Monthly Archives: April 2013

Planning for the Unexpected

Sally K. AlbrechtBy Sally K. Albrecht, Editor

Are you a teacher who plans every class period down to the minute? Or do you go in with a general plan for the day and see how the chips fall? Or perhaps you have definite long-range goals for each class, that may take 3, 4, 5, or more classes to accomplish, leaving yourself some flexibility?

Do you remember the popular phrase “Different strokes for different folks?” What are YOU comfortable with as a teacher, as an educator? I’m sure you’ve watched others at their craft, chosen a mentor, or perhaps became one yourself.

Happily, each of us has our own directive, own pace, own goals, and own way of getting there. But then, of course, there’s that unexpected snow day, or a late bus, or field trip, or pep rally, or guest speaker that just puts a major crimp in our our plans for the day.

Each educator needs to be ready to implement an alternate plan. Can we come up with a quicker solution or different route to the finish line? Think “The Tortoise and the Hare!” Slow and steady might just win the race, if we choose the right path.

No matter how much we plan ahead, or think we know the correct route, we must always be ready for the inevitable to happen . . . but the trick is NOT to let the students know you’ve missed a beat. Don’t blame it on them. Don’t make them think that they’ve missed anything in your teaching strategy. Keep up your enthusiastic pace, and make sure that every child in your room gets a smile, a positive word or look, or an encouraging pat on the back each and every day.

I recently conducted a choral festival where just about everything that could go wrong DID go wrong, mostly within the first hour of rehearsal. I’ve never seen a better, more positive, “quick-on-the-draw” group of elementary teachers (and custodians) jump in to help and solve the problems. I had limited rehearsal time and lost nearly an hour of it, but took a deep breath and jumped in as energetically as possible, encouraging the singers to concentrate to their fullest extent, taking turns taking breaks, and calling on the teachers to help with all of the extras.

Kids, like teachers, are resilient. They love to sing, to perform, and to succeed. They enjoy supporting and encouraging each other, applauding each other’s performances. Stay positive with them. Don’t let them know when you’re sweating out a scary moment or an unexpected turn of events. Be the teacher that draws the best out of them . . . “where never is heard a discouraging word!”

Piano Teaching Tips from Christine H. Barden

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The Discovery Books and CDs are the heart of the Music for Little Mozarts curriculum! When children have them at home, they memorize the songs much more quickly. And they are exposed to different styles of music that are more sophisticated than they are able to play at this early stage.

Students love the Beethoven Bear and Mozart Mouse characters and the adventure story. They are an effective aid to make the music come alive in a child’s first lessons.

This echo-song from Music for Little Mozarts, Discovery Book 1 is such fun to sing! In addition, the “Do Re Mi Tapping Song” introduces several important concepts that will lay the groundwork for developing both singing and playing skills:

  1. Listen and respond – Young children learn quickly from imitating what they hear. I call this the “My-Turn, Your-Turn Game” and say to them, “When it’s my turn, you watch me and listen. When it’s your turn, copy me.” As your students progress, the patterning process introduced in this song will be helpful in teaching short melodic patterns from their lesson book pieces (confirming rhythm and intervals) as well as in introducing phrasing and articulation.
  2. Experience sounds that go up and down – Have your students tap the following: knees-tummy-chest for sounds moving up, and chest-tummy-knees for sounds moving down. This makes a large motor connection with the direction of the sounds.
  3. Develop an awareness of matching pitches through singing simple patterns in solfege – This is the introduction to singing in solfege, the international language of music. Some of your students’ parents might recognize the solfege syllables that are sung by Maria and the children in the movie “The Sound of Music.”

When introducing this song, I use the CD first. The tempo is fast so my goal is for students to have fun without expecting accuracy.

Next, I have students and parents in a group setting practice measures 15-18, singing and tapping knees-tummy-chest and chest-tummy-knees several times. Then, I have them tap knees-tummy-chest while singing ‘do-re-mi’ instead. In a private lesson, the student and I practice the motions together. In both settings I then accompany the singing as it is important for the children to see how much fun I have playing this song while they do the motions. I choose a tempo that is comfortable for my students and me.

During measures 19-20, I demonstrate whirling around once. In the second ending, we whirl around and clap “the end” on beats 2 and 3 of the last measure.

Some piano teachers may be opposed to singing, as lesson time is already short. During group lessons there usually is enough time to enjoy singing and dancing throughout the class, but for private students, I assign a listening segment from the Discovery Book as a part of practice time at home. Many parents and children tell me that they enjoy listening to the CD together in the car or at bedtime. Then it is easy to begin the lesson with “The Hello Song” and to choose another song to use in the middle of the lesson to help refocus attention. It takes little time and the pleasure is well worth it.

Happy teaching!
Christine H. Barden
Author, Arranger, Composer

Music for Little Mozarts

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Developing an Entertaining and Effective Book of Charts for Athletic Bands

Image“Some people don’t like scat singing!” This was a phone-in remark from a listener to the weekend big band jazz show I hosted on a local radio station many years ago. In my former life as a college band director, I found that – like programming a good radio show on big band music – finding a balance of fun, effective, and easy-to-put-together charts for an athletic band “book” could be challenging. It was important for me to face the fact that musical taste varied widely depending on the venue and the sport (not to mention the age ranges of the audiences). It also occurred to me early on that bands have to compete with pre-recorded music and advertising over a public address system that can be turned up to eleven (just like Spinal Tap). The resulting plan developed a system that allowed the band to be flexible with regard to events occurring in real time. It also involved teaching all of the student musicians, especially the student conductors, an understanding of the sport being played, a how to read the “room” (players, crowd, etc.) and adjust the bands performance accordingly. In order to make this work from year to year, I developed a standard book that was adjusted each year. At the beginning of each year, our staff and students would meet and discuss to retire some charts (those that didn’t get the response we had hoped), give some others a year or two off (great charts, but we all need a break), and audition new charts for the marching band folio and/or basketball/volleyball band book. Frankly, athletic bands enjoy a high public profile and need to be able to provide a variety of music in addition to the marching competition show book. The charts do not have to be difficult to be effective.

Being in a college situation, I was fortunate to have students every year interested in studying arranging (I have also witnessed this in many high school situations, as well). Each student was provided the opportunity to audition charts during the folio/book “reboot” at the beginning of each season, starting with the basketball band book then graduating to the marching band folio if the chart was successful. The chart audition process I used on these students is the same process I used for the published charts that I would buy, which provided the majority of music in each book. It is important to note that I still impose these guidelines on myself when writing marching and pep band charts for publication:

  • Is the song instantly recognizable? (Most of the time, simple tunes need to be played simply – that is, folks don’t care for extended harmony in your everyday pop tune)
  • Are the parts and score clean? (Easy-to-read, no complex instructions needed, no “Dead Sea Scrolls”)
  • Is it 1:30 in length or less? (Let’s face it, attention spans are short. So are time-outs.)
  • Can it be adjusted/edited to fit into 30 second segments or less?
  • Does it have additional parts for maximum flexibility? (Keyboard, drum set, electric bass, optional bass clef parts in treble clef)
  • Can the chart be played in public on the third or fourth read down? (When you’re preparing 20-30 charts, they need to read down fast and easy)
  • Bonus points: does the song transcend age? (Jump in the Line – Shake Señora comes to mind as an example, known by people ages 5 to 85)

After the new charts are in place and prepared for public consumption, it is time to watch and read the atmosphere they do or do not create in a real time, live situation. Those that worked as planned were performed more often. Those that did not were placed in secondary mode and tried a few more times to double check their effectiveness.

The strangest story about the short life and rebirth of a chart was my arrangement of Peter Gabriel’s cool tune, Sledgehammer. The year I wrote the chart, it failed the basic audition criteria. It was moved to the book anyway where it was met with a total lack of interest by the band and the audience. Needless to say, that chart was quickly retired. Fast forward ten years: a student librarian discovers Sledgehammer in the library and asks to add it to the reading session. It was an instant hit with the band, the team, and the audience, becoming one of the most popular recurring charts for the next ten years! Be flexible, be interested in current music and music trends (stay hip, my friend!), and remember to observe the atmosphere that is created by the band.

Ralph Ford
Composer, arranger, conductor, and clinician

Getting to Know: Alice Parker

ACDA

Photo from ACDA convention from left:
Michael Spresser, Alice Parker,
Sally Albrecht, Andy Beck

By Sally K. Albrecht

During the recent national ACDA (American Choral Directors’ Association) convention in Dallas, I had the extreme pleasure of getting to know Alice Parker. This choral treasure is a non-stop, energizer-battery lady, full of wit and wisdom. For over 60 years, her love of teaching has touched thousands of lives and voices. She has truly created a community of musicians through her work.

Composer, arranger, conductor, and teacher Alice Parker was born in Boston, MA, in 1925. She is a graduate of Smith College and the Juilliard School of Music, where she began her long association with Robert Shaw. Their arrangements form an enduring repertoire for choruses around the world. She has influenced many composers, conductors, and singers through seminars held at conventions, colleges, churches, and in her home. Ms. Parker continues to be active as a composer, with many cantatas, choral suites, and octavos published in recent years. She was named the first Director Laureate by Chorus America in 2012, is a Fellow of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada, and is the recipient of many honors and awards—including ACDA’s 2013 Robert Shaw Choral Award.

During our “The Legacy of Lawson-Gould” interest session at the convention, Ms. Parker explained her arranging process and the working relationship that she and Mr. Shaw enjoyed. She researched the music, sketched out the arrangements, then presented them to Mr. Shaw, who marked changes and suggestions as he heard them. It was a wonderful collaboration, which resulted in many subsequent performances, publications, and recordings by the Robert Shaw Chorale. She instructed us to first read the text for its true meaning, reminding us to make those “flat dots” and words on the page come to life. Then she concentrated on the melody, pointing out the line and the rhythms. Finally, she encouraged us to communicate the combination of the words and the melody in a new way, using our own voices.

Ms. Parker’s energy, expertise, and musical spirit captured us all as she led us in song through several of her favorite Parker-Shaw arrangements, giving us time-tested pointers along the way!

>Please visit melodiousaccord.org for more information on studying with Alice Parker.

>Click here for a complete listing of current Alice Parker arrangements from the Lawson-Gould catalog.