Rain, Rain Go Away Variations

The rain this evening reminds me that this morning yet another kindergartner mixed up words in a very humorous way during class.  You know, I never realize what certain students think the lyrics are to a song until I call them up and have them sing it as a solo…and I’m often very amused at what I hear.  I actually can’t even remember what today’s variation was today, but I know it was in Rain, Rain Go Away.  Here are some favorites from past classes that I do remember:

#1

Original: Rain, Rain Go Away, Come again another day

A boy student’s version: Rain, Rain Go Away, Come again on Mother’s Day

#2

Original: Hot Cross Buns

A girl student’s version: Cross Off Doug

#3

Original: Bow wow wow, Who’s dog art thou?

A girl student’s version: Bow wow wow, Who’s god art thou?

There are many more, but these readily come to mind at the moment.

All the best,

Allie

Meat-and-Potato Music

Sometimes my piano students ask me why they are required to play classical music.  Why not stick to pop, jazz, movie themes, etc?  Classical can “boring” or “laborious”, while the other types are “fun.”  There are several metaphors I like to use in answering this question, and I’ll give two here:

1. Classical music is great literature, while pop music is modern youth fiction.  It may take concentration and in-depth study to read through and grasp all the themes of Paradise Lost or Pride and Prejudice, but who in their right mind would replace these with Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?  Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy both of the latter book series – it’s when you want to shove the tested and true literature, known as “great” since long before you were born, that the problem shows up.  Your mind grows and becomes sharper through reading stories sculpted and refined by Milton and Austen (and many others), even if they may seem heavy and tiresome when first encountered.  Stories of an a slightly more inferior nature meet your mind where it is for the most part and entertain rather than expand.  A Chopin prelude is like a great work of literature and may be challenging but extremely rewarding.  A Taylor Swift song arranged for piano is just fine for on-the-side learning and is no detriment to healthy practicing, but it probably won’t enhance your musicality in a significant way.

2. Classical music is meat, fruit, vegetables and a rich apple pie; pop music is Twinkies and Oreos.  I love a good Oreo.  Eating only Oreos, every meal, every day, though, is obviously not the smartest thing one could do for one’s diet and health.  Same for your musical health.  If you’re not getting heavy doses of meat-and-potato-like music by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, you’re missing out, and your musical health is going to spiral downhill in no time at all.  Eat a hearty Scarlatti Sonata for lunch and save the pop tune for a tasty midday snack.

Basically, if the core of your piano practice is consistently fed and fattened by the superior quality of Classical music, adding some elements of pop is a great idea – it can display your variety and offer a nice brain-break and is just plain fun.  But don’t feed primarily on Cheez-Its without your dose of chicken noodle soup, and be sure to read Tolkien along with your Rowling.

All the best,

Allie

Is This Relevant?

When teaching classroom music, a very common thing for me to see are many, many hands raised above faces that threaten to just burst if you ignore them.  40% of the time, however, the comments/stories/random facts/odd questions, etc., that come out of hiding when I actually call on the student do not pertain at all to the lesson or activity at hand.  I acknowledged one such eager hand two days ago, and was asked this question by a boy student: “Have you ever taken out a frog’s brain??”  “No,” I said.  “Well, I really want to!  Its brain…or maybe its heart!”  This then led another boy to pick up on the theme: “Well, I’ve seen a chicken’s heart!  And its stomach!”  Needless to say, none of this was part of the first music lesson of the year in my planner.  So I mentally reminded myself that I must ask the student with his hand raised (and hope he answers honestly), “Is your question important…or can it wait until later?”

A Thirst Which Will Last For a Lifetime

On Monday I embark upon my second year of teaching Elementary Music at Logos School.  Last year’s experience was extremely rewarding and enjoyable, even though I was simultaneously relearning so much of what I thought I knew about musical instruction.  Each week I planned out my lessons about a day in advance because it was the first time I’d ever taught classroom music.  I know I botched a lot of things and that there is a lot to improve upon this coming year. But what made the year overall very satisfying was seeing how much the children looked forward to music class every week.  And as we all know, when students love a subject or class, they are much more likely to succeed in it.  Therefore, despite my inexperience, each and every student progressed in significant ways in only 30 minutes a week.  That’s what makes me want to go back this year…next week even!

What makes the children love music class so much?  Isn’t music as a school subject something only “musical” kids enjoy? Isn’t it a bunch of boring theory worksheets and tedious choral exercises?  Zoltan Kodaly, a Hungarian composer and music teacher, says NO.  I took a year-long class on Koldaly’s (pronounced “KOH-dayh”) philosophy of music education and the method of teaching that complements it, and that’s why I said above that so many preconceptions about teaching music were being challenged and changed.  For the good.

Kodaly believed that children were to be educated in such a way as to develop them into:

1) Performers (that is, people who make and share music)

2) Stewards of musical and cultural heritage

3) Critical thinkers

4) Creative human beings

5) Listeners

In order to achieve the #1 objective, that children be performers, he fittingly stresses the importance of singing.  He said, “There is a well-known saying of Bulows: He who cannot sing, be his voice good or bad, should not play the piano either.  What did Bulow mean by this?  He did not mean that every movement and part of a Beethoven sonata should be sung before it is played.  But that nobody can play it well if he does not feel and know where the essence of the melody is, and if he cannot bring it to life with his voice whatever his voice may be like” (Kodaly, “Who is a Good Musician,” in Bonis, The Selected Writings, 193).

Singing has a way of internalizing music that hours of practice on no instrument can compete with.  Children ought to learn, then, to play their own instruments first, which are themselves.  If they learn to sing in tune and locate, feel and understand the melody in any given piece of music, taking up a new instrument becomes a mere branching out from what they already know, rather than a huge new chore that is disconnected with anything they’ve done before.

Furthermore, as far as music is concerned, a voice is the only thing about a child that he is sure to have in common with the rest of the class (and humanity, for that matter).  Singing then becomes the most logical and natural place from which to begin instruction, since the teacher makes use of the one thing already in place in every single child.  Then, singing makes single children into one whole, as they grow and learn to listen to and control their pitch so that they each match one another.  For the educational method associated with Kodaly, this first step happens in Kindergarten…and in the following years, all the magic happens.

I will come back to this topic several times.  So far I’ve listed the five main goals for students of music and delved a bit into the first.  For now, here is a memorable quote from Kodaly that reveals why children learning under this philosophy can’t get enough of music class and also why it is essential that music be taught as a subject at school along with English, History, Math, etc.:

“Teach music and singing at school in such a way that is not a torture but a joy for the pupil; instill a thirst for finer music in him, a thirst which will last for a lifetime.  Music must not be approached from its intellectual, rational side, nor should it be conveyed to the child as a system of algebraic symbols, or as the secret writing of a language with which he has no connection.  The way should be paved for direct intuition.  If the child is not filled at least once by the life-giving stream of music during the most susceptible period – between his sixth and sixteenth years – it will hardly be any use to him later on.  Often a single experience will open the young soul to music for a whole lifetime.  This experience cannot be left to chance, it is the duty of the school to provide it” (“Children’s Choirs,” in Bonis, The Selected Writings, 130).

All the best,

Allie

The 11-Year-Old and Piano Lessons

In my years of being both a piano student and piano teacher, I’ve noticed a pattern.  Around age eleven, it is very typical for piano students, especially boys, to beg and plead to quit lessons.  I personally went through this phase around this age.  I decided I was done – it was too hard, it took too much time, it wasn’t fun anymore, the list goes on.  My mother, wise woman as she was and is, simply said ‘no.’  Unfortunately, many parents are saddened by their child’s decision to give up on music at this age, but often do not put their foot down.  And so their son (or daughter), after only a few years’ exposure to the character-forming and brain-exercising joys of music, drifts away from musical instruction and usually does not come back since their lessons ended on a bad note (no pun intended…).  Since my 11-year-old ‘decision’, I have regularly thanked my mom for refusing to let me give up.  After the generally awkward years of 10-12 or so, kids take whatever they’ve grown good at and begin to really love and pursue it.  Not only have I seen this with myself, but also with several of my students.  Some are wisely pushed through to the other side, but others easily get out of lessons and usually regret it later.

So basically, this is an exhortation, at the beginning of a new school year, to parents (and students) to keep on a-goin’ with music lessons.  If your child is complaining about it, don’t just let it go this year and assume that the kid isn’t ‘musical’ after all.  Treat lessons like schoolwork (you don’t just keep your child home from school because it’s ‘hard’, do you?), because, in all honesty, they are just as important in the child’s growth and maturity as math and history.  Explain to them that this 11-year-old (or 10- or 12-year-old) mindset of theirs is completely normal and that you think it best to get over this hill and out into the next area of life, which will be broadened and enriched considerably by their continued piano (or guitar or violin or flute or voice, etc.) lessons.  They’ll thank you later!