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Q&A for Teachers

From 2007-2010, TMEA members asked and answered over 300 questions featured in a Southwestern Musician article series called "Tutti". Over 3,000 answers were submitted by TMEA members in response to practical questions ranging from pedagogy to fundraising. This bank of valuable knowledge and experience is available here and is searchable by topic and/or magazine issue.

Listed below are answers and questions published in the November 2014 issue of Southwestern Musician. If you would like to view another issue's questions and answers, select an issue from the drop down box and click "Go".

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How do you handle music selection for holiday time to ensure you respect students’ religious and cultural backgrounds without sacrificing music of cultural significance?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: November 2014
I have started simply programming as I would for any concert. I will include one holiday tune per performing band. It is a medley of holiday songs that we perform with an audience sing along. It has become a tradition that the students look forward to. Everyone leaves happy!

Submitted by: Christian Holzer
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I select a broad scope of standards that would be musically challenging and have diversity to embrace multiple cultures. Also, I give opportunities to those that can not participate so that they aren't excluded.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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Students have input on the selections that we choose to perform. Even at my youngest levels.

Submitted by: Kevin Amstead
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I teach in a very Christian-oriented rural community/school. We present CHRISTmas concerts, CHRISTmas plays, and make no apologies for either.

Submitted by: Bill Boyle
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This question is worded a little poorly, because the only music of cultural significance to our community is the music that reflects their religious and cultural backgrounds. If you're asking if we pass out lesser quality music to meet our students' needs, the answer is absolutely not. There is plenty quality music on all levels for many different cultural situations. Our Christmas concerts are performed for our community, so we perform music that relates to the audience, challenges our students, and is enjoyable for everyone.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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Focus on a winter concert and include ALL or most cultures who have a holiday at the time and make it educational. Learning about traditions in other cultures is the focus not the "holiday" season.

Submitted by: Susana Rodriguez-Snyder
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I do not pick music that has Christian language or I make sure that all religions or beliefs are covered. It is all in the programming. I am sensitive to the needs of the community. If I have students who can not do patriotic or religious material I exempt them from the program or lesson. There are only a few patriotic songs required per grade level and no religious songs.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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I choose a variety of music that has to do with the season as well as other religions. I also have a form that I send home in case I have a child that cannot sing specific music and the reason. If I have students that return the form I choose at least one piece that they can perform in order to receive credit for the concert.

Submitted by: Allison Tilotta
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In our district, all of our campuses perform togther in 2 yearly concerts: One in December, the Second one in May. In December, our Honor Choirs (all 20 campuses) select music that includes: instruments (recorders, bells, Orff, etc.), famous known Christmas songs("Winter Wonderland", "Feliz Navidad", etc.) both in English and Spanish; new Christmas selections from (movies, musicals, "Frozen" for this year, etc.), and maybe some poem/song from local artists. Our audience enjoys hearing familiar music and enjoy our new songs when incorporated with creative movement/costumes, etc,

Submitted by: Alejandra G. Rodriguez
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When there is a problem with performing holiday concert music I allow the student to work on other music in a practice room when we are rehearsing the holiday music. The student will still warm up with us he/she just leaves during the holiday portion.
I also try to play one tune that either is a 'seasonal piece without any reference to the holiday or a musical selection that is not a holiday piece.

Submitted by: Diana Flores
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I try not to think of any concert as a celebration of any particular holiday. Our "Winter" concert may or may not include seasonal music. It will always have selections which are not associated with any holiday.

Submitted by: Rick Brockway
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I give students a varied menu of songs and have them select a given number of songs from my list.

Submitted by: Carol Perry
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I give my students/parents a disclaimer at the beginning of the year (put it in your handbook!) and remind them that the CHRISTMAS Concert is a graded performance for ALL students. A students can't perform if they don't show up for a performance. This covers all your bases. The students are giving a Christmas performance, not making a statement about what they DON'T believe/participate in.

