SubscribeStar Saturday: Making Music, Part II

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This school year I began transitioning from teaching a blend of history and music classes towards focusing almost entirely on music.  While I still teach a couple of sections of American History, my teaching duties these days consist primarily music classes.

One of the real joys of teaching music—besides the fact that it’s just plain fun—is to see students inspired to create their own music.  I have been blessed over the years to witness the musical development of many students, and to hear some of their creations.

During our remote learning rehearsal day earlier this week, I pulled out some old concert footage to show my HS Music Ensemble class, a course that is entirely performance based.  That class does not port well to a fully online format, especially to a livestreamed one, as latency is so intense that it makes ensemble performance impossible.  Indeed, if that class goes to a fully online format, we’ll have to focus more on solo work and and music theory, which is what we did during distance learning earlier in the spring.

In watching that old concert footage, I was reminded of some wonderful moments in my school’s unorthodox music program’s history.  It also reminded me of the power of teaching music to inspire the creation of new works.

To hear my own musical works, visit https://tjcookmusic.bandcamp.com/ or www.tjcookmusic.com.

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Teaching in The Age of The Virus: Live Remote Learning Rehearsal Day

Periodically I’ve written updates and progress reports about teaching in The Age of The Virus.  My September “Progress Report” detailed the difficulties of teaching in-person and online simultaneously (with most students in class, and a few streaming the class online via Google Meet), while also recording live classes for international students to view at a later time.  Technical issues and glitches aside, it creates a number of additional tasks that eat up class and prep time, and overall increase our workloads by at least 20-30%—and often more.

My school’s approach has been to soldier on as long as possible, following stringent health and safety guidelines to keep the school clean.  Students are required to wear masks pretty much all day now, which is starting to irk some of them.  It really is a struggle to keep them on all day.  Students have the option to switch to the live remote platform if they’re ill or have been in contact with someone with The Virus.

So far, that system has worked remarkably well; since the start of classes, we’ve only had (to my knowledge) one student and one staff member test positive for The Virus, and that was after the fourth week of classes.  If that incredibly slow spread remains as such, we are far more likely to keep school going with some degree of normality for the duration of the academic year.

However, yesterday we ran a live remote platform rehearsal day to prepare ourselves in the event we need to transition speedily to remote learning only.  Students stayed home and logged in via Google Meet to their classes, while teachers reported to school and taught from their respective classrooms.  Students attended classes at their scheduled class times, and we continued to follow the usual bell schedule.

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Progress Report: Teaching in The Age of The Virus

Progress reports go out to students today at my little school, so I thought it would be a good time to provide an update of my own now that we’re nearly a month into the school year.  I posted about teaching in The Age of The Virus after the first day and the first week, and now I have a much better perspective on how the year is unfolding.

As a refresher, my school is doing mostly face-to-face instruction, but with some students doing distance learning.  Students have the option to go to distance learning pretty much at will (for example, I had one student who stayed home today with a cold, but who tuned into my music appreciation course), and can return to school at any time.  Students engaged in distance learning are required to attend during the scheduled class period.

The caveat to that general rule pertains to international students.  We have a number of students overseas who, because of new restrictions due to The Virus, are stuck in their home countries.  Many of those students’ classes are late at night, or even in the very early morning, after accounting for the time difference.  It’s a long way from South Carolina to Vietnam.

What that means is that we have to teach our regular classes; livestream them; and record those livestreams, making the recordings available after the class.  It sounds easy enough—so long as everything works perfectly.

That’s turning out to be the fly in the pancake batter.  As one of our dedicated science teachers said—the lady who troubleshoots our woeful technological glitches—“I can livestream, or I can record.  The trouble is trying to do both.”  Amen to that.

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Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

This year, I’m teaching a new Pre-AP Music Appreciation course at my school.  The goal of the course is to teach students the language of music, as well as the different instruments, along with a broad survey of Western music from the Middle Ages to the present.  For the first week, we discussed dynamic contrast, tone color/timbre, and began going through the instruments typically found in the orchestra.  We’ve also listened to some excellent music, including a particularly dramatic performance of Franz Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig.”

After we covered the different orchestral instruments, we listened to Benjamin Britten‘s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln under the direction of Jukka Pekka SarasteBritten’s piece takes a theme from seventeenth-century English composer Henry Purcell, an important Baroque composer with a distinctly English sound.  Britten has the entire orchestra play the Purcell theme, then each section takes a turn.  Then each instrument in the orchestra—including auxiliary percussion pieces like the triangle—take solo or soli sections, starting with the piccolos and flutes.

It’s a charming bit of modern classical music, and this performance is a particularly good one.  The camera crew makes sure to highlight each section of the orchestra and each group of instruments as they perform (the oboes are particularly fun, as one oboist looks like his head is about to burst from concentration).  I remember Ben Shapiro recommending the piece to a listener who wanted to introduce his young children to symphonic music, and stating that his own young daughter loved it.

After thirteen (!) variations on Purcell’s theme, Britten introduces a lively new theme, starting with a jaunty, acrobatic piccolo solo, and then slowly building back in the woodwinds, strings, brasses, and percussion in turn.  The whole thing swells to a mighty crescendo, with a powerful, full orchestra finale.  When I played it for my Pre-AP Music Appreciation students Friday morning, a few of them were awe-struck.  We finished listening in the closing minutes of class, and one student left saying, “This is my favorite class”—always satisfying to hear as a teacher.

