Category Archives: General Topics

Beyond the Lessons—Teaching People, Not Just Music

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By Richard Meyer

When asked in an interview recently to give advice to new teachers, I remarked: “Remember that you are teaching people, not music.” As teachers, we are so lucky. Every day we are given the opportunity to influence our students’ lives for the better and we have at our disposal the greatest vehicle for change known to humankind: music. Of all the subjects in the entire school curriculum, I am convinced that it is music that best teaches our students the most important life skills.

As every school year begins, we meet new students who are anxious to learn to play an instrument. They sign up for our classes because they know that they want music to be a part of their lives. What these eager beginners don’t know, however, is that once they start playing music, their lives will never be the same. They don’t know of the real life lessons that lie ahead or how music will change who they are. They don’t know.

But we know. Oh, how we know! We see them change daily and, with music, we help them develop skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives—self-discipline, cooperation, teamwork, determination, goal-setting, and leadership. The list goes on and so does our passion for teaching, renewed each year by a fresh batch of students who look to us for guidance. As the year unfolds, we celebrate the musical progress our students make. Primitive, unrefined sounds slowly become recognizable tunes. Recognizable tunes eventually become basic ensemble pieces and, if we are all very diligent, ensemble pieces gradually turn into music.

As you celebrate the musical growth of your students, please don’t forget to celebrate those other ways in which they are progressing: the person they are becoming and the progress that each of them is making as a human being, as a leader, and as a caring citizen in a world that desperately needs caring citizens. Celebrate what you, with music, are doing to enrich all aspects of your students’ lives.

Recently, one of my beginning cellists was packing up after only her second lesson. She paused for a moment and said, in all seriousness, “I think I’m going to play the cello my whole life.” I hope she does. But even if she doesn’t, I am proud to know that music will have made her a better person.

Richard_Meyer Richard Meyer is a full time teacher and has taught string students at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels for over 30 years. He is a much sought-after clinician throughout the United States, and is a nationally recognized, best-selling composer with over 130 compositions and arrangements in print. He is the co-author of several string method books, including the popular String Explorer series, and, most recently Sight-Read It for Strings.


Finding the Meaning in Your Teaching Career

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By George Megaw

I’m reminded of two former students that brought meaning to my teaching career. Beth was an outstanding clarinet player and contributed to the high school band program above and beyond. She pursued music as her passion and career; she eventually earned her doctorate and is now teaching at the university level. It’s always gratifying to see a former student of this caliber share our passion and succeed, or even surpass their teacher.

Conversely, Ron was a good trumpet player who had lost his father at a young age and was brought up as the only child of a single mother. One weekend, I chose to take him flying with me to give his mom a break from being both parents. The afternoon had nothing to do with music or band. Fast forward about 20 years to when I was reading the newspaper while waiting for an early commercial business flight, when I became aware of a uniformed flight crew member looking at me from across the waiting area. As he approached me, I was sure I was going to end up on a no-fly list or something . . . but it was Ron . . . the Captain on my flight. That Saturday flight in a little airplane so long ago inspired his career choice as a commercial airline pilot.

I can’t tell you which former student I’m most proud of, and there are many more. (The first-class upgrade was certainly a nice treat though!) Every teaching day we have a critical impact on our students’ lives. Sometimes it just takes years to learn about them.

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Active in all aspects of music education, since 1999 George Megaw has served as editor for Belwin concert band publications. Prior to that Mr. Megaw was a college band director in both Virginia and Tennessee for 12 years. He has taught music education at all levels, elementary through college, and remains active as an adjudicator, clinician, and guest conductor throughout the United States and Canada.


 

The Importance of Including Women in Music History

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By Anna Wentlent

Most music educators can wax poetic on the lineage of male composers from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Even elementary school students have enough knowledge of classical music to offer up interesting facts about the famous men in music history, such as Beethoven’s deafness or Mozart’s mysterious death. Yet, how many of us can even name more than one or two female figures from the history of classical music? Hildegard von Bingen, Clara Schumann . . . the list often stops there. And with good reason: the history of classical music is the history of Europe and North America, and within those societies women have traditionally stayed at home, out of the spotlight.

That history makes the accomplishments of female professional musicians all the more remarkable. These were women who defied tradition and familial pressure in order to lead rich lives as teachers, composers, conductors, and performers. Despite being denied the educational and performance opportunities given to their male counterparts, they persevered. Until the eighteenth century, women were not allowed to sing the female roles in operas. And it is only during the last 100 years that women have been admitted to symphony orchestras. Even as that imbalance has gradually improved, little progress has been made on the conductor’s podium. There are very few female orchestra conductors. In 2007, Marin Alsop became the first woman to lead a major American orchestra when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hired her.

Simply achieving some level of professional success would be admirable enough, but many female musicians have made real and vital contributions to their respective fields. Consider the innovations of Hildegard von Bingen, a Medieval nun who wrote the earliest-known musical drama, or Maud Powell, a professional violinist who made the first recording of a solo instrument. Weigh the impact of Nadia Boulanger, a teacher who molded many of the great composers of the twentieth century, or Patsy Cline, a modern-day country singer who set the tone for an entire genre of music.

In the course of researching The Women of Western Music , I made the wonderful discovery that many female musicians have made a point of supporting each other’s careers. Marian Anderson performed the songs of Florence Beatrice Price at her concerts. Amy Beach wrote a piece specifically for Maud Powell to perform at a conference for female musicians. Germaine Tailleferre studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were known to be friendly competitors.

In recent years, contemporary music historians have rediscovered the contributions of these women and begun to give them their proper due. But historical articles and biographies are not enough. For these and other female musicians to truly receive their proper due, they must be introduced to the masses by inclusion in K–12 general music curriculums. We owe it to these women for the sake of historical accuracy, and we owe it to our students for the sake of the future women of western music. My hope is that my young female students will see themselves in the lives of the musicians they study.

ws_authorphotos_wentlentAnna Wentlent is an educator, music editor, music education author, and piano accompanist. She attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, York St. John College, and Boston University. Over the course of her career, Ms. Wentlent has worked as a choral and classroom music editor for Alfred Music and taught choral and general music in both New York and Massachusetts.


 

Why Reading Music Is as Important as Reading Literature

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By Chris Bernotas

Don’t you love all of the parallels that are drawn between music and other subject areas? You know what I mean, right? Music and math can easily connect through the basic idea of subdivision or how many beats there are in a measure. Music and team sports draw comparison through the concept and practice of working together for a common goal with people of all different skills and backgrounds. Well, how about reading and literature? You already know the importance of sight-reading and focusing on concepts that involve reading notes and reading rhythms. Both are incredibly important and necessary concepts, but really think about music and reading.

When you read a good book, you get absorbed in the characters, follow the storyline, and comprehend the words as they transform into images in your brain. Your emotions can go on a rollercoaster ride as you read the words describing an exciting chase or the evil villain or the feeling as the characters fall in love. Reading music is about comprehension in very much the same way. Learning the note names are the basic words. Learning the scales are putting those words in order and understanding some sentence structure. Performing a piece of music is the same as reading all of the words as they weave into a completed sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a series of chapters and so on. You’re piecing together musical words and phrases to tell a story, complete with good guys, bad guys, thrilling storylines, romance, and sometimes pure fun. You can tell serious stories, happy stories, sad stories, and sometimes historical stories. There really is no limit.

Just as it is important for students to recognize why they read literature, to experience and connect with themselves and each other (sound familiar?), they should recognize how the musical language and literature can fulfill the very same human needs. In honor of National Reading Month and Read Across America Day, make sure to read with your students today and share in the story together!

bernotasChris Bernotas is co-author of the revolutionary Sound Innovations series. An active composer and arranger of concert band music, his music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and has appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists. Chris has been an instrumental music teacher in the Mountain Lakes School District in New Jersey for more than 20 years.

 


 

Beyond the Music: Fun Facts About Your Favorite Composers

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By Jay Althouse

We sometimes forget that the great composers, whose music we know and love, were living, breathing people who led normal lives beyond their music. Well sometimes, as in the case of Beethoven, not so normal. After all, it’s difficult to be normal when you’re a genius. But just like the rest of us, composers had parents, went to school, grew up, sometimes married, and sometimes had children—Bach had more than 20! Their lives were filled sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow. Some, such as Giuseppe Verdi, achieved great financial success musically, while others, such as Charles Ives, rarely heard their music performed during their lifetimes.

For example, did you know that . . .

  • Hector Berlioz studied to become a doctor.
  • Igor Stravinsky, Edward Elgar, and George Frideric Handel studied law.
  • Charles Ives was a very successful insurance agent.
  • Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.
  • As a teenager, Duke Ellington received a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
  • Much of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was largely forgotten until it was revived, in the 1830s, by Felix Mendelssohn.
  • Giocomo Puccini’s hobbies were fast motorboats and faster cars.
  • Felix Mendelssohn was an excellent painter, artist, and author.
  • After the death of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms fell in love, though never married.
  • After graduating from preparatory school, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky became a clerk in the Russian Ministry of Justice.
  • Richard Wagner authored several books, including an autobiography. He even formed his own fan clubs, which he called “Wagner Societies.” Now that’s an ego!
  • In addition to composing music and directing a band, John Philip Sousa wrote three novels, and autobiography, a music instruction book, and hundreds of magazine articles.

It’s important for students to understand that the great composers were, for the most part, normal people with extraordinary talents. As a teacher, you should take every opportunity to humanize the great composers your students study.

Alfred Music has two fully reproducible publications (One-Page Composer Bios and Accent on Composers) designed to teach your students about the lives of the great composers. Both books feature one-page biographies and are filled with musical and personal facts about the great composers your students should know. They’re excellent classroom resources for any music teacher!

althouse_jayAs a composer of choral music, Jay Althouse has over 600 works in print for choirs of all levels. He is a member of ASCAP and is a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award for his compositions in the area of standard music. Jay has also co-written several songbooks, musicals, and cantatas with his wife, Sally K. Albrecht, and also compiled and arranged a number of highly regarded vocal solo collections.


 

How to Keep Students Motivated Between Lessons

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By Amy Barlowe

Weekly or bi-weekly lessons generally build a healthy rapport and often begin a lifelong mentoring relationship between serious students and their teachers. However, concurrently, it is also easy for students to assume a sense of dependency stemming not only from the weekly assignment/check-up routine, but simply from the need for approval. What can we, as teachers, do to help our students find a path to independence? The summer and holiday seasons are the perfect time for students to take short forays into new realms of self-enlightenment.

By cultivating an interest in discovery, and encouraging them to surround themselves with curiosity and wonder, not only can we keep fanned the joyful fires we’ve kindled throughout the first semester, but also, we can attain a sense of personal peace knowing that even while away from our students, they will continue to enjoy the rewards derived from effective practice.

Having taught young people since I was a teenager myself, I have found that “imagination” is the key component of meaningful teaching and learning at all levels. It is unfortunate, however, that although stimulated by the most compelling teachers, imagination often remains behind in the studio. Instead, boredom, its evil twin, invades the practice rooms of even the most gifted students. How then, can we teach students to bring home the enthusiasm that fuels productivity even at the most distracting of times? We need to teach them to be their own teachers.

Keen observation, imagination, a constructive internal monologue, patience, and passion are at the core of successful self-teaching. With guidance, these essential components of learning can be fostered at any level, becoming habitual by the time students must be left on their own. Removing the “drudgery” from practice will keep it challenging and fun!

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Amy Barlowe, violinist and composer, received her B.M. and M.M. degrees from the Juilliard School after studies with Ivan Galamian and Margaret Pardee. Formerly Associate Professor of Violin at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Ms. Barlowe has held teaching positions at the Juilliard Pre-College and New York’s School for Strings. Ms. Barlowe’s biography has been listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Women, and the 2010 edition of Who’s Who in the World.


 

Top 10 Reasons to Perform Musicals in School

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In our age of the Internet, social media, reality television and other “worthy” pursuits that can steal away our students’ attention, are musicals still worth preparing? Of course, my answer is a resounding “YES”!

Here are my top 10 reasons for doing a musical once, twice, or even three times this year (and in years to come). And they’re based not only on my personal experience through the years, but what I’ve heard from countless others over the last three decades:

  1. The Event Factor. Since musicals aren’t performed on a regular basis, whenever they are performed, they’re an event. They can build excitement and a real positive “buzz” in the classroom.
  2. Dramatic Impact. There’s no question we live now more than ever in a fast-paced, visual world. Drama—especially when connected with music—offers a way to tell a story that can leave an indelible impact on its performers and listeners.
  3. Greater Depth. A musical offers a longer time to “plumb the depths” of any given subject, so the potential impact on students is exponentially increased.
  4. Growth. Musicals tend to offer healthy musical challenges that students might not experience otherwise. This can contribute to a growth in confidence and musical understanding.
  5. Outreach. A one-time special event musical is a great excuse to invite friends, family, and community members and showcase your student’s hard work.
  6. Bonding. An event tends to “rally” a classroom together and generate excitement among students. Everyone becomes part of the musical ‘team.’ If there are a few extra rehearsals to pull the musical together, those offer an opportunity for greater bonding between the teacher and students.
  7. Wider Involvement. A musical offers a chance for parents and even more students to get involved, too! They can help with design, building or painting (if there’s a set); audio/visuals (sound, lights, PowerPoint, and/or video); costumes (if there are any, of course), and more.
  8. Encourages Participation. There’s no question that, in general, musicals sometimes take a recruiting process to get students to audition. Use the audition process as another means of outreach to excite students to be a part of the fun!
  9. Dinner or Dessert Theatre. Who doesn’t love the mixture of food and musicals?! Contribute to the ‘event’ factor by offering some appetizers and baked goods. Another great avenue to get the parents involved!
  10. Memories. Students will fondly recall the time they were the singing sidekick or a belting baritone! Memories are another way to help share the joy of making music for years to come.

Bottom line: Musicals—when carefully chosen, prepared, and performed—can create a lasting impact on those who experience them. And that is worth “the roar of the greasepaint, and the smell of the crowd!”

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Mark Cabaniss is a music publisher, producer, writer, and educator. He is President/CEO of Jubilate Music Group, based in Brentwood, Tennessee. Two of his elementary musicals (Tom Sawyer & Company and Gilbert and Sullivan Rock!) are published by Alfred Music. www.markcabaniss.com


 

 

Our Top 7 Music Goals for 2017

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As we close the curtains on 2016, and 2017 makes its debut (it’s starting on a high note, wouldn’t you say?), we took a moment to list our top musical goals for the next progression around the sun. What do you plan to work on over the next 365 days? Here are some ideas . . .

  1. Step outside of your musical comfort zone—learn to play a new style. Listen to some New Age, Metal, Classical, Jazz, R&B, Bluegrass, or whatever you listen to least. Pick up a new instrument. Momentarily abandon what you find to be safe—what you’re good at—and feel what it’s like to be new at something again. You’ll be rewarded with an expanded musical palette and a bigger musical mind for new ideas. Warning: this may result in ultimate personal growth.
  2. Experience more live music—FYI, your studio and/or classroom don’t count as live music venues. And if you’re digesting the same scales, exercises, and songs day after day, week after week, season after season, then it’s time to refresh your ears! Maintained inspiration = maintained motivation.
  3. Create more—there’s no such thing as too much music, and we’ve just begun another year to make some more! Try to set some time aside to compose a new song, score, melody, lyric, or even a lesson plan for the classroom. Get those ideas on paper, and share them with the world. Not a fan of performing? See goal #1.
  4. Practice, then practice some more—this is a musician’s equivalent to the-rest-of-the-world’s “exercise more” New Year’s resolution. Simply put, it’s the most obvious and necessary evil element to being a successful musician. Don’t just fit it into your routine—make it a habit, and find ways to make practice fun, efficient, and enjoyable. List your specific practice goals, and consistently track your progress over time.
  5. Take breaks—while this may sound contradictory to everything else on the list, we often get caught up in adding so much to our plates and we don’t consider the consequences. Fatigue can lead to loss of motivation and a drop in performance—every musician’s absolute nightmare! As important as each note on the page may be, the space in between is equally as important. Take time in your routine to turn it all off, step back, breathe, and be silent.
  6. Collaborate—take it from us, this is a big part of what makes music fun. Get out and join a band, orchestra, or choir. Accompany someone, or find a new writing partner. Expand your network, make new friends, and connect with others over the joy of making music.
  7. Continue to share the joy—our personal favorite. As students, keep learning. As teachers, keep teaching. And as musicians, keep playing. It’s all of our duties to spread the joy of making music with the rest of the world, and there are so many ways to do so. It’s contagious!

While the New Year is certainly a great opportunity for self-reflection and goal-setting, realistically we should constantly be evaluating our goals and refining the roadmap to being our best musical selves—for the next 365 days, and beyond. What are some of your biggest musical goals?

Alfred Music Joins Peaksware To Help The World Experience The Joy of Making Music

Andrew Surmani

By Andrew Surmani
Chief Marketing Officer, Alfred Music

Alfred Music is excited to announce today that it is joining the Peaksware Holdings, LLC portfolio of companies. This group includes MakeMusic, Inc., the developer of Finale and SmartMusic, bringing together the leaders in educational music publishing and music technology.

Both Alfred Music and MakeMusic will continue to operate independently. By sharing resources within the Peaksware group, additional investments and innovations will provide additional content and distribution channels for both companies. Specifically, this relationship will not change MakeMusic’s long-standing commitment to work equally with all publishing partners to provide the highest level of quality content for musicians and educators within SmartMusic.

“We are excited to be working with MakeMusic. Alfred Music truly believes in the MakeMusic products which is why we took over exclusive North American and UK distribution of the Finale suite of products in 2013. We also believe strongly in the SmartMusic platform, evidenced by the fact that we are one of its leading content providers. This partnership provides the resources needed to significantly enhance Alfred Music’s mission of helping the world experience the joy of making music,” said Andrew Surmani, Chief Marketing Officer of Alfred Music.” “We are combining the leading music education publisher with the industry leader in music technology to benefit everyone, from our music publishing partners, to music dealers, composers, arrangers, educators, students and independent musicians.”

MakeMusic owns some of the most advanced and patented technology solutions to support the composing, arranging, teaching, learning, and playing of music. Regular updates and innovations to Finale make it the industry standard for music notation software and the trusted creation tool for composers and arrangers around the world. With more than one million students and 20,000 teachers, SmartMusic is at the forefront of interactive learning technologies for the classroom. And, with their recent acquisition of Weezic, an Augmented Sheet Music innovator, SmartMusic will now be available wherever musicians are – on the web, Chromebooks, iPads, Mac and PC.

Alfred Music’s customers, dealers, and industry partners should expect business to continue as usual with no immediate changes. Alfred’s main office will remain in Van Nuys, California and additional offices will stay in their current New York, Miami, UK, Singapore, and Germany locations.

To stay current with further developments, visit the SmartMusic blog or follow Alfred on Twitter and MakeMusic on Twitter.

Teacher New Year’s Resolution

Chris M. Bernotas

Happy New Year! What an exciting day of the year January 1st is! Everything is new again. We have a new outlook on life and we set new personal goals in an effort to better ourselves. We look at the prior year, consider the highs and lows and try to address anything we would like to improve upon. So why am I talking about New Year’s now? As a teacher we celebrate New Year’s twice a year. The start of school (August or September) is our New Year! At home, we have our resolutions—you know, I am going to lose weight, go to the gym, eat healthier! Sadly, those usually last about a month—okay, a week—then it is back to buffalo wings and professional couch sitting. As teachers in school we have an opportunity to look at our previous school year and wipe the slate clean with a fresh start. Each new school year we have the opportunity to hit the “reset” button. How exciting is that? It is a part of the profession that I just love, and by approaching each year as a new opportunity for personal and professional growth—and sticking to your resolutions—you can avoid the dreaded burnout.

That doesn’t mean that your prior year has to have been a disaster to take the New Year’s Resolution approach. By reflecting on even the most successful year you will find that there are areas that could have been better in some way. Maybe the collection of uniforms could have been more streamlined or maybe your attendance taking skills could use a little brush up. Or maybe there are specific concepts that you would like to focus on with your students. The exciting aspect I find is that there is never a lack of ideas on how we can improve the classroom experience for both our students and ourselves. I would like to share three of my own personal improvement goals, or School Year’s Resolutions with you. Perhaps you will be inspired to think of your own. I am excited for this school year, my 25th as a teacher, and I wish you all the best in your year!

  1. Play more, talk less. This simple phrase is so important. Everything I have to say is so incredibly important! I am sure this is true for you as well. We have all the answers and want to share those answers with our students. Many times the best education happens when you say nothing at all. Students discover the answers as we guide them. The play more, talk less approach keeps that concept in mind. It is also a wonderful tool to help with classroom management. When students are actively engaged (or have an instrument on their face) they will be less likely to talk to their neighbor!
  2. Don’t Say It. Do you ever yell over the ensemble? “BASSOONS! YOU ARE TOO LOUD!” Ok, you’ve never said that one. How about this, “TRUMPETS TOO LOUD, TROMBONES ARTICULATE, PERCUSSION WATCH ME!!!” Me too. It is so easy to just tell them with our voice, and it works in the short term. However when we do this, we are taking away from our ultimate goal of communication from the podium. We want our students to watch us to understand our interpretation, but if we yell instruction at them, why would they watch? So, my goal here is to not talk (or sing) over the ensemble as they are rehearsing.
  3. K.I.S.S. We love analogies. I know I do. They are so effective when trying to get kids to understand concepts. When a student gets a concept through an analogy it is like a beautiful ray of sunshine beaming through the darkest of clouds. (See what I did there?) I would never say to not use a wonderful analogy or share a great pun—just be sure to not overuse them. Many times we just need to keep it simple. Give a short direction with simple and direct instruction. How about saying, “Alto saxes, there is a wrong note on beat 2 of measure 5,” instead of, “Alto saxes, there is a criminal lurking in the shadows of measure 5. You need to swoop upon it to eradicate the musical world of this eternal evil.” Use your analogies, I used one this morning and it really connected with my students, but also keep it simple.

I wish you all a Happy New School Year and hope it is your best yet! If you have a resolution to share, please send me a note (cbernotas@gmail.com) and perhaps I will compile them and share them in the future. Until then—be active, maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet!

By Chris M. Bernotas
Alfred Music Composer & Sound Innovations Author