Submitted by: Justin Conrow
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I carefully select my holiday themed music in this way. I select a winter piece depecting the season, Snow, Cold etc., I select a jewish piece that speaks about peace or Hanukkah. I select a piece that depicts the Nativity for all religions and a Kwaanza Piece.Which can be instrumental in Nature. I also select pieces that are will represent the community around my school as far as culture or Christmas around the world in general.

Submitted by: Debbie Medina
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I personally like to select and winter music that included the different holidays. I do include some religious classics that have beautiful melodies. I am always attentive to possible toes I might be stepping on and as a result I make every attempt to balance my repertoire.

Submitted by: Domingo Porras
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When programming for the holiday time, I always tried to pick music from a recent movie that the students have seen. There are so many great arrangers in the music industry it is easy to find a piece at the level of your students. I also had two pieces I alternated every two years that the students really enjoyed and wanted to perform.

Submitted by: Randy Bloodworth
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I use the descriptive approach. I describe the music as a canon, or a hymn, or a folk tune. I have also used the country- this song is from France; England; America; Germany. One could also note the form: AB or ABA, etc.

Submitted by: K. Grimes
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I try to present all music as a learning vehicle and that we should respect music from every background. Looking at music as a learning tool and not a indoctrination of beliefs is the best approach for those who may be intolerant to respect or appreciate others beliefs. In some cases, the student or group may just not need to play that piece of music you as a director like, there is a lot of music out there.

Submitted by: Jason R. Smith
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The holiday season is a wide and varied time - "called the happiest time of the year", is an opportunity to unite and celebrate with all races and and their traditions. One simply needs to be considerate of anothers opinions and include as wide a variety of songs, dances, and stories as possible. Put yourself in the shoes of your parents and ask yourself, "would this include me"?

Submitted by: Leslie Bernhardt
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I like to teach my students about various cultures anyways so when the different holidays start we go over them, how they celebrate them, and listen to some of their songs. That way they all get mentioned. At the Christmas program that we do I normally pick non religious songs for the main part of the program, but because we are in a small town that is majority Christian I might put one or two traditional Christmas songs in.

Submitted by: Cary Vanarsdall
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I plan a diverse program that encompasses as many musical styles as possible. I make the musical focus of every rehearsal intent on focusing on the style of music and valuing that particular style for what it brings to the musical world. I also start looking for Christmas pieces as early as possible so as to have a large variety of music on the program.

Submitted by: Josh Nowlin
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I try to pick a plurality of music that is broad is scope and diversity. I pick a mix of sacred and secular music. Most of the time, the religious music causes no problems, but if I am asked about it I explain that part of a well rounded education is to learn the customs and practices of other people's faiths and that just because you are singing their songs does not mean that you are being forced to believe in what they believe. I also explain the importance of tolerance and acceptance of other people's beliefs.

Submitted by: Michael Kessler
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We perform seasonal selections like winter wonderland, sleigh ride, Frosty the snowman, Jingle Bells. If we do a serious piece like Salvation is Created, we regard it more like a concert selection, not Christmas music.

Submitted by: Eric Wharton
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I just try to select a wide variety amongst all ensembles. This helps the concert be diverse and allows students to play different kinds of music.

Submitted by: Mark Nichols
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I participate in community functions that allow me to know the students as well as the community. I allow the students to have input in music selection for particular concerts and venues.

Submitted by: Cory Gibson
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One of our staff members happened to be Jewish so I found an appropriate selection (Hanukkah Holiday arr. by Marshall) and programmed it along with some of our other Christmas Music. The students loved the selection and it brought tears to my friend's eyes. The selection includes "Maoz Tzur", "O Hanukkah", and Zum Gali Gali. We can broaden our horizons and educate our students to the wealth of culture all around us.

Submitted by: James Keltner
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If it is called a Christmas concert, any and all traditional Christmas songs can be presented. If you call it anything else, then it would be best to steer away from them and do numbers that are holiday orientated.

Submitted by: Robert Green
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Commission something! Work with students to choose a text (or write one together) or have no text at all! There are many composition students and young composers who would love an opportunity to write something for you. Invite them to your concert. The opportunity will unify them and conversations will be about the shared experience, not student diversity.

