Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Looking for The Sound of Music

"When are you going to post another blog?"

It's becoming a perennial question at the homestead. Of course, I do publish a blog every Wednesday, just not here. (See my sidebar.)

I'm posting a blog tonight to let you know about my latest adventure in music. I'm now facilitating a middle school boys praise band at the K-8 school that meets at my church. I'm having a difficult time coming up with a title for myself, and 'facilitator' seems to be the best word for now. (Something just shy of referee)

I've taken over the job that was previously held by the Minister of Music and Arts at our church--Facilitator #1. He has a lot of personal things going on and wisely felt it best to take himself out of the school responsibility. Having worked with the school last Spring--filling in for the music teacher and facilitating (there's that word again) the drum circle--I was excited when they called upon me again, asking if I would take on the band.

I came to it with some caveats. I haven't played in a praise band and I haven't worked with middle school boys much. But, with my many years directing handbells and exploring music with younger kids, I offered my "ensemblizing" skills. The boys auditioned and were taking lessons outside of the band. If I didn't have to teach them how to play, it seemed like something I could handle.

The first meeting, last Tuesday, I thought had gone fairly well. I asked them to tell me about themselves and their experience playing. We talked about things we could work on for the remainder of the semester. OK. When it came time to play, the boys said they had no music--it had all come from the last facilitator. Next week, then. And I'll be prepared.

Tuesday came. I had labeled folders and printed out music parts. It's amazing that you can find free chords for guitar and keyboard as well as drum parts for songs on the 'net. We got ready to play through some music, and that's when reality really hit.

I was told that the boys came to the band with varying levels of experience and talent. That couldn't have been more clear on Tuesday. Even with A-minor written on the music, the keyboardist wasn't used to playing chords and didn't know how to make an A-minor chord. He can play anything he has figured out on his own beautifully. The guitarist couldn't make the A-minor chord with much speed and become flustered. The bassist didn't have an amp, so he decided not to play. The percussionists were doing their best, but I had to tell them to stop, as no one else was getting it--at least, not at the same time.

Directing a middle school band is not like directing a bell choir, with everyone learning together and working on the same instrument. And middle school boys are...middle school boys. The drama is what left me shaking my head, leaving the class for the day. "Don't you all just want to play?!" I wanted to scream at them.

I'm putting my teacher hat on now. (Tired of facilitating.) Taking a page from handbell directorship training. Your ensemble will only be as good as your "least common denominator." So, I'm scaling back the number of songs to less than a handful. Working up basic chord sheets and guitar fret diagrams and drum arrangements. Taking next Tuesday at a snail's pace, just to keep us all together. The final goal come June is two songs and a rap song/video.

Could be a long 11 weeks, but, as I told the school's director, I'm up for the challenge.

However, hints on dealing with the drama are appreciated!



Kelly Combs said...

Love it! No one is better than you at this type of thing. I'm thinking you should be the Band "Coach." Boys like coaching. But Band Teacher is good too.

Of course we could call you Rock Star!

KelliGirl said...

Sue J.
I LOVE this! My son is in middle school and plays drums in our church jr. high praise band so I pictured your scene in my mind! God love you for taking this on. Just getting 13-year-old boys to do anything in a focused, organized way is a challenge. Girlfriend, you have your work cut out for you! :-) I know if anyone can whip these kids into a respectable band you can. I'm excited to hear how things progress. (Have you thought about asking them what songs they might like to play?)

I think you should assume the title, "The Director"...because you are WAAAAY more than a facilitator.

Keep us posted!

Sue J. said...

Kelli, the MISTAKE may have been in asking them what they want to play. They have an interest in heavy rock/metal Christian bands, and, truly, that is not something we can recreate with the instrumentation we have and their expertise. (Skillet, POD, really!?)

We are going to tackle a secular song with a message that fits them: "How to Save a Life" by the Fray. Keyboardist recommended because he has already worked out his part by ear. But, we're doing Newsboys, maybe a rockin' Chris Tomlin and 10th Avenue North.

Yes, I'll keep you updated, if I survive next week....