Retired school music teacher and administrator; current community youth orchestra director, volunteer, writer, dog owner, communications/PR assistant for my former school district (Upper St. Clair), and Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Retired Member Coordinator.
Free Five-Part Series on PA Educator Ethics Updates
Since the NAfME and PMEA conferences in April, we have been busy creating additional opportunities for professional development in PA educator ethics training. My colleague Thomas Bailey and I have been preparing a Zoom meeting/video series for interested Pennsylvania school system leaders, administrators, department heads, educators, and PA Act 45 or 48 continuing education providers.
Please see the schedule below. The first seminar was recorded.
Session 1: William Penn vs. PDE – May 30, 2023 @ 4:30 p.m. Click here to view the video.
Session 2: Model Code of Ethics for Educators – June 6, 2023 @ 4:30 p.m.
Session 3: PA Code of Professional Practice and Conduct – June 13, 2023 @ 4:30 p.m.
Session 4: PA Professional Standards & Practices Commission – June 20 @ 4:30 p.m.
To join the Zoom meetings and participate “live” in the upcoming question-and-answer sessions with our speakers, go to this link and scroll down to the bottom of the page. After completion, the YouTube URL for each seminar will also be posted here.
An intriguing follow-up resource is to visit Thomas Bailey’s website, especially the informative educator blog he has published including analysis of the William Penn vs. PDE hearings on equitable school funding in the PA Commonwealth Court (first session above) and other “ethical conundrums” and issues in the news.
I am also happy to report that we are expanding our PIL Act 45 professional development class offerings and Thomas has reapplied for PDE approval of a revised version of our Act 48 workshop on “PA Educators – Your Ethical Codes and School Law.” Click below to download a copy of our trifold brochure on the PIL course and summer in-service programs.
Finally, to all of my music educator friends in the Commonwealth, I hope you have registered for the PMEA Summer Conference, being held in the Red Lion Hotel Harrisburg/Hershey on July 17-19, 2023. This event is in conjunction with the annual PMEA Board of Directors meeting on July 17 and the PMEA “Day of Service” assisting the Harrisburg Symphony and the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts on July 19. In addition, I am looking forward hearing a performance of the Yankee Brass Band:
Since 1987, the Yankee Brass Band has both entertained audiences throughout New England and championed the cause of “historically informed performance” within the field of American band music. 2023 marks our 36th season. Using rare and authentic period instruments, and outfitted in appropriate uniforms, the Yankee Brass Band presents the music of the “Golden Age of Bands” played in much the same manner as in the mid to late 19th century.
The workshops, clinicians, and details for registration are posted on the PMEA website here.
“Doing My Thing…” — Professional Development Conferences for Music Educators
It’s been awhile since I posted here… arguably the longest editorial break I have taken since retirement and starting this blog-site. What’s that line retirees often say? “It’s a good thing I am retired from my job; otherwise I would not have enough time to do everything!”
This has been an extremely busy couple months of renovating three bathrooms, promoting the 30th Anniversary Gala Celebration of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair featuring a CASINO NIGHT & the local band NO BAD JUJU (to which I can’t even go because it is on the same day as PMEA), staffing a transition of new editors and an office manager for the UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY community magazine, “keeping my hand in” by conducting a small nonprofit community ensemble (now in our 40th season of the South Hills Junior Orchestra), volunteering at the hospital (see my Tales from a Wheelchair Jockey article), developing new PDE Act 45 and 48 programs on ethics (school system leaders and educators respectively), and… (deep breath): preparing four PowerPoint presentations for two music conferences in April. Yes, and loving every minute of this frenzied activity!
Pennsylvania and Eastern Division music education colleagues: Hopefully by now, you have registered for the coming conferences on the horizon:
NAfME Eastern Division Conference, April 13-16, 2023, Rochester, NY
PMEA Annual Conference, April 19-22, 2023, in the Poconos
Now to quote the inspiration of Simon Sinek — his theory of value proposition to ‘start with why’ — how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust, and change based on research into how the most successful organizations think, act, and communicate if they start with why. Check out his rationale with The Golden Circle:
The “why” of attending your professional development conferences, “sharpening your saw” (self-renewal by Stephen Covey) aka “recharging your batteries,” learning what’s new and innovative on the forefront of “the state of the art,” and networking with colleagues, and has been addressed often in past blogs:
Simply put — to maintain your mastery of music and methods and build on your “best practices” and professionalism, you MUST attend as many educational conferences and workshops as possible!
Now to my “bags of tricks” for April 2023
Mark your calendars:
April 15, 2023 at 10:45 a.m. in Hyatt Susan B. Anthony (NAfME) – OR – April 21, 2023 at 11:30 p.m. in Kalahari Suite 40/50 (PMEA)
I was blessed to have been asked to present THE INTERVIEW CLINIC — Practicing & Playacting to Improve Your Performance at Employment Screenings at both the NAfME and PMEA conferences. This will be FUN! Perfect for college music education majors, soon-to-be or recent graduates, new transfers to the profession, teachers seeking to change positions while openings seem to be “heating up,” or first-timers looking for employment, the session targets will provide interactive exercises to build self-confidence and develop better insights, practices, and strategies to successfully land a job. “The key is in the preparation” of:
Standards—Defining/modeling professionalism, versatility, and ethics
Marketing—Branding, networking, and selling yourself
Skills—Interviewing, storytelling, and organizing
Assessment—Observing, reviewing, diagnosing, and improving
Interactive exercises, you say? Yes! Get ready to meet new people and perhaps dive into a few activities slightly outside your “comfort zone!” (We promise NOT to embarrass anyone!) We will break up into small groups or “duet partners,” and explore defining our professional “essence,” telling anecdotes about our strengths and past problems we have “crushed,” and focusing on learning “the golden gift of gab” — storytelling.
As always, articles, resources, and slide summaries will be posted under the “Training/Jobs” menu tab (above).
Mark your calendars:
April 20, 2023 at 3:00 p.m. in Kalahari Suite 30 (PMEA)
How many of you feel at times a little overwhelmed, exhausted,stressed out,disorganized, demoralized, or disenfranchised?
Are you at the end of your rope and wondering how you’re going to “keep it all together” over the next week, month, year?
Is your health is interfering with your ability to do your job and find success, balance, and meaning in your personal life and relationships? Then… it is time for a change.
We are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic which has brought on a “gap year” to most of our music programs, the stress of “working harder not smarter,” more teacher burnouts, and the resulting bail outs, staff shortages, and/or job cuts. We need to embrace NEW strategies for personal self-care and SEL (social and emotional learning). Do you still enjoy teaching? How have you coped with all of the changes? How will you achieve a better work/life balance and skills in time/priority management and personal health and wellness?
