Every spring my school sponsors a big fine arts festival, a weekend dedicated to celebrating and showcasing our talented students. The weekend includes two nights of our drama students performing whatever play or musical they’re presenting that season, as well as an exhibit of student artwork.
The first night, however, is the big Spring Concert. After the dance students share some pieces, my student-musicians take the stage for their one big night of the semester.
The Spring Concert is like the Super Bowl for these kids: it’s the biggest stage most of them will take during the academic year (though several of my students gig with bands and ensembles outside of school), and the one time they really get to soak up the spotlight. The goal of my music classes is to put on good performances, not to seek fame, but the kids deserve some accolades and kudos. Besides, a big part of music is being able to share it with other people.
With the Spring Concert about six weeks away, my students and I sat down this week to begin programming the concert. Programming a concert is part science, but also an art; it requires a certain “feel” for the pieces, and how those disparate pieces link together to create a cohesive, exciting whole.
Last week was an exceptionally busy one for yours portly, with a number of duties and responsibilities intersecting at once. I’m sure many readers have noticed this phenomenon, but there is a decidedly cyclical nature to workflow; indeed, it’s almost tidal in the manner it ebbs and flows: I can go for two or three weeks enjoying a fairly placid schedule, only to have a couple of weeks of intense activity. Everything seems to come to a head at the same time.
That’s particularly true in education, a field that is structurally cyclical, with regular intervals of heightened activity baked into the calendar. The third quarter ended Friday, marking the beginning of the end of the school year (fourth quarter—that last, mad dash to summer vacation—starts today). That means last week was a flurry of finalizing grades and writing report card comments.
My school requires unique, individualized comments for every student, and though we teach (on average) fewer students than the typical public school teacher, we’re expected to go above and beyond. Because my colleagues and I were scolded as a group for comments deemed inadequate (for the record, I always write exceptional comments), I decided to double-down and write even more ridiculously detailed comments. Our registrar read through them Friday morning (after I worked furiously and late into the night Thursday to finish them before the weekend) and said, “I felt like I was reading a novella.” Mission accomplished.
That’s all to say that I’m very tired, so I thought this Monday would be a good opportunity to offer some brief updates.
Well, here it is—the week of Christmas, and the beginning of my glorious, two-week Christmas break. If this blog post feels a bit like I’m rubbing in readers’ faces the bloated excess of education’s vacation time, my apologies. I will note, though, that if you spent hours everyday as a surrogate parent to other people’s children, you, too, would want two weeks off at Christmas.
Indeed, I would argue that more professions deserve more time off at Christmastime. Naturally, I realize that many folks save up their hard-earned vacation days to do just that: enjoy a week or so with their families by the yule log, sipping eggnog and hot cocoa in their festive Cosby sweaters. What I’m advocating for, though, is a widespread cultural movement—maybe even to the point of declaring some federal holidays—in the days leading up to and/or immediately after Christmas. It always blows my mind when people work a full day—even a measly half-day—on Christmas Eve.
It’s that time of year when Christmas music dominates the airwaves and our collective consciousness. It’s always a tad irksome to me how folks will complain about Christmas music during the Christmas season. Of course you’re going to hear Mariah Carey every fifteen minutes—it comes with the territory. Naturally, let’s at least get through Halloween (and, preferably, Thanksgiving Day), but at least make an attempt at getting into the Christmas spirit.
Last year I wrote extensively about Christmas carols. Indeed, one of my many unfinished projects is to compile a small book containing the stories of some of our most cherished carols (I want to write a similar book about hymns, too). I play and sing a lot of carols this time of year: I’m a music teacher. Perennial favorites—and the selections my classes are currently playing—are “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Holy Night.”
We’re back to distance learning today after a positive case of The Virus, and since it’s the day before Thanksgiving Break—historically the biggest blow-off day of the school year—my administration decided to play it safe and declare today a distance learning day. As such, I took the assignment derived from The Story of 100 Great Composers and ported it to my high school music classes. Those classes will share about their composers today.
Yesterday my school ran its second Live Remote Learning Rehearsal Day. We have actually done really well with keeping cases low—almost non-existent. Nevertheless, our administration is taking a proactive approach by testing out remote learning in various scenarios in the event we need to go fully online.
Today my school is doing its second Live Remote Learning Rehearsal days. These are days for us to test out remote learning in the event The Virus necessitates returning to distance learning full-time. Last time teachers tuned in from home while teachers were on-campus. This time, both teachers and students are able to work from home, so I’ve been enjoying a more leisurely morning.
Indeed, I just wrapped up my first morning class of the day, a section of Middle School Music. The students in that section wrote brief, rough draft biographies of renowned composers, and after giving them feedback in-class yesterday, they presented on their composers this morning. It was a good lesson for digital learning, as it required their active participation for the bulk of the class, and they all did quite well.
I’ve assigned composer biographies in music courses for years, but what inspired the assignment this time around was the rediscovery of a charming little book I keep on a small end table in my den: Helen L. Kaufmann’s The Story of One Hundred Great Composers. Published in 1943, the book is a tiny, pocket-sized digest of two-to-three-page entries—arranged chronologically—of composers from the sixteenth century forward.