Friday, July 25, 2008

Week Five and Beyond

My gosh, over already? It seems like we were just getting into the swing of things! The concert went very well; my beginning students nailed their instrument features (way to go, guys!!) and stayed together on the piece we weren't altogether prepared for. My intermediate kids did just fine, the timpani player on the piece I conducted got to play on real, full-size timpani instead of some ancient roto-toms, dynamics were pretty decent, and despite all the hubbub of people moving mid-camp, we did well. My advanced band really gave me a pleasant surprise on a tune called "Jamaican Holiday" by schooling a long-standing trouble spot and doing some killer dynamics; I'm nominating us for best section on the planet. :)

What I did well

I think I got a much better hold on finding that state of "approachable teacher" rather than a teacher you don't dare go near or person you view more as a buddy and less of an authority. I didn't win over all my students (how often does that really happen, anyway?) but I certainly got many more smiles and many fewer scowls.

What I didn't do well

I definitely didn't get as far as I would have liked with my beginners. Neither my trumpets nor my trombones got very far in Essential Elements (we had to skip forward to the concert pieces on p. 12), and while it would be easy to say that a third to a half of each group came in not knowing how to read music (so they claimed - I could have sworn they learned this in classroom music), I'd still say that it's largely my fault for not having gotten them through to that point.

What I'll do better next time

Well first and most important, I have to make some new secret handshakes; the low brass handshake is apparently on TV now! No, really first and most importantly, I need to get comfortable with the idea of setting goals not for where my students are, but above where they are. I need to get comfortable with the idea that my kids might have to get severely left in the dust before they kick it into high gear. I need to get comfortable with giving them more than they can handle at once just to show them that they really can handle all of it at once if they try. That ended up happening when they got three band pieces at the same time; I would rather it have happened during the first week or two.

I also need to work more on note recognition in class. I tried this year handing out flashcards with the notes, note names, and fingerings on them so that they could work on that at home and we could work on other stuff in class, but looking back, I realize I've got it backwards. What we did in class was the fun stuff, and what I was asking them to do at home was the mundane stuff; big surprise there that they didn't work on the boring stuff at home. During the summer. Where it competes with video games. And baseball. I seem to remember someone warning me about this...

I think I'll keep the flashcards, though; some kids really did benefit from them, and it's nice to be able to have that option for silent "practice," like in a car with teenage siblings or at a cabin over 4th of July weekend. It's not much, but it's something.

In other news, paychecks have finally started to come in the very week camp is ending!! No, that's okay, district, my car runs on happy thoughts, not on gasoline; I can still get to work. At least it means my bank account is back above single-digits and that I can buy things like food. In that time after graduation and before the first paycheck, I'd better find something that pays weekly. What did you real teachers do in that dead time?

Also, I got about $90 worth of music in the mail for my upcoming junior recital. I'm giving it a "trombone and organ" theme, so it'll be held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead just north of campus if anyone wants to come listen. The organ there is quite an instrument and a small giant at that, so if anything, come for that. I'm going to see if I can balance with its "tutti" on one of the pieces.

Anyhoo, more to come later. Take care,

Monday, July 7, 2008

Week Four in Review


Yessir, Monday, we put all of our beginners in one room and had them play notes at the same time. Oh what a happy, happy noise.

This means we've switched schedules to accommodate band so I only see each of the groups once per day instead of twice. When I tell my kids this, I always get the "oh my gosh, I'm going to have to practice" face; it's that kind of slight, innocent panic that I find a bit amusing.

In intermediate/advanced band, I lost my advanced horns and gained a group of intermediate saxes and horns. This means it's like week one all over again, so it's been a great opportunity for me to be doubly aware of setting guidelines and what not. ("Saxes, no squawking." "Horns, play louder." "Don't play while I'm talking.")

Funny update about my trumpets, too - they were super driven on Monday. Right from the get-go, two of them called out and counted off a tune! At first, I felt kind of threatened - "hey, this is my rehearsal!" - but then again, why push them when they're already running? They were really eager to show off what they had been working on over the weekend, and more power to them!

Thursday, I taped myself as part of a class I'm taking in the fall. I haven't watched any of the footage yet, but there's about an hour and a half worth of tape that I'll need to go through. Let's just say I'm not expecting it to be painless; I never like watching myself on tape in the first place, and I tend to be my own harshest critic, so we'll see how things go.

In other music related news, I'm playing the Carl Maria von Weber "Romanza" in church tomorrow - that's such a cool piece - and in other education related news, I got Ron Clark's "The Essential 55" yesterday, and "The Excellent 11" should be coming soon. I'm curious as to how I can apply Ron Clark's principals to music education, as they were originally intended for an elementary classroom setting, if I am not mistaken.

All for now,

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A thanks, a question, and advice on recording

First, I'd like to give a big thanks to Joel over at for his kind words and response to my entry on my last post with his brief philosophy on teaching beginning band.

I really admire his three points because they cover just about everything. The first, behavior skills, sets the students up for a good relationship with the teacher because it lays that groundwork for a healthy teacher-student interaction where the teachers aren't angry and the students aren't frustrated. The second, encouraging "band weenie" (or, as I've heard it, "band nerd") attitudes, sets them up for good peer relationships because that feeling of comradeship can go a long way in many ways. The third, having a characteristic sound, sets them up for having a good relationship with themselves; fewer things are more frustrating than that sense of "I can't get it," and a base of musical knowledge and ability will at least carry them through the summer until they can start lessons again.

