Back in the (blogging) saddle
It’s been a long time since I posted – I’m sorry, dear readers, I have been thoroughly entrenched in thesis-land, writing up, then writing some more… I am making steady progress, but it is not finished yet. Not yet. I am still to set the date for the post-submission party.
Meanwhile, work continues. It’s been busy. Back in the April school holidays, I had four great days at ArtPlay. The first two were working with this year’s MSO ArtPlay Ensemble, and the second two were with a group of primary school students who were coming to music for the first time. That was with a program called City Beats.
Here’s what we did:
The MSO ArtPlay Ensemble composed music inspired by Rachmaninov’s Rhapsodie on a theme of Paganini. We looked at the idea of composing variations on a theme, likening variations to musical disguises. I was particularly happy with my warm-up sequence for this project, which introduced a number of composition techniques that Rach makes use of in the Rhapsodie, but which explored them in game form. It was also interesting for me to observe my own role as the project leader, particularly on the first day, when the children spend a lot of time working with their adult musician (from the MSO) in break-out groups. (I’m paying particular attention to my role and pedagogy in this year’s project, as part of the large funded research project happening at ArtPlay). In the break-out groups, when I move from group to group, keeping an eye on how things are progressing, I was also able to spend time with individuals, sometimes because they needed a bit of extra support or direct encouragement, and sometimes because they needed challenging, and could be taken aside for a short time to develop solos or more demanding material of their own.
The aim of the City Beats! project was to give the young kids a big range of musical experiences. They had none before. We took them through body percussion, singing, tuned percussion, learning Arabic rhyhms on untuned percussion, and brainstorming ideas for composing. That was on the first day. The second day, we developed a number of short creative experiences from their brainstorm sheets, including a rap about a Cool Cat, prowling the streets, being the hippest cat around, street cred galore. Here are some of the lines I remember (the whole thing rhymed, but I can only recall random lines now):
He flicks his tail in anyone’s way
He’s a cat with abs and a 6-pack
He’s got five girlfriends and he never gets dumped
I spent the second week of the holidays writing the Ceaseless Thesis (as my friend Mal calls it).
I am at a new school this term (which I’ll keep anonymous with the name Pelican Primary School, a made-up name that I like, no other reason!), so started that last week, in the first week of Term 2. It’s a lovely school, very close to where I live. Lots of newly-arrived students, and many from non-English speaking backgrounds. In fact, there are quite a few kids that I know from the Language School, who moved to this school at the end of their intensive English language learning.
It’s been interesting to put myself in a new school. In that first week, it highlighted for me just how comfortable I am at the Language School. I have been there four years now. Even though the students constantly change (because it is a transitional school), I know the environment, and I know the staff very well. I’ve developed a pedagogical approach that is very effective, and within which I feel very sure of myself – a dynamic, fun, interesting teacher.
In a new school, however, I was surprised how different it felt. I didn’t feel dynamic. I didn’t know the students, nor the teachers. I couldn’t make any assumptions about what they did or didn’t know. I was in a new music room, with different equipment, missing those staple instruments I use in every lesson at the Language School. Talking about it with a friend, he suggested that it was probably no different to a musician going and playing with a new band. You can be as sure of your skills as you like, but there will still be a settling-in period during which you’ll be finding your feet somewhat.
The second week was a lot easier. One lovely reason for this was that pretty well every class came in, excited to tell me what they remembered form the previous week. On more than one occasion this week, I tossed out my original lesson plan to follow their enthusiasm for tasks that I had thought hadn’t been so well-received. I’m happiest in lessons when I can follow the momentum set by their enthusiasm, so this was a great delight for me, and a good endorsement of what I had already set in motion.
I continue also at the Language School. A number of new students have joined us this term. The season of Capital Works at the school is coming to an end soon (hurrah! no more power tools to contend/compete with) and with one class, we have begun writing a song about the building works to perform at the official opening ceremony of the school’s new library:
Lower went to Middle, Middle went to Upper,
Upper went to work in the computer room.
The builders came, with ladders and cars,
And a caravan.
They were painting, they were ripping, they put carpet on the floor
They were banging, they were cutting, they made shelves for our bags.
And we tried to listen to our teacher
While they built a new library for us.
Lots of other projects are in the pipeline too, and I’ll blog more about these in turn. Quite a lot of it is teacher professional development, which I am really enjoying planning and leading.