CPR For Band

CPR For Band

I recently read a social media post from a director asking for help on how to make score study more efficient and I have some thoughts on that (for another day.)

The point of me writing here, quick and dirty, is to share this idea that our knowledge of the score, even at its most thorough, can only take our students so far because we are the holders of all the information and they are relying on us to share what we know.

I understand and agree that projecting or making available copies of the score can be a powerful tool for the students but without guidance and follow through from us, it can still be a heavy lift to make efficient meaning out of a full score for a school group.

How about if there was a way to include the students in the process that was a bit more straight forward?

Regular readers here know I love a list.

A few years back I created an acronym using CPR but specific for band. We are not resuscitating someone who has stopped breathing but we are creating a helpful paradigm for including our students in the rehearsal and preparation process.

What is it?

CPR in band stands for Concentration-Preparation-Repetition. 

Concentration = things we can improve right away by thinking about them better

Preparation = items that need to be practiced on your own or in sectionals

Repetition = parts that need to be rehearsed together during class

While this doesn’t directly correlate to a traditional manner of score study, what it does ask us as the director to do is to reflect on where we are at in the rehearsal process at a given moment and create a list of things to do using the CPR framework (hint: by opening the score!)

I’ve shared an example below:

This is a document I created tonight to help one of my groups get ready for a performance we have in March. The ensemble has visibility to our targets for the next two weeks and it helps me stay focused in my rehearsal planning.

Later in the process I will give the students a blank template of this document and they fill in their own CPR sheets helping to give me a glimpse into what they need.

No hidden knowledge-everyone in the group has their eyes on a whole lot of information and can see what the priorities are for our upcoming rehearsals AND what they need to be working on in their own practice at home.

What do you think?


How To Get Your Band To Sound Like THAT!

I had the chance to present at the 2022 CMEA Bay Section Winter Conference on Friday January 7, 2022 and wanted to capture some highlights from the presentation for anyone who was unable to attend.

Continue reading “How To Get Your Band To Sound Like THAT!”

For mom…

For mom…

My mom, Gayla Grantham, died on July 11, 2021 surrounded by her family in a quiet and peaceful hospice house in our small hometown in Michigan. Yesterday, September 4, was her birthday. She would have been 74. I miss her terribly and break open in different ways a little bit each day. Nothing prepared me for what this would be like but as with many things in my life, writing and sharing help.

I am a musician precisely because of my mother. She was, by all accounts, quite a good flute and piccolo player in high school and gently encouraged me to sign up for band in middle school. Because making my mom happy and proud was (and is) important to me I decided to try the trombone. It worked out ok.

Her nudge to have me try (and stick with) the trombone and band changed the trajectory of my life. It opened the first of a million doors that have led me to the life I have today in California with the love of my life and a job that brings me great joy. I always love sharing videos and updates on how the Marching Dons are doing with my mom and dad. One of the last conversations I had with her in the hospital when she was still verbal was about the upcoming marching band season.

I’ll always remember having my parents at our Midwest Clinic performance in 2013. My parents, seated next to my high school band director, in the front row watching their son conduct his high school band (and their daughter on a piece, too) in front of a packed house in Chicago is something I will cherish always. I recall my mom saying “are all these people here to see your band Jon? Get outta dodge!” I can hear her Michigan accent particularly clear in my memory as she said my name. More like “Jaaaaahn!”

In addition to inspiring music in my life, Mom also helped make me an avid reader. A book we shared an affinity for was “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. It was a story that spoke to both of us and was a book I remember reading when I was little and not fully understanding everything that was happening. I was cleaning the house last weekend and came across my copy of the book and felt called to read the epilogue without remembering how the book ended (it’s been maybe 20 years since I read it last?) I present here the final paragraphs of the story which, in an almost breathtaking fashion, capture how I’d like to believe mom’s final days and hours happened.

