One of the activities that has given me the greatest satisfaction in this busy few months are the weekly classes and sing-alongs at Susan Bailis Assisted Living. I am working with them as part of my Schweitzer Fellowship, which has spanned the last academic year. I entered the project a bit blind, having had to find a new site and reconfigure my project after the initial site fell through. I had not had experience working with seniors before and I was a little nervous about it. I soon realized that my original project plan– chorus work and individual music lessons– weren’t a good fit for the population. The choral singing was difficult because of the wide disparity in musical ability and training–people who could read music got bored, people who could barely match pitch were frustrated. Music lessons were difficult to organize because the few interested individuals tended to cancel or forget. I came up with another plan to offer more passive activities including a weekly music appreciation discussion and a weekly “sing along.” Once a week I bring in a CD or music with some kind of theme; for example, we did a month of opera history and each week focused on one or two composers or a certain style. As a group we listen and discuss interesting characteristics of the music including form and style. On another day I bring in old songs ranging from the 20′s to the 60′s and peck away at the piano while participants read from song sheets. Some sing, some just listen, but it usually ends up to be a fun and relaxed hour.
After some setbacks I feel we finally settled into a routine with these two activities around mid-February. The same clients tend to come to each respective activity and I feel I have developed a rapport with several of them. I think one big lesson I have learned so far, and this may seem obvious, is the value of just showing up. I admit I was discouraged at one point when the project wasn’t going as planned, but I’m glad I continued to try new activities until we found something that was good for the residents. I also am constantly reminded of the value of preparation and organization. In discussions that have not gone as well I always feel that I could have prepared more thoroughly beforehand. Finally, I think I’ve realized how much I can learn as a musician in any kind of educational setting. I’ve been able to explore musical works more in depth this semester as a result of offering these classes, and in the discussions themselves clients often have an unexpected question or insight that I can learn from.
In my next post I will share some video and anecdotes about the residents with whom I’ve worked and some thoughts about my experience with the Schweitzer Fellowship.
Through my last MIE internship, I learned so much about the importance of lesson planning as well as the importance of flexibility throughout teaching private lessons in order to provide an educational context catered to the individual student. I will resume teaching my four-year-old student, continuing to stay aware of the learning process of last semester; however, instead of focusing on documenting lessons through plans and responses, I will be learning different techniques through Larry Scripp’s Teaching Seminar. I will be adapting and implementing what I learn into my teaching to develop my experiences with my student in creative ways. I am also incorporating my solfege tutoring into this process as the Teaching Seminar carries into, and speaks directly to, teaching theory and rhythm. I am so excited to be able to stretch my teaching abilities and will hopefully see a wonderful outcome!
I can’t believe how this semester has flown! My experience during this internship has really been invaluable as I seek to incorporate multiple representations into my private lessons, whether the conversations stem from violin or solfege! I feel like I am only scratching the surface in how I can incorporate other school subjects into teaching – not to mention pulling from different musical ways or venues in which to teach. My little violin student and I have begun singing quite a bit in lessons, incorporating an adaptation on the matrix idea from Larry Scripp’s Teaching Seminar. Even before we begin learning a new piece, I may play it so he can find the melody, but then we’ll sing together. He doesn’t quite understand how to sing different notes with his voice yet, but just singing the rhythms of the piece or exercise has been a way for him to understand the different aspects to learning music. I am waiting for this part of making music to click for him…I believe it’s worth the wait and persistence!
Since last I wrote, I held a recital for my students on March 11th and many of them got the opportunity to perform at the MIE Concert at Pierce Hall on March 7th. Both concerts were successful and I was very excited to get a chance to provide a connection between my studio and the Music-In-Education Department. In addition to performing “The Rainstorm” for the MIE Dept. a few of my students played on the final piece which was a reinterpretation of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, complete with parts notated on a matrix.
My students and I preparing for “The Rainstorm” for the Music-in-Education Concert.
