Week 2: Fantastic!

What an amazing day we had today—our second class day of the semester. Let me count the ways!

We took a technological leap forward this week with the addition of a countdown timer (see picture below), the point of which was to let me know at a glance how much time is left in every class. (Last week, I was agitated for not having a constant grasp on the new schedule, and being concerned about running over.)

New Countdown Timer. Thanks to James Pelham for figuring out how to program it despite the fact that he has no PhD!

We also have a new yard sign that we put out on Mondays to help people not to miss the turn off Jellison Road. Here’s a picture of that.

Our new yard sign at 5055 Jellison Road.

General Music
This class ranges from true beginners to some kids who have clearly had some good musical training so far. My first clue as to the higher experience of some is in the hand-clapping call-and-response exercises, where I note that roughly half the class can copy some fairly complicated rhythms with pretty high accuracy. Very impressive!
We worked today particularly on the musical concepts of Loud and Soft, and we started learning Solfege (Do-Re-Mi, with the hand signals). It’ll be a couple more weeks before we’ve mastered the whole scale, but we’re well on our way.
Once again, it was obvious that this class needs no break in its 50-minute sessions—and the original idea of running the class in halves to accommodate those with shorter attention spans now has a well-earned place by the wayside. Any diversions from attentiveness seem to resolve quickly. We sang Old McDonald and It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, along with a few other fun songs. We also did some rhythmic exercises from the white board that mimic the basics of reading rhythm, and they did surprisingly well. These kids are well on their musical way!

Beginning Band
There are not nearly enough wrong notes being played to be a normal beginning band! And to be fair, for many of these students, this is not their first semester. But wow! The flutes should be flailing about, still trying to figure out how to make a good sound, but they sound great! And we have a new batch of trumpets who are doing remarkably well getting their notes with minimal help. Meanwhile, our percussion section (which just grew by 300% last week from what it was in the Spring) made good progress learning how to count the “rests” as carefully as counting the notes that they actually play. Our Three Amigas clarinet section is doing well (except that the trumpets behind them are reported to be “too loud”—as if that were possible!) Meanwhile, we have a new electric bass player, and our sole also sax player is quite lonely, being the only sax in the band–and being wedged between the bass and the trombones. We have three trombones–two slide trombones, and a valve trombone, which is a first for me!
The whole band has a good handle now on the first three notes, and did fairly well playing back notes (with their eyes closed) as I sang them. (This is one way to make sure that they’re actually processing the notes in their heads, rather than simply associating the written notes on the page with certain fingering positions, and skipping the musical understanding.) We had lots of fun, and I expect the class to keep progressing very nicely. It’s amazing what a beginning band can do when most of them have already had a couple of years of piano lessons! Starting your kids early is often a pretty good idea!

Beginning Band: Week 2

Intermediate Band
Our ensemble of six players is still trying to figure out where each student is in his or her skill set. Based on what we figured out today, some of our players need to work more at home on learning the higher notes in their scales. It’s quite a tricky transition from a “normal” beginning band class to what we’re doing in this small (mostly jazz) ensemble. And we’re constantly learning new terms and concepts, such as “pickup notes” and “grace notes” and “blue notes” and such. Next week, we’ll start working on Desperado (Eagles), as well as something more “chorale”-like so that we can work toward getting better and better tone quality. We’re also working on improving our tuning. I think the most rewarding thing we may do is to have each student play solos with jazz combo accompaniment.

Wow! Just wow! In our warm-up today, we worked on finding pure vowel sounds and avoiding diphthongs. And boy, did it pay off! The sound we’re getting is quite impressive—although I’m still hoping to get most of the singers to sing out more and to fill out the resonance of their natural voices. (It’s typical of younger sings—and of timid ones—to under-sing, taking more of a whispery tone than a robust one. So I still have dreams about everyone deciding simply to get over that and to sing richly.) Regardless, though, the sound is considerably better than just last Spring already.
We began work on our Solfege Chopsticks today, along with the use of our new Boomwhackers. We’ll learn how to get more efficient with those as we go. And next week, we’ll have our choral folders set to go home so that the members can learn their parts at home. The big highlight of the day was that we learned Chapel of Love in about 12 minutes—and it sounded great!
On a sad note, we lost the Icopini family this week to some unavoidable scheduling issues, and we hate to see them go! At the same time, however, we’re so glad to welcome Torsten Loftsgaard into our tenor section, and to shift Koarbin Anderson into Torsten’s former Chorus Manager role. There’s always some amount of “musical chairs” like this going on, it seems, because homeschooling is not as easy to manage as we might like. Right now, we’re still hoping that someone will send us 3 new basses, 4 tenors, and 3 altos! But I think we’re going to do just fine with the numbers we have. This group is going to put on a great concert in December!

We got out the new Boomwhackers for the first time today. This activity is costly on time, but it will eventually prove invaluable to grasp just what it would be like to live the life of a particular note, such as La, for example!

Etiquette Class
The same group who, just last week, emphasized how much they hate introducing themselves to new people had quite a spirited exercise of introducing themselves to the group in a beanbag toss game. They did much better than one might have expected after hearing them last week! Meanwhile, we continued to work on non-verbal communication—particularly for the purpose of learning how to deliberately “read” other people—rather than simply to rely on their words. (This will really pay off later—like “Wax on, wax off.” You’ll see!)
The most amazing thing, however, was this: I had planned to spend 10 minutes discussing the items they had listed for homework. (They were supposed to take 5 minutes at home to make a list of common points of etiquette—such as wiping one’s feet at the door or saying “please” and “thank you”, etc.) Well, the discussion that ensued was excellent! It seems that practically all of the class was energetically engaged in sharing their experiences, and in discussing the particulars. And where else are you going to find a bunch of youth doing that?! I think that what makes this class so great is that we’re not just discussing what to do, but why to do it. It’s about what kind of people we are–whether we will treat others with respect or not. And I was very excited to see a class full of kids who are being taken seriously, and who are taking the topic seriously. What a great time we had!

Etiquette Class: At the moment, we were discussing how it’s impolite to invite one friend to a party while in front of another friend who is NOT invited!

Skits Workshop
We reviewed our toughest script today and discovered that little improvement should be expected when the cast has devoted very little time to learning their lines! Indeed, this particular script is so hard because the vocabulary is at a post-graduate level (on purpose—because that’s what makes it really funny, errr, interesting. We realized the situation, however, and the class committed to work harder on it for next week.
Meanwhile, we had our first reading of a great skit for two actors. It’s called “Shy”, and it’s about overcoming timidity. The language is much more down-to-earth for the players, and it became quite obvious that this skit is going to work very well!
I also informed the cast that they’d be emcees for our upcoming talent shows, and that they should expect some speaking roles announcing numbers for the chorus concert in December.
And then, as always, when the time comes for the class to be over, nobody wants to leave! Is it possible to have more fun than this?

Various photos from General Music, Etiquette Class, and the Skits Workshop. Thanks to Kay Pelham for the pics!

A Personal Note
This whole Monday We, Montana! experience is the single-most rewarding organization I’ve ever been involved in. To me, it is now such an honor to take kids seriously, and to put them in a spot where not only are they expected to shine, but are given the tools they need to do it. My theme for this semester is Overcoming Timidity—because I see that so very many are hindered (at least a little) by it. Even adults! (And we now have 8 homeschool moms in our chorus, by the way, and a couple in the beginning band!)
I feel quite enriched by all this activity, and it’s easy to “feed” off of the energy that everyone brings into the Great Room. What an amazing day!