Thursday, September 30, 2010

UConn visit

Today I gave a lecture at the University of Connecticut to Dr. Young's technology class. This is a class of 3rd years (I think....) entering the school of music education's program. It was a class of about 15 kids.

I arrived late. The weather was nasty and I had no idea where to park. I have rarely been at UConn when it is in full session and it was humming.

We talked a lot about how mobile technology can restructure the power structure in a class. Band/choir has been a very traditional class structure where the director holds all the power. To be able to hand around an iPad for students to listen/research/record/create can be a very powerful technique. We explored ways to alter lessons for elementary, middle and high school classes.

I thought it went pretty well. I had hoped to have iPads in their hands but they haven't been released from our tech office (Day 17 if you are counting).

The best part may have been lunch. I stopped in Rocky Hill on the way back and ate at a Mexican restaurant. How it changes your day to be able to have a real lunch. I still finished in 25 minutes, but what a sanity break. I wish we could do that more. Sometimes we forget what the rest of the world looks like outside of our bell-driven institutionalized walls.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is change coming to Seymour?

I am in my 13th month as the music director here in Seymour.

I teach:
  • HS Music Theory (kind of AP, but non-experienced musicians)
  • HS Concert Band (I started seven beginners last year as freshman. Now they are 2nd years)
  • HS Choir (16 kids)
  • HS Chorale (more elite acapella group)
  • 4th and 5th grade band and lessons at two different elementary schools (about 110 kids, 4 bands, 10 lesson groups).
This is too much now. It was manageable last year, but we are getting better. More kids, more emails, more programs, etc... And we are nowhere close to full speed. I simply don't have enough time during the day.

Now, I coach as well, a choice I make for two reasons ($$ and I'm lucky enough to keep winning). I realize I could work from 2-5 for no pay to catch up. I still put an extra 90 minutes in during the morning and a good 1-2 hours in afternoon.

There are enormous financial, emotional, political, and social reasons NOT to improve the music program. There is no question that the economic incentives are against it. If not, I wouldn't be given that load and be expected to pull two shifts to catch up. You can see why the program has been in perpetual cycles of poverty and mediocrity.

How to fight it? I know I need the kids to step up. I need them to work harder in class, at home, and around the school. I know I need to step up and be more efficient. Now that I know the kids in front of me I need to get the system rolling. I need to push to get more staff and more hands in the room. No question.

I can feel the culture changing. I can't wait to blow the paradigm of mediocrity wide open. (is that a real sentence?)

Friday, September 24, 2010

iPad day 2

So here is what I have done so far:

1. I expect the iPad and macBook to be reconfigured next week. So I haven't done anything permanent, spent any $ on apps, etc...
2. I was able to migrate my home iTunes folder to the macbook and iPad by enabling Home Sharing. It took about 90 minutes to move about 10GB of songs over. I was very happy about this.
3. In choir I was able to use the iPad and the macBook as a playback device using iTunes as students practiced their Italian songs. This worked really well. Everyone was engaged.
4. In theory we used to practice our key signatures. It works really well on the iPad. Students also used the Virtuoso Piano to practice their major scales. They rotated from the digital to the real piano and guitar. I am excited to see what the 1-1 environment will look like.
5. My Mom Skyped into the classroom to test the connection. It worked really well. She is going to take my elementary percussion class via Skype. I hope to call her often and have her watch class. A student said "If I'm absent I could call in!!" Yes, you can!
6. Twitter and Netflix currently blocked on iPad. I will work on the filter issues.
7. Currently waiting on shipment from Soundtree (TV, Sound System, Computer, Mixer) and an iPad cart from Spectrum Furniture.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I've been allowed to take an iPad and the macBook to get started. I think they will be wiped clean next week but I am at least able to get started.

I am amazed by how even this little amount ($1500 of equipment) will profoundly change my classroom. When all the equipment is deployed it will be truly exciting. Remember, we are starting from pretty much nothing (I mean even no sound system).

