Why I Love Colorado

Susan and I moved here – reluctantly – in 1992 with the Army, thinking that as soon as I got out of the Army, we would be moving to Virginia. We never left! Two of our kids were born here. We love Colorado and hope to never move away, but if God ever has something for us somewhere else, we will move. There are so many obvious reasons why Colorado is great – the mountains, the climate, the outdoors – but I’m going to talk about some of the reasons that aren’t as obvious.

  1. There are no alligators!

I have a niece who lives in Naples, Florida. We went to see her last year and had a wonderful time getting to know her family. She took us on a hike through a nature preserve. Fortunately it was elevated because there were alligators! It was nice to see them in their habitat knowing we were safe, but she told us about how they sometimes show up in people’s yards! Come to think of it – we didn’t see many children there and half the adults only have one leg. Susan asked her if they ever move around in drainage ditches – for example at the side of the road or near major shopping malls. Jane answered that you occasionally will see that…we saw one in the very next drainage ditch we looked at!

There actually is an alligator farm in Colorado near The Great Sand Dunes, but that doesn’t count – they are behind fences and if they ever got out, the cold in winter would probably kill them.

2. There’s very little humidity

What you see above is an actual picture of humidity. It’s like a black hole in space. It sucks all the coolness right off your body and makes you hot. Sure, we have to apply moisturizer to our hands, and our feet, and our arms, and our legs 24x a day, but at least when we put a shirt on, it doesn’t get stuck to our bodies.

3. We have mountains

Every place else has hills – we have mountains. You get to experience the grandeur of God’s creation. It makes for some interesting situations, like looking DOWN on a flying plane. And when we have a wet winter, it’s cool to see the mountains topped with snow for over half the year. Occasionally it will even turn white in the summer, but it quickly melts away. I’ve ridden my bike all over our beautiful city. There has not been any neighborhood that didn’t have a good view somewhere in its midst.

Turn your device sideways to make this comparison work…

Our mountains

————————————————————————————

What other people call mountains

—–

4. Our water is delicious (see #3 above)

I think it has something to do with much of our water supply being snow runoff, but it tastes delicious to me, right from the tap. In America we pretty much can’t complain about our water – we are fortunate – but if you want your water to also taste good, come here. I love the bubbly springs that pour from the ground in Manitou Springs, but some people – including my wife – think that water is nasty.

5. The weather is always a surprise

I have been biking in the winter and have needed winter clothes in the summer. The joke here is that if you don’t like the weather, just wait half an hour. It can change so quickly!

Just this past school year, I had a snow delay the third week of May. Several districts were closed. But I have also worn shorts and a t-shirt in January.

This makes life more interesting. You can’t say “We’re going hiking this weekend,” it’s more like “We’re going hiking OR we may be staying home and watching a movie.”

Although the constantly changing weather can be fun, sometimes it’s nice to get some consistency. We get that in September, which is probably our most stable weather month and my favorite. It’s hot in the middle of the day – but not too hot, and it’s chilly enough at night to need a jacket (great sleeping weather).

I hope you come for a visit to our beautiful state, but don’t stay – housing prices in my town are already 3x higher than what they were when we moved here in 1992!

***James is a speaker, musician, author and middle school teacher. You can often find him hiking trails with his beautiful wife, mountain biking all over the place for some solitude, or in the summer on a stand up paddleboard. He and his wife have four kids and six grandkids. www.jamesdivine.net

Keeping Up With The Times

By Guest Writer Brooke Pierson

Keeping up with the times – a no win scenario?

Over the years I am constantly hearing about how we need to “reach more kids”…

Teach rock band!
Teach computer music!
Teach hip-hop!
Teach what the kids are interested in.

To be fair, this post isn’t about those things entirely – those are great things to teach and can be a great addition in an elective nature of our schools – I wish we could offer all  those things. I also recognize that each situation is different and just as there are only 3 or 4 major types of sciences that students study in school, we are also limited in what we can offer effectively. 

