Rehearsals at 7:15 in the morning are rough....for anybody. However, I am grateful that I get to start my day playing jazz with a bunch of high school kids who enjoy playing enough to get to school an hour early (every day) to have some musical fun. We are getting ready for our next performance, which is Swing Night-a super fun experience that we share with Jazz I and the community jazz band. We are playing some standard charts, 'Woodchopper's Ball", "Darn that Dream", "It Don't Mean a Thing..."....you get the idea. Today I noticed that the students were playing pretty tentatively, even thought the rhythms and notes are familiar to them (I remind them that they have seen these notes and rhythms before, they are just in different configurations). The trumpets in particular are incredibly tentative in their playing and I have tried every trick in the book to encourage them to play with more volume, air, confidence....etc.
So, fast forward, I haul out my cornet and just sit in with kids. I haven't played cornet in forever---especially jazz. I mean...I don't play cornet/trumpet. I *taught* it for many years as a middle school band director and would regularly play along with my kids in lessons, band, and jazz band. But I don't actually play it. And I really only know how to play: loud (the only way, amiright fellow trumpet players??) Anyway, I got back there and started playing-missing notes, hitting the wrong partial-not on purpose, but mainly because I was just going for it (and not warmed up at all and likely playing on a mouthpiece that was way too small.) It was SO.MUCH.FUN!! And, the kids started to play a bit louder. After we got done, I exclaimed "WHO CARES IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE?!! I mean, who really cares?? We are playing a chart at quarter note equals 160. How long does that note actually last? Nobody is going to stop you at the gates of wherever in your afterlife and say to you....'oh, no....you can't enter, because remember that one time in jazz band you played a wrong note...'' I went on to share with them that we should not fear making a mistake in place of playing with passion and energy. Mistakes WILL happen, and IT'S OK. They WILL happen in a performance, and IT IS OK. I countered this exclamation with the caveat that to purposely make mistakes is completely different than going for it and making a mistake. But that by focusing so much on playing the right notes, we are missing so much more of the experience.
Yes. Notes are important. They were intentionally put there by the composer and we as musicians have a responsibility to honor those notes and the meaning behind those notes. However, what kinds of disservice are we doing to the students with whom we work if that is the only thing we focus on? In what ways can we encourage students to make mistakes and reflect upon the experience and then in turn change how they approach the piece the second time around.
After my exclamation we started the tune over again, and by golly, it was a different band! The trumpets were playing with a newfound confidence, which encouraged the rest of the band to go for it. A few mistakes were heard, but it wasn't because the kids were purposely playing wrong notes, they were going for the notes. And I could not have been more proud.
Between classes I was going from my office to my classroom and one of the jazz band members (newer the past few weeks) stopped me and shared with me how much he enjoyed "today's lesson on making mistakes". He shared with me that he instantly became more confident because he was ok making mistakes and that only by trying and going for it, would he actually be able to learn anything. #daymade. So, while this post might ruffle a few feathers (and I welcome the conversation) I hope this offers a perspective of learning to gain understanding, versus learning out of fear-which actually does not really increase learning.
I hope to approach more things in life like this: embracing the wrong notes and all the mistakes because by doing so, we can only reflect and learn, try it again and hopefully do better.
Is it program numbers? Awards? Festival ratings? Awards you receive from various advocacy groups touting your program's numbers, awards, festival ratings? It seems that this is what we (the music education profession) deems to be "successful" in K-12 music education. I recently read an article that suggested what successful guitar programs teach their students. That sentence in itself seems problematic to me. Are the programs teaching? In all of this, where are the students? What role do the students play in all of this?
I have found that highly successful guitar classes and programs will cover similar fundamental performance techniques and employ a lot of notated music reading (solo & ensemble) to push and challenge students.
This begs the question, what does "successful" even mean? A quick search for the definition reveals the following definitions:
1)the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals;
2) the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like;
3) a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors;
4) a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.
It seems to me that in general that our profession tends to promote success as defined by a mash-up of these definitions. As educators, we have goals for our students and hopefully, we share these goals and involve the students in the goal-making. Ideally, the goals should come from the students first and we help them get there. But if this is what it means to see success, for the students to succeed, why are we not reading about their accomplishments? Why am I reading more about the teachers' accomplishments? This is not to dismiss the hard work that teachers do, we work our asses off, no doubt about that. But why? Do we work our butts off to receive awards, or do we work our butts off to watch the students struggle with a musical problem, only to work through the problem themselves and possibly others, and come out with a better understanding on the other side?
