Reflection: VMEA 2018

This past week was the Virginia Music Educators Association Conference at the Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. It was a great opportunity to meet band, orchestra, choir, and general music teachers in Virginia as well as attend some excellent clinics over three days at a mountain resort! This post is meant to be a reflection of what I learned and experienced while at the conference.

One of the big prevailing themes at the conference was the weather. On my drive in Thursday morning, it was alternating between snow and rain, creating a slushy mix, and the temperature was hovering around freezing. This made driving on curvy mountain roads a little treacherous. The weather caused power outages and water shortages at the Homestead and prevented several groups from traveling to perform at the conference. That being said, the clinicians did an excellent job of punting, and I learned a great deal!

Tips for Your Jazz Band Guitarist - Michael Christiansen, Utah State University and Consonus Music Institute

The All-Virginia (All State) Jazz Bands and Guitar Ensemble occur at the VMEA Conference. As such, there were about forty guitar students in the session to learn! Professor Christiansen did an excellent job of walking through the setup of a jazz guitarist (instrument, strings, amplifier settings, etc.) and basic chord shapes to getting particular sounds in jazz styles. His handout gave a basic outline for his presentation, but he steered us towards a 60 Day Classroom Trial available from Consonus for a guitar/ukulele class.

All-Virginia Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble

For All-Virginia ensembles (jazz band, concert band, and orchestra), students prepare all 12 major scales in specific octaves, chromatic scale, and an etude. Sight-reading is also a portion of the audition. There are two jazz bands selected by ability with no divisions for class size. This year, the directors were Jared Sims, Director of Jazz at West Virginia University, and Steve Wiest, professional trombonist/educator. The ensembles performed:

Jazz Band Jazz Ensemble
In a Mellowtone - Oliver Nelson Follow the Leader - Fred Sturm
Miss Riverside - Sonny Stitt, arr. Jared Sims The Showme Shuffle - Steve Weist
Queen Bee - Sammy Nestico Heart and Soul - arr. John Clayton
Fables of Faubus - Mingus arr. Sy Johnson The Regal C Shuffle - Steve Wiest

Getting Tuned In: Developing Superior Intonation in Your Band - Brian Balmages and Robinson Symphonic Band

Unfortunately, due to the weather, the Robinson Symphonic Band was unable to make it to the conference. Instead, they wrangled up as many directors as they could that had instruments at the Homestead and supplemented with instruments from a few exhibitors so Brian Balmages could have an ensemble. He worked through his thoughts on intonation, demonstrating with the director ensemble and using examples from Tuned In, A Comprehensive Approach to Band Intonation, his book with Robert Herring. None of it was revolutionary: setting an expectation and working with drones, but it was a good refresher for intonation strategies.

Designing Meaningful Professional Development for Music Teachers - Dr. Kimberly Ankney, Christopher Newport University

From her handout, Dr. Ankney presented NAfME’s Guidelines for Effective Professional Development and used these to frame a discussion around how we are currently being professionally developed as well as potential changes to be more effective. There wasn’t anything earth shattering to me, but I wonder how much of our districts’ professional development meet the guidelines in NAfME’s eKit:

  1. differentiates between needs of beginning and experienced teachers

  2. is musical

  3. places teachers within a supportive community of learners

  4. is voluntary, featuring elements of autonomy and choice

  5. provides opportunity for reflection in a cycle of innovation, feedback, and reconsideration.

  6. is sustained, with ample site-specific support for classroom implementation.

  7. results in improved musical achievement for students.

If You PLAY something, SAY something! - Brian Balmages

Brian did not need an ensemble for this clinic, but he worked us through his three stages of musicianship (hollow, choreographed, and engaged), developed over time through clinics and adjudicating. He also had the audience sing through a short etude he wrote to demonstrate these three different stages. My biggest take-aways were: using “action terms” for musical terms, comparing musical phrasing to speech, and drawing emotional graphs of pieces. The “action terms” provide concrete examples for students when playing dynamics, tempo changes, and other musical decisions. They help to “tell the story” of a piece..

Developing Healthy Socialization in the Music Classroom: Classroom Management without the Management - Dr. Scott Edgar, Lake Forest College

Dr. Edgar is a specialist in social emotional learning and used this knowledge to frame a conversation about our experiences with classroom management, both as a student and as a teacher. A lot of his work seems similar to the work we did with PBIS in Ankeny. His handout works through the same discussion we had in his session. I am curious how the maker learning would contribute to an engaged class of students.

Keynote Session - Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser

It’s always great to hear from Dr. Tim! His session was similar to other talks I have heard him give, revolving around why music teachers are important in making a difference in people’s lives.

W.T. Woodson Symphonic Band

Woodson was one of the few schools that made it to the conference! To perform as an ensemble at the conference, you submit a tape in the previous year and are selected by blind listenings. There are no requirements in terms of class size; there are typically two high school groups and one middle school group. Their repertoire included:

The Band Director’s Guide to Teaching a Top-Notch Orchestra - Dr. Sandy Goldie, Virginia Commonwealth University

This clinic had a TON of information to process, I just wish it was better organized! Dr. Goldie started with asking us to think about string musician specific habits of the mind and habits of the body. She then took us through her process of getting to a top-notch orchestra: technique, warm-up, repertoire, rehearsal strategies, common problems, assessment, and resources. She did this very quickly and offered to share her slides with us after her presentation. As soon as she sends them to us, I will upload them here.

Money isn’t Everything… CULTURE IS! - Trey Harris and Scott Allred, Henry County Public Schools

This was the most well attended and heavily recommended clinic at the whole conference. Henry County Public Schools are a very poor district in Virginia, yet the Bassett High School Band is competitive in Bands of America, VMEA, and WGI. Their handout provides a broad outline of what they discussed. My biggest takeaways were: viewing the high school and middle school as a program instead of separate schools, an incessant focus on tone, and their shadow program for middle schoolers (not mentioned in the handout). From my subbing experiences and discussions, it appears programs in Virginia have multiple rehearsals fleshing out their days, preventing achieving something like our vertical approach in Ankeny. This means middle school and high school directors need to be creative in ways they unify the experiences in their schools into a program. One such way Trey and Scott accomplish this is through their shadow program: 8th grade (and some select 7th grade students) function as “roadies” for their high school program. They move props or frontline percussion, march in parades, play in the pep band, and if a hole opens up in the show, they can audition to march in that spot! There are also frequent opportunities for student leadership, not just for seniors, creating a culture of helping each other out across the program.

Music and Project-Based Learning: Engaging, Challenging, and Authentic - Donna Janowski

Donna is an elementary orchestra teacher in Alexandria, Virginia that is implementing project-based learning in her classes. She provided some background research on what constitutes project-based learning and then gave several examples of how she has used project-based learning in her ensembles. Examples included: theme and variations, cover songs, composing from art, and many others. Some of her projects resemble what we were doing with our ensemble projects, my flex ensembles, or Tuesday Night Club. It sounds like Donna is transitioning more and more of her orchestra class time to project-based learning, and I am curious to see how that plays out over time.

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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.