Reflection: IBA 2018

This year's conference for me was bittersweet as it could be my last for quite some time. It was also bittersweet because there were so many clinics that I was interested in that I could not attend them all! Unrelated to my departure, I found this conference to not hold a lot of very practical take-back-immediately kind of learning for me, but instead, learning that provoked a great deal of thinking. I wanted to get much of that thinking out quickly after the conference so I didn't lose it. Here is what my schedule looked like this year:

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The clinics formatted with a Strikethrough are done so because I ended up getting in conversations with colleagues during those times about a wide variety of topics that I'll detail here. I also was unable to attend any of the evening performances as I was helping a colleague move to his new house!

Many of the links are going to be to the web version of the Guidebook for the 2018 conference. A lot of work was put into the Guidebook for this conference by the IBA Technology and Public Relations Committees. I found myself using it a lot more to look up clinician's bios, remember clinic descriptions, access electronic handouts, and remind myself about what I wanted to see.

Hiding the Vegetables: Unique and Creative Ways to Teach Band Students the Fundamentals on a Daily Basis

Erin Cole's clinic was not one I was originally going to attend. However, one of my colleague's got asked to step in as the presider at the last minute, and upon doing some research, heavily recommended coming to see the presentation. Her handout was excellent, and her presentation really got me thinking about how I use fundamentals as a daily part of my warm up. Being unsure of what my next teaching position might look like, it was good to think about how I would implement these fundamentals in an ensemble of middle school students or beginners. It sounds like she is in a similar boat to me with her spouse moving across the country for the next school year...

The Jazz Commandments: Guidelines for Successful, Authentic Swing Performance

Jerry Tolson provided us with a list of seventeen commandments for getting your band to swing. As of writing this, his handout was not available online. However, much of it is based off his book published through Kendor. None of the information was really new to me, but it got me thinking about how I teach swing in my jazz ensembles. As a vertical PLC, we have decided to use takadimi and solfege as our means of teaching rhythmic and tonal literacy, respectively. By having a uniform system K-12, we find that our students are much more literate in the higher grades than they were prior to this system. I believe having a uniform system of jazz articulation would help us in a similar fashion.

Decoding the Mystery of Drum Set Parts

This was by far my favorite clinic of the conference. Again as of the publishing of this post, the handout was not yet available. While I wouldn't say I need help interpreting a drum set part or knowing what my drummer needs to play in a given chart, the way Brian Zeglis explained and demonstrated throughout his clinic was excellent.

He organized the clinic around four steps of developing drummers and labeled when/where to use the steps:

  1. Just Groove - melody of a chart/beginning drummers
  2. Compliment Melody - background figures/ensemble lines
  3. Respond to the Melody - solo sections, soli sections, pre-shout unison builds
  4. Set Up Figures - shout sections

For when IBA does make his handout available, I added some notes of my own:

Jazz Rehearsal Game Plan

Three jazz clinics in a row? I know! Except who could pass up time with Dean Sorenson? His handout was a copy of the 1st Alto book for Standard of Excellence Jazz Ensemble Method and the Alto book of his First Place for Jazz. This clinic was all about how Dean runs his rehearsals with his university jazz ensembles. The image below is something I adapted from his first few slides. I interpreted his view of this as needing balance between the four quadrants:

He also identified three elements we need to work on in rehearsals:

  1. Rhythm Section
    • Individual Technique
    • Rhythm Section SOUND (concept) and FUNCTION
  2. Full Ensemble
    • Rhythm Section plus brass and saxes
    • Tuning, phrasing, articulation, balance
  3. Solos & Improvisation
    • Group activities
    • Individual activities

And four units of preparation:

  1. First 25% - Off to a Good Start
    • Sight Reading
    • Rhythm Section Groove
    • Basic Style and Phrasing
    • Chase notes, fingerings, etc.
    • Introductory improvisation tools
  2. Second 25% - Bringing Concepts Together
    • Refine instrumental skills
    • Play longer melodic phrases. Get through the entire piece
    • Stronger sense of ensemble phrasing
    • Fewer note errors
    • Develop improvisation skills in large group
  3. Third 25% - Polishing the Details
    • Mastery of any instrumental technique issues
    • No more note/articulation errors
    • Play all the way through the piece, even at a slower tempo
    • Details such as intros, endings, transition
    • Develop improvisation skills in smaller groups or soloists
  4. Final 25% - Performance Ready
    • Solid time and tempo
    • Play through the piece from start to finish
    • Individual soloists identified, solo order (and backgrounds) determined

These units made me feel much better about how I rehearse. I typically reserve selecting soloists and backgrounds until much later in the process. It also makes a great deal of sense to me (now) to use the first 50% of rehearsals to really deal with the form of the piece, then come back and deal with the intros, endings, and transitionary elements. Likely the concepts happening in the third unit are similar in nature to things covered in the first two. This is the biggest thing I wish I could implement with a band next year.

Textures and Timbres in Mid-level Wind Literature: A Composer's Perspective

I was interested in Aaron Perrine's clinic because my Symphonic Band played his Tears of St Lawrence this year, and the kids and I loved it. He did not have a handout, but instead, worked through a presentation on how he interprets textures and timbres in his own compositions. He also had video clips of interviews with composer Joni Greene and conductor Emily Threinen (University of Minnesota). I will definitely be checking out some of Joni Greene's compositions. I think my largest take-away was from one of the interviews with Dr. Threinen when she admits that early in her career, she struggled to discern the mid-voices when listening to wind band. In order to rectify this, she would make sure to isolate those voices (euphonium, horn, trombone, tenor sax, etc.) in rehearsal to not only draw the ensemble's attention to them, but to better train her ear to hear those timbres. I also am intrigued by Aaron's statement that he "hears in timbre," meaning he orchestrates right away as he's writing at the piano. He has very few piano reductions because he doesn't compose that way. I am working as a conductor to better "hear" the timbres in my mind as I read through a score. I can do it with individual instrument lines, but I don't know that I can hear textures of multiple instruments very well.

"Plugging In!" Techniques for Tuning Your Band That Work

This clinic by Jacqui Meunier was by far the most practical for me. She demonstrated with the Winterset High School 11-12th Grade Concert Band and their director, Lucas Petersen, the techniques she uses for intonation in her ensembles. They did so using her handout and David Maslanka's On This Bright Morning. I highly encourage you to first read her handout. Here are some points I thought interesting:

  • Her students use the Tonal Energy app to tune. I love this app! I just with it was more affordable for students and available on our students' Chromebooks.
  • She has the tuba set the tuner to A438 because she finds that the ensemble will continue to creep sharp throughout a rehearsal or performance.
  • Principal players (those with the best tone) "plug in" to the tuba sound at a slightly softer volume. When principal players are in tune, the remaining players "plug in" to their principal player's sound at an even softer volume.
  • Voices that are playing for others to "plug in" to must provide a loud enough pitch so that the other voices can play softer and still get a good tone.
  • Principal players must play "with good tone, good wind, and in tune" for lower players to "plug in."

She also demonstrated a chord warm-up using brass and woodwind-choirs:

Chord Warm Up.png

The choirs, separately or together, would play a chord of her choosing. Then she would hold up a 1, 3, or 5 to cut that particular member out of the chord. She would typically use this to tune and balance the 5th, then the root, then the 3rd. This also works on the correct balance within the chord. Throughout this exercise, she asks her percussionists to organize equipment and music for the rehearsal.

Another point she continued to hammer home was the director AND students knowing the pitch tendencies of their instrument. She referenced Scott Rush's The Evolution of a Successful Band Director as a resource, as well as her clarinet and percussion pitch tendency exercises (adaptable to other instruments).

Intonation was a big focus for me with my ensemble this year. How can I make them more aware of their pitch and how to adjust it? I believe we were much more successful than in previous years, but I think some of her exercises will make it even better.

