Dear Music Parents…

We Need Your Help to Support Your “Kids” and Make Music Education More Effective

This message was sent to the parents and partners of the nonprofit community ensemble “for instrumentalists of all ages” – The South Hills Junior Orchestra – and participants in the SHJO Online Academy (SHJOOLA), but is applicable to all music families. School music directors everywhere need your assistance!

[http://www.shjo.org/]

Another first! A special “reach-out” via Fox’s Fireside geared exclusively to music parents.

Before we start with the nitty-gritty, on behalf of music educators everywhere, let us thank you in advance for all of your commitment and collaborative efforts in support of your child’s music program!

We hope this finds “you and yours” healthy, safe, productive, and happily engaged. Since many of the schools are within a month to the end of their fall semester and second nine-week grading periods, we thought now would be a good time to step back a little and offer our assessment of how things are going.

“When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.” In spite of the limitations brought on by the pandemic, the directors are doing everything in their power to connect with, stimulate, and enlighten the players and singers. In general, we are satisfied with the musical progress of everyone – the students are showing technical growth, mastery of the music, and even more importantly, great resiliency in dealing with these challenging times. SHJOOLA and other remote teaching or alternative music learning serve only as a temporary stopgap measures until all of us can return to our the normal “live and in-person” rehearsals. However, it looks like this may not be until Spring 2021 or later.

[Feel free to share this blogpost or this PDF link.]

We would like to elicit the help of our music parents to check in and observe the online activities of your son or daughter, and if necessary, intervene on behalf of them. This would help us improve the quality of the virtual music programs run smoothly. We have all found that online teaching is very hard. The limitations of this technology (latency and inability to sync the visual and audio portions of zoom meetings) will not allow the chance to hear in real-time performances of individual players or the group altogether. The most important “takeaway” from this message is the camera on your household device needs to be operative and used every time we sponsor a class. In addition, it is not satisfactory for anyone to position their device so that we cannot see them, leave the meeting early, mute or disengage from the virtual lesson discussions, or turn off their camera at any time. Video feedback is the only avenue available to “monitor and adjust” our instruction during any “synchronous sessions.” We have found that Zoom runs quite well on smartphones and tablets, and the cameras on these devices will suffice if the computer hardware is not up to the task.

So, effective immediately, if your SHJOOLA child seems to be having trouble with his camera, we will notify you.

(Please let us know if you need any technical assistance. The cost of purchasing a new “web cam,” is as low as $16 at WalMart. If we cannot help you, we’ll find someone who can!)

As the character Jean-Luc Picard says in the Star Trek Next Generation series: ENGAGE! What are the number one concerns of all educators during this disruption to education caused by COVID-19, shared even by the “Plan B” strategies for music? – Loss of individual attention, sensitivity, communications, connectivity, empathy, and self-empowerment towards the pursuit of the students’ own inspired initiatives in learning!

In other words, “distance learning should not be distant.” To be effective, it needs to promote an exchange of dialogue, responsible online citizenship, and goals to reach-out and engage within this unique “music community!” (For those of you who enjoy reading about learning theory, feel free to peruse Mr. Fox’s recent educator blogpost about social emotional learning, “teacher presence,” emotional intelligence, “character” curriculum, and habits of empathy: https://paulfox.blog/2020/11/03/embracing-the-intangibles/.)  

[New players may join SHJOOLA at any time. We accept out-of-town musicians, too!]

Following the advice of several members and to keep the team more “connected,” our initial SHJOOLA Zoom meetings will open 10 minutes early to allow for a little informal chit-chat! How are you doing?

REMINDER: Whether hybrid or online, attendance is mandatory. Music directors understand that, on occasion, there will be illness, family, business, or other educational conflicts necessitating the missing of a Zoom meeting. For SHJOOLA, our attendance policy is flexible, but notification of the SHJO Managing Director in advance is mandated: mdirector@shjo.org. (Please include your name and the reason for missing the session.) Considering all of the prep time your music directors are devoting to the lessons, it would only be “common courtesy” for the absentees to keep themselves up to date on what was presented, view any available archived rehearsal videos or slides posted (for SHJOOLA posted weekly at http://www.shjo.org/online-academy), and make-up all missed work within a few days of the absence. Ensembles are teams and rely on camaraderie and responsibility: “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!”

FYI, the software embedded in our SHJOOLA MusicFirst Classroom provides access to a valuable subscription that will last through June 2021. There are a lot of great applications for members to freely explore asynchronously (on-their-own at their convenience) in order to foster self-improvements in ear training, music theory, performance assessment, sight reading, and writing/analyzing music.

