Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays! Musical gifts for you...

What a whirlwind week before the holiday break! A snow day before the holidays is quite a rare thing in our mild state. Last Wednesday is the only time I've ever seen so many students, parents, and teachers hoping that the snow would miss us. Fortunately, we were able to have a couple of hours on Friday to finish up holiday fun, despite the half day and one hour delay.

Many students and parents have asked for a copy of our holiday songbook. Here it is, in PDF format! The book is lyrics only, but chords and even free sheet music can be found for most of these songs with a quick web search.

Forest and Mountain classes learned "Jingle Bells" and "S'vivon" on their recorders this month, and many students are eager to show off their skills at home. If your child missed the handout, here is the sheet music, with bonus song "Silent Night."

As you know, I am always looking for new ways to integrate technology into my music classroom. Here is a novel idea... I imagine this would be an extremely popular Middle School elective! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't forget...

We're having holiday sing-alongs every morning this week in the Lower School Multi! We start at 8:20 and sing until 8:45, or until the classroom teachers come kick us out, whichever comes later. :-) This morning we had a fantastic guest trumpeter (a LS dad), and we expect violins and recorders, as well as more trumpet, later this week. Sky class kids had fun decorating the new songbooks this morning, which I frantically printed out after having a HUGE turnout for Monday morning! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Quick Update

I've been so busy with both units that I haven't had any time to update recently! Here are a few highlights of the last 6 weeks:

--Trimester 2 has begun, and the Middle School musical, Michael Sirotta's "Alice in Wonderland," is underway. Our cast of 39 (see robots) is phenomenal, and Henry and I are so fortunate to have CFS alums Leah and Kiernan working with us on direction and choreography. Come see us perform February 11 and 12!

--While it was sad to say goodbye (for now) to my enthusiastic first trimester First-Year Music Rotation class, I am now enjoying my second group, all but two of whom I taught in the Lower School. One of my favorite parts of being a cross-unit teacher is that I get to be a part of the transformation from child to tween to teen. My first-years (they object when I call them my "ickle firsties") are exploring new territory in music class, from inventing instruments out of found objects to debating how music does and doesn't cross cultural boundaries.

--In the Lower School, recorders are going stronger than ever! Mountain and Forest students have learned "Jingle Bells" and are working on "S'vivon" for the holidays. Even the third-years are already further along than we've gotten in the previous two years. I can't wait to jump into reading notes on the staff and creating some ensemble music with recorders, ukuleles, and xylophones in January.

--River and Sky class have been singing, singing, singing in addition to playing drums, xylophones, and ukuleles. Both halves of River class were able to sing a bell song in four parts, then figure out how to play the parts on the xylophones! We're all ready for our annual holiday sing week, which begins Monday with daily sing-alongs in the Multi.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Celebrating Halloween.... With Recorders?

That's right, recorders are scary! Mountain and Forest classes learned a new arrangement of an old favorite, dubbed "Scarily We Troll Along," complete with full orchestral accompaniment. Thanks to Recorder Classroom for the music! Here is a frightfully enjoyable recording of the Mountain 4th years.

Scarily We Troll Along

Thursday, November 4, 2010

CFS Middle School Play Cast Revealed By Robots!

The title pretty much says it all. Listen to the robots to hear the cast list for our 2011 Middle School production of Michael Sirotta's musical version of "Alice in Wonderland." The excitement is exciting! Thanks to for the technology.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Welcome Back, Middle School!

I wish I could say Fall was in the air, but at least it has been beautifully sunny for our first weeks of Middle School. Today students will find out their advisors and advisee groups for the year, so the school is simply buzzing with excitement. Good luck to all the morning class teachers...

