Festivals of Music is an educationally-focused music festival that provides school performing ensembles the opportunity to learn from exceptional conductors in the field of music education today. Our mission is to bring together these student musicians and adjudicator-clinicians for performance and clinic experiences in outstanding concert venues, with the result being musical growth and achievement recognition for both the individuals and the participating music programs.
The events take place over multiple weekends in the spring in cities across the United States and Canada. The event is culminated by a celebratory awards ceremony where all participants are honored for their commitment to quality in music education.
Festivals of Music was founded by Dr. James Wells in 1982, and along with Music In The Parks and EPN Travel is part of the Educational Programs Network.
Dr. James Wells is one of the early pioneers in the music festival arena and leadership development through music education experiences. After spending several years as a high school band director in Oley, Pennsylvania, he moved on to become the longtime Director of Bands at West Chester University where he led the Incomparable Golden Rams Marching Band. With his leadership, the ensemble became an innovator as one of the first college marching bands to utilize the new “corps-style” marching techniques that were happening in the drum corps circuit—employing such things as curvilinear and asymmetrical drill design, roll step techniques, front ensemble percussion and rifle squads that would spin and toss their equipment.
Part of his philosophy while at West Chester was creating a collaborative, leadership-oriented atmosphere where the students could contribute their ideas into the marching band performance. Many of the university band students were members of the Reading Buccaneers Drum Corps, and this was where some of the first ideas of incorporating the corps style design practices into school bands originated. This had far-reaching implications to the music education world. Much of the team behind the 1980’s Garfield Cadets/Cadets of Bergen County dynasty were members of Wells’ marching band. One student in particular, a young drum major out of Delaware by the name of George N. Parks, changed the dynamic of band leadership forever.
In the summer of 1970 Wells also founded the West Chester University Marching Band and Band Front Conference. This was an opportunity for directors to develop more effective teaching techniques and interact with leaders in the field, and is an annual workshop that even today continues to influence music educators. It was also the catalyst that set into motion other programs that would come later, such as the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy and Band Leadership Training Programs…programs that have touched countless lives and likely set hundreds of music educators onto their career path.
In 1981 he reached out to the entertainment director at nearby Hersheypark, and in collaboration with his brother Richard—a music professor at Kutztown University—Music In The Parks came into being.
His next goal was to offer a premium program with the best nationally known judges of the time, and to make it a motivating experience for directors and students with worthwhile sites and an inspiring awards ceremony. He also wanted to provide leadership offerings, in line philosophically with his work at West Chester. This led to the creation of Festivals of Music in 1982. The first site was the convention center at Ocean City, Maryland…a remarkable facility with a fortunate coincidence: the new event director there was same person who a year earlier was the entertainment director at Hersheypark who helped launch Music In The Parks.
The early years of Festivals of Music reads like a “Who’s Who” of the band world. Colonel Arnald Gabriel. Dr. Frank Battisti. Bill Moffit. Anthony Maiello. Gordon Henderson. William D. Revelli. Just to name a few. Wells said, “You’ve got to say the right things. That was the great thing about Revelli and Gabriel…they knew what to say. Revelli went to those awards ceremonies. Here’s a guy who was recognized as probably the top among band directors, and there he is talking to you. Those kind of motivation things carry some weight. That’s what you try to do at the awards, and it’s just another extension of the educational process.”
It was a workshop event sponsored by McCormick’s Enterprises that introduced Wells to yet another key collaborator in those early years—Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser.
“I went to one of the McCormick’s events…and Tim was up front and doing the talking, because he’s top notch at that. That’s his business, so I got to know Tim. And when he started Attitude Concepts for Today, that’s when I brought him to West Chester to do the (summer) clinics, and had him do a session or two with the marching band.” When Dr. Tim joined the Festivals of Music events, he would act as an adjudicator and often emcee the awards ceremonies as well. When his busy schedule allows, to this day he still occasionally participates in the festivals.
One of the biggest positive changes has been the ability of technology to streamline and ease the process for both the director and the festival organizers. The adjudicator comments have evolved from cassette tapes, to SD chips, to now being completely recorded on electronic tablets from which audio comments and scores are downloaded from the festival website at the completion of the event. Their unique FestivalsEdge is an all-encompassing system that takes the participating directors from signup to recap score sheets in a paperless and user-friendly system.
Wells feels that the benefits a festival experience provides to a school music program and the students and directors involved is that of another avenue for the directors to encourage, evaluate and motivate true musical growth. It provides teaching and learning opportunities through evaluation by vetted music educators. It should encourage proper student behavior on and off stage, recognizing and congratulating outstanding performances by deserving groups. Finally, it must be one of the high points of the year for each attending organization and encourage future student participation and growth.
What does Wells, a pioneer in the field, see in the future? “I believe that music educators will continue to work to prove the importance of music education, and work toward quality performance and teaching music within the performing organizations. This should result in Festivals of Music continuing to offer truly educational experiences and being a partner in student growth.”
He has seen many changes since those early days in Oley. The landscape has evolved time and time again, both in terms of style and repertoire as well as the importance of advocacy and leadership. The organizations he founded continue to evolve as well, finding new ways to provide support and remarkable performance opportunities for school music programs and the students who benefit from their participation. Dr. James Wells has not merely been a witness to the evolution of music education, but rather an integral performer who has shaped and guided the course as surely as a great conductor interprets a musical phrase from the podium. The leadership philosophy and musical excellence he fostered at West Chester University in those early years created a ripple effect of educational and performance programs that continue to influence and change lives yet today.