Dr Carolyn Watson
Dr Carolyn Watson of the University of Kansas provides some insights into her recommendations and thoughts into what is great repertoire for young orchestras. Article originally published in The Instrumentalist 2015.
Dr Carolyn Watson of the University of Kansas provides some insights into her recommendations and thoughts into what is great repertoire for young orchestras. Article originally published in The Instrumentalist 2015.
With our upcoming Clinic in leading Primary School Bands what better way to get prepared than to delve into what it takes to make your music program a successful one.
This article originally appeared in the 2019 Yamaha Off to a Great Start Education Guide. For more details about Off to a Great Start please visit greatstartyamaha.com
On the September 15 at Mentone Grammar, esteemed composer, educator and performer Loreta Fin presented her workshop, ‘Tips for Working with Strings’. Loreta provided valuable insight into her own teaching philosophy and shared her own experience, techniques and solutions for issues string teachers encounter on a regular basis.
The topics explored included:
· Strategies for conducting string students, including basic conducting patterns, the conductor’s space, the correct posture needed to conduct, as well as visual clarity, delivering clear upbeats, enhancing one’s coordination when simultaneously using the right and left hands, and the use of the baton to coordinate a group of players
· Practical approaches when teaching stringed instruments, such as learning rest and playing positions, posture, bow hold, bow distribution, and left hand shapes to assist in learning key signatures
· Concepts for teaching tuning, note-reading, scales, spiccato and vibrato in an ensemble setting
The concept of treating ‘students as musicians from the start’ was an idea that Loreta focused on during her workshop. This prompted me to reflect on my own teaching practice and valuing my students as young musicians. With this mindset, we must always remember we are teaching students to be life-long musicians – we are not merely teaching just the skills to play at the next up-coming recital.
Loreta described the role of the conductor (using the Italian term “maestro” meaning teacher), placing importance on the role of the conductor, and asked us to think about our own musical experiences and journeys. We reflected on conductors we have worked with in the past, who demonstrated clear conducting methods, as well as those whose conducting was less than ideal. By reflecting on these positive and negative experiences, we are better able to inform our own practices and shape our own skills in the area of conducting ensembles.
A valuable concept I took from the workshop was Loreta’s ideas on the teaching of intonation and how tuning can be difficult in an ensemble setting. Loreta spoke about how she has her students play the note D (fingered, not open D), then, on her signal, the students either shift upwards or downwards to purposely change the pitch the first time a little then other times far away from the note. Then, again on her signal, students immediately return to the original fingered D. This exercise, when given to my students, showed them that their pitch is easily changeable. It in turn promoted more acute and critical listening skills resulting in a more accurate intonation.
Another concept Loreta explored was the idea that ‘unison pizzicato’ can be quite problematic in an ensemble setting, resulting in individual players easily rushing pizzicato sections and sometimes causing the entire ensemble to follow. Loreta spoke about the way she encourages her students to pay particular attention to the conductor and the ictus (or musical or metrical stress). Loreta achieves this by asking her students to say “there” at the precise moment when the beat lands. After several attempts, students then transfer the vocalisation of “there” onto their instruments. This approach encourages students to not only pay attention to the role of the conductor, but also to create a deeper awareness of the sound of the ensemble, and how their part should ‘fit in’ with the others in the group.
This valued presentation not only provided me with a myriad of tips and approaches, but it really encouraged me to reflect on my own conducting skills and teaching practices as a strings educator.
Eric Di Florio
Citation of Excellence
On the 4th of October 2019, ABODA National presented ABODA Victoria Past President Jemima Bunn with the National Citation of Excellence. Congratulations Jemima!!
The citation of excellence is the highest award available to members of ABODA. This award recognises outstanding personal achievement and represents peer recognition of the work of the recipient both in Australia and overseas, for both ABODA and the music community. It is a recognition of enormous output and investment that this ABODA member has given to instrumental music education in Australia. It is with great pride that I announce that the 2018 recipient of the National Citation of Excellence is Jemima Bunn.
In her role as a performer, educator, conductor, researcher, ABODA committee member and more recently, publisher, Jemima has achieved excellence across all of these modes of activity and on all fronts, has made a significant contribution to Australian music education.
We first experienced Jemima’s passion for the wind band genre when as a clarinet player she successfully applied to join the first Australian National Youth Band for their tour to Japan in 1990. From there Jemima undertook a Bachelor of Education, specializing in Music Education at Melbourne University. Jemima’s first teaching post was at Camberwell High School, where as a beginning teacher she took a small, below average music program and built it to a level of excellence, culminating in a tour to the USA where the Camberwell Wind Ensemble served as a clinic ensemble at the prestigious Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, USA.
Following this achievement, Jemima received a teaching assistant scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she completed a Masters of Music Education. Upon her return, she soon took the position as Director of Music at Glen Waverley Secondary College in Melbourne, and again raised an average music program to a level of excellence in a very short period of time. She is now serving as the Director of Music at Blackburn High School, arguably Victoria’s flagship music program, continuing the legacy of excellence in music education, as evidenced by not only her own Symphonic Band performing at the 2017 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, but also the Blackburn High School Stage Band also performing in the same conference. This is a significant achievement for any school, and the first Australian school to have accomplished this honour.
Concurrently with her career as a highly successful music educator, Jemima also served on the ABODA committee, both at the state level and national level. Throughout many years working with ABODA, she has held the post of Victorian State President and National President and was the driving force behind the committee that ran the highly successful 2014 ANBOC in Victoria. Her selfless contribution to the design and implementation of countless ABODA activities has ensured that ABODA remains at the forefront of contributing to the betterment of music education in Australia. It is immeasurable how many of Australia’s music educator’s have been positively impacted upon by the investment of time, energy and ingenuity that Jemima has brought to the ABODA community.
