Tuesday, April 19, 2011

School Band

I have great respect for school band directors who do their job well.  Although there is some overlap in our jobs, they have developed and possess some very different skill than mine.  Even though I regularly adjudicate high school and middle school bands, and am happy to make musical suggestions based on my expertise, I don't kid myself into thinking that I could do their gig on a day-to-day basis.

For the past five years I have heard the Mystic Middle School Jazz Band perform annually at the Manchester High School Jazz Festival.  I'm always impressed.  I was astounded to learn that their director, James Hilbie is a tuba player, and not a jazz player turned educator.  Through observing his band in performance one can see that he is a passionate, experienced educator who knows how to get results.  In all of our conversations he comes across as being very humble and he isn't shy about asking questions.

Jim recently took me up on my offer to bring his students to UConn to play as the "opening act" at a Jazz Lab Band concert.  He also agreed to give a workshop to our Music Education students, where he shared his approach to successfully directing a middle school jazz band.  It was a very insightful clinic.  Below are some notes from his presentation, shared with his permission:

Mystic Jazz Band Presentation, by Jim Hilbie

-       TRADITION / RESPECT/ HIGH EXPECTATIONS/ REPUTATION
-       Auditions (in front of others) – first song of the year / first rehearsal letter
-       Sectionals once a week: 7:30 – 8:00 AM (leaders emerge – all have ears!)
-       Tuesday evening jazz rehearsal 7:00 – 8:30 PM (practice vs. rehearsal)
-       Jazz band set-up - everyone knows their jobs (example: rock – drummer captain/ swing – bass keyboard captain)
-       Listening to CD
-       Private instruction (partnership)
-       Selecting music best for the band vs. what you love / well rounded program
-       Music aptitude
-       Singing and counting
-       Plan instrumentation for the future – always looking ahead
-       Theme night /cookies / cookie swap (December)
-       Great parents – no meetings, everyone helps – jazz band family – Jazz News! every Sunday – DVD’s / Picture Boards / Bring our own audience
-       Jazz Band Schedule (communication is key!)
-       Teacher: assigning parts, how music parts fit together (bottom to top), steady and consistent, Dr. Beat
-       Fifth Grade Jazz Lab and Jazz Lab Band
-       Pencils
-       Engage students in the listening and fixing – the music making
-       Technicians vs. musicians
-       Improvisation (written solos, theme and variation)
-       Work song from the end
-       Before concert practice: 1. solos 2. bows 3. rhythm section sound check 4. attire 5. talk through entire performance
-       Keyboard bass vs. electric bass guitar
-       Compare to sports
-       All solos and soli as well as entire songs memorized
-       Guest teachers: Tom K., Tim F., Doug M.
-       Rhythm section / melody only with rhythm section / harmony only with rhythm section / play just accents
-       Tone / intonation (tuning a phrase) / style / blend / blance
-       Music Festivals: John M. “motion creates emotion” , Earl M. “play notes not on the page”, Tom K. “Nothing happens without air” and how to play keyboard bass”, Doug M. “solo – now small combo/ listen to great artists”, Jack Cick. “Play harmony louder”, Tim F. “High Hat work”, Jack Z. “World revolves around the trombone”.
-       Teachers (I) am ALWAYS LEARNING!!!
-       “To be early is to be on time”
-        “Road to success is almost always under construction”
-       “Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect” Vince Lombardi
-       “Feels good to breath – DON’T”

For those who would like to read more about Jim's educational philosophy, I also found a very well written article by Jim online, entitled "Leadership in Band Class" which can be found here.

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