Leader of the Band and more...

Several years back, as a part of a larger project called Leader of the Band, Tim Lautzenheiser and I teamed up to film a series of impromptu leadership videos. Designed to be accessible and informal, these videos take a look at the role of student leaders in school music programs.

Since I am out of the country this week, I thought I might provide these as an alternative to the insightful, pithy missives you have come accustomed to receiving. I hope you enjoy!

The Emperor, Stereograms and Music Education

Remember those 3D mosaic pictures that were big in the 90s? You know, the ones that used a thousand little pictures to make one big one? If you stared at them long enough, and in just the right way, a 3D image would jump out of the picture to create a completely different picture that would unify all of the little pictures?

The official name for these "works of art" is stereogram. I just called them bunk. Why? Because I could NEVER see the 3D picture. 

I’m not sure if I wasn’t doing it right, or what my problem was, but the 3D bonus pic eluded me EVERY time. To be honest, it felt a little bit like I was the Emperor without any clothes on. Everyone could see something I couldn’t and I felt a little embarrassed when I had to admit I saw NOTHING.

Honestly, I wonder if there was even a picture there to see. Maybe this was some kind of practical joke. Where's Ashton Kutcher? Am I being punked?

I see music education as being something akin to a stereogram.

Think about it, our profession is made up of so many smaller vignettes: band, choir, orchestra, & general music. We’ve got elementary, secondary, collegiate, and professional ensembles performing in the idioms of marching, concert, and jazz. There are soloists, small ensembles and full symphony orchestras. We have local, state, and national constituent groups who are supported by manufacturers, publishers, and retail stores alike. Our musicians, ranging from 4-94 in age, are students, parents, and community members that represent every ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic group.Yes, our profession is most assuredly made up of a thousand little pictures.

But where's the stereogram? It has to be there, right? Without it, we're just a bunch of little people with no connection, working in isolation. There HAS to be a hidden image. There HAS to be a unifying theme and underlying value that ties us all together. Otherwise what are we doing this for?

For the better part of a quarter of a century, I have been looking at this picture, searching for the stereogram. There are moments when I think I see something, but it fades before I can recognize what it is. It is equal parts maddening and frustrating. I KNOW it's in there. I can feel it even if I can't see it.

I believe we are all are working to a bigger and better end. I believe that there is a sense of structure and purpose to it all that gives our work a greater meaning. I believe we are all collaborators and not competitors. But collaborators at what?

I’m just not sure... YET!

But then again, I can’t see hidden images. So, can do me a favor? Will you look at our sterogram and tell me what you see? I REALLY want to know if there’s something there, or I’m just the Emperor wearing no clothes.

And NOBODY wants to see a stereogram of that!

My son is in a gang.

My son is in a gang.

I’m not proud of this, but I can’t watch him 24/7. He uses the term “crew” but I'm pretty sure it's a gang.

Now, before you envision him hustling stolen auto parts, flashing his "signs" while wearing his colors, you should know that he’s in first grade. The gang? They call themselves "The Pug Crew." Sounds ominous doesn't it?

I asked my son, "How did you get in The Pug Crew? Do you have to love all things pug related?" Nope! Apparently, being in The Pug Crew has nothing to do with pugs at all and the only membership requisite is that you have to race every member in the crew. When you hear of other gangs “running” drugs, apparently The Pug Crew just takes the running part seriously. 

Evan and his pals do like pugs, but really, they just want to belong to something.

Even as a first grader, Maslow’s need for “love and belonging” has taken hold of my son. He wants and needs to be a part of something, and connected to someone else. He wants to share a bond, while differentiating himself from his peers. Name, gender, class, and teacher only go so far on the rough and tumble world that is the first grade playground. So there he is, running (literally) with his fellow Pugs, finding his place and setting himself apart. According to Maslow, he is developing self-esteem and on a pathway towards self-actualization. Heady stuff for a first grader, if you ask me. 

You and me, we’re not so different from Evan and his crew, and our rehearsal halls bear some resemblance to the first grade playground.

In music, we work towards one sound, created by many instruments. We work at fostering homogenous values in heterogeneous ways. We push students as individuals inside of a group setting. We create harmony by creating diversity (1st, 2nd, & 3rd parts). In music, in order to become one, we must first become many.

In this way, Maslow and music may have something in common.

To my way of thinking, it’s okay that the band is different than the choir and the choir is different from the orchestra. I believe the woodwinds need to be different from the brass and the violins need to be different than the violas. I believe that concert band needs marching band to keep kids engaged and that individuals playing solos make the ensemble better.

Maybe in order to be one in music we have to be willing to be many. Maybe the ONLY way to have a safe space for everyone is to have a DIFFERENT place for everyone. And maybe, just maybe, the reason music is so powerful is that, more than in any other space in school, we have learned that in order to put things together, we have to first break them apart.

We ALL want to be a part of something and connected to someone. We all want to believe that we are special or different in some way (myself included). Which is why I asked Evan if I could be a part of The Pug Crew. He said NO!

Apparently, I'm just not fast enough.

My search continues.

Warren Beatty, Tinder, and Music Education

Prior to starting, you should know that at the end of this newsletter there will be a salient, well thought out point, but I may force you to wander with me while I get to it. Think of this newsletter like shopping at IKEA... You're forced to pass by stuff you don't want to get to the stuff you do. Except, unlike IKEA, I have assembled this newsletter for you. You're welcome!

Warren Beatty, Tinder, and Music Education

Yesterday, I did a churn and burn.

Stop that! Get your mind out of the gutter. A churn and burn is when you fly there, speak, and fly home all in the same day.

For those of you having enough common sense to choose a profession not involving body scans and living out of a backpack, you might think a 20 hour marathon to be painful, whereas I call it delightful. A churn and burn means I can start AND end the day in the same bed. ANNNNDDDD, that bed is MINE. BOOOYAHHH!

Call Warren Beatty and tell him we have another WINNER and that winner is ME! (Come on, you knew an Oscar joke was coming, right?) 

Flying is like Tinder (no, I will not hyperlink that) except at 35,000 feet, and you can't swipe right! Seriously, my airline could be a dating service, except the American Airlines app never seems to take my "must-haves" into account and won't let me choose my seat mate by swiping right ot left.

Like a first date, a plane ride forces you to often spend hours in close proximity with someone you barely know, making small-talk, pretending to be interested, all the while just wondering, "How much longer am I going to have to endure this?"

On my outbound morning flight today, a young gentlemen sat next to me and the first thing out of his mouth was, "Can I tell you about an exciting opportunity for you to sell vitamins and home security systems?"

Ummmmm, SWIPE LEFT.

My late night return flight was a different story, however. A middle-aged bearded man dressed in hiking clothes and a down vest sat next to me and we struck up a conversation. He shared with me that he was venture capitalist. He was well spoken, thoughtful, and articulate.

SWIPE RIGHT

As we exchanged our views on world politics and the state of the economy, he mentioned that the industries that can adapt and change with the times are those that he prefers to fund. He called them "resilient economic development opportunities." I was fascinated not only by the concept but the context of the conversation. 

To my way of thinking, music education is a "resilient educational development opportunity" (TM). (You can't steal that, I just trademarked it!)

Music in our schools has stood the test of time for over fifty years and was one of the few non-curricular activities to survive NLCB, the 2008 economic meltdown, and the demanding world of high stakes testing and academic accountability. In recent years, student enrollment has grown and music was even recognized by our government as a core component of a well rounded education. For many music businesses, profits are up and unemployment in music education is down.

Listen, I'm not saying that all is perfect in our world, because it's NOT! But, keep in mind when it comes to MANY other school and non-school related activities, the kids and the community swiped left. But when it came time for music, they...

SWIPED RIGHT!

Now, if someone could explain to me why IKEA can't use bolts and screws like everyone else!

Have a great week everyone!