So, back to the quote that I posted. The program that was highlighted in this article is VERY different than the 'program' at South High. The program highlighted comes from a performance driven program, which is 100% ok and has lots of benefits for students. However, as someone who facilitates guitar experiences in my class, I wonder what the consequences are with a statement that suggests that if one does not employ these techniques for teaching guitar, is that program "less successful"? I doubt that is what the author intended, but it caused me some panic as to how I facilitate guitar experiences at South. We don't do anything that the article suggests, but I feel that the experiences that the students have with guitar are just as important and can encourage music making beyond the classroom. But we don't focus on traditional notation. While we do spend about a week with basic theory, the majority of what we do in class is what I would like to consider "functional guitar". I consider the class to be a successful experience if, by the end of the semester, the students have a better understanding of guitar through multiple experiences that include creative projects such as song writing and cover projects. Through those experiences they will learn the beauty of music making with others, but also develop some sort of vocabulary that will allow them to communicate musically through playing guitar.
If I may be so bold as to share a very cool experience that the Guitar 2 students had last week. We went to a recording studio at McNally Smith College of Music and the students spent all day recording covers and originals that will eventually be uploaded to Bandcamp where they will be available for a sliding scale donation. All proceeds will be going to a relief fund for victims of recent natural disasters. The students did ALL the work. I just sat back for 8 hours and watched them collaborate, work together, problem solve, and make music. It was incredible. Not once did they ask me for help. Today we got the tracks from the studio and the students started mixing their tracks in Garageband. The only thing I really needed to do was show them how to open a zip file. From there they just started experimenting with the program to learn how it works. I had thought about creating a tutorial, but there are enough students in the class that have worked with Garageband that I was confident they could work with each other. And they did. Again. Without me. Is that success? I don't know. I *think* it is. The album itself is not the success. It is what the students have experienced in the past month to put that album together that makes it a "success".
This is an excerpt from my written comprehensive exams that I completed in the Spring of 2016.
Creativity in music education has been a hotly contested issue. Those who teach performance based classes such as band, choir, and orchestra often argue that within those ensembles, students are creating. They are creating music with their peers in a collaborative manner that produces a final product. Some educators and researchers may disagree and suggest that students and teachers in these ensembles are not creating, but rather, re-creating music. Musical decisions have been already been created by the original composer and it is the ensemble’s duty, often at the discretion of the ensemble director, to ‘realize’ those musical directions that are on the page. So, based on this generalized description, it is hard to argue that large ensembles are truly embodying the process of “creating”.
It might be wise to consider the words “creating” and “creativity” and if there is a difference between the two. “Creating” may be best defined as the act of doing, whereas “creativity” may be best understood as the thought process that initiates “creating.” So there may be “creativity” in place but perhaps the act of “creating” has not occurred. Within this debate comes in “composing”, another word that creates angst among music educators for a myriad of reasons. (Dr. Sandra Stauffer has greatly influenced my thinking on this term and rather than use "compose" in my own classrooms, I use "create" and will refer to this term versus composition.) With a push from the National Standards for educators to embrace "composing" in their ensemble classes to further students creative and creating potential, it is no wonder our profession is having the sometimes heated conversations that we are having. To some educators, playing in ensemble, as described above, is a perfectly acceptable form of creating. However, we must look deeper to the student’s individual needs to perhaps have a better understanding as to why encouraging students to compose, actively engaging the creativity process to participate in the act of creating, might be incredibly beneficial to the student as a musical being.
Research related to creating in the classroom is mostly regulated to experiences of elementary students. Something happens when students enter a large group experience and no longer have the opportunity to create. The little research on creating in secondary ensembles attempts to understand how students create in quantifiable terms (Menard, 2015). While this is useful, especially measuring comfort levels of students attitudes towards composing via a pre-test and post-test and their ability levels, I believe this potentially undermines the greater affect of the process.
