MEET THOMAS J. WEST
It's a pleasure to meet you! (You can call me "Tom").
I teach middle school and high school instrumental music, electronic music, and jazz studies at a unique performing and fine arts program attached to a cyber charter school. I direct student music ensembles in person, but every student also has access to the school's internet resources for all of their other academic courses and can learn music from home. This has given me the perfect environment to experiment with tech-rich learning, blended learning, and hybrid learning techniques.
My dream is to share with you this passion for creating well-rounded musicians capable of making music their entire life. It saddens me to hear person after person say things like, "Oh, I used to play the trombone in high school," or "Music was something I did as a kid."
My music education mission statement is quite simple:
"I help students become life-long music makers by combining large ensemble performing experiences with internet-based experiences in music composition, improvisation, and recording."
The education I have provided in my program since 2008 has helped many of my graduates go on to receive full scholarships to renown music universities all over the U.S. and has helped pave the way for many to become professional composers, producers, educators, and performers. Even those who do not go on to a career in music in many cases are still publishing and producing their own music as a hobby.
Today, I am trying to help other secondary music educators expand their music education curricula past the valuable and time-honored large ensemble traditions into the more personally creative aspects of music, using technology and the internet as the medium.
Simply put, I want to help you teach today's internet-savvy students how to become independent life-long music makers capable of their own music content creation.
Ever since beginning clarinet lessons in fourth grade, band has always been at the center of my life. Being involved with marching band and drum and bugle corps has taken me to 40 of the 50 states and 3 provinces in Canada. In college, I marched in the Penn State Marching Blue Band and marched contra bass bugle in The Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps in 1993 and 1994. Those experiences shaped my work ethic, my musicianship, my expertise, and my relationships. I graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor of Science in Music Education with every intention of having a 30-year career as a high school concert band, marching band, and jazz band director.
I love band, but I love music more.
During my undergrad days and into the first six years of my teaching career, I was an Associate Director with the Warren Junior Military Band of Youngstown, Ohio. JMB was where I cut my teeth as a band instructor, serving as visual tech and caption head as well as a woodwind tech and concert band co-director. In this setting, I recognized that for all of the great musical and life experiences being part of a marching and concert band could provide, most band students' understanding of the music itself as an artform was limited to whatever repertoire was being perfected. Section leaders were capable of playing independently, sight reading well, and playing with expression, but the deeper you went into any section, the less musically capable the students were.
The whole reason I became a band director was because it was the only way to stay involved with the activity on a daily basis without auditioning for a military band. It was clear that, despite all of the wonderful things that scholastic band, chorus, and orchestra ensembles provide to their students, the traditions in these ensembles left little room in the curriculum for teaching independent musical skills. I didn't want my students to just be good ensemble instrumentalists - I wanted them to love music as much as I do. I wanted them to learn everything they can about music and to continue making music even after they no longer could participate regularly in a band, chorus, or orchestra.
It pained me to think, "What's the point of all this rehearsing and performing if they never touch their instrument again as an adult?"
Since I got my first band directing job, I have attempted to add independent musicianship experiences to my curriculum, including chamber music concerts, jazz studies courses, and music arranging and composing opportunities.
And then, fate dropped me into a band and strings position for grades 6 to 12 at the Center for Performing and Fine Arts, a rigorous pre-professional program in the arts offered by the innovative Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School. This setting was drastically different - no marching band, and in fact, not enough students to fill out even a wind ensemble instrumentation. I had to creatively arrange, compose, and adapt string orchestra and concert band repertoire to fit the ever-changing instrumentation of my classes.
However, due in part to the small size and to the fact that every student in the CPFA program took their other academic courses online as cyber students, I was positioned to begin exploring live video lessons, online sight reading and music notation applications, MIDI and digital audio workstations, and deeper dives into the art and science of jazz improvisation. I also helped to establish CPFA's Remote Access program, teaching music and fine arts classes to PALCS students all over the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, providing them opportunities to come on campus to participate in our winter and spring concerts in person.
My passion for marching band never died - I began serving as a music, visual, and jazz adjudicator for the Cavalcade of Bands Association, and in 2016 I became a certified music judge for Drum Corps International. I occasionally arrange and write field shows and serve as a staffer with local groups. However, my expertise in the marching band realm was now matched by my expertise in blended learning techniques.
When the pandemic of 2020 began, I had several of my local band directing colleagues come to me begging me, "Teach me your ways!" It had become clear to me that my desire to make my students life-long music makers and my love of technology have put me in a unique position to help fellow music educators employ my approaches.
I invite you to read my blog articles and to engage me in helping you bring the same kind of music education to your own students.