I recently shared a story on my Facebook page about a rather innocent, fun experience I had at school. I played the nicest, friendliest game of Dirty Santa with some awesome high school music students. This game was unlike any other game of Dirty Santa that I have ever played. Our rules were simple: 1. Bring a wrapped or bagged gift (real or gag) 2. Everyone who brings a gift will draw a number to determine the order you choose or steal a gift 3. When it is your turn, pick a gift from the gift table or steal a gift from someone who already has one. 4.Whatever gift you have after everyone has taken a turn is the gift you keep. Of course, I played, too. Why let the kids have all the fun? I got more out of it than I thought.
My expectation was crazy, wacky gifts, people stealing gifts, and the usual shenanigans that happen when you play a game of Dirty Santa with people that you know very well. That is not at all what happened. Only one person stole a gift (it was Starbucks Hot Chocolate - totally worth stealing!) and not a single person brought a gag gift. These kids gave each other DVDs, flannel throws, stuffed penguins, and fancy journals. It was just awesome kids giving each other awesome gifts because they wanted everyone to have something nice.
The whole experience hit me right in the feels. Why? Because it is December. December for a music teacher is a rough, ruthless, unforgiving time of year filled with concerts, rehearsals, exams, end-of-semester duties, and personal/professional musical engagements. I have used the phrase "I can't...I have rehearsal" many times so far this month alone. Music teachers need a little more love during the winter months, and the past week had been especially rough for me. It was performance day. I had to fix a microphone that had not worked during sound check the day before, move items into the auditorium, copy handouts for my chorus class, but not my piano class because sometimes the copy machine hates me. After all of that running around, feet hurting, out of breath, mad at machines, 20 million things on my mind (did I mention it was concert day?!), I then have an administrator walk in on the madness to formally observe me. As I watched my principal walk in, I kept thinking to myself *Please be here to drop off something...please don't sit down...please don't evaluate me as a teacher based upon concert day madness.* Well, he sat down and watched roughly 80 minutes of me forgetting where I left my pencil and trying not to think about the 20 million things I still had left to do before my chorus hit the stage that night. This on top of text messages and emails that said "I can't run lights and sound for you tonight because my mom won't let me,' and 'I forgot my black shoes. Can I wear these red ones?' and 'I don't have a ride home so I can't perform tonight.' It is the kind of week that makes a music teacher think about going to Burger King. No, not to eat - to fill out a job application and leave the zoo to the zoo keepers.
Then, Dirty Santa happened. And all these kids wanted to do was be nice and make people feel good about themselves. In that moment, I was reminded of WHY statements. Back in my former life in business, I was always told to write a WHY statement addressing WHY I do what I do, WHY I want to do it, and WHY nothing can make me not do it. I never wrote a WHY statement as a teacher. Now WHY is that?! On that day in that time, I was reminded of WHY I teach music. I don't do it because it's easy because OMGOODNESS it is not easy. I don't teach music because of administrators or sound checks or copy machines. I teach music because of students. I teach music because many years ago there was a music teacher who believed in me. I teach music because music makes a difference in the lives of us all. When I look at my WHY, I forget about the fast food applications and get back to work teaching. The teaching profession is not for the weak of heart, stomach, or mind. For all of my fellow music teacher friends, stay strong and encouraged and let us not ever forget WHY we do what we do. When we feel ourselves drowning in paperwork, administrative duties, parents, students, lesson plans, rehearsals, politics, and grades, let us remind ourselves WHY we do what we do. And never, EVER forget WHY. The moment we lose our WHY is the moment we leave it all behind, and our students need us to know and believe in our WHY.
Why do you teach? If you don't teach, is there a teacher you can thank and encourage during this winter season? Share your thoughts with me here or on Facebook. I would love to read it! In sharing WHY we teach, we can not only encourage others, but also ourselves.
As a Well Fed Musician, I love to feed my brain with knowledge about my craft, but I also like to feed my tummy! I have promised many times over that I would occasionally feed you all with knowledge of food stuff, and I will do just that! By nature, I am a super chocolate fanatic. However, this one chocolate-less recipe is a personal favorite, as well as a favorite among my family and friends. It is full of apple cinnamon goodness, making it a perfect fit for fall. Besides, when you give an apple to the teacher in the form of this cake, you are sure to become the next instant teacher's pet!
I have been known to eat this cake warm or cold, as an after-dinner snack or *confession* for breakfast. (I mean...it has apples, so that's OK, right?!)
To make the cake, I used 1 Butter Recipe Yellow cake mix ( you can use a regular yellow cake mix if you like), 3 eggs, 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract (lemon works well, too), and 1 can of apple pie filling.
Mix this all together and pour into a greased and floured 13x9 baking dish and prepare to make the topping.
For the topping, use 1/4 cup of softened or melted butter, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1/2 cup of flour. Use a fork to blend it together and sprinkle the crumbles over the top of the cake batter. After that, sprinkle the entire cake with cinnamon. How much cinnamon? AS MUCH AS YOU WANT! Sprinkle yourself happy with cinnamon :)
Pop it in a 350 degree preheated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes.
The cinnamon-sugar topping has a slight crunch to it, while the apple-filled cake is super moist. I tried this recipe one time with blueberry pie filling and it was super delicious. I have plans to experiment with some other fruit based pie fillings and see what comes of it. What do you all think? If you make the cake, share a pic with me on Facebook or Twitter! If you changed up the recipe a bit, tell me what you did in the comments so I can try it, too!
Playing piano with my fingers, arms, legs, feet, heart, soul, and mind
This post is a bit different from my previous ones. This one is a bit more personal. I started playing piano as a teenager, mainly because I wanted to be a better singer. In the end, I came to love playing as much as singing, and today I do quite a bit of both. As a teacher, I often have to remind my students - while at the same time reminding myself - of exactly how one plays the piano. There are two ways that I reflect on these words. First, I take it in as a technical statement of playing piano with the whole body. Then, I take it in as an emotional statement of playing piano from the heart. If we are technically accurate, but lacking in heart, we are only halfway right.
Piano takes more than fingers. It takes the arms, back, legs, hands, feet, wrists, and elbows. It is a full-body experience just like running. Confession time - I am not much of a runner. If you see me running, you should run, too, because something is chasing me or the sky is falling, or there is free chocolate. I don't run for exercise or for fun, but I will also acknowledge that I probably should. Yet, as someone who has had to run (read here: PE class or running down the hall to let my kids in after lunch), I know that running is more than just moving my feet. It's a full-body experience that leaves me breathless when I'm done. Piano, and all music in general, should give that same breathless feeling when you finish. That's the only way to know that you have truly given your all to your instrument. Not to mention, it is good technique. Thankfully, no real running is required!
Piano takes more than fingers. It takes heart and soul. In a day and age of standardized testing, differentiated instruction, and documented student growth, it can be a challenge to make room for the heart of it all. When someone makes the statement "I love music because..." it is rarely followed up with something addressing a musical skill or technical sequence. It is usually followed by a mood, emotion, visual, image, or other abstract idea. As a music teacher, when I think about why I started teaching music, it has nothing to do with technique and everything to do with the feelings in, around, and throughout the music itself. I focus on technique because I honor the musical craft, but I honor music by playing with more than just my fingers - I play with my heart and soul as well.
Let me encourage us all to teach the techniques, teach the skills, and properly assess, but don't forget to show your students that you play piano with more than just your fingers.
What do you love about the piano? About music? About teaching music? Leave a comment and share your 'why' and how your students find their 'why' as well! Would love to hear it!
Make Room for YouTube
YouTube..the dwelling place of cat videos, epic fails caught on tape, and DIY hairdo tutorials. But, after a few long, hard looks on The 'Tube, I have come across a fair amount of useful videos. I not only use video clips during instruction, I also send students home with video links to further reinforce ideas and concepts that we have covered in class or to let them experience some of the cool stuff we do not have time to cover in class. For example, I can pull up a video of a person singing and have my students write critiques analyzing their posture, vowel formation, resonance and tone. Working on a song from a musical? Pull up a video of another school group performing a section of the same production for them to make comparisons. Piano students looking for extra songs to play? There are TONS of piano song tutorials that show how to play popular songs. One word of caution: YouTube is an open platform that anyone with a computer and internet connection can access. It does take some time to sort through the murky waters of YouTube content to find the really useful stuff.
For today's posting, I want to share an assortment of videos that I have personally found helpful. By the way, if your school system does not allow you to stream YouTube, my suggestions is to use the site WWW.KEEPVID.COM to download internet videos for offline viewing. It's a great option for networks that block YouTube or for working with no/slow internet connectivity. Now, look below and check out a selection of videos for general music, chorus, piano, and a couple that are just for the teachers!
General/All Music Classes
Katy Perry Dark Horse Cover : This video is total awesomeness and one of my student's favorites. Ten Second Songs created a cover of Katy Perry's hit song Dark Horse done in 20 different styles, 10 seconds each (my favorite is MIchael Jackson).
A Fair(y) Use Tale (NOT a Disney Movie) : This is a fun mash-up of various Disney films that illustrates fair use and copyright laws. This would make a fun introduction to the topic for students working on songwriting and composition.
Hayden Killed by Cell Phone : Christian Zacharias was playing a Haydn piano concerto when a cell phone went off in the audience. In response, he stops playing and waits for the phone to stop. He is also interviewed on the way distracted audiences make performers feel. In today's age of constant contact, it is a great concert etiquette reminder.
Mr.Bean - Salvation Army Band Carols : Here is one for fun! I show this sometimes when we talk about following the cues of a director.
