Issue: January-March 2012
Bandworld Magazine Page


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by M. Max McKee  Bio


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ABC Takes Flight

During those same years that WIBC was expanding, the ABC program went from workshop sessions in 1989 to full-blown master's degree course work by 1992. Major developments in the 12-term curriculum for the undergraduate Band Director Prep (since 1989 known as the ABC) sequence soon became known to the directors who were attending ABC Summer for Directors. When they found out that the undergraduates were actively studying in 40 areas of band-only subject matter over a 4-year period, several said, "They're learning all of that?! You should offer a master's degree. None of us got that depth in our undergrad courses."

As it happened, in the summer of 1991 I was at the Medford, Oregon airport to pick up Tim Lautzenheiser. While waiting for his flight to arrive, the President of Southern Oregon State College came up behind and tapped me on the shoulder. "If you are heading to Ashland, can I catch a ride? I'm leaving my car here for my son."

ABClogoRedThe Degree: On the way back, with Dr. Tim in the back seat playing straight man, he remarked to President Joseph Cox, "Have you thought about a master's degree based on the concepts that Max McKee has installed in his undergraduate program?" Knowing the history of nearly 30 years frustration by the Music Department never being able to get state approval for a master's degree, Cox said, "Funny you should mention that. Just last month I was at a State Board of Higher Ed meeting in Salem and presented a plan for what I'd call an empty shell degree concept. I was able to convince the board that if any one of the smaller schools can create a dynamic curriculum and prove that they have a world-class faculty in place, they should be able to get degree approval."

Tim immediately mentioned the ABC Summer program as well as the undergrad ABC program. Fortunately, Cox had seen both programs in action over the last 3 years and knew that the 24-member summer faculty represented a cross-section of the finest teachers in the business. After thinking for a couple of minutes he said, "You know, you are absolutely right. You do have all of the pieces that fill that approved empty shell degree concept. I'll have that master's program for you 90 days!" And he did.

I remember returning to campus and announcing to the 38 band director attendees that we had a golden opportunity to turn the ABC Summer Workshop into a fully-accredited master's degree program. "So, if any of you are interested, we can put together a final written exam for July 5, 1991 that will help you be part of the Summer 1992 program." Three did take the test (including Paul Kassulke, who became a full-time staff member in 2007) and the following summer 13 signed up as master's candidates on the Southern Oregon State College campus.

By then, I had transformed the content of the flourishing ABC undergraduate curriculum to a complete master's degree catalog that immediately installed some very unique concepts. The first action was to use our undergraduate written exam comps to formulate an entrance exam for incoming master's candidates. Based on the 40 areas taught to the undergrads, it contained questions on embouchure, intonation, fingerings, band literature and many more. Its new mission was to show each entering master's candidate an exacting report on weaknesses.

The principal difference in this master's degree program was to set aside the national standard that expects candidates to take standard concepts to the next level; that is, to "master" them. Our idea was to determine what a band director does not do well and create a curriculum and course of study that requires each person to master 7 to 20 areas of weakness over a 3-summer period. Written tests each July 5, would then be compared to past performance and help the student see where further improvement was necessary.

Along with this, our new nationally-approved curriculum included 6 courses in which candidates were required to do major projects. Three of those (called Practical Applications) required the student to formulate 3 books based solely on those same weak areas discovered during the entrance examination.

Two other projects were conducting-based assignments. In one, the candidate listened to recordings of his peers' bands (as well as his or her own) and created detailed written analysis as well as creation of a voice-over critique of each band during performance. In another, the candidate worked with the school band back home to do a 3-part video covering an initial sightreading, a mid-point rehearsal and a final public performance. All of this required creation of teaching materials for the chosen composition as well as personal assessments and detailed reporting of the entire process.

The final project required the candidate to choose and synthesize information from 20 favorite clinics (of more than 120). Based on a balance of areas (woodwind, brass, percussion, rehearsal tech, philosophy, etc.) this first half of a comprehensive book allows the candidate to create a volume of critically important information that has helped develop the complete teacher. The other half of this book allowed candidates to choose the 30 most useful performed or sightread compositions (of more than 400 in 3 summers) and research important background, teaching concepts, special difficulties, etc.

During the 3 summers in the program, candidates also have conducting opportunities with the bands formed by the complete school of  band directors attending ABC. These include sightreading of new music and preparation of music for visiting faculty who will soon arrive to conduct on public concerts. Each of these rehearsals is videotaped while assessment faculty do voice-over critiques and/or meet with the candidate following the session.

Comps and Exit Exams: At the end of the 3-year sequence, each candidate is now (as put in place for the first graduating class in 1994) required to complete a 5-part comp in order to graduate. A final written exam in the areas of weakness is conducted in the first 3 hours. Next, each canidate gives a startup lesson to a young clarinet player, horn player and snare drummer. And finally, the most difficult and revealing segment of all: The dreaded BooBoo Band. ABC creates complete-instrumentation bands made up of candidate peer groups. These bands perform a composition in which all players are instructed to play as perfectly as possible with the exception of 25 carefully scripted, yet typical errors that might occur while bandsmen play the piece. In all of these "oral" comp segments, graduate faculty assessors write commentary and give final grades. This then determines if the candidate has successfully completed the ABC Master of Conducting degree.

While many aspects of the above have been refined, the essence of our Master of Conducting program (degree-based at Southern Oregon University from 1992 through 2009 and at Sam Houston State University since 2010) has remained exactly the same in our 20 year history dating to 1992.

Concert Excitement: In addition to the straight academic aspects of ABC, it is the two major public performances each summer that create the most memorable moments for everyone. In 1989, ABC was a series of three 6-day workshops concluding with a concert on the evening of the 6th day. Because we immediately recognized how tiring this schedule could be, we changed in 1990 to a pair of concerts (June 26 and July 4) with a 2-day break between Session A and B. In those first three years prior to the start of the master's program, we featured some of the top conductors in our business:

Bencr Chattaway barker OReilly Gabriel Lautz FosterB keene McBeth
Bencriscutto    Chattaway       Barker      O'Reilly       Gabriel  Lauzenheiser       Foster       Keene       McBeth

American Band College Summer: Conductors 1989-1991
1989 Frank Bencriscutto Jay Chattaway Warren Barker John O'Reilly
1989 Arnald Gabriel     Tim Lautzenheiser
1990 Warren Barker Jay Chattaway Robert Foster Tim Lautzenheiser
1991 James Keene Frank Bencriscutto Francis McBeth Warren Barker *

        * Also featured Tim Lautzenheiser, continuing as conductor and Master of Ceremonies (1989-2010)

Next time: Faculty, concerts, clinics and growth in the first 10 years of ABC



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