The prescriptions and RECIPES towards stress reduction and developing a self-care plan are here! Doug Sands, a consulting hypnotist and founder of AnywhereHypnosis.com, joins me to “throw in everything and the kitchen sink” to alleviate these problems, with NO cookie-cutter, “one-size-fits-all” solutions from the chefs:
What has COVID done to all of us?
Instant personal online stress assessment
Taking an inventory of the ingredients towards a healthier lifestyle
Definitions, symptoms, and remediations for teacher stress and burnout
Why teachers are so exhausted and what to do about it
Time management tips
Breathe like a Navy SEAL
Coping and learning “acceptance”
How to “coach overwhelm!”
The role of meals, movement, music, and mindfulness (thank you, Lesley Moffat!)
From MEJ: A suggested self-care plan and “cognitive distortions” to avoid
Focusing on ONE self-care strategy from a “sea of solutions”
We’re in this together… so we need to join forces and SHARE the secret recipes for a happier life! Add your own “baking tips,” and I promise, you’ll leave with a better understanding of how we all can celebrate the coming year or decades in music education!
By the way, my “mindfulness partner” for this workshop, Doug Sands, promises us he will not hypnotize any of us during this session (although he could!).
For more about his work, including “15 Rapid Tools (and Counting) to Wipe Out Anxiety, Stress, and Panic,” please go to his website here.
You are invited to stop in to see him at his PMEA booth in the Kalahari exhibit hall.
POST-CONFERENCE NOTE: Doug sent us his Anti-Panic Toolkit entitled, 15 Rapid Tools (and Counting) to Wipe out Anxiety, Stress, and Panic – Wherever They Strike! Click here.
If you would like a sneak preview of the revised handout for the Self-Care workshop, go to the Care menu section at the top menu bar.
Taking a peek at our recent past…
Workshop for Orchestra & String Teachers
In case you missed the PMEA District 5 Professional Development Day, my wife Donna and I presented “Plucking Our Minds” at Grove City College on February 20, 2023.
We were privileged to “share some of our secret sauces” gleaned from over 80 combined years of experience on a variety of topics:
Summer String Camp
Library of “Fox Firesides”
If would be a shame to waste these resources… and reading them could inspire new adaptations to your instrumental program.
Click here for a copy of the slide handouts. Feel free to comment (above) or send an email to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions.
Our Crystal Ball
Future Accredited Workshops on Ethics in Education
Are you aware that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has recently revised the PA educators’ Code of Professional Practice and Conduct AND adopted the Model Code of Ethics for Educators developed by the National Association of State Directors for Teacher Education and Certification? Have you seen the new Professional Ethics Program Framework Guidelines? PA Chapter 49 requires instruction in professional ethics to be integrated in educator preparation, induction, and continuing professional development programs as follows:
Continuing professional development programs must integrate the professional ethics competencies no later than the 2023-24 academic year.
Educator preparation and induction programs must integrate the professional ethics competencies no later than the 2024-25 academic year.
Not one to let grass grow (or mud sink) under his feet, retired social studies teacher, current attorney-at-law, and past PMEA conference presenter Thomas Bailey has partnered with me to design new ethics training classes for school system leaders (25-hour Act 45 PIL course) and educators (four-hour Act 48 continuing education course). In addition, we are introducing a new “hybrid” program for school administrators involving four-hour pre-recorded asynchronous webcasts (site license), along with a three-hour synchronous webinar using the webcast videos and adding facilitated interactive discussions of three ethical case studies either via Zoom OR in-person follow-up workshops led by both clinicians.
Kathy Merlino is the author of kathysretirementblog.com, a blog about her perspective and thoughts on the emotional side of retirement and her journey as a caregiver. She is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on non-financial retirement topics. Kathy believes retirement is a journey, not a destination. Readers can leave a comment on Twitter:@kathysretiremnt
Kathy’s article was originally posted on November 26, 2022.All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
PKF: This personal reflection is timely for all of us retiring and retired individuals, especially those of us with elderly or ailing family members. For a loss of a loved one, we all have to face and cope with the five stages of grief:
Grief is personal and individual, and every person experiences its nuances differently. Your personality, your support system, your natural coping mechanisms and many other things will determine how loss will affect you. There are no rules, no timetables, and no linear progression. Some people feel better after a few weeks or months, and for others it may take years. And in the midst of recovery there may be setbacks — this nonlinear process can’t be controlled. It’s critical that you treat yourself with patience and compassion and allow the process to unfold.
PKF: Check out their excellent article on the common signs and symptoms, triggers, myths and facts about grief as well as ways to take care of yourself, posted by healgrief.org here.
Shortly after Martin died, I walked down my long driveway to fetch the mail. Usually, I have little or none. But, in the days following his death, my mailbox held more than junk mail. There were sympathy cards and official letters from various institutions. As I pulled out the cache of the day, I saw something I’d never seen in my mail. A penny. It lay underneath the cards and letters and the ubiquitous junk mail. A penny so tarnished it almost faded into the background of the black metal floor of the box.
My mind flooded with the rhetorical questions. Who would leave a penny in my mailbox and why and how? I lived on a busy road, so someone walking by was unlikely. The leaving must have been thoughtful, intentional. “A penny for your thoughts” (Sir Thomas More) came to mind. Was it my faithful mail lady who left it? I lifted the penny out, slid it into my jean pocket, and walked back to the house. Inside, before turning my attention to the mail, I fished it out and set it on a mosaic trivet Martin had made in an art class.
Over the next couple of days, I eyed the penny still wondering how it got in my mailbox. Did a penny have any significance? “See a penny and pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck” (Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes). Since we can pretty much Google anything these days, my curiosity finally gave way to asking Google. To my surprise, a penny has significance for the deceased or their loved ones. In the case of a veteran, a penny left at the grave means someone visited. For a widow like myself, a penny in the mailbox represents a new beginning, a rebirth, renewal of your life. A penny being first and one represents singularity. If you are part of a couple, one of you will die first leaving the other alone, single.
I’ve been alone for nearly eighteen months. While Martin still lived, it was not with me. If there is a silver lining here, it’s that I had ample time to adapt to my aloneness and grieve this impending, profound, enormous loss in my life. The outcome? I was not filled with the expected feelings of grief. Rather, as I held Martin during his final moments, I cried tears of gratitude for the end of his suffering. He was free of this disease. I was free of this disease. Our family was free of this disease. Relief instead of deep sorrow. Comfort in knowing he was at peace. As I stroked his face, I noted how serene his countenance. Peace at last.
