Thursday, March 29, 2018

Stumbling Into Spring Break

Today is the last day of classes at NCSSM before spring break. This morning we had midterm recitals in my Piano and Guitar classes and this afternoon I will give a lecture in my Music History course on sonata-allegro form and the Viennese era. It has been a wonderful academic year so far and the beginning of third trimester has been eventful and pleasurable. My Orchestra has been preparing for our annual Concerto Concert on May 18 and we just hosted a wildly successful ECU Four Seasons Next Gen Chamber Music Festival at our school last weekend. My students had the wonderful opportunity of working with the ECU string faculty and performed a movement of the Tchaikovsky Serenade and Holst's Holberg Suite. Life is good at NCSSM and it has been a wonderful year.

Yet, with all of that being said, I am truly stumbling into spring break. My nerves are definitely frazzled. I find myself to be overly sensitive to student  actions and reactions. I have been coming to work the last few days with the simple goal of not making others mad and not getting mad at others. The fact is, I need a break. My students need a break. The academic rigors of NCSSM are definitely catching up with everyone and we all need to step away for a few days.

This doesn't always happen to me at spring break. Some years, frankly, I would rather continue classes. But, for whatever reason, this year is different.

It has been cold outside and we really are just beginning to sense the onset of spring in North Carolina. I have spent a number of recent evenings freezing on the risers of the baseball field at my sons' high school watching JV and varsity games. The sun really hasn't been out very much and I think that has had some impact on my overall disposition. I could use some warm weather.

Also, I have simply been really busy this winter. I've been on the road a great deal with conducting appearances, conferences, and performance opportunities. All of these opportunities do impact me when they come at such a close proximity.

Here is the good news! We will all come back refreshed in 10 days or so. It will be great to have a little break from each other and come back to finish out the year in wonderful form.

I'm really looking forward to all of the spring concerts and celebrating the magnificent accomplishments of the class of 2018. I have so many seniors who have given so much to the music program over the past two years. It will be great to celebrate their accomplishments with them as we move towards commencement. I also look forward to what lies ahead next year. Our junior class is extraordinary and I know we will have a magnificent ensemble next year with rock-solid student leadership. There is much to celebrate and much to look forward to.

But for now, I must admit I'm feeling a little bit guilty about my general disposition. That said, I'm willing to give myself a bit of grace and understand that this, too, is a natural part of the academic year and the seasons that we encounter with our students.

So, if you are a teacher and feeling this way, just know that you are not alone. It happens to all of us sometimes. It's happening to me this year. I am really looking forward to this time away. I'm looking forward to spending time with my wife and kids. And, frankly I'm looking forward to spending some time alone as well. I think folks like me who love to be around people need a break every once in awhile. Mine is coming at a perfect time. I need a bit of a reboot.

If you are approaching spring break and have a few days off in the coming week, I wish you all the best. I hope that you (and I) will come back rejuvenated and refreshed. I know that I will do my best to be ready to encounter my students with love, respect, and grace as we move towards the end of the school year. I wish the same for you.



Sunday, March 11, 2018

Asta 2018 Wrap-up

As I reflect on the 2018 the ASTA National Conference through my haze of exhaustion and happiness, I feel like there are a few takeaways that I'd like to share with you today. The Conference has become for me and many others somewhat of a a family reunion. It's a time where like-minded professionals and friends get together to share ideas, encourage each other, and enjoy each other's company. There are so many wonderful informative sessions at the conference that cover topics including traditional pedagogy, K-12 strategies,  eclectic style performance,  advocacy and many other current topics and issues to mention just a few. In addition to the conference sessions, there is an amazing exhibit hall where manufacturers of instruments, accessories, publishers, and others can share their products and receive feedback from the people who actually use their product on a daily basis. There are meetings of minds throughout the course of the four day event and many new ideas are germinated at this time.

For me, this year's conference was particularly moving in a variety of ways. First, I have been struck by the opportunities that we have at the conference to look at our past and honor the folks that laid the groundwork for this organization and the profession of string teaching. Some were at the conference this year and others weren't able to make it. But, throughout the conference there were conversations about the ideas that started with the pillars of generations before us. We heard many references to folks like Paul Rolland,George Bornoff, Marvin Rabin, Dorothy Straub,Shinichi Suzuki, and so many more throughout the week.

