Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Patriotic costumes - the EASY way!

This year my 3rd graders are going to perform
Song and Dance Man: George M. Cohan by Jill and Michael Gallina.  I love having students perform this musical because it is both a patriotic and biographical piece. 
My students love the songs and the speaking parts lend themselves to easy memorization. 
This is also a great musical in terms of set design because the contents of an old attic are pretty easy to find, so you can use things that you have rather than things that have to be made. 
I'm a softie when it comes to "solo" parts and tend to use "featured" singers rather than solo singers.  I like to assign solo parts to 2-3 students to sing in a duet or trio which allows them to be more confident and collaborative, while rewarding them for their excellence. 
With that in mind we have some students who are going to have to wear "special" costumes. 
I love these vests because when made out of felt there are only two straight seams to sew!  That is hardly any sewing at all and if your name is....me.... that is WONDERFUL news!  I ask the kids to wear jeans and long sleeve white shirts.  I provide a vest and a bow tie and hat.  EASY PEASY! 

this vest was made in felt and then covered in the shiny fabric.  I can't claim this one, my mom made it today....  She was smart enough to sew the fancy fabric onto the felt..... I'll admit that I would have tried tacky glue first....
This is my "Yankee Doodle Boy" vest.  He is going to wear this
vest with some knee length shiny shorts I found at Walmart on sale.

I made 4 of these out of felt and used fabric paint
to "embroider" the stars onto the vest.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

5 Teacher Attitudes that Foster a Great Elementary Choir Rehearsal

So rehearsal, whether it be choral or instrumental can make or break a group.  This is a post that I've had partially written since August and it seemed like a good time to finish it.  The funny thing is that as I've edited the post today, I've been reminded of what I want my choir rehearsal to look like EARLY tomorrow morning.  :)

Rehearsing an elementary ensemble, or any ensemble is it's own special brand of theater.  I think that a good rehearsal is a perfect balance between a collaborative student centered approach and a teacher centered "maestro" approach.  On one hand, you want everyone, even the most reluctant learner engaged, because that old adage IS true that "we" are only as strong as our weakest ensemble "link"....... And at the same time,  as the conductor and big boss musician, you want every member of your group right in the palm of your hand, at the edge of their seat, on the balls of their feet and right on the downbeat of your baton. Essentially rehearsal is as good as our ability to balance the needs of our students with the demands of the conductor

1.  ENERGY!  - I feel like I'm teaching (rehearsing) like a house a fire! I'm not acting crazy or anything, but I do my best to avoid down time, give quick instructions and to keep students moving toward the goal of mastery so that we can establish a beautiful sound..... Because we've got a lot to learn and are running short on time, the pacing is quite fast...... but not too fast.....

2. AWARENESS! - Sometimes you miss your mark and have to lead the students through the skill again..... It's better to stop a bad habit by replacing it with a good one than to leave it unaddressed and reinforce the bad habit by practicing repeatedly.  Also, as the one who can see everyone, be constantly aware of fatigue, boredom and focus.....  You can sing the same thing innumerable times if you change it up.  Keep expectations high and be their biggest cheerleader..... If they don't get it, don't lie and say they did, be honest and say, "that's not quite it, but keep working at it"..... If you expect your students to keep working, be ready with new strategies for each repeat.... .If memory work is your chore for the day.... they can sing to their shoes, to the ceiling, to their friends, anyone....  Also, don't be afraid to let them move..... I love performer etiquette too, but movement and play are normal and my students sing more sweetly when they get to do both, ESPECIALLY in rehearsal.  PLAY = LEARNING!   Any time I can get my notes learned in a playful way, I've noticed that my students sing more freely and sweetly.  If I don't have room to move, I work hard to be light hearted and funny.  A little well placed and wise humor can earn you several minutes of serious effort.  I especially love "playing" with hand singing as we do in ETM so that learning music with solfa becomes a puzzle type game rather than a chore.   Using hand signs and other motions offers students a visual reinforcement to the notes they are singing. 