Submitted by: Lauren Fisher
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I often just play "regular" secular music and call it a winter concert instead of a Holiday concert.

Submitted by: Chelsea Waschek-Gaukin
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Most important is selecting music that is relevant to the students and the local community, as well as including a culturally diverse program. Starting with music that the students and community can relate to, along with traditional selections is a good foundation. Adding diverse selections and types of music each year from different cultures and religions will educate the community and widen their perspectives, and ultimately bring unity through the common human musical experience.

Submitted by: Lora Quezada
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I provide fun worksheets that I prepare ahead of time for the ones who don't celebrate. I also send out a note before we begin the holiday season, explaining to parents that I will provide their student with an alternative activity. They sit at the back of the music room and do their worksheets (or coloring pages for younger grades) while the rest of the class learns songs from the holidays - Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have had no problems with parents in thirteen years. I teach K-5.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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How do you modify for ESL or bilingual classes?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: November 2014
I utilize other students in the class that are multi -lingual.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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Since we have many Spanish speakers here, we have a complete 2nd grade class of Spanish speakers, or ESL students and we do one selection in English and a second in Spanish.

Submitted by: Kevin Amstead
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I focus on folk songs in both English and Spanish in both Monolingual and Bilingual classes so it actually benefits both linguistically and culturally. I will often say instructions in Spanish but most of the time they are ok.

Submitted by: Susana Rodriguez-Snyder
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A lot more visuals are needed and manipulates.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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I put my students who are not as strong in English in between two students who speak Spanish. Those students are assist the other student by translating. For solo and ensemble I try to find one that is in Spanish for them to learn.

Submitted by: Allison Tilotta
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I use peer tutoring a lot in my class. Students will translate for me. Also, I show the student on his/her music by pointing to the concept or note.
Having the students show me the fingering for notes and accidentals in the air also allows me to check for understanding.
Most students I find understand some English better than we know. Saying a couple of words to them in their other language will allow them to know that you are trying so they will feel more comfortable speaking English to you.

Submitted by: Diana Flores
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I do not have any such classes, however, we do sing at least one Spanish song and one German song each season.

Submitted by: Carol Perry
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I use a lot of Google translator.

Submitted by: Justin Conrow
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I have not had to, but I would try to enrich my own knowledge enough to help the student get through rehearsals as well as maybe pair them with another student that help them...

Submitted by: Jason R. Smith
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We don't have any bilingual students and the ESL students have tested out, but I use Quaver's Marvelous World of Music for my primary instruction and it has a lot of Spanish oriented sections. It has songs with Spanish in them, they have a map where you can go to different parts of the world and see their instruments that originated from that region.

Submitted by: Cary Vanarsdall
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We read notation so the music meets those needs. I communicate collectively in English and then privately individually in Spanish.

Submitted by: Eric Wharton
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I connect the foreign language teacher in the building and include them in helping to further the include those students. I also try to find a piece that will allow them to help the class in learning a particular piece that is reflective of his/her culture and background.

Submitted by: Cory Gibson
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I teach orcehstra, so it is easy to use alot of kinesthetic activites instead of verbal ones. I also apply the ELPS (english Language Proficiency Standards) to my lessons and give students a chance to read (definitions in the method book) and speak (turn to your stand partner and give them a comment on how they played).

Submitted by: Chelsea Waschek-Gaukin
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The key to modification is to relate culturally. Learn the culture, language, and music of the students and find common ground that the students can relate to such as familiar rhythms, harmonies, and traditions.

Submitted by: Lora Quezada
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We often work with boys' changing voice issues, but we also have at least one girl each year who struggles with pitch matching. What have you done to help these girls (6-8 grade) achieve success?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: November 2014
Sing softly. This encourages listening.

Submitted by: Rick Brockway
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Proximate seating. Always near the sound source and between a few strong, accurate pitch singers. I have also recorded pitch matching exercises where the focus is on long sustained vowels. This allows time for self corrective strategies that give ownership to the student and her success.

