Tag Archives: music teacher

Exploring Holiday Songs, Carols, and Customs

By Sally K. Albrecht, Composer/Conductor/Clinician

Sally K. AlbrechtThe holidays are the perfect time to explore, study, and celebrate the music from other lands. Through music we can learn so much about people and traditions around the world. Alfred’s new publication A World of Christmas was put together with that in mind—to teach young singers about the cultures, customs, languages, and music of other countries.

Use A World of Christmas as a songbook (approximately 30 minutes) or add the optional script to create a full-fledged global musical (approximately 50 minutes). The publication contains an opening/closing theme, plus songs from 15 countries around the globe. Feel free to add other holiday songs from other countries, or select only your favorites for a shorter program. The optional script includes lines for 10 narrators, who introduce the customs of the featured country before each song. Use the same 10 speakers throughout the program, or change before each song—it’s up to you.

If you teach many different classes, consider having all your children perform the opening and closing theme, with different individual classes performing one or more songs alone. A World of Christmas may be performed simply on risers, with narrators coming forward before each selection.

You can easily turn this program into a full-school project, inviting fellow teachers or people from your community to join in on the fun. Consider using the study of this material to develop further interdisciplinary study:

  • Invite a geography teacher to talk about the different countries that are featured: the locations, hemispheres, longitudes and latitudes, major cities, topography, imports and exports, major crops, etc.
  • Invite a language specialist to teach a few important words in each country’s native language: yes, no, hello, goodbye, bathroom, numerals from 1-10, please, thank you, etc.
  • Invite an art teacher to help students draw a map of the country, the flag, or even children wearing typical costumes of the country. Plan an art project or exhibit based on the particular art styles of the country or specific region.
  • Invite a history teacher to talk about past and recent developments in the country’s politics, borders, rulers, etc.
  • Invite a chef to talk about foods and perhaps cook a typical dish from a few of the countries.
  • Invite a banker to show your students currency from each country.
  • Invite an ethnomusicologist to demonstrate musical instruments or play examples of folk music from each country.
  • Invite a music specialist to talk about and play examples of the music of famous composers from each country.
  • Invite a zoologist to talk about each country’s native animals and what they eat.
  • Invite a meteorologist to talk about each country’s climate and typical weather patterns.
  • Invite a travel agent to talk about the highlights of each country, things to see and do, and how to get there. Collect some travel posters for your hallways and classrooms.
  • Invite a costume designer to show examples of the typical dress of each country.
“We hope you enjoy introducing your students to The World of Christmas

Teach Me to Sing!

By Sally K. Albrecht and Andy Beck, Alfred Choral & Classroom Editors

At several recent conventions, Andy Beck and I have enjoyed presenting a session titled “Teach Me To Sing! A Guide to Training Young Singers.” We have had so many positive comments about the presentation and the approach that we’ve taken to developing children’s singing skills. Here are the six simple steps we recommend.

STEP 1 – Develop basic singing and listening skills with ECHO SONGS.
Echo songs are the very best way to start primary singers. When you demonstrate proper vocal tone and technique, then your singers will echo it back correctly. This is a wonderful way to develop ear training, pitch awareness, rhythmic accuracy, and good vocal habits in young singers.

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STEP 2 – Now that we’ve got the basics, let’s sing in UNISON.
Start young voices on simple age-appropriate melodies set in comfortable vocal ranges. Then gradually introduce challenges as musical objectives are met. Remember, students will learn so much through lyrics, so choose songs that inspire and educate as well as entertain!

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STEP 3 – Develop vocal independence by singing ROUNDS AND CANONS.
There’s no better way to introduce part-singing than by performing rounds and canons. Be sure to thoroughly learn the melody in unison first, then divide students into sections. Take turns leading or following. Or YOU be the leader, and let students follow!

