Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lower School Uke Jam!

Happy... March?
Red Burst Soprano Dolphin
In the Lower School, we're celebrating the arrival of spring with ukuleles! While fourth-years have been playing ukuleles throughout the school year, third-years were focused on recorders, and River and Sky classes (first and second grade for you non-CFS'ers) have been rocking out on drums, xylophones, and small percussion.

Exciting for this year in particular is that I've finally been able to replace the last of our old, not-so-good ukuleles with Makala dolphins and sharks. This is a big leap in quality (though only a small leap in cost), leading to better sound, much better intonation, and less frustration for beginning players. Plus, they look awesome!

Our youngest students are learning good playing position, steady down-strumming, and the open strings. We're connecting the pitches of the strings to songs they've learned and xylophone notes--a great match for ukulele since the first three strings are G-C-E, or sol, do, mi, the primary notes of many teaching songs. We'll also learn the C chord.

Third-years review all of the above, plus we learn to fingerpick the notes B-A-G, the first three notes they learned on recorders in the Fall (conveniently, the fourth note they learned, E, is an open string). We'll even play some of our recorder songs on the ukulele. If time allows, we'll learn more of the C scale as well as another chord or two.

Fourth-years have already learned all this, so our next task is to learn to strum the chords to this week's song of the week, Ben Harper's "With My Own Two Hands." It uses three chords we've learned, C, F, and G7, plus one other one-finger chord, A minor. We're using the tune as sung by Jack Johnson with Ben Harper (you can hear it during the credits of the Curious George movie!), but my favorite version for listening is Ben Harper's original, which you can check out here. It's an easy song to play and to sing, and a great reminder of how each of us has the power to make a difference in the world.

With My Own Two Hands
Ben Harper

 C                                 F              C
I can change the world, with my own two hands
                                    F             C
Make it a better place, with my own two hands
                                    F               C
Make it a kinder place, with my own two hands
                Am                 G7          C
With my own, with my own two hands

C          F           C
I can make peace on earth, with my own two hands
                           F             C
I can clean up the earth, with my own two hands
   F    C
I can reach out to you, with my own two hands
       Am       G7      C
With my own, with my own two hands
       Am       G7      C
With my own, with my own two hands

C        F C
I’m gonna make it a brighter place, with my own two hands
                                           F    C
I’m gonna make it a safer place, with my own two hands
                      F    C
I’m gonna help the human race, with my own two hands
       Am       G7      C
With my own, with my own two hands
       Am       G7      C
With my own, with my own two hands

C                    F C
I can hold you, with my own two hands
     F      C
I can comfort you, with my own two hands
     F        C
But you got to use, use your own two hands
        Am        G7       C
Use your own, use your own two hands
Am        G7       C
Use your own, use your own two hands

       Am        G7       C
With our own, with our own two hands
       Am        G7       C
With our own, with our own two hands
       Am        G7       C
With my own, with my own two hands

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Repost--Why I Teach Music

Back in 2011, when I'd only been teaching in a school setting for three years, I wrote this little list of reasons I love what I do. I like to think that I've grown a lot as a teacher since then, but these core "why"'s haven't changed a bit. They inspire me every day, and motivate me when I'm feeling discouraged. So here is my not-so-new, but absolutely current, list of the top reasons I teach music:

Because there is more than one way to be smart.

Because real life isn't about test scores.

Because music has existed in all cultures since the dawn of humankind, and it is hardwired into our souls (or brains, if you don't believe in that sort of thing).

Because children can learn countless ways to appropriately and effectively express their feelings through the arts.

Because he may end up a gun-toting conservative and she a tree-hugging liberal, but they both smile while harmonizing on "You are my Sunshine."

Because, among other things, music is entertainment. Quality, thought-provoking entertainment makes people happy. Happy people make the world better.

Because the world would be a better place if everyone learned to truly, deeply listen.

Because some children will be inspired to take up a musical instrument, which teaches persistence, discipline, humility, and the rewards of hard work.

Because making music creates millions of new pathways in the brain.

Because making music brings families, friends, and communities closer together, helping us see each other as vulnerable, creative beings instead of roadblocks.

Because in a world of such frightening conflicts and lightning-fast change, we all need as many reminders as we can get that life is beautiful.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

New goodies for my classroom!

As I mentioned in my catch-up post, last school year I was able to move into a classroom formerly known as "The Annex," a little cabin-like building with a long and rich history at our school. This meant combining two classrooms into one, which was a ton of work but well worth it! I was able to mix instrument collections, consolidate books and other materials, and really make the space my own. Also, the space came with a BATHROOM (anyone who's had to teach without easy/quick bathroom access knows why I'm so excited about that!), a CLOSET, and a smaller attached office space! I also was finally able to order the rug I'd been drooling over for several years, and I love it just as much as I'd hoped (and so do my students).

Over the summer, I ordered a few more goodies to complete my collections. I can't wait to use them with the kids! For the Lower School, I ordered this lovely set of rainbow-colored Toca djembes, so I now have enough small djembes for a whole LS class (instead of having to always throw in bongos and other hand drums).

