Cultivating a Precious Gem: Engagement

What do SHJO, Gerardo Parra and the “Baby Shark” theme, and the concepts of collaboration and teamwork have in common?

 

FoxsFiresides

[Artistic Director’s message spoken at the fall concert of the South Hills Junior Orchestra on November 10, 2019… appropriate to all performers, teachers, and parents.]

 

Have you had a reason to ask yourself recently, “What am I thankful for?”

Hopefully you can reflect on many things… Your family, friends, health, success, and happiness may instantly come to mind.

How about the privilege of membership in a “musical team” – valuable enrichment provided by both your school program (in which all of our pre-college students should participate) and community groups, like the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO).

One does not have to look far to confirm the benefits of music education and fulfillment of personal creative self-expression. Numerous articles and statistics point to the rewards of “making music” and regular collaboration in a performing ensemble:

I even tried “wrapping my arms” around a definition of this “calling” (one that I have spent my entire life sharing) in a blog-post which features a community TV interview of me by SHJO musician Sam D’Addieco: https://paulfox.blog/2019/06/16/the-importance-of-music-education/.

I do feel thankful! I am grateful to have been granted this opportunity of conducting SHJO and interacting, teaching, and learning alongside our gifted and enthusiastic instrumentalists! These experiences and memories are “priceless” and “fragile,” just like a rare jewel or crystal. I complain for more members (we’re small and turnout has not always been good), but I am also reminded of a comment from my own inspirational school orchestra and string teacher, Mr. Eugene Reichenfeld, who was often heard to say: “Our orchestra may be small, but it is precious – just like a diamond!”

I say, we must cultivate the future of this special musical experience!

Don’t take it for granted! This unique “mosaic of members and music, where all musicians learn, grow, and lead” will only continue if YOU commit consistent time, focus, attendance, and practice. Success relies on your full engagement to SHJO. We need the players, booster officers, parents, and other adult volunteers to join forces!

CBS Good MorningThe other day, I watched on CBS This Morning an interview of World Series Champion Washington National’s star outfielder Gerardo Parra (https://www.cbsnews.com/video/gerardo-parra-on-how-baby-shark-became-the-nationals-anthem/) who is credited for helping to turn things around for the team. Although he may be remembered more for giving the Nationals a new anthem, “Baby Shark,” (chosen by his baby daughter), Parra discussed why he was concerned that the other players on the team did not seem “engaged” and stay afterwards in the clubhouse (some paraphrased below):

  • Parra: “Wow, what a team we have,” and referring to the regular season, “But, even after we won, no one was there to celebrate in the clubhouse.”
  • Anthony Mason: “A lot of people credited you for turning around the team culture.”
  • Parra: “It’s more important for my team that we start in the clubhouse… we dance in the clubhouse.”
  • Gayle King: “But you started that hurrah. You said everybody used to leave and then you said no, everybody, let’s stay! One person came, then one person came, and another person came…”
  • Parra: “Everybody like family. We’re one team, not 25 men.”

When he joined the team in May, Washington was a team with a losing record of 33-38 and 8½ games out of first place in the National League East. Parra himself was mired in a 0-for-22 slump. That’s when he chose “Baby Shark” and got his team motivated! In their last 100 games, the Nationals won 75. Sure, they have amazingly gifted and hardworking players, but what was the cornerstone of their victory? Their teamwork, “power of collaboration,” empathy for each other, and unified sense of purpose! This is just what the doctor ordered for the 37th season of SHJO, and all similar youth or community groups. We need to develop more teamwork, collaboration, and engagement, too!

Thanks, kudos, and bravos go to all musical caregivers and participants for caring, giving, and sharing, and especially uniting together as a team. What really matters to me the most? As I told Sam in the interview, I truly cherish those “ah-ha” moments of realization we see in our musicians’ eyes when they “get it” and reach a new pinnacle of success or mastery of their artistry! I also love observing many peers-helping-peers, multi-generational teamwork, partnerships of musical leaders and followers in the ensemble, and numerous “random acts of kindness” every Saturday morning.

“My” SHJO remains the single most motivating and meaningful event of my week!

Let’s all celebrate a Happy Thanksgiving!

PKF

 

hi-res logo 2018The 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 players.

(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 Cultivating a Precious Gem – Engagement.

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

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Pumpkin” by Lolame

The Importance of Music Education

One Teacher’s Views on the Advocacy of Music in the Schools

Here are partial transcripts, excerpts, and commentary about this blogger’s perspectives on the value and benefits of music education, paraphrased from the program The Edge, produced by the Peters Township High School On-Air Talent class: Episode No. 45, “The Importance of Music Education,”https://archive.org/details/The_Edge_-_Episode_45_-_The_Importance_of_Music_Education

 

The Edge Episode 45

 

music-1781579_1280_GDJOver the years, I have been a strong advocate of equal-access to music and the arts as an essential part the education of all children. This blog will give me an opportunity to put a lot of my thoughts in one place. I am aware that there are many people “out there” who offer the premise that studying music makes you successful in other areas, and you will see that this assumption is well-supported. However, I am not a brain scientist. I cannot confirm research that seems to point to a direct correlation that “the music itself makes us smarter.” It could be that students who are attracted to and become proficient in the arts are somehow uniquely “wired,” have a greater work ethic, or are better intellectually “equipped” to become successful engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists – you name the career – and enjoy life-long happiness and self-realization. So many of those music-in-our-schools-month fliers say “music is basic,” “music is math,” “music is reading,” “music is science,” etc. and they are right! So, it’s not wrong to bring it up. But we should be fully aware that the primary goal of an education in the arts is for the development of creative self-expression.

In short: music for music’s sake.

When revising our Fine and Performing Arts mission and goals of music education for Middle States accreditation, the music and art teachers in my district centered on several primary goals. Probably the most important one was “to promote the skills of creative self-expression by using music, art, dance, and/or drama as vehicles for defining the students’ self-identity, learning concepts, communicating thoughts and feelings, and exploring mankind’s musical heritage in order to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective.” This statement was written many years ago… prior to the advent of Internet and social media, but perhaps it is even more relevant today!

However, there’s plenty of room here to provide you a wide spectrum of rationale and research from multiple vantage points.

It was my joy to be interviewed by host Sam D’Addieco, a junior percussion player in my South Hills Junior Orchestra. This link takes you to a 30-minute Vimeo recorded in the Peters Township Community Television studio on May 6, 2019. Although this was his assignment for a media class, it really prompted me to do some additional introspection about “what I think I think.” These were some of the issues we discussed… by no means verbatim, but, after all, this is my website. Now I can say what I really meant…

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Initial Questions and Responses

  1. Why did you choose to become a music educator? Music teaching is the greatest job in the world. Every day you deal with the inspirational subject matter of music, and then share it with students who want to be in your class! What could be any better? We guide students towards finding their personal identities, innate artistic and expressive potentials, and successes in making music.
  2. What inspired you to become a music educator in the first place? Were you always going to be a music teacher? I was one of those “goobers” who wanted to “live” in the music room… if I could, participating in band and orchestra eight periods a day! But, up to my Freshman year, I was going to be a doctor or surgeon, thinking that the field of medicine, “saving people’s lives,” would be the most exalted career. That is until my Special Biology teacher gave each of us a needle, alcohol swipe, and blood type testing strip, and I found out I was too squeamish to poke myself. What did I really want to do with my life? Share my love of music!
  3. How did you get started in music? Before grade school, my mother signed me up for piano lessons, and I practiced on our Howard baby grand (Baldwin brand) at home reveling in its big, beautiful tone. At school in California, I started out on the snare drum. My piano teacher also introduced me to the violin in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. After that, every new band director I had when I moved to different school districts in Western Pennsylvania switched me to a “what was needed for the band” instrument (baritone then tuba), and my private string teacher moved me to the viola, probably due to the length of my fingers, which eventually became my “major” in college.
  4. Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way? I was blessed with many outstanding music educators, school directors, conductors of local community orchestras, and private instructors. Probablymusic-students-246844_1920_musikschule the one who had the greatest influence on my going into a career of music teaching was Eugene Reichenfeld, who I saw the last period of every day in Orchestra at Penn Hills HS, at least once a week in a private lesson and rehearsals of the Wilkinsburg Civic Symphony on Thursday nights, and over the three summers at the Kennerdell Music and Arts Festival in Venango County. What a role model! Partially blind and losing his hearing, Mr. Reichenfeld played violin, cello, and guitar, and taught uninterrupted until three weeks before he died at the ripe old age of 103!
  5. Any regrets? Absolutely not! My classmates in college dubbed me “mister music ed.” But some of my well-meaning supporters saw other skills in me and tried to talk me into other pursuits. From my senior year in high school to four of five years enrolled in Carnegie-Mellon University, my string professor George Grossman prepared me for employment as a professional musician, even to consider auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I said, I want to teach students! My CMU music department chair Robert Page and Fine Arts Dean Akram Midani in 1977 urged me to look into enrolling in Harvard summer arts management courses. Again: I want to teach students! Believe-it-or-not, even my own dad encouraged me to rethink my plans. After attending my first Edgewood Elementary 4th grade musical production (1979), he marveled about how much time I devoted  to making music… 6-7 days a week including evenings! He asked me what were my earnings. We compared my first-year salary of $8200 vs. his position as manager in the nuclear division of Westinghouse Company (move the decimal point to the right – nearly $82,000 annual compensation). He suggested a partnership. “Why don’t you join with me, form a company together, and become entrepreneurs, and with a little luck and your obvious work ethic, we could both make a million dollars in a few years.”
  6. conductor-4189841_1280_GordonJohnsonDid your father ever realize why you chose music? In December 1986, Dad came to my choral/orchestra department production of Scrooge, involving over 250 students at my second career assignment, Upper St. Clair High School. After the closing curtain, he came up to me and asked, “Did you do all of this yourself? I answered, “Well, I had a lot of help. I did prepare the students on the dialogue parts in the script, the leads’ solos, chorus harmonies, and orchestra accompaniment, but I needed a drama specialist for coaching the actors and a choreographer for the dances. And yes, I am also the show’s producer, responsible for the printing of the program and tickets, finding people to assist in sewing the costumes, building the sets, running the stage tech, and applying the make-up.” After a short pause, he said something I will never forget: “Wow! This was incredible! You really made a difference to so many of your students’ lives.” He was proud of me, and finally expressed it! (It was a good thing too… he died suddenly of a heart attack exactly two years later when I was in the middle of staging USCHS’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)