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STEP 4 – Pair two complimentary melodies singing PARTNER SONGS.
These highly effective teaching songs ensure vocal independence as two tunes are overlapped. Repeat each song three times; sing the familiar melody first, the new melodic partner second, and then combine them for each-to-achieve counterpoint harmony!

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STEP 5 – Integrate RHYTHM AND MUSIC READING ACTIVITIES into your curriculum.
We know that learning styles vary, so it’s important to teach and reinforce musical concepts in a variety of ways each time you are with your students. For rhythmic reading, try clapping, tapping, chanting, walking, and playing classroom instruments. For music reading, incorporate regular practice and drill to develop musicianship.

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STEP 6 – After all of your hard work, now you are ready to sing BEGINNING 2-PART SONGS.
Now you’re ready to experience the beauty and fun of choral singing, introducing beginning 2-part songs with independent counterlines, echoing phrases, or musical lines that move in opposite directions. Select repertoire that is designed for success.

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After all your excellent preparation and fun work, now you should be ready to introduce your developing 2-part singers to choral octavos!

Teach Me to Sing>Click here to view a PDF booklet of sample pages introducing these 6 simple steps.

Different Strokes for Different Folks: Teaching the Individual

Susan JordanBy Susan Jordan
Voice Instructor, Stroudsburg, PA

“She takes each student along a personal journey.” – former student Anthony Nasto, graduate of the Hartt School of Music and member of the barbershop quartet Men in Black.

Since I established my voice studio in 1979, I’ve been privileged to spend time with many special people who have come to me to “learn to sing.” Most of these have been high school students since that seems to be a period when people become aware of the music inside that they want to share. I know that was true for me. I heard a Met broadcast at the age of 13 and was amazed, stunned, and awed by the wonderful sounds I heard. And I knew immediately I wanted to try and do that.

Every teacher who works with vocalists knows that what we do in the studio is just the beginning of each student’s journey. Our primary responsibility is to provide them with tools they can learn to use to unlock their voice; how well they succeed partly depends on how hard they are willing to work, and how much time and effort they will devote to one of my favorite words: practice. It is indeed a journey, and every student’s path is unique, because every voice is unique . . . which is what makes what we do so fascinating.

One of the first students who came to me exemplifies a path that very few students can follow. A 14-year-old high school sophomore when she began to study, she had a true and complete gift: a voice of exceptional natural beauty, and an innate sense of musicality. She almost immediately absorbed every concept I shared with her. Of course, with this ability, her voice blossomed and her singing was a joy not only to hear but to see as well. The love she experienced and could release through singing was very evident. Since she learned quickly to sing with ease, she was able to make music . . . the goal we have for all our students.

The path most students follow is generally not so smooth, as is evident in another high school sophomore’s story. Thanks to a very good cheerleading coach (yes, cheerleaders can also be singers!) she had a good understanding of using her breath correctly. There was a lot of promise in her voice but it was very far back, so obviously that was the challenge. It was slow going, but she was determined and we worked together on vowels, combinations of vowels and consonants, and forward focus. Then I gave her a song she fell in love with, and she was able to incorporate all the concepts we’d been working on . . . and music happened! From that point on it was smooth sailing, and she wound up as a vocal performance major at an excellent school.

One of the most important things I need to do as a teacher of young talent is to have a sense of each student as an individual. Knowing this girl is painfully shy or that boy is filled with insecurity means I need to help them develop the confidence to perform as well as teach them to use their voice correctly. With some students, I find I have to explain concepts in several different ways before I see the light go on! I always tell my students to ask questions if they don’t “get” what we’re trying to do. Picking up on visual and aural cues is important, but questions from the student are direct and cut to the chase.

As teachers we all have a set of exercises that seem to work well with the majority of our students. Sometimes the trick is to modify these, or to consider what else might work. Since singing involves some muscles that we can’t directly see, we often try different ways to find what imagery works best for a particular student. Moving jaw, shoulder, and neck tension to another part of the body where it’s a help rather than a hindrance can vary from simply walking around while singing to one of my favorites, facing the door and pressing with the hands against the frame while leaning forward. (I tell my students to try and push my house down.) This activity engages the intercostals and makes the student aware of how important muscles from the chest to the floor are for a singer. I’m sure all teachers have similar items in their bag of tricks.

