5-Star Reflections – CMEA 2016 Day 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m had a blast learning new things and engaging with new ideas at the 2016 Colorado Music Education Association Clinic Conference at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado! So, I thought I’d share my thoughts thus far on some of the clinics, workshops, and performances I’ve seen over the last few days! This will be a 3-part series over the next few days and is organized just by each day of the conference! If you’d like more info on the ideas from these posts, let me know and I’ll send some of the information from the sessions along!

Teaching Music in the 21st Century

The keynote speaker, Dr. Russell Robinson, chair of the Music Education program at the  University of Florida, spoke about the importance of adapting instruction to a new age of “digital natives.” His talk more broadly summarized the challenges of teaching music in the 21st century, where technology, cultural shifts, and federal and state policies have changed the music education field forever.

What I most appreciated about Dr. Robinson’s talk was the emphasis on teachers being the solution! I also loved his emphasis on quality repertoire for school music ensembles! He cited a study (which I will try to find at a later time) that showed that the reason students stay involved with music education is primarily the quality repertoire that their directors select! This is far from new information for me, but it is nice to hear it again!

Greeley Children’s Chorale

Darlene James leads the Greeley Children’s Chorale in Greeley Colorado. Home of the Greeley Stampede and the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley is doing something great with music education! These students performed beautifully with excellent choral technique and expression beyond their years. I particularly enjoyed a piece by Peter Romero, one of their two accompanists called On and On.

Western State Colorado University Wind Symphony

What a wonderful program and band! They performed a short concert that included some band favorites like the Earl of Oxford March and Chester and also some incredible new compositions including a world premiere featuring a wonderful marimba player! I particularly enjoyed their final selection, Give us This Day by David Maslanka. While the title comes from the Lord’s Prayer, the inspiration for the piece is based on buddhist principles as taught by Thích Nhất Hạnh. I love hearing beautiful and moving music that is inspired and connects with other religious and cultural traditions!

Tips for Quick and Easy Repairs

While I love going to clinics and performances where I get to see and discuss the state and future of music education, but workshops like this one from The Repair Shop sponsored by Music & Arts was one of the most useful and informative sessions of the weekend! The clinician took us through all of the wind and percussion instruments and discussed / demonstrated the kind of basic repairs that teachers can perform on their own using a small arsenal of simple tools. The most essential quick fix tool for instrumental music educators? Blue tape!

While many of the repairs were intended to be things that could be fixed if something breaks the day of a concert and are intended to simply get a student through the performance, these repairs will help my students be much more successful on their instrument! For instance, he discussed the G#/A key on the clarinet and the small screw that is often too tight. When this screw is too tight, the instrument will not play! I wonder how many times I have sent in an instrument to be repaired that simply needed a small adjustment!

0-60: The story of one teacher in Chicago who developed a successful curriculum for students who begin music in High School

I attended this session with high expectations. After all teach students who begin music in high school! teach music at a school with very low reading scores and math scores. There must be something for me at this workshop, right!?

Not quite. Doug Corella teaches at a charter school in West Chicago, where he has implemented an innovative model of music education that is based entirely in percussion instruments and arrangements that Mr. Corella writes himself! With a history as a pop music performer and recording artist, Corella brings a special talent and skill-set to his classroom that most music teachers who have almost exclusive experience in traditional large ensembles lack.

This allows him to reach his students in really interesting and beautiful ways!

My own disappointment with the workshop was not Mr. Corella’s fault. I was hoping for a curriculum! Something that I could take back to my students and use in my Beginning Band class! What I encountered instead was an instance of the “Both/And” direction of music education moving into the next part of the 21st century. That is, bands, choirs, and orchestras will need to coexist with non-traditional performing ensembles and diverse ways of musiking (a verb describing the process or act of participating in music as a performer, listener, or otherwise).

While this presents organizational and capacity challenges to schools, districts, and places of higher education, I believe that this concept of “Both/And” will be important for schools across the nation, particularly those who serve Culturally and Linguistically Diverse students or those serving students of a low socioeconomic status. I’ll touch on this more in the day 2 post!

Digital Practice Cards

This was maybe one of the more “new” ideas I learned at the conference! John Hermanson, the director of the Fort Collins High School Orchestra in Fort Collins, Colorado, presented his practice assessment system. Most music programs in the country use some sort of practice log or practice journal in order to require / incentivize students to practice at home! Practice is an essential part of being a musician (or any other skilled trade), and most high school students just don’t do it very well.

hero_logoIn Mr. Hermanson’s program, students in his classes (not every class) are required to video record themselves practicing  for 3 hours every week and submit those practicing videos to their teacher through Google Classroom. I have used Google Classroom for playing tests in similar way, but had never considered asking my students to record their practice. In Hermanson’s orchestra, his students receive feedback on their practicing. This is really the key element of this system. While it is important that students are practicing, it is much more important how they practice. Through this system, the teacher is able to better teach his students more effective ways of thinking and processing while they practice, which leads to more productive and meaningful practice sessions that build student skill and understanding of their instrument!

In my classes two weeks ago, the topic of practicing came up in a class meeting about how things were going in our ensembles. Students who have been in my ensembles for 2 or more years now talked about the importance of practicing their instrument. So, this is something I will be implementing in my classes! Not right away, and certainly not all at once, but I will be bringing these ideas into my classroom in order to build student capacity for independent practice! I expect it will be a wonderful addition to my classroom environment!

President’s Opening Concert – Colorado Symphony Orchestra

The President’s Opening Concert is an annual event in which the state organization inducts members into the CMEA Hall of Fame! This was a short presentation that honored two music educators who have really impacted the music education field in Colorado. While I do not know the two educators who were honored, it definitely inspired me to think about the legacy that I want to leave through my career.

Following the short ceremony, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra took the stage under the baton of a young composer named Jayce Ogren. The orchestra performed a wonderful program of works by Jean Sibelius, Aram Khachaturian and Modest Mussorgsky. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, arranged by the great composer and orchestrator Maurice Ravel.

I must confess, however, that I broke a cardinal rule of concert going in the Western Art Tradition: I used my cellphone. Throughout the performance of Pictures at an Exhibition, I pulled up the Wikipedia page for the piece and read about the composer, the work, and the artwork that inspired it. While I may not have appreciated each nuance of the work, I did learn things about the work that I will remember for a long time!

For instance, in the movement inspired by a paintinhartmann_paris_catacombsg of people in the Paris Catacombs, Mussorgsky wrote in the margins of his score: ”
With the dead in a dead language… Well may it be in Latin! The creative spirit of the dead Hartmann leads me towards the skulls, invokes them; the skulls begin to glow softly from within.” When I first read this sentence, the first violins made this beautiful pianissimo entrance of a floating tremolo that sounded exactly like skulls beginning to glow softly from within.

Which made me think about the possibilities of technology within the context of musical performance. Certainly, some ensembles are beginning to create and embrace technologies like this that can enhance listener experiences and provide them with more information than brief program notes could ever provide. I wonder if there is room in Music Education at the K-12 level for this? Could technology provide a more interactive music experience for the audience in addition to the students on stage? I think so!



I am currently sitting in my hotel room in the world renowned A Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. The Broadmoor is a 5-star hotel in the gorgeous foothills of the Colorado Rockies and is the annual host of the Colorado Music Educators Association Clinic Conference. Between the pine trees and beneath the “purple mountains majesty,” educators gather to learn strategies, share ideas, and determine the future of a grand profession.

It has been almost three years since my last professional conference. When I attended the Nebraska Music Educators Association Conference in Spring of 2013, I was a super-senior who had just finished my student teaching assignments in Lincoln and York Nebraska, respectively. At the time, my mother was undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer back home in Denver, CO. On the last day of the conference, my mother was scheduled to undergo a mastectomy to remove the quickly growing tumor.

Around the time of her surgery, I wandered into the convention hall, where vendors, universities, repair shops, and lots of other groups were set-up. While there, I purchased a Mollard conducting baton that I used throughout the first year and half of my teaching career.


My CMEA 2016 Baton!

Today, in a similar conference hall, I purchased another Mollard baton. This time a 14″ baton with an oak handle in a tear-drop shape. Between the last baton and the first, so much of my life has changd: professionally and personally.

Three years ago, I was a student at a conservative Christian university finishing a degree in Music Education and Vocal Performance. Today, I am a third year teacher at an urban school teaching Instrumental Music to students from 100 different countries. Three years ago, I had hopes for my professional career as a choral director or vocal performer. Today, I am uncertain of the path that lies ahead. Three years ago, the educator that stood on the street in Lincoln, NE, worried about his mother’s surgery 800 miles away, could not have predicted the subsequent events that would bring me here, to this gorgeous place at another conference.

In my teaching assignment, I am responsible for all instrumental music activities including wind, brass, percussion, and string instruments at a large comprehensive high school serving 2300 students. Our student body is diverse in culture, language, and economic status. While not officially a Title I school, we meet the requirements and are held to similar standards of accountability. Working at a school like this is no easy task. To say I was unprepared for the job does not begin to cover it, but I do not fault my university education or my student teaching mentor teachers.

Nothing can truly prepare you for the first time a student confides in you about being homeless or LGBTQ. I was not prepared to bear the emotional burden of teaching students who rarely have enough to eat, climate-appropriate clothing, or adequate housing. I was not prepared to teach students who knew only a refugee camp in Southeast Asia before moving to the United States in hope of a better life. A better life that may never be accessible to them.

No. I was not prepared. I still don’t feel prepared. But I have everything I need. I have the courage to be vulnerable with my students. To connect with them on a human level through the music we perform and through the bonds we create. I have the compassion to sit with them while they struggle through a break-up. I have the creativity, ingenuity, and drive to create experiences for them that will build their character, excite their hearts, and enrich their minds. edication. They deserve compassionate and dedicated teachers who care about them and their lives. This work matters: for my students, but also for me

Three years ago, I didn’t believe this. In fact, I’m not sure I believed it three months ago. And that’s the main thing I will take down the mountain with me tomorrow afternoon: though the job is certainly difficult and time is fleeting, you can achieve it. I can do it. My student musicians deserve my talent, my work, and my dedication.

On Monday, I will return to my classroom and step on my podium in front of ensembles ranging from beginners to advanced players. I will be a better teacher than the one that left them on Wedesday afternoon. I am refreshed and ready to take on the challenge! I hope you’ll follow along!