Slava! performed by an Elementary Band? Sure! Why not?

Just wanted to share this AMAZING video of an elementary band in Japan performing Leonard Bernstein’s Slava! Enjoy!

Ironically, this YouTube video directly relates to an online class that I just started through Wilkes University and Discovery Ed. I will post about that later. Anyway, I had my wife listen to the audio of this video first before seeing who was performing. Then, we she came into the room and saw who was performing the work, she was as flabbergasted as I was.

I have just begun reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind for my graduate class. In the first chapter, he writes about left brain versus right brain thinking and how our educational system has traditionally catered to the left – the logical, language-centered, essentially more “academic” side of our brain, all the while more or less ignoring our more right-brained compassionate, artistic, emotional side. This video is a direct correlation to that.

My wife says, “What’s wrong with this country that we don’t focus enough on the arts?” As Daniel Pink would point out, it is largely in part due to education being based on preparing a workforce to participate in the Industrial Revolution where artistic and creative thinking were not as valued. Somehow, folks in other countries have at least figured out that the arts are a vital part of their school’s curriculum.

I could go on and on about the effects of high stakes testing, and how I believe our educational system is skewed, etc. but many other folks have written much more eloquently on the subject than I ever could. I would like to leave you though with this talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 for TED Talks.

Wordles – Looking back on the year and more!

At this time of year, it seems everyone is reflecting on “a years worth of tweets/status updates.” So, of course that got me thinking about doing the same. I really enjoy using Wordle, so I decided to make two – one of my most used words on twitter (from TweetStats) and from this blog. Here are the results. First from Twitter:

It’s no surprise that some of the largest words involve “band”, “music”, and “students.”

Here’s the wordle from this blog:

Again, very similar.

I’m pleased with the results, and it’s fun to reflect back on what I have been tweeting/writing about. Try it out for yourself! I’d be interested in seeing what you come up with!

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2010!

Why My Students Make Me Cry

The best advice I ever received in my teaching career came from another band director in the area. He is kind of a mentor to all other band directors around here, as he has been around for quite some time, and has a marvelous program. In fact, I can remember looking up to him as a young middle school student back in the early 90s. I will never forget seeing him at a band show during my first few months of being a band director. I said, “Well what words of advice can you give me as I embark on this endeavor?” He said, “Make sure that you love your students. And, make sure that they know that you love them. Tell them.” So, I did. And I continue to do it to this day. Frequently.

I’m not sure how this relates to my concert last Tuesday night. I guess I just feel like they are willing to work really hard for me because they know that I care about them. Now, my students would be the first to tell you that I am pretty easily moved to tears by them, but last Tuesday was the first time it actually happened while I was in the middle of conducting a piece. We worked on the first movement of the Holst First Suite for the entire semester. This was a huge challenge for us on many levels. Mainly, it was the first time any of those students had even attempted to perform a piece at that difficulty. You see, we finally got a new rehearsal schedule this year…I see all of the 9-12 band kids every day for the whole year. I used to see them in two different periods and only 2-3 times per week. I knew that the students had the capability of playing music of this difficulty, we just never had the time to put it together in rehearsal. So, we worked on that movement almost every day from September through the beginning of December. Believe me, there were some days that weren’t so great. In fact, there were many days that I was not proud of myself as a teacher. But, I knew I had to push them, because I knew that they could play it great. And, I won’t ever accept anything but their best effort.

So, we began the concert with Charles Carter’s Overture for Winds, which the students played very well. Then we continued with Grainger’s Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonnie Doon, and it was just beautiful. They have come so far in their ability to play with control and expression. So I was already feeling great for them. We were truly seeing all of their hard work pay off. Then we came to the Holst. Of course the woodwind sixteenth-note section was not as clean as it could have been, but it was certainly the best they have ever played it! And that is what got me about the entire performance of that piece – It was the best they had ever played it! I think as performers and teachers, we always want ourselves or our students to have the best performance possible at the concert. But, much of the time, this does not always happen. We lose some of our preparation to nerves, and we always have little errors here an there that we wish we could get back. But, during the Holst, the kids played marvelously, and then I began to think about the blood, sweat, and tears that we had all been through TOGETHER in preparing the work.

