Vandoren Interviews Band Directors from Around the Country: Jarrell, TX

with Band Director Stephen Grant

Date Posted: September 12, 2018

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Where and what grade levels do you teach?

I teach at Jarrell Middle School in Jarrell, TX. I teach band from 6th - 8th grade. This last year I taught most of the beginner instruments all the way through several different band classes. I do assist at the high school just down the road, too.

How long have you been a band director?

I have completed 4 years and will just start my 5th year. My father's a retired band director so I've been around this my whole life.

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

I believe all students have the opportunity to be successful in music. The saxophone and clarinet are very intimidating to an 11 or 12-year old; the strange shape objects make funny noises and have lots of buttons, then you add this popsicle thing in their mouth and it can be very overwhelming! I try to create an environment where each student finds confidence on day one.

My first goal of the year would be for those students to create a characteristic tone on that instrument. Once the student believes they sound good, they'll want to continue to play.

Is there anything else you do to help your kids get a good sound?

I try to play as many recordings or examples for the kids so they can pick that up and hear that. I have friends who are great saxophone or clarinet players and have them come in and play something.

We start the year doing breathing exercises and trying to get a good control of our lungs when we begin to play. I spend the first week or two just dedicated to breathing and basic music theory before we put our mouths on the mouthpiece.

I started off with the "Breathing Gym" when I first started teaching. Then I've adapted some of the ideas from that to what I do in class. We'll stand up and I'll teach them to breathe in and out with a count. I try to make it fun.

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

Initially, it was confidence. Being confident and presenting it to my students was a challenge. Where I first began my teaching career was at another district and I didn't have the support that I'd hoped to have at first with some of my colleagues. They weren't bad, but I didn't have that reassurance - I was always second guessing myself. It took some time to come through with confidence.

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

For very beginners, I always go to the Hal Leonard "Essential Elements" book. It's very adaptable to most students and letting that begin. After that first year, then we can start getting into the "48 Studies Book" for saxophone. We have several copies of the book and let students use them when needed.

What can be done to encourage students to continue with band from middle school to high school?

I think you need to make your first year of band as fun as possible. It all starts from day one. If they're not having fun, they're not going to do it. It doesn't matter if you're the best teacher in the world, if they're dreading to come to the class, they're not going to want to continue. I do my best to make learning fun.

Going into the second year, I try to have them play pop songs. I make a habit of pulling out my sax and playing something like "Happy" by Pharrell Williams so they can see me having fun. I'll always have kids coming up to me asking if they can play a particular pop song on the radio. I try to encourage students to learn new music on their instrument. This is the start of a culture of success.

"I think you need to make your first year of band as fun as possible. It all starts from day one. If they're not having fun, they're not going to do it."

- Stephen Grant

What makes you proud about your band program?

This last year, we took our kids to the Texas UIL Concert and Sightreading Contest. My band students received their first sweepstakes award on stage which marked the first time in 6 years that our school has been able to do something like that. I'm really proud of the kids.

I've had students on a lot of instruments go to the region competition where they represent our school and make it into the region honor band competing against other students. I had a saxophone student who went on to state solo and ensemble and made 1st division on a college level piece. I am very proud of my students in Jarrell for setting goals and achieving them.

You mentioned you grew up in the band room - what was that like? Anything that you've applied to your job now?

Yes! I've learned a lot of patience and it's OK to mess up early. My dad was very successful as a band director, but he would always tell me that I was going to make a mistake, but the kids are resilient. If you're honest with them, they will get over it and relearn. Be patient with your kids, don't rush, and arrive as a great teacher.

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