Sunday, December 6, 2015

This was our best week for composition, I think, ever!  Middle schoolers were asked to create a melody based on a particular mode (a group of notes) and tonal center.  At first, while there were a few excited kids and many scared kids.  "I don't know how to write a melody."  I don't know where to start."  "I don't know what to do."  By the end of the class, we didn't have time for everyone who wanted to to share their compositions.  It took too long for everyone to comment on how much they loved each others' melodies.  It was one of those weeks when I thought that everything we do at SK magically works exactly the way it is supposed to.  Scales and fingerings and notes and lessons turned into creativity and melody and excitement and brilliance and riveting performance.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Another wonderful Cafe

This was a magical week at SK for music as our Music and Art Cafe tradition was passed down to a new set of aspiring musicians.  It was amazing to watch the 8th graders take on a leadership role this year. They knew just what to do, since so many of them were involved with it last year, but they did it so differently than our 8th graders last year did. That is what I love about this tradition. It so reflects the personalities and talents of the kids.  They are not just sharing music, they are exploring their identities.  We had so many different wonderful things happen that it is impossible for kids to be part of it and not expand their concept of what it means to be a musician.  We had empowering rock music, beautiful classical music, heart wrenching vocal ballads, Michael Jackson music and no less than five brilliant original compositions composed and arranged by  students. It is not until the performance is over that the new fifth graders, participating for the first time, really realize what I meant when I told them, in the initial meeting about the cafe, that they can do anything.  Congratulations Middle Schoolers.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My two favorite moments this week at SK both involved our adorable kindergartners. I love the way they look up to the middle schoolers and love the way that SK is designed to facilitate lots of interactions between them. For weeks the kindergarteners have been begging to see their hero, Nik, come down from the mountains of 8th grade-land to perform a song for them. They know Nik so well because he helps out in the kindergarten room once a week and they were astonished to find out that he goes to music class just like they do. So this Wednesday's kindergarten class began with a performance by Nik and Matthew of an incredible piano piece they composed together (you can hear this piece too if you come to the music and art cafe on Friday the 13th). It was great to see Nik and Matthew experience the impact their music had on the kindergarteners and it was great to watch the kindergarteners love the performance.

My other favorite moment this week happened when we went on a little field trip to the fish lab and the kindergarteners discovered a snail on the side of the fish tank. Lisa answered all sorts of questions about snails and then we wrote a new verse for our animal song about snails. This was a very special week for them and I can't stress enough how nice it is to work at a school that really knows the meaning of community.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Halloween Halloween

Celebrations and holidays are special to small schools because we are very purposeful about our sense of community.  Though the original meaning and purpose of Halloween is, for most of us, distant; the tradition of dressing up and celebrating offers us another set of meanings - to play, to imagine, to be someone or something else, to change what life looks like and feels like for a while, and to do something interesting and make a great spectacle as a community. 

These practices are deeply ingrained in our humanity and music plays an integral part in such traditions.  Music connects us in so many ways and that is its great power.  Its rhythm puts our movements in sync.  Its texture connects our moods and feelings.  Our repertoire is a set of familiar experiences we share, that make us who we are as a group.   This week we shared an experience as a school.  We all sang Halloween songs and talked about what spooky music is (and how to make it).  We marched in a parade.  We banged on big drums and made howling noises. We ate sweet foods and wore crazy costumes.  We were not as separate as usual.  We were less a group of classes and more one community. I love this feeling at SK because for me, it is what makes us a great school.  Even though we will go back to our regular activities next week, we are still more community and less separate than most places.  We will have many more experiences connecting us together by movement, feeling and familiar experience, which solidify our identity as a community and make our experience at SK so much more meaningful and formative.  Music always does this.  In just two weeks is the Music and Art Cafe and I'm looking forward to yet another great community experience. Mark your calendars, November 13th, and have a happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Individual learning within a group environment:
That is our focus in music class at SK. Learning music is a difficult balance between group and individual learning. Playing music together with a group is a unique human experience.  We communicate, collaborate, listen and create at the same time.  We are bonded together by rhythm and melody and each of us contributes our own individuality to the group.  We all have our own rhythmic feel, our own vocal timbre, our own set of skills and abilities; if one member is gone or added to the group, the experience is completely different.  Playing music together is a euphoric feeling and we do it in school as often as possible.  But we also realize that as we each progress in our own individual skill set, playing in the group becomes even more enjoyable and productive.  This is a great life lesson for the kids as well.  The more we have to offer individually, the more we can contribute to society.  There are skills to be learned from playing together and skills to be learned from practicing alone. This week at SK I was really amazed to see those skills all melding together.  We really have a community of musicians and I just love to watch them grow and work together.  This week I wrote the notes and chords to a song on the white board and asked the 3rd and 4th graders to choose instruments, form groups and perform the song.  I just sat back and watched as a class full of creative musicians with the skills necessary to prepare a performance practiced, worked together, and came up with new ideas. The performances were brilliant and we all cheered for each other.  It was really an amazing moment for me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Well, it's time once again to plan for the Music and Art Cafe!   (November 13)
        Exciting things are on the horizon. This is one of my favorite things that happens at SK.  The music cafes were designed to be an informal format for the kids to share music with each other.   They are not demonstrating the lessons they learn in school.  They are not being evaluated by their music teacher for specific skills.  They are just playing music for fun and clapping for each other and showing support.  This is an invaluable experience for a few different reasons:
1. The kids don't feel afraid to explore and try new things
2. They can bring the music they do at home, in lessons or somewhere else into our musical school culture. Our music culture at SK should not exist in a vacuum.  It should connect to music that we hear everywhere.
3. Everyone gets practice being creative and performing, and sees that music is fun and wonderful
4. We develop a culture at SK where we are always creating, composing, practicing, arranging and playing music with and for each other.  We are each others audience and entertainment.  Music is just something that we do - all the time.

This is not to say that we are not learning and demonstrating skills at the music cafe, just that this is a platform for fun; an opportunity to use our musical skills for whatever we want.  We may drill our soccer skills in PE or at soccer practice and be very serious about it, but during recess, we just want to have fun.  The music cafe is our recess.  Plus there is delicious food and coffee.  Can't wait!!!!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

It was another awesome week in the music wing (yes, I'm calling it the music wing) at SK.
In true "Project-Based School" style, we are starting on some really big and interesting things and they will develop musically and organically:

Kindergarteners are developing a repertoire.  We now have 3 fun songs under our belt and we have taken turns singing and playing ukulele, xylophone and drums on all of them.  Instrumental and vocal skills are developing well and of course, we also do a lot of dancing.

First and Second Graders are singing dancing, playing instruments and reading music.  Just like the Ks, we are working on a repertoire and eventually we will plan a concert.

3rd and 4th graders are working on their repertoire as well.  Including their theme songs, they are up to 3 songs now.  We will split into 3 different bands (in each class), create choreography, work on perfecting instrumental and vocal parts and soon we will begin planning a concert, proving to ourselves and the rest of the world that there are lots and lots of songs out there that we have the necessary instrumental skills to perform.  in January, we'll be using these instrumental skills to compose our own songs, but for now, we will have a blast preparing for a big show!

5th and 6th graders were dearly missed this week but I'm sure they were all doing amazingly musical things during our professional development day.

7 and 8th graders had their first Musical treasure hunt this week:  This is our way of listening to some of the specifics in a musical piece.  We checked out some exciting music by John Williams that we all know, and found some interesting compositional techniques we didn't know were there (well, I knew).  Next week we will begin our unit on recording.  We will learn to record music by recording an album together with the theme songs from all the classes.  This will prepare the 8th graders who are recording albums for their monumental task.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Well, teaching music at SK gets more fun every week.  We had a great time composing, practicing and playing music.  Here's the basic rundown by class:

Ks - Having already written a wonderful theme song, we focused this week on new instrumental skills.  We danced, sang, and learned two songs  on piano, guitar, bass and drums.  Today we played "The Animal Song" which is only partially composed, but the kids took care of the rest.  We also got to pretend to be animals (I was an excellent Snake).

Elaine's Class - We got through our first "Whole Song' this week following our standard format: Sing the song and dance, read the music, practice the ukulele part, then the piano, then the drums and then split up and play as a band with kids playing every instrument.  We will follow this format for many songs throughout the year.  

Mrs. Carpenter's Class - We finally wrote out theme song!!!!!!!!! Yay.  We have been excelling all year working individually and following directions musically and awesomely (yes, I know that's not a word, but it should be) but struggling to be creative and collaborative.  Although it was just a little bit like pulling teeth, we worked together and wrote an amazing song.  We are all really proud and can't wait to learn to play it.

Team Spencer - This week marked our first composition exercise which yielded incredible melodies and great excitement, as well as our first small group collaboration which went very well.  We are working on a repertoire of songs that everyone can play on every instrument, which allows us to play and perform together all the time.

Chris' Class - After writing a very difficult theme song, we worked on acquiring the instrumental skills necessary to play the song.  It was amazing to watch the kids help each other learn.  This is a tough song with so many musical lessons in it, we are going to take full advantage of it.

Jason's Class - wrote a very creepy theme song, you'll have to hear it.  I don't know what else to say.  

Sam's Class - Rocked their first composition assignment, composing by spelling words with the letters that make up the notes and then adding rhythms, form and creativity.  Beautiful work.

