As a junior high band/orchestra teacher I have know for years what wish I would make if a genie magically appeared out of the bell of a dusty old baritone horn. It is a wish we music educators have all desired nearly every day of our teaching careers. From the depths of our souls and the innermost parts of our heart we all desperately want ONE THING: we wish ALL of our students could READ MUSIC!
Everything else is easy to teach in comparison: expression, playing in time, breathing in the right places, using the right bow direction, and even playing in tune. But, the number one problem for me over 19 years of teaching beginning band and beginning orchestra has been to get everyone reading music. Sure, most of the young recruits catch on pretty well, but there is always a number of students in every class that begin to fall behind because they can't make sense of music notation.
I would give my left conducting arm if I could get everyone in my band reading the dang notes!
This includes getting the entire trumpet section using their middle fingers...for F#, of course. And I would also really like the trombonists to finally learn what 2nd position is (yes, there IS a number between 1 and 3). Thank goodness for the flute section. They give me hope for the future of humanity, but they do usually forget that they have a pinky on their left hands (for the A when there are 3 flats in the key signature).
Speaking of pinkies, I've got one word for you: clarinets. No less than 10 clarinet notes require the use of one or more pinkies, and most clarinet players mystically develop a very twisted sense of what “down” and “up”, and “out” and “in” mean when referring to moving their right pinky. So, a lot if guess work is going on in the clarinet section.
Of course, the kings and queens of guesswork are the French Horn players. Any note other than F is a mystery to them! Did I just say mystery? Because there is nothing more mysterious to saxophone players than the constant question: "Is it F sharp or F natural?". Then once the elusive answer is discovered the mystery continues with the "pointer finger or middle finger" conundrum.
To my beloved young band pupils and orchestra protégés I have one sinple request: WOULD YOU PLEASE LEARN YOUR NOTES AND FINGERINGS?!
Okay, so granted that this is actually TWO requests. Semantics.
In my quest to lead all my pupils to fingering perfection I have visited many interesting lands. First was the kingdom of Lemee Showya - a beautiful island nation in which kids learn by watching you demonstrate the notes and fingerings on each instrument many, many times. I soon found myself on a boat fleeing from hoards of teacher-eating monsters which had little interest in paying attention long enough to develop a useful life skill.
Next I journeyed over rugged terrain to the land of Han Doubt, only to find that placing a photocopied fingering chart in each student's music folder provided no relief from the onslaught of wrong notes.
I next trekked over the mountains of Foto Shopp to the wondrous high-altitude nation of Testimee Daylee. The inhabitants of this little corner of the world proved much more attentive. However, the constant landslides of paperwork (chanting "Grade me! Grade me!") soon buried my hopes of staying there for any length of time.
The longest journey yet brought me to a sparkling castle amidst rich, forest-covered hills. Inside I found cooperative youth who were eager to become well-trained musicians. The secluded place was called Stepp-Wyze Flasch-Kard, and it was soon filled with such melodious music that I hardly hoped for a better home in any corner of the world.
But, not many days hence I began hearing whispers and rumors of a another land...a magical land of unicorns, leprechauns, and...ninjas, and I became determined to find it.
I cannot describe the length, the breadth, nor the many difficulties of this last great adventure, but suffice it to say that I, at last, reached the land of ultimate musical achievement. A place where great music spontaneously combusts from children who are eager to learn and who quickly become masters of notes and fingerings. It is the land of Nin-Genius!
Curtis Winters has taught Junior High Band & Orchestra for 17 years in Orem, UT.
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