 

Statistics in Support of Music Education

What is the purpose of music in schools? Why is it important to take a creative arts elective throughout your middle to high school education?

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Okay, we can start with the huge body of research published just about everywhere that indicates “music makes you smarter.” Here are just a few examples and sample supportive documentation. (Please take the time to peruse these links!)

Other skills:

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More attitudes:

Several more general links, additional literature that supports the inclusion of music in the school curriculum:

 

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Learning Styles and “Intelligences”

Ever felt like you were a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? Now, lets dive into the concept that “music is a means to learning.”

Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change. In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. Also, more research has been applied to learning styles and preferences… all to promote better success in education.

“Many of us are familiar with three general categories in which people learn: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Beyond these three general categories, many theories of and approaches toward human potential have been developed.”

— North Illinois University: https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/learning/howard_gardner_theory_multiple_intelligences.pdf

In 1983, the theory of “multiple intelligences” was formed by Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor Education at Harvard University, and widely read in his initial book offering Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Supported by Thomas Armstrong (books such as Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom), “the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited.” Instead, Dr. Gardner proposed nine different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults (the first one is my favorite):

  • choral-3871734_1280_gustavorezendeMusical (sound smart)
  • Naturalist (nature smart)
  • Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
  • Existential (life smart)
  • Interpersonal (people smart)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
  • Linguistic (word smart)
  • Intra-personal (self smart)
  • Spatial (picture smart)

“Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”

— American Institute for Learning and Human Development: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

saxophone-3246650_1920_congerdesignTransforming the way schools should be run, the multiple intelligences theory suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. This approach truly “customizes the learning” and provides eight or more potential pathways to learning.

“If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning.”

— Thomas Armstrong: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

“While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.”

— Kendra Cherry: https://www.verywellmind.com/gardners-theory-of-multiple-intelligences-2795161

The bottom line? We need music in the schools for a variety of reasons, not the least to systemically and intentionally provide avenues of learning for “music smart” kids as well as to share resources that all teachers across the disciplines may use to enrich their lessons, differentiate the instruction, and “reach” their students.

 

Ever Heard of the Four C’s?

How about defending the rationale that “music makes connections, within us and from the world around us?” Easy!

Music and art courses offer great rigor in developing 21st Century learning skills:

band-526330_1920_Greyerbaby

Released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2010), the best resource I found when this movement made the headlines was this P21 Arts Skills Map. It was developed to “illustrate the intersection between 21st Century Skills and the Arts. The maps will enable educators, administrators and policymakers to gain concrete examples of how 21st Century Skills can be integrated into core subjects.” With so much more detail, this document provides skill definitions, core subject interactions, outcomes and examples:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • stones-451329_1920_dweedon1Innovation
  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Information, Communication, and Technology Literacy
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility
  • Interdisciplinary Themes

“The music classroom is a perfect place to teach critical thinking and problem solving,” says MENC [now NAfME] member Donna Zawatski. Instead of giving students the answers, she asks questions that will clarify the process and lead to better solutions from the students. “Students will define the problem, come up with solutions based on their previous experience, create, and then reflect on what they’ve created,” she says.