I looked at some of the faces of these students that I had been teaching for the last 6 years, thinking back to their abilities when I started working with them and their abilities now. I was overwhelmed at that point, and I could not hold back any longer. The tears just began to flow. I looked at them and remembered how mad they made me on some days, and how absolutely wonderful they were on other days. I started to realize, maybe a little bit, the impact that I may have had on them as a music teacher. Maybe they actually were learning something from me! I realized how far this program had come in 6 years. I could remember just hoping that my senior high band would end together on middle school-level music! I could remember what these kids were like when they had just started playing their instruments in the elementary program. And now look at them…Look at how much they have grown as musicians, and as people. It was easily the highlight of my career thus far.

After the concert I made sure that I told them how much I loved them, and how proud of them I was.

My First Experiences in Second Life

A while back, I posted a tweet on my Twitter after reading some posts by other educators who use Second Life. I immediately heard back from @msgregson

…I was convinced right away. I really didn’t need that much convincing anyway, but it was just the push that I needed to give it a try. I had been seeing lots of folks in my PLN talking about SL and their educational experiences with it, and it sounded really interesting to me. So, I downloaded the software, created my avatar and started exploring.

So far, every person that I have met in SL has been incredibly helpful, encouraging, and kind. I am grateful to @msgregson for encouraging me to do it, and especially grateful to @ejulez for basically being my SL mentor!

I have only been on SL for a few weeks now, and every day I am pleasantly surprised with all of the opportunities that exist there. I know there is probably even more that I do

Me in Second Life as Cosmo Lanley

n’t even know about. I am excited about the possibilities for learning!

I think the most exciting part for me is that I get to meet new people almost every day. And, most of those people are other educators from around the world. It is so wonderful to sit in the comfort of my pj’s and slippers and have great conversations about education, attend a virtual conference or presentation, or just hang out and have fun playing games, or even dancing (something I rarely do in real life)!

A while back I wrote a post about how I thought Twitter was helping me to become a more social person. Second Life has fostered that growth even more. I have to admit that I was even a little shy about interacting with folks in Second Life at first, but now I say hello to everyone I meet without hesitation. And, part of the reason that I am so comfortable with that is because of the genuine kindness of everyone that I’ve met.

My SL mentor, Julie Sugarplum has written a great post about her experiences with Second Life, and I couldn’t agree more with her. Julie sums up one of the best things about SL to me, “The networking alone is something no one should want to pass up and in my opinion is a more effective method of networking than the real world (inexpensive, less time consuming and you can do it in your jammies and fuzzy slippers).”  If you are an educator using Second Life in any way, or if you are interested in getting into it, please share your thoughts and comments! And, if you are already a SLer, please look me up!

A Student’s Thoughts on Wikipedia

wikipedia-logoWhat follows is an article a student of mine wrote in the school newspaper. This echoes my feelings on Wikipedia and how it is viewed in education.

This school is giving Wikipedia a bad name. As a small child in ninth grade, I was convinced that the online self-edit encyclopedia was a bad website for information, because my research paper teacher told us so. For two years after, I had it worked out in my head that Wikipedia was the center of all lies. As it turns out, this is not true. That’s right, every teacher’s nightmare is about to come true because the truth is about to be exposed. Go onto any Wikipedia page and look near the bottom, you may notice the links citing information. Now call me crazy, but I don’t think if people were lying they would go so far as to make up a link with more false information. The biggest discovery happened over the summer. I was with my older sister and our neighbor changing around some Wikipedia pages for fun, because there was nothing else to do. For example, the best change was my sister taking the biography from Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and pasting it into a new political beliefs section on the page for the popular television family, The Brady Bunch. After looking at the page again, the change was taken down within less than a minute. You see, the people at Wikipedia are really on top of their game, they know what they’re doing. Stop blocking that site and block stuff, as site where people can buy stuff from the computer lab.