Though I’ve had fits of grief, I’ve also felt immense joy when contemplating my future. During the last year, I deliberately divested myself of anything which smacked of negativity in my life. I decluttered the house paring my personal belongings. I feel washed clean, ready for a new start. Martin would want that for me. A friend asked if I thought Martin’s spirit left the penny. I would like to think so. I may never know who left the penny in my mailbox, but it is now my talisman for fresh beginnings, rebirth, a reawakening of my life’s potential. And a second chance at the retirement we dreamed of.
Other articles by Kathy Merlino. Thank you for sharing!
This message goes out to all of my Pennsylvania music education colleagues and especially any currently enrolled Freshman through Graduate college students in the Commonwealth.
My wife and I are proud to announce the launch of two new scholarships for the 2023-24 school year, financed by the Stark-Fox Family Fund, and managed by the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA). Official applications will be available soon (spring semester 2023) on the PMEA website here. All materials are due on or before June 1, 2023.
Do you know someone who is currently attending a PA university, college, or conservatory? Is he or she majoring in music education AND is a member of Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Educators Association (PCMEA) OR majoring in a science-technology-engineering-mathematics (or related) field of study AND participating in their collegiate music ensemble for credit?
Then… SPREAD THE WORD!
Here is a general summary of the eligibility requirements and expectations for application approval, subject to change by the PMEA EXCOM and staff. A performance video (or submission of an original composition) is required for either scholarship, and interested candidates could begin now (during the semester break) to prepare their piece(s), update their resume, assemble a digital portfolio, and write the essay.
PMEA Council TTRR Continuing Music Education Award
Amount and number of scholarships may vary from year-to-year
Full-time enrollment of at least one year (two complete semesters) as an undergraduate or graduate music education major in an accredited PA institution
Nonrenewable (selection of a different candidate each year)
Paid directly to candidate as reimbursement for college tuition, dorm/apartment rent, meals on campus, textbook purchases, and/or the purchase of a new instrument (must provide receipts)
Blind judging by PMEA members with at least one member from the PMEA Council of Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, PMEA EXCOM, and/or PMEA staff
Criteria for selection
A minimum of at least one year as PCMEA member in good standing with letter of affirmation from the PCMEA sponsor
Submission of college transcript reflecting 3.5 GPA or higher
Demonstration of solo performance skills (recorded video) or submission of composition(s)
Presentation of a music education portfolio with sample lesson plans, philosophy, and development of creative instructional activities with a focus on the arts at the center of STEAM
Participation in at least one PMEA-sponsored professional development program e.g., the Annual Conference, Summer Conference, Webinar, or Regional Workshop
Completion of essay in response to the question “Why have you chosen a career in music education?” and portrayal of leadership and well-defined goals and aspirations towards a career in music education.
Letter of recommendation from at least one music education professor
PMEA Music-for-Lifelong-Learning Award
Amount of scholarship may vary from year-to-year
Full-time enrollment of at least one year (two complete semesters) as an undergraduate or graduate science-technology-engineering-mathematics major in an accredited PA institution
Enrollment for at least one semester in a music performance course e.g., band, chamber music, chorus, jazz, or orchestra earning the letter grade of an “A” or equivalent with submission of letter of recommendation (and transcript) from ensemble director
Nonrenewable (selection of a different candidate each year)
Paid directly to candidate as reimbursement for college tuition, dorm/apartment rent, meals on campus, textbook purchases, and/or the purchase of a new instrument (must provide receipts)
Blind judging by PMEA members with at least one member from the PMEA Council of Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, PMEA EXCOM, and/or PMEA staff
Criteria for selection
3.5 GPA or higher on college transcripts
Demonstration of solo performance skills (recorded video)
Presentation of a music portfolio with high school and college history of participation in music ensembles and pursuits in creative self-expression, concert programs, and/or evidence of the development of creative activities or projects with a focus on the arts at the center of STEAM
Completion of essay that reflects musical leadership, community service, and/or the ccandidate’s rationale and aspirations for the continuation of “music study as a life-skill”
Response to the question, “How does the study of music enhance your knowledge, skills, and depth of understanding for a career in science-technology-engineering-mathematics?”
We are hopeful that these will become annual awards of substantial amounts (with a goal of at least $5K to $15K per person based on market conditions), provided as reimbursement of the scholarship recipient’s higher education expenses. If you are a potentially eligible candidate, get to work on the selection process and documentation NOW and… good luck!
“Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in the world all of your own.”
— Albert Schweitzer
“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
— Winston Churchill
“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.”
— Erma Bombeck
Besides spending more time with family and friends, the most precious benefit of the freedom afforded to you “living the dream” in retirement is… (drum roll, please)… becoming eleemosynary! (Look it up!) It’s crucial to make it a priority to give back to your community!
I wrote an article in our local community magazine UPPER ST. CLAIR TODAY. (Yes, I guess I’m bragging a bit – find it hereon page 20 and you’ll see pictures of my Pirate costume for escorting at the hospital and holding my doggies!) I cite many reasons for becoming a volunteer. (Disclaimer: Some of the statistics below are a few years old, but you get the idea… The trend is ever-growing!)
The Surge of Volunteerism
Did you know?
There are 77.4 million volunteers in America alone.
6.9 billion volunteer hours were recorded in 2018 (last Volunteer Demographic Statistics/National & Community Service Report)
33.8% of the female population and 26.5% of the male population volunteer
30.7% of Baby Boomers (1944-1964) who are U.S. residents volunteer
36.4% of Gen X (1965-1979) U.S. residents volunteer – the winning group!
28.2% of Millenial (1980-1996) U.S. residents volunteer
If you have any doubts about WHY you should volunteer, revisit my August 2021 blog “Those Were the Good ‘Ol Days – The E in RETIREMENT is for Energy, Engagement, Excitement, and Endurance” here. For retirees everywhere, this is worth repeating.
“It has been suggested that one problem of retirement is that one no longer matters; others no longer depend on us… The reward of retirement, involving a surcease from labor, can be the punishment of not mattering. Existence loses its point and savor when one no longer makes a difference.”
– Rosenberg and McCullough
We learn from Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg that for retirees, it is important to feel “needed” and that pursuits that foster “mattering” are crucial to a positive self-esteem, good mental health, and stable life balance.
What to Do with Your Free Time?
