Monday, February 22, 2010

The Band Industry is Killing Music Education

Ok, now that's I've got your attention, I'm not a choir director who hates bands.  I love a good concert band, symphonic band, or wind ensemble (have you heard Rich Fischer's Concordia Univeristy Chicago Wind Symphony?). I started playing clarinet in sixth grade and switched to bassoon in seventh.  I played bassoon in band though the rest of grade school, high school, and college.  If that isn't a textbook definition of a band geek, I don't know what is!

The title of this article is taken from a ChoralNet post from Feb 4 which details the writings of Stephen Budiansky, a parent with a musical, educational ax to grind. To quote the ChoralNet post:
Here is the outline of the story:
1.  On January 30, 2005, a parent wrote an article in the Washington Post that bemoaned instrumental music education in general and substandard literature in particular.  He also wrote a "follow on" article entitled "The Repertoire is the Curriculum:  Getting Back to Basics in Music Education" that elaborated on the original issue.
 2.  All of it caused quite a furor. (He "received more than 100 messages and phone calls from band directors, students, ex-students, elementary school teachers, church musicians") His mail ran about 7 to 1 in favor of what he had said.
3.  The parent was asked to write an article for the Journal of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles and he did (with Col. Timothy Foley, retired director of the U.S. Marine Band).
4.  He was about to publish another article, but the article was pulled at the last minute by a new president of the association.
 It is a fascinating story.  Click on the links and read about it.  Read more here on a page he calls "The Wonderful People who Killed School Music."
While reading these articles, I started to think about all the decisions that go into programming a concert, because, like it or not, concert repertoire is the music student's curriculum.  Unless the choir or band director is extremely disciplined in their short (45 min a day) rehearsal time to include music theory, history, or any of the National Standards for Music Education, the majority of what a band or choir student learns about music, and thereby takes forward into their lives, is based on the music that they perform for concerts (and how the director teaches it).

That's a frightening and immensely important responsibility for the choir and band director.  Pick trite music, screw up a child's future musical appreciation. Make a kid think that the best music is "easy" music and they will resist working on anything "hard".

There are so many things to consider when programming music for a choir or band concert. Here are just some of the things that go through my mind when I pick music for a concert:
  1. The student's musical background and how that relates to the rest of the choir/band.
  2. The time of school year (don't pull out the hardest, but "coolest" piece for the Fall Concert).
  3. The past concert themes.
  4. The audience's ability to be challenged vs. pleasing them with music they already know.
  5. The ceiling of the student's ability to be stretched (a.k.a. taught) for that concert based on the the time of year and other pieces that the student has worked on that year.
  6. How the pieces in the concert relate to each other.
  7. How an individual choir's or band's pieces give the opportunity to teach historical and stylistic variety.
  8. How long will that piece be around?  Will it stand the test of time?
  9. Does the director love the piece?  He or she won't be able to teach it well if they don't.
  10. Time to prepare (for both the director and students)
  11. Are there components of the piece of music which can be drawn out to form mini-lessons? Is the anything "teachable" about the piece?  If there isn't, is it worth doing?
  12. Availability of accompanist for the choir.  There's a lot of good music which should be taught and performed by choirs for which a really good accompanist is needed.  If the director is also the accompanist because there isn't a budget for paying an outside accompanist and there isn't a student in the choir who can play piano (or organ, or any other instrument to a sufficient degree), then will the choir perform its best if their director can't direct them because they have to accompany them?  
I program five major concerts every school year for my high school choirs: Fall, Christmas, Let's Celebrate, Hymn Festival, Spring.  Three are secular, two are sacred.  The expressed programming purpose of Let's Celebrate Day is to pick music that the audience knows because it's a cabaret type setting and there is talking and milling around in the gym during performances.  That evens out the concerts to two sacred and two secular where I can choose music to grow on, spiritually and aesthetically.  It's an awesome responsibility. I take it seriously because I want my students to grow in their musical knowledge and to continue to want to be in choir.

