Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Palmetto Posaunen at Spoleto

Last Friday I had a chance to play two performances with the Palmetto Posaunen on the first day of the Piccolo Spoleto festival in Charleston, SC.

We had some guy named Wycliffe Gordon solo with us on two tunes. Here's one of them.
Oh, by the way, the first soloist, Steve Wilson, got his master's at USC. (I can't claim to have imparted any jazz wisdom, however)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

IMSLP - a little trombone

OK, this is mildly interesting. I was doing research and ran across the Internet Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).
I noticed, in the categories, a section breaking down all the music by the instrument featured. Clicking on the "trombone" category I found two pieces...free for download..

Rimsky Korsakov, Concerto
Biduo d'ouro, a trombone/tuba duet by Zoltan Paulinyi

(Can't say that I know that second piece.)

The RK was uploaded by Lyle Neff. I haven't met him but I'm guessing he's either a librarian at the University of Delaware. or a hotheaded Canadian nationalist.

Thanks Lyle!

(and, just in case, Long Live Canada!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Ripple Effect

Here's something I like to mention to my secondary trombone classes...

Let's say such a class has 10 students. If each student has a career as a band director, let's guess that each year they will encounter roughly 40 new students. Over a career of, say 30 years, each student will directly impact the lives of 1,200 people.

Multiply that by the 10 students in the class and I would guess that what I teach a single secondary trombone class might impact the lives of 12,000 people.

(Not to mention the small percentage of those 12,000 people who, in turn, might do some teaching of their own.)

So, if I teach something dumb like: "Mouthpiece pressure isn't important. Don't worry about it."
Think of how that one bad idea ripples outward over time.

(no, I don't teach that)

Of course, I hope I can pass along something good.

Here's one example which I picked up at en ETW masterclass given by Randy Campora, bass trombonist of the Baltimore Symphony.

Think of the corners of your embouchure as the flagpole, anchored in cement.
Think of your lips as the flag, blowing in the breeze.

I don't know if this was original with Randy but that's where I got it. In other words, the ripple passed from him to me. I include this in my handouts to my secondary trombone classes and sometimes even include it as a quiz question. Rarely do any students miss it.

So, if I teach this class for 20 years, this one idea could conceivably impact 240,000 people.

And now the ripple has passed through me to you....

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Crutch Paradox

Classes have ended and it's the time of year when I turn my thoughts to what I want to get done over the summer and what changes I want to implement next year.

Of course, my list of things I want to accomplish over the summer is wildly unrealistic (as in.....if I could work without break for a year or two, I might get them done).
Oh well....at least I have lots of ideas!

But this posting is about that other list: what I want to do differently next year. To me, teaching is an art form. I am always looking to improve my craft. Sometimes I want to apologize to past students because I feel I have become such a better teacher now then I was for them.

Some questions, though, I struggle with and have yet to find a really good answer. Here's one:
The Crutch Paradox

Basically, this can be summarized like so:

The more I do for them,
the less they do for themselves.

I've seen teachers on both ends of the spectrum.
On one end we have the teacher who doesn't really make assignments but starts the lesson with something like, "What do you have for me today?"

This works well for advanced, highly motivated students who think well for themselves. I often use it with my best students.

On the other end, we have the teacher who precisely lays out everything a student is supposed to do. At my school, I have one such colleague. His students know, walking in the door, pretty much every solo they will work on throughout their college career and in what semester they will work on that solo. The logic has been explained to me in this way: other university classes have clear syllabi and uniform expectations, why not an applied instrument? This approach also offers the advantage of fairness...everyone is held to the same standard.

Still, it isn't the approach I use or plan to use.

I often tell my students that I am trying to get them to become their own teachers-to learn how to think for themselves. With some, this works well. Other flounder-they are so used to being told what to do, it just hasn't occurred to them how to plot their own course.

The basic pillars of my syllabus are: Show Up, Prepare, and Show Incentive.

If I tell you everything you are supposed to do, what happens when you're out on your own with nobody telling you what to do?

But there is always the question of the "other" students. The ones who, for whatever reason, don't get it done.

I tell them to contact their accompanist....they don't.
I tell them to make an appointment to visit the local middle school and teach some demonstration lessons in front of a video camera....they don't.
I tell them to order music, sign up for seminar, mark in breath marks, look up musical terms, record their best take of an excerpt, .........they don't.

Perhaps the solution is obvious: bring down that righteous hammer of "F" upon their heads...that'll teach 'em.
But before I do that, I have to ask myself: am I applying rules fairly to everyone? Have I notified them of this assignment in a timely manner. The last thing I want to do is start throwing out "F's" in a capricious manner.

Yes, I could create an elaborate structure filled with rules and deadlines and appropriate consequences.
But this begs the larger question:
Am I teaching them to do it merely to avoid punishment? Is this right way to get them to show incentive? If I'm not careful it all slips into those questions of "Well, why should I do it if it isn't precisely stated in the syllabus?"

That's like the old joke of the professor who passionately orates on something she cares about only to have a student ask, "Will that be on the quiz?"

Because, if you ask that question, you're missing the whole point!
Future music educators, are you going to be that kind of band director that merely does the minimum to get by? If so, I hope my poor kid doesn't end up in your program!

Future performers....
well, if self-motivation in this insane job market isn't screamingly obvious, then GET OUT NOW!!!

So, I continue to work towards a good compromise of structure and freedom. I'll probably never perfect it but I love the challenge!

For anybody reading this (especially other teachers), I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

...and this from the iBone developer

After my last post, I got this email from the iBone developer:
The idea was to make something playable by the pro, useful to the student, and still palatable and fun for the complete novice. Thanks to the mobility and accessibility of the phone/ipod, I see it as a useful tool to do things like learn scales and songs, work out alternative positions, practice ear training by playing along with iTunes, etc... all in places and at times when you simply can't use the real thing.
For the complete novice, there's an integrated Songbook which shows you how to play in real-time in a game-like fashion. If we do our job, this could be an opportunity to bring more people to the instrument, and at least raise awareness and appreciation among the video-game playing masses.

Here's a link to the official site: http://ibone.spoonjack.com
And the press relase: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/iBone-Brings-Bone-and-Band-to-prnews-14879239.html


So, one question remains: is that third position E-flat in tune?