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Music Advocacy

Can You Bring Generations Together?

December 6, 2010

Wheeling High SchoolThe homecoming celebration for Wheeling High School in Wheeling, Illinois had a special event attached this year.  As part of the festivities, invitations were issued to all previous members of the bands throughout the years — not an easy task considering all the band students that attended Wheeling High School  since 1964!   Current director Brian Logan extended a special invitation to the former band director, Dean R. DePoy, to attend and conduct the national anthem at the evening’s festivities.  Mr. DePoy was the first director of bands when the school opened in 1964 and was the driving force in establishing a highly respected and distinguished band program that exists there to this day.

As a graduate of Wheeling High School, I was shocked and surprised when one day in early autumn I received an email from a fellow student from that era letting me know about the plans for the event.  I had not been back to my alma mater in years and was surprised anyone from there could still find me (I graduated a LONG time ago).  As a student I was a member of the band program under Mr. DePoy and looked forward to seeing him and my fellow band members again.

As it turned out the attendance was exceptional and the warm reception from the current  band members far exceeded anything I expected.  It was extremely gratifying and heartwarming to see fellow band members that I hadn’t seen since high school — but the high point of the evening was getting to visit with Mr. DePoy after all these years.  All of us, his former students, had the same first impression:  “He hasn’t aged a bit!”  Though many of my classmates seemed to have aged very little, it was remarkable at how unchanged he looked.  Several of us commented that he looked better than most of his former students who were much younger than him!  Watching him conduct  the national anthem instantly brought back memories of many performances we had under his baton, and how we as band members grew together and formed strong bonds  of friendship that have lasted throughout the years.

It was an event that I won’t soon forget, and on behalf of all of the band alumni I want to thank Brian Logan, director, and all the members of the Wheeling High School Band for their thoughtfulness and efforts in hosting this event.  I hope sharing this story may encourage other schools to consider making this part of their homecoming activities. 

There is so much  joy generated when you put together people that bonded through their many music experiences.  Memories and friendship abound,  just as all us “Wildcats” experienced on that cool, pleasant fall evening.

Music Advocacy

The Soundtrack of our Lives

November 18, 2010

Recently, while watching an episode of Biography about the movie Jaws, my mind wandered back to the summer of my tenth year, to our family vacation in Florida and a visit to the theater where we saw, of all things, the movie Jaws.  Don’t ask me why, on a family vacation to the beach, we wanted to see a movie about a man-eating shark loose in the ocean ravaging innocent people, but that’s what we did.

The year was 1975.  No one had heard of Steven Spielberg yet, but everyone was talking about this movie.  The terror!  It all came down to one thing:  the soundtrack.  They played a short section of the film without the music, and then they played the same section again with the music added in.  What power those few notes held!  And I mean that literally, for John Williams chose to utilize only a few notes to instill terror and fear into those watching the film — and it worked, brilliantly!  Would this film have reached the same heights of success had it not been for those famous notes?

I began to think about how our each of our lives also has a soundtrack attached to it — much like a movie does.  From the nursery rhymes that our mothers sang to us when we were toddlers to the songs we were taught in Sunday School.  The songs we learned in elementary school or the one that we played for our first piano recital.  We remember our first dance or the music we listened to the first summer we drove our own car, and the tunes we listened to on the radio during our first date will always take us right back there!  Who can forget the music from our senior prom, the first dance at our wedding, or even a favorite Christmas carol that we never tire of hearing?

These are the sounds that are the soundtrack of our lives, for our lives are filled with music every day.  When you hear talk of cutting music programs from our schools and distributing those funds to other, “more important” programs, remind those people about the music that makes up the soundtrack of their lives.  We are not talking about simply a “subject,” but a real part of who we are.  We are exposed to music in some way almost every minute of the day through the internet, in advertising, on television, radio… it is everywhere.

Those who want to dismiss music from our schools might not be swayed by research demonstrating that children learn better when they are exposed to music, or that it makes us better, more rounded adults;  but maybe they can identify with something that tugs at a memory within them — something from their own soundtrack.  We all have one, it is the soundtrack of our lives.


