Candid Over Coffee ~ 2.23.17

This morning I am drinking my coffee at an Einstein Brothers in Athens, Georgia. My students are down the street in rehearsals for All-State Chorus, and I am relishing the chance to sit down with some coffee without interruption. Life has been a little extra crazy lately, hence my lack of posts these last few weeks. My husband just got a new job (praise God!) and so our two younger children are going to daycare. This means all new responsibilities at night to prepare for the next day and new routines for our sweet little baby. Our oldest child started t-ball, which means more commitments to write in on our calendar. And then of course, just our daily schedule with three kids under the age of 5 is a little nuts. But everyone seems to be doing really well. We are healthy, we are joyful, and we are starting this new season of our lives with excitement.

At school, my choirs are rehearsing for our Large Group Performance Evaluation. We perform two pieces for a panel of three judges and receive feedback and scores. Then we sight read for another judge to again receive feedback and scores. Some days I leave work thinking how great our rehearsals were and how well we are doing. Other days, I leave wondering why it’s not coming together like I want it to. Teaching singing can be so challenging; I can’t tell my sopranos to just move this vocal cord to this place. That’s not how our voices work. It’s such an experimental process for the singer to find what works. It’s a lot of “try this” and “relax” and “don’t do that.” But I have a fantastic group of kids this year that are eager to learn and improve. Seriously, a teacher’s dream.

And this weekend I am with three of my students as they participate in All-State Chorus. They are having an amazing time, just as I did when I was a part of All-State as a student. I can’t help but remember my own experiences every time I come to this event. This event used to be held in Savannah, so it’s a little harder to be nostalgic in a completely different city, but when I sit in on rehearsals and listen to the concerts, I feel like it was just last year that I was performing with the All-State Chorus. And now, as a teacher, I have a whole new appreciation for my music teachers, for the time and resources they invested, and always with great enthusiasm. Those people have impacted my life in tremendous ways. There is no doubt I am who I am because of them. And even if I had not chosen a career in music education, I know that their impact would still be a lasting one. They nurtured a love and appreciation for music within me, but they also chose to love me as a person. I can’t tell you how often I hear from someone that they took piano lessons or a music class in which the teacher was “mean” or “so strict” and those people walked away from that experience with a bad taste in their mouth. Thankfully, I just can’t relate to that sentiment. My teachers have been truly wonderful. I will forever be grateful to them, and it reminds me of my responsibility of carrying on their legacies to my students now.

Do you have a music teacher that left their mark on your life? Good or bad? I would love to hear about it here, along with any crazy memories you have from their classes or being a part of ensembles.

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Technology Ideas: Padlet

Over the last two weeks I have been doing my best to bring more technology in to my classroom. This is something that is greatly emphasized at my school, and yet I still struggle with it. It’s not that I’m opposed to technology in my classroom, it’s just that I feel that there are always problems that pop up. Sometimes I feel that we are trying to incorporate technology for the sake of incorporating technology instead of actually increasing our classroom’s efficiency or learning. There have been several instances in which I’ve tried to use the latest app or web-based activity to teach a new lesson, but after trying to help students recover passwords, gain wi-fi access, and giving out separate instructions to Apple users and Android users, well I feel that I’ve lost too much instructional time. My classes are much too large to purchase tablets for everyone and even the computer labs are too small for my groups. So many obstacles!

Still, I know that there are those brilliant teachers out there using technology with such ease, and their lesson plans always go smoothly and are loved by the students. Their students are engaged and productive. Maybe I can find my way to this dream world? I’ve decided to give it another shot. So this past month I decided to try out one new idea. My goal was to focus on one new techie idea that could enhance what I’m already doing with my students and then I could try to work through the hiccups as they came along. I decided to use Padlet in my classroom, an oldie but goodie. You can find it at Padlet.com and it’s free. It allows myself and students to post anything and everything on the screen in real time. I decided perhaps this could enhance my classroom listening exercises.

If you’re looking for something fairly simple to start with, this is a great one. I already have my students listen to recordings each week in our “Listening Fridays”. After we listen together, we have a class discussion over what we heard. This is one of my students’ favorite activities each week, but it’s impossible to take input from every single student in a class of 50. With Padlet, I found that I’m finally giving every student a voice.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Have your students go to padlet.com and create a user account. If using cell phones, there is a free app that you can use.
  2. Create a Padlet! You can customize it in so many ways. Then post questions on the Padlet wall that you want students to answer.
  3. Give a link to the students to get to the padlet you created. There are a number of ways you can do this. I had the most success with embedding my padlet to our class website (as hosted by the school), so since students already were accustomed to going to this site, they had no trouble finding the padlet. OR, you can easily create a QR code just by looking at the “Share” options on your padlet. The padlet app has a QR reader built in.

Begin your discussion! Have students click anywhere on the padlet to share their response. Their answers will immediately pop up on everyone’s padlet no matter what screen they are looking at. I love this for our listening activities because the students can begin discussing the topic while still listening in silence. Students are held accountable for their answers because their user name will show up with what they type, thus taking care of the class clown that is always looking for the chance to be inappropriate.

It took 3 or 4 days for me to work out the best process for using this program, but now that I have the bugs worked out, I’m making it a point to use it with the students every week. They seem to be enjoying it and now since it’s a regular part of our class, it fits in to our lessons seamlessly. Victory!

I would love to hear how you use this program or another techie gadget in your classroom. What are your favorites?

 

 

Candid Over Coffee: It’s early

It’s an early morning for our first coffee chat. Our new addition to the family decided to start the day at 5:15AM. That really shouldn’t be so bad since I’m typically up by 5AM when I’m working. However, since little man refuses to go to bed before midnight, I wasn’t particularly appreciative of the early start today. Really, if I am being honest, I have nothing to complain about. Today is his two month birthday, and he typically sleeps through the night. My first two never slept–even still, my oldest routinely gets up at least once a night. It has been awesome having a baby that sleeps so much. I know it can’t possibly last. In fact, it probably will change right about the time that I return to work.

Return to work. That time will be here in the blink of an eye. I’ve already started taking some time to do some lesson and rehearsal planning for when I return to the classroom. This is my first maternity leave that has lasted longer than 8 weeks. I took 8 weeks with my first child due to difficulties at home. What difficulties? While we were still in the hospital after the birth of our son, our best friend went by our house to feed our dogs. When he arrived, he found water running out the back door. A pipe had burst in our upstairs bathroom and had flooded most of the house. We couldn’t even come home to stay with our new baby. Instead, we went to live with my Grandmother that first week -oh how thankful I was to be with her during such a stressful time. When we got the ok from ServePro to come back home, we lived out of the bonus room and guest bathroom for about four weeks. When it was time for the contractors to come in and try to put our house back together (seriously, they had to rebuild walls, ceilings, new floors, everything), we moved in to a hotel room for two weeks. Throughout this craziness, my husband had just started a new job with his company and was having to put in extra hours at the office in addition to managing the problems with our house, insurance claims, and being a new father. It. was. nuts. We moved back home about a week before I returned to work. On my second maternity leave, our house behaved itself and I only took 6 weeks. That was still tough. With this pregnancy, I knew I would take an extended leave. What a difference it has made! Especially since it has been during the holidays.

Holidays. All music teachers have particularly crazy holiday seasons due to extra rehearsals, holiday performances, and more. While I still have my church’s musical program to prepare for and perform in, it has felt very odd to not be working on Christmas music with students. I have actually really missed it. I am hoping my students are loving the holiday music I picked for their winter concert. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get to work on it with them, because I happened to love the music I picked out for them. Holiday music is some of the best work we do all year. Who can be in a bad mood when you are singing Christmas music? It certainly simplifies classroom management when everyone is in a good mood and they are enjoying the task at hand.

My little guy is done with his morning nap (which was much too short) and so it’s time for me to refill my Christmas mug with one more cup of coffee and turn my attention back to him. Thanks for reading my random Friday morning train of thoughts. I’m hoping to share more of my scatter-brained self on Fridays, which means a lot of random ramblings, and in between the Friday posts I hope to offer some helpful articles for the classroom and that life you’re supposed to have outside of the classroom.

Summertime and the living is easy…

Sweet summertime. I am loving every minute. I am finding time to do lots of fun reading, I’m catching up on so much of the housework that was neglected in the spring, I’m taking naps (oh so many naps!), and having all sorts of fun outings with friends and family. I spend most of my time with my two sons, and I am loving our movie days, library visits, trips to the zoo, afternoons at the pool, and plenty more.

Yesterday, I had to take my oldest child to the dentist. As we were leaving, the dentist exclaimed, “Have a great rest of your summer! Er, what’s left of it!” I cringed. I couldn’t believe such a statement was being made. Summer just started! But when I mentioned it to my husband, he cautiously pointed out the small number of weeks I have left.  Really, I am somewhere around the halfway mark of my summer vacation, but seeing the date on the calendar sends me in to a flurry of emotions. What kind of emotions?

Let’s start with the easiest: DREAD! First of all, I am absolutely loving my time at home with my boys. As I said before, we are having all sorts of adventures and creating fun memories, and I’m not ready for the change of pace. But the other main reason would be that I am miserably pregnant. The thought of going back to 5AM alarms and having to put on dress clothes over my ever growing belly in this insane Georgia heat is bringing back the nausea of my first trimester. Right now I am sleeping in, putting my feet up (as much as is possible with two little ones under the age of 4), and living in t-shirts and stretchy shorts. I have no excitement whatsoever at the thought of gearing up for a new school year while being eight months pregnant.

It’s really tough for me to try and plan for this upcoming school year. We have a lot of variables and new challenges hanging over us right now. My husband’s company was recently bought out by a major competitor, and so we are waiting to find out whether or not his department will be dissolved. My oldest child will be starting Pre-K in August, which will be a whole new ballgame for our family. I will have about two months of work in which to build a strong foundation for the year, put on a fall concert, and then hand over the reins to a long-term sub as we welcome baby boy #3 in to the world in October. And is our house ready for #3? Definitely not! I am still waiting on that burst of energy for nesting to kick in.

It has truly been a fantastic summer, and while my dentist and all of the “back to school” ads on tv want to tell me it’s almost over, I am reminding myself that I still have several weeks of fun ahead of me. I’m looking forward to some time on the beach, lots more books to devour, and plenty more naps to enjoy on my couch. Yes, I probably need to pull out my planner and start taking notes on all of those great teaching articles I’ve bookmarked over the last month. Yes, I probably need to start organizing my thoughts and goals for the new school year. But maybe I can also just enjoy being lazy a little while longer.

 

 

A Love-Hate Relationship

Sometimes I think I was overly ambitious by choosing a career in music.  By choosing to study performing arts, I think I have sentenced myself to years of great joy while also enduring extreme frustration.

Sometimes, for me, music is just too subjective.  I can drive myself crazy when I don’t achieve that perfect sound that I’m looking for.  There are some moments when I am looking at my students, envisioning the sound I want, pulling out every rehearsal technique in my arsenal, but I am just not connecting with them.

Thankfully, there are plenty of “AHA!” moments in which students do get it, and so we make forward progress.  Those are the moments that I remind myself I’m supposed to be in the classroom.  Those are the moments I can’t wait to write about here on the blog.

But sometimes, those moments seem distant, and I am left listening to recordings of my rehearsals trying to figure out what I am doing wrong.  Maybe I’ve tried to use an analogy about voice placement that was always helpful to me in my own voice study, but it doesn’t work with my students.  Or maybe no matter how many different ways I try to have my students correct my vowels, it isn’t sticking from day to day.  The feeling of defeat can weigh on my like a ton of bricks.

With Large Group Performance Evaluations around the corner, this stresses me out more than any other time of the year. It seems that every February, I start wondering what other line of work my degree in music qualifies me for.  Still, in the midst of my frustration with my own imperfections, I continue to love what I do.  I love the students, I love the music, I love the singing.

With music, I suppose it will always be a bit of a complicated relationship.

When your Mom is a Musician

When your parent is a musician, life can be a little different for you. There are quirks, really. I didn’t realize this until I had children of my own. Like when you are too sick to be at daycare, but your mom has rehearsal, so she sets up a pack and play next to the piano and manages to keep you somewhat entertained while also playing and scribbling down notes for the singers. Or even if you’re not sick, you find that much of your time is spent with Mom or Dad in the theatre or rehearsal venues.  Homework is done in the sound booth and naps are taken on the corner of a stage.

When your Mom is a musician, you listen to lots of Gershwin, Chopin, and some Beethoven mixed in for good measure. When you watch “Little Einsteins” and a composers’ name isn’t pronounced to her liking, she is sure to let you know.

When your Mom is a Choral director, your bedtime lullabies can be really strange. If it’s getting close to a big performance, you will probably be listening to her sing the alto line to one of the concert pieces.  Or maybe if the tenors were particularly squirrely that day, you’ll be hearing their part an octave higher.

When your Mom is a Choral director and she goes to conferences, she comes back with gifts, which is why you have your own set of Boomwhackers in the play room.

I’ve seen children tagging along with their band director daddies to our professional association’s planning meetings. I’ve sat in a corner of a convention center with choral director friends as our babies played and crawled all over us while we waited on our students to get out of All-State Chorus rehearsals.  I’ve seen our dance teacher make pallets in the floor for her children to sleep while she stayed at school late to finish building a set.  I’ve listened to our theatre director’s son recite lines from a play that he knows better than the actors because he has sat in on so many rehearsals.

Yes, life can be different for our children.  But there are also great memories to be made along the way as we include them in our crazy schedules and routines.  They are introduced to what we do at an early age, and they are given a model of hard work and dedication that they will always remember.  Hopefully, they will follow in our footsteps with a love for music, dance, and theatre, and we will have a special bond that spans from dragging them with us to rehearsals to one day sitting in the audience as they take their turn on the stage.

 

Why Train the Students?

It is fairly common to hear ensemble directors talk about how they “train” their students.  Of course, all classroom teachers do this, really.  One of the first lessons taught in classroom management courses is that of teaching your students routines.  You are to train them to know where to turn in papers, where to find passes, how to transition in and out of the classroom, and so forth.

In the music classroom, we train our kids in these same areas, but also in how to be responsible, independent musicians.  I always start my classes with vocal warm-ups, ensuring that they are becoming mentally focused for rehearsal while also creating healthy habits for their vocal use.  I work with them on their sight reading skills so that they can learn music on their own without always needing someone to pluck out notes for them on the piano.  I constantly remind them to give me good posture, always keeping their hands at their sides, feet firmly planted on the floor.  I promise them I’ll wear extra make-up – even paint my nose red – if they will just watch me conduct!

I have a group of students leaders that I have made sure to train for various roles.  Some have taken on the responsibilities of recording attendance, leading warm-ups, or setting up risers.  Recently, I even went so far as to run timed set-ups of the risers to prepare for our annual Fine Arts Showcase, a concert in which we would need to set up the risers backstage quietly and quickly while other groups performed.

The Fine Arts Showcase has been a tradition at my school for the last six years.  We perform a two night show that includes students from dance, theatre, chorus, orchestra, band, and even visual art.  It is a great event, but can be very stressful as there is a lot of transitioning that takes place.  While one group performs, another group quietly sets up in another part of the auditorium.  There is no down time at all so that the audience constantly has some entertainment going on.  I have been a part of it from the start, but this year things were a little different for me.

Last week, my sweet Grandmother passed away.  Oh, what a special lady she was, not just to me, but to so many.  I am still dealing with so much heartache, and when I am ready I feel certain I will have a blog post to share just how wonderful she was.  She passed away unexpectedly the week of the Fine Arts Showcase.  I was in such a fog.  My colleagues knew what she meant to me, and they knew I would need to be with my family for the visitation and funeral.  They immediately jumped in and took care of everything for me.  The band director, who already had a tremendous amount of responsibilities on his plate for the week, jumped in and directed my choirs.  He rehearsed with them as much as he could so they could get used to one another, and then he did a fabulous job conducting them in the concerts.  What a relief it was for me to know my students would perform with everything they needed even though I could not be there.

Through this Showcase, while I was gathered out of town with my family, my students proved to me the value of “training”.  The other directors share how the students came in dressed and ready to go for the concert.  Somebody stepped up and led warm-ups, and all of the students participated.  They lined themselves up to walk on stage just as we had practiced, and the riser team had the risers set up in record time without disrupting the other performances taking place on stage.  They were in their places ready to go with time to spare before the curtains opened.  They performed their pieces beautifully, and when everything was over, they had the risers broken down and put away. They even cleaned the room as if no one had ever been there.

They impressed the other directors that night and represented our choral program extremely well.  They were professionals.  They gave an outstanding performance, and they allowed my mind to focus on my family instead of worrying how to be at the concert to ensure that chaos did not break out.  This was the best gift they could have given me during my time of grief.  They gave a beautiful, impressive performance that allowed their audience to pause and enjoy the holiday season without distraction.  This is why we train our kids.

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Nashville

As a musician, I was always slightly embarrassed to admit I had never been to Nashville, Tennessee.  Maybe not as shameful as admitting to never having been to New York City (who, me?) but I had just never had the opportunity to visit.  My chance finally came last month when one of my students was accepted in to the National Association for Music Educators’ (NAfME) All-National Honor Choir.

When I first learned about the All-National Honor Choir last spring, I shared the information with one of my outstanding singers, Keshav.  He was a sophomore at the time and was eligible to apply after he made it in to the All-State Choir.  After discussing the program with his parents, he decided that he really wanted to be a part of this.  After completing the application and sending in an audition video, we waited about six weeks before receiving the news that he had been accepted.

Keshav spent four days in Nashville with other outstanding musicians from across the country.  He spent many hours in rehearsal with the choir, but he also had the chance to hear concerts by groups brought in by NAfME.  He stayed with the other singers at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and performed with the Honor Choir on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

Keshav

I could not work out my schedule to be in Nashville for the entire NAfME Conference, but I did not want to miss the final concert.  I invited my best friend and fellow music nerd Amanda to make a whirlwind road trip to Nashville.  We left on Tuesday afternoon to make it in to the city just before dark.  We stayed in The Gulch and had dinner at a really fun place called Whiskey Kitchen.  Great food, great atmosphere.  The place was growing crowded as the night wore on, so as we left we were bumping in to all sorts of people, including John Corbett.  My first run-in with a movie star!  I was totally unprepared.  I didn’t know his name right off, but I quickly recognized his face from “Serendipity” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  From then on I was convinced there were celebrities everywhere in Nashville, on every street corner, and was certain I would run in to more.  I kept my eyes wide open.  Alas, on a Tuesday night, the town is pretty quiet and I did not have any more exciting run-ins.  Finally Amanda and I trekked back to the hotel in the pouring rain and got some sleep.

The concert started at 9AM Wednesday with the All-National Jazz Band. We had fantastic seats.  The Jazz Band was incredible and included a performer from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

  opry

The All-National Honor Choir followed the Jazz Band, and their concert was truly impressive.  Afterwards, I was able to find my student to congratulate him.  He was on cloud nine and was having to say goodbye to all sorts of new friends he had made.  It made me a little nostalgic for my own All-State Chorus experiences as a kid.  I love having the opportunity to introduce my students to these experiences just as my teachers did for me when I was a student.

I fell in love with Nashville, and cannot wait to return.  Next time my plan is to stay for a little longer than 18 hours.  That would be nice.

Book Queen

My students and I just finished a really fun project that I want to share here on the blog.  About a year ago, the media specialist at my school shared a music video with me in which a group of students from another school parodied a popular song to promote their media center.  She wondered if we could do something similar?  I told her once we had some time we could make something even better, and so after our fall concert that’s just what we did.

I brought up the idea with my students, and they really took it and ran with it.  They came up with the song, rewrote the lyrics, held their own auditions, and came up with the choreography.  It took us about a week to do.  One of my students handled the recording and video editing.  She recorded the audio first and then put it with the video she had captured.  She had it ready to go in less than an hour–amazing!

This is evidence that my kids are super smart and tech savvy while also being vocally talented.  I’m pretty excited to have such a great group of students this year.  Check out how great they are as they get our school pumped to read:

I am hoping that this will be the first of many efforts in collaborating with teachers and organizations outside of our Fine Arts Department.  The media center specialist was able to use this commercial on our school’s television channel as well as on the school’s social media sites and webpage.  I don’t think my students were expecting what we got in the final product, so seeing their faces as they watched the final video for the first time was really fun.  They were really proud and have been sharing it on their own social media.  I’m hoping this will be the first of many fun videos we get to make together.

A Sigh of Relief

Another Fall Concert is in the books, and what a relief it is to have it behind me.  It went better than I had hoped.  My students made me incredibly proud with their hard work, focus, and professionalism.  I’m actually a little sad to have to move on to new music.  The music we had been working on was so much fun, but also rich in educational content and musicality.  Our concert theme was “Celebrating Today’s Composers”.  All of our music was written by living composers who are still actively composing.  It is amazing to me that so much incredible music is still being written today, music that I believe will continue to be performed by choirs for generations to come.

We had a larger audience than normal, which is fantastic.  I am so glad to see our program drawing in new people and greater support.  There were a great number of people there who do not typically attend the choral concerts–some of them were probably seeing their first Chorus concert.  After the concert, I overheard a few of those audience members talking about their favorite pieces and even downloading one of them to their phones.  I just smiled to myself as I walked past them, thrilled that our concert had introduced them to new music.  Isn’t that part of our goal?  Our purpose?  Not just to reach our own students with new music and performance techniques, but to have them go out and share what is learned in the classroom with others?  A love of music can be infectious.  May it always be so!

I have been walking around with such a sense of contentment after having a successful concert.  Now it’s a new week, and as always, I’m looking around my home and office realizing how many chores I had neglected to spend more time preparing for the concert.  Time to play catch-up and get back on track.  Winter performances will be here in the blink of an eye…