By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Eight times John Hearnes had applied to present a percussion session with his longtime friend and colleague, David England, at the annual Midwest Clinic.
Seven times he received a rather complimentary rejection email.
The eighth time was different.
“They send you the most-polite rejection letters,” Hearnes said. “I just kept reading and the rejection never came. I think I read that email about four or five times, like I didn’t catch that part where we were rejected.”
They were not rejected.
They were accepted.
Hearnes, band director at Oakland Middle School, and England, who has the same role at Blackman Middle, will make an hour-long presentation at the 73 annual Midwest Clinic, which is a renowned international band and orchestra conference held every December in Chicago.
Their session is titled Strong Foundations for Building Young Percussionists.
And an online synopsis described their clinic as “for teachers, by teachers, this session covers the fundamentals needed to successfully teach percussion in middle and high school bands.
Topics include: choosing beginning percussionists, fundamentals for snare and mallets, suggested method books and music, curriculum concerns, and other percussion-related topics. This information is immediately applicable in all band settings and is perfect for non-percussionist music educators who want to teach percussion with confidence.”
They will make their presentation Dec. 18 beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Hearnes said they are expecting as many as 200 or more middle school band directors to be in attendance. They have presented this session several times dating as far back as the TN Music Education Association Conference in 2012 and the Region 5 conference for the American School Band Directors Association in 2015.
They have continued to polish and hone their presentation.
England described their presentation as a practical step-by-step guide to the process of being a middle school band director. It covers from the first day a potential percussion student walks in during sixth grade until the final day of eighth grade as they prepare for high school band.
“If you did a survey of band directors around the states and said, ‘What’s your weakest instrument that you teach?’ Nine out of 10 are probably going to say percussion,” England said. “That’s almost not an exaggeration.
“You’ve got to find some stuff to keep (new students) busy. You have to have some quick things you can do too to make them (better) and so that’s kind of what we’ve gotten (good at).”
Hearnes added, “Our philosophy for any instrument is that we want to put the kids on instruments that they can be the most successful, the quickest. … We’re kind of down in the trenches with these other middle school directors, so the stuff we do is not just theory that somebody thought of, it is stuff we do every day. We’re teaching through trial and error and … over the years, we’ve collected those things that have worked and that’s kind of how the presentation got organized.”
This year’s Midwest Clinic — which is affectionately known among band directors worldwide simply as “Chicago” — includes 134 clinic sessions, 49 concerts, 18 production showcases, four rehearsal labs, three new music reading sessions and the largest exhibit hall in the conference’s history.
In an email from conference organizers, Hearnes and England were informed, “Your session will be part of the largest and most exciting conference since our founding in 1946.”
After being accepted to present in Chicago, Hearnes and England were encouraged to apply for a professional development grant from the Fine Arts Department at Rutherford County Schools.
They received one of four grants awarded by Fine Arts Coordinator Lindsay Halford.
In addition to Hearnes and England, other recipients include Margie Way-Kiani (Central Magnet), who will attend the American String Teachers Association National Conference in Orlando; Mike Aymett (Riverdale High), who will spend a week at the Music For All Summer Symposium in Indiana and Ryan Payne (David Youree Elementary), who will attend the Modern Band Summit in Colorado.
Hearnes and England have never attended Midwest Clinic.
As presenters, they will be attending the conference free and then use their grant money to cover travel and lodging expenses.
“We’re pretty excited,” England said. “And we’re still adapting some things.”
“I’m looking forward to teaching,” Hearnes concluded, “but then also I’m going to learn from other directors and come back here with knowledge to share with these kids.”