33 Years Teaching Music
I’ve learned much over the past 33 years teaching music. I have also met some of the most beautiful people on the planet, and a few beyond, through music. I would likely be homeless or in jail without music. After earning my undergraduate degree from VanderCook College of Music, in 1983, I taught for seven years at Gemini Jr. High School, Niles IL, and one year at Holmes Middle School, Wheeling, IL. For the past twenty-five years I have been directing the bands at Wheeling High School, Wheeling, IL. Everything I’ve ever done right was borrowed or stolen from a great teacher, and I had many. Here are some things I learned along the way.
The most important lesson, and one I still struggle with, is balance. You are a better educator if you are more than a teacher. If all your ensembles sound incredible because you have the ability to work 24/7, what is the cost? What is the cost to you, your family, your students, and their families? You need a couple nights off per week. You need some open weekends. You need a hobby, providing it is legal, unless you spend a lot of time in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, or Alaska. Share something new with your students that relates to their lives in addition to music. Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
My current job is to lead a comprehensive band program that includes concert, marching, jazz, small ensembles, solo literature and more. I did not know much about Marching Band when I started at Wheeling HS. Our Marching Band was average at best. I needed help and sought out some of the finest marching band directors in the nation. Great teachers always help, just ask. I attended numerous rehearsals, shows, and festivals, and stole ideas from the best marching bands and drum corps. Then we raised the necessary funds to hire staff that could give our kids quality instruction with our drum line, front line, guard, and more. Now our Marching Band is significantly better because we worked diligently to improve the product and experience for our students.
About a decade ago I watched a video of my conducting…ouch! I could subdivide sixteenth notes on a Bach Chorale. That’s hard to do and even harder to watch. After a couple summers at VanderCook College of Music with John Whitwell and Paula Crider, I understand the art of conducting much more; yet have a long way to go.
How are your concert chops? Jazz? Marching? Conducting? Knowledge of literature? If you are lacking in any of these areas, learn it so you can teach it.
If you play oboe, flute, bassoon, or any instrument that is not typically in a jazz band, you must learn how to play and teach jazz. Jazz is a unique American art form and our country’s significant contribution to world culture. We need to appreciate, understand, and teach jazz. I have heard amazing middle school and high school jazz bands, taught by music educators that never played in a jazz band. They learned about jazz and jazz improvisation so they could share this great music with their students. We must pass this great art form on to our students. The next great jazz giant might be a student in your program. Don’t hold them back because of your lack of training.
Traveling with your group is a fantastic opportunity to see the world through music. The bonding that occurs on all trips is incredible. Your students will create lifelong memories while seeing you as a human being rather than just their music teacher. There is nothing more spectacular for students than seeing their director’s prideful poolside strut as he adorns a Speedo for all to see, unaware of the fact that his once mildly firm six pack has morphed into a full-blown keg. Fortunately, Dad bods are in!
Lessons and Summer Camps
This is a game changer! Nothing will impact your program more positively than providing private lessons and summer camp experiences for your students. Every student in our top concert ensemble and top jazz band studies privately. We also send 25 kids annually to summer music camps. Supporting our students financially is no easy task, with approximately 50% of our student body living below the poverty line. We are fortunate to have terrific support from our parent booster group’s fundraising, alumni, and generous donations from successful businesses that have become very good friends of our program.
If you earned your bachelors degree in music education more than a decade ago and have not stayed in one place more than two years, this profession is not for you. Go get your masters and doctorate in conducting from some small college. Then tell future music educators about all the great work you did when you pretended to lead a program. Truly leading a fine music program takes about a decade to learn and more years to master. If you want to direct a college wind ensemble because you possess incredible knowledge of advanced wind literature combined with aesthetically pleasing and artistic conducting, please move quickly from this profession. That’s not what we do. We chop wood and carry water every day. This job is demanding, difficult, time-consuming, and so important to our students, parents, school, and community. Leading a music program is not a profession. It is a calling; an insane, incurable, wonderful calling.
- If your students are not achieving success on their instruments, yet you are presenting your wonderful ideas at conferences, your ideas aren’t working.
- Your marching band should not play literature on the field your concert group can’t play sitting down.
- If you have a master’s degree in conducting yet know nothing about jazz, you might want to pass on that conducting conference next summer and get a bit more balance in your musical training.
- Every dollar you spend on marching band is money you cannot provide for private lessons, summer music camps, or guest conductors. When I realized this fact, it changed our program.
- Your dream job is the one you have. If you’re looking for a better situation you’re not making the situation you have better. Create the program you want.
- Listen to great music and attend concerts often. Some of my favorites include Billy Joel, Supertramp, Eagles, Chicago, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Count Basie, Thad Jones, Miles Davis, Diana Krall, Esperanza Spaulding, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bernstein, John Rutter’s Requiem, and of course Haley Reinhart.
All the best to my fellow music educators as you change young lives with your love and knowledge of music. Treat every student as if they are the child of your boss. Treat every note as if it is the final sound of your greatest symphony. Thank you to my family, friends, teachers, mentors, parents, administrators, cool travel companies (BRT), and especially the students who shaped my career as a music educator, so far. I sincerely hope the next 33 years are as exhilarating as the past 33.
Brian Logan is Director of Bands at Wheeling High School, Wheeling, IL. In recent years Mr. Logan’s jazz ensembles have performed at the Midwest Clinic three times and twice at the Montreux and Umbria Jazz Festivals. Mr. Logan led the Wheeling HS Wind Symphony to their fourth Music for All National Concert Band Festival appearance, March 2016. Mr. Logan is a contributing author in the GIA Publication “Jazz for Beginning Jazz Ensembles” and was awarded the Illinois Chapter 2016 Phi Beta Mu Outstanding Bandmaster of the Year.
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