At the same time, I was struck by the incredible number of young people at the conference. I feel like the collegiate chapters of the American String Teachers Association are stepping up in huge ways. The youthful energy in the sessions, the jam sessions, and the social events, was energizing for me in many ways. I was thrilled to meet up with many students that I have conducted in various honors orchestras, camps, and other events over the years who are now string teachers in the profession. It was wonderful to hear about their ideas, their passions, and their aspirations for their students and their professional lives.  I am honored to play a role in their lives and truly desire to encourage and inspire them moving forward.

I am also really excited to begin a new role as Chair of the National Committee on Content Development for ASTA.  I had many conversations throughout the week with individuals and groups about the power of web content and the various modes that can include.  It seems that we all are thinking about web content and how it can be most useful  to those  in the profession.  I am honored to play a role in the next phase of these decisions and initiatives for ASTA.

Another important facet of the conference for me is spending time with my friends and deepening those relationships.   I was honored to present a session with my dear friends Jim Palmer and Dr. Rebecca McLeod from UNC Greensboro. It was wonderful to prepare our session together and share our ideas with the enthusiastic audience on Friday.  I also loved getting to know Jim's students who served as our demo orchestra.  I had so many other meals and conversations with some of my best friends from across the country. In many ways , these connections are the real value of this organization . I find and inspiration in these relationships and genuinely appreciate my colleagues in the most profound of ways. 

(Side bar: Congratulations to Jim Palmer for being named the recipient of the 2018 Elizabeth A. H. Green Award for Exceptional Accomplishments in the K-12 String and Orchestra Education.  This is certainly well earned and well deserved!)

I love gaining new ideas from the sessions I attend.  This year was no exception.  I picked up several nuggets this year and will implement them immediately at NCSSM and in my conducting appearances.  Similarly, I gain so much from presenting at the conference. This is important professional development for me and I truly appreciate all of you that attended my sessions and encourage me to be better each year.  I particularly appreciate all of you who attended my 7:00 AM STEM Concepts in the String and Orchestra Classroom session.  You are troopers!

Each year, after the conference, I come home with a renewed appreciation for my colleagues and my profession. We are so privileged to be string teachers and orchestra directors in the United States today.  We need each other.  ASTA is the glue that brings so many of us together and continues to make us better in so many ways.  If you have never been to the conference, try to get to Albuquerque next year.  You will be transformed. Until next year...


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bringing Stem Concepts into the String Classroom

Thanks for coming to my session to day at ASTA in Atlanta!

Bringing STEM Concepts into the String and Orchestra Classroom
Scott D. Laird
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Blog: Thoughts of a String Educator

Click here for handout

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Act Like an Owner

This morning I saw an interesting spot on Good Morning America about Richard Montanez, the  Vice President of the Pepsi Company. His story is fantastic. He was working on a production line for Frito Lay and inadvertently invented Flaming Hot Cheetos. There is a new feature film being made about him and his life. The story is fairly simple but inspirational and a great lesson for all of us.

He was working on the production line and a few Cheetos were unusable because the cheese coating machine broke down and the delicious corn snacks we're unable to be coated. He decided to take the plain Cheetos home and experiment little bit. He put some chili' powder on them and tried them out. They were fantastic! He scheduled a meeting with the president of Frito-Lay and the rest is history. He had created Flaming Hot Cheetos.

I absolutely love this story because it illustrates one of the principles that I have preached to my students for about 10 years. It is the concept of "leading from any chair" in the orchestra that I initially learned about from Ben Zander's wonderful book, The Art of Possibility

In a recent interview, Montanez encouraged his colleagues at every level of the Pepsi Corporation to "act like an owner." In other words, everyone needs to take the responsibility for the larger success of the company no matter what their role is. This concept is exactly the same as encouraging every musician in the orchestra to lead from any chair. 

No matter who you are, from the middle of the first violin section to the back of the viola section to the middle of the bass section to the front players in every section, everyone should take ownership in the quality of the performance and act as a leader from the beginning of the concert cycle to the very end of the last performance. This is how great ensembles are developed. Everyone must buy in at the highest level of leadership and investment. 

Leaders are invested. Leaders are active thinkers. Leaders are prepared. And leaders think about how the group can be better.  Leaders move with purpose.  Leaders in the orchestra are artists from the first sight-read to the final cadence of the performance.

These are all traits of Montanez and his success story. And these can be traits of yours as well.