Faintingly Funny Choir Concert : This video perfectly illustrates chorus lesson #1 - don't lock your knees.
Proper Choral Performance Etiquette : Tired of telling your kiddos to keep their hands to their sides and to watch the director at all times? Show them this! They will laugh, but you will also prove your point!
Worst National Anthem Ever : Sad to say, this happened right here in my home state of Tennessee. We always talk about how everyone should know the National Anthem - and I agree. But, perhaps, not everyone should sing it...out loud...solo...in front of real people.
Video Stroboscopy of Vocal Cords : This one usually grosses everyone out, but it is a great way to show how real vocal cords work. The day I show this video is one of my favorite days of the school year because watching my student's react to this is PRICELESS! This usually accompanies our discussions on vocal health and the anatomy/physiology of the voice.
The Piano Guys - One Direction : If you are not familiar with The Piano Guys, PLEASE go check out everything on their YouTube page (especially the Cello Wars/Star Wars parody video...don't question me, just go check it out!!!) Their rendition of this popular One Direction song will leave your students in awe at the unconventional ways they use every part of the piano. Even my students who dislike One Direction love this!
Hazel Scott on Two Grand Pianos : This is another personal favorite of mine. Hazel Scott was a phenomenal pianist, and this scene from the movie The Heat's On is sure to impress!
Victor Borge - Page Turner : This. I almost didn't show my students this, but I'm so glad I did. I had one particular class that was filled with very serious - almost too serious - piano students. I wanted them to see another side of the classical pianist, and Victor Borge came to mind. He was very talented, and very much true to himself while on stage. If you want to give students a sense of putting their own personality into their craft, this will do it. I thought they would find it too corny, but they LOVED it, so I sent them home with links to a few others.
For You, the Teacher
Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir Live : The name Eric Whitacre is usually said in the same breath as 'musical genius.' He is an innovator in the world of choral music, and his TED Talk with the Virtual Choir is beyond inspiring. It will remind you that the music your student's make is meant to be shared with their peers, families, community, and ultimately the world! Also, if you are on Twitter or Facebook, follow his accounts HERE and HERE. You will be encouraged, but you will also laugh and laugh some more!
Benjamin Zander - The Transformative Power of Classical Music : Watch this video on the days you feel like what you do doesn't matter. There is power in music. ALWAYS remember that.
This video is not on YouTube - well, technically it is, but I really, really wanted to link to the original on this one. Just a little reminder - don't forget to ENJOY music!
There are SO many good videos out there that deserve a spot on someone's list. I don't have room for them all here, but PLEASE share a link or two in the comments here or on the Well Fed Facebook page.
~Well Fed Music Ed
Music ensemble directors the world over are now, or have already, started the process of setting up performances for their groups. It is a bit of a joke among ensemble directors that our holiday season starts around September, prepping music and scores for December shows. That's just what we do. For me, selecting the right songs for performance events is the most difficult step in the process, mainly because I want to choose music that my students can learn from, enjoy singing, and be proud to show off to family and friends. Some directors reject the idea of making their performances 'entertaining.' To this, I say that we cannot ignore the truth - people attend our events because they enjoy them and are...entertained. Why not PLAN for the entertainment factor? We have to plan our shows, not only for our students, but also for our audience. For me, one way to do this is to set up themed events. Why? It gives the audience an idea of what to expect when they get there. If I say that the show is "Music From the Movies," I have already established a connection between me, my performers, and the audience. As an ensemble director, having a theme also makes it a little easier to choose my repertoire from one event to another. This is me scrolling though music on JWPepper...
Already having a theme in mind allows me to zero in on a much smaller set of songs. Besides, I am a textbook introvert who thinks deeply about every decision 100 times over. This is one way I allow myself to not be overwhelmed with too many options.
To help us all prepare for our programs, I am sharing a listing of 20 concert themes that all together don't suck. They are categorized by season with a few general year-round options thrown in as well. Using a theme does not mean that every single song performed in the program is all in on the theme. The theme might only be reflected in one set, but make sure it is the best one so you get lots of this...
I challenge us all to think a little outside the box while also remembering that our shows serve as a large part of our community engagement. With that said, I will spare you all a soapbox moment and simply say this: from the perspective of diversity, programs hosted in the winter months should be as inclusive as possible. A Christmas concert, or even Christmas Around the World concert, is not considered diverse or inclusive. Doing these types of events will only, really, truly connect with people who celebrate Christmas (read here: Christians). I am NOT saying avoid Christmas or Christian tunes because they DO make up a large portion of important, relevant choral repertoire, but please know thy audience...and know thy school district policies!
Now, click and snag my CONCERT THEMES THAT DON'T SUCK freebie! Share in the comments some additional thoughts and ideas that have worked for you so we can all have awesome concerts that don't suck!
I am a music educator and lover of all food stuffs! Thank you for spending some of your day with me here on my blog. Read more...