Wednesday, April 21, 2010

6 weeks

Image from Fiddleheads

6 weeks. That is all that remains of the 4th-8th grade orchestra.

Last night the school board unanimously approved all proposed cuts. Several teachers and programs suffered reductions of 10-51%: band, elementary general music, gym, health, guidance, and the gifted and talented program. Both orchestra and pre-K were eliminated entirely.

Many students, parents, teachers, and community members turned out to voice their support for the instrumental programs. Some students played their instruments, others spoke quite passionately about what music means to them. One student brought tears to my eyes. "Some people are good at sports, others art. I'm not. I am good at music, and it is what makes me special," he stated, "Without music I am nothing, just a sixth grade nothing."

I understand budgets must be reconciled, and money is tight right now, but I question the direction. What is the long term plan? Will programs and positions continue to be reduced to the point where it is impossible to offer students high quality instruction? Even with the approved cuts the school is still coming up short. The outlook seems murky at best. There is an unsettling lack of vision and practical solutions. After the meeting a colleague said, "When will education be about serving the needs of students and community, not administrators and accountants?"

Orchestra was tough to teach today. The kids were aching. The only option was to let go and make beautiful music together. And we did.

How are the schools in your area fairing?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In defense...

When March comes in like a lion, she leaves like a lamb.

Or so it says.

March was a roaring beast of activity: 7th & 8th grade band tour, Solo & Ensemble, performances by 4th-8th grade bands and orchestras at Fine Arts Night, a performance of the national anthem at an NBA game, and the end of an action-packed third quarter.

The students have much to be proud of. Not only did they gave stellar spot-on performances of the repertoire, but they noticeably advanced their skills and achieved new levels of musicianship. The 4th grade orchestra and 5th grade bands even eagerly composed music for their own instruments- a task that intimidates many full grown musicians (myself included). They are ready for more action, but I don't think the upcoming action is what was in mind...

Fine Arts Night, the NBA game, and end of quarter fell within a single week. It was exhausting and incredibly stressful- mostly because I had learned some devastating news a few days before the performances. Due to budget issues the principal/superintendent (yup- two posts, one guy) recommended reducing the band and orchestra program by at least 50%, even proposing total elimination. My heart felt shriveled into a little prune when I heard the proposal. I felt like I was in a nature documentary where I was the injured zebra who did not notice the lioness stalking in the grass.

My mind raced. Why? How am I to defend the program as an interim teacher, especially when it is clear I am being excluded from information on purpose? What do I say to the kids? Do I say anything to the kids? Yes, you must.

I inflated myself back up and waited for the right time to speak with each class- after the big performances were over. The students did not need that information to burden them while preparing for such big events. This ranks as one of the most difficult things I have had to do. Of course the students were rightfully upset. It felt odd as one who constantly encourages young artists to get in touch with the affective qualities of music to tell students to not be mad, but to be smart. Talk to the folks at home. Express your concerns and why music is important to you. Encourage the folks at home to contact the superintendent and the school board. Come to the school board meeting. Always be polite and civil. Always.

I recall one of the music education professors told the class there would be a day when we would be required to defend the value of music in the schools and justify our place in education. I just didn't expect it to be so soon. However, I am ready to battle for the students and for their program.

I will not be the zebra.
This time I will be the lion.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Third Grade Thoughts

Part of my job requires me to teach Integration. I meet with a third grade and fourth grade class once a week. Actually the classes rotate, so I see the students every other week...which causes some issues that are an entirely separate post.

Since the third grade has been studying world geography in class, we have been traveling the globe and exploring the many fine arts offerings of the world. The student even have little passports they fill out each class. This week we traveled to France and learned about Camille Saint-Saëns and his composition Le Carnaval des animaux. Of the selections we listened to, the movement L'éléphant was the favorite.

Here are some third grade thoughts on the prompt: How does this music make you think about elephants? What do you see in your mind?

I see the mom elephant and her baby walking with each other. Then they get a shower in the river.

It makes me think he is stomping around, but softly.

It sounds like he is squishing a peanut. A lot.

Have a listen. What do you hear?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Seriously? It's March already?

Yet again I have let weeks, upon weeks, upon weeks pass without a peep. It's for a good reason- I got a job! I was lucky enough to snag a long-term substitute teaching position that allows me to do exactly what I have dreamed of- teaching music. I even got to finish my student teaching early to take the post!

For the past 9 weeks I have been teaching 3rd through 8th grade orchestra, band, and enrichment courses. The kids are wonderful- very creative, thoughtful, and all around fun people to be surrounded by. It is a very small K-8 school, but it has allowed me to really get to know each and every student in my classroom. The 6-8 Winter Concert and Solo & Ensemble Festival were just this past week. The 7-8 Band tour, Fine Arts Night, and a 5-8 performance of the Star Spangled Banner at an NBA game are on the docket for March-a total whirlwind of activity. I can hardly believe that 3rd quarter is nearly over...and I know June is just around the corner.

In the whirlwind I have barely come up for air- I have not been running or practicing yoga or doing much that doesn't involve school. I am ahead enough now to feel like I can afford to relax a bit. I will write more, get some fresh air, and perhaps take a nap....yes, definitely nap.

Take a cue from Carmen.

Thank you for all of your support and helpful wishes. The positive thoughts have helped me.
What does March have in store for you?

One of my favorite kid quotes thus far:
I thought our sub would be old and grouchy, but you're none of those things. In fact (sounding very stunned) you're fun. I didn't think that was allowed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Word for 2010

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature." -Helen Keller

Last year I made a long list of little things to accomplish, and in general I was mostly successful. I reconnected with my tribe and forged new relationships with positive and inspiring people. Although I've experienced a bit of a movement relapse in the past two months, I drank more water and ran The North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon. Also, I did repaint the kitchen- twice. Once at my old abode and at my current home!

This year I am inspired by Boho Mom, who has forgone creating a litany of resolutions in favor of a single word. It's like a mantra for the year that is full of intention and empowerment.

My word for 2010 is Adventure.

Molly and I have made a joint resolution to be more daring. Adventure does not need to be grand foray into the wilderness, deep sea voyage, or aeronautical feat. It means taking the risk to lose sight of the comfort-zone shoreline, even if only for a moment. Adventure does not mean being reckless with myself or others, but to be more fearless with opportunity and adversity. Each and everyday is an adventure.

Cheers to adventure! What is your word for 2010?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Be amazed...

When I stumbled upon Aleksandr Hrustevich, a young Ukrainian accordionist, I was absolutely mesmerized by his talents. His grace and skill is indescribable. Listen as Mr. Hrustevich plays Summer from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Be amazed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I wish I may...

This week Jamie asks, "What is your spirit wishing for?"

My spirit wishes for movement.
Image from

In the past few months I have spent so many of my waking hours glued to my laptop working on my final portfolio. Yesterday I submitted lesson plans, projects, assessments, essays, and score studies that stacked up at 1 1/2 inches thick, and it was printed front to back. My body has become all too familiar with my desk chair, as comfortable as it is. I wish to run, to stretch, to play, to move freely.

The portfolio process has also stirred my spirit. She is anxious, albeit a touch nervous, to move on to the next chapter. I seek that first career, the thrill of opportunity, the next adventure. My spirit needs to move forward and onward.

What does your spirit wish for?