Ukuleles have long been popular in the Middle School, and when I started the job, I inherited some ukes and filled out the collection with the same (inexpensive) brand to have enough for Lower School classes. However, I was never happy with the sound and especially the poor intonation--every fretboard is just a little different. Then, I discovered the Makala dolphin, and later, shark ukes. For not too much more money, they offer a richer sound, come with better strings, and have much better intonation. I'd been gradually replacing the old ukes, and I finally have enough for an entire class in either unit. Aren't they pretty?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Back to school.... two years later!

Hello there! So I'm not even going to try to explain/excuse my two year blogging hiatus, and though I'm not making any promises this time, I do plan to blog regularly throughout this year. Despite the lack of blogging, it's been a great two years, both personally and professionally! Here are a few of the professional highlights:

• Started a beginning winds and strings elective in the Middle School! This Fall, I'll be offering both the beginning elective and a continuing elective that will include students who've started their instrument through private lessons.

• Completed two more student-created and directed Lower School Springfest performances, based on Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth (2015), and Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke (2016)

• Integrated the fun and wonderfully designed, technology-rich Quaver's Marvelous World of Music curriculum into the Lower School music program. This year, I'll also be using Noteflight for my upper elementary and middle school students.

• Combined my Lower and Middle School rooms into a single teaching space that's my room all day (yay!)

• Replaced original set of classroom ukuleles with a much better model, leading to more ukulele playing, especially in the 3rd and 4th grade.

• Musically directed two amazing, large musicals in the Middle School: Seussical, Jr. (might be my favorite ever!) and Michael Sirotta's Alice in Wonderland.

• "Graduated" my first 8th-grade advisees who had been my advisees for four years and my students for eight years (proud and sad!)

• Continued conducting the Piedmont Youth and Family Orchestra, designed new website, and made plans for a 2016-17 year of renewal and growth (starting Sept. 11, 2016!)

• My first professionally published short story, "Bully," appeared in the January 2016 issue of Cricket Magazine. A lifelong dream come true! Hoping my novels are next...

Okay, enough tooting my own horn (which reminds me, in moving spaces I discovered the most amazing Marx-brothers style bicycle horn stuffed in a box, along with lots of other shiny stuff). School starts Tuesday, and music classes begin the day after Labor Day. Better go organize!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Back to School!

I can't believe it's already been four weeks since the start of school! That means music classes in both the Lower and Middle Schools have been meeting for three weeks. This trimester's Middle School classes include 1st-year (5th grade) Music Rotation (general music) and a class called "Ukuleles and Glee!" in which we are learning ukulele and singing popular songs. Our big group song is Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up," which we're arranging with multiple ukulele parts and harmony. I'm already a Jason Mraz fan, but that song is something extra special. The Middle School is also looking forward to auditions for our annual musical, which will be "Seussical, Jr." Auditions are in October, rehearsals begin with second trimester electives in November, and performances are in February.

Lower School is off to a great start! Forest and Mountain 3rd-years and new 4th-years received their recorders week before last, and they are already playing songs with their first 3 notes, B-A-G. If you visit campus at lunchtime, you might even hear some enthusiastic students playing their recorders on the playground! We've especially enjoyed playing songs from the new Quaver recorder curriculum, including the instant classic (and earworm) "Perry the Sheep" (fell asleep, did a sheep sleep walk, and ate a recorder...). River and Sky classes have learned several new songs, sung a round, played drums, and learned about steady beat and meter.

We've also started our first round of music parties, a reward for classes whose music notes make it to the "Party Space!" Our parties have included traditional play-party games like "Old King Glory" and "Jump Josie," freeze dancing, and a couple of OK Go videos!

Our Lower School has a wonderful new librarian, Natalie, and we are talking about a possible collaboration in which students will make book soundtracks. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, check out Natalie's blog here!

Lots of exciting stuff coming up, so I'll post more soon!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Go In Peace

I took some time this Labor Day weekend to record my little song "Go In Peace" with my two older kids. I wrote this song last year as an exit song for our weekly Meeting for Worship time in the Lower School (oops! I say "yearly" on the video. I was quite distracted by my 1-year-old busy destroying the house off-screen). Here it is:

The lyrics:
Go in peace, go in peace
With this blessing in your heart
May your light shine brightly wherever you are.

Go in peace, go in peace
May this silence teach us grace
To help each other make the world a better place.

Feel free to use this song if it works for you, but please let me know in the comments!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Staying Organized with Evernote

*note: I wrote this post because I have used Evernote for years and truly think it's an amazing tool. I have no affiliation with the company and this post is based entirely on my personal experience.

I'm always telling everyone about my very favorite organizational tool, Evernote, but somehow I've never written about it other than a mention in my post about my PLN workflow. One of Evernote's greatest features is that it is just as simple or as complex as you need it to be. Google "Evernote and..." and you'll find thousands of ideas of how to use it in any context you can imagine. Here's a screenshot from Evernote on my Mac:

And here's why I find it so awesome: