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.

Ensemble Director: More focus on fundamentals brings higher performance levels

While the focus for ensemble directors is often a long-term goal, regular focus on the fundamentals of playing bring higher levels of performance.

The struggle is real. As ensemble directors, we get focused on what pieces to perform for our next concert and want to put together a great program. We try to mix some challenging pieces in with something fun. We hope to entertain the audience. And, we pray our students are up to the task.

While going through this process, there are moments that give us pause. Can the clarinet section get this section of 16th notes that cross the break? Will the ensemble learn this 5/8 section? There are always questions crossing our minds as we select literature.

But, the answer to these questions is always the same. Spend time on fundamentals.

Monday Morning QB

Fact: I love sports. Something sports related is often on my television or tablet. Three pre-sets on my car radio are sports-talk stations. I even write articles for two sports pages.

One of my favorite shows in all of sports information is ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike. The comedic banter combined with the insights on the games I love make this show enjoyable to me. And, now that it is football season, guests from around the game are brought in to provide additional analysis. This includes former Indianapolis Colt (my favorite football team), Jeff Saturday.

This morning, while discussing offensive line play, Saturday said that we have moved to discussing scheme instead of coaching fundamentals and techniques.

The scheme and plays are important, but execution falters when fundamentals suffer.

I wanted to stand and applaud.

The same is true to music performance. Performing at the highest levels means having a solid fundamental and technical foundation. However, most ensemble directors breeze through the exercises that build these areas.

Best time spent

I recall a story told to me from a former jazz ensemble director about famous trumpeter Doc Severinson. The story goes like this: After a concert, one that featured Severinson for at least two hours, the artist returned to his room backstage. When there, he proceeded to play longtones. This lasted for about an hour. When someone finally entered Severinson’s room to ask about what he was doing, the reply was simple. “Somewhere out there, someone else wants my job.”

While I cannot prove the story to be true, the point is clear. The best work on fundamentals.

Long tones are paramount to success. The most important part of music production is the sound we create. Performing long-tone exercises builds consistency is generating the vibrations needed to produce a clear, full tone. It doesn’t matter if it band, orchestra, or choir. Sound matters. This must be done daily.

Technical work should be done daily as well. I don’t mean simply scales in a given pattern. I mean technical etudes. There are books out there for full ensemble technical work. My personal favorite is Foundations for Superior Performance, but you may find another resource that works.

Teach rhythm! Yes, I said it! Teach rhythm to you students. They can’t play in 5/8 if you never work with them on it. And, it must be done consistently as well.

Related Read: Let the Beginner you join the fun

Honestly, I know time is precious to ensemble directors; however, spending 20 minutes in fundamentals daily will lead to better performances abilities. That means more challenging music. Which, to most, leads to more fun playing.

And that is what this is supposed to be. Fun.

Which is more important? The score or the score?

Marching band contest season is upon us. Bands from all over the country will travel to festivals or contest and compete against other schools. Judges will provide feedback and (hopefully) thoughts on how the ensemble can improve. Trophies or plaques are handed out and parents will cheer. Some students will be disappointed in the “opinions” of the judges and the score provided, while others will celebrate. This will happen every weekend between now and Thanksgiving.

Now, do not get me wrong. As a student, I bought into the power of the trophy. Hearing the name of my school called as “champion” or in “first place” made me smile. I was competitive – I wanted us to be the best. There was a time that my band director threw trophies in the trash due to the results of a contest. Looking back at all of it now, I placed value in pieces of plastic and not in the people around me.

Many directors take to social media to express opinions of festival results. Phrases like, “I am so proud of my students. They worked hard and placed (fill in the blank)….” or “rough run today,” are posted often. It is not just marching season, however. Similar posts come after the completion of concert band evaluations. And while there is nothing truly wrong with bands “making straights I’s” at a festival, we are missing the point.

Participating in musical ensemble is far more than just the score provided by a panel of judges. Emphasis on the musical score is necessary. Are your students performing music of merit, something that will challenge them both in personal proficiency and musical ability? Or are they provided opportunities for musical learning beyond just their concert or marching band music?

Two things to improve the “score” from festivals:

First

As a band director, understand your student’s musical ability and celebrate that success. If you know that your students often struggle with intonation, but during a performance that issue improved, let them know! Tell them you heard their success and ask how that moment felt to them. It is surprising how celebrating something small encourages more musical success.

Numbers are great because they are tangible. We can point to the assessed score as the grade. But, what earned the grade? The students’ performance. The problem with the score is that it does not reflect the true achievement of the ensemble. Directors, you know the day-in and day-out of the ensemble’s performance. You understand their struggles and the successes. If we make it about the score (points) and not the score (the music), we diminish their effort.

Directors, please, emphasize the music you task your students with making over the score from the judges. I witnessed bands come off the field feeling great about their performance only to be crushed after their placement was announced. They knew their performance was one of their best. The judges do not know that. They only see the one or two performances that day.

Second

Judges need to be careful of their feedback. Yes, we are to assess what we hear and see, but we need to make sure our comments refer to the “next steps” for the ensemble’s success. Too many tapes lack true educational substance.

If you say “that impact just didn’t do anything,” state why and how to improve. For example, say “The impact you just performed can be more effective. For me, there was too much difference in volume between the measure before and the moment of impact. Make sure to exaggerate the crescendo more into impact and do not breathe before the impact.”

At the end of the day, there is some worth to music festivals. The students get to performance and receive feedback from other music educators. The effects on the program are detrimental when people emphasize the score (number) over the score (music). It is better to have a room full of students than have a room full of trophies.

The FFFF’s of Band Camp

We have reached the middle of July, and that means band camps are starting around the country. Break out the sunscreen, ear plugs, and Gold Bond! While band camp is crucial to the overall performance success of any ensemble, it is important to remember some fact that lay the foundation during this time.

Fundamentals

Band camp is the time to establish the foundation of musical performance throughout the year. Focus on the fundamentals of playing. Spend time discussing proper air control, embouchure, blending of timbre. These are all things that will lead to successful music making. Additionally, this time allows for directors to set expectations for all members. Students can learn time management skills, teamwork, ways to prepare for the next task, and working until something is complete. All of these are important life skills.

Folks

These kids are people. They have parents, guardians, friends, and responsibilities outside of band. You, in fact, are a person as well. You enjoy Games of Thrones, cooking, and time in the quiet. It is important to remember these things. it provides a great perspective for all of us. At the end of the day, no matter the quality of the rehearsal or what needs to get done tomorrow, everyone involved is a person. Treat them with the respect you with which you wish them to treat you. Lead with energy, drive toward the goal, but be mindful of the people around you. While you do spend a great deal of time together, you may not be aware of everything going on in their lives. Sometimes, they are distracted by an family issue and can only give you 70% of their focus and energy. Encourage them to give all of that 70%. Remember, band rehearsal may be the best part of their day.

Future

This topic goes hand-in-hand with fundamentals. How is each part of camp going to help build for the future of the program? Are the activities designed to generate closer relationships and trust through teamwork? Will the musical warm-up improve the tone quality of the concert band? What challenges will your arrangement provide that will lead to growth in performance?  It is important that you plan band camp with the full school year in mind.

Fun

I know there are many reasons why students are in band. They like the companionship or the competition. But, at the root of all of is they enjoyment of band. Students join beginning band because they believe it will be fun. Sure, it is a lot of work, but there is a sense of enjoyment as well. And, how many band directors truly choose this field because they like to work? No, they enjoy the work they do. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

View from the Judge’s Box, Part 3: Effect

In this week’s volume of “View from the Judges’s Box,” we address concerns with the overall flow and design of marching band shows. Over the years, there has been a shift from simply performing music and visual to the overall effect of the performance. The struggle with this view is that sometimes, groups do not focus on ensemble musical achievement but the complete package, often pushing ensemble members beyond their comfort zones. The goal of this article is to provide some ideas that will help improve the overall effect of your ensemble’s performance.

Stage Blocking

During the planning process, diagram staging options before writing drill (or having it written). When theater directors start looking through a script, they will block scenes and play choreography before setting foot on the stage. The bands that excel in effect will often do the same. Some directors will simply create a flowchart in Microsoft Excel with a phrase-by-phrase breakdown of all musical selections. In this chart, the will include counts of each phrase, the section of the ensemble to be highlighted, and musical intensity. This assists the drill writer in staging the ensemble and allowing groups to be featured  prominently. When clear staging is designed, effective movement can be generated. The designer can use the entire field. They can establish flow and provide moments of visual tension. The stage is set for success.

J Corey Francis, Eastern Illinois University Marching Band

Music and Visual Design Must Match

One of the major deficiencies I have noticed when judging General Effect is the music and visual designs do not match. In order for the overall impact of the performance to reach its pinnacle, the visual must enhance the music…..or music must match the visual.

Think about a great movie. For me, I default to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope or On the Waterfront. In movies, the musical score either enhances or detracts from screenplay. Darth Vader’s impact is only improved by Imperial March being performed when he appears. The mixed meters of Bernstein’s score to On the Waterfront plays well to set the tension of the overall theme of the movie. Even Wagner utilized this concept, which he called “leitmotif,” in his operas. Musical themes play a crucial role to the visual play on the screen or stage.

Similarly, the visual aspects of a marching show should enhance the musical performance of the ensemble and the score they are performing. Moments of musical tension can be increased by adding a visual crescendo. This could be a unison move across the field, a quick collapsing of a form into a tight interval, or using contrary motion within a form. Additionally, changing the timing of foot movement can be powerful. There are moments in many shows that have a fast, driving tempo in 4/4, but melodic content can feel in halftime. The musicians that are performing the melody can move their feet at speed of their music. This small change can draw the eye and ear to the important part and, thus, increasing effect.

Casting the Characters

Have you even watched the YouTube video featuring the voice of Darth Vader by the person in the costume? The voice is far less threatening than what James Earl Jones delivered. My ears akin it to how Rick Moranis played “Lord Helmet” in Spaceballs. Just like finding the right voice for Darth Vader, selecting the proper performers to play roles in your show is crucial.

Think of it this way: the students on the field are performers. Some can be lead actors, others may be supporting characters. But they are all performers. If you are doing a show incorporating James Bond movie themes and wish to use the character on the field, cast a lead actor that can perform the role with appropriate flare and charisma. If you are doing a show about boxing, select students that look like boxers. If they are going to throw a punch, throw a punch as if it was Rocky. This goes for soloists, guard features, drum line moments, and for the front ensemble.

The most important part of all of this is simply getting the performers to do one thing: perform. This activity can be musical theater. A great performance is one when all parts and players achieve excellence by working together and exuding high levels of energy. The music. The visual. The winds, percussion, and guard. All important parts individually, but greater when working in unison.