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Around the country, the school year is coming to a close. For high school students, spring break is fast becoming a distant memory as students complete projects and write papers, cram for End of Course tests, Advanced Placement exams, finals.
Performing arts programs, too, are in the last stages of preparation for the final performances of the year: in many cases, a Spring Concert is the traditional event for youth choir, orchestra, and band programs. These culminating events showcase student achievement over the course of the year, and provide an opportunity for students and parents to to come together and share what has been accomplished.
The Spring Concert can also be an emotional event, as students who have completed their time in the program prepare to move on to the next stage of their lives, and say goodbye to their friends and their teachers. In many cases, the relationships students make in their arts programs are the closest and most impactful relationships they make in high school, and these provide cherished memories that last a lifetime.
Like many music teachers, I used a simple ceremony at each Spring Concert to mark this passage to the next phase for my students: The Cards. (more…)
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.
This weekend saw the third time my birthday came and went since I started writing Off The Podium, and each time I thought about writing this little article. It seems like such an obvious thing to do – a “no-brainer” – like other things I have written about here, and yet…it is these obvious, little, yet essential efforts teachers sometimes sacrifice with all the demands on our time in the classroom.
Remember their birthdays.
I think something about this idea as an axiom for work and life was always there for me. When I was a child my father admonished me many times to do my best. I remember him saying to me on numerous occasions “Be the best at whatever it is you choose to do. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are the best at it. If you decide to be a garbage man, then be the best garbage man!” It made a strong impression on me as a young child, and I am sure had numerous (foreseen and unforeseen) consequences for the course of my life.
At some point early in my teaching career someone told me:
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
…or something like that. I don’t remember who said it or when, honestly. Someone might have quoted it at a faculty meeting, or as part of a motivational speech at a workshop or professional development training, or I might have read it in a book or article. Various paraphrases of this proverb exist, purportedly from a number of people including the great Maya Angelou, but the wisdom of the internet currently attributes the first known utterance of this quote to a Mormon official named Carl W. Buehner.
It doesn’t matter who said it. This idea arrived on the scene for me early in my career, and made me begin to seriously consider: what would ultimately be the impact I made on my students? What would the experience they had in my classes, in my program, have on the rest of their lives? What would they remember?
Singing canons is a wonderful way to help young singers develop independence, sing harmony and polyphony, and all with material that takes much less time to learn than music cast in more than one part. In strict canon, everyone sings the same part: we all learn the same melody and text together, and once it’s solid split up the group, start singing it at different times, and presto! musical magic.
Canons can be simple enough for very young children to learn in a few minutes or so challenging that professional choirs must exert considerable effort to sing them well. With a broad repertoire of canons on the tip of her tongue, the skilled music teacher is ready to make or teach satisfying music with students of any level, for any occasion, at any time or place.
Over the course of my teaching career I taught dozens of canons to students of all ages: rounds with students beginning in Kindergarten, catches with more experienced singers (usually by third grade). We sang canons about everything: happy and sad canons, silly canons, canons about love, animals, God, food, about music itself. Canons in English, Latin, French, German, Russian. Canons. One of the most important canons I tried to teach to all of my students over the years is the ancient Sumer Is Icumen In, which I have written in detail about here.
Another fabulous canon which I taught to hundreds of students from elementary through high school, and which is the subject of today’s article, is the indignant and difficult “chiding” catch Fie, Nay, Prithee John by the great Henry Purcell. And yes, by teaching this song, I taught my students to swear.
“I’m so bored. What is wrong with me? This is what I’ve always wanted. I won Nationals. I’m in charge of this committee. But it feels so meaningless. Do all teachers feel this at some point?”
~ (character) Will Schuester
Glee, Season 4, Episode 3: Makeover
Although advocates for music education – especially music education in public school settings – often speak to ideals about “music education for all children”, or the importance of the inclusion of music education in a well-rounded education, the reality of the state of music education in the United States is that music education is not for everyone.
Alongside the inequality of access and inclusion already being discussed by many throughout the country, the role that competition plays in the activities of music education presented to our children has become so pervasive that by their very nature, these activities exclude and discourage many children, who as a result are not receiving a music education, or are receiving an inadequate and impoverished music education.
Confirming what math, english, and other academic teachers have known for generations, recent research indicates a strong correlation between student academic achievement and musical performance. Although a distinct causal relationship between these activities still remains elusive for researchers to pin down, a growing body of evidence asserts that students who excel in their academic classes – students who actually study, do their homework, read books, and pursue good grades in subjects like the sciences and humanities – are also better musicians, with more highly developed rhythmic skills, more accurate intonation, and stronger abilities to concentrate and memorize.
This is good news for music educators across the country, who are always looking for new ways to improve student performance and motivation in band, orchestra, choir, and other ensembles. School districts all over the United States are taking action steps based on these enlightening new scientific findings, expecting to see dramatic increases in the quality of their music programs as increasing numbers of students opt to take more rigorous honors and Advanced Placement® (AP®) classes in hopes of improving their chances of winning a seat in a more advanced wind ensemble, being selected for the honors choir, or simply moving up a chair in orchestra.
Off The Podium Reflections, Statistics, and Top Ten Posts
As I did last year at this time, here I review my experience writing Off The Podium this year and share some statistics, what I have learned, and come clean on what exactly this blog is about.
The year has been a wild ride. Off The Podium has provided a great means to share the activities of the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony and the launch of our Accelerando program with the Nashville community and the world. It has also continued to provide me with a format and incentive to develop my writing on the topics of Music and Education – regular features of Off The Podium that now reach thousands of readers all over the world.
On December 8, 2006 – ten years ago today – my students at Linden Corner School in Nashville presented a winter solstice celebration for the school community called The Feast of Stephen.
The Feast of Stephen incorporated copious music as well as dance and theatrical elements, and every student from grades 3-8 was a performer. Students participated as singers, instrumentalists, actors, dancers, created props and costumes – preparing for this event consumed most of my time in October and November of 2006, and as the night of the show came near the anticipation and excitement among the children, parents, and myself was palpable.
Here is a description of The Feast of Stephen: an example of a winter solstice performance with elementary and middle school students that incorporates many of the elements described in this series of articles. Included are the original scripts of both The Feast of Stephen and the Linden Corner School Mummer’s Play, a copy of the original program, and a video of the performance.