A Random Act of Culture

November 16, 2010
If you were one of the lucky shoppers at Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia at noon on Saturday, October 30, 2010, you enjoyed an unforgettable experience!  The Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform an impromptu rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ. This special event was one of a series of “Random Acts of Culture” to be sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. This video is so inspiring, I can’t wait to see and hear the next event in the series. Who knows, I might even be one of the unsuspecting people in the crowd to be surprised and delighted when it happens!

    Need the link?


A Truly Super Championship

November 11, 2010

I had an exceptionally rewarding experience this fall when I attended the Bands of America Super Regional Championships in Saint Louis.  Almost 50 bands from 14 states took part in two days of preliminary marching band competition, culminating with the top 14 groups competing Saturday evening in finals competition.  I have attended this and many other competitions in the past and this has to rank as one of the finest I have attended.  Every group that took part was well rehearsed, disciplined and displayed a remarkable level of musicianship and movement.  It was amazing that so many groups were able to offer such a broad spectrum of sounds, motion and visual impact.

Being able to perform inside the enclosed Edward Jones Stadium provided an extra bonus as groups were able to feature soloists, small ensemble playing and a wide range of dynamics that could be lost outdoors.  The level of playing by the soloists and sections was exceptional and it was nice to be able to hear and appreciate such fine playing.

It was also a treat to see so many family members and band enthusiasts in attendance throughout the two days of competition.  They not only cheered for their own school but showed appreciation for all the groups they watched, they cheered and applauded the high impact points of the shows, and listened intently to show their appreciation of the many fine soloists that performed throughout the event.  

All the participants deserve to be recognized for their hard work and dedication, not just the groups making the finals.  The high goals that every band strives for resulted in two days of excellence that everyone had a hand in creating.  My congratulations go out to each and every student, director and supportive parent and administrator.  I can’t wait for next year!

Click here for information about Band of America’s Super Regional Championship Shows.


A Different Role

July 23, 2010

Recently I met with one of my former professors, a terrific mentor and now colleague.  Addressing him by his first name is a bit surreal after many years of sitting in his classroom.  The purpose of the meeting began rather selfishly:

  1. We both enjoy a good cup of coffee.
  2. I needed to retrieve my graded final paper in hopes of using it as a writing sample should I ever need to submit one.
  3. I am one of those academic types that actually enjoys research and I wanted to bounce around a few ideas.

Conversation led from one thing to another, from suggestions for expansion of that final research topic from a different perspective, to my family, my work at J.W. Pepper and the proverbial “so, now what?”

Does that question ever go away?  His answer of course was one that I and many of you already know — no, it does not.  No matter what the circumstance, our role simply changes.  After more than one cup of great coffee,  I came away with lots of other suggestions and advice as well!

That is the beautiful and lasting thing about teachers that have touched our lives — we never stop wanting their advice.   Perhaps we can all do more to take on the role of giving good counsel to others in the field of music.  I will start here with sharing this interesting article from the New York Times about openings at the nation’s major orchestras:

Need a Job? Help Wanted at the N.Y. Philharmonic


Here’s to You, Mr. Masterson

June 18, 2010

Thank you!In an era where The Arts seem to play…ahem… “second fiddle” to other disciplines in our schools and communities, it’s important we support educators by recognizing those who go above and beyond to support music education.

One such person is Randy Masterson of Saranac, Michigan.  His story came to me from one of our customer service representatives highlighting a conversation they had while he was placing an order with us.   She noted,  “he is an administrator who has been volunteering his lunch hours to teach choir at the school.  He is retiring this year but says that he is going to continue doing this next year, all on a volunteer basis (no pay), because he loves the kids so much and they deserve to have a music program.”  Intrigued and inspired by what I had read, I picked up the phone and called him.

Randy originally began working as a counselor for Saranac Middle School.  He has degrees in both choral music education and counseling, and eventually took an administrative position as school principal.  He later transferred to the high school as assistant principal and counselor.  While both the high school and middle school are known for their impressive band programs, no choral program existed.  Last year, Randy decided to change that.  For 15 minutes a day, three days a week, Randy began teaching choir to students who were willing to join him during their lunch hour.  In December he and his wife Pam, who teaches elementary music, combined their efforts and put on a holiday concert consisting of 111 students, 36 from Randy’s “lunch time” choir.  “It was the biggest crowd we had seen in a while,” Randy said of the audience.

Randy retired from the school this year, but will continue volunteering his time to maintain what he has started.  When I asked him why it is he is doing all of this, he said “I love the kids;  I want them to be able to enjoy music for a lifetime and they need positive experiences as youths in order for this to happen.”

The Saranac community is very lucky to have such an advocate for children and for music in their midst.  We want to extend a heartfelt “Thank You” to Mr. Masterson as well as to all the hard-working music educators out there.  You are an inspiration to us all!


Where music teachers gather

April 5, 2010

Times of crisis have benefits that, although unnoticed at the time, show their value long after things return to “normal.”  As economic suppport of school music programs faces challenges, it is absolutely incredible how music teachers face the future boldy.  I recently attended the Idaho Music Educator Association Conference held in Nampa.  Despite budget problems, music teachers from all over Idaho came together for three days of clinics, sessions and concerts, and a chance to network with colleagues, thought leaders and supporters from the music industry such as Pepper.

For those of you who haven’t attended a music education conference in a while, allow me to share a snapshot of what happens there.   I’ll start with the floor of the convention hall.  While this might look like a self-serving storefront for most companies, it’s so much more than that.  The convention floor is where teachers and industry people connect directly, without barriers.  It’s where teachers have a direct voice in saying what kind of support they need in music publishing, manufacturing, fundraising and many types of music support industries.  In return, vendors have a chance to show what they’ve developed to meet educational needs.  Both parties listen and learn much at this gathering spot, and this interaction shapes future resources being developed to support music education.

We take great pride in the look and design of our convention booth.  It needs to be a conversation-starter, a portable piazza.  My Pepper booth was an indispensable way station where people would stop after attending clinics.  There were brightly colored Teaching Music through Performance books sharing table space with Peter Boonshaft’s famous tomes.  New concert band music occupied the corner and rounding out the display were fingering charts, how-to manuals, and various other books written for and by music teachers.  I particularly liked I Know Sousa, Not Sopranos, a Russell Robinson book that young band directors might need when looking for their first music teacher gig. 

The conference sessions were informative and highly entertaining, with band, choral, and orchestral topics as well as practical offerings for teachers of elementary through high school music.  Henry Leck from Butler University gave two dynamic sessions based on his book and his DVD, Creating Artistry Through Choral Excellence and Creating Artistry Through Movement, respectively.   I was happy to hear positive reviews of  An Orff Ensemble with Caribbean Steel Drums, hosted by Anita Edwards.  It wouldn’t be a music conference without a diverse range of musical flavors!  

The venerable Dr. Peter Boonshaft dropped by on Friday after a day of honor band rehearsals to say hello and sign a few of his books, namely, Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music With Promise.  Peter is a renaissance musical thinker to whom I’d rather just listen and not say a word in response.  He’s the conductor everybody wishes they had as a music major.  His abilities as a storyteller are astounding… it’s no wonder that he is so busy attending conferences around the country!

As the conference wrapped up on Saturday and I was anxious to head home, I couldn’t help but feel tremendous pride for being involved with this event.  Not only did I feel we brought value to the event, but I learned much from the teachers there, and was touched by those who expressed personally their thanks for our company’s support of them.  This IMEA Conference happens once every two years, and I am already looking forward to the next one!


Music Education Success Story

April 1, 2010

In an environment where school district budgets are stretched thin, and and cuts to fine arts programs are on the table, it’s important that music education advocates know effective ways to maintain successful programs for children.   Communicating the value of music education, and rededicating ourselves to its continued funding, is taking place all over this great land of ours in just about every state.  It’s a crucial time to save music in our schools.

