Vandoren Interviews Band Directors from Around the Country: Bartow, FL

with Band Director Dawn Hardy

Date Posted: September 20, 2018

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Where and what grade levels/subjects do you teach?

I teach at Bartow Middle School in Bartow, FL (Polk County). I see grades 6th-8th every day.

How long have you been a band director for?

This upcoming will be my 5th year being band director. I taught elementary music for a couple of years prior.

What is your teaching philosophy when approaching beginning clarinet and saxophone?

Just make sure that you keep teaching student-centered. Making those lifelong learners and musicians. You also need to understand that they're not all going to a professional musician, but they need to know how to recognize good music and good qualities. Treat them all the same because they all deserve that same level of excellence and fundamentals so that if they do want to go to the path of performance, education, or whatever it is, they've been given those skills.

When your students start day one, what are some of the methods you talk with them first?

Every day (if it's an instrument I feel like I'm comfortable playing for them) I model for them. I also have recordings playing for the kids that are coming in every day.

For beginning band specifically, the first two to three weeks, I don't have the books out with them. There's no music stand in front of them. We're focusing on breathing, posture, embouchure, and making sure they do it every time so that they get that good sound from the beginning.

"I had 1,100 kids in a big school and I saw every child and every child had that opportunity." - Dawn Hardy

What are your thoughts on creating life-long music appreciators and how it applies to General Music?

When I started elementary music, it wasn't anything I thought I would do. I stumbled upon a great opportunity to teach elementary and the idea that I got to see every child was great. I had 1,100 kids in a big school and I saw every child and every child had that opportunity.

Have you ever heard of/used JUNO reeds? If so, what did you think of them?

Yes. I started using JUNO reeds this past school year. I love them for my beginners - they're really reliable! My school is a Title I school and kids don't have extra income, so it's a great reed that hasn't broken my budget. There is still that quality. When it comes to the second year, I have to move them up to Traditional reeds because they're more resistant and more advanced.

What is the greatest challenge you've faced as a middle school band director and how have you addressed it?

Getting both the students and parents to buy into why band is important that first year. There are so many things with the internet, technology, and it's so instant. But learning an instrument is a life-long process. I explain why it's important any chance I get.

I try to equate it personally by saying 'I'm still learning.' I may play in professional groups but every time I pick up that instrument, I learn something new every time. Getting them to understand the importance of that can be a challenge.

"I started using JUNO reeds this past school year. I love them for my beginners - they're really reliable!" - Dawn Hardy

What are some method books you would recommend to your clarinet and saxophone students?

As a full group, I like using the Standard of Excellence books. I like the way they structure their exercises. For clarinet, I like the way the Standard of Excellence book helps students go above the break. I like to trick the clarinets when they're playing low and all they have to do is pop the register key with certain exercises.

As far as individual books, I really like the Rubank books. That's also where the All-State and All-County exercises for Florida come from and they get familiar with those.

What can be done to encourage students to continue with band after their first year and beyond? Middle school to high school transition?

One of the things I learned the most when I was wondering why I had so many beginners that weren't moving on were that the students quitting where the ones who didn't find success. Try to focus on every single child and get them to a point of success. With high school, I always tell the kids when they play in the high school band rather than saying if. Have the students see themselves in higher bands.

Is there any common thread with those students why they haven't been finding success?

For some kids, it's honestly laziness. There are also a handful of kids you see at the end of the year that they're not truly interested in. I think a big part of it as an educator though is that we need to make sure that we're looking at all our kids. They're all different and they all need that individual attention. Maybe the student is struggling and they need that extra push to get them to push forward. A lot of that falls back on us.

What are you proud about with your band program?

A lot! My first year I had 24 beginning band students and this year, I currently have 100 beginning band students for the 2018-2019 school year. It's growing, they're great kids, and they're excited.

This is the first time our school did a summer-elective academy. The kids got to cycle through all the electives to get an idea what classes they want to take. I think our school will really see the benefit of this camp when those students come to us full time in August.

How did you take your 24 kids to 100?

Going out to all the elementary schools. Every visit, I brought current band students and I let them do the talking. Kids don’t want to hear boring adults recruit. I also have an awesome high school director, too. He hosts this Prism Concert where the evening is a dinner/fundraiser event, but he does a 5th-grade day for these students. We go there in December as well and they get to see the high school students in action. It becomes something they start hearing and aspire to. We’re a band family.

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