This, too, has been covered in past blog-posts, conference sessions, webinars, and articles in PMEA News. A quick recap:
Walk dogs at animal shelter
Assist food banks and meals-on-wheels agencies
Enlist as special advocate for abused or neglected children
Work as a hospice volunteer
Maintain parks, trails, nature habitats, or recreation centers
Host an international student
Assist at local hospital, senior center, or nursing home
Serve in charity fund-raising projects
Become a youth director, mentor, or scout leader
Share your hobby or experiences in a specialty and teach night classes or summer school
Give guided tours or lectures as a docent at a local museum
Apply office management and clerical skills to benefit libraries and other nonprofit associations
Run a school club or coach a sport
A quick scan of the website https://www.volunteermatch.org/ would fetch many specific volunteer job openings (these for the Pittsburgh, PA area where I live):
Provide hospitality at Pittsburgh sporting events
Serve coffee and snacks at winter warming stations
Write articles or submit photographs to local publications and e-media
Visit hospice patients and provide other free-care services
Crochet, knit, or sew blankets for needy families
Connect with local veterans
Manage nonprofit events and organizations
Ring the Salvation Army kettle bells all year long
Mentor an underserved child (everything from athletics to computer skills)
Make weekly reassurance calls or personal welfare checks of senior citizens
Become a delivery driver of “care packages” of food, baby items, pet necessities, household items, and more
Retired music educators have an advantage, a valued skill which also represents their “calling” and “life’s work” – fostering creative self-expression. There’s so much “we” can do to “bring on more music” in our community, and if you wish, several of these may provide supplemental income:
Performing gigs locally
Directing community or church ensembles
Accompanying community or church ensembles
Coaching/assisting local music programs
Teaching college music education methods or supervising student teachers
Adjudicating or guest conducting music festivals
Serving in the music industry
The best part of retirement is you can say “NO” anytime you want. You can cut out any perceived drudgery, routine “chores,” and excessive paperwork that “the institution” may demand, but still assist in collaborating and sharing your experience, expertise, vision in working with “the kids.” You can continue to develop your own personal artistry (now with more time to practice) and leave your “musical stamp” on other programs and projects whenever and wherever you please.
Adventures in Volunteer Escorting
Every hospital, outpatient facility, and senior nursing/assisted living center I know needs volunteers… a lot of able-body helpers. Have you considered lending a hand in pushing patients to/from their procedures, discharges, etc. in your community? I have, and it is truly a joyful experience.
For two days a week, I spend the better part of my day at St. Clair Health in Mt. Lebanon/Scott Township in the South Hills area of Western PA. (If you live in the area, visit their website here.) Although on occasion, I get to visit the Family Birth Center (my favorite) and hospital rooms to help check out patients, most of my shift is assigned to the Dunlap Family Outpatient Center, a new state-of-the-art facility (opened in May 2021 – still has that “new car” smell) for “in and out” procedures. It would not be an exaggeration that I escort as many as 50 individuals per day undergoing outpatient surgeries, endoscopies, colonoscopies, or other diagnostic testing, along with an equal number of family members to/from the treatment rooms. On a given Thursday or Friday, I can check my Apple Watch and iPhone digital health monitors and find I take as many 17,000 steps!
The best part? Do I have to tell you that since I retired to the same basic geographic area in which I spent my entire career, how many of my school colleagues, former students, and their parents I have discharged? One thing you realize helping out in your hometown (the place you taught all those years)… you will run into many of your former “charges” now grown up with kids of their own. It is a real joy to see them again (albeit due to the need for a colonoscopy or surgical procedure), and catch up with all those shared memories, their life’s happenings and successes, and future dreams.
So many stories…
Several weeks ago, I brought down to the main floor a delightful lady from our pre-post anesthesia unit to connect with her ride home, and I saw her driver was in a Uber-lit-up car. I remarked to the patient, “Wow, the only Uber driver I ever knew was one of my former choral students named Lisa…” and sure enough, that’s who came to pick up her mother-in-law. Even though we always wear masks in the hospital, I guess my Upper St. Clair HS marching band “broadcaster’s voice” is recognizable, and countless people in the lobby (usually accompanying family members) stop me, “Hey, is that you Mr. Fox?” Of course, HIPPA dictates we never repeat their identities or any confidential information…
Being a music teacher, I cannot help myself. My mission is to be “the distracter” – divert their attention from the inevitable? – and to help calm, reassure, and perhaps even entertain the patients for a few moments transitioning through those awkward (and sometimes fearful) medical procedures. They need a bright, cheerful, and funny if not somewhat crazy escort. I provide the jokes and the songs!
One day, I was literally singing Maria from West Side Story while pushing Maria-the-patient to her endoscopy, and another person walking with us for her own test said, “Well, it’s nice you are singing to us. But, my name is Sharon, and they don’t have a song for my name. No, Sharona is NOT my name,” she added with emphasis! After I took both ladies to their respective rooms, I had to do some research, but came back after Sharon was prepped and received her IV waiting for the doctor. “You forgot about The Song for Sharon composed and sung by Joni Mitchell,” I said (perhaps not my favorite example from the artist’s albums).
The hallway from the waiting room to the procedure suites is long and offers time for my style of “interaction and distraction.” Another funny episode, I was escorting two men to their appointments in the outpatient surgery unit. To the first, I said, “Did you know they wrote an entire musical featuring your name? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He replied he had never heard of it. I sang a few bars of several theme songs, and told him to look up Donny Osmond’s Close Evr’y Door and other tunes from the show. We were almost at the nurse’s station when the second gentleman turned to me and said, “Don’t you dare!” I looked down at my call slip and saw his name was George, and searched my mind. What song could was he concerned about? “Oh, oh, not that cartoon theme George of the Jungle? ending with the lyrics “…watch out for that tree?” He told me he was tormented mercilessly by his brothers, sisters, son, daughter, and now the grandchildren re-enacting painful renditions of “his song!” In this quiet, pristine, antiseptically-clean environment, we all took a moment and enjoyed a good horse laugh together (even the head nurse)!
The male volunteers usually dress up in an all-red jacket (one giant candy stripe), but on occasion, I have been known to bring a costume… for Halloween or Christmas, to try to bring a little joy and good humor to the patients.
I feel blessed to have the good health and mobility to serve as a volunteer escort, and the opportunity to meet with on a daily basis so many wonderful people. Many of my retired colleagues (even those from where I last taught) have joined the force. To say the least, we appreciate the comradeship, gratitude, and feelings of being eleemosynary for what we can share with others!
Anyone from my neck of the woods? Visit this website and sign-up! WE NEED YOU!
