Tuesday, December 29, 2009
This post has next to no content, sorry about that.
Christmas has been fun. My favorite thing about America is that you can decide to run an errand, run the errand, and get home all with in half an hour. Isn't that amazing?
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thanks to Mical and Dan for picking me up at the airport and then taking me for delicious sushi. (I do love sushi) Laine showed up towards the end of the meal which was wonderful also.
But lets take a moment to go back a couple of days, yes? The tykes put on a show! And I have videos of it! It hadn't occurred to me before Wednesday just how difficult it is to take a video of a children's performance. It isn't that the kids are moving around so very much (we had them trained up good) so much as it is the parents popping up every ten seconds to take another picture of their *child!* Which, fair enough, but maybe we could have, like, a press corps section of the hall? All photographs and video cameras in a special designated area where they can just get in each other's way and not disrupt- you know *MY* video? Because I'm all greedy like that?
I will say that my favorite part of the video is during the reception performance when near the end one of the fathers waves his hand to get his tyke's attention and then when that fails to work he snaps. Um. Not like he got angry- he just clicked his fingers...never mind. C. also spends most of the video with her fingers up her nose. (By "trained up good" I mean that relatively speaking. They are only four after all.)
Anyhow- it was a riotous success and super fun, and if you're in Seattle you're more than welcome to come to see the videos which I can't put up online for obvious privacy reasons.
After the show we went to the staff Christmas lunch. I've never been to a proper work Christmas do before so that was very exciting. It was at a restaurant that was technically only a 10 minute walk from school- assuming you went in a reasonably straight line. The music teachers decided as a group not to take a taxi there with everyone else since it was snowing lightly and prettily. In retrospect we probably should have double checked that we knew where we were heading first. It took us about 40 minutes to walk there because we basically went in a giant, cold, snowy circle. What this *did* mean however is that when we finally arrived we were cheered. So alls well that ends well.
We had received an email that morning notifying us that the school had ordered enough wine for everyone to have about half a bottle each and if we wanted more alcohol after that we were just going to have to pay for it ourselves! Hmmph. I want to let you know that in order to set the stage for this next part- remember that there was a performance that morning and that in the lead up to the performance everyone in the basement early years section of the school had been listening to and singing these songs over and over and over and over and over (etc.) again. We were all waking up with the songs running through our head and and all falling asleep with them running through our heads still. There were two in particular that seemed to have special, sticky properties. Those were "Etoile de Noel" (Which is still stuck in my head) and "Snowflake Serenade"
So a group of tipsy early years teachers, a charming and beautiful young music teacher (that's me, guys), and snow dumping it down outside the window- my boss turned and pointed to me and said "this is your fault!" before leading a rousing rendition of Snowflake Serenade in a public restaurant while everyone was wearing colorful paper crowns from the Christmas crackers. Nice.
Monday, December 14, 2009
1. Make rehearsal CDs. Make them early. Have the track list on a USB drive in case anyone loses their copy of the CD. Make my *own* copy of the CD so that I don't need to keep borrowing classroom copies.
2. Learn to play the piano! My gosh, all of this would be *so* much easier if I could play the piano instead of relying on CDs (which keep getting lost/scratched/etc.) and/or hoping that Linda is available for rehearsals.
3. It is important to have the set lists early on so that we can see in what ways the songs need to be edited- is the key too high? Too low? Are the words too complicated? Are the words so simple that the tykes get bored singing halfway through the song and trail off before staring into space? This is good to know before the show!
4. Actions for every part of the song (don't leave one verse with the tykes just standing there because you couldn't think of a good action for "shepherds"). Simple is better. Reinforcing the lyrics is best. Sure, let the kids help out with the actions- but only one action per line- that's how it will end up anyway and doing too many just confuses the issue.
5. Sort out the choreography of leading- are the teachers doing everything? Am I doing everything? Either I need to get out of the way and the teachers need a chance to practice the whole group standing up bits or I need to know when each and every kid has their line so that I can cue and prompt when necessary. Again- figure this out early on! And ask the teachers what they would prefer! Having the classroom teachers totally on board is both polite and necessary.
That's what I've got off the top of my head right now, I'm sure there is more that I'm currently forgetting...
Today was our dress rehearsal! My gosh the costumes are cute. I hadn't realized that the nursery kids were going to have costumes as well (the Receptions tykes obviously do since they are putting on a proper play with characters and everything!) The nursery tykes made star wands to wave around during the French song "Etoile de Noel" (Star of Christmas?) and have made reindeer headbands! So cute! The antlers are bronze hand prints cut out and stuck onto a brown circle of construction paper on their heads.
The reception tykes rocked their dress rehearsal! Well, sort of. The costumes are great, they know all the words, and for the most part they do the hand actions (though there are a couple of tykes who will do the actions for all the songs that they are *not* singing in as well. I think that's hilarious). What we're currently having trouble with is a case of too many cooks spoiling the soup. Any and all adults who have been involved with this show are sitting in front doing the actions along with the kids and so they have *no* idea where to look.
We did not do a good job of sorting out the choreography of their attention.
As much as I would like to be at the head of the show boosting them along and leading it- I think I need to back off (along with B.,, the head of Early years, who doesn't even *know* the actions! Stop! You're confusing them! Look at their faces! Con-fused!) and just let the classroom teachers lead the show. It's going to be great though- they are adorable in their costumes and it will be fascinating to see how the excitement of having their *parents!* in the room will affect them.
Nursery tykes. Oh, nursery tykes. You are so very cute in your reindeer hats. But nursery tykes? If you sit there moping and not making a sound then this isn't going to work. Mope-y tyke-y reindeer are cute and amusing- but they're not really the vibe we're going for. You know, nursery tykes? So what do we need to do? How can I help tomorrow so that on Wednesday we are the *excited* and *awesome* baby reindeer that I KNOW we can be? Hmmm? Let me know nursery tykes. We can do this together.
In other news I woke up with "Xanadu" stuck in my head and it hasn't left yet. Olivia Newton John- I'm a fan and all, but that song is terrible!
The meeting was a little bit silly- it is a new organization and while things are generally going well there is more that the org would like to do and expand upon- which is all well and good. A chamber music programme *would* be a great addition to the offerings, as would composition workshops. Absolutely.
But here's the thing- one of the things that I learned during my IPE rehearsals this summer was that if I was prepared with a number of possible ideas for how a portion of the piece could go then things went swimmingly- even if the devising process left my ideas in the dust. The important part was to have an *idea* of a solution (if, as the director, I couldn't think of a way to make it work, isn't it a bit presumptuous to think that other people are going to take the problem and run with it? Okay- sometimes that was exactly what was needed because I was beating my head against a brick wall and needed help- but that's not what I'm talking about- this is more at the beginning of the process.)
For instance say I wanted a story to be told through a piece of music. And presented it to my group exactly like that: "hey guys! Lets put a story to music! So...what story do you want to do?" It's awfully open ended, and totally not helpful. They may completely agree with me that putting a story to music is brilliant, what a fabulous idea! But I, as director, am going to need to put a little bit more in to it. A lot more in to it. "Hey, lets try little red riding hood with the oboe as the main character- do you think we could have a recurring bassoon part for the wolf? Maybe based a little bit on the wolf theme from Peter and the Wolf and oh! Hey! Maybe we could do a whole concert of pieces based on stories with wolves and use that as our common thread through the whole evening...." etc.
Yeah, a chamber music program is a great idea, but during this meeting we're not going to be able to organize that and figure out all the logistics and think of who should play with who and blah blah blah.
Here's how, in retrospect, I would have run that portion of the meeting (oh, it dragged on so!):
"We think a chamber music option would be great to have at the school- any first thoughts?"
(five minutes of discussion)
"So it sounds like using the students current lesson times isn't going to work for a number of reasons including disrupting already short lesson times, matching up groups of the same level who are having lessons at the same time, and figuring out how the payment works. What about if we tried having chamber music taster sessions to see if the students and parents are interested?"
(five minutes of discussion)
"Am I correct in understanding that most of you think Sunday would be a good day to do this? Is there anyone who is particularly interested or particularly not interested in joining in with this idea/plan?"
(raised hands or around the circle- 2 minutes)
"Wonderful then the four of us who are gung ho- lets be in touch via email about specific dates. Next on the agenda is..."h
See? streamlined! Repeating and clarifying the key points! Creating a sub-committee!
Anyhow- this morning I wrote a list of "things that I have learned about Kid's Christmas Recitals"
1. If it is in a church, dress you child in a turtleneck. Old stone churches are hard to heat and they get *cold.*
2. Kids in choirs are cute. Kids in choirs with over sized Santa hats are cuter still!
3. Treats and tastiness are a great idea for the interval. (And children drink mulled wine in the UK? Isn't it...alcoholic? I guess the cooking takes care of that?)
4. Two hours is far too long for a children's recital.
5. Sketch books are useful for keeping multiple teachers/tutors entertained
6. Question: is it alright to tell of other people's children when a: the child is noisily and repetitively interrupting the concert and b: the parent is doing nothing about it?
7. For those of you who ever messed up in a recital: no one minds- we're all just so proud of you for even getting up there.
It was really nice to spend some time with the rest of the tutors. They are all lovely people and since we never have a chance really to speak while we're teaching- it was particularly nice to get a chance to just hang out a little bit.
One of my favorite Kids is moving back to France after Christmas so this week is the last time I get to see him. Fortunately his parents and two little sisters were helping out with the treats and tastiness so I was able to spend a bunch of time talking to them as well. It was a bit of a mutual appreciation society: "Oh! M. just loves your class! Talks about it all the time!" "Well M. is such a good singer and he catches on to concepts so quickly! He concentrates hard and he's a joy to have in class, I'll miss him!" etc.
All in all a good experience.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I'm not really sure how to describe a panto for Americans...they are generally based around a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, I gather that usually there is quite a lot of cross dressing, it is for children(ish) but contains a number of topical pop culture/news references, you yell out at the actors on stage (In ENGLAND! I think this is one of those cases where something is SO taboo that an event is created where the taboo is lifted once a year. Is there a word for that? A fancy anthropology word?), and they happen every Christmas- generally with some random celebrity headlining (Case in point- this year Pamela Anderson is in one in Wimbledon. Seriously? Pamela Anderson?)
The panto started at half past nine so that meant that I had just enough time after the tykes arrived to gather them all up into one room and *try* going through all of the songs for the nursery's Christmas Carols performance. It was at about a quarter past nine that I realized that I had never seen all of the nursery children in one place. Do you know how many of them there are? *63!* And do you know how short they are? In order to get their attention I started with our basic physical warm up: wiggling fingers on our heads, clapping together, a big "shhhhhhhh!", and a bit of vocalizing. That mostly worked except that I was literally tripping over children. (The room was far too small to have a circle and we hadn't been organized enough when they were entering to keep any semblance of order- the tykes were willy nilly around the room/my ankles)
There is still a lot of work to be done on the songs but it was such a good thing to get all of them into one room. We'll be doing that again multiple times next week- at least then the shock of performing and being surrounded by their mommies and daddies (and babies! Don't forget the babies Miss Casey!) won't be compounded by the shock of having all three nursery classes together for the first time.
We went through the songs for the show, I sang "snowflake serenade" (the late entry to our set list) at them since they just need to hear it a lot at this point, and then we still had 10 minutes to kill and did I mention this was disorganized? The teachers were mostly sitting at the back of the room either dealing with a few tykes who are unable to handle crowds or exhaustedly taking a moment to breathe- which is when it occurred to me that I was in charge. That I was running this rehearsal, no one else had any particular agenda, and any decision about what we were going to do was in my hands since I was the expert in the room. Weird. So we sang some movement songs and I got them all quiet and then LOUD and we were princesses and princes (a first, actually), and spiderman (not a first), and eventually we were able to go into the cafeteria/hall to watch the panto. Oh, the panto.
Quick Plot Summary: Old Mother Hubbard and Silly Billy have adopted Priscilla the Goose and are worried both about money and about their evil neighbor who is a famous chef with a famous restaurant called Hells Kitchen. Priscilla lays a golden egg, the evil neighbor kidnaps her, and eventually Silly Billy saves her. Woo!
Oh, something I forgot about pantomimes, you *always* end up shouting "He's/She's BEHIND YOU!!" (also, according to Ella, "oh yes he is!" "Oh no he isn't!" and "BOOO!" with appropriate thumbs down gesturing)
We sat all of reception and nursery down on short benches and the floor and, for the first half (it was an hour and a half long show! For four year olds! I was impressed), I sat in amongst the tykes on the floor. The tykes: they got in to it.
*N. kept standing up and screeching with a big grin on her face because she was SO! EXCITED!
*M. was practically bursting out of her skin trying to help Silly Billy and Mother Hubbard out. She was pointing her arm out with her back arched and all of her muscles taught, clearly holding her breath as though if she could just squeeze herself enough the good guys would win. With her help and inside information. Obvs.
*T. wandered on to the stage, looked up at Silly Billy, and then was whisked off again by a teaching assistant
*P. got "cross" with the villain and during one quiet lull yelled out "You'll not be getting a biscuit!"
The whole thing was pretty hilariously cute.
So it's a little bit wet.
Apparently, at Christmas time, Hyde Park turns into a Winter Wonderland. This is a fully stocked portable amusement park. Seriously, the thing is huge. Craft stalls, noodle stalls, a bier tent, mulled wine booth, waffles, cotton candy and popcorn, a kiosk with assorted hand and neck warmers, and the most (okay, only) portable ATM's I've ever seen. And an ice rink. And a Ferris wheel. And the tallest portable free drop in the world (why do I know this? Because there was a flashing sign on the top that told me)
And the rides. Oh! The rides! I spent the whole time walking through fair ground repeating to my self "this would be an irresponsible use of money, this would be an irresponsible use of money" But, roller coasters! In the pouring rain! It would have been neat.
On Saturday Ella and I went shopping on Oxford Street looking for boots for her before she heads off to Poland to visit her boyfriend who is gigging over there currently. Oxford street on a Saturday is mad enough, but Oxford Street on a Saturday during Christmas season? Insane. They had shut down the street to cars so it was completely pedestrianized which was helpful because even with doubling the amount of space to walk it was still difficult to weave a path through all. the. people.
Fortunately *I* wasn't stressed out about finding anything in particular so I mostly just soaked in the atmosphere, got covered in fake snow bubbles, gazed at the impressive shop window displays, and hurried after Ella who dismissed any and all boots for being uncomfortable (i.e., not feeling exactly like her 3 year old pair that are falling apart. I'm not being totally fair- I didn't actually try any of the boots- but I have to admit I am inclined to think that she is completely discounting the whole idea of, you know, wearing leather in...)
Getting into the tube station to go home was challenging. They kept shutting the entrances because there were too many people on the platform- and that was fine because I do appreciate them making sure that no one got pushed on to the tracks.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
In nursery I have to keep reminding myself that this is my first time doing a year cycle and thus my first Christmas and hence it is alright that I've been screwing up. The set list keeps changing, the kids don't know the words, the teachers are confused about the tune, and I hadn't yet managed to make a CD of the songs so that they could *practice* Oops.
So this morning I came in early with my audio recorder and Linda and I sat down at the piano and got to work. It was actually totally, totally fun. We went through all of the songs that the nursery years are singing and recorded them with the alternate verses and in some cases slightly-different-than-notated-rhythms that I've already taught to them. Linda and I kept screwing up and then giggling and then getting down to work again.
C: lalallaaaa lalal aaa! (singing)
L: plink plonk plink plonk (piano)
C: Oh my gosh, Linda! I just realized! Look at my sweater...it's cabled. And my shirt? Cables. And my socks!! Sheesh, I'm all cabled up.
L: Good thing you don't work for a telegram company then, hmm?
So we got that all recorded- which of course took longer than expected because these things just do. Then I went around to all of the nursery classes for a quick run through of the proposed set list, which kept getting tweaked as I went from class to class.
The singing teachers in the nursery division are not evenly distributed- all the teachers and teaching assistants who like singing and are comfortable singing are all in one class, which means that their students are ON it (they've had more practice) and some of the other classes still aren't clear on the lyrics to the two songs we've been doing since half-term. Oops.
BUT! Now everyone has a CD to practice with and we're going to have a quick little jive through the songs tomorrow morning before they go to see the traveling Pantomime that is at school tomorrow.
So that's getting there. And I was a whiz at the CD creation and CD burning, which is good.
We decided that it would be a really good idea to have a run through with the reception kids today as well- not with their lines yet, but just to get them all in one room to sing their songs and to listen to the other class's songs.
They are rock stars.
Seriously, they rocked so hard. They knew the words, they knew the actions, they sang loudly, the hardly hit each other at all (only a little bit of smacking) and then, for the reprise at the end? The teachers weren't sure whether I had taught their students the words yet (I had, but only very briefly) and so the tykes- without waiting for the CD accompaniment immediately started singing the reprise with the correct words in the correct order at *almost* the correct tempo.
I was so proud.
I AM so proud.
Those little tykes. They're good'uns.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Ella got a car for her birthday (or something like that, I think it showed up this summer which is after her birthday, but whatever) so I sat in the passenger's seat and navigated while Ella drove through London. We were using the London A-Z and at one point (I'm not sure how this happened) we ended up a good 4 pages beyond where I thought we were...oops. I think we ended up going too far East and having to back track a bit, but we didn't do any "oh wait, that was the exit" or "turn around, turn around!" so points!
Mark, Ella's dad, was tired when we got there, but he kindly supplied us with assorted cheese and crackers and tea and we had a great time playing with the kittens and having a very involved discussion about pets until Naimh woke up from her nap.
It was a pretty great visit: cheese, kittens, and a baby! Do you really want anything more?
On Sunday I went to evensong with Sarah Titterington and her parents at St. Pauls (I'm getting to be an old hand at this whole evensong thing) turns out this week is the first week of advent so the Christmas trees were already up in the sanctuary and there was a giant advent wreathe in the corner. I tried sketching some of it to put in my sketch book/journal for the class I'm taking with Mical. Obviously I didn't get my paints out so I was writing detailed color notes on the sketch "silver grey blue" "silver grey blue, but darker because it's in the shadow" I realized as I wrote 'brown' and then crossed that out to 'grey' that just because I know what color that object is in the light (for instance: wood) doesn't mean that it is actually appearing that color right now.
After evensong we went to YO! Sushi (yes, that is actually the name of the restaurant) for a bit of tea and a snack. It is so nice to see all of them, they're lovely people. We had a good talk about things we might do in Kansas when everyone is there for the wedding in August. Kansas in August, who thinks that is a good idea temperature wise? Sarah and I keep joking that we should make sure all of the guys are in full morning suits (tails, waistcoat, cravat, top hat) since that is an English tradition.
Sunday evening (and here is where the new people come in again) I went to a meet up of blog readers from Jezebel.com which is a feminist leaning news and pop culture site. They were such lovely people! And none of them were musicians! We ended up at this bar right next to Tottenham Court Square that was *deserted* except for us (I guess Sunday early evening isn't a big time for bars?) so empty was it that we actually were hanging outside for a while convinced that it wasn't open until I asked (innocently and just covering our bases) "We did try the door, right?"
I think all told there were about 14 women there. I was on the younger side of things, but felt right at home anyway. Most people were ex-pats of one kind of another: Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and a couple of actual English people. They were lawyers, Women's rights activists, a recently published novelist (who I will tell you more about at Christmas since at least one of her books is becoming a gift), book store clerks, unemployed, and me. (I'm sure there were some other careers as well but there was such a flurry of talking that it was hard to keep everyone straight. I only caught about four names total.) Anyhow the evening was really lovely and I'm glad I had been brave enough to go show up at a random place in London to meet random people I knew very little about other than that we all enjoyed reading the same blog. Which, actually, it turns out is a fairly useful thing to know- there is a sort of baseline for assumptions you can make about that person.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Hey, guess what? My VISA SHOWED UP TODAY! So I'm good to go until November 18, 2011 now! And all that work that I've been doing? ALL of it is legal now! Woo!
We're having Thanksgiving at Sarah and Dave's place this year since A: they have the biggest living room/dining space and B: Sarah's parents are here, which is great because they are fun. There is going to be about 14 people there (Will there be enough chairs? No.) and since this year there are going to be a number of meat eaters- I've put myself in charge of the turkey again. Finding a turkey in London...
There was a giant turkey breast for sale at Morrisons, but since it was 35 (!) GBP, I thought...no. Tesco's had a sale on Chickens: 3 for ten quid, so I did that and then bought a couple of giant turkey legs since I figure that white meat is white meat, but turkey dark meat and chicken dark meat are *different.*
Currently in the oven I have two chickens, one turkey leg, and a rolled up roast of turkey breast. On top of the stove I've got one small casserole filled with stuffing and one loaf pan filled with stuffing (the loaf pan is staying at my flat so that Ella and I can have left overs.) The brussels sprouts aren't done yet, the corn bread and cranberry sauce was made yesterday, and this blog entry is turning in to a to do list for me...but that's still fun reading, right?!
Cranberries were hard to find this year, probably because I'm no longer living or going to school right next to a fancy, expensive grocery store. I managed to find *one* package so there is only a very small batch of cranberry sauce this year. (I may horde it. I'm not making any promises.)
I hope you all enjoy your Thanksgiving and have a wonderful holiday!
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I'm no longer sick! Which is *fabulous* I have a bit of a cough still (it's a weird one, originating in my chest rather than the throat tickly coughs that I am more used to) but other than that I am good to go! Which is good, because I am going.
This weekend I was the project manager for Guildhall's Continuing Professional Development (CPD) weekend which means that I was running around getting equipment, preparing the tea stuff, collecting feedback forms, and (my favorite) purchasing lunch.
Here's the thing- I really like food shopping. Aisles of produce make me happy (particularly when the fruits and vegetables are piled up all abundant and colorful like) and this was shopping with other people's money! Brilliant! So I had a lot of fun with that.
Mical signed me up for an Artist's Journal class to take with her (online!) just before she left to go back to Seattle, so I've been working on that as well. I have a little set of watercolors that I bought way back last September during my "I don't have to be a musician to be creative" defensive phase after I found out I failed my first year assessment. It's a super cute little set of watercolors and I've been carrying it around in my backpack for ages. The difference now is that I am *also* carrying around watercolor paper in the form of my new Artist's Journal that I made.
So during the CPD weekend I started sketching and painting and it was really lovely. I'm particularly proud of the watercolor I did today of Adam who was recording the weekend. He wasn't paying attention to the group and was instead reading things on the Internet which useful for me since that meant that mostly he stayed in one place. Yay! Adam thinks his arm muscles should be bigger and his legs longer, but whatever.
On Friday the Leadership department was having a scratch session which is an evening where people show work that is in progress. Nell invited the alumni to present something as well so I was *Brave* and I asked if I could show the video of the last night of the Aerial/Marimba gig. We had a little bit of technical difficulties with the projector but in the end we got it all hooked up so that the video was projected on the wall and the sound came through the speakers in the room (the better to hear all the crowd noise!) What I showed was very different from what everyone else was doing, but it went over well and I had a great time explaining how we had made it and what the goals on the piece were and what we were going to start exploring next. So that was really nice. It was also great to meet the new first years and see the current second years again and hear what they've been working on. There is a really comfortable and energetic vibe to the department these days and I'm really happy for them.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Which, for those of you who know Fahrenheit better than Celsius, is a range of 99.5F to 101.5F, and usually hitting 100.6F.
Meredith is returning the Flu Buddy favor and getting me the Tamiflu this afternoon. Thanks to her I also now have some soup, toilet paper, and shampoo- all of which I had managed to run out of. So yay Meredith!
I feel the worst at night and wake up many, many times to blow my nose, both cover up more and kick the covers off, and just generally from muscle pain.
Then, during the day, I'm just bored. But I don't feel like standing up. I am drinking lots of fluids though, and though I haven't really been napping- I also definitely haven't been exerting myself.
So there you go- update for today.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
High: We were referred to as "Graduands;" it was in The Guildhall which is old and venerable and cool; I ran into a bunch of old friends; I didn't trip on the stage; Latana's whole family was there to say 'hi' to; I had family there; I won a bottle of champagne (random prize draw); Meredith came to celebratory dinner; and Samir gave us a free bottle of Prosecco
Low: Grandpa was feeling poorly and couldn't make the ceremony; my diploma looks like it was printed on a laser printer (possibly a highlight actually because I think that is *hilarious*)
High: I'm so totally on top of this Christmas show thing. And the nursery kids got really into singing about putting on warm clothes (see? fun AND educational! It's cold outside! Put on a hat! Side note: what is with all of these three year olds having gloves? I'm sure I was much older before I was allowed to have hand warmers with individual fingers). I've already used "Galaxy of Games for Music Class" book that Grammy brought over from the US for me. Music club went really well (we finally broke it up into two sections because the 20+ kids was just getting too crazy. I have the nursery tykes and Linda has the reception tykes) and I still totally love my job. So much.
Funny: I got an email today from work informing me that one of the classes is singing "Too the loo" instead of "Toodaloo" and could I please correct that with them? Heh.
Highlight: After ages and ages spent calling all sorts of people trying to find a sub for Tuesday (graduation) Ella finally agreed to sub for me. So I ended up making this kick ass lesson plan complete with sheet music and hand drawn pictures all tucked inside of a handy blue folder. (I remain incredibly pleased with my lesson plan folder.) Ella did a great job, I got reacquainted with a bunch of people I had lost track of while calling everyone I knew to find a sub, and on Wednesday my lesson plan was all ready for me and laid out. I had two new kids on Wednesday trying out the class and one of the mothers stuck around to watch. Her three year old sat on her lap and was *dying* to join in which a: is great and b: means, I think, that I need to step up my game for the six year olds- make it a bit more challenging? Working on that one. *Another* highlight is that on the stairwell while bringing the kids back down to their parents I got not one, but TWO hugs from a kid who was only in my class for one session before getting bumped up a level. Thanks sweetie!
Low: Um. I still need to work on classroom management? Though I'm probably not as bad at it as I think I am given that the mother in the classroom said that the class was great and since she has a six year old, I figure she's better able to judge than I am.
Highlight: Mical and Dan and I have spent two days wandering the V&A. It is such a treasure trove of awesomeness. I actually started getting teary and a little breathless when walking into the theatre and performance displays (think I should do more of that? Yes, I think so too.) Speaking of which- they had a short clip from my favorite dance scene in Billy Elliot the musical and I still get goosebumps listening to/watching it. For those of you who haven't seen it yet- would you please do so should you ever get the opportunity? Please? We also spent a bunch of time in the textiles and lace sections.
Today we looked at the jewelry collection and a little exhibit about Owen Jones http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Jones_(architect) which was interesting on it's own but made even more interesting by the lecture that was going on to a tour group. I was fascinated and getting really annoyed by the students who were so clearly ignoring the woman who was so excited about the subject. I actually tracked her down when they moved to another room to a: find out who she was teaching for and b: tell her I thought she was amazing. She teaches at the Courtauld Institute of Art History http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/institute/index.shtml and it was a group of undergrads that she was shepherding around. Ooh! And they have a history of dress programme! Neat. Anyhow-I've probably just spent too much time online trying to figure out who she was- but I finally found her- she's one of the current PhD students there. And she's awesome.
The British Museum (ages ago!) was also pretty great. Old stuff there.
It's been really nice having everyone here (Grandpa Frank, we missed you!) and finally having a chance to really chat with everyone. I think that has been my favorite part so far- all the conversations. That being said, it is a weird sensation hanging out with people who are on vacation and belatedly forgetting that you are not also on vacation and in fact have work tomorrow and really should be figuring out what you're going to teach those small children!
Last night Mical and Dan and I went to see the London Philharmonia play Shostakovitch 5 and Night on Bald Mountain. My friend Gwen was recently hired as a violist with them (congratulations!!) and so we met up with her for tea and tasty desserts before the concert and that was super fun even though the bakery we were in was directly over the trains and so was a bit...loud. It was also super fun watching Mical and Dan with the concert (Grandpa may or may not have been bouncing along to the music a little bit. A very little bit...) Anyhow- success! But now I am *tired* so sleep it is.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday we took a little easier and went up to Walthamstow to look at the William Morris Gallery which is housed in one of his childhood homes. It was fascinating- there were some of the wooden blocks they used for printing the wall papers and chintz, there were amazing tiles done by Burne-Jones, and even one of the "medieval" dresses that Morris designed when they were painting Arthurian legends and he met Jane Burden.
My favorite part (I had a lot of favorite parts; one of my favorite parts) was reading about the Red House which was the first building designed entirely by Philip Webb (one of Morris's friends) and was used as an early experiment ground for all sorts of ideas tying decoration and the finer arts together. Basically it sounds like the whole place was decorated by the Pre-Raphaelites and early Arts and Crafts Movement and everyone hung out there (it was where the germ of Morris & Co. was started) and had lots of dinner parties and creative sparks. So, perhaps if I could subtract the whole marital infidelity thing - could I have that life? And maybe not quite so much decoration- the photographs of the inside of the house are actually a bit dizzying.
Mical and Dan arrived yesterday afternoon and Grammy and I joined them at their flat for a bit of a chat. It was really good to see them and I'm so looking forward to this trip! Time with grandparents!
Today we are meeting for lunch and then heading to the British Museum. I'll let you know how that goes!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Apparently that is a done thing in this country- schools do Nativity plays. The one that we're doing is called "Whoops-A-Daisy Angel" and is by Nikki Davies. It's got cute songs that don't seem like they'll get *too* annoying by mid-December and it has a cute little plot:
Whoops-a-Daisy Angel is always rushing around and making mistakes- so she never gets any of the good jobs- like dusting moonbeams. Instead she has to count snowflakes...Then one day she gets an exciting job! She gets to tell the shepherds on a hill that Jesus is born. So finally she gets something right.
I cut both the songs that mention "Jesus" or "Christ the Lord" and now the only time he is referred to as anything other than a baby is in French. It still weirds me out that we're doing a nativity play but this is just about as secular as I can make it. So that feels more comfortable to me. For next year I kind of want to write my own...we'll see how that goes.
I'm excited about how I've decided to hand out parts and do the staging and whatnot. There are three reception classes so each of them get to be a part as a unit. That means one class is the Perfect Angels, one class is the Snowflakes, and one class is the Whoops-a-Daisy AngelS. (I've pluralized everything.) That way each class can make their own costumes as a group and they all sing together.
There are two songs that the whole year group sings and then each class gets their character's song as well. For the set we'll have three benches- one for each class- so they'll all be sat as a group and when it is their turn to sing or speak they just stand up where they are. None of this funny business with walking across the stage or anything like that.
The costumes will be white clothes (they've all got white turtlenecks for their school uniforms anyway) and then various headdresses: perfect halos, crooked halos, and some sort of snow flake headdress. Not entirely sure what to do about wings for the angels, but some of the reception teachers are trying to figure out what to do with that. The reason we're trying to keep away from having the parents really getting involved with the costumes is the concern that they will get overly competitive and each try to outdo the others. Not so good for uniformity in costumes...
In any case we are all kinds of on top of this project and I'm getting pretty excited about it. I also have the songs running through my head constantly. So the reception years are totally sorted.
Nursery years are a bit harder to sort out for this winter extravaganza. I should probably just go with a bunch of traditional Christmas songs since they are three years old and have never sung them before- but I have to sing them over and over again as well so I want to make sure that they are still fun for me as well. There is one about snowflakes that I found that I'm excited about. And one that we learned this week about the cold wind whistling around various body parts --but that one only changes one word per verse which is more repetitive than I am really willing to deal with.
It is a fine line to balance with kids songs- being repetitive enough that they can learn it and understand the pattern and being different enough so that it is not obnoxious. For the wind whistling song I am thinking of writing a short B section so that it changes just a little at some point.
Enough with the Christmas show- we also started using instruments! And oh. It went so very well. We have a rhyme this year "if you play before I say, then I will take it away" and I was ruthless-- which worked WONDERS. They treated it as a game and sat quietly and payed attention and it was awesome. We even had a little "explore your instruments" time where I told them to figure out other ways of playing and then looked around the circle and did my best to congratulate each child on something creative they were doing. My favorite was from one of the nursery classes where a little girl was putting her egg shaker on top of her bent knees and then pulling them apart so that the egg shaker fell on to the carpet. It was really fun to do and not something I ever would have thought of. The kid who kept hitting his head with the claves though? I said "what a great idea, doesn't it hurt though?"
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Not so for the current exhibition which is easily my favorite of the two years plus that I have been in London for. http://www.barbican.org.uk/thecurve/blog/index.html
The piece is by Robert Kusmirowski and is called "bunker" The photographs on the link above don't do it justice- but do give a bit of an idea of what it is like . It combines real WWII artifacts with some impressively detailed set design and very low lighting with no sound and uses that to create one of the spookiest, most oppressive, and poignant pieces of work I've seen in a long time.
The space is divided up into little rooms and hallways with a train track curving around the outside of the space. You can enter into a bunk room, see the rusty toilets and then wander through a dark passageway and up a short flight of stairs to an office with radio equipment that has fallen to the ground and pinned one old leather shoe to the floor. Everything- down to the dust on the floor and the heaped tools against the wall- was convincing and evocative. Haphazard and yet clearly meticulously placed.
When I entered the gallery I was the only person in the space and my feet scuffing against the floor emphasized how still the space was. Extraordinary.
I had quite a long chat with the docent as I was leaving- having been told as I entered the gallery to please try not to touch anything- I felt honor bound to let him know that, in fact, I had- but only the walls! They looked so convincingly made of cement that I needed to find out what they actually were made from (I figured they hadn't built an entire cinder block structure in the curve only to need to break it down again three months from now). He told me about a family with three children who had come in half an hour before me and had made it only about 15 feet into the exhibition before coming back out again because the children were too frightened. Frightened of war, time, or the stillness I'm not sure- but it seemed like an appropriate response.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
We had another run and it went fantastically! Fortunately I was close to the performance space and had the flip video with me; so you get another version! This time with more cheering!
Anna is now in Germany for three months for a contract so we're on hold until January at the earliest, but we're all on board with continuing the collaboration- which is great.
I also took a bunch of pictures of Shunt since the venue is so unique and I think that probably my descriptions haven't done it justice. Those will go up on Flickr this evening and I'll post again to let you know that they are there.
It was so exciting to watch the audience during our show- particularly on Friday and Saturday when we were the last circus style event and the place was packed with people. Some were riveted on the marimba, most were riveted on the rope, everyone gasped in a very satisfying way when Anna dropped down the rope. I'm so pleased that we had this opportunity to start our collaboration in this manner- getting to perform so soon after we started (giving a concrete goal to shoot for) and in such a perfect location. ('perfect' except for the fact that we had to keep sweeping the broken glass away every night so that Anna wouldn't cut her feet up. So 'perfect' within an imperfect world. Pretty darn great. How 'bout we just say that?)
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Here's a video of Caz and Anna on our first night at Shunt. We are part of a whole evening of circus inspired acts that are scattered around the venue and happen about once an hour. Each of us only plays once- so it's exciting to be able to do your thing and then have a chat and a drink before wandering down the corridor or around the corner trying to find the next performance.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
1. Julia Stephenson came to visit! She's living in Italy right now and as part of her visa had to leave and come back into the country- so she took the opportunity to come to London. I put her up in our living room/guest room and we had a great time chatting the night away and crafting things.
2. The Salomon Orchestra concert was on Tuesday night! We've had bunches of rehearsals (including a six hour long slog on Sunday) and I've been moaning about carrying the bass on public transport constantly. We played in St. John Smith Square which is this concert hall converted from a Church in Westminster. Very pretty. We played an as yet unperformed suite from a ballet by John McCabe and also an hour long version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. I was standing as I don't have a stool any longer and about halfway through the Prokofiev realized just how out of shape my shoulders are. Good thing it is such a fun piece to play otherwise I might have toppled over.
I met a woman named Jill during one of the tea breaks during one of the rehearsals and we ended up having a great chat about how sometimes you don't end up playing your instrument. She started out as a violist and was thinking of quiting because she was getting so bored with the viola parts when people started asking her if she played the violin because they desperately needed a violinist. This is totally against the conventional wisdom- usually you would expect people to desperately need violists...so she switched and she's having so much more fun now and refuses to play the viola any longer. Usually she won't play the second violin parts either because that is too much like the viola parts... Anyhow- she was a hoot and I enjoyed talking to her very much. After the concert she slipped me her email address and said that if I could bear to play the bass one more time she needed a bassist for another concert. We'll see about that one.
In other news- (in spite of the irony) I'm thinking maybe flute?
3. Aerial/Marimba- We've got our first night of our gig today! Super exciting. We're playing in Shunt- which is an arts fartsy night club in London Bridge. We're part of a whole series of seemingly circus related events. I'm not sure exactly how it is going to work but I gather there are a number of acts placed throughout the venue (which is a series of vaults and tunnels underneath the station. Kind of creepy- really cool) which will have spotlights on them while they do their bit. Like "drink some at the bar...oh hey! look over there! Drink some more at the bar... oh hey! look over there!" etc. I'll let you know more after the show actually starts happening. We are on through Saturday.
The piece has come together very quickly- and I think we're getting to the point where we finally know what the story is. That is something to remember for the next time that I work with these two- know the story! I have been struggling with the intent of the piece and what it is trying to say. We definitely have the potential to do some very good work together and I'm excited about what we're showing already- but it is also still very much a work in progress. A polished first draft.
4. Teaching- The tykes are on mid term break this week, but the kids are still around. I had eight of them yesterday and it was...a challenge. I need to learn how to do classroom management. I'm more than happy to have the kids go a little nuts- but it is getting to the point where I'm losing even the kids that *are* paying attention because the nutso ones are being so disruptive. Anyone have any advice for reigning in crazy six year olds? I don't really have much to threaten them with- and sitting in the corner hasn't really worked because they end up sliding all over the place. Fortunately I *do* have two weeks of their half term break to figure out how to come in strong for the next half term.
5. Game night! Jo found out about this giant social games event down at the Battersea Arts Centre (a mission to get to- it took about an hour and a half, but it was totally worth it.) Julia was here so I dragged her along and Oh! it was so much fun. I love giant games involving lots of people being very silly and giving me the opportunity for much subterfuge. I'm not sure how often the organization does one of these (it might only be once a year!) but I'm on the mailing list now and I will *so* be at the next one.
At Buck Creek when we used to go there for summer camp they would have these MASSIVE games. Like full camp capture the flag where we would play in the woods and the flag was inevitable up at the top of a tree. I don't think they were really paying that much attention to camper safety...We also played some game called Diamond Smugglers that also worked it's way into the camp dance and involved (Again) tromping through the woods and eating frozen pudding. I loved diamond smugglers because I had just shot my finger with an arrow in archery class (I'm beginning to think I've never paid that much attention to safety...) and had a big bandage on my finger that I was able to slip the diamonds into the base of. It was a very clever hiding spot. I'm still proud of myself 15 years later...
Anyhow- fun/busy times. I have to go teach now and at some point write up my bass ballet paper before tomorrow...
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Classes went alright- the nursery classes are getting quite good at singing along with the emotion cards and one of the three totally has this whole "high" and "low" thing down. One of the other nursery classes totally has the whole "pig pile Miss Casey as she is trying to leave" thing down too.
The reception classes were mostly willing to sit tight and wait for their turn when conducting with the emotion cards and man-oh-man did we rock out with our vocal warm-ups.
Even garden time was nice: I made the mistake of running onto the field with the thought that if I got out their quickly- then everyone else would follow and we wouldn't have any of this straggling business. I misunderestimated (yes, misunderestimated) the effect that this would have. Namely that I then had to spend the whole of garden time running around playing reverse tag with 45 children.
Reverse tag: where the tykes are yelling "catch me! catch me!" while attached, limpet like, to your leg. The goal, really, is then to detach yourself in order to run to the other side of the field where you then wait for the swarm of tykes to catch up again and repeat their taunts. The secondary goal is to avoid as many pot holes in the field as possible so that the swarm doesn't tumble to the ground and start crying.
So actually- the only real issue was music club. Keeping in mind that music club has *20* tykes. The tykes are from all of the different classes so they don't necessarily know each other very well and there are some pretty significant size/attention differences between the youngest of the nursery children and the eldest of the reception children. All in one room. Just before mid-term break. After a long day's slog through school.
My usual tricks for calming them down/focusing them failed miserably. We tried using the Lycra where we bounce some teddy bears up and down- they nearly ripped a leg off of the medium bear. We tried Simama Ka- but half the kids had never heard it before and couldn't be bothered. We tried bounce and bounce and bounce and STOP- but the role play house in the corner was far more interesting, and besides: there were fights to pick!
There was kicking, yelling, tattling, rolling about on the floor, squishing, and poking. There was not much listening.
Fortunately Linda brought out the books again and that finally calmed enough of them down so that we could just sit for a bit and not pull tykes off of other tykes.
So what I'm saying is this: have a wonderful half-term break little ones. In two weeks you'll come back and we'll start learning the Christmas songs...
We had our first instrument demonstration and with all the extra people there for the day we ended up with the room packed to the gills.
One of the things that I haven't quite figured out how to do/teach yet is how to rein in craziness and focus again after having an energetic song or period of free exploration. What this means is that in my New School classes there tends to be at least one child at any given time who is spinning around in circles.
This isn't figurative. I mean, quite literally, spinning around in circles.
The mother seemed happy enough and I didn't have much time to think about her since I was corralling the 10 students and the two student sized flutes (an instrument I don't play) and trying to make sure that at least 70% of the class was paying attention to our guest demonstrator.
I thought that class had been far more rambunctious than normal and at the end of the afternoon after we had matched the kids back up with their parents/nannies I was about to apologize for their wildness when she beat me to the punch and complimented me (to my boss!) about how well I managed the class.
Thanks! And please, do enroll your children!
(It's all about the absence of bitter.)
I haven't yet received the comments on my IPE performance, but I will keep you posted whenever those show up as well.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
This morning I finally had a chance to work on the computers a bit and retroactively put my lesson plans on the system. It was good to do and helped me to realize how much I was flailing around at the beginning of this term. Not that I think that was a bad thing necessarily- but, for instance, I have gone through three different "hello" introduction songs in five weeks. I'm pretty sure I've finally hit on one that I can actually stand to sing over and over and over and over again; so that will stay the same. However, with more forethought this half-term could have been better organized/less confusing.
Just as an example- here are three lyrics from three different songs I have taught so far this term. You'd be excused for getting them mixed up:
1. bounce the penguin, fun to do
2. bounce and bounce and bounce and stop!
3. See how we're bouncing, bouncing, bouncing
here are three other songs:
1. hello, how are you?
2. say hello- hello
3. hello, hello- it's good to see you
1. I'm standing in a tall shape
2. we're all making a shape
3. (actually an activity where you listen to the music and when it stops you freeze--in a shape.)
Now, of course each of these songs have different tunes and sound quite different from one another, but it is clear that I have...whatchacallit....themes.
It got embarrassing as I was writing all these lyrics down in order to publish them on the academic server. I'm just going to continue pretending like what I teach has a structured purpose behind it...
It is "book week" this week and so during music club we ended up doing a version of "Going on a Bear Hunt" as well as listening to some dinosaur book with CD that I don't remember the title of. It is a long day for the nursery tykes and listening to as story (with music!) is always a relaxing/sleepy sort of thing to do. So one of them climbed into my lap and rested his warm, soft, little ear on my cheek. It's like having a kitten. A little kitten who sings...
Um. yeah. So, anyhow.
The new school! What brilliant children I have there. My one problematic child in Wednesday's class was poorly today so all I had were little gems who learn so quickly and don't even get bored learning how to draw treble clefs (particularly if I allow them to draw underwater scenes on the whiteboard while I help one of their classmates)
Okay, so cuteness?
I have a little story that I made up about the G- clef and how to draw it. You see- there is this mouse...and it is circling around the bottom of a grandfather clock trying to figure out how to make its way up to the top... and then it does and it climbs up to the top where it holds on to the minute hand but then slips! And plummets to the ground before trying to climb back into the clock.
If you tell the story while drawing the clef it does work. I think. At least, Linda and I both think it has potential.
However, the youngest in the class? (Three of them are 6 and he is only 4.5) Instead of tracing the clef that I had dotted out on the board for him-- he painstakingly drew a grandfather clock right next to it.
I told him Good Job! And then considered that maybe I hadn't succeeded with that particular story.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Which is kind of a problem because I need to wake up and go to work tomorrow morning.
Anyhow- since I am AWAKE! WHEE! I figure I might as well use my time well, right? So I've made my lunch for tomorrow.
I've been trying to make my lunch a lot more recently- mostly because I have to make sure that I'm carrying around enough food to take me through a big long day of teaching when I'm out of the house for 12 hours at a time in an expensive part of town.
I find that I do better with some protein-- I stay more awake and engaged and what not-- so as a half-assed vegetarian who has trouble with dairy this means I have been making a lot of egg and tuna salad sandwiches. Um. Apart. Not together. Because, weird.
Anyhow- I just finished tomorrow's tuna salad and thought I would share the "recipe"
1 can of tuna
1 hand full of flat leaf parsley- superfinelychopped
(use a big knife, it's more fun that way: You can rock it back and forth and pulverize it)
1 hand full of green olives- superfinelychopped
2 stalks celery-- chunkily chopped
1/8th of a red onion--chopped however you like
1 T Dijon mustard
2 T mayonnaise
Put in a little Tupperware container to put in your lunch bag along with some rye bread and carrot sticks.
Ponder whether to add salt and pepper
Decide that probably the olives and the parsley will be flavorful enough
Stop farting around on the Internet and go to be already! It's a quarter after 2 in the morning!
And thus began the trail of ridiculous mishaps.
First of all- it's been pouring down rain for two days. This means roads are flooded and the tykes haven't been outside. Both are important as it means that buses were diverted and the tykes were squirrelly.
I knew I had to take my bass with me so I started out a good 15 minutes before I normally do. I was surprised to see a 254 coming down my road but thought "hey! door to door service!" so I hopped right on, belatedly realizing that the sign on the front said that it was going in the opposite direction of where I needed to be heading. So I hopped off as soon as I could, carried my bass in the rain back to the proper stop, and proceeded to wait for 20 minutes for *my* bus. 20 minutes was an awfully long time and there *were* all those diverted buses, so I actually called TFL to see if my bus was on diversion. Nope! It'll be right there! You just have to be patient because of rush hour! So I waited. Right up until a kindly bus driver poked his head out the door and said "are any of you waiting for the 106? It's diverted!"
Thanks TFL. You're awesome.
So a kindly lady walked me over to where the bus would be heading off from (I don't normally take the 106, so I wasn't sure where we were heading precisely) So there we go- 45 minutes after leaving my house I was finally on my way!
So I get to school and Linda had made muffins! Brilliant. And they were super tasty too- carrot cake like with courgette and sultanas (um, or zucchini and raisins depending on which country you're from). Linda and I had a quick chat, I had multiple quick tune ups of the bass, and off we went! Teaching time!
The tykes, as I previously stated, were squirrelly. But it's all good because we started on High and Low today! Which actually, I'm super excited about because I haven't tried teaching that before and it's a new explorative experience. (Yes, explorative. Totally a word.) We curled up in to balls on the ground when the sound was low and stood up tall on our tippie toes and reached our hands to the sky when the sound was high. Then, because they were squirrelly, I made them do this again and again and again. Because music class should always encompass a bit of calisthenics as well.
Then I brought out the BASS. This was not as exciting for them as one might have hoped. They actually thought it was scary. Totally didn't feel like listening. So instead I made them bounce and bounce and bounce and stop! for the last 15-20 minutes of class. I don't know how that one hasn't gotten old yet...
So the second nursery class we did high and low and we reached and rolled and I brought out the bass and huh. They couldn't tell if the bass was low or high. I think legitimately couldn't tell- like on the xylophone they're used to the sound enough that it's all cool- but the bass? Is a completely alien sound and timbre. Particularly because of the gut strings. No matter- they gave it a go- each of them played a bit on the bass (i.e., dragged their grubby little fingers across the strings) and then, because they were announcing that they wanted to put on a little show- we put on a little show. We practiced being good audience members and listened carefully as people were singing.
Here's what was interesting though- anyone remember "Alf is and Ant" from last term? It was one of the songs from Parent's day last term and man! was it ever a big hit. But some of the kids singing it today? They weren't here last year...So I asked the teachers, "did you teach the rest of them 'Alf is an Ant'?" No, no they said- J. taught them.
Little 4 year old J. Who can sing all of "Mama Mia" with appropriate dance moves. Taught the rest of the class his favorite song. Awesome.
Then we danced around a bit and did tall shapes and wide shapes and small shapes before I panicked a little because it sounded like one of the tykes had managed to get behind me and smack the bass pretty hard. J. was the only tyke behind me so I said "no! don't touch the bass!" and he felt bad and apologised almost immediately (which normally is not the case.) So I said thank you for the apology and thought no more of it until I was packing up to head to the third nursery class.
It turns out that probably J. had touched the bass- but the big sound? That was the G string snapping.
So you know how I had a rehearsal this evening? Now I was one string short. So I called Peter up and he said I should just use a modern steel string for the moment and directed me to the closest music store.
But first I taught the third nursery class where they all decided the bass was a monster! And I showed them that it was bigger than two! of! their! TALLEST! classmates! Which was pretty impressive. All of this while I am taking the G string off of the tuning peg. So much for lesson plans- lets show you kids instrument surgery!
During lunch I went to the first store- but did they sell bass strings? Nope. Fortunately Peter's number is saved in my phone (I should probably put him on speed dial or something like that) so I called him up again and proceeded on a mission to Piccadilly Circus where I found a totally cute music shop and was able to buy a new string AND multiple rubber tips for my end pin- which is great because I keep losing them on public transportation.
So there we go.
Oh! And I taught at the new school too where not only could they hear high and low, but they also heard and were able to differentiate between middle sounds, trolls (crotchets/quarter notes), and goblins (quavers/eighth notes)! I was so proud!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
In case I haven't told you/you don't remember- this is a project that started because of a sign I put up looking for choreographers for my final project for my masters degree (visual evidence in my profile picture). I didn't get any response from the sign and so found a choreographer through different means (namely a contact improvisation jam session). I figured the sign had been taken down and thought nothing more of it until I got an email a couple of days before the show for my final. The email was from Anna, a German aerialist and unicyclist who trained at the Circus Space in Shoreditch.
My final was done and dusted but I figured I couldn't pass up an opportunity that cool that dropped in my lap like that so I turned to my friend Caz, a marimba player who happened to be sitting next to me when I got the email and asked her if she would be interested in making a piece with me and an aerialist. You can't turn things like that down- so here we are! We have our first gig at the end of October so this is a pretty short run up to things.
We rehearsed at the Circus Space since they have the equipment needed to hang a 10 meter rope from the ceiling. There is a fairly large circus performing society in London and they do their rehearsals and training at the Circus Space so while we were trying things out and improvising Caz and I kept getting distracted by this extraordinary balancing duo over in the corner and a guy jumping up and down on a tight rope by the back wall.
Overall I think it went really well. Currently we are running into some difficulty because both Anna and I managed to misinterpret our schedules so we need to replace *two* rehearsals. For a performance on the 21st of October...
It is interesting working solely as a director and not as an active collaborator/improviser. It requires maintaining focus the entire time and paying attention not only to the artistic material being presented and trying to mold and shape that, but also paying attention to the working dynamic within the group. I'm glad there are three of us- it seems like a good size for practicing on.
Also, it turns out that 3 hours without a break is maybe a little long for me in my new role as director- about two hours in I was like "well, that's all I've got!" But no! They just kept spewing ideas out- and you can't blithely turn something like that off- if ideas are still coming and the parking meter is all paid up? You stick with it!
Just thought I would share.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Whew. Glad that's out of the way. (Sometimes the excitement just gets to me, you know?)
The tykes are having some trouble with...friendship. And pushing. And apologising. One of the reception classes has been having some physical altercations. (I love that word: altercations. It just rolls of the tongue so nicely.)
On Tuesday during my planning time (I love planning time! And have decided that it is imperative that I be there for lunch on planning day since that allows me to get a much clearer picture of how the department is doing and also allows me to have many mini-meetings with teachers. Handy.) I was asked if it would be possible to work in some emotional/friendship coaching into my lesson plan.
I haven't told you about this yet, but last Thursday I was at a teacher training day called 'Making Music Matter' at Wigmore Hall. It was fabulous. We learned all sorts of great things and were sent off to try some of the new ideas out in order to report back on them next week when we meet again. One of my activities that I wanted to try was conducting a song via facial expression pictures. Like: can we sing this song Happily? Sadly? Angrily? etc.
Synchronicity. I tried it out today, thereby fulfilling all sorts of requests.
In class I brought back the penguin bouncing song and sang it according to the emotions on the pictures. (I'm so DONE with the penguin bouncing song. But! Activity Extension! Number 6. in my list of things I want to learn: how to have a bunch of educational extension ideas for any activity I use in class)
In order to facilitate this I overacted the crap out it: weeping during sad, hiding behind the penguin during scared, huffing and slamming the penguin into my lap during angry. They tykes ate it up with a spoon. And isn't it cool that we were able to provide a space to practice those emotions? We're not really angry- but here is a safe place to try it out.
Some thoughts: 1. I really should have figured out how to draw more than one positive face. As it was 75% of our choices were negative. 2. Pulling those faces gave my eyebrows and forehead a workout. 3. It is actually incredibly emotionally draining to pretend, loudly, to be angry/sad/scared all day if you are not. I don't know how actors do it.
Some further thoughts: Okay. So in conducting class at Peabody we learned a little bit about Laban movement analysis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Laban_effort.svg) Totally stealing from wikipedia here:
"The difference between punching someone in anger and reaching for a glass is slight in terms of body organization - both rely on extension of the arm. The attention to the strength of the movement, the control of the movement and the timing of the movement are very different.
Effort has four subcategories, each of which has two opposite polarities.
Space: Direct / Indirect
Weight: Strong / Light
Time: Sudden / Sustained
Flow: Bound / Free "
I don't know if this makes a whole lot of sense- in person I could show you easily. The point is that there are certain categories and there are opposites within those categories and you can combine them in different ways to create/classify any type of movement. For example a "flick" is indirect/light/sudden/free; a "push" is direct/strong/sustained/bound
When I was singing Bounce the Penguin with different emotions over the course of the six classes that I have, this is what I realized:
Here are my categories
attack: legato/staccato (long and sustained/short and punchy)
Here is how my emotions fit into those categories
They don't fit perfectly into this setting-- like Happy wasn't legato per se, but it was more connected than Angry was; and scared wasn't staccato exactly, but close enough.
I feel all clever for pulling those concepts together in my mind.
While this may or may not be a necessary step in my learning process- I can tell you that I have created a list of things I think I ought to be better at, develop skills in, and just generally learn. I've seen my favorite teachers manage these things and now I want to as well.
1. Develop more of an awareness of where the tykes/kids are at individually:
Are they matching pitch? Are they keeping a steady beat? If not, why? Is there something obvious in the way that I am leading that could explain why they are getting it wrong? Are they getting it wrong in such a way that implies musicality? i.e., are they clapping the off beats? are they singing in harmony? Are they screaming and running around when they're supposed to be playing the drum, but still stopping when the drums are supposed to be quiet? (I actually had a kid do that. Fascinating.)
2. Create a consistent structure and atmosphere:
One of the things that I am having difficulty with currently in both schools is classroom management. I have a theory about that: I think it is because I have not created an atmosphere of paying attention and listening. I think it would help (or at least be worth trying out) to have the same start and end to each class each week (like, a consistent hello and goodbye song). I think it would help to set up very clear and consistent boundaries on playing the instruments out of turn, smacking into other kids/tykes instead of participating, and raising your hand to talk about *anything* other than music (that's nice that your baby sister had cereal for breakfast today, is right now the best time to tell me that?).
A corollary to this one is stop using rhetorical questions! It just opens the door for smart-alec little ones to answer wrongly and then you have to deal with that, taking away even more time from the music lesson.
3. Have entire lesson plans build to a specific musical point:
Wouldn't it be great if every activity we did as a class had a reason?! I'm really keen to figure out how to do this- structure entire lessons around specific educational goals. I do this a bit, but could be so much better at it. Usually there is at least one song just because. Wouldn't it be neat if all of the rhythm work fed into the song which fed into the concept we were working on which fed into learning how to read music? Wouldn't that just be so neat?
4. Use music to cue the class:
For instance: a musical (non verbal) cue to sit down. To be quiet and listen. To stand up. To hold hands. Etc. I feel like my classes have a remarkable lack of music for music classes...too much explaining and wordiness; a lack of anything other than single line singing or playing. Not that I'm expecting part singing from the tykes- but I would like to, you know, have the musical cues be music and not just sounds.
For example- my favorite Dalcroze teacher uses a descending scale pattern with the words "will you please sit down" that she plays on the xylophone at the same time. This ties into numbers 2 and 3 as well because the beauty of this is manifold: there is a clear, consistent signal for when to sit down; the signal becomes something that can be non-verbal (once they know the signal if they hear that pattern- they sit); it is a constant aural reminder of the first 5 notes of a scale meaning that when they start learning how to sing scales- they already have sung them- many times. You can then also add other pitches to that scale set-- crouch down (shorter than sitting) for the leading tone.
Brilliant. I must use that.
(5. Figure out how to make rhythms more interesting)
I've been working these past two weeks on using a rhythmic solfege pattern with the tykes and kids in order to introduce crotchets and quavers (quarter and eighth notes) and the reason this is in parenthesis is because *I* thought the kids/tykes had been getting bored with it and was thinking that I should figure out some way to work it into a story or something activating more pathways in to learning. I still think I should figure out multiple ways of presenting this information- but I am less inclined to think that they're bored since one of the reception teachers specifically asked me to make sure that I did that "song...? The one with all the T's...ta ti?" since her class kept singing it to themselves.
I have no idea if this blog is coherent or not- but thanks for sticking with me through this!
So imagine how I felt when, after a very long day's teaching one of the new kids exclaimed to her mother;
"It wasn't serious at all!"
Was that good? Was that bad? Was she going to come back for the next lesson?
Fortunately, her mother asked for me-
"So does that mean you want to come again next week?"
It was a resounding yes. Thank goodness!
(A similar conversation happened two minutes later, but since this second conversation was entirely in French I had to have it translated for me and it has less of a visceral impact.)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The classroom situation is both lucky and not. On the one hand it is a lovely size, wood floors for sliding around on, and a window for opening when it gets super stuffy. On the other hand it is right over the kitchen/reception room- and you remember all of those lovely paintings and whatnot? They shake. It's a very bouncy floor.
