The “IT” Factor in School Orchestra Literature
Dr. Gail Barnes, from the University of South Carolina runs a program called The String Project, in which undergraduate music education string students have an opportunity to teach students from 3rd grade through adulthood. In this first clinic I attended with Dr. Barnes, she presented ideas that promote an affective approach to selecting school music literature. She argued that students do not stay in music because of the skills and knowledge they acquire through our courses, but through the emotional connection they make to the music, to each other, and to their directors. She also demonstrated the ways in which composers use intervals and other compositional devices to evoke musical expression and emotional connection.
Dr. Barnes also quoted one of my very favorite books about teaching music, Shaping Sound Musicians by Patricia O’Toole. Shaping Sound Musicians emphasizes incorporating affective goals into the planning process for music teachers. It is not enough to teach them the skills they need to play it or the information about the composer or composition. We must actively engage in teaching our students the emotions of the piece and providing them opportunities to express and explore their own connections to a piece of music!
Hey CMEA… What if we…?
This session focused on providing feedback and ideas to the state music education organization on how they could better support teachers and provide opportunities for music teachers to improve their craft. Primarily, our discussion centered around the role of non-traditional performance ensembles and ways of musiking. What I really appreciated was the emphasis on the “Both/And” approach: traditional large ensembles and alternative musical ensembles (rock band, mariachi, ukulele ensembles, etc.) can and should coexist in schools!
It was a really interesting discussion! As the profession opens up for new and diverse ways of music making, I think it is important to keep educational equity in mind! Ukulele ensembles, guitar ensembles, and other ways of music making cannot just be the second-tier option for schools without the resources to build large musical ensembles. Such a two tier system would simply widen the opportunity gap between students at affluent schools and students living in poverty.
Incorporating Composition in the Classroom
This was, hands down, the most fun I had at a session all weekend! A violist from the Colorado Symphony Orchestra presented a composition model used in the education outreach arm of the Orchestra. Basically, the teacher guides students through a composition process that doesn’t rely exclusively on traditional notation, and with the help of other musicians, bring the students ideas to life!
What I really liked about this model was the emphasis on story-telling, musicianship, and creativity! It is typically used in the primary and middle grades, but it could be adapted for a high school classroom really well! The most interesting part of this process is immediately playing
Posture, Pulse, Pitch…and Praise (and Persistence!)
I have a confession to make. Well, that’s not completely true… I confess that I am not a string player! That’s right! While I teach strings every day, I am still struggling with many of the fundamentals of string playing. I grew up a clarinet player in the band and took a few years of private lessons when I was younger and again in college. And while I enjoyed my instrumental experience, I fell in love with singing at a very early age – just ask my parents!
And while I also played guitar, I was worlds away from non-fretted string instruments! And so I’ve done my best over the last two years to delve into string teaching and pedagogy, but have not been great at actually picking up the violin! So, inspired by the conference, I’ve decided to rent a violin and start practicing violin playing daily at school!
Total Program Success
This was another big favorite of mine! Jeff Young from the Carmel High School marching program in Carmel, Indiana presented a system to evaluate and redesign a program for total success. This seems like a lofty goal (especially for a guy that teaches Anatomy and Physiology), but by applying principles of leadership, entrepreneurship, and what we know about goal-setting and organization psychology, Jeff and his program Dynamic Marching, laid out a usable format for rethinking a band program.
Truly, though, this system could be used by any school organization looking to reevaluate their vision and goals! I learned a lot from this class and intend to use the principles taught to reimagine my program and where I want to go. To be honest, I’ve been feeling very directionless at school as I work with my students. Certainly, I have short term goals for my program and my students-concerts, performances, festivals, etc. But I have not had long-term goals that I am working towards. Even worse, the department I chair does not have long-term goals that we are working towards together.
To truly be successful, both my program and my department need vision, goals, and the work ethic to achieve them. I hope to take the course that Jeff and his team have developed in order to better design a way forward for me and my students. Professional satisfaction won’t land in my lap from nowhere! I need to take the necessary steps to make it happen for me and my students! We deserve nothing but the best!
Part 1 of the 2016 CMEA Round-Up Series