How To Book More Gigs

Excerpted from “The Saxophone Diaries.” 

You aren’t going to get any gigs if you don’t develop some process and spend some time on it. That is going to vary by what you want to accomplish and what your goals are (see goal-setting/goal-getting chapter). I know many musicians who are MORE GIFTED than me who hardly ever gig, although they will tell you they want to. Do you know that although talent and skill are much needed, there is one trait even more important than these? Persistence! When you get 19 no responses for a yes, you need persistence. When people tell you what they think of your music (negatively) – which is personal to you – you need a tough shell and persistence. When you’re driving 300 miles to a gig, you need persistence.

You also need to treat this as a business. One of my early mistakes was not doing that very thing, but more on that in another chapter.

Here’s a booking process that worked for me for many years and continues to work although it has been updated somewhat.

  • Compile a list of venues I wanted to perform at that fit my target audience and size. Send an introductory letter to the person responsible for scheduling music. The letter is just a short introduction of who you are and states that you will follow-up in a week or so with a phone call.
  • This is important! Call when you said you would. This is a low-pressure call simply asking if they would like a packet with more information. If they say yes, get it in the mail to them that day (a packet with CD, promo materials, etc.).
  • This is important! Include another letter in the packet saying you will call in a couple of weeks to see if they have any questions. Then call in a couple of weeks. Try to get the decision maker on the phone. Be persistent but not annoying. If he is out, call back once or twice a week until you reach him. Be kind to the secretary/receptionist. Ask if he/she received your materials and if there are any questions and if they’d like to go ahead and schedule a date.
  • At this point, you will receive a lot of nos. That’s ok. If you are an excellent musician and have created some decent materials and have properly focused your marketing niche, you WILL get some positive response, but you need PERSISTENCE.

These were my stats using this process…

  • Send 20 introductory letters to decision makers
  • Follow up with a phone call
  • Ten wanted a complete packet with CD, etc.; mail those out
  • Follow-up with a phone call
  • Out of those ten, one would schedule me right away, 3-4 would say not right now, and the rest would say “no.”
  • With the 3-4 “not right nows”, I would continue to call monthly until I either scheduled a date or received a no. Usually one of those would eventually schedule a date, sometimes a year or two after I sent the packet!

You can see that out of 20 contacts I would get one gig, sometimes two after much persistence. Believe it or not, that’s a decent rate of return, and it was at a time when the quality of my music product was not as high as it is now with 20 extra years of practice.

I made a decision that every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I would make ten new contacts. After about a year of doing this, I had to take a little break from it because I had 125+ gigs lined up. That sounds like a lot, but because of poor marketing, pricing and business strategies, I didn’t make much, even though I was working my butt off. For example, sometimes I drove 500 miles for a gig that I might earn $300 for. That might be ok if I had 5-10 gigs in that area, then came home, but it was usually the only gig I had and was followed by another long drive to another area. Learn from my mistakes and it will mean fewer mistakes for you.

By the way, don’t expect a booking agent early on. They usually will not look at you until you are so busy you can’t handle it on your own.

The booking process has been updated for me. I rarely send out letters anymore. Most of this process is accomplished via email. Warning about email; you will not find much success if you just send out email blasts to a large group of anonymous people. Target and tailor the email to the decision makers. Have a good website with all of your materials. Have documents created that you can link to your website and attach to emails.

PERSISTENCE IS KEY!

I Thought I Was Going To Jail

The summers of 2010-2012 I was driving every week to Weatherford, Oklahoma to work on a master’s degree in music education. The trip took me through the Texas panhandle.

The panhandle gets its name because when you view Texas on a map, there’s a thin stretch of land in the northwest corner that – when combined with the rest of Texas looks like the handle to a big ol’ fryin’ pan, you know the kind I’m talking about. They weigh about 57 pounds and are made out of cast iron. When not used for cooking, they have alternate uses as doorstops and behavior modification for wayward husbands.

The panhandle is also flat. It’s so flat that you can see anthills in the distance rising out of the landscape. The road is so straight that I once set the cruise control, lashed the steering wheel into place and climbed into the backseat for a nap.

The thing about the panhandle is it seems that nobody lives there. Oh, you see the occasional cow, the occasional road kill, and vultures. Vultures everywhere, sometimes tearing into road kill that seems like it hasn’t even cooled down yet. You hope and pray that you don’t get a flat tire because you’ll be changing the tire with one hand while fending off vultures with the other.

Did I mention that it is also hot! With air conditioning on, it sometimes felt like the interior of the car only cooled to 85 degrees or so.

I was driving along the panhandle on my way to Oklahoma when I passed a state trooper on the side of the road. Now, it was sometimes tempting to speed along this stretch, especially since I was making this drive every week, but as I mentioned you could see for miles in any direction and I knew I wasn’t speeding at that moment.

The state trooper pulled in behind me. If he wasn’t a state trooper, he could have easily been accused of tailgating. There was no traffic in either direction! We were the only two cars on this four lane divided highway and he was tailgating me. I carefully checked to make sure I was on target for speed. I even racked my brain to try and remember if I had been speeding.

The trooper continued on my tail for 3-4 minutes.

Finally, much to my relief, he pulled out from behind me, scurried over to the left lane, and passed me very quickly. Relief! He was really beginning to make me nervous.

My relief was short-lived. He immediately pulled in front of me and slowed down rather abruptly, causing me to tailgate him. Now, I hate being too close to a car. Why did he pull in front of me like that? I was still worried about my speed and checked to make sure that it remained steady. I did not have cruise control in this vehicle. It was easy to end up with a lead foot, especially when I was tired.

After another minute passed, I was tired of tailgating the trooper, so I pulled over into the left lane, still being cautious about my speed. The trooper remained in the right lane, about two car lengths ahead of me. We continued on like this for 3-4 minutes. I was nervous the entire time. It just seemed odd to me that this trooper would remain so close when we were on this big expanse of highway.

Finally, the trooper slowed way down, but wait! He pulled in behind me in the left lane and turned on his blue flashing lights.

Great, not only am I being pulled over by a state trooper, but now I’m going to have to rescue him from the vultures too!

The state trooper sat in his car for a looong time behind me, a very long time, a very very very long time. My nervousness was reaching a peak and my air conditioning was working overtime trying to keep my car cool. Was the sweat dripping down my face from nervousness or heat, or a combination of both.

The trooper exited his vehicle and approached mine with both hands on his hips, with more swagger than a policeman in a Clint Eastwood movie. There were no witnesses out here in the panhandle. Was I going to be beaten? Were drugs going to be planted in my car? I thought for sure I was going to jail.

It seemed like everything was moving in slow motion. Maybe it was just the heat waves shimmering on the blacktop. The officer approached my car. The swagger had left his hips and risen to his voice.

“Ya know what I pulled you over for partner,” he drawled.

“No sir, I have no idea,” I answered.

“Ya was drivin’ in my blind spot back there. If I hadda needed to pull over to the lef’ lane, I mighta hit ya.”

“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t realize that,” I answered.

Here’s what I really wanted to say…

“You idiot. You were tailgating me, then you pulled in front of me causing me to tailgate you. I moved to the left so I wouldn’t be tailgating anymore. Why were you doing that when we have all this highway open?”

Fortunately I held my tongue and didn’t say anything. Remember, this was the panhandle and there were no witnesses. It was not my day to become vulture food. I can see the newspaper report now…

Colorado man found eaten by vultures on the side of the road in the Texas panhandle. The foreigner had no idea when he stopped to pee that he should have had a shotgun in one hand while taking care of business here in the panhandle. Outsiders beware! We don’t tolerate disrespect for the law in these parts.

The officer returned my paperwork and instructed me to have a good day.

Have a good day?

Have a good day?

For the rest of the summer, I drove about 5 miles under the limit through that entire section of my commute to college.

Maybe I’m being too rough on this trooper. With the exception of the occasional road kill and once every decade when a truck filled with cocaine was discovered, there wasn’t much happening in his part of the world. I drove this section of road twice a week for three summers, for a total of about 24 times. He drove it EVERY DAY!

He could have just stopped me, told me he was lonely and then we could have driven to the next small town and chatted over bad coffee and tasty tacos at the local diner. He could have shared about his dream to become a Texas Ranger and how he ended up in the Texas panhandle. I would have listened. I love Texas Rangers, especially Walker, Texas Ranger.

I Wasn’t Always This Way

James Divine

People look at me – 52, getting better looking each year, married to my high school sweetheart, parent of four, grandparent of 6, successful band & orchestra teacher, author, speaker, musician – and they think “Wow, James is so confident and sure of himself. Life has been good to him. I wish my life was like that.”

I wasn’t always this way!

I struggled, really struggled with self-esteem for many years. I know it was related to having an abusive father, being molested and all the damage that did to my psyche. I ALWAYS felt like I had to be dating someone, and my self-esteem plummeted when a girl would break up with me. I would beg her to come back, to give me another chance, to tell me where I failed. By the way, this is the worst thing to do. I should have said, “OK…I was thinking the same thing.”

My friend Amy – after hearing about the umpteenth time of a girl breaking up with me and how sad and lonely I was – she was one of those people who got to the point quickly – confronted me about why I felt like I needed to be dating someone all the time. I don’t think she even realized the impact of her words. It caused me to think. It caused me to change my behavior. I decided to stop being worried about finding the right person. Maybe I needed to focus on me, on becoming a better person! Becoming more Christ-like.

The interesting thing is that when I did that, that’s when I found my soul mate, my life-long lover, my best friend. I started dating Susan soon after that talk with Amy. I knew in about a week that Susan was probably the one. (By the way guys, after a week is not the time to mention this, even if you know deep in your soul).

Even after I started my adult life, got married, joined the Army band and was a successful husband, dad and musician, my self-esteem was still rock bottom.

I wasn’t always this way!

You see, I am a recovering people pleaser. At first glance, a people pleaser seems to be a really nice person. Everyone can count on them. Need cookies baked, call a people pleaser. Need someone on a committee, call a people pleaser. People pleasers can’t say no. Ultimately for me, this desire to please grew out of a fear of rejection, which had its roots in not being close to my father due to his abuse of my mom. I felt that those close to me might reject me if I didn’t do everything they wanted.

Although I started killing off the roots of what caused me to be a people pleaser, I didn’t totally sever the roots until I went to LifePlan in 2015. LifePlan is basically two intense days of physical, emotional and spiritual counseling. In the course of the two days, you uncover your roots – patterns and behaviors that have contributed to how you act or react to things – and sever a lot of those roots (the bad roots). I learned to leave those people pleasing tendencies behind.

I wasn’t always this way!

So when you see me – successful, self-assured, confident, willing to disagree, making sure I have my priorities straight – I want you to realize it wasn’t always like this. It is a journey, a process, sometimes hard work that takes you from one point to another. I had the same doubts you have. I had the same struggles you have. I had the same lack of self-esteem as you have.

I overcame and

Now I am this way (but I wasn’t always this way)

And I like that I’m this way…the only one I truly have to please is God

And He’s pleased with me because He is making me into His image

By taking care of me first, it has given me more time

By focusing on my mission and calling, it has made me a better person

And believe it or not, I love others more than I ever have

 

So don’t look at me and say, “I wish”

But look at me and say, “If he could do it, with God’s help I can too.”

 

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

You make my life rich.

 

* James is first and foremost a son of the King. He loves that he gets to teach band and orchestra. He is also a musician, speaker and author of “Forgive: One man’s story of being molested.” Find out more about LifePlan at www.chrislocurto.com

The Beatles Had It Right

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“All you need is Love. Love is all you need”

So true, and advice so needed as a teacher.

When they don’t meet your expectations…love them anyway.

When they disrespect you…love them anyway.

When they don’t work hard…love them anyway.

It’s not hard to love the students who are excited about your class, who work diligently and exceed your expectations. It’s the others that are hard.

Love goes a long way. It won’t solve every problem, but you don’t know what the long term effect will be.

…Love Them Anyway

You could never disappoint me!

After I discussed our first playing test of all 12 scales in one of my high school classes, a student of mine came to speak to me a few days later…

“Mr. Divine…I’ve been working hard on the 12 scales and wanted to let you know that it’s possible I might not pass them on this first try.” (I allow multiple retakes). “I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me.”

I felt like my heart was about to break. Here’s an outstanding student doing her best and her worry was that she would disappoint me.

I said, “Honey, you not passing your scales would NEVER disappoint me. I only have grades and give playing tests because I want everyone to improve and I know you are going to improve.”

She left class with a smile, came back the next week and aced her 12 scales.

As teachers – our words have tremendous impact! I know we can get caught up in the 5-10% of students who give us a hard time, but most are hard working and want to please.

What message are your words sending to your students?

For an example of how words from my teachers affected me, click HERE.

College Students – You’ve Been Lied To

College Students – You’ve Been Lied To

We are constantly hearing all the “woe is me” about our colleges and the cost to attend! Some of those problems are our own doing, but college is still affordable!

My Story

I wanted to go to college for as far back as I can remember. My mom didn’t have any money saved up for me for college, but she did tell me I could live at home for free as long as I wanted while going to college.

I made the same mistakes many young people make…

  • I bought a NEW car (it was a Ford Escort, mind you, but it was still more than I needed)
  • Insurance was expensive on my NEW car
  • I felt like I was working just to pay for things needed for my NEW car (do you see a theme here)

I was taking one or two college classes and working full time at a construction job. It was ok, but I hated the work. I arrived home each night tired and worn out, ready to eat dinner, watch tv, go to bed and do it again the next day. It looked to me like it would take forever to finish school at that rate, so I talked to a recruiter and joined the Army.

You can join the military and in exchange for three years of your life, you’ll receive about 72k in education benefits, plus you should be able to complete 2 years of college in a 4 year enlistment.

I started attending college while on active duty. I had to pay about 10% of the cost, the rest was covered by the military. I only had a few choices of colleges, it took me ten years, but I completed my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration!

You might be surprised at how many different types of jobs there are in the military. It’s not all about shooting weapons and war. I was in the band. You can be a cook, an admin assistant, work with finance, work in the chapel, shoot people, + a myriad of other options.

The Reality

I’m going to break down some real costs for my area (Colorado Springs)

Example #1: 18 year old student living at home with parents

Tuition at Pikes Peak Community College 3736

Books and Other Fees (you can probably bring this down buying used) 1800

TOTAL 5536

If this student works 40 hours a week at a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, he will earn approximately $15,000, more than enough to pay for college and have plenty to get around, plus some extra for fun.

Example #2: 18 year old student living on his own 

Tuition at Pikes Peak Community College 3736

Books and Other Fees (you can probably bring this down by going used) 1800

Renting a room in someone’s basement 6000

Food (does not include Starbucks or going out to eat; lots of ramen and mac and cheese)

3600

TOTAL 15136

If this student works 40 hours a week at a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, he will earn approximately $15,000. He will need to live somewhere close to the college and won’t have any extra money. However, if he took another part time job the weeks he didn’t have school – working just ten more hours per week – he could make 7.25/hour x 10 hours per week x 16 weeks = $1160. This could help pay for a couple of extra items.

But, But, But

  • This doesn’t sound like fun.
    • It’s not, it’s work, but it’s a sacrifice you make over a short period of time.
  • How can he work 40 hours AND do all his assignments.
    • The average college student spends upwards of 30 hours per week on media, social and otherwise.
    • Most wage earners actually stay at minimum wage only a short time. I earned minimum wage from the age of 14-17 – since then not. Once you prove to your employer that you are worth what she is paying you, you will earn substantially more than minimum wage.

Let’s take a look at a state college

In the state of Colorado, state colleges are required to take your transfer credits from community colleges when you transfer into their school.

Tuition at UNC Greeley 10,000

Room and Board 10,000

TOTAL 20,000

Now you have several options regarding work…

  • Continue working 40 hours/week and earning 15k/year; you accrue about 5k a year in debt, times two years. Not much debt at all. Work 60 hours a week during the summer to reduce that amount even more.
  • Don’t work at all during school, but work 60 hours per week during school breaks. Let’s also assume that since you now have your associate’s degree, you can now earn $10/hour. Your earnings would be $9,600/year. Let’s round that to $10k, so over two years you would need to borrow just 20K for your education. Once again very affordable.

The problem I see is that many students do not want to make the sacrifice needed to go to college. Because the loans are so easy to get and insured by the government, many students don’t work, yet continue to finance their lattes and vacations with borrowed money. Some choose to go to more expensive colleges. Some choose to major in Polka Music History and then wonder why they can’t get a job.

I wanted to get a master’s degree for a long time. I researched and looked into many possibilities. The 50k cost of most of many of them simply was not worth it to me. However, I finally found a small college in southwestern Oklahoma that gave me in-state tuition if I played in the summer band. I attended in the summers of 2010, 2011 and 2012. My total cost for a master’s degree was $9,000, which included room and board for the half of each week I stayed in Oklahoma. That’s $9k total, not per year! Was it a sacrifice to have to drive each week? Yes. I could have stayed but I wanted to be home with my family. If you add the cost of driving, it would add about $3k to the total price. $12k – not bad for a master’s degree, and it immediately boosted my income about 5k per year as a teacher. There were options available in which I could have finished a master’s degree in 1-1 ½ years. Some cost 80-90k. If I had borrowed money to go to one of those schools, I would still owe the debt.

College is affordable. Don’t let the lies sink in.
*** James is a middle school teacher at a Title 1 school in Colorado Springs. He grew up in Title 1 schools before they were called that. Part of his growing up years was spent homeless – at least by today’s definition (we bumped around from family to family sleeping where we could; when mom was able to get her own apartment, we did not have electricity) – and on welfare. He is a strong believer in life-long learning. Sometimes that learning comes from a formal education, but mostly it comes from reading. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.

I Was Interviewed by The Cannoli Coach

Listen to “The Cannoli Coach: I Cannoli Imagine—My Italian Life! w/James Divine | Episode 040” on Spreaker.

Listen as I speak with James Divine, an author, musician, teacher, speaker, and PROUD Italian. Talk about a guest meant to be on The Cannoli Coach podcast! The title for this episode is the title of his forthcoming book!