The first week of school was spent reclaiming my teaching space, which involved hefting a lot of heavy equipment into the loft, setting up the new digital piano (woot!), and reorganizing. The space is now being used for a morning math class, so that’s an extra incentive to keep it clear and clean. My rather firm “keep out unless you have a teacher’s permission” sign is now complemented by a beautiful name sign made by David. Thanks, David!!
As usual, I’m teaching 3 electives this trimester: First-year Music Rotation (required of all 1st-years), Ukulele, and a new class called Musicians’ Workshop.
They get younger every year.
I’ve been kicking off Music Rotation with the same listening exercise and debate since I started teaching it. One of my goals as a music teacher is to open students’ ears to the huge variety of music in the world, and recognizing that while the existence of music is universal, the way you interpret it is heavily influenced by your culture and experiences. We listened to ten excerpts from around the world, from Bob Marley to Tuvan throat singing. After sharing our first reactions to the music, the whole class worked to come up with a definition of music that we could all agree on. That is much harder than it seems! Some of the things these 10-year-olds were arguing about included whether music requires instruments (because if it makes music, it’s an instrument, right?), whether music you imagine in your head can be called sound or even music, and whether nature sounds can be considered music if there isn’t a human there to hear it as music. Finally, I shared with them composer Edgar Varese’s famous definition, “Music is organized sound.” That led to a discussion of what the words “organized” and “sound” actually mean, which led to... well, you get the idea.

Since those first two lively classes, we’ve been reviewing our drumming skills from Lower School and learning new rhythm games and hand drum techniques.

Middle School ukuleles are back! 6th period is our ukulele elective, and students have just received (and decorated) their very own ukuleles. So far we’ve learned to tune our ukuleles (an ongoing process, and one we get to practice quite a bit as the new strings stretch out), the names of the strings, the C, F, and G7 chords, and several songs including “Kookaburra,” “Simple Gifts,” “Black Socks,” and “You Are My Sunshine.” We also just started learning the C scale, a gateway to finger-pickin’ fun.

I’m very excited about my 7th period class, Musicians’ Workshop. You may have read my blog entry about composition in the classroom. I’ll be bringing a lot of composition into the Lower School and MS 1st-year rotation this year. Musicians’ Workshop a class for older Middle Schoolers, focused on creative composition. Our first exercise was for each student to become a “key” on an instrument by coming up with a short, repeatable sound or rhythm. Then each student had a turn as the composer, in which they used hand signals to “play” the keys of their instrument. Much fun was had! We then listened to four very different pieces of music: a Bach cello partita, a song for flute and cello, with both players singing while playing, by Persian-American composer Reza Vali, Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” and U2’s “Beautiful Day.” We noticed similarities and differences, and that the pieces from the same genre actually had less in common than the pieces from different genres. Again, we’re working to open ears, but at a more detailed and thoughtful level.

We’re now working on our first composition assignment, in small groups. Stay tuned for some audio clips!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Welcome Back, Lower School!

It is so fantastic to be back to teaching. I feel blessed to have had so much one-on-one time with my now almost-10-month-old baby, and now he is in excellent hands while big sister and I are at school. Here’s a glimpse into our first two weeks of music classes in the Lower School!

One of the first things the students noticed upon entering the studio was our brand new digital piano, complete with “no touchie” sign to keep it in good shape for as long as possible. Our many young pianists were eager to know if they would ever get to play it, and the answer is YES, during music sharing, which will begin in a few weeks. Parents, check your email!

One of our start-of-year traditions is making name sticks, which we use nearly every class. Here, the name sticks are having a conversation with my flea ukulele, which the kids were very happy to see. Our LS ukuleles took a quick vacation up to the Middle School, but will be returning by the end of the week, ready for all our little fingers.

Our new Forest and Mountain students completed the much-anticipated ritual of selecting their recorder colors. Like last year, the 3rd-years and 4th-years are in separate groups, allowing for a more progressive approach to the instrumental curriculum. 4th-years will be using their recorders for a second year, reviewing and building on their skills, while 3rd-years will be learning the basics. This separation also allows our 4th-years to advance more quickly on the ukulele, as their hands are larger and their coordination and frustration tolerance are increasing.

Our first all-school settling-in songs were old favorites: “This Little Light of Mine” and “You Gotta Sing.” See below for the words. This week, we’re learning (or re-learning) a favorite round of our old-timers, “This Pretty Planet.” We’ll being doing lots of rounds in the coming weeks, especially in Forest and Mountain class, as we learn more about singing in harmony. Forest and Mountain already learned a beautiful countermelody to “This Little Light of Mine.” CFS loves to sing, and one of my goals as a music teacher is for no child to grow up thinking he or she is “tone deaf” or “can’t sing.” Not in my vocabulary!

Finally, this week the older classes had their first drum circles, and the younger classes played rhythm sticks. We learned “I’ve Got a Dog” with the rhythm sticks, a silly song we’ll be using to introduce each type of instrument. We’re also getting reacquainted with some old favorites through songbook sing-alongs in Forest and Mountain.

I’ll be posting again soon--each half-class at CFS has music twice a week, so we are able to get right into things!

Please comment here or email me if you have any questions about the music program. I look forward to meeting new parents soon!

This Little Light of Mine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine (3x)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine (3x)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

My brothers and my sisters, I’m gonna let ‘em shine (3x)
Let ‘em shine, let ‘em shine, let ‘em shine

These dancin' feet of mine, I'm gonna let 'em shine (3x)
Let 'em shine, let 'em shine, let 'em shine

All around the world, we’re all gonna shine (3x)
We’ll all shine, we’ll all shine, we’ll all shine

You Gotta Sing

You gotta sing when your spirit says sing (2x)
When your spirit says sing, you gotta sing right along,
You gotta sing when your spirit says sing

You gotta shout when your spirit says shout (2x)
When your spirit says shout, you gotta shout right out loud,
You gotta shout when your spirit says shout

You gotta wiggle when your spirit says wiggle (2x)
When your spirit says wiggle, you gotta wiggle like a worm,
You gotta wiggle when your spirit says wiggle

You gotta shake when your spirit says shake (2x)
When your spirit says shake, you gotta shake like a snake
You gotta shake when your spirit says shake

You gotta dance when your spirit says dance (2x)
When your spirit says dance, you gotta dance right along
You gotta dance when your spirit says dance

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Can Every Child Be a Composer?

Can you imagine language arts class with no original writing? K-8 art class in which students only copy pictures? K-8 music class without students creating their own pieces of music? Of those three questions, I would dare to guess that most Americans would answer “yes” only to the third. As my career has shifted from performer to music educator, I’ve been thinking about my history as a composer and the tendency of American music education to focus on performance over all other aspects of our art. I’ve spent much of my creative life wanting to become a composer, but only in recent years have I been able to accept that I don’t have to be the next Bach or Stravinsky to be a composer—I in fact have been a composer since the age of 5. My first few years as a pianist resulted in such gems as “I’m Being Eaten By an Alien” and “Pig Dance.” However, the more I learned about music in traditional lessons, the more intimidated I became. My culture’s music seemed to be made up of a million rules, and every piece I learned on the piano, violin or flute was vastly superior to my compositional experiments. I had a passion for music, a desire to express myself through composition, and an attitude supported by much of Western musical culture that composers are born, not made. The latter gave me such an inferiority complex that I rarely composed for years, and even more rarely shared my compositions with others. It wasn’t until college that I began to experience composition in a new way. 

My first official composition class (after many, many music theory classes) was with Prof. Allen Anderson his very first semester at UNC-Chapel Hill. His classes were one revelation after another, but it was the very first assignment that made the biggest impact. We had to write and perform a composition with these rules: the instrument could not be something normally used to make music, and we had to invent our own musical notation specific to our new instrument. To a traditionally trained classical musician, it was the most freeing assignment imaginable. I made music with my three juggling clubs, and never looked at a household object the same way again. More importantly, I started to begin to be able to imagine music without all the rules, just like when I fell in love with the piano as a young child. I began to study composition with a much more open mind, and collaborated with up-and-coming composers as a performer, culminating in a recital in Los Angeles of all new works for the flute. The more I develop as a composer, the more I’m able to personally blur the lines between performer, composer, improviser, and listener.

My journey as a composer was a struggle for many years, yet I felt compelled to continue even when I really didn’t understand why. I think this sentence, by Michele Kaschub and Janice Smith in Minds on Music, sums up my feelings:
Composers work at the vast frontier of music-a place where knowledge and possibility are always twisting and turning in elaborate dance.

Knowledge and possibility. Should these not be the foundation of an arts education curriculum? I hope they apply to everything I do as a teacher, whether it’s the knowledge of a particular musical tradition and the possibilities within it, or the knowledge of one’s own inner world and the possibility of expressing it through original music. For years I was stuck in a downright snobby thought pattern that if music (or art in general) wasn’t completely unique and groundbreaking and wonderful, that it wasn’t worth making. But music belongs to everyone, not just the professional performers. Every child deserves the chance to express themselves through the arts, not just imitate. Music is a natural language of children, especially if they are immersed in it in their early years. Every day my 5-year-old daughter expresses herself through original music—whether making up a silly song or acting out strong feelings through an instrument. All too often, the knowledge children accumulate puts a damper on their formerly limitless sense of possibility. The preschooler is a composer, an improviser, a fabulous singer! The fourth-grader has often already decided they “can’t sing,” they “aren’t musical,” and certainly they “can’t compose.”  The arts are one field where possibilities should only increase with knowledge!

Implementing a composition curriculum is a huge topic and the subject of, well, not enough books—but certainly it should be! I’ll be posting about my journey during the new school year, and have already found some wonderful resources online. Technology is also on my side—despite the disadvantages of living in a culture of music consumption rather than music-making, the modern teacher has a wealth of truly useful technological tools available, from music notation software (e.g. Sibelius) to music production software (e.g. GarageBand), to online collaborative music-making communities (e.g. Indaba). I’ve already discovered many of the joys and pitfalls of teaching composition through GarageBand in the CFS Middle School. In addition to expanding that program, in the upcoming year I plan to implement the most changes in my youngest students’ classes. Those students will potentially be my music students for up to 8 years, so they will be my first test subjects for a progressive composition curriculum. Stay tuned to my blog to track their progress!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just to let you know..

Comments will be moderated from now on. I'm having to delete too many spam comments after they appear on my blog.

I'm spending my rare quiet moments this summer working on new curriculum ideas and expanding/organizing my PLN (personal learning network). It's something I can even do with a baby on my lap. :-) I'm excited to be teaching a new workshop during the CFS Tech Institute week this August, "Web 2.0 Tools for the non-Techie," which is inspiring my research! I'll also be teaching the Blogs and Wikis workshop. The Tech Institute is open to the whole CFS community this year, not just teachers, so check us out!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Music Education and my iPad

Edited Summer 2011: For a more up-to-date view on iPads in music education, please visit this post, to view part one of my iPad Mega-List!

Original post:

I was lucky enough to get a 32 GB WiFi iPad in April as my very late Christmas gift to myself, and it has already become an essential tool for work and play. I've been keeping my brain sharp with Crosswords and Sudoku; keeping informed with the NPR app, AP HD, TweetDeck, and the Weather Channel Max; reading novels and puppy training books with the Kindle app (that's right, we got a PUPPY during my maternity leave); browsing great artwork with Art Authority, and enjoying a fantastic web experience with Safari. Ted talks never looked so good!

I thought I'd organize some of my favorite education- and music-related apps into a blog entry, in hopes that colleagues, students, and parents might find it useful. I'm also writing a separate entry for my favorite tech tools on my laptop/desktop, some of which have iPad counterparts. In no particular order...

Just when I thought I couldn't be wowed by another sticky note/organizer app, I discovered Corkulous. Corkulous has a gorgeous, intuitive interface with a large, scrollable corkboard background and a nifty drawer at the bottom full of draggable stickies, labels, checkboxes, photo boxes, etc. There are also draggable corkboards you can put anywhere to embed an unlimited number of boards within boards (tap to switch boards). I've already found this app to be a great tool for brainstorming blog and curriculum ideas. Board content can be exported as a pdf or image file. Here is the image of my board for this blog entry.

By the way, Appigo, the developers of Corkulous, also make my favorite to-do app for the iPad and iPhone.

Bento is a scaled-down database app from the makers of Filemaker, a premium (and pricey) database program for the Mac. I've found that the desktop version of Bento ($50) has all the functions I need, and it's much more simple and intuitive than Filemaker. The iPad app syncs with the desktop version and is also completely intuitive. It lacks some of the desktop functionality, such as the ability to have multiple forms in a library or show videos more than 10MB in size, though I expect some features will be improved in updates. My first iPad Bento library is for my MS 1st-year music rotation class, and with a record for each student, it's been the perfect way to jot down notes on participation and projects on the fly. I've also dragged photos of my students' invented instruments and, on my Mac, videos of their projects. Now my course evaluations are practically writing themselves!

Introduced right along with the iPad, Apple has created counterparts for each of its desktop iWork applications. They include Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentations), available for $9.99 each. Though they aren't quite as flexible or powerful as their desktop versions, the iPad apps are perfectly sufficient for most of my daily needs, and far outperform any programs of their type I've ever tried on a mobile device. Files are synced when syncing your iPad with your computer, and files created on the computer can be easily added through iTunes. If you don't use iWork on your computer (and it's not available for PC users), you can export to .doc or .pdf format before syncing. You can also email files straight from your iPad, or with the help of a printer sharing app such as Print Central, you can send them to a networked printer. Here is the test document I made (this is a JPEG so that it can be displayed on my blog):

One of the first things on my mind after Steve Jobs' keynote announcing the iPad was how it could work as a virtual music library. Several sheet music apps popped up within the first few weeks of the iPad's release, and so far ForScore is by far the best. It's actually a PDF reader, optimized for musicians. ForScore comes with quite a few pieces of piano music, but unlike many of the other apps, you can import an unlimited number of your own PDF music files. You can write directly on your music with a selection of virtual pens and highlighters, quickly skip to any page in the score, and utilize a basic built-in metronome as you practice. You can also organize your music into setlists, though the file organization capabilities still leave something to be desired. I've imported hundreds of PDFs of piano and flute music from my CD Sheet Music library, without a single hiccup. Now I have music for any occasion, on the go, no hefty bag of music books necessary!

Tab Toolkit
I'm not a guitarist, so this app isn't so useful for me, but it has great reviews and seems worth a mention. Tab Toolkit is a music reader app for guitarists, that allows editing and playback for certain types of files. Follow the link to its homepage for more information.

For whatever reason, Apple didn't include a voice recorder app for the iPad. QuickVoice is a simple, free voice recorder app that allows you to record and play back audio of any length, and export files via email. I have a long wish list of features in a recording app, but in the meantime, QuickVoice allows me to record my students singing and playing, and export audio files I can attach to their Bento records.

Camera for iPad
Another slight iPad disappointment is the lack of a camera, though it handles photos beautifully. Camera for the iPad connects your iPhone and iPad via WiFi or Bluetooth, and the iPhone acts as a wireless camera for the iPad. I do have an iPhone, so it's a quick way to get photos straight to my iPad. I often take photos in class, and now I can quickly make them available to Bento and my other apps. It's also a fun party trick to use my iPad as a mirror (so I go to nerdy parties, ok?).

The iPad seems a natural platform for a music notation program. I would love to be able to drag and drop notes, hearing them play back as I go. The developers of Symphony, a music notation app for the iPhone, are working on Symphony Pro for the iPad. I hope that we'll see a contribution from the major players, too. I use Sibelius on my Mac and an iPad app could appeal to Sibelius users as well as musicians who download scores from using the free Scorch plugin.

I currently use Circus Ponies Notebook, a fantastically flexible notebook/outlining app, for most of my curriculum development. This is another program that would lend itself well to the large touchscreen.

Finally, I've recently discovered Planbook, a Mac and PC lesson plan book application developed by a teacher for teachers. This is the first virtual plan book I've found that can not only replace, but truly surpass my good old paper plan book. The developer is working on an iPad version that will presumably sync with my laptop. I can't wait!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Twitter Twitter Tweet Tweet

I'm becoming more and more a fan of microblogging during my maternity leave. I've just started a new Twitter account for little updates about music, teaching, the brain, and cool links. You can follow at Warning: Twitter seems bizarre until you try it... then it can be horribly addictive!

Meanwhile, it's been wonderful being back at CFS to teach First-Year Music Rotation in the Middle School. While you're exploring Twitter, be sure to follow the new CFS feed:

Happy Spring!