GHS Band Alumna: Sacrifice, Leadership, Practice Are Required from Band Director and Members

Letter to the editor received November 16, 2015 from Elizabeth Yin, Greenwich High School ‘06

Dear Members of the Board of Education:

My name is Elizabeth Yin, and I am an alumna of Greenwich High School, Class of 2006. I am a former section leader of the Greenwich High School Marching Band, Symphony Band, Wind Ensemble, and Clarinet Ensemble. During my time at GHS, I also competed for and was selected as a four-time Connecticut Western Regional Band member, two-time All State Band Member, and a three-time member of the All New England Band at the New England Music Festival. My accomplishments as a clarinetist both within Greenwich High School and throughout Connecticut and the New England region hinged on the quality of education I received from Mr. John Yoon, Director of the Greenwich High School Band Program.

I believe that the Board of Education would make a huge mistake by removing him as director. By responding to the concerns of a few individuals, the Board of Education has demonstrated its failed understanding of what it takes to create great music, as well as the nature and purpose of a music program.

I am writing to request a reconsideration of your pending decision to terminate Mr. Yoon. I am also writing to express my support for Mr. Yoon, and give testimony to the unprecedented importance of his impact on the Greenwich High School Band program, the Greenwich High School music program at large, and my own personal and professional development.

A “band” is “a group of persons, animals, or things; especially: a group of musicians organized for ensemble playing.”[1] This definition does not mention the individual. This is deliberate. A band is not an individual. A band is not a concert pianist performing, alone, in front of an audience. A band is over 20 instruments, each with 3 parts, playing together. A band sacrifices time to practice individually and as a group. A band is a group of people who must perform together, as a unit, to create beautiful music. A band is also a group of people who must take direction and must perform together. Such harmony is only achievable when individual band members come together under the unified vision of a director.

The making of not only a music program, but a great music program, requires sacrifice, cohesion, understanding, leadership, and practice. These traits are required not only from the band’s director, but also from its participants, who must work together as a group in order to succeed. In firing Mr. Yoon, the Board of Education will not only fail the remaining GHS band members (currently over 200 students). It will also risk the entire band program’s Blue Ribbon status by removing its most accomplished and effective director, a man who raised the bar for all GHS music programs.

Mr. Yoon has demonstrated time and again his commitment to the GHS band program. Over the past 15 years, he has led the program through a series of radical and positive changes. Mr. Yoon has expanded the band program from 3 to 7 performing groups. He has increased the recognition of the program by competing with other high school bands on a national scale and arranging trips to competitive music festivals in Boston, Florida, Virginia Beach, San Francisco, and others. He has even helped arrange for music exchanges and trips between China, Cuba, and Greece. He has spent considerable time and effort improving the music program, winning the Blue Ribbon Award for High School Programs of Excellence from the National Band Association in 2013.

Through these initiatives, Mr. Yoon has provided over 1,000 students with the opportunity to travel and experience the world and the art of music. Mr. Yoon has accomplished this, not through selfish means, but through his dedication to enriching the musical experience of the students. Mr. Yoon’s steadfast determination to advance the GHS music program to a competitive level has been accomplished nearly single-handedly, with the help of one single assistant band director and the dedication of numerous volunteer parent organizers and chaperones who have believed in the value of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities afforded by the GHS Band program.

When I first entered GHS as a freshman in 2002, I lacked work ethic, and I knew little of music festivals, section leaders, or first chair positions. By the time I graduated, not only had Mr. Yoon had expanded the band program to include 6 different groups (now 7), but I had become section leader and first chair of the Concert Band, section leader for the Symphony band, and section leader for the newly minted Wind Ensemble.

Additionally, after encouragement from Mr. Yoon, I had auditioned my way multiple times into regional, state, and all-New England music festivals. I would never have achieved these accomplishments without Mr. Yoon’s dedication to expanding the opportunities for musicians and his belief in and dedication to cultivating my talent as a musician. In fact, the tenacity and work ethic I developed through his guidance have served me well in countless pursuits throughout undergraduate school, graduate school, and in my (non-musical) adult life.

Being a principal musician (either first chair or section leader) in a band is not a simple meritocracy. Chairs, sections, and parts must be earned through leadership, competency, and a competitive audition process, which not only encourages practice and generates substantial improvement, but also provides students with a taste for the actual competitive processes that exist in the musical world at large. However, the position as a section leader must also be maintained.

Doing well on an audition is only the beginning. Being an effective section leader also takes considerable work ethic and responsibility for maintaining the quality of one’s own music, leading the section, helping other band members learn their parts, and serving as a role model for others. Anyone providing a poor example of leadership is not displaying the responsibility required by a section leader. The first chair violinist (the Principal Concertmaster) of the New York Philharmonic did not become the first chair of one of the greatest symphonies through one single audition. In fact, she is constantly proving herself worthy of the position, every day, every rehearsal, every performance. [2]

This, too, is the work ethic of Mr. Yoon, and it is a spirit that he encourages each of us to embrace.

I strongly entreat you, the Board of Education, to reconsider your pending decision to terminate the tenure of Mr. Yoon. Please consider what your decision will mean for the education and opportunities of the thousands of students who will pass through the GHS Band program in the years to come. Mr. Yoon has proven to be invaluable in creating a competitive, nationally recognized music program. He has instilled a strong work ethic in generations of young student musicians, and it is impossible for me to imagine Greenwich High School without him.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Yin
GHS ‘06
B.S. and B.A. Rice University ‘10
M.E.M. Duke University ‘14

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/band, emphasis, source.
[2] Sheryl Staples has been the Principal Associate Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic since 1999.

Comments are closed.