Research suggests that secondary educators are resistant to creating for a variety of reason that include: time, attitude towards composing, fear of quality and lack of preparation to teach composition (Hickey 2010, Menard, 2015). Many educators fear that devoting time to creating in the performance-based classroom will take time away from performances. With this time element is an attitude that creating does not belong in the large group ensemble experience. In a past conversation with a previous colleague, I recall sharing a great experience that I had with my bands as we negotiated a creating project within the confines of the space that was afforded to us, and the colleague responded with “band should be band, if kids want to compose, they should take music theory or a composition class..” While anecdotal in nature, this opinion is not entirely uncommon and raises a whole host of issues regarding the ways in which we teach creating and who has access to those experiences. Because performance-based classes are grounded in the "traditional' expectation of high quality performances, there is a fear among educators that a lack of quality in the student compositions may be reflective in the teacher’s inability or lack of training in composition. This raises another issue in regards to teacher preparation and how colleges and universities are including creating in their studies (Stringham, 2016).
While these issues and challenges are very real and cause for concern, perhaps we can take a look at what our elementary counterparts are doing to include creating in their classrooms as a way to reinforce musical concepts. Hickey (2010) suggests that every new concept that is being taught can be reinforced through creating. This is where the word “composing” starts to raise fear in music educators. There is a mis-guided belief that in order to teach "composition" we must start with theory and our students should be creating four part chorales. In reality, creating a short rhythmic motif is a form of creation. Stringham (2016) suggests that for more advanced students, using the current repertoire in their folders as a basis for creating will foster additional understanding of musical ideas but also encourage student’s to create their own understanding of music.
The concern of time is a huge issue for music educators, especially in high school ensembles where it seems, especially in the band world, there are performances that occur monthly, if not weekly, depending on how the basketball team is doing. However, how might music educators incorporate students’ compositions into a performance? Taking the lead of colleagues at a local high school in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, I would encourage music educators to think about how they might create a unit on composition that reinforces a particular theme for the concert. For example, this particular music team (Nora Tycast and Brian Lukkasson) chooses a theme each spring; one year it was poetry, another year it was film music. Using this theme, students picked a silent film, or a piece of poetry and wrote music to accompany the film or represent the poetry. These were collaborative groups that students worked together in for two months. All of the creations were a part of the concert. The unit was embedded within the rehearsal structure so that ample time was given on music prep but also creating. When asked how this unit affected the overall performance of the ensemble, the directors both agreed that it only enhanced the experience because students became more aware of compositional decisions made by composers of the music they were playing, but it also encouraged the students to take musical risks. The directors prepared one or two fewer ensemble pieces so that the students would not feel overwhelmed by the whole process.
Allowing for these experiences encourages students to become more independent musicians. Through creating their own music, students think critically about musicial decisions and have specific reasons for the decisions they made rather than “that’s what’s on the paper”. Additionally for students who are in the large ensemble, but are more ‘section’ players versus ‘lead’ players, this allows opportunities for these students to perhaps develop a more personal musical identity. Finally, through creating music, rather than re-creating, students have the opportunity for a different musicking experience that may potentially carry with them when their large ensemble experience ends.
So, what am I doing?
We at the midpoint for the quarter and beginning band is well on our way into making musical decisions. Like I mentioned with the Hickey (2012), I use creating as a way to reinforce any sort of new concept. This entry from last year describes a bit more about what we do at the beginning of year. We are now into reading "traditional" notation. The students are doing really well and I think we are enjoying ourselves. Every couple of weeks we have "playchecks" that help inform the student and myself of how they have progressed and what they need to work on in the upcoming week. These are nice little check-ins that allow a little one on one time with the students, something that is often lost in a "large" group setting.
This upcoming week students are creating their own playchecks. Doing this allows for several observations: what is the student's understanding of what we are actually "learning". Do they really understand rhythm, or are they just using their ears? By creating their own melodies, they are demonstrating their understanding of rhythm and structure. By writing their own notes, they are demonstrating that they have an awareness of what notes their instrument can play. Then, they play their creation for me. Sometimes, not always, what they have written doesn't always translate to their instrument and that is OK! We talk, as a class, how sometimes the visual and the physical don't quite line up-that it might take our muscles (facial) to catch up to our visual. Again, it is OK! I try to not stress to much about their abilities to read music right away. I want them to have fun (what a concept, right) and encouraging them to write something that they can show off for me, encourages that. After all, isn't the whole point of participating in a communal activity such as music to have fun?
