Monday, March 21, 2016

Much ado about festivals

'Tis the season for festival attendance. Yesterday I took the two Santa Teresa Jazz Bands and jazz combos to the Santa Cruz Jazz Festival in Aptos, CA. The festival just celebrated its 30th birthday and is put by a board of directors whose focus is hosting the two day/two concert event. As festival host myself, I really appreciate the work that this team puts in for this non competitive festival. It might not be perfect but nothing is...we teach kids after all.

Santa Teresa HS Jazz Band 2 working with clinician John Bremis

Santa Teresa (my program) attends a lot of festivals. We go to marching band competitions, jazz band and concert band festivals with all of our groups. We host CMEA festivals and Music in the Parks Festivals. Even with all of that one of my students asked me a few weeks ago 'Why are we going?'

No matter how many years you teach and how many festivals you go to make sure that you answer that question, for yourself and for your students...because it is an important one. It will help you determine your philosophy, your rehearsal process, how you handle the adjudication & scoring process and what festivals you choose to attend.

My friend and colleague who has been teaching for 30+ years was reflecting this morning on social media about the festival process and his personal festival attendance. It made for some great dialogue on the topic. For each director you have to decide what is best for you and your program. Here's what he said:

CONTROVERSIAL OBSERVATION OF THE DAY: As you can probably tell, I don't care about festival ratings anymore, jazz, band, or orchestral. It's about the art and about the music making to the best of your ability. The walls are covered with certificates and plaques from over 33+ years. That's nice but honestly, big expensive deal. I sincerely encourage my younger music education colleagues (and many veterans as well) to take ratings at face value and with a small grain of salt. We take our groups to festival for the opinions of (mostly) accomplished colleagues, and that's what we get, a wide variety of opinions, WHICH IS WHAT WE WANT FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. Take the information and make it a teaching moment for our students after the festival. They will be better because of that, and not for that Unanimous Superior plaque or certificate on the wall. Discussion?

Here's what I know for me. I was "raised" by my middle school band director, who to this day (for me) is my gold standard, to perform often-both in concerts and in festivals. So I will say that I think that both are equally important and have a valuable place in the program. For example, we ended our 6th grade year with an elementary school tour. We attended jazz festivals throughout the spring and concert band 1-2 concert band festivals as well. We had clinicians. We prepared our music in a conscientious and determined manner as we approached festival. We reflected. We planned. We were ready. And when it was over, we listened, we discussed, we got better, and we moved on.

I was also raised in a middle school program who became accustomed to unanimous superior and superior ratings and first place trophies at competitive jazz festivals.

I was also a part of a high school band program that didn't see that same level of success.

I have been apart of both.

You could say "well just perform concerts and skip the festivals". And to that I say "sure" but wait. At a festival you do or can get a pretty big bang for you buck (look its the return of the thrifty band director). If you take your students for a full day festival they will get to perform, receive feedback, have a clinic, attend clinics (I try to pick festivals that have these clinics or workshops by pros), concerts, and other groups performances. These workshops and seeing students "better" than me was key to my growth and development as a young musician.

My principal said something to me recently (about something else) that has resonated with me "sometimes the social piece is just as important". And he is right. I know for myself and for many of my students those bus rides, trips to festivals (and all that comes with that) are just as important.

I attend festivals with my groups because I think those things are very important for young musicians. But the journey to band festival to me as also just as important. Its the fire that is lit a little bit under both myself in the students, knowing that the event is coming. Its the opportunity to focus on the rubric-which honestly is just good musicianship. The focus on tone quality, balance, blend, accuracy, phrasing, musical shape and more. We make recordings and adjudicate ourselves. Its journey we are on, together. When its all over we can take a step back and see how far we have come.

But you have to set this all up for your students and how you do this will come back to your philosophy behind festival attendance. I constantly remind my students that we ultimately can not control the opinions that others have of us. Sometimes we great and clear adjudication and sometimes we don't. How we handle the don't situations is also entirely up to us and can also be a valuable learning experience. There have been times in which after listening to a recording I wanted to yell at my friend and say "You gave them a 'Superior' are you kidding me? Were you there? Were you listening? I would have given them a 'Good'" There are times in which hearing the truth of where my ensembles were at, no matter what anyone says, brought me to tears because the quality was so low and I felt like I didn't event know where to start....but you wipe away the tears, listen to what is being said and try your hardest to set your ego aside, pick yourself up and take the right steps forward.

Developing a band program doesn't happen over night. Neither does learning how to be a band director. Part of the journey of learning for me as an educator has been attending festivals. I get to hear how other people would coach my students. I hear things that I didn't hear before. I receive strategies to improve the things I am not strong at teaching yet. I make friends who can come out and work with my groups and expand on what I'm trying to learn to do. You watch other directors and learn from them. You hear great music to take back to your program.

Going back to what my friend said on facebook "Take the information and make it a teaching moment for our students after the festival. They will be better because of that, and not for that Unanimous Superior plaque or certificate on the wall." 

You do need to make it a teaching moment or I think its honestly a waste of time and money because it is not given an important emphasis-when it is an important event. But I do think that there is something to be said, a sense of pride, about having a wall of Unanimous Superior plaques on the walls and a certificate recognizing the experience. (I won't say trophies because, I hate trophies, I hate storing them, organizing them, just give me a less expensive nice plaque I can hang flat on the wall or store much much easier). When I came to my job there were ZERO Unanimous Superior plaques around the room. There was not history of success. I know when I walk into my junior high band room I feel an extreme sense of pride to see the pictures and awards that I was apart of earning. And so I will keep celebrating the hard work and dedication that came from the journey to the Unanimous Superior. 

And just because you get one once, at least for me, doesn't really make it any easier the next year with a group of different kids. More than anything, I'm getting better at coaching them to the LEVEL of receiving that honor. My students and program are rising more and more to the LEVEL that receives superior ratings. But again, its about the road to the festival and where the next musical journey will take you.

Jazz Combo "Wombo Combo" 

Myself and Brendan-ST Alumni & recent addition to our teaching staff. He is coaching jazz saxophone, jazz combo & has even helped out with Jazz Band 1 a little bit! 

Myself & Shawn Williams. Shawn joined our team last year and is assisting with coaching all aspects of the jazz program. This includes being the lead coach and director for the jazz combos. Coaching jazz trumpet sectionals and assisting with leading Jazz Band 2.  

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