Archive for the ‘teachers’ Tag

The nakedness of music-making

On Friday I taught a Professional Learning seminar on classroom composition to a small group of primary school teachers from around Victoria. One of the topics that came up was the fear that many people have in music-making.

It’s not necessarily a fear of the music-making itself, but the vulnerability that comes with it – that sense of revealing yourself, of not being good enough, of leaving yourself open to criticism.  Of being stripped bare, in some way. There is perhaps an inherent risk in music-making.

“Coming here today, I was worried I wouldn’t know enough,” one teacher confided. She added, “But it’s been good to find that wasn’t the case, and that there is lots I can do without having to be a music specialist first.”

Other teachers commented on the fear of the new – of having to step out of their comfort zones and be a beginner again in order to learn a new skill. “It’s a good reminder, though, of how our students must often feel,” one teacher suggested.

Music has a strange status in our culture – an artform that nearly everyone has a relationship with (in terms of favourite music and musicians to listen to, and in the way we build personal soundtracks to our lives) but that we are taught to distance ourselves from from an early age, as being something that is really only for the talented. Those that do get involved might be constantly challenging the little voices in their heads that compare them with others, tell them they don’t know enough, or chide them for trying to do this in the first place.

It’s a strange and uncomfortable thing, this insecurity. I wonder, does it ever truly end? I think about some of the professional musicians I’ve led training workshops with, and how so much of their discomfort about learning workshop skills and improvisation comes from a fear of ‘showing themselves up’, somehow (especially in front of their colleagues) – despite the tremendous expertise they have with their instruments, and musicianship in general.

Do other artforms engender as much fear? Do they feel as exposing? Do they bring forth the same kind of personal protective mechanisms? It is a reminder to those of us that teach and facilitate of the massive importance of the safety of the working space, by which I mean the way we establish an environment in which people feel able to let go of some of their personal protections in order to have some new musical experiences. And we need to ensure that every ‘event’ – every workshop, every class, every performance – brings with it a positive sense of success for the participants, some kind of feeling of exhilaration and wellness that will outweigh any fear they may have felt at the beginning or during the process, and bring them back again.


Visual cues (4)

Second day of Professional Learning Seminar for the Song Room, on creativity, music and story today. What a fabulous group of participants we were blessed with! Taking part in music and creative work can feel quite confronting for people, and many of those in our group admitted to feelings of apprehension on the first day. But they also said they knew how powerful music and the arts were proving for the children in their schools, and they came along to the 2-day seminar to build up their owns skills in order to make more music and more arts happen in their schools. Bravi to them!

There were some more visual cues from SY that I want to add to yesterday’s post:

  • A rope, spread out along the ground. We made a line and had to run along it in bare feet, one at a time. Again, this a great strategy for organising the children in the space, as they love the playful pretending that is taking place as they act out the story, and absolutely everyone wants to run along the rope. So they are all waiting patiently, 100% engaged.
  • When the group gathers together to discuss something, SY spreads a large piece of velvet fabric on the ground, in a rich dark red colour. It provides a visual cue for the boundary around which we will sit. It suggests a kind of formality, or ritual, to the act of gathering together.

I am pretty tired from these two days. I have loads of energy throughout, but once the day is over, I crash.

We had a theme of pirates across the two days – arrrgh! Today we wrote a Pirate Chant, which had some fun lines:

Pieces of eight, yea HO, me hearties

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum (Land Ahoy)

Walk the plank, brandish the cutless

Hoist the Jolly Roger,

X marks the spot!

That was our chorus. My brain has turned to mush and I can’t remember the verses. If anyone from the course reads this post and can fill in some more, please do, via the comments section (link at the top of this post). I will add more if/when I remember more.


Getting back into the swing of things here. I have a few projects in my head now:

  • Upcoming 2-day course for teachers that I am co-leading for the Song Room with Sarah Young, drama and story specialist, who is also an early years specialist. Two days of creative work and music.  Today we had a planning session and brainstorm, and left feeling very energised and buzzy about our ideas.
  • Prison project. In about a month, we will finally start the Orchestra’s composition project with prisoners in one of Melbourne’s prisons. This project has been in the planning for more than two years. It is a real ‘first’ for the Orchestra. At the moment I am putting together a CD of reference music for the musicians and I, to give some ideas about the kinds of things we might create. There is a whole range of stuff on it, from Topology (Brisbane-based ensemble, very interesting), Steve Reich, Jacques Brel, Komitas (Armenian composer). I am yet to start planning the workshop sessions, but building up a picture in my head.
  • Language School 08 – I am meeting with the teachers tomorrow to talk through ideas. One thought I have had is to continue with the project I started last year, building music pieces from text. But I am also keen to sit down with the teachers, look through the full range of previous projects, and get their thoughts on what the strongest ones were.
  • Performing – my performing ambitions are to the fore once more. I have some Brel songs I want to learn (in French), and some Bosnian sevdah (in Bosnian). There is also a song by the Modena City Ramblers (Irish music in style, but sung in Italian – crazy!) that I think will work well. I want to figure out accompaniments that I could play on the accordion. They will have to be easy, because I can’t really play accordion. But I want to sing the songs.
  • Plus, I am now in Masters-land again. Need to put my Ethics application in asap. Which means defining my research question and how I will approach it. More on that later, as a separate post.

So, finally, this blog is Back On-Topic. Thanks to all those who stayed with me through the travel.

Collaboration with ESL teachers

Last term one of my readers suggested I could set about building projects around work that my colleague teachers might already have underway in the classroom, as a way of encouraging further follow-through and reinforcement of some of the music-literacy tasks I have been developing.

It came as a timely reminder. I feel this is an approach I have tried before, and found frustrating in the lack of time there was available to properly plan with teachers, or communicate effectively about current work and goals for the class. We try, and have tried, but despite loads of good will and efforts, a true collaboration often proved elusive.

This term at the Language School I cannot teach up until the end of term (because I am going overseas – yee ha!). This means I won’t be around to lead the end-of-term performances that are such a significant and much-loved part of the term’s work.

Therefore, the teachers and I have concocted a plan – I will set about creating performance projects with the students that the teachers can continue when I am gone, that they will take through to the end of term. I need to plan composition tasks that take the teachers’ current skills into consideration, build in some in-class opportunities for teachers to lead and develop their musical skills, and work with material that is suitable for visiting in class by the teachers, during the week.

I have asked each teacher to select a book for their class to focus on for their music composition work – a book that was interesting enough to be read over and over again, and that contained useful literacy goals and vocabulary for the students. In the first week of term the books were chosen, and yesterday I started working with text from the books.

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Collaborative relationships (1)

“How do you work together with the literacy teacher– is some of the musical alphabet work woven into her lessons, and are you starting to see if this work results in any tangible literacy outcomes?”

This question was posted recently following my description of my Musical Alphabets project with Middle Primary students. The quick answer to my reader’s question is, “Not really, no. As far as I know, the material we work on in music doesn’t get developed further in the classroom, and so literacy outcomes as a result of the Musical Alphabets work would be difficult to isolate.”

Given that I designed the project task with a link to literacy in mind, this seems a fairly unsatisfactory answer to offer, so I thought it would be valuable to look at the question of collaborative relationships with teachers when you are an artist-in-residence or a specialist teacher.

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