Monthly Archives: August 2012

How to Recruit More Students

Kirk MossBy Dr. Kirk D. Moss, PH.D.

When it comes to string playing and teaching, I believe that having more string players is a good thing!  To reach that goal, think of recruiting string students as a way of life throughout the year rather than a single event held once per year.

Research suggests that students make their decisions to join orchestra based on reasons over which most teachers have control. The importance of the sound and appearance of the recruiting demonstration group, the influence of the teacher, and the perception of fun are primary reasons why many students choose to participate in orchestra.

In addition to the window when students can sign up for orchestra, plan activities for younger students, too. I call this timeframe the Pre-Recruiting phase, and it can happen one or two years prior to when students and parents need to make a choice about joining.

Create ways to integrate string playing into the classrooms of elementary teachers through presentations that feature: “sound and science,” music and cultures,” or other curricular themes. Also, have discussions with the general music teacher about ways that you or your students might serve as resources.

By teaching strings to more students, you can make a difference in as many lives as possible!

What are some of your favorite recruiting tips?

Turning Trials into Song

Cindy BerryBy Cindy Berry

Composers are often asked, “Where do you get the inspiration for your songs?” “Inspiration” can come from many sources . . . a sunrise, a sermon, a particular Scripture passage, or just unexpectedly, from “out of the blue.” I have written bits and pieces of songs on everything from napkins to church bulletins, and have even pulled the car over to the side of the road to write down a lyric so I wouldn’t forget it. (This was in the days that people actually wrote on paper, and not on their phones or other electronic devices!)

But many times, I have written anthems that have come as a result of some experience in my life. And that is certainly true of the anthem, “Come to Me.” In 2006, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer journey was longer than we had first anticipated. But all through that journey, my husband and I felt God’s loving presence very strongly. God has promised us that we can have His peace and joy in any circumstance, and we saw His promises come alive as we kept our eyes on Him and laid our concerns at His feet. I was led to write this lyric:

“Come to Me, come to Me; let Me carry your burden. Let My love set you free, as you rest in My arms.”

God has been so good to me! I am so thankful that He can use my times of both joy and trial to give me joyful songs of praise to Him.

Do you also have personal stories of inspiration from God’s goodness?

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 >

Turning Student Performers Into Student Creators

Thomas J. West

By Thomas J. West

Over the past two years, I have endeavored to add more opportunities for students to create their own music, both in improvisation and in written composition. It is definitely a slow process, taking a long time to build into my program, but that’s why I know it is going to be very impactful over the next several years. I am finishing my fourth year teaching in my current school setting, and as in any newer setting, it takes time for the youngest students you have who have received only your instruction matriculate up through to graduation. My current group of eighth and ninth graders are my lead group, having been with me since fifth grade, and the results of this training are most obvious there.

The overall structure of my program looks something like this:

Year 1: wind instrumentalists learn and become proficient at concert Bb, Eb, Ab, F, and C major scales and tonic triad arpeggios by rote with letter names. String instrumentalists do the same with the C, G, D, A, F, and Bb scales. In the third marking period, they improvise using their most proficient scale over a class ostinato using primary chords (I, IV, V, I). In the fourth marking period, they compose their own original melody written for their primary instrument with chordal accompaniment on piano.

Year 2: Students learn the remaining major scales and arpeggios in the circle of fifths (which involves side key and chromatic fingerings for the woodwinds and shifting to 2nd and 3rd position for the violins and violas). They do some more improvisation in marking period 1 and compose another solo melody piece in marking period 2. Marking period 3 is mostly concert preparation, and marking period 4 is their first exposure to writing two part inventions for their primary instrument without accompaniment.

Year 3: Students begin to learn and perform natural minor scales and dorian and mixolydian modes. They begin improvising over more complex chord progressions, including simple jazz standards and show tunes. They make their first attempts at writing three-part and four-part pieces for their primary instrument.

Year 4: Students continue studies from Year 3, venturing into writing projects with mixed instrumentation, including electronic music and online distribution systems.

Sound ambitious? That’s because there are only a handful of music programs in the US that are doing something similar, as far as I have been able to determine. There are, of course, students who need longer than 2 years to learn the beginning content as well, especially string players.

How can there possibly be time to do all that and still have public concerts? Simple: public performance is not the solitary focus of the program. Public concert repertoire is kept in the grade 2 and grade 3 range, focusing on quality music-making with mastery and expressiveness as the goal rather than complexity that the average musician struggles to understand and become technically proficient in performing.

So how are the students reacting at the end of year two? There are a few who do the composition begrudgingly, just as there are always those who do the improvisation and solo and small group performing begrudgingly. The majority of the students, however, relish the opportunity to be musically creative and in many cases expand their study beyond the scope of the outline above. I have second year composition students who are already writing for instruments beyond their primary one, students who are writing for full ensembles, a student who is a Frank Zappa acolyte writing in 11/8 time, and students who have already written over 30 scores.

As an instrumental music teacher in a unique public cyber school setting, all of my students have access to the internet at home, so after starting their compositions initially on manuscript paper, we are making full use of Noteflight Classroom. Students can work on scores from any computer. Several of them asked me if they would have access to their accounts over the summer and plan to do some recreational writing of their own. To quote Hannibal from The A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Eventually, the plan is for our public concerts to be primarily featuring student compositions performed by the students themselves, with students able to write, perform, edit, mix, master, and distribute their own creations via the internet. In this brave new world of technology and communication, music students have fantastic opportunities their predecessors never had. Teaching the internet generation to create and share their own music not only will enrich their lives, but will validate and legitimize public school music education for the 21st century.

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.

How much does this differ from the long term plan you have for your students? Do you use any unique techniques to get your students to start composing?