By John Grimsley, Middle School Associate Music Teacher
In November of 2017, my co-teacher Catherine Leto-Carboy and I received training from a corporation called Little Kids Rock. This program has reached over 850,000 K-12 students since it was founded in 2002 with a modern rock band curriculum; LKR also donates hundreds of instruments to Title I schools or schools with high concentrations of free/reduced lunch. This training gave Catherine and me a multitude of techniques, materials, and resources to use in our choral, instrumental, and general music classes at the middle school. When I found out that LKR has an annual Modern Band Summit every July, I jumped at the opportunity to attend this conference.
I have been to several conferences for music, education, and theatre, but never have I been to such an influential convention of music educators. This past summer, I flew to Fort Collins, Colorado where I stayed in the dorms at Colorado State University with 600 fellow rock band teachers for five days. Our schedule was packed with performing opportunities, breakout sessions, keynote speakers, panel discussions, and social events for networking and getting impromptu bands together. I was able to join a bluegrass band where I played the electric guitar and sang. I also joined a band of teachers from NYC where I sang back-up and an LGBTQIA+ band where I played keyboard and bass.
The most influential sessions I went to included sessions on using notation software, converting existing MIDI files of popular songs, and arranging for the whole-class setting. But the most memorable session I went to was on “Privilege, Discrimination, and Identity in the Music Classroom.” In this discussion-based seminar, we talked about how to foster a safe environment for all of our students and their complex identities. We played music, we laughed, we cried, and we had difficult conversations that pushed us as educators and empaths. I walked away not only with a whole catalogue of songs and musical ideas to bring back to MMFS, but also with techniques and strategies for making my classroom a space where everyone feels comfortable taking risks and living their truths.
I walked away from the Modern Band Summit filled with ideas of how to improve my classroom, and also with connections in the industry that I can use as resources for the future. One of the bands we formed is even still continuing to rehearse every week! I’m so grateful to the Parents Association for the generous grant that allowed me to attend, and I am excited to return to this conference in the future.