Actually I was relatively young when I started to figure it out: Only 30 years of age, having directed bands for just over 5 years. In 1971 I had spent the summer working on a doctorate that I instantly realized was going to have absolutely nothing to do with becoming a better band director.
Looking for a Solution
Over the next 7 years I kept looking for some form of study that would really propel me forward. Finally in 1978 on my way home from the Midwest Clinic (a trip I repeated for the 33rd time just yesterday!) it occurred to me that I could start a similar convention for directors in the western United States where I could then hire the finest teachers in our business to guest conduct and present clinics. Then I could spend every minute watching every second of every rehearsal to learn from the likes of Frederick Fennell, Arnald Gabriel, Alfred Reed and many others.
But in the early 1980s, I was so caught up in developing Western International Band Clinic for the benefit of attending directors and my own college students running the convention, I didn’t even realize until this year that I had stumbled on the acquisition of the best advanced degree in the world: The difference between attending a concert or even a clinic (both of which are good, of course) is that up-close observation of teaching techniques in rehearsal situations is by far the best teacher of all.
The On-Steroids Version
In 1989 Tim Lautzenheiser and I started the American Band College Workshop for Directors. Its entire foundation screamed back what I had discovered in 1971: Rehearsing 3 hours a day for nearly 3 weeks and attending 4 useful clinics each and every day creates an on-steriods, look-alike system to what I’d started and participated in 9 years earlier at WIBC. It’s almost impossible to fathom what 70 in-depth sessions can do in just 18 days. Frankly, there’s nothing else like it in the world today and results prove that.
Recently, while talking with 2003 ABC masters graduate, Matthew Arau, about the tremendous success he has experienced in Colorado, I asked him what he had done with his American Band College experience that helped him develop one of the top programs in the state.
Matthew said, “During my summers at ABC, I made it a point to get everything I could from each and every rehearsal and clinic by world-class conductors and clinicians. In addition, I also made a point to spend time with the master teachers and conductors outside of rehearsals and clinics to get as much information as I could to gain an even greater perspective on what I needed to do to hopefully enjoy the same kinds of success that each of them has had. I truly believe that what I have learned from the great teachers and musicians and ABC has impacted my own teaching and musicianship in an incredible way leading to the success of my band program, Loveland High School in Loveland, Colorado. Our wind symphony has been an honor performing group at the Western International Band Clinic in 2010 and the Colorado Music Educators Association Convention in 2008 and 2011. Our marching band has finished first in the state in 2009 and second in 2008, 2010 and 2011 (Ironically the first place group in all three of those cases has been directed by an ABC grad!). There is only one place where I could have studied with a veritable Who’s Who in our profession --Alfred Reed, Francis McBeth, Anthony Maiello, Colonel Lowell Graham, Colonel John Bourgeois, Johan De Meij, Jan van der Roost, Eugene Rousseau, Marianne Gedigian, Allen Vizzutti, Ralph Hultgren, Arnald Gabriel, Peter Boonshaft, Tim Lautzenheiser, Robert Ponto, Patrick Sheridan, Sam Pilafian, Dan Perantoni -- and that is the American Band College of Sam Houston State University!”
In recent years, Matthew’s Loveland High School marching and concert bands have finished either first or second in state competition. Three years, when his marching band took second, the winning band from the Air Force Academy High School in Colorado was conducted by Stoney Black, a 2007 grad of the American Band College.
From the Inside Out
Col. Arnald D. Gabriel
Part of what we look for in the world-class teachers we hire for ABC gets reflected back at us. Col. Arnald D. Gabriel (USAF Band ret.) said, “I cannot find the words to describe the euphoria that I came away with from my time at ABC. I seldom, no NEVER. have felt the enthusiasm, excitement, passion, commitment, responsiveness, attention, devotion and yes, love, as I did from the 200 students and the staff of ABC.”
And guest conductor Peter Boonshaft (author of “Teaching Music with Passion”) commented, “I can not thank you enough for giving me the honor, of continuing in some way with ABC. Col. Gabriel said it all. The work you have done and continue to do is nothing short of astounding...not just educationally and musically, but spiritually and emotionally and humanistically. Words can’t describe what goes on in those rooms. From my vantage point, quite simply: ‘People’ go into your program. ‘Remarkable educators, musical beacons and dedicated educators’ come out. It is that simple, and that profound!”
Assembling the Pieces
Our students, who are all active band directors, ask hundreds of questions about how ABC works. We know, for example, that it is really unheard of to do the following:
1. Take an entrance exam in 28 band-related areas; then concentrate through 3 summers on weaknesses only.
2. Attend every class, every day for 18 days (all clinics and all rehearsals regardless of expertise).
3. Do 3 major projects (professional-quality books actually) in 3 or more areas of weakness.
4. Take annual written exams that continually reevaluate weaknesses.
5. Utilize a dynamic computer-based program (called Ultimate Pursuit) 365 days a year, from anywhere in the world to help master weaknesses.
6. Take a real-world, 5-part exam (oral and written) that includes teaching start-up lessons in woodwinds, brass and percussion, plus a band rehearsal in which ABC peers play a composition for the graduating candidate with 25 embedded errors that the candidate must find and correct.
Coupled with all of that is close-knit, functioning family of band directors, who for 18 days each summer hook up to share knowledge and expertise with other attendees who need help in the exact areas that each director has weaknesses.
When you add to that the fact that the two 100-member ABC Directors’ Bands rehearse and sightread 3 hours a day playing over 125 compositions, the 18 days of immersion encompasses just the right stuff. And like your own students, ABC produces two major public concerts in less than 3 weeks, under the baton of such world-class conductors as Mike Bankhead, Tony Maiello, Arnald Gabriel, Lowell Graham, Paula Crider and many more. And the opportunity to accompany soloists like Boston Brass, Allen Vizzutti, Eugene Rousseau and others adds tremendous excitement to what appears to be just a master’s degree program!
Best of all, our 13-member staff is comprised of band directors, most who are graduates of ABC dating back to 1994. If you come to ABC, they will serve as your mentors while knowing how to handle the hundreds of details that make the American Band College truly great. Those of us who deal with academics in conjunction with the Sam Houston State University Master of Conducting degree, look out for each of our students and help them get the very best education available...anywhere.
If you join us and complete the program, you’ll have the master’s from SHSU of Huntsville, Texas having enjoyed 3 summers of unbelievably exciting activities here in Ashland, Oregon where the 24th annual ABC starts on June 19, 2012.
Give us a call ANY time:
Max McKee (541) 840-4888
Scott McKee (541) 778-4880
Paul Kassulke (541) 778-3161
Or, if you’d like to link up with a graduate from your state, just let us know. Through 2011, we have 88 grads from Michigan, 137 from California, 22 from Georgia, 14 from Arizona, 27 from Minnesota and 12 from Canada.
All told there are now 643 grads from 46 states and 4 foreign countries. We’d like to see YOU at ABC.