For my studio recital, each performer played a piece or two and then we did an encore performance of “The Rainstorm” for friends and family.
Recital insights from my student Lise: “Well, I’ve been to the recital probably 3 times and I’ve seen these students grow and improve on their music which is really interesting. And they’re becoming very serious about their music, very talented, very good. Lots of interesting music too…”
On performing works in progress and mistakes in performance: “We’re not all perfect and that’s good that we’re able to play in front of our friends and family and doing what we’ve been trying to get ourselves to do… It made me feel like ‘you know what? I’m doing ok.’ I’m doing ok because people are still earning and this is a learning process and we’re not professionals playing, we’re learning and I think we’re learning from each other.”
At this phase of my internship, I’ve turned to “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle as a source of enrichment and direction for my teaching. In an attempt to incorporate the idea of “deep practicing” and “hot beds of talent” as discussed in the book in my studio and to assist my students in more effectively in learning music, I’ve begun the exploration of practice techniques with all of my students. I begin the discussion by retelling the story of the Brazilian soccer players who train in futsal first as a way of making an activity more challenging at first in order to eventually make it easier and more comprehensively learned.
We identify as many techniques as we can, casually, from the very simple (clapping rhythms, identifying the notes) to the more complex (varying speeds, varying rhythms.) Then as we dig into our pieces we stop and take note of additional techniques as we use them to attack the obstacles presented. Each student then has a list of their tools/techniques.
So far, I’ve noticed that my students who are more likely to want to rely on me to demonstrate a piece seem more empowered to struggle with their challenges on their own and have even started to express how they think that this list might help them with practicing and more accurately learning their pieces.
I’ve given them their own form of a TEJ for their tools. The first column is “What is the obstacle?” The second column is “What practice technique(s) did you use and how?” The third column is “Was it effective? Was it fun? Did the technique help you with the challenging passage? Did you see results?” Some of the responses have been eye-opening. One student’s third column had the answer “I don’t know” in regards to the question “Did the technique work?” This statement of “I don’t know” brings up an interesting point. How do we know if something worked if it isn’t immediately obvious? I know when a student plays for the me that it worked or didn’t, but how can I help the student to better gauge that so they can better learn what techniques are appropriate for a given challenge? I think emphasizing the importance of knowing what the outcome of the passage is is really key. For students who are unsure of the outcome, the simplest tools of identifying notes and rhythms, as elementary as it can seem to an intermediate student, is the strongest first step. I look forward to continuing this discussion with my students as we track their progress as they more deliberately practice.
I am still incorporating the use of the human voice as a resource for my students both as a musical model of tone and expression and as a way to improve musicianship. I have continued to have my students sing more in lessons both to understand/internalize their musical phrases and to help them connect with better intonation. All of my students sing quite well in tune and it is really delightful to see them guide their fingers that often aren’t as in tune by their in tune voices. It seems that singing makes them listen to their intonation more and helps them hear how their fingers may not be in tune. Some students have even including singing on their list of techniques, demonstrating that they are starting to connect to the technique and see how singing can be helpful.
I have begun teaching one of my cello students a fiddle tune by ear. While I have done that with students in the past, this the first time that I am insisting that the student learns to sing the tune first before learning to play it on her instrument. This is another great way for me to show a student how the voice can guide the instrument and allows the student to really internalize the tune rather than relying exclusively on visuals, finger memory in order to play the piece. I intend to interview her on that experience at our next lesson.
Noah, the student that was working on “Habanera” from Carmen has moved on to work on “Vesti La Guibba” from Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci. This piece was his choice! His interest in vocal modeling and willingness to explore this approach to playing the cello is very encouraging. I plan on discussing this exploration with him after we’ve settled into the process in order to see how I might make this approach more accessible to and valuable for my other students.
