Boost Rehearsal Attendance for Community & School Performing Ensembles

I was asked via a Twitter post ( to provide some tips on how to boost attendance at community band rehearsals. I suppose these tips would hold true for any community-performing group that relies on volunteers for its organization and even applies to school organizations. If you really think about it, school music ensembles are really made up of volunteers. If the kids don’t take the class as an elective, there is no ensemble. Here’s a quick little post expanding my thoughts and ideas from my Twitter reply.

I conducted a community opera chorus for three years, guest conducted a few community operas, orchestras & bands and I am the Music Director of a community band for the last six years. Community organizations can be challenging to say the least! Increasing and maintaining high attendance numbers at rehearsals can not only make or break a performance, but also is the key to the stability of the organization. There are so many factors that go into building a stable core of performers all dedicated to the same goal. Each community will have it’s own culture and concerns. Here are my top three thoughts that I believe apply to most performing organizations.

1) Schedule rehearsals around the performance, not weekly.

There is an old established culture with community organizations around weekly rehearsals.  Maybe it’s because some community groups are also college organizations or maybe it’s just a night that people think works. Personally, I don’t find this pattern effective. Even a college/community group that needs to follow the universities class schedule might examine this practice. When I first started conducting the Sound Beach Community Band, we had weekly rehearsals. Every whatever-the-day-of-the-week, we had a rehearsal that culminated in a performance every several weeks. I remember having 8 – 12 people at a rehearsal and the very next week, a new set of 8 – 12 people. That’s not a rehearsal, that’s a group lesson. For those Read the rest of this entry »


Attaching Teacher Pay/Tenure to Test Scores or The Next Survivor

I don’t usually post my personal opinions or political views because I would prefer to keep my blog to my professional expertise. However, I was cleaning out my hard drive and came across an oldie but goody and thought about the recent conversations and federal government initiatives that support attaching teacher pay or tenure to student test scores. I say to anyone who thinks that this is a good idea, don’t even give me the six weeks that this story suggests. Give me six days, one unit of study, then, give a test on the materials. Let’s attach your salary or part of it to that test.

Since the beginning of the school year, 16 weeks or almost one half of the school year, I have had to speak to guidance counselors, staff psychologists, social workers, parents, administrators and even made a call to the state child protective services about various students who might be suicidal, are on probation, going to court, hospitalized for mental illness, might be abused by a parent, abandoned by a parent, in rehab, need to be in rehab, caught stoned or drunk in my class or have violent behavior. Forget about having to track, monitor, or report on the number of students who just don’t come to class (cut) or the 17-year-old who can’t manage to be responsible enough to get to class on time. BTW- my take on why we have so much of this is because kids are stressed to the point of breaking partly because we test them too much. Tests are stressful, people! Don’t even get me started on giving homework over a vacation…

My school has about 2800 students. I see 175 students, grades 9 – 12, over a three-day cycle (we are on an 8 day block schedule and I mostly teach part-time classes, 3 classes per 8 day cycle). When the spring semester begins, 100 students will end their classes with me and I’ll get 100 new students. I teach five different preps in nine sections of classes. 13.4% of my current students are “identified” (translate that to SpEd). 21% of my students are African-American or Latino (in my district that’s a socioeconomic indicator and compare that to the 2-4% in the performance ensembles but that’s a subject for another post). My kids learn project management, system design, respect, responsibility, how to be thoughtful in communication, appreciation for cultures unknown to them, right brain thinking, 21st century skills and any number of edu-speak jargon you care to apply. Oh yeah, they also learn enough about the actual subject that on average, 33% of my seniors go to college to major in the subject I teach. This year, it’s up to 54% or 13  out of 24 students. (That’s right Mom & Dad, your kids can go to college for this stuff and make a good living but that’s subject for another post). One third of those kids never studied music before they came to my class and some of these kids would never have seen the inside of a college. Assess THAT and tell me my salary.

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Student Music New CD Avaiable on iTunes

FINALLY! The 2008-2009 GHS Student Music CD is available on iTunes. Just go to the iTunes Store search box and type “Greenwich High School”. The CD includes Emily’s piece “Gothic Memory Land” that was the First Place winner in the NSBA/MENC Electronic Music Competition. Enjoy!

Interview in MENC Magazine

Many thanks to Chad Criswell of for interviewing me for his article in the October 2009 issue of Teaching Music, an MENC magazine for music educators.  The article, “The Computer in Your Student’s Pocket”, gives an overview of some hardware and software used by students to create and learn about music. Chris was kind enough to interview me and how I use hand held computing devices to create music with my students.  Thanks for a great article, Chris!

For more information on MENC publications, go to

New Widget to Listen to Student Music

It seems obvious but… take a look at the left side bar.  There’s a new widget generated by Tunecore that let’s you listen to student music available for purchase.  Track 3 of the first CD listed is the winner of the MENC/NSBA 2009 Electronic Music Competition, Gothic Memory Land, by Emily.

PLEASE DO NOT STEAL THIS MUSIC! The proceeds from this music goes directly to the GHS Electronic Music Student Activities Fund to help us purchase equipment.  Well, that’s where it would go if we actually made money!  We barely make enough money each year to offset the the cost of using Tunecore’s service for their distribution to iTunes, Amazon, Lala, Napster and others.  It’s really cool that kids can tell their friends they are on iTunes!So, please, buy a tune and help us distribute student music.

TI:ME Essay: Notation Software

As I said in my previous post, Electronic Instruments & MIDI, these essays are part of TI:ME Level 1 Certification and answer specific questions posed for certification.

This essay goes a little further as it address the concept of music literacy.  Before purists vote to lynch me, let me say that I think teaching students to read traditional music notation is important.  However, I don’t think it’s of primary importance and that becomes clearer in this article.  Reading music notation is crucial for recreating music but is not urgent, given today’s tools, to create music.  I think we spend far to much time emphasizing music notation as THE tool for music literacy.

Notation Software

Notation software is sophisticated graphics manipulation program made specifically for the needs of musicians.  The top notation software is Finale and Sibelius.  Fans of each could tell you why they prefer one product to the other that might include ease of use and learning curves.  With products this sophisticated, choosing becomes a matter of personal taste and personal needs.

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Student Music Now On iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody & more

Greenwich High School Electronic Music Students pieces are now available through several music aggregators:

To purchase music through iTunes, follow these 3 easy steps:
1 – Go to the iTunes Store
2 – Type Greenwich High School into the iTunes Store search engine
3 – Purchase music. Each tune is $.99 or the entire CD of 25 tunes can be purchased for $9.99. All proceeds go directly to the GHS EMusic Student Activities Account.