— Donna Zawatski, “4C + 1C = 1TGMT,” Illinois Music Educator, Volume 71, No. 3.

 

Creativity is Number One!

One of my favorite educational gurus, probably an expert on creativity in the schools, is Sir Ken Robinson. His most viewed Ted-Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (18 million+) should be required of all pre-service teachers. A great story-teller with a wonderfully dry English sense of humor, Robinson tells a narrative about a child who was not “behaving” very well in school… “coloring outside the lines” and fidgeting in class. According to the primary teacher, she was distracting the other students, and was hard to “contain” and keep her sitting in her seat.

At the insistence of school staff, the parents took the little girl to a psychiatrist. He did a battery of tests on her to find out why she was so “antsy” and… The counselor’s analysis? He said to her parents: “Your child is not sick. She is a dancer. She likes to express herself in movement. Take her to a school that emphasizes dancing.”

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A “quick-from-the-hip” diagnosis might have resulted in prescribing drugs in order to “calm her down” and make her “fit in” better with the traditional school setting.

The rest of the story? The incident he was talking about described the childhood of the super-successful multi-millionaire English ballerina and choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the late Gillian Lynne.

Creativity is probably the single most essential learning skill… and I have devoted a whole section of my website on the subject, starting with “Creativity in Education” to numerous blogs here.

 

Flexible Thinking, Adaptability, and Problem Solving

In the interview, I asked the question, “What is 1 + 1 + 1?” What I meant to elicit was, “Besides the obvious response of 3, how many different answers can you find to solve this math problem?”

  • 111
  • 11 (in binary)
  • 1 (draw it in the air, one vertical line and two horizontal lines making the Roman numeral I)

Living in the real world (as well as learning the arts), there are very few “one-right answers!” Unlike other subject areas and pursuits, music fosters abstract decision-making in situations where there are no standard answers, analysis of and response to nonverbal communication, and adaptations and respect of divergent styles and methods for personal expression and thinking.

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The arts foster divergent thinking (the ability to consciously generate new ideas that branch out to many possible solutions for a given problem) as well as convergent thinking (the ability to correctly hone in to a single correct solution to a problem).  According to Professor Curtis Bonk on his insightful “Best of Bob” – Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation” website, “In creativity, convergent thinking often requires taking a novel approach to the problem, seeing the problem from a different perspective, or making a unique association  between parts of the problem.”

“Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.”

— Proverb quoted by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly

 

Are You of the “Right Mind?”

First, take the Left-Brain/Right-Brain test at the “Best of Bob” website above.

RThe 60s work of Nobel Peace Prize scientist Dr. Roger Sperry pointed to different sections of the brain being used for unique functions of the mind. Accordingly, the left brain is supposed to be more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations. In contrast, the right brain is purported to be more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.

However, portions of his research, especially about brain hemisphere dominance have been disputed.

“Magnetic resonance imaging of 1,000 people revealed that the human brain doesn’t actually favor one side over the other. The networks on one side aren’t generally stronger than the networks on the other side.”

“The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.”

“Whether you’re performing a logical or creative function, you’re receiving input from both sides of your brain. For example, the left brain is credited with language, but the right brain helps you understand context and tone. The left brain handles mathematical equations, but right brain helps out with comparisons and rough estimates.”

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/left-brain-vs-right-brain

brain-2062055_1920_ElisaRiva.jpg

Here is what I believe. Parts of what we do in music, like interpretation, expressiveness, phrasing, aesthetic sensitivity, and perception of man’s creations around us, etc. involve imagination and intuition, and are more holistic, intuitive – I will call it “right” brained.

In his book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink, formerly a lawyer and the speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, forecast that most future careers throughout the world will involve the learning skills normally attributed to the right side of the brain – innovation, invention, ingenuity, adaptability, critical thinking and problem-solving, etc., not jobs that are dominated by predetermined or routine actions, instructions, scripting (e.g. tasks that can be done by robots, Legal Zoom for simple wills, or 1-800 tech help hotlines).