As if you need any additional urging, for the young and young-at-heart alike, Joi Henry of the 2013-2014 Youth Leadership Council (21st Century Leaders) probably said it best commenting on why community service is essential:
“Community service involvement is important because volunteering teaches people of all ages and backgrounds compassion and understanding. One thing I like about community service is that there are opportunities to improve and leave your mark on your global and local community. Volunteering and putting on service events can be used as a way to advocate for causes that you are personally passionate about. Community service… can also be the avenue to explore areas that you express interest. Volunteering is something that has no time limit; you can volunteer as much or as little as you’d like or have time for and still feel some type of fulfillment from it.“
If you are a frequent visitor to this blog site, you may have noticed that, for some reason, I haven’t posted anything for almost two whole months. Cat got my tongue? Nothing to add? Busy with other things?
We have been doing what comes naturally! The most important “stuff!” Although hectic at times and in a frenzied pace, all is well! My wife and I are healthy, happy, actively engaged in the projects that matter to us, and mastering those all-essential ingredients in a healthy lifestyle (retired or not): “finding purpose, structure, and community” (reference to the book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski).
Well, I can tell you I am still vested in volunteering my expertise, experiences, and services on a number of fronts. Normally extremely verbal, I just have not had a couple hours to spare to write anything down or contribute to the voluminous material to what has become a massive archive of articles (editorials and how-to’s), links, and other resources.
What have I been doing lately?
First off, we are just finishing up our marching band season. As the official admin and announcer for the “Pride of Upper St. Clair” Marching Band (I spend my time inside, not directing practices on the fields), I attend all rehearsals as attendance bookkeeper, forms manager, librarian, quasi-nurse, and when necessary, act as a sounding board or shoulder to lean on for “the band director.” This was our first year going “competitive,” participating in regional festivals of Pennsylvania Interscholastic Marching Band Association (PIMBA), and by all accounts, “we” achieved excellence. The band is unrecognizable from past years – the students are much more committed and focused – but we still have a ways to go!
Of course, all during this, our football team made it to the playoffs. On Friday, we will support our team in the “first round” WPIAL Class 5A match at Gateway HS. The extended season brings with it challenges of its own (keeping the band members on-task and embracing new goals), but the rewards outweigh the extra rehearsals. And, all through this, we are making plans (and building excitement) for the launch of the first-ever USCHS winter guard and drumline programs!
Funny thing! I’m now a part of the band’s “brand.” For 38+ years, I have been “the voice” announcing the pregame and halftime shows for Upper St. Clair High School. I’ve also emceed a couple dozen of the USCHS Marching Band Festivals, plus senior recognitions, USC Halls-of-Fame exhibitions in the stadium, and outside music invitationals. It is truly a joy to “cheerlead” our musicians… and my wife would tell you, I have a very loud broadcaster’s voice! And now, ladies and gentlemen…
In two weeks, I will conduct the fall concert of our community ensemble South Hills Junior Orchestra, now in its 40th year. Although COVID did its best to wipe out our enrollments and recruitment efforts, our online academy kept things going, and we now support a small but dedicated chamber group. (Surprisingly, I have a good balance of instrumentation including sometimes rarely-found musicians on French Horn, bassoon, bass clarinet, electric bass, and piano, but one of my trumpet players is having to read clarinet parts.) Our theme is in support of Ukraine. We just “stumbled upon” several appropriate folk songs from the region, including the tribal tunes of Russian Fantasy (Robert Bennett Brown), the ever-popular Ukrainian Bell Carol, Dance of the Slave Maidens from “Prince Igor” (by Borodin, part of the “Russian Five”), and Slovakian Folk Songs (bordering Ukraine).
After this concert, we will prepare a holiday program for a nearby assisted-living facility with most of the SHJO members each taking a turn to conduct the sing-along of carols and seasonal favorites.
If interested, we warehoused a lot of our old SHJO Online Academy media and lessons here. (Use the password symphony.)
Staying involved in my professional associations, I am happy to report I was accepted to present at two conferences, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Eastern Division event in Rochester, NY on April 13-16, 2023 and the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Annual In-Service at the Kalahari Resort/Poconos on April 20-22, 2023. I have been asked to do my interview clinic session at both conferences and a workshop for PMEA on music educator burnout remediation, self-care, health and wellness.
In the meanwhile, not to let any grass grow under my feet (or more leaves to fall on my head), locally I have been giving teacher ethics presentations at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (a wonderful class of 44 freshman music education majors – the future looks good!) and Washington & Jefferson College undergraduate and graduate education majors.
I open my session offering to give a hundred dollar bill to the first student who can correctly name the exact title of their educator’s code of conduct (PA Code of Professional Practice and Conduct – CPPC) and identify the agency which enforces it (PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission – PSPC). No one ever guesses it. (I could also likely get away with this challenge at any school faculty meeting in the Commonwealth! Educators seldom receive formal ethics training in our state – that’s why I am sharing these recent updates from the PA Department of Education!) Now that I have publicized “the big question,” I guess I’d better put away that C-note for good!
A sampling of my slides and handouts are available for perusal from the top section of the “Training/Jobs” menu bar link here,or you can find past blogs on the subject of educator decision-making presented in reverse chronological order here.
In a similar vein (and with equal passion), I have teamed-up with retired social studies teacher and attorney-at-law Thomas Bailey to sponsor continuing education classes for both educators and administrators. I am inspired by Tom’s knowledge of the PA regulation framework and school law. We just finished an excellent 25-hour approved non-PDE Act 45 course for school system leaders. You should visit his informative website here, and especially check out his court case blog here. If you are a school superintendent or administrator, our next series of online classes will begin on November 29; register for the course here.
Additional future projects include assisting on the PMEA Strategic Planning committee for “member engagement,” planning for the PMEA CRESCENDO virtual student conference scheduled for January 31, 2023 (more info here), and serving on the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (I am state chair) – “the life cycle of an educator.” A wealth of free information for music educators (which I try to revise frequently) is available on sections of the PMEA website: the Council TTRR focus area (click here) and Retired Members (click here).
Outside the scope of teaching profession, I have been active as Communications Director, Fine and Performing Arts Chair, and Trustee of the Community Foundation of Upper St. Clair (CFUSC). I publicize a weekly eUPDATE (samples on the website here) to announce our township events for donors and supporters, serve as “the duck maestro” – the mascot for the annual duck races on USC Community Day, and look forward to organizing “a really big party” in celebration of the CFUSC’s 30th anniversary on April 21, 2023 at the St. Clair Country Club… although I will be in the Poconos on the same date doing a PMEA workshop! The Fox calendar is bursting with a few overlapping dates!
Besides all of the above, I am still volunteering at the hospital several days a week, pushing wheelchairs to/from procedure rooms at St. Clair Health. One thing you realize helping out in your hometown (the place you taught all those years)… you will run into many of your former students now grown up with kids of their own. It is a real joy to see them again (albeit due to the need for a colonoscopy or surgical procedure), and catch up with all those memories, their life’s successes, and future dreams.
The only personal goal that remains unfinished is consideration on how I can better distribute (dare I say “promote”) the numerous blogs that remain timely and relevant at this website. It’s just a little too overwhelming (and dense) for some passersby. A few of the links in the earlier postings may have expired and need to be updated. However, a lot of my insight, hard earned perspective (with sweat and tears), and past experiences have been poured into these writings, and I could only hope many of them could become useful tools for college music education majors, the rookie educator, those feeling challenged by today’s post-COVID times, or anyone recently transferring into the profession. Here’s another list of menus… go ahead, sight-see and enjoy the journey!
As you can see, I am not really retired… perhaps a better term would be “refired” or “redirected” or “reinvented.” If you are already “living the dream” in your post-full-time employment years or anticipate this happening in the near future, that’s how it’s done. That’s what I wish for you, too! Do you want to live-it-up to Moses’ age – supposedly 120 years old? Then, you better plan to be physically and mentally active and engaged! After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste!
More Tips, Tricks, & Techniques to Help You Organize
As you can see, it has been awhile since I shared a blog-post. It looks like I went on vacation and skipped the entire month of July!
Well, truth be told, familiar to many of my band director friends, we are hitting the streets with a plethora of summer clinics, rehearsals, and camps to prepare for and usher in the season of parades, halftime shows, pre-games, festivals, competitions, etc., and although I am officially “retired,” I chose to re-up as “admin” to the “Pride of Upper St. Clair” – the marching band of the school from which I left in 2013. Serving as announcer for now more than 37 years, I decided to “put the pedal to the metal” and join the “band leadership team” to discover the joy of watching our ensemble “hatch” their new shows from scratch, re-awaken and build on their technique, inspire and grow their membership, and focus on “practice-practice-practice” and “making music!” I just finished a grueling week of those 12-14 hour band camp days spent in close partnership with 100+ of my favorite high school musicians.
Fantastic? Yes. Exhausting? Absolutely! It reminds me of 30-years-worth of nonstop days and nights of leading the annual spring musical as director/producer, including missing meals, dragging myself home to re-acquaint myself with my wife (who went through this, too), and dropping into bed. I have always said, quoting Ernie Zeliniski in his book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free, it is important to find PURPOSE, structure, and community in retirement… but this hectic pace of frenzied activity at times tests my endurance. And, it feels a little like I never left teaching….
Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to share some “advice from the experts” in terms of organizational tools and quick fixes or “hacks.” (See Part 1 on this topic.) This is only a gourmet “taste” of their ideas to simplify your life, work, and teaching. You should do yourself a favor and take more time to research the websites below for a complete explanation of their recommendations. We appreciate their generosity and willingness to be “free and open” to permit us to repeat their ideas in this forum.
“Use rubber pencil grips as inexpensive thumb rest cushions on clarinets by cutting them in thirds. (see photo)
Pink erasers work well as emergency rock stops for your cello and bass players
Purchase golf pencils on the cheap to keep in the classroom so that forgetting a pencil never becomes an excuse. Kids won’t love using these short, little pencils, so they are less likely to walk away at the end of class.
Three ring binders with sheet protectors help students keep organized and also cut down on lost music. If you want to be super-organized, add a pencil pouch and tab dividers in the binder.
Strips of velcro on the carpeting work well as guides to where chairs should go and allow your students to quickly and easily straighten up the rows. (see photo)
Print a sign with important information that your students frequently need (music store phone number, website addresses, etc.) and have them take a picture with their phone so they won’t have to ask you in the future. Do the same for important dates, locker combinations or anything else that is easily forgotten.
Locker mirrors can be purchased cheaply during school supply sales. Buy a class set and use them to check embouchure and more!
Did a clarinet or sax player forget their ligature? Or worse. . . it got stepped on and now it is as flat as a pancake! Use a rubber band to hold the reed on the mouthpiece until the student can get a new one.
Does your baton get buried under all your conductor scores? Use a binder clip on the side of your music stand, and it will always be handy! (see photo)
Do your beginning flute players have trouble remembering which keys the fingers of their left hand go on? Use “Avery Dot” stickers to mark the keys. You can do the same with clarinet pinky keys. Color code the keys on the right and left hand to assist students in learning their alternate fingerings. (see photo)”
There are a lot more “why didn’t I think of that” time management hints throughout the article. Also, be sure to check out her interesting Microsoft Word and Excel templates to use for your seating and locker assignments.
Band Directors Collaborate!
The middle school band directors in South Carolina got together and created a brainstorming session to share teaching tips and strategies with each other in order to improve their music programs. According to Mike Doll, editor of one of the blog posts Band Directors Talk Shop, “After the success of the first meeting, we decided to continue this on a regular basis, and we now do this 2-3 times a year for the past 10 years. These ‘best practices’ gatherings have been very informative, and we always walk away with several new ideas to try in our classrooms.”
1. Music sorter stick “One of our directors shared a neat way to sort music back into score order without multiple piles of different parts scattered around them on the floor. If you go online and search for Plastic Sort All, you will find the tool they use for this trick.”
“The director then used a label maker and created labels for each instrument in score order and attached them to the sorter in place of the letters and numbers on the end. “
2. Lines/tape on the floor for easy chair placement “One director, with a tile floor, mentioned they would check with their maintenance folks and find out when the wax would be stripped from the floor. At that point, they would tie a string to their director stand and measure the distance to the first row. They would then attach a sharpie to the other end of the string and use it like a compass to draw arcs on the floor. Once the floor was waxed, the lines never came up. Gaffers tape also works on carpeted floors. At the end of each class, the director would have everyone look down to make sure the front chair legs were on the arc. Clean neat rows in seconds at the end of each period.”
5. SMART Band Student.
“Quick and clean set of expectations for your band students. A SMART band student is one who is:
The article’s “Tip #4” on Band Binders is reminiscent of what I had applied to my grades 5-8 string program. My wife utilizes something similar for her online music lessons. Rookie or new teachers, especially, check it out!
In addition, you should peruse their website for an inspiring collection of articles on a host of other topics:
How timely and appropriate! I stumbled on this Pinterest site, Band Room Hacks, a collection by Julia Arenas, and since I did not get advance permission to reprint her library of images, I will invite you to go explore them for yourself. At a quick glance, I see she has assembled from music colleagues a lot of excellent storage solutions as well as music teaching tools that may inspire you to modify/add your own new time-saving shortcuts.
Although productivity experts like Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and the originators of the aforementioned (in Part 1) Priority Management System (a favorite of mine) may be most helpful, we can all learn from Ashley as she sums things up with these tips on supercharging ourselves in planning for a good start to the school year. (You’ll have to visit her post to get the full gist of what to do!)
Put all your to-do’s in one place.
Track your time.
Batch related tasks.
Limit social media.
Divide your work-day into time blocks.
Set aside time to send and respond to emails.
Close documents and browser tabs you are not currently using.
Go into meetings with an agenda or outline.
I particularly love this introduction to her article:
“One thing I hear over and over from church musicians and music educators (well, everyone, really) is that there never seems to be enough time to get it all done.”
Time to teach Time to rehearse Time to write Time to practice Time to be with family Time to be a good friend Time to read Time to exercise Time to learn
“We’re always looking for new ways to be more productive, get more done in the little time we seem to have, and save time in places where, like money, we might be overspending. Am I right?”
“That’s one of my favorite ways to think about time – as money. It’s a commodity. We all have the same number of hours in the day – it’s how we spend them that makes the difference.”
“Where (and how) do you want to spend your time? What’s important to you?“
“Once you can answer this question, you’ll be motivated to make it happen – to take control of how you’re spending your time and look for ways to save it, where you can.”
The summertime academic break is essential for the health and wellness of every music educator. Hopefully you are enjoying a little TIME OFF and an emotional and intellectual break and release from thinking about your professional responsibilities and anything about school!
Europeans swear that it takes no fewer than three weeks of what we would call an extended vacation. They say we need that much time to totally unwind, de-stress, rest, and, if necessary, lick our wounds and even “heal ourselves!” Summer should allow us to focus on family, friends, and leisure activities FIRST – to re-adjust our “work/life balance.” After an appropriate interval, then we can get ready to re-charge and re-energize, to recommit emphasis on new music program goals and professional development.
If you are fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania and be a member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA), I have a wonderful “crosswalk” solution to accomplishing this REBOOT – a combined “refresh and re-invest” makeover – to first get out of dodge for a change in scenery and then take care of your own social-emotional learning to come back to school raring to go! It’s simple! Sign-up to participate in the 2022 PMEA Summer Conference to be held in-person at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Reading, PA on July 18-19, 2022.
Once again, PMEA is “crushing COVID” and returning to some level of normalcy to offer a face-to-face summer conference of many “awesome” professional development venues – everything from hands-on music reading, member “sharing” sessions, clinics on advocacy, band, choral, classroom music, community ensembles, conducting, curriculum writing, gender identity, health/wellness, mentor training, Modern Band, music technology, recruitment, strings, and so much more!
Check out this summary of wonderful workshops:
Approximately Nine (9) hours of Act 48 credit will be available.
This year’s event will include keynote speakers Suzanne Hall and Rollo Dilworth from Temple University as well as NAfME President and PA’s very-own super-star Scott Sheehan.
Feeling a little charitable, altruistic, or eleemosynary? (Great word – look it up!) On Tuesday, July 19, there will be a “Give-Back to the Community” event: PMEA’s Second Annual Day of Service at Goggle Works.
Now, what about that EXTRA FUN part? Well, you can turn your conference into a family vacation by just arriving a little early and/or leaving a little later.
First, how about attending a Minor League baseball game? PMEA acquired tickets to the Reading Fightin’ Phils vs. New Hampshire Fisher Cats contest on Sunday, July 17 at 5:15 p.m. at the FirstEnergy Stadium.
Berks County, a combination of rich farm country, industry, beautiful parks, lots of entertainment, and top-notch educational institutions, is home to one of Pennsylvania’s largest cities, Reading, as well as many small communities that offer a lot of history and natural beauty. For PMEA members going to the Summer Conference, it is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of family-friendly attractions, recreation pursuits, touring of the landscape scenery, and other day trips. If you were to visit the area before and/or after the conference, here are at least 18 places-to-go before returning home:
If you walk through the heart of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, you’ll find a rather imposing two-story mural painted by artist Brian Barnecio. It looks like a massive totem pole filled with abstract shapes that resemble lips and eyeballs and boxes of ping-pong balls, and in the middle of it all, there’s a single word: hack.
In the late ’80s and on into the ’90s and early 2000s, hack was a dirty word. It evoked danger and criminal activity. It was all about breaking into computer systems, telephone networks, and other vulnerable technology. People who knew their computer history disagreed, but the negative connotation took hold in the mainstream. But over the past decade, hacker has been rehabilitated. Today, it seems, everyone wants to be a hacker. Facebook has gone a long way towards renovating the word, building its massive successful company around the idea that hacking is a good thing, a way of transforming technologies into something better.
Referring to only positive interpretations of “hack,” we turn to the World Wide Web and our colleagues in collaboration to explore unique ways to streamline and make more efficient our personal organization, day-to-day routines, and management of our office and music teaching “best practices” in time/task management. Peruse through these insights “borrowed” from professionals in the field. Some may resonate within you and solve problems you may have; others may inspire you to create other “hacks” towards success.
If you haven’t done so already, please consult my past blog posts on similar topics at this site:
It may at first seem like a novel way to clean off your desk and desktop. But, in my opinion, it goes to the root of our problem in time management – PRIORITIZE and give rid of the (another “D”) DISTRACTIONS!
PM’s “WorkingSm@rt method” promises to help you “gain control over your day, find balance, prioritize your work, and reach your goals,” giving you time to focus on the tasks that are important to you. The bottom line – every digital or printed post-it-note, piece of mail, receipt, publication, email or other communication – must be “put in its place” on the spot – either completed instantly, deferred to another time, given to someone else to do, or THROWN OUT!
You could reverse the order of the D’s to make the workflow go even faster… “start with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey would say, and DELETE unnecessary “stuff” first. This “habit” is particularly suitable for email: clear out the spam and TRASH duplicate messages and things that do not need your response.
Consider these PM Hacks:
In advance, set-up file folders labeled by months, weeks, or days, and one each of these: in-basket, out-basket, and (very important) PRO-TIME tray.
Designate a “PM Period” every day when you go through your in-basket of unsorted (e)mail and delete unnecessary stuff/tasks, date/delay for another time, delegate to others (out-basket), or… DO THEM NOW!
As part of your “delay file,” place journals, catalogs, or other professional readings in a professional read tray (PRO-TIME), but regularly schedule daily/weekly time to do “silent and sustained reading.”
Allow NO unsorted pieces of paper to ever infiltrate the surface of your desk.
How does PRO-TIME look for a music educator? We should intentionally focus on fostering our own creative self-expression, artistry, and professional development:
Read an article in a professional journal or digital newsletter.
