Confessions of a Band Director

Experiences and thoughts on technology and teaching music.

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Archive for the 'recordings' Category

Record Your Rehearsals for Immediate Feedback

Posted by dougbutchy on 16th November 2010

As we go through our daily rehearsal routines with our groups, it is easy to become complacent with our critical listening skills. I think that both directors and the students in the ensemble become used to our daily sounds, and sometimes we don’t always listen with the most critical ear, especially when we are “in the moment” of cueing the right section, or playing the correct notes.


Zoom H2 Handy Recorder

I have been recording my rehearsals off and on for a few years now,  and have found that it is extremely helpful not only to me but to my students as well. I used cassette tape recorders in past years, but now with digital audio recorders, the process has gotten even better. The quality of the recording is quite good, even with a small hand held device. I personally use a Zoom H2. There are a lot of memory-card based recorders like this one available, and we could discuss all of their merits in an entirely different post. Here are my observations of one of our most recent recording sessions.

1. Recording should be done on a regular basis. I think it’s important for students to have this regular feedback about what they really sound like. I don’t do this often enough, and I think for it to really be effective, you should constantly evaluate what you are doing.

2. Record and listen right away. During class, we listen to our recordings immediately, while the students’ performance is still fresh in their minds. Usually, I find that they students think they sound better than they actually do.

3. Focus the students’ listening. When listening to the recording, have the students make a list (either physically or mentally) about what the group is doing well, and what they are not doing so well. I also remind them that we are interested in things that we are doing as a group, so that no one is “attacking” any one person’s abilities (or lack thereof). As I tell the students, they should address their individual weaknesses at home on their own time…the purpose of our rehearsal is to take what they’ve worked on individually and to see how they fit together as a group.

4. Think about keeping past recordings. Sometimes, near the upcoming performance, I will play a recording of an early rehearsal of a piece. It gives the students great perspective, because they can hear how far they have come during the rehearsal process. This has definitely been a positive technique, as the students are able to see the fruits of their labors. This is especially helpful if we might be having a rough rehearsal, when we just can’t get seem to get something right.

Another observation – The recorder does not lie! It’s brutally honest, and sometimes students need to hear that! It also can really drive home some of the concepts that I have been repeatedly telling the students. Often, once the students can actually hear what I have been hearing and telling them, they finally understand what they need to do.

Finally, I have found that while listening to our rehearsal recordings, it makes me more aware of what I am doing in the classroom. Sometimes I think, “Wow, we wasted a lot of time on that!” Many times, I will even hear things on the recording that I never heard in the rehearsal room! Recording our rehearsals has not only improved the students’ awareness of their performance, but has also helped me to be a better and more effective teacher!

I encourage you to give it a try and share your experiences!

Posted in Concert Band, listening, Marching Band, Music Technology, Musicality, Performance, practicing, recordings, Reflection, Repertoire, Senior High, teaching techniques, Technology | 2 Comments »

On The Media: Charting the Charts

Posted by dougbutchy on 13th March 2010

I heard this interesting piece on NPR this morning about the Billboard charts. It confirmed one suspicion that I always had – that the top of the Billboard charts are filled with “one-hit-wonders.” This is why I still don’t listen to the most currently popular music.

Posted in listening, music industry, recordings | No Comments »

Concert Band Receives “Excellent” Rating!

Posted by dougbutchy on 9th March 2010

Congratulations to all members of the Senior High Concert Band for an outstanding performance at Tuesday’s Music Performance Assessment at Westminster College! The band garnered two Excellent ratings and one Superior rating (Superior being the highest possible) from the panel of judges for an overall rating of “Excellent.” This is equivalent to a PSSA standard of “Advanced” or a grade of “A.” At the 2009 MPA, the Concert Band performed at a “Grade 2″ level, however, this year, the band performed at a higher “Grade 3″ level. The performance included a Paul Lavender arrangement of John Williams’ Raiders March, Gustav Holst’s First Suite in Eb for Military Band, and Charles Carter’s Overture for Winds. The bands have been improving by leaps and bounds over the past few years, and this assessment reflects all of the students’ hard work and dedication to the program. Following the performance, Mr. Gary Taylor, Director of Bands at Wilmington High School and Festival Host, commented to the band that “If [he] could give out an award to the most improved group from last year, it would be the Sharon band.” Audio recordings from the performance are here. Congratulations once again to the members of the Senior High Concert Band!

As a director, I couldn’t be more proud. This group performed Grade 2 & 3 level pieces at last years’ festival, and in just one year, they performed a Grade 3 & 5. Playing the entire Holst First Suite was a major accomplishment for these students, especially since we lack some essential instrumentation like trombones and horns. I re-wrote a lot of those missing parts to be covered in other instruments, and they did a tremendous job covering all of the stuff I wrote out for them.

The performance went really well, and overall, I’m quite pleased. Some aspects of the performance were better than ever, and of course some have gone better in the past. But, in the end, the students did an absolutely outstanding job performing some of the most important literature ever written for the concert band.

Posted in Adjudication, Concert Band, Musicality, Performance, recordings, Reflection, Senior High, teaching techniques, trips | 1 Comment »

Slava! performed by an Elementary Band? Sure! Why not?

Posted by dougbutchy on 24th January 2010

Just wanted to share this AMAZING video of an elementary band in Japan performing Leonard Bernstein’s Slava! Enjoy!

Ironically, this YouTube video directly relates to an online class that I just started through Wilkes University and Discovery Ed. I will post about that later. Anyway, I had my wife listen to the audio of this video first before seeing who was performing. Then, we she came into the room and saw who was performing the work, she was as flabbergasted as I was.

I have just begun reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind for my graduate class. In the first chapter, he writes about left brain versus right brain thinking and how our educational system has traditionally catered to the left – the logical, language-centered, essentially more “academic” side of our brain, all the while more or less ignoring our more right-brained compassionate, artistic, emotional side. This video is a direct correlation to that.

My wife says, “What’s wrong with this country that we don’t focus enough on the arts?” As Daniel Pink would point out, it is largely in part due to education being based on preparing a workforce to participate in the Industrial Revolution where artistic and creative thinking were not as valued. Somehow, folks in other countries have at least figured out that the arts are a vital part of their school’s curriculum.

I could go on and on about the effects of high stakes testing, and how I believe our educational system is skewed, etc. but many other folks have written much more eloquently on the subject than I ever could. I would like to leave you though with this talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 for TED Talks.

Posted in Concert Band, Discovery Education, Elementary Band, Fun, Performance, recordings | 1 Comment »

UPDATE: My Top Ten Songs

Posted by dougbutchy on 10th April 2009

If you read my last post, you know that I was given a challenge of coming up with my top 10 favorite songs or recordings.  Well, after sifting through some 8000 or so songs on iTunes, I have finally picked 10 (well, 13 actually). Here they are in no particular order, and my reasons for picking them.

1. Chameleon – Maynard Ferguson – The first time I ever played a saxophone solo in public was a junior high jazz band concert in 7th grade. This was the song.

2. Hello City – Barenaked Ladies – When I first met my wife, she introduced me to the Barenaked Ladies. Every time I hear this song (or any song from the “Gordon” album) it makes me think of her and when we started dating. I like that.

3. The Rain Song – Led Zeppelin – I had to include a song from my all-time favorite band, and I just think this song really showcases how well they wrote music. I have always enjoyed music that was written with a lot of creativity.

4. Third Symphony, Mvt. 3 – Mesto (for Natalie) – James Barnes – One of the most moving pieces of music that I have ever played in an ensemble. I can remember weeping while playing this piece several times.

5. Shiny Stockings – Count Basie – This is the tune that introduced me to the Basie Band. I can remember specifically playing this song at a jazz festival in high school. It has been one of my favorite big band charts ever since.

6. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy – Cannonball Adderley – This is the song that introduced me to Cannonball. He has since become one of my top two favorites and biggest influences.

7. Irish Tune from County Derry – Percy Grainger – Hands down, my favorite wind band piece of all time. To me, this piece is the standard of beauty in the wind band literature.

8. Ornithology – Charlie Parker – This is from one of the first jazz recordings I ever owned – Charlie Parker at Storyville. I can remember just being amazed when I first heard it as a young saxophone player.

9. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown – I can remember hearing this recording on the local oldies station that my parents listened to. Probably my first introduction to soul/r&b music. I have always loved this tune!

10. Daphnis & Chloe – Suite No. 2 – Maurice Ravel – When I played this piece in college, it was the first time I really connected emotions to performing music. I mean deep emotion. I had always heard directors and conductors talk about playing with emotion and feeling, but it never really clicked with me until I played this piece.

11. Delta City Blues – Michael Brecker – This one is from my other biggest saxophone influence. What Michael does with overtones in this recording just blows my mind. He is one of the all-time greats. I wish I could have seen him live before he passed away.

12. Cheese Cake – Dexter Gordon – I was introduced to this recording at a jazz camp that had a huge impact on my life when I was in high school. I wish I could have picked every track from this album entitled “Go.”

13. Bu’s March – Benny Green – I always wished that I could play piano, and I love this album from Benny Green recorded live at the Village Vanguard. This recording has one of the hardest swinging shout choruses I’ve ever heard.

So there you have it. Looking back at this list, I noticed that each song has had a particular impact on my life as a teacher and musician, and I suppose subconsciously, that is why I picked them. I hope you get a chance to check out any that you are not familiar with, and I challenge you to do the same and pick your top ten. Please share the results here!

Posted in Concert Band, Jazz, listening, Musicality, Performance, recordings, Reflection | 2 Comments »

Top Ten Favorite Pieces

Posted by dougbutchy on 8th April 2009

This idea is somewhat related to a conversation that Travis Weller started a while ago with a post entitled “My Band Room is On Fire.”

My ever-faithful assistant director Dennis Hritz, posed this question to me the other day: If a dinner was being held in your honor to document your life as a musician so far, what 10 recordings would be played at that dinner? So, my mission is to come up with 10 songs or recordings that are my favorites, regardless of genre. This is something that I’m going to have to think about! I’m not quite sure if I can narrow it down to only 10 favorite recordings, but I have starting thinking about what I might include. Some ideas I’ve had are to include things like my first jazz album that I owned or the first jazz recording I ever heard. I have to also include some of my all-time favorite players like Cannonball Adderley and Johnny Griffin. What songs have I listened to over and over again and still loved just as much as the first time that I heard them?

On a somewhat related note, if you haven’t checked out 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, you need to do that! I have found some really great stuff there!

I would be interested to hear what is on your top ten list! I will post mine here as soon as I decide!

Posted in listening, recordings, Reflection | 1 Comment »

Middle & High School Winter Concert Recordings

Posted by dougbutchy on 29th December 2008

Below I have posted links to our recordings from the winter concert. The first 3 songs were performed by a combined middle and high school group. I have done this the last few years because of lack of instrumentation in the middle school. The glaring thing that needs work in these recordings to me is intonation. I welcome your input upon hearing these as well. I tried to use the wordpress embedded player for these files, but for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to want to play them from Any thoughts on that would also be appreciated, as I would rather use the embedded player than the links. Thanks!

I should also mention some info about the bands that you are hearing. These groups meet 2 and 3 days a week only, due to our scheduling. The Middle School Band instrumentation is as follows:
2 Flutes
6 Clarinets
1 Trumpet
2 French Horns
2 Trombones
4 Percussion
1 Mallets

High School Band:
2 Flutes
4 Clarinets
1 Alto Saxophone
1 Tenor Saxophone
3 Trumpets
2 Trombones
1 Tuba
8 Percussion
2 Mallets

The 7th & 8th grade bands perform together, even though the meet during separate periods. Also, 9th & 10th grade students meet a separate period from 11th & 12th, but they also perform as one ensemble.

Song for the Winter Moon – MS & HS
Do You Hear…? – MS & HS
Oh Hanukkah – MS & HS
Fa Una Canzona – HS
Prelude on Greensleeves – HS

Posted in listening, Performance, recordings | 3 Comments »