James uses his humor to share stories of forgiveness, encouragement, and inspiration. He talks about the impact of music in his life and how it was a catalyst to build his self-esteem. And, he candidly shares about an “event” in his early years that God used to shape him into the Father and Grandfather he is today.

We discuss forgiveness and we reminisce about growing up Italian and talk about the Italian meatball competition in heaven—he even shares the secret to the best meatballs!

11 Ways To Lose A Band Student

Nobody wants to lose a band student. Sometimes it’s inevitable – you get a student who doesn’t want to work at all for example. Other times it may be our own fault.

Here are 11 ways to lose a band student for sure (and 11 ways to keep them).

1. Have Roving Eyes

Instead of focusing on the here and now and what students you do have, always look for the next Miles Davis. Never be content with who you have.

Make the best of who and what you have. Develop them to their fullest ability. Miles Davis could be weird at times anyway.

2. Don’t Answer Calls and Emails

Answering these takes time, time away from preparing the music. Just delete/erase these before they clutter up your inbox.

If a student takes the time to call or email you, it is generally because he wants to do well and improve. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, you are showing lack of concern for them. Many times students have told me I’m the only teacher who responds to their emails.

3. Don’t listen to feedback

Some of my directors growing up were “My way or the highway” types who really were not interested in becoming better people. Ignoring the feedback from your students means you won’t have as great of an opportunity to improve.

Listen to student feedback, even if you disagree. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere. Listen carefully if it’s coming from your leaders.

4. Don’t Get To Know Your Students

After all, music is the most important thing, so why would we ever ask them about their families, future plans or other activities. (Caveat…I DO make sure my students understand that our short rehearsal together is going to be focused on music).

Before, after and during breaks in rehearsal, get to know about your students’ families, jobs, dreams, interests and hobbies.

5. Focus only on your wants and needs

Who cares what songs the students want to play. It’s all about winning the competition and making me look good.

Isn’t it ok to play a Disney song once in awhile? Let the students pick some of the repertoire. I usually ask them to send me a www.jwpepper.com link so I can review it. If it’s not suited to our group, I tell them why.

6. Argue over little things

After all, what type of tread is on the bottom of the marching shoe has won and lost championships, right?

After 16 years of teaching, I quit being so strict about footwear at concerts. Do I want the kids to look nice? You bet. Does a percussionist wearing black sneakers instead of black dress shoes affect anyone’s enjoyment of the music? Not really.

7. Ignore The Little Things

I know Sally doesn’t have music yet, but there’s just no time for such trivial things. I’ll update the grades at the end of the semester. I know Brian took a retest weeks ago, but I don’t think he will mind having a D as long as I change it before the end of the semester.

The little things add up to big things. I am not perfect in this, so I write EVERYTHING down. I don’t want to forget the small details. 

8. Don’t show appreciation

The students have the privilege of being in my class.

The students have the option not to be in your class. It’s your privilege to get to teach the best and brightest in the school.

9. Don’t Apologize

Rule #1: The director is always right.

Rule #2: When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Saying “sorry” when called for is one of the best things you can do. I’ve lost my temper at a kid. I’ve said something that humiliated them or done something I shouldn’t have. I ALWAYS apologize. It makes an impact on the students.

10. Poor care of facilities

Hey, the music is the most important thing, so why do the room and instruments need to be taken care of.

Put away piles of stuff. Organize. Throw away. Make the facility look the best you can with what you have.

11. Don’t care

Look at the players as people who fill a need for an instrument rather than as people.

Show concern. Call when a student is away for extended illness. When they return, tell them how much you missed them. A student doesn’t care how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE.

James Divine has taught band and orchestra for over 21 years. He currently teaches at a Title I middle school. He is the host of The Music Ed Podcast. Listen to weekly episodes on iTunes.

Teachers: Powerful Forces for Good or Bad

Some of my teachers played a big role in my life. A great ancient Hebrew named James had this to say about teaching…

“Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards.”

Here are some good and not so good teachers in my life.

  • My Kindergarten teachers were outstanding, kind, compassionate and made me feel welcome. I remember crying on my first day of school, but after that I couldn’t wait to get there. I wish I could remember their names.
  • My second grade teacher was Mrs. Everitt. She took me on as a project and cared for me and my family. She taught me and loved me.
  • I did not like my first fifth grade teacher. She seemed to hate children. That was probably not the case, but it sure felt like it to me. Fortunately I moved away after two months of fifth grade and ended up with the most wonderful fifth grade teacher.
  • In seventh grade, I had another of those teachers who seemed to hate kids. We would often mis-pronounce her name on purpose and made it sound like it Miss Screwed Up.
  • My first band teacher was awesome, Mr. Derrio. He and my elementary music teacher helped to develop the love of music that has given me a successful three decade career.
  • My wife and sister had a teacher in high school who seemed to enjoy giving students failing grades. I never could understand that. When I have a student fail, I feel like I have failed somehow and I adapt my teaching.
  • My wife had a fourth grade teacher who told her she would amount to nothing.
  • Mr. Trammel taught me about integrity. Even though he had a large number of sick days, he took a day off without pay rather than fake sickness.
  • My best teacher was Steve Ambrose. Students will typically have a greater connection with the teacher who teaches the subject they are passionate about. Steve was passionate about music, still is, and passed that passion and excitement on to me. He really made you think!

Teachers, you have a tremendous amount of responsibility. You can make or break your students’ day.

The Sheep, The Sheepdogs and the Wolves

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There are three types of people in the world: The Sheep, The Sheepdogs and The Wolves.

Most people are sheep. They live a somewhat normal life…they go to work, do what they’re told, pay their taxes, raise their families, watch tv, hang out on weekends. Basically doing life but not creating any waves. Most of them think life is great until…

– dun dun dun – the wolves attack.

images_1The wolves are all around us. Some of them are obvious, like the criminals we see in the news each day. Some of them are not as obvious; they often occupy leadership positions in business, government, education and religion.
The wolves are out to steal, kill and destroy. The wolves are on the prowl for the weak sheep, those who have fallen away from the herd, those who are scared, those suffering from an injury. The wolves are out to fulfill their own needs and care nothing for the sheep.

images_2The sheepdogs have a mission…protect the sheep from the wolves (and sometimes from the sheep themselves)!
The sheepdogs round up the sheep, promoting unity. This makes it much harder for the wolves to attack (the wolves like wounded and solitary sheep because at heart, the wolves are cowards).

The sheepdogs often bark in warning to keep the sheep together. The sheepdogs sometimes have to inflict pain through a nip on the legs of the sheep. When compared to being eaten by wolves, this pain is minimal but necessary. The sheepdogs often seem to be all alone.
Like the wolves, you can find many sheepdogs in leadership positions in business, government, education and religion. However, some of these people should be sheepdogs, but are actually sheep being controlled by the wolves. These can be more dangerous than the wolves.

But…something strange happens in this scenario…Even though the lives of the sheep are dependent upon the sheepdogs, the sheep often hate the sheepdogs. Some sheepdogs look like wolves; they have sharp teeth and claws and are always barking, but it’s to protect the sheep! The sheepdogs often get into terrible fights with the wolves to protect the sheep.

images_3Over them all is the Good Shepherd, Jesus. He gave His life for the sheep. Many of them hate Him too. Many of them reject Him. He made the sheepdogs. He gave the sheepdogs their mission because He cares for the sheep even more than the sheepdogs do.

How about you? Are you a sheep, a sheepdog or a wolf? Maybe you’re a sheep controlled by a wolf? Have you met the Shepherd? The Good Shepherd warned us that the wolves often come to us in sheep’s clothing.

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

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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

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!

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…

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.

Are you burned out? Take this test to find out.

In 1998, I started my first teaching job with passion, dedication, love and joy. I gave my all to my students, but I neglected myself and – I’m ashamed to say – at times my family. I became extremely burned out. When I left that school for another in 2005, I promised myself I would never let that happen again! I set boundaries, I took better care of my health, I left for home at the end of the school day.

As my own kids grew, I found myself starting a marching band and devoting more and more time to my work. I didn’t mind. My responsibilities at home had changed, I had more time, and I saw what a difference marching band was making in my students’ lives. I had overcome the possibility of burnout!

WRONG!!!

I succumbed again. It wasn’t quite as bad as the first time, but this time I didn’t recognize the signs until I heard a presentation by Dr. Frank Tracz of Kansas State. He shared the burnout link with us that you will find below.

I left my position for a new one teaching middle school with no marching band. Sometimes – not always – one must leave a position to regain balance. That’s a whole blog post of it’s own.

Are you burned out? Take this Burnout Self Test from the good people at Mind Tools to find out. If the results come out positive, make the changes necessary to prevent burnout. You’ll be glad you did.

I Have the Best Job in the World

Guest post by band teacher Christian Sarazen…I know it will inspire you like it inspired me!

“I have the best job in the world,” Mr. Andrews said after a successful rehearsal at Ben Lippen School one afternoon. It was my senior year, and that was the moment I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life. I told him, “Well, if you have the best job in the world, then I want it!”

I went on to get a degree and moved overseas to start a band program at an international school. But my first year teaching would be Mr. Andrew’s last. Midway through the year he was diagnosed with brain cancer and given months to live. His final concert was an emotional one, as anyone can imagine.

I was too far away to be there, but I wrote a song for my band and performed it in his honor that same Spring.

The band program at Ben Lippen did not continue after Mr. Andrews passed, (about 7 years ago now) and the band room has been the “Large Group Instructional” room since then. Until this year.

Last fall, I was hired by Ben Lippen to re-start the program and we just had our first spring Concert tonight. The highlight was our performance of that same song I composed in his honor my first year teaching.

So Mr. Andrews, here I am. I’m trying to fill your shoes. Thanks for giving me my first trombone lesson, for noticing me, valuing me, encouraging me to stick with it, inviting me hang out in your office with the cool kids, and letting me bring my cassette player in to record our songs all the time 🙂

Most days band directing is banging my head on the floor. But not every day. Tonight was a night that made me feel like I have the “best job in the world”. I have your job now, but I’ll ever be working my way toward being a director like you. Thank you for everything.

My Earliest Memories

Here’s a post about some of my earliest memories. Don’t forget to register for the Forgive & Live Workshop here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2027225010884730/

Earliest Memories

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

-Sigmund Freud

This is a picture of my grandfather, my mom’s father. He passed away before I had a chance to meet him. My mom speaks very highly of him.

Most children don’t remember much from their earliest years. My oldest son Josh surprised me once by telling me something he remembers when he was under three years old. I had been gone for three months for Army training. When I returned, we all went out to Taco Bell to celebrate. He remembers that.

Most of my early memories are good. I played outside a lot. I peed on the trees in our backyard despite my mom’s insistence not to. Hey, little boys play, and they don’t think about peeing until they have to go REALLY bad, and the trees were so convenient. At least I didn’t pee in the heating vent like at least one of my sons did!

I remember watching Bob Barker on The Price is Right (and then watching him three decades later…it hasn’t seemed right since he retired). I had a best friend next door named Manny. I got my first bike.

There was a neighborhood convenience store that my friends and I walked to often. The proprietor was a very friendly man. If we sang a song for him, he would give us each a piece of small, football-shaped chocolate. It seems like such a small thing, but he is one of the many people in my life who was a positive influence, just by his kindness and character.

I remember being fearful of my father. I sometimes witnessed the abuse he delivered to my mom, and I was afraid of him. As far as I remember, he never laid a hand on me. I can only remember two interactions with him. I asked him how the turn signal turned off in the car. He had my sister and I convinced that he was magic. On another occasion, we went fishing with my older brother. It was cold and my feet hurt terribly, but I was too afraid to tell my father. I tried fishing later in life but just never grew to love it like many men I know. I know there must have been other interactions, but these are the only two I remember.

My mom tells the story of when my father sat me on his lap and asked me if I loved him, and I answered “No, because you hurt Mommy.” My father said that Santa Claus wouldn’t bring me anything and I answered that I was fine with that. Then he sat my sister on his lap and asked the same thing. She answered the same as me until he told her Santa wouldn’t bring her anything, and then sis said, “I love you, Daddy.”

