Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summertime Fitness

So, summer is here and school is finally out. Even though I’ll be working at the summer job this still means more time to spend with the wife! Thats a huge deal for us. Almost as importantly it means more time to devote to getting closer to my fitness goals. We’ve been cross fitting for almost six months and I’m twenty pounds down but I’ve got a few goals that have kept getting put off for one reason or another the last three years. Three freaking years! So, lets list the goals. 

1. I want to put up a 2x body weight squat. My best PR is 330 at about 190. I’m down to 175 at the moment and would like to drop another 5lbs and put up a 340 squat.

 2. I want to press my body weight. The best so far is about 135. So, 35-40lbs away. 

3. I want to clean my body weight. This one is actually not far away. I hit a PR of 165 last week which is about 95% bodyweight. I feel that I’ve got a much better handle on the technique and with a little more work will hit this goal soon. I think I finally understand what they mean by "pull yourself under the bar". Ive been trying to pull the bar up to shoulder height and then getting under it rather than exploding up and instantly dropping down to catch it in the squat. Ive also at least once or twice made the mistake of power cleaning it and then front squatting  it. Now if I can just put some mental blocks behind me I think I got this. 

4. Get a dip station or some rings and get back to dipping. I prefer weighted dips to benching. Partly because dips are safer to perform alone. Partly because I don't own a bench and have no plans to buy one. Also, no one ever developed the shoulder problems you get from over benching by doing dips. And the just look tough as balls when done right. 

5. Build an adjustable slosh pipe. 
Not necessarily a goal, more of a tool to reach my goals, but I still plan to make one. These bad boys are deceptively tough. They will leave you gasping for breath and muscles you didn't know you had wiped out. 

6. Put up a 400lbs Deadlift. 
Honestly that number is a smidge arbitrary. I at least want a 2x body weight PR but would like a little more. 

7. Get faster! I know that’s kind of open ended. Faster than what? At what distance? I’ll get back to you on that one. At the moment I'm leaning towards short distances such as 10 meters or so. I need to get out and get a baseline time. 

Ok, we’ve established our goals. Now we need to define how we’re going to attain them. Well, my program is very similar to Crossfit Football. It’s a four day split with two days devoted to strength training and two days devoted to Met Cons a la Crossfit. 

Day 1. 

Squat 3x5

Press 3x5

Deadlift 1x5 

At the moment I’m playing around with Time Under Tension for my squats and Isometric/isotonic work for my DLs. What is TOT? I'll give you an example. I set my metronome to 75bpm. I take four beats to reach the bottom of the squat. Its important to take all 4. I come up in two. Slow down, fast up. Isometric/Isotonic is a little different. Honestly, we could spend a whole blog tackling it and i just don'l like doing that tonight. Long story short ISOS involve moving a set weight against pins or a bar for a set count. This insures that you actually put 100% effort into an isometric hold. If you'd like to try these techniques there are several free metronome apps that will make it easier. 

Day 2. Met con. 

Rest Day/optional skill work. 

Day 3.

Front Squat 3x5

Angled Press 3x5 or Weighted Dips
Romanian Deadlifts 3x5

Split Snatch/Power Cleans 5x3 ramping sets. 

Day 4. Met con

Day 5. Rest or optional skill work such as hitting the bag, rolling, sword work, shooting bows. Stuff like that. Maybe if I’m feeling froggy do some sled sprints or agility stuff. Maybe even some slosh pipe carries!

Complete rest on Sundays. 

Well, there it is. My goals and how I intend to get there. As you can see I prefer basic compound lifts. For the most part. I have a few assistant exercises programmed for various reasons. Partly to work around a lack of weights until I can purchase some 45s. Partly because I have always struggled with certain exercises. Particularly upper body work. I have exactly two months to make all of this happen but i feel pretty good about it. I’ll keep you updated as we go.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Small Band Tip 3

When planning this post I asked a friend to identify some of my strengths. He immediately came back asking "you have strengths?" Sigh. Such love. He called me a few minutes later though to tell me what he really thought. One strength I took to be a great complement but it didn't translate well to a whole post. The other I thought I would share. In his words "you do a good job of pushing the boundaries without asking more than your band can do." You might have noticed I'm more of a marching band guy. So today I want to talk about my thought process for putting together a successful halftime show for a small band. By small I mean Lilliputian sized. Tiny. It's not a complicated process and I'm not the originator of these ideas. I learned from many better, more experienced directors. These are my steps and can be taken with a grain of salt. Your mileage may vary. 

