A Spotlight on Corey Graves

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal.

Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX

 

 

I have known Mr.Graves for a few years through the shared connection of both being music educators and SFASU alumni. He is a kind, hardworking, hilarious, amazing person.

 

Corey Graves is currently the Head Middle School Band Director for the Roma Independent School District in Roma, TX where he is responsible for conducting the Roma Middle School Symphonic Winds, teaching beginner euphonium and low reed courses, and assisting with the Symphonic Band. Graves is a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholar, was named the 2013 Secondary Teacher of the Year by Roma ISD, and was honored as the 2017 Texas Young Bandmaster of the Year by the Texas Bandmasters Association. In addition to teaching full-time, Graves is also the Region XV Middle School Coordinator, an active clinician, adjudicator, and guest euphonium player. His professional affiliations include the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA), the Texas Bandmasters Association (TBA), the Texas Music Adjudicators Association (TMAA), and the Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society.

About the decision to become a musician, Graves shared that music has always been a large part of his life, thanks to his mother, Brenda Moore, who is an active pianist. Originally, Graves had planned on studying medicine but eventually decided that a career in music education “was a more impactful way to spend [his] life.” He completed a Bachelor’s degree with honors in Music Education from the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Music in 2007 and then a Master of Music in Euphonium Performance from Ohio State University in 2008. After a brief period of time spent teaching at LaJoya ISD in southwestern Texas, Graves accepted his current position at Roma ISD in 2010. Under his direction, the program has earned recognition as one of the nation’s premiere middle school music programs with honors like receiving consistent “superior” ratings at the annual UIL Concert and Sightreading Contest, being repeatedly named a finalist for the TMEA Honor Band Competition (including being the 2016 CC Honor Band First Runner Up), and being invited to perform at the 2016 Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic (Chicago, IL).

About his teaching philosophy, Graves shared that he believes middle school “is the time to get it right,” saying, “you’re literally setting them up for the rest of their lives.” He advises focusing mainly on developing students who are self-aware and allotting ample time to evaluate progress of both students and staff. Students who have the ability to evaluate their own tone and technique, Graves shared, are more likely to correct themselves and eventually achieve excellence. “Make them tone snobs,” he joked, “be so picky about the sounds they’re making at all times so that they, in their practicing, will be that picky.” Graves reminds educators that teaching the lessons is just one half of the recipe and that, for the process to be complete, directors must take time to evaluate student mastery of concepts and staff efficacy; “inspect what you expect.” He warns against allowing rehearsals to become tedious or predictable and encourages educators to be passionate and relentless when it comes to achieving musical goals, saying, “your students will be the best at whatever it is you harp on the most. How you are in rehearsals will directly affect how the students practice independently.”

One of the greatest responsibilities of music educators is selecting appropriate music for their ensemble. Mr. Graves shared that his approach involves asking a series of questions. Does the music build up the weaker sections and challenge the stronger players? Is this a step towards creating well-rounded musicians? Does this relate to the lessons and techniques the ensemble has already been introduced to? Etc. He warns against getting stuck playing the same pieces or styles all year, advising, “teach a skill, not a song.” Graves also makes an effort to introduce students to the music of living composers since, in his opinion, it makes the experience more personal, knowing that there’s a chance of actually meeting the person one day, and also supports the production of contemporary wind band music.

When asked about the place of competition in music education, Graves admitted that it can be a powerful motivational tool if implemented correctly. He appreciates the incredibly supportive administration and community in Roma and commended his kids’ unwavering work ethic, saying, “they are always there to prove they can do anything at a high level.” Graves advises using competitions to teach students about the process and instill in them a certain level of independence. The Roma staff, Graves shares, strives for excellence in everything they do, adhering to the mindset that high honors are not the goal but a welcome byproduct of the main focus; providing a quality music education. To provide students with as much consistency as possible, and to streamline the educational process, the Roma staff all teach on multiple campuses and travel with their kids from middle school to high school. “Vertical alignment,” Graves shared, “is a quintessential part of Roma’s musical structure and success.”

To aspiring music educators, Mr. Graves advises regularly recording rehearsals, saying, “You need to be able to hear what it sounds like off of the podium,” and finding “a mentor that you trust and who you want to model yourself after.” Successful directors, according to Graves, are those who regularly re-evaluate their approach, employ purposeful planning, and make a consistent effort to network within the field. He emphasized the importance of adopting a growth-mindset and attending continuing education workshops and symposiums whenever possible.

 

Follow Mr. Graves and the Roma ISD bands at the district website

 

Book Suggestions from Mr. Graves:

“Rehearsing Middle School Band” Steven Meyer  

“Rehearsing High School Band” Steven Meyer

“On Teaching Band: Notes From Eddie Green” Edited by Mary Ellen Cavitt, Ph.D.

 

Sources

Interview at TMEA Convention, San Antonio, TX, February 16, 2019.

 

Graves, Corey. (2019). Corey Graves Classroom Page. Roma Independent School District.

<https://www.romaisd.com/domain/1703>