Luck is not chance, it’s toil. Fortune’s expensive smile is earned. ~ Emily Dickinson

Mr. Ahrens teaches band & choir at Bear River High School in Grass Valley, CA.


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Score Study or How I Became Inspired

Mr. Anthony Maiello

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lonergan,

Not Enough Time

I believe I learned nearly as much about my craft during the first year of teaching as all of my time spent in college. And this continues year to year, of course. There is simply so much involved in teaching band.  One of my great disappointments during the first year was the realization that 24 hours in a day is – apparently – an inadequate number. Over the years, I have learned to plan and utilize time more efficiently. I found there actually is time to do the things that seemed impossible previously. But not for everything. I have never been able to adequately schedule proper score study. Until now.

Mr. Maiello

I spent a couple weeks this past summer in Ashland, Oregon for my second of three years in the American Band College masters program. It was there that I was privileged to meet and work with Mr. Anthony Maiello, a guest conductor for the first of two summer concerts. Mr. Maiello is a music professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Something incredible happened. I was excited. Not in a professional way. Not because I was expected to be excited. Not because I wanted to kiss up to the director. Mr. Maiello simply made our rehearsals fun, passionate, musical, and real.  He authentically emanated enthusiasm and optimism. We had been acquainted with the man for less than 5 minutes and we knew that he cared for us and for the music deeply. Not just because he told us, which he did, but because he lived it. It was obvious. I’ve never enjoyed playing under the direction of a conductor as much as I did in those rehearsals. I want that for my ensembles. I don’t know that I could ever equal his enthusiasm or vigor, but I would love to see what would happen if I could find half of it.

Anthony Maiello at the American Band College

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lonergan

No Scores

A little while into the first rehearsal my horn section mates and I realized something pretty incredible. Anthony Maiello was using no scores. Now, that is certainly not unheard of; many fine conductors conduct from memory. But this was no concert. He was actively rehearsing the two bands on four grade 5 and 6 level compositions – with nothing in front of him but us! He knew rehearsal numbers, he knew measure numbers, he knew pitches and rhythms – for every part. He had truly digested the whole of these complicated scores and could draw on any part of them from memory at will. One of the pieces had just been given a world premiere two weeks prior and Mr. Maiello had never actually heard it – only in his head. He was very excited to hear one particular glorious horn section feature with his ears.  As we played it, he exuberantly moved into the ensemble toward us and jumped up on an empty chair in the row ahead to coax the magnificent sororities from our horns. His enthusiasm was inspiring. But how did he do it? How did he know the scores so well? How did he find the time to be so thorough in his score study? And more importantly, how can I do this? Again, it was amazing.  This happened nearly two months ago and I’m still amazed as I sit here writing this.

Mr. Maiello spoke to us about his process of score study a bit during rehearsal. I also had the opportunity to speak with him privately about it. He said that he carries his score with him everywhere: standing in line at the coffee shop, going to and from work, while running on his treadmill.  He simply took all of those moments that make up our lives in which we are momentarily unoccupied and filled them with the score.

I asked him if he had always undertaken this level of preparation.  The answer was no.  As one might expect, he started small and slowly – over years – built up his capacity for memorization.  He suggested I:

  • Start with one score at a time.
  • Begin by analyzing the overall form and memorizing that. Try to include measure or rehearsal numbers for the start of new sections in the music.
  • Focus in next on a small section of the music that I really like and work to memorize it.
  • Gradually become more detailed until it is completely memorized.

Now What?

It’s been a long time since I remember being so excited about something as I am about the prospect of improving in the area of score study. I’m sure it will take years to get to his level, and I may never do it – BUT the rewards of trying will raise my level of musicianship as a conductor as well as my students’.  The rewards of making use of otherwise wasted time to do something that needs to be done will have a big impact on my ability to make efficient use of my time in all aspects of my life.  It was obvious to me that Anthony Maiello puts in this level of study and work because he respects and loves his ensembles and he respects and loves the music. The idea of developing this level of love and respect is inspiring. For all of these reasons, I am starting this week.  If you see me at Starbucks, ask to take a look at my score!

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  • Will Dellinger

    Great post! I am at GMU now, and I love having that great man’s knowledge at my disposal.

    • David Ahrens

      Hello Will. Thank you for your compliment! Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been away from the blog for a little while.  If you have the opportunity, please give Mr. Maiello my regards.  I wouldn’t expect him to remember who I am. But at the same time it is because of the qualities I described above that I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.