Write your own article or blog post for a professional e-publication.
“Keep up your chops” on your instrument or voice. Practice every day!
Keep up with your “musicianship training” like ear training, sight-reading, and score reading. Pull out a copy of Elementary Training for Musicians by Hindemith and practice exercises that make you sing in syllables, tap a different rhythm independently with your left hand, conduct the beat pattern with your right hand, and beat your foot to the pulse. OR revisit your college solfeggio assignments, and of course, sight-singing or playing-at-sight anything new-to-your-eyes is most beneficial.
Take time to compose or arrange your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
Perform or improvise on the piano or guitar, rotating weekly to different musical styles and forms.
Is it time to learn a new instrument? When was the last time you crossed the break on the clarinet, drilled in paradiddles on the snare drum, OR shifted to third position on the violin? Can you play as well as your beginning students?
If you’re not a piano wizard or an accomplished accompanist, try your hand at sight reading several different voice parts simultaneously from choral octavos. OR can you transpose and play “at-sight” a musical phrase from a full score? (Those French Horn parts always challenged this violist!)
Besides committing to regular scheduled PRO-TIME, you have to systemize your D-PLANNING by going over your DELAY files during your daily designated “PM Period.” (Yes., this will take discipline!) In addition, once a month (or whatever frequency you choose), you must to review and move things from longer-term goals to short-term or immediate action. Being conscientious and meticulous in the use of your very-limited planning time and scheduling what author of Fewer Things, Better Angela Watson targets for your “non-flexibles” is paramount for “taming the time tiger!” Her “aligning priorities” approach to time management echoes the philosophy of PM and First Things First by Stephen Covey:
Identify your non-flexibles
List your top priorities that you want to uncover more time for
Specify what life would look like if you prioritized these things
Add top priorities to the unallocated time in your schedule
Identify/schedule the in-betweens
Setting Priorities – How’s Your Work/Life Balance?
If you have been following this site, you know this blogger has retired from full-time public school music teaching. However, “preaching to the choir,” we all know how busy our schedules have become and how unbalanced things can get – no matter who you are – college music education majors, fully active music educators, even retirees. In fact, we should all be taking the advice of author Ernie Zelinski in his book How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free to set priorities and find equilibrium in our daily, weekly, monthly work/life to-do lists and tasks. How do your pie slices look (above)? Do you spend more time thinking of your school/job than your more pressing personal commitments. Do you commit adequate time for your own self-care?
Angela Watson helps us engineer “a plan” that will foster balance. Or, if you have a few moments, visit the website(s) of the late great Stephen Covey, author of the book and series Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in many ways one of the most renown experts on time management. I would start with this clever YouTube video excerpt of him hosting a workshop on the merits of “finding the big rocks” in your life: https://youtu.be/zV3gMTOEWt8. He summed it up with the quote: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
The next step might be to consume Covey’s First Things First book and corresponding website here.
Before you get started with planning your 2022-23 school year, we recommend taking a “time out,” pulling up a comfortable lawn chair or Lazy-Boy, and diving into these personal tutors – “gems.”
Editor’s Note: For this month’s blog, we bring back guest writer Ed Carter, a retired financial planner. (See his website here.) His piece, perfect for new music parents, summarizes many of the “intangibles” that music education provides to foster child development, especially the enhancement of language skills. In 2019, I wrote the blog “The Importance of Music Education” (click here) based on an interview I did for a local community news program on the essentiality of teaching music that covered many of these concepts. Special thanks go to Ed Carter for sharing his research and perspective.
Parents and educators are always looking for ways to improve their children’s learning – especially when it comes to reading. Sometimes, though, unconventional approaches can work wonders. Experts believe the best way to boost a student’s reading is actually to expand their knowledge and vocabulary by teaching them history, science, literature and the arts.
Understanding the Connection
Children who learn to play an instrument or who join a choir have a longer attention span and better listening skills. Music stimulates the brain in so many ways. In fact, playing music may help the human brain more than any other activity. Some researchers even suggest that musical training can alter the nervous system in a way that improves learning in a way that offsets the academic gap between affluent students and students from lower income backgrounds.
Music improves language skills in particular because there is a neurological connection between maintaining rhythm and reading. Scientific American notes that when children learn how to keep a beat, they are better able to concentrate on a passage and decipher the meanings behind the words. A child’s reading ability relies on making a connection between the symbols they see on the page and the sounds of letters.
The Best Age for Music Lessons?
There is no such thing as a kid being too young for music. Many parents even expose their child to melody and rhythm before they are even born in an attempt to stimulate brain activity. Drumming is a great place to start. It is more important they gain experience with music and learn to develop a meaningful relationship with it at a young age. Children as young as 3 can develop skills like identifying a beat, melody and instruments in music.
By the age of 5, your child may be ready for formal lessons with beginner instruments such as drums, the piano, violin, recorder, guitar or ukulele. If your 5-year-old is not ready to start formal lessons with an instrument, they can still develop their musical skills online. Invest in a kid-friendly laptop and some durable headphones that allow them to interact with online music programs and apps that develop skills that can translate to playing an instrument in time.
To exhibit your genuine interest in your kid’s growing skills, consider creating a music room for them to be able to learn and hone their craft. This dedicated space is a perfect place for distraction-free lessons. It’s a good idea to soundproof the room, too, so others in the home aren’t disturbed. Having a bonus room that can act as a multipurpose room can increase your home’s appraisal value should you decide to sell anytime soon, as such upgrades are what many buyers look for.
Music Mistakes to Avoid
While some children pick up an instrument like a fish to water, all children develop differently. If you push your child into music lessons too early, they can become overwhelmed. Not progressing in their skill can hurt their self-esteem and discourage their progress. Let your child ease into their musical lessons gradually with time.
You can’t just throw money at a music tutor and expect that to be enough. If you want your child to grow in their skills, sit with them as they practice each day. Consistent practice is more effective than long lessons and your presence provides discipline and encouragement.
There is going to be a moment where your child expresses a desire to quit their instrument. Instead of letting them give everything up too soon, always talk with your child about why they feel like quitting and adjust their lesson goals to make playing music fun again rather than a chore. Encouraging your child to stick with it rather than quit teaches your child how important perseverance is in life.
Children all over the country struggle with reading. Adding music lessons to your child’s schooling can help improve their language skills and reading comprehension. There’s no exact age for starting music lessons, but incorporating music into other activities is a great way to start introducing them to rhythm and melody. As they grow up, involve yourself in your child’s learning and measure progress by the goals they reach and the amount of fun they have.