3.  URGENCY!  - A sense of urgency, rather than impatience can give your students a touch of "giddy-up" that they may need.  I'm not rude about it, I've just learned that intensity counts.....warming up is essential, but once my students are working, I've learned not to let up, I use every minute. 

4. KNOWLEDGE!  - It is impossible to have intensity, awareness or urgency if I as the conductor don't know my music..... I've got to know it six ways to Sunday so that I can build it up, tear it down and build it back up again.... Without knowledge, there is no way that I can go in and correct minute mistakes...... Conductor!  KNOW THY MUSIC!!! 

5. CONVICTION!  -  When I rehearse I am a cheerleader.  I play a part of the most enthused and dedicated lover of whatever I am teaching.  We don't always have a choice about what we are presenting for the students to sing, but it's weird how a love of the song will improve the performance of even "hot crossed buns"  ..... on recorder...... IF you can convince those children that those flamin' and toasty buns are the best buns you've ever eaten in your LIFE!!!!!!!  Instead of plodding, you get spritely.... instead of rushed, you get stately, instead of black notes on a page, you get music......  Seriously, if the only stinking song you can think of to sing or play with your children is Wee Willie Winkie then We Willie Winkie better be your best pal and the coolest most fun song you have ever had in your life!!!! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

7 tips for music teachers: keeping track of money without loosing your mind

As music teachers it sometimes feels as if we are SWIMMING in order forms and student money. This fall my list of orders include T-shirts, recorders, method books, field trip money, field trip lunch money, choir shirts, performance DVDs, and choir pictures. The responsibility is both endless and significant.  Over the years I've developed some mind saving, integrity safe-guarding habits that I hope you find helpful. 

1.  I print the order form on the envelopes themselves.  Yes - it IS worth the time and the ink to put all of that information on the envelop!!!!!  If you don't think that an entire envelop size of information is necessary, try printing the form on a label and putting that on your envelopes. 
     I include a place on each envelop for parents to provide the following information on each envelop       
            student first and last name
            homeroom teacher
            order details (i.e. shirt size, prices)
            amount enclosed
            parent name
            phone number

2. I do not accept money of any kind unless it is in one of my envelopes!  Ever! I can't be expected to remember that little Mary handed me her money - I can't even remember that Mary is really Marie!  And I don't know her last name either, so if the teachers name isn't on the form then good luck.....

3. I turn in all money every day - If I turn it in and it's locked in the safe with the correct documentation filled out neatly and accurately then I will ensure that my financial secretary likes me.  A happy financial secretary is a financial secretary who might push your music order through the system quickly in a pinch.... A unhappy financial secretary will not be in any rush to meet my needs.

4. I keep my own records besides what I turn in. Spreadsheets are my friend!!!!    That may make it seem like I'm doing everything twice..... You're right, I am.... but what if one of the checks I turn in doesn't clear or someone demands change for their $20.00.  I HAVE to know every detail.  MY spreadsheet also provides a convenient place to mark down the date in which the student received their items.  For reasons why this is important.....see the anecdote on #6.  If I had recorded the date of receipt for that particular item, I would have known that "little Johnny" never got his recorder.

5.  I write down the contents of the envelopes on the envelopes themselves including check numbers and cash amounts. What if technology fails?  Then I have a paper copy! 

6.  I keep the envelope forms all year.  One time I had a very quiet and reserved child purchase a recorder and then they were absent on the day we passed them out.... One thing led to another, and before either of us meant for it to happen, it took him 3 months to tell me.  I'm so glad I had a record that backed up his claim.  I had marked that he had bought one but never received it. 

7.  I never count money alone.  Most places have a procedure in place to help you avoid that situation, but just in case your situation is a little less rigorous in their financial set-ups, remember that you can always choose to be more careful than what is required.  Those procedures and safe guards are put in place to protect your integrity as a professional as well as the integrity of your program.    Although they seem inconvenient they are the best way to ensure that everything goes according to plan and that all funds are used as intended.