TMAA Keynote Address
Billy Talley
February, 2017

Good afternoon. It is certainly an honor for me to be able to speak to you today. It has been a number of years since I have been able to attend the TMAA Business Meeting. I have been on the TCDA Board for 7 of the last 9 years and our Board meetings have been held at the same time as this meeting. I think Jay Donahoo figures this is the only way to get me to attend the Business Meeting: by giving me a microphone! And it worked. Here I am.

The email that Jay sent out said that I have been a member of TMAA since 1986. If you joined TMAA before 1986, I’d like for you to stand……….WOW, you guys are really old! Now, if you were born after 1986, would you stand……..OUCH. Consider the fact that some of us have been judging bands, choirs, and orchestras for your entire life!

I will be retiring this spring after 38 years as a high school choir director. Being in a public school for so many years, I’ve become programmed like Pavlov’s dog: every time I hear the bell to end the period, I have to go to the bathroom. Then when I get to the faculty restroom, all the guys my age are already there. We are now chartered on our campus as a fraternity: I Gotta Pee.

I began my teaching career at Dickinson High School, down between Galveston and Houston. Don Owens was the band director there. He had over 300 kids in his band. I had 32 kids in my choir. I will always be grateful to him for teaching me how to fill out forms and get my entries in on time. This was before computers, so everything was done on paper. It was so long ago, the recordings of my first UIL Choir Contest were on reel to reel. If you don’t know what a reel to reel is………Google it.

I have two brothers who are also choral directors. They probably aren’t here today, because they came to this meeting last year. Only one time in my career have I been on a judging panel with one of the brothers. It was a long time ago. Randy and I were on a middle school concert choir panel. During the course of the contest, we had two severe splits. One was a 2-4-4 and the other was a 1-3-3. Randy and I were the 4s of the 2-4-4 and the 3s of the 1-3-3. We were not asked to judge in that region again until that entire generation of directors died out. By the way, our ratings were the correct ratings. Maybe someday, Randy, Barry and I will get to serve on the same panel! Any region brave enough to try that?

Let me add a shameless plug. My wife wants everyone to know that I will be VERY available to judge in your region, beginning in the spring of 2018. I think she is concerned that we will starve when I retire. Maybe she’s just concerned that I will drive her crazy if I don’t have enough to do. Either way, call me!

Our dad was a plumber. He would have loved for us to follow him in the plumbing business. Talley and Sons Plumbing. Has a nice ring to it. He tried. He would take us out on plumbing jobs, hoping we would get interested. But we just didn’t have the knack for plumbing. What’s a crescent wrench? You want me to dig a ditch from here to WHERE? Dad was a very good plumber. But he was also a singer and led the singing at the church we grew up in. Bottom line on our career decision was that we didn’t want to work as hard as he did every day. So we all three became choir directors. Although I have to admit there have been times when I’ve thought that cleaning out sewers would be easier than dealing with difficult parents.

I love UIL Contest. I know that sometimes we put too much emphasis on contest. That “we have to win” attitude is not really very healthy. Or pitting your group against a rival school. “If we can just beat__________” and you fill in the blank. That’s not a good thing to do. But my groups will always do their best singing at UIL Contest. We work very hard to make that performance the very best it can be. Not so we can say we won. We simply want to fulfill our potential and do our best. And it’s OK when we win.

The way we judge has changed over the years. Early in my judging career, a first division was a little tougher to achieve. It seemed like there was a smaller percentage of ONEs given and a larger percentage of TWOs. Nowadays, I think the ONE covers a wide range of performances, with a smaller percentage of TWOs and THREEs. And we never use FOUR or FIVE unless a felony has been committed. Part of that may be the result of improvement in our teaching across the state. But I think part of it is that we are programmed to believe that a TWO is failure. A TWO is not a failure. Don’t be afraid to use it as a rating if a performance is not SUPERIOR. Before you give a group a ONE, ask yourself this question: Was that a superior performance? If it isn’t, consider giving the group a TWO. Unless, of course, you are judging my choirs this spring. If you are, let that ONE be a very wide rating.

I think all of us have felt robbed at some point. Our group didn’t receive as good a rating as they deserved. I also know that ALL of us have received gifts from time to time. Over a period of years, it all balances out. I will never tell my kids “You got cheated by the judges.” I have heard that comment from music directors and many times from one-act play directors. And it always lessens the respect I have for the director who makes the comment. If you don’t get the rating you want, take your lumps, put your big-boy britches on, read the critique sheets, and change what is wrong in your teaching.