Submitted by: Domingo Porras
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I have a few strategies that work for me:
1. I encourage the development of sight-singing skills. This concept elicits all of the senses . Students are able to mirror the melodic line/contour on the staff via solfege. Reading in a group of students will assist the student with the confidence needed to take the necessary risk. I also model every passage with the use of solfege ( with hands leveling and pulsating). It helps students when they can internalize by way of physical activity. Lastly, and most importantly, students must feel that are in a safe place to make mistakes. I always assure students that if something does not sound right, I will be right there with them to help them find their way. Pitch matching and sight-singing are most definitely synonymous or at the least familiar.

Submitted by: Kimala Ross
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In my 6th grade choir I help all students work on their vocal pitch. I first find their range, then I try and pick solos that fit that range, and when they sing in a group I listen to them sing and work with them individually to get their voice where it needs to be. Sometimes the student wants their voice to go to high, or if it's a boy who wants to sing a low country song I have to get them to bring it up.

Submitted by: Cary Vanarsdall
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practice "sliding" pitch until it matches.

Submitted by: Eric Wharton
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As a middle school choir director, I determine what each and every student's range is at the beginning of the year via solfeggio exercises, warm-up chorales, etc. I then can place the student into a particular voice category. In my class, there are not the usual four SATB voice categories, but six: Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Contralto; Tenor, Baritone, and Bass. Due to changing voices, most girls actually are Mezzo-Sopranos and most boys are baritones. A student's range may expand during the year, but usually not so much that it affects their voice category within a given year.

Submitted by: Neil Dusseault
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We sing in all my classes. There is always at least one having trouble with matching pitches. I have the entire class sing and hum to give the out of tune singer confidence to match the pitch. Once they identify--am I too high or too low--they are usually successful.

Submitted by: Ida Steadman
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I have had success by placing girls who are struggling next to very strong voices, sometimes just that little boost can help. It is truly important that as directors we take the time to really listen to our students as they enter our class and find their strengths so we can properly place them in the ensemble.

Submitted by: Rachel Warmanen
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Have them try approaching the pitch from above or below, (similar to young children's voice exploration).

Submitted by: Chelsea Waschek-Gaukin
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What creative ways do you use to work with students who are involved in multiple school activities to allow them to continue to be active participants in the program?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: November 2014
We do not have sectional rehearsals outside of the school day. We manage to get our sectional practice done during the class period. My co-director pulls out students during my band class, and I do the same for him. Our students and parents are grateful that we respect their time, and this allows them to not miss athletic practice, play practice, choir rehearsal, etc.

Submitted by: Jo Ann Champion
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Many times we have to step back and realize the programs are for the students and are there to serve them both through music and life skills. It is very helpful for students to learn to "juggle" multiple events and/or activities as it gives them training for life. We take the student out of being "in the middle" and work with the other organizations to come up with a plan prior to the conflicts. We then present the plan to the student which solves issues before they happen. Decisions do have to be made regarding what is more important at that time. The adults need to be the ones making that decision. I think as adults we have to step back and realize these students aren't "getting away with something" when they have to miss for another activity. In fact, these are usually your most loyal, dedicated, and committed students due to trying to juggle multiple activities.

Submitted by: Leigh Ann McClain
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Allowing them to split time and coordinating with other organizations and athletics.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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Communication with other group sponsors and coaches. We discuss our calendars with each other, and decide how to plan each [shared] student's practice/performance schedule.

Submitted by: Bill Boyle
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We have a close working relationships with the coaches at our campus. We find the balance between each practice/rehearsal and give each other game days/performance days as needed. Luckily, we have a nice collaboration with our other electives, so that our students get as many options as possible.

Submitted by: Emily Boedeker
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It is extremely important to communicate with the sponsors of the the other activities and to try to coordinate calendars so that each student can be successful. It is also important to let each student know that you approve of their involvement in other activities. Students will commit more to music if they know you care about them being well-rounded!

Submitted by: Josh King
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Some will split the time between both. 30 mins here and 30 mins there. Depending on what we are working on sometimes it is alternating days, one day here the next week there.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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I believe the ultimate goal for us as music educators i to keep the kids out of the middle of any conflicts. We should be striving to communicate directly with other coaches to get out in front of any potential conflicts and work out an equitable schedule for the kids. The more early communication you can do, the better.