Aside from her teaching commitments, Jemima’s energies are now focused on her PhD research in Music Education, exploring the lived experience of music students and questioning our current music education structures, with a view to providing even more meaningful musical experiences for our students in the future, and as the owner of Brolga Music, expanding on arguably Australia’s most significant publisher of high quality educational music, ensuring a pathway for Australian composers to share their unique voice with Australia and the whole world. Through her role as publisher, she has expanded the Brolga catalogue to include more genres and ensured that Brolga represents Australian excellence in music education on an international stage.
Two major attributes of a recipient of the Citation of Excellence are that:
There is no doubt that Jemima has established herself with respect to such criteria, both here and internationally. She is a fine musician, an excellent conductor and outstanding educator. To conclude, Jemima Bunn is a person of the highest integrity, and such integrity ensures she stands as a role model for her students, her colleagues and those she mentors in every facet of her work.
It is with great pleasure that ABODA National awards Jemima Bunn the 2018 Citation of Excellence.
After a successful summer school in 2019 Dr Carolyn Watson, the Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Kansas, provided great tips and resources on how to get your strings sounding great. This article originally appeared in the ABODA NSW issue 3, 2015 publication: The Score.
Anboc.2018 was held in Brisbane between 4 – 7 October at the State Library of Queensland. There were over 70 professional development opportunities for string, band, jazz and orchestral conductors of school and community ensembles. Delegates attended keynotes, lectures, ensemble workshops, panel discussions and interactive sessions with the themes of:
As a community band conductor, I found the wellness and teaching on/off the podium sessions most valuable.
One of the most popular sessions was presented by Dr. John Lynch of the Sydney Conservatorium. John guided participants through warm up and free movement exercises for conductors. For those that are not familiar, free movement is a concept where you put on some music, close your eyes and move to the feel of (but not conduct) the music. While you may feel and look a bit silly doing this, it is a lot of fun. The concept encourages us to move beyond beat patterns and become more expressive conductors.
Also popular was a keynote and breakout session by Dr. Anita Collins about music education and the brain. Statistically, students who play a musical instrument are likely to perform better academically compared to their peers who don’t. Anita advised that a documentary “Don’t stop the music” will air on the ABC in November and there will be a national education campaign to go with it.
Two evening concerts were held in the Griffith University Queensland Conservatorium Theatre at Southbank. The first of these, was the Opening Gala Concert jointly presented by the Queensland Conservatorium’s Symphony Orchestra and Wind Orchestra under the direction of Dr Peter Morris.
The program was anchored by the theme of social justice, and highlights included: Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Bernstein’s Slava! (with added one-liners from our pollies) and New Morning for the World featuring Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech; (of which the line “…not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” is still relevant today in 2018.)
The second and final evening concert was presented by Queensland Wind Orchestra (QWO) under the direction of David Law and Guest conductors Prof. Rob McWilliams and Rachel Howley. A highlight of this concert was Percussionist, Composer and Educator, Nathan Daughtrey performing as a soloist in his own composition Concerto for Vibraphone and Wind Ensemble.
Lunches, Morning and Afternoon Teas were certainly a highlight of ANBOC. The caterers did an exceptional job feeding the masses each day. Over food and drink Delegates networked and visited the various trade stalls (without which ANBOC could not occur). It was good to see the regular trade stalls at ANBOC such as those from Tim Ferrier and Brolga Music. At the latter, was our very own Jemima Bunn who was awarded a National Citation of Excellence from ABODA. (Well done Jemima!)
ANBOC was a great opportunity to catch up with former summer conducting school clinicians Peter Morris, John Lynch and Rob McWilliams, each of whom presented topics they were passionate about. (some of these were a timely refresher on previous concepts from summer conducting schools).
Those who also attended ANBOC in Brisbane, I encourage you to share your experience with colleagues, in the hope they consider attending the next ANBOC.
Finally, I would like to thank ABODA VIC for giving me the opportunity to attend this year’s ANBOC and congratulate ABODAQ on the success of the conference.
Mansfield and District (MAD) Orchestra, Mansfield
Rob was awarded one of two scholarships provided by ABODA Victoria for members to attend ANBOC 2018.
It is always exciting to be surrounded by experts who are fully impassioned and engaged in doing what they do best…. sharing years of their own experience and knowledge, hard earned from hours spent in front of young musicians both on and off the podium. The ANBOC Conference held in Brisbane from October 4 – 7, 2018 was overflowing with seasoned music professionals; conductors, university professors, composers, directors, researchers and teachers from all walks of life and all corners of our planet, all with expertise and wisdom adding up to beyond what one might ever hope to find in one location over four days.
Held alongside the SHEP Orchestra and Band program (ensembles whose performances and rehearsals we were able to experience during the conference days), the ANBOC Conference presenters covered topics across three broad themes: “Teaching” (On and Off the Podium), “Navigating the Middle Years” and “Wellness”.
Over the course of four days, there were choices of over thirty sessions to attend (each of an hour’s length) each day running throughout four different venues within the State Library of Queensland with over fifty music specialists who were often presenting “between” rehearsals with the State Honours Ensembles.
Not even once during the four days of the conference was there a question of whether to attend each session that was being offered, but rather making the difficult decision of which of the sessions to attend given that the options were so varied, interesting and relevant to our current musical climate.
