Andrew Spang knows his band students at Folly Quarter Middle School do not always listen to him. That's why he was looking forward to last week's countywide orchestra adjudication, where student orchestras perform for independent judges.
"Sometimes they'll say things in just the right way," said Spang, director of bands at Folly Quarter and the Maryland Music Educators Association Outstanding Music Teacher for 2007-2008. He said that judges make comments on a performance and "they'll word it differently, so that it strikes home" with students.
Folly Quarter's Chamber Symphony was among 31 musical ensembles performing at the three-day orchestra adjudications last week at Marriotts Ridge High School.
The adjudications have been held for almost 20 years. They began as a one-day event, with smaller schools combining orchestras.
Robert White, the school system's instructional facilitator for music, said that the growth of music programs in elementary and middle schools has filtered into county high schools. During the past three years, every middle and high school in the county has sent an orchestra to the adjudications. To accommodate them, the judging takes place over three days.
White said the event's "primary function is, it's really an assessment" similar to the Maryland School Assessment tests for academics. "I get to see all the teachers and their work, even if it's just a snapshot [of] them working with kids."
As the host school, Marriotts Ridge gave each group of musicians a student guide. Sophomore Greg Townsend - who plays tuba - listened to the Folly Quarter ensemble warm up. He sat in the back of the rehearsal room with his walkie-talkie, waiting for the cue that Folly Quarter could take the stage.
Each group opened with a warm-up piece. Folly Quarter performed Haydn's Surprise Symphony No. 94. The judges sat in a roped-off section in the auditorium, recording comments on tape during each performance.
Franz Reinhardt, a retired orchestra director from Baltimore County public schools, has been judging orchestras for about 20 years. As a judge, he said, "You can offer some support, maybe some new approaches. ... You can share your experiences with some younger teachers."
The judges assess in seven areas, including tone, intonation and musical interpretation. "Are they playing in such a way that Mozart sounds like Mozart?" Reinhardt said. "The main thing is to encourage the students. What I try to do is be very supportive in my comments ... so that they want to come back."
Spang plans to post the judges' written comments at Folly Quarter so students, parents and teachers can read them.
"We spend several lessons playing the comment recording back, where the kids will have their music in front of them ... pencils in hand," Spang said.
The recordings are particularly helpful because students can hear the orchestra in the background as the judges make suggestions. Because they are not performing while they listen to the tapes, students' "ears are more open to what the judges are talking about," Spang said.
Spang said the adjudications give him and students a chance to hear other musicians and their teachers. "It's wonderful in Howard County because there are so many top notch teachers that it really doesn't allow you to get complacent. You always have to strive to really push your kids," he said.
Spang, a former private music teacher and faculty member at what is now McDaniel College, has been teaching in Howard County for nine years. A fellow music teacher submitted his name for the Maryland Music Educators Association award. Parents and colleagues wrote recommendation letters and "collected a lot of artifacts from my teaching, from my performing career, from my composing and arranging career," Spang said. "It's very moving to read, to be reminded of how much of an impact you have on people."
Patrick Walls is the orchestra director at Folly Quarter and co-conducts the school's chamber symphony with Spang. He said Spang is "very deserving" of the MMEA award. "He does so much. Every day there's something going" with after-school music programs.
Folly Quarter band parent Betsy Brown said her two children "really like his humor and they like the challenge, because he does create a challenge. ... He keeps raising the bar and the students keep meeting it. It's amazing."
After the performance last week, Spang learned that his students earned an "I" - the top rating - from all three judges.
Said White: "What we find in the arts is ... it's hard fun. When you have that hard work, but it's fun, then you're doing the right thing."
Here are the dates for coming county music adjudications:
Tuesday, Wednesday: Howard County middle school band adjudication, Hammond High School.
April 4-5: Howard County high school band adjudication, Glenelg High School.
April 9-10: Howard County middle and high school concert choir adjudication, Howard High School.