I want to give you a few things to think about as judges for UIL Contests:

-Don’t let one mistake affect your judging for the entire contest. If you miss a call on the first group to perform, admit it and give the following choirs what they deserve. If the TWO you gave the first group should have been a ONE, don’t give TWOs the rest of the day because of one mistake. Have any of you ever done that? Show of hands.

-Don’t use the critique sheet as an instrument of revenge. Don’t let your personal feelings toward a director cause you to give an undeserved rating that penalizes the group. Have any of you ever done that? DON’T raise your hand.

-Don’t be afraid to give a veteran director a TWO or THREE. Sometimes good teachers just have bad groups. Give them the rating that they deserve on that day for that performance. When I was an impressionable college student, a choir came to UIL whose director was well-respected around the state. This was one of the top choral programs in the state. Halfway through the first number, there was a major problem with intonation and the choir had to STOP! They STOPPED! Crickets chirping throughout the auditorium. They finally found a starting point and finished the piece. They limped through the next two pieces. When the ratings came out, the choir made straight ONES. Unbelievable! Give the choir what they deserve, regardless of who is conducting.

I also have some positive things to think about:

-Before I figured out how to prepare my choirs for the sight singing process, one of TMAA’s greatest, Melva Sebesta, wrote me a novel on the back of the critique sheet on how to teach sight singing. She didn’t reprimand me. She wasn’t angry in her tone. She simply and methodically explained how to practice the process every day until my choirs could sight read.
Be a Melva Sebesta for someone.

-I judged in the sight reading room 15 or so years ago in the Austin area. Every time Perry Dean brought his Smithson Valley choir into the room, I was amazed at how musically they sight read. He never mentioned phrasing or tone or musicality. But every group sang phrases. Every group sang with a mature tone. Every group was so musical. When I got back to my rehearsals the next week, I apologized to my choirs for not expecting enough of them. And we began to practice phrasing and musicality every day as we worked on sight singing. Without saying a word to his choir, Perry made me a better teacher.
Be a Perry Dean.

-Several years ago, some of my friends were asked to judge in our region. Of course, they had to fly in to Amarillo the night before the contest. You may not know this, but we have a limited number of flights that come to our fair city. So these two guys arrived in the early afternoon before they had to judge the next day. With lots of time on their hands, they decided to spend time in one of our local establishments that features adult beverages……….and girls that dance……..and poles. The name of the place was “Beavers.” Are you with me? So they are talking with one of the young ladies who worked there and she asks what brings them to Amarillo. They tell her they are judging high school choir contest. To which she replies: “Oh I sang in choir at Tascosa High School for Billy Talley.” Thankfully she was no longer in my choir and didn’t appear on the concert stage the next day. I remember that the judging was tough at that contest. All I can figure is those two judges gave out most of their ONES the night before!

I’m not sure why I am sharing this with you, except to remind you that no matter where you go, someone will know you
. Be professional when you represent music education. Stay out of those places!

The membership of TMAA is a nucleus of the best teaching in the state of Texas. You are the top band directors, orchestra directors, and choral directors in Texas. I would imagine that most of you are employed by some of Texas’ highest ranking school districts. Well, at least until this last report card came out in January. Now we are all flunkies! You have moved up through the ranks and have arrived at great schools with talented students and involved parents. But a large portion of the groups that we judge this spring are not from great schools. Their students have no support system and little musical background. Their parents drop them off at concerts and pick them up an hour after everyone else is gone. Maybe you were in a school like that when you were a young teacher. Do you remember? It’s tough to have a successful music program in schools like that. It’s a challenge to get the kids in uniform. It’s a challenge to get them to the bus to go to contest. And then we the judges tell them everything they are doing wrong. Sometimes, it’s so bad we become angry and negative in our comments. Sometimes, our words can drive potentially great music teachers out of our business. What a horrible tragedy that is. I want to challenge you in this way: when you hear that group that is so bad that words cannot adequately describe just how bad the performance is, try reaching out to that director and
offer your help. We in the music education business have a bad habit of eating our young. A better solution would be to teach them how to be successful music teachers. We, as the best music educators in Texas, need to come down from our pedestals, and reach out to our young teachers. You and I will not be around forever. The future of music education in Texas will no longer be in our hands. But we do have a responsibility to share our knowledge and share our expertise with the next generation of music educators.

I want to thank you for being here today. I know that you didn’t have a choice. This must be what it feels like to teach a required course. I hope I have said something today that will make you a better judge this spring. Thank you, TMAA, for the opportunity to share with you today. I hope you have a successful spring and a rewarding contest season. God bless you all.

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