“One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way-something about rain and elder bloom-when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him-no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not have really let him in without asking first. Never mind thought Hazel. He raised his head and said “Do you want to talk to me?”

“Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,” replied the other. “You know me, don’t you?”

“Yes of course,” said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. The he saw in the darkness of the burrow the stranger’s ears were shining with a faint silver light. “Yes, my lord,” he said. “Yes I know you.”

“You’ve been feeling tired,” said the stranger, “but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along right now.”

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body anymore, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him and into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be alright-and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”

He reached the top of the bank in a single powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.

Richard Adams, “Watership Down”

I am my mother’s son. Love and miss you mom.




I love it when people ask, ‘When did you come out?’ I’m like, ‘Which time, and to whom?’ I came out yesterday to the clerk at the grocery store! We’re all coming out constantly, because there is an element of having to choose how upfront we’re going to be in any conversation.

What follows is a transcript of a lengthy conversation I had with my dear friend Dr. Rob Taylor, Director of Bands at the University of British Columbia. I was proud to be interviewed as part of a chapter he is writing on the experiences of LGBTQIA+ music educators for an upcoming book to be published by GIA (what you read here will not be what appears in the book…I’ll be just one small part of the chapter)

This is as honest and vulnerable of an account as I have ever shared about my experience as a queer person who also happens to love being a band director. Transcription and edit credits to Dr. Taylor.

Happy Pride (for extra credit listen to this song while reading)

I spent so much of the beginning of my career closeted and incredibly compartmentalized in my personal and professional life, and that compartmentalization over the long term created such a schism that I was actually called out by a mentor. He knew that I was gay, and suggested that I had a wall up on the podium and that my artistry was suffering because I was holding back who I was from my students. That set me on a journey to decompartmentalize my life, and to understand that being gay isn’t just part of who I am, but is honestly a defining characteristic of who I am, and a lens through which almost every other part of my life is shaped. So, for me, to compartmentalize — or to have my gay identity separated from my music-making, my conducting, and my artistry — would feel like a profound betrayal of the work I’ve done to become more integrated as a person.

My sources of inspiration have included a peer colleague who was modeling just a little bit ahead of me, in terms of being out as an educator, and an allied mentor who came afterwards and gave me a big kick. A former music booster president was also a source of unwavering support. Once, at an end-of-year BBQ, she stopped the party and gave a toast where she said, “We want to thank you for everything you do, but we also need to thank the unsung hero in the room, your partner Ryan.” She followed up with a very public declaration that if anybody in our community ever had a problem with me being gay, the parents would be there for me. That was a pivotal moment where I realized that the allyship in my life has been a phenomenal support, and people who have been willing to stand up and be strong at times when I could not, have been very important in my journey. 

If I am reflecting honestly on my experiences since moving to California, I would say that most hurdles I’ve encountered were of my own creating. There was a need for me to find the courage and strength to believe that I was worthy of showing up fully visible as who I am. I own the hurdles that I built for myself, because I can’t recall a direct moment of difficulty on other terms. I’ve certainly counseled students through encounters with homophobia, and these have been really powerful, teachable moments, but there has been so much professional love, care, and support from the very beginning of my time here. By contrast, when I was teaching in Michigan, I truthfully stuck out like a sore thumb in that small farming community, and presented as somebody who had enough of an affect to raise an eyebrow, but not so much as to turn heads as I walked by. In this community, I felt very loved and supported by the students and parents within my program, but I was called “fag” regularly in the hallways by students who were not mine. I remember very specifically a particular instance of homophobia that caused me to walk away from teaching. I had been working a late evening and was walking out to my car in the horseshoe parking lot that was at the front of the school along the main highway, and a pick-up truck with a couple of teenage guys yelled “Faggot!” as I was getting into my car. At that moment I decided, “I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore. I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s not this and it’s not here.” I left teaching. It was the accumulation of a lot of little things, but that was the defining moment. 

