Notes on a Page

Revisiting a page
Filled with notes
First learned
Many years ago
A glance brings
Faded memories
Of piano keys
Under my fingers
Muscle memory begins
To clear away
Cobwebs collected
In silence
Words and symbols
Carefully written
On the page
Bring a smile
Valuable reminders
Purposefully placed by
The trusted hand
Of a teacher-
Oh, if only
Squinting eyes
Revealed someone
Sitting nearby-
A guide
Patiently leading
Beyond space
And time
Beyond notes
And rhythms
Shedding light
On the mysterious
Sound of
Rich harmonies
Surrounding
Hidden melodies
Listening intently as
Eyes and hands
Once again read
Notes on a page

~In memory of Dr. William Trantham~

Singing Along

I introduced a new song to my classes this week, “You-Nique.” It is part of a music curriculum entitled “Quaver.” Music teachers in our district are participating in a pilot of this material for the remainder of the school year.

My impression so far? It is a game-changer. The material is innovative, relevant, and engaging. It grabs the attention of students and does not let go.

The song I mentioned is only a tiny part of the material I utilized this week. But what a powerful piece. On the chorus, the main character sings:

“I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m loved, I’m smart, and I’m unique.”

Each time I pressed play, the room fell silent. All eyes watched the video and listened to the music. There were smiles and lots of head bobs. Many students were soon singing along.

Each time the song ended, without fail, someone would blurt out, “Can we hear it again?!” “Of course! But let’s talk about it first.”

Not only was the song catchy, but it also allowed for a great discussion. I asked students what they thought the word “unique” meant. Their answers ranged from beautiful and special to different.

I asked students if they ever had days where they did not feel strong or brave or loved. Some nodded their heads; others raised their hands. So honest.

I wanted them to know they were not alone. I told them there were times in my life when I didn’t feel strong or smart or loved. My intent was to acknowledge their feelings while also encouraging them.

Wouldn’t you know they ended up encouraging me? One sweet little boy spoke up, “Well, Mrs. Morris, we all love you!” “Oh sweetie, I love you guys, too.”

The song ends with the line, “And there’s no one else in the whole wide world, exactly like me.” I think we have a new favorite song. I have a feeling it will be requested often. And I look forward to singing right along with them.

By the Numbers

I have always been fascinated by the connections between music and math. And I love using math concepts to teach music. No, they are not exactly the same. But they do work together beautifully.

Today in music class, students were introduced to that connection. And they used it to become composers.

The premise was simple. Students would write four sets of four numbers (using only 1-5) on a notecard. The groups of numbers would then be translated into a melody, using the notes C, D, E, F, and G.

Before students chose their number groups, we talked about patterns. First, we studied the patterns on the keyboard. We discussed how numbers in a pattern can step up and down, skip, or repeat. Just like a melody.

2, 3, 2, 3…

With this in mind, each student received a notecard. They divided it into fourths, creating four boxes. Each box was then filled with four numbers of their choosing.

There were students, notecards, and pencils everywhere! It was loud! Controlled chaos, I like to say. But it was awesome!

Once students completed their pattern cards, I planned to play their melodies on the piano.

The response from my fifth-grade class was precious. And “precious” is not a word I often use to describe fifth graders. 😉

As I began to play the compositions, students huddled around the piano. Each one crowded in, trying to hand me their card next. Each one sheepishly smiled as they heard their creation. I wish I could have snapped a picture.

Maybe the actual composing was more logic than creativity. But the outcome was music, nonetheless. Even if it was music created by the numbers.

Thirty Seconds of Silence

We live in a busy, sometimes chaotic world. It is hard to be quiet. This is true not only for my students but for me as well. Recently, I experienced the power of purposeful silence during my first-grade class.

To introduce our lesson, I asked students to look at a picture on the Smartboard. A beautiful winter scene complete with a horse-drawn sleigh. I wanted them to tell me what they saw. If all went as planned, this activity would transition us right to “Jingle Bells.”

First-grade is at the end of the day. The kids were wiggly and chatty. Getting them to focus is not always easy. But I had an idea. I asked them to look at the picture for thirty seconds without saying anything. At first, students looked puzzled. But when I began silently counting, only mouthing the numbers, the room became quiet and still.

All eyes were fixed on the winter scene. And when I finished counting, hands started going up. Students took turns sharing answers and ideas. Some had surprising insights I had not even considered.

This was not something I had planned. After school, I thought about why this worked. I think part of it had to do with purpose. This wasn’t me simply asking students to listen or be quiet. I asked them for a defined amount of silence with a specific goal.

Granted, it was only thirty seconds. But that thirty seconds brought a successful time of sharing. And the sharing easily flowed into our singing and rhythm activities.

Before you envision a picture-perfect music class, things did get a little crazy during our next transition. I am definitely not Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. But that’s ok. I did stay calm in the chaos and class continued. Maybe because of that thirty seconds of silence?

I’m afraid I can’t take full credit for this idea. I think the inspiration came from Mr. Rogers. I’m currently reading “The Good Neighbor-The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” I also saw “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” last weekend.

I have always appreciated the quiet, kind demeanor of Mr. Rogers. When I need to feel calm, I sometimes watch his old T.V. episodes. Revisiting his work through this current book and movie seems to have the same effect.

I am particularly struck by his use of time. His actions are never hurried. One scene in the movie displayed this so clearly. Fred asked a friend to be silent for one minute, but with a specific purpose. The time was set aside to consider all the people who had loved them into being. Profound.

Granted, our studying of a picture in a first-grade music class may not qualify as profound. But it was certainly beneficial. And it opened my eyes to the power of defined silence with a specific purpose. Even if it’s only thirty seconds worth.

Community

One day this week, our elementary school glee club took a little field trip. We traveled by bus, only about a mile, to a local supermercado. It may have been a short ride, but it left a lasting impression.

One of our school’s community partners sent a request several weeks ago. Did we have a small group of students who could sing at an awards ceremony? A businessman in the community was to receive special recognition from the Mexican Consulate. That is all the information we received. 

We gladly agreed to participate. The performance would be short and sweet, only two songs. The location was close to school, so it would not disrupt our whole day.

The students were very excited! There were lots of giggles and squeals as we boarded the bus, wearing our new glee club t-shirts. Upon arrival, our community school’s coordinator went in ahead of us to get details. 

While we waited, some of the students noticed a car from a local tv news station in the parking lot. Now there were nervous squeals. “Are we going to be on the news?” 

We soon learned the significance of this celebration. As we entered the supermercado, we were met by people dressed in formal attire. Tables with black tablecloths indicated a fancy reception. Long tables were filled with appetizers and desserts. Servers were dressed in chef’s attire, ready to serve.

Family members and distinguished guests had come to honor one particular businessman for his steadfast work to better his community. And our small group of students got to be part of the celebration. 

Students’ nerves soon settled, and they took their place in front of the crowd. Their performance was energetic and exciting! Through contagious smiles, they sang “La Bamba” and “Oye.”   

Once the music stopped, the air quickly filled with applause, bravos, and the snapping of photographs. Students were then invited to partake of the wonderful food. As a teacher, I was both pleasantly surprised and a little nervous.  😉

There was no reason to worry. Students followed instructions, politely chose their food, and listened to the presentation while they ate. I was even able to sneak a little taste. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a specific group of students.

This whole experience left me thinking about the word community. I suppose I belong to many different communities. Whether through family, home, work, church, each is important. And my responsibility in each varies.

This week, I was privileged to celebrate the community where I work. Our students had the opportunity to show pride in the community where they live. And all it took was a short bus ride, two songs, and lots of smiles.

I hope students walked away with a lasting memory. One which will encourage them to be leaders in their communities, both now and in the future. I know I did.  ❤

Small Victories

Today was the last day of school before Fall Break. Honestly, I was pretty much in survival mode. My focus was on getting to the end of the day. And I almost missed a small victory.

One particular third-grade class has been a challenge. I’ve had a difficult time connecting with some of the personalities in this group. And I’ve allowed this difficulty to turn into frustration on several occasions.

The classroom teacher for this group is awesome! She is patient, kind, and supportive. She has witnessed my frustration on several occasions. And yet, also recognized my desire to connect with the students. Today’s success began with her.

Last week she mentioned a student’s interest in rapping. There had been some impromptu rapping going on in their class. This knowledge opened the door, giving me a way to connect with one friend in particular.

I asked this student to share in class. His initial response was one of hesitation. He did not share that day but said he would keep working. At least the mood was lighter. I was able to relax and have fun, creating a silly rap myself.

      My name’s Mrs. Morris, and I like to play
       The piano every single day
       I love you guys, but you drive me crazy
       Especially on the days when you act lazy

Yes, I know a career in rap is not for me. However, my students and I had a much-needed laugh. 🙂

Fast forward to today. Students were talking about rapping when they walked through my door. Two students got up to share their rhymes in front of the class. They acted silly and embarrassed, but they did it! The one student I was hoping to reach? Still no rap.

When class was over, I encouraged him to keep working and bring what he had written to class next time. I also reminded him that it didn’t need to be finished or perfect. I tried to honestly express my interest in what he had created.

And that’s when the victory occurred. No, I did not hear the rap. I did, however, hear about his other interests. Suddenly, he was telling me about things he had done as a kid. He was proud of these things and eager to share.

Our conversation was brief. But our conversation was positive. It was the first time this student talked to me as a person. And possibly the first time I truly listened.

During the few minutes between classes, I quietly celebrated.

I have more work to do. I’m sure there will still be moments of frustration. But in between those moments, I will remind myself to look for similar successes. Small victories that are truly worth celebrating!

Future Teachers and Frogs

Driving to school this morning, I was feeling a bit tired. Honestly, I was having one of those “not sure how much longer I can do this” attitudes. I love music and teaching, but it is exhausting. The amount of energy required is for the young.

Thankfully, two things helped my attitude change. The first was a college student coming to observe my classes as part of her teaching practicum. This young, smiling face greeted me at my classroom door.

It was the perfect way to begin the day-discussing teaching with a future teacher. She asked thoughtful questions. Questions which made me think about what I do and how I teach. She took notes, smiled, and participated right along with students. 2nd graders even rushed over for a group hug when it was time for her to leave.

Our conversation time was brief. She was only in my classroom for two and a half of my morning classes. But what a breath of fresh air.

The second game-changer was a little green frog. K, 1st, and 2nd graders met Freddie the Frog today. I was a bit nervous. Last year, this little green friend breathed new life into my teaching. But what if it didn’t work this time? What if the kids didn’t buy it?

The simple truth is, kids are kids. They loved Freddie! I smiled as they watched him while they sang, eyes wide and curious. And once again, I felt that surge of energy.

Students were anxious to give Freddie a high-five and a hug goodbye when class was over. They whispered in his ear, and he even got a few kisses on the top of his head. Precious.

Will tomorrow have its challenges? Yes. Such is teaching. Such is life. But I will approach tomorrow with the memory of today. Remembering the much-needed spark which came from a future teacher and a little green frog. ❤ 🐸

Reset Button

Some days I feel the need for a reset button. There have been many times as a wife, mom, and teacher I longed for a second chance. Times when I was impatient. Times when things didn’t go the way I planned.

I’ve recently experienced such times. Last week, I was not always a patient teacher. Despite my best plan, attempts to connect with my students often fell flat. By Friday, I was frustrated and confused.

Over the weekend, I began to think about expectations. I had worked to establish student expectations, but what about teacher expectations? I was expecting myself to successfully teach certain materials without first creating a solid foundation. Maybe not the best plan after all.

Although unintentional, I had placed myself in an uncomfortable position. One which was bound to negatively influence my connections with students.

I see my classes on a three-day rotation and today started the beginning of a new rotation. So, I decided to hit that reset button. I did not worry about what I wasn’t teaching. Instead, I shared a growth mindset lesson about which I am passionate.

What a difference! Students were interested and engaged. We had some awesome discussions. We spent time getting to know one another. Our foundation grew a little stronger. Oh, and we still had time for some music activities. 😉

Tomorrow and Friday bring new sets of students. Two more chances to press that reset button. Here’s to learning from my mistakes and allowing myself a little grace.

School Year Successes

Reflections often bring mixed emotions. Whether it’s looking in the mirror or taking stock of an entire year of teaching, there are always things I wish I could change. For this end-of-the-year review, however, I’ve decided to focus on the positive.

One of my main goals this year was making sure all students who entered the music room were able to participate on some level. In particular, I wanted to connect more with our friends receiving special education services. Professional development early in the year was both challenging and encouraging, and it reminded me of the importance of these connections.

So here are my top three successes:

  • A smile
  • A high-five
  • A music stamp on a hand

All three involved the same child. A child who would not come into my classroom last year and this year spent most of his time sitting at the back. I intentionally approached him slowly and quietly, and he eventually smiled. When I got my first high-five, there were definitely tears. And allowing me to put a music stamp on his hand? That was a big step!

Did he sing or play an instrument? No. However, he listened, sometimes colored, and participated in his own way. He let me enter his world for tiny little snippets of time. And for that, I am grateful.

My Favorite Seat

The past several weeks, I’ve spent many hours in my favorite seat. Hours practicing piano, preparing for rehearsals with young musicians. Some were singers, others played instruments. All of them dedicated and hardworking students. My job? To be their accompanist, providing support for their music-making endeavors.

Opportunities like these often fill my head with thoughts of more performing jobs. Memories of the years when playing piano consumed more of my time begin to surface. And although those were good times, this train of thought can be a dangerous one. Feelings of restlessness begin to creep in, causing uncertainty and doubts about my teaching.

Not so on this particular occasion…

This past Thursday, I spent the day accompanying high school students at State Solo-N-Ensemble contest. That evening I also participated in their chamber music concert. Such a fun, rewarding day of performing.

What happened after the concert had the most surprising impact.

As I left the concert, my phone started buzzing. The students I had accompanied all day were sending thanks through text messages.

“Thank you for being my accompanist!!!”
“Thank you for everything, Mrs. Morris!”
“I loved playing music with you!”

Suddenly my thoughts were not on seeking more playing opportunities. My thoughts were on the amazing opportunities I already have. “Best of both worlds” kept entering my mind. Both worlds? What does that mean?

Ah…performing and teaching.

Yes, my favorite seat is behind the piano. However, I cannot spend all my time there. Time spent in a classroom is also important. I must recognize the value of getting off of that piano bench and teaching the next generation.

Who knows, maybe some of my elementary students will grow up to be accomplished musicians. Maybe future requests for an accompanist will come from some of them. I hope so!

Accompanying my son, Robert. 🙂