I had a wonderful time seeing new and friendly faces at this year’s ArkMEA Fall Conference: “Legendary Leaders.” I attended sessions on Friday and listened to several different presentations as well as observing some awesome rehearsal technique with the youth choir. Read on for more detail 🙂
My first session was with Dr. Cynthia Taggart from Michigan State University presenting “Developing Critical Thinkers in Elementary General Music.” She is all about our students claiming ownership of their musical knowledge and developing skills that will last with them for a lifetime. Dr. Taggart emphasized including physical movement to reiterate a concept. For example, when teaching ABA form, she had us doing body movements that reflected what we heard in the music, thus making it clear when the music returned to a section we had previously heard. She also had us divide into groups and compose new pieces in ABA form using body percussion. This allows students creative liberty while also enabling them to work within the framework of form. Another teaching method she demonstrated was holding the numbers 1, 4, or 5, communicating with us whether to sing do, fa, or sol as chord roots while she sang a song. This activity trains ears to recognize harmonic function, which helps with more difficult activities such as song composition and improvisation. Dr. Taggart emphasized letting the kids experience something before labeling it. She believes in this process: do, generalize, create and reflect. She believes that kids learn most effectively when they can take previous experience, label it with musical terms or ideas, create their own version of the new information, and reflect on what they have learned or created. This process helps create a well-balanced music classroom and prevents a program from being totally performance driven with no ownership of knowledge, or totally content driven with no experience performing.
The next session was also presented by Dr Taggart: “Helping Students Develop Part-Singing Skills.” She had broken down part-singing into a specific series of skills. First, students must be able to audiate, then have a sense of meter, steady beat, and consistent tempo, and then they must be able to hear the “harmonic underpinnings” of the songs they are singing. In the handout, she gives specific exercises for enhancing these skills (e.g. singing tonic drone, then ostinato, followed by dominant and sub-dominant, examples of partner songs, etc.). One thing she emphasized was that the teacher must let the students be the musicians. If the teacher is always singing the same part, students will be imitating rather than audiating and learning. Also, this allows for a fair evaluation of the students’ skills. Another piece of advice was to teach melody/harmony before words. She believes kids hang on to words first, so to ensure they are thinking musically rather than only verbally, she teaches the musical aspects first.
After a great lunch, I observed the youth choir rehearsing with Stephen Roddy, founder and director of Houston’s Children Chorus. Wow. What a guy. He was highly energetic and fun and fed off of the kid’s energy and enthusiasm and vice versa. While I was observing, he began an incentive system. If a student was demonstrating the following desirable behaviors- using their north/south mouth, standing tall on their Olympic platform, focusing on Mr. Steve’s hands, without fidgeting- they were rewarded with a large marshmallow stuck in their mouth by a few appointed teachers. It was a unique way of rewarding good behavior and it seemed to be very effective. Overall, he was great at working on the kid’s level and using lively, imaginative language to communicate with them. I hope they know how lucky they were to be working with such a great director!
I finished the day with a session about Orff, Kodály, and Feierabend with Dr. Becky Morrison from Ouachita Baptist University. She began with a general history of each man and their method of education and then jumped right in with activities. She wasn’t able to give us copies of music because it is copyrighted and the resources only come with certification, BUT if anything, that just inspired me to invest in my own post-graduation musical education through these certifications. We danced and sang and had a ball of fun 🙂 I remember wondering if other professions have this much fun at professional conferences…. I seriously doubt it.