TMAA General Membership Meeting
Wednesday, February 10, 2016 in CC Hemisfair Ballroom 1
Comments from Keith Markuson, Guest Speaker

Several years ago, my Klein HS students were attending UIL contest. I think we had three groups perform during that one day. Dr. Jay Dunnahoo was judging in the Sight-Reading room, and he asked me to stay back while my last group exited the room.

Now, at this point, several thoughts were running through my mind. My hope was perhaps Jay was going to congratulate me on my mad sight-reading skills! There was only one problem with this idea – I don’t possess any mad sight-reading skills! I feared I might have done something wrong, and figured I’d better get ready to beg forgiveness!

Now, I’ve slept a few times since this April afternoon many years ago. But I remember that the first thing Jay did was pat me on my back, and complimented my teaching. He also said a few nice things about my orchestras. Then, Dr. Dunnahoo got to the point.

“Keith” he said, “why is it that you are not on the doggone judging list?”

Now, I was trying my very best to think of a good answer. The truth was, I didn’t think that other people would be all that interested in what I might have to say! And I was also afraid, because I knew how much contest meant to my students and myself; I just didn’t want the responsibility!

But Jay went on: “We really need more good young teachers to be on the approved list.” (I did mention that this was several years ago?) “When you get back home, I want you to fill out the TMAA application and send it right in!” All I could think to say was “Yes, Sir!” And the next week, I sat down and filled out the application materials and sent them in.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a percussionist who ended up spending most of my career as an Orchestra Director. I played in the band and orchestra at Waltrip High School in Houston, and had the good fortune to attend the University of Houston where I got to learn from the likes of Bill Moffitt, Jim Matthews, and A. Clyde Roller. When I graduated, I interviewed for my first teaching job as Ann Price’s Band assistant at Frank M. Black Junior High in Houston. I was feeling pretty good about my chances of landing the job when Leslie Munson asked me if I had taken a Strings methods class. That’s when I learned that in addition to assisting Ann, I was to take over the orchestra.

Those two years have provided many hours of stories that I won’t go into here. But they opened the door to 36 wonderful years of teaching orchestra in the Klein school district. Last year I retired from the best job of my life, my 26th year as Orchestra Director at Klein High.

Working as Marilyn Llewellyn’s assistant at Hildebrandt Intermediate, I learned many things about teaching strings. I also had the opportunity to unlearn some of the things I thought I new about teaching strings! But I also learned a lot about just plain good teaching. Whenever Marilyn was evaluating a student, she would begin her comments with something positive. If possible, she would try to make two positive comments before getting down to her primary critique. That’s just good teaching, and is something I’ve always tried to emulate.

You may notice that this was the approach that Jay used with me. He found a couple of nice things to say before getting to his point; that it was time for me to join TMAA and start giving back to the profession. Looking back, I realized that for many years I had been receiving instruction and guidance from some of the best teachers in the state. Just like all of you, every time I took a group to UIL and studied my comment sheets, it was like getting a little clinic on what had been done well and what needed improving. (Of course, the first place I looked was at the bottom of the sheet!) There are some great teachers in this room today who helped me in this way, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart! This is the genius of the TMEA, UIL, and TMAA partnership. Music programs are flourishing all over our great state, and they are being pushed to grow and improve. I grew up in this system, and have a real appreciation for how far our music programs have come. I’ve had groups perform at TMEA, and I can tell you that the groups performing this week will be far greater than anything we did in the past. Our job as adjudicators is to communicate in such a way that our fellow directors and students can learn how to best accomplish that growth.

As a judge, I’ve always been able to find something that could be improved in most performances. But I have tried to keep the ratio of “two to one” as an organizing element for my comment sheets. Sometimes, it can be challenging to come up with two positive comments for every constructive criticism! To the extent possible, every critique should be written in the most encouraging and positive voice possible. A comment sheet that lovingly (but firmly) points out the pathway to improvement may be just the ticket for a struggling program. Try and choose your words so the reader has no choice but to nod in agreement while reading them. Listen with both ears and write from the heart! It’s true that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”!

Never underestimate the power of a positive comment to encourage a young performer or teacher to strive for the next level. I can remember being asked to play timpani with my orchestra when I was in junior high school. I was excited that we were going somewhere special to play one Saturday morning but being a typical 8th grade percussionist, I was clueless that we were going to play at a festival. I do remember two things very well. I got to play timpani on the Woodhouse arrangement of the Finale to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. My other memory is that one of the judges came down to the stage and spoke to the orchestra when we had finished. Then he said a couple of nice things about my playing, and I went straight to “Cloud Nine”! I was so excited! I knew we had played pretty well, but I had been singled out for a compliment! I’m afraid I didn’t hear much else, but those few words of praise provided the encouragement I needed to get excited about the possibilities music would present again and again over the years ahead.

As adjudicators, we have the responsibility to provide our clients with the best evaluation and guidance that we can provide. We can rarely know the impact that our insight or positive encouragement might have on one of our colleagues, their students, or an entire program. I hope we can keep this in mind as we enter into this UIL performance season. We have a unique Association that performs an important service to music education in this Great State of Texas!

I want to thank Dr. Jay Dunnahoo and the TMAA Board for the opportunity to speak to you today. It has been an honor and a pleasure!

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