Submitted by: Nathan Lewis
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We split 50/50 after school time with sports and other activities. I allow students to come in and practice before school, during their lunch and during their advisory period when they are able to get extra help.
If they are on a team and have a game they go to their game. They can make up sectional time by coming another day after school. I often pair them up with one of the better members of their section to tutor them while I teach another sectional. Also, we do not make them take their instruments home on game day unless they want to or need to.
I speak directly to the teacher/coach involved so we can discuss the needs of the student and each of our programs. I never let the student decide where to go.

Submitted by: Diana Flores
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Communication is key. We work hard to make sure our Administration is on board with what we are trying to accomplish with our program. With their help, we have spoken to coaches of sports teams, UIL coaches, cheer sponsors and dance sponsors to create a schedule that allows students to participate in as many activities as they wish. If the expectation is set forth ahead of time and everyone is aware of each other's schedules, then it becomes easier to "share" the students. When it comes to performances/competitions that may conflict, we make every effort to make sure the student can attend both. In the event of a parade, our students split the time (Homecoming parade with cheer/dance, Christmas Parade with marching band).

Submitted by: James R. Spence
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I try to respect other interests. I try to consider the impact we may have on families too. Lots of advanced notice. Avoid changes as much as possible. Sometimes I have to get over it too. I can remember a Honor Band year spring festival where multiple students were missing due to a Space Shuttle launch. One of the student's parents was on board. He invited his friends (other band members) to Florida to see the launch. What could I say. I am glad they went. (We didn't use that recording...)

Submitted by: Rick Brockway
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I work with them at lunch or after school. I also allow them to travel with us to region and solo/ensemble contest if they are willing to work the repertoire outside class time. I also offer barbershop quartetting after school, which is really popular with both boys and girls.

Submitted by: Carol Perry
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- Allow them to choose their own sectional time.
- Communicate and give assignments through tech like EdModo, Remind, YouTube Education, etc.
- Give extra gold stars.

Submitted by: Justin Conrow
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I speak to the other sponsor and have them either attend the other activity for 1/2 their time and then ask them to come to my rehearsal for the other half. I will also ask them to come to someone else's rehearsal on the day that they can make to make up for time.

Submitted by: Debbie Medina
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Encourage joining the band's non-playing ensembles. When I taught at Crockett HS in Austin, some of my best kids became "flag/rifle" corps members. Instead of regular PE class, they were after-school band kids, and they were able to stay in my choir "class". This became a tradition of sorts. Also, one year there were many band kids who were ineligible 2 weeks before marching contest. WE substitued some bright choir kids, holding horns but not playing, to fill the holes. Everyone said the band not only looked better, but sounded better! Cooperation among performing arts teachers is vital.

Submitted by: Fred Ratliff
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I make it my goal to be as flexible as possible, and choose my battles wisely. I find that if I am effective in communicating my expectations early, and work with them when possible, I earn their respect, and most times, they choose to participate in choir activities. I try to treat their other organizations with the respect that I want to be treated. If they have a tournament or some kind of game, those take precedence over some rehearsals or sectionals. If I have a concert or major event, that needs to take precedence over whatever conflict they have. Utilizing Dropbox or other electronic file sharing sites has revolutionized the way I teach them their parts. Instead of fighting for sectional rehearsals with their limited time, I record their parts, upload them to Dropbox, and require them to listen to them outside of class when they have time. I will then do a quick "singing test" in groups during class to make sure the parts are being learned.

Submitted by: Marianne Morrison
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I make every effort to provide students with materials that may be used at home to keep them involved with what they may be missing while they are participating elsewhere. Sheet music, recordings, or special time rehearsals keep these students in the loop and interested.

Submitted by: Domingo Porras
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Here at North Lamar all of the sponsors and coaches are very generous with compromise. We each know there are certain times that are more important than others and by placing ourselves in each others position we quickly realize when to give and take. Dialogue with the other sponsors and coaches is the best solution.

