Overcoming Challenges as a Band Director with Carmel High School's Director Kyle Young

Where, and what grade levels/subjects do you teach?

I teach at Carmel High School in Carmel, IN. I teach high school concert band, jazz band and marching band. 

How long have you been a band director?

I have been a band director for 13 years.  

What is your teaching philosophy when approaching high school clarinet and saxophone?

My teaching philosophy with clarinet and saxophone is heavily based in fundamentals. If the student has a poor set of fundamentals (embouchure, hand position etc.) it will create a major road block in their progress. Equipment is very important in my philosophy as well. Instrument, mouthpiece, ligature and reeds all have a great impact on their ability to be successful. Exposing them to great teachers and experts on their instruments as often as possible creates an environment that inspires constant improvement by the students.  

What is the greatest challenge you face as a high school band teacher and how do you address it?

High school band directors face lots of challenges every day. I would say that the challenges we most often face are...

Keeping your finger on the pulse of recruitment and retention. Are we making sure that our students are successful and want to continue?

We try to visit the middle school band programs often. Whether it is to work with the students or not, it is important that they see and get to know the high school directors. We invite all the middle school band students to events throughout the year. If it is a ticketed special event, we will provide any middle school student with a free ticket. We want to get them in the door! 

Students feeling successful on their instrument will increase their desire to continue into high school and throughout their high school career. This comes from; making sure they are fundamentally solid, select appropriate and quality literature of ALL the ensembles and make the students feel that they are improving.   

Are we continuing to provide all the opportunities that our students deserve?

Often we have added new ensembles if we feel there is a need or desire. We have over 4 jazz big bands, but there are several of our students that enjoy (and already perform) in jazz combos. We began to provide those students with an opportunity to be featured before our jazz concerts to showcase a whole new type of ensemble to our audiences. We have added large "choirs" for our instrumentalists as well. Creating this unique performance opportunity has helped build momentum in several of our private studios. 

Are we being mindful of the amount of time our students are spending in the program?

Students involved in our band program tend to play in multiple ensembles, have high academic demands as well as demands outside of Carmel High School. We try to be understanding that students are busier than ever. Whether it be musical demands, scholastic demands or responsibilities at home, we work to ensure that they can be successful at as much as possible. If a student needs help with a school subject, we offer tutoring sessions with other members of the band program. If a student is struggling with musical preparation, we have music mentors to help assist them. It is important as educators to also understand that students will tend to spread themselves too thin if we don't continue to work to show them how to best balance and budget their time and responsibilities. 

Are we maintaining and environment of a healthy culture both musically and socially?

We work to ensure that the students have a desire to continually improve their musical skills. At the same time, it is our job to make the environment one of a positive nature. Creating a family within the band program is a large emphasis in our mission statement. The people in our program and the way that we treat them, will always be no. 1. The directors at Carmel High School work to be passionate and caring teachers. Our hope is that if the students feel the passion that comes from the director in front of them, it will be reciprocated in their participation.  

"Whether it be musical demands, scholastic demands or responsibilities at home, we work to ensure that they can be successful at as much as possible." - Kyle Young

What are some methods books you would recommend to high school clarinet and saxophone students?

There are lots of method books to be use for clarinet and saxophone students. Some are widely used by studio teachers all the time. From beginning to advanced, students can use books such as Rubank, Ferling, Klose, Rascher etc and gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and skill.

What are some tips you would give to a band director looking to have a knock-out jazz ensemble in their high school?

My recommendation would be to guide the students to listen to great jazz artists constantly! There is no better substitute than listening to the best of the best. Bringing in jazz clinicians is another great way to increase their skill set. These clinicians have a lifetime of experience and expertise that can bring lots of ideas to the table for the students to implement in their playing. Be picky with style! Make sure that your students understand style very specifically so they truly match each other and the intent of their music!

"Be picky with style! Make sure that your students understand style very specifically so they truly match each other and the intent of their music!" - Kyle Young

It’s incredible that your band consistently places in the top 5 at BOA Grand Nationals. What value do you think competitions give your band program and students?

Being a member of a competitive marching band provides our students with a lot of opportunities and skills that are very useful in everyday application. The students have the opportunity to work their peers in both large and small team environments and gain teamwork skills along the way. They also learn the value of striving for perfection and different techniques that can be used to prepare themselves for a high level of performance. It also teaches them how to perform with passion and commitment and when you are prepared that becomes much easier. Competition also provides an opportunity for our students to be on a large stage and be recognized for their tireless efforts. 

What can be done to encourage students to continue with band during their high school years? What are the critical factors at play?

Helping students make the decision to continue with band in high school can be done is several different ways. First, the students need to feel successful. If they feel that they are achieving their goals on their instrument, they will want to continue. If they are frustrated and don't feel successful, they are more likely to quit. This can be done in a few simple ways. Music selection is crucial. Find music that is appropriate for each of the ensembles no matter the experience level. We try to push the students to improve their skills, but ultimately it has to be literature that helps to teach and add skills to the musicians. It also needs to be music that the director enjoys and can demonstrate passion and energy to the students.  

Educating the parents on the benefits of being involved in the band program in high school is another crucial step to retention. If the parents know the value and can see the value it brings to their student, they will hopefully encourage their child to continue. Having statistics for parents such as improved state test scores as well as grade point averages for students that are involved in the band program speak volumes to parents. Creating special and unique performance environments and invite the parents can make them feel more invested. We also encourage parents to participate in the booster program whether it be serving on the board or the many committees or to volunteer events and fundraisers that go towards the students of the band program.  

Finally, providing lots of opportunities for the students, will make it an appealing program to be a member. Offerings such as concert band, jazz band, marching band, pep band, chamber ensembles etc. will provide opportunities for all levels of students!

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