Just What I Needed

“When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”

Words from a hymn I’ve known since childhood. Words I’ve heard twice this week in a newer version of the song. The rhythms and melodies were new, but the words remained the same. A combination that evoked a much-needed sense of peace and rest.

The first hearing brought back memories. The second hearing brought the realization of just how much I needed to remember.

Yesterday, I received my second steroid spinal injection. I’m happy to report no fainting this time. Whew! However, it left me feeling anxious and restless. And though extremely tired, unable to sleep.

My evening became a cycle of panic, no sleep, and tears. The thought of my 5:30 A.M. alarm loomed. Followed closely by the thought of teaching school after only three-four hours of sleep. All I could think was, extra coffee!

My morning classes were surprisingly successful! Time with students and teacher friends seemed to help my energy increase. Even my fifth-grade class after lunch was acceptable. 😉

But then, my energy began to fade. I could feel myself hitting a wall. How in the world would I make it through physical therapy after school? For a few seconds, I considered canceling. After all, I just had that injection yesterday. Surely they would understand.

But when I got in my car, there was that hymn again. I smiled and began to sing along. On this second hearing, a new phrase stood out; “Weak made strong, in the Savior’s love.”

So I headed to physical therapy, my energy starting to return. A bottle of water and a protein snack pack may have helped a little. It helped my body anyway. But it was the music that lifted my spirit.

Therapy left me with a feeling of restored purpose. And though I walked away tired, it was a good tired. A tired that reminded me of the importance of taking care of my physical body.

All of this from the simple words of a new/old hymn. A hymn I heard twice in one week. Reminders of love, strength, and grace. Old words combined with new music to provide just what I needed.

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.

Grandma’s Piano

The image remains
Though faded
Old and upright
Tall, black, majestic
Eighty-eight keys in a row
Sitting on the bench
Beautiful patterns
Come into focus
Two-three-two-three
A perfect guide
For little hands
Learning to play
Roll knuckles up
Tap twice
Repeat
Roll knuckles down
Tap twice
Repeat
I dropped
My dolly
In the dirt
A love that began
With simple melodies
Played on ivories
Prominently placed
In Grandma’s
Dining room
How I wish
I could play
Those simple melodies
One more time
For my Grandma
On her old piano

A Chance to Shine

Everyone deserves to be celebrated and have their moment in the spotlight. It happens more naturally for some than others. But when the “some” decides to help the “others,” the results are magical.

Our high school puts on a yearly musical. It is a highly anticipated event. Students audition, prepare and rehearse for months. All of their hard work culminates in a shining moment of performance.

Our high school also has a large group of students who receive special education services. For these students, who have a wide range of disabilities, participating in such a production is rare. They are often overlooked.

A common assumption is they are not interested or able to be involved in such events. Nothing could be further from the truth. When given the chance, it is their light that shines the brightest!

This past week, these students were provided that chance. A show created especially for them and by them, with the help of drama students.

The playbill listed the title of each act and the names of all participants. There was no distinction between drama students and students receiving special education services.

The acts were as diverse as the cast. Magic acts, singing groups, lip-sync, and comedy skits kept the audience engaged for over an hour. Their “Show of Shows” was a hit!

Big productions typically have a grand finale. These precious students decided the best way to end their show was to include the audience. It was entitled Dance Party!

The entire audience jumped to their feet and rushed the stage. A grande finale filled with hugs, smiles, tears, and of course, dancing! Precious students who are often left out were congratulated and celebrated! And their smiles? Contagious! The joy in the air, almost tangible.

Weeks of planning, practicing and making new friends resulted in a funny and heartwarming show which cast and audience members will not soon forget. A show which may just change the hearts of all involved forever. One group because they were willing to share the spotlight. The other because they were given a chance to shine.

Side note: This production raised around $1,800 to benefit Special Olympics.

Dynamic Duo

I teach music in a large elementary school, over one thousand students. It is almost like two schools in one. Half of the students come to my class for music. The other half to my teaching partner. For grade-level performances, however, we come together as one big group. At least, that is our plan.

Our first performance is rapidly approaching. Fourth-grade students are busy learning songs and speaking parts for two Veterans Day assemblies. At least, they are supposed to be.

Preparing a large group for a performance is a daunting task. This year, in particular, I have been struggling. New students and unfamiliar music proved too much for me to handle.

Pridefully, I did not want to admit my struggles. But I finally had no choice. Of course, my friend was understanding and gracious, agreeing to a last-minute change.

We agreed on a well-known replacement song and decided to team-teach our classes for the next rotation. My stress level immediately dropped.

Even though we teach the same material, we have different styles. His students are familiar with his, mine with mine. What happened when we combined the two? Well, let’s just say we were a dynamic duo!

Students were initially confused. But once we got started, the results were amazing! Kids were engaged, they listened, and sang. The two of us naturally bantered back and forth. It was so much fun!

There is still much work to be done. Time is short. Will the program be perfect? No, but perfection is not our goal. Our goal is for students to give their best. And in doing so, to experience the power of sharing their music.

Hopefully, under the direction of our dynamic duo, students will continue to work hard. I know we will continue to have fun pushing them to be their best. And I will continue to be thankful for an energetic and understanding colleague. 🙂