Fostering Musicality and Creativity in Rehearsal

150301737_3776586bbc_oEver since I started teaching music, I have wanted to teach my students how to play musically and creatively. I have always wanted my students to play with emotion and feeling. However, these are pretty advanced concepts that I think are pretty difficult for many young students to grasp, even in senior high. I think a lot of this stems from years and years of directors telling students how to play musically and expressively and dictating emotions to them. They have not been encouraged to make musical choices on their own.  I don’t think this is something that you can explain. Anyway, I came up with an interesting idea “on the fly” today during my senior high concert band rehearsal, and the results were exciting!

First, I had put the students in a circle (we only have about 15 winds) in order to work on our listening skills for a previous piece. Then we began rehearsing Grainger’s “Ye Banks and Braes ‘O Bonnie Doon”. The students actually did a really good job with ensemble pulse and I didn’t conduct time, just phrases. But, what I really wanted them to do was play expressively. What inevitably happens is that while they play in time together, in tune, and with a really nice blend, it is almost always the same dynamic level with little or no expression.

So I told them that they were going to go out of their comfort zone a little. I told them that in the next section, I wanted them to play with expression wherever they thought it was appropriate. I told them that no matter what they did, it couldn’t be wrong, and that they should do whatever they felt was right. I stepped out of the circle, because I didn’t want my conducting or gestures or anything from me to influence the way they played at all. I sat outside the circle and just listened.

Then, really exciting things started to happen. I heard a little dynamic change…I could tell a few of the students were really trying to play with some expression and dynamics. So then I asked them to do it again, except this time to make what they were doing more obvious to the audience, which was me. As I have told them many times, in order for dynamic contrast to be evident to the listener, it must sound almost extreme to the player. So, they played it again…and I about fell out of my chair!!

Here were a group of students that I have been trying for years to get to play expressively doing it right in front of me! The best part was that they were making these decisions completely on their own! I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I sat and listened as my students played more maturely than I have ever heard them.  They were making musical decisions on their own that were not only appropriate, but beautiful as well! I could even tell that as some students made some musical choices, it influenced the rest of the group, too! It was so exciting!

When we got to the final fermatta, I told the student to fade into nothing, after holding the chord for at least 8 counts. Guess what? It was probably the best release they have ever played!!

Why did they play so well today? I took my conducting and gesturing out of the equation. I allowed them to make musical choices on their own without my influence. I think that if I want my students to make appropriate musical choices, then I have to allow them to do it on their own, without my influence. How exciting!!

Dr. Willard Daggett – Preparing Students for the 21st Century

What follows below is my archive of tweets from a staff in-service presentation that I had the pleasure of attending yesterday. The presentation was given by Dr. Willard Daggett of the International Center for Leadership in Education. He touched on a wide range of topics and his presentation was very thought-provoking. He gave us all food for thought, and I wanted to share them here. Of course, if you want to read these chronologically, start at the bottom with number 33. You don’t have to do that, though.

