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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, October 10, 2011


The PMC Quick Note is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest. The Quick Note contains helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


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Words of Wisdom From My Mentor by Julie Capps

Editor's Note: We always love getting articles (or even just article suggestions) from the band directors we serve. This Quick Note edition features an article from Julie Capps, who teaches music in Santa Fe, Missouri. Do you have ideas for upcoming Quick Note articles? Please submit them! --Eric

I have been fortunate enough to work with and learn from some of the best of the band directors in Missouri and West Texas. When our President, Robyn Wilkes, suggested we write an article about the top ten things we learned from our mentors, several things came to mind pretty quickly.

I grew up in Northwestern Missouri and was lucky enough to learn from Missouri greats like Thomas J. Price and Jim Oliver, but I moved to West Texas during my under-graduate years. While I was in West Texas, I had the great opportunity of working with, and learning from JR McEntyre, as well as the crew from Odessa Permian High School and the surrounding areas. I still teach beginning band based on what I learned there, and I credit the characteristic tone qualities my students have to the fine educators I learned from there.

However, William G. Mack, my college band director, has probably been the biggest musical influence in my life. After teaching band in West Texas for fifteen years, when I returned to Missouri I invited Mr. Mack to do clinics with my bands in preparation for contest. He also was the guest conductor for our Conference Band, and I have never seen kids have so much fun and get so excited about a conference band as they did when Bill Mack, (with little red pocket trumpet in hand), was their director. So, with this in mind, I would like to share with you some of the best Bill Mack ”Mackisms”.

“All learning takes place as a result of an applicable concept of fundamentals.” The most important element to success at any level is to have a system. This is so true. You must start with the basics. You can assume nothing. Start with the pyramid and notes and rests. You must teach students to sub-divide the beat. You must have a system for every aspect of your teaching and use it every single time you teach that objective. You will never stop teaching and re-teaching fundamentals. Drill, drill, drill. Work the plan...

“Music is the combination of sound and silence.” Rhythm is the mathematical distribution of sound and silence over a given period of time. Rests are just as important as the notes in music. Students must learn to count rests and observe music silences, such as caesuras, grand pauses, etc. Silence can have a dramatic impact in a performance. Teach the students to respect that silence because we start the sound in the manner in which we end silence. We end sound in the manner in which we start the silence. So, now we are talking about attacks and releases. Be they abrupt or tapered, the releases now equal style. I do not allow beginning band students to put their horns down during the rests. They must keep tapping their feet and counting through the rest, even if it is at the end of the line. Consider how important counting rests are in the sight-reading room. The first year I conducted a CCC Middle School in Midland, TX, my team teacher, Melvin Scott, reminded the band as we were practicing sight-reading, to ensure they counted whole rests in 3/4 time with three beats per measure. Guess what? A couple of weeks later at contest, my band was the only one in Midland to win a Sweepstakes that year. The other bands had not received I’s in sight-reading, and I later learned those whole rests in 3/4 time had “got” them. So, remember, music is the combination of sound and silence, and the silence is just as important as the sound.

“Playing loudly does not give you the license to play badly.” So many times directors sacrifice tone quality for volume. Band directors tend to let this happen especially outdoors. Mack always emphasized that regardless of volume, the tone is must still be controlled and fit the characteristics of the instrument. Over-blowing frequently leads to out of tune playing and bad tone quality as well. Another problem of over-blowing, is that it causes the player difficulty when she or he must focus on balance and blend. Mr. Mack believes that forte should be considered “strong” playing; fortissimo as “stronger” playing, and that fff should never be “out of control” playing. Never sacrifice tone for the sake of volume.

“Anchor the pitch to the bass line and balance that way.” If you tune and balance to your bass line, you just can’t go wrong. Tune your band to a chord and balance that to the tuba line. (I know in some small schools, this might be the bass clarinet, bari-sax, or trombone, but that’s okay, too). Always listen for that bass line and train your kids to listen for the bass line. This will also make balance/blend so much easier. This will help the student hear and understand the concept of ensemble sound.

“Intonation means being IN-TUNE and IN-TONE.” Being “in tune” is not just about pitch; playing in tune means you must constantly “blend the sound.” Your students must play with a characteristic tone quality. However, it is just about impossible to accurately tune a bad tone quality. Again, this goes back to the applicable concept of fundamentals. You must start working on this on day one. I still use the Rhythm Master, band book that everyone used in West Texas. This book has a preliminary lesson in which it talks about tuning on the mouthpiece before the horn is ever put together. Your clarinets should be tuning to an F sharp on their mouthpiece and barrel, flutes with the mouthpiece closed to an A, etc. (This is written by Harry Haines and JR McEntyre, and is a Southern Publication). Your students must play in tune within the section, as well as across the band. Another director I worked with used to say, (I think Shane Fuller), “flutes, (etc.), don’t play in tune, flute players do! You must train your students at some point to take some responsibility for their pitch. They must be taught the tuning tendencies of their instruments and how to adjust for those problems as they come along. Just because the band starts out tuned and ready, doesn’t mean at that at some point, some small adjustments might need to be made. Students need to learn to listen for these moments, and know what to do to “fix” them. You can never over listen regarding intonation.

“Well done simplicity is far more effective than clobbered complexity.” Can’t tell you how many times I have thought this while judging. Sometimes I have wondered if the students were really better served by playing a really difficult piece, instead of playing something a little less difficult played well. Please consider this when picking out music for contest and other performances, as well as solo/ensemble festival material. I guess sometimes this boils down to personal opinion, but I would rather that my students learned to play something really well and perform it super cleanly, than to learn the notes in a difficult piece(s), and just be able to get through it. As a listener, (and an adjudicator), I think it’s safe to say something played well is always better to hear, than something very difficult played with mediocrity.

“The impulse of will is what you want and being able to communicate it effectively.” Utilize your rehearsal time. As a conductor, you must be able to identify mistakes that will correct themselves and the ones that need to be immediately identified and corrected. Make comments for a reason. Don’t just stop in rehearsal to talk about something that needs to be fixed. Know how to fix it and have a plan to do so. Stop for a reason, identify it, and drill it. Solve it! Make it clear why you have stopped. If you lose ten minutes in a rehearsal every day, that’s about 35 rehearsals per school year or 20% of your time. Know what you are going to say when you stop and how you plan to improve it. Have a routine and stick to it. Have an efficient way to take care of attendance, etc. in a way that won’t take away from rehearsal time. Have a plan to handle student questions, music requests, repair problems, etc. in a way that won’t rob from your rehearsal time. Be organized and prepared and know the “score” before you go to the podium.

“To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late.” Enough said. Mr. Mack credits Dr. Bill Revelli, (University of Michigan), with this phrase. I have heard it many times, but it Mr. Mack voiced it first.

“Nothing great was every accomplished without enthusiasm.” Don’t just be a music scholar. Be excited! Be a musician! Have high standards. Your emotions reflect in the music your students produce. All performed music must have heart and express inner feeling. Train your students to be musical. Ask them, “How can we improve this? What can we do with the dynamics? What could we do to make this sound more like the style we want?” Musical habits don’t come naturally; train the students to know how to taper the melodic line and release notes with a musical concept in mind, etc. Every band adapts to the director’s personality and enthusiasm. Pride can make all the difference, and your musical standards will come out in the band’s performances. True dedication can bring out the “heart” in your band’s performances.

“Set kids up for success.” You’ve heard the old expression, “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. Your job as an educator is to make sure the students are really thirsty! You can work the students into the ground during rehearsal, but you better pat them on the back on the way out the door. That’s the just the psychology of the human spirit. After all, you do want them back tomorrow.

“My profession is the most important job in the worlds because I work with the most important people in the world.” I copied this straight from my college-conducting notebook. It was the last thing I had written in my notebook, and I wrote it as a direct quote by William G. Mack. He made me feel like one of those important people. I guess that was why I was willing to work like crazy in his band. Remember why you’re in this profession. You work for the kids. Only dedicated, talented music directors can provide those wonderful, “goose-bump” experiences for their students. You know, the ones that they will never experience any other way but by playing well-prepared and well-performed music from the heart. Those, “cold chill,” moments are never forgotten, and as Bill Mack would say, “That’s slicker than a mashed potato sandwich!”

It was fun remembering Mr. Mack’s musical “Mackisms”, and they still hold as true today as when I first heard them as college music major. I hope you can find them as useful in your day-to-day teaching as I have. Thank you, Mr. Mack.

Contact Your Local Palen Music Center Representative


Can we assist you with anything?  Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.


Springfield Bob Hopkins, Wayne Blades, Jason Moore, Mike Steffen, AAron Bryan (417) 882-7000
Columbia Paul Bowen (573) 256-5555
Liberty Ken Crisp, Harlan Moore, and Victoria Clymore (816) 792-8301
Joplin AAron Bryan (417) 781-3100
Broken Arrow Mark VanVranken and Bryan Snyder (918) 286-1555


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