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. 🙂

Best Moments and Braids

One kindergarten girl stayed extra close to me during music today. She wanted hugs, asked about my family pictures. ”Do you have two sons?” ”Yes, I do. And one daughter,” I replied. Making time for one-on-one conversations is difficult with twenty other little ones waiting. Although the others were perfectly content to laugh, talk, and roll around on the floor.

Finally, I coaxed my friend to her music spot. Our class reviewed scat singing and continued to learn more about jazz. We turned Old MacDonald turned into a jazz tune and listened to Ella Fitzgerald’s version. If you’ve never heard it, you should take a listen. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/old-mcdonald/1447184655?i=1447184659

We further explored the Pink Panther theme, including a short clip from the original cartoon. They loved it!

The class was over, students lined up at the door. My little friend gave me one more hug. I commented on her pretty braid and asked if she thought I was too old for braids. She giggled and followed her class down the hall.

I moved on to first-grade music class. Halfway through class, my little braided hair friend appeared. ”I made you something,” she smiled. A folded piece of notebook paper with the words ”I miss u,” printed on the outside in purple marker. It had been a whole twenty minutes since I’d seen her.

The inside contained a drawing. A big person and a little person. The smaller one labeled ”me” and the taller one labeled ”my music teacher.” Required some deciphering, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it said. She gave me one more big hug as I thanked her for the picture, and she headed back to class.

What prompted these events? I have no idea. But they were the best moments of the school day.

Here’s to tomorrow. Three days until spring break. I need to be on the lookout for more ”best moments.”

Maybe I should wear braids tomorrow…😉

Scat and Skedaddle

Such funny words. Not ones I often hear. Can’t put my finger on a specific memory, yet certain they were part of my childhood. I imagine phrases like “Skedaddle! Go outside and play!” or “Get out of there! Scat!” Spoken in a loving, playful tone, of course.

What brought them to my mind? A Freddie the Frog book entitled “The Flying Jazz Kitten.” I was uncertain about a jazz lesson for K-2nd graders. But the kids love Freddie the Frog, and so far, none of the books have disappointed. As a matter of fact, they have helped introduce a long list of music concepts.

• Treble & Bass Clef
• Note names
• Note values
• Dynamics
• Rhythmic patterns
• Tempo terms (in Italian!)
• The Blues

So why not jazz?

I asked my young students if they’d ever heard the word scat before? A few hands went up. A handful said something like, “It means go away.” Yes! That is one of the meanings for this word.

Next, we talked about scat in terms of jazz singing. We listened to the story, full of scat singing examples. And finally, we echo-scatted with Freddie and his elephant friend, Eli. There is nothing quite as funny as little ones trying to echo scat. Well, maybe one thing…

During a 1st grade class, one little girl had a surprising answer to my “What does the word scat mean” question. Her little hand shot up in the air. I called on her to respond. “It means skedaddle!” she said proudly. Such an old-fashioned word coming from this little girl.

I laughed, “Why, yes! Yes, it does mean the same thing as skedaddle.” Then I thought about that funny word, skedaddle. Although an actual word, it could easily be mistaken for jazz scat nonsense syllables, especially to young children.

Words and music…music and words. I think it’s time for me to skedaddle and scat. Or is it scat and skedaddle? 😉

Change of Course

My lesson plan for today was in place. I had taught it yesterday to a different group and it went well. Today I would hit repeat. No need to change course.

The end of my lesson included selections from a list of students’ most requested songs/videos. Near the end of my first class, I mentioned this list and my recent promise to show some of them. Today was the day, and they were excited!

This list includes things like the Marble Machine, O Fortuna with Star Wars, and The Champion by Carrie Underwood. After viewing a couple of selections, a 5th-grade student said, “Why don’t you play the piano for us? Didn’t you add that to our list of favorites?” “You want me to play the piano for you?” I asked. “Yes! How about the Pink Panther?” someone else yelled.

I have taught this group of 5th graders since they were 1st graders. That first year, I often ended class by playing the piano. It was part of our routine, and helped students get to know me.

For some reason, I have not continued that routine. Not sure why. Trying new things, I suppose. Thanks to this one comment from a 5th-grade student, it made a comeback today. Not only did his class hear Pink Panther on the piano, so did every other class today.

This “change of course” may have been small, but it created bright spots throughout the day. A 4th grader commented, “I always love when you play the piano for us.” Kindergarten and 1st-grade students accompanied me with their maracas. 2nd graders created a scat cymbal sound while I played. Chhh-Chhh-Ch-Ch. So much fun!

Before you picture Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, strumming her guitar, children happily singing, let me assure you that was not the reality. Moments of frustration remained. Patience did not always abound. And I was a little grumpy right before lunchtime…

That being said, the day as a whole was a success. And not because of my lesson plans. Because one student suggested a small “change of course.” One which had the power to impact the whole day. I’m so glad I listened. Besides, how can you go wrong with The Pink Panther on the piano? 😉

Sparks

One morning as students were entering school, a sweet 3rd grader told me she was writing a song. I was excited, of course, and suggested she write it down and bring it to music class. With a promise to do just that, she headed to class.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. I had honestly forgotten about this earlier conversation. I am happy to say, however, that my student remembered. Not only had she remembered she recruited friends to help with her creative project.

As 3rd graders entered the music room this morning, I suddenly had five girls surrounding my desk. The original songwriter, an illustrator, and three additional singers. Excited about their collaboration, they asked if they could sing their song for me during class. Well, of course!

They sat back down, waiting for class to start. Their smiles were huge. As we waited for everyone to sit down, one member of the group brought me a folded piece of paper. “This is for you,” she smiled.

Unfolding the paper, I read song lyrics at the top of the page. I smiled as I read them.

🎶I look up at the night sky
I see all those stars up high
🎶

My heart instantly melted. Then I looked at the drawing. Music notes, stars, a ufo…and then I realized the girl in the picture is standing on the moon. The earth is in the distance behind her. Wow! What a creative perspective.

The surprises continued. Turning the paper over, I saw a list on the back. The credits. Songwriter, artist, and singers. Followed by a precious note:

Hope you enjoy!

This was the highlight of my day. No, of my week! These sweet girls and their precious song about the stars gave me a spark. A spark that will help me make it to Spring Break, one week away.

I am grateful for that much-needed spark, but it brings an important reminder. Kids need the chance to be creative, and I need to incorporate more time for creating in my classes. That means giving up some control. Being ok with a little controlled chaos, a little extra noise.

It is worth the effort. I have experienced it before. How easily I forget, caught up in my daily routine. Missing the opportunity to spark some creativity, and receive sparks of encouragement myself.

🎶What do you think?
Is this the night to dream?
🎶

Encouraging Student Musicians

Today was solo-n-ensemble contest day. I spent the entire day accompanying brass, string, and woodwind players. Twenty-five of them to be exact. These young musicians spent many hours over the last weeks and months preparing for today. Choosing a piece, learning notes and rhythms, memorizing, rehearsing with their accompanist.

Today, all of their hard work culminated in one brief performance. Each of them walked into a room, faced their judge, and began to play. Making beautiful music. That is the point. At least, it is supposed to be…

No student walks in that room thinking, “I really hope I don’t play well today. Hopefully, I will have a big memory slip.” Those statements are ridiculous! Each student hopes for positive results. They want to play their best. They are hoping for the highest rating and a chance to move on to the next level.

After some of the first ratings posted this morning, I overheard a disturbing conversation. Students who had received their scores were warning other students. “Well, if you make one mistake, there’s no way you will receive a I (the highest score.)” They were attempting to prepare their friends for probable disappointment in this particular room.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting everyone deserves the highest rating. I certainly would not want to be in the judge’s seat. However, I can speak as a professional musician concerning our responsibility to these young musicians. If we are pushing perfection, we have it all wrong.

I’m happy to say the other rooms I accompanied in did not have this effect. The atmospheres were inviting and encouraging. The results in those rooms also accurately reflected the performances. Performances of high school musicians, not professional ones.

As adult musicians, college long behind us, career paths chosen, it is easy to forget those early days of learning. The anxiety that often accompanies those first performances. The searching for approval.

Today I was reminded that this seven-minute performance represented so much for these young performers. They needed someone to acknowledge their hard work. And their hopes for positive results rested in the hands of a complete stranger. Hopefully, a stranger who recognized the power they held in those seven short minutes.