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My First Blog Post- Why Not??

New Adventures

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

-Maya Angelou

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

At the beginning of the summer, I was looking for a new adventure. I have decided to start blogging and recording a podcast. Please check back often for new updates to the page.

Thanks for reading!

Lessons on Classroom Management that I Learned from my Dad

First a disclaimer, my dad is not a teacher. He has been a Pastor, Chaplain, Chaplain Trainer, Corporate Trainer, and Suicide Prevention Trainer. In all of these roles he has taught me many things. In the next few paragraphs I will explore and attempt to share some of these ideas in relationship to how we manage, recruit, and retain students in our programs. Key ideas will be:

  • Whatever you do, do with passion, dedication, love, and excellence.
  • People matter before awards, honors, material items, and performance goals.
  • Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
  • Never lose sight of the big picture for the small gain.
  • “If you aren’t understood you aren’t communicating…communication is a 2-way street.
  • Make a difference, get involved, LEAD.

I believe that the number one way we manage the choral classroom is to approach the job with passion, dedication, love, and excellence. I have watched this time and time again. He loves his work, he is dedicated and strives for excellence. People are drawn to this dedication and passion. If you love what you do, it will show, kids will respect you for it. I am often in awe of the reality of being a choral director. In many ways I get to play each and every day. I get to be a part of the process of making beautiful music and get to hang out with some amazing young folks in the process. In the 19 years I have spent in the classroom I have witnessed multiple times the impact that this makes. Students sense how much you care about them and if you truly care, you have won the first battle in managing the classroom.

To my dad people matter more than just about anything else. He has had the good fortune to be in many positions and has received many honors, however these are not the things that drive him. People drive him, the work he does with and for people is what matters. As choral directors it is easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day push to excel. The concert can matter more than the current issues faced by our students. I think we need to constantly step back and realize that life is about priorities. If we focus on what is truly important, the other stuff seems to figure itself out. My dad was never too busy to stop and help people. I have witnessed him helping elderly ladies with household repairs, filling sandbags during floods, making trips to Haiti after the earthquake there, and spending time in Joplin MO after a major tornado devastated that city. All of this happened while he was very busy, he could have claimed to be too busy, but never did.

The third lesson I learned from my dad was to treat everyone with dignity and respect. I think the best example of this was watching my dad with his cousin Lester and his brother Danny. Lester was several years older than my dad, and he had Downs Syndrome. He had a hard time communicating, in fact could be near impossible to understand. I watched my dad numerous times sit and “visit” with Les and carry on long conversations. He would tease him about eating (he had a major affinity towards fried chicken). Les was a cherished member of the family. My uncle Danny was also a special needs individual. When just a baby Danny had a disorder that would leave him paralyzed on his right side and plagued with seizures. My dad loved his younger brother, I remember one visit that he made to my dad’s house where my dad set him up with a spatula and the grill so he could do the cooking or the evening. This made my uncle Danny light up. Being a contributor to the family dinner was just the thing he needed to smile and feel a part of the event. This has been a constant guide to me in my classroom. Each student, no matter their ability, their story, their talent level, or their contribution deserves respect. They deserve to have the same experience as the most talented and high achieving student.

Next my dad taught me never to lose sight of the big picture for a small gain. This was a constant theme that I have witnessed over and over again. The big picture is always prevalent. My dad would say it this way “Never sacrifice on the alter of the temporary that which is eternal.”  To be honest, there are many things that we as choral directors know will get us to a performance faste,r that might not be the best way to achieve the goal. Often we are tempted to drive the rehearsal from the piano, pushing students forward by rote on literature that may be a bit above their ability level. If we take the piano away from them too early, they will never be able to read it. I would argue that our ability to manage goes up when students are being appropriately challenged. When we have an expectation that they will be actively engaged in the musicality of the classroom. Being pushed to listen, read, think, create, and develop on their own. This takes time, building musical literacy is painful at times, but necessary to the development of our students.

