Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ichi, Ni, and San

In August of 1986, as a senior at Indiana University of PA, I embarked on a journey that would forever change my life. The previous spring, a high school orchestra from Williamsport, PA and performed on our campus and were absolutely magnificent. I had never seen a school orchestra play at that type of high level and I knew then and there that I wanted to be part of that dynamic. I chased down the bus as they were leaving, made eye contact with the director, and said, “You don’t know me, but I am going to student teach with you!”

Somehow between that time and the beginning of my student teaching experience, I had convinced the music ed. folks at IUP that I needed to student teach in Williamsport and there was nowhere in the immediate area that could offer me the same program and experience. Williamsport is about a 3 hour drive from Indiana, PA and is really outside of the range for stucent teaching experiences. Somehow, through the efforts of some wonderful music ed instructors, I became the first student teacher from IUP to go to Williamsport and now I was getting ready to meet the high school orchestra director, Walt Straiton, for the first time since that day his orchestra performed on campus.

But this was no ordinary meeting. Walt had called me about a week earlier and said, “Hey – I am going to Madison Wisconsin for a workshop on strolling strings and you need to go with me.” No questions asked. No options. I was going to Madison and that was going to be part of my student teaching experience. Walt made it clear that if he was going to do something, I was going to do it, too. I knew right then that this semester was going to change my life. It did. Profoundly.

I could write a book about that trip and the wonderful experience that I had in Madison at the Red MacLeod/Marvin Rabin run Strolling Strings Workshop, learning about the concepts behind school strolling groups, or about the experience of being part of the beginning of the Williamsport Strolling Strings group that received national recognition in the coming years. But, this post is about relationships. That day, as Walt picked me up in his new t-top Camry at a parking lot in Dubois, PA and my Mom watched, clearly worried about who this guy was that was hauling her little boy to the Midwest, my life changed. On that day, I became linked up with Walt Straiton, both personally and professionally for the rest of my life. He burst into my life like a tornado that day - wheels spinning in the gravel parking lot as we took off down Interstate 80. And, from that moment on, he has challenged me over and over, in his unique way, to be the driven professional and pedagog that I am today.

Something that I didn’t know that day was, that to be connected to Walt, is to be connected to Ken Raessler. What a blessing. Ken Raessler, in those days, was the Supervisor of Music for Williamsport School District and the driving force behind what was and is arguably the finest public school comprehensive music program and Pennsylvania and beyond. He has conquered many areas in the music ed. field, including public school teaching, college music teacher development, public school arts administration, and collegiate administration. He is an author and speaker and a true leader in every respect. He mentored Walt while he was at Williamsport and facilitated much of the success that Walt enjoyed in that system. Ken understood that an Arts Supervisor had to have a plan, a model, and his was steeped in all of the right things: student achievement, opportunities for teachers, solid musicianship, impeccable teacher training, and a top to bottom comprehensive approach to music education. (His latest book is entitled Aspiring to Excel: Leadership Initiatives for Music Educators (GIA Publications) and I recommend it highly!!)

During the 5 months that I lived in Williamsport, these two teachers guided me, challenged me, taught me, inspired me, and most of all accepted me as one of their team. They made me part of their fraternity of driven professionals. At one point in the time I was there, Ken told me that we were like Ichi, Ni, and San. One, Two, Three. Three music educators that were living parallel professional lives, each in different stages of their career. He told me that I was like them and that I would enjoy the type of professional success that they enjoyed if I put my mind to it. I was only 21 and somehow, I couldn’t believe that Ken and Walt could possibly see themselves in me.

23 years have passed and we have all three moved in numerous directions.

Last night, I had dinner with Ichi and Ni – Ken and Walt. Now, Ken and I have been in fairly close touch in recent years. Ken was keynote speaker for the NCMEA Fall In-Service a few years ago and I was honored to introduce him at that event. He is always in attendance at my sessions when I speak at a conference he is attending. Unfortunately, I hadn’t spent any meaningful time with Walt for the past 10 years or so. And, the three of us hadn’t been together in a much longer time. But last night, we finally got together. It was like we were just in Williamsport yesterday. We are all a good bit older and have been through lots of experiences, but the things that are important are still the same. Ken listens intently to our stories of experiences and successes and offers wise advice, based on years of experience and his own success in the music education business. Walt inspires me with his take no prisoners approach and energy. He tells stories of wonderful experiences as a musician and businessman and is very willing to offer strong advice and friendly, caring support on a variety of topics. I have had my successes over the years and feel much more comfortable in the role of “san”. Ken’s prediction has come true in palpable ways. And he is happy to let me know that “he told me so.”

I could continue with details of how Walt and I reconnected with a comparable energy on current pedagogical thought, or how he nationally recognized now for his work with Yamaha, or how I think we convinced Ken to start a blog to share his thoughts on music ed and leadership with the world in a new way. But, really, none of that matters in this forum. These guys are my friends and mentors and I cannot express my thanks to them enough. They helped to shape me as a teacher and as a professional.

There are a million reasons to go to conferences as an educator. We go to sessions, learn new techniques, visit exhibits to see what is new, and have a great time. But, when it is all said and done, it is always about relationships. Last night, I had the priceless opportunity to renew two important relationships in my life. And, sure enough, we were still Ichi, Ni, and San. Just like in 1986.
Thanks, Walt. Thanks, Ken. I love you both.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Midwest Clinic Thoughts - Jacquelyn Dillon-Krass

Hi all.

