Episode 23: Gary Smith, University of Illinois, and Cody Birdwell, University of Kentucky

Episode 23: Gary Smith, University of Illinois, and Cody Birdwell, University of Kentucky

Happy Belated New Year! My colleague R. Scott Barnas and I had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Gary Smith at the Midwest Clinic. We also had the pleasure of having a “party-crasher” show up; Dr. Cody Birdwell from the University of Kentucky was a welcome surprise to this interview.

Professor Smith talks about growing up in an arts family, his teaching career, favorite pieces of music, The System, and reflects on some of his highlights with the University of Illinois Bands. Dr. Birdwell reflects on teaching together with Professor Smith and how they worked together as colleagues to provide the best musical experiences for students.

Special thanks to Washington Junior High and Joliet All-City Band director R. Scott Barnas for facilitating this meeting and interviewing our guests!


Gary E. Smith
From the University of Illinois Band Page:

BA, Butler University; MA, Ball State University

From 1976 to 1998 and again in 2004, Gary was the Associate Director of Bands at the University of Illinois, Urbana - Champaign, where he conducted the nationally famous Marching Illini, Basketball Band, Symphonic Band II, and taught marching band procedures and band arranging in the School of Music. 

Previously he served as Assistant Director of Bands and Marching Band Director at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, Director of Bands at Saint Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana, and Director of Bands at Northside High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1988 Gary was elected to membership in the prestigious American Bandmasters Association.  In addition, he is a member of Phi Beta Mu, Phi Mu Alpha, and Kappa Kappa Psi music honorary fraternities and participates in the College Band Director's National Association, National Band Association, and the Illinois Music Educators Association.

Recent awards include the University of Illinois Alumni Association "Outstanding Educator", the Mary Hoffman “Outstanding Music Educator”, the "Spirit of the Illini" from the University of Illinois Athletic Association and the Kappa Kappa Psi Distinguished Service to Music Medal.

Gary has served as a consultant, guest conductor and clinician throughout the United States, Singapore, China, Australia, Japan, Canada, Ireland and France.  In addition, he is the coordinator of the pre-game, halftime and parade festivities for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl (formerly the Peach Bowl) and assisted with the production of the 2005 Orange Bowl Halftime.  In 2007, Gary served as co director of the Oklahoma Centennial All State Marching Band, which was be featured during the 2007 Rose Bowl Parade opening ceremonies.  Presently he serves as the producer of the annual DISNEY THANKSGIVING PARADE OF BANDS held at Disney World in Orlando, FL. and head clinician for the 2011 Marching Band Directors and Drum Major Clinic in Singapore

Smith is former owner and director of the Smith Walbridge Clinics for drum majors, flags, rifles, marching percussion, marching band student leaders and directors. Since 1949, these clinics have attracted thousands of high school and college students from across the United States and several foreign countries.

Several of his articles have been published in The Instrumentalist, The School Musician and the Band Director's Guide.  This guide, The System, "Marching Band Methods," is used as a textbook in several University marching band courses and marching band clinics.

Dr. John Cody Birdwell
From the University of Kentucky Fine Arts Page:

Dr. John Cody Birdwell is Director of Bands at the University of Kentucky, where his duties include conducting the University of Kentucky Wind Symphony, directing graduate programs in wind-band conducting, teaching graduate courses in instrumental conducting, history and literature, and supervising the administration of the University of Kentucky band program in the School of Music. Prior to his appointment at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Birdwell served as Director of Bands at Texas Tech University, Director of Bands at Utah State University, Assistant Director of Bands at the University of Illinois, and Director of Bands at Northern Michigan University.

Dr. Birdwell's ensembles have toured extensively throughout the United States, China, and Great Britain, and the University of Kentucky Wind Symphony was recently selected to perform at the 2013 National Convention of the College Band Directors National Association. Ensembles under Dr. Birdwell's direction have also performed at numerous CBDNA national and division Conferences, and have also performed for the Kentucky Music Educator’s Association, Texas Music Educators Convention, Texas Bandmaster's Association Convention, and the Utah Music Educators Association. In 2008 the UK Wind Symphony toured the People’s Republic of China, and performed to capacity audiences in the cities of Suzhou, Yangzhou, Changzhou, and Beijing.  

