Boost Rehearsal Attendance for Community & School Performing Ensembles

I was asked via a Twitter post (https://twitter.com/MusicEdTech) to provide some tips on how to boost attendance at community band rehearsals. I suppose these tips would hold true for any community-performing group that relies on volunteers for its organization and even applies to school organizations. If you really think about it, school music ensembles are really made up of volunteers. If the kids don’t take the class as an elective, there is no ensemble. Here’s a quick little post expanding my thoughts and ideas from my Twitter reply.

I conducted a community opera chorus for three years, guest conducted a few community operas, orchestras & bands and I am the Music Director of a community band for the last six years. Community organizations can be challenging to say the least! Increasing and maintaining high attendance numbers at rehearsals can not only make or break a performance, but also is the key to the stability of the organization. There are so many factors that go into building a stable core of performers all dedicated to the same goal. Each community will have it’s own culture and concerns. Here are my top three thoughts that I believe apply to most performing organizations.

1) Schedule rehearsals around the performance, not weekly.

There is an old established culture with community organizations around weekly rehearsals.  Maybe it’s because some community groups are also college organizations or maybe it’s just a night that people think works. Personally, I don’t find this pattern effective. Even a college/community group that needs to follow the universities class schedule might examine this practice. When I first started conducting the Sound Beach Community Band, we had weekly rehearsals. Every whatever-the-day-of-the-week, we had a rehearsal that culminated in a performance every several weeks. I remember having 8 – 12 people at a rehearsal and the very next week, a new set of 8 – 12 people. That’s not a rehearsal, that’s a group lesson. For those Read the rest of this entry »

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

Is Internet Filtering In Schools Censorship?

This post was prompted from the following Tweet:

Twitter March 26, 2010: @mbteach RT @NMHS_Principal: A simple fix for Internet censorship in schools http://bit.ly/bjH5AQ

The article referenced above was based on an interview of Craig Cunningham, a professor at National-Louis University by the author, Mitch Wagner, entitled, “A Simple Fix for Internet Censorship in Schools”. The following are my thoughts on the article and especially the comments.

I can say that I am happy with most filtering as long as administrators and teachers have a way to access what they need when they need it and it has be previewed by the teacher. This allows individual communities to set their own boundaries on what they believe is acceptable for their children.

Schools and districts send a powerful messages to parents when they filter saying, “We are committed to taking care of your kids along the boundaries our community has set”. When I have something I want to show my students, I get it from home or I can use a code, given to me by my District that allows me to temporarily bypass the filter. The District keeps close tabs on what I am doing on their computers so no one need worry about what I might “slip in”. The truth is I like my job and wouldn’t want to jeopardize my position or reputation. A school district’s view is simple and I agree with it, students may be watching whatever they want on the Internet or on cable TV at home but we need to limit what we allow them to have access to in the school building. It’s the same reason why schools have rules and dress codes (some schools have dress codes, not mine, and I would like to see one). A child can say, do, wear, eat, drink or smoke some things at home because their parents are, presumably, OK with it but we limit these things in school. It’s not about censoring anyone or anything. It’s about setting boundaries and creating an atmosphere of safety and decorum in the school building that allows the community to function as a whole. I also think some teachers need boundaries set for them. Teachers who don’t like the rules and boundaries that your school has set for you should try to change it or change your job location. That’s why games have rules and towns have laws. We all need a baseline for behavior.

The truth is any 7th grader can tell you the “back door” access to any website in any district. I learned from my students. They know how to get what they want regardless of Internet filters. 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 »

Hearing Loss, EQ and The Mix

NPR posted an interesting article and audio clip entitled, “The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse”   http://bit.ly/7hFhGK

It got me thinking. When working with young audio engineers (20’s and early 30’s) in live sound situations, I can always tell the guys/girls who work in the clubs.  There always seems to be a ring in the system around 2+ K.  The 20 something engineers almost always set up a mic and computer right away and take out the ring and other problems using the software. The 30 something people tend to set up and use their experience and ears first then go to the software. When they use software to EQ the system, we surely get rid of the ring but until they use the software, ring, ring, ring.  They can’t even hear it.

I don’t usually listen to contemporary pop music from the “radio” more than I have to. I do listen to hours of my student’s music every day. There it is. HUGE high hats and cymbals in the mix. I mean, these instruments are like 30 inches in diameter if you aurally envision and compare them to the size of the other drums save the bass drum. Maybe it was the headphones or the speakers. Nope, always there. At first I thought it was my 1970’s trained ears and personal preference to a heavy handed 2 & 4 in the snare drum. I started listening to music my student’s listen to. There it is! Hi hats, shakers and other high percussion that pop. Don’t think I just guitar amps that go to 11. I’m a percussionist. I should be loving this. Nope. No way around it. I listened to music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and there it is. More and more highs creeping in the mix especially this past decade.

Think about this: Volume affects hearing. The first to go are the highs. Is this why cymbals and hi hats are so loud/hot in today’s mixes? Are the producers and engineers putting out contemporary pop music, basically, going deaf and is this affecting the quality of the EQ? Is it creating a new aural norm for today’s mixes?

Follow this discussion here or on the new MusicEdTech’s Facebook page.

http://tinyurl.com/yajgslr


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 »