Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Concert Filled with Dance and Rock 'n' Roll

Dance is an integral part of Glacier Valley's arts program (photo by Bethany Vaughn)
Even though this is the first year of our JAMM violin program, Glacier Valley has been incorporating music, dance, visual arts and drama into its curriculum for years.  Movement is key to learning and is often cited in current research as one of the best ways to get the brain's attention and keep it.  The Venezuelan orchestras are famous for the way in which their musicians move to express music and they certainly keep their audiences in rapt attention.

I shared a short video clip in an earlier posting about how Glacier Valley uses folk dance and song to help teach the different systems of the human body. This short introduction to folk dance helped our 4th & 5th graders embody a steady beat and prepare them for their 8-week ballroom dance residency with local dance instructor, Pat Belec, in January 2011.  In addition to the Human Body System dances, our winter concert also featured the Morning Musician and Rock Bands, and a dance that I learned from Michelle Quigg at World Music Drumming workshops two summers ago.  The kids love this dance, which we often use as part of our Humanities classes with K/1 and 4/5.   Here is a short video clip highlighting the concert: 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Community Partnerships and Marimba!

Betsy, Tasha and Sarah from The Canvas teach Zimbabwean Marimba
to Glacier Valley 3rd and 4th graders

El Sistema utilizes the power of community partnerships and networks to help run its centers throughout the country.  It has successfully struck a balance between local autonomy to reflect the needs of each community, while at the same time creating a national program that gives students from even the remotest areas opportunities to grow and challenge themselves musically.

Our Art is Elementary program at Glacier Valley also partners with community organizations to provide our students with rich arts experiences.  One of those partners is The Canvas, Juneau's community arts studio, which offers classes in an inclusive environment for adults, youth and individuals with disabilities.  Last year the Canvas provided expert potters for an after-school Clay Studio.  This year, their teaching artists taught a marimba workshop to our 3rd and 4th grade students as part of a two-week artist residency. The Artist in the Schools program is made possible through a partnership between the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the Rasmusson Foundation and the Glacier Valley Parent Group.

Vaipuna plays the bass or the "elder" of the Marimba family who speaks little, but whose voice carries much weight
The Canvas purchased this 7-piece Zimbabwean Marimba set for its clients because of its accessibility and community building potential.  After offering Marimba classes to the community, they wanted to offer these beautiful instruments to local schools through the artist-in the-schools program and hoped Glacier Valley would help pilot it.  We were happy to work with The Canvas again, particularly on this project because it exposed our students to a new musical experience grounded in ensemble.  Thanks to Auke Bay Elementary School, who loaned us several of their Orff xylophones, our music room was fully equipped so that every child could play a mallet instrument.

Betsy Sims, Sarah Newsham and Tasha Walen are Canvas teaching artists who offer marimba as part of the Canvas' community class offerings for children and adults. This residency has been beneficial to both organizations.  The Canvas hopes to expose our Glacier Valley families to the kinds of arts programs they offer downtown, while Glacier Valley students experience ensemble playing with a beautiful instrument unaffordable to the school.  Glacier Valley has also offered to loan its African drums to the Canvas so that they can offer youth workshops during the summer months.  Together, Glacier Valley and Canvas are sharing resources, reaching more students and building a larger audience interested in community arts opportunities.

Here is a short video documenting the rehearsal process.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday Morning Rock Band

Rod Crist teaches Eric, one of our 5th graders, the electric bass

During my Abreu Fellowship last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Venezuela to observe how each music center or "nucleo" reflected the unique culture and needs of its community.  El Sistema capitalizes on the social experience of ensemble to motivate students, and throughout my two-month travels there, I saw ensembles of all kinds, many of which took place in the same center including folk, classical, choral, jazz and percussion.  Witnessing such a variety of ensembles shattered any preconceived notion I had that El Sistema was purely an orchestral program.

What inspired me the most was the ability of each nucleo to find opportunities for these ensembles to play together.  Instruments that I had never imagined playing alongside one another were doing so effortlessly.  I remember vividly a community concert of 500 musicians performing the Venezuelan national anthem - choir accompanied by a full orchestra and a Venezuelan folk ensemble strumming alongside them.   El Sistema removed any musical barriers that might have existed between these distinct ensembles and demonstrated beautifully the unifying power of music.  Thanks to my time in Venezuela, I came back to Juneau with an entirely different vision of what ensemble might look like in Juneau.  Thank you, FENOJIV, for this wonderful gift.

Standing with members of a Venezuelan Folk Ensemble
At Glacier Valley, we already had a guitar club and morning band, but the two groups had never played together.  My trip to Venezuela changed all of that.  When I returned to Juneau,  I talked with Rod Crist, guitar club instructor, about ways to bring these two ensembles together in a meaningful way.  I shared with him my visit to a Boston school, where an entire 5th grade class played in a rock band, every Friday afternoon.  Their program was inspired by School of Rock, which offers students ages 7 - 18 the opportunity to play in a band in front of a live audience.  Rick Saunders, the school's music teacher, helped the classroom teacher run the rock band, which included vocals, drums, guitars, keyboard, brass and woodwinds.  Students explored the musical genre of rock and roll while developing music skills in improvisation and chord structure.  These two experiences helped inspire the launching of Glacier Valley's Rock Band!

Both Rod and I were new at this, but I remembered another fundamental from Venezuela: "Don't wait, just start!"  Fortunately for us, Ben Martinez came along (left photo).  He was a new transplant to Juneau and had begun an after-school rock band program for elementary students in Maryland, called Treehouse School of Music.  With funding from a Rasmuson Cultural Collaborations grant administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Ben was able to join our team to share the work he did back in Maryland, as well as inspire our young musicians.  Morning band and guitar members who mastered certain skills in their respective ensembles were invited to join this Friday morning jam session.  Needless to say, the importance of practice took on a whole new meaning as students lined-up to "pass off" on their music.

Instead of playing in the friendly key of C, the Rock Band wind section had to challenge themselves to play in the key of E and B to accommodate the guitars.  Clarinets and trumpets had to master notes not introduced in the beginning band book until much later, but because these notes were repeated over and over again throughout the rock songs in an exciting way, success came quickly and easily.

The wind section of our rock band takes on more challenging keys with enthusiasm!

Another unexpected benefit was the inclusion of a Morning Musician alum (8th grader, Quinn) whose brother currently plays trumpet at Glacier Valley.  Thanks to the dedication of his dad who drives Quinn to school after Rock Band practice, Quinn is able to join us on drums, as well as help teach one of our fifith graders how to play the drum set.  Next step:  student rock band vocalists!

Quinn and his dad help connect our elementary program with the middle school
Quinn's participation helps bridge elementary with middle school and foster peer mentoring, two more fundamentals of El Sistema.  Quinn's dad, Russell, also secured a donation of a drum set for our band, another example of why one shouldn't wait ... things will eventually fall into place.  Thank you, Russell, and all Glacier Valley parents who support their child's musical development by getting them here at 7 a.m.  Some of our students now come to school at 7 a.m. four times a week - playing in band, guitar club and Rock Band.  We have a total of 47 students (almost half of the entire 4th & 5th grade student body) choosing to come to school early for these musical opportunities.  Clearly, music motivates and engages kids, giving school life! 

Here's a short clip of the rock band in rehearsal.  For my Facebook friends, you can access the movie on Juneau Music Matters blog:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Morning Musicians: Band and Guitar Clubs

The flute section of Glacier Valley's Morning Musician program rehearse separately for the first month to master skills specific to their instrument

One reader asked if Glacier Valley still offers its early morning band program for 4th and 5th graders called Morning Musicians.  We certainly do and its going strong!  Currently we have thirty-five students coming to school twice a week at 7 a.m. to learn how to play the clarinet, trumpet or flute.

Initially funded through a Rasmuson Cultural Collaborations grant, Morning Musicians is now funded through the Juneau School District.  For the first month, each section meets with an instructor to learn skills specific to their instrument and then join together in October to begin playing as an ensemble.  Many thanks to Bill Paulick from Juneau Brass and Winds, Sharon Denton and Rachel Sielbach for helping me make that first month a successful one.  

Also this year, thanks to our guidance counselor, Rod Crist, we've added a morning Guitar Club for 4th and 5th graders. Rod incorporates music therapy as part of his curriculum teaching Skills for a Healthy Life and has written songs to promote positive social skilss, self-esteem and coping skills.  As the kids say, "Mr. C Rocks!" And he does, every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. teaching our students traditional American folk songs.  As Rod's assistant, I hope to learn as much as I can along the way.

Fortunately,  GAMA (Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association) and its partners, NAMM (International Music Products Association) and MENC (The National Association for Music Education) offer summer guitar workshops every year for music teachers all over the country.  As a MENC member, I can take this class for $300 and come away with one-week of guitar lessons geared for teaching in the classroom, a guitar, curriculum materials and 3 graduate credits from Duquesne University.  For more information on this incredible opportunity:  Get Guitar in Your School!

Learning anything requires practice, which makes meeting only once a week for guitar club a challenge.  So how do we get in more practice time as an ensemble?  Answer:  the Guitar Club became the back-up band for a school performance incorporating folk dance and song to help teach science concepts. The 4th and 5th grades at Glacier Valley were studying the systems of the human body, so the P.E. teacher, music teacher and counselor decided to combine their classes in the gym to help reinforce these science concepts through movement and song. 

Doug Eldon's Lyrical Life Science Series uses the melodies of traditional folk songs to teach science.  He has four books:  Earth Science, Human Body, Plants and Mammals, and I highly recommend them.  By adapting the folk dances that the students had learned from the New England Dance Master Series, we were able to combine science, dance, song and guitar all in one! 