Birdwell has collaborated with and premiered works by a variety of celebrated artists, conductors, and composers including Arturo Sandoval, Michael Colgrass, Luis Serrano Alarcon, Tim Reynish, Frederick Fennell, Dan Welcher, Donald Grantham, John Mackey, Anthony Barfield, Bob Mintzer, Mike Mower, and Adam Gorb.  Several compact discs, including the University of Kentucky Wind Ensemble “Distilled in Kentucky – Premieres from the Bluegrass State”, and “GO! – The Music of Bob Mintzer”, along with the Texas Tech University Symphonic Wind Ensemble “LIVE!" and “Diversions” have received acclaim from composers and conductors throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Dr. Birdwell is an elected member of the prestigious American Bandmasters Association and holds degrees from The University of North Texas and West Texas A&M University.

Dr. Birdwell serves as President-Elect President of the College Band Directors National Association Southern Division, and holds memberships in the College Band Directors National Association, National Band Association, Kentucky Music Educators Association, National Association for Music Education, Phi Beta Mu, Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association, Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha. He remains active as a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator throughout the United States and abroad.

Episode 22: Robert Herrings, Director of Bands, Henry Middle School, Cedar Park, TX

Episode 22: Robert Herrings, Director of Bands, Henry Middle School, Cedar Park, TX

Going out of town for Thanksgiving? Our interview with Robert Herrings would make for great listening on that long car ride. Robert has some fantastic advice about objectives in band, what new teachers should do when they don’t know what to do, and programming for every kid in your ensemble.

Mr. Herrings has hands down one of the most impressive bands I have heard. The intro and outro music is Robert’s band performing Candide Suite: The Best of All Possible Worlds arranged by Clare Grundman and Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey, respectively. You can also search Henry Middle School Band on Youtube for more impressive video and recordings from Robert Herrings and the Henry Middle School Band.

Special thanks to Chip De Stefano for the connection and for co-hosting this interview.

“The biggest shoes you have to fill are your own.”


Robert Tyrome Herrings, III is entering his fifteenth year of teaching and has been teaching at Henry Middle School in Leander ISD since 2004. Prior to coming to Leander ISD, he was the Director of Bands at Rockdale Junior High in Rockdale, Texas.

In 2003, Mr. Herrings received his Bachelor of Music Education degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he studied under Michael Haithcock, Jeff Grogan, Dr. Kevin Sedatole and Barry Hopper. While in college, Mr. Herrings was a member of the Baylor University performing wind bands, as well as a member of the Baylor University Golden Wave Band.

At Henry Middle School, Mr. Herrings conducts the Honors Band, assists with the Symphonic Band, Concert Band and beginning trombone class. He also teaches beginning flute and trumpet. Mr. Herrings’ bands have consistently received UIL Sweepstakes ratings, as well as unanimous first division ratings, Best In Class, and Overall Outstanding Band honors at festivals around the state. In 2009-2014, the program at Henry earned distinction as a National Wind Band Honors Class AA winner, and in 2008 and 2013, the Henry Middle School Honors Band was selected to perform at the Western International Band Clinic in Seattle, Washington. The program was named the 2010, 2014 and 2018 TMEA Class CCC Honor Band and was also selected to perform at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in 2010, 2012, and 2016. In June 2011, Mr. Herrings and his program were awarded the prestigious John Philip Sousa Foundation Sudler Silver Cup Award, and in July of the same year, Mr. Herrings was named the Phi Beta Mu Outstanding Young Bandmaster of the Year. In 2013, the Texas Chapter of the American School Band Director’s Association awarded the Artie Henry Middle School Band the Outstanding Band Program Award. The Percussion Ensemble at Henry Middle School was selected to perform at the 2014 Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Most recently, the Henry Middle School Band Program was named the Texas Bandmasters Association's Exemplary Middle School Program of the Year for 2018.

