I used to have a tradition each year that was previously interrupted over the past several years because my New Year’s Eve gig was in Las Vegas. That tradition involved looking back at the previous year, writing about it, thinking about it, and making decisions for the new year based on the successes and failures of the previous year. Since this year is my first year staying home, I feel as if three years have slipped by and it’s almost depressing. It makes it feel like I haven’t accomplished anything in years.
But this kind of self pity is destructive and I’ve been searching my memory for the milestones of this past year so I can re-initiate that tradition. In the past I used to list how many compositions I had written or how many new books were released. This year I think I wrote one composition and there were no new book releases. I also used to list major performances and once again, there’s nothing from this past year I can put on that list either.
I was beginning to get pretty down on myself when I realized that the emphasis this year was a lot different from previous years. No, I didn’t do very many of the wonderful things I’ve done in the past. On a superficial level, last year was a lot more boring than previous years. But that’s because we changed our business focus a few years ago and I can no longer measure our progress based on the old standard. Instead of looking at what I’ve done as a performer or a composer, I should be looking at what I’ve done as a teacher.
Teaching Accomplishments for 2011
When I change my focus and review the year’s accomplishments from the perspective of a teacher, I see that we have actually accomplished more than most other years. It’s just not the kind of stuff that can be bragged about like a high profile performance or a new major composition (I am actually on an indefinite composition hiatus). Some of those accomplishments include (in no specific order):
1) The Completion of Our Tyro Book (content only)
This book will not be publicly released for at least a couple of years, but the content is finished and we are already using it with the students. There are two comments worth noting that are relative to this book.
First is that this is our new strategy with the books. We will be per-releasing each book to our students long before we make the books available to the public. Some would say that we should have been doing that all along. In a way we were except that in the past is was only the content that was used with the students, not the finished product. The difference now is that we want to use the finished products with the students for a while before we release them to the public.
Secondly, we have a new system in place for the different “levels”. We used to refer to the different levels as “groups” because of the wording in the Daily Routines book. We refer to each level in that book as a group; groups one through seven. The Groups have now been replaced with level names as follows:
Group 1 is the Pioneer Level
Group 2 is the Tyro Level
Group 3 is the Player Level
Group 4 is the Apprentice Level
Group 5 is the Pro Level
Group 6 is the Master Level
Group 7 is the Virtuoso Level
2) Motif Catalogue
The most important accomplishment in 2011 was the development and implementation of what I call a Motif Catalogue for my jazz improvisation students. This catalogue gives intermediate jazz students the ability to craft their own jazz etudes and ii-V-I licks in a way that is unique to their own personalities yet rooted in the jazz language. On the jazz side of my teaching, this is by far the most important development since I started teaching the five areas of study for jazz improv.
Does it work?
Yes it does! I have used a rough draft version of the Motif Catalogue with four different students. All four of those students went from playing only notes and scales in their improvised solos to playing genuine jazz solos in the space of a few weeks! It is precisely the tool I have been looking to use with my students for over twenty years.
3) Herald Lesson Program
Another major accomplishment was the creation of our new lesson program called Herald Lessons. As our prices climb each year, more and more people have asked for less costly alternatives to our regular student packages. In response to this need, we created a program that sends invitations to open spots in our schedule that will go unfilled otherwise. I spent several months writing the code for this program in PHP, a seemingly wasteful way to spend so many hours, but it is important to us that those who desire private lessons but cannot afford our regular packages still have a way to access the lessons this way.
4) All-State Jazz Judging
I do not typically judge competitions anymore because they don’t pay and I cannot afford to give up a day of teaching to judge. But this year I judged the Texas All-State Jazz Trumpet auditions, which gave me insight into the process that I hadn’t known before. One of the things that I think makes me a valuable teacher for the high school students is that I have judged in a variety of contexts from All-Region to Solo and Ensemble contest. With this experience I am better able to help the students implement strategies for their competitions. Jazz State is a different beast from the others because the auditions are taped, not live. So judging gave me more ideas that will help the students in the future.
5) All-State Jazz Etude
Not as big of a deal as the judging, but still worth mentioning is that one of my etudes was chosen again this year as audition material for the All-State Jazz trumpet auditions.
6) Practice Tests
I have long believed in practicing with the students in their lessons. I believe that to be part of my job, to teach the students how to practice. This is not possible if we do not practice together in the lessons. Unfortunately, I was guilty of assuming that this knowledge and experience was transferring correctly to their own practice times at home. When I had suspicions that it was not, I created what I call practice tests where I ask the students to practice in the lesson while I write critique about the way they practiced. With these tests, I was able to reveal all of the students’ flaws in their approaches to practicing.
The fringe benefit of these tests is that they have given me more information to work with for another book I am currently working on. While I write comments about their practicing, I am also creating data for that new project.
7) Student CD Project “Trumpet Travels”
This was our first year to create a CD of recordings made by our students. This CD was an alternative to trying to host a collective concert, which had become too difficult to organize because our students live great distances away from here. We have students who live as far north as Lufkin, as far south as Galveston, as far east as Beaumont and as far west as Victoria. Rehearsing and performing with all of these students at the same time is practically impossible.
The most important benefit the students received from doing the CD was in becoming more aware of what they sound like and how much effort must be invested to create a quality performance. It is not a coincidence that all of the students had better sounds within weeks of when the CD was finished. It is not a coincidence that they all have a much better rhythmic concept. All of the students who recorded made more progress this year than any other year since they first began lessons with me.
8) This Blog
The purpose of this blog is to provide as much information to my students as possible in the most efficient manner. That said, I am very careful not to write anything here that would essentially give away for free what our students are paying for. That makes my job as a blogger more challenging than just spewing stuff all the time.
For the first four months I have been diligent about posting at least once every weekday in an effort to establish the site. I wanted people to know, straight out of the starting gate, that this site is not one of those with one or two posts a year, later to be abandoned. However, as of today (1/2/2012), I will no longer invest as much effort into posting every weekday. The posts will continue to be regular, but now that the site is established, I don’t feel a need to make daily posts anymore.
All of these points (and many more actually) are things that we accomplished with our students best interests in mind. All of it was for their benefit and I expect that any reward we gain from our efforts will be only as a result of their own successes. This has actually been our “business model” for several years now. We have been trying to grow our business through meeting the needs of our current students. I just didn’t see it that way at the end of the year over the past few years because I was distracted by the Las Vegas gigs. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the year before it passes, I see that much has been done for the current students. The good news is that all of it will help those students who sign up in the future.