Thursday, September 30, 2010


I was tired today and need to get more sleep.

We devoted today's GM classes to make-up work.  This contributed to each class being more unique than usual.  The first only had two students, each with just one assignment, that needed to complete something.  One of the two was absent (great).  The second had about 6 and the third about 7, some with multiple assignments to complete.  The third class also needed to take a quiz.  In all classes, we played some of the "Stomp Out Loud" percussion performance video.  They enjoyed it, but just don't quite get how freaking cool it really is.  Oh, well.

Overall, however, things weren't too crazy.  Today was...almost..."normal"?

Boy - Ra Ra Riot

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Theory was great; learning how to build scales out of tetrachords and why scale degrees have been given the names they have truly excited at least 2 students.  They're seeing the big picture and loving it.

After yesterday's disciplinary discussion, I did a better job laying down some law today, and it felt fine.  The first class I worked with has good and bad days, and today would have been good without my strengthened tone, but it was a great day with it.  The second class I worked with just about only has bad days, but I began today's class by rearranging their assigned seats.  They have been surreptitiously moving around and I've been letting them get away with it for too long; they were almost all sitting by their most distracting friends and things were almost out of control.  Today, I decided on the spot to move many of them, and I'm very glad I did.

I also went to my first MS sporting events today.  I wasn't able to stay very long, but I did enjoy watching them play.  I've now been seen by many parents as a supportive and involved teacher.  Cool.

O Weisheit (Arvo Pärt) - Taverner Choir

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

9/28 - Great Expectations

The HS was assembled for – redacted –

Edit: After initially publishing this post, I gave further consideration to the worst-case scenario consequences of its public availability.  It was about my disappointment with a speaker at the assembly.  Below is a very brief description followed by mostly unedited reflection on the rest of the day.  However, I still think that the writing in my initial post is quality, and I'd be happy to share those thoughts with those who know me well.  If you have my e-mail address and want to read the original, send me a request.  Thank you for your understanding.

The speaker at the assembly presented some specious conclusions that grated against my educational philosophy.  I was troubled, and it set an ominous tone for my day.

I had Music Theory after the assembly, and we only had 25 minutes of class.  These 25 minutes were taken up by discussion of this speaker and his points.  These students meet the expectations of maturity that I have for HS students, which is high, and I'm proud of them for it.  They identified on their own a few of these issues, and were also receptive when I, in as Socratic of a fashion as possible, introduced to them other issues.  I think I managed to help them reflect on the topics covered in a genuinely critical way.  They managed to get me to explain to them my educational philosophy that expects maturity and critical thinking from each of them and their peers, even when disappointed by the mistakes that some are bound to make.  They also managed to help me reflect on that philosophy and consider how some students simply are not receptive to certain approaches.

(For the record, I was unable to play a piece for them today due to time and a skipping CD player.)

Experiencing this at the beginning of the day set me up to work through my first truly stressed, bad mood day.  That was a hard thing to do, but working with students was ultimately a very effective method of pushing beyond my frustrations.  Mrs. D and I spoke at length about this speaker, HS students, and educational philosophy, even though the only information she had on the assembly was what I relayed to her.  Coupled with another discussion about disciplinary action and firm classroom management, she helped me reflect even further on my expectation-based philosophy by providing concrete examples, but otherwise seemed to agree with aspects of my disappointment.

Hey kids, hey adults, don't do drugs.  Hey kids, alcohol counts.  Hey adults, drink responsibly.

Monday, September 27, 2010


We're beginning the study of scales in Theory, which is a big deal to me because I now feel like the theoretical aspects of music can be approached; we can be mostly done with the details of notation.  Also, during the review of the test I was caught in one of those situations where I have no choice but to be mean. A student said, "I didn't know that we had to know the notes on a keyboard," and I had to point out that it was on the review sheet and it's just too bad she lost a couple points.  I'm glad I don't have much of a problem with sticking to my guns like that (the MS students are actually more persuasive, if only out of annoyance).

I'm still paranoid about putting too many details about myself on this blog, but I must state that the conversations one can have with MS students can go in some amazing directions — question by question.  Telling them about something you did over the weekend can easily lead to questions about something completely irrelevant, and it's difficult to be aware enough of how far the class has strayed to be able to say, "We're done.  Moving on..." while eager hands are still up.

I attended the beginning of the first after-school HS show choir meeting.  HS students can be excessively energetic at the end of a day.  I did a good job learning most of their names, though.

Edit - Regina Spektor

Friday, September 24, 2010


I gave a big test in Theory today, one which turned out to be pretty difficult (but resulted in a perfect 5 person bell curve!).  They all finished during class, though.  I curved it 14 points.

I saw one of my supplementary education class professors today, a veteran principle with a 40 year career.  He came up to me and told me that he thinks I'll make a great teacher and that he can tell that I enjoy it and am passionate about it.  I was flattered.  I thanked him and told him something I've told a few others, that when a class is driving me crazy or a student is acting out, I always have this sense in the back of my mind of being genuinely glad I'm there.  I fear that I sound too self-congratulating, but I am proud that I have this underlying feeling and am convinced that it is the manifestation of a passion for teaching that students need in their educators.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Those girls were hardly better in the front row.  It's bothering the entire choir.  Two of them did homework and ignored us completely, the others were just disruptive.  I'd give some more genuine reflection on this if I weren't tired and making a late post...I'm just getting angry thinking of seeing them again tomorrow. was perhaps the first not-so-crazy day.  Theory went well, GM classes went well.

Oh, walk-out girl got revenge on me today.  I left the room to go make copies before class started and she walked out a moment later to yell, "Hey, teacher!  Come back, we need you!"  She was laughing as she did this, but when another student poked his head out and said, "Yeah, we need you to come back," I went back.  Then I discovered it was pure retaliation.  Well-played, team Theory.

We got the pleasure today of an assembly on electronic communication.  This essentially was focused on cyber bullying and sexting.  Well...assemblies are inherently dull, but the woman giving this speech was pretty good; not in an entertaining way, but just in the way she argued, "Don't do ______ because you'll get caught (electronic communication records don't go away) and this is what the school does and this is what state law does (it isn't pretty and can be unfair)," as opposed to, "Don't do ______ because it's immoral!"  Then we had a faculty assembly, with the same speaker, on the topic of Facebook!  That was just silly.  It was silly that there were a few people who were so worried about the internet that they had questions at the end, and it was silly that the rest of us have heard it all before and had to hear it all again.

I should only post when awake.

Noise Brigade - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


(I must relay this very interesting study.  Yesterday, the results of the first scientific study of merit-based pay of teachers were released.  They found that merit pay does not improve student test scores.  Here's the release, and here's a video of the highlights of the announcement.)

Things went pretty well today as I was essentially on my own.  I'm proud.

HS Choir has this group of girls who sit in the back that simply don't participate and talk constantly.  Today, possibly due to the absence of Mrs. D, this activity escalated to cursed insults directed at other choristers.  I had some trouble with them while I was directing warm-ups and music, but I had them under control enough that I could ignore them.  The reports of the swearing and insults came in the form of numerous reports from the victims after class.  I'm furious at the way these girls act.  Tomorrow we'll be putting them in the front row, beginning our process of trying everything we can before kicking them out of choir.

I gave a quiz in GM today on the subject of the bass clef.  The questions are almost exactly the same as they were for the treble clef quiz, and I've only spent the last three days telling them that the bass clef is different than the treble clef, yet there were two students who answered every question as it would be answered for the treble clef, not the bass clef.  Grrrrr.

I had a rehearsal with just the boys of MS Choir and they started to talk about how much they like how many girls are in the choir.  I pointed out to them that I know they've been acting disruptive just to get attention and show off and they all nodded and agreed.  I then told them that even though being a distraction can get giggles from the girls, that those girls in choir are more likely to keep thinking about a boy later on if he focuses on singing well during choir.  Is that true?  I don't know, but I'm going to run with it as far as I can.

Martha My Dear - The Beatles

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


It turns out that the girl who walked out yesterday just wanted to say "hi" to other teachers and see if I'd notice.  I love it when they test me and I win.

I realized that I may not have ever told you why I put links to music at the end of each post.  The music I post there is whatever selection was played in Theory that day for the purposes of discussion.  I play something during class (to break up my lecture) every day, and if a student brought something I'll play that instead.  So, if I can find an iTunes link (or something else without looking too hard), I'll provide it.  If I can't, I'll just identify the piece.

Each GM class got a short talkin'-to from me today about my role in the class and why I need their quiet and respect when I ask for it.  I think it sounded like, "Me teacher!  You listen!"

Tomorrow, Mrs. D will be absent and there will be a substitute.  She left him a "lesson plan" saying that she has a student teacher and he doesn't have to do a thing.  So...I plan on doing a little bit of work with the HS Choir on a piece we started today, teaching Theory as usual, giving quizzes in GM, and working with just the boys of the MS Choir (I need to teach them to match pitch).  Well, here goes nothin'...

Gros Zéro - Yelo Melo

Cafeteria Food -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fat

Let's talk about food.  I've been eating lunch at the MS cafeteria most days out of a twisted desire to immerse myself in the environment and be a visible person.  There's a problem; the food is dreadful.  Pizza is served every day, and it's bad.  Chicken sandwiches come from Tyson (the notoriously evil and I-can't-believe-they-call-this-chicken market dominator), and they're bad.  I even tried some "popcorn chicken bites" that were so rubbery they squeaked when I bit into them.  This is a mammoth problem for students' health in, as I see it, three ways:

1) Immediate Consequences — When students have pizza and slushies for lunch every day, they are not getting adequate nutrition.  Plain and simple.  I don't think any of my readers need that lecture.

2) Decision-making Consequences — Students get used to eating bad food with inadequate nutritional value that satisfies their taste buds and their brains.  This effect appears to be more than a bad habit, but rather like an addiction.  It doesn't take much to realize that even if in the HS students are given healthy options, their habit/addiction from MS will make them extremely unlikely to make nutritious selections.

3) Long-term Consequences — Schools have classes that teach students about proper nutrition.  Doesn't that indicate an educational desire to guide kids toward health?  An analogy: schools intend to teach respectful behavior, and they understand that in order to do so they must model respectful behavior constantly; it seems logical to me to conclude that in order to successfully educate students about nutrition, schools must model the wisest behavior!

Oh, I almost forgot, schools have tight budgets.  That must be the brick wall separating our youth from healthy lunches.  Wrong, nutritious food programs can be enacted on the same dime.  It's being done in Baltimore.  It's been done in Wisconson.  It's being done in Pittsburgh.  It's been done in Minnesota.  It could be done here.

A disclaimer:
This has nothing to do with what I think of the people working behind the cafeteria counter.  I have great respect for them and am convinced that they share my desire to see healthy students.  I also am no expert on what this particular district's policies, options, budget, considerations, and future plans are.  At this cafeteria, there is a salad bar, the meal of the day, the hot dogs and Tyson sandwiches, the pizza, the milk, the gatorade, and the slushies.  Somebody had to think of the salad bar, but I promise you that is not where the crowds gather.

Monday, September 20, 2010

9/20 - Why are they so loud?

Near the beginning of Theory, when people were still mingling but supposed to be sitting down, one of my students walked out of the door.  I said to another, "Where's she going?" and got a shrug in response.  The girl who walked out saw Mrs. D and another teacher she knows in the hall and said to them, while continuing to walk down the hall, "I don't think he knows I left!"  Just as she finished saying that is when I opened the door, went into the hall, and yelled, "Hey, pupil!  Where do you think you're going?"  Her red-faced response was immensely gratifying and she returned to class.  We had some great laughs about this, both during and long after the event.

I'll find out tomorrow where she was planning on going.

The rest of the day was just LOUD!  I was beating myself up after the first couple of GM classes because of the difficulty I was having keeping them quiet enough for me to hear myself, but then my techniques were very effective with the last section of the day and then the MS choir was incredibly rowdy with Mrs. D in charge!  So, Mrs. D and the choir convinced me that I wasn't entirely to blame.  Unfortunately, this means that KIDS ARE LOUD AND IMMATURE.  Oh, wait...I did know that already...I just try to pretend reality away...thus is the nature of an educator.

When the last student left the auditorium after choir, Mrs. D and I both took a breath and closed our eyes.  Mrs. D said, "Picture a big box of wine hooked up to an IV," and we exhaled with calm.

So, readers, do you remember how much your teachers seemed to want the day to be over when you were in school?  They needed wine.  I'm having a cabernet tonight.

From a student (the walk-out): Diverse City - tobyMac

Friday, September 17, 2010


Mr. Self-Importance was somewhat put in his rightful place today; not just by me, but by an unspoken and subtle collaboration of the whole class.  High school students have incredible social aptitude, and I'm quite proud to see them apply it toward a positive end.

I've been forcing myself to give more consideration lately to Individualized Education Programs (IEP's), which is code for "Special Education requirements" or even "the huge bundle of paperwork that defines the disabilities, strengths, weaknesses, performance, goals, adaptations, and modifications designed for a single student that must, legally, be adhered to by every teacher."  I think there are a dozen students with IEP's in our 3 GM classes.  I spoke to a learning support teacher about one student yesterday, and appreciated that insight.  Today, I was giving it consideration while quizzing students on guitar.  Without going into incomprehensible babbling about my precise thoughts, this has led me to deep thoughts about standard expectations...

This school is determined to have a 100% graduation rate.  That sounds admirable, but how much should one lower their standards in order to pass a student?  What about if that student has an IEP?  What if a student doesn't have an IEP?  What if you're so overwhelmed with IEP's that it's easier to modify standard expectations for the whole class?  There are some very "interesting" signs of pressure that force a critically-thinking teacher to define their expectations, deliberately adapt them to IEP's, and defend them when they have to.

Grinnin' In Your Face - Son House

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The "kid who did well on the diagnostic test" in Theory will henceforth be known as "kid who's high on self-importance".  When I, after reviewing some material, said something general like "does that all make more sense, now?", he replied "I don't know anything more now than I did before class started."  Seriously, kid?  This did not mean, "I'm having trouble understanding something," it meant, "I'm too important to have to suffer through solidifying fundamental knowledge and participate in the learning experience of my peers."  I almost threw a marker at him.

There are a few notable students that I see at lunch when I get food from the cafeteria (I don't have them in class).  On the first day of school they said, "Hey man!  You look like you're into metal!" and have since yelled "Hey, metal guy!" every time they see me.  Last time I was there I asked them for a recommendation, and they suggested I listen to "Pantera."  I returned today with a review and I'm now to listen to the band "Down."  This is fun.  I don't think they know that I'm a music teacher, though.