Patience is a huge part of teaching teenagers. I have had more than one student who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. With these students, I find less talk and more action works best. Generally, focusing on one element at a time has been most successful. It’s not ideal but eventually we can put the pieces together and move forward. I constantly encourage these students to explain to me exactly what they are doing when they’ve been successful, and this helps them to retain the concept.

I’ve had students who were very, very serious about “learning to sing.” I appreciate their passion and determination, but these are the students I have to sometimes remind not to over think what they are doing. Singing is hard work, but it also needs to be a source of joy! Sometimes I will tell these kids to stop thinking, take a deep breath, love the music, and just SING.

I recently explained to one tremendously talented boy I have as a current student that I’m trying to provide him with the tools to share his soul through his music. That was a revelation for him. He has the same incredible gift of vocal beauty and musicality as the young woman I mentioned earlier. They come to us from time to time!

About Susan Jordan
After attending the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, Susan Jordan moved with her family to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in 1971. She established her voice studio in 1979 and has had students accepted into such schools as the Eastman School of Music, Peabody Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Hartt School of Music, Westminster Choir College, Cincinnati College-Conservatory, and many other fine programs. Former students have performed on Broadway, in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, on national tours of Broadway shows, and in regional theater. Some are also teaching either as school chorus directors or in private voice studios. Since 1984, she has directed some 80 high school and community theater musical productions. Currently, along with private teaching, she operates the music notesetting business established by her late husband, Jordan Music Engravers. She is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and was recently honored locally by being inducted into the East Stroudsburg Area School District Music Hall of Fame.
Please visit www.susanjordanstudio.com for more information.

The Journey from Music Student to Teacher

Valerie DemmaAn Interview with Valerie Demma, Winner of Alfred’s 90th Anniversary Sweepstakes and recent music graduate from St. Xavier University

By Anna Wentlent, Editor of School Choral and Classroom Music

Did you begin making music with your family, or were you introduced to it in school?
My musical upbringing started in fifth grade when I first joined my grammar school’s choir. I initially joined because a few of my friends did, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided to stick with it!

Do you have any favorite Alfred choral pieces?
My favorite Alfred piece would have to be the piece that Sally K. Albrecht dedicated to my grammar school’s district choral festival in 1997 when she was our guest clinician: “Gloria Deo!” (2-part, 00-16955). Out of the hundreds of choral pieces that I’ve sung in my life, I can actually remember singing this one! The memory of this particular choral festival is one of my favorites, because as a young singer, I thought it was neat that we were actually working with the person who wrote the song that we were singing (and that she autographed a copy of the music for me).

Why did you decide to become a music educator?
I first thought about becoming a music educator after seventh grade, when working with Dr. Sandra Snow, another guest clinician at one of our district choral festivals. She is the most supportive person that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. She made me feel so positive about singing that I decided that I wanted to devote my career to inspiring students in the same way that she inspired me.

What has your experience in music school been like so far?
Collegiate music has been a welcome challenge. As a choral singer, I have been eager to get into the “meat and potatoes” music—major works that require a substantial, large chorus. I’ve had the opportunity to sing works like Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Handel’s The Messiah and Coronation Anthems, and Brahms’ Zigeunerlieder and Neue Liebeslieder.

What do you plan to do after school?
I’m planning to obtain my graduate degree in choral music education. After completing that degree, my career goal is to teach high school choral music and sing in a professional chorus.