Teaching Beginning Jazz Improvisation

I love to hear Bob Washut topic about any topic, really. He did not stick to his handout, but instead spent time philosophizing about topics covered in the Resources and Activities section of the handout. I particularly liked his paraphrasing of Jamey Aebersold's thought, that if he could do it all over again, Jamey would start with students learning melodies by ear. Bob modeled several different exercises from his handout about sing/finger/play, "tasting" the note on your instrument, and transposing the licks through multiple key centers. I saw several connections between how he was advocating for teaching improvisation and how Mike Steinel was in our class at VanderCook, specifically around first embellishing melodies. Similar to other clinics this year, there wasn't a lot of new knowledge of nuggets I took away, but instead was prompted to think about the how of my teaching.

The Power of Unison: Teaching Repertoire Through Unison Based Concepts

Ryan Meyer and Tom Cronin of Harlan detailed their procedure of creating "lead sheets" for their 5-8th grade band students. Their handout explained their process and provided examples from repertoire they did this year. I have definitely used this concept before, and it ties in nicely with the small ensembles I did in my concert band. Again, there wasn't a whole lot of new takeaway here, but it made me think about how I could use this technique more often in both my concert and jazz band rehearsals in the future.

Excellence in Concert Band Performance leads to Excellence in the rest of your high school band performance

Brian Covey was unable to make it, as his wife had their child right before the conference! Instead, Scott Casagrande presented on how his program works at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He uses his three concert bands to teach fundamentals of performance using resources like Foundations for Superior Performance and Mayhew Lake's transcriptions of 16 Bach Chorales. The fundamentals he listed out reminded me of similar lists found in Scott Rush's Habits of a Successful Band Director or David Vandewalker's Foundations for Wind Band Clarity. He uses this core fundamental work in his concert band so in his other ensembles (marching band, jazz band, pep band, etc.), he can focus on the specifics of each of those ensembles. The point where I disagreed with him was when he said that 100% of the students in his top concert band study privately. While I do believe that focusing on fundamentals in his concert bands is developing his students, I don't think he can attribute his success solely to that when so many of his students are able to study privately.

Individual Development of Ears, Hearts, and Minds: Improving Musicianship in Large Ensembles

The thing that drew me to this clinic by Rebecca Phillips was this piece form her clinic's description:

Guided by the idea that large ensemble rehearsal can be a medium for improving individual musicianship, this session hopes to help teachers find ways to encourage the growth of individual musicians.

From her handout, you can see some of her philosophy of how to structure a rehearsal based on how her private trombone teacher structured her lessons. This was another clinic that did not have a whole lot of new learning for me, but instead continued my thinking about structure of my rehearsals and use of fundamentals as a part of that time.

Get Your Rhythm Section to Play With Style

Sherrie Mericle gave a whirlwind tour of the fundamentals of playing in a variety of different styles. It was fabulously presented with other artists fleshing out her rhythm section; it was just so much information. She did an excellent job of demonstrating what each limb was doing in each style, and how each moved around the drum set to create the different feels. She had two handouts: Developing a Focused Practice Routine for Drum Set Players and Get Your Rhythm Section to Play With Style. My biggest take-away combined with the other jazz clinics I went to about how I rehearse, specifically my rhythm section.

Missed Opportunities

I missed a lot of clinics at this conference, either from talking to colleagues and exhibitors or from helping my own colleague move into his new house. I heard great things about the clinics Richard Saucedo gave (you can see the clinics in his bio link). My colleagues also attended clinics like Building an Instrument Replacement PlanAnalogy of the Band Director's Job... the CEO Approach, and performances by groups like the Northwestern College Symphonic Band, the All-State Jazz Bands, the Cedar Falls High School Jazz Band, the Des Moines Symphony Winds, the Grinnell High School Concert Band, the Oak Ridge Middle School Band, the Linn-Mar High School Concert Band, the University of Northern Iowa Wind Ensemble, or the All-State Jazz Conductors Combo.

Looking at the other clinics I missed:

Wrap-Up

The biggest take-away from the learning and thinking I did at IBA this year, is what am I prioritizing in my rehearsals? How am I using fundamentals in rehearsals and lessons to solidify my students' playing? How am I using our time together to establish the concepts they need to be independent musicians?

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Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.