Just a quick review, I had Noah model his phrasing after the phrasing of Maria Callas singing “Habanera.” He imitated her rhythms and glissandi and tone to the best of his ability. After the March recital, I asked him for his reflections on the work we did on “Habanera.” In response to the question, “Do you think your performance would have sounded different in doing the vocal modeling vs. just playing the music off of the page?” he said,
“Of course, it wouldn’t have sounded the same (had he played it strictly from notation.) It would’ve sound dry because it’s supposed to be a vocal piece and it definitely did lose a lot of things from translating over into sheet music.”
I haven’t yet devised another improvisation exploration for my students yet, but I’m starting to see the importance that personal creation can have on my students. One student had this to say about the rainstorm project:
“…I was making my own music. I wasn’t reading somebody else’s music and trying to figure out how it’s supposed to sound. I was creating my own music and knowing this is what it’s supposed to sound like. This is how my raindrops sound. This is how my thunder sounds. This is how I have created it, so there’s no wrong. There’s no mistakes. I’m the one that’s creating it.”
I have given small composition assignments to a few of my students. In one case a student is in the preparatory stages of writing short pieces to go with each of the different minor scales as a way of becoming more familiar with new melodic content. For two of my students that are having a hard time with staying in tune while in first position as they explore second position, I’ve given the assignment to create personalized intonation exercise using open string drones and a limited set of notes as their tone palette. I plan on getting their feedback once they’ve had time to settle into the creative process a bit more. I also have some my students creating variations on their scales based on patterns they choose from the repertoire they are working on. Variation is a form of composition, but I think it would be interesting to take that one step further and have students compose small pieces based on the scale that they are studying, but we will see what we can get to.
In the next month, I plan on collecting more of the feedback data for all of the new concepts I’ve added into my studio. For the students who haven’t yet been introduced to the idea of their toolbox of practice techniques, I will set up that exploration with them. I would like to introduce the idea of composition to the students that haven’t been giving given assignments in that area. I have delved into the world of using additional books and exercises from the standard methodologies I have been using, especially for vibrato construction and I plan on sharing some of that in my next blog post. Until then!
My guided internship this semester is with Susan Bailis Assisted Living. I am working with the residents there for a year-long service project through the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. My project involves one weekly music appreciation class and one weekly “sing-along.” The project took most of last semester to really get off the ground, but I feel this semester we found a combination of activities that seems to work well for the residents in terms of their interests and needs. The outcomes for this project are focused less on the acquisition of specific musical skills and more on improving the overall well-being and quality of life for seniors. My later blog posts will focus on the progress of the classes and sing-alongs.
Hi Everyone! My apologies for the very late introduction to my internship this semester.
For Spring 2012 I am doing my MIE guided internship with NEC’s MusicLaunch Program at the Wang YMCA in Chinatown. MusicLaunch is a program with 13 students between the ages of 4 and 15 who meet every Saturday morning to learn music for an hour and a half. With these students, we use both traditional and innovative teaching techniques to work on basic fundamental music skills (rhythms, pitch, solfege) as well as learning instruments. Coordinating the program is Devin from NEC. The other instructors include fellow intern Salinla and middle school music teacher Johnny.
We spend a lot of time splitting the students up in small groups determined by age and instrument. In my small group I have four students from ages 10 to 13. Two of them play clarinet, one plays alto saxophone, and one plays trombone. When I first started I noticed that the students already had a decent amount of experience reading music and understanding notation. However, the students had very little experience playing their band instruments. I immediately saw the challenge in meeting in instrument groups for such a short time once a week: the students would not get reinforcement as often as most people get when learning these instruments. With band instruments, it takes such a long time and a lot of practice to develop the muscles for the proper embouchure, to reinforce good position/posture habits, and to get comfortable using so much air.
The other main challenge I noticed coming in was negative behavior in the class. Fortunately two of my small group students showed me right away that they were very polite and cooperative, but unfortunately, the other two showed me the opposite. One of the uncooperative students is the disruptive, antagonistic type. He constantly complains, talks back, and is not shy about saying that he doesn’t enjoy being there. His younger sister barely speaks, doesn’t want to participate, and has been known to cry in previous semesters in order to get out of participating. Neither of these students had shown any evidence of ever having practiced the material between classes.