So the question then becomes A: is it at *all* possible to get another room? I'll even take one smaller and with tables in it...I think. As long as it doesn't bounce the entire building. And B: is it possible to teach an early years music course without and stomping, jumping, or throwing yourself onto the floor because you're so excited you just can't control yourself? Then a third question, C: how much do I stick to my guns and try to get another room/convince them that it is okay that the paintings are shaking on the wall because this is the class they hired me to teach?
The tykes are different from my usual tykes. They're a bit older (I'm going to call them kids, I think) and they're a bit snarkier. One girl was rolling her eyes and saying "easy peasy lemon squeezy" any time I asked her to do something. Eventually she forgot because she started having so much fun (because I am good at my job) but until we got to that point I was finding it somewhat difficult to ignore the eye rolling and not roll mine right back. That being said, it was hilariously over the top.
Fortunately most of the kids speak English- there are only a couple who don't and music, being that handy dandy universal language, seems to get through alright anyway. For the most part. There is a wide range of abilities as well- one girl came in, saw me playing the tiny xylophone, and responded to that by singing a major scale on solfege....I'm going to suggest that she gets bumped up to the more advanced class.
It will be interesting to see how my experience in the different schools inform and change what I do with both of them. For instance- on Tuesday the more structured rhythm work went very well at the new school, so on Wednesday I brought that to the tykes- reminding me that it is possible to teach even the little ones some proper foundation in musical notation rather than just fun songs. That being said, my tykes favorite songs were also the kids favorite songs. So there you go.
I feel like I've been putting my foot in it a bit with the head of the new school- so hopefully that will all calm down soon. Wednesday went better than Tuesday and I've been ruminating on how to teach tykes/kids without running around all over the place....it's a challenge.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
We ended the conversation because I had a lunch date to make and in spite of completely losing track of time managed to show up only 20 minutes late...sorry Jon. Jon and I had dutch pancakes which are giant crepe/burrito hybrids with things like eggplant and bacon cooked into the batter. Craziness. Lunch was delightful and it was great to see Jon again.
Then I wandered over to Covent Garden where I located an astrology shop and read all of their Virgo birthday cards. We are apparently critical and perfectionist. Hmmph. Also- our astrological vegetable is carrots.
Ella called and I remembered that there is a restaurant/bar/tourist trap in Covent Garden that has wonderfully creative cocktails for 50% off on Sundays and Mondays. So we proceeded to get a little tipsy in the early evening. Remind me later that I dislike bright, fruity drinks that turn my mouth unflattering shades of blue. Banana Coladas though? Yes.
We then walked up towards Oxford street to meet up with Sarah, Dave, and Meredith at John Louis where we provided unhelpful advice on the topic of Buying A Lamp. We also lusted after beautiful but expensive and impractically deep pile carpets. Should I end up with scads of money at a latter point in my life I may need to be restrained from decorating my house entirely in William Morris prints.
The five of us, having disagreed on lamp purchases but agreed unanimously that bean bag chairs are a Good Thing, continued on to tasty tasty Thai food. I had some delicious Tom Ka Gai and some disappointing chicken satay.
So there. Doesn't that sound like a nice birthday?
You know how I told you that I would tell you if I got that other job? I did. (Oh, and I get to work extra hours at the first school when I want to too.) We start next week and I am in charge of the intro to music class for 4-6 year olds. I gather that the parents are rather a force to be reckoned with at this school so I am spending the rest of the week and weekend writing up a term's worth of lesson plans, making homework sheets, and drafting a letter to the parents about What We Will Be Learning.
I'm excited, looking forward to actually setting down all my thoughts and plans about this class. It is a new, start up school so the pay is less than stellar- but I would actually do this for free- so getting paid is a bonus anyway and I have a new practice arena! With even more tykes who don't speak English!
The school has just hired a new musical director and he is amusingly nervous. I mean, I'm nervous too because it's a new school and I'm going to need to be much more goal oriented with what I am teaching the tykes. I need to be clear from the outset what I am planning on teaching them and why- so challenging and whatnot. He is just jittery though. Worried about which set of percussion to buy. Worried about what the correct rhythmic Sol-fa syllables are. Worried about the fact that he is going to be teaching primary school students when his experience is exclusively with 16+. I told him it would all be okay.
Things I would not have thought of had we not discussed it: French Sol-fa or English? (one syllable difference); fixed Do or movable? (corollary: sing on "la", Sol-fa, or letter names?); English, American, Canadian, or French duration terms?; etc.
However, as this meeting was after an action packed day at the races and continued on rather more lengthily than I had anticipated- I was glad that I had packed myself snacks. (Things I've learned from my mother: Wear layers. Pack snacks. Take up space at meetings.)
I walked to the bus stop through the park as the light was fading. It is so autumnal now- brisk weather, colored leaves, flocks of geese silhouetted against the sunset.
Now, normally I would go about this chronologically- because that is how I think of things- in order to make sure that I don't miss anything exciting. In the past this has made for what I am sure were very tedious accounts of my day at school. "Well, in first period...." So today I am going to try and break away from that pattern. Namely because what I really want to tell you is that during garden time a little girl was balancing on this plastic tyre type thing and asked "Do you want to watch me and then clap?"
The tykes were moody today. Variable. Changeable. Mercurial if you will. In one of my reception classes I got mixed up with how I was planning to start the class so instead of using a story to do a vocal warm up to-- I just started singing. Singing with hand motions. Sound effects singing. Illustrating the sound and the actions together. And the kids were doing a fantastic job. They were pitch matching. They were singing in unison. They were singing with good, loud voices. They were all engaged. They were giggling in a "this is fun" sort of way that didn't disrupt the entire class and didn't turn into a "look at ME" sort of giggle. We kept it going for a good 5 minutes longer than I would have thought possible because it was just flowing and it was beautiful and gosh darn it *I* was having fun. So we drove their teacher from the room. No worries.
Then we tried singing the name song. Nope. For some reason this class just does not get the concept of singing in call and response form. I tried beating that dead horse for longer than was strictly necessary because we had just moved mountains with our miracle vocal warm up. But to no avail. They were gone and out of it for the rest of the class. We even sang a song where they have to divide up by gender and that didn't work either. "All the boys raise their hands! No, you're a girl. You're a boy, raise your hand? No?" Right then. Whatever.
In one of the nursery classes I walked in on a show and tell presentation which consisted of an impressive rendition of "Mama Mia" including dance routine. Well done you adorable little 3 year old boy! They were delightful and though they can't keep a beat to save their little tyke lives, they did do a creditable pig pile hug at the end of class- and you have to love them for that.
Linda and I did music club together. I was fried by this point having had one 15 minute break wherein I researched songs for their nativity play for Christmas. Fortunately Linda and I had independently come up with brilliant plans for music club. It is amazing how much faster time flies when there are two of us and twenty tykes.
Linda started it out so that I could recover my brain a little, (I was grateful) and it was interesting to see how we have different approaches. She's very good at songs and props and general tyke demeanor. She has a lot of tools in her tool box. I am very good at using whatever input the tykes will give me and shoving it into a song. Example lyric "we're all spitting our tongues, all spitting our tongues, la la la la we're all spitting our tongues." Admittedly I'm not sure what "spitting our tongues" means other than that a kid was ignoring me and spitting to himself across the circle and that was the correct number of syllables. It got his attention, the tykes enjoyed the spitting, and then everyone clamored to be the next to suggest an action. Today we got to be spiderman AND spidergirl. (Is there even a spidergirl? I don't know.)
Then there was the potty incident.
More properly the potty incidentS.
More properly the "oops" lake.
The thing is that with 20 tykes of varying ages, none of whom are more than passably familiar to either Linda or me? It is really easy to fail to recognize the signs that someone needs the toilet. Like they keep standing up, but are too shy to ask to use the toilet so they keep sitting down when we tell them to. (You're such a good little boy! I'm so sorry I didn't understand what you needed!) Okay, so that was E's excuse. But N? You're nearly 5. And you know me. E's mother was watching from the hallway and came in once she realized what had happened. So he got cleaned up fairly quickly. Then we noticed that there was more than just a dampness, there seemed to be a puddle. So we moved the tyke circle to the other side of the room. At which point it became clear that N. had also had an accident. Most of which was hidden under a rolling bookshelf. It was a giant pee lake. That, like, 4 or 5 different tykes were all sitting in. Awesome. I swear we're good and observant teachers. Honest.