The Peltzman Effect and Music Education 

In the drafts folder of my email I keep a file called, "Things to Think About." This folder is filled with half baked thoughts, unanswered questions, and snippets of information that intrigue me. As a I come across an unresolved thought, unique concept or incomplete idea, I place it there to be visited later when I have the time or inclination to resolve it on a deeper level.

"Things to Think About." is where I go when I want to stretch my mind and challenge my critical thinking skills. It's a space to "day dream" and think during long and late night plane flights, which I guess not not really "day" dreaming. It's not a place for answers, but rather a place for questions. Granted, the "drafts" folder of my inbox is an odd place to keep such a thing, until you realize the things that I am keeping are quite odd itself.

Last night, as a diversion from the mundane work of preparing my business taxes, I opened up the folder and began to read the contents. In an effort to revisit them anew, I went to the oldest document in the file and there it was... The Peltzman Effect and Music Education. YEEEESSSSS! I have NO IDEA why I put this here, but whatever it is has to be WAY better than working on my taxes, so I read on...

The Peltzman Effect is the hypothesized tendency of people to react to a safety regulation by increasing other risky behavior, offsetting some or all of the benefit of the regulation.(source: Wikipedia) The Peltzman Effect theorizes about unintended and opposite consequences created through new safety regulations. For instance, the unintended effect of creating safer cars is that drivers feel less at risk and drive in more unsafe ways. In short, by making cars safer, we made drivers less safe.

As a part of my long ago and forgotten contemplation, I wondered about the Peltzman Effect and unintended consequences in music education.

For instance, is it possible that the unintended consequences of:

  • having easier access to tuning devices has made students play more out of tune because they rely on technology and not their ears?
  • higher the ratings at festival lead to greater dissatisfaction in teaching and student learning? In an effort to make sure the literature was attainable, teachers might choose less rigorous literature or rehearse it beyond the point where it is enjoyable for either the teacher or students.
  • advocacy efforts are actually endangering music education by making it seem more fragile than it is and seemingly less important to students and parents?
  • having a sizable staff as it minimizes student development by impeding the growth of the student leadership?
  • having better performing ensembles as it causes more students to quit due to increased rehearsal/performance/practice demands.

Keep in mind, in all of Peltzman's research, he never stated that the bad outweighed the good, just that simple and obvious well intentioned acts might have unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Me? I am a walking Peltzman experiment. My ability to achieve unintended consequences or unexpected results is UNCANNY! You have no idea how often I say the wrong thing in an attempt to do what it right. Or how many times I have made the wrong decision, even when I have the right information. Truly, my initial instincts are so consistently wrong that I truly have grown accustomed to listening to my gut, and then doing the exact opposite.

I would elaborate, but the Peltzman Effect would suggest that the more I write, the less you read. So what do you say we forget this e-zine ever existed and we stick this one back in my "drafts" folder for a while longer while I think about it?

After all, Petzman might agree that absence makes the heart grow fonder...

So go back to what you were doing, pretend I was never here, and have a HORRIBLE week! (I totally Peltzered that!)

Iron Chef vs. Swedish Chef and "cooking" up leaders!

My son Evan and I LOVE to watch cooking shows. Whenever he is sick or just needing a little "daddy time," we gather our snacks and hunker down for a Food Network marathon. To be specific, Chopped Junior is our drug of choice. Heck, how hard can a red-wine reduction sauce be when a 12 year old can make it? These shows make everything in the kitchen seem creative and exciting, and I am NOTHING if not creative and exciting!

To be honest, I am a disaster as a cook. My ignorance goes well beyond that of the average male who spent thirty-five years as a bachelor. Truly, I am a total waste of human space in the kitchen. In my head, I see myself as the Iron Chef, but in reality, I am more like the Swedish Chef.... MORK, MORK, MORK!

My wife (who taught a high school culinary class) has tried to teach me, but I quickly become bored with the mundane stuff (chopping, slicing, and measuring) and want to move on the part when I get to light stuff on fire and use the blender. YES! Power tools for the kitchen! Men love to work with power tools, even if they are wearing an apron at the time.

