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.

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.

Four-step Survival Guide for Freshman Music Majors

The summer is almost over. All over the country young adults are preparing for their first true adventure into independence. They will attend college, live in dorms, play inter-murals sports, and pledge Greek organizations. And some of these people will be music majors.

Now, let me be honest, being a music major you will have a difficult schedule. While some people are taking four or five classes, music majors will be taking six to eight. Homework is not normal homework in music. You have music analysis and learning the difference between a dominant seventh chord and a German augmented sixth chord. Ensemble rehearsals. Lessons. It is not always easy. Hard work is involved.

But, when the work is completed, it is the most amazing experience in your life.

So, in order to help you prepare or your first year as a music major, here is some advice.

Plan your schedule before you step on campus.

Time management is crucial to all people, but more so for music majors. Between the hours of rehearsals, managing homework, lessons, and eating, planning a schedule is important. From day one, schedule every minute of every day. Set a time to work on homework daily. Schedule individual practice times, daily. Plan your lunch time, rest/relaxation time, even your naps. If you plan your routine from day one, you are off to a better start than most students.

Music majors must practice.

Private lesson instructors and ensemble directors are not kidding when they say music majors need to practice. And, they are right when they say you should practice two hours daily. Now, this does not have to be two hours consecutive in the day, but it is important. Spend 30 minute on tone exercises and technical etudes. Spend another 30 minutes on scales. All of them. Then, go do something else. Relax for an hour, go eat breakfast or lunch. Get on Facebook. Go to class. Later in the day, come back to the practice room and work on your solo repertoire and ensemble music. And do your scales again.

Note: Ensemble rehearsals do not count as individual practice time.

Set a homework routine.

The great thing about classes in college is that you schedule them. From day one, you know what classes are suppose to meet when. Well, you are suppose to know at least. With this knowledge, here is a tip: do homework daily. One of the most powerful concept that I learned from an influential professor was “constant contact with the subject matter brings true knowledge.” Simply put, music majors must regularly participate in studies of all subjects. For example, if you have College Algebra on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, make sure you schedule time to review materials on Tuesday, Thursday, and on day over the weekend. Schedule this time. You should do something in every class everyday, whether it is attend class or review the material from the day before. Even it is going over your notes again, contact every subject daily.

Remember, take time to relax and refresh.

Building relationships with people and enjoying life will benefit all other parts of your life. Having a community of people to share life with, to discuss problems, or to just to hold you accountable will be a value asset during your college years. In other words, be a young adult. Hang out with your friends, play video games, attend concerts. Yes, take care of your course work and practice time, but also be sure to be a human being. Schedule regular time off to exercise, go enjoy the outdoors, or just take a nap. While it is important to study and fulfill your duties of a music major, your mental and emotional health are just as important.

Leadership Principles

Leadership. The most valuable asset that we as educators and coaches can possess. Over the years, we work to build our skills and create a positive environment. Because we seek to be great leaders, there are six traits that we must constantly be aware of and grow.

1. Put People in Positive Positions

When assembling our team, ensemble, staff, or any other group, we must actively place people in positions where they can experience success. Not simply where they can be successful, but where they EXPERIENCE success. Nothing is worse that watching a student fail. Many times persons in leadership would say those that are failing are not putting in the effort. That may be true, but it also may be that we did not place them in a place where they can be successful. This is more important in team/ensemble activities than in individual events. As a result, greater success is possible when everyone is place in a position for success.

The Band Grad Staff for the Pride of Mississippi, 2010, at the Statue of Liberty.
The Band Grad Staff for the Pride of Mississippi, 2010, at the Statue of Liberty.

2. Invest in Relationships

This trait is the hardest for me due to the fact I seek moments of quiet and solitude in order to recharge. Often, I wait for someone to reach out to me instead of me contacting them. However, this is not healthy for my heart or mind because investing in relationships provides opportunity for reflection and accountability.

We cannot leave this trait to the few times a year we music educators gather at conferences. Picking up the phone, texting, and emailing are great ways to build stronger relationships with those we value and which we wish to learn. Do not wait for moments of struggle. Relationships are developed over time, through good and bad.

3. What gets measured, gets done

What are our priorities? What are the items on our list that can be measured? Music is subjective and, therefore, often hard to assess. Complicating matters are extra activities on our to-do list of less significance compared to others. Find ways to measure our results in all activities to assist us in establishing priorities, delegating what distracts us (for example, a website), and balancing our time.

4. Those in leadership must hustle and remain polite. 

Wow! How demanding is this? Those that hustle are often focused on themselves.  Driven to fulfill their goal, some may say they wear blinders or have tunnel-vision. Hustle is not an excuse to be rude or not aware of others. Those that give maximum effort and remain humble and polite are remembered.

Photo Credit Troy Bennefield
Photo Credit Troy Bennefield

5. Spend money on experiences not things

Question: Is having the newest iPhone a requirement for being a band director? Now, I am not saying materialism is good or bad. I enjoy my Apple products as well. However, at the end of the day, they may help me keep track of life but rarely help me live.

Experiences are opportunities for learning and growing. Attend a conducting symposium or a concert. Go to the zoo, museum, or National Park. Maybe sit in the bleachers at a baseball game. Travel to new places and try new things.

And, take pictures and load them onto social media, all from your iPhone.

6. Always be teachable.

Never stop being a student. There is always something to learn.