Welcome to our New Years Eve Special Episode with Dr. Blair Williams! Dr. Williams is Assistant Professor of String Music Education at Texas Tech University and Director/Master Teacher of the TTU String Project. She is the co-founder/conductor of the Lubbock Civic Orchestra. She has presented educational sessions and research as well as served as clinician, conductor, and adjudicator across the country. She currently serves on several committees and boards for national, state, and local music associations.
In this episode, Blair tackles some of the common obstacles facing music teachers, particularly in rural communities and small towns. Blair reminds us all to collaborate, connect, and to always ask for whatever it is we need.
Just Ask: Making Connections Where You are Planted with Blair Williams
Here are a few notes from our episode, but listen to get the full picture!
Tell us a bit about your own experience growing up and working in small, isolated, or newer programs?
Small, but traditional/long-standing program in Kansas
New program in Waco/Hewitt while attending undergraduate – got to see the building and development
Did you experience any issues with arts advocacy?
We all experience issues with arts advocacy – it’s finding ways to connect to a community that is unique in each place.
What kinds of musical offerings do you see in rural schools?
In 2015-2016, I surveyed self-identified rural string teachers for my dissertation as I had an interest in small communities that house string programs.
Some had traditional string, band, choral classes
Some focused on jazz band or show choir
Others served folk or cultural music that represented their communities – mariachi, native american, etc.
But others were using technology – DJ, mixing, etc.
How might you handle common issues such as:
Here, local procedures and policies will be varied. I was asked one year to consider getting a CDL to be able to drive the bus periodically when a driver might not be available. I know many directors that do this.
I was super lucky here! Both growing up and in my professional career.
Growing up: There were both larger corporate music stores and a few private luthier shops — but in larger cities — but everything was in larger cities. My teachers taught us early on how to check our instruments, change strings, etc.
Professional career: Limited access. But then formed further relationships with dealers in larger cities that began to make bi-weekly trips to our region.
Communities want to know what you are going to do for them — not just exist in the school, etc.
Performing: weddings, receptions, local organizations, contribute to school competitions/fairs/state awards, etc.
Service: string clinics in elementary schools, beginner start-up camp (try it out), Adopt-A-Highway, etc.
Some of my students have been given complete freedom to do with their program as they see fit but they are finding it overwhelming. Where would you suggest they start?
Start with the big rocks
Talk with your principals and Fine Arts Coordinators (or other fine arts teachers) about the expectations in the school and municipal community of the orchestra program.
Talk with parents and students about their expectations.
Find out what activities other groups in your community already does — you don’t want to step on any toes!
What advice would you give a teacher with an administration/community that doesn’t seem to support music in their school?
First, you have a job in this community, so therefore there must be some kind of support there — find out more about the history of your program. Is it traditional, when was it created? By whom? What has the group done — concerts, programs, travel, awards?
Second, find small ways to support your administrators as people — we learned the fight songs or alma maters of the administrators colleges and universities — to be able to either record and send to them on their birthdays — or simply show up outside their office to flash mob them. (Check with their secretaries, of course!)
Third, find ways to get involved in the community. Is there a community celebration/fair/etc? Can you have a booth or a float? Perform at local association/organization meetings or special events, etc.
Many of my former students are the only music teacher at multiple schools. They are struggling to find work-life balance. Do you have any suggestions for them?
Completely understand! Yes! Find ways to combine and collaborate with those schools!
Organize a combined Fine Arts Booster Club – all involved!
Look for ways to collaborate with regional programs.
Very few schools in West Tennessee have string programs but many of our graduates have expressed interest in starting a string program. What are some resources you can recommend?
Start to put together a budget and proposal.
Communicate with string instrument dealers for estimates and help with supplies.
Become a membership of your state and national organizations! Lots of resources and people!
During this pandemic, what have you missed most right? Have you found any major benefits to this new model of teaching?
Seeing and engaging with our students in-person. Doing some hybrid teaching for university classes, but have been online with string project and had to cancel community orchestra–looking forward to being with them again soon, I hope!
Reach out to Blair at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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