Recently, my cooking training wheels were removed as I was tasked with making cookies. I scoffed at the simplicity of it all and saw this as beneath me. How hard could this be? Puuuullleeeeaaassseeee, I GOT THIS!

With my seven year old Evan by my side, I dumped all of the ingredients into the blender, which is appearently different than a mixer, adding eggs, milk, and butter. (Note: juggling eggs is NOT recommended, especially when you don't know how to juggle.) I then surveyed the assortment of mixing speeds from which to choose. Man alive, how could there be so many options for mixing? Stir, puree, whip, blend, crush – as far as I’m concerned, they should have just put fast, faster, fasterer, and fastererest! Fast is is good, but fastererest is better and quicker, so Evan and I decided on that!

After cleaning cookie batter off Evan, myself, and the ceiling, we continued on, but now had as my wife puts it, "proper supervision."

Next problem... Ingredients and measurements. I viewed the ingredient list more as a guideline than a requisite list. Baking soda versus baking powder, WHO CARES?! Tomato, tomahto! The details bore me! I want to approach the baking of cookies with the same reckless abandonment I use in cooking.

It turns out that you can’t do this. My patient wife explained to me that baking is a science and unlike my freewheeling approach to cooking, is an exercise in following step by step directions (something that has been proven not to be my strong point) before you can be creative. In the chemical reaction that is baking, failing to meet the necessary conditions or alteration of the size and scope of the ingredients in any way, might yield the undesirable results.

In a cooking, an extra pinch of salt, a touch more flour and five additional minutes can be genius, in baking it can be disasterous.

Me? As a teacher and a leader, I am more of a cooker, than a baker. I understand the need for structure and oversight, but I prefer to solve problems in a unique and personal way. To my way of thinking, no two students are exactly the same; so therefore, no two situations involving people can be the same.

There is a need for "bakers" in our profession and our world – people who understand, appreciate and follow precise and specific directions. I would not want a doctor, fighter pilot, computer coder, or pharmacist to be a "chef." Yes, their jobs require creativity, but only AFTER they have followed the prescribed formula for success. As I said, there is a distinct and ever-growing need for these people – I just know that I need not apply.

As a teacher and a leader, are you a baker or a chef? When choosing your student leaders, do you consider their skill sets and personality types? Is your librarian a baker and your drum major a chef? Do you match their job to their personality or the other way around? There is no right or wrong person; there are just right and wrong people for the jobs.

Either way, be sure to cover everything up before turning on the blender – I should know, I am still cleaning cookie dough off of our kitchen ceiling.

I'll be the Goose to your Maverick!

As long as I can remember I've had a fascination with flying. Despite anyone's best explanation, I am still confounded by the fact that we can lift 75 tons of sheet metal into the air and bring it back down without a big KABOOM. Despite flying over 300 times a year, the thrill of flying has never gotten old.

I have mentioned my neighbor, John in past newsletters (here & here), and while I have talked about his service to our country and general good neighborliness, I don't believe I ever told you what he does for a living. He's a helicopter pilot! 

Having never been in a helicopter, I have, on more than one occasion, slipped John a not so subtle hint that should he ever need a "Goose" to his "Maverick" (see how I compared myself to Tom Cruise there), I was READY, WILLING, and ABLE!

John called me a little while back asking, "What are you doing tomorrow?" I answered, "Ummm, working." He said, "Wanna play hookie and help me bring a helicopter back from Colorado?" My response? Say it with me now... "I FEEEEEL THE NEEEEED. THE NEEEEED FOR SPEEEEEEEEED!"

I can't share all of the details of our trip, as he says his company might not approve of the "scenic route" we took but suffice it to say, it was one for the books.

John has been a helicopter pilot in and out of the military for over twenty years and has seen and done it all. Me? Well, despite all of my frequent flier miles, my only experience with helicopters comes from parenting, which is helicoptering of a very different kind.

Trust me when I say that when it comes to hovering, both the flying and parenting type, being a passenger is WAY more fun that being the pilot. Beyond the in-flight responsibilities and requirements, pilots and parents shoulder the enormous weight of knowing that they are ultimately responsible for other people's lives.

Teaching? Well, that's a little different. We have to be comfortable both as a passenger and a pilot and know when to serve in which role. And while we play an important role in kids' development, we do not ultimately shoulder the responsibility for their success.

But, we play a pivotal and problematic role in their lives.

As an educator, we have to be able to recognize when to fly the plane and when to sit back and be quiet. We have to shepherd our students in the right direction, but allow them to make their own decisions. We have to know when to be in command and when to be quiet. We must point out storms that lay ahead, but allow them to navigate through them in their own way. We must provide them with the benefit of our experience, but allow them to choose their own destination and chart their own path.

In other words, sometimes we have to be Goose and sometimes we have to be Maverick.

As I said, when it comes to our students, we are equal parts passenger and pilot on THEIR journey. As much as we might like to think otherwise, it is in fact, THEIR journey. And while we bear a great deal of responsibility for their training, the ultimate burden and responsibility for their lives falls more on them than it does us. Sometimes, in an effort to do what is right, we forget that.

Thanks John, for the flight, fellowship, and showing me my home, children, and profession from a different vantage point. I will be your Goose anytime.

That is, of course, unless you need a Maverick.

There's an APP(athy) for that!

Like many modern day Gen X'ers, I consider myself to be somewhat of a techno-crat. I’m no savant by any means, but let's just say, that like many of you, I have an unapologetic and unnatural love for all things electronic, especially my phone… Or should I say my iPhone.

My phone has an app for just about every important thing in my life. I have a health tracker, a budget tracker, a news tracker, a stock tracker, and a bill paying app, all of which I ignore.

I also have a Starbucks app that I should ignore, but don’t, and a Words with Friends app that at times consumes my life. Drat you, John Burn, for being infinitely smarter than me.

Never before has so much information been so readily available, and rendered so useless by its user... ME! 

I seem to ignore all the apps that could actually MAKE me better, in favor of the ones that make me FEEL better. In this way, having more apps does not make me more productive, it does the exact opposite. That is, unless you count me losing fourteen consecutive games to John Burn as "a learning experience."

The problem is not with my apps, it's with my "app-athy." I have all of the tools I need to be more successful, but lack the will(power) or desire to use them. It's as true for me as a professional as it is as a person. It's not what I KNOW that holds me back, but what I FEEL!

As a teacher, I knew that I should:

  • spend more time on fundamentals, but didn't.
  • study my scores daily, but didn't.
  • get ahead in my paperwork, but didn't.
  • collaborate more with our band/choir/orchestra colleagues, but didn't.
  • lesson plan for every class, but didn't.

I also knew that I shouldn't:

  • get down when a student quit, but did.
  • let a judge's rating alter how I felt about a performance, but did.
  • let a crazy parent upset me, but did.
  • listen to politicians and pundits talk about education, but did.
  • let bad days overwhelm the good ones, but did.

As educators, we are trained to believe that with information comes power, but without the will(power) to use it, the information is oftentimes rendered useless.

As I travel from state to state speaking at MEA conventions, I see many sessions filled with knowledge; however, my experience has shown me that the sessions that are filled with people are the ones that not only makes us think, but also make us feel. Perhaps it is when feeling is combined with thinking that the greatest learning is achieved.

This is one of the many things that makes music education so impactful and unique, it combines thinking AND feeling into one singular activity.

So during these dark days of winter, contest prep, recruitment, and teacher evaluations, let me encourage you to spend at least some time reminding kids how you feel about them, because how YOU feel can help determine how THEY think. They need this affirmation of understanding and caring, because there is no app for apathy.

Until the next time, have a great week! 

Hate mail and my midlife crisis!

Have you ever received something in the mail that got you mad as all get out? Have you ever wanted to send something back to the sender with a “special note?" For me, TODAY is that day. Yep, I got a letter and I am FIRED up!

