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Year of the Brass

Boundary County School District No. 101

“Year of the Brass” was a project that connected brass players in grades 5-12 with professional musicians.  October through May, brass students had private lessons with either Terry Jones, the retired director of bands and trumpet professor at North Idaho College, or Jessica McKenzie, a trombone specialist.  Additionally, all band students in grades 7-12 visited University of Idaho and spent an afternoon in workshops and clinics with the Lionel Hampton School of Music Professors. High school students spent an entire day with the Washington State University Marching Band and performed with them at a football game.  To complete the project and begin “Year of the Woodwind” Bonners Ferry hosted a band workshop in August that brought four music educators to work with students.  

Overall, the goal of this project was to bring instruction into our schools at no cost to the students.  Additionally, the intent was to provide developmental opportunities by visiting the University of Idaho and Washington State, leading to greater musical understanding, proficiency and confidence. 

This project was selected because there is a need for students to see the outside world, interact with professionals and experience some of the opportunities students have access to in urban areas.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

“How do musicians improve the quality of their performance?”

“Year of the Brass” was guided by the study of how students could improve the quality of their performances.  The goal was for students to be able to “refine technical accuracy and expressive qualities to address challenges, and show improvement over time”.  This topic was discussed through the year in journal activities, class discussions, reflections following performance events and lesson logs. Students discovered a list of “key ingredients” to improve performance: motivation, understanding, self-reflection, hard work, one-on-one instruction, superior examples, tools, and appropriate repertoire.  These keys were put into practice and students found success that surpassed expectations (see impact for details.)

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Students were asked what strategies they learned to address challenges in their playing, alone and with the ensemble, from working with music professionals throughout the year.  Some of the responses given by students and parents were:

“Kaden was so excited when he came home, he loved every minute of it! He even taught me about ‘fire breathing’ (I think that’s what it was called) to get a bigger trombone sound! Such a great program, I’m so glad our kids are in it!” Parent

“They had different workshops and were able to pick. Logan really liked the leadership one. He told me, “You know you don’t have to be the loudest one to be a leader?” Which is pretty good because at this age, often the oldest one is the leader.” Parent

“I learned to never be afraid, to ask questions, and to practice, practice, practice.” – 8th Grade 

“Posture, breathing and warming up is important for rehearsing better.” – 7th Grade

“Buzzing exercises for brass players are important during warm-ups.”- 5th Grade

“I learned there are apps to help me practice more effectively.” – 10th Grade

“Working with my lesson teacher helped me improve faster!” –  5th Grade

“My trumpet teacher gave me exercises and techniques to play higher”- 11th Grade

Impact

Students made tremendous advances over the year due to their work with music educators and visits to U of I and WSU.  The quality of performance was increased significantly for students. An example of this progression is shown by two students had never played trumpet before last year. Due to their determination, hard work, and the instruction provided our expert trumpet teacher, both students have progressed to the top middle school band as sixth graders.  Another example comes from a high school junior who participated in Distinguished Young Women and won the talent portion on her trombone. Her own creativity combined with her lessons with our trombone expert and a little advice from her band teacher she placed first out of eleven other junior women. The final example is a high school trumpet player who had always performed well, but was unwilling to pursue a state solo until this year.  A dose of confidence along with self reflection and a great deal of practice, the student was selected from our region to attend State Solo and placed fourth overall in the state on trumpet.

Reflection

Due to an unexpected delay, the “Year of the Brass” finished in August instead of June.  This was a huge benefit to the students because the culmination of the project resulted in a Bonners Ferry Band Workshop. It also flowed nicely into our next project, “Year of the Woodwind” and started the school year with energy and excitement.  The workshop was the most beneficial event because it reached band students from every school, home school students, and parents. The classes offered reached different areas of interest but all centered on creating better performers as individuals and as an ensemble.  

The individual lessons were extremely valuable as well, but not as many students benefited due to time and monetary constraints. Another downside to the lessons was the fifty uncompensated hours I spent supervising before, during and after lessons.  

As we work through this year, a few things I plan to change and improve from last year are:

  • Group lessons or classes to maximize time and learning.
  • Select musicians who are not only talented but are comfortable working with students.
  • Involve more parents in the planning and execution to bring in more ideas and spread out the work.
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