Group Classes!

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Yep!  Group classes are here!  Guitar classes begin in just a few short weeks right in beautiful Perth Amboy, NJ.  The day begins with the Beginner class at 11:45 and the Intermediate Teens will be wrapping up at 2:00.  For more details on the schedule, head over to the Group Classes page.  Be sure to sign up with your info at the bottom of that page if you’d like to attend!

The Score Awakens

I may have gone a little too far this time.

I have not been content to merely listen to the soundtrack to Star Wars The Force Awakens while driving around to all my students (let me tell you, I kind of wish my car automatically played the Star Wars Main Theme every time it turned on and, you know, blasted it from exterior speakers.  Yes, every time I turned it on.).  Over the past week or so, I’ve actually sat down and started a really rough draft of a sort of listening map for the entire score.

I don’t cite my sources in the paper, partially because some of the info is common knowledge (I mean, if you don’t know that it’s called The Force Theme or Han Solo and the Princess I don’t know if we  can be friends anymore), and also partially because I can’t really confirm an exact source.   Wikipedia has a good page on the Star Wars themes (and also doesn’t cite sources), and an article from Mashable actually helped me sort out a few of the newer themes (and confused me on a few others, ha!).

This is also far from finished and far from perfect.  I’ll actually be out at the theater tomorrow with my listening map in hand to see how my notes match up with the action on screen, and if the action can help clue me in to what some of the themes and motifs might be associated with.  (For example, I have one cue that I keep referring to as “desert music” because it reminds me of a music cue from the original trilogy whenever the characters are on Tatooine).

I’m sharing this for any other geeky music or Star Wars fans out there who may be interested in this work.  I’d be so happy to hear your thoughts and comments on the listening map!  Maybe there’s something that I got wrong, or maybe something you’ve got a question on!

George Lucas may have given us a vast universe of characters, planets, politics and relationships, but John Williams has given us an equally lush universe of music to listen to and explore.  I hope for me that this is just the first of many excursions really diving into each movie’s score.  Stay tuned folks, and may the force be with you!

Star Spangled Super Bowl

I will cut right to the chase here.  I, like quite many Americans, pay more attention to the commercials than I do to that sportsy event happening this evening.  However, I have to admit I don’t even care as much about that as I do the singing of our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, before the game even begins.

As a general music teacher, as a voice teacher and also as someone who has sung the national anthem at many events, I feel pretty qualified to give my opinion on the topic.  At the very least, it’s the only thing on Super Bowl Sunday that I can really comment on in any kind of informed capacity.

So let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?  Thanks to YouTube and Wikipedia, you can easily stroll back, at least a decade or two, but for the sake of brevity, let’s stick with the last five years.

Lady Gaga – Super Bowl 50, 2016

Lady Gaga definitely rocketed to a spot in my Top 5 for sure with this rendition. She didn’t go crazy with ornamentation and her voice was absolutely on point. Sure, there’s the meat dress that people are still talking about, and countless other stunts that she has pulled through the years, but underneath the showmanship, is a really powerful, classically trained voice that totally shone through here.

Idina Menzel – Super Bowl 49, 2015

There is no doubting Idina’s talent as a singer, but she did weird things with the rhythm that I just wish she wouldn’t have. For example, the way she rushes the words “what so” and “at the twilight’s,” and then drags out the ends of her phrases.

Renee Fleming – Super Bowl 48, 2014

Yo. Very little ornamentation, but when you’re RENEE FREAKING FLEMING, you don’t need it. Very powerful, very classic.

Alicia Keys – Super Bowl 47, 2013

I have to give props to Alicia for accompanying herself – I would be nervous enough just to do the singing, let alone the playing as well. However, her voice is just not in tip top shape here. I can’t tell if she’s nervous or over singing.

Kelly Clarkson – Super Bowl 46, 2012

I loved Kelly, I loved the choir. The drums confused me. They did a few neat things with the rhythm that were unexpected, but took me a few listenings to take used to.

