A *SUPERIOR* Year

Most updates and assignments and things have been posted on Edmodo, so my site’s slowly starting to become more about blogging on things music-related, personal experiences and the occasional resource here and there.  All good, I suppose.  I’ll eventually be updating all the links and resources on this site (as well as uploading new videos over the summer).

It’s been a great year.

Let’s start with the accelerando at the start of the year – playing instruments the second week of school, fall mini-concert, music department back to school information night with giveaways and a raffle, mandatory after school rehearsals (that I consistently graded this year)….all pushing forward….until my wife breaks her ankle the week before my winter concert (and the day before hers).

No Midwest (and no refund for Midwest). 🙁

I missed approximately a month of school from December to late January taking care of my wife. Burned all of my leave and went a few days without pay.  In fact, every doctor’s appointment for the rest of the year has been without pay.

So when I get back to work, it only takes about 2 weeks to get the kids back to where they should be. Turns out, some of them had kept bringing instruments, practiced in class individually…. the good lessons from the beginning of the year stuck.

Solo and Ensemble Festival comes up a week and a half after I get there.  Most kids got II’s, one group got a I.  Yay! 🙂 Not bad, considering the time I did NOT have to work with them.

Cluster concert went well in late February.  We pushed through Arabian Dances quickly from early February to March.  Two weeks prior to Adjudication, I passed out our warm-up piece, Ken Harris’ Patriots on Parade.  Cut time, easy, nice dynamic contrasts….good warm up piece.  Except I didn’t care too much for the percussion part.

Adjudication comes up…..

We got a Superior.  I literally cried by myself in a corner for a few minutes because I still had some kids around and they didn’t know (and I didn’t want them to know until Monday).  I kept my mouth shut until Monday.

I remember being on stage and hearing all the mistakes as well as all of the good spots.  Once Asian Folk Rhapsody (Richard Saucedo) was done, and we were ready, I whispered to the kids “have fun” right before we began playing. I stopped caring about a score, closed my eyes and counted off the first measure.

My Xylophone player wasn’t ready.

I didn’t panic. I quickly stopped on beat 4, eyeballed the group and started over again. Apparently, for some odd reason, he was standing behind a metallophone of some sort and using the wrong mallets (yarn).  He was playing, but couldn’t be heard. I mentally shrugged and counted off.  Maracas…Rain Stick….clarinet first note.  I decided to stop counting. I directed the clarinet soloist.  Then cued in the flute solo in.  Intonation needs work. Holding that concert F….eyes on the group, four quarter notes played marcato and we’re IN!

Aside from remembering that I closed my eyes and conducted as if I lived every note, I don’t remember too much about the actual performance itself (except the alto saxes held mm. 77-83 together).   And our sight -reading judge didn’t talk to the group.

Most of my kids were thinking that we got a II. Truth of the matter is, we were on the edge of a II.  I I II, and II in sight-reading is a I, but a low I.  But still a I. Guess I did good with teaching them the value of being self-critical, eh ?

My first superior in my 13 years of teaching public school, the first one at TJ in quite a few years (probably close to 15-20….and nine of those years has been with me as director).

It worked. This phase of “The Plan to End All Plans” worked.  Even with a month missed and ELEVEN snow days, it worked. I finally figured out the formula.  With help. Lots of help.  My frat brother, Walter Harley (Director of Bands and Orchestra at Oxon Hill HS) came through and rehearsed my kids about a week before festival. My other mentor, Tony Townes (Director of VPA Bands at Northwestern HS) told me at the beginning of the year that everything else I’d been working on with my kids (DARN IT – Dynamics, Articulation, Rhythm, Notes, Intonation and Tone Quality, Balance) were correct….but there was still one thing missing.

“The students must play the song as if this was ‘easy’ for them. If their performance doesn’t come across as ‘Psshhh. This ? Yeah, this is easy. We learned it last week in about 10 minutes’, you’re going to get a II. You never want the kids to sound as though they are just playing at the level of the music they are performing.”

To give Tony’s comment a bit more expansion and understanding – two gymnasts come out to perform. Both have equally technical routines. The first one does her routine, but you see her facial expressions showing visible nervousness and all of her moves, though technically correct, are stiff and forced.  She gets an 8.9/10.  Pretty great.

In band, this is a II and in some cases, a III.

The other gymnast comes out and executes her routine – in many aspects identical to the first girl….but there’s something different. There is a smile on her face, she executes the moves with precision, but also in a way that looks like she’s floating on the air and through it. She sticks her landings flawlessly.  The judges notice the difference as well.  She gets a 9.9 out of 10.

In band, this is a I.

This is that hidden category of musical artistry that gets lost and forgotten by many band directors who wonder why their groups keep getting II’s or worse at festival.  Heck, it’s part of why my past groups kept missing superior ratings at festival.

Wow. I’m actually going to state.

Along the way, I threatened  students harshly. My working philosophy since the beginning of the year (inspired by one of my mentors, Dr. Kevin Davenport):

“This bus is on the road moving toward success. You have three choices. 1. – You can be a passenger. We can ride and get there together.   2.  You can be in your own vehicle riding alongside of us. You can even borrow GPS directions and go ahead of me.   3. You can have tire tracks across your body as we roll over top of you on our way to success.  If you don’t believe me, please try me. [at this point, I mention that students in the room now know people with tire tracks on them]. Everything done in this classroom is for your overall benefit. I’m not going to ask you to play in traffic. I am going to ask you to put forth your best effort and I will not be taking excuses for mediocrity.  If you’re on board with this, I welcome you. At the end of it, you’ll understand why I required you to do these things, in this way…..and you’ll be ready to push past me, get in your own vehicle and drive ahead of me on the road. I’m good with that. “

 

So yeah….five kids had tire tracks on them at the end of 3rd quarter.  One boy in particular, I know he was silently wishing that we would’ve done bad at festival (or at least not gotten a superior) because it would’ve justified his laziness.  Misery and mediocrity love company. Neither have a place in my band.

Then my basement flooded during the historic rainfall that hit our region (2″ of rain in most of the basement. Some parts a little higher). Turns out that not cleaning out your gutters does cause water to travel down the side of your house and infiltrate the spots between the foundation and your house.

Our house has been ‘interesting’ since that time. I had to pull all the carpet (wet carpet is HEAVY), buy a shop vac and a dehumidifier (which has been running 24/7 since May 3rd).  So far, a month later, no mold in spots that were drenched.  Still getting all of my baseboards replaced and a sump pump installed (can we say $3,000 ?).

Missed a week of school. 🙁

State Festival came up on the 13th of May.  We got a I II II and III in sight-reading (I’d forgotten that at the state level, the grade I you get to read is going to be closer to a grade 1.5….first clarinet crossed the break, sudden dynamic changes, etc…..).  But on stage, we got a I from ONE judge.  That’s huge for my first time taking a group to state.   II overall. I’m happy with that.

Onward….May 19, the Board of Education acknowledged all of the music teachers who got superior and excellent ratings. Proud to be on stage and in the company of other great directors.

Best Spring Concert ever on May 20.  I need to upload it, don’t I ?

May 22 and 23rd I’m guest conducting someone else’s band at Hershey Park in PA (got the call for that on May 20).

Didn’t make the outside rehearsals or the military band rehearsals as I’d planned, but everything else….happened as it should have.

Once all things get settled for the schedule for next year, I’m looking forward to an even more exciting year with more things next year.  Everything that happened this year plus more.   I have plans in the works that you’ll all learn about when you come back in the fall.

To my 8th graders (about to be 9th graders) – THANKS for a great year. Thanks for your time, effort and….well….you. You all put yourselves into what you did and it paid off. Never forget that lesson as you move on with life in high school, college and….life.  Thanks for for allowing our paths to cross.  I hope I was as much of a blessing to you as you all were to me.

Musically Yours,

Mr. Gilliard

 

 

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