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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.
Accelerando is an intensive education program designed to prepare gifted young students from under represented ethnic communities for pursuing music at the collegiate level and beyond. Accelerando seeks to create professional opportunities for these students by providing them with instruction, mentorship, performance experience, and assistance with applying for music schools.
Why you shouldn’t always tell your students the truth
For more than half of my teaching career, I taught music & performing arts at elementary or K-8 schools – six of these schools in all, with a wide range of approaches to education between them. One common aspect among all my experiences at these schools, however, is that I spent the majority of my time at each school – thousands upon thousands of hours of my life – as the only adult in the room, in front of a group of children. We spent most of our time together singing or playing music, dancing, rehearsing plays, or working on developing our skills to do these things, but over the years we had a lot of interesting and sometimes amazing conversations – both on and off topic.
Early in my career I began to practice intentionally not answering all of their questions, hoping to spur their imaginations and spirit of inquiry, and that they would develop the habit of trying to find things out for themselves. My experience was that often students would come up with very interesting and insightful ideas about the world if I could refrain from shutting down the possibilities that opened with a question by slapping a pat answer on it.
Sometimes, especially with younger elementary school children (K – 3 or so), I took this practice a step further, and intentionally told them things that weren’t true. The story of “The Rhinoceros” that I told to first grade students at Carrollwood Day School when I taught there from 1999 – 2003 is the tallest example of these tales that I told over the years, and became something of a tradition and a legend there among the students, some of whom would even corroborate my story and help maintain the myth among the younger students once they discovered I had been leading them on.
The Count is a concentration exercise – a group activity – that I used with my student ensembles in the last few minutes before going on stage for a performance. It is a very useful thing to do! and became something of a special ritual with my ensembles.
I didn’t invent The Count, although I had never heard it called by any name before my students began calling it this. I first encountered it in the early 1990s when I witnessed Ellen Provost, a teacher at Blue Rock School, use it with a group of 6th graders before the performance of a play – I believe it was either The Conference of the Birds or Monkey. I began using it myself at Carrollwood Day School years later, and it was at CDS that it became a regular practice – something I always did with my students before a performance, if possible, for the rest of my teaching career.
Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance
In dulci jubilo is a famous medieval Christmas carol. It is a macaronic carol (i.e. the text is in a mixture of languages): the original text alternates between German and Latin. The words are attributed to the German mystic (and student of Meister Eckhart) Heinrich Seuse (1295 – 1366), and describes his vision of singing angels dancing with him.
It is one of our oldest, loveliest, and most important carols. The lilting, singsongy, exuberant melody and the relative ease with which they were able to learn it made it popular with my students of all ages – from elementary through high school. Although not a piece I included as an annual repeating feature of Winter Solstice performances, I would program In dulci jubilo every few years, and most of my students sang or played it in a Winter Solstice production at some point.
Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance
Personent Hodie is a medieval Christmas carol. The form in which it comes down to us was first published in Piæ Cantiones, a collection of medieval Latin songs that were sung at the cathedral school in Turku (Finland). It was compiled by Jaakko Suomalainen, a Finnish clergyman, and published in 1582. The carol’s melody is very similar to a hymn found in a German manuscript from 1360, and it is assumed that Personent Hodie dates from the mid-14th century.