I did an observation of the "rowdy" class's math class today.  That was very interesting, and I now have the great advantage of being able to say, "Hey, I've seen you in math class and I know you can focus better than this."  My day of GM teaching today can be summed up in a hypothetical conversation with a personification of educational theory—
Me: Educational Theory, my good friend, how many times must I repeat an instruction before reasonably expecting 20-30 students to pick it up?
Educational Theory: Well, demonstrating something 3 times is a good habit to have, and it's always good to explain things multiple ways.
Me: That's what I thought.  In fact, I got their attention quite successfully today, and after explaining things multiple times I had them run through one of the items with me all together, but after that I think only 2/3 of the students remembered what I had said.
Educational Theory:  Um......*shrug*

Oh, and I almost forgot, I experienced my first "incident" today — in the last class.  As Murphy's Law requires, Mrs. D was out of the room when I was confronted with this event.  One [very small and hyper] boy had poked another [tall and burly, yet quiet] boy in the eye with his finger.  How did this happen?  Small boy says he and the other were "joking around and mumble mumble mumble it was an accident." Burly boy said that the other was joking around with another boy behind him and then a waving hand put a finger in his eye.  Weird weird weird.  Through discussion with both of them it seemed that no hard feelings were present and no malicious intent ever was either.  I ensured that an apology was made.  The burly boy's eye was very red and hurt, so he went to the nurse, and I made it clear to him that if there's anything else he wanted to say to an adult, he could tell the nurse.  So...that may be the last of this incident, unless we find out through the nurse that small boy is bullying burly boy.  I felt really bad for burly boy.

(A Theory student played a choral piece today, but I don't remember the title.  Sorry.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I'm getting very frustrated with a disruptive group of girls in choir.  I really hope that separating them (as we will soon) will solve the problem.  Mrs. D doesn't think it will.  Grrrrrrr.

We sailed through a unit of expressive markings (dynamics, tempo, and articulation) in Theory today.  Sweet.  I got to play some great music (below) as illustrations of points of the lecture.

"Surprise" Symphony 94 in G Major, Mvmt. I (Haydn)
Symphony 7 in A Major, Mvmt. II (Beethoven) - London Symphony Orchestra
"Oxford" Symphony 92 in G Major, Mvmt. IV (Haydn)

Today was an early dismissal day, which meant that the schedule of classes was topsy-turvy.  However, I enjoyed the sequence of GM classes that we had today.  The rowdy class did quite well, perhaps because we had them before lunch.  In all classes, we had fun playing melodies like those from "Smoke on the Water" and "Ironman".  Teaching an instrument about which I barely know more than the students is an adventure.

The day ended with a music department curriculum meeting.  I'm not in the mood to go into the craziness of satisfying the administration (and state) by modifying curriculum outlines, but I'll mention that we did enjoy some amusing conversation.  Teachers really can be relaxed and jovial people, I hope you know.

String Quarten No. 5, Mvmt. I, II (Glass) - Kronos Quartet

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


My memory is flawed.  It must be.  There's no way that my recalled experience of almost every chorister I knew in HS being able to match pitch could be at all accurate if the nature of this bunch of students is indicative of normal vocal development.  I remember a few peers who tended flat or sharp, but I don't remember ever hearing a singer practice a warmup where the piano goes up in pitch and the singer yells the same 3 notes over and over again.  I also remember a number of timid peers, but "timid" meant that I might have had trouble hearing them from 10 feet away if they were singing solo, but I am now witnessing numerous students sing with such anxiety that I can stand 3 feet from them and barely discern a whisper.

Do I sound angry?  Maybe my rant is unjustly fueled by the sea of dissonance I was drowning in today.  I'll get myself a beer and relax sometime this evening, then I'll return to re-read this post.

Edit: I spoke to a friend from HS tonight and she reminded me that the directors where we went used a specific method to shape the junior-senior concert choir from those who are new as freshmen and sophomores; the "weed out the bad singers by humiliating them" method.  In contrast to this, and given the smaller size of the current HS I'm working at, I much prefer Mrs. D's approach; allowing all who want to sing to do so in as comfortable an environment as possible.  I will tell her about this tomorrow.  I think it will make her feel good.

Theory is progressing well.  A student finally remembered to bring in some music so we listened to last year's district chorus perform Dello Joio's "A Jubilant Song" (iTunes (the recording below, not hers)).

A Jubilant Song (Norman Dello Joio) - Richard Zielinski Singers

The 3rd GM class was WILD today.  I had even been warned at lunch by one of their teachers, and he took the opportunity to mention that one student was not on his medication today.  Wow...he was right.  For the first time, Mrs. D stepped in (near the end of class) with a fury to settle the class down.  I suppose I'm glad it took this long for that to happen, but I really hope I can get a better response from that class tomorrow.  Rough day.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Listening to students in Choir makes me want to sing — sometimes just because it's difficult not to sing along, and sometimes with the desire to correct them by example. My mind is a whirlwind of ways to tell/explain/show them what to do to improve, but it's almost always not the right moment to jump in and do so.

The Theory kids learned what music is today! I think they had half as much fun as I did coming up with definitions of music and then listening to me play exceptions. They also called me "crazy" and "weird" a lot...even before I told them that the recording of 4'33" was of my own performance. It's a good thing I'm used to that — thanks, friends!

Without going into any portions of my socratic dialogue with the students, I would love to hear from readers which of the following selections does not qualify as music.  You earn extra points if you give a reason why.

Musical examples I played today:
1. Sagaba - Blue Scholars (iTunes)
2. Resource (from Koyaanisqatsi - Philip Glass) (iTunes)
3. Pretty - Katie Makkai (YouTube (full version))
4. Phel-den La-mo - Guyoto Monks (iTunes (the group, not the specific song))
5. An alarm clock
6. 4'33" (John Cage) - Myself and pianist Mrs. D (not my co-op)
7. A sample from the CD that accompanies our workbook

Music i had prepared but didn't have the time or need to play:
1. Three Quarter-Tone Pieces: II Allegro (Charles Ives) - Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs (iTunes)
2. Poème Électronique - Edgard Varèse (iTunes)
3. Toxic (Dennis, Jonback, Karlsson, and Winnberg) - Britney Spears (iTunes)
4. The "Empire Today" jingle
5. A Gamelan piece (YouTube)
6. A Joik sung by a Sami (YouTube)
7. Gregorian Mass for Christmas Day, Introit, Puer natus est nobis

We were cursed by out-of-tune guitars in GM today. We spent a good portion of the first class letting them practice as we wandered around to tune everyone's guitars by ear. That wasn't good enough, our ears were still miserable every time more than one guitar tried strumming the same chord. We then spent a significant portion of the second class tuning every guitar by the piano. Now we're about 80% satisfied. It's bearable.

A GM student said "I saw Mr. Inman on Saturday! With a girl!" Mrs. D said to me in front of the class, "You have no private life anymore." Yes, as my friend and I were getting pizza 45 minutes away from where I teach, I was being pointed out to a father. I need to start dressing nicer on weekends.

There's this junky old bicycle that has been painted orange and sitting in the choir room all year. We stuffed it into a small connected room and have been tripping over it all the time. It turns out this was an item found by the marching band percussion section, who then painted it and left it in their summer practice room (the choir room). Mrs. D joked this morning that we should get rid of it. Near the end of the day Mr. H, the band director, walked in for something and I said, "Oh, hi! I have something for you," walked into that room and returned with the bike. I handed it to him with a grin and he begrudgingly took it and walked out, mumbling something about his percussion section. The look on Mrs. D's face was a priceless expression of shock, and this event had us laughing for the rest of the day. I have a feeling she'll be telling that story for a long time.

I can't believe I got away with that.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Mrs. D wasn't in the mood to hear more paired student "auditioning" this morning, so we worked on a song for a little while.  I don't blame her.

It took me longer to review the elements of music in Theory than I thought it would, so we barely touched on definitions of music.  That's ok, though, because I was able to use a "give consideration to this over the weekend" closer.  I've devoted Monday's lesson to this.  I'm including here a link to a rap song that I played as they were leaving, so no discussion was applied to it, and I plan on using it on Monday as well.

Sagaba - Blue Scholars (iTunes)

We did our first lesson on guitar in GM today.  I taught one class...and don't know how to play guitar except for what I learned from Mrs. D teaching the first class.  I totally pulled it off.  I had to do a fair bit of one-on-one teaching as the class practiced in chaos, which was partly good because I got to build more individual rapport with some students, and partly bad because it's frustrating when I've done the necessary number of demonstrations and explained the same thing in multiple ways and the student still doesn't absorb what I've taught until I baby them.

I did my first of five required observations today.  I visited an 8th grade American History class.  The students were very attentive and the [buff!] teacher was very prepared.  This was textbook teaching in a rather admirable form.  On a depressing note, he used the first 10 minutes of class to discuss explain 9/11, doing so with the aid of a history channel video clip.  These students were about 4 in 2001, and I think that there was not only value in discussing this history, but also very much in politely explaining to them what aspects of the world have changed since then.

Thursday, September 9, 2010



Today we began listening to the HS choristers, in pairs, so that we may determine their proper voice parts.  Mrs. D doesn't usually do this, but we are because of me (and my desire to learn from hearing them on their own).  Well...the few pairs we got to listen to this morning were an experience, indeed.  The first pair couldn't stop laughing and one of the two wouldn't sing "My Country 'tis of Thee" because he doesn't like it, so he sang a holiday ditty instead.  The next pair had one girl I could barely hear and another who could only accurately sing about 4 pitches.  Be glad you didn't hear her rendition of "My Country".  Perhaps I'm being too mean, but the timidity and anxiety and excuses and distractions that they all have or find are extremely frustrating.  I like a lot of them, and all of their voices (so far) truly have potential, but when they can't or won't sing in the octave that you ask them to, what will it mean to be in the right section at all?  I'm actually still optimistic about the group, but this has given Mrs. D infinite ammo against me.  We laugh about it a lot.

The selection I played for Theory today led to a discussion of whether or not the piece is really "music".  That means it's time for the "What is music?" lesson/discussion.  That shall be tomorrow.  I'm excited.

Poème Électronique - Edgard Varèse (iTunes)

Managing the GM classes was fairly successful today.  I'm getting to know pretty well at this point which students are most easily distracted by gossip with friends or by shamelessly begging for attention.

However, I did make one mammoth mistake in the 3rd (and wildest) class:  To briefly review some note-naming on the board, I drew the note F.  They identified it and I wrote the letter beneath the staff.  Then I asked a student where to go from there, upward, and he mentioned the first ledger line, so I drew an A and, once named, added the letter below.  Ah, but I couldn't move on without making sure they knew that the G is in between those notes, so I wrote it and they named it.  Then I added the letter below the staff, confidently and cluelessly spelling "FAG".  I caught myself right away and said, "Oh, that's not going to happen" and erased the G, but it was too late -- the class erupted in laughter.  There wasn't a chance I was going to get them to settle down, so I pointed out, "Well, there's no way you're going to forget those note names now" and had them begin group studying for a quiz.

That's not all, folks.  With no classes remaining and Mrs. D going to the HS for her after-school choir auditions, I settled down to grade today's quizzes.  Soon, Mrs. D returned and told me that her car would not start.  I offered a jump, Mrs. D called the HS to cancel auditions, and we went out to our cars.  Quite fortunately, the jump worked, and just as I was putting away the cable, out of the school walks my college supervisor, here to meet with us together for the first time.  We thought that he was going to arrive earlier if at all, but here he was.  The rest of the day went into this meeting, and I'll be grading quizzes this weekend.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


In choir, I regularly experience this feeling of "oh no, I have so much I want to tell these students about how to sing, how will I ever express it all?"  I'm not disappointed that I have a good knowledge of vocal production, but I'm learning that there will likely be a career-long frustration about not being able to pass on everything that I want to.  Hearing some students sing individually reminds me of the balance that I'll have to find between expectations and reality.

I had a great time in theory playing Ives for the class and seeing their reactions.  It's a piece for two pianos, one of which is tuned a quarter-step high.

Three Quarter-Tone Pieces: II Allegro (Charles Ives) - Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs (iTunes)

Every GM section was consistently chatty, and though Mrs. D blamed it on some testing they had just completed, I'm thinking that I need to define some sort of ritualistic method of gathering attention.  I tried various things with the sections today, but I just really want to avoid any of the juvenile hand-clapping or arm-raising techniques.

I have a confession to make.  I've fallen victim to favoritism.  There's a girl in the 3rd section of GM who is also in Mrs. D's "club" (I haven't explained that yet; at the end of certain days, students go to clubs that do activities.  Mrs. D's club is for crossword puzzles) who is now my favorite student.  During club, we were convinced to play some pop radio station and Lady GaGa was playing at one point.  During that song, I thought I would be funny and turned around (from grading) to say "Who is this?"  When I did so, this girl, who was the only one to hear me, turned around and shrugged her shoulders, genuinely having no idea who was singing.  I was so proud.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

9/7 - The Element of Style

My dear readers, thank you for trudging through my previous posts.  I was vacillating as I was writing regarding whether I should be making things easy on myself and writing exactly the words that I intend to turn in later or be moderately more blunt and slightly more entertaining in style for the sakes of honesty and reader enjoyability (I also wrote them all yesterday afternoon).  I think I've decided to proceed according to the latter, and submit abridged versions of these posts to the department in the end.

The choir did their first bit of singing from music today; a piece that Mrs. D intends to use for next semester.  This was interesting, especially considering we've not yet identified the voice parts of all the singers.

I had a lot planned for theory today; a review of the quiz, the dotted half note, ties, and slurs.  First, I must mention that I had difficulty deciding whether I should teach the dotted half note specifically or if I should just teach the dot and apply it to multiple note values.  I went with the workbook's method of introducing the dotted half note on its own, mostly out of fear that adding eighth notes and dots at the same time would be too much.  It seems I was right to worry, because I didn't even get to the topics of ties and slurs.  The good: this made writing tomorrow's lesson plan really easy.  The bad: progress is slow and repeating oneself is tiring.  The ugly: I have students who've been using dotted eighth notes in orchestra and choir already, but I also have students that struggle to differentiate 4/4 and 3/4 meter.  I used the Tiersen and Sting pieces from the quiz for listening today.

GM went well, except my voice was tired at the end of the day due to talking over the 3rd section of students.  One student in that section was a proper brat today...grumble grumble mumble grrr.  I got a kick out of everyone's responses to the listening we did (see video).

Oh, and I know that you're dying to hear today's "oops, my bad" story.  I was teaching the 2nd section of GM about mnemonic devices for EGBDF and remembered one I'd once heard, "Elvis' Guitar Broke Down Friday".  I don't care what you think of the phrase, the point is that bringing up Elvis apparently always leads to, "Didn't he die on a toilet?" followed by raucous laughter.  Laughter in class is great, but after I said, "Yes, he did," the next comments were a flurry of "My grandma died on Christmas eve," and "Speaking of death...", etc., which I had the pleasure of learning to recover from.  Sorry, Elvis, but you are no longer a part of my GM teaching ideas.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I gave the Theory quiz today (in addition to a couple of previously played pieces, I used three for the quiz that were new, these are listed below).  I played two listening selections afterward.  They did quite well, the lowest grade being a 22/30.  I later got to explore and work with the online grading system that the district uses.

La redécouverte (From Amélie) - Yann Tiersen (iTunes)
Under Pressure - Queen and David Bowie (iTunes)
Seven Days - Sting (iTunes)

Man - Mamer (iTunes)
Back Blurr - Skunk Allstars (iTunes (band only, not this song))

Post-quiz and pre-extended weekend, Mrs. D and I decided not to start a new unit in GM, and instead use a filler lesson.  She has this sing-along video meant for ages 3-5 that is full of awkward innuendo and terrible representations of character.  The lesson is in being an educated consumer and the students write down everything that they consider to be inappropriate for kids of the intended age.  The lists are long.


I introduced Theory today with a metrically bizarre song by Radiohead, letting them pass around my sketched possibilities of how to notate the strange rhythm used.  I then discussed complex and compound time signatures and reviewed everything else we had studied for a quiz I'm going to give them tomorrow.  The selections I used today are listed below.

Pyramid Song - Radiohead (iTunes)
Mic Mike - Brad Upton (iTunes)
Take Five - Dave Brubeck Quartet (iTunes)
All You Need is Love - The Beatles (iTunes)
Blue Rondo À La Turk - Dave Brubeck Quartet (iTunes)
Float On - Modest Mouse (iTunes)
Ein Kleiner, Hubscher Vogel (Johannes Brahms, Op. 52 #6) - Robert Shaw Festival Singers (iTunes)

The GM quiz went pretty well.  We actually had to finish up some final words on texture and gave them some study time before the quiz.  I had an interesting classroom management moment with the last class of the day; many of the students were talking to each other while I was trying to explain something, Mrs. D was out of the room, and I had just given them some intended time to chat.  I got their attention with silence and an impatient look, and then calmly told them that when I'm teaching, I'm trying to have a conversation with every student in the class, and that I have difficulty believing that when they're having a conversation with someone, especially in which they're explaining to the other person something that interests them, they don't feel ignored and upset if the other person turns their head to have another conversation with someone else.  This had an impact that lasted the rest of the period — not out of fear, I'm pretty sure, but out of a rather mature understanding of what I meant.  I was pretty proud of them and myself.  I'll be very proud if this turns out to be something I can briefly reference in the future when their attention drifts too far.


I really enjoy the topic of meter and time signatures.  Today I focused on the simple signatures of 4/4, 2/4, and 3/4, using the music listed below as examples.  I got on a tangent when talking to them about the meaning of the term "meter" and also discussed the definition of "metric", ultimately explaining that every system of measurement is a metric system, and that "The" metric system is really SI (Système International).  Though a nerdy point to make, I think that the students enjoyed realizing that their music teacher knows about things that aren't necessarily music-related.  Though not a priority, I would like students to know that just because I have a teaching specialty, I am not narrowly limited in my knowledge and abilities to just one subject.  I'm also glad that they now know what "metric" means :)

For metric study:
Stars and Stripes Forever - J.P. Sousa (iTunes)
Maiden Voyage - Herbie Hancock (iTunes)
Skating (Vince Guaraldi) - George Winston (iTunes)

For discussion:
Syiahamba - Coda (iTunes)

The GM classes have a quiz tomorrow on the elements of music.  We have them take specific (though not lengthy) notes that will line up quite clearly with the quiz questions.  The most difficult element to explain is "texture", as we are including differentiation of monophonic, polyphonic, and homophonic textures in the quiz.  We're using some gregorian chant and Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus as listening examples.  There is an effect on the students in GM that is similar to that which occurred in Theory today with "metric" when I talk about polyphonic texture.  I use the term "polygon" to help explain "poly-" to them, and enjoy seeing them think about math and music at the same time.

I was present at the Middle School open house tonight.  Parents (and sometimes kids) were rushed around the school in an attempt to follow their student's schedule and meet the teachers.  This was a particularly effective and efficient exercise when teams of teachers would change where they wanted the parents of the students to meet them, and have almost no way of passing on the message (that was sarcastic).  All of the "Unified Arts" classes, which includes music, gathered their parents in one room to watch a powerpoint (the same one as last year).  I was struggling to stay awake by the third time through it.  The night was a couple notches better than a debacle.


I had the students in Theory walk up to the whiteboard to complete review exercises of basic rhythm and not names, I think they enjoyed the activity.  I really enjoyed one moment when I was writing some music on the board with errors in each measure for them to identify (I had not told them yet what the purpose was of what I was writing), and not a moment after I drew the first bar line a student said, "Wait!  There's something wrong with the first measure!"  Awesome.

With a Lily in Your Hand (Eric Whitacre) - Polyphony (iTunes)

I forget earlier to mention that we have a daily listening journal activity for the GM classes, similar in nature to my Theory ritual.  Today we played the William Tell Overture (Gioachino Rossini) for them, followed by this:

They loved it.


We've begun to spend significant time in Choir working on vocal warm-ups and exercises.  We've established that we will listen to each student individually and place them in the proper section.  I'm really looking forward to doing that, as I've never been on the listening side of those "auditions".  It will also give us a very good idea of what talent and sound is already present in the group.

I used the disc that accompanies the Music Theory book we're working from as an aid to some workbook exercises.  We had fun being nitpicky with the recordings.

The Groove is Real - Preston Reed (iTunes)

We began a unit on the 8 elements of music in GM today.  We also began a pattern of Mrs. D teaching the first section and me imitating her lesson and teaching the second and third of the day.  I was pleased and relieved with the attentiveness I received from the students on my first day teaching them.


Yesterday, in Theory, I discovered that none of the students had heard of The Moody Blues (it came up during a discussion of mnemonic devices for EGBDF and I mentioned their album "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour"), so we listened to the first 2 tracks of EGBDF today after the continued treble and bass clef pitch-naming lecture. I really enjoyed talking with them about the musical timeline presented in "Procession".

Procession - The Moody Blues (iTunes)

GM classes went over the syllabus today.  The time spent having students read its sections allowed us to begin learning their names by memorizing the roster and calling them by name.  This will be a challenge, there are a total of about 80 students in the 3 sections.


Choir was chaotic today.  We spent the class handing out sign-up forms and talking about class rules, upcoming events, and the cycle of Applied Music class priorities.  The district has a 6-day cycle, so in order to accommodate students that are in multiple ensembles, there is a sequence of priorities.  This means that there are 2 days during which we have a full choir, 2 days during which we do not have students who are also in band, and 2 days during which we do not have students who are also in orchestra.

I gave the Theory class a diagnostic quiz today that I made the night before.  It had 5 questions, ranging in difficulty from "notate the pitch 'E' on the treble clef" to "identify the most consonant harmonization to the following phrase".  One student got almost everything right, including the harmonization question.  One student returned the quiz completely blank.  The other three filled in the spectrum.  Providing an education to all of them, without favoritism, will be a challenge that I look forward to.  It was also today that I realized playing and discussing music in the middle of class every day would be beneficial, but I did not have music prepared.  I lectured on pitch-naming.

The GM classes were spent on introductions today.  A funny thing happened when they asked what kind of music I like and I listed a lot of things, including Renaissance music.  One student asked, "What is 'Renaissance'?"  So I answered, "The Renaissance was a mostly 15th century cultural movement that..." blah blah blah.  The students were deer in headlights, and Mrs. D joked about me "going college professor" on them.  Oops.

8/25 - The First Day of School

Since we have courses at this district's HS and MS, the first day of school presented some tiny little conflicts.  The modified first day schedule of these schools placed our HS courses and MS courses simultaneously at the beginning of the day.  Mrs. D and I concluded that we should split up, I would go to the HS for the first two periods of the day, and she to the MS.

My first period course is technically "Applied Music", for which all students of choir, band, and orchestra sign up.  The students, the band teacher Mr. H, the orchestra teacher Mrs. J, and I met in the cafeteria.  We took role and each of us spoke briefly about signing up for our ensemble.  I was introduced by Mr. H, who emphasized my really cool hair, and was then cheered for by the students.  That was unexpected.

Second period presented further surprises.  I prepared an introductory lesson for this course in Music Appreciation, complete with exciting music to listen to.  As the students arrived, I found that none of their names were on my roster, and none of the students on my roster were arriving.  When I asked the students what class they were there for, they answered, "Music Theory" (for those who are asking themselves, the difference between Theory and Appreciation is analogous to that of Math and Math History).  This fortunately understanding group of 5 students were receptive in my half-improvised-theory and half-prepared-appreciation introductory lesson.  On this day I began a ritual of presenting the class with a piece of music for us to informally discuss each day, with the intention of helping the students explore applying the language of music to their thoughts on particular works.  I played these two pieces today:

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (J.S. Bach) - German Brass (iTunes)
Red Oyster Cult - Guster (iTunes)

The rest of the day was uneventful.  Mrs. D and I met up and discussed our morning classes (it turns out that this Theory/Appreciation mixup was due to some non-communication from the administration, who made an unexpected schedule change, swapping the semesters of these courses) and then had a brief introductory section of General Music.

Meditations on First Blogosophy

I am a student teacher in the eastern USA.  Due to paranoia about students, parents, administrators, colleagues, and potential employers ever coming across my online activity and finding a speck of it to be inappropriate, I call myself Luc Duval.

I am working with a cooperating teacher, Mrs. D, who teaches HS Concert Choir, HS Music Theory, MS 7-8 Chorus, and MS 7th General Music.  I am primarily a singer, and though I have determined I would like most to teach secondary school, I've not yet identified (not that I have to) a preference for MS or HS, therefore, I'm very excited to have this assignment.

I am obligated to write daily reflections on my experiences, and since it can be tedious to tell the same stories, updates, and thoughts to numerous people, I've decided to make my reflections available on this blog.