Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Interview: Music Education and the Concord Band

Dr William G McManus
Music Director
Dr William G. McManus, Music Director of the Concord Band since 1995, has been Director of Fine and Applied Arts in a very successful Massachusetts public school system and is now Chair of the Music Education Department at the Boston University College of Fine Arts. His perspective, we thought, on how the Concord Band relates to music education would be of great interest to our readers.

CB: How would you assess the general health of public school music education in the Commonwealth? 
WGM: “Generally, music education programs are strong in the public schools in Massachusetts, especially in suburban school districts. Many communities can boast fine comprehensive music programs. The band, choral, orchestra, marching band, and jazz festivals sponsored by such organizations as the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association (MICCA) and the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) remain very strong. The District and All-State Festivals sponsored by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) are spectacular. On the flip side, there are too many communities cutting back or eliminating music programs. Music programs in the cities and in rural areas of the Commonwealth are especially limited.”

CB: It’s probably safe to say every member of the Concord Band began his or her career as an instrumentalist in elementary school. Do you feel that it is better to start off a young child on a band or orchestra instrument or on the piano? Why? 
WGM: “It really depends upon the age and interest level of the child at the time. A five- or six-year-old could begin taking piano lessons or lessons on a small size violin, much as many students do in Suzuki programs in Japan. This same child could not begin lessons on a band or orchestra instrument because s/he physically would not be able to play the instrument. Most nine-year-old children are physically ready to learn a band instrument.”

CB: In your career as a music educator you’ve had the opportunity to observe music teachers in action for the past few decades. Are they different in any important ways now from when you began your own career? 
WGM: “Music teachers tend to be more specialized than when I began my career. General music teachers often develop expertise in one of several different approaches to teaching music such as Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, or Gordon. Today there are many instrumental teachers who specialize in teaching jazz. Jazz ensembles and jazz choirs did not exist in schools when I began teaching. Many other music teachers are expert in the use of music technology which also did not exist when I began my career.”

CB: For non-professional wind and percussion players who want to continue playing beyond high school or college, the community band represents that opportunity. What is your view of the significance of the community band? 
WGM: “There is no question that the community band is an extremely important musical performance opportunity for nonprofessional musicians. Together with community orchestras and choruses, they represent the primary, and in many cases, the only opportunity for non-professional musicians to perform in a large ensemble. Community bands in particular also play an important role in preserving the heritage of band music and they are an important source of public entertainment.”

CB: And now for the question we’ve all been waiting for, would you please comment on the Concord Band in particular among community bands relative to music education. How is it different? As its Music Director, what goals have you set for the Band in your second decade? 
WGM: “The Concord Band is unique among community bands for a number of reasons. Its long tradition of commissioning new works is commendable. Few other bands can boast of this achievement. The band also has a long tradition of inviting truly outstanding guest soloists and conductors to perform with the Band. These opportunities provide very rich experiences for our members and our audiences. I plan to continue these practices and do everything I can to maintain the very high performance level of the Band. Perhaps most unique is the dedication and loyalty of the members of the Band. My primary goal is to reward that dedication by continuing to provide outstanding musical experiences for the Band members and wonderful concerts for our audiences.”