I want to give you a little insight into a bit of the history of the field of string education today. On Tuesday late afternoon at the Midwest Clinic, there was a very special session entitled "A Conversation with Jacquelyn Dillon-Krass." Jacquelyn Dillon has had a profound influence on my career and teaching and it was really wonderful to witness this celebration of a career that has spanned over 50 years. She is professor of String Education at Wichita State University and has had tremendous success in public school teaching, university level teaching and teacher training, the music industry, and association leadership.

I first became aware of Jackie when my Secondary Methods of Music Education Professor, Dr. John Keuhn at Indiana University of PA, handed me a text book entitled "How to Design and Teach a Successful String and Orchestra Program," by Jacquelyn Dillon. I read the book with interest and gained so much direction from it. Shortly afterward, as a beginning teacher in 1988, I attended a session at the MENC Eastern Division Conference in Philadelphia where Jackie was presiding. Following the session, I stayed around for a few minutes hoping to have an opportunity to speak with her. When we met, I took the opportunity to ask her, "How does someone like me (a first year teacher) get to be someone like you? (a noted authority in her field)" Jackie thought for a few minutes and said, "Scott, it is really just one word - write. Take every opportunity to be published and share your ideas with the profession. There are folks out there that are interested." That one word - write - really changed my professional life. Within a few weeks I had submitted an article to be published in the PMEA Journal and have tried to share my ideas on strings, pedagogy, and music every day since then. Her one word made the difference for me.

I have had the opportunity on several occasions to thank her for that advise and Jackie Dillon has helped me in several other ways since that time. She is a caring teacher and a knowledgeable pedagogue. Moreover, she will share her ideas with you in hopes of making you, your students and younger teachers, better at what we do.

Jackie shared many of the concepts that she holds dear yesterday and I want to share a few of them with you. They are wonderful guides for any string teacher. But many of them are simply important guides for students and professionals in any field.

1. Write and share what you know. Don't keep it to yourself.

2. Everybody gets better. Just try. We learn from trial and error. Encourage others to try, too. They learn from trial and error, as well. (Referring to learning and teaching beginning strings - but applicable everywhere!)

3. There is no perfect method book. Great teachers make method books great. Not vice-versa.

4. Every great teacher needs a bag of tricks. You only get that bag filled up by watching and learning from others. Go to educational sessions. Go to conferences. Seek out mentors.  Learn from those that are willing to share!

5. Music MUST be expressive. Right notes and rhythms only mean something if the music is going somewhere.

6. Make your music you own. Don't just play what is on the page. Express beyond the markings.

7. EVERY student CAN play in tune. Don't settle for less. (Generally - every student can succeed. don't settle for less.)

8. The accomplishment that she is most proud of is her students. (Me, too.) She said - "You know, we need our students. My students are my best friends. There are times that we prop them up and help them. And, there are times that we need them to prop us us. They do and they will. Don't forget that."

9. How do you find good kids for the orchestra? Go find kids for the orchestra. Numbers matter. Get a bunch of kids and they WILL be good!

As I read back over these comments, I am even more struck by how universal these ideas are and can be. May be one of these ideas will strike you today. I hope so.

I have been blessed by my relationship with Jacquelyn Dillon-Krass and I hope that maybe in some small way, you will be, too.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Midwest Clinic Thoughts - Tuesday

Hi all.
Today, I am the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. It is one of the largest annual gatherings of music educators and music companies. If you are a music educator and have never been to this event, it is really worth the effort to get here at some point.

The string education sessions began this morning with a nice breakfast gathering that was sponsored by the Kjos Publishing Company. It was a really nice event and I had the opportunity to reconnect with many friends from around the country. I was particularly pleased to reconnect with Marvin Rabin, one of the true pioneers in the string ed field. He paved the way for so many of us that are making our careers in public school string education and at age 93, is really getting around well. I had the chance to thank him for the impact he has had on my career. For those of you that are familiar with some of my web-teaching, he planted the seeds for many of the concepts that I teach using finger patterns. (major scales and upper positions) My students at NCSSM can see these concepts put to use on the NCSSM Orchestra page. Those of you elsewhere in the world can see these soon on the D'Addario site: I believe that they will be posted very soon.

I also had the opportunity to see Mark O'Connor present a session on his new O'Connor Violin Method. It is available exclusively through Shar Music. I think that he has hit on something really effective here and applaud his efforts to be innovative in the traditional world of string education. There were several performances by students that have studied with Mark in various capacities over the years and they were all fantastic. I am going to check this method out very closely and try it out with my own sons.

Tomorrow, I will be giving a session with Doris Gazda, Matt Turner, Sean O'Laughlin, and Larry Clark. This session is sponsored by Carl Fischer Music and, as always, D'Addario Strings is supporting me in this session. This session is called "Teaching the Nitty Gritty: Who Has Time for Anything More?" and will cover a variety of topics related to technique, literature and enrichment to traditional skills in the string classroom. I think that this will be a lively panel discussion and look forward to sharing this platform with my friends.

Meanwhile, I have just enjoyed a lunch in my room while jotting down this post. Time to head back over to the conference to get more new ideas! More later...


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

D'Addario on CNN

Hi Friends!
A few months back, I wrote about my experiences while visiting the D'Addario String manufacturing plant in Famingdale, NY. I mentioned how cool it is to be associated with a company that is committed to manufacturing in the United States and to their employees. Well, apparently others have noticed this as well. This past weekend, CNN featured D'Addario for their commitment to keeping jobs and manufacturing in the US. The clip details the Toyota Automation Strategy that I mentioned in my earlier post, commonly known as LEAN. It is a really interesting and enlightening clip.
Please follow this link to check out the video clip on the CNN Website. As always, I am so proud to be associated with D'Addario. They are a great company that makes a great product.