Honk Pedagogy & Music Education

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<ul><li><p>8/10/2019 Honk Pedagogy &amp; Music Education</p><p> 1/7</p><p>Journal of Popular Music Studies, Volume 24, Issue 3, Pages 280286</p><p>HONK! Pedagogy and Music Education</p><p>Reebee GarofaloUniversity of Massachusetts, Boston</p><p>Today I am here to talk about HONK! Pedagogythat is, the</p><p>pedagogical aspects of the alternative brass band movement associated</p><p>with the HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands.1 Full disclosure: I am</p><p>a member of both the festival organizing committee and of the band that</p><p>started the annual event some seven years agoThe Second Line SocialAid and Pleasure Society Brass Band.2</p><p>First let me try and put into words a festival that you really have</p><p>to see and hear to appreciate. HONK! is an independent, grassroots, non-</p><p>commercial, three-day festival that features more than two dozen outrageous</p><p>and unruly marching bands from all over the world. This is not your average</p><p>music festival. In the first place, its free. Except for the CDs and t-shirts that</p><p>we sell, theres no commercialism of any kindno sponsors, no corporate</p><p>logos, no vendors. For three days we house and feed some 400 to 500</p><p>band members for free, including musicians, dancers, jugglers, hoopers,</p><p>fire breathers, flag twirlers, and stilt walkers. In return, the bands play for</p><p>free and all their performances are free and open to the public (except for the</p><p>closing night all-band blowout, which costs, like, 10 dollars for 20 bands,</p><p>or, as we like to say, 50 cents a band).</p><p>Because large marching bands are loud, acoustic, and mobile, there</p><p>is no need for electric amplification at HONK! Its a very green event,</p><p>with no setups or sound checks to delay the action, and no technological</p><p>barriers separating artist and audiencejust continuous unmediated music,experienced up close and personal in multiple performance areas. There</p><p>are also no stages at HONK!nothing to elevate the performers above the</p><p>crowd in any way. The bands do not just playforthe people; they play among</p><p>the people at street level and actively invite them to join the fun. At HONK!</p><p>there is a feeling that no one is in charge and that anything can happen. And</p><p>it usually does!3</p><p>The first HONK! Festival in 2006 featured a dozen bands with names</p><p>like The Rude Mechanical Orchestra (Brooklyn), Environmental Encroach-</p><p>ment (Chicago), and The Brass Liberation Orchestra (San Francisco)clearly not your parents marching bands. It turns out that there had</p><p>C2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.</p></li><li><p>8/10/2019 Honk Pedagogy &amp; Music Education</p><p> 2/7</p><p>HONK! Pedagogy 281</p><p>been a growing movement of such bands for some time. Bands like The</p><p>San Francisco Mime Troupe Gorilla Band, The Seed and Feed Marching</p><p>Abominable from Atlanta, and the Bread and Puppet Circus Band fromGlover, Vermontbands that would be called HONK! bands todayhad</p><p>been plying their craft in the streets since the 1960s and 1970s. And dozens</p><p>of others have formed since. The 2006 HONK! Festival simply codified this</p><p>resurgence, gave it a name for the new millennium, and provided its main</p><p>point of convergence in the United States.</p><p>The name HONK! (all caps with an exclamation point) resonated</p><p>immediately and has begun appearing in the press as a generic term for</p><p>community-based, socially engaged marching bands. Meanwhile the festival</p><p>has spread to other cities like Providence, Brooklyn, New York, Seattle, andAustin (in fact, as Im delivering this paper, my own band is playing at</p><p>the HONK! Festival in Austin). The movement is further supported by an</p><p>active Yahoo Group called StreetBand and a fledgling online journal called</p><p>Harmonic Dissidents.</p><p>Demographically, the movement is predominantly, though not</p><p>exclusively, white, with considerable diversity along the lines of gender,</p><p>sexuality, and to some extent, age. Musicians come to HONK! from DIY</p><p>punk outfits, sophisticated jazz ensembles, and everything in between.</p><p>Repertoire ranges from Balkan, Romany, and Klezmer musics to punk,</p><p>reggae, samba, and the New Orleans second line tradition, played with all</p><p>the passion and spirit of Mardi Gras and Carnaval.</p><p>Although the term activist can be controversial in describing</p><p>HONK! bands, most are civically engaged in some way, if not in outright</p><p>political protest than at least in some form of community-building activity.</p><p>Because of their commitment to playing in the street, HONK! bands</p><p>exemplify a forceful political statement about reclaiming public space in</p><p>a time of profound privatization. Because of their mobility, HONK! bandscan boldly go where no bands have gone before.4</p><p>As some bands have become more involved in the educational aspects</p><p>of music making, HONK! practices have begun to yield an interesting and</p><p>innovative body of knowledge about how bands can be formed and led, how</p><p>new members can be incorporated and nurtured, and how musical repertoire</p><p>can be developed, learned, and disseminated. These are the practices that</p><p>comprise what I call HONK! pedagogy.