In volunteering for the Quebec Band Association’s Honor Band weekend on February 7, 2015, I was happy to be a part of what was clearly such a monumental weekend for young musicians. While I am usually seeing things from the teacher or the clinicians point of view, I felt I was given an even deeper insight into how things work behind the scenes at an Honor Band workshop and in how the organizers, who are music teachers themselves, implemented MELS competency 6, “To Plan, organize and supervise a class in such a way to promote students’ learning and social development”. As a result of the workshops being held on the weekend and at Vanier College, the organizers and school staff were required to cooperate with parents and the community Cégep in order to facilitate this learning experience for the music students. This is exemplified in MELS competency 9, “To cooperate with school staff, parents, partners in the community and students in pursuing the educational objectives of the school”.
I arrived at Vanier College at 8:15, slightly less awake then I wanted to be but thanks to the fact that there was coffee in the volunteer room, I managed to perk up. This made me realize a very important aspect if I am ever to run a band weekend, always have coffee for the volunteers. In fact, the women who arrived shortly after I did came with bagels, cream cheese, jam and an assortment of delicious snacks. They were kind enough to offer food and coffee to all the volunteers, band directors and clinicians who came early in the morning. No one would be going hungry this day.
In addition to the food that was available in the volunteer room, I was impressed as to how well organized the morning was. There were clear signs to show students where to go, denoted by Junior/Senior Band and instrument. In addition to the signs, there were a number of us who, as volunteers were asked to stand at the entrance and direct students to the proper room. I was assigned to help the Junior Honor Band clarinets into their sectional room and help the clinician with anything he needed. According to the sheet I was given I was even required to get the clinician “water” or anything asked for. As I am usually a clinician on these weekends, I knew for a fact that this would be unnecessary and unwanted attention for the clinician however I stuck around to get a feel just in case.
As the clarinets were in the clinic, I felt my time would be best spent listening to the workshop that was given to the Senior Band by the visiting conductor so I made my way to the auditorium. This workshop was highly recommended to me by a few of the organizers and apparently the conductor was excellent. During the workshop I was quite surprised to find that the level of the students’ performance was quite a bit below what I expected to hear from a Senior Honor band. I realize that I have been lucky enough to hear and work with some very high caliber honor bands such as Royal West but nonetheless I was surprised. I was also quite disappointed in the guest conductors’ workshop. I felt that most of the points he was making seemed to only confuse the students. For example, at one point during the workshop he began telling them that in this particular piece, 3/4 time was not actually 3/4 time. It was not that he was incorrect in the subject matter but the deliverance was very unclear, especially for students this age. This was the second time in a year I was witness to an incredibly confusing workshop given by a guest conductor. It is unfortunate for the students who have to try to make sense of what is being said but think it is good for me to see these types of workshops. Using what I witness, I can choose to tailor my teaching and conducting to be as clear as possible.
At the end of the morning I left feeling happy with the fact that I had volunteered for such a worthwhile event. The organization was incredible and despite the fact that I overheard some confusing details in the band workshop, I feel that this weekend was very helpful to the music students who participated. I am sure that by participating in honor band, these students will make lifelong friends and have experiences that they will remember forever. I am sure that many of these students will end up in university music programs and will remember the good they learned while spending time with other musicians and mentors.