I recommend looking into Pink’s books and his “Discussion Guide for Educators.”

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In conclusion, with so many memories swimming around in my mind, I was asked by Sam what I thought was the greatest achievement of my career (or perhaps he meant what single student did I “inspire” to greatness?).  I replied that there were far too many to count, those blessed “AH HA” moments when a musician, singer, actor, or dancer goes for his dream and realizes his potential… “I made it!” Sometimes they don’t believe in themselves, are afraid to try, and the teacher has to nudge or encourage them. But, once it happens, you can see the sparkle in their eyes! And, even in retirement, they never let you forget their accomplishment(s) and the difference you made in their lives!

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with the following statements regarding music’s role in everything from self-esteem development to building “symphonic” relationships and connections between seemingly unrelated or dissociated items or events – “putting the pieces of the puzzle together!”

“To be able to play a musical instrument (increasingly well), to be able to express oneself musically, to become friends with others making the same accomplishments, to reach musical goals and achievements — these things help people feel good about themselves. That has lasting value as it relates to nearly all other things in their lives, according to the music educators.”

The Herald Paladium, September 10, 2000

Music also boosts creativity and the ability to see the relationships between seemingly unrelated things—enhancing all learning. Children who have studied music develop faster socially, mentally, and even physically.

Woodwind Brasswind: “How Music Study Relates to Nearly Every School Discipline”

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Simply put, making music in school and life-long learning as adults are FUN! It nurtures our inner voice, feelings, and self-worth. We enjoy the social interactions of participation in an ensemble. Literally, we explore our artistic “souls” and embrace the beauty within and around us. A career of 40+ years of directing orchestras, both in formalized classes and community/youth groups, has been the most inspirational and life-satisfying of pursuits… something I hope I can do for many more years until I reach Moses’ age!

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Auditions, Adjudications, & Screenings

The Tools of Music Selection and Evaluation – An Insider’s Look at Student Placement

foxsfiresides

Do you know the differences among the terms screening, audition and adjudication?

Listed in order of low to high feedback, these evaluation tools furnish staff, students and parents methods for identifying the talent, level of achievement, preparation and potential success for participation in future music and drama productions, festivals or special ensembles, or for rewarding solo parts, seating placement, musical leads, and other student leadership positions.

A screening (sometimes called a pre-audition) is the simplest form of selecting students on a quick “pass” or “fail” basis. One or more judges usually listen for one or two characteristics such as overall preparation or a prerequisite proficiency to determine “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” In many cases, participants who earn a “passing mark” go on to a more detailed audition to determine ranking for a particular ensemble or part.

pmeaExample of a screening: Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) District One regularly sponsors a pre-audition for sopranos and altos auditioning for District SHS Chorus, as well as flute, clarinet and trumpet players for seating in Honors Band and other instrumental festivals.

In some cases, the application form itself is the initial “screening” for a particular event. For example, to participate in a music education association (MEA) like PMEA Junior High Chorus, you must be a 7th through 9th grade student, member in good standing of your school’s choral ensemble, and sponsored by the school music director who is a current MEA member and attending the try-outs. If an applicant does not meet these simple qualifications, then he/she is automatically eliminated from the selection process.

An audition (sometimes called try-out) is the process by which a panel of three or more judges rate a candidate based on a series of specific characteristics or “audition criteria” using a numerical score (usually 1 to 10 or 1 to 5). The sum of these scores from all of the judges reflects an overall ranking, often listed by voice type or instrumental section.

Here are a few local examples of audition criteria:

MEA Ensemble Placement Try-outs: Tone, Rhythm, Intonation, Technique, Musicality and Preparedness

Spring Musical Cast Auditions: Voice (intonation, expression, technique, range), Projection (tone quality, dynamics, overall loudness), Clarity (diction, rhythm, timing, dialect), Movement (blocking, flexibility, grace, coordination), Expression (animation, emotion, presence, characterization), Attitude (stability, reliability, desire, takes direction?)

Frequently very competitive, membership in a particular organization or the assignment of solo parts or leadership positions is usually very limited. Auditions are used to select the “very best” from the pool of contestants—a well-defined “cut-off” is made to fulfill the size of the ensemble/group or availability of solo/lead openings. Every year in most schools, hundreds of students audition for competitive festivals, drama/musical leads, scholarships, or leadership positions—less than 5% earn recognition or “win” a position at the conclusion of these auditions.

hi-res logo 2018

While auditions may select or “deselect” students for an event, they cannot be used as instruments of individual evaluation or “grading.” Judges are not expected to write comments or make “value judgments” about the overall achievement, improvement, strengths or weaknesses of each candidate. There simply is not enough time to provide detailed individual feedback from an audition process or to issue a performance rating (such as “superior,” “excellent” or “good”). Therefore, since an audition is only a “snapshot” ranking of people at a specific moment in time and for a specific goal, no references should be made about an individual’s aptitude for success.

