The other day, I was at a rehearsal for a musical production for a private girls' high school. It was a small pit orchestra: piano, drum-set, electric bass, violin and myself on tenor saxophone.

This was the first rehearsal with the singers. After each time the band played, the singers were so happy and grateful we were there making the music sound so much better.

What left an impression on me was how many times the girls looked at me as if they had never heard a saxophone before. (That has never occurred to me in the past. People always knew the sound of a saxophone; maybe not the difference between a tenor and an alto.) The funny thing is, I made sure to wear my saxophone T-shirt that day because I had a funny feeling I would get questions.

I was right with my assumption. One girl came up to me and said the trumpet was her favorite instrument. (Saxophones are made out of brass, like trumpets, so people do get a little confused.) I said that this was actually a saxophone, and that I played trumpet also. She looked confused and said she meant the saxophone. I did a quick explanation of the differences before the next tune was called. She wasn't the only one either. I heard mumblings from across the room that my instrument was a trombone. I was just really surprised and saddened to think that these girls were not given a solid enough education in music to know the difference between a trombone and a saxophone. I wondered how many other students in other schools did not get basic music education too.

Since there are a few more rehearsals left, I am thinking of a quick way to expose these girls to the sounds of other instruments. (Space and time are extremely limited – we have a show to put on.) My first thought will be to load up my phone with songs that feature different instruments and just nonchalantly play a track that features a trumpet or clarinet to start a conversation. We could then get into a quick discussion about the instruments and the music.

Do you have any suggestions? Write them below in the Comments…

Experience as Advocacy; Making Others Aware of What We Do

Dr. Peter Boonshaft on experience as advocacy

Dr. Peter Boonshaft on experience as advocacy


“We should embrace music’s ability to impact every subject and benefit students’ learning.” P. Boonshaft

In my previous interview with Dr. Peter Boonshaft, we discussed how to promote music education without tying it to Common Core subjects. (You can read that article and hear Part 1 of the interview here.) Often, we see 10 – 20 articles every week that tout music's benefits for other subjects, life skills, improving memory etc. That's all fine and good, but there also needs to be an equal amount of articles and action advocating for the merits of music in schools and society on its own.

Boonshaft suggests working with other teachers helps us get support for our programs. Many educators do this already. Think about it; if you work with your science teacher and create a unit on making musical instruments, you are not only piquing the interest of students who want to know how instruments work, but also reaching out to students interested in science who may not have had exposure to music. When we reach those students who may otherwise not be interested in science, we are helping our colleagues out. They will be more inclined to help our program out if there is ever an issue in the future.

Teaching a piece of music, whether it's for a performance, for analysis or to move to it, involves using different learning styles (aural, visual and kinesthetic). When we collaborate with teachers in general education subjects, we can reach those students who learn differently. This may create interest in music for those non-musicians, and may help these students learn the general subject better. This will also garner support from colleagues for our programs.


“Help those who don’t know what we do be a part of it and experience music…”

As teachers, we know that the start of a lesson involves assessing prior learning and life experiences. We need to do this same assessment for our community too. Think of how many times you encounter people in a store, for example, who ask what you do for a living. Think carefully about what you say. Do you reply with, I am a music teacher, or do you say, I guide young people in experiencing and creating music.  What do you say? (Write it in the comments below…)

My recent example is a perfect one. In this instance, short encounters with people, educating them on musical topics, can lead to bigger conversations about the role of music education in the schools.

Involving a School Board member, City Councilperson or other local politician in a concert can do wonders for your program. When this person attends a rehearsal, they can see and experience all the levels of learning students go through as they perform a piece, such as reading and feeling rhythms, subdividing, working with sections to blend and to pass along the melody, etc. This provides a deeper level of understanding to a non-musician as to what really goes on in an ensemble rehearsal.

“Our job as music educators doesn’t stop with the young people we are charged to teach….Our job is to help the community at large.”

Many teachers want to wait to have their children perform in public. Boonshaft disagrees, stating that students should perform in the community more often and sooner.

“What hooks someone on music is not practicing scales in a practice room. What hooks us is performing.”

As soon as the most beginning students are able to perform simple songs, have them perform them in front of the PTA, school board or somewhere else in the community. The audience response will “charge” the students to want to perform more. These performances can instill a sense of community pride too. Even if you teach General Music, demonstrating how students move to and improvise music to a School Board (either at a meeting or invite a member to watch a class) can enlighten them.

We spend most of our lives trying to inspire children to create music, shouldn't we also inspire the community to get involved too?

Action Steps:

  1.  You can listen to Part 2 of my interview here. How have you used your experience as advocacy in your teaching situation? Let me know in the Comments below…
  2.  What ways have you worked with general education colleagues that have resulted in more support for your programs? Start a discussion below…
  3.  How often do your performing groups perform in the community?
  4.  Speaking of performing, my Performance Coaching Services are available for those students needing an objective ear and honest critique that does not leave them in tears. Click here for more information.