How do you plan to use your prizes from Alfred’s 90th Anniversary Sweepstakes?
I have actually decided to donate the majority of my prizes from the Sweepstakes. I kept three of the smaller prizes for myself, and then I donated the other prizes and split the online credit to the Alfred website between two very deserving choral music programs: my former high school director’s choirs (Meredith McGuire at Oak Lawn Community High School) and my current voice instructor’s choirs (Dr. Stacy Eckert at Providence Catholic High School). The decision was immediate; I didn’t even give it a second thought. I have been looking for the opportunity to give back to these two very deserving teachers who helped shape my musical career, and winning this contest provided me with that opportunity!

Composition in the General Music Classroom

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent,
Editor of School Choral and Classroom Music

In the midst of current education reforms, all teachers are working hard to incorporate the Common Core standards into their traditional programs of study. Music teachers have the advantage of a rich history of standards-based education using the National Standards for Music Education. And music itself is an integrated subject that naturally connects to other academic areas. In particular, music composition presents numerous possibilities for addressing the new standards within your established curriculum.

The fourth National Standard reads as follows: “Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.” Composition is truly an integrated activity. Regular classroom lessons and projects can be designed to encompass the majority of the other music standards, as well as many English and mathematics standards. Mathematical concepts such as fractions, percentages, patterns, and sequences are addressed through the analysis of rhythm, melodic contour, and musical form. English literacy is addressed as students are called upon to self-assess their individual and ensemble performances and compositions in an articulate manner using appropriate vocabulary. Along the way, the students’ preparatory work, notated music, and class performances offer excellent opportunities for concrete assessment.

Composition should not be an activity reserved for the most experienced and well-trained musicians. Everyone is instinctively creative, and students of all ages should be given frequent opportunities to compose in the general music classroom. Don’t let your students’ limited knowledge of music notation hold them back. Composition is first and foremost a creative endeavor! And your students will have you to guide them through the creative process of making musical decisions, testing and revising ideas, making a written record of those ideas, etc. Young children without an understanding of formal notation can be asked to “notate” their composed work so that others might understand it, using self-designed symbols, musical drawings, and other visual representations.

Frequent compositional activities will hopefully leave your students with a greater respect for composers and the process of writing or arranging a piece of music, as well as an appreciation for music notation. I have found that students are much more motivated to learn about notes and rhythms when they are regularly exposed to practical applications of that knowledge, such as composition and performance.

Autumn Composition Project

Prep: If time allows, spend some class time listening to and discussing one or more of the following works of program music. Some tell a sequential story, some create a picture or scene.

  • Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (“Storm” Movement)
  • Bernstein’s “Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story
  • Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt
  • Grieg’s “Sunrise” from Peer Gynt
  • Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain
  • Ridout’s Fall Fair
  • Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee
  • Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre
  • Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons

K-2nd Grade: As you play the piece for the first time, have the students close their eyes and just listen to the music. When you play the piece a second time, prompt them to let their imaginations run wild . . . Imagine a scene that might be happening while this music is playing. What do you see? What type of people and animals are there? What are they doing? Are they happy, sad, excited, or worried? Afterwards, have your students sketch a picture of the scene they imagined. Prompt them to include meaningful details to fill in the story.

3rd-5th Grade: Instruct the students to write down words or phrases that come to mind as they are listening. After the piece is finished, work together as a class to compile a master list of words and phrases. Challenge them to use similes, metaphors, and other literary devices they may be learning about in their English lessons. Use the master list to write a class poem that reflects on the piece of music to which they just listened.

Once the connection has been made between musical sound and the written word, you can guide your students in working from the opposite direction to create their own musical compositions. Select poetry with relevant themes and vivid imagery. At this time of year, you might use “Autumn Woods” by James S. Tippett (for K-2nd grade) or “Leaves” by Elsie N. Brady” (for 3rd-5th grade).

Begin by reading and discussing the poem with your class. Then provide an example or two of connections that can be made between the text and musical sound. Work as a class to isolate one line of the poem and create a musical sound that reflects or adds to the scene. In fact, if you’re just introducing composition to your students, you might do all of this preparatory work together as a class, coming up with a master list that your students can select from when they actually create their work. Examples for the above poems might be the sound of a person slowly walking through an empty forest, wind whistling through the trees, leaves falling to the ground, or a grandfather clock ticking. Older students can delve into more complex musical representations, such as the sound of a sunrise or a fall afternoon.

