"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


Daily life, 16

Last Thursday, one of my third graders asked me what the top of the conga drum was made from.

Me: Um, you won't like it when I tell you what it really is.
Kids: Tell us!
Me: It's leather. You know, it's made from cow's skin.
Kids: Eeewww....
Jenita*: What? We're playing on dead cows?
Me: Well, yes. What do you think you're eating, Jenita, when you have hamburgers at lunch?
Jenita* (slowly, with a shocked expression) What? Hamburgers.....hamburgers.....hamburgers are NOT dead cows.
Me: What'd you think they were?
Jenita*: Oh......
Kids: Eeeewww! Don't tell us that! How are we gonna eat lunch now?

PostScript: Passing by the lunchroom a bit later, I noticed hamburgers being eaten at the usual rate....rest easy, lunchroom ladies, they're not vegetarians....yet.

*Jenita is, naturally, not this child's real name.


Daily life, 15

So today I was working after school, sorting each grade level's Music Journals, with two fourth grade volunteers helping out. We were discussing whose birthdays were in February.

Kathleen*: Mine's in February, but it's usually not so good.
Me: Really? How so?
Kathleen*: Well, my Dad's usually pretty mad around my birthday.
Me: Hmm...
Kathleen*: Yeah, his sister died the year I was born, but no one expected her to die.
She died the day before my birthday.
Me: Wow, that must've been hard for your Dad.
Kathleen*: Yeah....actually, I don't think he's really mad. I think he's just really
sad, but doesn't want to show it, so he acts mad instead. It's OK, you know?
He does always wish me happy birthday. It's OK.

*Kathleen is, of course, not this kind-hearted child's real name.


Daily life, 14

Today, in Grade 4 Music, I was playing "Paper Moon" from the swing music chart, rather than a simpler melody + accompaniment form, just to see how the kids did, singing in an arrangement that fit the style.

They did GREAT. Held their own, like the strong musicians they are. I, of course, just about leapt off the piano bench and started talking a mile a minute.

Me: Wow, you all are the cat's pajamas! You sound GREAT!
Kids (beaming and laughing): You sure are getting excited.
Me: Oh, you wanted a calm reaction? Well now, boys and girls, didn't
that sound just swell. Good job.
Kids: Yuck! That's creepy! Don't make yourself sound like a regular
grownup--we like it better the real way!


Daily life, 12

In Kindergarten Music class today, we were moving like big heavy creatures, to demonstrate the dynamics and tempo of some music (a Chopin Rhapshody). Most of the children chose to be dinosaurs, and were stomping up close around me....except for Lesley*, who was waaayyy over in a corner, calmly standing still and delicately stretching her head towards the ceiling.

Me: Hey there, Lesley*-o-saur, how come you're way over there?
Lesley*: I don't belong with those other kids.
Me: Really? How come?
Lesley*: I'm a plant-eater.

*Lesley, of course, is not this dinosaur's, I mean child's, real name.


Daily life, 11

So, today's little slice of life is not from my classroom. It's from my cousin. She was talking with her 7 year old daughter about wearing glasses for the first time.

Kristen*: So, what're you gonna say if you get to school and kids make fun of how you look
in your new glasses?

Jakeira*: I'll just tell them I'm sorry that they're intimidated by my coolness.

Oh yeah. I want some of that.

*Kristen and Jakeira are, of course, not their real names.


Daily Life, 10

So I was wondering, when I started these 'slice of classroom life' posts, whether kids were actually as funny and interesting as I think they are.

That answer would be: yes.

Today, after school, I was working in my 'classroom'. (My classroom Music space is part of the cafeteria, a space which also houses our great Afterschool program.) Stella* (2nd grade) stood near me and watched as I was preparing materials for class tomorrow.

Stella*: What are you doing?
Me: My homework---getting ready for class tomorrow.
Stella*: You know, you should really go home and get some rest.
Me: Why's that?
Stella*: Well, you gotta teach kids tomorrow!

*Of course, you know that Stella is not this child's real name.


Daily Life, 9

Today, in First Grade, we played "Musical Zoo"---an expressive movement 'game' which involves students listening to music and showing, through movement, what animal "moves the way that the music sounds".

