Music and Standardized Testing

3 years ago, I ventured my toe back into the realm of classroom music education. My degree is in vocal music education and from 2001-2002, that was what I did. And I struggled, and in that, God showed me that I was supposed to be serving in the church. I had opportunities to go back into the classroom, but the timing wasn’t right, and ultimately, because of my previous bad experience, I was scared. Three years ago, an opportunity came to direct a private Christian high school choir. We needed the money and it was a fun experience. It helped me regain my confidence. But it also pushed me to go to the Texas Music Educators conference. It was there that I was introduced to Sir Ken Robinson, as he was one of the keynote speakers. Here’s a clip:

 

 

There has been much argument and discussion over standardized testing. In my state of Texas, standardized testing is highly regarded and a huge weight is placed on teachers, administrators and students.

Recently, I came across this article. The article is about how art teachers in New York are evaluated on the math scores of students in their school. Yes, you read that right. And if you don’t believe it, read the article. How preposterous is that? The headline of the article asks is it fair. I’d say it’s more than that. It is absolutely illogical to base the value of a teacher who teaches a subject that is founded on creativity, uniqueness, and is difficult to be standardized on subjects like math, reading, and others that can be standardized in measuring.

In fact, as Sir Ken Robinson notes in the video shared, we have lost the creativity in our schools. Remember when children would use their imagination and come up with amazing stories? I was one of those children. Now, the focus isn’t really on imagining, but preparing for the testing. Making sure that students know what they are supposed to know when they are supposed to know it. Not individualized education, but corporate education. I’ve seen it in my daughter who is in public school kindergarten. Yes, she’s in a great school in a fantastic school district, but I see weekly a heavy emphasis on numbers, math and knowledge of adding simple numbers. Already in kindergarten!

Music and the arts help to instill and build creativity in students. When the focus shifts to teaching to the test, things that conflict with that goal get cut back or cut out completely. That is why when you look at music and the arts in public schools, the opportunities are quite limited.

So what leads to the change? I think it is about advocacy and parents speaking up for what they want to see. More than that, even if you do not have a child or your children are grown up and you want children today to have a quality education, music or otherwise, pay attention to the elections for school board and how the schools get funded. Really, that’s the best hope for change when it comes to education.

I Am An Organist

imageI don’t quite typically look like this guy, but playing the organ is quite busy. For many people in church, the organ can be quite confusing. I will sometimes get questions like:

-Why do you have to wear different shoes?

-What do those pedal thingies do?

-Why do you need more than one keyboard?

-What do those buttons do?

Those questions, and many more have come up in 23 years of playing the organ. There have been times that I have loved playing the organ. There have also been times that I hated playing the organ. But I always come back to it. While I have fought against it from time to time, and tried to be something else, it’s what I know. It’s what I’ve done since I was in 7th grade.

Playing the organ takes coordination, thought, discipline, a musical understanding and much more. Many of these skills translate in other instruments, others do not. I can play with my right hand doing one thing on one manual (keyboard) my left hand doing something else on another manual and my feet (yes, my feet) playing something completely different as well (hence the shoes). What other instrument demands that kind of coordination? And then, some organists (I include myself in that) are able to sing while they play. I don’t know how I am able to do this, I just always have.

The organ and organists have developed a reputation over the years. The organ is called “The King of instruments”. The organ is a unique instrument, possessing many different sounds. With the advent of digital organs and MIDI, the palate organists have at their disposal is vast! There is something to be said about the power and strength of an organ that is fit for the space that it is in, in the power and majesty that it harnesses, along with the leadership it has for congregational singing.

While many churches are going away from organs and organists, there is a place for both. But the question is, how to get people interested in the organ? One person is Cameron Carpenter. I blogged about him here. He’s brash, has his own unique style and many people like him. And he is getting people interested in the organ. That is what I think the organ world needs. Someone to push the envelope, get people interested in an amazing instrument that seems to be going the way of the dinosaur, along with talented and capable people to play it.