Flyway District Vocal Solo/Ensemble Schedule

Horicon High School is hosting the Flyway District Vocal Solo/Ensemble Festival on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 (Google Maps & Directions). More information and a schedule of the entire day can be found on the Horicon High School website.

The entries listed below are only the vocal entries from WLA.  Band students and piano students will perform on March 6. The site number refers to the room in Horicon High School where that event will be judged.  See the information table at Horicon HS for that information when you get there. Parents and friends are welcome to watch the performances as long as there is enough room in the classrooms where they are being performed.  Ev/Class/Num refers to the particular song or piece the student is performing. You can look up those songs on the WSMA Festival Music list.

Students who receive a starred 1st rating will be advanced to the Wisconsin School Music Association State Solo/Ensemble Festival at UW-Oshkosh on Apr. 24. WLA will preview those performances on Wednesday, Apr. 21 at 6 PM with a State Finalists Recital in the WLA Choir Room. Of special interest that night will be a number of WLA students who have been composing their own music and will perform some of their selections for the audience along with the state finalists.

SATURDAY, FEB. 27, 2010
WLA Vocal Schedule

Site Time Name Code Ev/Class/Num

1 8:00 Hein, Jessica WLA 3121C1 Flute Solo
6 8:00 Marchant, Patrick WLA 7111A14 Piano Solo
1 8:08 Boelk, Et Al WLA 1884A3 SATB Quartet, Double Quartet
4 9:20 Boerneke, Et Al WLA 1282A9 TT, TB, BB Duet
4 9:28 Plagenz, Et Al WLA 1424A5 Barbershop Quartet
4 9:36 Plagenz, Peter WLA 1221A2 Baritone or Bass Solo
2 9:40 Westphal, Bethany WLA 1111C2 Soprano Solo
4 9:44 Moldenhauer, Dan WLA 1321A2 Music Theater-Male Role
4 9:52 Scharf, Charis WLA 1121A8 Alto Solo
4 10:10 Adelmeyer, Libby WLA 1311A7 Music Theater-Female Role
6 10:20 Scharf, Et Al WLA 1182AT SS, SA, AA Duet
5 10:24 Klein, Ben WLA 1211A17 Tenor Solo
4 10:26 Haugly, Dan WLA 1321A2 Music Theater-Male Role
5 10:32 Leisses, Janeen WLA 1311A3 Music Theater-Female Role
1 10:34 Plagenz, Et Al WLA 1284A4 TTBB Quartet, Double Quartet
4 10:34 Orvis, Rochelle WLA 1121A3 Alto Solo
6 10:34 Adelmeyer, Et Al WLA 1182AT SS, SA, AA Duet
5 10:40 Halter, Laura WLA 1311A3 Music Theater-Female Role
6 10:42 Petrack, Britany WLA 1111B21 Soprano Solo
3 11:20 Leisses, Janeen WLA 1111A14 Soprano Solo
3 11:44 Adelmeyer, Libby WLA 1111AS03 Soprano Solo
2 12:44 Geisthardt, Et Al WLA 6138A109 Mixed Show Choir
1 1:34 Boelk, Hether WLA 1111A1 Soprano Solo
5 1:48 Haugly, Dan WLA 1211AS06 Tenor Solo
5 1:56 Moldenhauer, Dan WLA 1211A4 Tenor Solo
1 2:14 Halter, Laura WLA 1111A3 Soprano Solo

Friday, February 19, 2010

In Memoriam: Richard Hillert (1923-2010) and Richard Proulx (1937-2010)

It is sad when your favorite teachers die. It is sadder yet when there have been so few of them that have influenced you so much as a composer.  I was informed today that my former composition teacher and advisor at Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois (now Concordia University, Chicago), Richard Hillert, passed away yesterday, February 18, 2010 at the age of 86 years (b. March 14, 1923).

Dr. Hillert was not only my composition professor for a number of summers in the late 80's and early 90's, but he also modeled for me how to allow the student composer to be themselves, not merely to imitate his own compositional style. I wrote an organ partita on Triumphant from the Grave under his direction and also took Ensemble Writing and Arranging from him. It was in that class that I wrote my first of many hymn concertatos,  Love in Christ is Strong and Living, which became my first published work.  A list of my other compositions can be found here.

When my college Music Theory and Composition professor, James Engel, died during my senior year at Dr. Martin Luther College, New Ulm, MN (now Martin Luther College) I looked around and wondered who was going to carry on the WELS composer torch. Now we have lost another gift of God to His Church.  Many of us have sung his hymn, This is the Feast of Victory (aka "Festival Canticle: Worthy is Christ"), but Dr. Hillert has so many more church music compositions and publications to his name.  He is published by GIA, Morning Star, Concordia, and Augsburg Fortress, just to name a few major church music publishers.  A Wikipedia article about Richard Hillert's life has been recently written which highlights his music career and compositions.  CPH memoriam PDF.  Read the Chicago Tribune article about Richard Hillert.

Richard Hillert's funeral service will be March 1, 2010 at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL at 7 PM.

I was also informed today that Richard Proulx also died yesterday. (Wow, the music in heaven is going to be good tonight!)  Proulx (pronouced "Proo") is best known in WELS circles for his choral setting for brass, organ, and SATB choir, O God, Beyond All Praising, which frequently is also sung to the Jerusalem the Golden text at the end of most every National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts. GIA has tribute page for Richard Proulx.  Proulx's website seems to not have been updated since May 18, 2008, but lists his compositions, publishers, discography, and much more related information.

Would that God would give us all time to compose for his Church on earth, to practice the songs that we will sing round His throne in heaven in eternity.

Too many major church musicians are being called home to heaven in recent years:  Jaroslav Vajda (lyricist), Paul Manz (organist), Richard Hillert (composer), Richard Proulx (composer, director).  I could go back farther and mention Paul Bunjes (organ design, composer) and other professors I have studied with.

Last year I presented a hymn festival on the texts of Jaroslav Vajda.  This March 21, 2010, I will be presenting a Paul Manz hymn festival with choirs of Winnebago Lutheran Academy.  Now it looks like I could be set on hymn festival themes for the next two years. Shoot.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Things I Need to Write About

Sometimes I write to...
try to organize and collect my thoughts
stir up thoughts in others
invite comments

These are just some of the topics going through my head right now.  Given 10 more minutes to think about this list, I could probably hit 20.

1. Isaiah 53:6 "every one" vs. "everyone" in Messiah Chorus No. 26 All We Like Sheep.
2. Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (+ God is Love)
3. Is Church Music Irrelevant Muzak? (TLH 415 in a CW World)
4. Students Want Their Best to Be Posted - Is This Authenticity?
5. Hyperlinks are the Footnotes & Endnotes of the 21st Century (Teaching Digital Publishing)
6. Wireless Access in Schools and Student Laptops
7. Hope Christian School's "Scholar Ladies"
8. Teaching Hymnology and Music Theory to Lutheran High School Students
9. Training the Pre-service Music Teacher: Solo Ensemble Literature
10. A Place to Perform
11. The Hymn Project
12. The Choral Bible
13. The Band Industry is Killing Music Education. Really?
14. The Wish List
15. What does it mean to be a Lutheran Church Musician? (CW 276 - Isaiah, Mighty Seer vs. CW 195 - Holy, Holy, Holy in light of Isaiah 6)

Please forgive me for not writing about these topics, but just continuing to add to the list.  I want to get my thoughts down on each one of these topics, but helping my students prepare for Solo Ensemble, planning an upcoming Paul Manz Hymn Festival (March 21, 2010, 3:30 & 7:00 PM, at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Fond du Lac, WI), and editing five choruses from Handel's Messiah for the upcoming WELS National Choralfest at Arizona Lutheran Academy has kept me busy.  That and the normal daily routine of teaching, directing four choirs, and spending quality time with my family while they are still awake keeps me from doing the writing that I want to do.  I'll write more when I can.