When I left my teaching job, I was pretty sure I was not going back into education. I decided to move to Metro Detroit, because I felt like I needed to be in an urban environment. I waited tables at a restaurant, and felt like I sort of went to “gay finishing school” that year, because it was an opportunity to explore in a large community of gay people that I had never experienced before. I was done being the different one, the special unicorn, or the token gay friend in my group. There was something about assimilating into a larger gay community — and I guess feeling this call to be in a bigger place with people who shared more of my life experiences — that was hugely transformative. In that year, I met somebody who was planning to move to the Bay Area, and that relationship forged very quickly, which is what brought me to California. This series of dominoes fell in a certain order, all based upon listening to an internal call. I am a good soldier and a worker bee. I tend to play it safe and stay in my lane, but there have been these key moments when I definitely swerved and ended up in a new lane that really suited me. 

I have encouraged straight teachers, in particular, to not assume that it’s always easier for Queer kids to come out these days. I think there is a belief that it’s such a different time, and that the process is therefore so much easier and somewhat matter-of-fact for kids, but I have found that it often is not. Many parents still have fairly conservative views about the expectations they have for their kids, and getting married and having children with somebody of the opposite gender is certainly prevalent among those expectations. I have experienced a lot of students who have had an easier path to coming out and acceptance, but there are also just as many kids who have really struggled, and have had to find their paths outside of high school. I teach in the generally-liberal California Bay Area, and this is still the case. 

In terms of visibility, at the beginning of my career there was a whole cadre of teachers maybe 10-15 years older than me, that everybody knew were Queer, but were under the radar, so I was really missing visibility and role modeling around what it could mean to be unapologetically out as a music educator. What I have been really excited about is that there are more of us who are willing to be very visible in our Queerness as wind band conductors, and that has perhaps made it easier for others. I’ve had younger teachers who have found me through my blog, or at conducting symposia, who often ask for advice about being out. That visibility is a connection that can help people feel more grounded and confident in their own journey. “You seem safe, you seem solid, you seem successful, you seem settled. How can I achieve that?” I think this has been an evolution largely led by social media. There’s more representation in a way that allows younger teachers to feel like they have a tether.

I love it when people ask, “When did you come out?” I’m like, “Which time, and to whom?” I came out yesterday to the clerk at the grocery store! We’re all coming out constantly, because there is an element of having to choose how upfront we’re going to be in any conversation. There is a part of me that likes to disrupt the system by making it clear right away that I’m gay, particularly in professional circles. I actually enjoy that hiccup, because it sometimes catches people off guard. I’m not looking to create discomfort; rather, I choose to do the heavy lifting first and let them decide if they’re comfortable coming into that space with me. This way, I don’t have to bend who I am to make room for somebody else. I feel we need to encourage more Queer teachers to speak their truth more clearly, and to try to let go of any hesitations they might normally have in their classrooms or communities when they’re in professional circles. These gatherings of fellow musician-teachers are a place where you can express yourself in a different way than you do with your students. 

Looking back, “passing” was summatively exhausting, and I think I realized at some point that I didn’t want any part of the performative nature of that. It took so much emotional energy to do my best to appear less gay, which I’m sure was ultimately not even that convincing. (This is not self-deprecation. I love my Queerness. I’m like Ira Glass’s gay younger brother, and Siri can’t understand anything I say because I’m a little lisp-y when I talk to my iPhone.) It was such a lift to feel like I had to pass and not come off as “too gay,” which showed up not only in professional circles, but also in my classroom. I’m a buttoned-up, Type A personality, and I’m that way almost everywhere I go; however, I have found in my classes that if I allow myself a little more breathing room to dialogue with my students in a way that is more true to how I speak in other parts of my life, I can be more authentic. I also acknowledge my partner Ryan, and often bring him into the conversation or to events, so that he is present in my teaching world. 