This is where the adjudication comes in. The most costly and time-consuming process of the three evaluations, adjudication provides specific comments, ratings and (in some) rankings for determining the strengths and weaknesses of an individual or ensemble. Judges in an adjudication (called adjudicators) are charged with evaluating each candidate or group with a “page” of musical criteria (not just a row or line of scores), defining the assets and needs of the performer(s) and making specific comments about focus areas and methods for improvement.

The best example of group adjudication is the international music festival enrolled by school performing arts groups during their spring music trips. The bands, choruses, jazz ensembles, and orchestras typically perform in front of three adjudicators who each record personal observations on a digital recorder during the music, write a one-page (or more) report on the positive and negative aspects of the group’s level of achievement (accuracy and mastery of technique, tone—blend and balance, ensemble-playing skills, appropriateness of musical selection and stylistic interpretation, poise, overall appearance, preparation, etc.), score the presentation (usually up to 100 points), and grade each group with “superior” or “excellent” ratings in comparison wusctaglineith all groups at all adjudications. When I was teaching at the Upper St. Clair High School, this adjudication process took more than a day for all of our ensembles to participate—thirty minutes per performance, costing as much as $50/student, and involving more than ten professional adjudicators and fifteen festival staff members for a multitude of adjudication sites.

For detailed individual appraisals, your MEA may offer noncompetitive Solo or Small/Large Group Adjudication Festivals (see your school music teacher for details). In addition, the hiring of a qualified private music instructor to evaluate your son’s or daughter’s abilities is an excellent idea. Pay for a month’s worth of music lessons (for theater students: drama and dance lessons, too.) and ask for an analysis of his/her strengths and weaknesses. A list of several local private voice or instrumental teachers may be available from your school music director.

Selection Tool Grid

In order to build self-motivation, creativity, leadership, self-confidence, teamwork and self-discipline, and to achieve greater skills in problem solving, personal goal setting and stress/time management, music teachers frequently encourage their students to participate in extra-curricular activities. As a further enrichment to the educational program, many musicians, actors, and dancers enroll in screenings, auditions and/or adjudications. However, the competitors in these activities need to develop (and update) realistic self-appraisals and understand the major differences of each evaluative tool. Most of all, we must all learn how to “lose gracefully” and not allow the diminishing of our self-esteem when positive results and recognition are not immediately forthcoming.

Another point: We cannot all be number one! For example, a musical production “team” needs multi-talented members from all skills and ability levels. Some performers need to be in the chorus, others in the dance ensemble for the production numbers, while still  others are suited for solos depending on the roles in the play. We need technical and stage operators (otherwise the curtain will not be raised, and backdrops and props will not appear!) After all, a football team would look silly at a game with only quarterbacks. Experts say explore your hidden talents, don’t be afraid to try new things, set “reasonably attainable goals,” prepare hard and long, and, most of all, persevere!

Parents: Does all of this make it a little easier to understand? When your child tells you he/she is planning to participate in the school play, or sign-up for drum major, captain, section leader, or other leadership position in marching band, please review the selection procedures carefully and these three definitions of student placement tools: screening, audition, and adjudication. Make sure both of you are aware of the audition criteria, what is expected, music or conducting assignments, and to allow for ample time for preparation and practice. I recommend to my students to video-record “mock tryouts” and playback and self-assess their progress. Listen to professional recordings of the selections. When appropriate, memorize your lines/music. Add expressive elements to your performance, such as an extended range of emotion,  phrasing, and dynamics. Repetition counts! Remember: practice does not necessarily make perfect… repeated “perfect practice” makes perfect.

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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 blog-post is free and available to share with other music students, parents, and directors.

Click here for a printable copy.