For myself (predominantly as a string player and educator) I found the smorgasbord of string offerings to be stimulating, useful and motivating. I was profoundly touched and inspired in particular, by the musical and humanitarian generosity of Richard Meyer in his “Giving Bach” session. He demonstrated his experience in the context of giving back to his community through involving his students in reaching out to others less fortunate than themselves in their performances to blind students, youth of less privileged socio-economic background, and Down Syndrome children.
Richard is a man of enormous humanity and has empowered both his audiences and students alike with the incredible work he has done in his program. Just being able to see him in action and to watch footage of his work was life-changing.
Reflecting on “Programming in the 21st Century”, Cynthia Johnston Turner encouraged us to think outside the box about our audience and the perception of performance in future. Another personal highlight for me was Paula A. Crider’s presentation of her approach to Three Levels of Performance: Technical, Intellectual and Emotional in her session “Beyond the Notes”.
Dr Anita Collins, the sensational Australian neuromusical educator and music education advocate presented two thought provoking and motivational sessions: “Fireworks and the Musical Brain” and “Music Education and Brain Development” which left us in no uncertain terms convinced of the value of music educating beyond what we already knew. Further information can be found at www.biggerbetterbrains.com
No matter how much professional development one is privileged to have, it is always immeasurably valuable to have the opportunity to be able to catch up with ex-students, colleagues from previous employment, knowledgeable experts, amazing conductors and directors and see trade displays with the latest resources. Most importantly it’s vital to be engaged with like minded musicians and educators for a period of intense absorption of knowledge, inspiration, motivation and sometimes just pure affirmation that your program, your philosophy, your box of educational tricks or your ensemble is firing on all cylinders.
I am most grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of this very well designed and organised event.
Bronwyn Oswell won one of two ABODA Victoria Scholarships to attend ANBOC 2018 in Brisbane. She is a busy string educator and pedagogue working in metropolitan Melbourne.
With her outstanding manner with players, high expectations, ability to deliver concepts concisely and insatiable passion for the music, it is little wonder that conductor Carolyn Watson is making waves in the American system, winning the 2015 American Prize for Conducting. In 2019 Carolyn will lead the ABODA Vic Summer Conducting School. We sat down to chat about her career, and advice on conducting training, repertoire selection and conducting bands vs. strings.
I did music education for my undergraduate, with a double major in Music Education and Violin Performance in Sydney. I played for a year professionally in the pit for Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon in Sydney before I moved overseas. Then I was in Hungary for two years at the Kodaly Institute before I went to Germany and completed more violin study and played with some orchestras there.
I taught for a term at Sydney Church of Grammar School where I have just done the Vivaldi Gloria and then at Sydney Grammar School for nine years after this.
About five years into the job working at Sydney Grammar. I wanted to learn a little bit more about conducting and what to do with my hands. I thought I would just do a Masters in Conducting with no intention of doing anything other than that, and then one thing led to another and here we are.
Anybody can be a conductor if they are a good musician, it is easy to turn a good musician into a good conductor, but it is difficult to turn a conductor into a musician. The depth and scope of your musical training and knowledge is really where it is at, and the rest you can learn. Maybe also conducting technique doesn’t matter as much as we think it matters… that has been my experience, anyway.
Obviously the context dictates how far you as a conductor can go. You may have the most wonderful gestures that reflect every nuance in the score, however, if you are in front of a Year 7 band, that may not be necessarily the most important thing. That aspect of being practical, and being able to help the players with practical matters and logistical things, what I call ‘geographical things’ like “This is where we stop.” “This is where we go.” “This is where you need to watch, this is what you need to watch, and this is why you need to watch.” Obviously the more advanced the players are the more subtleties they are going to pick up on in your conducting.
There are some differences. Working with young orchestras, I find I have to work much more closely with the strings and offer more many more directions and much more advice than with the wind and the brass generally. I think there are a number of reasons for that, obviously the person that gets to be first chair oboe or second chair clarinet in a youth orchestra or even in a high school symphony, they have reached a certain level and are by definition a soloist, given that nobody else is playing the first oboe part or the second clarinet part. That’s a very different thing for a second violin section that might have 15 people in it. And each one of those 15 who would die on the spot if they thought that they had to play their part by themselves! There’s that sort of thinking shift – there is a big difference there. I’ve found also I have to give a lot more information and directives to the strings because I think to get young musicians on string instruments to sound good, there is a lot more involved, and it’s a longer process comparatively than with wind and brass instruments. I think we as conductors certainly working with high schools have to remember this and factor it into our approach and our pedagogy.
Choose appropriate repertoire. That is probably my first one. I have done a lot of listening to young musicians and adjudicating at competitions with young bands and orchestras. I often hear young musicians working and playing very hard, and doing their best with music that is beyond them at this particular point in time, at this particular stage of their development. I think it is a wonderful thing to set the bar high and to push them, and to challenge them to be the best they can be, and even better. But also at the same time this kind of approach has to be balanced with positive performance experiences and it’s about them going out onto stage with absolute confidence, that they can play together very, very well as an ensemble, and walk off feeling very proud that they have done a good job.
I probably have a different philosophy to that because I tend to set the bar high and just a little bit beyond what the students think they are capable of. When you say to them we are playing this piece and they go “oh no!”. Then you say “no I programmed it because I think you are good enough”. Straight away if it’s a piece they know and a composer they know or something that they have been dying to play, that gives them a lot of confidence. So you are instilling a lot of trust in their ability and as all of us that play an instrument know, when somebody believes in us you can achieve more that what you think is actually possible.
