By Mark Lane
I remember as a young director thinking my groups were achieving to the best of their ability. It is easy to be complacent in our own little corner of the United States. I was unaware of the limits I was putting on my students and my program. At the urging of Tim Lautzenheiser I attended my first Midwest Clinic. Needless to say, my eyes were opened to what was possible with high school students and I readjusted my standards and got to work! I had always been aware of Bands of America and had participated in a regional marching festival, but participation was limited because of where we are located.
I had read about the new National Concert Band Festival but didn’t give it much thought until Tim Lautzenheiser explained it’s mission and format. I remember Tim saying that I should check it out and BOA is “your kind of festival.” At Tim’s urging I put together a tape and sent in our first audition. A few weeks later we received our first rejection. I was disappointed but rationalized that it might not be possible to play at that level. A few weeks after our first rejection we did receive an invitation (with a copy of the same tape) to perform at the Northwest Regional MENC Conference. Maybe we weren’t that far off.
I listened to the evaluation tapes from the adjudication process and read my sheets during the summer. It was amazing to hear the comments of some of the finest in our profession talking about our band. Their comments caused me to re-evaluate some of my musical ideas and especially some of the things that I was allowing my students to get away with. Our preparation for our conference performance improved dramatically and an appreciation for the process of preparing was a result of the comments from the BOA evaluation tapes. Our conference performance was a success and the satisfaction that our students felt was a result of the intense preparation, not just the performance.
The National Concert Band Festival is, without a doubt, the finest festival I have attended in my 21 years of teaching.
A couple of months later, I was reading the BOA newsletter and considered sending another tape. My first inclination was not to. We had prepared a tape for our State Conference but I didn’t know if I was going to send it to BOA. This tape was prepared with a lot more focus and direction. Comments from the previous year’s evaluation provided the students and myself with a higher set of acceptable standards. We all grew from the preparation of the audition. One of my students asked me if we were going to send a tape in for that “National concert thing.” I told the student that I didn’t know for sure. She walked off and said, “We shouldn’t give up…don’t you think we should at least try?” I was doing exactly what I preached to my students not to do. I popped the tape i the mail and waited for the results. Strike Two…another rejection. The beautiful thing about rejection is that it becomes easier to accept! A couple of weeks later an invitation to perform at the State Conference arrived. Again the BOA evaluation tapes provided a set of lesson plans that were invaluable in the process of preparing for our performance. The students began pushing each other. Private lessons became almost a fad (even though we have the poorest social economic population of the six area schools) and almost everyone was taking lessons. The performance level of the band just kept getting better.
End of another year–time for another audition tape. Preparation for the recording was not something we did in a week or two. We had prepared all year for various performances and the tape was a result of a year of musical growth. We sent the tape off and waited. As I was recovering from a back operation, I sent my wife to the school to get my summer mail. There was a letter from BOA…much thicker than the previous two! The invitation was announced at Band Camp and we began what was one of the most exciting years for our students and myself. I think there was a little “extra” energy because we all knew the effort that went into the three-year commitment that our students made in the name of musical growth.
“It was amazing to hear the comments of some of the finest in our profession talking about our band. Their comments caused me to re-evaluate some of my musical ideas and especially some of the things that I was allowing my students to get away with.”
The National Concert Band Festival is, without a doubt, the finest festival I have attended in my 21 years of teaching. It is everything a festival should be with the primary goal being to provide the finest performance experience and educational experience possible for the students. Having previously taught in a state where the year culminated in a “State Band Contest” and judges were actually told that “comments are secondary… you are here to choose a winner,” the BOA Festival was a breath of fresh air. It is possible to achieve a very high level of performance without treating music education like high school athletics. Don’t get me wrong, some competition, used properly for the right reasons, can be good for us all, but when competition controls our curriculum we are in danger of destroying all that is good in music education.
This event is designed to showcase some of the finest bands in the country. Every event and detail of the festival shows the students that their achievement of being at the festival is really a reward for the hard work and dedication that it took to receive an invitation and prepare for the festival. The focus on the process of preparing the audition and preparing for the festival is made evident in the opening session. The large student audiences at each and every performance have an atmosphere of celebration– a celebration of excellence and hard work! From the worldclass evaluators and performers, the master classes and clinics, the required dress for students, the hotel facilities, and the performance venue, the BOA National Concert Band Festival is a class event, one I hope to participate in again! Practice what we as music educators preach. Keep trying…don’t give up…prepare a little harder. Send in another tape. The results are worth the effort.