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.



…if we do not give up

Not the phrase I wanted to read this morning. I would have preferred “be encouraged” “change is coming your way” or “just a while longer.”

My attitude was terrible. I was tired and grumpy. It’s been a rough week, and the report I received about students being disrespectful on the day I was absent did not help. I certainly was not ready to greet my students.

Well aware that I needed an attitude adjustment, I decided to read the verse of the day on my bible app. Surely, there would be an encouraging verse to help turn my morning around. After all, isn’t that the purpose? 😉

The first words read were familiar. “Let us not grow weary in doing good…” Hmm…maybe I am doing good as a wife, mom, friend, and music teacher. On the other hand, am I? Lately, I am weary. Causing me to question everything. Then I read the rest of the verse.

“…for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Suddenly, I could only see that last phrase. It was as if I’d never read those words before. Screaming at me in all caps with bold letters.

“…IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.”

So, even if I’m weary, questioning, having a rough week…it is not time to give up.

How do I respond? First, it’s the weekend so I rest. Create a good plan for the coming week. Read that daily verse, the whole verse. Read it daily, not just when I’m in a bad mood. Work on taking better care of myself.

One more thing. Hold on to the tiny moments. Here is one from this week.

Not my best teaching day. Feeling a little discouraged. First graders are lining up to leave music. One sweet little girl hugs me and says, “Mrs. Morris, you’re the best music teacher in the whole world.”

I may not have agreed with her at that moment, but her words reminded me that teaching is a “good” work. And it’s harvest is the future…if we do not give up.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Determined

No pain, no gain
That’s a wrap
Show’s over
Saved the best for last

Hmmm…so many thoughts and emotions. Yesterday marked the final two performances for our all-school musical, Newsies. One matinee and one evening show brought all the hard work to an end. As I reflect over these past few months, in particular, the last two weeks, determination is the word I choose.

I watched as students on stage and in the pit showed determination. A determination to work harder each day. A determination to always give their best. A determination to share their hard work with gladness and grace.

They may not realize it, but their energy was contagious. It had a profound impact on me and my attitude, particularly on those days it felt like I had no energy left to give.

Some have asked, “Will you do it again next year?” Others have suggested, “Maybe it’s time to give this up.” Comments made with my best interest at heart, no doubt. It is an exhausting process which pushes me further than I think I can go. And each year, the physical challenge grows just a bit.

Yet, this year as I thought more about this thing-this musical season-I realized how much I love it! I can’t imagine not being a part. I don’t want to imagine…

Following one of the evening performances, a sweet colleague said, “You must be exhausted. But it has to be so worth it!” Yes! Simple truth. I’m certain she had no idea how much I needed to hear those words. My husband expressed the same sentiment, understanding how important this is to me. These combined with my daughter’s, “Proud of you, Mom” gave me the spark I needed to finish strong.

Hence the word, determined. As long as the opportunity is there and I am able to play with excellence, I am determined to be part of what is Union Public Schools All-School Musical. Even though it wears me thin, it is worth every ache and pain. Worth fighting for every ounce of energy required. Worth every afternoon nap. Worth every extra cup of coffee consumed. 😉

And so, I say, “Farewell Newsies!” It was a pleasure to make music with you all. Remember the lessons learned through this amazing story. I know I will! 🙂

#seizetheday #watchwhathappens #newsiesforever