Absolutely, and it’s a team, it’s exactly the same as a sporting team and with someone sitting 5th chair, inside 2nd desk, 3rd viola part, they might not feel like they are fundamental to the ensemble, but I think it is our job as directors to get the point across that they are fundamental to the ensemble. Nobody else is playing that particular part and if they don’t play it then nobody else is going to play it. Like sport, for them to do well and do their best, everybody has got to go to training and just because you might not be picked to play that week, that doesn’t mean that you don’t go to training… it actually means that you train harder.
For ensembles, stage presence is something. You can often tell how well trained a group is simply by the way they enter and exit the stage and the means by which they go about getting themselves ready to play. There is a level of professionalism that comes with performing, and performing happens from the minute you walk onto the stage. How you look, how you walk out on stage, uniform, dress attire, a school uniform, a performance uniform, coordinated clothing, deliberately unco-ordinated clothing, it is all part of the performance experience.
From a conducting standpoint, having a conductor that is in touch with what the ensemble is doing is an important factor. Often I look and observe that the ensemble is doing one thing and the conductor is doing another, and they’re not necessarily corresponding.
At one stage I read every text that was out there, as I was writing my doctoral dissertation. But I think conducting is not something that can necessarily be taught by books. This opinion might be a difference between a kind of ‘American band-type approach’ and a more traditional operatic and orchestral focus, which is the realm in which my work lies. Of course textbooks are helpful for the basic information, but once you’ve got that there is a whole lot more. In terms of books or texts, the composer’s score is really where it is at.
Whoever I am conducting, so at the moment it’s Bartok, Liszt and Kodaly.
My number one music hero is Carlos Kleiber, every conductor’s musical hero I think! And Bernstein ranks up there very highly as well.
Oh wow! I’m not sure that I’ve got the answer to that question actually. Most conductors would say the Berlin Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic, but I am fairly adamant that’s not a job that I would embrace with open arms as it were. Often life chooses and has a way of putting people where they should be and you know yourself where you are at, and where you can be. With conducting it can be a big game of chance, and some people are fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and get opportunities and make the most of them, and their career goes from there. It is difficult to know if somebody else got a similar opportunity, whether that might have happened to them and whether their career would have developed similarly. As to my ideal gig, I guess I have to say it is the one I am about to start. I chose it didn’t I….!
I don’t know that I have had to do too much of that in itself as I have been very fortunate in the places that I have worked as students have come to those places specifically for music and for orchestra. There are tests that say “yes if they do music that will do better in maths and science” which is all very well and good, but I don’t know if that is why we should be selling music. I don’t think scientists are selling science as it makes better mathematicians. The media seems have a lot of stuff written about that, that’s a great thing. However, music is of intrinsic value as of itself and that’s really what we’re about and hopefully that message can get out.
“Go tell Aunt Rhody” from Suzuki Book 1.
To find out more about Carolyn and the wonderful work she is doing visit:
Often in the pursuit of improving our conducting skills, it is possible to expend an inordinate amount of time and energy focusing on addressing the physical skills of controlling time-keeping and physical gestures as if technical mastery of time and gesture actions forms the basis of the definitive act of conducting. (Looking like the music)
However, it has also been countered that the true definition of conducting is in reality a listening activity, from which the physical act of conducting derives its true inspiration. (Looking like the music, through your inner ear) In fact, informed, active, engaged listening should be considered a major factor in achieving successful, effective and musically satisfying proficiency as a conductor. The importance of focused, informed, and attentive listening is essential in at least two different ways: One, the act of hearing the score and its potential interpretation, while the music still remains on the page; and two, the ability to hear the score while it is literally coming off the page. It is these two considerations, which I would like to examine in this article.
The first listening consideration has been addressed many times, and from many different angles. Most would agree that it is important that one endeavours to aim towards training themselves in effectively hearing the score, as yet unsounded on the page. But, achieving this skill often leaves one frustrated, especially if the conductor’s piano skills are of a limited nature. A helpful analogy here is to remember that hearing a score in silence is much like using the skill of reading books silently to oneself. How did we, as children move from reading aloud to the internalising of our reading skills?
The explanation is not difficult. Obtaining effective reading and comprehension expertise in music reading requires the same mindful, or comparative repetition of basic reading comprehension skills, such as the mastery achieved through the application of vocabulary acquisition, spelling, pronunciation, and grammar usage. Effective reading also requires consistent exposure to reading, including listening to someone read. It also includes aural modelling of pronunciations and the correction of definitions, and spelling errors. It is important to understand that none of these learning activities were fast-tracked. In fact, these activities required a careful, repetitive ‘time-on-task’ framework for achieving the mastery of silent reading over a period of time.
Learning to read/hear music in silence requires a systematic immersion in basic ear training and aural recognition. These are essential skills that enable one to understand both the vertical and horizontal elements of music notation. For it is one’s technical proficiency in rhythmic notation reading gained through internal pulse, counting and subdivision, and the capacity to hear basic harmonic progressions, identify and sing intervallic relationships, chord qualities, , and melody lines, combined with the ability to identify phrase structures through note-grouping relationships. It is, after all these essential tools that enable one to silently read/hear the score as intended. Another important factor in obtaining effective silent score reading skills is to be found in strengthening one’s visual and aural skills through sight singing, as ell as the exercise of engaging in personal music performance experiences on their principal instrument.
The second listening consideration is a bit more problematic, for it requires the conductor to hear, respond and adjust the music as it is literally coming off the page; all at the same time. This skill is of vital importance for achieving significant musical outcomes through effective rehearsal communication. The process is dependent on three factors: seeing and hearing the music as it is being performed, intuitively knowing what the composer had in mind through systematic score study, and holding a personal interpretative understanding of what one desires to hear and wishes to change, thus enabling the ensemble to realise the conductor’s interpretation. This process, of course requires that one already holds a firm belief in their interpretation of the passage, or work under consideration, knowing how they wish it to be performed, and has confidence in their rehearsal strategies, including appropriate gestures, metaphors and/or analogies.
Inspirational musical leadership requires one to communicate the composer’s innate intension through understanding the emotional narrative and related connections with conviction, passion and confidence. This includes understanding the historical, cultural, emotional and stylistic context of the music, along with its attendant set of descriptive, expressive instructions. For instance, why is a particular passage marked ‘forte’, or why is another passage marked, ‘allargando’? To fully understand expressive directions one must also appreciate the musical context in which they appear. The music itself is always pleading with us to listen to how it wishes to be performed and these ‘directions’ are merely reminders of what the composer intended. I believe that it is imperative that physical gestures and body language be derived from deeply held convictions and understanding about the ‘character’ of the music, and how the notes and rhythms should be performed in view of communicating this ‘character’. It is difficult for conductors to expect their ensembles to respond meaningfully to their gestures if the conductor does not hold a personal commitment to an authentic interpretation, character and context.
Therefore, this second kind of listening calls for regular exposure to a wide range of significant music performances that feature virtuosic artistry, mastery and passion. It is vitally important to understand the correlation between regularly listening to a wide range of musical performances and appreciating their role in assisting one in forming opinions of what constitutes significant music-making in general. This kind of listening can also provide opportunity and inspiration for the expansion of one’s emotive vocabulary of physical gestures and facial expression. Truly effective musical communication requires empathy, understanding, emotional connection and deeply held convictions about music performance, which can only be obtained through one’s personal exposure to great music and music-making. The benefits of listening and viewing significant music performance cannot be underestimated, for it is an essential ingredient in developing one’s inner ear towards the purpose of stimulating personal interpretation, as well as providing models of expressive definitions, which may include:
Conducting is certainly more than just knowing what is happening in the score, such as conveying a set of literal instructions; key signatures, tempi indications, meter, dynamic symbols, articulation markings, volume adjustment, fermata considerations, cues, etc. It is also about acquiring an informed opinion, and a conviction about the repertoire one is to rehearse/perform, while knowing how to effectively communicate their personal interpretation to their ensemble. A commitment to engage on a regular basis to listening and watching significant musical performances will go a long way in both feeding and inspiring our musical souls.
Monte Mumford holds an international reputation as a conductor, adjudicator and clinician, contributing regularly to the field of music education and performance studies through conference presentations, publications, professional development offerings, and master classes. He is highly regarded for his musical experience, expertise, passion and effective teaching style. He is in demand as a guest conductor, music education consultant, and adjudicator, providing performance strategies and professional development for music educators, administrators and students alike.
“The future of music may not be with music itself, but rather….in the way it makes itself a part of the finer things humanity does and dreams of.” (1)
– Charles Ives
Every year that we teach and conduct we are challenged by the inevitable process of making decisions about the repertoire that we will share and explore with our students. The process is a daunting one because it challenges us to re-examine our values and our depth as music educators and musicians. Selecting repertoire is not about choosing pieces to play; selecting repertoire is about defining a curriculum and our beliefs about what music education should be for our students. Selecting repertoire is also about commitment, exposure, and risk: commitment, because the music that we rehearse and perform defines our values; exposure, because we share this repertoire with our students and eventually with an audience; and risk, because the music we select may not always resonate with what students, parents, and administrators believe to be the purpose of a band program in an academic setting.
Nearly twenty years ago composer Warren Benson asked an important rhetorical question at an international conference of conductors and teachers. “What was it that brought us to music in the first place?” Warren’s answer has profound implications for our role as music educators.
“It is something in humankind that we find since the beginning of time that compels us to put an engraving on the handle of a knife, a design on the blade of an oar, or a configuration on the exterior of a ceramic pot. It requires that we sing to be born, sing to die, sing to plant, sing to be together, and sing to be alone.” (2)
What Warren was describing is the creative and artistic spirit that is an inherent part of our nature; it is a part of the business of being human. The purpose of music education, therefore, should be to stimulate, nurture, and enhance the creativity, the imagination, and the expressive spirit of our students, qualities that have been a part of their being long before they entered our rehearsal halls or classrooms. Our goal should be to nurture a life-long love affair with music and with the creative process. To accomplish this goal we have to become evangelists for three essential beliefs that should guide our performance curriculum:
In addition, we have to diligently remind ourselves, and others, that the quality of our student’s music education is directly related to the quality of the curriculum they study and perform.
Every decision that we make as teachers, musical and extra-musical, is a reflection of our values. In the case of repertoire selection, the critical balance of aesthetic criteria and personal taste defines that value system. While aesthetic criteria may be more easily agreed upon, the issue of personal taste is more illusive to define, yet, may represent the most important component of this delicate musical eco-system.
Acton Ostling’s landmark dissertation, An Evaluation of Compositions for Wind Band According to Specific Criteria of Artistic Merit3 (1978) established important guidelines for the critical evaluation of musical compositions:
Good music, therefore, has form with a calculated balance of repetition and contrast that great composers manipulate to create and to break our musical expectations. Predictability is the death of great music and so is music with little variation in orchestration and timbre. Good music is music that can hold the attention of its listeners and can be remembered through the creative use of rhythm, counterpoint, harmonic color, harmonic motion, melodic interest, and unique textures. Good music is also music that can transport us to different emotional landscapes. Great music is music that makes us feel.
Every piece of music considered for programming should be evaluated using these criteria as a general guide. Aesthetic criteria, however, have little meaning without the context of a distinct musical depth and a distinct musical intelligence that we, as musicians and artists, are required to bring to this process of decision-making.
Personal taste, musical depth, and musical intelligence are the result of our direct experiences with great art, great music, and great artists. Being an artist in any field is much more than a prescribed level of accomplishment. Being an artist is a way of life, a way of thinking, a way of perceiving and sensing our reality and understanding the entire spectrum of human experiences, from the most grotesque to the most sublime, and from the most tragic to the most trivial. The following questions may help to guide us on this journey of developing musical depth and personal taste:
Every year 1000 new titles of band music enter the marketplace, yet the financial resources available to purchase music by educational institutions remains relatively static from year to year. Statistically, this means that at least five hundred works from publisher’s catalogues will disappear from the marketplace every year to make room for the next year’s release. Our choices in the market place have an enormous impact upon the quality of repertoire that remains available for purchase.
The publishing industry is like any other business; it is market driven. Our decisions, not publisher’s decisions, ultimately determine what works will remain on the shelf and what works will fall to the wayside. As a profession we are consumed by what is new, often neglecting a body of historical repertoire of artistic merit that our students should explore. It is financially unfeasible for publishers to expand their new music inventory and to continue to publish those works considered to be standards in our repertoire unless there is a market for them. They will sell what we buy.
Regarding what we buy, Warren Benson elegantly expressed the following views in the 1998 WASBE Journal in an article titled “On the Role of Emotion in Music”
“…..I wish I could hear more wind conductors and instrumental teachers using better and larger vocabulary that relate to beauty, aesthetics, to charm, to gentleness, strength and power without rancor or anger, to useful tonal vibrance, live sound, to grace of movement, to stillness, to fervor, to depth of great age, the exultation of great happiness, the feel of millennia, the sweetness and purity of lullabies, the precision of fine watches, the reach into time-space of great love and respect, the care of phrasing, the delicacy of balance, the ease of warmth, the resonance of history, the susurrus of wind in the pines and whisperings in churches, the intimacy of the solo instrument, the kind weight of togetherness, and the rising spirit of creating something, bringing something to life from cold print, living music, moving music.”(4)
At some point along the pathway of our teaching, or perhaps on a regular basis, each of us should ask a very personal question: “How many musical souls have been lost on our watch?” Was it because we placed too much emphasis on the product rather than the process? Was it because we placed too much emphasis on entertainment rather than education outcomes for our students? Was it because we placed too much emphasis on short-term rewards rather than the long-term value of nurturing within our students a life-long love affair with music and the creative process? Or was it because the music we selected represented a very narrow spectrum of human experience with insufficient musical depth and intellectual challenge to stimulate the creative impulses and the curious mind of an adolescent or an emerging adult?
The good news is that we have more music to choose from than at any other time in the history of the wind band. We also have more delivery systems and technology, literally at our fingertips, to inform us about what music is available from what publisher, for what grade level, and for how much money. H. Robert Reynolds, Director of Bands Emeritus at the University of Michigan expressed that “when you choose music of depth and substance you chose to reward the publishers and composers who produce quality repertoire, but more importantly, you will reward your students with the gift of a deepening musical aesthetic.”(5)
Selecting repertoire is much more than picking pieces for the next concert. Selecting repertoire is the most important thing that we do as music educators. We enjoy a very special freedom and a very special privilege because we are empowered as music educators to create a meaningful curriculum for our students. With that freedom and privilege comes an enormous responsibility.
Craig Kirchhoff is professor of conducting at the University of Minnesota. Born and educated in Wisconsin, Mr. Kirchhoff brings to his position a wide knowledge of both traditional and contemporary literature. He has won critical acclaim from composers Warren Benson, Henry Brant, Michael Colgrass, Karel Husa, Libby Larsen, George Perle, Vincent Persichetti, Stephen Paulus, Verne Reynolds, Gunther Schuller, Joseph Schwantner, Steven Stucky, Elliott Schwartz, Chen Yi, and others.
Mr. Kirchhoff is past president of the College Band Directors National Association and is a member of the American Bandmasters Association, the National Band Association, the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, and the Music Educators National Conference, and he served as the founding editor and principal advisor of the College Band Directors National Association Journal.
Professor Kirchhoff has appeared as guest conductor, clinician, and lecturer throughout the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Europe, and Scandinavia. Mr. Kirchhoff is a frequent guest conductor of the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra and has recorded with them on the Kosei Publishing label.
In January 2017 conductor Mark Irwin was awarded Life Membership by ABODA Victoria. Here he reflects on how taking opportunities to learn from other conductors and educators has shaped his career.
My musical journey started in a traditional way with piano studies whilst still at primary school and my
earliest experiences of hearing symphonic music gained momentum when I started to attend concerts by
the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 1969. This was also the first time I saw and heard the French
horn being played – a significant, inspiring moment in my music education.
I attended the University of Melbourne Conservatorium, majoring in piano. As a pianist in the BMusEd
course I was required to take up a second instrument of my choice and I starting learning french horn as
a total beginner with the very-patient Tom Nicholl, a member of the much-admired MSO horn section.
