Wow, Time Flies When You Are Having Fun!
Welcome back to the site, after a long overdue update! A lot has changed since the last time I posted anything to this site:
As a result, I took a bit of time away from updating and maintaining this site to focus on different aspects of my life. Now that things have become a bit more routine for me, getting my website back up online and better than ever has become a priority.
This blog has been a lot of different thoughts of mine over the years, and I really have enjoyed sharing it with you. I'm going to try to take the blog in a new direction. Recently, I did a Facebook Live event, which has been very well received, and can be seen below.
My plan now is to have my blog become a video blog, featuring more clips similar to what I did above. I hope that many of you will continue to ask questions that you'd like to see answered. To send a question, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much, look forward to writing more soon!
I am very pleased to announce that I will be the Director of Athletic Bands at Campbell University, starting in the Fall of 2015. I am very excited for the opportunity to work more with the wonderful students in Buies Creek and direct the band for Football, Men's and Women's Basketball.
The Sound of the Sandhills Athletic Band is comprised of 120-130 university students who perform throughout the year. The program is open to both music majors and non-majors, with every student in the program receiving a scholarship for their services. Additionally, the band goes every year to the Big South Basketball Conference Tournament, which is located in Myrtle Beach, SC.
While I am sad to leave UNC Greensboro, I am very thankful to all of the wonderful students, friends, faculty members, and staff that I have had a privilege to work with. It has been a wonderful experience, and I wish you nothing but the best.
Look for many more posts to come soon, thanks for reading!
These past few weeks for me have been wonderful, as I have gotten to perform as a member of several brass bands, was a soloist, and have done some amazing teaching, with my college and private students. However, over the last few weeks, I am noticing a trend in musicians, both students and professionals, that is really concerning, and I really feel the need to address this.
Every music school that I can think of should have a class called:
Musicians: Do You Realize How Lucky We Are?
We get to wake up every single day, and share the most wonderful thing in the world with people: music. We get to express our emotions freely, without any ridicule from others. We get to teach some of the brightest and best students around. Yes, there are some parts of our job that aren't pleasant, but remember, we are lucky!
This class would be about one basic concept: Make a music student spend time doing something completely non-related to music. Whether that's carpentry, being an accountant, or anything else, I don't care, but I think every music student should experience what life is like doing something that involves NO MUSIC WHATSOEVER.
I have worked many jobs in my life that weren't musical at all. I was a cook, worked as a maintenance person, I've done retail, and a few other odd jobs in order to make ends meet. And everyday, no matter how much I have going on, I remind myself that I am the luckiest person in the world that I don't have to do that to survive anymore.
I understand that we as musicians believe that sometimes, we are overworked, underpaid, and have to fight for everything that we believe in. But where else can you be as passionate, artistic, emotionally driven, and spend your day doing something so amazing as making music, and get paid for it?
We all have our moments where we question things in life, or we just don't think anything will make us happy. When I have those moments, I go back to when I was in college, and worked for a temp agency for a few months over the summer. I worked for 3 days in a cosmetic prototyping factory, where I had one job. I screwed on mascara caps. For eight hours a day. That was 12 years ago, and I still remember how bored, miserable, and just overall awful I felt while I tightened those mascara caps as fast as I could.
The next morning, I got up, and practiced, and remembered just how awesome it was to be able to play an instrument, and share my love of music for other people. If we could only get younger students to understand this more, I think that the music world would be a better place, both in the short and long term.
Now that the school year has started back up, most of us are experiencing something that we all do when school and work start back up:
It seems like in an instant, we go from the relaxing time of summer vacations and minimal school and work commitments to one of the busiest seasons of the year. When you factor in the fact that fall means the start of the college year, and that means new first-year students across campuses across the country. Not only is it back to school season, but when you add in things like marching band, fall sports and the additional errands and such that come with this time of year, and pretty soon, we are all wondering where all the relaxation went from the summer.