As the summer winds down to a close, I am looking forward to another school year. Year number 15 to be exact (whhhaaaaatttt????). This year I do not have to write any new curriculum, but will be refining and accommodating as needed. However, what is more important to me than curriculum (again....whhhhaaattttt????) are the discussions that we will be having in class. No doubt, our country is at a pretty tough spot right now. The summer started out rough with the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting of Philando Castile. This verdict came out two days after school was let out. I was pained by the fact that I could not connect with students through music, to allow their frustrations and anger to be heard through music. Minneapolis has recently seen verdicts that favor police officers over their young male, black victims. Jamar Clark was an unarmed young black male who was shot and killed by police in 2015 and the police officer was acquitted in 2016. It is tough times to be a young black man in this country. Has it ever been easy? Side note: did you know that during the '50s and '60s many black jazz musicians converted to Islam because, at the time, it was easier to be a Muslim than to be a black man? WTF?
We now have a president (#notmypresident) who does not acknowledge the hate groups that have caused pain, suffering, death, and further division of our country. Additionally, #45 continues to spew hurtful stereotypes of immigrants, specifically latinos/as and Muslims. Generalizations are dangerous and only lead to fear, which is what #45 feeds on. The students, and their families, with whom I work could be further representations from these stereotypes. These are beautiful children, young adults, are just trying to live a life of freedom, something we proclaim as a basic value in our country.
So, what do we do? I'm a white lady who has lived a pretty privileged life. I went to a relatively white school, both of my parents supported me and they are still married. I had opportunities to education, private music lessons, and never had to question my place in society. What is my role in all of this? My role IS this. It is time to #riseup and fight the fight.
How do we do this in education? Some might argue that politics have no place in education. I respectfully disagree. Education IS political. What is we say, or even more importantly, what we CHOOSE to NOT say, can have a lasting impact on students, the people we work with, and the community at large. I'm not saying that you have to go into a classroom and announce your dislike for #45 (but go ahead if you feel so inclined....that is really up to the school climate), but you CAN engage your students in thoughtful conversations and musicking that will stimulate conversations to encourage different viewpoints. This is healthy. This is democracy. LISTENING to each other and engaging beyond 140 characters is important.
These conversations are not limited to "core" classes like civics classes or language arts classes. Music classes have a HUGE potential to be a place where students can converse about current issues. What has the role of music been in society during turbulent times? In what ways have artists used their voices, or instruments, or creative compositions, to speak out against injustice? What songs that were written during the Civil Rights movement are still applicable to today? What artists today are using their music to speak out against injustice? Two that come to mind are A Tribe Called Quest and their in your face "We the People" and basically anything by Kendrick Lamar, but most recently his 2015 album "To Pimp a Butterfly" and his 2017 release "DAMN". Some of the material in these songs will be offensive. The language is harsh and real. But in this day in age, I find these less offensive than what #45 stands for.
There are a lot of websites out there for educators to help them facilitate these tough discussions in class. I would encourage you, educator or not, to look through these websites and consider how you might be able to inform yourself, which will give you the confidence to have these discussions. Let me be clear. These are NOT easy conversations to have. It will take thought and time from you. You may have some upset and frustrated students. However, it is really important. I would encourage you to not just do a one-stop-shop lesson, but rather embed these conversations and activities into your curriculum. Healing from words takes time. It can take months. We need to be there for students. We need to show them that there are adults out there who care for them. We need to show them that adults can be civil towards one another, and that we do listen. How will you #riseup this year?
Cult of Pedagogy
Teaching for Change
Teaching Social Justice in the Music Classroom (article)
The Oxford Handbook of Social Justice in Music Education an incredibly important book. Expensive, so perhaps a professional development purchase.
What other sites am I missing? Please join in the conversation! And remember, use your voice. We do have the power, use it to your advantage.
I'm settling into summer break quite nicely. After three summers of intense doctoral work and comps, I am enjoying a bit more 'down' time. That's not to say I am not keeping myself occupied, but I am really trying hard to enjoy being in the present, relax, and feel ok about relaxing. That is not in my nature. So, I am writing this from my backyard-enjoying the smells of freshly cut grass, the birds, and an iced-coffee. But of course, there is a list of things in the back of my mind that need to get done, but I am trying not to think about them too much (ie, clean out the breezeway-do we really need a speaker that doesn't work?!)
So, this post is a bit about this summer, and what is coming up for me in terms of research and some teaching. Yesterday I began the first round of interviews for my dissertation. I have asked six individuals to join me in a journey that will explore the experiences of gay and lesbian K-12 music educators and how they negotiate the personal identity and sexuality identity. This is an inter-generational (cross-generational??) study that includes a first-year teacher through a retired educator. I am really excited to work with these folks but wary of how my emotions my get involved, considering my involvement with LGBTQ youth. However, I will do my best to put that to the side. I have a nice lengthy researcher's journal that basically goes with me wherever I go. I write down comments I hear, my responses (internal and external), and others' responses. The hope of this study is to better understand the needs of our gay and lesbian colleagues, which will hopefully generate discussion (much needed, I might add) in the profession. We'll see what happens. I am looking forward to this experience!
Next month I will be presenting a paper (the pilot study for my dissertation) at the Feminist Theory and Music 14 conference in San Francisco. This will be the third time that I have presented at this conference-the first being at ASU after I had completed my master's degree. I remember thinking "who the hell would live down here in this heat" (it was September and still rocking 100+ temps). My, how things have changed.
In August I will be a part of a panel at the National Flute Convention . While I don't identify as a flute player, I do teach in a school that has a large amount of diversity. The session description:
Embracing our Races: Connecting with Communities of Color
Presented by the Cultural Outreach Committee, this panel shares the ways they connect with underserved communities. Panelists include Caen Thomason-Redus, Director of Community and Learning at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Teresa Campbell, MacPahil Center for Music, Sarah Minette, faculty at South High School (MN), and Andrea Myers, Director of the Hopewell Music Cooperative (MN). Paula Gudmundson, moderator.
I find the term 'underserved' to be problematic, but I think this will be a great experience!
In September the Society for Music Teacher Education (SMTE) is descending down to Minneapolis and I couldn't be more excited! I have three research posters that I will be presenting. The first is based on part of my literature review for my dissertation, entitled: "Communists and Queers": Historical purges of gay and lesbian educators. This is an UGLY history of American Education that started back during the Cold War and heavily encouraged by Senator Joe McCarthy. So, I am looking forward to putting together a poster that will be provocative and at the same time educational.
I am also working on a pretty cool research project with two friends, Dr. Amy Spears and Dr. Danelle Larson, and we will be sharing a poster as well. Our research stems from a night at a piano bar in Chicago a few years back. (Three researchers walk into a bar.....). Our research is looking at how piano bar musicians learn their music and share their music as a case for informal music making and music education. The research has been super fun. Go to a bar, get a drink, listen and watch the musicians and then ask them questions. Best.Ever.
The other SMTE project that I am working on...or will be working is with Dr. Lori Gray and Dr. Kyle Chandler. We considering the implications for changes in music educator curriculum and how that may be reflected in actual teaching practices-with my school as the 'model' school. Super excited to be working on this!
The last project I am working on is with Dr. Shilad Sen of Macalaster College in St. Paul. Shilad is a fantastic musician, but is actually a computer/math/stats/IT sort of guy (totally foreign to me and not something I completely understand). BUT he is totally into gender related issues and asked me to jump on board a study that is examining how women are perceived and critiqued on a Facebook page dedicated to jazz transcriptions. It is FASCINATING and it is fun to work with someone outside the music education community, but also someone who gets the music education community.
So. That's a lot of projects this summer to keep me occupied. As long as the weather stays like it does, I anticipate a lot of time sitting in the backyard with a computer on my lap and some sort of iced-beverage next to me.
I LOVE making research posters. For some reason I find that this is one of the few ways I can create something visually appealing and I find satisfaction in creating posters. Call me crazy, but sometimes it is a nice change of pace.
I also love research poster sessions. I love chatting with researchers, hearing what they are working on and having meaningful conversations about research. So, why not create a research poster session for the Music In America crew? However, I felt the need to amp it up a bit and create an interactive poster session. Obviously the students (or researchers) would be interacting with other students, but why just stop at a poster? Why not have the poster linked to a website they also created?! WHHAAAA?! So that is exactly what we did.
The posters and websites varied in terms of completeness and "tidiness". However, I can say with authority that all the QR codes and tinyurls DID work (whew....). But just to be on the safe side, we had computers with the websites up and ready to go in case the sound files and videos did not work on the variety of phones that student have (or don't have). For many of these students, creating a website is an entirely new venture for them. In fact, many of them are just learning how to use computers altogether.
I coordinated with the media center and a couple classes came up and chatted with the researchers, explored the websites and asked some really great questions. They thought it was cool that they created websites as well as the codes to link the posters to the websites.
Today I asked the students about what, if anything, should I change about it (they are pretty honest with me). All of them said they enjoyed the project, the ability to go further on a topic that interested them, but what they can work on as students is time management. So, I figure that is success.
Here are links to some of the websites. We used Google sites which, for the most part, are pretty user-friendly. But, like most things technological, there are always glitches.
Social Effects on Music
Transgender Figures in Music
Perhaps it is my own selfish desires to relive my teenage years (really? who REALLY wants to go through that mess??). But yesterday, something incredible happened in the "Music in America: Hip Hop, Rock, and Beyond" (M.I.A) class that I facilitate. But to put things in context, allow me to back up a bit...
Last year I envisioned a class that focused less on learning how to play an instrument and performing/creating and more about the discussion of music and how society and music are extremely intertwined. Not every student has a interest in learning instruments, OR, they are music junkies and love just talking about music. I wanted to facilitate a class that would appeal to these students. I considered the student population that I work with and how I might be able to address these varied interests, so I created this class. (The title is not mine....that was the "teaching and learning" department). Anyhoo...this semester has been very interesting for a variety of reasons. About half the class signed up to be in the class and has been incredibly engaged with discussions, projects, readings....etc. The other half of the class was "put" in the the class to "fill spots" and because "they needed a place to go". In other words, we don't have enough electives during this particular hour for students. SO, that has been challenging at times. At the beginning of the semester I had to advocate for several students because they were absolutely Level 1 ELL students, meaning they had no English skills. This class was completely inappropriate for them, BUT I got them into guitar and we are happily strumming along together. Some students still struggle with the readings as they are still learning the language, and they aren't able to "read between the lines" in terms of the lyrical content, but that is ok. They are working on their language skills and that is important too. I have learned how to adapt reading guides and create EL tests that require more basic skills versus critical thinking skills.
So, at times it has been frustrating and I have, on several occasions, found myself lamenting about the seeming "divide" between engaged and non-engaged students to my colleagues. My office-mate and choir colleague offered some words that have resonated with me and have helped me negotiate this feeling of failure. She suggested that so often we are concerned with incorporating students' cultures into our classroom that we miss that we are also teaching about our own culture as well, AND THAT THIS IS OK!!! This is especially ok with music. Students who are new to our country are trying to figure out what it means to be a teen in this world and there are new phrases and new sounds and what better way to experience that through music? Now...that is not to say that I have not utilized their expertise on Somali music or Ecuadorian music. I am not familiar with their music, so they have certainly educated us in the ways in which music is used in their cultures and what it means to them as young men and women. But to what my colleague was saying, even if the students were not "actively participating" in the experience doesn't mean they weren't gaining something from it The learning might just look different.
So, on to yesterday. We have been working our way through this "Seattle Sound" unit and of course we studied Nirvana. Guitar is an important part of this music and in American culture, so why not learn how to play a tune? I broke the class up into three groups. I worked with students who had never played guitar (and for some, never had touched an instrument before) and taught them a simple bass line. There are some students who were comfortable and well-versed in power chords/barre chords and they worked with the other students. It was amazing. Karen Howard, from the University of St. Thomas was in my classroom observing and caught it all on video. I told her before hand "I have no idea how this is going to go. It could be awesome or it could completely flop." It was beyond my wildest imagination. Seriously. Watch the whole thing. This was 100% unplanned. To quote a student: "We aren't supposed to do this in school, but we just did."