Just showing up in truth and in honesty around who I am, I have had several former students who have since come out and shared with me — as I’m sure so many of us have experienced — that they were lost or confused during high school, but knew they would be okay because I seemed okay, and because people liked or respected me. They knew that there was a path forward, a light at the end of the tunnel. Those stories are incredibly powerful and meaningful, and I want all my kids to know that they have a place to be who they are. Something that I’ve gotten more adamant about in my own program is acknowledging the truth of the peer world kids live in — the microaggression, the toxic nature of social dynamics in high school, and what it means to be in the four walls of our rehearsal room, where we can reinvent those social norms and give them something that they can carry into other spaces throughout the day. I’m going to have a kinship with fellow Queer students, but at any given moment, that might only be five to eight percent of the people in the room. There’s a lot of power in normalizing for the rest of my straight-identifying students that they also have a Queer teacher, and when they hear something derogatory about Queer people, they’re saying that about me and any other Queer person they know. Visibility and representation help to normalize what it means to just be around gay people for all of the straight kids in the room, too.

What can we do as Queer, white men to encourage, even insist, on a broader spectrum of people in our field to be at the forefront who have other kinds of intersectionality? This is such a prescient question given everything that’s going on with Black Lives Matter, as well as conversations around social justice, and around the long, multigenerational, sleeping apathy of white people. I think that something that I have always tried to do, but I feel like is much more at the conscious forefront of my thought right now, is to seek out voices that are different than my own to inform a broader world view. I think there have been some really powerful conversations that have happened at a seismic level in the wind band world around diverse and inclusive programming. And I know, for me, that has been a really powerful journey beyond tokenizing. I have taken to sharing with my students the intentionality of the programming that we’re doing. 

I have made a conscious effort to make sure that my sphere of educational influence and information includes a broad spectrum of Black, Asian, Latinx, transgender, and other voices. And to have a willingness as a cisgender, Queer, white guy to not center myself in conversations where I can instead be a humble servant to the experiences of other people, and not assume that I can know more than they do about their own lives. When you know in the intersection of your life experiences that you have privilege, you have to remove yourself as much as you can from that position to open your ears, your eyes, and your mind to other voices. The big takeaway is to be really mindful of the voices you listen to, and make sure they are representative of the kind of world view you want to bring to your students. 

Jonathan Grantham, Director of Bands, Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA

Queer | White | cisgender male | he/him/his



There is not a lot about teaching under quarantine that I love. Nothing can truly replace the very real value of human interaction, the a-ha moments, and the connections we make through shared space and time. But there has been something that has been an unexpected joy in this process

This year, while we were still doing in-person instruction, I started including daily conversation starters on the agenda. It became an easy way to build an additional sense of community between the students and created a good energy at the start of each class.

When we moved to online teaching in March (has it really been 7 weeks…ACK!) I knew I wanted to maintain as much routine as I could manage and decided to keep the daily prompt, now reframed as the Question of the Day (QOTD) and posted on Google Classroom.

Each morning I post a new question for all of my classes. It is given as an assignment and is worth 5 points (serving as their daily participation grade). Their answers are visible to one another in the feed for that specific prompt and they can comment on other responses. This has created an additional benefit of everyone participating in a class “discussion” if they want.

For some students completing the QOTD is a box they check, get in-get out. For some students it is a place to connect. They read other answers and leave comments on those responses. I make a point to read all of the responses and leave comments where and when appropriate. It’s been a lot of fun to interact in this way.

I’ve heard directly from some of my kids that they look forward to the QOTD for a variety of reasons.

Here are a few, straight from my students:

  • It feels like we are talking in the band room
  • I like starting my day with the QOTD. It’s a nice routine
  • The QOTD is something fun I look forward to; it makes it seem like you care about how we are doing not just pushing work at us
  • Honestly I just like to know how other people are doing
  • Thinking about something different, even for a couple of minutes, is a nice break from the thoughts in my head

The other benefit of this, which I alluded to at the top of the blog, has been the unexpected gift of getting to know my students on a deeper level.  Really.