What I do find interesting, however, is that in an effort to “be with the times” we never really do hit that mark – because the times and what kids are interested in changes so drastically and fast. Ten years ago there was a huge push to incorporate rock bands in schools – and it made sense – rock bands were everywhere and had been for a while. But then all of a sudden there was a shift and now it’s all about loops, electronic music, and sound engineering/production. Rock band is “old”, guitar sales are down, etc. And you bet there will be something else soon.

Meanwhile, millions of students have been learning music embedded into our country as one of our unique traditions: concert band. We often look to other countries and think about their cultures with such awe and positivism and then we sometimes overly critique what we do for the purpose of what? Meeting the whims of generations? The taste they have that changes each generation? There is nothing wrong with tradition and culture so long as we’re meeting the needs of our students but we also have to be the curators and stewards of that need.

We have a *unique* and wonderful musical culture in the US – it has a ton of variety from jazz to classical to popular, rock, country – endless! But one thing we also have is a tradition that include band/choir/orchestra at the core in our educational system. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact, it is a beautiful thing. This cultural element (and I’m going to keep saying that because it IS our unique cultural element) is integral in the way we shape students and it is a pathway to more specialized musical forms. Rather than trying to put efforts on educating students in whatever fad there is (and changing curriculum to do it) we rather should be continuing our efforts to enrich, strengthen, and grow this unique tradition – whether it be advancing literature, empowering students of all backgrounds, gender, ethnicity, etc, growing our scope.

This doesn’t mean getting rid of those other things. Do them, teach them, enrich our students lives. But don’t overlook the power that our musical culture can have on students and rest assured that cultures thrive on tradition – and concert band is one tradition that is deeply embedded in our society.

Brooke is a teacher and composer. Find out more about him and order his music at https://www.brookepierson.com

Episode 133 – Baby Shark by Rote

I had never heard Baby Shark until recently when my six month old grandson came over for a visit. He did not like being in the car so my daughter sang this and many other songs to him. I became an expert at it. It’s a fun – albeit annoying – song that your students may enjoy learning, and it’s easy to teach by rote, incorporating some theory and scales into your lesson. Have fun!

You Matter!

As we approach the end of the year, we are all feeling tired and drained – which I think we all know and expect – at least physically.

But remember, we are also drained emotionally. It can cause our emotions to trick us. We may think…

“Does what I do matter?”

“Would a career besides teaching be better?”

“Why do I even bother?”

This is a trick! We know our bodies are tired, but we don’t always recognize our emotions are tired. Throw this lie into the dumpster because YOU MATTER.

I have a friend who is an engineer. He once could not understand why teachers were so tired in May. As we talked about it, in his job he has 25-30 projects going at any given moment…BUT…only 1 has a deadline coming up soon. The others are in progress with deadlines months and even years away. I told him teaching is like having 150 projects with a due date coming up, but they are ALL due May 24. He voted for the bond issue in the following election!

We have a few weeks to go, and then we can rest physically AND emotionally.

Go and make a difference because YOU MATTER!

Episode 130 – When Students Misbehave for the Sub

A good substitute teacher will be able to handle the class even if you didn’t leave lesson plans. The best substitute – if you can find one – is a retired music educator you know and trust. In this episode, I share four tips for how to handle the situation after things went band and seven tips for PREVENTION, which is much better. Here’s the link to Episode 75, which explains how to use the Student Led Rehearsal: http://www.jamesdivine.net/2017/01/18/episode-75-student-led-rehearsal/

Episode 127 – 11 Movies Every Band Kid Should See

Disclaimer: View movies yourself before showing them to your students. Check your school or district’s policy on showing movies. In my opinion, movies are best reserved for bus trips or special viewing events rather than replacing a rehearsal, Also, I think they work best when combined with discussion and reflection. I have included some of those ideas in the podcast.

Episode 124 – Should Practice Outside Of School Be Required

Episode 124 – Should Practice Outside of School be Required

We all wish that each and every one of our students practiced two hours a day every day, but is this possible or even realistic? It depends.

In my 21 years of teaching I’ve tried it all. Surprisingly I have found success by trying something different. Perhaps it will work for you.

Episode 123 – Six Responses When Students Say “I Want To Switch To Drums”

Episode 123 – Six Responses When Students Say “I Want To Switch To Drums”

I’ve been teaching for 21 years, but I still HATE it when a student asks me if he can switch to drums. Why doesn’t anyone want to switch to tuba? Can we control the number of drummers in our bands (yes, we can)? Can we shape the culture of our band to minimize this (yes, we can)? Will some students quit over this (yes, some will, but not as many as you think)? Six tips to minimize students wanting to switch.

Find a download of the 40 basic rudiments at The Percussive Arts Society page, www.pas.org.

Episode 122 – How To Properly Use Festival Warm-up Time

Episode 122 – How To Properly Use Festival Warm-up Time

Believe it or not, in my early days of teaching I did not know how to use this time properly. I actually ran out of things to do!

Now I know better.

This is a repost from an episode several years ago in which I share tips on how to use your warm-up time, what to do, what NOT to do, and even preparing yourself mentally.

And remember, performing at a festival is all about getting FEEDBACK. Don’t be overly concerned about your score (be a little concerned, but that’s not your main focus).

Episode 121 – Prepare To Be Judged

Episode 121 – Prepare To Be Judged

In this episode, I bring back Lori Schwartz Reichl from last week. With contest season coming up, we discuss the how to prepare your band to be adjudicated. What are the goals with adjudication? How can directors prepare themselves in the weeks, days and hours beforehand? How can we prepare our students for the experience?

As a music educator, Lori is an active adjudicator, clinician, guest conductor, private instructor, speaker, and writer. She is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom/rehearsal space. She is also a journalist for Teaching Music Magazine.  Visit her at www.makingkeychanges.com

Episode 120 – How To Get Admin On Your Side

Episode 120

In this episode, I interview Lori Schwartz Reichl on getting administrators on our side. We discuss what’s important to admin, the biggest challenge young and old directors face with admin, and some tips on how to handle the relationship if it becomes adversarial.

We also discuss the importance of the three Ps…
Preparedness
Positivity
Persistence

As a music educator, Lori is an active adjudicator, clinician, guest conductor, private instructor, speaker, and writer. She is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom/rehearsal space. She is also a journalist for Teaching Music Magazine.  Visit her at www.makingkeychanges.com

James Divine’s Year In Review

EVERY year holds the excitement of new beginnings, unchartered waters and high expectations, and every year ends with beautiful memories we carry with us as well as experiences that may have hurt us (but that ultimately make us better). I am a BLESSED man. Enjoy this year in review.

I often start the year with some sort of physical activity, and 2018 was no exception. THE INCLINE! This depends upon the weather of course. It may not happen for 2019 as snow is swirling as I write. I sometimes forget to be thankful that God has blessed me with a healthy body. I’ll take on any young punk anytime, physically or mentally, but I don’t know if it would be fair mentally as I see you have come half-armed.

No matter what we do for a living, we can sometimes wonder “Does what I do matter?” YES! YES! If you are doing what God has called you to do, it matters. Teaching is a profession like that. It’s always great to visit with former students and see how God is using them. B.D. is one of the nicest, sweetest people I know. Great parenting? Probably. Someone who serves the Lord with all her heart? Definitely.

I was honored to be selected to present at Tri-M day at The Colorado Music Educator’s Association Conference in January. I brought my band. The topic was “The Student Led Rehearsal.” The clinic was well received by 500+ teen attendees.

Whenever the weather cooperated, my sweetie and I took the opportunity to enjoy God’s creation in this beautiful state we get to call home.

I got to share a hilarious story “growing Up Italian” at a local speaking event. Some told me I may have a future in stand-up comedy. I’ll remain seated while waiting to see if that will happen (but it was funny).

