble music if we had taken all this time for group lessons and invested it in private lessons. We spend an entire period just reviewing how to put on the reed and learning how to hold the instrument. This was day two; day one was just learning how to put the reed, mouthpiece, and neck together, with some basic embouchure work. The class is pretty close to that point of critical mass where you either need fewer students or an aide; fortunately, I have one of the latter, but they know very little about woodwinds. However, it was AMAZING today to be able to take one girl aside and fix her sax while he led them in some basic songs for a minute. In a nutshell, if I had had maybe one more class with them or had *that* much more skill in classroom management, I could have sent them home this weekend with a more focused practicing plan than I did.

As for low brass, I have a few kids who are studying privately, and BOY does it show! A contestant in the most difficult challenge of teacher summer band contest is definitely keeping these kids un-bored. One person (I don't know if they study privately, actually, but they very well could, and if not, should) I told to think of phrasing in in this one melodic line we were working on; another, I've told to pay close attention to intonation; another, I tell him to help out the people around him - well, I tell everyone to work it out with your neighbor, so I keep him busy while I can work with another kid for a second.

Three more contenders in the above contest are letting things go by, staying on topic myself, and boiling everything down to one sentence. First, for as long as I've been taking private lessons, I've always been looking at the nitty-gritty of music-making. Now, to hear these kids who have been playing for a grand total of four days, my gut instinct is to talk at them about the soft palate and breath support and what not, but the other side of me is absolutely joyous that none of my trombones are holding their slides with a death grip, and fewer than half are slouching in their chairs! Second, as for staying on-topic myself, I just love teaching this age group, so it's hard for me to not stop the lesson and have a chat about the evolution of the Mario games or debate which of the pokemon are the coolest. (Oh my gosh, the original pokemon came out around when or before these kids were born! Get me my cane!) I don't have trouble breaking up those conversations before they get too far, most of the time, but I'd be a liar if I said that I didn't hurt a little for having to do it. Finally, in that same vein, it's hard for me to boil down everything I want to say into one sentence; people who know me know that I can tend to ramble (ha, look at the size of this post so far) and so I have the tendency to stop rehearsal and explain everything in minute detail (see the first point); still and all, I've found that nine times out of ten, the kids are less bored, learn more, play better, and have more fun if I say the same idea five pithy ways (Dr. Wohlfeil, anyone? "Give me a pithy summary of..." - now I know what he was doing for us) and have them play after each time, rather than take up five times the amount of time and have them play once. Come to think of it, that holds true with any age or level of musicianship.

I'm going to have to end this rather ineloquently; I feel like a nap is about to take me by force. I wish everyone a spectacular weekend, good luck to all of those involved in the Concordia College Wind Band Institute (I went last year and had a blast!! Learned a ton, got to meet some great people, and am only not going this year because it's scheduled over Summer Band here), and remember to only practice on the days you eat.

Take care,

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