I am experiencing this as well, both with my students and with myself. As I have added more college teaching to my schedule, I have been often wondering where my time went for relaxation, exercise, shopping, and other tasks that I'd like to get done. I'm very fortunate that work never quite feels like work to me, as I truly am loving all of the teaching, performing, and other musical activities that I do every day. However, there are moments that I struggle with keeping up with everything I am doing.
My number one suggestion to anyone struggling with the stress of being busy is to get more organized. When I started to get busier, I made the decision that I would spend a fair amount of time (sometimes as much as an hour) everyday to focus on organizing and scheduling all of the activities I want to get accomplished in a day. My schedule, which I have synced between my laptop, phone and tablet, is very detailed. I will schedule the hours that I spend working on e-mails, practicing, shopping, and just about everything else, down to about a half hour.
Yes, there are times I leave open each day, but I also think about things that I could get done in that time. For instance, I've got a solo performance coming up on October 5 with the Triangle Brass Band, my open slots on my schedule will lean a bit more towards practicing and away from errands and such. I may have to get a bit behind on laundry, working out, or watching football, but I know that I must give that up in order to have a successful performance as a soloist.
Too often, younger students want everything, and they want it now. Spend some times with your students and have them come up with a list of what their priorities are, and in an order of importance. Follow this up with look at their schedules, and make them start to put more into their schedule. It has helped me tremendously to see what I have to get done in a day, so I hope it helps you and your students as well!
I hope everyone has had a great last few weeks of their summer. I'm really excited about all of the teaching I am doing this academic year at my three universities. It's really a tremendous honor for me to work with some of the brightest and best students all across the state of North Carolina this year, and I am ready to share any and all of my knowledge with each of them.
I got inspired to write this today after listening to sports radio personalities talk about the state of quarterbacks in the NFL. In particular, the discussion focused a lot on Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III, who played against each other on Monday Night Football. There was a lot of talk about their playing styles, mental preparation, toughness, but the most enjoyable part of the conversation, in my opinion, was the discussion on their leadership.
We think of NFL quarterbacks as the supreme leaders of their teams, and in many cases, that statement is 100% accurate. Many of the quarterbacks in the NFL that are the most successful (consistent winners, Pro-Bowls, All-Pro, Super Bowl winners) use words such as "We, Us, the team," and other descriptors that are plural in nature when talking about a specific game or moment. Thus, the understanding is that the quarterback gets the fact that he's part of a bigger picture, and that the team is a collection of talents, working together towards a common goal.
When you listen to people like Johnny Manzeil, Robert Griffin III, or other similar players that aren't in the NFL anymore, they always use words such as, "I" or "me," to say that they are the stars, and that they are putting the team on their back. As a sports fan, it's interesting me to see that the quarterbacks and stars that usually win championships and are hugely successful usually don't put the focus on themselves. Rather, they realize that the greater good is served by all of the collective pieces working together to achieve excellence.
Teaching is very similar to this analogy with quarterbacks. I'm sure many of us have been taught by our fair share of teachers that were "I" teachers, and not "we" teachers. However, do you actually remember a lot of great moments in your education coming from teachers like that?
The #1 rule I always tell my students when it comes to teaching is this:
"If you think you know everything about something, then it's time you stop teaching that subject."
Clearly, there are many styles of teaching, and many of these styles lead to effective learning. However, the teachers that I always remember most are the "We" teachers, the Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady style of teaching. I don't often remember the moments with Johnny Manziel, JaMarcus Russell, or other similar style teachers.
As we start a new year of teaching students, let's try to remember what teaching is really about: our students growing and becoming better at what we are trying to teach them.
I wanted to share some exciting news with all of you that read my blog whenever I get a moment to update it. As of today, I have officially accepted offers to teach at two universities this fall. Both universities are working to establish a very strong music department, and I am extremely honored to be teaching at each school. I will also continue to be the Director of Athletic Bands at UNC Greensboro, in addition to teaching applied tuba and euphonium lessons.