Separate the students into groups of a workable size, perhaps three or four students. The groups will then need structured classroom time to plan. Depending on the scope of the project, this may take an entire class or more. Each group should develop the details of their theme, brainstorm musical sounds, and design the musical form of their piece. It may be easier for younger students to actually tell a story through instrument sounds, while older students can be challenged to create a more traditional musical piece that reflects the theme of poem. Prompt them to consider musical elements that you may be learning about in class, such as texture, tempo, dynamics, etc. Then allow them to select classroom instruments. We all know that instruments can be both a motivator and a distraction. Saving them for the end of the compositional process will help your students to focus on their preparatory work! The parameters of instrument selection can be as wide or narrow as you choose.

I recommend creating “stopping points” within the project. For example, after each group has worked out the basic framework of their piece, allow them to perform a few musical ideas or even the first draft of their piece, soliciting constructive feedback from their peers. Testing and revising ideas is an important idea of the compositional process. The stopping points will also give you an opportunity to assess each group’s progression. When it comes to the final performance, consider displaying their written work, having the poem read aloud beforehand, or appointing a student announcer to introduce each group. Even if the students are simply performing for each other during regular music class, you can structure the event to impart mutual respect and importance. Create a positive experience that your students will enjoy and look forward to repeating in the future!

Keeping Your Eyes (and Ears) On the “Prize”

Danny Ursetti
Around this time of year most high school programs are in the thick of their competitive marching season. Rehearsals during the week are intensifying and weekends only exist for Saturday rehearsals and competitions.You’ve spent months preparing for your band’s 12-minute time slot to perform your show for an audience and the judges. The band performs its best show of the year but does not earn the score that you think they deserve. What now?

This happens all too often in this sport called marching band. That’s right, I said it, marching band is a sport. Hours and hours of rehearsal time are spent practicing and perfecting a drill set or a musical run, all for everyone to end up disappointed at the competition. We have to remember why we do marching band or music at all for that matter. It’s not for the thrill of winning a trophy, or taking the top score. Music is fun. It’s fun to listen, dance, sing, and play. And not to mention march to!

Art is subjective
Unlike other sports, where you have more control over whether or not you earn enough points to win, marching band is a judged competition. You can tune every chord, align every form, nail every transition and still not get the score you were hoping for. Music is an art form. Art is not created to be judged and/or critiqued.That being said, I do believe unbiased feedback is essential in getting the best out of your students and staff to help them improve throughout the season. It’s ok not to win. Competition is a great way to motivate students to do their best and to encourage them to learn how to deal with the end results, no matter what the results may be. But the most important thing is: If you perform your best, you win!

Take pride in your work
In a high school setting, playing music for fun isn’t quite enough. We have to help the students take pride in the work they are putting in. Yes, music is fun, but you know what’s even better? Sounding and looking your very best. The hours and hours of rehearsal time should not be geared at winning the competition or beating the cross-town rival. The goal should be to perform the best show of the season every time the band steps on the field. One thing or another will most likely go wrong at a show, but if the band takes everything the staff has given them and plays and marches their very best, that is a successful show and season.

Most students will not remember what score they received, place they took, or what trophy they won (which will most likely be covered in dust on a shelf in the band room), but what they will remember are the times they spent learning, practicing, and performing music with their friends to the best of their ability. That is something to be proud of. So as you are starting to go to competitions this season, and with championships on the not so distant horizon, try to remember why we learn (and teach) music: It’s fun!

Do you have any “fun” ways to motivate your students? In what ways do you motivate younger musicians to do their best? Please share your thoughts and insights below!
Good luck and have a great season!

Danny Ursetti
Music Caption Head, Royal High School

Seating Placement – Does it Really Matter?