I always thought she should have been an actress.

excerpt from “Forgive: One man’s story of being molested.” Available on amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Forgive-story-being-mo…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

The Day I Stole my Mom’s Identity

Two years ago, my mom suffered a debilitating stroke. I was the one tasked with handling her affairs. I sold her condo, packed away many of her things and found a place where she would live after her rehab. It was a daunting and exhausting task!

Little tasks that should have been simple and easy to handle became complex because of how afraid people are. For example, I called to cancel my mom’s cable tv subscription. Here is how the conversation went…

CC=Cable company . ME=me, good-looking Italian boy

(20 minutes on hold)
(finally!)
CC: Hi, Always Broken cable company…how may I help?

ME: Hi, this is James Divine. I’m handling my mom’s affairs. She recently had a stroke, has moved out of her condo, and now I need to cancel her cable service.

CC: Can you please give me her name, last 20 addresses, as well as the date when she has sacrificed each of her children?

ME: Sure, here it is
(3,200 account numbers and birthdates later)

CC: I’m sorry, we will need to speak directly to her. You are not authorized on her account to make changes.

ME: I realize that, but she almost died and is in rehab. She’s not well enough to talk.
(at this point I’m starting to get frustrated….there are 100 more urgent things I need to get done for my mom)

CC: I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.

ME: Can I speak to your manager please?

CC: I’m sorry, we don’t have a manager. I’m located remotely on an ice cap near the south pole, in exile and forced to work a job I hate, but it pays the bills.

ME: Surely you have faced this situation before and have a procedure to deal with it.

CC: I’m sorry, I’m not able to help you with your request. Would you like to be transferred to our north pole office?

ME: No thanks. I’d rather eat a plate of raw maggots then listen to more on hold music.

CC: Would you like me to transfer you to our maggot department?

ME: I thought that’s who I was talking to.

I hung up the phone. I was really frustrated. Since I was also handling her bills, I thought “Maybe I just won’t pay the bill” but I knew in the long term that would end up hurting my mom. I decided to try a different approach…

(20 minutes on hold)
(finally!)
CC: Hi, Always Broken cable company…how may I help?

ME: Hi, I’d like to cancel my cable service.

CC: Can you please give me your name, last 20 addresses, as well as the date when you sacrificed each of your children?

ME: Sure, my name is Rita C. and the account info you need is 1846dhfdku467253745be759403934565h3nyru5u5rhfyuj4m4neuemtn5ueiuwju666

CC: Is this really Rita C?

ME: Yes.

CC: Sorry you will be leaving us. Thank you. I have closed your account.

I didn’t disguise my voice or anything! It was so easy that it was a little scary. I think the reason it worked is that I had the secret number…  1846dhfdku467253745be759403934565h3nyru5u5rhfyuj4m4neuemtn5ueiuwju666

I don’t recommend stealing your mom’s identity, but drastic circumstance call for drastic measures. As soon as I post this article, I will be moving. I expect the FBI to knock down my door at any moment.

***James is a teacher, musician, speaker and author in Colorado Springs. He wrote the book A Stroke of Bad Luck: A Survival Guide for When Someone You Know has a Stroke. Purchase it immediately on amazon:

 

Wait Until You See What His Mom Gave Him for Breakfast

Jill was cleaning her son Billy’s room, putting ALL the clothes in the hamper because – if you’ve had a boy, you know their clean and dirty clothes comingle. They know what to wear after giving it the sniff test. She tossed the pizza boxes from under the bed into the trash. She found the five missing forks and two plates from her grandmother’s china collection there too, as well as a dead banana and some dried up mud. But what she found next appalled her.

Hadn’t she and Dan raised Billy with good morals? Didn’t they go to church each week? Dan made sure to spend quality and quantity time each week with all three of his kids. Dan and Billy even took a church camping trip in the mountains of Colorado where the dads led the sons through what it meant to be a man of God and how to remain sexually pure. The trip included fishing and hunting. Both Dan and Billy described it as the most impressionable week of their life. So when Jill found the girlie magazines, she was shocked, embarrassed and surprised. What would she do?

Jill threw the magazines in the trash, but didn’t mention anything to Billy. Billy noticed they were missing and wondered what would happen to him. Was his dad waiting for the right moment to wring his neck? Would he face years of restriction? Would his car be taken away? He didn’t want that to happen. He had a date with his girlfriend.

That weekend, Jill called everyone to dinner. The house had smelled of fried chicken for the last hour or so. Jill knew how to make fried chicken. She got the recipe from her grandmother, who used real bacon drippings for the frying. Billy came to supper with anticipation. Jill brought everyone their plate and set it down lovingly in front of them. She had made a special plate for Billy. Instead of getting ready to devour his food, Billy almost barfed.

Where was the delicious fried chicken? Why had his mom, who SUPPOSEDLY loved him, placed a nice heaping platter of egg shells, bacon drippings, carrot peel, potato peel, the dead banana from his room and the sweepings from the kitchen floor, in front of his face.

“Mom, why are you giving me trash to eat?” He asked.

“I figured since you were feeding your mind that sort of garbage, you would also want to feed it to your body.” She replied.

When you put pornography, gossip, and impure thoughts into your brain, it’s like eating egg shells for breakfast. What kind of gross things are going into your mind? What can you replace it with now?

(Although this story is fictional, it is based off a real mom I read about who did this with her son. It cured him of his desire to view pornography).

I Wasn’t Always This Way

I wasn’t always this way!

People look at me – 51, getting better looking each year, married to my high school sweetheart, parent of four, grandparent of 3, successful band teacher, author, speaker, musician – and they think “Wow, James is so confident and sure of himself. Life has been good to him. I wish my life was like that.”

I wasn’t always this way!

I struggled, really struggled with self-esteem for many years. I know it was related to having an abusive father, being molested and all the damage that did to my psyche. I ALWAYS felt like I had to be dating someone, and my self-esteem plummeted when a girl would break up with me. I would beg her to come back, to give me another chance, to tell me where I failed. By the way, this is the worst thing to do. I should have said, “OK…I was thinking the same thing.”