</p><p>In many ways this resurgence of brass bands represents a new</p><p>incarnation of a time-honored tradition of marching brass bands in towns andhamlets throughout the land. The deeper history of this phenomenon also</p></li><li><p>8/10/2019 Honk Pedagogy &amp; Music Education</p><p> 3/7</p><p>282 Reebee Garofalo</p><p>incorporates the worldwide connections of brass and percussion militarism,</p><p>imperialism, and religious conversion. For the purposes of this paper, suffice</p><p>it to say that the use of brass and percussion in military operations dates backcenturies, if not millennia. Christian missionaries also tended to understand</p><p>their role in military terms and often employed small-scale replicas of</p><p>military marching bands to help them achieve their spiritual ends. Indeed,</p><p>in the period leading up to the modern era, it is probably fair to say that the</p><p>first exposure to brass band music for most people in the world was by an</p><p>invading colonial army or an evangelizing Christian mission. But there is</p><p>also a flip side to this coin.</p><p>As empires crumbled, civilian bands acquired military brass</p><p>instruments and adapted their use to local popular musics, creating newcultural forms that served quite different ends. To give but one example:</p><p>Imagine how differently the New Orleans Second Line tradition might have</p><p>developed were it not for the glut of military brass instruments dumped on the</p><p>black market by troops returning from the Caribbean theater of the Spanish-</p><p>American War. Within a few years every neighborhood in the Crescent City</p><p>had a brass band. The results: Inclusionary cultural practices, unconventional</p><p>playing styles, learning by rote, an emphasis on improvisation, a tolerance</p><p>for mistakes, and an unrestrained spirit of expression. All elements of what</p><p>I would include as part of HONK! Pedagogy.</p><p>At the heart of HONK! practice is the principle of inclusionthe</p><p>notion that anyone can be a musician. Asked how one joins The Bread and</p><p>Puppet Circus Band, Ron Kelley, who has played the role of recurrent music</p><p>director for decades, and who teaches music at Leland and Gray School in</p><p>Vermont, responds simply: You show up. When asked whether any level</p><p>of proficiency is required, he answers: No. 5 Titubanda, a celebrated street</p><p>band from Rome that has been around for years and that numbers about</p><p>35 players, claims never to have turned away anyone who wanted to jointhe band. At the 2009 HONK! Festival, one of its members explained, If a</p><p>person comes to us who can only play one note, we will assign him that one</p><p>note. And at the point where he learns a second note we will assign him two</p><p>notes. Interestingly, both bandsand many others like themroutinely</p><p>deliver energetic performances with elaborate arrangements.6</p><p>But how can this work? How can rudimentary players contribute</p><p>meaningfully to sophisticated sounds? Marcus Santos, a master samba</p><p>drummer from Bahia who now lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, offers</p><p>some insight: The great thing about Brazilian drumming is that there aresimple parts that are as important as the more intricate ones . . . . [T]he</p></li><li><p>8/10/2019 Honk Pedagogy &amp; Music Education</p><p> 4/7</p><p>HONK! Pedagogy 283</p><p>person will know that I can stay here playing quarter notes. . . . and they</p><p>need me, or it can give them a reason to maybe study more and change</p><p>instruments.7</p><p>Even in instances where HONK! bands perform their own original</p><p>compositions, this kind of inclusion is a sensibility that permeates the</p><p>movement. Referring to original Hungry March Band tunes such as</p><p>Monserrat Serrat and Bumper to Bumperboth high energy crowd-</p><p>pleasersphilosopher/composer/trombonist and longstanding member of</p><p>the band Sebastian Isler argues that the goal is not to bring a song down to</p><p>the lowest common denominator. . . . Its a matter of writing a composition</p><p>that is stimulating for the beginner, stimulating for the so-called expert and</p><p>open enough for everybody to be able to participate. . .</p><p>. It takes a lot towrite something like that.8</p><p>For most HONK! bands, playing with feeling is of paramount</p><p>importance. This predisposition raises questions about the place of sheet</p><p>music in HONK! Many HONK! bands use some form of written notation to</p><p>learn music. Others learn by rotethat is, playing by ear. But you almost</p><p>never see HONK! bands parading around with sheet music in performance.</p><p>Implicit in this practice is the notion that musicians can and should bring</p><p>their own experiences to a performance and that music as performed does</p><p>not always sound like music as notated. These deviations from the way music</p><p>is written on a pagenotes that are flatted slightly for effect or rhythms that</p><p>are played just before or just after the beatare what Charlie Keil long</p><p>ago called participatory discrepancies. Concluded Keil: Music, to be</p><p>personally involving and socially valuable must be out of time and out</p><p>of tune.9</p><p>For many HONK! bands the key to achieving this unorthodox,</p><p>anything-goes sound is improvisation. This can be seen in impromptu solos</p><p>or in what Ron Kelley calls on the spot arranging.</p><p>10</p><p>As elaborated byGregg Moore, who spent years working with traditional village bands in</p><p>Portugal and fanfare bands in the Netherlands, and who used to lead Northern</p><p>Californias Bandemonium workshops, improvising opens up a world of</p><p>new sonic possibilities by constantly considering performance alternatives</p><p>rather than a dogmatic insistence on realizing whats on the paper. Tempos,</p><p>articulations, and dynamics can be changed, backgrounds behind improvised</p><p>solos can be changed, alternative improvisational ideas can be suggested, and</p><p>all this can be communicated with comic references and a feeling of play.11</p><p>Moores comment points to another deeply held principle of HONK!: thatlearning and performing music should be fun.</p></li><li><p>8/10/2019 Honk Pedagogy &amp; Music Education</p><p> 5/7</p><p>284 Reebee Garofalo</p><p>Given this emphasis on the joy of music making, we are again</p><p>confronted by questions about the place of written notation in music</p><p>education. One of the challenges posed by notation-centric music education,according to Ron Kelley, is that its usually based on learning to read at</p><p>the same time that you learn to play the instrument.12 These are clearly not</p><p>the same things. The danger of stressing written notation before learning</p><p>to play is that the notes written on the page mean fingerings rather than</p><p>sounds. So students are completely tied to the (written) music in order to</p><p>push down the right valves. What can get lost in this process, says Kelley, is</p><p>the fact that theyre trying to play music, not just trying to do some activity</p><p>correctly.13 So at one point Kelley gave his students a recording of Hungry</p><p>Marchs Bumper to Bumper and told them to learn it by rote.14In the end the question of reading notated music is not an if</p><p>question, but rather a when and how question. I think theres a lot</p><p>of validity, right from kindergarten, to being very musically literate, and</p><p>I push this with my staff, says Rick Saunders, music director for the</p><p>Somerville, Massachusetts school system, and HONK! musician in his</p><p>spare time. Music literacy is huge, but the way its done is different . . . .</p><p>Learning music in a non-traditional way, does not exclude reading or writing</p><p>traditional western style notation. Its just a way to get kids to be playing</p><p>first.15</p><p>Needless to say, Kelley and Saunderss pedagogies represent very</p><p>different conceptions of band class than are found in most organized,</p><p>institutionalized settings, where stressful auditions, rigorous sight reading</p><p>requirements, and an intense focus on western musical notation can serve</p><p>as obstacles for many would be participants.</p><p>Over the years, there have been a number of non-traditional programs</p><p>that have tried to utilize the experiential aspects of music making as the basis</p><p>for learning. More than 50 years ago, Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzukibegan to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to learning music.</p><p>In the Suzuki method students learn to play instruments before learning to</p><p>read music. In el Sistema, the Venezuelan network of free, neighborhood-</p><p>based music programs that has taken the international concert world by</p><p>storm, Early instruction includes singing and playing with the students</p><p>instrument, often focusing on a single note within a group song; this helps to</p><p>develop a sense of quality sound. Learning how to use full standard notation</p><p>often takes many years and is incorporated into their learning organically.16</p><p>More recently there has been an attempt to incorporate the informalprocesses involved in learning popular musics directly into a national</p></li><li><p>8/10/2019 Honk Pedagogy &amp; Music Education</p><p> 6/7</p><p>HONK! Pedagogy 285</p><p>school-based curriculum in England. Musical Futures involved more than</p><p>1500 students in 21 schools and mandated practices such as using only</p><p>musics that the students selected for themselves; learning by ear; and self-directed and peer-directed learning.17 Significantly the program prohibited</p><p>formal instruction by the teachers. In comparison to what the students called</p><p>normal lessons, preference for this approach ran from 90 to 97 percent,</p><p>and the word fun cropped up in 25 of the 40 group interviews.18</p><p>Clearly, what I have termed HONK! pedagogy has something to</p><p>bring to the music education table. If traditional music education builds</p><p>ensembles to create art, HONK! Pedagogy uses art to build community.</p><p>These are not necessarily mutually exclusive goals. But if I had to pick one,</p><p>Id choose the latter.</p><p>Notes</p><p>1. See http://honkfest.org/.</p><p>2. See http://slsaps.org/.</p><p>3. Check out a great video of Honkfest at http://honkfest.org/about/#video.</p><p>4. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v = -79pX1IOqPU for a video of</p><p>the Brass Liberation Orchestra fighting for workers rights at the St. Francis Hotelin San Francisco.</p><p>5. Kelly, R. (2010), Interview by author, 13 July.</p><p>6. This can be seen in a video of Titubanda performing at the HONK!</p><p>Festival in 2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= 8D3zYrexZI.</p><p>7. Santos, M. (2010), Interview by author, 8 June.</p><p>8. Isler, S. (2010), Interview by author, 16 June. See a video of Bumper</p><p>to Bumper at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v = -8D3zYrexZI.9. Keil, C. (1987), Participatory discrepancies and...</p></li></ul>


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