Communication is key in a classroom. I have heard my dad say many times “If you aren’t understood you aren’t communicating…communication is a 2-way street.” Often we say something once, or we talk to a choir that is not listening. I believe that the words that are said within the context of a rehearsal should be brief but effective. We should look for signs of communication, strive to connect with them on an emotional level. Help them to understand what good music is made of. And most importantly teach them the importance of communicating with an audience. Help them understand the power that is present in good musical composition and how it can heal the soul. Next time you speak to your choir, look around. How is the message being received? My choirs often hear me say 2 things one is “when I am talking you are not” and the second is “I’ll wait!” The second one has been referred to by a few choir students as my way to guilt them into submission…whatever works! This is a huge classroom management tool because it allows the classroom minutes to be used efficiently and effectively.

The final lesson I learned from my dad was to make a difference, get involved, and LEAD. From the time I was a small child my dad was all about making a difference for the community around him. He has been involved in Law Enforcement Chaplaincy in one way or another for as long as I can remember. He has worked with drug and alcohol treatment patients, he has helped victims of disaster, and has been involved in numerous critical incident stress debriefings throughout the state of ND. In fact, if there is a major traumatic event in Western ND, he will probably be there within days to work with the first responders to help them deal with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I admire this a great deal. I take serious the drive to get involved and be a leader. This can happen in your community, in the music world, and all over. When your students see you involved in the school community it makes a difference. Go to games and activities. Understand who students are when they aren’t singing. Spend time getting to know who they are. I have often found that students who can, at first, be annoying have a story that helps you understand the “why.” Often when I understand the story I can work more effectively, and I can understand their behavior. Let students see you lead. Share with them what you are involved in outside of the classroom and school And, most importantly, allow them opportunities for leadership. I don’t have to do everything by myself. I often have to allow students to do things that I could do faster and more effectively than they can, however part of the process of learning is the struggle. Sometimes sending them home frustrated to work on a solo or section part on their own is the best tool for THEIR learning. Allowing them to be independent is a gift that we give our students. It’s not about them needing us, it’s about THEM!

As I close, I would like to leave you with this quote: “Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.” Rita Pierson (Educator)

Philosophy Matters

PHILOSOPHY MATTERS!

A recent experience in my High School Jazz Choir took me back in time to when I was an elementary music teacher. I began to reminisce about trying to inspire creative musical thinking in the elementary setting and again in the middle school. While thinking about this, I realized something that I thought was quite profound and decided to share it with you.

While teaching elementary school I went to the University of Kentucky to receive my Orff-Schulwerk Certification. This process taught me a great deal about facilitating and valuing student creative abilities. This helped me formulate a philosophy that currently guides and shaped my daily work with middle school students for 5 years, and currently with High School students. My personal philosophy has 3 major points. They are:

  1. Value literature of the highest quality for all students, groups, ensembles, and choirs that I work with.
  2. Value music literacy and fundamental musical principles.
  3. Value the student’s individual musical creativity.

Value Literature of the Highest Quality

I will begin with literature. As you can imagine, the literature at the elementary school looked quite different than the literature of the Bismarck High School Concert Choir. It may seem that there would be nothing in common between the two, however this would be an untrue assumption. I have found, at every level, there is literature of high quality. This is the music that in itself is rewarding. I believe with everything in me that quality music stands regardless of the personal taste of the individual. When selecting music for performance or for classroom use I believe that a concentration on the key musical and emotional attributes is key to ensuring the sustainability of the piece. I believe that music professionals have a responsibility to work diligently to push students into works that they themselves never would have selected. Exposing them to emotions and feelings they never thought possible from anything other than “their music.” 

Value Music Literacy and Fundamental Musical Principles

The next item of value is music literacy. I have had many conversations with other choir directors regarding how to teach the fundamentals of music in a choral classroom. I think each of us finds this to be an area of great difficulty. Creating a classroom that values the student’s own ability to be independently musically literate is essential to pushing choirs forward. I believe this is accomplished through focusing on the fundamental musical principals that students need to know. This will help ensure that their ability to make music will not end when they leave our classroom. It will encourage them to be musical for the rest of their lives. 

In a recent conversation with a friend who is a coach he was talking to me about the importance of basic fundamentals. He was sharing with me the importance of teaching young athletes the basics of the “game” so they can make the simple plays happen when they need to. This started my thinking about music. This is true for us as music teachers. If our choirs cannot read music well, it slows the process of rehearsal. If our students have not been taught the basics skills of good vocal production, the sound of the ensemble suffers. This is all included in the fundamentals of music. We must ensure that our students are given the opportunity to experience and grasp music through their own literacy. This is a gift that we can give them that will sustain through their whole life. I have never met an adult that regrets learning to read music. I have, however, met many adults that regret not learning how to read music.

Value Student Creativity

The last item is the most rewarding, but can also be the most difficult because it is dependent upon getting the first 2 principles right. Once high quality literature is selected, and students have a basic level of fundamental music literacy, this opens the door for creativity. I believe that music is an inherent trait that each of us is born with. I remember fondly as a young father watching my son, who was barely walking at the time, pulling out containers, pots, bowls and wooden spoons to make music happen in our kitchen. This is musical expression at its earliest. Carl Orff said it this way: “One should not lead the child to music, but rather music should arise out of the child. The important thing is that the child should be allowed to play naturally, bringing outward what is within, and that this activity should be protected from external distractions.” I think it is not our job to “teach” music as much as it is to find the music that is already a part of the student. We all experience music in different ways. Students need to feel a sense of freedom of expression through the music they perform. This will ultimately make every piece they perform come alive and be a living, breathing experience for them. As young people, they have already been exposed to a myriad of musical ideas, sounds, and other information that can be used in performance. As teachers we can guide them into a method of organizing these thoughts into something that expresses their intent. 

I use these three basic principles to guide the structure of my classroom. I have often expressed to my choirs that learning the notes and rhythms is step 1 of 1,000. This is to illustrate the importance of turning the music into an experience for the audience and the performer, rather than just singing a work. This experience transcends the notes on the page and becomes a communication between singer and spectator. I believe this is key in developing young singers. Teaching them to express rather than sing. Singing is the vehicle for creativity. 

Oh, and if you are curious the experience with my Jazz Choir went like this. We decided to do a current top 40 song for a pep rally. My co-teacher Natascha Bach and I created a framework of how the song would go, then we divided the group by section to go and “create” a part from what they heard. After 10 minutes of working in groups, they came back to the room and performed the entire song. We have a bit of cleanup work to do, but it is easily the fastest process so far this year. It confirmed that when you allow students to be creative, to take ownership, and work as a team the music comes naturally from within!

I would highly encourage you to develop your own philosophy of music education. Write it down and reflect upon it often. This will assist you in making decisions, choosing literature, and in working with your groups. If something does not fit my personal philosophy, I have no guilt in letting it go. That doesn’t mean it is bad, just bad for me. 

Quotes:

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” –Scott Adams

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if you only try!” -Dr. Seuss

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” -Steve Jobs

“We all do ‘do, re, mi’ but you have got to find the other notes yourself.” -Loius Armstrong

“I stole everything I ever heard, but mostly I stole from the horns.” -Ella Fitzgerald

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” -Ludwig van Beethoven

“I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.” –Igor Stravinsky

“You compose because you want to somehow summarize in some permanent form you most basic feelings about being alive to set down……some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today.” Aaron Copland.

Why Are They Here?

This is an article I wrote for a state journal in December of 2016:

As I sit down to write this 2016 is coming to a close and 2017 is just around the corner. This always causes me to take just a few minutes to ponder my successes and failures of the previous years in anticipation of doing things differently, and hopefully better, in the future. One topic on my mind is a simple question “why are they here?” This will be the topic that I will explore in the next few paragraphs. The research is my own informal conversations with colleagues, students, and administrators.

The driving factor that always comes to the forefront is performance. In my experience, students of all ages love to share their work with an audience. Sometimes these performances are formal in a performance auditorium with formal dress, and others are far less formal. I believe both types of performances satisfy the need for our students to share what they have worked on with an audience.

In recent years we have been having a great and vigorous discussion in the music world regarding standards, assessment, rubrics and proficiency scales. I have a deep appreciation for the amount of work done at the national level by a large number of music teachers and music administrators to develop the standards and tools to help implement them. I do not want this article in any way to seem to be anti-standards. I have had numerous conversations with folks who seem to believe that if we teach “the standards” we have to decrease the number of performance opportunities for our students. I disagree. I believe that the nature of some performances may change, the method of delivery may change, and the material presented may change. I would argue that the performance is what drives students to be a part of our music courses and we can never lose sight of the fact that music is a performing art. Sharing the creative energy with an audience has to be a part of the process of learning the art. The standards and assessment pieces are the process portions of what we do. The processes must be there to adequately prepare students to perform.

I began my music education career in the fall of 1998 at an elementary school in Bismarck. I remember my very first performance with 3 rd graders in late October. Making the adjustment from a collegiate ensemble setting where rehearsals happened with great frequency to an elementary school where I had 60 minutes of contact time per week with each class, only getting 1 rehearsal with all 3 3 rd grade classes combined (which was actually a “dress rehearsal” in front of the whole school) was difficult. I remember working incredibly hard to teach a collection of Patriotic songs to students only to realize I had 20 minutes of music at best. I was terrified! To make a long story short, that group of 3 rd graders and I survived. Not only did they survive, but they taught me a valuable lesson which would have great impact on me for years to come. They LOVED to be on the stage. This made me realize that while the performance wasn’t where I wanted it (and they still never are even in my current role) it was an accurate display of their work, and they were very proud. They wanted to perform! The process is important, rehearsing to the point of near-perfection is important, however allowing students to share their work as often as possible is even more important.

This helped me to understand that the work we do as music creators must be shared. I also think that there has never been a time in which the creative work of students can be shared more easily with an audience of your choosing. We are all familiar with the various types and venues for formal public performance. I trust that you have a list of your favorites for your group. The following are a few suggestions of how to get started sharing work with an audience without leaving your school.

YouTube- Setting up a YouTube channel can be done in a matter of minutes. The settings allow for several different options of who can see your videos. There are the fully public videos that many of us are familiar with, however you can also upload videos that can only be seen by an audience you invite to watch them. This allows you to share performances in the way that you are most comfortable.

Facebook- My daughter’s 3 rd grade teacher has a private Facebook group for parents of the students in her classroom. Recently the BHS New Generation Jazz Choir went to their classroom to sing a few songs. She recorded one of them and shared it to her page. The only viewers allowed to see it were the members of her private page. Facebook also allows you to share things in a more public format if you choose.

Facebook Live- This is a relatively new option for sharing live events on Facebook. These can be made public so they can be shared on a wide scale. This is a great way to share a live event, or even a rehearsal video of a piece that is “in progress.”

Soundcloud- Setting up a Soundcloud page takes just a few clicks. This sight is a great way to share audio recordings with an audience. The player can be attached to your school or classroom web site, and is a very effective way to share audio recordings that can be played on a variety of formats and platforms. I think what makes these venues worth considering is the ease of sharing work at any stage of the process with parents and other stakeholders. Think of the power of doing a video of a group at the very earliest of stages in the learning process as a precursor to the public performance. This allows an audience to be a part of the process that is creating music. It could build a greater understanding of where we begin the learning pr

About the Author:

Brian Saylor is from Aberdeen, SD and graduated from Aberdeen Central High School. He went on to study music at Lee University in Cleveland, TN, where he earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Elementary Administration through the University of Mary. 

Brian is an active member of the North Dakota Music Education Association and serves on their board as the Immediate Past-President of the organization. In this role he is involved in advocating for music education both in North Dakota and Washington DC. He also is an active member of the North Dakota American Choral Directors Association serving on their board as the R & S Chair for High School Choirs. 

Brian has a passion for music education. He believes that ALL students at all levels should have access to quality music instruction. He has been a tireless and consistent advocate for this and other music related issues.

At Bismarck High he is the director of 4 performing choirs including the Freshman Choir, Men’s Choir, Women’s Choir, and Concert Choir. He is also the Director of Genesis Jazz Choir and New Generation Jazz Choir.


Brian has taught for 21 years at all levels. Beginning as an Elementary General Music Teacher, moving to Middle School Choir, and has completed 6 years as the Director of Choral Activities at Bismarck High School.


He is married to Becky and they have 2 children, Brady is 16 and Brianna is 11.