Monday, January 18, 2016


The Band Director's Daughter | Preparing Your Solo

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Sincerely, the Band Director's Daughter by Bethany Harper

Editor's Note: Check out this beautifully written article by Bethany Harper, daughter of Fayetteville Director of Bands Barry Harper. We would like to thank Bethany for giving us permission to redistribute this article.

And no, my dad didn't tell me to write this.

Anyone remotely connected to band or education has seen all the articles. We've all seen the facebook posts about "What Band Really Is: The Importance of Music Education." "Why AP Music Thoery is the Most Difficult of All AP Exams." "Music Makers = Better Test Takers!" And the infamous line that all pregnant women are told in their first parenting class: "Mozart Makes Babies Smarter!" And music is important. We should come to its defense. But we're tired. We've heard from all the band directors. We've heard from all the music teachers. We've heard from principals and administrators and school board members. Shoot, we've even heard from professional instrumentalists and band kids themselves. But there's one role we haven't heard from at all, the one quite possibly most affected and most overlooked by band in its entirety: the band director's family.

So hello! It's nice to meet you. My name is Bethany Harper, though most of you in the band community and Fayetteville, Arkansas know me as "Harper's Kid." I've seen band first hand since the day I was born, and I am going to tell you a story.

I was nine years old on a charter bus in Pasadena, California. The Fayetteville High School Band had just spent the day in Hollywood and was driving to the Santa Monica Pier before going to Universal Studios the next day. We were there so the band could march in the Tournament of Roses parade on New Years Day, and the band kids wanted to watch Family Guy on their short bus ride to the beach. It might have been appropriate for high schoolers, but my dad deemed me too young (as most dads would for their nine-year-old daughter). Then we heard it; the comment from the high schooler we chose to ignore: "It's not our fault Harper brought his daughter on the bus. We shouldn't have to change what we watch."

News flash buddy: I might have been little, but I wasn't deaf. I could hear you. I remember you even today. And the reality of it is: it was your fault Harper had to bring his daughter on the bus. Band trips are one of the only perks she gets as the director's daughter, and it was the only way she would get to ring in the New Year at her father's side.

Because here's what band is from the eyes of a band director's daughter. Here's what you don't see.

My dad spends two nights a week (at least) away from home, preparing you for a competition or concert that you probably won't practice for. We spend holidays on charter buses and marching parades with you rather than at home with our extended family. Our dinner conversations aren't about our day; they're about you, and how he worries about your future. My knowledge about football was gained from spending every Friday night watching him work rather than enjoying it as a family, and my knowledge about the stupidity of high schoolers was learned at age seven by watching you disobey him. If I acted the way you do towards him, the wooden spoon would be the least of my worries. The truth is, he spends more time with you than he does with me, and when he is at home, he's grading your papers and responding to your emails. Because that's the life of a teacher: it's a life of pure sacrifice. He watched his only child grow up in the old high school band room rather than in his own backyard because he was always there for you. The least you can do is turn off a TV show that he deems inappropriate.

Let's prove a point here.....

Additional Editor's Note #1: to continue reading this article, click here.
Additional Editor's Note #2: Do's worth it!


Festival Music Selection -- A Question of Balance
by Marvin Manring

A new calendar year, a new semester...and a new opportunity for expanding your students' musical horizons. The spring semester is always a favorite 'season' for me because after taking time to build a sound concept within the band through the first semester, we get to read--and read a lot. So, how does your band plan, rehearse, and perform throughout the festival season? It starts with you, and your partner is the literature you choose.

The old adage (thanks, Dee Lewis!) goes "if your band can't sight-read it, don't take it to festival." The message I take from this is "read--and read AS MUCH as you can" to discover your band's hidden strengths and "areas to improve." Remember, this benefits your musical growth as well. If you are in your first three or four years of teaching, you may still be leaning on your principal instrument as a primary factor in selecting music--either to assume that since you can play it, your kids can achieve that level, or to assume that since you can't easily read it, your kids can't succeed with it. (Take it from a tuba player who was overwhelmed by a lot of upper woodwind parts early on in his career.) You don't have to read the whole piece, and if it sits in the back of the folder for a few weeks, so much the better! Your group might return to it and find out just how much progress they've made.

In my experiences as an adjudicator in Missouri, selection of literature has probably played more into my evaluative processes than anything else--not because I have a set list of music that bands should play, but because of the 'fit' that each band has either achieved or has had forced on them. More often than not, the problem is caused by one of two factors: the director has chosen a piece above the technical capabilities of the band, or the piece is incomplete due to a significant lack of parts represented. I can't blame either of these problems on the students, but they are the ones who take the brunt of the comments when tone, balance and blend suffer.

My philosophy for my own band is "do less if you can do it better." Mind you, I am NOT settling for poor technique, bad tone, or intonation by programming a half-grade or grade less than what the kids could reasonably perform with a good effort. The trade (and I think it's a good one) is that I now have time to work on what a band is really all about--tone, blend, balance, intonation...and yes, we use our sight-reading procedures for nearly every piece. I have never awarded a band a lesser rating because I felt that they should play more challenging music; however, it's painfully obvious when the students either don't have the needed technique or the band hasn't had the time to prepare.

I have overprogrammed, especially as a beginning director...but I have also walked that tightrope of reading a lot of simpler pieces and then having no time in the calendar to move on to more challenging material before festival time. I still believe that you are better off playing back a grade with a better sound than a grade ahead with no hope of bringing a true band sound to the stage--and, having the bonus of a band that's ready to tackle the sight-reading evaluation.

Practical hints: Examine the sight-reading criteria for your class, and try to keep your selections within that particular instrumentation and meter/key/rhythmic specifications. For smaller bands with limited bass lines, look for the octave doubling in euphonium and (if necessary) trombone. (I'm not a big fan of taking the second octave out of their standard roles, but you have to remind the kids that the band is on the way to something better.) State workshop performances and reading clinics are great resources, but a practical resource for you in the long term is to hear groups at festival. Whenever possible, I take my students early to hear as many bands as they can before they suit up, warm up, and strike up their own performance. (It's also a great listening activity. I encourage them to look at the setup of other bands, listen for hot spots on the stage, observe concert etiquette and--who knows?--they might hear a piece that they really like and suggest it for our group's spring concert or next year's festival.)

The key is balance. Read as much as you can to build your students' chops (and yours!), and discover literature that matches your students' ability and practical room for growth. If they can wrap their heads, hands and hearts around the music you've put in front of them (and it takes all three), everyone wins. Your festival adjudicators want to hear 1) quality literature 2)that fits your group and 3) allows the students to demonstrate a cohesive band sound. Your kids will have a lot better chance of playing "over their heads" if the music isn't.

Marvin Manring
Director of Bands
Stockton Schools - Stockton, MO

Marvin Manring is the longtime Director of Bands for Stockton Schools in Stockton, MO. He is a proud graduate of Central Methodist University in Fayette, MO. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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