Let me explain. My band classes are large. Between 52-90 people per class. We work hard to make connections with the kids in a variety of ways but there is not the time to meaningfully interact with 320 unique students daily. The QOTD has gifted me big and small moments with my students. From the serious to the silly, the heavy to the light, there is plenty of trivial nonsense (also a necessary part of connection!) but also real stuff happening, too.

Would I rather be seeing my classes in person every day?


But when we return to whatever in-person instruction looks like next year I know the QOTD will remain. It’s the kind of homework I like to grade!

Here is a chronological sample of QOTDs, starting with our first day of online learning. Some of these are original, many are from other sites and all try to meet the moment in gauging what the kids need in the way of conversation and support.

  • 3.23
    • What do think will be some things you might like about online learning? Some things you might dislike?
  • 3.24
    • How was your first day of online school? Share a high and a low with the class
  • 3.27
    • Week 1 Survey (click here for sample but don’t, um, actually take the survey)
  • 3.30
    • If you could earn the same pay no matter what job you did what would you choose and why?
  • 3.31
    • If you were forced to give up one of the following which would you and why? Washing your hair | Brushing your teeth | Wearing deodorant
  • 4.1
    • What music or musician (any type, style, genre) have you been listening to in order to get by? If school appropriate share a YouTube link and provide some new listening recs. Mine?  Have a listen here
  • 4.14 (spring break happened…)
    • Week 3 check in…how are you holding up? Feel free to comment privately if you prefer
  • 4.15
    • Would you rather have a fun teacher who is bad at teaching their subject or a mean teacher who is good at teaching their subject? Does your answer change depending on the subject? Explain your thinking.
  • 4.17
    • Week 3 Survey (similar to Week 1 so no link)
  • 4.20
    • Would you rather be able to talk to animals or speak every language? Why?
  • 4.21
    • What is something and/or someone you are grateful for? Explain why.
  • 4.22
    • Which is better…spending a night in a luxury hotel or camping surrounded by beautiful scenery?
  • 4.27
    • Do you have pets? If so what are your pets names? If no pets, would you want one?
  • 4.28
    • What do you hope you will be doing for a job in 10 years? Where do you hope you will be doing it?
  • 4.29
    • Share your favorites with the class: movie | artist or song | tv show | video game
  • 5.1
    • Who is your oldest friend and where did you meet them?
  • 5.4
    • What is the most annoying habit someone can have? What do you do to deal with this person or the habit?
  • 5.5
    • What is your favorite time of day? Why?
  • 5.6
    • What smell brings back great memories?
  • 5.11
    • This or that:
      • Woodwinds or brass?
      • Netflix or YouTube?
      • Percussion or guard?
      • TikTok or Snapchat?
      • Android or iOS?
      • Dog or cat?
      • In & Out or The Habit?
      • Stoneridge Mall or the outlets?
      • Friday or Saturday?
      • The Office or Friends?

(I legit hope you took the time to complete the last question)

To be clear, some of the responses to these questions have been perfunctory, kind of half-hearted and cursory. I’ve had a couple kids tell me the questions are annoying. I’m happy for that, too, because at least they are having a reaction to me as their teacher, even if virtually!

But many many more of them have answered with insight, humor, awareness and consideration. And while not every question lands with every kid in the same way, they are landing. And we are connecting.

The best part, though, is that I know the squirrels (who will be back in from of me soon enough) just a little bit better than before. But I still miss them like crazy.

Be safe.


What I Miss Most

What I Miss Most

It’s the moments in the minutes of an ordinary day where I find purpose and joy as a teacher. What follows is a chronology of a snapshot of a few of those moments. Continue reading “What I Miss Most”

How Did I Get Here?

How Did I Get Here?

I’m feeling strong today. Are you?

  • Yes? Keep reading and we can commiserate.
  • No? Need some encouragement? Keep reading and you can lean a little.