An active clinician and adjudicator around the state, Mr. Herrings is a member of the Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Bandmasters Association and the Texas Music Adjudicators Association. Mr. Herrings also serves as the TMEA Region 32 Middle School Band Chair, as well as the Region 32 TBA representative. He is also a mentor to new-to-profession teachers at Henry Middle School.

Mr. Herrings enjoys motivating young musicians to achieve the highest level of performance by sharing his extreme love and passion for music with them on a daily basis. He feels honored, privileged and extremely blessed to have a loving mother and grandmother, many great mentors, band directors and close friends who have influenced his career thus far.

Above all, his students have been his greatest inspiration!

Episode 21: John Thomson, Retired, New Trier High School, Winnetka, IL

Episode 21: John Thomson, Retired, New Trier High School, Winnetka, IL

John Thomson made the drive to Joliet to talk about programming, commissioning new music, and comprehensive musicianship. Mr. Thomson goes into detail about his musical career including his assistantship with Mr. John Paynter and his time at East Allegheny High School in Pennsylvania and New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.

This episode has great information music teachers. I especially enjoyed hearing Mr. Thomson speak about a programming method for band that was influenced by Mr. Paynter, and his description of a Unit Study Composition for in depth analysis and understanding of music. My band is looking at commissioning a new band work soon; Mr. Thomson’s advice on seeking out composers and finding resources will be especially helpful to me as we endeavor this goal. I have also found my new favorite term, which I will borrow from Mr. Thomson: “Sonic Architecture.”

I hope you enjoy and learn from this episode. You can learn from and about Mr. Thomson at his website: www.johnathomson.com.

FULL BIO from www.johnathomson.com:

John A. Thomson received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied with Richard Strange and Philip Catelinet. While completing course work towards a PhD in Music Education at Northwestern University, he served for two years as a Teaching Assistant in both the Departments of Conducting and Performing Organizations and Music Education, where he studied with John Paynter and Bennett Reimer. 

Mr. Thomson was the Director of Bands at East Allegheny High School near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1967 to 1981.  Under his direction, East Allegheny bands presented feature performances at the 1976 Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic, the 1975 Music Educators National Conference Eastern Regional Meeting, two Mid-East Instrumental Music Conferences in 1973 and 1977, and three Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Conferences in 1970, 1975 and 1980.

From 1982 to 2007, Mr. Thomson was Director of Bands at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.  In 1984, the wind ensemble completed a successful concert tour of Switzerland, Germany and Holland.  He conducted a NewTrier Honor Band on a concert tour of Hawaii and Australia in 1998.  Under his direction, New Trier wind ensembles have performed at the l990 Western Illinois University Band “Showcase”, the l989, l993, 1998 and 2007 Illinois Music Educators Association All-State Conferences, the l985 and l990 Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinics, the 1994 Music Educators National Conference National Biennial In-Service Conference, the 1996 Atlanta International Band and Orchestra Conference, the 1999, 2000 and 2001 Superstate Festivals at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and the 2003 Chicagoland “Invitational” Band Festival.  The wind ensemble received the Downbeat Magazine Award for best classical instrumental ensemble (band) in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2004. 

For twenty-three years, Mr. Thomson was a conductor at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan, and conducted the 1992 Blue Lake International Symphonic Band on the ensemble’s four week performance tour in Europe. He has served the Illinois Music Educators Association as District VII Band Chair and as a member of the All-State selection committee.

Currently, Mr. Thomson is an adjunct professor in music education at Roosevelt University in Chicago, observes student teachers for Northwestern University, and is active as a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator. He is a Contributing Editor and New Music Reviewer for THE INSTRUMENTALIST Magazine.