Karl's Class - Wrote a brilliant theme song, and created instrumental parts.  We made it through the first two lyrics or so before everyone in the class ran to a different instrument and began playing.  Lots of musical ownership in this class.  They took it to the next level.  We also started talking about 8th grade projects.
See you next week...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Music Class at Summers Knoll was a blast this week:
Our SK theme right now is "identity".  Honoring this theme, all the classes are composing theme  songs which help define, musically, who they are as a class.  Composing a theme song is a wonderful exercise both because it is a great group experience and because the song will express their identity both lyrically and musically. Composing a song bonds them together as a class in so many ways.  Besides the theme songs, each of the classes is doing many wonderfully musical things which I have tried to describe below:

The Kindergarteners have now officially become a band.  They have a repertoire of two songs that they can all play on piano, guitar and drums (and sing).  Today they composed their class theme song which is gorgeous, creative and awesome.  We will continue in this way, exploring sounds, hearing music, dancing, playing songs as a band, and composing. Big fun - Kindergarten is just a blast.

The 1/2s are progressing steadily with their repertoire and have worked a lot on the basics of reading notes and rhythms.  Elaine's class is working on singing in harmony and performing their theme song (which they composed with 3 part harmony).  Mrs. Carpenter's class has gotten a lot of music literacy time in and is working well through the books individually. They should all be thinking about what lyrics they might choose for their theme song, which we will compose next week. I am pretty excited..

The 3/4s - Both classes have composed very awesome and quite challenging theme songs.  This week we have taken on the great adventure of learning to play these songs as a group.  Both classes have risen to the occasion, learned advanced musical lessons and really worked hard to learn their theme songs on all the instruments.  As we progress with our future lessons in composition and instrumental and vocal proficiency, we will continue singing our theme songs and we will start recording them soon.  This will serve as a lesson in utilizing our recording software which we will practice individually in a few months.

The 5/6s  abandoned me this week to go to Howell.  I missed them terribly but heard that they had a good time.  They will start next week with the composition project you can read about in the next paragraph.

The 7/8s started their first compositional exercise and created short but incredible melodies based on words spelled with the letters we use for the names of the notes.  This is a really exceptional exercise which combines rules with freedom. The kids came up with extremely creative melodies (and sentences), and incorporated form, rhythm, and chords.  This is the first of many compositional exercises we will do and I can see we are going to have some amazing compositions this year. 

In other news, we began the SK middle school band this week and planned out our curriculum for the semester.  We are all playing multiple instruments and most of us will be composing for the band.  We are focusing mostly on movie themes and we are excited for a great semester. 

Oh yeah, and we're still looking for keyboards, ukuleles, guitars, headphones and iPads (and any other musical instruments) if anyone has anything they want to donate.

It was so nice to see so many parents at curriculum night.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  Recordings are coming soon, I promise.

Friday, September 11, 2015

My first SK Blog, really my first anything blog ever;  I am so excited.  Here we go...

Hi SK people,
We are off to a fabulously musical start here at SK.  I have already seen every class at least once and can positively confirm that all of the children are adorable, brilliant and musically gifted.  As usual, we are all going to learn many musical skills and do a lot of composing.  Here's a rundown of what we've started already, grade by grade:

7/8 - We have begun with a review of some instrumental musical skills and a delightful conversation about what we will be learning and doing this year; including instrumental learning and music literacy skills individually, classes and small group projects in composition and recording techniques and of course lots of fun collaborating for music cafes.  We also introduced the 8th grade music project, which is to either a.) Compose, direct, rehearse and perform a musical or b.) Compose, rehearse, record and produce an album.  These are big projects so we decided to get started right away.  It's going to be a blast

5/6 – 5/6s also began with a review of instrumental music skills.  We are catching ourselves up on technical and literacy skills for piano, ukulele, guitar and drum-set a little bit and then we will launch right into some exciting lessons and group projects in music composition.

3/4 – 3/4s are going to do a lot of playing and singing this year (it is music class after all).  I have started to introduce our books to some of the classes already, which is a way of letting them progress individually at their own pace while still being part of a cohesive musical group.  We all have different talents and skills and it is important to improve those skills and feel ownership over that individual improvement autonomously.  But it is also important that each of us sees that, whatever our current skills or level of advancement, we are all a valuable part of the musical ensemble.  So this week we have already composed our own theme songs, which are brilliant, and we have already spent some time practicing keyboards and ukuleles individually. We finally have enough keyboards, headphones, guitars and ukuleles so we can all practice at the same time. We will spend some time each week practicing skills on guitar, ukulele, piano, drum-set and literacy on our own and we will also spend some time using these skills to collaborate by playing, singing, arranging or composing music.  It's going to be a lot of fun.

1/2 - First and Second graders are doing a lot of the same things as the 3/4s.  Elaine's class has already composed and learned to play their amazing theme song, and Mrs. Carpenter’s class will be doing the same next week.  We have all worked a bit on keyboards individually and we look forward to doing a lot of practicing individually and also playing and composing together in small and large groups.

Kindergarteners - We had so much fun in our first Kindergarten music class.  We learned a song called "I'm Spinning" and we danced and sang (while spinning of course). Then we learned to play the song on Ukulele, drum-set and piano and finally all got on different instruments and played together as a group. We will be doing a lot of this type of work this year, and we will also learn how to compose as a class.

Lots of fun so far, and it's just going to get better!