Me: Krista*, how come your animal is frozen? Are you a polar bear trapped in an iceberg?
Krista*: No, 'course not. I think the music sounds like snakes.
Me: Hmmm. Sounds good to me. But what's going on then? Why isn't your snake slithering about?
Krista* (looking at me with earnest eyes) Well, see, I'm a dead snake!

*Krista is, of course, not this young musician/dancer's real name.


Daily life, 8

Singing a winter song with Kindergarteners, looking at a picture book which illustrates the song...we live in an area which gets very little sun between November and May.

Me: What season do you think this song is about?
Kids: Winter!
Me: Yep. How'd you know?
Kids: Snow!
Luther*: It can't be winter. That snow is fake.
Me: Hmm. Tell me more.
Luther*: Look at the sun! It's summer.
Kana*: My Dad told me there are places in the world where the sun shines, even in the winter.

*Luther and Kana are, obviously, not these children's real names.


Daily Life, 7

Fourth Grade, singing "Paper Moon". Came to the line, "it's a Barnum and Bailey world"...discussed what that meant. Towards the end of the discussion...

James*: You know, Barnum was a trickster.
Me: Really? How so?
James*: He pulled a bunch of tricks on people all the time. I read about it in a book.
Me: Hmm. That's funny. I always thought he was just a great circus manager.
James*: Guess he must have been really good at fooling people, then!

*James is, clearly, not this Fourth Grader's real name.


Daily life, 6

Kindergarten Music class with lots of kids...all seated in a performance circle, with instruments of their choosing (drums, ukes, whatever)on the floor in front of them, ready to play.

Me: OK, so hold up your fingers to show me how many people play on a 'solo'. ....Yep,
that's right: just one person plays on a solo.

The children smile and nervously tap their knees.

Me: So what's your job when your name is called to play a solo?
Kids: To make up something we like and play it!
Me: Right. And what's your job if your name isn't the one that's called?

Luther* (looking up at me with big eyes and a resigned expression): to be patient?

*Luther, of course, is not this musician's real name.


Daily Life, 5

Helping Ks and First Graders at school breakfast this morning...trying to spread cream cheese on Samantha's* bagel with a spork. (Spork: spoon + fork + not very functional)

Me: Oops! Sorry, Sam, that bagel just slipped right out of my hands. Yuck---it planted a facer on the table, didn't it?

Samantha* (picking up the bagel and giving it a serious eye) Now listen here, bagel, you sit down and behave yourself.

A few minutes later, at the Kindergarten table...

Me: Jamie, what in the world happened to all of those Lucky Charms that were just in your bowl?

Jamie*: Oh, they runned outside to play on the swings.

Imagination. Don't leave home without it.

*Samantha and Jamie are, of course, not their real names.


Daily life, 4

This, from a friend who teaches Fourth Grade...during an afternoon spelling class...

Teacher: George*, the ten words on this list need to be in alphabetical order.
George*: Really?
Teacher: Really.
George*: May I use an alphabet sheet?
Teacher: Sure, if you need one. Cross the words off as you use them.
George*: OK, if you say so.

Several minutes later, the teacher walked over to George*'s desk.

Teacher: Hmm, I see 5 words on this sheet and some on your new sheet.
George*: Look! I did 5 already.

George* proudly held up his work, which did indeed contain 5 words, neatly written in alphabetical order...every letter in every one of the words, in alphabetical order.

Well. Ok then.

*George is not his real name (obviously).

Daily Life, 3

Today's gem...

Helping kids get on their mittens and such, in Grade One, between 7:40--8AM (when they have outside recess, before school begins)...

Bridgit*: You know, my brother and I have different daddies.
Me: Really. That happens sometimes.
Bridgit*: Well, see, my mom, she has three husbands.
Me: Gosh, I hope, not all at the same time.
Bridgit* (giggling): No, of course not, silly. My mom had to say goodbye to the first husband
because he was seeing too many other ladies. My brother's daddy is her second
husband, and my daddy is her third one.
Me: Hmm. Sounds complicated.
Bridgit*: (With a big sigh) It is.

Then she smiled and skipped outside to play at recess.

Whew. I am astounded and saddened by the level of wordly knowledge and details these kids take as a matter of course. They're resilient, yes---but what in the world are we thinking, as a society, when this kind of knowledge is commonplace?

*Bridgit is, of course, not her real name.


daily life, 2

More, from the daily life of music classes....

Getting 2nd graders from their seats to the line at the end of class. (Yes. There are patterns for this. Just as there are patterns for drivers, merging onto the highway...and just like adult drivers, the kids get seriously irritated if someone 'budges' or cuts into line ahead of them...)

Me: OK, how about if anyone who's an only child lines up now?
Sara*: Guess what? My Mom told me she wanted me to be an only child.
Me: Really. Why?
Sara*: So that everyone on both sides of the family would be able to spoil me, very badly.
Me: Hmmm. How's that working for you?
Sara*: It's great!

Yep. Bet it is, that.

More, later.

*Sara, obviously, is not her real name.


Frosty and weed?

Daily life in the classroom....

Me (Holding up a picture book in First Grade): So here's Frosty's button nose, and his eyes made out of coal.
Tyler*: Why's he got weed?
Me: Oh, that's not a weed. That's his corn cob pipe.
Tyler*: Well, I've always heard it called weed.

Uh, right. Never know what you're gonna hear, do you?

*Tyler, obviously, is not his real name.


Ukuleles rock.

I think ukes rock.

I think every kid should be able to play uke.

At my school, they do.

Here's how it works:

We have enough ukuleles for each kid to use one during class, and a few in case one explodes or something.

I tune them in C major (every day).

We use a variety of picks--from tiny hot pink shell-like ones, to big old floppy picks made from quart yogurt container lids.
Surprisingly, the latter are sometimes the favored ones: they're easy to hold and they sound good.

In September, I play the uke for the first few classes: some classical pieces and a lot of accompaniments to songs.

In the third week of classes: every kid gets a uke during class.

We go through a guided discovery process first (what's it look like? what's it made out of?  to what instrument family does it belong? and so one).

The first thing we work on is how to hold it. More of a challenge than is apparent at first....the kids sit so that everyone is facing me. I hold up the uke so they know in which direction to aim the neck. We spend a LOT of time working on holding the uke correctly and just strumming...on the beat....together.....at the same time....stopping when the lead uke player (sometimes me, sometimes a kid) stops.

We don't use picks at this point. We use just the open chord (no fingers on the frets).

Once that's underway, we add picks.

Next up is learning to mute. (A necessary skill, especially once we start on the blues...)

Then it's time for solo/ensemble work. Volunteers play by themselves (with me accompanying them on another instrument..sometimes piano, sometimes bass, whatever), briefly, on the beat, mute or open chording, alternating with the class playing as an ensemble.

Now they're ready for chords. We start with C7 (obviously: it only needs one finger to play it!). Then C major. Then F major.

All during this time, they're playing everything to real music: either we're singing and playing (here's where the abilty to mute comes in handy!) or they're using ukes and I'm playing piano. We do a lot of blues.

The last chord for awhile is G7. And, of course, if they can do G7, they can usually do Bar 5, Bar 6, Bar 7....which is a nifty swing-style ending for tunes, that I learned from Ruthy Ungar Merenda, at Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp. (www.ashokan.org/ashokan/camp.shtml)

So how does this work out?

It's now January. We started in September.

Kindergarteners and First Graders can play open strums and muting, on the beat, together, solos and ensemble. All Firsts can play C7; some Firsts can play C, too.

All of my 2nds can play C, C7, and some can play F major.

Third, Fourth and Fifth graders can play all of the chords we've learned thus far. Some kids still need help to remember the G7 chord at times, but most are rock solid.

We have music class twice weekly, for a half hour each time. We play ukes during only one of the class sessions.

We start with uke jam for about 5 minutes: I show them today's goal (for instance, "we wanna be able to play a really seriously clear F major chord today, every time, no matter how fast the song switches chords") ....and they get to practice...and chat...and work on anything else with the uke that they'd like. Explore it. Some kids create amazing strums during this time, and some start fingerpicking. Some look for melodies. Some practice the chords. And some chat.

It's all good.

Then we re-convene, and start woodshedding on whatever today's tune is.

It is completely fun, completely absorbing, and rapidly creating a solid group of about 250 kids who love to play uke, who think of themselves (rightly so!) as musicians, and who
seriously rock.

These kids rock.

And so does the uke.