It really doesn’t get any bigger than Midwest. Don’t bring MENC’s All-East into the conversation because truth be known – the clinics, concerts, and vendors are not that much better (if at all) than many state conferences. Midwest is a glorious week in December that for many might be “The Most Wonderful Time of theYear” (With humble apologies to Capital One Bowl Week – Go Pitt!).
In case you missed the October cover of SB&O, Brian Covey (director of Lockport High School) graced the cover. The article got me looking forward to his group’s performance on Thursday morning and they did not disappoint. While seeing Eric Whitacre was nice, and getting to watch James Keane is always a pleasure, the exciting part was getting to hear the band perform Traffic Jam by Timothy Loest. Tim is a great writer, educator and director and this was the first time he had one of his pieces debuted at Midwest. Tim has become a good friend over the past two years, and it was really awesome seeing him get some big time recognition for his writing at the conference.
Dr. Pisano, Dr. Greig, and I attended the Phi Beta Mu meeting on Thursday morning, and had the opportunity to connect with a number of great directors from around the country. It was nice getting to put a face with names, and compare notes with this international group of colleagues. I enjoyed Lynn Cooper’s presentation “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Choosing Music for Your Band” on Thursday morning following that meeting. The one quote that struck a “chord” with me was from Bennett Reimer – “Music of high quality need not be music of high complexity”. Too often we are tempted to pick music just out of our ensembles reach, but it need not be like that. As Cooper shared, pick music that features both your group’s strength and weaknesses. He also posed a list of questions to consider in the selection of music that were very insightful – and if we are doing our job, we should be asking these questions anyway! While the Teaching Music through Performance in Band Series is great, sometimes it is better if we do the work for ourselves and sometimes we find the best songs that aren’t on any lists. The quote by Bennett Reimer (1991) made me reflect on an older article in which he offered a succinct list of four criteria for judging quality in music. I have found considering Reimer’s criteria of craftsmanship, sensitivity, imagination, and authenticity to be valuable in not only in selecting music for my groups to study but also as I begin writing new pieces.
A clinic by Anthony Reimer on iPods and filling them with band music was a reminder of how to fix the regret I felt after the Lockport Concert. I thought as I exited “I wish there was a way to get my students to hear these performances”. And there may not be a feasible way to get that done, but what can be done is make sure our rehearsal rooms have adequate listening labs where our students can gain access to high quality recordings of the band music on which we are working. We want our students to have good musical role models – why shouldn’t we want them to have “aural” role models as well? And why can’t that role model be an ensemble? There are a number of companies providing free downloads of concert music that students can acess – here again we should be taking a non-traditional role and lead them to the information so they can access it!
It was also very rewarding to catch up with a number of composers whose music really speaks to me on different levels – as music lover, an educator, a conductor, and a composer. Lockport also performed Song for Lyndsay by Andrew Boysen, Jr. As a writer and music lover, the sensitivity and expression in this piece was just wonderful. I caught up with Andy on Friday – like Camphouse, I think Andy’s best pieces are yet to be written. I spoke with Eric Whitacre very briefly on Wednesday night, and got to see him conduct Lockport on Thursday. His star is certainly set as he continues to rethink and reshape orchestration practices. It was a pleasure to get to know Chris Sharp and Erik Morales. Chris is working on his doctorate from the University of Florida, so we had plenty to commiserate upon when comparing our pursuit of the terminal degree. I knew only Erik through his jazz ensemble charts, but had a chance to check out a lot of his concert band works as well on Thursday while working the FJH Booth for a bit. He is a very talented writer, and definitely knows his cuisine (It’s all about the pomegranates). Always good spending time with Willie Owens – I have never witnessed anyone move that many CD’s in such a short amount of time. Willie gets better every time I hear his stuff. Brian Balmages had a big year at Midwest with a number of performances of his pieces. The last time we spoke was “face to face” was the Skype concert, so it was nice being able to just sit down and visit a bit. Check out Patrick Burns’ Toccata. It is one of the best pieces for high school band I have heard in a long time. Patrick was in the Daehn Publications booth, and he was working the crowd very well. Julie Giroux might be the nicest person I know. I spoke with her about Wagon Trail before the exhibits opened on Thursday. What a talent she is! I spent some time with Roland Barrett who has always been one on my favorites. In undergrad, I conducted Symphonic Journey No.1 and from that point have become well acquainted with the entire catalog of his work. I am eager to being his Fanfare and Jubilation with my groups second semester. Is it ever a dull conversation with the quick-witted James Barnes? As we begin a inter-disciplinary revolving around The Trail of Tears, I am grateful for the time he took with me to discuss the significance of this piece in understanding what many history books ignore. This work by Barnes is also a very important reminder that great music does not have to be difficult. It is a substantial piece of remarkable depth worthy of study by students who want to become better people and individuals. John Zdechlick signed my score for Chorale and Shaker Dance. Timothy Mahr’s group performed on Friday (which included Boysen’s Unraveling – a monster piece at the grade 3 level). Johan DeMeij and Jan Van der Roost were in the house, and I almost (albeit) accidently ran over Mark Camphouse. Luckily, my dancer’s reflexes took over and we both averted disaster. But that accident wasn’t nearly as bad as what could have been on Thursday around 11:43 a.m. Where else can you wait in line to talk with Frank Ticheli only to have H. Robert Reynolds turn around and nearly run you over? Midwest, my friends. Only at Midwest.
Reimer, B. (1991) Criteria for quality in music. In R.A. Smith & A. Simpson (Eds.), Aesthetics and arts education (pp. 330-338). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.