Personal awards include several National Band Association Citations of Excellence “for outstanding contributions to bands and band music”, the American School Band Directors Association Stanbury Award “for outstanding achievement in the advancement of school band programs”, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Award for “dedicating his life to his students so that they would not only be better musicians, but better people”, the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award “in recognition of outstanding leadership and excellence in professional music education” and the Phi Beta Mu Outstanding Bandmaster Award “for consistently producing the highest quality performing ensembles”.  He has been inducted into the Phi Beta Mu Illinois Band Directors Hall of Fame at Northwestern University.

Professional affiliations include the American Bandmasters Association (Goldman Citation Award Committee), National Band Association (Revelli Composition Award Committee), American School Band Directors Association (Past State Chairman),  Music Educators National Conference, Illinois Music Educators Association (Past District VII Band Chair), International Association of Jazz Educators, Phi Beta Mu, and Phi Mu Alpha.

Mr. Thomson lives in Wilmette, Illinois, with his wife Susan and sons, Brian and Will.

Episode 20: Bruce Pearson, Author/Music Educator, Tradition of Excellence

Episode 20: Bruce Pearson, Author/Music Educator, Tradition of Excellence

Bruce Pearson is the first composer I ever played, so this was a particular treat to interview him.  Dr. Pearson outlines his career teaching at all levels, discusses learning theories, and speaks about his experience writing and publishing music, including the Best in Class, Standards of Excellence, and Tradition of Excellence Band Methods. Dr. Pearson was also gracious enough to be my first long distance guest over Skype - my special thanks to him for sitting down in this interview.


BRUCE PEARSON is a world-renowned music educator, author, composer, and clinician. He is the author of the Standard of Excellence Comprehensive Band Method which has been regarded as the most important contribution to the band music field in the last three decades and for his first contribution, Best In Class. His new contribution, co-authored with Ryan Nowlin, the Tradition of Excellence Comprehensive Band Method, is a performance-centered curriculum that seamlessly blends time-tested and innovative pedagogy with cutting-edge technology. He also co-authored, with Dean Sorenson of the Standard of Excellence Jazz Ensemble Method and the Standard of Excellence Advanced Jazz Ensemble Method.

In addition to his method books, Dr. Pearson is well-known as a composer of many widely performed compositions for concert band and jazz ensemble. He has led clinics in all fifty of the United States and has been guest conductor and clinician, by invitation, of countries throughout the Pacific Rim, the Orient, Europe, and the Canadian provinces.

Bruce Pearson has taught at the elementary, junior high, high school, and college levels for over thirty years. Twice nominated for the prestigious Excellence in Education Award, he was recognized as “most outstanding in the field of music” for the state of Minnesota. In December, 1998, Dr. Pearson, “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to music education,” was awarded the prestigious Midwest International Clinic Band and Orchestra Conference Medal of Honor. In 2001, he was awarded St. Cloud State University’s Distinguished Service To Music Award “in appreciation for lifelong contribution to music and music education”. In 2007, Dr. Pearson received St. Cloud State University’s “Distinguished Alumni Award.” That same year he was recognized as the first Patron for the Maryborough Conference in Queensland, Australia. The American School Band Directors Association conferred on Dr. Pearson the 2014 Edwin Franko Goldman Award “as a symbol of high esteem and respect, and as a measure of appreciation and gratitude for outstanding personal contributions to the school band movement.” Additionally, Dr. Pearson has been recognized as a University of Northern Colorado “2017 Honored Alumni”.

Dr. Pearson continues to serve as a guest lecturer, clinician, and conductor in addition to his work as a composer, arranger, and author. He and his wife Dee have been married for over fifty years, have three children and nine grandchildren.

Visit Dr. Pearson's website at www.brucepearsonmusic.com.

Episode 19: Jim Stombres, Retired, St. Charles North, IL

Episode 19: Jim Stombres, Retired, St. Charles North, IL

Jim Stombres talks about his career, working on a team, changing a culture, and surrounding yourself with talented and hard-working people. Jim has taught almost all levels of band, and even though he's retired, he's still going. Jim is one of the most appreciative and thoughtful teachers that I've met. I hope this episode gets you charged up and inspired as we all move into the next school year!


Mr. Stombres is retired after more than 30 years as director of bands in three suburban Chicago high schools, finishing his career at St. Charles North High School, St. Charles, IL. He holds a diploma in sacred music from the Moody Bible Institute, a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Illinois State University, and Master of Music Education degree from Northwestern University. He is active in the Illinois Music Educators Association and the Illinois Chapter of International Association of Jazz Educators. Under Mr. Stombres’ direction, the Naperville North Wind Ensemble performed at the Bands of America National Concert Band Festival and received the DownBeat Award for Outstanding Wind Ensemble. 2018 marked Mr. Stombres 30th season with Birch Creek Music Performance Center.

Episode 18: Arris Golden, Assistant Director of Bands, Michigan State University

Episode 18: Arris Golden, Assistant Director of Bands, Michigan State University

Arris Golden shares her career path, speaks on middle school and college recruitment, and goes into detail on the process for commissioning works for school programs. Arris brings forth a wide variety of music education experience and stories. I had a blast sitting down with her, and hope to speak with her again soon!


Arris Golden is the assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band at Michigan State University.

Before joining the faculty at Michigan State University, Golden was a member of the conducting faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as the assistant director of University Bands. In this position, she was the music director of the 265-member Marching Tar Heels, director of the Women’s Basketball Pep Band, conductor of the Symphony Band, and guest conductor with the Wind Ensemble. She also taught courses in music education.

Prior to her appointment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Golden was director of athletic bands at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina (2008-2009). While at Campbell, she oversaw the entire athletic band program, including the inaugural year of the “Sounds of the Sandhills” Football Pep Band and the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Pep Bands.

In addition, Golden served eight years as the director of bands at Gravelly Hill Middle School in Efland, North Carolina. During her tenure, Golden conducted an internationally recognized middle school concert band that participated in featured performances at the North Carolina Music Educators Association annual conference, in Winston Salem, North Carolina (2010) and at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, in Chicago, Illinois (2012). The bands at Gravelly Hill also worked with numerous clinicians, including the premier of four commissioned works for band: “Kitsune: The Fox Spirits,” by Brian Balmages (2009), “The Machine Awakes” for young band and electronics by Steven Bryant (2012), “Freight Train,” by Pierre LaPlante (2013), and “The Cave Your Fear” by Michael Markowski (2014).

Golden holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She recently completed the doctor of musical arts in wind conducting from Michigan State University as a 2014 recipient of a Michigan State University Distinguished Fellowship.

Episode 17: Wendy Higdon, Director of Bands, Creekside Middle School, Carmel, IN

Episode 17: Wendy Higdon, Director of Bands, Creekside Middle School, Carmel, IN

On this episode, I sit down with Wendy Higdon. Wendy Higdon is the Director of Bands and Unified Arts Department Chair at Creekside Middle School in Carmel, IN. 

Sitting down with Wendy was a fun conversation.  Her experiences include opening up a brand new school as a band director and fine arts administrator, performing at the Midwest Clinic, in her spare time, running the website www.onandoffthepodium.com. Her site provides thoughts on teaching band and supplies free resources for music teachers of all levels. I especially enjoyed hearing about the Midwest Clinic music selection process and Wendy's perspective as an administrator.

I hope you enjoy this episode! Wendy's experiences and expertise should be heard by music teachers of all levels.


Wendy Higdon is the Director of Bands and Unified Arts Department Chair at Creekside Middle School in Carmel, IN.  She began her career as Director of Bands at Lebanon Middle School (IN) in 1991 and came to Carmel Clay Schools in 1999 where she taught band at Carmel Middle School until the opening of Creekside in 2004.  

Under her direction, the Creekside Wind Symphony was honored to perform at The Midwest Clinic in December 2013.  The Creekside Wind Symphony has also been a featured performing ensemble at the Indiana Music Education Association Conference as well as serving as a rehearsal clinic band at the 2013 Midwest Clinic and at the 2015 Indiana Music Education Association Conference. 

Mrs. Higdon has served as an adjudicator, clinician, guest conductor and guest speaker around the country.  In 2013, she received the “Fifty Directors Who Make a Difference” Award from School Band and Orchestra Magazine.  Her articles have appeared in The Instrumentalist magazine and Bandworld magazine, as well as being published by NAfME, D'Addario Education Collective, and SmartMusic, among others.  She has been a frequent presenter at music education conferences including a 2016 presentation at The Midwest Clinic.  In 2016 she was a featured conductor for the Music for All Summer Symposium's inaugural Middle School Concert Band Camp.  She will be a keynote presenter at the Australian National Band and Orchestra Conference held in Brisbane in 2018. 

Mrs. Higdon earned her degree in music education from Ball State University Honors College, graduating summa cum laude.  She also holds two masters degrees from Butler University, one in clarinet performance and the second in education administration. 

She is a member of Phi Beta Mu International, Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society, the National Association for Music Education, the Indiana Music Education Association and the Indiana Bandmasters Association.

Episode 16: Scott Casagrande, Director of Bands, John Hersey High School, Arlington Heights, IL

Episode 16: Scott Casagrande, Director of Bands, John Hersey High School, Arlington Heights, IL

I was excited this summer to sit down with Scott Casagrande, Director of Bands at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, IL. Scott has some fantastic sounding ensembles and has been a great help to me when I've reached out with questions about literature selection and teaching techniques. 

On this episode, Scott discusses his musical upbringing, resources for selecting literature, and assessment in music. Scott also talks about the many resources we have as music teachers, including the National Band Association, which is a particular passion of his. You can find out more about the National Band Association by visiting their website at https://nationalbandassociation.org/. Their recommended music list is especially helpful, and as soon as I said goodbye to Scott after our recording, I started combing through it again in anticipation of next school year. 

I hope you enjoy and learn from this episode with Scott Casagrande! 

Episode 15: Daniel Moore, Retired, Naperville North High School, Naperville, IL

I told a few people prior to publishing this episode that the next guest would be Dan Moore. The response was unanimous, but the inflection varied: "oh man, I gotta hear that guy." 

Dan Moore took a break from his recent retirement to come talk to me about his small-town beginnings, teaching techniques, advice on jazz band, and his thoughts on marching band. Dan's recent endeavors include a larger focus on publishing his method book, original compositions, and arrangements, clinician services, and writing music and drill for marching band (and no, he doesn't just write "Dan Moore" type shows!).

You can find Dan's work by searching "Daniel Moore Music" on facebook, JW Pepper, and Sheet Music Plus. 

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Dan's full bio, written by Dan:

Born and raised in Metamora, Illinois, I received a B.A. in Music Education from Western Illinois University, where I studied under Dale Hopper, Jon Dugle, Dennis Johnson, Roland Vamos, and William DeJong. While there, I was Principal Trumpet in pretty much everything, Drum Major for the Marching Band, and Drill Designer for several shows (a passion I developed in high school). At that time, I was also teaching private trumpet lessons for Galesburg High School, a member of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, and Soprano Bugle Soloist for the Geneseo Knights Drum and Bugle Corps. Upon "aging out", I was immediately named Brass Caption Head, a position I remained in for a several seasons, writing drill and arranging much of the music along the way.

After student teaching under Greg Bimm at Marian Catholic High School, my public school teaching career began in Milledgeville, Illinois, teaching 5-12 band in a K-12 building, and even directing some of the musical drama productions. That was followed by four years at Watseka High School, ending in a Class 2A State Marching Band Championship. During this time, I got married (to Kay, an outstanding elementary band director. We now have two grown daughters, also in education). I performed regularly with the Bensenville Wind Ensemble, the R.A. Brass Quintet, the Kankakee Municipal Band, the Kankakee Valley Theatre Pit Orchestra, and the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra (Principal Trumpet and featured soloist). Moving back to the Peoria area, I was Director of Bands at Limestone Community High School, garnering another State Marching Band Championship along the way. While in the area, I performed regularly with the Peoria Symphony, the Millennium Big Band, the Peoria Municipal Band (featured soloist), and the Prairie Wind Ensemble (featured soloist), doing a good deal of church and wedding gigs as well.

It was during those early teaching years that I established myself as a freelance drill-writer, designing perennial State Championship shows for Monticello High School, Herscher High School, United Township High School, and Normal Community Community High School. Other high school programs I've designed for include Lockport Community High School, Pontiac High School, Prairie Central High School, and Champlin Park High School. Currently, I am designing complete programs (drill and music) for Geneseo High School and Oak Park/River Forest High School.

After eleven highly successful years teaching downstate, I took some time off to earn a Masters Degree in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University, studying under Don Owens, Antonio Garcia, Michael Kocour, Rodney Dorsey, and Mallory Thompson. There, I was Drill Designer for the Northwestern University Marching Band (They're still using the pregame drill I wrote for them in 1998), and was Director of the University Jazz Band performing several of my arrangements. I performed as Lead Trumpet in the University Jazz Ensemble, the Contemporary Music Ensemble, and the legendary Waa Mu Show (in which I also arranged for the pit orchestra). I also established great relationships with mentors and colleagues Ruben Alvarez, Joel Spencer, Marlene Rosenberg, Greg Fishman, Mitch Paliga, and Mike Staron (conducting one of Mike's pieces with John Adams in the audience!)

Following Northwestern, I came to Naperville North High School, where I've been for nearly two decades. Under my direction, the NNHS Marching Band earned twelve Finalist appearances at the State of Illinois Marching Championships and six Finalist spots at various Bands of America Regionals and Super-Regionals. The Symphonic Wind Ensemble has twice performed as a feature group at the Illinois Music Educators Conference, three times at the Music for All National Festival, and three times at the Illinois Superstate Band Festival (AAAA Honor Band in 2016). The Jazz Ensemble has also been featured twice at the IMEC, and has earned appearances at the Essentially Ellington Jazz Festival, The Monterey Generation Next Festival, and the Midwest Clinic. Guest artists/clinicians have included Wycliffe Gordon, Wayne Bergeron, Rich Moore, Bob Lark, Mike Vax, and Ron Carter.

During my time in Naperville, I have performed with the Wheaton Municipal Band, the Naperville Municipal Band (Principal Trumpet and often featured soloist and conductor), and am currently a member of and arranger for the Pete Ellman Big Band, along with a steady diet of church, weddings, and other freelance gigs. I've been invited to clinic dozens of bands around the state, as well as at district and state conferences. I've also penned several articles for music education journals, and am putting a new full-band method book through trials with my own band and others. I've adjudicated many marching contests, jazz festivals, and concert festivals, and am taking on more and more custom arranging work for many mediums. My catalog of published works is ever-growing, and I have a huge backlog of pieces I'm gradually getting "cleaned-up" for eventual publication. I'm am now devoting myself full-time to all my avocational endeavors.


Episode 14: Rachel Maxwell, Traughber Junior High, Oswego, IL

Episode 14: Rachel Maxwell, Traughber Junior High, Oswego, IL

On this episode, I sit down with Rachel Maxwell, director of bands at Traughber Junior High in Oswego, Illinois. Rachel talks about teaching techniques, professional development, the rise of nerd culture, and why she feels that this might be a great time for women currently in and entering the profession. 

Rachel and I also found out that we had something in common: horses. Rachel is a bit of an equestrian, and I've heard about the movie "Seabiscuit," so it was nice to be on the same page.

I hope you enjoy listening as much as I did. Rachel has some great experience and advice that could help teachers of any experience and area.  If you want to hear more from Rachel, please check out her new site, http://thebandroomspage.com/.