Eggs & Gas

My friend Wayne pointed out that if you rearrange the letters of the word “Listen” you get the word “Silent,” which is what you need to be in order to listen.  Excellent advice.  Here is some of what I have heard at Backpack Middle School lately.

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After a BandLand rehearsal a few days ago two girls were having a lively conversation in which they kept finishing each other’s sentences.  Amazed, one of them turned to me and said, “Wow, Mr. Shaver.  It’s like we can read each other’s minds.  We must be psychotic or something!”

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During another rehearsal, I was feeling frustrated with my 6th graders because they wouldn’t respond to my conducting.

39e3f_funny-pictures-kitten-hates-your-swearing“You need to watch me more,” I said.  “I’ve been conducting with really big gestures, but I’m hearing only the slightest differences in your playing.  It’s sort of like driving my first car – a VW diesel station wagon.  Even when I pressed the pedal all the way to the floor, the engine only went “putter, putter, putter,” like it didn’t have any fuel in the tank.  So, come on – get some gas in your tanks and be more like sports cars!”

To which Violet smiled and said, “I have lots of gas.”

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Two boys in my 7th grade music class kept making wisecracks, trying to get people to laugh.  After they had ignored several of my warnings to settle down and get quiet, I asked them to wait for me in the hallway.  A few minutes later, I joined them for a talk.

“Look, Gentlemen, I know you were just trying to be funny.  And, actually, some of your comments almost made me laugh,” I said, and they both kind of grinned.

“But, every comedian knows that timing is everything, and this just isn’t the right time,” I continued.  Upon hearing the word ‘comedian,’ Robbie brightened right up with a big smile on his face.

“When I grow up I want to be a comedian!” he said, but seeing the look on my face, the smile quickly vanished as he softly added, “…but not today.”

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Another of my music students could have been listening more closely when I told the class about Amy Beach, one of the few women composers of the 1800s.  He came up a little short on the next quiz when he wrote “Sandy Beach.”

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Jon, an 8th grade trombonist, was invited to last month’s school board meeting to receive a certificate of honor for making this year’s Jr. All-State Band.  This was a big deal for a student from a small country school like ours.

His father, being a county sheriff’s deputy, was on duty that night, but managed to come by the meeting to watch.  While waiting in the audience, his cell phone rang with what sounded very much like the theme song from the old TV show, “The Dukes of Hazzard,” to which someone wryly remarked, “Must be official police business.”

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Two boys were doing some friendly trash talking in the hallway when one said to the other, “Don’t mess with me, man.  I know where you live.  And my parents own your house!”

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“Where’s the new banner, Mr. Shaver?” asked Caleb.  He had seen me working on a banner the day before that said, “DON’T BE LAZY!”  Now he was looking around the room to see where I had hung it.

“Oh,” I grinned, “I didn’t feel like putting it up…”

“Ah…” he said, raising his eyebrows and smiling. “I get it!”

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Finally today comes this story from my student teacher (see “Mr. Z” at http://wp.me/p2fXmE-cm), as he told it to some BandLand students:

250px-White_chicken_egg_square“I wanted to boil an egg for supper last night,” said Mr. Z, “but I don’t have a stove or oven (or TV or computer) in my apartment.”

“Bummer,” said a student.

“Yes,” replied Mr. Z.  “Anyway, I do have a microwave, so I used my phone to Google, “Boiling Eggs in a Microwave,” and followed the directions.  I put an egg in a bowl of water and set the timer for eight minutes.  At about the five minute mark I bent down and looked through the window to check the egg’s progress, but just as I did this, the egg exploded!  And I don’t mean that it just went “poof” inside the microwave.  The force broke the glass tray under the bowl, and actually blew the door open in my face, sending broken glass, boiling water, and bits of boiling egg everywhere around the room!”

Pulling his sleeves up a little, he showed the students a couple burn marks where the egg had stuck to his skin.

“I even have a little burn on my eye lid,” he told them.  “And since I was barefooted, I got a small cut on my foot when I stepped on a piece of broken glass while I was jumping around the room!”

“What did you do?” someone asked.

“I spent the next 30 minutes cleaning up the kitchen.  There was even egg on the wall behind the microwave.  Then I took a shower to clean myself up.”

“Mr. Z?” asked Caleb, “Don’t you know that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet?”

What’s in a Name?