By the end of my first year I had been roped into playing 4 th horn in the Faculty of Music Orchestra for an end-of-year concert, which included a performance of Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony and I can still
remember the stress level! During my uni days I played in community orchestras such as the Zelman
Orchestra, the Astra Orchestra, directed by the formidable George Logie-Smith, and the Preston
Symphony Orchestra. By a quirk of fate I was the only student learning horn at the Con for several years
so I got to play the 1 st horn parts in some memorable performances, including Wagner’s ‘Siegfried Idyll’
and Schumann’s ‘Rheinish Symphony’.
My first experience of conducting an ensemble was during my 4 th year in the Music Education method
course. I had to arrange parts and learn to conduct the mixed ensemble of students in the course as well
as for groups of local secondary school students. Great preparation for what was to come the following
year in the “real world”.
I commenced teaching in Geelong in 1978 at Newcomb High School. As a recipient of an Education
Department teaching studentship I was obliged to teach for 3 years anywhere in Victoria. As the only
music teacher in the school I had responsibility for teaching class music but I also established the first
instrumental music program, teaching all the band instruments and forming a Concert Band – there was
no such thing as a free period in those days. In 1991 I took up the position of Co-ordinator of Music at
the Geelong College Preparatory School, eventually becoming Director of Music of the College in 2006, a
position I still hold.
Moving to Geelong allowed me to be actively involved in many community music activities, playing in
and conducting bands, orchestras, chamber ensembles (including a recorder consort) and music theatre
productions. My most significant and enduring work, however, has been with the Geelong Concert Band
and its forerunner, the Geelong Regional Youth Concert Band, formed in 1978. Through these wonderful
experiences I’ve been fortunate to receive recognition for my conducting from the VBL (Merit Award),
the Geelong Concert Band (Life Membership) and ABODA (Excellence Award in 2000). For services to
community music I was awarded a Geelong Community Australia Day Award in 1995.
Professional development has always been an important priority for me. I became a member of ABODA
early on because it promised to provide a network for conductors and professional development
opportunities. With significant cuts to education support services in Victoria during the late 1980s
ABODA’s existence became even more important. I have greatly appreciated being able access the wide
range of conducting workshops and National Conferences and I believe that ABODA continues to
enthusiastically fulfil this mission. Taking some leave in 2010 I attended the 2 nd Biennial International
Band Competition in Singapore followed by 3 weeks at the prestigious Canford Summer School in the UK,studying symphonic wind band conducting with Timothy Reynish, Mark Herron and Russell Cowieson. These were fantastic experiences which broadened my knowledge of band music around the world and gave me the chance to learn from conductors of international standing. I would encourage you all to grasp similar opportunities if they come your way, locally and overseas.
Music Educator Claudia Barker was recently awarded Life Membership to ABODA Victoria. Here, she shares her journey as a passionate music educator in rural Victoria.
It was such a delight to be amongst the ABODA family of music educators at the 2017 AGM. The Life Membership was a highlight in a career that has spanned over 50 years.
My passion for music stems from my family’s wartime experiences. In the 1930s my Italian father was living the idyllic life in Singapore, a small luxurious island that everyone thought was far enough away from the troubles in Europe. It was unthinkable that Singapore could ever be at war. In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and England declared war on Germany.
Overnight my father went from living the society high life to becoming an enemy alien. In September1940 he married my mother, a British subject of Portuguese descent. She immediately lost her British citizenship and along with a large number of Italians, Germans and Austrians was transported to Australia on the giant liner, the “Queen Mary”. In Victoria the internment camp established at Tatura became the home for 12,000 friendly “enemy aliens” who were deemed a security risk even though they had no adverse political records
In Tatura the inmates realized the importance of organization and keeping everyone busy. They appointed their own leaders. They ensured that the children received an all round education and the adults were kept usefully engaged. Amongst the internees were some of the cream of Europe’s artistic society. Despite the primitive living conditions, the lack of freedom and the barbed wire they managed to establish a cultural and intellectual atmosphere which would have been hard to match elsewhere in Australia at the time.
Many of the inmates produced lasting masterpieces and went on to make a significant contribution to Australia after the war: Karl Duldig, the Austrian sculptor, Felix Werder the German born composer who had made the horrific journey to Australia on the Dunera and the musical director of the Vienna Boys Choir, Dr Georg Gruber. My father played violin.
At the end of the war my father decided to remain in Australia. He took us to a small fishing village and so began our childhood growing up in Mornington – growing up in paradise. My father insisted that I and my siblings receive a musical education. I attended Padua College in Tanti Avenue – a college by the sea. It has now been converted to apartments and people pay millions of dollars for the view that we took every day for granted.
In the 50s in Mornington, very few young people learned a musical instrument and we often resented the time devoted to practising but our father gave us no option. I studied piano with the nuns and my sister learned the violin from Leila Steedman who had been the conductor of the Mornington Peninsula Orchestra. Dorcas McLean, a celebrated violinist was the wife of the local doctor, Andrew Taylor. Often in his waiting room in Barkley Street we kids would hear her practising.
I was appointed to Kooweerup Secondary College in 1965 and for years was the only music teacher there. We now have a staff of 7 music teachers in the Claudia Barker Performing Arts Centre.
Our marching band has attended the Melbourne ANZAC march since 1999. One year by chance we led the 39th Battalion which had defended Australia at Kokoda. The diggers reckoned they had never marched so well and decided that if they hailed us as their very own they would always have a band to march to on ANZAC day. Ever since we are known as the Band that leads the 39th Battalion and we always do – even in pouring rain.