I know what you're thinking... Who would do this? Who would stoop that low? Scott is like a saint! (You were thinking that, right?)

I know what you're thinking... Who would do this? Who would stoop that low? Scott is like a saint! (You were thinking that, right?) I'll tell you who... The American Association of Retired People.

Yep, you read it correctly. Today, I was verbally assaulted by AARP. How did they do it? They sent me “birthday well wishes and an invitation to join their exclusive club.” UGH!

How rude! 

They didn't send it by mistake. The envelope wasn’t labeled with "occupant" or "resident," it had MY NAME on it. They might as well have addressed it to "old guy" or "Mr. Squishy in the Middle" or "Five Head."

Listen, I didn't ask to join their club and truth be told, I have TWO HUNDRED AND TEN DAYS until my next BIG birthday. And that’s like a lifetime away!

Yeah, yeah, they couched in real nice terms and pretty pictures of “active adults,” but to me, it was assault none the less. I was REALLY upset... But, why?

Truth be told, I never planned on being this old. I never saw it in my mind or had a vision of what it would be like. Why would I? I always saw myself as a young band teacher. Being old(er), like life... Just happened. As a part of life, and this profession, I have become many things I never planned for:

  • I didn’t plan to become more hopeful or tolerant.
  • I didn’t plan become more organized or focused.
  • I didn’t plan to become more active or engaged.

But I did, because I taught music.

  • I didn’t plan to laugh as much or feel so deeply.
  • I didn’t plan to see the bigger picture of things or focus on the smallest details.
  • I didn’t plan to learn to multi-task or deal with really big problems.

But I did, because I taught music.

  • I didn’t plan to learn how to discipline with love or become more patient.
  • I didn’t plan to learn how to parent or become more patient.
  • I didn't plan to be this happy with who I am and how I have spent my life.

But I did, because I taught music.

This professional pathway we are on is as much as journey for US as it is for our students. Life and learning doesn’t always occur at the time and place of our choosing but, whether we plan for it or not, it is ALWAYS occurring.

I didn’t plan to be the person I am today, but I am… Because I taught music.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 4:00 reservation at Luby’s I need to get to.

Let's Celebrate (no matter who you voted for)!

This Friday, approximately fifty percent of you will be mourning the departure of one Commander in Chief, while the remaining fifty percent will be celebrating the arrival of the other. Either way, all 100% of us should be celebrating music education and the role that it plays in Friday's inaugural events and our countries history.

Yes, that's right, in just over seventy-two hours our nation's capital will be filled with not just pomp & circumstance, but MUSIC, as we welcome our nations' 45th president. With this momentous event comes an unique opportunity to talk with your students about the history of music education and the important role it has in history and national culture.

In three days, on the eastern front of the Capital Building, there will be no sports teams competing. You won't see America's best mathematicians solving quadratic equations. You won't find our best scientists debating issues of the day. What will you see and HEAR in abundance? MUSIC!

During this national celebration you will hear the herald trumpets sound, see the choirs sing, and experience the President's Own usher in a new era of leadership with Hail to the Chief.

After the swearing in ceremony, our country will celebrate, with music, offerings from marching bands, performing/recording artists, and eight separate music filled galas.

Yes, on this most important of occassions, music will be front and center as a core component to our nation's grandest of events, the Inauguration of the President of the United States. While others bemoun the state of the arts, I say we celebrate it! But how...

As a way of honoring this very important day, perhaps we treat it in a special way. For one day, perhaps we seize this teachable moment to give our students a little perspective about this activity and the role it plays in our society. Yes, I am suggesting that on one day every four years we break the golden rule of classroom management to "play less and talk more."

What should we talk about? How about:

Talk about the spirit of music and how it moves people. Talk about how music has been around since man itself. Talk about how music has affected you and your life. Talk about how every significant moment in our country's history has been marked by song. Just for one day, TALK more and play less.

The Da Capo to this tune isn't coming back for four more years, so on Friday, perhaps we might be educators of music more so than music educators.

Just a thought. Have a GREAT week everyone.