I performed more in 2018 than in the previous six years combined. It has been a blessing to get quite a bit of my free time back to be able to do this. I hope the performing will continue. Sadly I am not able to continue with Swing Factory due to other commitments.

Susan and I enjoyed discovering many hot springs across the state during a stressful time this past spring.

I was able to take a road trip and see the American Jazz Museum in KC for the first time. Definitely worth it and something I hope to do again.

Susan and I got to visit our grandkids over spring break. At the time of this picture we had three grandkids, but that number has doubled since then!

Michelle Mras interviewed me for her show, Conversations with Michelle.

I visited my favorite Aunt in Fairfax. Hoping to make many more trips out there in 2019.

I got to meet a niece of mine who I had never met. Susan and I spent a weekend in Naples, Florida visiting with her family.

And biking…

And having a few SMALL laughs along the way

Susan and I picked up a new hobby…SUP – Stand Up Paddle-boarding

I recorded a song for which Austin did the artwork. I don’t think it will sell much, but I needed to do this one for me (Kenny Rogers, it’s available if you’d like to record it).

For the second time in six months, we were able to return to Germany, this time mainly to see our newest grandchild, but we were still able to do some touring too.

Then on to the ASBDA conference in Va. Beach (and a tour of my old haunting grounds, the Army “School of Music”, or as we sometimes called it, The Pool of Mucus, and an opportunity to visit our parents there. By the way, they own a cruise business and would love to show you a great vacation at www.shiptrip.com.

Devil’s Tower Monument

A visit from our German family!

A new school – teaching orchestra, 10% more pay, 30% reduced hours (the hours teaching marching band were killing me)

Another visit with the grandkids!

Headlining at a historic theater.

More hiking!

A train ride we have been dreaming about for 20 years!


Camping with my favorite youngest son

And Christmas surrounded by family. They are the BEST gift, besides the greatest gift of Jesus Christ.

I am one blessed man. There were some trials in 2018, but I choose to focus on the many things that made 2018 beautiful Keep your eyes on…

Episode 117 – Can I Go To The Bathroom – How To Respond

This is THE question I hate the most as a teacher. I’m very strict with it and my policy is “No/Never.” I also want to answer like my 5th grade teacher did…”Yes you can, but you may not.” Oh how I hated that. Here are some strategies for dealing with this age old question.

Episode 116 – When A Life Is Lost

When tragedy strikes the band room, either through accident, natural causes or suicide, how do you handle the grief? Is it ok to cry in front of students? What about counseling? A few years ago we had several tragic events in a row at my school. Here are some ideas for dealing with it and processing it. And please get help!

Advice From Your Italian Grandfather

Becoming a grandfather is hard work. It took me over 45 years to achieve that. In this clip, I give you advice from your Italian Grandfather. What if everyone followed this advice about life? Find out why pasta has no calories, what type of pill one should take daily, and even SEX.

Episode 114 – Parents Are 45 Minutes Late. What Do I Do?

Don’t you hate when parents are late picking up their kids? You are ready to leave and go home yourself, maybe to your own family, but you are stuck waiting. Be careful not to react in anger because sometimes the lateness is legit. Follow these tips.

Episode 113 – When Students Are Dating

What should you do when students are dating each other? Ignore it (not completely)? Freak out (no)? Try these band director tested tips and remember that I married my high school sweetheart who happened to be in the guard in our marching band! We’ve been married almost 32 years, raised 4 kids and now have six grandkids.

Episode 112 – HELP! I’m a Band Teacher Teaching Orchestra.

In Colorado, music teachers are certified as K-12 music. But just because we are certified, does not mean we feel qualified.

This year, I transferred to a Title I school and moved from teaching high school band to middle school orchestra. I learned a lot of things the hard way. If you find yourself in the same position, listen to this podcast for some tips on what to do about tuning, when to introduce bowing, how about assessment and many other topics.

Geared for the non-strings player who finds himself teaching strings!

You can do it!