The Beginning: Freelance Teaching in Boston

To make things clear off the bat – this internship was originally going to take place at the EKS Music School in Quincy where I am faculty.   Because I have yet to teach any brass students at the school, I will be focusing on the teaching adventures with my own private students and the strange way that I acquired them:  TakeLessons.com.

Strange, because I never thought I would be the kind of person to “buy into” this kind of thing.  It seemed too convenient, too easy, yet after only two months of making a (minimal) online account, I acquired my first piano student.  Fast forward three months and many MIE 501 readings later, and I have acquired some very interesting and life-changing perspectives regarding music and music-in-education.  But that’s for later – for now, we must set the scene of the beginning of true freelance teaching in the Boston area.

I had freelanced my first year in Boston as a horn player and a collaborative pianist specializing in the Suzuki Method, but never had I had any students.  Late summer going into my second year of my master’s, my friend told me that he had acquired a piano student via this website.  Intrigued, I began an account and filled in all the appropriate information.  I had never really written down or contemplated my own unique, logical teaching philosophy before, and when I saw this requirement on the website, I simply wrote what I had always thought:

Through all these experiences, I can safely say that my theory of teaching and learning music is that it’s all about connections. To learn music is to learn a completely new way of looking at the world. It is an inward journey of strength and discovery as much as it is an outwards one, learning to successfully and compassionately communicate with fellow musicians and anyone else who might cross your path. I have collaborated with individuals in both the instrumental and vocal realms – trumpet, trombone, tuba, (French) horn, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, bass, sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, baritones, and have taught piano, horn, and beginning/intermediate wind instruments in both private and group settings. I love music, and even more, I love teaching music!

For areas that I taught, I put (using their categories) Accompaniment, Accordion, Audition Prep, Classical Piano, Ear Training, French Horn, Music Performance, Music Theory, and Piano.  Fair enough, I thought.  I had played accordion all through high school and undergrad, busking on the streets of my beloved college town, but never had I thought that I would teach the instrument (little did I know).

The account sat there for awhile, being added to with various pictures and videos, when all of sudden, I received a notification from TakeLessons saying that someone from Milton has signed up for piano lessons.  TakeLessons in a way is more reliable than the old-fashioned show-up-and-pay-as-you-go method.  People must pre-pay for lessons, specifically five to start out with, and then can only withdraw from lessons if they seriously dislike their teacher.  The teacher is paid either way, whether or not the student shows up, by direct deposit.  The only catch is (and I know you’ve been waiting) is that for the first fifteen lessons, trust must be established, and that trust comes in the form of 25% of your lesson going to the website that so conveniently hooked you up.  You set your own rate of pay, however, and after fifteen lessons, you can earn 90% of what you charge.  It’s just a switch of convenience – either have the student, that either you or a friend has recommended to you, hopefully pay you after the lesson has taken place (and not give you a check that bounces or not show up and you’re out that time unless you have a no-show plan), or have the money from the student who chose you amongst a list of individuals on a conveniently accessible website go straight into your bank account with a slight cut for the middle man.  Personally, I’m enjoying the latter option very much as it is very convenient and everything you could ever need to access regarding the financial state of these lessons is stored in an online account.

So, I had my new student.  Awesome!  How did that happen?  Why did she choose me?  I’ve honestly thought quite a bit about this, comparing myself to the other profiles of piano teachers in my zip code.  One thing I am sure sticks out, and this is not in any way facetious:  I’m a friendly looking, 20-something female who doesn’t have any particular instrument in the picture with her to alienate those who aren’t looking for that particular kind of lesson.  I would look up people who were listed as horn teachers, and when they had a trumpet in the photo with them, I would be taken aback and shake my head.  What are these people thinking?  You can’t claim to teach violin and have a harp in the picture.  Silly, silly.  So, common sense aside, what else set me apart?  For the piano side of things, I teach all piano, not just classical piano.  Most people (and I used to be one of them) seemed to be in the classical rut.  I wanted to teach only classical because that’s the best rep and you can collaborate and blah blah blah. . . Look, some people just want to play an awesome song they heard once, and to me, that’s so much more genuine than sticking to a canon because of archaic constraints of “classical music” and the days when ladies were “bred well” because of their literal “parlor tricks.”  Nah.  Done with that.  If that’s your thing, though, of course I’ll teach you the parlor tricks.  Hell, I’ll teach you ALL the tricks.  But if you just happen to really like that Yann Tiersen song or that one song by that techno band that for some reason decided to compose a beautiful piano piece, that desire is so beautifully genuine, and I will more than help you learn it.

It turns out that this student was one of the “Classical Piano” students, which is great, because that’s my forte (pun completely intended).  And, because she’s fourteen years old and her mother enrolled her in piano lessons, she is one of those modern incarnations of the well-bred individual.  In modern society, girls of the middle class are still taking music lessons not to be married off as acceptable stock, but ALL children are as a part of this new over-satiated-with-activities generation.  I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to be the multi-faceted artistic individual that I was throughout my childhood and young adulthood in a specialized sense.  I loved creative writing, I loved language, and I loved music.  Done.  Sports, nah.  Acting, not so much.  Visual arts, yeah maybe.  I took ballet.  I took vocal lessons.  I took violin lessons then switched over to viola because duh C-strings are awesome.  But these things were all eventually sloughed off of my extracurricular epidermis.  I wasn’t shoved into French club, Greek school, baseball practice, basketball practice, CCD class (aka “Catholic Church Detention” because we were clever) – my mother rode that line of respecting me and my right to choose as an individual while guiding me because I was not yet an adult, but when I decided on something, boy, did she crack down.  (We could open the whole can of worms on parenting and discipline, but the energy required into writing that would manifest in the form of an entire article – not now, but perhaps stay tuned!)

To elucidate, I am not one to belittle the act of taking music lessons, much less exploring the world around you; but exactly that, exploring the world around you, doesn’t always come in the structured form of a lesson.  Exploration and curiosity are things to be bred, for sure, but to satiate our kids so that they have no room to breathe, no room to feel like they can explore, no opportunities for them to discover how they learn, how they can explore, is more of a disservice than a leg-up on life.  Trying to reschedule with this particular student is a nightmare.  This time, inconveniently placed for the traveling music teacher at the peak of rush hour, is the only time she can receive lessons.  And to what end?  To show that she practices?  That there is that spark of intrinsic, volitional learning?  Why take music lessons at all if you’re not one to take time to develop a craft and through this craft realize these subtle truths?  of your nature?  of life internal and external?  of these connections that hang, suspended in this vast network of life, just out of reach until some sort of realization hoists you up, and at last you realize the awe-some depth of existence, and that everything connects to everything else, and at this same moment you paradoxically admit to knowing nothing?  (That escalated quickly. . .)  But in all seriousness, why continue skimming all these surfaces hoping to find hidden treasure just bobbing at the top?

One can probably tell by now that I am a teacher who lives in the fractal paradox (don’t worry, I don’t usually tell people that).  By that I mean the lesson is a constant ebbing and flowing of specialization, via technique, music theory, and broad application, playing through a piece to see where we are, discussing general musical ideas.  This in addition to personalized Socratic methodology, in which I guide the students to the answer based off what they know and their way of learning and discovering.  This has been a heavy-hitter for a first of three articles, so I shall divulge more information regarding my teaching methodology throughout the next couple of articles.

Assistance in Teaching Skills to Build Teaching Skills (Pat Kuehn’s Internship with Professor Warren Senders)

In my internship I will be TAing Warren’s “Cross Cultural Alternatives” class. Having taken the class last fall (and loving it) I will be seeing and learning the structure behind this class as well as helping warren prepare for the class whether it be transporting materials, building instruments, helping him with demonstrations, etc. I will also be keeping a portfolio of the things I learn and do along the way. Very much looking forward to this!

Videos from MIE Pi Day!

Download the MIE Pi Day 3-14-2013 Poster and put it on your wall!

For those of you who were unable to attend our 2nd annual Music-in-Education Department Concert (this year held on Pi Day — March 14, 2013), please enjoy the following videos!

This year’s inquiry question:

How do numbers empower musical understanding? Celebrating the Role of Mathematics and Music in Education

And our Program Notes (PDF): MIE Pi Day Concert 3-14-13 Program Notes
Larry’s piece, ‘Phone Number Myelination Music’: http://youtu.be/S0e-rcd8epI
Devin’s piece, ‘Oobleck Serial’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjqR5TfTNGI
Nick Kitchen’s piece ’36, 45, 378 and 64: Bach’s St. Anne Fugue and the Ciaconna for Solo Violin’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaLj5TDrZt4
Henrique’s piece, ‘Madruga’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=janSsF9SEz8
Katarina’s piece, ‘Sierpinski Triangle in 43 steps’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq9YfIZ1svo
Rob’s piece, ‘Wondrous Numbers’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKi9tYEcOyc
Warren’s piece, ‘Thought Experiment’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xxiVUp9Y_0

Making the Right Move: NEC Gets a Chess Club

Over the past two years, I have worked in numerous ways and settings to help bridge the NEC communities, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes deliberately. For this internship, I found a unique way to serve the NEC student population: start a chess club!

What makes this different from other clubs? My chess club has ulterior motives. I’m interested in interdisciplinary connections, drawing inspiration for musical events from other structures. Specifically, I’m setting out to compose music inspired by and informed by the game of chess. As a composer, I want musicians to understand the game, in order to enrich their experience playing the music.

Moreover, having an “army of chess-playing musicians” gives me the ability to write new music that draws its compositional structure directly out of the game: I can use the board as a kind of improvised graphic score! Thus, by teaching musicians the game of chess, I am simultaneously preparing them to play my music.

Over the semester, I hope to put on three performances. The first will be on the Music-In-Education Department Concert (which I am curating), to take place on March 7th. This will be a “small piece,” examining just a small microcosm of the chess universe. The second performance will (hopefully, curator permitting) be on Jordan Hall stage on April 9th, as part of the “Beckett Play” concert (put on by the Contemporary Improvisation Dept.). That piece would be a little bit bigger, and also relate to the writing of Samuel Beckett (especially “Endgame”). Finally, I hope to stage the largest version of the piece—the full-blown game of chess—on my recital: April 28th, in Brown Hall. This would require thirty-two musicians, all of whom play chess relatively well, so I hope people show up to the club!

Right now the club is in “stage one”: building critical mass. So far there’s been a steady crowd of musicians each week, and the cast usually has a mixture of rotating players and steady regulars. On our first day, there were thirteen people! The challenge each week is to find ways to teach each person on an individual basis, while simultaneously introducing concepts that will be relevant in my compositions.

Starting in the next couple weeks or so, I plan to introduce my first piece in the club, teaching about that.

Return to Club Passim

Editor’s Note: We welcome back Lauren Flaherty for her 2nd MIE Guided Internship! Lauren is a Master’s student in voice and also works in NEC’s Financial Aid office.

I returned to my voice lessons at Club Passim around the start of NEC’s fall semester. I am in the process of teaching two back-to-back six week sessions to accommodate the upcoming holidays and possible snow cancellations. (Not what anyone wants to think about while we’ve been enjoying an Indian Summer!)

This semester I will be teaching four students, including three brand new students and one returning student. Most of my students sing and play and about half of them enjoy performing in the area. One suffers from a lack of confidence. Another is extremely new to music and requires more ear training than vocal coaching. It is difficult to control my expectations when their abilities differ so wildly, but I remind myself that I am there to teach, not to act as a judge.

Aside from helping my students grow at their own pace, I am focused on trying to create more of a formula for my teaching, specifically geared around our six week semesters. I have begun creating my own exercises that I think will help them warm-up and drill correct techniques into muscle memory. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile that will hopefully reflect everything I’ve learned since I began teaching several years ago and during my past internship at Passim.

Internship Proposal: Voice Class for Non-Majors (TA)

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce you to Shannon Kelly, a master’s voice student working towards a MIE Concentration. This is her internship proposal for the Fall 2011 semester; you can view follow-up posts to this one here

 

I am writing to propose as my guided internship for the Fall 2012 semester my Teaching Assistantship for the NEC undergraduate course titled Voice Class for Non-Majors. For this class, I will teach a section of approximately 9 students each week in lecture format; in addition, I will provide one-on-one voice lessons to each student in the class for either 30 minutes or one hour each week.

My goals for the internship are as follows:

  • Gain experience and comfort teaching in a classroom setting, including preparing lessons, setting expectations, measuring student progress, and setting appropriate benchmarks for evaluating and grading student performance.
  • Evaluate and refine my classroom teaching style as observed through documentation and data collection.
  • Acquire a greater level of comfort and competence as a studio instructor.
  • Improve student engagement and learning as a result of techniques studied through MIE coursework.

My previous vocal teaching experience consists of one-on-one studio voice lessons and this individual experience is limited to a handful of private students. This will be my first real experience teaching regularly in a classroom setting. Therefore this internship is an important component of my development as an Artist-Teacher-Scholar.

I am enrolled in two MIE core courses in the Fall 2011 semester (Models for Teaching and Learning for MIE and Introduction to MIE) and also took the MIE Seminar in Spring 2011. I hope to use the internship as a testing ground for several techniques I studied during that course, including specific classroom teaching strategies and approaches to vocal technique and training gleaned from readings about developing talent.

This internship is relevant to my future plans as an Artist-Teacher-Scholar in that I hope to teach both individually and in a classroom/group setting, but have limited experience in either setting. Further, I find that teaching helps me develop as artist by solidifying my own technique and improving creative interpretation and expression in my own performances.

Concerning my best personal traits as a learner, I believe my two greatest assets are my curiosity and my willingness to learn. I subscribe wholeheartedly to the “growth mindset” in learning and I am eager to apply this concept as a teacher. I also feel that my willingness to learn is important in creating an enthusiasm for subject matter among the students I teach. I am eager to apply this concept and to refine techniques for keeping students engaged and enthusiastic about the learning process.

Internship Inquiry Questions

  • How do I need to adapt my teaching techniques (in group and private settings) to create active learning and growth for the students in this class?
  • How will teaching this course contribute to my development as an artist and a scholar as well as a teacher?

Documentation Strategy

  • Video recordings: I will record at least three classes and at least three private lessons with two different students over the course of the semester to try and track my learning process.
  • Student work: I have included several writing assignments that require students to reflect and comment on singing and the classical vocal repertoire as an art form. I feel that students’ reactions to performances, while varied, may reflect my effectiveness in creating an enthusiasm (or at least appreciation) for the art form.
  • Student Tests: Students’ performance on tests will also be a helpful feedback tool. Students’ improvement over the course of the semester will be the most important measure of teaching effectiveness.
  • Student performances: Students will also perform live for a jury as their final exam. I hope to use these performances as a marker of my effectiveness as a studio teacher, not simply in terms of students’ vocal technique but their confidence, engagement, and interpretation of the songs.
  • Student Evaluations: Student evaluations will be a critical tool for comparing student’s perceptions of the value of this course with my own perceptions about student engagement and learning. I will use these evaluations to refine both content and technique in the classroom and studio setting.

Exploring “Talent” in Dr. Larry Scipp’s Teaching Seminar

In my final semester at New England Conservatory, I’m interning as a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Scripp’s Teaching Seminar, one of the core courses in the Music-In-Education curriculum. I took the course a full year ago and really enjoyed the exposure to new concepts and the multiple perspectives from which we viewed the art of teaching and learning. Of course, year-to-year this particular course can change significantly; the topics explored are, to a certain degree, based on the interests of current class members as well as the latest literature with implications on teaching and learning.

One of the pieces of literature we’ve been reading as a class is Matthew Syed’s new book Bounce. In the spirit of Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, Syed explores the “science of success” by illuminating the hidden opportunities that have existed to create some of the most accomplished musicians, athletes and intellectuals on the planet. Syed challenges the notion of talent, a concept ingrained in the American psyche and romanticized by many, and points to concepts like the 10,000 hours theory of practice, domain expertise and what he calls a trajectory of development.

What helps to make Syed’s arguments so authentic is that he himself is a former elite athlete, an Olympian who became Britain’s no. 1 ranked table tennis player in 1995. Syed writes candidly about hidden opportunities that existed for him, such as the tournament-specification table tennis table that his parents bought and housed in their garage, on which Syed and his brother would duel for hours on end at a young age, creating for himself a trajectory of development that made it virtually impossible for thousands of other aspiring players to match. Another hidden opportunity existed in the fact that one of the nation’s top table tennis coaches taught at the primary school Syed attended, spotting Syed’s enhanced ability at the game and inviting him to join Omega, one of the elite table tennis clubs in the country. Syed states “… I had powerful advantages not available to hundreds of thousands of youngsters. I was, in effect, the best of a very small bunch. Or, to put it another way, I was the best of a very big bunch, only a tiny fraction of whom had my opportunities.”

Syed also explores the 10,ooo hours theory of practice, a recent theory of cognitive science that asserts it takes about 10,000 hours of purposeful practice for the human brain to assimilate all of the neural traces required for world-class expertise in anything. Syed cites a 1991 study by Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson, in which he and two colleagues conducted extensive interviews with violinists at the renowned Music Academy of Berlin. The violinists were categorized into three groups- the most outstanding performers, the very good performers, and the least able players who were studying to become music teachers.

Syed sums up, “By the age of twenty, the best violinists had practiced an average of ten thousand hours, more than two thousand hours more than the good violinists and more than six thousand hours more than the violinists hoping to become music teachers. These differences are not just statistically significant; they are extraordinary. Top performers had devoted thousands of additional hours to the task of becoming master perfomers. But that’s not all. Ericsson also found that there were no exceptions to this pattern: nobody who had reached the elite group without copious amounts of practice, and nobody who had worked their socks off but failed to excel. Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”

So what are the implications of all of this for music, education and music-in-education? There are several. One implication on music performance is that this knowledge can help to nurture humble top performers. The knowledge that world-class expertise on an instrument is not the result of some innate talent but rather a product of countless hours of purposeful practice, often working in tandem with an early exposure to music that created a trajectory of development, can help to instill pride in top performers rather than a feeling of uniqueness. One of the most inspiring things I experience every so often is being in the presence of truly expert performers who are totally humble and unassuming in their personalities- this has a powerful musical effect as well.

Another implication is that we, as educators, should be able to teach complex skills (such as the learning of an instrument) more effectively now that we’re armed with the knowledge that it takes the brain about 10,000 hours to assimilate all of the necessary neural traces for expertise. It may be effective to explain to students the nature of how their brains create memory traces for the fine motor skills required to play an instrument, and that, with practice these traces become stronger and stronger, essentially becoming “wired” in them. Also, to be able to explain to students that expertise doesn’t happen overnight, and to reference the latest cognitive research on expertise, may help young students to gain a good perspective on things and avoid frustration when they expect to develop expertise more quickly than humanly possible.

Finally, an important implication for education in general is, in the words of Dr. Larry Scripp, “Teach every kid as if they’re talented.” In other words, don’t adjust expectations based on a preconceived notion of what students are and aren’t “talented,” because the latest science of expertise suggests that “talent” has far less to do with expertise than the aforementioned factors. Teach all students with the assumption that they will “get it,” because with enough determination, study and practice, chances are they will.

-Art Felluca