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

The new year school year is back into full swing, with this week being the first full week of classes.  Needless to say, yours portly is tired, but very much enjoying the academic year so far.

I’m teaching Pre-AP Music Appreciation again this year, so I’m excited to dive back into some of the works we discussed last year—and some new ones!  Of course, we’ve kicked the year off with a listening to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a favorite for introducing orchestral instruments.

My Pre-AP Music class this year is quite small—just five students—which makes for a more relaxed classroom environment.  We’re able to explore tangents as they arise (and, based on my frequent use of em dashes and parentheses, you can imagine I go off on them frequently), and generally take the time to enjoy the music, which the students seem to be doing.

I don’t have much more to add that I didn’t write a year ago.  Britten ingeniously weaves a whopping thirteen variations on a Henry Purcell theme, featuring nearly every instrument in the orchestra—including the percussion section!—in solo or soli.  Even the neglected double basses get some love with a melody of their own.

With that, here is 31 August 2020’s “Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’“:

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TBT: First Week of School in The Age of The Virus

School is back, and while I’d like to think The Age of The Virus is in its twilight death throes, the powers-that-be seem intent on foisting fearmongering variants upon us, no doubt as a pretext to strip us of more of our civil liberties.

Regardless, we’re starting back normally this year—as normally as possible—with a whopping 408 (and counting) students.  Considering we had fewer than 100 students a decade ago, that’s a pretty huge change.

Hopefully we won’t have any major outbreaks this year, as we largely avoided last school year.  We managed to get through with only a few isolated cases among students and faculty, and finished up with life largely back to normal in the final two months of the year.

It’s interesting looking back to the beginning of last school year and seeing how the year progressed.  The fiasco of using Loom lasted about two weeks for yours portly; I quickly reverted to using the desktop version of Google Meet to record my lectures.

I’m also relieved that I won’t be livestreaming classes anymore.  I don’t have anything to hide; it’s just a huge hassle getting online kids logged in, much less engaged.  There’d frequently be times when I was ten minutes into class and a student would log in after being marked absent; sometimes I wouldn’t catch that the student had entered class, and the student would then complain about the absence.

More frequently, students would log in the moment I’d sent the attendance e-mail to the registrar, so I’d have to resend the e-mail.  Sometimes the registrar wouldn’t see that second e-mail, and I’d get a call in the middle of class asking if the “missing” student had logged into class.

Those were minor issues when compared to bigger problems with the online platform—students suddenly switching to distance learning on test days, for example—but still headaches.  It probably cost a good five-to-ten minutes of class time just to take attendance.

Well, here’s to the normal amount of craziness and bureaucratic overreach of the typical school year.  With that, here is 28 August 2020’s “First Week of School in The Age of The Virus“:

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Back to School 2021

Well, after starting back to work Monday a week ago, we’re finally back at school today.  We’re one of the latest schools to start back in our area—my county’s school district started back classes last Monday, and Florence County schools resumed on 2 August 2021—but it still seems too soon.  The Florence start date seems insanely early as far as I am concerned, but they’re transitioning to a semi-year-round model, in which the students will get a week off in October and February, as well as some other juicy breaks.

Of course, any time off is never quite enough, is it?  I often find myself thinking, “if I only had one more weekend to finish this up” or “I really need another week of break so I can work on writing.”  That said, during the peak of The Age of The Virus in 2020, when I had virtually limitless free time, I didn’t complete any of the big projects I had set aside for myself.  That puts to the lie the idea that more time necessarily means getting more done.

Indeed, I often find that I am more productive when working against a deadline.  As I’ve gotten older and more experienced—albeit not much wiser—I’ve learned to plan ahead, and to churn out a great deal of work in long stretches of focus, in order to save me some time later.  That’s a necessity with my crazy schedule, and helps keep me from getting caught flat-footed by some unanticipated deadline or task too often.

Regardless, school is starting back today, and things are (mostly) back to normal—no more remote learning, no students tuning in from their cars or bedrooms to class, no more mandatory masks (again, mostly) [update:  we have received word that we are starting the year with masks—nooooo!].  I’m hoping it’s going to be a normal-ish academic year.

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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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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!).

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

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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