  1. Love the kids more than the discipline you teach and more than the adults you work with. #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  2. Great presentation by Dr. Daggett! Lots of good things to think about! #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  3. Increasingly kids are coming to school to watch their teachers work. #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  4. Our schools have become museums. #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  5. Every industrialized nation has changed the qwerty keyboard to be more efficient, except the US. #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  6. Can you find a field that has been less impacted by technology than education? #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  7. Showing Siftables ! Sweet! #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  8. We are so into the institution of our past that we dont even know where we are. #daggettabout 17 hours ago from txt
  9. Within 3 yrs. there will be technology for computers in jewelry. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  10. Teachers – If you dont have a pda, u r pretending to teach in a world u dont know. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  11. Our schools are more like 1950 than unlike it. we are not preparing our students for the 21st century. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  12. The US has 5% of the worlds population but more debt than the rest of the world combined. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  13. Wal Mart is the US’s largest corporation…8 times the size of Microsoft. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  14. Two percent of the US gross domestic product is spent at Wal Mart. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  15. China has over 100 cities with 1 million or more people. The US has 9. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  16. India has 168 million pre-schoolers. That could be the 4th largest nation on earth. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  17. In America we are totally focussed on standardized testing as the outcome of our education system. #daggettabout 18 hours ago from txt
  18. Who pushes our school reform? Business & industry. #daggettabout 19 hours ago from txt
  19. All anchors & eligible content are not equally important. #daggettabout 19 hours ago from txt
  20. When whats best for students comes in conflict with whats convient whos winning? #daggettabout 19 hours ago from txt
  21. Highest performing schools have looping staff #daggettabout 19 hours ago from txt
  22. Most rapidly improving schools encourage participation in the arts. YES! #daggettabout 19 hours ago from txt
  23. Relevance makes rigor possible for most students. #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  24. these schools have “rigor & relevance” #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  25. Highest performing schools structure their instruction differently…. #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  26. The US is no loger the sole superpower in the world. Our fiercest competitors in the next decade include Brazil Panama & indonesia #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  27. …when our focus should be on application to real world situations…we have permitted tests to become end line #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  28. We have an ed systen focussed on knowledge in one discipline and application in one discipline…about 20 hours ago from txt
  29. US schools graduated more 18 year olds last year than ever in our history #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  30. What makes a school a highest performing school is not transferrable to other schools. #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  31. How do u commit to excellence AND equity? #daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  32. “Preparing Students for the 21st Century” – Dr. Willard Daggettabout 20 hours ago from txt
  33. Going to live tweet some thoughts from preso by Dr. Willard Daggett @ staff in-service.

What motivates students to practice?

untitledToday, I watched a YouTube video that a friend had sent to me of a girls’ high school band from Japan. The group was playing a composition by Claude T. Smith and it was amazing! You can watch it here. Anyway, it got me thinking…

We are all familiar with great programs, whether its band, orchestra, choir, etc. What makes these programs different than mine? The students are the same age. Sure, they may come from all different backgrounds, living conditions, etc., but what is the real difference between students that are just average musicians, and those that are incredible? Is it that those students are really dedicated to practicing?

Let me digress for a moment. Yesterday, during my senior high concert band rehearsal we were rehearsing the first movement from Holst’s First Suite in Eb. If you are familiar with the piece, you know that woodwinds have a significant 16th note run in the beginning of the movement. Now there is nothing overtly difficult about this run. Most young students will just need to spend some time working out the technical aspects of the run. I may be stubborn, but I am refusing (at least for now) to work on this during rehearsal time, because it is something they can easily learn themselves with a little time in the woodshed.

So anyway, after seeing this amazing video of this girls school, I started really thinking about students and their motivation to practice. I know for me, I only became motivated to practice when I could see or hear the benefits of my practice. Then it became like a snowball effect. Once I realized that my practice time was really paying off, I could easily see how much better I was getting. This led to more enjoyment in playing music, which in turn led me to practicing more. I was intrinsically motivated.

How do I get my students motivated to practice? I really believe they have to be intrinsically motivated. That is, they have to want to do it for themselves. They will not do it just because I tell them to do it. In fact, they may just not do it for that very reason. I really think that if I can get past that first hurdle, and they can begin to realize the fruits of their labor, they will then be intrinsically motivated. Is this something that has to start in the elementary program? Should I be a stickler about their practice time at that age? Will this turn into a habit when they get into middle and high school? How do I get to the point that all of my students just practice out of habit? When will my program get to the point that students just practice because they know that it is expected of them? If this point in time ever does arrive, then I think we could really have an incredible group!

Your thoughts?

How social media has helped me come out of my shell

I am the quiet observer type. But, I have found that using social media outlets, especially Twitter, has made it much easier for me to communicate with my colleagues, and especially people that I am just meeting for the first time. I find it easier to have meaningful discussions with new acquaintances.

Here are my personal observations. 1. I am more comfortable and confident holding conversations with colleagues & new acquaintances. 2. While holding these conversations, I feel that my thoughts are more succinct and clear. 3. I actually feel like I can communicate more effectively to my students. 4. I am no longer reserved about sharing my thoughts and comments with people who I hardly know.