Of course, who couldn’t love a class that involves listening to and talking about great music?  As our primary resource, I’m using Roger Kamien’s Music: An Appreciation, the eighth brief edition.  We’re also using YouTube heavily to locate quality recordings of music, such as the WDR Cologne Symphony recording featured in this post.

I’m hoping to sit my niece and nephews down soon to listen to Britten’s piece, as I think they’ll enjoy all the instruments.  It might be a tad long to hold their attention, but it can easily be enjoyed in small chunks.  My niece is particularly musically inclined, and I think will have fun seeing and hearing the different orchestral pieces in turn.

After all, if we’re trying to save Western Civilization, that means learning to appreciate some our highest cultural creations—and sharing that love with the next generation.

First Week of School in The Age of The Virus

We’ve gotten about one week of school in the books.  So far—as far as I know—there have been no major outbreaks of The Virus among our students or staff.  I noted last Friday that our plethora of new policies were, fortunately, not quite as difficult to implement as I feared.

I wrote at the time that the “real test will be next week—our first full week of school.”  So with one (very long) week in the books, how are we holding up?

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TBT: Remembering 1519

We’ve been back at school for one week now, and so far things seem to be going well, albeit very busy.  We’re slowly settling into a groove with our various safety protocols, and most of the schedule changes are solidified.  That should make for much smoother sailing going forward.

I’m mostly teaching music courses this year, but I still have a couple of sections of Honors US History.  That means it’s another year of telling the “grand narrative of American history.”  My main goal as a history teacher is to make sure students receive a balanced, analytical telling of our great nation’s history.  That means that while I point out the atrocities of, say, the Spanish conquistadors, I also discuss the wickedness of the Aztecs, who engaged in daily human sacrifices.  That the Spanish built a cathedral atop the old Aztec altar to their false gods is a fitting bit of divine judgment.

Of course, as an American I’m more interested in English colonization and settlement in British North America—what would become the United States—than I am in the vast empire of New Spain.  We should be getting into Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth Rock today or tomorrow, and I’m quite excited about that.  For me, that’s when the story really starts cooking.  Naturally, the clash of Spanish conquistadors and Aztec and Inca warriors is cool, but those first saplings of a free country stir my heart.

All that said, this week’s TBT looks back at those cool conquistadors.  Here is 3 September 2019’s “Remembering 1519“:

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Diversity is Our Strength!

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

A couple of days before the start of the school year, my school underwent a round of indoctrination professional development:  the dreaded diversity, equity, and inclusion training ($5 subs got a sneak peek of my handwritten notes earlier this week, which I uploaded as a digitized PDF).  As these things go, it wasn’t terrible, but there was plenty of social justice buzz words, and a subtle, implied anti-white bias to it.  Really, it was an anti-Truth and objectivity bias.

This Saturday, permit me to be your guide through the harrowing world of corporate-style diversity training in the Year of Our Wokeness Two-Thousand and Twenty C.E. (because “A.D.” is discriminatory against non-Christians, even though the B.C.E./C.E. dating system is still based on the Birth of Jesus Christ!).

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First Day of School in The Age of The Virus

Yesterday was the first day of the 2020-2021 school year, an academic year that, for good or for ill, will certainly go down in the annals of educational history.  The build-up to the first day was a somewhat baffling scramble to implement new policies while also preparing to teach, but the day itself mostly ran smoothly.

Teachers possess an endless capacity for complaining, as I’ve noted before (indeed, a good chunk of this blog is me doing just that!), but also for adaptation.  We’re already amateur therapists, social workers, law enforcement officers, medics, and traffic cops on top of our actual mastery of our subject area.  Now we’re trying to accomplish all of those things while fending off The Virus with masks and one-way hallway traffic.

So, naturally, everyone was feeling a bit overwhelmed entering this school year.  Our administration has worked very hard to craft policies that we can implement successfully.  After the first day—which is always a little hectic and chaotic—I am personally feeling much better about the new protocols.

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TBT^2: Back to School with Richard Weaver

Today marks the first day of school for the 2020-2021 school year:  The Year of The Virus, if we were to affix a Chinese Zodiac-style name to it.  It’s going to be the most unusual school year any of us have ever experienced, I imagine.  Please keep teachers, students, administrators, and staff in your prayers.

As I’ve noted often, I reread at least the introduction to Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences every school year.  The introduction offers a strong diagnosis of modernity’s ills, and it reminds me why teaching is so important—not just the accumulation of random facts into worldly knowledge, but to inculcate deeper knowledge and virtue—what we might call “wisdom.”

Here is “TBT: Back to School with Richard Weaver“:

Every year I try to reread the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver’s masterful work of analysis and prophecy.

With school starting back in just FOUR DAYS—may God have mercy on us all—it seemed germane to bring back this post from 2018, itself a contextualization of a Facebook post from 2014.

Here is “Back to School with Richard Weaver“:

Every year, I try to sit down and re-read at least the introduction to Richard Weaver’s seminal Ideas Have Consequences, probably the most powerful book I’ve ever read.  I tend to undertake this re-reading around the time school resumes, as it helps remind me why I teach.

In addition to Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver wrote some of the most eloquent essays on the South—and what it means to be Southern—in the twentieth century.  In 2014, I posted the following quotation on Facebook; I will allow it to speak for itself[:]

I’m undertaking my annual baptism in the works of Richard Weaver to focus my philosophical thinking for a rapidly approaching school year, and, as always, I’m presented with an embarrassment of riches. Few thinkers cram so many nuggets of truth into so little space. Every paragraph of Weaver’s writings yields insights that speak to the very heart of humanity.

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