I am an organist. I am happy to admit it. While I’m not your typical organist, I’m me and I enjoy what I do.

 

Subscribe to my YouTube channel for weekly organ videos!

Rhythm counts!

In watching Ella’s piano lesson, I was reminded of a very important matter of fact when it comes to music. Rhythm is one of the most important, yet most challenging things to do. Especially for young musicians, as they regularly struggle with keeping a steady beat.

Rhythm is the essential building block for music, but a consistently steady beat takes time to build. Yes, you can use the analogy of our heart beating, but that doesn’t always connect with every student. Yes, you can use a metronome, but in my personal experience as a student and in the experiences I have had as a teacher, the metronome, as annoying as it can be, can be ignored.

So, how do you teach steady beat? Persistence. Practice. But more than that, it also has to be reinforced by the parents at home. It doesn’t work if at lesson time, the teacher is stressing and working on steady beat, but when practicing at home, there is no reinforcement.

Once the steady beat is learned and internalized, effective music can be made. Getting there takes work, but it is worth it!

Why Teach Music

Originally, I graduated from college with a vocal music education degree. At the heart of what I do in the church, my focus is education. I came across this image and thought it was so true.

why-study-music1

For younger children, these are essential reasons to teach music. When you think about how children learn, whether it is the alphabet or plenty of other things, children learn when it is connected to music.

Yet, in many schools, music education is cut at worst, or drastically reduced at best. Yet, when that creativity and learning need to be fostered and built up, it isn’t there. A big part of the challenge is that there is no desire to have standardized testing for music, as there is for math, science, reading or anything else.

So what to do? March brings a focus for advocacy with Music in Our Schools Month. That’s one of the best things to do, speak up for music education. As a church musician, I am trying to find ways to utilize the resources and abilities in the church to provide music education opportunities. I blogged about it here.

The opportunities are out there. Technology provides us lots of opportunities and resources for music education. What are we doing about them?

It’s all about the details

I saw this picture posted on a few Facebook pages of some music educator friends of mine. Notice anything?

Music Ed

 

Oops! Of course, there is no mouthpiece on that saxophone, no strap, her hands are reversed. But, if you look closer, the trumpet player behind her has his feet up. All of these combine for some horrendous musical adventures!

The Texas Classroom Teachers Association apologized for their choice of the stock photo. But, why does this stock photo even exist to be used as an option? You see, it’s all about the details.

If you want to represent a music classroom, you want the details to be right. Like the saxophone player having a mouthpiece, the proper technique and everything being as close to correct as possible.

Details matter, not only in pictures representing a music classroom, but in the making of music itself. If I were to play my trumpet using that posture, it wouldn’t hurt me in the short term. But, over the long term, it would develop bad habits that would not lead to improvement. And in making music, there is so much to pull out and focus in with when it comes to making music.

So what is the lesson learned in all of this? Focus on the details. When it comes to making music, representing music, whatever the case is, those details matter. When you focus on the little details, everything else falls into place.

Singing Opera

I’ve never been a fan of opera. I’ve studied about them, know the famous ones, but they’re not my go to choice for listening. Well, back in the fall, I was astonished that my oldest daughter requested to listen to opera. I blogged about that here. She got away from it, but recently has been on that kick again. And this time, I’ve been encouraging her more. Now, every song she hears, she wants to sing “like an opera”. So, that means that I’ve had the opportunity to listen to her two favorite songs, “Ldt it Go” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” sung “like an opera”. Which means high and loud! But, what I’ve also done is create a few playlists for her to listen to on our Amazon Prime music account, one of opera and one of musicals.

One of the lessons I have been reminded of as a parent of a musical child is they will not always follow in your footsteps. You see, growing up, the music primarily played in my house was choral, organ and classical music, primarily used for worship. And country. So, naturally, out of that, at a young age I was drawn to MTV and pop radio!! But, I always kept going back to that music I was exposed to growing up, because it was my roots.

