Posts Tagged ‘humor’

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.


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!”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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!”


“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!”


Finally today comes this story from my student teacher (see “Mr. Z” at, 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 Is It With Lockers?

Not long ago I told you about Ethan’s magic locker (see it here –  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  “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.

Standard 10

With great power comes great responsibility.

“So, what about Jedi Knights?” I thought to myself.  We were in the middle of Concert Band rehearsal and I had just stopped the students to correct a mistake.  As I spoke I was looking around the room to see who was paying attention when I saw Keagan with his arm stretched out toward me and his hand shaped as though it were holding onto something.

“What are you doing, Keagan?” I asked.

“Trying to Force Choke you,” he answered in his best Darth Vader impersonation.

“Of course you are, but your powers are no match for mine,” I told him.

“We shall see,” he said.  Then, as though it was the most normal thing in the world, he kept trying throughout much of the rehearsal, sometimes on me, sometimes on other students, though never with any visible effect… (Of course, when it became disruptive, I quietly asked him to stop, which he did.)

At the end of rehearsal he tried one last time, so I decided to play along.

“Must…reach…my…grade book… Must…block…powers…with…Force Points Deduction… Minus… one…thousand…” I gasped, pretending to collapse onto my music stand.  At this exact moment the bell rang.

“You lose.” I said.


Years ago the Indiana Department of Education established curriculum standards for all courses taught in public schools.  The standards written for classes like English, Math, Science, and Social Studies are concrete and easy to follow.  They spell out in clear detail exactly what is to be taught at each grade level.  The idea is that if, for example, a 7th grade math teacher follows the standards, the 7th grade math students will be well-prepared for the annual standardized test.

The nine standards for music are, in my humble opinion, less helpful.  First of all, they are “music standards,” which means they were written for all music teachers.  So, some apply more to Choir classes, others to Band or Orchestra, and others to General Music.

Second, they are not as specific those for core courses.  To be as clear as the math standards, Band standards would say precisely what skills each instrumentalist of the band should master during a specific year of study.  For instance, the skills a flutist must master are not all the same as those of a trombonist.

Third, some of the standards are, well, nice, and even admirable.  However, you would never read something like the following in a math standard:

7.8 RESPONDING TO MUSIC: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

7.8.5 – Identify life skills developed in music studies and activities such as cooperation, effort, perseverance, and respect that transfer to other disciplines and contexts.

Laudable as these goals are (and I believe they are), strictly speaking they are not curriculum standards.  As 7.8.5 states, they are life skills.

At any rate, whatever one may think of our music standards, it occurred to me the other day that as long as we are dealing with standards like this, there should be one more standard, which I have now typed up and added to the standards displayed on the BandLand wall.  It reads:

Standard 10:  Having Fun with Music (Having a good time making high-quality music).

This is one of those “full circle” moments for me.  Early in my career I would react strongly against those who said that the way to get students to sign up for Band is to “make it fun.”  “Band and Music are fun,” I would say.  “Playing instruments and performing well on them is fun.”  And I still believe this.  I often complained, and still do, that students are too entertainment-oriented.  Some things just take hard work, but achievement is enjoyable.  Most things that are fun take effort; Band is one of those.

But as schools have placed ever more importance on standardized test scores, I have noticed that many of the fun things students used to enjoy in school have been disappearing:  Backpack Middle School students go on fewer field trips than they used to; there are fewer convocations or special presentations to attend; our literature students used to put on a yearly Renaissance festival, but no longer.

So, while I still believe that work and fun can coexist, and that good music is worth the effort and brings its own rewards, I have lately been consciously trying to find new ways to make Band as enjoyable as possible, and also dusting off some tried and true tactics.

For instance, and this is certainly not an original idea, occasionally I let the students choose what songs we will play in their method books; even better is to let them try conducting the band.  This can be a real hoot, while also providing a number of “teachable moments.”

When we practice scales we often play them in rounds (try this with the chromatic scale on Halloween – very spooky), or with different articulations, or with changing dynamics.  The chorale books we use on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Bach and Before for Band and Classic Christmas Carols) have all four voice parts written in every student’s book.  So sometimes we turn the music “upside down” and let the bass instruments play the melody while the soprano instruments play the bass line, etc.

My wife lets her instrumental students earn prizes for practice time.  She also takes her groups to perform in public at nursing homes or, last year, at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.  This got me thinking, so this year I have organized a field trip for my band students to perform Christmas carols at the local nursing homes during school and I invited the Choir director to bring along some of her students, as well.

Three years ago I began offering students the opportunity to buy Band t-shirts with slogans like, “It’s O.K., I’m With the Band!” or “Backpack Bands:  Fighting for Truth, Justice, and the BandLand Way!” which even featured artwork designed by a talented high school band student.

This past Wednesday was the last day before Fall Break, so I brought my dog Schroeder to school with me.  The kids always love seeing him (for more, see blog entry “Is That a Dog?” from May 20, 2012).

And this past Wednesday I engaged in a life or death struggle with a Jedi Knight wannabe…

I suppose all of this is a reaction against the stale, test-driven environment toward which schools are trending.  But it is all good to do anyway.  After all, music actually is fun!  Why shouldn’t we enjoy learning how to make it?  Yes, it takes discipline and effort, but so does almost everything worth doing.


“It’s Alive!” I cried out, a little maniacally.  “Did you hear that?  You’re starting to get it.  I actually recognized the song that time!”

My sixth grade band students were caught off guard.  They have been working on a simple version of the Hallelujah Chorus for the Christmas Concert (I’m glad the Backpack School System still lets me call it a “Christmas” concert) and they are just starting to figure out the notes and rhythms.

“Now for the real work,” I said.

“What?” they asked.  “You said it sounded pretty good.”

“Oh, no, we have only just brought our creation to life.  Unless we’re happy to let it stumble clumsily around BandLand, babbling incoherently, and knocking things over – not unlike some of you – we will need to make it do more than walk and talk.”

“What do you mean?”

“Rhythms and notes are the bare bones of music; now we need to dress it up with good intonation, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and balance.  It needs to be graceful, with good manners.  So let’s get to it.”

And with that we set out to make our creation presentable in polite company.

Lutes and Flowers

In 8th grade General Music class this week, Tyler asked, “Mr. Shaver, who invented the guitar?”

“Interesting story,” I replied.  “It was named after its inventor, James Q. Guitar.”

“Really?  That’s cool,” said Tyler.

“No, not really.  I don’t actually know who invented the guitar.  Does anyone else?”

“Wasn’t there another stringed instrument that was popular before the guitar?” asked Keagan, who loves history and is way smarter than most people realize.

“Actually, yes.  It was the lute,” I answered, “which was sort of a predecessor to the guitar.  It was very popular during the Renaissance, and was invented by Pierre P. Lute.”


“No, not really.  While the lute was very popular, I don’t know who invented it.  But imagine being named Pierre P. Lute…”

Several kids laughed.  Some people might say a teacher shouldn’t make up stuff like this.  On the other hand, the students were paying attention, no one went away actually thinking my fictitious characters were real, and they all learned a little about the lute.

When it comes to using humor with students, I have found that they often give as good as they get.  For instance, I was standing in the hallway between classes on Friday, which was picture day, when Orianna walked by.  She had dressed up nicely for pictures; she even had a flower blossom in her hair.  The blossom wasn’t real, but it was pretty, so I told her so.

“How did you get that to grow there?” I asked, thinking she would just laugh about it.

“I swallowed a flower seed,” she said, smiling.

“Really?  Then you just washed your hair and the flower grew?”

“Oh, yeah, it was easy.  Of course, it helps if you go outside in the sunshine to let your hair dry,” she explained.  Then she went on to class.

“Wow.  That’s cool,” I told her as she walked away.  I love how teachers can learn as much from our students as they learn from us.

Is That a Dog?

I took Schroeder, our family dog, to Backpack Middle School with me on Friday.  He is an 85 lb., mostly white dog with black ears, and the students love to see him.  I take him once or twice each year, and since the school year is almost over, I thought the students would enjoy a visit.

It is fun to hear the students’ questions about him.  The most common are:

Q. – “Is that a dog?” (no joke)

A. – “Very good.  Your education is paying off.”

Q. – “What kind of dog is he?”

A. – “A shepherd mix”

Q. – “How old is he?”

A. – “8 1/2 years.”

Q. – “Is that your dog?”

A. #1 – Nope.  I found him out back, named him Schroeder, and taught him some tricks.  Wanna see?”  Or…

A. #2 – “Nope.  There I was, minding my own business, when out of the blue this dog with leash attached ran up and practically begged me to walk him.”  Or…

A. #3 – “Yes.  Wait a minute.  No.  Hey, who switched dogs with me?”

Q. – “Did you bring him to work today?” (no kidding)

A. – “No.  He drove.  I read the paper.”

The students are always eager to see any tricks Schroeder knows, which aren’t many.  He knows the commands to sit, lie down, stay, and come here.  And when I say, “Go to your room,” he goes into the BandLand office.

However, he is an expert at the “Find the Peanut” game.  For this, I send him to my office and close the door.  Then I hand out one peanut each to five or six students in the band room with the instructions that all the students are to hold their hands in front of them with fists closed as though they are each hiding a peanut.  When everyone is ready, I call Schroeder out and lead him around the room.  He gives each student a quick sniff; if there is no peanut, he quickly moves on.  But when he smells one, he starts poking his nose into their hands until they open up and give him the treat.  Over the years he has gotten very good at this game.

Once the introductions are over and everyone has had a chance to pet him, we get to work.  It is pretty neat how the students can go ahead with rehearsal while Schroeder lies on the floor next to my podium.  It seems they can be trained, too, though there was that one time I caught Cal trying to poke Schroeder with his trombone slide… (why is it always the trombone players?).

When I first started taking Schroeder to work with me several years ago, a few teachers asked why I would do this.  It never occurred to me that it could be a bad idea.  I just thought it would make school a little more fun.  The best part has been meeting students I didn’t know before or have never had in class.  They feel free to come up and ask to pet him.  Then they will often tell me about their pets.  It gives me the chance to get to know them better, and vice versa.

Of course, I have to be cautious with him; some students are scared of large dogs.  But to those who fear the interruption in the school day I would say, if handled correctly (get permission from your principal), and on the right days, activities like this can be a really good thing.

99 Degrees

At dinner not long ago, one of my daughters asked me, “Did anything funny happen at school today?”  I guess I’ve told enough stories about my students that she has come to expect them.

So for her, here is a little collection of some recent favorites.


While doing hallway duty I saw Brendyn walking by wearing a Nike t-shirt that said, “These Guns Are Loaded.”  We have a few students in the middle school who could wear this shirt without embarrassment.  But I had to admire Brendyn, with his scrawny arms, for wearing it.  He wasn’t lacking in self confidence.

I couldn’t resist stopping him to ask, “Hey, Brendyn, can I see your guns?”

“Uh, not right now…” he replied with a little grin as he hurried away.


My third period class was working its way through a new piece of music recently when we got to a particularly tricky part.

“O.k., class,” I said.  “Here we go.  Let’s tackle this tough passage.”

Without any hesitation, a trombone players got down on one knee and said, “It’s Tebow time.”


In a 6th grade Cadet Band rehearsal, Jake was getting impatient with the slow speed we were taking to practice a fast piece.

“Are we ever going to take this piece faster?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but we have to walk before we can run.”

To which another student offered, “Forrest Gump can run.”


While recounting my trip to see the U.S. Navy Band the night before, I also told my students about an especially tall man I had seen at the concert.

Me:  “I saw the U.S. Navy Band in concert last night.  Afterwards, in the lobby, I saw a man who is at least 7′ 6″ tall.”

Class:  “Wow…”

Me:  “He also had his teenage son with him; he looked like he is maybe 14 or 15, but he is already almost 6′ 6″  tall.”

Class:  “Wow…”

Me:  “Can you imagine being so tall by that age, but knowing that you could still grow another foot?  I mean, think about it – he could end up with three feet.”


Philip was being especially squirrelly one day.

“Philip, you need to settle down,”  I told him.

“But I’m not ready to start a family…” he objected.


On a recruiting visit to a 5th grade class I asked the students to tell me some of the reasons they might choose not to join the band.

A girl raised her hand and said, “My dad told me that all the nerds are in Band.”

When the laughter had died down, I replied, “That’s not true.  I know a lot of nerds who aren’t in Band.”


A couple years ago I was working in the BandLand worldwide headquarters (my office) when Chris walked in with a big smile on his face and announced,

“Guess what, Mr. Shaver… It’s 99 degrees in my pocket!”

I really didn’t know what to say.

“Yep,” he explained, “I’ve been carrying this temperature gauge in my pocket all day, and no matter if I’m running or sitting, it has stayed at 99 degrees in my pocket.”