Student Wins MENC/NSBA Electronic Music Composition Contest

For the second year in a row, one of my student’s has won First Place in the MENC (Music Educators National Conference)/NSBA (National School Board Association) Electronic Music Composition Talent Search in the High School Division.

Senior Ricco Burkhardt’s piece Does Murder Sleep was conceived and influence by the Shakespeare quote from Macbeth and was chosen as this year’s winner from amongst 200 entries into this national competition. Congratulations to Ricco for writing a fantastic piece and for winning this distinguished honor.

As Ricco’s essay states:

“The title of my piece is the key to understanding what I have created. The title is a line from the story of Macbeth: “Macbeth shall sleep no more. Macbeth does murder sleep.” I chose to reference the story of Macbeth because my piece tells a similar tail. The title represents a struggle through darkness, confusion and insanity in search of happiness. I thought that creating a story instead of just a song was a great way to break away from traditional song structure. I also wanted my piece to be something creepy, unsettling and multi-layered. Something that almost had to be listened to several times before being fully understood. I did not, however, want to make it too complex and difficult to listen to. Finding a balance between the two was by far the greatest challenge during composition.”

You can view a screen cast of Ricco’s piece below. It was composed using Logic 8 on an iMac G5 using an M-Audio Keystation 61es as MIDI entry. The audio vocal was inserted and manipulated by Ricco.

To hear Ricco’s piece and a list of past winners and their music, please visit:

http://www.menc.org/news/view/2010-nsba-student-electronic-music-composition-talent-search-winners

For more information on the contest, please visit:

http://www.menc.org/gp/nsba-student-electronic-music-composition-talent-search

Greenwich High School students have placed in the top two for the last three years:

2008 2nd Place – Kenny Bloom

2009 1st Place – Emily Boyer

2010 1st Place – Ricco Burkhardt

Turn Any Computer Lab into a Music Lab

Originally published in the Connecticut Music Educators publication CMEA News April, 2010

For the last hundred years or so, K–12 music education in the United States has focused on reaching students with performance-based applied learning in band, orchestra and chorus classes, and in classroom general music. Applied learning in non-performance “general music” classes has been accomplished in the use recorders, ocarinas, harmonicas, Celtic harps, and guitars. When I taught in New York City, I used kazoos! Performance-based ensembles reach fewer than 20 percent of a school’s population (Figure 1) and traditional general music classes, frankly, just don’t cut it anymore. Students today, from elementary through high school, have access to sophisticated music equipment at home on their computers, video consoles, and even in their pockets on their mobile phones. To reach and engage more students, we need to embrace technology.

NB: The figures and images were omitted for this blog post.  If you would like the complete article, please feel free to download it here and share with colleagues. If you are posting on the Internet, please direct to this site.

pdf version of this article

Figure 1 he figures were omitted for this blog post

Source: http://musiccreativity.org/

When I started teaching music technology nine years ago, the technology was expensive, cumbersome, and difficult to learn. Digital audio workstations were a collection of computers, synthesizers, audio interfaces, and mixing boards arranged in a tangled web of wires and cables. Networking was a nightmare and I spent more time in a lesson troubleshooting problems, crashes, and lost files than I did working with students on music. Fortunately, times have changed. Today, computers are fast and efficient, software is free or inexpensive, connectivity is simple, and the possibilities for students are only limited by the imagination.

Fortunately, I now have a lab that is dedicated to the teaching music composition and music technology, outfitted with computers, music keyboards, and music software. Not every school is as fortunate. However, every school can easily and inexpensively accommodate a music technology lab if they already have computers.

A Word to the Technologically Faint of Heart

Teach music. The technology will follow. This has become my personal mantra and message to teachers and administrators who are hesitant about taking the plunge into technology. Today’s music software for creativity is so simple and easy to use. A music teacher, even the most technologically challenged, can learn in just a few hours the most sophisticated functions in the software suggested in this article “soup to nuts.”

The Computers

Find the computers. If you can, get your own computers. I heard of a district that wrote a grant for their music technology class by categorizing it as a vocational subject (which it is but that’s a topic for another article!). It doesn’t matter if you have Windows or Apple computers, desktops or laptops, any computer will do. If you can’t purchase computers for your own classroom, does your school Library or Media Center have a computer lab? Is there a lab used by Read the rest of this entry »

Classroom Management via the Internet & Intranet

My most advanced class has 22 students. This is their third or fourth year in a class with me. Most of them are friends outside my class, wicked smart, highly skilled musicians & composers and lightning fast with the technology. Many of them also have IEPs or 504 plans (Special Ed), are ADD, LD or have substance abuse, eating disorders or emotional or developmental concerns. A couple even have their very own parole officer! Many have GPAs above 3.5 and scored over 2000 on the SATs, even the ones with POs! Over 50% of them will be going to college, not trade schools, as Music Composition, Music Technology or Music Business majors and one third of them never studied music before they took my class. This particular collection of students is probably the most gifted and skilled class I have had in my thirteen years of teaching. There is a special kind of comfort and familiarity in an environment like this that can produce a little less “discipline” than I would normally tolerate in my classroom. I walk a fine balance of whom they have experienced me to be, who they think I am and who they want me to be. I occasionally need to remind them that I am thirty-plus years older than they are, have several degrees and certificates in music, education and technology, more experience performing, conducting and life than most will ever and I am still their teacher.

This is a very special group of kids and the classroom has a special kind of controlled chaos. Ok, sometimes, not so controlled. My biggest concern has to do with delivery of material and communication. Traditional lessons just don’t cut it in this environment. Mostly, they compose their own music. I do give them assignments but it’s really like pulling teeth to get it done with the same gusto they do their personal projects. Threaten them with a bad grade?  Not exactly my style and certainly not what many of them need. They’ll just go away, drop the class or really not care too much. I really need to get my points across in a completely different way than I do in my other classes. Enter the Internet and Intranet.

I recently got a Facebook page. I have been staying away from Facebook because I really do like my teaching license and was afraid that something could go wrong and I would be in one of those Tweeted newspaper articles about a teacher who did something someone thought was bad on Facebook and ….  Not for me.  Then, reality settles in. Facebook is the most widely used communication tool on the planet. Period. So my Facebook page is as closed as I can make it and I warn my students about trying to “friend” me. Although 18 is the legal age in Connecticut, my age requirement is 21. It’s pretty simple for me, if you are old enough to have a legal drink with me, we can discuss being “friends”.  Until then, don’t even think about it. I simply tell them that if Read the rest of this entry »

Attaching Teacher Pay/Tenure to Test Scores or The Next Survivor

I don’t usually post my personal opinions or political views because I would prefer to keep my blog to my professional expertise. However, I was cleaning out my hard drive and came across an oldie but goody and thought about the recent conversations and federal government initiatives that support attaching teacher pay or tenure to student test scores. I say to anyone who thinks that this is a good idea, don’t even give me the six weeks that this story suggests. Give me six days, one unit of study, then, give a test on the materials. Let’s attach your salary or part of it to that test.

Since the beginning of the school year, 16 weeks or almost one half of the school year, I have had to speak to guidance counselors, staff psychologists, social workers, parents, administrators and even made a call to the state child protective services about various students who might be suicidal, are on probation, going to court, hospitalized for mental illness, might be abused by a parent, abandoned by a parent, in rehab, need to be in rehab, caught stoned or drunk in my class or have violent behavior. Forget about having to track, monitor, or report on the number of students who just don’t come to class (cut) or the 17-year-old who can’t manage to be responsible enough to get to class on time. BTW- my take on why we have so much of this is because kids are stressed to the point of breaking partly because we test them too much. Tests are stressful, people! Don’t even get me started on giving homework over a vacation…

My school has about 2800 students. I see 175 students, grades 9 – 12, over a three-day cycle (we are on an 8 day block schedule and I mostly teach part-time classes, 3 classes per 8 day cycle). When the spring semester begins, 100 students will end their classes with me and I’ll get 100 new students. I teach five different preps in nine sections of classes. 13.4% of my current students are “identified” (translate that to SpEd). 21% of my students are African-American or Latino (in my district that’s a socioeconomic indicator and compare that to the 2-4% in the performance ensembles but that’s a subject for another post). My kids learn project management, system design, respect, responsibility, how to be thoughtful in communication, appreciation for cultures unknown to them, right brain thinking, 21st century skills and any number of edu-speak jargon you care to apply. Oh yeah, they also learn enough about the actual subject that on average, 33% of my seniors go to college to major in the subject I teach. This year, it’s up to 54% or 13  out of 24 students. (That’s right Mom & Dad, your kids can go to college for this stuff and make a good living but that’s subject for another post). One third of those kids never studied music before they came to my class and some of these kids would never have seen the inside of a college. Assess THAT and tell me my salary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tips for Publishing or Distributing Student Music Digitally

