Where and what grade levels do you teach?
I currently teach high school band, 9-12 at Bloomfield Hills High School in Bloomfield, MI.
How long have you been a band director?
This is my 10th year of teaching, going on my 11th.
What is your teaching philosophy when approaching high school clarinet and saxophone playing?
Tone first. It's really making sure that they have the right embouchure in place and are making a good sound. I think with our clarinets, getting a round, full sound. I run into a lot of clarinet players that are using minimum amount of air to make a sound. I use the analogy of a pinwheel. Imagine I put a pinwheel on the bottom of their instrument and try to get that pinwheel to spin using their sound.
For saxophone, there are so many different tones that are appropriate just because of how new the instrument is. Clarinet tone really only means one thing. I tell my students on saxophone that saxophone is the easiest instrument to learn, but one of the hardest to master. It's very accessible and it's one of the reasons it's so popular.
Once they are able to make a really good sound, I start adding the vibrato in and getting them to listen to various artists like Claude Delangle, Don Sinta, Otis Murphy. All of their vibratos are slightly different. Giving them a vibrato that is working for them and one they like is key.
What is the greatest challenge you've faced as a band director and how have you addressed it.
One of the greatest challenges now is competing for students' attention and time. I teach really great kids, but as you know, the kids that are involved in music are some of the top students in the school. They get pulled into a lot of things. They're pulled in a lot of different ways with clubs and sports. I think it's important for kids to be well-rounded, but the students are so concerned with getting into college. It makes it tough to get them making the best music they can. Sometimes we get there and sometimes we miss a few students. It's a give and take.
What are some method books you would recommend to high school clarinet and saxophone students?
Rose 32 Etudes is really good for my clarinetists.
For saxophone, the Rubank method is really good. I think that book has a good progression. The Voxman is also terrific for saxophone because it goes through all 12 major keys, has etudes, and would make a great choice for an advanced high school players. Also, the Larry Teal book: "The Daily Studies for the Improvement of the Saxophone Technique" by Larry Teal.
What can be done to encourage students to continue with band from middle school to high school?
We do a lot to encourage students to continue. We tell our parents that if you can get your kid in the 9th grade, you're almost for sure going to see them graduate with the band. Once they get into the high school band, they get that authentic learning experience of performing at high-level concerts that they often don't get in middle school.
This year I had 85% retention from my middle school to high school which I was really proud of.
We do a fall marching band event. We have 3 middle schools feeding into one high school and we teach them one of the pieces the marching band is learning and have them meet the section leaders, rehearse, and perform on the field at one of our football games.
We also do a "High School Move-Up Day" where all of the middle schoolers come and rehearse with our top symphony band as well.
What makes you proud about your band program?
I think it's the kids. They work really hard and have great attitudes. I haven't had one disciplinary issue since I started at my new school and they come ready to work. If they're not successful at something, they work towards what can make them successful to do it. They're fun kids to make music with.
One thing that's really great about our program is that we have an inclusive program - our band, orchestra, and choir programs are very connected. We share a lot of the students and perform together. I think that's one thing that makes us unique in what we offer our kids in terms of performance experiences.
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