It’s one thing to create a new independent ensemble, but finding space in a packed high school program for a new winds group is something else entirely.
Between the jazz, concert, percussion, and marching ensembles present at many high school programs (not to mention pep band, winter guard, etc.), asking students to participate in yet another ensemble can be seem like asking someone to give up their first born child.
We caught up with Jereme Frey, director of Winds Scholastic World Champion Father Ryan High School, and Joshua Bishop, director of Wind Scholastic A Champion Nova High School, about the lessons they learned adding another ensemble to their high school programs.
Congrats on your incredible success your first year out of the gate. What did the win at WGI Championships mean for your students/members?
JEREME FREY – FATHER RYAN HIGH SCHOOL: The win itself was of course very exciting for the students, parents, and administration. For us, the important thing was that students had two great performances on a national stage. We focus on what the kids can control, which is their performance, and the process and preparation that leads them to that performance. As long as they do their best and have a great show, we are happy.
JOSHUA BISHOP – NOVA HIGH SCHOOL: It meant everything to them. These students worked tirelessly, and completely out of their comfort zone because of all of the body we put in the show. They were pushed very hard and delivered all season. One of the reasons it meant so much to them was because up until three weeks prior to World Championships, we weren’t going. But, after winning the Orlando Regional convincingly, as well as winning the SFWGA Championship, we felt like we had to try to make it happen. And with the help of an amazing Nova Parent Organization, we raised the funds. So for the kids, it meant everything that they do it for themselves and the awesome parents that supported them.
What was the process like getting the ensemble off of the ground? Did you have to win over your administrators/parents?
FREY: The administration, parents, and students were a pretty easy sell. We have had an active winter drumline and winter guard over the years so they knew what the activity was about. The biggest challenges were just the natural growing pains of learning something new. Even though I have been somewhat involved in our winter programs, simple things like folding the floor became learning/teaching moments. We had a lot of bumps in the road but we learned a lot this first year. If we do this again next year we can hit the ground running.
BISHOP: Believe it or not, it was pretty easy. My staff came to me and expressed interest in doing it, and I let them jump right in. The parents … they are always on board with anything that I want to do with the kids, and I have gained the respect and trust of my administration to where they don’t question any performances or ensembles that I would like to do.
How do you balance your winds program with your other ensembles? Did you have struggles keeping kids engaged in concert music, or did having an indoor marching winds ensemble create a whole new level of synergy for your program?
FREY: We have had a very active concert program over the years. We consistently go to concert performance assessments and usually do very well with superior ratings in grade V literature. Since we are a smaller group and a private school without a strong feeder program, our instrumentation is sometimes less than desirable for a festival setting. This year we have two flutes. That’s tough when searching for festival pieces. So this winter we went all in with WGI winds and focused mainly on that. We had almost all of our wind players from the fall join. Obviously the foundation to any great band program is a great concert band. We believe the two programs can go hand in hand and only make the program better.
BISHOP: Ahh … the question of the year. So many band directors and higher-ups out there are against winds, but for me, it’s had the most positive effect. This year, Nova HS received straight superior ratings in concert band (the first time in 20 years) as well as superiors in jazz band – the two ensembles that share time with winds. I am always going to give my kids the opportunity to compete and achieve at the highest level possible. This has been a great addition to what we do here at Nova, and I plan on keeping it as part of my program for as long as I can. The kids that participated in winds rehearsed two days a week, and then they had concert band rehearsal once a week, as well as jazz band once a week (if they were in jazz). They had a heavy workload, but they are hard workers and were able to create a balance between all of these rehearsals and their school work.
How do you balance the competitive nature of the activity and the education of the students?
FREY: We always focus on the process of preparation and the performance itself, not the result. I often tell the kids that this activity is a lot like figure skating – your result is based on someone’s opinion. We just try to teach the kids the correct process, focus on the right attitude, try to work really hard, and have the best run we possibly can. We honestly don’t focus on the winning or trophy aspect of the activity. I don’t think that is what this is all about. I feel our students understand that and were just really happy that they had a good finals run. They were also so excited to play in those arenas and to play in front of those crowds.
BISHOP: First of all, that’s the goal. We compete for team building – life lessons that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. We educate constantly, never swaying from what is right, and that is that each kid continues to progress, learn, and grow from all achievements as well as failures. Without that balance, what do we really have, and what are we really doing it for?
What’s next for your ensemble? What are your goals for next year and what are you hoping to accomplish long term in the WGI Winds activity?
FREY: I would love to see us do this again. I think we are going to take it one year at a time. If the kids, parents, and administration want to do it again, I know the staff would be all in.
BISHOP: To come back next year and create a program that will challenge my students, allow them to better themselves and beat the competition. We have a tall order to take on since we won, and a lot of people putting a target on are backs. But honestly, my kids wouldn’t want it any other way. We look forward to coming back next year and having fun at this awesome event.