Christina Aguilera – Super Bowl 45, 2011

A lot of people hate on Christina’s version of the anthem. Yes, she messed up the lyrics, and she was not in tip top vocal shape that evening. BUT! Christina is a great vocalist who basically rocked this. As I’ve discussed with many classes since then (I regularly cover the National Anthem the week after the Super Bowl every year), one of the things that I like about her rendition is how she manages to ornament it in a style that is distinctly hers without obliterating the melody or rhythm (ahem, Idina).

BONUS FEATURE – WHITNEY HOUSTON – SUPER BOWL 25, 1991

How could I do a post on the singing of the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl and not mention Whitney? I think one of the things I love most about Whitney’s version is she just makes it look SO EASY. She doesn’t ornament too much, but powers through that song like it’s nothing, allowing the strength of her voice to carry her right into the history books.

So what do you think about these ladies?  Who’s your fave?  Is there an older rendition of the anthem you think we need to revisit?  Let me know in the comments!

Leitmotif Listening

Stuck inside all day in the snow?  No worries!  Spend some time with your favorite epic movie franchise and give it a closer listen.  You may be surprised at what you find.

With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” breathing new life into the epic Star Wars series, I was recently inspired to do a lesson plan for my middle school students on the concept of leitmotif and how composer John Williams uses this technique to bring to life a galaxy far, far away.  This was a really fun lesson that engaged my students to the max – I’ve never seen the more attentive (even the non-Star Wars geeks).  I won’t go through all the listening examples with youtube video links here (if you’re having trouble pinpointing a specific theme, give me a shout out on Facebook!), but if you’d like to do the activity I outline later in this post, my handout from class will help you out.

So now that you’ll be stuck inside all day, peering out the window wondering when Luke and his Tauntaun are going to show up, you might want to pop in your favorite Star Wars movie to while away the hours.  I’m a teacher, though, and I can’t suggest such a brainless activity without giving you something to enrich the experience.

1. Print out a few copies (the pdf is only one page) of my Leitmotif Listening Worksheet.

2. Check out my class handout or the wikipedia page on the music of Star Wars to familiarize yourself with the various themes from the movies.  There are dozens you will recognize throughout the series and some you will hear only in one of the movies, so a little musical briefing before you dig in will be helpful.

3. As you watch AND LISTEN to the movie, jot down notes on the themes you hear.  In the Leitmotif column, write the title of the theme.  Also notate if the theme appears in a different form (more drawn out, truncated, different instrumentation) from when it is originally introduced.  Use the words motif or theme to help you differentiate between shorter and longer pieces of music.    Under the Action column, write a few short words on what is taking place on scene.  For Emotions, write down what the characters might be feeling or what you as an audience member are experiencing during the scene.

4. Afterward, think about how the music adds to the action and the emotions of the scene.  Or, discuss with friends!

If Star Wars isn’t your thing (I won’t hold it against you, I promise), another great series to do this exercise with is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The music for these movies was composed by Howard Shore, and it is every bit as complex and intricate as the tapestry of Star Wars themes Williams has created.  If you do this with any other movie, beware, you will only have the best results for a franchise or series where the music was composed by the same person throughout (unfortunately, this rules out Harry Potter, but you can still analyze each movie as a standalone).

So, my friends and students, have at it!  If you plan on doing this activity today, or sometime soon, please leave me a note in the comments!  Or, join me on Facebook with any comments, questions or observations you may have.

Christmas Programs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If I could, I might go back and add even more exclamation points to the title of this entry.  I JUST LOVE CHRISTMAS MUSIC THAT MUCH, and getting ready for Christmas programs is one of my favorite times of the school year.  Truly, I am blessed, because even though it means three times the amount of work and preparation, I get to lead my students in three different Christmas programs at the three schools I teach at, and I just love it.