Continue reading “How Did I Get Here?”

Student Leadership

Student Leadership

Been quiet on here for awhile…I guess it’s just how these things go sometimes. I know you understand. Today my colleague and I had the chance to share with the VAPA department our thoughts on developing student leadership in the band program and it felt like a good thing to share here.

I am in the midst of wrapping up our competitive marching season with our state marching contest this weekend for our 340-member marching band. We are also in the last month of preparation for Wind Ensemble 1 to perform at The Midwest Clinic.

Suffice it to say we use student leadership for a tremendous amount of direction and help in the band. It has been a long term project creating a leadership training structure that is helpful in building the type of leaders we need in the program. I feel like we got the closest this year to hitting the mark.

Here are PDF’s we used for the 2-day training session.

OUTLINE: Leadership Training 2019

SLIDE DECK: MB Leadership Training

The training was broken in to 2 days, structured to parallel the 2 overarching responsibilities the leaders were tasked with:

  1. Build relationships
  2. Teach skills

We are always working to refine and revise so this isn’t a finished project but it’s a great next step. I’ve been tweaking this training for 18 years and am happy with how this version turned out. There are likely some things that might not make sense without better context but thought this was a good starting point for sharing what we do.

Additional resources that were central in creating this material and have been personally enlightening for me:

Let me know if you have any questions and Happy Thanksgiving.


Getting Ready For Festival

Getting Ready For Festival

Where I teach (in the San Francisco Bay Area) we are in the thick of CMEA festival season. I have fond memories of attending district and state festival as a band student in Michigan and appreciate the value of a non-competitive event to get feedback on where we are at as a program. Festival is not the end-all of our objectives for the year but is a useful metric we use to guide our instruction.

Every state runs festival differently. CMEA Bay Section doesn’t ask us to choose from a required repertoire list or to perform a march (though we do plenty.) But we must program art music and stay within 25 minutes of time. Also, there are different classes we can place our ensembles in (our 3 developing bands are Class 2, the 2 wind ensembles are Class 3). And we have a sight-reading component.

As both a judge and a participating band director in festivals I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my thoughts and observations on tips for a smooth and successful experience at festival.


  • Pick music that your group can achieve successfully in the allotted class time you have to get ready for festival. Think here of achievement as your ensemble playing at a high level of musicality and technical proficiency, not just “getting through the piece”. I’ve always prioritized process over product as I want my students to enjoy our time with the music we are preparing and our festival set is no different
  • Make sure not to get sidetracked by difficulty or grade level as the most significant baseline for choosing rep for festival. If you feel like your group would benefit from a stretch piece save that for a concert
  • Consider a balance of genres/styles/length/composers
  • In each week of your rehearsal cycle plan for 1 day to be a program run. A few years ago I started doing Friday run-throughs early in our rehearsal process. This was hugely beneficial for me and the students even when those early run-throughs were pretty rough

Here is what we are programming for festival with the 5 bands at Amador Valley:

Wind Ensemble 1

  • Through The Looking Glass (Jess Langston Turner)
  • Of Our New Day Begun (Omar Thomas)
  • The Purple Pageant (Karl L. King)

Wind Ensemble 2

  • Early Light (Carolyn Bremer)
  • Blessed Are They (Johannes Brahms, trans. Barbara Buehlman)
  • Chester (William Schumann)

Wind Symphony Purple (non-auditioned 11-12th grade)

  • The Young Lions (Jukka Vitasarri)
  • Ancient Flower (Yukiko Nishimura)
  • Within The Castle Walls (Brian Balmages)

Wind Symphony Gold (non-auditioned 10th grade)

  • El Capitan (John Philip Sousa)
  • The Sun Will Rise Again (Philip Sparke)
  • Cajun Folk Songs (Frank Ticheli)

Symphonic Band (9th grade)

  • Bugles & Drums (Edwin Franko Goldman)
  • At Morning’s First Light (David Gillingham)
  • Variations on A Korean Folksong (John Barnes Chance)


Have a plan. Type it out, write it up, but have a plan. If you have 30 minutes know that 5 minutes of that time will be entering and exiting the room. Another 5 minutes will be transitions and getting settled so really you have 20 minutes for warm-up. Ideally you would practice your exact festival warm-up in the 1-2 rehearsals prior to festival so there is no surprise for the students. I like to do a short breathing sequence and then 2-3 of our warm-up activities followed by repertoire specific exercises they already have in rotation.

I suggest having 2-3 items to spot check in each piece but have them be areas that don’t need last minute rehearsing if you can avoid that (I’ve been there, too…) Spot check in reverse order so the last thing they play in warm-up is from the first piece they will play on stage. After the spot checking we tune.

Think of the warm-up room as the place where you connect to one another and the music you are about to make. I try to stay cool, calm and collected as I think that energy is a helpful transfer for students who may be nervous, distracted, excited or any variety of emotions. Oh, and did I mention: have a plan!


  • Make sure you know how students are expected to enter and exit the stage before you start your performance. Ideally you and your students would be able to see at least one band perform and you would know what this looks like
  • Practice how you are going to enter and exit the stage (especially with your newest or youngest musicians)
  • Let your students know that the first visual impression they make while they are on stage is a critical one. Details matter, including professional deportment. This is a necessary skill for any performance, not just festival
  • I prefer to avoid playing on stage, including taking a tuning pitch (unless the stage is significantly colder than the warm-up room)
  • Ensure your percussion have a clear plan for setting up and arranging equipment as needed so that everything feels as similar as possible to your rehearsal room
  • Work with your timpanists ahead of time to have a plan to tune the timpani in a professional manner. Avoid having a student play a reference pitch and ensure your percussionists know how to tune timpani
  • Practice how the transitions will work between each piece and/or movement so the students (and you!) know how long things should take. Don’t start a piece until everyone is ready…I’ve seen many times where a nervous director is missing several musicians at the start of a piece because they didn’t notice the students weren’t ready


In an earlier blog I shared the curriculum I’ve built to create music literacy beyond a superior rating at festival. For the purposes of this post I will share some different strategies I use with my groups in the 5 minute prep time we are given in the actual sight-reading room.

In CMEA we are not allowed to make any sounds on our instruments but can practice fingerings. Teachers are not allowed to prompt students on how rhythms go, what fingerings to use or what terms mean but students can generate that information for one another. It is, by design, a very student centered process (which I love)

  • Give the students 30-45 seconds of individual/partner preparation. The students know their strengths and weaknesses better than we do. Giving them time to work at their own pace for a short period of time will help them to have some ownership in the sight-reading room (and encourage your kids to NOT work chronologically…zoom in on the toughest looking thing on the page and start there)
  • Sensitize the ensemble to the gestural vocabulary of the piece. Have the group watch you do some sample conducing and count quarter notes. Ask them to match their counting to your style, your conducting frame, your tempo. This will allow you to practice all meters, all styles, all tempos and even accelerandos and rallentandos. And bonus: they are watching you the whole time! This doesn’t need to take more than 30 seconds
  • Work from the end of the piece first (often directors run out of time and the band never knows how the piece ends)
  • Utilize sizzling, rhythm tapping, note name spelling, wind patterns. In our festivals we are allowed to have the students practice in any way we’d like except for making sounds on their instruments so we are able to take advantage of a variety of strategies
  • End with the beginning of the piece (as it’s the first thing they play)


  • Make sure necessary paperwork for the festival is done ahead of time (repertoire sheets, seating charts)
  • Prepare an equipment list for your percussion so the day of the festival your students have something to reference when you are packing for the event
  • Create neat and organized judges binders with scores numbered (and free of rehearsal markings) and pages in the correct order
  • Assign students to help with things like brass mutes and folders
  • When planning your itinerary for the event provide some buffer time for things that might come up that are out of your control. I personally add 5 minutes to all of my intervals to account for travel time and other hiccups that always occur

Whether you are a new or veteran band director I hope these offer you some ideas, reminders or points of consideration to help your festival experience run smoothly!

