Thursday, April 18, 2013

choir chatter: festival, baby!

This week, accountants sigh in relief.  I’m trying not to hold my breath- cause this week is the one.  District Music Festival AND my baby's birthday.

This time last year:

more on that little ball of sunshine tomorrow...

Anticipating our new baby, constantly wondering the sex, hoping the entrance could be sometime after District Festival.  I feared my students going through the experience without me.  Religiously rubbing the baby feet pushing against my left side.  My favorite thing to teach during those prego days was guitar. Her warm little body would snuggle up to those vibrations, we were together in music. {Our due date was right after Festival and perfect little darlin’ Josey bean appeared sunny-side up a couple days late.  Today is her birthday-eve!  Mama post tomorrow.}   

District Music Festival is our State Music assessments.  All public high schools in Montana are required to participate, they perform for experienced, knowledgeable adjudicators who provide constructive criticism and encouragement for growth and improvement using rubrics.

Do you remember District Festival?  Play in band or choir?  Piano?  

I always played a piano solo in High School.  My wonderful teacher Cinda prepared me well, I always got a “1”.  So did the choirs I sang in.  I am incredibly fortunate in my musical upbringing.  My teachers were seasoned pros.  Now I'm approaching my third District Festival as a choir teacher.

As a new teacher looking at the glass half-full, I see continued progress in my program. It's Getting Better! My students are singing (and moving) with joy and more confidence!  They love their music.  Some are really excited about participating in District- we also have more ensemble and solo involvement.  The year before I got here, they were quite unprepared and left the experience in embarrassment.   I am truly proud of my kids and looking forward to spending Friday and Saturday with them.  

My perfectionist, idealist Gemini sister feels regret and a little dread.  Receiving ratings in anything is nerve wracking.  Some of my students are stressed, they don’t feel like they are “there”.  Finding a balance of student responsibility has been challenging, their tendency to procrastinate and my status as the princess of the procrastination is not a good match.  I’ve long relied on my ability to perform under pressure and learn music quickly. Cinda and other teachers have told me, “you perform so well under pressure, but you scare me, girl!”  I know this doesn’t bode well when you’re preparing 40-50 kids for a big performance.

Sometimes, I’m just lazy- glued to my computer rather than get up and play through my students’ music.  Hello!  In a recent Cadenza article, John Combs wrote, “Remember, it’s not about what teachers teach, it’s about what teachers teach, it’s about what students learn.  It’s about students making music.”  Yes.

Next week, it will be past time to prepare new music for our Spring concert.  It will be past time to start prepping acts for the talent show.  It will be past time to finalize all the details of our Seattle trip.  This is why I’m taking the time to write, now for continued improvement.   

*The best print resource for new High School music teachers is by Montana’s own Dennis Grainle.  Teaching and Managing Performing Ensembles.  As soon as I pulled it down from my bookshelf yesterday, where it’s been sitting since August, I felt a rush of regret.  Reading the "Preparing for Festival" chapter two or three months ago would have been perfect.  If you are a High School music teacher (especially a new one), order this book now.  Seriously.*  

There's a great timeline here for Festival preparation.  Brilliant ideas like having your students listen to their Holiday concert performances to adjudicate themselves using their District rubrics and ordering extra scores by President’s Day.  I’m writing all these reminders in next year’s calendar stat.  In orange pen, because it's important! Also, I'm always using google calendar more and more. If you're not, start soon because it's a life-changer!

“Choosing music that is too difficult” is listed as numbers 1, 2, and 3 in Granlie’s Common Mistakes in Preparing for Festival.  Rookie move.  I get it, but when you play a piece of beautiful, interesting music, and it gets you, and it gets your students do too, it’s hard to say no.  Then you realize that you haven't analyzed it well enough and they won’t master the harmonies or phrasing in time, or be able sing the piece with the musicality it deserves. At least they're being exposed to good lit.

The next mistake listed is not planning ahead.  While I did write a timeline for all solos/ensemble preparation this year, it wasn’t detailed enough, and I didn’t enforce it.  As interest in Festival grows in my program, it becomes more crucial that I’m organized and practiced in their music- I’m essentially acting as a private teacher for 10-15 students, maybe more next year! Granlie has the whole process starting in September. This Fall was not the best time to schedule a huge Fine-Arts collaboration: the Beatles Experience. It was an amazing undertaking, but starting with pop music has left me feeling behind the entire year.

Not sight-reading until right before the festival is also listed.  Teaching music literacy is important to me, and I do have my students sight-read.  I still didn't prepare them as well as I could have.  I have countless great sources, but no set process.  Getting in a good routine has been difficult with the Promethean board learning-curve, tons of sight-reading sources, and my scattered-music teacher ways.  I hear we’re thinking about adopting more of a mandated sight-reading method here in Montana (from Texas).  Fine by me, just serve me the papers!  Regardless, I’ll do a better job with scope & sequence next year, spend time throughout the summer planning bigger units, and be more diligent with lesson plans throughout the year.

Back to now.

My plan for the next three days: be organized with all my materials.  Stick to my plans.  LISTEN and soak up as much as I can from the experience. Learn and grow!

My posture & tone gets worse when I'm stressed, so I'm trying to b

e well-rested, happy, predictable, and project confidence:

Photo from Sara little yoga

I’m ready for gentle nudge that says, “Hey, newbie, you’ve got a way to go.”  

My reply: “Yep, I'm just a seedling. To infinity & beyond.”

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