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