Frank Browne has fond memories of playing in the school band and garage bands when he was in high school. Today he is one of the performance ensemble Music Directors for Little School of Music. In this interview, Frank recounts his journey from band kid to band director and explains the many benefits of performance ensembles.
What led you to Little School of Music?
Mindy Cabral, owner of Little School of Music, was teaching band at a local charter school about three years ago. There were a lot of guitar players at the school that didn’t quite fit in with the traditional band setting. Mindy wanted a guitar specialist to get these kids playing together. She heard about me through a mutual friend and contacted me to start a guitar class.
What are your credentials?
I have a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Miami. My teaching experience spans 35 years and includes private lessons, classes, and ensembles for various studios. I’m also a professional musician with a long resume of performances and recordings.
What called you to teach?
I needed a job in high school. Instead of fast food, my mom said, “Have you ever thought about giving guitar lessons?” I had been studying guitar since I was a kid, so I knew I could do it. I put an ad in the PennySaver, and I’ve been teaching ever since.
What do you love most about your job?
I love seeing that “a ha!” moment in a student’s eyes when a musical piece starts to come together. With beginners, the first few lessons are spent getting their fingers in the right place on the guitar and trying to make a sound. After a while, there comes that moment when they can put a few chords together and have it sound like a song. That’s the fun part.
The same thing happens with bands. We get together and start working on a song. Then one day everything clicks. The drums, bass, and guitar come together. Even if it’s just a portion of a song, everybody feels the groove. Then the kids look at each other to verify that everyone had the same feeling. It’s magical.
Share some recent accomplishments.
Two of our bands opened for a professional show, The 5th Dimension at The Canyon in Santa Clarita this past March. We also had three bands and the Rock Orchestra compete in the 2018 Anaheim Heritage Music Festival at Disneyland. This is a nationwide competition that brings youth ensembles together for a chance to win prestigious ensemble and individual awards based on national rating standards.
All three of our bands won a “Gold Award”, the highest honor, the Rock Orchestra won a “Silver Award”, and three exceptional performers won “Maestro Award” for outstanding individual achievement. These accolades are especially impressive considering our ensembles meet once a week for one hour, and they were competing against public and private school bands who meet three to five times a week. The difference is our kids really want to be there. There hearts are in it, and it shows.
Our ensembles are also unique because they’re self-contained rock and pop bands. Traditional school bands have a conductor who guides them through each performance. I introduce our bands and then walk off stage. It’s a professional environment where the kids manage themselves. I love to see them shine like that.
The event was a first for some of our students. They got to experience what I did when I was a kid, getting on a bus, going to Disney, and performing in front of an audience—all while making memories with their friends.
What are you working on now?
The focus at Little School of Music right now is to continue the growth of our performance ensembles through summer and fall. I’m helping with that, while creating new arrangements and planning performance opportunities for these young bands. As much as possible I try to arrange pieces that fit the personnel of each band, including their musical tastes and strengths. After that, I come up with pieces that challenge the students and push them to new heights.
Where do you get your inspiration?
When I was in my 20s and 30s, I focused primarily on performances and recordings and less on teaching. Now that I’m older and my own children are grown, teaching has once again become my priority. I enjoy the opportunity I have with Little School of Music to be creative and encourage today’s young musicians. I have fond memories of my band trips and youth performances, and I hope my students will have their own wonderful experiences.
Advice for students who want to improve?
Listen! The biggest key once a student can play their instrument is to truly listen to the whole band instead of just themselves. They need to adjust their playing according to the group—in terms of volume, intensity, and tempo. As homework, I tell them to go on YouTube and listen to professional bands. Try to dissect what is going on. What is the trumpet player doing? The bass player? The drummer? Get outside yourself and listen to everybody else.