I received a tweet from EdtechBC (http://elgg.openschool.bc.ca) about a blog post entitled 21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!” http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2009/11/21st-century-educators-dont-say-hand-it.html

Basically, it is a list of, as the subtitle says, “6 Ways Innovative Educators Can Move from “Hand It In” to “Publish it” Teaching. Included are tips for Writing, Reading, Math, ELL/TOSEL, Cooking (I don’t know about your schools but the cooking classes are THE most requested classes in my school!) & History/Social Studies. I was reminded of a portion of a presentation I did for the NYS School Music Association and Connecticut Music Educators Association conferences on “Digital Media In & Out of the Classroom”. In the presentation, I discussed how student music could be distributed, or in this context, published, digitally. So, to extend the blog above, here are some tips for publishing in the music classroom. I’d love to see the list continued by others in other subjects.

Making CDs or videos of school concerts or performances is not impossible to do, just a drag. Legally, you need permission to distribute or sell recordings of copyrighted material that you record or video at a school performance. Entire sessions can be had and entire books have been written on the process of getting permissions for use and resale of performed copyrighted music on a CD (mechanical license). Suffice it to say that legally, recording and distribution of school concerts in any format, video or audio, requires permissions and fees. For more information:

Guidelines for Educational Use of Music

http://www.utsystem.edu/ogc/intellectualproperty/musguid.htm

The United States Copyright Law – A Guide for Music Educators

http://www.menc.org/resources/view/united-states-copyright-law-a-guide-for-music-educators

A great resource for EVERY school library is the newly published book by James Frankel, The Teacher’s Guide to Music, Media and Copyright Law published by Hal Leonard. This book is not just for the music teacher but addresses concerns for all teachers and school districts looking to avoid the legal battles with owners of copyrights.

For more information or to purchase a copy, go to the link in my Blog Roll (right sidebar) for James Frankel. (Not now! AFTER you finish reading this blog!)

I do, however, recommend publishing original student music. If you are going to produce a CD of student music and simply hand it out or let students give them to family & friends (a great stocking stuffer I might add), you really won’t need student or parent permission. If, however, any kind of money were going to trade hands, I would recommend you obtain a few permissions, just in case.

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Presenter at NYSSMA/MENC

I am just back from NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) Summer In-Service Conference in Albany, NY.  NYSSMA is considered one of the best MENC Chapters so I was honored to have been asked to present.  My presentation was bright and early Monday at 9AM and I managed to get a some what awake crowd of about 25 people.  Since this is the smaller of the two conferences NYSSMA does each year, I was happy to have the numbers.  My 1 hour and 15 min presentation was entitled, “Digital Media In & Out of the Classroom”.  My presentation covered two areas:

1 ) Keeping it safe and legal outside the classroom with regard to CD or video sales and posting student work on the Internet 2) How digital media can be used in the classroom to demonstrate an idea or concept or be used as materials for student projects

I used examples of student podcasts and compositions and also gave examples of how popular media, video, YouTube and contemporary songs can be used in the classroom.  Each participant left with a nice packet of information discussed in the presentation and several lesson plans that were discussed.  They seemed enthusiastic and appreciative of the presentation.

All in all, I had a good time and meet a few really nice people. Given I am a New Yorker at heart (I was raised in Brooklyn and have Permanent NYS Certification), it was nice meeting several people from Long Island with an accent I could easily recognize!

New Widget to Listen to Student Music

It seems obvious but… take a look at the left side bar.  There’s a new widget generated by Tunecore that let’s you listen to student music available for purchase.  Track 3 of the first CD listed is the winner of the MENC/NSBA 2009 Electronic Music Competition, Gothic Memory Land, by Emily.

PLEASE DO NOT STEAL THIS MUSIC! The proceeds from this music goes directly to the GHS Electronic Music Student Activities Fund to help us purchase equipment.  Well, that’s where it would go if we actually made money!  We barely make enough money each year to offset the the cost of using Tunecore’s service for their distribution to iTunes, Amazon, Lala, Napster and others.  It’s really cool that kids can tell their friends they are on iTunes!So, please, buy a tune and help us distribute student music.