Second, I'd like the poll the wisdom of those who read this and ask kind of a noob question : is it okay to advertise yourself as a private lesson teacher to your students? I used to take private lessons from one of my teachers, but he never advertised the fact that he taught privately, at least to my knowledge, and come to think of it, I've never heard any of my teachers offer private-lesson-style help at all. So, I don't know if it's just the precedent I've seen or something a little distasteful about saying "you can pay me later for what you're getting now once this ends." I mean, is there a tactful way to do this, or is it simply bad style in the first place?

Third, I've been meaning for a while to write something on recording. We used to have some recording gear at my High School, but it was really pretty inferior; the mics were little dynamic mics probably no better than an SM-57, and each track started with a huge "CLICK," which sounded like you were punching the internal mic, which doesn't make sense because there wasn't an internal mic.

Up at school, I've been doing a lot of recording and am becoming the lead recording engineer for Concordia's Beat next year. (more on this later, maybe; the site also badly needs updating) Being around the caliber of equipment you'd find in a recording studio, I've found that it's often true that you get what you pay for. So why, in a school setting, should you splurge and get a lot of expensive recording equipment?

  1. Most important, it's fun. I defer you here, to the Digital Music Educator, for a perfect illustration.

  2. Also importantly, audition tapes can be expensive for an individual to record professionally, and yet be the easiest for which to assemble gear. Plus, this is maybe one of your best reasons for your administration to hear - audition tapes lead to local, state, and national recognition for your students, which reflects well on the school, eh? Read on for more about this...
  3. It lets your students hear something on the other side of their instrument's bell. I still do this in my own practicing (just like the camera adds ten pounds, the microphone takes your tone back ten years), but are tons of ways to use a mic as a teaching system.

  4. Posterity - we made a recording back in ninth grade and got a copy at the end of 12th; it was cool of course to hear how far we had come, but also to reminisce over some old pieces I had forgotten about. I'm sure my grandkids will look at it some day, too, and have some kind of reaction or another to it. :)

Now, about this whole audition tape recording process - depending on your gear, a really good setup can cost as little as maybe $300 and would fit very nicely inside any wishlist you drafted up. This depends on you having a computer, but would get you an interface with phantom power (haven't used one before but it looks like it would do the job) and a condenser microphone (we have a couple of these in our studio and they're fine for recording close alone and far if you're backing them up with something else), plus a mic stand and XLR cable (you may already have a few of these lying around).

That's about all you'd need, if I'm not overlooking anything. Most audition tapes can be done well with one mic; for recording a group, you'd best have at least two mics, but then we're getting into more complicated territory. You plug the mic into the interface, the interface into the computer, and start running a free audio capture program. From there, burning the CD should be just like any other CD you burn.

There's a lot more on this topic, and I'll cover it later; this post has gotten long enough for one Saturday.

On the flip side of using high-quality equipment, by the way, the wise Dr. Carter suggested using the worst-quality recorder you can get to listen back to rehearsals you record and analyze; it makes it that much harder to take the pressure off and rest on your laurels. :)

Hope all's well with everyone, and enjoy any leftover 4th of July burgers.
Grill on,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Week Three Highlights

So we're past the half-way mark in summer band and I didn't nearly mention it enough. When I mention it, kids often get this shocked, wide-eyed "what, you're serious??" look on their face and come back after a couple days sounding a lot better. I hate to say that my best motivator is the reminder of a deadline, but I think that's because I haven't really gotten the hang of playing teacher mind-games yet, complete with the guilt-trip, the inspirational speech, and the hundreds of other tricks in a good teacher's bag.

Today in particular was a very interesting one, being the 3rd of July. One of my classes was very small because three of the five kids were gone a day early for vacation. Fortunately for me, one of the two left has a lot of natural talent, and the other one is a very hard worker and is going to be just fine if he sticks with it. (and works on his note-name-and-fingering flashcards!) On the other hand, since one of the teachers couldn't find a sub, I was teaching two horns, five bones, and a dozen-odd trumpets. Having not planned ahead and rearranged my room, we kind of formed into a circle with in the middle dancing around and keeping things going. It was actually really fun, and I wish I had recorded it to see if I did as well as I thought I did.

By the way, I base the assumption that I did well on the fact that there were kids smiling in the I'm-having-fun way and not in the I-can't-wait-to-tell-Billy-about-this-strange-teacher way. This makes me both feel really good and also really cautious because I've heard many teachers give me the warning that if the students like me by Christmas vacation (ahem, Winter Break), I've already lost control. I'm really of a split mind about this advice, but that'll be the subject of a later post.

Anyhoo, also this week, I led my first warmup ever! The teacher who was supposed to have been doing it called out the piece but then was taken out of the room by a parent. I realized, "oh gosh, I'm a teacher now! I have to do something!" So I jumped up on the podium, said something about half notes, Bb, and listening - it was all so fast! :) - and started rehearsing the piece. Woot! I really wish I had caught that on tape; that would have been golden footage for my instrumental methods class this fall.

Finally, what's the deal with finding out a teacher's first name? I don't remember ever having wondered about that as a kid, but I've been asked half-a-dozen times this week. Have we lost respect for our elders so much that a first-name basis is expected of your teachers, or is the beard not fooling anyone? By the way, my first name is "Mister" and let's look at "Hard Rock Blues."

Anyone else notice that you don't really find blues influences in hard rock? Rarely will you ever find a blues-like progression, eighths are always straight, and what about blue notes?

In other news, I'm playing 18th- and 19th-century music with the Century Brass tomorrow at Murphy's Landing. They're such a fun group to play with because I always get my butt kicked; their ears are so much more finely tuned than mine, and they have such wise stylistic points. I'm learning a lot.

Okay, that's all for now. Happy 4th of July!