Monday, September 20, 2010


Last week I was interviewed for the Evening Standard about "circle rules football" and this weekend I was interviewed by the BBC about the Pope saying that paedophilia was a disease. Do I have any reason to have any opinion on either of those things? No. But hey! I'm willing to talk on record!

I walked into the BBC interview by being near the Westminster Cathedral when they wanted some word on the street opinions. I don't really know what I said but it was something equivocal due mainly to my not following the subject and not being willing to have a defined opinion on something I know nothing about. I was enticed into it by the video camera...I have no excuse.

Circle Rules Football, however, I have the article in front of me right now. I got a call from Gwyn, who runs Fire Hazard, the games company I work with. He said, "hey, this guy is looking for some quotes about this game that riot ball is based on. You should call him." Riot ball is basically an amalgam of every ball sport you can think of, but played in the dark with glow sticks and a giant inflatable yoga ball. It's very silly and the lynch pin of "Survivor Sports" the indoor, glow-in-the-dark sports night Fire-Hazard runs fairly frequently.

"One player is Casey Middaugh, (side note: have I ever played circle rules football? No. But I *have* played and run Riot ball, which is loosely related...) a freelance music teacher from Clapton. Casey, 26, never really played team sports, preferring rock-climbing and yoga. (where on earth did I get rock-climbing from? I mean, yeah, I've done it a few times and enjoyed it but honestly? That combination is a straight quote from Princess Diaries. I'm so I will own up to, however.) She was attracted to Circle Rules Football (no I wasn't.) because of the creative way in which it's played. "You can dribble the ball, kick or toss it. The only thing you can't do is hold on to it," she says. "So I think it is funnier because it is so obviously ridiculous that there's no pressure. I don't want to play a team sport with people who've been playing football since they were little and are super intense about it." 

Blah blah blah someone else's quote

"Most players stumble upon Circle Rules Football by word of mouth- a manner very much in keeping with the laid-back philosophy of the game."Don't get me wrong, they get competitive," says Casey. "But competitive in a silly way. It's very tongue-in-cheek." (would I voluntarily use the phrase 'tongue-in-cheek?' no. It was fed to me. But sure, I'll go along with that. It is a game played with a yoga ball after all.)  

If you Bing me this shows up. It's kind of fun and kind of silly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Work Hours and Whatnot

Here's what I started writing last week:
"My hours are all up in the air currently which makes me feel anxious, but I've done what I can about it and at this point all I can do is sit and wait- secure in the knowledge that my direct superiors are crossing their fingers to have me around for two days and at this point it is up people. (Not really sure who to be perfectly honest.) I continue to have a lot of faith in the new Head Mistress, she's got her head on straight and I feel like we're on pretty much the same page about what sort of hours I'm hoping for. (And on the same page about how that probably isn't going to happen.)"
This week our new headmistress has worked genius miracles and it looks like I will be getting a day and a half. In order to fill out some of those hours what I will be doing is taking two hours of lessons away from one of the year 3 teachers who is also the head of Key Stage 2 (years 3 through 6) so that she has time to do the administrative portion of her job.

Since I don't have any formal education training this will be a provisional arrangement until everyone is satisfied that I can do the work effectively (or, you know, not.) I'm quite pleased with how this is working out and though none of it is set in stone, I'm feeling cautiously excited.

Want to know what I will be teaching this group of 8 and 9 year olds? (The lesson plans and curriculum are written, all I have to do is follow them.)

Religious Education.

(and English.)

Composition Club

This club is my baby.

I love this club.

I have been wanting to do this club for ages and would (shh, it's a secret!) totally do it for free.

It's a group composition club with 9 year olds, and the whole thing warms my heart so much that I bounce up and down when I think about it. Or talk about it. Or type about it.

Want to hear what we did the first week?
I have this book that I bought with Mical last year from the remainders section at the U. Bookstore in Seattle. I would link to it, but I totally don't remember the title. Suffice to say it matches up paintings with tracks from famous and evocative pieces of music. So for instance flight of the bumble bee with a Japanese print of dahlias and a bee. Or Vivaldi's "Winter" with a landscape painting from the 1700's of Flemish ice skaters.

I wanted to write a piece our first week of club so that we really jumped in head first and got right in to the making of things. I figured that building a soundscape would be the easiest way in and I knew that we could build something fairly quickly. We started by looking at 4 of the paintings in the book and discussing what we expected the music to sound like based on the paintings. This aquarium scene is underwater and has a lot of fish. Do you suppose the music will be legato or staccato? Do you think it's going to be loud or quiet? What sort of instruments would you use for this scene? Based on this painting do you expect the music to be scary? happy? authoritative? calm? angry? Something else?

We only had two girls the first week, so I left them lying on their bellies on the carpet, waving their feet gently back and forth in the air while they flipped through the pictures and listened to the pieces in order to guess which one they were listening to.

Having discussed all four of the chosen pictures I was only going to play one piece for them to guess and sort out, but they were enjoying themselves so much that they asked if they could do all of them. You bet you can!

Once we'd finished looking at the book and they'd correctly deduced all four pieces (we even had a bit of a knights' duel during the march) it started to rain very, very heavily. This was *perfect* as it meant that when I brought up making a soundscape, the first thing they wanted to make it about was the rain. (How ideal.)

We went out into the hallway where the instrument store closet is and picked out some percussion that we thought might be useful including two rain sticks, some bongos, a slit drum, a thunder drum, and a clacker thing that probably has a proper name but if it does I don't know what it is.

We brought the instruments back into the room, had a bit of time to experiment, and then discussed and tried playing the story that our soundscape would be structured on. We begin with people walking around slowly (bongos), then the rain starts (rain sticks) and the people hurry away. When the thunder starts (thunder drum) the people knock urgently on doors in order to be let inside (slit drum top and sides to make two different sounds). Then, since we are doing this from the storm's point of view- there is a thunder drum solo accompanied by the rain sticks. The thunder dies away and the first brave souls venture out again (bongos). Then the rain stops and all you hear are footsteps.

Our piece is called "The Big Storm."

We wrote it all down, stuck our written text score on a music stand, and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. I was willing to quit way before the girls wanted to stop. We even performed it for one of the Year 3 teachers who happened to be walking by. I had the girls initial and date the score and gave them each photo copies to take home with them.


This week we started by analyzing three more paintings, welcoming our 3rd club member, and reviewing last week's piece. Our newest member learned/was taught two different parts (the rain sticks and the slit drum) which we rehearsed extensively before recording. (They're each going to get a CD of their work at the end of the term.) That took up so much time that we only had 15 minutes to make a start on our next piece.

Apparently this club is half music and half art appreciation (with a bit of Earth Sciences thrown in: for some reason we had a big conversation about the Pacific rim of fire before club got started today). The next piece we're working on uses as its starting point rhythm and pitch instead of location and environment. Rhythm and pitch are the two most basic building blocks of music and maybe a sculpture or picture of neat architecture would have been better to look at- but the first thing that came to mind was Piet Mondrian with his lines and colours. Shapes and colours? Pitch and rhythm. Let's work it.

So that's where we're at right now. (Just wait 'til we start using poetry as a starting point!) This club makes me so. so. SO happy.

Tykes Music Club

I'm teaching two music clubs on Wednesdays now, which is a great deal of fun. I'm continuing the tykes' music club and then following that I have a new Key Stage 2 (8-11 year olds) composition club. And OH! I'm excited about that one. But lets talk tykes first....

I have nine of them in the club. They are squirrelly as tykes are wont to be, so maybe this wasn't the most brilliant idea ever? (Or maybe it was genius. I'll reserve judgement until I have them again next week.) What happened was this: I was digging around in the resource bookshelf in the music room and found a book called A Sackful of Songs by Jane Newberry. It has some delightful songs in it and I thought "wonderful! I won't be recycling material that these tykes have already seen before!" before choosing a gem called "Scary Monster!" (exclamation point helpfully included.)

This song, like many songs for tykes, involves changing actions. Always a good thing since that gives them an opportunity to control the song and get creative with it. The song is about a scary green monster roaring. Or laughing. Or crying or jumping or you get the point.

So we roared for a bit and that went fine. A couple of tykes were really in to the roaring and a few more were staring off into the distance. It seemed like it was time to move on to another action. So we stomped for a bit and then the song turned out to be about dinosaurs and then dragons and then back to monsters again before little C. piped up with: "I want the monster to eat me."

Very matter of factly like that.
(Exclamation point helpfully not included.)

So I "ate" C. by tickling her belly and then oooh did the floodgates open.

"Me! Me! Eat MEeee!!!" 

The tykes scattered all over the room and cowered gleefully under the tables. I said I wouldn't eat any of them unless they all sang- so they all sang with gusto while I crawled menacingly around on the floor tickling each of them in turn whenever I could reach them.

I feel certain I wasn't meant to do that, but I can't actually think of a good reason why except for the whole running in the classroom thing and the fact that I have now set a precedent. (I think it is really the precedent that is going to bite me in the butt.) On the other hand I got them to sing the song enough times so that they all have a handle on the tune and the words and I did that without bashing it repetitively into their skulls while they sat down in a circle. Six of one, half a dozen of the other?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This is a PROMISE

There will be blogs soon. There will be posts, as in- multiples. But currently? Currently I have to sleep. So please be patient and accept my sincerest apologies for the delay in blogging. Suffice to say things are good and trucking along. And I love you all very much. Thanks.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Day of School Jitters

I have a cold. It woke me up twice last night and is mixing and stewing with my new-school-year anxiety nicely. I think it might be making some sort of horrible jam. Or jelly.

Last Friday I went in to school for a staff meeting with the new Head Mistress. The topic was "excellence" and there was a lot of potential for it to be cheesy, but it wasn't. We were put into small groups and given time to talk about some event in our lives that was excellent. My table had trouble coming up with things because we didn't want to brag, we weren't allowed to use an example that was school related, and also- sharing? With people that you don't really know? Not always the easiest thing. We eventually ended up with some cool stories though. It's always nice to learn more about your co-workers beyond "they teach Year 1."

We were then given large pieces of paper and time to come up with a list of 5 things that are excellent about the school. Selling points, really. After that all the staff got up and looked at all of the lists. They were very similar- there were only about 10 unique points out of the 8 tables worth of lists. It was unifying in a way to realize that we all appreciated the same things within the institution.

Next came the list of things that could be improved...there were many more points on this but still a remarkable amount of unity. It felt good to know that even in terms of things we wish could change- by and large we were on the same page. (Can I also say how nice it was as an adjunct teacher to be able to participate in this? I felt included.)

Finally we were re-grouped from our small groups into our working groups (i.e., early years together, key stage 1 together, and key stage 2 together) to discuss which of the "things to be improved" WE could actually do something about. What is actually within our power to change. I just love team brainstorming like this. So much fun.

I was impressed with the new Head Mistress. She seems capable, competent, and like she will actually do what she says she will. It also seems like it will be much more difficult,... finesse the system. Which is probably a good thing. She is also clear that the school is a business, which makes for fascinating comments about how the school is advertised and also the charge to consider what it is that each of us, individually and uniquely, brings to the school.

I still have the same jobs as last Autumn, both the tykes and the French school- but the scheduling and timing has been splayed out across the week so now I have an hour on Monday, half a day in the morning followed by an hour in the late afternoon on Tuesdays, and *hopefully* a whole day on Wednesday though currently there is a pesky three and a half hour gap in the afternoon that would be frustrating not to get paid for since clearly I'll still be in school and doing work during that time.

In any case my classes kick off tomorrow morning with the littlest of the tykes getting their first music lesson of the year. I'm nervous. Not that I'm unclear about what to teach them, but because I am worried about starting off in a good manner so as to encourage good behaviour during my class throughout the year and also so as to not frighten the new ones. Some of the smallest tykes will only have been in school for 2 days at this point and may be as young as two-and-a-half.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

London is Fab.

This afternoon after school I was wandering around all over central London during my customary walk and ended up in the West End where I realized that HAIR was closing in three days and if I didn't see it today, I never would. So I went to check and see if there were any tickets... why on earth do they all randomly get naked right before the intermission? There is no narrative reason whatsoever for that to happen. To be fair, there is barely any narrative anyway...

I probably should have shelled out another 12 pounds to be in the dress circle instead of at the tippy top of the theatre because they spent a lot of the show prancing around on all of the levels but mine, but it was fun anyway. And man do they end on a high note- for the final let the sun shine they invite anyone who can make it down there fast enough on to the stage and everyone is singing away with them and it is very high energy and cool.

Can I just say that I love that I can just decide to go see a West End show? On a whim?