Methodist University is located in Fayetteville, NC. I have performed at Methodist this past season as a member of the Fayetteville Symphony. Methodist is one of the fastest growing universities in the southeast. I am looking forward to being a part of their faculty and help their students.
I am really excited for all of the wonderful opportunities that I have for this coming school year. Thanks to all of you who have supported me over the years, and I am really excited for this new chapter of my life.
For the past five years, I have had the wonderful pleasure of working every summer at one of the finest music camps in the United States. UNCG's Summer Music Camp provides high quality and fun instruction to over 1,800 students, ranging from 6th grade through high school. We have bands, orchestras, choirs and piano camps throughout the two weeks of this camp. It's a highlight for me every year to work and be a part of such a wonderful group of people.
For the past three years, I have taught Musicianship Class at UNCG's Camp. Musicianship class is very similar to a Music Appreciation class, and I only get an hour with each group a day for five days. It's a real source of fun and inspiration for me, because there is only rule with the class:
"Make sure that the kids learn something about music."
With such an open-ended description of what to do, there are many different avenues to take in teaching this class, each of them with pros and cons. Having seen a lot of people teach classes similar to this in the past, whether at this camp or others, I had a great deal of thought on what I would try to teach in my class. I usually come back to the same basic concepts of showing passion for what I discuss in class.
Students love to explore areas and support subjects that teachers really care about. It doesn't matter what the subject material is, but if the teacher really cares and shows tremendous amounts of passion about what they are teaching, the students will be attentive, learn something, and walk away from it with a positive experience. I know from my days as a student, the teachers that leave a lasting mark in my mind are the teachers that I thought cared deeply about their subject matter.
I remember one of my first ever times teaching Musicianship at UNCG's camp. I was very nervous about what I was going to discuss, as I thought my material might be a bit over their heads. My second day of camp was on the music of one of my favorite composers, Gustav Mahler. Mahler's music is very complex, so trying to get a young student to understand anything about Mahler is difficult. That year, I had the luxury of teaching Junior High Orchestra in my Musicianship class, and I remember vividly playing and discussing the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony. The students were so captivated by my discussion of this work, and explaining the story of how Mahler wrote this piece to woo his soon-to-be wife, Alma, that they asked their orchestra teacher if they could play this piece on the concert that week! Nothing made me happier when the orchestra conductor ran into my classroom and said, "What are you teaching these kids? Why do Junior High students want to play Mahler 5?" At that point, I realized that no matter what subject I decided to teach these students, I felt like if I made a personal connection to them, they would come away from the class with something.
There are so many great stories I have from teaching this camp, but my point in writing about it is that with our education system in serious need of an overhaul, it's so crucial that no matter what you are teaching to students, you have to teach them to care about what they are doing. The world is such a better place when you actually care about what you are doing everyday, as there is a certain sense of pride that comes from it. I think that passion and pride are wonderful things and should be some of the basic blocks that we teach our students. Forget test scores and all of that nonsense, but wouldn't the world be a better place if students actually took pride and cared about what they did?
I can't wait for this year's camp to start, as my students will see my passion about Frank Zappa, Richard Strauss, Percy Grainger, Duke Ellington, and cartoons. What passions of yours are you going to share with your students the next time you see them?
This past week, I did something I haven't done in over 3 years. It was absolutely incredible, enlightening, and one of the best decisions I ever made.
I Took A Vacation!
Holden Beach, NC to be exact.
Now, I will admit, I am not a beach bum. I burn easily, I'm not the best swimmer in the world, and I generally don't like the hot sun coming down on me constantly. However, the beach in the morning, on the other hand, is awesome.
Every day this week, I have gone down to the beach early in the morning, while there aren't many people out, and just reflect on many things in my life. Sometimes I thought about how to get better at my career, sometimes I thought about things from my past, and I thought a lot about what I am feeling is good and not so good in my life. Then I came to a major breakthrough:
Greatness can be achieved in many different things, not just your career.
When I realized this, I knew that my trip to the beach was well worth it. I think things in my professional career are going well. I'm very fortunate that I make my living solely on performing and teaching music, not by cooking in a Kosher kitchen, screwing on mascara caps in a prototyping factory, or pureeing meals in a nursing home (all of which are jobs I have had in my life). I know I will continue to work hard at that aspect of my life, for several reasons:
So, why is it that you must solely focus on being great at one thing? Why not work on what you want to be better in your life.
Now, here comes the key part of all of this, and it's a wonderful phrase I learned from a mentor of mine, Bob Anderson, who is Executive Vice President of Operations and Manufacturing.
What are you willing to give up in order to get what you want?
Every decision that we make, there is something that we give up in that. For example, if one decides to only practice tuba in the higher register, you're going to give up some of your abilities that you have in the lower register. Understanding that aspect is crucial to decision making, that no matter what you decide in life, you are giving up some aspect of yourself in order to focus on the concept you think is so significant.
Lost in my chaotic life of performance, teaching, and all of the other things that I do is that there are certain aspects of my life that I feel are essential to my life that I have neglected. Now, by choosing to focusing on these essential items, it's going to cost me something. Having thought about it for many hours on the beach, I think that focusing on what things I wish were better in my life, while continuing to work hard at what I already work hard upon, will make me a stronger, better, and happier person than I am now.
So, as summertime approaches, and most of us will be taking significant vacations away from our lives as we know them, try to take time and think about these things:
Until next time, here's a sun-drenched picture of me in a new hat.
This time of year can be a difficult time for all of us musicians. Many of us are just burned out, either from your school year in the secondary school system, or you have done so many performances that you want a break. I know exactly how I'd like to spend my summer right now, and it looks something like this:
The only thing missing in that picture is what exactly is on the television. In my household, it probably would be a Cubs baseball game, because it's very easy to fall asleep when the Cubs are losing by 4.... after one inning... Wait 'til next year!
At any rate, summertime practicing is critical, not only for maintaining, but improving on skills. Think about practicing from this standpoint:
For Most of us, There is NO ASSIGNMENTS! You can practice ANYTHING!
As you start to figure out exactly what to do with your summer, I tend to keep a few things in mind:
We have a lot of choices to make right now. There are two main questions I always ask myself, especially this time of year:
How Great Do You Want To Be?
What Are You Willing To Give Up In Order To Get What You Want?
For me, I want to be great, but I also don't want to give up on having balance in my lifetime in the summer. I love the outdoors, I want to spend time with my friends, and I want to be a "normal" person for a bit. For those of you who know me, I'm not sure "normal" is a word you'd use to describe me, but...
For me, practicing happens every day. Yes, that's right, every day, I'm going to practice this summer. I usually attempt to get a good amount of my practicing in the mornings. I know for some of you, this is when you are sleeping off that marathon of Call of Duty, but remember those questions from above. How Great Do You Want To Be?
If I am going to go on vacation, which I have planned a couple of already, I will still at least practice some basics on my mouthpiece every day. Whether I'm buzzing tunes, or working on using less resistance to buzz, I'm going to practice every day. A mouthpiece takes up little space in your luggage, so take it with you. If you want to be great, you have to work at it, every day.
If you're not going anywhere this summer, this is a great time for you to start taking some private lessons. There are many wonderful teachers that are willing to help, so find one, and have some fun!
I am very lucky to have some pretty amazing friends and colleagues in the low brass community. As the tuba and euphonium are some of the newest instruments that have been developed in the brass family, there is still a long way to go in terms of pedagogy and equipment to catch up with other other brass-playing friends. I wanted to take a few moments and talk about a few different things that I have come across recently.
Before I do that, I want to take a moment and say that I am not compensated at all for what I am about to write. If I truly didn't think these products were good, I wouldn't be writing about them.
Another of my great friends is Richard Barth. I've know Richard for a few years now, as he was living in Elkhart, Indiana while I was working for Conn-Selmer. Richard is a tuba player, instrument designer for many years, and all around great guy and has designed some fantastic tubas under the name Big Mouth Brass.
Several years ago, I was at the US Army Band Tuba-Euphonium Conference (now Workshop), and saw these tubas in the booth. I had never met Richard at this point, nor tried his products. I was completely blown away by how well these instruments have played. The instruments are well-constructed, produce wonderful tones, and offer an ease of playing that isn't found in most instruments today. However, at the time, I was quite happy with the instruments that I owned, so I just filed the information in the back of my head.
When I returned to UNCG to finish my doctorate, I realized pretty quickly that I needed to upgrade my F tuba to one that was capable of playing the more demanding repertoire that is currently being written for our instrument. The only instrument I considered was the Big Mouth Brass F tuba that I currently am playing today. Again, like with the mouthpieces, I wanted to take a few moments to describe the different instruments that I have tried, and give you my thoughts on them:
Big Mouth 3/4 CC (Model # is 834 or 835): This instrument has surprised me a lot! I'm not usually a fan of such small tubas, but it makes a big sound for something as small as it is. It's a .730"(.750" 4th valve) bore, with an 16" bell. The tuba has great intonation, very easy to play, and although it can be overblown, is capable of playing at loud dynamics.
Big Mouth 4/4 CC (Model # is 844 or 845): The 4/4 CC tuba is based off of the Nirschl 4/4 design, but has many improvements to it. This tuba has become my daily use instrument, and I have played it exclusively with Bay Street on all of our performances. This is easily the best pick up and play tuba I've ever seen from a production instrument. This tuba is a great instrument for the one CC tuba player, and can be used in almost any performance setting. I'm a huge fan of this instrument.
Big Mouth 6/4 CC (Model # is 864 or 865): The 6/4 CC tuba loosely resembles the large Holton tubas played or many years in professional orchestras. The Big Mouth is much more in tune than any Holton I have ever played. What I love about this instrument is the combination of the classic American 6/4 CC tuba sound (think Arnold Jacobs in the CSO, Floyd Cooley in San Francisco, or other similar players), but with better response and clarity than in any of those older CC tubas. I've played this tuba exclusively with the Fayetteville Symphony, and have gotten nothing but positive feedback from the members and director of the orchestra.
Big Mouth F (Model # is 445): The F tuba Richard has designed is the best F tuba I've ever played. It was a no brainer to purchase this instrument. The sound color is exactly what I wanted in a F tuba, it has a lot of substance to the sound, but isn't overly dark and contrabass tuba-like. The clarity and projection on this instrument is wonderful, and I really love how easy it is to play. I feel like it takes no effort for me to play this instrument, and can't recommend this enough to anyone looking for an F tuba.
Big Mouth Euphonium (Model # is I-808): The euphonium that Richard has designed is a wonderful ergonomic improvement over the long standing tradition of compensating euphoniums. Gone is the awkward wrap of the left hand around to reach the 4th valve. It is replaced by moving the 4th valve a bit closer, allowing an easier time to reach the 4th valve. It also has a movable leadpipe, which allows the player to find a comfortable playing position. Like all the other instruments, the clarity in tone and ease of playing are simply amazing. Another great instrument to check out.
To find out more about any Big Mouth Brass Instruments, get in touch with me via the Contact Form, or visit Richard Barth's Blog.
Thanks to my great friends for their wonderful work on making better things for our low brass community!
Andrew Smith currently serves as the Director of Athletic Bands at and Assistant Professor of Low Brass at Campbell University and is Principal Tuba of the Fayetteville Symphony. Andrew also maintains a low brass teaching studio in the Triangle region of North Carolina.