Robert Sheldon

By Robert Sheldon

Is it at all important how you arrange the seating and placement of your ensemble?  Why does it matter?  What is there to be gained?  I believe there are many reasons to have this discussion.  Although every director may have their own opinion about what works for them, it is important to at least HAVE an opinion, and to have thought through the reasons why we have made these decisions.  We have all seen those design shows on television where the owner gets a room makeover, and in doing so is amazed and thrilled that by changing up the placement of the furniture in their room that suddenly the space is so much better, revitalized and more appealing.  Until the moment when the “reveal” takes place, they hadn’t changed the room in years because it had not occurred to them that it could or should be done differently. It is easy to fall into keeping things the way they are just because that is the way we have always done it.

Seating placement is all about the performers being able to hear each other, and the audience being able to hear the best possible representation of the performance.  When thinking about the geographical placement of the performers, it is helpful to consider the physical rehearsal space in which you will be working each day. But you must also consider the performance site as well.  What are the acoustical properties of these spaces?  Are risers built in to the rehearsal space, but not used in the performing area?  Or are risers used on stage, but the ensemble rehearses on a flat surface?  Balance will change dramatically when back rows are raised.  Likewise, balance can change given the direction of certain players’ instruments.  Not only will the location of brass players and the direction their bells are facing affect balance, but the posture they are using and the height and direction of their bells while they play will have a major impact.  Players who raise their bells up will be heard much more than the players who point their bells to the floor in front of them.  Consequently a consistent and uniform bell height in the section will promote better balance.

We need to be aware of the needs of the individual players in the ensemble as well.  The music selection is also something to consider.  Can the soloists be heard?  Can the sections that have musical conversations with other sections hear each other clearly?  Can all instrumentalists that play similar parts during the piece see and hear the other players who are involved?  If a duet occurs, can the players see and hear each other?  It might be a good idea to change the seating arrangement for a specific piece of music to address these concerns.

Principal players are such an important part of our ensembles for many reasons.  Not only are they often the strongest players in the group, but they are also the leaders, and therefore are the students with whom we may have the most eye contact, and the ones we cue most frequently when their entire section enters.  Therefore, we want to not only have them placed in the ensemble where we can see and hear them most clearly, but they need to be seen and heard by the principal players in the other sections as well.  It is worth considering placing the 1st trumpet player next to the 1st trombone player, especially when those sections play pieces where they have similar entrances.  The same idea can be used with horn and alto sax, clarinet and flute, and possibly others, depending on the piece being performed.  When the principal players play with more precision the rest of the section has a better chance of success.

We should also consider sections of the ensemble.  If all of the low brass and low woodwinds play similar parts in a given piece, it makes sense to have them all in the same region of the band.  Not only can they all interpret the conductor’s cues more easily, but they can also tune to each other as they play.  Obviously this applies to other sections as well.

Horns can present a unique challenge due to the direction of their bells.  I have found it best to seat the section so that the principal player’s bell is facing the rest of the section.  In other words, the principal horn has the rest of the section to their right.  Since you may not want the last chair horn’s bell facing the audience at the front of the stage, it may require seating the horns within the ensemble rather than at the outer edge.  Here is where it is important to examine performance and rehearsal space.  If there is a hard surface behind the horns, their sound will certainly be more evident than if they are just playing into other players who are sitting in back of them.  If the performance site is different than the rehearsal site in this regard, problems can certainly occur.  One way to control this is by using horn walls; I have made these from 3X4’ clear sheets of Plexiglas. These can be hung from the music stands of the players who sit behind the horns.  The effect is a much more prominent horn sound that seems to work in all environments, and the balance remains more consistent.

The location of the percussion section is also critical.  A hard surface behind the snare or bass drum can allow those instruments to sound much louder in the audience.  If the mallet players are playing passages with the upper woodwinds, it is helpful to place them close to those sections.  Likewise, if the timpani is located near the tuba section it is easier to tune and play with better confidence.  A stage that is narrow could result in some players standing behind wing curtains, and that could make it nearly impossible for them to be heard.

