Creating the Environment Every Day

Who’s in charge here? Your students should never doubt that you are. They need you to develop as musicians. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for collaboration between students and teachers, and Greg Bunge, former Wisconsin MEA Jazz Education Chair, has a few ideas to help you create an environment in which your students can make the most of their opportunities.

Tech Support

Each year, for our Christmas Concert, we program a sing-along, using a PowerPoint presentation I created. Recently, I had two of my students update it. The final product was more impressive than I could have imagined, their efforts leaving a fine legacy for future Badger High band students for the next few years. For our February concert, we programmed familiar hits from Disney, other movie themes, along with a programmatic piece for which the advanced placement (AP) art classes sculpted, drew, and created collages representing the piece. In this way, we involved band and art students who wanted to do a little bit extra!

In-House Demonstration for the School

We frequently get calls to host university groups that are on tour, ranging from quintets to full bands and orchestras. We do our best to accommodate these groups. Fortunately, our school is supportive, and when classes are invited to attend their performances, it’s usually a standing-room only crowd. Taking advantage of these opportunities helps to inspire and enhances the music curriculum.

During Rehearsal

We host two jazz concerts each year where world-class musicians work with my students and give an evening concert. These events are a highlight of the school year for the students. Not only do they perform with the artists, they also get to ask questions, hang out, and learn what it is like to be a professional musician. I would not trade these events for the world. These artists share with my students a wealth of experience and knowledge that they can gain in no other environment.

One of the best things about working with jazz students is the fact that they take ownership of their rehearsals and performances. I insist that they have sectionals outside of the school day. The students are empowered to make decisions about style, dynamics, articulations, and even vibrato. When we bring the whole band back together, we listen to the results of the sectionals. Sometimes, just the lead players will work together to define the parameters and then demonstrate them to the band. I can recall one rehearsal where a particular passage was not locking in, and I could not figure out how to help. My lead trombone offered this solution: “We are not swinging the rests!” This, in fact, diagnosed and solved the problem. My jazz students also work toward running the show on their own. From small groups that play around the community to the jazz concerts, the students take over. They introduce the selections, kick off the tunes, bring in the backgrounds, communicate with the rhythm section whenever one more chorus is needed because the soloist needs more time to say what needs to be said, and cut the band off. Their performances are a ton of fun for me because I simply get to enjoy their work!

Additional Ideas

· Student-led transcription days
· Performance of student compositions or arrangements for band concerts and solo and
ensemble festivals
· Web site management/updates
· Program design (band programs for concerts, etc.)
· Organization

The list is endless. Our music and art classes are always out in the community. Try to remember the last time an algebra class got up on stage and solved a quadratic equation together. If one student misses only one part of the formula, the whole class suffers; but remember the last concert you attended where you could clearly see, hear and feel the cooperation between the musicians on stage. You witnessed hours of practice and rehearsal at work. We get the opportunity to work with talented young people every day. Take this time to let your students challenge you to improve your teaching!

Excerpted from “Creating the Environment Every Day” by Greg Bunge, originally published in the April 2007 Wisconsin School Musician

Gregory D. Bunge is director of bands at Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where he teaches three concert bands, jazz ensemble, jazz lab, combos and general music



—Nick Webb, November 15, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (