Bringing Popular Music to the National Stage

An Interview with 2019 All-National Honor Ensemble
Modern Band Conductor Scott Burstein

This year the inaugural 2019 All-National Honor Ensemble (ANHE) Modern Band will perform alongside five other All-National Honor Ensembles in Orlando, Florida. Scott Burstein of Little Kids Rock will lead the Modern Band Ensemble. Learn more about Scott Burstein here. Below Burstein shares some of his thoughts on music education, conducting, and the upcoming ANHE Modern Band.

honor ensembles

When did you first fall in love with music?

Probably about the beginning of 7th grade. I liked music before then and had taken piano lessons for a bit, but music hit me like a ton of bricks the first time I ever saw Guns ‘N’ Roses on MTV. The video for “Sweet Child O’ Mine” really made me immediately decide I NEEDED a guitar. I got one around December of that year, start playing, and never turned back.

What inspired you to become a conductor? Describe the process in getting to where you are today.

I think calling me a “conductor” is a bit of a misnomer. I have conducted and love to lead ensembles, like concert band, marching band, choir, etc. But what I love about Modern Band is I don’t have to conduct, I can let the students run the show.

modern band

But how did I get here? I remember joining marching band in 9th grade because it meant I didn’t have to take P.E. class. That’s right, since there was no place for guitar in my schools, I never would have joined music at all if it wasn’t for avoiding physical exercise. From there, things just grew out of control, and I wanted to be in every ensemble. Finally, in my senior year, the drama teacher wanted to do a school musical with a live band for once instead of the prerecorded sound or hiring a small group of professionals, so I volunteered to put together the band and lead them. It was unbelievably hard, but changed my life. I gathered together kids from all the school groups, led rehearsals, had to figure out how to read a full score, follow the action on stage, and then conduct multiple shows. Definitely gave me the music teaching bug.

What are some of the greatest accomplishments, and challenges, you face as a conductor of a large ensemble?

I think that the hardest thing is letting go: Being ok having the students guide the instruction, taking myself out of the process of running everything, understanding that if things fall apart on stage, they will have to work together and fix them. It’s all about making sure that our rehearsals are efficient and effective, supporting everyone in the band and working together as a team.

popular music

Photo: Mark Jaworski


Specifically, I remember potentially one of our biggest shows ever, when I had to put together a group of students to play a benefit concert at the House of Blues. It was huge, since there were bands with which we were sharing the bill, like Alice in Chains, Linkin Park, Staind, Ace Frehley, and members of Pantera, and the crowd was just full of these total metalheads. My students were going to open in such a crazy environment with really virtuosic heavy music, and I just had to hope for the best once the singer got on stage and fired up the audience. And they killed it, enough to the point that those rock stars were watching with me backstage and amazed by how well they did.

“What I have found is that the best experience is when the audience loves it, and these students play way better when they love the music and know that their peers will as well.”

What factors do you consider when programming music for a concert or honor ensemble? What are some of your favorite pieces of repertoire?

Whatever the ensemble wants to play balanced by what I think the audience would love to hear. Trust me, if I were choosing the music that I wanted, it would be stuff that was overly complicated, esoteric, and no one would enjoy. But what I have found is that the best experience is when the audience loves it, and these students play way better when they love the music and know that their peers will as well.

popular music

Matt Janson Photography,

What excites you the most about the ANHE program? What do you hope your young musicians who attend will take away from their experience?

I am super excited about this first-time ensemble since hopefully it will show all the state level programs that students can also share the stage in the popular music realm and be amazing. I can’t wait to see these students come together from all over, put together a band, write some music, take some solos, and have the audience see what great musicians they are. 

What advice would you share with young aspiring musicians?

Play everything all the time. Learn tons of instruments. Play with new people and learn from them. Expand your mind and try listening to new things. Be versatile so you can fill in anywhere at any time. One of the things that makes me happiest is that I always said yes to music: playing tuba in concert band, percussion in marching band, guitar in rock bands, guitarron in a mariachi, bass in a salsa band, singing in an a cappella choir, etc. All music enriches my life.

Why do you think music education is so important for all students?

I think education is the most important thing to helping people be better people. And music is what made me want to study and learn more. My passion was music, and I think it is for so many people, and that passion can teach us so many things while being totally engaged and engulfed in it: how to be harmonious with others, the discipline to reach our goals, the structure and organization to succeed, the creativity to help us express ourselves, the way to be a leader as well as part of a larger community. I hope that by expanding and supporting music education, we can help more people achieve these great feats.

The deadline to apply for the NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles is May 3, 2019. Learn more and apply today.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. February 13, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

March 28, 2019


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March 28, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (

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