Where do you teach?
Deerfield High School, ILMEA District 7
What do you teach?
Freshman Concert Band (36)
Symphonic Band (41)
Wind Ensemble (47)
Jazz Band (16)
Music Theory (15)
I also direct a marching band (85) and three jazz combos (35).
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
The most satisfying part of my job is when students get excited about making music together. When something goes really well in rehearsal, I can see their eyes light up at the beauty we've just created. They walk in the band room and greet each other with enthusiastic smiles, and you just know that this is one of the highlights of their day. Then, outside of class, a student will tell me about some connection they made in another subject or a new video they saw that connects to our class. That's when I can tell that music has become deeply embedded in their lives.
What makes the music program at Deerfield High School unique?
Our jazz band is not a big band - it's an expanded combo with free instrumentation. Any given year, we can have flutes, clarinets, even a euphonium or horn, all mixed in with the traditional brass and saxes. Then we do our own individualized arrangements of jazz classics. We've had an oboe/English horn/bassoon trio in the middle of a minor blues tune and a traditional Arabic oud playing an introduction to "A Night in Tunisia." The students really get to flex their creative muscles when they have to make all the decisions about how to arrange a piece.
What do students get from the music program that they do not get anywhere else in school?
Like all of the arts, musicians deal with deep, sometimes esoteric, emotions and nuances. We learn to express feelings through sound and time in order to create something that is beautiful or exciting, frightening or noble. We do this while accomplishing an amazing feat of multitasking by coordinating airflow, embouchure, and finger/hand/foot movements, all informed by the notation we are reading, the conductor we are watching, and the sounds we are continually monitoring and evaluating.
Most classes have some component of group work, but everything we do in a music class is collaborative. I always remind my students that if they don't do their math homework, one person suffers, but if they aren't prepared for band, 45 people suffer. They are taught to help each other and to depend on each other, to listen all around and react to the ever-changing sounds. Music is not a subject where you can be a passive participant - everybody has to contribute in order to succeed as a group.
What are the top five reasons students are involved in music at Deerfield High School?
Music nourishes a part of them that is important and meaningful.
They have made lasting relationships with their peers that go back to elementary school.
They love the academic and physical challenge of making music.
Their hard work is recognized and valued.
It's just plain fun.
How has ILMEA involvement benefitted the educators, students and music education at Deerfield High School?
The district festivals offer a wonderful goal for students who work hard to prepare their auditions. Even if they aren't chosen for a district group, the experience of practicing for and taking an audition is valuable. The students who do make the festival get to work with outstanding conductors and meet like-minded musicians from other schools. The IMEC always gives me new ideas to improve and expand my teaching repertoire, which in turn benefits the students.
What are your educational goals for this year?
One of my biggest goals is always to incorporate comprehensive musicianship into my teaching so that the students learn more than their individual parts to our band pieces. This year, we had an extended unit on East Asian music, which culminated in a concert featuring the music of Japanese and Chinese composers. Along the way, we learned some famous Asian melodies and watched videos of traditional and modern performers. We also discussed issues behind cultural appropriation and how they relate to pieces written by composers from one culture trying to use or emulate the sounds of another.
How do you incorporate assessment and standards-based learning in your music curriculum, and how does it benefit your students?
This year I am experimenting with standards-based grading. Students are assessed on their abilities in performance factors like tone and rhythm as well as cognitive standards like analysis and evaluation. What's different this year is that the final grade is not an average of several assessments. It is a reflection of an overall trend and where a student is at the end of the semester. If a student struggled with tone in September and received scores of 2 out of 4, but was consistently strong in January, the tone component of the final grade would be a 4.
Please share something with new teachers that you have found helpful in your life.
It's amazing how your perspective on teaching changes when you have children of your own go through a school music program. You really understand how the things you expect from kids must fit into their complex lives that include so many other demands and activities. I know I've become much more understanding when a student can't find time to practice every night because I've seen my own children struggle to balance music, academics, activities, and family.