So, what next? I hope to blog about what is working and how we are doing it. I have decided after talking with my colleagues to just pass the macBook and iPad out tomorrow and see what happens. Its just a tool anyway, one the kids know how to use, lets see what they do with it.

Public thanks to Chris, Mike, Tom and Jim for getting me through this process!

Ideas? Please, please send them!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Still Waiting

iPads arrived in school last Monday. Told now I might get them by October 1. Oy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The start of the year

Well, the iPads aren't here yet but they should be here today. They have to be set-up and I hope to have them in class by the end of the week. What should I do first?

So far the beginning of the year has gone pretty well:

HS Band: 8 kids. Almost all my beginners last year came back. This is the core group we hope to build around. This is also the Pep Band. We will have to push to get that ready as the music is just a little beyond them.

HS Choir: There were a lot of scheduling issues with this group but I am stable at fifteen. One boy again. The group has been positive. We are working on our Italian songs and the basic theory vocabulary. Many students had no (zero--nada) correct on the first theory CFA. Lots of work to do.

AP Theory: Well, this isn't AP Theory but I'm doing it anyway. We are pretty much through with Chapter One where we establish basic vocabulary. There are some musicians in the group which is helpful, but none have ensemble experience. They have been positive.

Elementary Band: I have completed sign-ups (which are way, way up) and first rehearsal at one school. The returning players did very well in rehearsal. We are at roughly #45 in the red book. Last years 5th graders were at about #13 when I took over. So I am happy about that. I head to the other school today.

Other: I got up to 350 twitter followers. I got asked to be in the leadership committee for the site. I have a lecture on technology at UConn in two weeks.

Plenty to do....

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Don't Know What I Am Doing

cross posted on Thomas West blog

I sang in high school. When I got to college I sang in the big choir (Brahms Requiem, etc...). Same at Syracuse. But I am not a VOCALIST. I’m also a Teach for America alum. I never took a vocal methods class. I can’t really play piano.

To many (trust me!) I have no business teaching choir. I do not go to conferences and have discussions about soft palettes, resonators, or how important it is to use/avoid the head voice.

Yet, it is working. I have been doing it for a long time and I haven’t been kicked out yet. I thought it might be productive to share how my program is structured. Yes, my band program is structured almost exactly the same.

1. We break our year/month/week into thirds. Solo work, small group (one to part), and large ensemble get equal time. We spend the first month of each semester working on solo work. During this time we spend a lot of time working on vowels, phrasing, diction, and breathing. Right now we are working on the 24 Italian Songs. Our All-State auditions use them. We learn four every fall and add two in the spring.. By the end of their high school career they will know the whole book. In January we work on Broadway or American Songbook work.

2. My goal is for all choir seniors to be able to take and pass the AP Music Theory test. We spend at least 30-40% of our time on theory (solfeg, compositions, voice leading, sight-singing, etc..). It took me about six years in my previous school to get to this point.

3. We work hard on preparing for regional and All-State auditions. Very few of my students can take private lessons. I am their voice teacher. To prepare we use youTube to listen to versions of the song. We sing at least 2-3x per week for the class. We bring in judges (from serious vocalists to the custodial staff) to listen and critique. We videotape and evaluate growth. We work hard to instill the belief that everyone can make the attempt.

4. We don’t sing nearly as much choral repertoire as other choirs. We don’t have the time. I do try to sing three languages at each concert.

5. We use noteflight for our parts singing. I put the music in and students can select what accompaniment they want. I use for theory help. We use grouply for our class work. All students post videos of their singing to this site and make comments/evaluations here. It is a great way to share.

6. To obtain honors credit students must audition for All-State, take private lessons, and perform a 30 minute recital every Spring.. My students enter college knowing a lot of solo repertoire. We find the money for lessons when we need to. This takes A LOT of time but it much more like the college experience of some big choral work and a lot of solo work.

Every year I get a little better and twitter and the internet have been life savers. For example, there is no way I could have survived teaching “Dirait-On” last year without youtube.

I have a few samples of past groups on my blog. In my second year here in Seymour and I’m hoping (really hoping) that success continues.