My friend Amy – after hearing about the umpteenth time of a girl breaking up with me and how sad and lonely I was – she was one of those people who got to the point quickly – confronted me about why I felt like I needed to be dating someone all the time. I don’t think she even realized the impact of her words. It caused me to think. It caused me to change my behavior. I decided to stop being worried about finding the right person. Maybe I needed to focus on me, on becoming a better person! Becoming more Christ-like.

The interesting thing is that when I did that, that’s when I found my soul-mate, my life-long lover, my best friend. I started dating Susan soon after that talk with Amy. I knew in about a week that Susan was probably the one. (By the way guys, after a week is not the time to mention this, even if you know deep in your soul).

Even after I started my adult life, got married, joined the Army band and was a successful husband, dad and musician, my self-esteem was still rock bottom.

I wasn’t always this way!

You see, I am the typical people pleaser. At first glance, a people pleaser seems to be a really nice person. Everyone can count on them. Need cookies baked, call a people pleaser. Need someone on a committee, call a people pleaser. People pleasers can’t say no. Ultimately for me, this desire to please grew out of a fear of rejection, which had its roots in not being close to my father due to his abuse of my mom. I felt that those close to me might reject me if I didn’t do everything they wanted.

Although I started killing off the roots of what caused me to be a people pleaser, I didn’t totally sever the roots until I went to Next Level Life in 2015. What is it? Two intense days of physical, emotional and spiritual counseling. In the course of the two days, you uncover your roots – patterns and behaviors that have contributed to how you act or react to things – and sever a lot of those roots (the bad roots). I learned to leave those people pleasing tendencies behind.

I wasn’t always this way!

So when you see me – successful, self-assured, confident, willing to disagree, making sure I have my priorities straight – I want you to realize it wasn’t always like this. It is a journey, a process, sometimes hard work that takes you from one point to another. I had the same doubts you have. I had the same struggles you have. I had the same lack of self-esteem as you have.

I overcame and

Now I am this way (but I wasn’t always this way)

And I like that I’m this way…the only one I truly have to please is God

And He’s pleased with me because He is making me into His image

 

By taking care of me first, it has given me more time

By focusing on my mission and calling, it has made me a better person

And believe it or not, I love others more than I ever have

 

So don’t look at me and say, “I wish”

But look at me and say, “If he could do it, with God’s help I can too.”

 

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

You make my life rich.

* James is first and foremost a son of the King. He is also a teacher, musician, speaker and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.  Find out more about Next Level Life at www.chrislocurto.com

Choosing Quality Band Literature

Choosing Quality Band Literature

Here are a few things I have learned about selecting music for wind band…

Ability Level of the Ensemble You Direct: 

A piece of music may be the greatest creation ever made, but if it is too difficult for the students to play, they will become discouraged. I often made the mistake of selecting literature that was too difficult in the early years of my career. Does this mean that there should never be a piece in the folder that is beyond students’ reach? No, there should always be something that we are looking at that would be a stretch for our group. Musicians have never “arrived.” We are always working and striving for better things.

My students still say things like “This is too easy.” I have learned to explain to them that – yes, their individual part is easy, and each person may feel that way about their part, but when we put it all together it isn’t musical yet. It’s hard to make music when one is struggling with the technique. There is good quality music available at all levels. At some levels it will take more digging to find the quality stuff, but it’s there. You might use a resource like the Teaching Music Through Performance series.

Instrumentation: 

This is a difficult one. If you don’t have an oboe/English horn player, it will be difficult to do a piece like Russian Christmas Music. It can be done – and as a professional sax player I have played the oboe and English horn cues in that song – but it just isn’t the same. Likewise if you have no trumpet players or few low brass players, there are simply some things you cannot perform.

I want to thank one of my mentors, Joe Brice, for helping me in my teaching in this area. He came to clinic my band and said “You need another tuba.” Of course I agreed but stated that I couldn’t do anything. Joe answered with a detailed, thoughtful answer that represented his 50+ years of experience. He said, “Did you ask anybody?” At that point I wanted to slap my head in a big “Duh; why didn’t I think of that” moment. I asked and convinced three students to switch over.

My point is that – although instrumentation (or lack of it) can be difficult, we really need to take a long term approach to it. Ask your students if anyone wants to switch, especially if – like me – you have a ton of flute players and less of others. Some of those who switch will become awesome; some of them will go back to their original instrument. That’s ok! Explain to the students why it is important that some of them switch for the good of the band.

Rehearsal Time: 

We are involved in the field of music education. Sometimes I think we forget that…I know I have…especially as we rush to prepare for a concert, festival or competition. A director of a professional symphony may be able to prepare difficult pieces with just 2-3 rehearsals. However, our job is not only directing, but educating. As I have gained more experience, I have realized that the educating part of the job is much more important and has more lasting effects.

I think it is better to do one or two high quality pieces and play them extremely well than to perform 4-5 pieces and not have really learned anything in the process. It is important to dig deep into the music, the history and even some analysis of the songs being performed. So often we are so busy with the need to get through the music that we forget to instruct students about the music.

Select Quality Literature: 

Now we arrive at probably the greatest challenge in selecting music. How do we define quality? For me, the definition has changed a lot over the course of my teaching. There are many pieces I regret having wasted money on in my early years of teaching. I know quality when I hear it, but I don’t always recognize lack of quality (if that even makes sense). There is quality literature at every level. There is junk at every level.

Here is my definition of quality music…

Quality music moves me emotionally. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, not a cover your ears and run out of the room uncomfortable, but uncomfortable in the sense that my thinking is challenged. It is expressive. It is melodic. Although it may contain repeating motifs, it is not the same two measure repeating motif for 120 measures.

Now do you feel qualified to determine whether music is of quality or not? Me neither. We need something more. Frank Battisti in his book The Winds of Change says that many directors have stopped attending concerts and listening and studying great music. We must expose ourselves to great music so we can know when we hear it. Battisti likens it to a wine connoisseur whose tastes improve as he becomes exposed to more wine. I liken it to a little kid who thinks a fast food burger is the greatest thing on earth, until she matures and realizes that there are burgers ten times better than the fast food variety.

I encourage you to listen to great music, attend your state conference and listen to the groups selected to perform, and when you go to contest, schedule some time to listen and observe other groups. As Battisti states, your taste level will be elevated. You will become better equipped to know when you hear poor quality music.

I will end with a quote from Battisti, “We are what we consume! If one wants to become an artist conductor/teacher – one must consume great Art.”

***James has been a performer and educator for over 30 years, teaching band and orchestra at every level from 4th-12th grade. He also hosts the music ed podcast, delivers keynote speeches using music, and has written several books on music and life in general. His latest work is an online course, 40 Ways to Make Money as a Musician, which is available at https://www.udemy.com/40makemoney/.

 

Advice for Churches on Hiring a Worship Leader

Why you might look at part rather than full time

In a former life, when I was in traveling music ministry full time, the church’s music pastor was often the one who would pick me up, take me to dinner, etc. Because I was an out-of-towner, they often felt comfortable sharing their discouragements with me. These were people who had what I considered a dream worship leader job. More than half of them were dissatisfied with their position. When I asked why, the answer was that they really enjoyed leading practice and leading worship, but that was only about 20% of their workweek.

On the other hand, I would say that nearly 100% of those who were ministering part time were happy with what they were doing. They had other jobs, sometimes in music, but got to spend all their time at church doing what they love. You can often get a really high quality part-time person for $1,000-$1200 a month. You can also get a music student or someone just starting out for just a couple of hundred a month.

Is a worship video really a good determination of how well someone will do

I see ads all the time in my local area for churches looking for a worship leader. Many of the ads request a video of the applicant leading worship. That may not be the best thing to ask of an applicant.

You probably have many musically qualified people near you. Almost any music teacher would be qualified to lead worship, but if they have never done it, they may not have a good video. In my opinion, having a teacher’s heart and the ability to lead is more important than how well one can play an instrument. As a band teacher, I could lead a worship team really well. If you saw a video of me leading worship, you might think I was an untrained person. Look at the whole picture and not just the video.

How important is it for a worship leader to be able to play an instrument

That depends. What other talent do you have in the church? A good leader can draw out the best from that talent. A good worship leader may be able to use their voice well, but can’t play a lick on guitar. There are also alternatives that churches – especially small ones – might use. For 99 cents, you can download a background track of most worship songs. Some pianos have a feature where the leader only needs to play the chord changes; the piano/synthesizer adds a drum, bass and guitar.

Don’t compare yourself to other churches

This is a danger that many churches face – and many musicians too. Seek to do the best you can. Seek improvement. But don’t worry if you are not where the church across town is at. Keep striving and improving.

***James has been in the music business since 1985. Using music and story-telling, he shares his story of being molested and his journey to forgiveness and redemption. See video and hear music at www.jamesdivine.net.

11 Ways to Lose (and Keep) a Band Student

11 Ways To Lose (and Keep) A Band Student

Nobody wants to lose a band student. Sometimes it’s inevitable – you get a student who doesn’t want to work at all for example. Other times it may be our own fault.

Here are 11 ways to lose a band student for sure (and 11 ways to keep them).

1. Have Roving Eyes

Instead of focusing on the here and now and what students you do have, always look for the next Miles Davis. Never be content with who you have.

Make the best of who and what you have. Develop them to their fullest ability. Miles Davis could be weird at times anyway.

2. Don’t Answer Calls and Emails

Answering these takes time, time away from preparing the music. Just delete/erase these before they clutter up your inbox.

If a student takes the time to call or email you, it is generally because he wants to do well and improve. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, you are showing lack of concern for them. Many times students have told me I’m the only teacher who responds to their emails.

3. Don’t listen to feedback

Some of my directors growing up were “My way or the highway” types who really were not interested in becoming better people. Ignoring the feedback from your students means you won’t have as great of an opportunity to improve.

Listen to student feedback, even if you disagree. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere. Listen carefully if it’s coming from your leaders.

4. Don’t Get To Know Your Students

After all, music is the most important thing, so why would we ever ask them about their families, future plans or other activities. (Caveat…I DO make sure my students understand that our short rehearsal together is going to be focused on music).

Before, after and during breaks in rehearsal, get to know about your students’ families, jobs, dreams, interests and hobbies.

5. Focus only on your wants and needs

Who cares what songs the students want to play. It’s all about winning the competition and making me look good.

Isn’t it ok to play a Disney song once in awhile? Let the students pick some of the repertoire. I usually ask them to send me a www.jwpepper.com link so I can review it. If it’s not suited to our group, I tell them why.

6. Argue over little things

After all, what type of tread is on the bottom of the marching shoe has won and lost championships, right?

After 16 years of teaching, I quit being so strict about footwear at concerts. Do I want the kids to look nice? You bet. Does a percussionist wearing black sneakers instead of black dress shoes affect anyone’s enjoyment of the music? Not really.

7. Ignore The Little Things

I know Sally doesn’t have music yet, but there’s just no time for such trivial things. I’ll update the grades at the end of the semester. I know Brian took a retest weeks ago, but I don’t think he will mind having a D as long as I change it before the end of the semester.

The little things add up to big things. I am not perfect in this, so I write EVERYTHING down. I don’t want to forget the small details.

8. Don’t show appreciation

The students have the privilege of being in my class.

The students have the option not to be in your class. It’s your privilege to get to teach the best and brightest in the school.

9. Don’t Apologize

Rule #1: The director is always right.

Rule #2: When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Saying “sorry” when called for is one of the best things you can do. I’ve lost my temper at a kid. I’ve said something that humiliated them or done something I shouldn’t have. I ALWAYS apologize. It makes an impact on the students.

10. Poor care of facilities

Hey, the music is the most important thing, so why do the room and instruments need to be taken care of.

Put away piles of stuff. Organize. Throw away. Make the facility look the best you can with what you have.

11. Don’t care

Look at the players as people who fill a need for an instrument rather than as people.

Show concern. Call when a student is away for extended illness. When they return, tell them how much you missed them.

A student doesn’t care how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE.