Thursday, April 27, 2017

Know Thy Self, Kids!

It's that time of the year again...

The time of the school year when students decide whether or not to audition for spots in advanced performing arts classes in Band, Choir, Dance and Orchestra.  It's also the time of year when students decide whether to continue with classes in the performing (or, visual) arts, or to opt out for something else.

I've lived this many times over.  I've seen many great singers leave vocal music programs.
Why is this?

Why would a choir student who has been awarded solos in choir performances decide to walk away from an activity in which they excelled to the highest level?  I compare this to the quarterback of the football team just walking away from the sport.  Do we ever see that happen?  Have these talented singers just grown tired of singing?  In an unscientific estimation, I would say that if a student earned a solo on a concert, that student is at least in the top 20% of singers in their choir.  Why would anyone in the top 20% of anything walk away from it?  Would an all conference Shortstop walk away from baseball?

WHY?
This is the tough question.  The one even parents don't want to answer or tackle.  I get it.  It's a difficult thing.  My school district has experienced some amazing success in sports during the last decade.  We have also seen a strong push for academic rigor and many students are taking more and more AP courses.  When you have both of those things, enrollment in the Arts will suffer.  The athletes become our local heroes.  Everyone wants to be a part of that.  I get it.  I was a part of that as I was Shortstop on the baseball team and Quarterback of the football team when I was in High School.  This takes me back to the title of this blog entry.

Know Thyself...
As parents, we need to be more honest with our children.  And frankly, also with ourselves.  If your child is second string on the sports team and has also earned a solo on a concert in their music class, you need to consider the fact that there is a very real possibility that your child is more talented in music than sports!  If that is the case, or if there is even a remote possibility that might be the case, it's time to step up and make the RIGHT decision for your child and keep them in their Performing Arts class! As mentioned earlier, I was a starter in sports, but I eventually realized I was better at music.  When I was 12, I wanted to play Shortstop for the Detroit Tigers!  When I was 17, I wanted to play drums or sing in the band, Journey! Despite this change of attitude, I led the team in home runs my senior year! Sports + music = great!

We're too busy...
Middle School Performing Arts classes only require students to commit to about four evenings per year.  That is NOT a big commitment.  When you consider the brain development and the creativity involved in participating in a Performing Arts class, it should be a logical decision that it might be OK for your child to miss a few innings of a baseball/softball game in order to participate in a concert they've been working on for seven weeks.  After all, we are all here to make our children better people, and it's scientifically proven that music classes can help accomplish that.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Future of Music?

I am concerned.

Greatly concerned...

I'm concerned for the future of music in this country.

I'm not talking about the fact that Classical music and Opera have been seeing reduced numbers in recent years.  I'm talking about mainstream, Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM).

When I look at advertisements for concerts and live music at bars, the performers are basically all my age, or older!  They are all in their 40s or older!  What does this say for the future of music (particularly, LIVE music) in America?

It seems to me that the younger generation is only interested in Hip Hop, or harder edged Rock.  In other words, there isn't the "in between" music that my generation grew up with.  There isn't a group of twenty-somethings on the radio playing music that sounds like Journey, Boston, Kansas or Styx.  And, that is very sad.

My hope is that there ARE indeed bands out there composing and recording this type of material, but they just aren't receiving the national attention that they should be receiving.  Perhaps enough of them will become YouTube savvy enough to get their material out there so that we can all enjoy it.

It's no great surprise that the CCM music of the 70s and 80s still lives on today and is recognized by ALL generations.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Elective Choices In Middle and High School

Kids today are forced to make very important choices at younger and younger ages in our society.

In my school district, 6th and 7th graders have two exploratory (as they are called in the Middle School concept) classes each day.  One of those two periods, is a rotation of Art, Computers, Physical Education and Spanish, each for one nine week marking period (which already sounds limiting).  Their other exploratory period gives them a choice of Band, Choir, Orchestra or a non music offering that is usually another PE, Computers or Art class, depending upon who is available to teach it.  Approximately 90% of 6th and 7th graders in my school district elect to take a music class.

About halfway through the school year, I begin the discussion with my 7th grade students on what the choices are that they will face as they select their two elective classes for 8th grade, as the options are MANY!  Predominantly due to increased High School graduation requirements, my district (and basically all neighboring districts) offers High School credit for Spanish I as a full year 8th grade elective and also High School PE/Health as a one semester 8th grade elective.  Band, Choir and Orchestra are all full year options, as is Dance, which is very popular in our district, especially with our girls.  Other options are to take another nine week rotation of courses including the ones from 6th and 7th grade like Art, Computers and PE.  But also a course called Choices which was originally part of the Home Economics curriculum (something that was completely cut from my school, due to budget restraints).  It's amazing how many 8th graders willingly quit a music program that they've spent two years building skills in to take the 9 week Choices class because... wait for it... they get to job shadow for ONE DAY.

But, the Choices class is far from the biggest issue at hand.  The biggest part of this conundrum is the fact that classes are being offered for High School credit at the Middle School level.  That's what's killing the arts.  I have had SEVERAL parents (and kids) tell me, "we are so sorry.  She LOVES your class and we LOVE the concerts, but she just cannot fit choir into her schedule for next year."  For many of these 13 year olds (YES, THIRTEEN), taking a HS class in 8th grade is the carrot.  It's a symbol of prestige and honor.  Especially for the high achieving academic kids.  The ones who also do VERY WELL in Music and the Arts.  And, the sad reality is that 90% of the time, once a kid opts out of an Arts program, rarely do they return.  Also at issue is the two year Foreign Language requirement for HS graduation in Michigan (although there is an easy way to opt out of the second year).  So, for the kids who take Spanish I in 8th grade, guess what the counselors will INSIST they take as one of their electives in 9th grade?  Why, Spanish II of course!  No student would want to wait a year, or two, between foreign language classes.  They'd forget half of it!  But wait... don't most colleges also require a foreign language credit or two?  If so, wouldn't it be most prudent to take your two years of foreign language in the Junior and Senior years, right before needing to take it at the college level?  And... this is assuming that ALL kids will go to college, which is silly!  There should be a one year foreign language track for non-college bound students. And, don't the Junior and Senior years have more elective choices and less required classes??  Why are kids cramming more classes with homework (and stress, and anxiety) into 8th and 9th grades (when they are less mature and ill-equipped to handle additional stress and anxiety) when they can take them in 11th and 12th grade when they only have three required courses!

When I have that discussion with 7th graders that I mentioned earlier, I do my best to explain to them that what they elect to take in 8th grade can, and often does, have a significant impact on what they can, or cannot, take as electives in 9th grade.  Invariably, a hand will go up into the air and the question always asked is, "But Mr. C. you're talking about 9th grade and we're picking classes for 8th grade.  I don't get it."  That's because they're 13 years old.  It's complex.  I typically have the same discussion in class, with many questions and answers, about four or five times during the second semester with both my 7th and my 8th graders.  Some get it.  Many do not, unfortunately.  Last school year I had NINETY students in 7th Grade Choir.  This school year I have FIFTY-TWO students in 8th Grade Choir (see the italicized comment above).  Understand my concern?  We have NINETY kids taking Spanish for HS credit in 8th grade at my school.  That's the equivalent of having another HUGE 8th Grade Band, or Choir.  Or, BOTH!!

What's most important is that kids get SOMETHING from their experience in school, other than a report cart.  Kids need to be a part of SOMETHING!  Sports accomplishes that for MANY kids and those that know me know that I played multiple sports all through school.  I was always a part of a team.  But, especially if your child doesn't participate in sports, encourage them to stay in music and the arts.  Encourage them to participate in after school Drama and Musical activities where they can be a part of SOMETHING, rather than just being a kid, floating down the stream of Middle School and then High School.  In the late 1980s (granted, graduation requirements were not as demanding) at my High School, there were 200 kids in Band and 150 kids in Choir with a total student population of 850.  Today we have over 1500 students in High School and we have about 215 in HS Band and about 100 in HS Choir (but that number is up by 30 for next year!!).

Friends and parents of current MS and HS students, please make the right decision for your children. Please STRONGLY consider, and reconsider any decision that replaces an Arts class with an academic class in a schedule where they already have at least four academic classes. Arts classes are about RELEASE!  Kids need a little of that during their school day.  It promotes good mental health.

Peace

Disclaimer:  I am clearly biased toward Music Education (especially if it's FREE and offered in a Public School!).  I am NOT an opponent of ANY other elective choices.  I feel they are all great and should be given MORE time in every student's daily schedule!  As an Art teacher just posted on my FB page about this, "More Arts, less Math!"  heh heh

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Travel Sports

Travel Sports...

When I was a kid, parents that could afford it, spent a few bucks a week on music lessons.  Today, basically no kids take music lessons.  Instead, parents spend thousands on travel sports.

It's got to eventually come full circle, right?

Eventually, grandparents (or, someone with the wisdom to know better) will say to their adult children, "HEY, why are you spending $5,000 a year on travel sports for your kids when the odds of them getting a college scholarship (that's the goal, right?) are about the same as winning the lottery. 

The arts are losing!  And losing badly.  And it's really sad.  The fact that graduation requirements have increased in the past decade has also had a negative impact.  RIGOR!

I do believe it will eventually come back around.  Things always do, it seems. 

But in the meantime, many kids who take (and LOVE)  music in 6th and 7th grade, opt out of music in 8th grade to get a head start on HS by taking Spanish and PE/Health for High School credit.  History has shown that once kids opt out of music classes, rarely do they return, and that is sad.  Music classes provide a release from the stress of daily life.  Choir classes often also involve NO homework!  A high school counselor said to me recently that she wished kids would strongly consider taking AT LEAST one class, if not two, that involve minimal homework.  Music is also like therapy.  It's soothing.  It relieves stress.  

Other counselors wish kids would stay in music to relieve stress.  And help with depression. 

If there was a chance that suicide rates would drop as a result of ALL KIDS taking music classes, would it be worthwhile then?  

Every kid needs to be a part of something.  A community.  A family (especially if home life isn't the greatest).  Taking all STEM and AP classes while not being a part of a group after school is dangerous!  Too stressful.  Constant travel and weekend sports is also very stressful.  Parents, please consider keeping your kids in arts and music classes at school.  You never know.  It might just be enough of a stress reliever to really help your child get through high school without mental health issues.  


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Babies/Kids/Big Kids

My middle child heads off to college in the morning.  It was touching that she decided to hang out with mom and dad this evening rather than hiding away in the basement like she typically does in the evening.

Sunday night I decided it would be a good idea to watch a family movie.  We have been doing family movie night on Fridays (when possible) for the past few years.  I realized Sunday, after returning from a weekend away with friends and family, that this might be our last opportunity for that tradition so we all sat down together and watched a movie about a drummer married to a redhead who quit his rock band to get a real job and raise kids!  We shared several laughs during the first fifteen minutes of the movie, as the characters were introduced and developed.

At the conclusion of the movie, I decided I needed to say something.  Now, mind you... I have these "lists" (see earlier blog post on "lists").  They are metaphorical, but basically state that there are lists of things you simply cannot tell a 12 year old, because they just won't understand.  There are also things you cannot tell a 20 year old.  A 30 year old.  Until one has lived long enough and gained enough life experience, there are simply things that just aren't thoroughly understood.  Then, when we reach a certain age, we say, "oh.... THAT'S what they meant by that."

What I said to my family (really, to my kids) was this...
When (married) people are in their upper 20s or 30s, they often decide to have babies.  BABIES. They decide to start a family and have kids.  KIDS.  They don't decide to have BIG KIDS (my youngest is 14).  The typical 26 year old doesn't have the life experience to even fathom what it might be like to have an 18 year old child.  They certainly don't DECIDE to have ADULT CHILDREN!  There is not a 30 year old pregnant couple (my age when KaCee was born) who has ever even considered what it might be like to send their child off to college.

But, I'm 48 and my reality is that I'm sending my second child to college tomorrow morning where she will study Art and Graphic Design while being a collegiate athlete (I'm two for two in that dept.  No pressure, Zac) as a bowler for Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan.

Chalk this up to something that would go on many of my "lists."  These are days we simply don't think will ever come.  I will do my best to celebrate tomorrow, while knowing it will be difficult.




Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Musical History, Part One.

Hello folks,
First of all, I apologize for not writing in a few months.  I remember when I was student teaching, my supervising teacher had a handheld recording device, and occasionally, he would whip it out and utter something into it.  Something he needed to remember later.  I share that little story because I'll bet there have been about twenty times in the past few months where I had random thoughts of blog topics, only to either forget them, or just never get to them.  Middle age must be setting in!

I've decided to document the events of my musical life.  Perhaps so that, if in another decade, or two, I have trouble remembering which things happened when, I can revert to this document.  Hopefully, some of you find it at least moderately interesting.  One thing is for sure.  There are a few key events/occurrences in this story.  Things that if they had not happened, I would NOT be where I am today.  I suppose that's true with everyone, but I hope you enjoy mine.  Here we go!



As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by music.  Drawn to it, really.  I remember receiving my first transistor radio in 1973, at the age of six.  I enjoyed listening to WLS out of Chicago, and their Top 40 format.  Shortly after this, I began asking for records for Christmas and birthdays.  I was a big fan of the K-Tel compilations and I probably own twenty or more (still have them, too).  This was also the time I started listening to Barry Manilow with more interest.  I acquired about four or five of his albums during my elementary years.  I also remember really enjoying Disco music in the mid 70s.  I have to attribute that to the fact that it's incessantly simple beat (bass drum on all four beats) was easy for my young brain to latch onto.

It must have been in about fourth grade when I learned that in order to play drums in middle school band (and that's what EVERYONE wanted to play) you needed to take piano lessons.  So, I started lessons with Tim Oonk when I was in the fifth grade.  I believe he was a Freshman in college at the time.  I was a terrible piano student.  Basically, I started lessons much too late.  By this time I had already written my first song and was learning how to figure out songs by ear.  Being forced to slow down and read the notes, was incredibly frustrating and far from musically rewarding for me.  Today, I cringe at the thought that I quit lessons after only one year.

Sixth grade came and during the first week, anyone interested in band was to sit down and chat with Mr. Brouwer for a bit and be "fitted" with an instrument.  When he asked what I WANTED to play, I, of course, replied with, "DRUMS!"  I remember him asking about piano, but he must not have heard my reply clearly, because I believe he was under the impression that I had no (or, not enough) piano to play drums.  So, he said, "we'll put you down for trumpet, and we'll write 'drums' really small over here in the corner."  I left feeling confused (I was eleven).  When the schedule was posted, I was determined to attend percussion class and not brass class!  After the first brass class met, some of my friends told me that my name was called and that Mr. Brouwer wondered why I wasn't there.  I went to see him later and was given a Cornet to take home.  When I got home I spoke with my mother and she knew I was extremely disappointed. Here's when one of those key moments happened.  I inherit my non-combativeness from my mother.  Yet, she went to school the next day and spoke with Mr. Brouwer to make sure he understood that I had taken piano lessons, and, as a result of her conversation with him, I was allowed to be in percussion class!!  I played percussion in band until graduating from high school.

Middle school is also when one of my best friends introduced me to the band Journey (those close to me know this to be my all time favorite band).  He had an older brother who was into music and knew what was good as well as what was cool.  My first memory of Journey was hearing Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin' on the radio which was actually Steve Perry's second album with the band.  I remember saying to my buddy, "I thought their singer was a girl."  My friend pointed out to me some TV shows (Saturday Night Live, Midnight Special) where Journey was playing.  I tuned in and immediately fell in love with the band and have been a fan ever since.  I remember trying to sing along with their material, and because it was so high, I needed to use falsetto (a high, breathy sound often used for effect by men, but rarely used for regular performance. Exceptions are Frankie Valli and the Bee Gees).  Because of singing in falsetto a lot, that part of my voice really strengthened and I ended up using it a great deal singing the high harmony parts in the bands I played in later in life.

 In high school, I continued to play drums in band, particularly enjoying marching band, where the drummers were often showcased.  I enjoyed both field and street marching, but felt that marching in parades was the most fun because of all the people.  It made you feel like a mini rock star for an hour!  In the tenth grade, a class called Jazz Band appeared on my radar.  The cool thing about Jazz Band was that the drummers played a DRUM SET!  Problem:  I did not own a drum set on which to practice.  I saved up and purchased my first set.  A used Sonar kit from Jim Ritenour, a guy who sold drums out of the screened in porch in his home in Allegan (Jim would later go on to found RIT Music with several stores in the West MI area.  There is still one in Holland).  I went on to play drum set in Jazz Band in both the eleventh and twelfth grades.  Jazz Band was easily my favorite class as a Junior in high school, but it would ultimately become tied for that rank my senior year.  In the fall of my eleventh grade year, our band director, Mr. Ritsema, picked out a song for Jazz Band that had a vocal (here comes another one of those pivotal moments in my life).  The song was Flashdance/What a Feeling from the movie Flashdance.  After giving us the music, he looked right at me and asked, "Cos, do you want to try the vocal solo?"  He had my mother as a student and knew she was a great singer who sang Climb Ev'ry Mountain (from The Sound of Music) at her high school graduation.  In hindsight, I can't believe I didn't respond with, "well, I don't want to go FIRST!"  But, I didn't.  I got up, grabbed the microphone and sang.  Scared to death!  The class was made up of mostly seniors, which made it even more scary, given that I was a junior.  Surprisingly, more than half the class ended up auditioning that morning, but I was ultimately awarded the solo.  I will never forget the first public performance of that piece.  It was in the cafeteria of the middle school where I currently teach.  The middle school that I attended a couple years prior.  The engagement was during lunch and was a Jazz Band tradition.  I remember most of the instrumental songs going well.  Some of the middle school audience seemed attentive but, as is typical with middle schoolers, there was not a great deal of focus on the performance.  That is, until we did the song with a vocal.  Apparently, I sang pretty well because I will never forget the applause afterwards.  Specifically, the screams from the girls.  That was a turning point for me, and a huge confidence boost (and another one of those pivotal moments).  Later that school year, I pointed out to Mr. Ritsema that the Sergio Mendez song, Never Gonna Let You Go, that we were already performing as an instrumental, would also work well with a vocal.  He allowed me to give it a try and I ended up performing it as a vocal duet with a female member of the band.  If you remember that song, the final chorus goes way up.  This gave me a chance to use that falsetto that Steve Perry helped me start building about four years prior.  We were rehearsing on stage for a concert later that evening, when Mr. Ritsema said, "wait a minute you guys," and left the room.  He returned with Mr. DeBoer, the choir director, sat him down and said, "listen to this!"  We performed the song again and at the conclusion of class, Mr. DeBoer called me over.  We chatted a bit and he walked me into the choir room, sat down at the piano, played, and had me sing some scales followed by My Country Tis of Thee.  He then said, "Well, the audition results for Madrigals (the top vocal group in the school) will be on my door in the morning.  You might want to come take a look."  I walked out completely bewildered and said to myself, "I think I just auditioned for Madrigals." (That was another REALLY pivotal moment)

As fate would have it, I was on the list for the 1984-85 roster for the Zeeland High Madrigal Singers (another one of those life changing moments)!  I had NO idea what to expect, having never sang in a choir and I have to admit, it was challenging at first.  I hadn't really played a pitched instrument since piano lessons (the girls always played the mallet parts in percussion), so learning to read vocal music was tricky at first, but I eventually got better.  I had a great time in "Mads" my senior year and earned several solos throughout the year.  Looking back, I wonder if I offended some of the long-time choir students.  I wonder if they thought, "Who is this new guy coming in and getting all the solos?"  Today, I am very thankful that they accepted me as one of their own and extremely thankful to Mr. James DeBoer for taking the initiative in my audition process.

Near the end of the first semester of my senior year, I was really not getting much from the computer class in which I was enrolled.  The bulk of the class was BASIC programming.  Very tedious and not for me.  I must have whined about my situation to Mr. Ritsema because he suggested I become a practicum (teacher's assistant) for Freshman Band, second semester, which I did by dropping Computers.  That raised my schedule to FOUR music classes!  I had to promise my guidance counselor that I was planning to major in music in college, in order for him to allow the addition of a fourth music class.

The musical highlight of my senior year occurred at the Tulip Time Salute.  The Salute was an event held at the Holland Civic Center (a 2500 seat venue) during Tulip Time.  A professional sound and lighting company was brought in to make it look, and feel, very professional.  The performers were all the local high schools' top groups.  That year, I had a drum solo with Jazz Band, a vocal solo with Madrigals on the song God Bless the U.S.A. (the first time it was a hit), a solo with the mass/combined choir, and my barbershop quartet brought the house down with Goodbye My Coney Island Baby (I had the high, falsetto note in the end!).  At the conclusion of my senior year, I was voted Most Talented, in the senior elections.

As a middle school music teacher today, I feel compelled to add the following as I have had several students, over the years, who struggle with the issue of "sports vs. music."
During ALL OF THE ABOVE (until very late in my high school career) my dream was to be a professional athlete.  Such a common dream for youngsters (boys especially, it seems).  It wasn't until near the end of my high school years that I realized music could, and would, take me MUCH further than sports could.

Peace


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pride

Pride

Why is it that some people seem to have too much of it, while others don't seem to have enough?

I'm sure we've all had run-ins with someone that ended badly, simply because of pride and principle.  That's not always a bad thing, but sometimes it can be.

I also see people who don't seem to really have any pride.  They don't seem to take pride in anything they do or create.  Why is that? 

Well, for an adolescent (remember, I've been teaching middle school for seventeen years), it can be difficult.  It is much easier for a middle school kid to take no stance, than to take a stand.  For, or against, anything.  just ride the fence.

I see it with their artwork.  We have students who create beautiful artwork, yet seem to be embarrassed to take it home on the bus.  Why on earth is that??  They should be proud of their work.  Especially, if that work has won some sort of an award. 

I remember once, after an awards assembly, finding one student's award for poetry crinkled up in the trash can.  What's up with that? 

It's because of what they think is cool, or not cool. 

What I don't see are sports trophies in the trash.  It's cool to be good at sports.  Most of the athletes are quite popular and beam with pride and self-confidence.  Shouldn't the kid with the starring role in the school play behave in a similar manner?  I sure think so.  But they don't.  Singing and acting, although loved by everyone as a SPECTATOR, simply doesn't receive as much respect, it seems.  At least in my small community, they don't.  Especially for the boys.  I constantly have to remind our male musicians to take pride in what they do.  Because they are GOOD!  They SHOULD be prideful.

Like with many things in life, there is a balance.  A delicate balance between not enough, and too much pride.