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!

Music Missions 3: Live Music!

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!

As a little aside – I originally  came up with this challenge with a vague notion that there are multiple free concert series that go on in the Amboys and Woodbridge.  However, after researching them to include in this Music Mission, I have to admit that I am absolutely  blown away and delighted at the amount of free music available to the residents of these towns.   In fact, in Woodbridge alone you can catch live music FOR FREE on any night of the week except for Saturdays.  This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard and I really hope that you will take advantage of them!

So let’s get onto it!   For this week’s Music Mission, you must attend a live music event and then write about it.  Include the name of the artist, what instruments you recognize, the style of music, and what type of venue the show was held at.  This should have a minimum of 4 sentences and a maximum of… however many sentences you need.

If this is something that interests you – you can go the extra mile (and yes, for an EXTRA extra credit) and write me a full on concert review (do I have any budding music journalists in my midst?).  To achieve this next level, you need to include information on the concert venue (where the concert took place), and if it is part of a concert series, information on that series (when it happens, what the admission is, etc).  When at the concert, you can take notes on things like song titles, particular musician performances (did they have a really excellent guitarist for example?), and the concert itself (was there more than one performer?  did it start on time? was it too crowded?  kind of empty?  what was the weather like?).  Give an overall review of the show – was it good or not so good (be sure to back up your opinion). You can also include reactions by the people whom you went with (what did they think of the show?  what did they particularly like?).  If you decide to go this route, I expect this to be a minimum of 3 paragraphs.  Whoa Miss L that’s way too much work! you might be thinking.  It is a lot of work, which is why this form of a concert review will be worth 10 extra credit points instead of 5.

So finally, onto the concerts!  In no particular order, here is a listing of a TON of local concerts that will be happening in July and August.  Additionally, I found all this information in this edition of the Amboy Guardian, so for more details – like who is performing when – please click over there.  All of the concert info begins on page 11 and continues for a few more pages.

Almost every concert series asks that you bring your own lawn chairs or blankets.  All of these events are free BUT the Woodbridge concerts all request that you bring a non-perishable food item for the Woodbridge Food Bank.

Concerts by the Bay – Bayview Park, Perth Amboy – Sundays from 3 – 5pm, 7/5 -9/4

South Amboy Summer Concerts – Raritan Bay Waterfront Park, O’Leary Blvd, Wednesdays from 6:30 – 8:30pm, 7/1 – 8/26

Sandy Hook Beach Concerts, Beach E, Wednesdays 6:00pm, 7/1 – 8/20

Country Sundays, Parker Press Park, 400 Rahway Ave. Woodbridge, Sundays 6:00pm, 7/12 – 8/30

Warren Park Mini Theater, Florida Grove Rd. Perth Amboy, Sundays 6:30 – 8:30pm. 7/5 – 8/9

Mayor’s Summer Concert Series, Woodbridge High, 25 Samuel Lupo Pl. Woodbridge, Mondays 7:00pm, 7/6 – 8/31

Woodbridge Wednesdays, Parker Press Park, Wednesdays 7:30pm, 7/1- 9/2

Local Band Thursdays, Parker Press Park, Thursdays 7:30pm, 7/9 – 9/3

Rockin Tuesdays (Tribute Bands) – Woodbridge High, Tuesdays 7:30pm, 7/7 – 9/1

I really cannot stress enough how wonderful all this free music is.  Yes, there are other ways to consume music for free nowadays (Spotify, Pandora, or on radio or television), but a live concert experience is a completely different animal and often prohibitively expensive (PNC Bank Arts Center tickets for Idina Menzel start at $26 and go to over $1000!!).  Plus, I know these concerts are practically in the backyard of most of the people reading this, so it would really be a shame to not take advantage of these concerts at least once throughout the summer.

In fact, maybe I’ll even see you there!

Questions?  Comments?  Problems?  Suggestions?  Please, leave a comment!

Music Missions 2: Musical Interviews

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!

Do you come from a musical family, or are you the only musician in your branch of the family tree?  This week’s activity will help you get to the bottom of that!

Interview as many of your relatives as you can – moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – and ask them if they’ve ever learned how to play an instrument.  On a sheet of paper, clearly write who you are interviewing, and their answers to your questions.  If you have the means, you may want to create a Word document on the computer with a space to write their name, their relation to you, and all of the questions.  That way you can easily add in their answers without having to do as much writing.

The first three questions are required!

Did you ever learn how to play an instrument?  Which instrument?
How old were you when you first learned that instrument?
What was your favorite thing about learning that instrument?

The following questions are optional, follow up questions.  Feel free to ask these questions as well, or to think up follow up questions of your own.

Who taught you how to play?
Did you want to take lessons or did  your parents just sign you up?
How long did you take lessons for?
Did you ever get to perform?
What was your favorite song to play?
Were you ever in a band?
Do you still have your instrument?
Can I hear you play a song?

You may learn some very interesting things about your family members!

Questions? Comments? Problems? Suggestions?  Please leave a comment!

Music Mission 1: Travel with your Ears

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!

Travel with your ears!  It sounds like such a funny thing to say, but in fact, this is a pretty neat exercise and also a good way to calm and center yourself if you need some calm and centering.

Go to a place where you can sit down for about 5 – 10 minutes.  It can be a public place or your own home, or a vacation spot or a friend’s house, or wherever.  Bring some paper and a pen with you.  On the paper, write down where you are and for 5 – 10 minutes, write down everything you can hear.  Try and be as specific as possible.

When I do this exercise (and I do it pretty regularly), I scan my surroundings by distance.  First I listen for what is immediately around me, then I try to listen to sounds further and further away from me.

For example!

Here I am sitting at my laptop writing this blog entry, and here is what I hear:

Myself, typing on my laptop
My laptop fan running
My boyfriend playing on his phone and talking to me occasionally
The air conditioner running in my living room
One of my neighbors mowing their lawn – but not on my block.  The sound is very faint so it might be at least a block away

And that’s it!

Now, I know that if my windows were open, I would be able to hear the occasional car on the street and sometimes I can even hear trucks on Route 440 (it’s only about a half a mile from my house), and the sounds might be different if I did this exercise at different times.  If you want, especially if you are doing this from your own home, do this activity at two different times – perhaps at noon and then again at 6:00 pm.  Compare the different sounds you hear at the different times.

As a fun addendum, once you have written down your sounds, see if you can figure out how far away they are – if you can figure out an approximate place you can look them up on Google maps and have a parent help you figure out the distance (this is how I know 440 is half a mile from my house).  Or, if you can bring a parent with you, try to walk to those places to see just how far away you can hear.

YOU MAY DO THIS ACTIVITY MORE THAN ONCE AND RECEIVE CREDIT FOR EACH ASSIGNMENT.  To receive multiple extra credits, you must do it at different locations.  Start out small – do this once at your own home, then maybe again in a public park, then at the mall, then at a really aurally busy place like an amusement park or a festival.  Don’t just dive right into the big noisy places if you can help it!

Questions?  Comments?  Problems?  Suggestions?  Please, leave a comment!