Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Ever have one of those days where every single person you come in contact with is a roadblock?  No, no, no, no, no.

That was yesterday.

Long story.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Grant Writing

An update on grant writing:

1. The 2010-11 Matthies Grant is done.  The report has been submitted.  We still have to do the data analysis on the project.

2. We have reached the second round of applications for the Valley Community Foundation.  This grant will fund the partnership with the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra and Western CT State University.

3. By Sunday we have to submit for 2011-12 Matthies Grant.  This is an exciting project where the WSO is commissioning a piece for our iPad ensemble to perform with the WSO in their season finale.  Exciting times.

4. I've sent other applications to Horns for Kids and Donorschoose.  Waiting on those.

5. I'm trying to start an instrument donation drive.  No luck so far.

6. We have a school talent show fundraiser next Friday.  Tickets go on sale tomorrow.

Its not easy, as you can imagine.  There are so many reasons not to bother.  Its hard to raise money.

I'll let you guess what my school allotment is.


We had a good rehearsal in band and choir today.  These groups have such highs and lows.  I have really simplified the music and I hope we have a successful concert.  Choir had some good moments today where they really nailed some parts.

Talent show is progressing.  Tickets go on sale tomorrow.

The ball is rolling for the Spring HS concert and the elementary concerts.  Lots of details to take care of.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

iPad Garageband Lesson

I did this lesson today in each class as an introduction to arranging/composing.

Each student has an iPad with Garageband.  You can certainly do this lesson in groups, but its not as productive.

1. I had a brief discussion of what a producer is in recorded music.  I talked about George Martin and the Beatles and also American Idol, which has been featuring prime producers like Don Was this year.  I outlined a producer responsibilities, how they decide the instruments, tempo, how to layer the music, etc...
2. I briefly explained how this is arranging.
3. Next, I played a 8 bar loop my daughter made of Happy Birthday (see below).
4. I modeled how to open garageband, find the microphone, and find loops.  I spent maybe 90 seconds on this.  Most students had never seen the app.
5. Students were asked to arrange an 8 measure loop of Happy Birthday.  They could use prerecorded loops or play their own parts.
6. Students had to name their file and send to iTunes.

What went well:
1. Everyone made a song loop.
2. Everyone was engaged.
3. Many discussions occurred as I went around the classroom (why 8 measures, does that drum beat match the bass line, etc...).
4. Its so nice to have everyone be able to spread out in class.
5. I don't spend days/weeks on the software.  We just talk about music.

What didn't go well:
1. Many students didn't record a vocal track.
2. Many students didn't produce their best work.

What I would change:
1. I would have everyone record a vocal track before we split up.
2. I need to find an easier way to save the files and sort through them.
3. I would publish all the files.  Publishing seems to raise the stakes.

Claudia's version (she's five)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Homework, the iPad, and Busy Work

I have written before about grades and how I feel they are used ineffectively throughout our educational system.  Recently, I have been thinking about the tasks and the homework we assign our children.  I follow Alfie Kohn's thoughts about homework and grades.

I have been thinking about the following:

  • I have informally surveyed the "average good kid".  Junior in high school does 3-4 hours of homework per night.
  • This is equal to the amount of time they spend in class each day.
  • Many do 3-4 hours, many do no homework.
  • Most, if not all, homework in many schools is first level Blooms type of questions.
  • Worksheets suck the life out of many children.
  • Parents want time with their kids.  They don't want all the time to be for homework.  
  • In high school students are not able to learn at their own pace.  In elementary school they generally are.  It takes 186 days to get through HS Chemistry whether you are the most brilliant or the most not brilliant.  
  • The most brilliant kids are epically bored.
Would a 1-1 initiative change this?  We are going to block schedule next year with 88 minute periods.  How will homework change?  If you can look up everything instantly do we move to more project based learning?

Monday, April 11, 2011

CMEA Reflection

Some things I would like to see at CMEA:

1. Scores of the All-State ensemble music for directors to review when they are listening.  I always did this when I was directing an ensemble.  Makes directors feel so much more involved.
2. There should be a room with wi-fi, coffee, and healthy snacks.  Everyone has to keep heading over to the Marriott.
3. A website with a program on it that you can find.  Make it searchable.
4. Food.
5. Technology vendors.  I realize that these are expensive to attend.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Hope to reflect on CMEA a bit more but some initial reflections:

1. There was not one technology vendor.
2. There were great workshops. But I wasn't interested in most of them. Some big names were there (Snidero, Huff, Albrecht).
3. Sally Albrecht did a great job with the elementary choir.
4. The CT Childrens Chorus was very impressive.

If you were there and you are reading this please drop me a note. I'd love to share ideas.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I was Late!

I hate being late. We headed up to the CT Music Educators Association conference today. I was presenting "iPads in Schools" and I decided to bring 11 of my students (and Coach Lennon). The bus was 25 minutes late and then we hit traffic. A lot of traffic. Why the bus driver doesnt check traffic I have no idea.

So I pulled in at 9:55am. Presentation at 10am. Walk into full house. This was not how I planned it. So we kind of winged it, we lost a few of the student performances. But we made it. I was really surprised by how many people were there. I wanted more hands-on time for everyone.

I was scattered but I think we did OK. I was real proud of the kids.

Here is the workshop info.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Who's in My Network

I read a lot.  I used to read books.  The stroke has slowed that down a bit.  I used to read very, very fast.  Skim really.  It's coming back.  So I get through a lot, but mostly on the internet.  I learn by reading, doing, making mistakes.  I love getting a thousand ideas coming across my desk each day.

Professional development has changed a lot for me.  I remember my first few years in Louisiana.  If I needed something I would write a letter (longhand) to my old high school director.  Wait for a response.  I remember when I was so grateful that a veteran director came to my school to work with my band.  I got so many ideas!

I really flew by the seat of my pants.  I was a Teach for America placement, I hadn't had any method classes, but I did have a lot of playing experience and I definitely had great directors and teachers.  I taught what they taught.  And it pretty much worked.  Twenty years of successful groups.

But I would never, ever, want to return to how I used to teach.  I was sooo stupid.

Now I get a lot from twitter, google reader, and the NYTimes (wait, not so much anymore....).  Who is in my reader every day?

Thomas J West: My first stop for music information.

Joseph Pisano: man of a thousand projects.  But always, always ready to help.

Dean Shareski: Blogger I most want to work with.

Alfie Kohn: I have a crush on Alfie.

Frasier Spiers: iPad guru.  Does great writing about his 1-1 experience in his school.

Susan Haugland: She answers when I have a question.  I like that.

Chris Pagliaro: my internet buddy at SHS.  Makes me think somebody's listening.

Now, whats odd is, except for Chris, who I see every day, I haven't met any of those people.  But I think they would all say I'm in their network as well.  Thats cool.

Are we setting our students up for this environment?  I don't think so.  What if our "test scores" were based on the size and quality of our audience?  I made collaboration my goal for my teaching evaluation this year.  Its a goal in our strategic plan, but nobody ever talks about it.  I've increased my twitter followers, doubled my blog readership, presented at workshops, and talked, talked, talked.

Next year I measure the effect on student learning.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Music Theory Test

I was real pleased with the music theory test on Friday.  A few perfect or near-perfect scores and nobody below a C.  Test was on SATB analysis and labeling inversions.

Big week this week as we head to CMEA.  I've given the students a lot of responsibility for the workshop. I hope it all comes together.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lionel Richie and the National Standards

Do you give assignments like this?

I think too often we think assignments need to be collated, graded, averaged.  Do we allow space in our curriculum for this type of creativity to flourish?

Here is a PDF of poster.

Friday, April 1, 2011


I was very lucky to sing this when I was in graduate school at Syracuse.

Rule #1: if you can sing in a big choir, do it.

Mahler's 2nd is long. The choir (150 strong) sits on stage. Most people don't know the song too well so they come to the show expecting some singing. They come in, see the big choir and think "cool, I'm ready".

The Symphony starts. One, two, three movements. No singing. Then there is intermission. "Hmm, why is the choir sitting there if they aren't going to sing?"

Fourth movement. Still no singing.

Fifth movement. 10 minutes in still no singing.

Then silence. The choir stands. All the eyes in the audience go "holy crap, here we go". Men sing first, real soft. Then drop the hammer. I love dropping the hammer. Its a different type of loud then electronic instruments. It totally envelopes you.

And then we sail to the end. Screaming all the way. Totally draining.

Any song that has horns with bells up works for me. Any song where the composer says one tympani just isn't enough works for me too.

Music Tests Today:

Tests today:

1. Choir will do a straight singing test on Mouse Madrigal.  Notes, rhythm, tone, phrasing.  Small groups and large groups for the test.
2. Music theory has their SATB inversion analysis test.
3. Band will have a performance test in front of the class. Jazz songs.  Perform the head, two choruses solo, head. Testing notes, form (do you play the head at right time), and improvisation.

End of marking period.

CMEA 2011 Conference: iPads in Schools

This is what I am thinking for the presentation:

1. About 10 minutes of me talking.
2. Some student performances (I hope...)
3. Then we create something with the iPads.  Students assist.
4. Recap, discussion, ideas.

Its so hard to plan when you don't know how many people will show up.  This conference is more challenging than others, for a variety of reasons.