“SO, WHO IS JUDGE #3?” she bellowed.

We all looked toward the door of the judges’ meeting room to see a rather large, black high school student with a big smile on her face scanning the people seated at our table.  We had gathered there for last minute instructions before going off to spend this Saturday evaluating middle and high school students who were hoping to earn medals for their musical performances.  This young lady, who had volunteered to work as a judge’s assistant, had come to show Judge #3 to her performance room.

I don’t think I was the only one startled by her boldness; most young people would have been shy about interrupting a group such as ours.  She was not.  On the contrary, her outsized personality dominated and brightened the room.

“Mrs. Stanley hasn’t arrived, yet,” replied the head judge.  “We think the snowy weather may be slowing her down.”

“No problem.  I’m happy to wait,” the young lady said.

One by one, the other judge’s assistants, high school volunteers all, arrived to show us to our performance areas.  I had been assigned to judge the upper level piano solos in the auditorium.  I would be listening to more than 40 students, most of whom were hoping to qualify for the State Festival to be held a few weeks later.

My assistant’s name was Lizzy, though she would only be with me for the morning; another student would be taking her place.  Lizzy was a senior and a member of the high school choir.  Her plans included attending Purdue University where she would receive a partial tuition waiver because her father worked there.  In addition, she had already been awarded a fairly substantial scholarship because she was a very good student with a 3.8 gpa.

Lizzy’s job this day was to keep the students organized who were waiting in the lobby for their turn to play.  She would also be double checking my math on the score sheets I would be filling out, and running paperwork here and there.

After about two hours of this, I heard that voice again.

“ALRIGHT, LIZZY.  IT’S TIME FOR YOU TO GET GOING!”

Looking over my shoulder, I saw the young lady who had greeted all of us early that morning.  She was strolling toward us down the aisle of the auditorium.

“You’re leaving so soon?” I asked Lizzy.

“She needs to go warm up for her performance,” said the Voice.

“Yeah.  I’m singing a solo in a few minutes,” explained Lizzy.

“Very good,” I said.  “I hope it goes well.  Best of luck to you.”

Turning to the Voice, Lizzy asked, “Are you here to replace me?”

“Oh yeah!” she said.  “I’ll fill in for a few minutes until Alex comes.  He’ll be taking over for the rest of the day.”

“Thanks, a bunch,” said Lizzy.  “By the way, you’re also performing today, aren’t you.  What are you singing?”

“A negro spiritual,” she answered.

“What?  You aren’t supposed to call it that,” Lizzy said with a laugh.

“Why not?” she said, with an even bigger laugh.  “I’m allowed, and that’s what it is!”

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Chaquita,” she answered, but I hadn’t quite been able to hear her.

“Did you say ‘Chaquita?’” I asked.

“Just call me Kylee.  Everyone else does,” she said.

“Why is that?”

“’Cause ‘Chaquita’ is hard to pronounce, and it’s SO black,” she answered, smiling.

“I think it’s pretty.  Do you spell it with ‘Ch’ or ‘Sh?’”

“Good heavens,” she laughed again.  “It’s spelled with a ‘Ch.’  ‘Sh’ is so ghetto!”

“Well, Chaquita, what year are you in school?” I asked.

“I’m a junior.”

“Do you have any plans yet for when you graduate?”

“I’m thinking of studying law in New Mexico.  They’ve already offered me a scholarship to sing in their choir,” she told me.

“Wow.  You must be pretty good.”

“I’ve made it to the fourth round of auditions for “The Voice,” she said.  “You know, the reality singing competition on TV?”

“I’ve heard of it.  Congratulations!  When is the next round?”

“I’m supposed to submit a video recording by tonight, but I’m not sure if I’m going to make the deadline.”

“Well, I hope you do.  You sure have a dynamic personality, and you seem very comfortable with people,” I said.  “Maybe I’ll get to see you on TV someday.”

“Just watch for Kylee Armani.  That’s going to be my stage name.”

At this point we were interrupted by a student waiting to perform his piano solo, and with the busy schedule we had to keep, I didn’t get to ask her any more questions.  Though our conversation had been brief, she had made a lasting impression.  I heard some excellent performances that day, but Chaquita’s was the most memorable, and she hadn’t even sung a note.

What Is It With Lockers?

Not long ago I told you about Ethan’s magic locker (see it here – http://wp.me/p2fXmE-a7).  Now comes this story.

The other day an 8th grader named Peter stopped me in the hallway at Backpack Middle School and said he couldn’t get his locker open.

“No problem,” I told him.locker  “What’s the combination?”

“22-28-38,” he said.

So I tried it for him and, sure enough, it wouldn’t open.  I tried it a second time, but no luck.

“I’m stuck.  I don’t know what’s wrong,” I said.

“Here, Mr. Shaver,” said Mrs. Crowder, who had seen what we were trying to do.  “I have a key.”

“Oh, good.  Thank you.”  I said, opening the locker.

Seeing the inside of it, Peter started laughing.  “My bad,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“That’s not my locker,” he answered, with an embarrassed smile.

Guns in Schools

lego-laser-tank1

(picture credit: finnslego.wordpress.com)

According to the CBS Boston local news website, a five year old school boy recently made a toy gun out of Legos, then ran around his classroom pointing it at other students while making shooting noises.  So the school made the boy’s mother sign a paper saying that if the child did this again he would be suspended.  According to the superintendent, the school has a responsibility to create an atmosphere of respect in which students “feel comfortable and not intimidated in school.”

You can read about it here:  http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/01/29/hyannis-5-year-old-threatened-with-suspension-for-making-gun-out-of-legos/

A few questions come to mind:

  1. Why was the student allowed to run around the room?  Would it have been o.k if he had been walking?
  2. Why not just take away the Legos? Or require that students have a license to play with them?
  3. Could this have been the offending student’s (misguided) way of making the other students respect him?
  4. What should be done if the student trades in his Legos for a “hand gun?”  You know, what if he points his finger and raises his thumb to make a gun?

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This morning as I was greeting students in the hallway at Backpack Middle School on their way to first period, one of my 8th graders came along with his hand in the shape of a gun.  Personally, I think he was simply pointing at something down the hallway, but these days we can’t be too cautious.

“Stephen (not his real name),” I called, waving for him to stop and come see me.  “What are you doing with that gun?  You know that is supposed to be left in your locker during school hours.”

He looked down at his hand, then back up at me.

“Next time, I’ll have to confiscate it and turn it in to the office, and your parents will have to come into the school to get it back for you.” I told him.  “Now, holster that thing before someone gets hurt.”

So with a grin, he stuck his hand in his pocket and went on to class.

Mr. Z

medalsThe past three weeks have been about as busy as any I can recall.  Before Christmas break, I felt like I had everything under control; the job even seemed easy.  Since the break I have been scrambling just to hold it all together from day to day.

Primarily, we have been in a mad rush to prepare for the annual Solo and Ensemble Festival in which students earn medals by performing individually and in small groups in front of judges.  Preparations include daily after-school practices, which are done before plans are made for the next day’s classes.  This means my school days are much longer than normal this time of year, so it has been tiresome, to say the least.  However, all the extra time with the students is well worth it as this is the month of the year when they make the greatest progress on their instruments.  The festival was last Saturday, and overall the students did a fantastic job.  For starters, this is the first year I can remember when everyone showed up.  No one even got sick.  Secondly, the number of Gold awards we received far outnumbered the Silvers.  So all in all, it was a good effort.

Our success this year was due in part to the extra help I’ve received from my new student teacher, who the students call Mr. Z, since his last name starts with a Z, which they think is cool.  I always wanted a nickname.  Occasionally, a student calls me Mr. S, but it has never really caught on.  One year the high school band students were getting sweatshirts with their names on the back, so they got me one that said, “Mr. S.”  I thought it was great, until a student commented that from a distance it looked like my sweatshirt said “Mrs.”  Since this was decidedly not cool, I stopped wearing it.  But I digress…

As I was saying, Mr. Z has already made a significant contribution.  We were able to divide up the after school rehearsals and give the students a lot more attention than I could have given them myself, so most of the groups were well prepared for yesterday’s performances.

Mr. Z has also been a big help in my general music classes teaching rhythm counting, note naming, and guitar playing.  The students there have taken a quick liking to him, as well.  Each day after 6th period he and I have to walk from the Band room to the General Music room.  Since it takes a couple minutes to make the switch, the 7th period students have to wait in the hallway outside the music room until we arrive.  Lately they have taken to forming a tunnel through which Mr. Z can walk to unlock the door.

Normally, I would be concerned that a student teacher who is so well liked is going to have trouble controlling his classes, but that hasn’t yet been the case.  He seems able so far to maintain a rapport with the students while also earning their respect.   Case in point:  a couple days ago Mr. Z was teaching the 8th grade music students a new chord on the guitar (by the way, he is quite a good guitarist, which they also think is cool…).

“Here is how you play a simple G chord,” Mr. Z told the class.”  Just place your third finger on the third fret of the first string and play the first three strings, like so…”  At this, he demonstrated playing a G chord.

“Now, everyone strum a G chord one time together so I can see if you’ve got it,” he continued.

At this point, the students proceeded to play numerous G chords, producing a predictably chaotic mess of sound.

“Whoa.  Stop,” he said.  “Not good.  ‘Strum once,’ means you play one time.  So… if you’re counting, you go… ‘One,’” he demonstrated with a single strum and a deadpan delivery.

I thought this was hilarious, and told him so later.  He told me that he had felt quite frustrated at the time he said this.  If so, he covered it up very well.  Instead, it came across to me as a perfectly appropriate use of humorous sarcasm that made the point.  The next time the students tried playing the chord, they played it one time.  They had gotten the point without losing their respect for him.

It has only been three weeks, but yes, I think Mr. Z is going to work out just fine.  And I’m thinking of taking guitar lessons…

There We Went a Caroling

Christmas InstrumentsToday for the first time I got to take a field trip with a combined group of both band and choir students.  So it was fun and funny to see their personality differences.  Kids who join Band generally don’t want to sing; kids who join Choir can’t hold it in.  No matter how short the trip on the bus (we made three stops), the choir members always had a song to sing and a reason to sing it.  Over the course of the trip we were treated to an encore of their Christmas concert one song at a time.  I commented to our choir director that singers take their instruments with them everywhere they go and use them at will, while people would think it odd if one of my Band kids were to bust out his tuba and herald us with a hip rendition of Jingle Bells.

On October 4 I reported here that my students had begun rehearsing after school for a caroling field trip to the local nursing homes.  19 BandLand citizens and 17 Choir students loaded up a school bus this morning and drove across the street to the Autumnwood assisted living center where we performed 25 minutes worth of Christmas music for the residents.  We then went a half block down the street to Miller’s Merry Manor and repeated our performance.  When finished, we drove a mile to the other side of town and had lunch at Pizza Shack.

The only glitch of the day came in the middle of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen when I looked over to see why Keagan wasn’t playing.  He looked rather pale, so I silently mouthed, “Are you alright?”  He shook his head no, so I helped him to a seat while the students kept right on playing.  Keagan later told me that all he had eaten for breakfast was a half a doughnut.  No wonder he needed a rest.

It was fun to watch the students as we entered each location.  Someone always knew someone there, such as the facility administrator, a resident, or a waitress.  One elderly lady came over to me at Autumnwood to say hello.  She reminded me that her granddaughter Christina was a flute player in BandLand 10 years ago.  And she wanted to say thanks for the good music.

One of my 8th graders, Brittney, got to play her clarinet for her grandfather who has lived at Miller’s for 4 1/2 years now.  Brittney’s grandmother (who was also there, though not as a resident) told me that 6 years ago her husband underwent operations for multiple brain tumors.  He had not been expected to live, but by the grace of God he was there today to hear his eldest granddaughter perform.

My goals today included providing my students with an extra opportunity to play their instruments, to get the Band some positive exposure in the community, and to teach the kids to give a little back.   Because of all the family connections in our small Hoosier town, relatively little things like playing Christmas carols can go a long way.

The students’ goals were mostly to get out of class and eat pizza.  It may be that everyone got what they wanted.

An Eventful Week

Music WreathTuesday this week my Concert Band students had an after-school rehearsal to prepare for Wednesday’s Christmas Concert.  Then, since I had to stay in town to help with the high school band during a basketball game, I went over to Jim Dandy’s restaurant for a bite to eat.  The dining room was packed with older people, though I didn’t know why.  Thankfully, a booth was open, so I had a seat, ordered my food, and read my book.  When I went to check out, my $7.89 meal rang up as only $5.13.

“There must be some mistake,” I told the cashier, “I’m sure my meal was more than that.”

“Nope,” she said, showing me the ticket.  And there, much to my shock, I read, “Senior Citizen Discount… -$2.76.”

“What!?!  That’s not right… in so many ways.  I still have ten years to go for that.  Please feel free to charge me the regular amount,” I begged.  “It’s not like I’m on a fixed income, yet.”

She just laughed and said that would be the price.  So I paid the $5.13, and added a 40% tip just to show I could afford it.  Besides, I didn’t want the waitress to be penalized simply for feeling sorry for me.

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“So what did you think of your performance?” I asked my 6th graders during first period this morning.  The Backpack Schools presented their Christmas Band Concert last night, and everything seemed to go well.  With few exceptions the students played and behaved as I had hoped they would.  Of course, there were the usual hiccups, like when three different drummers couldn’t remember where they had set their music.  But they found it, and the show went on.

“I was nervous because my mom sat right there in the front row,” said one student.

Another student said, “I got really hungry in the middle of the concert.”

“Didn’t you eat beforehand?” I asked.

“No, but my mom had gotten me a Big Mac to eat in the car after the concert.”

“What do you mean?  The Big Mac sat in the car for 90 minutes before you ate it?”

“Yes, but it was delicious!” she said.

“Anyone else?” I asked.

“It was the most memorable thing I have ever done,” said a 6th grader named Alex.  I studied his face to see if he was being funny, but he was absolutely serious.

“I’m glad,” I said.

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Today I received notes from several staff members and parents asking me to tell the students how enjoyable the concert had been, which I did.  And, in keeping with our tradition, rather than having a rehearsal, I took time with each class to review and learn from the experience.

When the comments had all been shared, we had some fun playing my own version of 20 questions that pits the boys against the girls.  The kids had a great time, and the game turned into quite a competition.  At one point, a girl gave a wrong answer which cost her team a point.  But her teammates were encouraging to her and didn’t make her feel bad about it.

“After years of playing this game with classes,” I said to the students, “I’ve noticed that when a girl makes a mistake the other girls are sympathetic and understanding.  But when a boy makes a mistake, the other boys do a verbal pile-on, basically saying, ‘KILL HIM!'”

Just as I said these last couple words, the BandLand door opened and our school superintendent entered the room.  I could have died.

“I just wanted to stop by and tell you all how much I enjoyed the concert,” he said with a smile.

“Oh.  Thank you.  And I’ll be sure to pass that along to my other classes today,” I replied.

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When class ended I went to my computer and learned that Jon, one of my 8th grade trombone players, had been selected for this year’s Jr. All-State Band.  His audition earned him 3rd chair out of 12 trombone players.  Now this was a big deal, so I sent out an email to the entire school system explaining that Jon is the first student from our school to ever make it into the Jr. All-State Band.  Before long I had received notes from people like the assistant superintendent and a bus driver asking me to pass along their congratulations.  Another note came from the superintendent inviting Jon to attend the next school board meeting so the board members can acknowledge his accomplishment.

When I shared all of this with Jon he just beamed.  “All the hard work is paying off, isn’t it?” I asked him.

“Yes, it is.” he answered.

“Well, keep it up.  You should be proud of yourself.”

One other person who should be proud of herself is my daughter Angela (warning:  fatherly bragging to follow).  We found out this morning that she also made the All-State Band.  In fact, this is the third year in a row for her, and the second year in a row that she will be the first chair oboe player.  Much credit for this accomplishment goes to the two oboe teachers she has had:  her first teacher, Mr. Steve Dingledine of Muncie, IN, and her current teacher, Mrs. Pam French of Carmel, IN.

Angela was so excited that she screamed when I called her on the phone to tell her.  Of course, being a home school student, she won’t get any invitations to appear before the school board, but it is just as big a deal.  Perhaps we will have to take her and the family out for a celebration dinner.

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Last spring I posted a blog entitled, “A Band Director’s Prayer for His Students (March 26, 2012).”  Over the last several months it has come to be the most viewed entry on Hall Pass, for which I am gratified.  I had no idea this would happen; I assumed one of the more humorous postings would take that honor.

This week I learned that the student webmaster for the Cathedral High School band program in Indianapolis reposted it on behalf of her band director Kathy McCullough as their Prayer for the Month of December (http://www.gocathedral.com/page.cfm?p=2674).

One of the last lines of the prayer says, “I pray my students will learn they are capable of doing much more than they ever thought possible.”  I think it is possible that God has answered this prayer at least in part this week.