Walter Bitner

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2017: What Kind of Blog Is This?

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Off The Podium Reflections, Statistics, and Top Ten Posts

In what is becoming an annual tradition, here I review my experience writing Off The Podium over the course of the year and share some statistics. We will also see if I have learned anything and I will attempt to describe what this blog – which sometimes goes off in unexpected directions – is all about.

2017 was a very full year, packed with many significant events and activities. Off The Podium continues to provide a great means to share the activities of the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony with the world. It also remains a productive format that has inspired me to continue to develop my writing on the topics of Music and Education – these features of Off The Podium reach thousands of readers all over the world and  have brought me into contact with many musicians and educators I would otherwise have had no opportunity to meet or correspond with.

Thank you everyone for your continued encouragement and support.

For the third year in a row, I wrote and published articles at a rate that met my goal of a weekly post. That said, my actual rate of production decreased about 15% this year – In 2017 I published 53 posts (including this summary reflection of the year), compared to the 62 posts published in 2016. Besides the fact that it was actually a very busy year and not always easy to make time to write each day, another reason for this is that for the first time, I took a month off. Although I did continue to do some writing, I did not publish any posts during the month of July. This was actually a very good thing to do, and I felt refreshed and ready to get back into the routine in August.

I continue to try to improve layout and navigation on the site from time to time but the primary impulse behind Off The Podium continues to be to my effort to build an online portfolio of my writing from a variety of approaches within the clearly defined topics of Music and Education.

The Numbers

I began this blog on March 3, 2015 with Leitmotif in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. Since I published that first article, the website has received more than 112,000 views by nearly 74,000 visitors. Off The Podium passed 100,00 Total Views on August 26, a milestone which I celebrated the next day in My Top 21 Posts in the First 100,000 Views.

The total views of webpages at Off The Podium stayed nearly static in 2017 compared to 2016: with not quite 35,000 views this year compared to last year’s 35,513, total views are down approximately 2% from last year. However, the number of visitors to the site in 2017 increased by 20% over 2016’s visitor total, with nearly 24,000 visitors this year compared to last year’s total which came in at just under 20,000. The overwhelming majority of these visits and views are of blog posts.

Considering that I published 9 fewer posts this year than last, these statistics represent an increase in readership. And as we will see, many articles that I published in 2015 and 2016 continue to receive attention.

The blog continues to accomplish what I wished it to: I have established the personal practice of writing on nearly a daily basis, Off The Podium has helped me to collect a growing body of work, and I am now being published regularly elsewhere as well.

Choral Director Magazine published my column Off The Podium in every issue of 2017 – since I began the column in October 2016, 8 of my articles have now reached over 16,000 print subscribers and thousands more through the magazine’s digital edition. The Off The Podium column in Choral Director 2017 included:

I’m excited that Choral Director is publishing my entire series of solfège articles – the magazine edition of this series is expanded to five articles from the original four, began in October 2017 with The Joy of Solfège, and will conclude in the April/May 2018 issue with Solfège With Amadeus.

Learn Their Names First also appeared in the October 2017 issue of School Band and Orchestra Magazine, and The Joy of Solfège was published on the website of the National Association for Music Education on December 5.

Off the Podium reaches a broad international audience, with visitors from 130 countries worldwide in 2017.

Readers from outside the USA accounted for about 21% of all views in 2017 – this is down about 3% from 2016. English speaking countries accounted for half of the Top Ten countries by readership this year. Besides readership in Canada edging slightly ahead of the U.K. this year, the top six countries readership ranks remain the same – Off The Podium continues to be read by more people in Germany (4th place) than in any other non-English-speaking country. All of the other countries on this list were also present in last year’s Top Ten with the exception of Ireland, who jumped from 14th place in 2016 to 9th this year, pushing Brazil out of the Top Ten. Italian readership increased this year as well, with Italy pushing up to 7th place from 9th in 2016.




2017 Top Ten Posts

This is the list of Top Ten Posts by number of views in 2017.  These are simply the Top Ten Posts calculated by how many times they have been viewed, in order from one to ten. All of these posts have been viewed more than 700 times, and most of them have views numbering in the thousands. Click on the title to view the post!

1. Learn Their Names First

This popular music education article emphasizes the importance of learning all of your students’ names immediately before moving on to other activities, and provides a practical method for doing so. This has been the Number 1 post for 2 years in a row now, and has accumulated over 6,000 views on Off The Podium alone, in addition to its wide readership in national magazines as described above.

2. What Your Students Will Remember

New in 2017 This was the most popular article that I published on Off The Podium this year – a meditation on creating community and positive memories for your students.

3. Four Practices

How I used the Four Practices of Mutual Respect, Attentive Listening, Kindness, and Best Effort to promote healthy social behavior in my classes and ensembles. Highly recommended for anyone interested in developing a community with shared values – simple yet effective! This post has been Number 3 for 2 years in a row now.

4. The Count

The Count is a powerful exercise for focusing the attention of your ensemble in the last moments before a performance. The article includes a brief history of how I used it over the years, and exact instructions for performing it with your own students. This post was Number 2 in 2016, and appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Choral Director Magazine.

5. The Joy of Solfège

This is the first post in my four-part series on teaching solfège which I published over a month from August-September 2015. This series continues to be popular, and is now being published in Choral Director Magazine as described above. This article and number 8 below have both remained in the Top Ten for three years now.

6. Is Music A Sport?

New in 2017 The role that competition plays in the activities of music education has become so pervasive that by their very nature, these activities exclude and discourage many children. With this article I have begun to describe why current music education paradigms are exclusive and elitist, towards the goal of articulating my vision of the importance of music education for all children.

