Saturday, March 28, 2020

Podcasts

Lately I have been speaking with a number of podcasts. in these days of social isolation, podcasts are a good way to spend some time for sure. These interviews deal with a range of topics including teaching, pedagogy, performance, electric violins, my history with Believer, and others. I thought I would put a list here so that anyone who is interested could find more specifically what you may be looking for. These are all a lot of fun and I'm really honored that folks have some interest in what I might have to say.


Fuller's Music: Online Learning





Electric Violin Shop: My History With Electric Violin

I hope that you find something here that interests you and you find informative!
Peace.
Scott

Friday, March 27, 2020

tools in the tool belt

Occidental Leather Tool Belts - 5191 Pro Carpenter's 5 Bag ...

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had plenty of opportunity to think about this transition to remote learning that so many of us are endeavoring right now. I am completing my second week of the process today and have a few ideas to share.

It occurs to me that this process is quite similar to the process of doing odd jobs around the house. When it's time to get a job done, we head to our garage, grab our tool belt, and go to work on the project. The belt is is full of screwdrivers, wrenches, and probably a hammer. It doesn't have every tool we own, but it has the ones we use most commonly. We strap it on and go to work with a plan to get the jobs done in the most accurate and efficient way possible. This is much like the transition to daily remote learning. 

Every teacher has a tool belt full of tools. We have our skills as pedagogues, our technological tools that are housed within our laptop or phone, our basic routines, a prior relationship with our students, and a community of colleagues who are willing to help us learn how to do all of the jobs. We already have a very good feel for the job itself. Anyone who has been teaching for a little while nose how their students learn and what their general needs are for each class. In many ways, our course syllabus and course expectations define the job at hand.  Our problem is really choosing the right tool for the job.

Sometimes, we have exactly the right tools for the job. Perhaps a screw needs tightening. We grab our screwdriver, tighten the screw, and admire our work. For me, this was how things worked for my Music History class. I was already set up in Canvas. I had plenty of digital tools and resources prepared for my class. Moving to remote learning was pretty simple. We opened up Zoom and continued the class pretty much in the same fashion that we had been working prior to moving to remote learning.

Sometimes we encounter a job and we realize the tool we need is still out in the garage. We run out and grab the needed tool, perhaps a power drill or a circular saw, and get the job finished properly. We had the tool in our possession, we just didn't have it front and center. For me, this is how the transition went with my Guitar and Piano class. I already had all of the tools I needed to complete the job properly. But, my class was not yet set up in a Canvas course. I had to think about how I wanted to use my remote learning tools for teaching this specific class. It took a few minutes to set up, but the class is now running seamlessly with tools that I actually had in my possession.

Sometimes we encounter a job where we simply don't have the correct tools. In this scenario we either have to modify the job, or run to Lowes or Home Depot get some new tools and learn how to use them. There are a couple of good examples for this scenario. First, for my performance ensemble, Orchestra, I knew that I didn't have the proper tools to run a regular rehearsal. I was faced with a decision. Should I modify the job and change my syllabus, or should I go find a tool that would allow me to do the job as originally intended? I decided to change the job. I modified my syllabus and figured out a way to use the tools that I had at hand to provide my students a meaningful experience that is similar to a regular face-to-face experience. 

On the other hand, my wife who is a preschool music teacher, went the other route. She had never used Zoom before or any kind of video conferencing software. She decided to go get the new tool. She accessed Zoom and began experimenting with video conferencing for preschoolers and their parents. She had to access and learn how to use her new tool.  She sat in on several tutorials and leaned on me a bit to help get her up and running. After two weeks, she is feeling pretty good about the process. She is getting better at using Zoom and has really connected meaningfully with her students and their families. Everyone seems to really appreciate her efforts.

I have another colleague who took a look at his orchestra curriculum and decided to actually create a brand new project. He decided, rather than an ensemble experience, to provide more of a private lesson experience based on the tools he had at hand and the restrictions that his school place on video conferencing. After speaking with him earlier this week, I know that he is excited about his plan and feels that the students will really benefit from their time together individually.

As teachers, we are always adding tools to the tool belt. This is what professional development is all about. We are constantly seeking new ways to provide meaningful experiences and authentic instruction for our students. I believe that many of us view this unusual experience of the past few weeks and near future in that very way. It is our opportunity to add technology teaching tools to our tool belts. It is professional development in technology resources forced upon us, like it or not. That said, the process of learning to use these new tools should not be foreign to anyone in the teaching profession.  We do it all the time.

Sometimes, we see the need to invent a new tool to do a job properly. I recently had a wonderful conversation with my friend Jeremy Cohen. He and others are in the process of actually developing a new tool for remote teaching. It involves high definition audio and video in a web-based platform that is particularly useful for individual music instruction. I would encourage you to check it out at www.stringmasters.com. Like many other web resources right now, it is completely free during the COVID-19 crisis.  It provides capabilities that are unique and timely.  The technology is really wonderful!

In the end, we all have a job to do. Our job is to keep instruction going during this incredibly disruptive time in American society. We really need to decide what that should look like for each and every one of our individual classes. If you've read any of my other posts, you know that I believe our number one job is to care for kids. We must let them know that we care about them, we are concerned for their health and safety, and we are committed to keeping music in their lives during this of isolation.  Once that is accomplished, we get can get to the job at hand of teaching content. We all have a unique tool belt. We also all have a unique set of jobs to do. My hope is that in this time of crisis, we can all pull together and help each other approach our set of jobs with a well-stocked tool belt and an understanding of how to complete the job in the best way given our unique circumstances.

I hope this resonates with you. I certainly always welcome your feedback. I would love to hear how you are approaching your jobs and the tools that you find most useful for completing the tasks.

I hope you all have a great weekend. I encourage everyone to walk away from work for a couple of days. It will all be there on Monday morning. Get some exercise, breathe some fresh air, care for your family. We will attack our jobs with vigor and a full tool belt again on Monday!

Peace.

Scott





Wednesday, March 25, 2020

NCSSM Zoom Orchestra: Day 1

Hi friends.

I told you that I would post some thoughts following my first Orchestra class. We had our first meeting last night at 6:15. I was pleased to have about 40 students join me for orchestra rehearsal via Zoom last night. It was so great to see everyone's faces. In this post, I would simply like to outline my plans for orchestra for the rest of the term and provide some associated thoughts.

I began class with a welcome and a brief statement of my thoughts and philosophies regarding the class and ensemble's role for the rest of this school year. I truly believe that the orchestra community is significantly more important than any content I might be delivering or other work that we might do musically and technically. I wanted the students to know that my intention is absolutely not to increase their levels of stress or anxiety in this new online interactive video classroom world that we live in. I want them to understand that our role is to facilitate their participation in the arts and in aid in making them whole people through music. I think that message was well-received and it set up our class in a very good way.

This was the first time that I had been in a zoom meeting with more than 20 people or so. The first thing that I noticed was that in the gallery view, I could only see about half the class (25 per page). I quickly found myself toggling between the two pages of gallery view. We started the class by hearing every student's voice. I wanted them to say hello to me and their classmates and give a brief update on their situation at home. Sadly, the remarks mostly were very thin and centered around class work rather than mental state, positives in their lives, or funny anecdotes. It really wasn't exactly what I had hoped for. (It is an odd ting about my crew at NCSSM.  They are usually hesitant to warm up and trust me and their classmates with candid remarks when prompted in class.  It happens outside of class, but never seems to make its way into my classroom. I wonder if it is me?!) But, at least, every student's voice was heard.

Next, I wanted to make sure that I reviewed our modified syllabus and course expectations. Obviously, we will not have a live concert in May. So, I wanted them to know how I would arrive at a grade at the end of the term. Without too many details, grades will be based primarily on class participation (70%) with a significantly lighter weight on practice time (10%) and musical performance (20%). My ensemble has significant variation of experience and and playing level. So, I differentiate expectations based on there experience and preparation prior to coming to NCSSM. Everyone is welcome in the NCSSM performance ensembles regardless of playing level.

Next, I explained my plan for the rest of the school year. My class meets for 2 hours on Tuesday night, 90 minutes on Wednesday, and 50 minutes on Friday. We have everyone in the room for our Tuesday night rehearsal, but Wednesday and Friday are split into two sections based on academic schedules, and there are multiple students who have special dispensation to work independently in lieu of one of those two shorter rehearsals based on schedule conflicts. In other words, the only time we are all together is Tuesday night. We are in the midst of preparing for a concerto concert which would have featured six of our school's top soloists on a single movement of a concerto. We were scheduled to perform a movement of the Bruch Violin Voncerto, Saint Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Brahms Piano Concerto No 1, Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1, Ponce Guitar Concerto, and Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

Next, I outlined my plans for our Tuesday evening rehearsals. During this time, we will take a deep dive into each of the works that were scheduled to be performe. I will have the soloists talk about technical challenges and practice routines for each of their pieces. There will be one concerto featured each week. (We will start with the Saint Saens next week.) During this time I also plan to lead guided listening of not only the movement we were scheduled to perform, but the entire work. I have also invited each of the soloists to encourage their private teacher to participate in their Zoom session as well. This activity is designed to maintain a focus on our planned repertoire. I feel like it is my responsibility to maintain the direction in which we were moving before we left school. While we only had two weeks of actual rehearsal prior to vacating the school, I still feel like it's important that we hold true to some aspect of our previously established curricular goals.

My challenge has really been how to handle the other two rehearsals during the week. I had a brief, enjoyable phone call with my dear friend and colleague Georgia Economou from Atlanta over the weekend. She suggested that I assign other concertos to the entire class so that everyone would have an opportunity to learn portions or all of a selected concerto movement. I loved the idea! So, I have selected three concertos of varying difficulty for my students to choose from. They will select a concerto and learn it over the course of the rest of the school year. I want everyone to engage in the learning process and do as much as they can, without overwhelming themselves or adding stress to their lives. I have encouraged my more advanced students to tutor their colleagues.  I am hopeful that this will be a positive experience for everybody.

For class today, I want each student to review the concerto options. At the end of their class., They will make a brief video to share their thoughts with me or perhaps a very little bit of sight reading. Videos must be under 3 minutes. I am also asking every student to submit a brief journal entry on their practice through Google forms. This will be my attendance record for the class. So, our Wednesday and Friday classes will be asynchronous independent practice sessions. But, I will be available in a Zoom meeting for anybody who wants to make personal contact with me for instruction, advice, or feedback throughout the class period. This will be the case for every day of class for the rest of the year. I am also setting up Flipgrid opportunities for students to share their successes, struggles, and ideas for practice with each other. I am not sure how this format will work, but I am excited to give it a try.

In retrospect, I would say that the number of students in the Zoom session felt quite unwieldy to me. It lasted about one hour and I could tell by about 45 minutes into the class that students were getting restless. I was also getting tired and overwhelmed.  Obviously, I wont be able to use the entire two hours like I normally would on a Tuesday night. I just don't think that is mentally or physically advantageous for them or for me!

I intend to send a note to students this morning, reminding them of their assignment for today. I will do this each Wednesday and Friday to simply keep everyone moving in the right direction.

So, there you have a quick overview of my Tuesday night rehearsal. I will certainly give updates on our progress with the concerto movements. I don't know if this will work or not. I would put my level of confidence at about 50%. I feel like it's a well-developed plan that might work. I do not have expectations of 100% success. Some students will simply be more comfortable and confident in this independent environment. But, if this provides some direction for my Orchestra students and serves as a bit of motivation to have their hands on their instrument, it will be a success. Also, those who seek assessment from me periodically will most likely have stronger levels of satisfaction, I believe.  In the end, I would be thrilled if particularly the less advanced students had a chance to play and prepare something of value and meaningfully add to their skill set and repertoire.

I would love to hear what you are doing to keep your kids motivated and playing! We are all in this together. When intentions are pure, good things will happen. Let's all care for these kids through music as best as we can.

Peace.

Scott

Monday, March 23, 2020

NCSSM Zoom Classes Day 1

This morning I taught my first NCSSM residential class of the COVID-19 emergency. Some friends asked me to outline my approach to online music teaching as well as some thoughts about how I am approaching music class Zoom  instruction.

My first class was Classical Piano and Guitar. This is a multi-level, individualized, residential music class that I have taught for nearly 30 years at two different institutions. About 15 years ago, I flipped this classroom before many, if any, other instructors we're moving in this direction. So, all of my instructional videos for beginning guitar, beginning piano, and music theory are already available on YouTube. They were originally made for a closed circuit video service we had at NCSSM and eventually found their way to YouTube. My more intermediate and advanced students are provided or encouraged to find performance videos or recordings to use as examples as they learn new repertoire.  Additionally, I have been operating in this quasi-online, flipped environment for so many years that it was fairly seamless to move to Zoom instruction this week.

Let me first outline my priorities for the class.

First and foremost, I do not want this class to add any extra stress to my students' lives. I will not lose sight of the fact that this is an arts elective and should be an happy enrichment for students.   That there are many new stressors for kids at this time and I don't want to add to that. The arts should be an area of safety, breath, and always a different kind of rigor.

Second, I want the class to feel as normal as possible. Our normal classroom routine is to arrive in class, greet each other, and settle in while I take roll and outline the goals for the day. After that all of my students move to their individual workstations where they can begin their guitar or piano practice and class work for the day. Since it is independently paced, everyone is at a different place in the curriculum. (Some students are beginners, some are more intermediate, and some are very advanced. Since the classroom is flipped, everyone can receive my instruction online whenever they are ready for it. Everyone is used to this environment and we will continue this environment in the online format. I will start the Zoom meeting with everyone in the meeting and give my opening remarks and take roll. Following my remarks, students may leave the meeting and begin doing their work. I will remain in the meeting and they can click back in when they are ready for feedback, assessment, or have questions. The class meets 3 times per week and I have asked the students to click in for feedback at least twice per week.  In our face-to-face classroom, we all come back together for the last 5 minutes of class for closing remarks and often a impromptu performance. My Zoom classroom will be exactly the same. I have asked everyone to set an alarm on their phone for 5 minutes prior to the end of class in order to to click back in for closing remarks.  This worked really well today and I anticipate that it will continue to work throughout the rest of the term. It was a very normal day.

Third, I want students to be conscious of their personal musical goals on a daily basis. Much of this course is built on my students' interest in either learning to play an instrument or advancing their skills on that instrument.  It is, in fact, an elective credit and everyone truly desires to be in the class. The course builds a minimum of 150 minutes a practice time a week into their academic schedule.  That said, if one's personal goals are not clearly articulated and galvanized, it is very easy to stray off course. So, I often remind students to consider their goals at the beginning of class and to make sure that every moment of the class is pointed toward achieving those goals. This will be vital in our Zoom format.

So, today went pretty much as planned. I spent a good deal of extra time at the beginning of class checking in on every student. I wanted to hear their voice. I wanted them to be able to articulate what the last week has been like for them. I want them each to know that they are seen and heard by me and their friends and colleagues in the class. The relationships, to me, are the most important thing; especially now. My intention is to lead with relationships and caring with the knowledge that the content will take care of itself.

Today, once everyone had checked in and I reviewed my revised course expectations and went over some Zoom basics for this class, everyone clicked out of the meeting and went to work. Several clicked back in in order to play a song for me or ask important questions. 5 minutes before the end of class everyone came back in and I was able to send them off with a good word and positive thought.

I feel great about the class and I am looking forward to my Music History class at 3:15 this afternoon.

I will write another post about that course as well as one about my Orchestra in coming days. I hope this is helpful to some of you out there. I would love to hear from you as you begin working in the zoom music class environment.

Peace

Scott


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Keeping Quiet


A friend sent me this. Seems appropriate to post here.



KEEPING QUIET
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;

we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

I Don't Have To Do It All Today

Hello friends.

This is my first post of the COVID-19 American society shut down. My school closed down last Friday and I have now been through one week of preparation for online instruction beginning on Monday. I know that most of you are in the same boat as well.

If you are anything like me, your news feed has been filled with other music educators, parents, and classroom teachers walking through this situation together. My feed has been full of innovative instructional ideas, wonderful musical performances, expressions of fear, faith and hope, and a variety of other fairly intense posts.

If I am being honest, I feel a bit overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong, I am very comfortable teaching in an online or Zoom environment. I am regularly involved in Zoom meetings with organizations around the country and have actually taught Online Beginning Guitar throughout this school year. I have taught numerous interactive video conference classes over the years through NCSSM Distance Education programs. So, the need to go online isn't particularly daunting to me. (However, my wife, who teaches Kindermusik, is completely intimidated by the prospect of Zoom classes. So, if this is brand new to you, I certainly feel your pain.) In the end, the nature of the instruction is not what makes me feel overwhelmed.

