"The term ‘bandmaster’ is taken to signify master of the wind-band. Mastery implies possession of power; in this case, special knowledge and certain fitness, which may be assisted in development by education but can only exist in perfection as an inherent trait of artistic character or temperament ... Bandmasters, like poets are born, not made." Arthur A. Clappè (1911)
Do you think this view of the "bandmaster" changed?
It is now 105 years since the release of Clappé’s text and the societal role of the wind band has changed significantly. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it has become a vehicle for music education. With this in mind, has the wind band education movement moved with the times? Is there evidence of any of the following?
Altering the educational approach from the podium to keep up with the latest research in educational pedagogy?
Embracing brain-based research and the links drawn with educational practice?
Consideration of the need for student creativity and self-discovery?
The life of a 21st century child?
In a changing world where students have access to “instant information”, there is now more than one "master". On a hand held device whilst traveling on a bus almost anywhere in the world you can learn about virtually anything you wish through either video, live webinar, still imagery, podcast or written text. Students today live in a world of self-discovery, so how are we bringing that world, their world, into our rehearsals?
An approach worth considering is that of Arthur North Whitehead (1861-1947). Whitehead, a renowned mathematician and academic, ventured into the educational philosophical debate in 1929 when he published “The Aims of Education and other essays”. Among other interesting ideas, Whitehead presented an approach to education that is founded on three main concepts:
*ROMANCE *PRECISION *GENERALISATION
For Whitehead, “From the very beginning, children should experience the joy of discovery.” Firstly, students ‘romance’ the new material. That simply means play around with it through creative processes either on their own or with their peers. The material then transforms from being new information into something much more familiar to the student on a personal basis. Secondly, students gain the ‘precision’ required to perpetrate the new material (this is the technical aspect of the process, something that Band Directors do very well). Thirdly, students now place the material into a context that brings meaning to them, allowing a connectedness to develop between the material, the outside world and the individual.
For many Directors, their programs start and end with the ‘Precision’ component of the educational journey. Little consideration is given to contextualization, and how many times have you heard a fellow colleague say ‘I would do more composition/creative activities, I just don’t have time’ ?
Romance is not just about creativity, it’s focus is self discovery, a vital educational ingredient for the 21st century child. It’s possible to add a little romance into every rehearsal without too much effort at all. In fact, teaching strategies that engage the students creatively allow you a moment to step down from the podium, and regain your thoughts. Teaching with this approach provides much needed opportunities to rest your own brain a little - thus helping you to regain focus on the reason you are there - the music.
Hence, I believe that Wind band instruction requires a 21st century injection; it’s time to move beyond the basic instructional precision-based technique of ‘I talk and you listen’ and seek alternative, effective teaching strategies away from the podium.
For the educational school band teacher, success (herein defined as the student joyfully retaining and recalling newly imparted information, so much so it contributes to their life and knowledge on the whole) lies in offering real experiences that provide students with creative-based behaviours. These behaviours enable students too comprehend written music and reproduce cohesive, musical sounds in a way that is meaningful to them.
Perhaps Clappé was right when he said that “Bandmasters, like poets are born, not made" but somehow, I don’t think he was thinking about a Middle (or High School) Band Director in the 21st Century.
Clappé was a good man who did great things, and I believe that if he was alive today, his description of the ‘bandmaster’ maybe quite different. As he also stated,
“…but failing the infusion of emotional expression, the vital spark which vivifies and illuminates the inner meaning of musical works, or, if there be wanting, the contagious enthusiasm that shall arouse in each member of the organization, high impulses commensurate with his own, the playing of his band, while pedagogically perfect, will inspire the feeling of being learnedly dull.”
In other words, drill all you wish but at the end of the day, the performance, whilst “precision perfect”, is just plain boring to listen to. Why? Because the students have not been invited to romance the material – nor have they been given the opportunity to give it any personal context. If the music is meaningless to them, it will sound meaningless - no matter how good your conducting technique is.
Just because your band sounds good, doesn't mean you have a good music program.
Let’s think differently. This year, try something ELSE.
Join me for a FREE 30 minute webinar THIS weekend and learn more about me and my creative approach to instrumental music education. Heaps of FREE stuff you can try in your next rehearsal is provided.
Clappé was an Irishman who studied at Kneller Hall in England, served as director of the Governor General's Foot Guards Band 1877-84 in Canada and then moved to the USA and founded the US Army Music School.