Step 1. The theme. I'm a big believer in finding my theme and then working from there to pick music, flags, props, etc. Pick a theme that suits your band. If they play jazz well then maybe do a prohibition show set in a speakeasy. Dress your guard as dancers and some as cops to do a raid. 

Step 2. Shrink the field. Small bands on a full sized football field get lost visually and acoustically. You want to contain the action to the power section. Keep them inside the 35s, or even the 40s, and between the sideline and front hash. If you strategically place props on those yard lines and on the front hash it tends to close off the action and gives you a smaller stage. Instantly your band will look bigger. I've gone so far as to build back drops that ran 40-40 on the front hash. It also helps to hide guard equipment. As an aside, if you only have twenty wind players, I've had less, then at no point should their bells point anywhere but at the audience. We don't have the numbers to face towards the end zone and still maintain a triple forte. 

Step 3. Use a floor cover. I like to make a floor cover out of used billboard signs. Our local ad company gives old ones away if you ask. Go ask. Take two or three and glue them together. Paint them to match your theme. One year my band did a murder mystery. To go along with that we made a giant Clue board. This helps to set the stage, while shrinking it, and gives you several new tools. One, new marchers have easy reference points to learn their drill. Second, it makes practicing inside simple. Provided you have the space. A bit of advice though, if you don't fix them in place they will move around on you. I put brass grommets in the edges and use tent stakes to hold it in place on a sod field. Practice this until your band can do it in less than a minute. On turf double sided tape will work the length of a show. 

Step 4. Don't be afraid of electronics. If you have guitars, keyboards, basses, or whatever get a portable PA system to run them all through. If you have the budget. I've used a Yamaha Stage Pass to good effect. It will make mixing and balance easier on everyone. If possible I'd go ahead and find some one not in the band who can serve as a sound engineer on the field. Sound bytes are also perfectly acceptable to enhance the show. For the murder mystery we used clips from various comical shows like Pink Panther and Get Smart. 

Step 5. Use what you've got. At one school I was at I had exactly one drummer. Obviously a percussion feature was out of the question. Instead we bought a trap set, built a rolling cart to put it on, and parked him on the side line. Essentially we had a rhythm section supporting the marching band complete with electronics. 

Step 6. Don't think of it as marching band. I tend to think of my groups as choreographed rock or jazz bands before being marching bands. The difference is subtle I know. That doesn't mean the drill isn't important. I just keep it simple and fun. I have a friend who usually writes my drill and he knows what I like to use. A good simple box drill. A scatter drill. And a follow the leader. All look sharp but are pretty simple to teach and clean. One year we marched Chicago. Our mat was painted like a city lay out. The final move was a follow the leader down the streets. It looked great! It was stupid simple. Especially since the path was painted right in front of them. The cardinal sin is to overmarch them. However, don't let things sit still too long. There should be some motion somewhere to catch the eye. 

Step 7. Think like a thespian. You have a highly choreographed jazz/rock/classical band performing a single act play. If possible, and if it will advance the story you're telling, go ahead and use actors to play parts. Going back to the murder mystery we found two actors to play the murderer and a detective. They were the highlight of the show. They also drew the audiences eye during halts. Again, some motion, somewhere. Going back to the last step, when you think of it as a play you think of your students hitting their mark on a stage. 