Given that the seating of the ensemble can have an enormous impact on balance, intonation and precision, a careful examination of the seating chart we use can lead to immediate improvements in these areas.  So I encourage directors to give it a try, change it up and see what happens!

Do you have any preferred seating arrangements for your ensemble? Has anything worked better or not worked at all in the past? We want to hear your thoughts!

The New “Super Heroes” Are Band Directors!

Victor LopezBy Victor Lopez

Due to the significant changes in public school instruction system in America, it has become extremely challenging for a band director to have an outstanding band program. The changes mean students will have more customized options tailored to their particular needs and interests.

The amount of challenges affecting the band program is overwhelming. Let us consider some of the most recent ones: Academic achievement was set as a priority in public education with stricter attendance rules; adoption of a no-pass, no-play rule prohibiting students who were failing courses from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities for a six-week period; and national norm-referenced testing throughout all grades to assure parents of individual schools’ performance through a common frame of reference; school choice programs; grade level configurations; and, the push to increase the number of students enrolled in advanced placement courses. Additionally, many band directors work in high poverty area schools where they experience the following: high student mobility rate; diminished pool of talented students; lack of equipment; limited feeder programs; declined attendance at performances; and, the shift of program funding from the school to other sources, just to name a few.

These challenges, one way or another, have been in existence for several decades and many band directors continue to face them on a daily basis. It does not take long to realize that it is a tug-of-war between the band program and the rest of the school, not to mention the personal life of students. However, year after year, these new ‘Super Heroes” manage to have quality programs despite the hurdles they face. Above all, they have a passion for music and the band program, provide musical direction, find scholarships for the students, accommodate special needs students, implement differentiated instructional techniques, support district mandates for raising student achievement and closing achievement gaps, are responsible for fund raising activities and yes, in many cases have become community leaders.

Overcoming all of these challenges is certainly not an easy task. We must continue to be strong advocates fighting to keep music alive in our schools.  We must continue to promote music and communicate to policymakers the value of what music education can do for a child — whether it’s academic, whether it’s social, whether it’s emotional — so that they understand the benefits of music education.”

To our Super Heroes, I say … keep the music playing!!!!!

Are there ways that you are advocating to keep music alive in schools that would be helpful to share with others reading this?

A Note from Gayle Kowalchyk and E. L. Lancaster

Gayle Kowalchyk and E. L. LancasterImagine this scenario. On Monday, one of your favorite students, Jenny, broke her arm playing soccer. Her mother calls and wants to cancel her piano lessons until the cast is off. Brooke, who has just started high school, declares at her lesson on Tuesday that she has a huge crush on Justin Bieber and wants to learn some of his songs on the piano. Hoping that Wednesday would be better, you have a new student who asks if you can teach him to compose music. By Thursday, you decide that all of your students need some new technique exercises. And on Friday, you realize that you have an ensemble recital scheduled but haven’t chosen the music for it. Today is Saturday, and you only have one free hour to find music for your students. What is a busy piano teacher to do?

You’ll be able to solve all of these problems by looking through Alfred’s 2012 summer catalog for new publications and time-tested favorites. We want our students to turn to music for expression, relaxation, inspiration, and entertainment but most of all, self-fulfillment. The variety of publications featured in this catalog fulfills all of these needs for students. Let this catalog
help you with planning for the upcoming school year.

And, while you are planning, don’t forget to plan some time for yourself. You’ll definitely be inspired and motivated by the book on the opposite page from our sacred library – Bernadine Johnson’s Stories of Faith and Inspiration (25 Lessons I Learned from My Piano Students). As a piano teacher, you will identify with each situation that she describes.

Have a great teaching year!

E. L. Lancaster & Gayle Kowalchyk

View Catalog >

Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs!

Russell L. RobinsonDr. Russell L. Robinson, University of Florida
Educator, Clinician, Composer/Arranger

I love working with middle school singers. (Some people might ask, “How could you love working with middle school singers?”) Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Their energy! As students this age make the transition from child to adult, they have boundless energy. Unbridled, unfocused, and unguided, this energy can be an “interesting challenge,” but as veteran middle school teachers will tell you, if you get the students going in the right direction and they know you are sincere, they will “go to the wall” for you!

2. Their voices! Although the girls’ voices are also going through many physical developmental stages, their vocal changes are not nearly as dramatic as those the boys go through between sixth and eighth grade as their vocal cords lengthen and thicken. Some boys’ voices literally change overnight—or over Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation! You cannot force a boy’s voice (or any voice for that matter) into a range or part that they do not have. Middle school choral teachers must realize that they will likely have boy sopranos, altos, and changed-voice baritones all in the same class.

3. Their potential! The expectations for middle school choirs can be too low. Often, parents and audiences (and sometimes teachers) simply do not expect middle school choirs to sing and perform at a high level of choral art. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have heard well-trained middle school choirs sing and perform choral music at the highest level.

So, given the above, what can you and I do to “turn their energy into wonderful choirs?” Let me offer the following suggestions:

Keep lessons well-paced. There is very little (to no) down time with middle school singers. Start class on time. Lead a sequential warm-up of no more than seven minutes, before transitioning into the first choral piece you are going to rehearse. Make sure that transition times between warm-ups, pieces, and activities are minimal and well-planned.

My particular sequence in a warm-up* is as follows:
1. Warm-up physically.
2. Warm “down” on the “oo” vowel (five-note descending scale).
3. Warm “up” on the other vowels. For example, “noo, nee, noh, neh, naw” in arpeggios.
4. Diction exercise.
5. Chordal warm-up in the key of the first piece.

Select quality music that is appropriate for the ensemble you are teaching. Some middle school teachers are determined to have their choirs sing 3 and 4-part literature regardless of the age and experience of the choir. This can lead to a frustrating experience for both the choir and the director. Many beginning level middle school choirs (particularly those with sixth graders) would be better served by singing unison and 2-part pieces, rather than beginning with 3-part or SAB literature, as is common. I suggest that when performing 2-part literature, have the girls sing parts I and II and the boys sing Part I (in the normal octave if they are unchanged or down the octave if they are changed). My experience is that girls have an easier time singing harmony at this age, and having the boys sing with the Part I girls allows them to solidify singing on pitch. Also utilize rounds and canons with your beginning middle school singers. You must lead them into loving to sing!

Each lesson or rehearsal should accomplish clear and well-defined objectives. Remember, the purpose of each rehearsal is to get a little better, closer to your ultimate goal. Middle school singers (and all singers) want accurate reinforcement and feedback. If they are doing something right or at least better, specifically tell or ask them about what has improved. And, if they are doing something incorrectly, tell them what it is and demonstrate how to correct it. Then, get back to singing! Remember, students in choir want to sing, not listen to us talk too long about singing. We learn by “doing” and so do middle school students, especially when they see and hear the results of quality teaching and music.

Make middle school choir fun! Rehearsals can be fast-paced, exciting, and fun, or they can be drudgery. Remember, your best recruitment tool is what the students say to their peers in the hall after class. Use this unique age group and their natural social skills to your advantage. Make choir their best period of the day, and you will “turn their energy into wonderful choirs!”

*Editors’ note: The following Russell Robinson publications may be of interest:
The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book – Althouse & Robinson, Book (00-11653)
Creative Rehearsal Techniques for Today’s Choral Classroom, DVD (00-24075)
Jazz Style and Improvisation for Choirs, DVD (00-SVBM05001)
Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs, DVD (00-27467)

We hope you enjoy these ideas, and would love to hear from you – what do you do to turn middle school students’ energy into wonderful choirs?”