I know there is a lot of talk, especially in education circles, about the use of social media by students. Some fear that using these online communication methods are somehow destroying students’ abilities to communicate effectively and properly “in the real world.”

My question would be this. Why then, have I found that my communications skills have improved? Is it simply because I previously learned proper social interaction before this whole social media thing happened? Or, has social media actually influenced the way I communicate?

I have always been a shy person, but I would no longer put myself in that category. Perhaps writing this blog has helped, too. Maybe through writing this blog and using twitter, I have realized that “putting my thoughts out there” isn’t a bad thing. In fact, maybe it’s a good thing…a really good thing. I have learned so much and had such great conversation with other educators and professionals through these social media outlets.

I don’t know that I can draw any conclusions about young people, but I know that these outlets have helped me to communicate more effectively and more comfortably. Just food for thought.

The Marching Band Effect

xl1The title of this post may be misleading. You may be thinking, “Ah yes. I’m familiar with this effect. This is when students play with poor tone quality and intonation, etc…” But, this is not exactly what I’m talking about.

Over the last several years, I have noticed an interesting phenomena that occurs when I have young middle school students play in the marching band. They get better. Way better. Quickly. It’s almost mind-boggling.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I preach all of the same principals of good musicianship to my marching group as I do to my concert band. It’s just different music and a different venue. I still tune the group carefully. I still expect them to play with good intonation. I still expect them to play with good characteristic tone quality. I still expect them to play correct dynamics and articulations.

For the first few years in my program, I only allowed select 8th grade students to join the marching band. Given the situation that the program was in, the marching band band played much more difficult music than the middle school. But, if I felt that students were “up for the challenge” then I would invite them to participate in the marching group. After a year or two of this system, I started to invite 7th grade students into the group as well. Admittedly, this was an attempt to get more bodies in the marching band, as I was feeling some pressure from my community as to how few students were in the group…about 30 musicians. Over the next few years, I began to notice a trend.

These middle school students that participated in marching band got to be much better musicians very quickly. Students that were previously on par with the rest of the middle school students ability-wise, were now far surpassing their peers at a rapid pace in the concert band setting. Now, I am at the point that I will take any 7th or 8th grade student that is interested into the Marching Pride.

Here is what I have found this year. A flute player that was average at best last year has improved immensely in note-reading, and rhythm-reading ability. I have 3 middle school trombone players that started off the season pretty weak, but are now incredible. They now play with immense confidence and a great sound! I have clarinetists that could barely play over the break last year, let alone with a good tone. Now, they do it easily and sound good too! These are just a few outstanding examples.

When we then get together for concert band at the beginning of the school year, they find the concert music easy. I can see that their peers that aren’t in the Marching Pride are struggling with notes, and finger placement, and slide positions, while they are playing the music with no problem. As you can imagine, this has greatly improved the quality of the middle school band (not to mention the marching band!)

I don’t know if I can put my finger on what exactly it is, but here are some factors that I think are contributing to their success:
1.They like the music. I really went out on a limb this year, and picked “popular” music – Fallout Boy, Rihanna, The White Stripes, Katy Perry – I think this motivated them to learn the material.
2. They have no choice. When they get to band camp it is kind of like, “Here’s the music (which is much more difficult than anything you’ve ever played)! Good Luck!” They have their peers to help them learn the music in sectional rehearsals, but they are basically expected to learn it. They are forced to step it up.
3. They want to belong to the organization. I think what is really key here is that they are excited to be a part of this great group, and have a sincere desire to do the best that they can. I attended a summer class co-taught by former University of Illinois Director Gary Smith. One of his main philosophies about marching programs was “System + Spirit = Success.” I have really made this a guiding principle for my group too. The idea is that if the students really buy into your system, i.e. how the program is run, and it’s philosophies and procedures, then the group will be successful. I really believe that nearly %100 of my students believe in our system and are passionate about it.

Having middle school students join our marching band has been an outstanding experience! Without fail, those students have improved immensely as musicians at an impressively rapid rate. This is something that I will continue to do, and I know that the quality of all of our middle high school band groups will improve because of it!