Did the kids mind the repetition?  Not at all.  The students enjoyed the physical and social aspect of dance (as well as waiting their turn to sashay down the set) while the guitarists felt a sense of purpose, providing the music for rehearsal, day after day.  By the time our school performance came around, guitar chords were habitual and science concepts, ingrained.   See for yourself:


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Alaska State Teacher of the Year for 2011

Physical education teacher Susie Denton, left, and librarian Susan Sielbach hold up a quilt Wednesday made for Alaska Teacher of the Year Lorrie Heagy during an assembly. (photo: Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
For those readers who check my blog regularly, you may have noticed that I've been delinquent in posting these past few months.  It took a reader from Germany who e-mailed me to ask if everything was okay to realize that I need to explain the reason behind my negligence, as well as get caught up on my postings pronto!   

On November 14th in Anchorage, I was awarded the Alaska State Teacher of the Year for 2011.  It has been and continues to be an incredible honor to represent Alaska's teachers, especially those from the Juneau School District whom I have benefited from working alongside these past thirteen years. 

With this honor comes incredible responsibility, and even though I continue to teach full-time, I've also been given the opportunity to attend and speak at conferences, as well as lead teacher workshops.  They have all been positive experiences, but my blog has suffered as a result.  So, I have some catching up to do. 

I'd like to start with this gift from Glacier Valley: 

Right before Thanksgiving break, the Glacier Valley staff and community surprised me with an assembly to celebrate the award. I was greeted in song and invited to sit on a stool, which was  surrounded by the entire school population.  All of the students had written letters with representatives from each grade level standing and reading their letter aloud before presenting them in beautifully bound class books. 

The photo above captures a quilt sewn by my teaching partners, Susie Denton and Susan Sielbach.  I don't know how they did it, but they managed to have every child cut and sign their name on a heart to create this beautiful gift during the school day without me noticing!  Thank you!

The Juneau Empire wrote a wonderful account of the event for their Thanksgiving issue:  Glacier Valley Cheers Heagy.  

I'd like to dedicate to Glacier Valley and the Juneau community this short iMovie that I made for our Digital Storytelling club several years ago.  It sums up how I feel about living and working in such an incredible community.  The little girl sitting between her father and older brother is me ...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Violins Are Here!

Thirty-five violins arrive from Chengdu, China ready for JAMM kindergartners
The closing of the curtain on last week's Paper Violin concert marked the beginning of JAMM lessons using the real violin!  The kindergartners can't wait to hold these beautiful violins, which arrived from Chengdu, China.   Mr. Xia, our violin instructor, personally played on these violins while visiting China last summer and was able to describe our program to the owners of the Seven Colors Wind String Shop who sold the violins to JAMM at a generous discount.  Thank you,  Seven Colors Wind String Shop and Mr. Xia, as well as Holland America and the Douglas-Dornan Foundation who funded violins to outfit an entire classroom of kindergartners. 

Our hope is to be able to quickly transition the violins from the hands of one kindergarten class into the next.   Fortunately, I had the opportunity to visit ORCHKids in Baltimore last year as part of the Abreu Fellowship.  While there, Dan Trahey, the director of the program, shared with the fellows a classroom violin storage unit on wheels that they had custom-made to help cut down on transition time, as well as avoid opportunities for violins to break when children take them in and out of their cases.  Here is it:

Violin storage unit from ORCHKids in Baltimore
JAMM heeded Dan's advice and built something similar with storage donated by Glacier Valley's art room.  With the help and ingenuity of the Juneau School District Maintenance Department, our storage unit became a sturdy violin storage unit with maximum capacity of thirty-five violins and room to store bows and other supplies.  We color-coded each cubby with tape:  white for 1/10 size, yellow for 1/8, red for 1/4 and green for 1/2.  Here's the final product with one of our master craftsmen standing proudly beside it.   Thank you, Juneau School District Maintenance Department for your time, energy and creative problem-solving!  Now we're ready for next week!

JAMM's new violin storage unit built by the Juneau School District Maintenance Department

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Week 10: Paper Violin Concert

Sixty Glacier Valley School kindergartners demonstrate the steps to holding the violin
Playing to a packed audience, our kindergartners had their first taste of what it means to be performers!  These little musicians were poised and prepared.  They welcomed the audience of proud family members, supportive community members and curious 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classes with a Nigerian welcome song, Funga Alafia, accompanied on the drums by students from Mrs. Phillips 3/4 grade class.   Then we moved right into the Paper Violin portion of the concert.

Here is a short video clip highlighting their performance:

We are all very proud of our young violinists who demonstrated focus, discipline, teamwork and the joy of music-making as part of an ensemble.  After photos were taken of parent and child holding paper violin, these beautifully hand-crafted instruments made their way home, a rite of passage symbolizing that each child will be playing the real violin in the next JAMM class!

Thank you, Association of Alaska School Boards, Douglas-Dornan Foundation and Holland America for making this next step a reality for our kindergartners.  They can't wait!!!  I'd also like to thank the Juneau Empire for covering our event.  I'm proud to be part of a community who cares so much about our youth and makes things extraordinary happen for them.

Click here to read the Juneau Empire article:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week 8: Practicing for Our Performance

This week our kindergartners began practicing for their upcoming November 10th concert, which will feature the work they've been doing in their violin, general music and Humanities classes.  They are very excited about this concert because it acts as a rite of passage to playing the real violin.

I don't have much to add in the way of interesting pedagogical tips, other than the students love when I ask them to shout out in a Texas cowboy drawl:  "Look, mom and dad!  Here's my one-armed bow hold."  Then they proceed by putting one hand behind their back as they pick up the bow with the other and place their fingers in the right order and position:
  1. Thumb!
  2. Middle!
  3. Ring!
  4. Pointer!
  5. Pinkie perched on top!
As I hear anecdotes from parents, students and teachers concerning this violin program, I'm reminded again and again how important it is for every child to have the arts as part of his or her public education.
  • A mom shared with the kindergarten teacher that her son had been practicing bow hold with a stick over the weekend.  
  • A child-care provider noticed one of our students making Mr. Fox with his bow hand during his free-time
  • A student came up to me in the hall to tell me that he dreamed about playing violin.
  • Another parent shared that when she asks her son what was his favorite part of the day, he consistently responds,"Violin!"
With that said, I'd like to leave you with a YouTube video that Shelley Toon Hight, an incredible visual artist whom I had the pleasure to teach alongside, shared during last summer's Juneau Art Institute for public school teachers and administrators.  The video is called "Art, I Want You" and reminds me why the arts should be a right of every child.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Week 7: Twinkle, Twinkle and Up Like a Rocket!

Glacier Valley Kindergartners Practice Bow Hold with "Up Like a Rocket" Exercise
Before the Abreu Fellowship ended last June, Katie Wyatt of KidzNotes shared with me all of her Suzuki tips and exercises for young children.  One of them focused on building bow hold strength while maintaining correct hand position.  Here it is:

UP LIKE A ROCKET (sung to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star)

Up like a rocket           (lift bow above head)
Down like the rain        (lower frog to belly button)
Back and forth            (move bow side to side)
Like a choo-choo train  

'Round and 'round         (circle bow around your head) 
Like a great big sun
Tap your head             (tap frog on your head)
Bumpy thumb              (show your thumb knuckle out)
Pinkie push-ups, 1,2,3     (tap your pinkie on bow 3 times)
Bow to your side,          (rest bow on shoulder)
Now watch me.            (watch to take a bow)

This week we put bow to paper violin by playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  To help support a continual "up, down" bow direction, we adapted Shelley Gill's Twinkle, Twinkle Northern Lights from her book The Alaska Mother Goose and created our own Alaskan version.  Here it is:

An Alaskan Twinkle
Twinkle, twinkle little starlight
Sparkling in the arctic clear night
Up above the mountain ridgeline
Blue-green ribbons dance with spruce pine
Twinkle, twinkle little starlight
Sparkling in the arctic clear night

Right now the kindergartners are singing the bow direction "down, up" rather than the lyrics, but our hope is to invite the audience to sing along with them as part of their finale piece for the concert. Here is a short video clip of the students "playing" Twinkle, Twinkle with Mr. Xia.  You see their kindergarten teacher, Miss Hickman, moving through the group helping individual students make adjustments.  I can't emphasize enough hoe important the collaboration between classroom teacher, music teacher and community artist has been to the success of our program.

One question I have for folks out there using paper violins as a pedagogical component of their strings program is, "Does theis process help students stick with the important, but oftentimes boring, steps needed to master bow and violin holding positions?

My initial thoughts are "Yes."  Each week the students see progress as we add another piece to their paper violin, which logically corresponds to a skill they mastered.  They seem willing to stay the course knowing that with each new skill, they are getting that much closer to the real thing.  I don't know if they'd have the same attitude and patience if the violin was handed to them the first day.  They might expect to be able to play right away and then become frustrated with the process when our eager kindergartners learn the realities behind playing an instrument.   Any thoughts out there?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 6: Peer Mentoring Begins at an Early Age

Ongo, one of Mr. Xia's "teaching assistants," helps MacKenzie with her bow hold
One of El Sistema's principles is "Place trust in our youth." In the nucleos throughout Venezuela, children are encouraged to become peer mentors at an early age.  Students take their responsibilities as class leaders and teachers quite seriously, and it's incredible to watch the respectful interaction that occurs when they are given the opportunity to help a fellow classmate.

As an El Sistema-inspired initiative, JAMM also supports peer mentoring at an early age.  We had our first opportunity this week continuing our work with the bow hold.  Mr. Xia explained that the bow hold is probably the most difficult skill to master - some will pick it up more quickly than others, but it's important that everyone learn it correctly.  The "perched pinkie" and bent thumb were usually the two culprits as Mr. Xia and I quickly traveled around the room checking each student's bow hold.  We are still using dowel rods as bows, but have added the BowMaster bow grip to help with finger placement.  Xia found them at a discounted price and plans to use them for the kindergartners' bows when they move to their real violins in early November.

As students "passed off" on their bow hold, they were promoted to teaching assistants who could travel throughout the room to help their classmates.  There was an excitement in the room as more students worked diligently at their bow hold to become an assistant while others enjoyed the undivided attention of one of their teaching classmates. 

This week also marked the last addition of parts to the paper violin:  strings and tailpiece!  Now we can begin rehearsing for our Paper Violin concert scheduled for the second week in November by putting bow to strings.  The song we practiced this week:  The Wheels on the Bus.  I watched the staff of La Rinconada use this song to build bow handling skills in the documentary, El Sistema.  I've also since learned that this song is used by many Suzuki teachers.  Here are the verses we plan to include and practiced this week:
  1. Wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round (bow circles the face)
  2. Windows on the bus go up and down (move frog above head and then back down to stomach)
  3. People on the bus go in and out (move bow toward and then away from body)
  4. Wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish (rock bow back and forth like wipers using index and pinkie to push)
  5. Doors on the bus open and close (place bow on strings, bow away from body using only elbow and then bow towards ear)
  6. Horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep (tap bow on strings for each "beep")
The kindergartners' favorite is the last verse, although you'd never guess with such intense concentration on their faces:

(left to right) Deep in concentration, kindergartners rehearse Wheels on the Bus for their upcoming concert

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Building Attention and Focus through Movement

Glacier Valley Kindergartners and 1st Graders "Flock" to Help Build Focus Skills through Movement
Glacier Valley Elementary School values collaboration among its staff and parents.  I am very fortunate to work with teachers who enjoy team teaching and integrating the arts across the curriculum.  In particular, the P.E. teacher, librarian and counselor often combine their classes on Fridays with the music classes to create a class called Humanities.  We began this class several years ago with the intermediate grades, which helped build community among all of the classes, as well as allow all four specialists to team and learn from each other. Topics covered during Humanities class include dancing, cooperative games, visual arts, conflict resolution and guest speakers from our community. 

This year we expanded our Humanities class to the Kindergarten and K/1 multi-age classes.  I think everyone thought we were crazy to try this with over 80 young students in the gym, but as you will see in the video clip below, it can be done!  The incredible teachers who make it happen are:
  • Rod Crist - Counselor
  • Susan Denton - Physical Education teacher
  • Susan Sielbach - Librarian and Arts Integration Specialist
This video documents an activity called "Flocking" which we learned from a dear friend and teaching artist, Ryan Conarro.  Ryan has worked with many of our teachers to integrate drama into the core curriculum, as well as directed the production of Tides and Tempest - a play that our 4th & 5th graders performed at the Kennedy Center when we won their National Creative Ticket award (given to only five schools in the nation each year).

Flocking is an incredible way to help build focus, attention, teamwork and eye-hand coordination through movement and supports the work we are doing with our kindergartners in their JAMM violin program.   Flocking is a technique in which a group moves in no set pattern or formation, but all perform the same movements simultaneously.   We describe the concept to the students as a flock of birds following the movements of its leader.  As we progress, students take on that lead role and can then pass the movement off to another student who is at the back or on either side of the "flock."  We haven't gotten that far in Humanities with our little ones, but Susie, Rod, Susan and I have begun passing off the lead position to each other and added scarves.  It's beautiful to watch.  Enjoy!

Thank you, Rod, Susan and Susie.  I look forward to our Humanities classes each Friday and learn so much from working with you!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weeks 4 & 5: Making Bow Hold Exercises Interesting

Mrs. Steininger's Class Show "Mr. Fox" Bow Hold While Holding Their Violins
How do you make bow hold exercises engaging for children so that they'll practice them on their own?  Turn them into a story!

Storytelling is a very effective teaching strategy.  I witnessed Gustavo Dudamel use storytelling to help connect members of the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela to a difficult passage that they were rehearsing in Mahler's Symphony No. 1 .  After hearing his story, the difference in their expressiveness was incredible.

The story I developed to help teach bow hold certainly is no masterpiece, but it draws attention to the important elements, especially those that students may overlook or find challenging.  

Here's the process of how our story evolved for bow hold:

Step 1:  Xia GuoHua shows me what the first step to a bow hold position looks like, emphasizing how difficult it is for kids to keep their thumb bent (see photo).  Then I imagine what it could become in a child's imagination.  I saw a fox!  Fortunately, there is an American folksong called Fox Went Out a Chilly Night that has many verses which translates into many opportunities for students to practice their bow hold position!

Step 2:  To introduce the hand position, I sing Fox Went Out a Chilly Night to the class.  Before doing so, I show them how to make a fox with their hand, specifically focusing on the position of the thumb, which now becomes the fox's jaw jutting out so that he can bring back enough kill to feed his family, "eight, nine ten."  His mouth also makes an "O" which the students will hear in the refrain of the song.

Here's the first verse:

The fox went out on a chilly night,
He prayed for the moon to give him light,
For he'd many miles to go that night,
Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o
He'd many miles to go that night,
Before he reached the town-o.
(For the rest of the lyrics)

Each time we sang "town-o" the students opened the fox's mouth, making sure his jaw made the "O" shape.  During the song, Mr. Xia moved throughout the group using a black marker to draw a line on each child's thumb and middle finger for exact placement of the "fox's mouth."  This was their first experience with bow hold position.  Instead of making it a rote exercise with no connection, we activated their imaginations: a fox with a song to accompany him! 

Step 3:   Xia would now like them to practice placing a pencil directly on the black line of the middle finger and then move thumb off and on the pencil several times, checking to be sure that the joint is bent.  Have them do this several times!  Arghh!! How are we going to make this interesting?

Answer:  Create a commercial for Mom or Dad, which we practiced over and over again to our young musicians' delight!  Here's the script:
  • The pencil became a bone (which came from the last verse of the song - "and the little ones chewed on the bones-o."
  • The student taps the pencil or "bone" against the line on his or her middle finger 16 times (to support rote counting beyond 10 in their classroom). At that point, the bone stays glued to the middle finger and the child exclaims, "It's not nice to tease Mr. Fox.  Let him have his bone."  And then the "fox gnaws on his bone" 16 times using his thumb lifting on and off the pencil.  
  • If the thumb joint is not extended, the child points to Mr. Fox and says, "Behave, Mr. Fox" and corrects their thumb position.
  • If the thumb joint is correctly bent, the child says, "Take a bow, Mr. Fox."
Step 4:  Mr. Xia would like our kindergartners to place the remaining fingers (in a specific order) on the pencil.  Again, creating a story helped make it meaningful for kids.  I explained that once the fox had his bone he needed to head home quickly to feed the rest of his family, so ....
  1. He clamps down on the bone with his other tooth (ring finger)
  2. Then he points ahead toward the direction home  (index finger)
  3. And, he keeps one ear perked, in case the farmer follows him (pinkie on top of pencil)
Kim Poole, who volunteers in the classroom, wrote this rhyme to help the kids remember the order:

The fox taught me how to hold my bow
He clamps it in his jaw just like so

He adds another tooth so it won't be loose
My pointer goes up toward the head of the goose
My pinkie curls up to make an ear
So if the farmer's coming he can hear

Step 6:  They are ready to move on to their dowel rod bows!  (see photo below)

Other exciting news this week:  we've added fingerboards and bridges to the paper violins.  We're almost there!
Jamal proudly models his bow hold!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Drumming as Part of the Curriculum

Kindergartners and 1st graders from Mrs. Peters' class pose with their drums donated by Remo and World Music Drumming
Thanks to the generous support of Remo Belli of Remo Drums and Will Schmid of World Music Drumming, JAMM was gifted enough drums to outfit an entire classroom of students. World Music Drumming embraces many of the principles of El Sistema, including group ensemble, use of complex repertoire and folk music from the Americas and joyful music-making.

This past summer I attended three World Music Drumming workshops while making my way back to Juneau. They included Drumming Up the Fun for 3 - 8 year old children, Kids Choir and Drums and Level 2 Drumming. All of the workshops gave me skills, strategies and lesson ideas to meaningfully integrate drumming into the music and school curriculum.

When students entered the music room this year, colorful drums lined the walls. We started out the year drumming to help build ensemble skills, introduce complementary rhythm patterns and reinforce active listening, while focusing on the lead drummer. Although I have drummed with my students in the past, this year was the first time I tried it with kindergartners and it was incredible to watch!

I use a strategy, I term "Levels." Each time the class accomplishes a skill, we move on to the next skill level. The important note here is that they must still maintain all of the previous skills mastered. In one 40-minute kindergarten class, the students reached Level 12!

Here's the process:
  • Level 1: Strong standing position (hands are initially behind their backs so they aren't tempted to hit the drums at random)
  • Level 2: Echoing the lyrics to a song (you first need to know how to sing the song before you can accompany it on the drums)
  • Level 3: Enunciating the lyrics (aka "Vegetable Mouth" - "words are much more exciting when you say them like crunchy vegetables in your mouth")
  • Level 4: Smiling while saying the lyrics
  • Level 5: Mouthing the words while teacher sings
  • Level 6: Singing the lyrics
  • Level 7: Sitting at the drum: edge of seat, flat feet, straight back and hands on your knees
  • Level 8: Clapping the last note of my drum rhythm (which signals stop) while I chant it
  • Level 9: Clapping the last note of my drum rhythm while I play it on the drum
  • Level 10: Placing that last note of my drum rhythm as a low tone on the middle of the drumming and "freezing."
  • Level 11: Practicing steady beat (not easy for these little guys!)
  • Level 12: Playing your own rhythms, but stopping together on the drum signal
After each skill, I announce, "Take a bow, you have reached Level __ in drumming." From singing to holding a steady beat, the class is determined to reach higher levels of skill mastery. By the end of the lesson, they had reached Level 12. These levels are not written in stone and are often created as the lesson evolves, which is why I sometimes forget the corresponding number (you'll see this in the video below). The students are pretty good at keeping tally. In the video, I've documented the Levels process in an edited version.  Also take note of the tremendous focus, control, eye-hand coordination and delayed gratification of these young musicians, as well as their pride and joy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Week 3: Repetition Done Kinder Style

The JAMM violin program continues to focus on areas of control, focus and practice of fine and gross motor skills. Arctic Carpet's donation of 30 carpet squares helped define our "stage" and reinforce for our kindergartners the concept of performance. We certainly recommend them. Thank you, Arctic Carpet!

The video below gives a brief summary of our first three weeks, highlighting how we practiced the same skills over and over again, but delivered them in a variety of ways to keep them interesting.

Thank you, Kim Poole, for volunteering regularly in our JAMM classes. She provided much of the videotape you'll see in this clip. Kim recently won a seat for the Juneau School District School Board. Congratulations, Kim!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week 2: Standing/Holding Positions & Making Bows

This week we split the classes in half so that Mr. Xia could work more closely with students to help them master their violin standing and holding positions.  The other half spent their session in the classroom with the kindergarten teacher making their violin bows. The class came together on the last day to "pass off" on their stances, "take a bow" for reaching Level 6 and celebrate the fact that they're ready to receive their paper violins next week.
Bow Making Process (30 minutes):
    1. An adult cuts hard wood dowel rods (3/8 x 48 inches) in half - enough for each child to have one.
    2. Children do the rest:  Cover the dowel rods completely with beeswax to fill in niches.
    3. Sand the dowel rod with medium grit and finish with a finer grade.  
    4. Test to be sure there's no remaining beeswax residue by rubbing a dark cloth over the dowel rod.  If it sticks or leaves a residue, keep sanding until it's nice and smooth.  
    So how do you make violin standing and holding positions engaging for a kindergartner so that they'll repeat and practice it at home?  Turn it into a Superhero Stance!   Ashiya, Nakia and Jarrell demonstrated each step below with a poem to help them remember:

    "Like a hero standing tall,
    Victorious, ready, proud and strong.
    Yes! Button by shoulder, chin to side
    Lift my arm up, I'm ready to fly."

    Position 1:  "Like a Hero Standing Tall" (Feet Together)
    Position 2:  "Victorious" (Feet in a "V" Shape)
    Position 3:  "Ready" (Left Foot Forward)
    Position 4:  "Proud and ..." (Head Up)
    Position 5:  "Strong."  (Left Arm Out Showing Your Muscles)
    Position 6:  "Yes!" (Elbow Inward above Stomach)
    Position 7:  "Button by Shoulder, Chin to the Side" (Button Placed on Side of Neck with Chin on Chin Rest)
    Position 8:  "Raise My Arm Up, I'm Ready to Fly ." (Lift Up Arm & Hold Position)
    Congratulations, You've Reached Level 8 in Violin!  Take a Bow!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Week 1: Setting the Stage for Our Kinder Musicians

    Tazer and Mr. Xia play Dvorak's Humoresque for Glacier Valley kindergartners
    How do you inspire a kindergartner to play violin and persevere through those initial squeaks and squawks?  Answer:  Invite Tazer to perform!  Tazer (photo above) started playing at age five, but now has two years of violin lessons under his belt.  Now how do you inspire a parent to persevere through those same squawks?  Answer:  Invite David, a high school student who started playing at age five, to immediately follow Tazer.   Both are students of Mr. Xia. 

    In a span of five minutes, our kindergartners and their families witnessed the tremendous musical growth, stage presence and maturity that can occur when a child receives consistent musical support throughout his or her school years.

    That is how Glacier Valley Elementary School kicked off its first week of JAMM, along with two evenings of "paper violin" building for kindergartners and their families.  The paper orchestra project comes directly from the Venezuelan free music education program, El Sistema, which has served over 1 million children.  There, children and families hand craft paper string instruments so that young learners can develop respect, care and discipline for their instruments while also building basic musicianship skills, such as singing.  Thank you Josbel Puche and Veronice Useche, both teachers at  La Rinconada Nucleo in Caracas, for sharing this project with me and so many others. 

    Our JAMM event had an incredible turn-out both nights.  Families from two of the four kindergarten classes were encouraged to come one night so that they'd have the opportunity to mix and mingle with parents and kids from their child's class.  The other two classes came the following night.  Two major supporters of the JAMM program attended as well:  Paul Douglas from the Douglas-Dornan Foundation and Sally Rue from the Association of Alaska School Boards.  Each were presented with a completed paper violin (see photo below).

    Kindergarten teachers, Kaye Peters and JoAnn Steininger, pose with Paul Douglas of the Douglas-Dornan Foundation holding his Paper Violin (photo by Ryan Aguilar)

    Sally Rue noted that the kindergartners at her table easily identified all of the parts to her paper violin, which the students learned in their first week of violin classes.  Thank you, Lisa Miles, Juneau Suzuki teacher, for sharing your lyrics "Parts of a Violin" which is sung to Lightly Row, a Suzuki piece in Book 1.  During this event, kindergartners also sang "Five Little Monkeys" with their arms held high above their heads to show their parents how they are building upper body strength through song and finger play in preparation for holding their real violin.  Their favorite part of the song is at the end when the alligator misses the last monkey.  They all sing, "Miss me, miss me, now you gotta kiss me."

    Kindergartners sing "Five Little Monkeys" (photo by Michael Penn)
    For those students whose families couldn't attend, some of our Glacier Valley 5th graders became a kinder buddy and together built the violin during the school day.

    Kaden helps his kinder buddy finish her paper violin
    Thank you Tazer, Alexander and David for inspiring our 65 kindergartners and their families with your beautiful playing!  For more details about our paper violin building event, check out this front page article from The Juneau Empire:  Unique music program spreads to Juneau starting with paper violins.

    Ashiya carries her violin over to the table to dry (photo by Michael Penn)

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Paper Violin Process: A Venezuelan, Scottish & Alaskan Blend

    Glacier Valley Teachers, Susie Denton and Susan Sielbach, Refine Paper Violin Process

    One way to help realize Dr. Abreu's wish of bringing El Sistema initiatives to the US and the rest of the world is to document and share what we do.  The Paper Orchestra is just such an example.  As I mentioned in my last posting, the teachers at La Rinconada Nucleo generously shared how and why they developed the paper orchestra.  When I traveled to Stirling for a month last spring to intern at Sistema Scotland's Big Noise program,  Jennifer Nicholson, a violin teacher there, shared how Big Noise had adapted the paper orchestra process to meet their needs.  Now back in Alaska, we are also adapting the process to respond to time constraints and available materials.  We'd like to pass the gift along. 

    Here's the process:  A Blending of Ideas Venezuelan, Scottish and Alaskan Style

    We used the same cardboard construction process as our friends in Scotland, but rather than cover the violin with copper wrapping paper, we covered our cardboard with recycled brown packing paper dipped in a glue, paint and glaze mix.   This concoction came from the creative and collective minds of Glacier Valley teachers, Susie Denton and Susan Sielbach.  Together they created a mixture that gives a beautiful golden wood-like hue to our paper violins.  For thirty 1/4-size cardboard violins you'll need to mix together (approximately) 8 cups glue, 4 cups water, 1/2 cup brown tempera paint and 2 oz. of bronze glaze. 

    All of the following pieces were precut, so that families could tape together the main violin pieces and cover the violin body and neck in the paint  mixture within an hour's time. 

    Step1:  Your template depends on the size of violin.  We made 1/4-size violins.  Measure and trace the violin you'll be using.  Big Noise Tip:  Make sure that the cardboard strips are cut with the corrugation going vertically.  Also loosen or bend the strips along the edge of a table before taping so that they can conform easily to the curves of the violin. 

    Step 2:  The traced violin body is on a folded piece of paper.  The crown piece at the bottom right-hand corner covers the neck (with the crown point connecting to the back of the violin body. 
    Step 3:  With Step 2 pieces cut-out and violin taped, you're ready for the painting process!
    Step 4:  Strips are dipped in the glue/paint mixture and molded along the violin edges.  Big Noise Tip:  You may need to clip along edges of overlap for a clean fit.
    Step 5:  To make sure that your violin body cut-out doesn't tear, we recommend painting directly on the top of the cardboard violin, then place body cut-out and then paint over it.  Repeat the same process for the back.  Then let it dry.

    Step 6:  What would we do without duct tape! 
    Step 7:  After the violin has dried, you can begin adding parts.  We added parts as kindergartners mastered certain skills.  For example, once they learned the violin standing positions, they received the paper violin with a chin rest.  Big Noise Tip:  The recyclable apple containers make great chin rests.  We painted ours with black tempera paint and used duct tape.  Little pieces of cardboard are glued under the tailpiece and fingerboard to give it a lift.
    Step 8:  Each week, a new piece is added to make meaningful connections to learning and skill level.
    Step 9:  Final product!   Have an adult string the instrument.   Big Noise Tip:  Use an open-eye needle to string the holes made by a bookmaker's awl (or thumb tack) for the bridge and tailpiece.
    Thank you, Josbel Puche and Veronica Useche of La Rinconada in Caracas, as well as Jennifer Nicholsen and Alan Govias of Big Noise Sistema Scotland for sharing your paper orchestra with us!  I also want to thank Susan Sielbach and Susie Denton, my teaching partners at Glacier Valley Elementary School, for giving this process an Alaskan twist!