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.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Oh Where, Oh Where Has The Audience Gone?


It's no secret that audiences for live music performances are dwindling.  At one UConn Jazz Ensemble concert last semester, there were 30 people in the 300 seat hall, despite an extensive advertising campaign which included postering, placing an ad on Craig's List, multiple Facebook listings and a YouTube video.  Around the same time period the Hartford Jazz Society had to cancel a major concert due to low ticket sales. So, what's the answer?  How do we generate interest, fill seats, and successfully continue the tradition of presenting concerts?  Any and all ideas are welcome.

I recently started a new initiative for all UConn Jazz concerts: inviting high school or middle school jazz bands to serve as "opening acts".  Its a win-win situation.  I offer their band an on-campus clinic, they get to play on our concert stage, and the younger students benefit from hearing more experienced, university student musicians playing sophisticated repertoire.  From my vantage point, my audience grows, because they bring their parents and grandparents.  I further develop relationships with band directors (who play a significant role in a student's decision of where to go to study music) and I meet and hear prospective students.

This past week our guests were the Mystic Middle School Jazz Ensemble, directed by James Hilbie, and the E.O. Smith High School Jazz Ensemble, directed by Aaron Burgess.

Having the visiting band director give a presentation to our music education students on how to run a successful jazz band program was another huge plus. In my next blog post I will share notes from the presentation given by Jim Hilbie, the Band Director at Mystic Middle School.

So... that's my big idea.  What's yours?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blogs for Jazz Students

An article entitled "30 Best Blogs for Jazz Students" was recently published by Accreditedonlinecolleges.com.

It is quite a good list which includes many sites I regularly visit.  To their list I will add pianist George Colligan's new blog, "Jazz Truth", and Darcy Argue's Secret Society Blog; both of which provide a wealth of valuable information for students of this music.

Let me know: What's your favorite jazz blog?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Free Concert by "the New Directions Ensemble" at Trinity College - This Thursday!

Now that UConn's basketball season is over, and there is no prohibitive ticket price, here is the perfect opportunity to come out and hear a terrific, ten-piece jazz band comprised of some of the best players anywhere: Kris Allen, Wayne Escoffery, Lauren Sevian, Tony Kadleck, Josh Evans, John Clark, Sara Jacovino, Alexandra Eckhardt, Jimmy Macbride & Earl MacDonald.

Thursday, April 7th at 7:30 p.m. in the Goodwin Theatre of the Austin Arts Center at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

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