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.
The last few weeks of the semester are approaching. My beginning band has dwindled down to a hearty ten musicians (eleven have moved over to concert band!) We have been focusing a lot on creating and arranging songs. Two weeks ago we started a pop cover tune, where small groups of students picked a pop tune, learned it by ear and then taught it to the rest of the class in a formal "teaching episode" (throw back to my TA days at ASU!!). That was a lot of fun-most of the groups just learned the hook or chorus of a tune, but they all learned it by ear and it was really fun watching them lead the group in the learning process!
This week we are focusing on arranging songs from our method book. We talked last week about melody, harmony, texture...you know, all the good things. We practiced some examples in the book and had some great discussions how to arrange. We didn't really talk about chordal theory or natural chord progressions-that isn't particularly useful at this point. But, what we did talk about is the excitement of creating and hearing it performed. So that is what we are working on this week! Each student has selected a song and is arranging it for our little band using NoteFlight. On Friday I did a little demo demonstrating the different ways in which we can arrange songs and how to manuevar the program. I was still learning at this point and had some technical difficulties (and of course, I was getting observed by my mentor...) but I think I figured it out enough to write out some concise instructions for the students. Today we went into the lab and I let the students loose! They really dug in and I am SO excited to see where these projects end up. On Friday we will be playing through the arrangements! I will share what the students come up with, but for now, here is the "worksheet" that the students are using to get them through the first couple of days.
Also, to assess where students are at each day, I am having them complete a quick exit ticket using Google Forms. I <heart> google forms. Here is an example of today's question:
A lot of what we do in the South High guitar room is based on inidvidual or group creating. We create our own lyrics, we create our own melodies, we create arrangements of songs. This week, we are taking pre-existing poems that students picked out and writing the music that will eventually turn the poetry into a song. The students were very thoughtful in the poems that they picked out and we tried to have a variety of books that students could choose from including African-American poets, female poets, Native American poets, Latino/a poets and Somali poets-which basically represents the students that come into this classroom. We wanted to have a variety of resources and eras for students to choose their poetry.
Students have learned a variety of chords and songs throughout this semester and how they work within the context of a pre-existing song. Now they are in charge of making the musical decisions about what chords to use, what strumming patterns to incorporate and the melodic flow to their song. We haven't necessarily studied these concepts in depth, but students have a basic understanding of what these are as individual components and we can discuss what a melody is, but this is a great way for students to demonstrate their understanding of melody. They are not being asked to notate it, but they will be asked to express their lyrics in some way-that can be through singing or rapping (which is a form of rhythmic melody).
As a teacher, I really enjoy how this class has unfolded this semester. The students have embraced a project-based learning approach rather than being told what to do all the time. However, rather than me sharing what I have noticed, I thought I would allow a couple students to express some of what they have learned in the class. (Excuse the loud interviewer......)
I overheard my colleague share this sentiment this week and it has resonated with me ever since. This week was an incredibly tough week for our students (and staff). Our school embraces progressive ideology and the result of Tuesday night's election weighed heavily on students and staff the next day. Many of the students with whom I work are afraid for their own personal safety, as well as the safety for their families and friends. Based on the election's rhetoric, many of the students with whom I work have been targeted because they are minorities and immigrants. Thankfully, I work in a school who embraces all walks of life and we support our students-and the students support each other.
Music can offer a place and moment for healing, as well as expression. Music is powerful in that we can escape the realities of the world, or it can help us to face the realities of the world. Music can provide us a place to safely express our emotions, either through lyrics or by simply strumming a guitar or improvising over chord changes. Music is a way to communicate.
As a former band director I remember working hard to get the kids to get the right notes, the right rhythms and dynamics. I would like to say that I didn't lose sight of the real reason we create music, or share music, but I know that I did. I could turn this post into something that addresses competition and festivals, but this isn't where I want to go with this. I want to share how this statement "We share our music to express, not to impress" has impacted myself and my students, especially this week.
Our jazz concert is coming up on Monday. Today was the last rehearsal that we have to really get everything in the pocket. These kiddos meet at 7:15 every morning (what jazz musician does that?!). Wednesday morning they came in just looking tired and defeated. We discussed, we cried and then we played. We played "Blue Monk" because they wanted to play a blues....and they played the heck out of it. They were playing with emotion and feeling. Something that cannot be taught, but can only be felt. Today, after what seemed like the longest week in school history we had our final rehearsal and they did it again. I shared with them the quote that I am referencing and I think it clicked with them. Music only happens when we can truly express it, when we take ownership and create our own meaning of what is in front of us and what is in our minds. This week proved that music is very capable of healing.
Additionally, music can be extremely empowering. Last week we concluded our "Cover Project" in our guitar classes. Self-selected groups picked out songs that they wanted to learn. The used a variety of sources to learn the chords, melody and lyrics. They put together their covers in about 10 days. It was pretty awesome to watch them share their music with the classes. The students were very supportive for each other. The video below is one example of the cover projects. These girls are all new to guitar this semester. I am so proud of these girls, not only for their hard work and willingness to collaborate, but also the song they picked out, which is "Pretty Hurts" by Beyonce."
I think one of the most empowering things we can do as music educators is to encourage students to create their own music. This experience can be very satisfying to students as they get to create, and play, their own music. Creating does not have to be a huge four part chorale-it can start as simple as creating a one measure beat pattern, or a four note melody. Using those experiences as the building blocks can then encourage more advanced creating, which is exactly what we are doing in beginning band.
During the first week of playing, students were creating melodies using the first notes that we learned (if you remember, or scroll down, we started learning notes via a number system). We did a little bit of this each day-no rhythms really attached. Then the next week, when we started exploring rhythms, we created rhythms together-clapping and counting and adding one note-this was all done on the white board in the room (that is about as high-tech as we get in this particular classroom). Then students created their own four measure melody, utilizing various rhythms and notes (still not on a five line-four space staff). We shared our melodies as a class, again on the white board and students offered comments and suggestions. It was a great learning experience!
Fast forward to the past two weeks, we have been working on transitioning to learning the notes on the staff. As a way to demonstrate their learning, students are creating an 8 measure melody, on the staff, with rhythms and notes that we have learned. Additionally, they will be playing their creation for me as part of their *play check* (this is when I listen to them individually and is a chance for us to check in, correct some habits and just a bit of one-on-one time that we normally don't get during the week. SO, the students are creating their own play-check, but also demonstrating their ability to synthesize what we have learned. When asking the students about what they liked about creating, one student, a particularly vocal student expressed "I like the fact that I get to play something that I wrote. It is pretty average, but I wrote it."
Not only is this a way for students to demonstrate what they have learned, it allows them to personalize the experience. We discussed what makes something melodic (a variety of intervals) and rhythmically interesting. The creations are really impressive! I would encourage any educator, beginning to high school, and beyond, to consider this activity in their classes. Again, it doesn't have to be a huge "composition" but a little goes a long way. And you never know, you may spark an interest beyond playing an instrument in some of your students.
There are several books that I often turn to for creating inspiration. The first one is Maude Hickey's "Music Outside the Lines: Ideas for Composing in K-12 Music Classrooms" (2012, Oxford University Press). If there was one book to buy, this would be it! I would also recommend Lucy Green's "Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy" (2008, Routledge) and Jackie Wiggins' "Teaching for Musical Understanding, 3rd Ed" (2015, Oxford University Press). All of these books have informed my teaching practice as well as assessment practice.
I am the first to admit-I am not a guitarist by any standard. It's a good thing that in my interview my beautiful colleagues didn't ask me to play or inquire about my guitar studies, because there are none. They were more interested in working with someone who wanted to build up the program.
I am sure that I would be able to share much more with my students had I taken lessons or was able to play some amazing licks on guitar, but as it stands, my guitar skills are not impressive compared to some of my friends and colleagues. That being said, my "informal" training has actual been a benefit to my teaching, at least I think it has been a benefit. Guitar seems to be a very community based instrument-one that you can play and sort-of have a conversation, or sing silly lyrics, or serious lyrics. It takes some concentration (students are understanding this as we learn about shifting chords and strumming patterns) but overall, it is an instrument that can really bring people together.
My approach to guitar is completely different than my approach to guitar last year. This year we are more about community. We start each morning off with a conversation, we sit in a circle (this is more due to the size of the room, but also so I can sit with the students, rather than be at the front of the room) and we work together. There is a lot of independent or small group time to practice, but most days we end the day jamming.
This week and next week, our focus has been on how music brings people together. We start each week with a quote and we have a discussion about the quote. We then have a chalkboard question which is a question (on a chalkboard in the hallway) that the students answer. This week's quote was:
Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.
We discussed at length the elements of music and how they bring order of what could seemingly be chaos. But we also talked about how music can bring a sense of calm to a life of chaos. So the chalkboard question was:
The whole purpose of this was to set up a conversation about Bob Dylan's song "Blowin' in the Wind", which we worked on this week. On Monday we didn't even get our guitars out. We listened to the 1963 recording of Dylan singing the song, then had a group discussion about what was going on in the world at the time and what is going on in the world today. Then students engaged in a silent discussion activity regarding the lyrics.
Students were extremely thoughtful in their responses. At the end of the second round (some classes did a third round of exchanges) each group got their original paper back, discussed the additions made and shared some of the responses. This is a great activity for all students, but especially those students who aren't as comfortable sharing their thoughts through their voice. It was a super healthy conversation and something that our students desire. One interesting observation, which is a sign of the times, many students were concerned about Dylan's use of the word "man" in the lines: "How many roads must a man walk down, before he is called a man?" There was a big discussion of gender and masculinity. I pushed back a bit, encouraging the students to think as if they were in 1963 and what "man" may have meant then as opposed to the gender-norm conversations that are surrounding us today (which are good conversations as well!). It was an interesting shift in perspectives and one I was proud of my students for recognizing!
The end product was our "gallery" of our discussions. These will remain for the next week as we start our song writing project: revising Dylan's lyrics to ask questions about events happening today. Same chords, same melody, maybe some of the same questions....but with new words. VERY excited to see what happens!
Blowin' in the Wind-Bob Dylan
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take 'till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
Creating access points for music education is something that South HS is pretty good at. We have a beginner band and a beginner string orchestra that meet everyday for 55 minutes. That's amazing in the high school world! It makes sense....there are beginning language courses, arts courses, remedial math and language courses, and there is usually an entry point for choir, so why not our instrumental classes. Our beginning class meet the same time as the "youngest" concert band (Concert Band) so that when students are ready, they can just move to Concert Band. There is a great group of students in beginning band....25 to be precise. Twenty-five beginning band students in high school! The challenge is to keep them engage while dealing with the intricacies of individual instrumental needs.
I think I may have figured out how to do this....finally. Now, some folks may argue up and down about this, but until someone has figured out a better way to teach transposition to beginners, while reading standardized notation, rhythms, which end is up on an instrument...and all that goes along with something new, I think I will keep doing this. Not to mention, this is much easier for those students who are also learning how to speak English. This is part of the scaffolding process that will lead into reading standard notation, which will occur next week.
Last week the students started playing their instruments. Rather than teaching them notes and rhythms first (ie, theory) we started playing first. I taught the first three notes of each instruments B-flat major scale to each group, but I didn't assign note names, just 1, 2, 3. We played around with different melodies, the students even created their own melodies (no rhythms yet). Then we added in rhythms. The numbers underneath the rhythms represent the notes. Each student, regardless of their instrument, received this same paper because I taught them the transposed notes, but as numbers. For the most part, these melodies were recognizable to the students, so they were able to attach the rhythm with what they were playing. The best part about this is that the students were playing together and experiencing success as individuals and as a group-SO important in beginning band. I also have a "rhythm" deck, so students combined different rhythms and we played through them together. Lots of opportunity for students to create, thus reinforcing what we were learning in class.
Next week students will be delving into standard notation. I intend to discuss both clefs with the students, so that they understand how they both work. Then I will hand out sheets of music that have the first six notes of the B-flat scale (number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 to the students) and we will then connect the number with the actual note. I think it will work. I HOPE it will work!