Take care and good skill!

2018: The Great Unbalancing Act

2018: The Great Unbalancing Act

2018. The year I…

  • got engaged to Ryan, my partner of 12 years
  • completed my second AIDS Lifecycle
  • conducted 94 of my incredible students at Carnegie Hall
  • attended my first conducting symposium
  • was introduced to the power of meditation and mindfulness

2018. Also the year I…

  • made some of the most difficult professional decisions in my career
  • felt defeated and unsure of my skills as a teacher
  • was lost as to the direction of my life
  • experienced the crippling and accelerating presence of anxiety in my daily life
  • dealt with panic attacks that caused me to feel like my world was falling apart

We spend a lot of time putting our best foot forward to the world. Through the curated digital life I create for others (and myself) to see, I have built an imbalance that I am working to reset. Sharing here is a starting point towards clarity; writing is cathartic and it’s helpful to pull back the curtains to make sense of the messiness. Maybe this will help you to think about how to care for yourselves, too.

When your passion is the problem

As a band director I find I am able to feel secure and valuable in the non-stop busyness of my daily work schedule. I thrive in the 12-16 hour days of teaching, making music, planning, trouble shooting, problem solving, and generally being “on.” Driving home I decompress with phone calls, usually to other band directors, to talk about my day so I can arrive home to Ryan with a clean slate, ready to do it all over again the next day.

Wash, rinse, repeat x 250 days.

But what about the other 115 days? Cue the second list I detailed above.

And you know what? In talking with many of my teacher friends, I’ve learned I am not alone and that this is something that we should be talking about more. In the absence of daily and monthly schedules that have driven my purpose and my identity, I collapse emotionally and physically from the inside out.

My thoughts catch up to me. My feelings catch up to me. My lack of exercise catches up to me. My screen-time catches up to me. All the old tricks to keep me from myself are no longer working.

Ready, Set, Action

So it’s time to get clear about what I need to help myself. This transcends resolutions (though they are a great starting point). Self-care is a very popular buzzword at the moment but it rings true in it’s intention. If you give everything to something or someone else you don’t have anything left for yourself.

Things I know help me that require little effort for me to do:

  • Moving (yoga, cycling, running)
  • Meditation/mindfulness activities
  • Alone time (daydream, write, read, go for a drive)
  • Putting my phone down
  • Focusing on my breathing and having body awareness
  • Releasing the physical sensation of holding on, clenching or tightness
  • Creating something beautiful (floral arrangements, decorating, photos)

My relationship to my anxiety (and the related panic attacks) is new but one that I am developing an understanding of how to handle. I recognize triggers and signs (both physically and mentally) and am learning how to get in front of caring for myself in advance of and through anxiety as it manifests.

As teachers we are charged with caring for others. It takes work and bandwidth we don’t always have to care for ourselves. So what if I approach this work like I would help a student with learning a new skill?

By showing them:

  • Patience
  • Grace
  • Kindness
  • Compassion

So my request of myself (and maybe you, too, if this resonates!) is to take time to listen to my body, my breath, my mind and to cultivate a deeper relationship with that little voice. The one that is tugging at my proverbial pant leg telling me exactly what I need to do to be balanced, to listen, to pay attention and to take action when necessary.

I’ve moved past the idea that any part of me needs fixing. As a band director I am a fix-it person by nature. But years of working through my own struggles to come out and live with visibility have taught me that trying to fix myself implies that who I am is broken. I’m coming to an awareness that my body is sending me signals that I’m not broken, just out of balance.

One resolution I have for 2019 is to write more. I am thankful for the opportunity to share with you and for your time reading. May you find balance in your life in 2019.

With gratitude,