If you are a student of mine (or their parent) and you are wondering where to go for the practice tracks I told you to listen to, and you are on a computer or laptop, simply hover over “Current Students” and a small drop down menu with “Practice Tracks” should appear.  If you are on a mobile device, tap on the menu and “Practice Tracks” should appear right underneath “Current Students” in the list that appears.  Or, just click here.

While we will obviously be reviewing the songs for the Christmas programs in class each week, it will be extremely beneficial for students to practice on their own at home with the practice tracks.  With perhaps some small changes, the way I play the accompaniment on the practice tracks is how I will play at the show, so students will be able to get used to what it will sound like.  And practicing with the tracks will be easier than practicing without or with a different recording.  Or, you could just play the whole playlist and enjoy some early Christmas music!

I have heard from some students that they cannot access the files on whatever devices they are using.  Unfortunately, I am a music teacher and not a member of the Soundcloud IT department, so all I can do is send you to this troubleshooting page on Soundcloud’s website and hope for the best.  Since some students have been having trouble accessing it, I am not requiring it (for a grade), but students should make every effort to practice at least once – if not on your own devices, then with a friend on their device, as it will benefit themselves and their class immensely.

This is my first year using Soundcloud with my students, and I have to say that so far, in just a few months’ time, I have seen a lot of improvement in the students who tell me they are visiting regularly.  I sincerely hope that as many students as possible can get on and work with the practice tracks, because then we will really put together a Christmas show that truly delights and inspires the audience to recall the reason for the season!

Guitar Classes Coming Soon!

Last week I announced that I would be teaching guitar classes in Perth Amboy, NJ (among other programs, check out my Group Programs page here).

Guitar class is the portion of my program that has taken off the fastest.  Within just a few days of the announcement, I already had students signed up for classes.  But don’t worry, because there is still room for your budding musicians to join our ranks!

There will be two classes, both on Saturday afternoons beginning November 7: 1:00 – 1:40 for 8 – 10 year olds, 1:45 – 2:25 for 11 – 12 year olds.  Students must bring their own guitar, but Miss Anna will provide everything else.

These classes are intended for students who have never played guitar before – outright beginners.  They are divided up by age based on my own experience as a music teacher (I know I look young but I’ve been teaching for over a decade!).  You might be looking at the schedule thinking “My child is too young/too old/already a player!  Where do they fit in?”  Depending on their ages, younger students can join the 8 – 10 year old class, and older students can join the 11 – 12 year old class.  As the program grows (tell your friends!) we may split up classes differently in the future to ensure that children receive the same level of attention and same chance to shine.

Ready to sign up?  Please fill out the below info sheet and Miss Anna will be in contact with you with all the details!

Group Class Interest
(yours, not your child's)
Last
(With my freelancing type schedule, email is the best way to contact me)
(Just in case email doesn't work out)
(If you are interested in enrolling more than one student, list them all here)
Sending

Music journal: Wishful Thinking

The music text books I teach with have journaling prompts in the middle school editions. I thought they would be fun to share here.  

“If I were in charge of my school, what ensembles would I add? Why? How?”

Of course, that first part is easy enough to answer. It’s the why and the how that will get you everytime! The answer to why is of course going to be based on your own personal reasons and could include practically anything. The answer to how, on the other hand, is asking about logistics, of course. Where would the ensemble meet? How would you get kids involved? How would you get whatever resources you needed to get to have this ensemble meet?  How.. It’s just one word but it is the meat of your answer. 

Well written proposals will be brought to the principal and implemented pending approval. JUST KIDDING! Although a kazoo orchestra does sound kind of fun. 

Feel free to answer this week’s question in the comments. I’ll be adding my answer soon!

Back to School

Hello September, I missed you!

As much as I love my summers, there is just something so invigorating about September with the enthusiasm of back to school time, the prospect of cooler weather and of course the occasional pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks!

I am very happy to be back with my school families and am so thrilled for the enthusiasm that my students have met me with! September is always a great time to be alive.