7. Groundbreaking Research Indicates That Academic Studies May Improve Musical Performance

New in 2017 I write very few satire posts, so it’s ironic that 2 of them made it into the Top Ten this year. The premise of this article is: imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned? What if our culture valued musical development so much that students were willing to buckle down and become well-educated in order to become better musicians?

Part38. Teaching Music With Solfège

This is the nuts and bolts entry in my Solfège series, detailing all syllables and scales for the practical teaching of solfège in the music classroom, regardless of grade level. It has remained in the Top Ten for three years in a row now!

9. SHAME Education Poised to Infiltrate U.S. Schools

This sleeper was Number 4 on the Top Ten in 2015, fell off the list last year, and now is back. Another satire, but is it? Apparently it is rather dry, as there were a lot of people who read it and appeared to take it at face value from the responses they left on FaceBook.

10. Wholehearted Attention

A music education post describing the complexity of musical activity first published on June 12, 2015. It has been featured and linked to from many music education websites and FaceBook pages, was published by NAfME, and by Choral Director Magazine. This is by far my most successful article in terms of readership numbers with nearly 19,000 views to date on Off The Podium alone – there is no knowing how many more have read it on other sites and in print. Top Ten Post for 3 years in a row.


2017 Personal Top Three Posts

To balance the previous list with a selection of honorable mentions whose merit is not based on quantity of views, these are three of my favorite posts written this year which did not make it into the Top Ten by number of views. They are listed in chronological order.


Fie, Nay, Prithee John

How I taught my students to swear in choir. This post was Number 12 in 2017.





Kaili Wang, Musical Ambassador

Violin virtuosa, world traveler, humanitarian, high school student – Kaili is one of the most remarkable people I know.


How to Listen to Music

Some suggestions from me to you, with true and sometimes pivotal stories from my own life.




2017 Top Three Posts:
Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony

More than a third of my blog posts in 2017 were about or directly related to my work in the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony. These articles detail many aspects of the education and outreach programming the symphony provides to the community, including the progress of our unique Accelerando program and its impact both in Music City and beyond.

These are the Top Three Posts (by view) on Education & Community Engagement programming at the Nashville Symphony this year.  I am not including Free Day of Music 2017, which although it actually finished in the EDCE Top Three this year, is really only a schedule.

1. Accelerando Begins Year Two

In August, we began the second year of operation of our award-winning Accelerando program and announced the addition of four new students.


2. Side By Side 2017

Our annual Side By Side concert this year featured two-time Curb Concerto Competition winner Kaili Wang performing the first movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Nashville Symphony and the massive combined forces of the Nashville Symphony and Curb Youth Symphony performing the entire Symphonie Fantastique but Hector Berlioz, all under the baton of Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero.

3. Farewell, Vinay Parameswaran

This year we said goodbye to Vinay Parameswaran, who was appointed Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra and Music Director of the Cleland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. Vinay worked closely with Nashville Symphony EDCE in the programming and execution of many of our programs 2014 – 2017.


2017 Personal Top Post:
Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony

Peter and the Wolf

This fall the Nashville Symphony performed Prokofiev’s masterpiece for more than 6,000 students from elementary schools throughout Middle Tennessee. These performances moved me to pull together this meditation on the work itself, young people’s concerts, and the power of music to develop a child’s imagination.




In 2017 I continued to write an occasional article not about music or education. This year (as I did last year) I wrote four of these posts:

One thing that was fun about writing these four articles was that the idea for each came to me easily and I was able to write them quickly – something that doesn’t always happen!

Ongoing Series: The Lute

musician angel by Rosso Fiorentino, circa 1520

I started this series in September of 2015 with Meet the Lute  – it now includes 10 articles and 3 appendices. The idea behind The Lute is to tell the story of the prince of instruments and how those who played it shaped the course of music history, within the historical context of the times and places they lived in. As time allows I continue to add to it – in 2017 I added 3 articles:

Ongoing Series: Our Friend Sebastian

Despite my sincere awareness that so much has been written about Johann Sebastian Bach and his music, by so many who are so much more qualified than I am, I can’t resist adding a little here and there – I continue to engage with Sebastian’s music in one way or another on an almost daily basis, and have done so for at least 35 years now. This year I wrote a few more pieces, and gathered what I have written so far into the series:

Sebastian’s Music in Our Community



At this point – Off The Podium is coming up on its three year anniversary in March – I feel that my writing practice has begun to sink in and influence not only how I manage my time each day and week, but also how I process and integrate thought, memory, and experience in the work of articulating my own views about what is important.

I had an important lesson this year when an article I wrote – MNPS Neglects Music Education in Strategic Framework, published on June 16 – touched a nerve with readers and drew many responses from teachers, parents, administrators, even school board members across the city. Although it only received 513 views, coming in at Number 14 for 2017, this article about the lack of any substantial mention of music education in the much-vaunted new strategic plan for improving Nashville’s city schools created more conversations than any other post this year, and brought me into contact with many people that otherwise I never would have spoken with. For me, the moral of the story was: it doesn’t matter how many people read what I write, what matters is who reads it.

When all is said and done, what is most clear to me is that I have only begun to write – there is so much more to come.

Thank you for reading Off The Podium. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to my blog by email (there is a sign up button at the top of the sidebar on the right side of this page). I will also feel grateful if you will “like” my blog on FaceBook! (button on the left sidebar) Although I do not invest a tremendous amount of time promoting Off The Podium on social media, I continue to post a link to each article I publish on my FaceBook Page.

Happy New Year!

Walter Bitner
December 30, 2017

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