Random thoughts. 
1. Mark times are stupid. If you aren't marching then stand still. Don't mark time 24. I know that you can fix a multitude of sins during a mark time, but if you can't fix it in 8 then you won't fix it with 24. Just stand there tall and proud. It is also out of date unless you have a traditional military style band. But if thats the case this post probably doesn't have much to offer you. Now, there is a few occasions that I like to see a mark time. If everyone in a line is moving but one person, maybe they're an anchor point, I think they should mark time to match everyone else. Sometimes you just want to use it for effect. Maybe you want to use a retro style high mark time. Be warned though, there is a fine art to the high mark time. It is hard to perform well with out jostling the player around quite a bit. 
2. Point your bells at the audience. Always. Unless you are at a carry or trying to get a specific effect. I've seen directors have their kids point their bells whichever direction they were marching with no regard to sound. I feel that really hampers the sound projection. 
3. Despite what people say you can see a straight line from the front. Your kids are standing on a very large grid. If you want to use a company front, I do, then either work it till it's spotless or add a breakdown there to make it harder to gauge their perfection. 
4. If a set isn't working either rewrite it or gussy it up to distract the eye. Don't give the judge a chance to find a mistake. Make him work for it. 
5. Always focus on your bands strengths. Don't try to make kids something they're not. If they play rock well then let them rock. If they're a bunch of clowns then make the funniest show you can put together. Channel the Velvet Knights. 

Anyway, that's my thought process. I'm busy trying to apply those steps to my show for next year. Take it all for what it's worth but I hope something in this can help you plan for next year. 

Monday, May 13, 2013


This year I've kept a running series of posts on Facebook entitled #banddirectorproblems. Yes, I used a hash tag on Facebook but it'll be ok. I've said all along that at the end of the school year I would compile them into a single blog post. At last, the time has arrived! Here is a years worth of posts about the life of a high school band director. Some of them show the frustrations of teaching music. Some are humorous. A few are even heart warning. If you are a band director, or heck any persuasion of teacher, feel free to share your own experiences in the comment section. 

Band director problems

"Mr. Felkel, my instrument is missing." Walk to shelf. Find it slid all the way to the back. "Is this your flute?" "Where did you find it, I promise I looked EVERYWHERE?" Sigh. #banddirectorproblems

Teaching triplets first thing on a Monday morning right before Christmas break. #banddirectorproblems

So #banddirectorproblems has its first fan! I'm almost a trend setter. Whoo!!

"Mr. Felkel, can I have your number?"
"Sure, it's 867-5309."
Wait, no that's what makes the job worth doing.

"Mr. Felkel, my fingers are stuck under my valves." 
Face palm 

9:00 outdoor performance in 32 degree weather? Of course! I'd love to show up just to play the Star Spangled Banner for your shin dig! 

One, two, one, two, three, four. Beeeeep. 
"I need so and so to the office please."
Sigh. #banddirectorproblems

Teaching the fundamentals of tuning. To a student trying to figure out if he is flat or sharp. 
"When in doubt, pull out."
Class erupts into scandalous laughter. Sigh. 

"Mr. F, I can't get the notes on my Sax to sound right."
Have student play notes and then look at their reed just to have spit pour over my hand. 

Me the first day of band. 
"In music we only use 7 letters A-G. That's it. Just those 7."
Kid today five months later. 
"Mr. F, what letters aren't used as notes?"

@SFelkel: Looking up to see that your tenor sax player has jammed a baritone mouthpiece into his instrument. #banddirectorproblems

Student, while holding up his tenor sax, "Mr. F, there mold on it!"

"Mr. Felkel, so and so got his fingers stuck in his valves again!"
Face palm. 

Headed to Denham Springs for our first ever Winterguard competition with a truck full of guard girls. Too early for this much pep and talk of eyelashes. 

"Mr. Felkel, my bass isn't working." 
Go turn volume knob up on said bass. 
"Oh, I forgot about that."
Face palm. 

Just spent a half hour with a metronome cranked to 11 blaring out 120 beats per minute in my ear. 

Six months of teaching band just to look up and see your trumpet player thinks every note is first valve. 

"Ok class, what's our dynamic?"
"Metro Forte!"

"My mom is making me quit band because of my grades. She doesn't want me distracted from studying by band."
Yep. Making your kid quit a subject that every study shows improves math, language arts, and discipline will definitely improve their grades. Sigh. 

No kid, I'm not bipolar, you just piss me off when you claim to know your part and its clear you don't have a clue. 

While listening to a judges comments:
Student "can I track this guy down and give him a 'surprise adoption'?"

I have found the best way to frustrate an entire class of band students. Just stop talking and give them all their instructions by sign. 

"Mr. Felkel my saxophone won't play!"
"Ok, show me."
Student proceeds to try to play saxophone with zero air going through it. After said student turns red we look inside the saxophone to find a cleaner still inside. Sigh.

Student: Mr Felkel, I don't understand why it's Ab in this song but A natural in the other one. 
Me: Well, our key signature tells us whether its flat or natural. See how this song has an Ab and the other one didn't?
Student: Yes sir. But why isn't it flat in both. 
Me: They're in different keys. 
Student: I don't get it. 
Fifteen minute explanation later. Still doesn't get it. 

Me: "Ok percussion, stand up we're going from the beginning to measure 18."
Percussionist: "uhhhhhh! My butt!"
Shakes head. 

Subjecting high school students to The Breathing Gym. One of the few great things about being a band director. Yes, I am cruel. 

Finding out that your sub didn't show up for school is frustrating. Learning that your students took it upon themselves to practice and help new players get started on their instruments makes me proud. Yeah, I've got good kids. Sometimes.

I won't lie, my job is quite often frustrating and I often wonder if I'm reaching my students. But somedays the rewards make up for the stress. Having two of my students tell me that they're considering teaching music because of me is one if those rewards.

Love it when a student asks me a question and while I'm trying to answer them they start playing. 

I love standing on my podium five days before the Spring Concert and no one is paying any attention to me. Said no band director ever.

Last practice before the spring concert and 8 students are missing. That would be 1/3 of my band. Yep. Frustrated. 

Doing the math for next year and have realized that my band room won't hold the entire band. The fire Marshall is gonna have a field day with this. 
#banddirectorproblems #goodproblemstohave

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Small Band Tip 2. Guest blog by Patrick Neff.

Two Tips in one week! This one is a tip from my friend Patrick Neff. Patrick has thirteen years experience working with small bands. I asked him to guest blog and share some tips with us. He came back with advice on picking music for small bands and I think it's the perfect time to post it. I know I'm busy trying to pick just the right music and I'll be putting some of this to use.

Band tip of the week:
Remember when picking music for your fall show you have lots of things to consider and keep in mind:
1-your audience. You don't always pick music for your audience but if you are looking for support in the community it is important that the crowd is invested some way at least some of the time. If your show is unique and doesn't play to the crowd then You certainly need to pick some stand tunes that will appeal to the audience.

2-Consider the band. I always approach the band with multiple ideas that I have thought of for shows for the next year and get their feedback. I dont always use their advice but I at least keep it in the back of my mind because if they like it then they will sell it to people in school and it helps recruit both for the band and the flags.

3-I do think about what judges will say and think about the show selection to a degree. I have been labeled by some as a rock show person which is funny since I have done Latin jazz twice, phantom of the opera, movie themes twice, and rock shows four times that had various themes. But I have never done a "stand tunes" show like I have seen before.

4-and this is the most important one: Can your band play it?!
I can't tell you how many times I have seen people pick shows that have elements in them that their bands just cannot pull off. I hear "well it wasn't hard when we played it in high school!" Those are the kiss of death words that if you find yourself saying you might just be rationalizing your choice and not making a good decision for your group.
Make sure the arrangements aren't too big for the ensemble either. Such as just because you have three trumpets doesn't mean you can play a song that has three trumpet parts! I have had college bands that couldn't play "big" arrangements just because of he size if the group. It's not the children's capabilities sometimes....sometimes you are limited by numbers and must keep that in mind.

5-and as a side "note" yes pun intended....if there are two versions of a song on the market and you are deciding which to get I say go with the easiest of the two and add to it as your group progresses. I have found that it is easier than "watering down" music.

Just some of my philosophies when choosing music for my bands. I hope this Helps in some way!