Submitted by: Jason R. Smith
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Work with the other teachers to be able to share the talent, and not limit the student in their choices.

Submitted by: Leslie Bernhardt
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In my band we have several students that participate in multiple school activities. One thing that I stress as a director is time management. I allow my students to attend meetings ect. but they are also responsible for attending rehearsal,sectionals and band activities either before and afterschool. There must be a balance in order for it to work effectively and student must be committed.

Submitted by: Robertt Jackson
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When conflicts arise, and I know about it in advance, I can generally work out a compromise. I usually go directly to other director or coach and work out a plan to split time. They will either leave one event early or be allowed to arrive late or some combination thereof.

Submitted by: Michael Kessler
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Find out the other event/activity schedules and avoid direct conflicts. If a conflict arises, we submit to permit the student to participate in the other activity.

Submitted by: Eric Wharton
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San Augustine High School band consists of 7-12 grade students. We spend a large amount of time with the 7th and 8th grade students in 30 minute private lessons each week instead of large scale sectionals. This allows me to individualize the instruction to the student and know exactly what the capabilities of each one are so I know how to help them progress or if I have to "doctor" parts. I do not have the high school in private lessons yet since I don't have time to do all 63 students. I focus my energy on the younger ones so that by the time they are high school students they know how to play the way I want them to and how to memorize their music correctly. This allows them to be involved with all the other activities they want to be involved in since the lessons are scheduled around their other activities.

Submitted by: Craig Haynie
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This is quite a challenge. I try to NEVER put the kid in the middle. I try to go to the coach or sponsor and work out a compromise. A game/ performance always outweighs a practice for either group.

Submitted by: Mark Nichols
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In scheduling extra rehearsals, I vary the times. Some are before school and some are after school. Some are after the athletes have finished their practices. I also switch the days of the week.

Submitted by: Ida Steadman
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We minimize our after school requirements to avoid the time stresses as much as possible.

Submitted by: Lee Brossette
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We make our sectional times/days flexible so that our boys and girls athletes can attend without penalty.

Submitted by: James Keltner
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In very small schools, give the boys and girls a break and do not require them to do all the marching, but do let them memorize the music, just have the ones who are capable work for the contest show and put them in it. If some can not cut it, have them help with loading and unloading, et, and keep them a part of your band. If they are going 2 ways, it must mean that they are good students. We need good students in band and on the teams.

Submitted by: Robert Green
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Imagine the offerings of your music program as a grand buffet or menu of options. Some diners will order everything. They want it all and dessert. Some aren't that hungry or maybe they're on a diet and they just get salad. They want a delicious salad, but just a salad. Offering levels of participation within your program that allow a student to choose how much after school time they want to devote to singing will help hold on to those who are involved in many things. Some music is better than none! Good relationships with coaches, sponsors, and parents help. An amazing golfer might miss your spring concert. Does that really mean you would refuse to provide him a music education? Our programs are here for kids, not vice versa. It's a difficult philosophy to have if you're under pressure to 'compete.' Maximize every second of class-time then let students decide if they want to nibble or feast on the after-school options like All-State etc.

Submitted by: Lauren Fisher
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I stay in contact with sponsors of other activities and parents so that 2-3 adults are aware of the students schedule and needs. When I have a concert or rehearsal that I know will conflict, I will work with the other sponsor to split time. I am willing to trade off for certain activities. I have found that as long as I make coaches and other adults aware of what I need, we usually can find a reasonable compromise. If a student has an activity outside of school, I find that I can work with a parent so they can leave early or come late according to their needs.

Submitted by: Rachel Warmanen
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Compromise, barder if you will, a contest here for a missed practice there. Parent and coach/teacher communication is key. Know the student's schedule before the conflict arises.

Submitted by: Chelsea Waschek-Gaukin
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Be flexible and allow students to temporarily change their schedule and participate in the orchestra program even if it means changing to a class that is not at their musical level or grade level for one semester or a year.

Submitted by: Lora Quezada
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