The Grand Finale, and a LOT More than I Signed Up For

The big finish, and a lot more than I bargained for.

Last week was the performance of the Classroom Cantatas groups at the Boston Children’s Museum. How it work: the students are bussed to the museum, given a chance to warm up on the Kids Stage and then sing their cantata for an audience of parents, teachers, and museum goers unrelated to the program. There is a conductor and an accompanist, both of whom are TAs from the past sessions, and an audio engineer recording the event. When I signed on to this internship I was told participation in the final performance would not be mandatory.

Well, a few weeks ago the conductor at my school, Mather Elementary, asked if I would conduct the performance because he was unable to get out of class. He has more experience with young children and with conducting, so I was a big change for them. He had also been rehearsing the students weeks prior, and all the rehearsal time I ended up with was 10 minutes at the last school session and a few minutes before the show. This included a warm-up, which they had not done much and certainly not with me. I may have stolen a few ideas from watching the Mendell groups rehearse. Sorry about that, guys…

I was also asked to ride the bus to and from the school with the students. Another TA was supposed to assist but she ended up in traffic, and I suddenly realized that for the first time the operation was ALL up to me (directions to driver, collecting permission forms, collecting kids, counting kids, walking to the bus while counting kids, getting them on the bus, counting them, classroom control on the bus while counting, getting off the bus, counting, walking to the museum while cou-MALACHI GET AWAY FROM THE GEESE!-nting kids, ushering to the stage). I had to work quickly with school administration, who were busy enough and had even less of an idea than I of what was happening, and had to pretend I knew exactly what I was doing when traveling and getting to the museum.

The experience was nothing but rewarding. I can remember the students watching me for guidance and cues, looking professional, and being fairly well-behaved. Unfortunately we had a group of 12 while our sister school had 30+ and a bit more rehearsal time than us in the weeks prior.

Knowing that, in part because of me, the students had a seamless trip to the museum and a successful run is a huge joy. This internship has been most rewarding, and I found myself looking forward to going to the school each week. I cannot recommend it highly enough to future MIE students, and Cantata Singers has asked me to join their paid staff next year!

Speaking of next year, does anybody have experience getting hired at charter schools? I say this because in my experience they can be more lenient with certification requirements. I am pursuing a possible teaching job at a charter school in Dallas, and there may be opportunities here in Boston. Unfortunately MIE does not offer quick links to teaching certifications, unless I am mistaken about that.

I will edit this post with a link to my portfolio in a few weeks. TTFN!

 

~Stephen

 

Edit: Link to cumulative portfolio:
http://portfolios.mieatnec.org/digital/preview_units.php?id=433&page=home&preview=019d385eb67632a7e958e23f24bd07d7

Link to Internship portfolio:

http://portfolios.mieatnec.org/digital/preview_units.php?id=432&page=home&preview=248e844336797ec98478f85e7626de4a

 

Second post of Classroom cantatas

The first and second phases of the Classroom Cantatas project are completed. Students have written their melody and accompaniment, and the final stage is the rehearsal of all songs from their school’s groups. For the melodic composition, I found the term “Musical Lipstick” very helpful, especially since the majority of students in my small group are girls. For the boys, “musical muscle” worked. Corny, yes, but it works. The students did not do this on their own, and it took constant reminder to make the melody as interesting as they can, or to “try something really weird,” otherwise it would be all descending scales, minor thirds, and small intervals based around one note. The product I think is a melody of nice variety, and while it took some gluing together behind the scenes on my part, it is theirs.

Creating accompaniment was a bit trickier because of the limitations of the iPad (small keyboard and weak speakers), and short time to work – I think we only had one 45-minute session to get ideas out there. Based on the advice of another TA, it is perfectly ok to get ideas from the students (rhythms, “happy” or “sad” harmonies, etc), and again glue those behind the scenes. To me the most important aspect of this project is making the students feel like they wrote the piece, so the solution seems to be keeping their ideas obviously up front (like pats on their knees for “snowballs” or dissonant chords for “wind,” etc), and being subtle with harmonic design to make their ideas fit. Creating the glue was tricky. They unintentionally threw in a non-related modulation and different rhythm in the final two stanzas, but the composition process was a fun one for me and I think they will enjoy knowing it is their song. We have 3 rehearsal days, during which I will only be shadowing, and then the final performance at the Children’s Museum.

Having the iPad easily became a distraction for the group and I can’t say that I managed it well all the time. Everybody wanted to play with the piano, to the point where they would just grab it out of my hands and sit with their back to me. The solution, which I wish I had more time to develop, was to assign a “conductor” – this was to appease one student who wanted to be the leader – a pianist, who would help us find the pitches on the iPad, and a librettist, who would hold up the poster for the words. Like jobs in a game of Monopoly, they rotated, and everyone had a job to do to make the group work. There was, however, a lot of neglect for their task that week. The conductor always wanted to conduct, and the natural pianist always wanted to play with the iPad, and nobody ever wanted to hold up the poster with the text.

In future projects I would incorporate this rotation more, so that the keyboard is not just a toy the mean grownups won’t let them play with, and everyone could have a sense of leadership for some part of the project. I would invest in small portable speakers, and enforce rules of a good audience more  – show respect and quiet for a performer or speaker, and appreciation when they’re done.

 

I’ll take copious notes during the rehearsals, especially with regards to classroom management, as this is the time when the entire class of 20 is working together.

 

Classroom Cantatas at Mather and Mendell Elementary (Post #1)

Shadowing two small groups at Mendell Elementary and leading my own small group at Mather Elementary has begun! The idea of this project is that, in collaboration with teaching artists from Cantata Singers, I go in and lead a group of 4-5 second graders at these schools (though I am only observing at Mendell). The first few weeks are spent creating a melody for the given poem, while the next few weeks are spent creating an accompaniment, and the final few weeks are spent rehearsing their self-composed song, and a final performance is given at the Children’s Museum on April 11.

I noticed that each of the two group leaders I have observed at Mendell have unique teaching styles. One is very melodically oriented and is always trying to spark the student’s creative minds by singing what they have written and asking them to finish the line – thus creating the next part of the melody – or asking them “Now what should come after that?” When two students have two different ideas, they vote. This method gets him very far in the composition process. The second leader that I observe takes a different approach. She finds the important words in her text and asks how to bring them out in the melody, though no context has been given (melody surrounding these words has not yet been written as she does this). Because the students seem to have trouble staying in one key – they start on a random note when creating a new line – the resulting melody is so far in different “keys.” If two students have an idea she will often incorporate both ideas. Energy levels at these schools seem to have lacked the past two weeks, likely because it is the end of the day and lunch was a long time ago.

At the Mather I have led my own small group for one session (approx 25 minutes). This. Was. So. Much. Fun. I first established the one and only rule that we listen when someone else is speaking or singing. I encouraged them to raise their hand (though there are only 3 students in the group) when they want to share a great idea, and emphasized that they ALL have great ideas and we want to hear them. As a result, one girl always has her hand raised…. How do I tone that down while not ignoring her or making her feel like not everything she says is important?

Keyboards are used by the TAs for harmonic support or so the students can hear their melody (especially useful as I am not a singer), but since I have no keyboard to use at Mather I have downloaded a piano app for my iPad and yes, I did bring the iPad to a public elem school in Dorchester. The kids loved it! At first I used the device to play their small melody and told them that it was a “grown up tool.” One boy wanted to hold the poster of words but I thought this would keep him from composing with the rest so I insisted that I hold it where he could also see it. But the boy thought the activity was stupid if he couldn’t hold the poster, turned away from the group, buried his face in a chair and would not participate with us. I then asked if he would help with the piano by teaching the other two girls the melody (I quickly taught him how to play it – just two notes). He like playing on the iPad and taught the melody to the girl next to him, who then taught her friend next to her.

My question is: How safe is it to bring an expensive tool into the classroom in this context. The iPad is a great solution to not having a portable keyboard. Obviously they will want to play on the piano all the time, so am I at risk for losing their respect if I, a temporary teacher to them, don’t let them play with the keyboard when they want?

~Stephen G

Internship at the Mendell School (Post #2)

My name is Soo Kyung Chung, a 1st year Master’s student in Music Theory, so what am I doing at theMendell School with 2nd grade kids?
I am helping with a creative program called “The Cantata Singers” that encougages kids to compose and perform.
What a great idea that kids can compose! While mostly we learn music by singing or playing an instrument, kids in “ The Cantata Singers” discover music not only by singing but also composing.
Although we only meet for about one hour, the program is rich. The first part is to learn singing. In this program, kids approach music through very general terms. For example, students learn how the melody is shaped. By using one hand, the kids designed the rising or falling lines of melody. I think that following the melody with finger movement is a good method to figure out the shape of melody. The kids could understand that melody could be conjoint(stepwise) or disjoint(leap) and ascending or descending.
The kids also learn about the dynamic of how soft or loud music can be created. The depth of between two hands indicated the loudness. If an instructor shows a large depth by spreading her hands apart vertically, the kids respond with the loud sound [u]. When she puts her hands together to show a shorter depth, the kids respond with a softer sound. In this way, the 2nd graders learn about dynamics in a way that is fun, simple and very visual.
The second part is to participate in a small group where kids compose with a group leader. We have four small groups. Every group has a different topic about the Mexican culture. I work with Sojourner, a 2nd semester’s composition at NEC as one of group learders. The compositional style is totally free. Kids can emphasize any words that they like by melody or rhythm. If one student initiates the idea, the other kids can finish it. Or if one makes an ascending melody at the end of the phrase, and the other wants descending melody, we can make a melody by combining each phrase consecutively. One of the leader’s jobs is to catch what kids want by singing back to them because often young students are not good at pitch so it is hard to understand. We also write down what they are singing, and show music score what they did the previous week. They are so happy to see their achivements.
At the end of each session, each group shares what they have done. We listen to each group’s song, and learn some melodies. Each group has such different styles of music that I am always surprised.
Last week, we made a song over the course of 5-6 sessions. All of the 2nd graders will learn group’s song, and perform them for other students at the Mendell School. Later, on May 6th, the Mendell students will join with another group participating in the “ The Cantata Singers” program, at a local elementary school. I invite you to come listen to these great young musicians.

Classroom Cantatas at Ellis Mendell Elementary School (Post #1)

Earlier this year I began my “Classroom Cantatas” teaching internship with Boston’s own Cantata Singers. http://www.cantatasingers.org/ Cantata Singers Teaching Artists hold semester-long residencies at local public schools where, aided by teaching interns from New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) and other local colleges, they provide an exciting introduction to singing and composing.  Over the course of a Cantata Singers residency, students will compose, memorize, rehearse, and perform their very own cantata.

At Ellis Mendell Elementary School in Roxbury, MA, where my internship takes place, the theme of our cantata is “Mexican Culture.”  For the past two months I have been working as Co-Group-Leader with fellow NEC student Soo-Kyung Chung to assist our small group of four 2nd-graders in setting our poem, “La víbora de la mar” (“The Serpent of the Sea”), to music.  Meanwhile, three other small groups have been working on setting their poems to music.  Next week, we will all begin teaching our new songs to the rest of the class.

For a peek into what we do in a “Classroom Cantatas” teaching internship, here are a few pictures and two short videos of me with my small group:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157626312373546/

More to come when we start rehearsing our cantata!

Sojourner Hodges (NEC, M.M. in Composition, anticipated 2011)

Rich Music Learning Happens in Classroom Cantatas program (Post #1)

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series by MIE guided interns Soo Kyung Chung and Sojourner Hodges, graduate students participating in an internship with the Cantata Singers, an NEC Community Engagement Partner. See the rest of the posts in the series here.

My name is Soo Kyung Chung, a 1st year Master’s student in Music Theory, so what am I doing at the Mendell School with 2nd grade kids?

I am helping with a creative program called “The Cantata Singers” that encougages kids to compose and perform.

What a great idea that kids can compose!  While mostly we learn music by singing or playing an instrument, kids in “ The Cantata Singers”  discover music not only by singing but also composing.

Although we only meet for about one hour, the program is rich. The first part is to learn singing.  In this program, kids approach music through very general terms.  For example, students learn how the melody is shaped. By using one hand, the kids designed the rising or falling lines of melody. I think that following the melody with finger movement is a good method to figure out the shape of melody. The kids could understand that melody could be conjoint(stepwise) or disjoint(leap) and ascending or descending.

The kids also learn about the dynamic of how soft or loud music can be created. The depth of between two hands indicated the loudness. If an instructor shows a large depth by spreading her hands apart vertically, the kids respond with the loud sound [u]. When she puts her hands together to show a shorter depth, the kids respond with a softer sound. In this way, the 2nd graders learn about dynamics in a way that is fun, simple and very visual.

The  second part is to participate in a small group where kids compose with a group leader. We have four small groups. Every group has a different topic about the Mexican culture. I work with Sojourner, a 2nd semester’s composition at NEC as one of group learders.  The compositional style is totally free. Kids can emphasize any words that they like by melody or rhythm.  If one student initiates the idea, the other kids can finish it. Or if one makes an ascending melody at the end of the phrase, and the other wants descending melody, we can make a melody by combining each phrase consecutively.  One of the leader’s  jobs is to catch what kids want by singing back to them because often  young students  are not good at pitch so it is hard to understand.  We also write down what they are singing, and show music score what they did the previous week. They are so  happy to see their achivements.

At the end of each session, each group shares what they have done. We listen to each group’s song, and learn some melodies.  Each group has such different styles of music that I am always surprised.

Last week, we made a song over the course of  5-6 sessions. All of the 2nd graders will learn group’s song, and perform them for other students at the Mendell School. Later, on May 6th, the Mendell students will join with another group participating in the “ The Cantata Singers” program, at a local elementary school. I invite you to come listen to these great young musicians.