It's been a while. I started this post on March 2nd. Something must have happened that day or week to cause me to pause and consider my role as an educator. What is the role of music education in students' lives? What is the role of music education in MY life? Recently it has been so much bigger than the content that we are often so concerned with "passing on" to the students with whom we work. These students have taught me A LOT this year. I have grown more in the past two years as an educator as a result of the experiences that the students have brought into the classroom. It has been a humbling, and truly rewarding experience.
There is a student who is a selective mute who was in guitar last year and last spring, but needs to fulfill credits in other classes. He regularly checks in with me to show me some of he music that he is writing and it is inspiring. This is all music he has created, without any help from me. I suppose the one thing that I did do was create a space for him to feel comfortable, without the need to talk. It causes me to pause what it means to choose to not speak, for whatever reason, and find communication only through written word, music, and visual arts.
A student came to me at the beginning of second semester to thank me for teaching her guitar. She came to class very reserved, careful to speak in front of her peers. However, she performed solo guitar and singing at the school talent show. She share with me had it not been for my class, the encouragement, I provided, as well as a space to create and be ok with mistakes, that she never would have tried out for the talent show. That was amazing to me.
What is the role of music in our lives? How are we encouraging students to bring their music in the classrooms and share with us their culture? How are we embracing this to the fullest, by putting away our preconceived notions of what music education *should* be versus what it *could* be.
In my hip hop/rock/whatever class we are working through a unit on Grunge music. OF COURSE we are going to be learning about Nirvana. Guitar is a super important part of music, so why not try it out for a few days?? I suck at bar chords, but I have students who are great at it, so why not pass over the role of 'teacher" or facilitator to the students? That's the plan and they are looking forward to sharing their understanding of guitar with students who may have never played an instrument before. I think it will be fun. Twenty-five acoustic guitars rocking out to "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? Why not?!
And why not? Really, What is the worse thing that could happen? We sound crappy? Well, that is ok. We learn from the experience? Even better? Perhaps some kiddos think, "hey, this is neat, I want to learn more guitar". #whatifmusiced
Anybody who knows me would not argue with that statement. Today I am sitting at home nursing a sore throat (I think I actually have a legitimate case of laryngitis). I have been watching the live stream of the Women's March that many of my friends across the nation are attending, either locally or at the national march. It is really quite breathtaking and is causing me to pause about what my role is in the world as a woman, as a teacher, as a friend, as a colleague....as me.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a session on "Diversity and Inclusion in Music Classrooms" at an honor band event (this is what put my voice over the edge. It was a rough go, but I made it). I was a bit nervous because the session was at a University that is outside the metro area of the Twin Cities. I knew, having previously traveled in that direction, that the political environment was a bit different compared to what I am used to. However, I am extremely passionate about what I do and I think that these conversations are happening for a reason.
Overall, the presentation went well, really well. I left feeling as though perhaps I offered some different perspectives on what it means to be an educator in 2017, even if the diversity of the school is less than 5%. However, there was one conversation that has left me wondering what more I could have done.
There was a question from the back of the room that was somehow related gender, specifically the slide that discuses "Anti-Sexism Education". The individual shared that the majority of band members were female (hell ya!), that the majority of the section leaders were female (bonus!!) and that in his drumline of 16, only 2 were male (umm.....yesssss!!!). However, this individual was concerned with the way in which the girls seemingly 'ran the room' and there wasn't a lot of room for the boys to offer opinions, or rather, the boys were complacent with the decisions the girls made. In my mind and I was jumping for joy because I believed that this individual had created a space where the young women felt they had a voice and a say, that they were not inferior to their male peers. However, this individual was wondering how he might empower the young men to speak up, because "quite frankly the girls often act like bitches...." That is a direct quote. I stopped and said, not loudly enough "let's try a different word please" because I was so shocked that this person would refer to his students in this way. Indeed, he, right there was doing the exact OPPOSITE of what my slide read: "challenges gender stereotypes that are based on performing gender and cultural identity binaries". #facepalm
I shared with him that perhaps he consider an alternate point of view, from the female perspective, that for years we have been wanting to be heard and wanted to feel respected. That perhaps maybe he take initiative and invite both parties to the table and he facilitate conversations in his room that encouraged everyone to participate. But I still could not shake his use of the word "bitch" to describe these young women. He is playing to the stereotype that confident, strong, and empowered women are undesirable. This is NOT what should be happening in our classrooms. In that moment, I was quickly wondering what he thought about me, standing in front of the room-a confident, strong and smart woman-and outspoken. Am I immediately a "bitch" because of that?
This reminds me of another conversation I had with an administrator once, where I was describing my master's thesis and that there is a perception of women who are strong, confident and strict and are often labeled "bitch". His response to me was "well, you just have to prove you aren't". I mean, what the heck?!
So. I am a feminist. I am strong. I am confident and I am gaining the courage to call people out for saying demeaning things about women, gays, lesbians, trans* individuals....any minority. I am NOT a bitch. Neither are the young girls who have the confidence to speak their opinion. Sure...there might be an attitude (teens...they can be special that way) but they are NOT bitches. I hope I never hear another educator refer to young ladies, EVER again like that.
I didn't intend for this to be a rant, but this is my position and I will stick to it :)
I'm not one to make New Year's Resolutions. For some people they work, but for me, they just fade away-like last year's resolution: to put away my laundry as soon as it is done so my bedroom doesn't look like a clothes tornado. Well on the last day of 2016, my bedroom looks like about four clothes tornados swept through. That being said, I did mention to my husband last night that we need a re-do on that resolution, so I guess I take back what I said about resolutions.
The year 2016 is certainly going down in the books as quite the year. I think that most people can agree that our world has been shaken, and for those of us "younger" folks, this is something that we haven't experienced before. I keep hearing about how 2016 is remincent of the 1960's (Make America Great Again??). If you haven't, I am implore you to watch the Netflix documentary, "13th" (see link for a YouTube preview). This documentary pretty much rocked my world in every direction and I hope that this will become publicly available so that high schools and higher education institutions can use this as part of their civics curriculum.
Professionally this year has rocked. I am in my second year of the best job I could have ever imagined. I am challenged every day to be a better person, a better teacher and a better listener (I'll get to that in a moment). Prof/Personally, this year was pretty amazing as well. I presented at a slew of conferences (in the spring, took the fall off), passed my doctoral comprehensive exams and am now working on my doctoral dissertation proposal, which I am actually enjoying (most of the time). I still get to make fabulous music with my saxophone quartet. There are lots of other neat things that happened this year, but I am not going to talk about them now.
A majority of my research is going to be listening to indiviudal's stories and their experiences about being gay or lesbian and being music educators. I must be an active listener, an empathetic listener, a kind listener, and above all, I must not insert myself into their stories. How often do we do this? Full confessional right now: I know that I am incredibly guilty of half-assed listening to someone, only to be triggered by a memory and then insert my experience into their story. How rude of me is that?! This is something that I have been working on and struggle to overcome, but I hope that I am getting better at this.
Listening. I have wondered in what ways have we truly lost the art of listening with intention. Listening with empathy. Listening with kindness. I have a dear friend, Josh Palkki, who is a brilliant researcher, a kind human being and just an all-around fantastic dude. I look at his dissertation every.single.day as a reference point but also for inspiration. His research on trans students' experiences in choral ensembles is phenomenal, but the point in his work that really jumped out to me was the importance of listening. Listening without judgment-something I think the whole world needs to consider.
I hate watching presidential debates. Everything is a knee-jerk reaction. There is no listening involved. This year it got especially nasty (like what I did there? Click on the link for a pic!). However, this made me realize how important it is to listen. I work with students, strike that, we as educators work with students with backgrounds we cannot possibly begin to understand. Our students come to us with stories and experiences that they need to share, but who is listening? Who is caring? Sometimes the counselor and social worker just isn't enough. Sometimes we need to listen, without judgment, about their fears-why they can't make it to first hour on time, why they cannot make the concert, why they are smoking pot before coming to school. It is not our place to judge these students for the lives that they live, but it is our place to listen.
It goes without saying that the forthcoming months will be interesting. The months will lead into years. But if we can stop for a moment and listen....with intention, with empathy, with kindness and without judgmenet, and consider how we might be able to learn from each other, the months and years might become more bearable.
This isn't my New Year's Resolution, this is my life resolution. To listen. I wanted to insert some fancy quote in here about listening, but I couldn't really find anything that really spoke to me, so if you know of one, please leave it below in the comments.
Thank you for reading this and listening to me. I look forward to listening to you in the future.