Here are a few notes for all my parents, and things to look out for…

At ACS, students in fifth grade and up, and at PACS students in seventh and eighth grade will be coming home in a few weeks with their school recorders! This is a great way for me to teach them about music fundamentals, and prepares students who may be interested in joining band when they get to high school (there are no recorders in band but students will need to know things about phrasing and breath support, not to mention they’ll need to know how to read music).

Chapel choir and Show choir permission slips have already gone home. Chapel choir forms are due to me by September 18, with rehearsals starting on the 25th, and Show choir forms are due September 21, with our first rehearsal on October 2. I’m very excited for the Show choir’s April show already, and I am working on “on the road” performance opportunities for both my choirs.

At PACS if we haven’t already, we will soon be delving into our books and traveling all across the world of music. I plan to use books every week from 1st grade up to 8th so be sure to ask your child what they did, learned, listened to, sang or even danced to! I am at the primary school on Tuesdays and the upper school on Fridays.

At ACS, while they are not actually my own after school groups, I do have to give a shout out to the Glee club and Chimes groups. Glee is for 3-5 graders, and Chimes is for 6-8 graders. With the purchase of our new chimes set last school year, I expect that group to grow especially this year, as the new set of chimes we have is one of the most beautiful and unique instruments I have ever heard.

I always say this, but this year I really promise to do more blogging and updating on all of our various projects, groups and music activities, so stay tuned to this spot!

Music Mission 5: How does it work?

This post is part of a series of posts for my school and one-on-one students.  My original post explaining this whole series can be found here.  If you have questions or comments about this mission, please leave a comment on this page and let’s talk about it!

Sure, you can probably guess how a piano works, but I mean, really, how does it work?  What happens on the inside when you press a key down?  FIND OUT!

You may research any of the following instruments:

acoustic piano
electric guitar
clarinet
oboe
flute
tuba
violin
cello
human voice

For this music mission, research how any of the following instruments work and create sound.  Describe to me in a step by step process how the sound is actually created.  An example paper would like something like this:

How sound is created on an acoustic guitar

1. pluck a string.
2. the string’s vibrations transfer to the saddle.
3. the vibration then transfers to the guitar’s sound board.
4. the sound board and body amplify the sound.
5. the sound comes out the sound hole.

You may include a diagram (whether hand drawn or printed from the internet) of how the sound is created on your instrument.

To do research for this Music Mission, you can easily search the internet.  The first one or two returns on your search should answer your questions.  You may also wish to watch videos on the subject as well, to see the process of creating sound in action.

Questions?  Problems?  Suggestions?  Please, let me know in the comments!

Music Mission 4: Happy Independence Day!

This post is part of a series of posts for my school and one-on-one students.  My original post explaining this whole series can be found here.  If you have questions or comments about this mission, please leave a comment on this page and let’s talk about it!

 

Ok, I kind of love that this week I can give you an American Independence Day themed Music Mission on just the day after Independence Day AND this happens to be our 4th Music Mission!  What a coinky-dink!

It’s hard to separate the notion of Independence Day and parades – and you can’t have a parade without a marching band!  Take some time this week to learn about John Philip Sousa, here at this website hosted by the Dallas Wind Symphony.  On this site you can learn about Sousa, his career (he was a rockstar before rockstars were even a thing!), the march he wrote called “The Stars and Stripes Forever” which is our country’s official march, and peruse a listing of all of the pieces he has ever written.  You can listen to an original recording from 1897 of Sousa’s band performing “The Stars and Stripes Forever” plus you can listen to MIDI version of all of his songs and watch selected videos of other marching bands performing his music.

To complete this assignment, tell me a little bit about JPS.  Give the names of any of his songs that you listened to, and what you think of them (which did you like?  were there any that you didn’t like?).  This assignment should be at least 5 sentences long.

Questions?  Problems?  Suggestions?  Please, let me know in the comments!