Music Education: Are we doing enough to encourage women educators?

The stats do not lie: men dominate music education roles in the secondary and collegiate levels. I, for one, do not like that.

It is an interesting situation. In a world in which we discuss equality, we still miss the mark is music education. Over the years, studies and research from across the United States show that men outnumber women in roles of teaching music in secondary and post-secondary education.

MTD Research, a school performing arts data organization, posted an interactive application breaking down male and female music educators for primary and secondary levels. Those viewing the post can toggle between General Music, Band, Choir, and Orchestra as well as public/private schools, and income based. It is included here for your preference, through use of their code sharing link. Note that for grades 9-12, males make up 79.45% of all band directors.

The reasons for the discrepancy are numerous:

Family responsibilities – stereotypes suggest women are the care-taker of the family, at least a majority of times.

Historical precedent – “men have always held these positions.”

Lack of female role models – the lack of women in these roles to encourage others to follow.

Gender discrimination – women experience negative responses and/or interactions with their male counterparts.

My questions is simply this: why? If you have not noticed, things are changing in this world. Maybe not as quickly as we wish, but things are moving forward in most cases. Women are working more and men are taking on more household responsibilities. And, there are quality female role models in director positions. Women hold positions of Director of Bands or Associate Director of Bands at universities across the nation. Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Texas Tech, Colorado State, Georgia, Southern Miss, Missouri, Eastern Illinois and  Eastern Michigan are just a few of the post-secondary institutions with females in these roles.

Additionally, there are many amazing woman that are leading music programs in the secondary level.

So, that leaves gender discrimination. In 2015, Kristin Coen-Mishlan published a study entitled, “Gender Discrimiation in the Band World: A Case Study of Three Female Band Directors.” The study included a teacher with seven years of experience, another with 28 years working as a high school band director, and a retired teacher with 36 years of work.

After interviews with the individuals and in a focus group, along with a questionnaire, one pattern emerged. Each participant experienced both personal and professional situations as a band director. One stated that her male principal often dismissed her concerns. Another told a story of when her group was awarded a plaque at a festival, and the presenter gave the award to the top trumpet player and not the female director. All male directors were given their awards.

We can do better. We, as music educators, are better. There is no need for this type of experience now. The quality of music demands that we, as music educators, continue to encourage all people – regardless of gender, race, or any other identifier you choose to pick – to participate in the creation of our chosen art. We need women in prominent positions in conducting. We need men as well.

Encourage each other. Share ideas, speak constructively, and praise accordingly. Men, it is time we treat women music educators with respect and equality. Repeating our old ways just because its the way it has always been done is no longer a valid reason.

Yes, we have come a long way. But, there is still a long way to go. We can do more to encourage women in music education.

Music Education: Let the Beginner you join the fun

When we started the process to be a musician, it started with excitement. What happened to it? It is time to bring it back in music education.

Think back to the day you made the decision to participate in band, orchestra, or choir. Reflect on the feeling you had the moment you received your instrument for the very first time. The excitement. The ignorant-filled joy that consumed your soul. It was an amazing time. Music education was fun.

For me, it was sixth grade. Sitting in the old band room of Browning Springs Middle School, waiting for Mr. Murphy to let me – and the rest of the class – to open the case. The anticipation crawled through my body in an attempt to squash all patience. Finally, the moment arrived and I was taught how to put my Yamaha 23 Alto Saxophone together. And then how to put it back in the case.

After school, I ran to my Mamaw’s house, just around the corner from school, and dropped everything on the front porch ready to take over the world of saxophone. Of course, my Mamaw came out side just in time to tell me to get inside before something bad happened.

From there, it was fun. Sure, it was work, but I enjoyed the steps. Learning songs that consisted of all of three notes. It was the start of an amazing journey. Work was involved. Practicing. Tests for first chair. Scale tests. Auditions. All-District. Solo and Ensemble. Marching and concert band festivals. All-State. College Scholarships. It was fun, but tons of work.

Then came college. Daily practicing was required, as well as music theory and history. But, all you want to do is enjoy friends, social activities, the results of the most recent campus beautification project. Intramural sports. Weekend trips to the lake. Yet, to be successful, you had to work.

Then came the real job.

After graduation, you looked for a teaching job. Then, the fun was pulled out and the responsibility of teaching the content became paramount. The daily struggles of reminding students the difference between B-natural and B-flat on clarinet or trumpet. Teaching the same drill formation because of the one or two players in the trombone section that just seem lost.

It became… And the work was hard. And then the fear of everything may have overtaken you. There is a piece of music you really think your students should play, but that time signature of 5/8 will just be too challenging. But the piece is amazing and worth the work. Or, then there is another piece that is just amazing, but the second clarinets playing 16th notes over the break is not ideal.

That is a problem. Let the Beginner back in.

What would happen if you allowed The Beginner you back in to Music Education you? How would things be different? Instead of dreading the section in 5/8, remember the time you played the piece and the fun that you experienced. Remember the moments you spent on the marching band field and the joy you experienced after a good run. Recall the fun of moments of putting your instrument together for the first time.

How could The Beginner you change The Music Education you? What would happen if your showed more joy during rehearsal? How would your students respond? Would your group improve because your teaching improved?

We started the journey because of the joy music gave us. Why not let the joy and fun of music show in your teacher?

Music Education: Remember the 94%

As music education instructors, we get distracted by events or situations that really only take the smallest amount of time. Remember the 94 percent.

I am a blessed man. Through my experience in music education, as a teacher and clinician, relationships with great people were built. Few of those are as special to me than those built at a school outside of Augusta, GA. A suburb call Evans.

My connection to Evans High School was easy to see when I first stepped through the door in 2004. My friend, Geoff Rosche, was their assistant director. G and I first met in 1997, on the bus to President Clinton’s Inauguration. His family just moved to town and he was immediately put on the bus to Washington, DC. Because of him, I met Ms. Reid Hall. Few in this business are better than her.

It is fitting that the picture for this article is from my first day of teaching marching fundamentals with Evans. Those teens worked hard and learned the importance of “Eat Meat.” (That is an inside joke. You are welcome.)

The influence of Reid still fills me today. One of the greatest concepts I learned – and still apply in everyday life now – was a note above her office door as you exit. It simply read…

Remember the 94%

That is it. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet, it is extremely powerful.

As a teacher, have you ever found yourself working on one section of music with the same players for what feels like an eternity? Or, even feel like you keep pointing out the marching issues of one student constantly? How about asking the same ones to stop talking every day? Remember the 94 percent.

Remember that 94 percent of the students are getting it. The ones that are working hard. Those that are prepared, focused, and meeting expectations. We often see the problems or struggles, and fail to see the good. Yes, work on the points of struggle, but do not allow that to drain the time of all involved. Taking time to appreciate the successes, motivate students, and acknowledge positive items.

Have you spent time at dinner with friends or family stressed out about the marching band contest next weekend? Or about the concert on Thursday night? What about getting an adjudication tape and just wonder what the judge was listening to? Remember the 94 percent.

Take time to remember the people you are around. Remember the process that leads to that moment. Appreciate the people, their time, and efforts it took to pull of the performance. The students improved. They learned, and performed. It is the process that takes 94% of your time, the performance only six.

This concept is simple, but powerful. And life changing. At the end of the day, the bad events, the frustration, annoying moments of paperwork or email responses, those take up about 6% of our time, yet 75% of our focus. By minimizing the focus on the events that take the least time, our minds and attitudes change significantly.

Reid Hall taught that way. Her students loved her for it, and they performed at high levels. It is what music education is truly about.

‘The System’ is ideal marching band text

When teaching or coaching any activity, proper resource selection is crucial. For marching band, no resource is as thorough than “The System” by Gary Smith.

Recently, I received a copy of Gary Smith’s The System in exchange for writing this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

When you wish to perform well in your craft, you find resources to help guide you and create the system you follow. Maybe it is a video of someone teaching a specific task, or providing a “hack” on making things more efficient. If you are luck, you get to spend time with a professional or trend-setter in your craft, picking their brain for how they made it.

You hear about it all the time in baseball. How Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant adapted his swing from the coaching his father received by Ted Williams. Or how veteran players will often work with rookies to help them throw the perfect cutter. In the world of music, music educators flock to Chicago for the Midwest Clinic, in hopes to spend time with mentors and music trend setters.

When it comes to the marching arts, resources abound. While many say that performing in Drum Corp International or Winter Guard International is the best way to learn, others soak it in through observing and watching master teachers. In terms of texts resources, there are as many as there are seat in Lucas Oil Stadium. The most thorough of these is Gary Smith’s The System.

Who is Gary Smith?

For those that know Gary Smith, he is genuinely one of the nicest, yet most competitive people you will meet. I recall my first interaction with him in 2012, welcoming me to a new position and inviting me to dinner. Even after retiring from teaching a few years ago, he still manages to regularly attend the CBDNA Athletic Band Symposium just to play golf. ( I am told he cheats, ha!)

Photo Credit: John M. Wissocki, The Banner

From the professional standpoint, Gary is one of the most respected teachers of marching arts in the world. He taught at the high school and college level – most notably with the University of Illinois Marching Illini – but also in China, Japan, Australia, Canada, and France.

Further more, he is the former owner of Smith-Walbridge Clinics, providing marching, leadership, and drum major instructional camps for several weeks over the summer. Traditionally, these clinic occur in Charleston, IL, on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Often, DCI ensembles will visit and present an additional clinic. The program is now under the direction of Barry Houser, Director of the Marching Illini.

Check out for more information.

The System

The System is unique in the realm of marching arts resources.  It cover major topics such as leadership, music, marching techniques, and many others, while providing visual examples to help understanding.

The book itself is divided into 12 sections: Leadership, Music, Marching, Rehearsal, Parades, Measurements & Grid Systems, Drill Design, Conducting, The Drum Major, Marching Percussion, The Colorguard, and Administration. Not only does Gary discuss most every topic, other professionals contribute to the material. Noted leadership clinician Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser provides insights to developing students in the ensembles leadership. Alfred Watkins, retired director from Lassiter High School, and Dr. David Waybright from the University of Florida provide input on music and conducting. Many others also contribute.

The greatest asset of the text are the examples including demonstrating the concepts. Excepts of conducting pattern practice, percussion techniques, and standard drill design allow the read to follow in the process and gain further understanding. Additionally, the text helps inexperienced directors obtain rehearsal techniques and learn organizational systems that can help the entire band program, not just the marching bands.

To say that Gary is complete in all parts of the book is almost an understatement. His distinct explanations along with the attention to every part of the program is refreshing. The format is easy to follow and every page is clean and crisp. The goal of The System is simple: establish a system to help build a solid foundation for any program.

The System is published by GIA Publications, and can be purchased through Amazon, J. W.  Pepper, and at  It truly is worth the purchase to include in any music director’s library. Should you teach a university level marching techniques course, this resource should be discussed, if not used as course material.

Music Education: Why you must recharge over the summer

The school year is over, and with it comes time away from the teaching. Take time to recharge and refresh yourself before next school year.

The most joyous time of year has arrived! It is the time when the halls clear, the rooms are cleaned, and the faculty meetings end. Most doors will not be opened for several weeks, months even. And yet, the parking lot is not empty. There is always one car there.

Yes. Teachers work hard, even if they are seen as glorified babysitters for 180 days a year. They take their work home daily, shuffle through pages of math equations with missing plus or minus signs, or try to unscramble the text-speak that students mistakenly typed in an eight-page essay. Few put in hours of teachers of music education. The car you see is likely their’s.

The extra rehearsals. Creating content to be practiced, studied, and performed for thousands of people throughout the year. Working summer hours which go unnoticed and unpaid, just to make sure the student that cannot afford their trombone as one to play. Planning every detail of the entire school year over a few months, because one year is never like the one before.

Music Education teachers know all this going into their careers, and still choose it. Or maybe it chose them. Regardless, taking time to recharge over the summer is crucial to your mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Lesson of the tune-up

I am not the world’s greatest handy man. There are tasks that my wife knows I can do, and others that she just does not want me to touch. But, one of my weekly chores is mowing the yard. It has long be a favorite of mine, even mowing my Mamaw Tina’s yard for her when I was in middle and high school.

Find a place to recharge!
Photo Credit: Shelley Kuhlmeyer

Our backyard is rather large. Typically, it takes an hour and 15 minutes or so, and a full tank of gas, to turn the think grass into a pleasurable play area. I push mow. Always have.

Recently, I noticed my mower coughing a bit and not wanting to start. Fuel consumption was quicker than I liked, but I did not think much of it. Until the day it no longer started. Now, I have a basic understanding of parts engines, knowing that things like filters and plugs exist. But, I am not a mechanic. That day I was forced to learn something new.

My inquisitiveness peaked as I unscrewed the shiny silver bolt on the side of the engine. With each turn, clogs of dirt fell. It was revealed to me that the air filter was no longer a filter, but a graveyard of dirt. Yep. Need to replace that, so it was time to shuttle off to Home Depot.

While I am not the most thrifty shopper in the world, I know how to get more for my money. All I needed was a $7 air filter. But wait, there is engine oil which I probably should do as well. So, looking at $12 for two items.

Then I saw a box that included the filter and oil, along with a spark plug ($5), and some fuel line cleaner. Cost of the box, $13. Sold. I come home, change the filter. Added oil. Figure out how to removed the spark plug, which was now completely black. Changed the oil. Done. Tune up complete.

Why recharge?

Now that I have bored you with my tune-up story, here is the point. Today, I started mowing my lawn at 7:58 AM. It was suppose to rain all day, and I wanted to beat the weather. In what took an hour and a half, and more than one take of gas (let’s say 1.5 tanks), I completed in one hour flat without refilling my fuel. Full yard, done.

A tuned up, recharged mower makes work more efficient.

I did nothing different. No new pattern of path while mowing. I followed my normal routine. It was the mower that was better. The tune-up that I provided recharged it’s power and efficiency. Simply, making sure the parts were in good order made the task less strenuous.

Music education teachers, you need a tune up. You need to recharge yourself. Each of us have our own activities that fuel us, or items that spark our energy. But, we often let them just remain as they are and never pay attention to how they effect us.

Furthermore, our filters are often filled with the gunk of rehearsals, budgets, meeting with an arranger or drill writer, or the email from a parent saying that their child will no longer be in band so they can focus on other things. (That is a completely different issue.)

So, my friends, what can you do to recharge over the summer? Maybe it is reaching out to an old friend and arranging dinner. Or, starting a blog and writing your thoughts. Perhaps you need a few days away from home with no access to social media or emails. Take yoga, or exercise. The key is to step away and recharge.

That is why teachers have summer break. It is time you took advantage of it as well.