Director’s Checklist Part Three
by E.C. Moore
Still more classic tips to improve the performance of your band
A truly great band is a combination of many factors, but the most important may be the personality and musicianship of the director. It is his or her duty to organize, teach, lead and inspire. What follows is the final installment of the checklist that began in previous online issues of Keynotes. (Read part one. Read part two.)
Ask yourself the following questions. The answers may prove helpful to directors seeking to improve the performance of their bands.
Do your students “sing” through their instruments?
The sensation of “singing” through the instrument is essential to artistic wind-instrument performance. This can best be taught at first by having students play familiar folk songs and other traditional tunes.
Do your students “read around the notes”?
This is truly an important aspect in performance and one that calls for careful training. Players must be taught to read and obey the dynamic, expressive, articulation and tempo markings as they play the notes.
Does your band play with snap and liveliness?
Everyone likes to hear music that is “alive.” Even slow numbers must move. While it is true that players must listen carefully, orders governing attacks, releases, dynamics, expression and tempo indications are received visually by watching the conductor’s baton. An irresistible rhythmic momentum is obtained by using precise attacks and measured rhythmic pulsations — not through playing loudly and furiously.
Do your students watch the conductor closely?
An inspired interpretation comes in large part from inspired direction. Inspired direction is impossible unless players “keep one eye on the music and the other on the director.”
Is your baton technique clear and understandable?
In matters of baton technique, a conductor’s best possible critic is a mirror. Said the Scottish poet Robert Burns, “Oh that Gods the gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” Perhaps he was thinking of school band directors.
Is it impossible to break bad habits?
Contrary to accepted belief, bad habits are easy to break. What is difficult is mustering the desire to break them. An excellent precept to impress upon students is that bad habits can be broken when there is a desire to do so.
What are the limits to a student’s progress?
None, really, other than lack of desire. When a student fails to improve and is satisfied with the status quo, a great teacher will awaken the desire to “do something” and “be someone.”
Are you alert to new ideas?
Sometimes we are negligent in learning from others — maybe because we don’t like the other guy or perhaps because he graduated from the “wrong school.” Nothing should stand in the way of learning new ideas or techniques to improve one’s teaching.
Do you take kindly to constructive criticism?
A director should be sincerely grateful when he or she receives honest, constructive criticism. How human it is to be upset when an adjudicator catches us in a dereliction, and we then seek to excuse our mistake rather than resolve never to make the same mistake again.
Do you know how basic ornamentations should be played?
The good director knows the various methods for playing trills — whether they should begin on the essential tone or the upper auxiliary. He knows the difference between the appoggiatura and the acciaccatura; how to execute the gruppetto, the mordent and other ornaments. He understands the relationships between tempos and meter signatures in baroque and early classical music. And he passes this information along to students and makes sure they play ornamentations precisely and accurately.
Do you teach how important it is to play on a fine instrument?
Why expect a beginner to use and enjoy playing on an instrument that even a fine professional could not manipulate successfully? The director must be alert to what makes a good instrument, its construction, ease of emission of tone, perfect pattern of intonation, and flexibility. Similarly, students and their parents should also be taught to know, recognize and expect quality in an instrument.
Do you inspect instruments regularly?
It is excellent training to have one member in each section assume this responsibility. A good executive knows how to delegate responsibility. No matter who does the inspection, however, each player should be held accountable for keeping his instrument in excellent playing condition.
Do you insist upon players using correctly designed mouthpieces?
Many times students play on a superb instrument, but ruin its effectiveness by using the wrong mouthpiece. The mouthpiece, an integral part of the instrument, must fit it perfectly in order to make possible the ultimate in desirable results. When a student uses a mouthpiece designed for the instrument, he will produce tone more easily and play better “in tune.”
Do you use warm-up exercises?
The amount of work accomplished during a rehearsal depends upon what happens during its first five minutes. Plan the warm-up period carefully and knowledgeably.
Do you have a good system for storing and cataloging music?
Valuable rehearsal time can be wasted when music is not cared for properly.
And finally, are you a perfectionist?
Every great band has a perfectionist as its director, a person who believes that “what is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” It is tough, of course, to be a perfectionist, to make sure that every small detail is correct, but when this attitude prevails, students learn the vital lesson that it pays to strive for perfection in all things — music included.
E. C. Moore, a prominent music educator, was author of The Band Book, first published by Leblanc Educational Publications in the 1960s and still in print today. This article is a revised excerpt from that publication.