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!

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    YOLA at HOLA Teacher Training in LA

    Who said living in Alaska would be difficult to stay connected to the El Sistema USA network!  Certainly not Gretchen Nielsen, Director of Educational Initiative of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and graduate Abreu Fellows, Christine Witkowski and Dan Berkowitz (see photo).

    They invited me to participate in their teacher training for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's second El Sistema-inspired program:  Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA).  Christine is now the Project Manager of this program and Dan is the Project Manager of Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA).  HOLA and Juneau, Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) are launching similar programs:  violin for its youngest participants and band instruments for its older students.

    The goals of the training included:
    1. Building community among staff through making music together
    2. Developing HOLA goals and objectives for year one
    3. Creating a shared teaching philosophy as it relates to El Sistema principles. 
    4. Providing teacher training for newly purchased World Music Drums and curriculum
    5. Developing a unified vision of classroom agreements and expectations 
    It was an ambitious plan for four days, but we did it with time to weave music making, sharing and performing throughout.   We began the first day of training sharing a favorite quote about education, learning and/or leadership and ended on the last day with a drumming performance outside the HOLA building, which will soon house the newly El Sistema-inspired music program!  We have plans to keep our kids connected through shared repertoire, as well as pen pals and Skype.  HOLA has an incredibly talented, experienced and passionate teaching staff.  Thank you Dan, Christine, Gretchen, Brandon, Blake, Bruce, Claire, Emily and Nikki for inviting me in.  I came home to Juneau feeling like an extended part of the YOLA at HOLA family and equipped with more ideas and tools to begin JAMM at Glacier Valley Elementary School. 

    Here's the quote from Socrates, which I shared on our first day:  "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel"