Why Are They Here?

This is an article I wrote for a state journal in December of 2016:

As I sit down to write this 2016 is coming to a close and 2017 is just around the corner. This always causes me to take just a few minutes to ponder my successes and failures of the previous years in anticipation of doing things differently, and hopefully better, in the future. One topic on my mind is a simple question “why are they here?” This will be the topic that I will explore in the next few paragraphs. The research is my own informal conversations with colleagues, students, and administrators.

The driving factor that always comes to the forefront is performance. In my experience, students of all ages love to share their work with an audience. Sometimes these performances are formal in a performance auditorium with formal dress, and others are far less formal. I believe both types of performances satisfy the need for our students to share what they have worked on with an audience.

In recent years we have been having a great and vigorous discussion in the music world regarding standards, assessment, rubrics and proficiency scales. I have a deep appreciation for the amount of work done at the national level by a large number of music teachers and music administrators to develop the standards and tools to help implement them. I do not want this article in any way to seem to be anti-standards. I have had numerous conversations with folks who seem to believe that if we teach “the standards” we have to decrease the number of performance opportunities for our students. I disagree. I believe that the nature of some performances may change, the method of delivery may change, and the material presented may change. I would argue that the performance is what drives students to be a part of our music courses and we can never lose sight of the fact that music is a performing art. Sharing the creative energy with an audience has to be a part of the process of learning the art. The standards and assessment pieces are the process portions of what we do. The processes must be there to adequately prepare students to perform.

I began my music education career in the fall of 1998 at an elementary school in Bismarck. I remember my very first performance with 3 rd graders in late October. Making the adjustment from a collegiate ensemble setting where rehearsals happened with great frequency to an elementary school where I had 60 minutes of contact time per week with each class, only getting 1 rehearsal with all 3 3 rd grade classes combined (which was actually a “dress rehearsal” in front of the whole school) was difficult. I remember working incredibly hard to teach a collection of Patriotic songs to students only to realize I had 20 minutes of music at best. I was terrified! To make a long story short, that group of 3 rd graders and I survived. Not only did they survive, but they taught me a valuable lesson which would have great impact on me for years to come. They LOVED to be on the stage. This made me realize that while the performance wasn’t where I wanted it (and they still never are even in my current role) it was an accurate display of their work, and they were very proud. They wanted to perform! The process is important, rehearsing to the point of near-perfection is important, however allowing students to share their work as often as possible is even more important.

This helped me to understand that the work we do as music creators must be shared. I also think that there has never been a time in which the creative work of students can be shared more easily with an audience of your choosing. We are all familiar with the various types and venues for formal public performance. I trust that you have a list of your favorites for your group. The following are a few suggestions of how to get started sharing work with an audience without leaving your school.

YouTube- Setting up a YouTube channel can be done in a matter of minutes. The settings allow for several different options of who can see your videos. There are the fully public videos that many of us are familiar with, however you can also upload videos that can only be seen by an audience you invite to watch them. This allows you to share performances in the way that you are most comfortable.

Facebook- My daughter’s 3 rd grade teacher has a private Facebook group for parents of the students in her classroom. Recently the BHS New Generation Jazz Choir went to their classroom to sing a few songs. She recorded one of them and shared it to her page. The only viewers allowed to see it were the members of her private page. Facebook also allows you to share things in a more public format if you choose.

Facebook Live- This is a relatively new option for sharing live events on Facebook. These can be made public so they can be shared on a wide scale. This is a great way to share a live event, or even a rehearsal video of a piece that is “in progress.”

Soundcloud- Setting up a Soundcloud page takes just a few clicks. This sight is a great way to share audio recordings with an audience. The player can be attached to your school or classroom web site, and is a very effective way to share audio recordings that can be played on a variety of formats and platforms. I think what makes these venues worth considering is the ease of sharing work at any stage of the process with parents and other stakeholders. Think of the power of doing a video of a group at the very earliest of stages in the learning process as a precursor to the public performance. This allows an audience to be a part of the process that is creating music. It could build a greater understanding of where we begin the learning pr

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