I noticed immediately that my personal goals for this semester would need to be modified. As you all may have seen in my proposal, my main interest was getting the students to be comfortable using their ears in addition to what was on the page. Because of their lack of experience on their instruments, and because of the importance of reinforcing practice and study on these instruments in order to make progress, I had to put that main goal on the back burner. I am hoping that, in time, I will be able to reintroduce ear training of sorts into my lesson plans.
Thank you all for reading and please stay tuned for more posts!
Greetings MIE community! Much progressed has occurred since my first blog post. One month ago, the Music-In-Education department hosted our first ever concert, which featured my composition, Lucena Position for Six Musicians and Two Chess Players. The name is a bit of a misnomer, actually—we only had one chess player, playing both sides of the board for this performance. Still, the piece was a tremendous success!
Everyone who participated in it ended up learning about the Lucena Position, an important type of rook-and-pawn endgame that every great chess player needs to know about. By crafting the piece around this “textbook endgame study,” anyone who learned the piece had to first absorb the key concepts of the Lucena position: how to build a bridge with the rook to block a barrage of enemy checks and allow an otherwise blocked pawn to promote. Then, after the rooks are traded off, the pawn promotes to a queen and the remainder of the game is a classic king-and-queen checkmating pattern.
Moreover, the audience got a new experience with the game, and hopefully learned something too! By adding a sonic element, audience members who might not know the rules of chess got a better picture of when something interesting happened—e.g. a check, a piece being threatened, or a queen promoting. Still, my “artist persona” was only partially satisfied: the music still seems a bit heavy-handed, perhaps programmatic. This came to light more prominently when, just a few days ago, I was informed that I would not be asked to perform a second version of the piece on Jordan Hall stage for the “Beckett Play” concert.
Part of that was my bad planning (I didn’t get a rehearsal together so the curator of the show could see the idea in time), but there’s a more deeply rooted issue: Sam Beckett would not agree with the core musical structure! As a playwright, Beckett spent much of his career attempting to destroy narrative, to systematically remove conventional plot devices from his works and achieve a new aesthetic. My current system is inherently programmatic and narrative, which makes it a poor fit for the Beckett concert.
Consequently, my attention now turns to preparing for my recital. I have effectively “doubled down” with this project: not only does it require success as a teacher and chess player in order to pull off each concert, but additionally it requires that I compose a great piece of music! As I write this I have just three weeks to put the last piece together for my recital. I will have to drastically reduce the scale of my compositional ambitions in order to accommodate the realities of my timeline: I want a piece on my recital that sounds good, in addition to the educational content and lesson plans that go into making the piece happen.
One technique I intend to explore further as I extend this interdisciplinary teaching concept after graduation (not sure how or where yet, but I’ll find a way) is the idea of group composition through guided inquiry. By asking students (in this case, members of the NEC Chess Club) to explore core concepts in chess, I can make use of the bi-literacy and start asking questions. For example: “what is the effect of capturing a piece during a game? How might that be represented musically?” This format of question can be reused for each and every lesson plan: piece movement, the squares of the board, pawn promotion, check, checkmate, castling, elementary checkmates (Q+R vs. K, K + Q vs. K, K + R vs. K, etc.), opening theory, elementary tactics (forks, pins, skewers, discovered attacks, etc.), endgame studies like the Lucena Position, and so on.
The real challenge for me as an artist is sufficiently limiting the scope of each composition! Chess is nearly as rich and imaginative of an art form as music, so any attempt to map concepts from its domain into the world of sound will have inherent limitations. As a composer and fellow student helpfully suggested, “be careful not to put too much heart into each piece… remember you can always write another. Cut excess like a samurai.”