One such music program did just this.  Davis Senior High School in Davis, CA concentrated their efforts through major fundraising to save music education throughout their district, in particular their high school orchestra.  An article written by Dixie Reid in the Sacramento Bee portrays their journey, which is a story worth sharing.  We applaud the Davis school for their diligent work promoting music education in their school system.   Their long journey will yield tremendous benefits for their youth of today and for future generations as well.

If you are looking for additional support for your music advocacy efforts, consider resources provided by these organizations already working hard to promote music in our schools.  Here are three organizations that work to peserve music education, keep music in our schools, and preserve the joy of music making for generations to come.

MENC,  The National Association for Music Education:

Music For All:

Quadrant Arts Education Research:

Music Advocacy

Music as a Soundtrack to Life

March 29, 2010
What's your soundtrack?

What's on your soundtrack?

Think of every epic moment in the history of your life, and then take away the music.  For most of us that thought is, frankly, unfathomable.  A sonic snapshot holds so much more power for me than just about anything I’ve ever seen produced by a camera.  Why?  Because photographs, as lovely as they are to look at, oftentimes can only remind us of what was going on in our lives the moment they were taken —  whereas one artist, one band, one song even, can bring on a flood of memories and emotions that spans an entire personal era. 

How often do you find yourself driving in your car, walking around a department store, or sitting in the doctor’s office and suddenly you hear a song coming through the speakers that sparks a certain feeling or memory?  Where were you and what were you doing when you first heard what has now become your favorite song or artist?  What song always reminds you of your significant other, your children, or your parents?  Which band did you love to “rock out” to when you were a kid driving around with your friends in your first car?  If you’ve forgotten the answers to these questions then you can be certain that one day, when you least expect it, the music will remind you.  When I hear Neil Diamond belt out “Coming to America,” I suddenly recall my mother taking me to my very first concert.  Play me “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, and I can see my dad jumping out of his chair in our living room and doing his best to rival Barry Gibb’s falsetto.  Any song from Tori Amos’ first three albums will immediately transport me back to my high school and college years… for better or worse.

Someone with an apathetic view of music will question its relevancy in current everyday life and perhaps dismiss it as nothing more than a catalyst for nostalgia.   But if you asked that person what their favorite movie was, and then told them to envision watching it without a soundtrack, I would be willing to wager that they would find it very difficult to do.  What an interesting study that could be!  Imagine that the Titanic is sinking, people are running around everywhere, fighting for their lives.  Yet, there is no orchestra there to build the intensity.  You hear the water, the loud clatter of rapidly moving feet, the cries of fear and sorrow; yet somehow it all seems hollow.  Worse yet, Celine Dion is not going to reassure you through sweet serenade that Jack’s and Rose’s “Hearts Will Go On.”

Amerians for the Arts Action Fund

Alright, perhaps I’m being a tiny bit facetious here, but you get my point.  If the “Powers That Be” take it for granted that current and future generations are going to somehow figure out how to compose “on their own time,” then the quality of music as a whole will degrade and eventually become unrecognizable.  As dramatic as it may sound, the soul of human culture as we know it will crumble and eventually be forgotten, leaving only a shadow of its former self.

As musicians, music educators and music advocates, it is our job to ensure that future generations also have an accompanist.

We’ll continue to bring you music and art advocacy information in the future.  For information on how you can become an Arts Advocate, here are two sites to get started: and


Participation in choir

March 8, 2010
Benefits of Singing in the Choir

Benefits of choir

Let’s hear it for the choir!  In 2009, Chorus America published a report on the impact of choral singing in America.  The Choral Impact Study is a document every director involved in the choral arts should be  familiar with, as it has far-reaching implications for music in both school and community settings.  

The Impact Study contains information worth sharing with music booster groups and all choral organization supporters.   School boards and administrators will find valuable research supporting the fact that choir participation is closely associated with good citizenship and academic achievement.  

The report is presented in clear, understandable language, and is based on sound research.  As we continue celebrating Music in our Schools Month, take a moment to share this important information with others in your community to build support for your programs.  Pepper supports Chorus America through membership in the organization.

Read the summary:

Read the full study: