Posts Tagged ‘Music Education’

Covers

BooksSummer Band. In BandLand that means it’s time to plant a new crop of beginning band students. For two weeks in June each year I spend my days sowing seeds that I pray will one day yield a bountiful musical harvest.

Today is the last day of this year’s Summer Band, which has flown by. We are on our way to Indiana Beach for a day at the amusement park, a Backpack Middle School tradition that dates back to 1973. It gives the kids a fun way to wrap up our time together, and it gives me the opportunity to get to know them better outside the classroom. Take Brittany, for instance, who is sitting across the aisle from me on our school bus. When she came to her first lesson two weeks ago she was quiet and nervous. Eager to please, she listened intently every day and has already made great progress on her clarinet, as have all the girls in her section. Now, she is relaxed, talking freely, and asking a lot of questions.

 “Is it supposed rain today?”

 “How long ‘til we get there?”

 “What if I get lost while I’m at Indiana Beach?”

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Some students seem to be an open book. What you see is what you get. Others have to be read more deeply. First impressions can be misleading. My first impression of Brady left me thinking he would never learn to play the saxophone. He was late to the first rehearsal, and to most of the practices since; he seemed scattered, unfocused, and distracted, so that I thought he might be one of our special education students; and to top it all off, he has significant dental issues that made me wonder if he should be a drummer, instead. But near the end of our first lesson I asked a math-related question (I don’t remember why). With only a slight hesitation, and while everyone else was still thinking, or not thinking, Brady answered, “22,” and he was right.

“You’re pretty good at math, aren’t you, Brady?” I commented. He sort of smiled, but didn’t say anything. Every day since then I’ve seen further evidence of his abilities. He may be one of the smartest kids in the class. Though he has difficulty following directions and focusing, for which he takes medication, he is one of the fastest in his class at naming notes and playing them on his saxophone, and at counting rhythms. Clearly, my first impression was incorrect.

Suzie, on the other hand, is sweetness defined. Slim and blond, she is a pretty girl you instantly like and trust. She just seems good, and actually, she is. She pays attention, follows directions, and she is quiet in class, hardly saying five words in two weeks. But, far from being unfriendly, she is always ready with a smile. Like I said, she is a sweet girl, which is why her answer to my question below caught me off guard.

Yesterday I took a few minutes to go over some rules and reminders for our trip today, one of which is that students are not to be alone at the park, but should be in groups of two or more at all times.

“So,” I asked the class, “Suppose you are with three others, and they want to go on a ride that you are scared to go on. What are your options?”

Much to my surprise and great delight, Suzie said, “Suck it up and get on the ride.”

This was so unexpected that I laughed out loud and said, “You say nothing for two weeks, then you say that?” Of course, she smiled. Clearly there is more to this young lady than first meets the eye.

If it is true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, how much more so for these young novels that are still being written?

What Goes Around…

bballMy student teacher, Mr. Z, played on the teachers’ team in this year’s Faculty/Student Basketball game during our final pep session of the year.  He is fast, tenacious, and, most importantly, young, which means he can keep up with the 8th graders on the court.

Sad to say, but our teachers lost this year.  We were beaten for the first time ever by an 8th grade team lucky enough to hit two three-pointers.  Even so, with the clock running down, the score was 6-5 and the teachers had the ball with every reason to think we could pull off a come-from-behind victory.  Mr. Z went to the left while Mr. D threw up a long three-point attempt that missed from the right.  The rebound happened to go right into Mr. Z’s hands.  But as soon he made a move toward the bucket for an easy lay-up and a win, Ashley, a member of the 8th grade girl’s team, flagrantly fouled him.  And there was no whistle!  Every student in the crowd knew what had happened, but it was too late.  The clock ran down and the 8th graders flooded the court for a huge celebration.  Our long string of victories was brought down by a blown call.  Oh well… life goes on…

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The next day Mr. Z called the 8th grade General Music class to attention.

“I hope you remembered that we have a quiz today,” he said.  There was general acknowledgement, with only a few surprised looks.

“So, please take out a pencil and put away any notes you have out.  And be sure to write your names on the papers I’m handing out.”

With that he began moving around the room distributing tests.

“Mr. Z, you forgot me,” said Ashley.

“What’s that,” Mr. Z asked, turning toward her.

“I didn’t get a quiz,” she said politely.

“Oh,” he replied, with a mock look of surprise.  “I wasn’t sure you should get one.  I mean, how do I know you won’t cheat on it, like you cheated in the game yesterday,” he asked with a hint of a grin.

Ashley looked stunned, and then put her head down and broke into a big smile.

“Here,” he said, handing her a paper.  “But I’m watching you…”

A Band Director’s Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

By your grace I am a teacher.  Thank you for placing me here at this school to make a difference in my students’ lives.

But I can’t do it on my own, so please help me.

Help me not to miss any details of things that need to be done, and help me not to be lazy.

Please help me be patient, kind, and wise; and help me handle discipline problems effectively, to be as gentle as possible, and as firm as necessary.

Help me be a friend to those who are lonely, and a father to those needing guidance.

And please help me provide the best band program possible for these students, because they need it.  Help me always remember that the program is here to serve the students, and not the other way around.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

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*You may also wish to read “A Band Director’s Prayer for His Students”

Having a Bad Day

Derek was having a bad day.  He was barely responding to my questions, and not following directions.  When I asked him to make a change to the crash cymbal part he was playing, he moved very slowly to the back of the room to get his music.  This, of course, irritated me because he was holding up the entire class and bringing our rehearsal to a grinding halt.

“Can you move more quickly, Derek?” I asked.  “Why don’t you have your music at your music stand?”

“I’m sharing with Trenton,” he said.

“But,” I explained for what seemed like the hundredth time, “I’ve told you before to always have your own music out so you can make notes in it when needed.  This kind of delay is costing you participation points,” I told him, feeling my frustration mounting.

“I don’t even want to be in Band!” he snapped.

“Why don’t you wait in the hallway?  We have one too many drummers, anyway,” I popped off, instantly regretting it.

This wasn’t the first time in 20 years of teaching that I have spoken carelessly.  And, sadly, it probably won’t be the last.  But I have always had the policy that if I mess up like this in front of the Band, I will apologize in front of the Band.  So…

“I’m sorry, Derek.  That was inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have said it.  Now, will you please wait for me in the hallway?”  Derek headed for the door.

Turning to my student teacher, I asked, “Mr. Z., will you please lead rehearsal for a few minutes?”  He came right to the podium and took over while I, too, headed for the door.

Once in the hallway, I asked in a quiet voice, “What’s going on today, Derek?  I know you occasionally have an off day, but you aren’t usually like this.  I don’t believe you want to quit Band after three years.  Is there something you want to talk about?”

Derek’s attitude changed completely.  Instead of being difficult or defiant, he was respectful.

“Me and my sister gotta go to CPS today to talk about our mom,” he said.  I had to think for a moment, but I realized CPS means Child Protective Services.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“My mom’s been doin’ drugs, and now CPS wants to ask us about it ‘cause she’s been doin’ drugs in front of us.”

It’s still hard for me to believe there are kids – a lot of them – who have to grow up in these kinds of situations.

“Well,” I offered, “there probably isn’t much I can do, but if there is, please let me know, even if you just want to come by and talk.”

Derek nodded.

“In the meantime,” I continued, “you can stay out here in the hallway if you want to.  I would understand.  But I’ll bet you would rather rejoin the rehearsal.  Let’s get your mind on learning this music and doing your best.  It will help you get this other stuff out of your head for a little bit.”

He nodded again.

“And, Derek, I really am sorry for my comment.”

“It’s o.k.,” he told me.  “I’m sorry for what I said, too.”

“No problem.  Let’s go back to class.”

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!”

~~~~~~~~

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.”

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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!”

~~~~~~~~

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?”

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.

~~~~~

“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.

~~~~~

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.

~~~~~

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.

~~~~~

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.

Shameless Self-Promotion

“We interrupt this program for a commercial…”

Several years ago I wrote a solo for beginner clarinet and named it “Sailing.”  When I showed it to my friend Les Taylor, he told me to contact Bruce Smith in Indianapolis.  Bruce owns the BRS Music publishing company.  Bruce liked it and agreed to publish it.  But he also told me it would be difficult to sell as a solo by itself; he said I might want to put together a collection.

“Genius,” I thought.  So a few years later I wrote a solo that was just a little more advanced than the first one and called it “Big Steps.”  Again, Bruce said it was good.  Nevertheless, a collection of two is not really a collection at all.

This past summer, then, I finally wrote a third solo named “Coaster Ride,” again making it just a little more difficult, though still playable by a first year clarinet student, and again Bruce declared it was good.  So at long last he gathered the three solos into one collection and called it “Three Adventures for the First Year Clarinetist.”  It is available at http://www.brsmusic.net where you can listen to a computer generated performance of the three pieces (on one continuous track) and view a sample of the score.  It is also available from the J.W. Pepper Music Company at http://www.jwpepper.com (catalogue #10345865).

Here is a brief description:

Each of these pieces for the first year clarinet student takes the performer on an adventure: an encounter with pirates, a walk with giants, and a thrilling theme park ride. They are arranged in progressive order.

  • “Sailing” uses only quarter, half and whole note rhythms, and all notes are below the break.
  • The notes of “Big Steps” are both below and above the break, but there are no across-the-break passages. Jumps across the break require only the addition of the register key. The time signature is 3/4. 
  • “Coaster Ride” is a fun 8th note etude on the Bb concert scale, with passages below, above, and across the break.

Students, teachers, and audiences are sure to love them.

I hope you will forgive this shameless self-promotion.  I don’t really like to toot my own horn, but I cannot bear the thought that clarinet students everywhere could be forever deprived of the best music I have ever published :).

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…”