As my girls grow up, I hope that they are diverse in their love of music. I’ve tried to expose the, to jazz, classical, pop, rock, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and more. The reason I’ve tried to do this is because as music listeners, they have to be knowledgeable, and if one or both decided to pursue music, having a foundation of all styles is invaluable, because it makes you a more flexible musician.

So, while my little girl may or may not be a part of the Metropolitan Opera when she gets bigger, for now, I can encourage and assist her in her belief that she is an opera star right now, as she develops and finds her voice, and develops and finds her taste in music.

Quiet preludes?

image

 

This is a humorous cartoon that many organists, including myself, can relate to at times. Traditionally in the church, the time before the worship service began was a time of preparation and reflection. And the prelude helped the worshippers to prepare. But in current times, it seems that the prelude is there as background music for whatever conversations are going on.

On one hand, fellowshipping and conversing with one another is wonderful, necessary and beneficial. On the other, preparing yourself for worship is just as wonderful, necessary and beneficial. So, short of getting a shotgun or an air horn, what can churches and organists do?

The primary thing is to educate. Why is it so important to quietly reflect and prepare for worship? For myself and many others, it is more of a mental thing, just as much as a spiritual. When we are quiet and still, we tend to focus better on what is at hand. But more than our heads, it puts our hearts in the right place. And the music in the prelude can help to connect both our head and our heart to focusing in on God and what is to come in the worship.

For us as organists, it can be frustrating and distracting to hear talking. And while the prelude is important, what is more important is how you lead the hymn singing. While yes, preparation for the worshippers is beneficial, ultimately, you cannot control their choices. So, don’t get out a shotgun, an air horn, or anything else you’re thinking about. Just do your best to assist those who choose to use that time to prepare for worship.

 

An Interesting Anniversary

Recently, I received notifications of congratulations via LinkedIn. Initially I was confused, because I start my current position in June of last year. But it was for Harmanny Music, as I decided to say that 8 years ago was the founding. There isn’t exactly a specific time and day that I did, because this has been an ongoing thing in fits and spurts. And since I’ve had many more visitors recently, I thought I would explain.

Outside of my first year out of college, I’ve been a full-time church worker and musician in the church. Well, there was a two year period where I wasn’t full-time, and that’s really where Harmanny Music started. You see, in trying to find things to do, I knew that I could teach music lessons. So, I needed some catchy name to use. Well, my last name is Harmann, and it sounds very similar to the word harmony. So, voila, Harmanny Music Lessons was created. But during that time, I started writing and arranging music. I wasn’t good at it to begin with, but the more I worked at it, my writing improved.

Fast forward to 8 years ago. In finishing up my time as a part-time church musician, and looking for other streams of income, I thought I would self-publish music. I have tried to do that ever since. And really, I haven’t made much. When you have a $0 budget and are doing plenty of other things to support your family, writing and arranging take a bit of a back seat.

However, over the past almost 2 years, I’ve been blogging. About church music, music in general, having children who are musical, you name it. And until recently, that’s been met with minimal feedback. Over time, you start to figure it out. You find your voice, find what connects with people, and how to say things in a way that reaches people and you share it in a way that makes it more visible to people. I hope to continue that as time passes.

As for composing and arranging and self-publishing, I definitely still see hope for that. It will take much more work and time, something that I hope to invest very soon. I’ve gone through different fits and starts with the self-publishing, as it is pretty near impossible to compete with established publishers with a $0 budget and no name recognition. But, I believe it is possible.

I wanted to use this post not only to explain about where Harmanny Music has come from and where it is going, but to thank you for reading. Over the past 2 weeks, I have had the highest amount of views on the site ever. And I am grateful and humble that so many people who don’t know me or what I do would take time to look at my words and read them. I hope and pray that they have blessed and encouraged you. And I look forward to writing more (as well as writing more music) that helps you and encourages you in what you do. If I can ever be of assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to converse with you one on one and be a listening ear and give suggestions, if needed! Again, thank you so much and please be my publicity and bookmark and share about Harmanny Music with others that you know!