Of interest could be how the Kooweerup Secondary College Band came to give a performance at Westminster Abbey:
In 2012 our Assistant Principal, Peter Bottomley had received an email from Peter Bottomley, British Member of Parliament for Worthing West, UK. B2 (apologies to Bananas in Pajamas) had been contacting all the Peter Bottomleys in the world and had seen B1’s name in a newspaper article on the internet. B2 wrote a cordial email to B1 inviting him to the “House” if he were ever in London.
Back in the band room I was facing problems. The band trip to London that I had organized had fallen through when the Travel Agency cancelled. Rather than disappoint my students I decided to plan my own tour. I could organize concerts in Paris and the Western Front but London was proving difficult as the tour would coincide with school holidays there. In desperation I reminded B1 of his London namesake and asked if he could contact B2.
B2, who had received a knighthood in the meantime, replied immediately. The Band’s credentials were scrutinized and within days emails arrived from Sir B2 and the Dean of Westminster Abbey granting approval for a lunch-time concert.
Now I needed something special to add to my repertoire. In France we would be going to Fromelles where the 1916 battle was the biggest military disaster of all time for Australia. Melbourne composer Barry McKimm accepted a commission to compose a piece of music that would capture the reality of what happened. His “South from Fromelles” was confronting and powerful. In Westminster Abbey when we finished playing many of the audience were weeping. To top it all off at the conclusion of the concert Sir B2 invited our entire contingent of 42 for a light luncheon at his beautiful London Apartment.
Then to the Western Front! They stopped the traffic as we marched down the main street of Fromelles to the Pheasant Wood Cemetery. There, on behalf of the Australian families who have suffered generations of grief, we spent a silent moment. Our students, not much different in age from those who died, knelt in the drizzling rain and wiped the mud from the gravestones. And then we played Waltzing Matilda and the Last Post for all our soldiers who will lie there forever.
Now in the autumn of my teaching career I can reflect on the strongest of friendships and the countless concerts. There have been 50 Music Festivals and 38 Musicals but best of all is the high calibre of the young music graduates who come to teach at Kooweerup. They are ensuring that our students are instilled with a passion for music that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
We asked participants from our 2017 ABODA Summer Conducting School shared their thoughts about how the school improved their conducting practice during the year that followed.
“I always knew that my conducting technique would benefit, but something that was a
pleasant surprise was how much I learn about rehearsal technique. I found that I learnt a huge amount from not only the tutors, but also my fellow participants on rehearsal strategies, possible troubles and solutions and great ideas of how to implement expectations and good musicianship from the very first rehearsal. “
Jessica Berton, woodwind multi-instrumentalist and freelance conductor
“The impact that a conductor has on an ensemble is amazing. Working with all the different ways you can conduct one piece – even just 8 bars – was great to see.”
Leon Duncan, St Columba’s College Essendon
“Apart from advancing my stick skills, I learnt how to communicate more meaningfully with my body. Over the year I’ve been able to trial and hone these skills, replacing or adapting them to my existing technique…The most valuable idea for me was to consider economy of movement and the skill of being physically ‘quiet’ when necessary.”
Diane Gardiner, conductor, Gosford Selective HS (NSW), Avoca Beach PS (NSW), Central Coast
Concert Band and Central Coast Youth Orchestra
“For me personally, the most valuable thing I learnt from the summer school was to follow my passion and to ‘act yourself into a new way of thinking’. Although I am very early in my conducting journey, everyone I worked with was so helpful in answering all my questions and boosting my confidence both on and off the podium. All the mentors were extremely supportive and really cared about helping improve everyone’s conducting/music directing.”
Nicole Marshall, music director, novice wind band of the Southern Area Concert Band (City of
Kingston) and associate director to their concert band
“I think the most valuable thing I learnt was to breathe with the ensemble as if you were going to play that entry, phrase etc. I believe it has changed the sound of my ensembles in an amazingly
positive way. I’m even finding that ensembles I am guest conducting sound better, which I didn’t think was possible!”
Fiona Lucas, Chatswood Public School
Vanessa George, instrumental music teacher and ensemble director, Eltham High School and
Xavier College, Burke Hall
“…it was very enjoyable to see how all of the participants improved over the week. No matter what the level of experience, every single person came away better than they were at the start, and I thought that was great.”
Captain Rachel Beeton, Australian Army Band
“…the community I met at ABODA were so supportive, inclusive and encouraging, the people I met there were unlike any other classical music group I’ve ever encountered before.
Their guidance and teaching was wonderful and I am very thankful to have been given the
opportunity to attend such a great summer school.”
Victoria Landy, Kilbreda Girls’ College and Mentone Grammar School
“Inspiration. So often we labour alone in our little cells, losing sight of the joy of what we do. I have been to a number of schools and in every case the clinician and my fellow course members were inspiring people. The video you receive of your own performance is well worth [the] study – even if it feels embarrassing at first.”
Lance Cowled, training band conductor, Clarence City Band, Hobart
“I would encourage all my ensemble director colleagues to sign up for the next ABODA Summer Conducting School for one simple reason – unequivocally demonstrate to your ensemble members that we exist in a state of continual improvement in our craft. Just like we expect them to practice their parts, technique and musicality, so too can we improve these aspects in our conducting to ensure we are delivering a rewarding, exciting, and, most importantly, an essential musical experience for our ensemble members.”
Jarrod Butler, Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School