In conclusion, parents, we need you to “stop on by” and observe what’s happening!   For SHJOOLA, our goal is to continue offering our free professional services in making meaningful music, playing duets, performing with online soundtracks, learning new (and in greater detail) musical concepts to “grow” our musicianship and comprehension of orchestral literature, and to just have fun being successful. PKF

These things are “NOT COOL” during online music classes…

  • Arriving late to scheduled meetings (“early is on-time!”)
  • Missing sessions and not “catching up” on the missed work
  • Failing to download and print the music in advance
  • Not having instrument and music (in order) ahead of the start of the meeting
  • Turning off or re-positioning your camera so we cannot see you
  • Failing to respond to questions or participate in the discussions
  • Texting, emailing, or using any other device that distracts your attention
  • Allowing interruptions or loud noises during the class
  • Eating or drinking during rehearsals

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com:
“Blaze-Fireplace-Campfire-Bonfire” by Pexels
“Learn Student Laptop Internet” by geralt

Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter

How You Act During Public Performances Is a Reflection on Who You Are

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Almost 30 years ago, an article I wrote for the Upper St. Clair High School Choral Boosters was a lighthearted attempt to address a growing need in public performances – one of improving our audiences’ listening habits and knowledge of musical “traditions,” as well as raising their overall consciousness and sensitivity. Although it now seems a little “retro” and “dated” (texting was not invented yet and tabloids were the fiction of Star Trek and other Sci-Fi programs), it “hits the nail squarely on the head,” identifying the ongoing problem of inappropriate audience etiquette for student, amateur, and professional music, dance, and drama productions.

 

“Uninvited Guests at Performances” (1990)

The painter begins his/her creation on a clean white canvas, void of any dirt, smudges, or imperfections, so that the final art form is pure and readily convey to the viewer. In much the same way, a musician or singer relies on “a clean slate” – that is, a quiet and attentive audience in the concert hall without any stray noises or interruptions that will distract from his/her extremely delicate art form of live music. However, unlike the painter (or unless the concert is recorded and distributed at a later date), music represents only a temporary art… the effects lasting only a moment, and then forever lost until the next time the work is performed. That is why a tradition of concert customs have evolved to “set the stage” for clear communication of that really wonderful expression of music.

However, we have noticed in school and professional performances in our area, several new trends have been born from our fast-paced life styles, overworked schedules, television viewing, and Walkman listening habits. Several uninvited guests have been seen at concerts, unintentionally making life miserable for performers and audience members alike. Do you recognize these “characters?”

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First of all, there is Gertrude the Gossip and Theresa Talker who spend the entire performance discussing local events or their personal lives. They usually sit in the center section, first row, in order to have the greatest disruptive effect, even though they would be the first to suggest that you were rude for listening in on their conversation. A close relative, Prentice Postmortem, likes to give a “play-by-play” account of the relative success of the concert, with comments like, “Did you hear that wrong note?” and “I wonder why he was chosen for the solo part?”

Then we have several distinguished visitors from the Planet Hypertension, including the “frequent flyers” Leroy the Seat Leaper and Hortence Half-a-Concert and a host of others. Everyone has witnessed spectacular events created by these adults, who have developed the most advanced technique of choosing only the softest or most sensitive moment in the music to jump up and change seats, run down the aisle towards the bathroom or parking lot, or go get something to eat. Somehow, they feel they are being helpful or considerate of the musicians or actors on the stage when they stand up to leave before or during a particular song, often right after their son/daughter performs. Of course, some music directors themselves are contributing to the situation, selling 12-ounce cans of pop and sugar candy at intermission, which are known elements of improving (?) the biochemistry and behavior of young children staying up past their bedtime.

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To add a touch of “color” from a very large pallet of noises, several other guests in the audience feel it is necessary to “perform” along with the singers and instrumentalists. If you sit near the recording or PA microphones or cable TV cameras, you will usually find the boisterous Cyril Cellophane unwrapping candy specially designed to “rattle” everyone’s nerves, along with his friends Velda Velcro and Hildegarde Hum-along, not to mention Winslow WatchBeeper. One of the finest (?) musical moments ever experienced at Upper St. Clair High School was the cacophony of buzzers, chimes, Looney-Tunes™ alarms, and chirps during the slow movements of Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio in the 1987 USCHS Holiday Choral Festival. Performers and conductors have always appreciated the opportunity of setting the exact hour of an ongoing concert using the hourly signals of digital watches in the audience.

And don’t forget those long-time veterans Clem the Clapper, Shouting Sherwood, and Wardella Whistler, who store up their applause for inappropriate moments like between movements, or after the Hallelujah Chorus or Star-Spangled Banner, but leave early so that they missed the curtain calls.

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All sarcasm and joking aside, performers do appreciate the faithful support of the community. Without the public, lavish Broadway musical productions and extensive choral and instrumental concerts could not be featured. Our talented and hard-working students/musicians/singers/dancers/actors need and deserve large audiences in order to exhibit their craft. The “final exam” of every music ensemble and theater company is the public performance. And, nothing is more demoralizing then spending three months in rehearsal and then performing for only a handful of parents and well-wishers!

However, occasionally it is our job as music lovers to remind everyone the need for concert customs which just add up to good manners. With the bad habits of MTV™ and Muzak™ that music education researchers say may have bred insensitivity and inattentiveness in the indiscriminate consumption of music, we have to focus on providing that “clean slate” – a calm, orderly, and quiet atmosphere of an alert, well-informed audience!

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Yes, “manners matter!” I can still hear my mother scold us, “Don’t be rude. Do you think you were you raised in a barn?”

On the subject of “audience do’s and don’ts,” we will leave the “last word” to http://www.fanfaire.com/rules.html. The following are considered their updated and succinct “Golden Rules” of Audience Etiquette:

  1. Go easy with the atomizer; many people are highly allergic to perfume and cologne.
  2. If you bring a child, make sure etiquette is part of the experience. Children love learning new things.
  3. Unwrap all candies and cough-drops before the curtain goes up or the concert begins.
  4. Make sure beepers, cellphones, and watch alarms are OFF. And don’t jangle the bangles.
  5. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.
  6. Note to lovebirds: When you lean your heads together, you block the view of the person behind you. Leaning forward also blocks the view.
  7. THOU SHALT NOT TALK, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part.
  8. Force yourself to wait for a pause or intermission before rifling through a purse, backpack, or shopping bag.
  9. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky. But, leaving while the show is in progress is discourteous.
  10. The old standby: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Here are several things to add to their guidelines – NO TEXTING, not even turning on your smartphone or iPad for a moment to look at the time or your messages. The light from the screen is very distracting to everyone in the auditorium and the performers on the stage! In addition, flash photography is generally prohibited, and may even be dangerous to the performers (can cause accidents!). Finally, any audio/video recording of the event may be an infringement of copyright law. (Don’t do it!)

In conclusion (from fanfare.com): “Remember, part of one’s pact as an audience member is to take seriously the pleasure of others, a responsibility fulfilled by quietly attentive (or silently inattentive) and self-contained behavior. After all, you can be as demonstrative as you want during bows and curtain calls.”

Here are more links to explore for teachers, practitioners, and supporters of music:

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter.”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “fireplace” by joseclaudioguima, “angry” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, “lolly” by yossigee, “grandstand” by cocoparisienne, and “smartphone” by SplitShire.

TEAM = “Together Everyone Achieves More”

A Twist on an Old Fable… Who Really Won the Race?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Eric Thibodeau

 

Before you do anything else, I want you to “take four,” fire up your computer, and view this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xevQ2yTyK9Y.

foxsfiresidesWhat is the moral to the final story of these two racers… the turtle and the rabbit?

To all student instrumentalists: SHJO and your school music ensemble represent a “TEAM” – not only inspiring your own creative self-expression and skill development, but learning to communicate, connect “symphonically,” and come together with all the musicians to achieve common goals.

For similar advice, we can go all the way back to the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle:

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

According to Wikipedia, synergy is the creation of “a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.” The term synergy comes from the word synergos (συνεργός) meaning “working together.”

Another way to reflect on this concept is with this parable “Whose Job Is It” (author unknown) demonstrating apathy:

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

If you want to create the life and musical success you want, don’t be like Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. Be true to yourself. Take responsibility for your life! Don’t let Everybody, Somebody, Anybody or Nobody stop you from doing what you need to achieve what you want and deserve for yourself and the TEAM!

The “take-a-ways” from this fable? What is your charge “for the good of the TEAM?”

  • Take personal responsibility for defining what life and musical success means to you.
  • Take personal responsibility for building your self-confidence. (Practice!)
  • Take personal responsibility to participate in rehearsals regularly. (Attend every week!)
  • Take personal responsibility for developing the competencies (skills) and preparations (focus on the hard passages) you need to succeed in the music.
  • Take personal responsibility for putting sufficient time seriestoshare-logo-01into the “TEAM.”
  • Take personal responsibility for building and nurturing relationships in the orchestra that will help you promote success.
  • Take personal responsibility in supporting the TEAM in “fun” raising (socials) and fund-raising projects… as we used to say back in the 60s, “be there or be square!”

At a SHJO rehearsal last Saturday, I expressed concerns that the reality of inconsistent attendance and inadequate at-home practice is making it difficult to rehearse and achieve progress. However, rest assured, I know our concerts will be great!

In every fifth-year anniversary milestone of SHJO, we have given back to those who have given us a very special gift… a permanent home. Our fund-raising efforts are lagging behind and we need all Friends of SHJO to “step up to the plate.”

In the future, you will have the opportunity to engage with other booster members and their leadership team to proceed toward our fund-raising goal of $12,000 for a gift to our gracious hosts, the Upper St. Clair School District. Ads and patron donations received as we go forward will be acknowledged in future concert programs, and we look forward to your generous assistance.

You are encouraged to peruse the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

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This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “a community orchestra for all ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

Goals for the Musical Road to Success

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Matt Hains

Making mature and meaningful decisions to plan personal practice

As the school concert season draws to a close and summer is almost upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on a little musical goal-setting, complete a personal inventory and needs assessment (in what areas do I need help?), foxsfiresidesprioritize what’s the most important, and define several new “practice plans.”

Do you recall a cartoon with Lucy van Pelt bossing Charlie Brown around and handing him his own very long list of New Year’s resolutions? Except for your parents and the music teachers who know YOU, it isn’t usually effective for someone else to pick your goals. (Of course, if you don’t listen to the suggestions from your music directors and private teachers, there’s a good chance you will never improve!) Sitting around doing nothing, accepting things as they are now, and randomly floating from one task to another accidentally “making music” without foresight or planning are not likely to work. Inattention and osmosis are slow ways to achieve anything in life. Obviously, you must be motivated, ambitious, focused, and committed to “whatever it takes” on the pathways towards self-improvement and musical mastery!

According to “goals experts” (such as the One Minute Manager book by Kenneth Blanchard and the Utah State University recommendations below), to create meaningful personal goals, they should:

  • Be written down (Take the time and post them in your room!);
  • Be specific (Keep it focused, simple, and to the point!);
  • Be concrete (Exactly what/how do you need to do?);
  • Be measurable (How do you know when you’ve succeeded?);
  • Be viewed and reviewed often (Look at them daily/weekly/monthly, and every time you practice!);
  • Be shared (Show them to your music teacher and/or parents/spouse!);
  • Be flexible and change as needed (Modify and adjust – set new goals!);
  • Have a time frame (When will these have to be completed?).

ALL students, parents, and teachers – CLICK ON THIS LINK! Download, print, and read Getting What You Want – How to Make Goals: https://www.usu.edu/asc/assistance/pdf/goal_setting.pdf

seriestoshare-logo-01Your practice should have well-defined goals. What do you want to learn as a musician? Are there particular pieces of music, styles, or technical skills you would like to be able to play? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide what work is needed and assist defining specific learning targets. If you have a private teacher, he/she will automatically prescribe objectives for you, based on your present strengths and weaknesses. But if you desire to join the local youth symphony, participate in a music festival, play in a pit orchestra, perform solos or chamber music, become a conductor, help coach your peers, or want to improve a specific technical skill or general musicianship, make sure your teachers know it! They may be able to share warm-ups, strategies, or practice materials that will help you improve and expand your knowledge, technique, expressiveness, sight-reading and ear training.

Here are some goal-related questions to ask yourself (consider several of these):

  1. Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
  2. Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
  3. What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
  4. When was the last time you performed a solo or two and recorded yourself? Wouldn’t it be fun to video yourself playing a mini-recital and sending the DVD to your grandmother or grandfather?
  5. One of the greatest challenges in performance is sight reading. Can you pull-out a random piece of music (even something written for a different instrument) and play it straight through without stopping?
  6. Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
  7. Ask your teacher what would be an appropriate exercise book. Can you define several new challenging goals in playing scales, arpeggios, other warm-ups, or études specifically geared for your instrument?
  8. For Western Pennsylvania residents, did you know the South Hills Junior Orchestra is always open to new instrumentalists? SHJO begins its Saturday practices a week after Labor Day (USCHS Band Room 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Everyone is welcome to play in 2-4 free-trial practices!

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.