Meet The Fellows...

David Mills
Band Leader
New Haven CT
Fellowship: 2018/2017

"Music is, first and foremost, a form of communication," says David. "Music should be judged on the power of its message rather than the prowess of its technique."

An arranger-musician and music educator for 40 years, he founded the DoSo Dance Band to reunite live music with social dancing, "which brings together people from disparate cultures band members are all ages, and from all socio-economic circumstances."

"He is non-judgmental," said one of the older flutists, who'd never played without sheet music before she joined the band. "There is no fault in that room. You are free in there, nobody is criticizing. And everybody gets a chance to solo. When you sit in an all-ages band with teens you know it's inclusive! And it's not like they're thinking, Oh, here come the old people; they're like, Hi! How are you?"

David began teaching at age 20, when he was asked to teach music to reform school boys in a summer program. He found that even boys with no formal music training could pack a concert hall and bring down the house. "Improvisation is the wellspring for innovation in both the arts and industry," he says.

But more importantly, David teaches music as play. Beginners and pros play side by side, and there's a symbiosis, and mentoring that happens. The pros are gentle with the newbies, and the life force of song becomes real. "The performances are not just concerts, they are events," says one fan. "It's live music in an interactive way. Dance parties. The audience is participating, dancing and moving, not sitting and consuming. They are part of it. It's a living organism."

Teaching philosophy:
1. If you reduce music to its natural fundamentals, anyone and everyone can play.

2. Music and dance transcend language and connect people from disparate cultures.

3. Why pay a DJ hundreds of dollars to play records at a school dance when we have talented students who would play for pizza?

4. Within any community there is a band waiting to be born.

5. All recordings are reflections of past events, and no recording will ever measure up to the experience of being there.

How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
"I believe it is possible to make all learning fun. If you work hard to be creative and adapt the program to play to the strengths of the students at hand, it will always be fun."

How do you foster youth leadership?
"The obvious answer is to give extra responsibilities to those who want to step up to be leaders. The DoSo Dance Band is a great fund-raising tool. I open it up to students who want to organize an event in support of a worthy cause."

How have you evolved as a teacher?
"Every day I learn something new that makes me a better teacher. And my teaching has made me a better musician and composer. In transferring musical concepts to others, I have to thoroughly understand those concepts from every possible perspective."

What is an example of a good day teaching kids?
"For every class I come in with a game plan, and yet I am also prepared to let the plan go in another direction that better suits the temperament of the class that day. When I can say to myself that the class could not have gone better, I can say it has been a great day."


(interviewed 2017)

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