Honestly, I believe I have so much information hitting me at one time that I can't seem to sift through it or organize and prioritize how I want to receive that information. I feel like I, too, should be creating and sharing innovative content delivery methods and plans. I feel like I, too, should be recording awesome music in my home studio. I feel like I, too, should be encouraging my colleagues and finding ways to lift my community up. I feel like I, too, should be inspiring my two sons who are at home. I feel like I should be helping my wife get up and running with Zoom. and, all the while, I need to be planning my own curriculum and preparing to support my students through the upcoming weeks and months of uncertainty and disconnection.  I also feel like I need to be getting exercise, making dinner, doing the dishes, and generally continue being a whole human. And, this is hard, because I am used to being the guy who "does it all."

It's all a bit much. So, my message today is that you don't have to do everything. In fact, I would recommend that we all do a little bit less. Have you seen the hilarious video on YouTube of the mother ranting about how much work her kids have?  I have had conversations with colleagues who have small children and they are feeling overwhelmed with their children's work. My 17 year old son doesn't really know how he will complete all of the assignments that he has been given. My 19 year old college freshman is feeling alone and overwhelmed with his work as well. Even my older son who is a graduate assistant is feeling overwhelmed with the amount and type of work that he has to take care of. This feeling seems to be pervasive.  This online and screen environment is exhausting.

So here is my pledge. I am going to do my best to not feel compelled to keep up with the Jones's. I am going to lead with grace and compassion for my students. I am going to do my best to not contribute to their higher stress levels and overwhelmed feeling of not being able to complete their work. I am going to modify my syllabus accordingly. Meanwhile, when the creative bug hits me, and it will, I will do my best to share my heart freely through my art and pedagogy.

I encourage you to do the same. Don't let it overwhelm you. This is hard. We will all get through this together.

Peace.
Scott

Sunday, March 8, 2020

ASTA 2020

Hi Friends!
I am in the airport, heading home from the American String Teachers National Conference which was held in Orlando from March 4-7.  The conference was a huge success and, as always, included wonderful learning opportunities, renewal of old friendships, many new friendships, and a general spirit of community and love that many of us have grown to anticipate and appreciate on an annual basis at the conference.

I was thrilled to conduct the first National Conference Teacher Orchestra on Wednesday and want to thank all who participated.  It was so much fun and everyone seemed to really enjoy making music together. The performance at the opening reception was a blast! Special thanks to Jesus Florido for participating and soloing with us.  We learned so much from you in the rehearsal as well!

Congratulations to Jesus and all of the performers who brought the very first Electric Bowed String Concert to ASTA this year.  It was so much fun and we all appreciate the unbelievable musicianship that was on display on Thursday night.  I am so proud of my history in the electric violin community appreciate each of you!!  Jesus: your love and positive energy was the catalyst for this.  Thanks!!

I also wish to thank thank Brian Hellhake and the students of Freedom High School Orchestra for serving as a demonstration group for my session, along with Jim Palmer, on Sharing Our Secrets: Higher Order Thinking.  The students were magnificent and we really couldn't have asked for anything better.  Thanks, too, to Jim Palmer.  We have so much fun presenting together. We certainly missed Rebecca MacLeod this year.  She was judging the National Orchestra Festival this year, but I am sure our trio will reconvene soon!!

I want to extend a huge congratulations to the ASTA Staff for a magnificent conference.  Monika Schulz has really moved our organization to a new level of professionalism and prominence.  Susan Hoopes was invaluable in my preparation.  Tracey Kratt has been instrumental in forwarding our ASTA Connect social tool.   The whole staff is fantastic.  Also, the ASTA Ambassadors (volunteers from the profession) were such servant leaders. We all appreciate you so much!

I can't begin to name all the new friends and colleagues whom I connected with this week.  Please know that I value each and everyone of you.  The meals, coffee, and hallway conversations were all so valuable and perspective-changing.  Thank you all for your wisdom and encouragement!


And now we all go back our corner of the world to change string kids' lives one student at a time!! We are all filled up and ready to extend that energy to our individual communities.  I can't wait to hear the stories of success again next year!

Peace
Scott