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

SHJO recruit

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Amber” by Pexels

52 Creative Tips to “Supercharge” the School Musical

Building Student and Community Support and Appreciation of Theater

Several “Tricks of the Trade” that Have Worked for the Upper St. Clair High School Spring Musical in Pittsburgh, PA. Adaptation of my 1992 article published in PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

GOALS OF THE BLOG: Food for Thought!
  1. Brainstorm “tried and true” techniques that build support for the school musical.
  2. Share shortcuts for adding pizzazz to your PR – better ways to market your show.
  3. Generate discussion and collaborate on ideas… everything from student recruitment to ticket sales.
INTRODUCTION: Let’s examine “WHO and WHY” before “HOW and WHAT”

Multiple-choice question (choose your best guess):

Primarily, for what group of people do you sponsor a musical production?

A) Music students already enrolled in the choral and instrumental classes (and if you have them, drama/dance courses), who are more qualified and deserve the musical as a “reward” for their hard work and loyalty to the Fine Arts program.

Supercharge 1 dancers2B) A small core of the most talented students from the music program, probably those who have studied voice, drama, instruments and/or movement privately outside the school, participated in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (CLO) Mini Stars, CLO Academy, or other local professional-caliber performing arts school, amateur theater, dance studios, etc. – the “cream of the crop” – many of whom will continue in theater or music as a career, but will achieve a higher degree of professionalism in performance, and thereby help the musical gain prestige and respect – not a “typical high school show!”

C) The general student body of non-music majors, e.g. a “class play,” which may help to draw some of them into the music program in the future (recruitment), while placing no emphasis on it for the students currently enrolled in music classes since they already have public venues for their self-expression.

D) Members of the community (parents, past drama alumni, amateur performers) alongside the students to share their more advanced skills and provide a higher level of performance and “taste” of realism, while filling the more difficult parts on stage, in the pit, and backstage – in short, building a support base community members by direct participation

E) All of the above with some limitation in using adults as actors

PHILOSOPHY: Sharing a Few Ground Rules for Improving Your Productions
  • Nonlinear problem solving – There are no “right” answers in this business, only ideas.
  • “One size does not fit all!”
  • No one uses “all of this” at one time.
  • Supercharge 1 levels1Focus on your needs and prioritize.
  • Take slow “baby-steps” towards trying a few new things every year, and discard any that do not work!
  • Maintain (and share) YOUR secrets.

Two approaches that drive Upper St. Clair musicals: “bigger is better” and “throw out the rule book!”

SUPER TIPS: Creativity, Marketing, and Professionalism

The following 52 ideas are submitted for your consideration (and adaptation), under the categories of:

  • Encouragement of Larger Numbers of Student Participants (#1-11)
  • Student Leadership and Enrichment Activities (#12-20)
  • Involvement of the Parents and Community (#21-28)
  • Professionalism and Quality Productions (#29-34)
  • Real Promotion of the Show (#35-52)
  1. Supercharge 1 levels3Select a show that allows for large numbers in the cast (e.g. Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, etc.). Many schools select a maximum of 30-40 cast members, which can severely limit the size and scope of the production as well as the audience. In a few scenes, try to stage bigger groups (up to 100-150).
  2. Larger casts place greater demands on the staging director. Be creative in your blocking. Use the middle and side aisles, and build multi-level sets. (A two story set can support upwards of 150 singers for the “Iowa Stubborn” selection in Music Man! A second floor loft would be perfect for Oklahoma!)
  3. Bring the dramatic action on stage closer to the audience by constructing runways, pit ramps or other stage extensions. This also allows for staging a larger cast.
  4. A simpler solution to open up the space and add levels might be to construct a dozen large crates or benches. A low budget production could camouflage band risers.
  5. Supercharge 4 set projection31Adapt several of the song lyrics in the show for adding large choruses. (“Eloquence” from Hello Dolly, for example, can be expanded to have the entire cast enter and interact with the leads.)
  6. For even more color, choreograph these “encores” with a small ensemble of skilled dancers.
  7. Feel free to have the chorus sing several of the leads’ solo selections during the curtain calls.
  8. Be daring! Display your school’s (full size) marching band parading down the aisles for one scene in Music Man! Or use students in the 6th-8th Grade Chorus to sing “Food Glorious Food” in the opening scene of Oliver!
  9. Actively recruit students to try-out for the musical. Secure help from other school staff. For example, ask the football coach to mention the auditions to his players. Nothing will be more flashy (as well as hysterical) than a chorus line of football stars on the front thrust in Hello Dolly!
  10. Do not place limitations on student participation in the spring musical. Some school programs require the prerequisite of enrollment in choral or instrumental classes. The best recruitment of “outside” students to the Music Department may be their involvement and brief “taste” of a musical.
  11. Supercharge 4 south pacific scene1Offer pre-audition rehearsals on the required music, and/or simplify the try-out procedure as much as possible as to not “scare away” less confident students. Since the musical is geared for the entire student body (some of whom do not sing or act on a regular basis), make the try-outs a positive experience for all! Give the students a choice of songs and/or readings, as well as specifics on how to take an audition.
  12. Adopt an active and expanded Student Staff. The goal of quality education is to encourage students towards self-realization. In other words, the show should be “student run” – although selected, taught, and guided by adults. For example, once the scene changes have been rehearsed, the Student Stage Manager should actually call the cues.
  13. Persuade students who plan to major in communications, TV/radio, or theatre to join the student staff. Also, “get the word out” to other students who are not singers or instrumentalists that you have openings for carpenters (set construction), artists (painting), writers (publicity), seamstresses (costumes), etc.
  14. Develop comprehensive job descriptions for each student leadership position: Student Director, Producer, Rehearsal Assistant, Stage Manager, Crew Head, etc. Assign an adult sponsor for overall supervision of each area.
  15. Hold weekly student staff meetings, with student department reports, idea brainstorming, problem solving, and discussions on group morale. Get the students actively involved in the day-to-day operations of publicity, ticket sales, production schedules, etc.
  16. Supercharge 1 dancers3At all practices, Rehearsal Assistants should be placed at every exit (stage left, stage right, pit left, pit right, etc.), and should maintain script cues and warnings in order to call the actors and direct placement of props and sets.
  17. Present a leadership or motivational workshop for the entire company or the student staff alone. Two to three hour sessions are available on time management, teamwork, communications, personal initiative and leadership. Excellent clinicians in this area include Bill Galvin, Michael Kumer, Tim Lautzenheiser, etc.
  18. Announce a weekly S.M.I.L.E. award (“students most interested in leading effectively”) or other special recognition to spotlight extra achievement of individuals in the musical company. Display the winners (photograph and biographical information) on a public bulletin board.
  19. Reward the student cast and crews by sponsoring an all-night (“lock-in”) company party at the school or local restaurant after the final performance. This could turn out to be real incentive for future participation in the shows – a dance, late-night banquet, awards ceremony, swim party, bowling tournament, or a combination of all of these activities. Parents also appreciate a well chaperoned final celebration, instead of (in some cases) totally unsupervised house-to-house parties sponsored by individual students.
  20. Provide other perks for students. Plan field-trips around the community. Advertise the show by singing several selections at a local Women’s Club meeting or Rotary Club breakfast. Take the leads to the local TV/radio talk show, providing an audience for that thirty second “plug” of your show on the airwaves. Or sponsor an in-school theater production clinic (e.g. a make-up application session, underwritten by a local cosmetic firm).
  21. Try to fill your adult staff positions with school staff: shop, art, and English teachers, etc. Who is more knowledgeable and supportive of the students? You can encourage the integration of drama subjects in their curricula: scenery painting (art), costume design (home economics), set construction (wood shop), publicity (journalism/English), etc.
  22. Supercharge 3 costume angels1Establish a parent volunteer grouptheatre angels—to support the students in working on the production crews (costumes, painting, set construction, etc.). Grant the Angels special privileges (early ticket pre-sale) and “Honorary Thespian” status.
  23. Have the Angels man your box office to offer the public regular and varied hours for ticket sales.
  24. Utilize parents to set-up and supervise study halls for those long staging rehearsals. Set aside one room for absolute quiet and a separate waiting area for group study and socialization.
  25. Because of the large cast size, post hall monitors (parents) to assist during the night performances of the show (first aid, distribution of props, overall supervision, etc.).
  26. Hold sign-ups for the Angels during Open House or work through local PTA.
  27. On Saturdays, sponsor staff “cover dish” luncheons to give everyone the chance to interact socially.
  28. Invite a popular school administrator, public official, local actor, or other celebrity to narrate or assist in the show (e.g. the voice in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).
  29. Set out to achieve the illusion of realism in the scenery. Utilize a large student and adult crew of carpenters and build substantial backdrops, wagons, and book pieces to support your larger cast.
  30. Supercharge 1 levels5Rent professional set drawings from theatrical houses (e.g. New Wilmington, PA firm Sceno Graphics).
  31. Ask for help from local professional theater companies (hand-me-down sets, props, or just advice).
  32. Always seek professionalism from the students on the stage. Are all of the actors consistently in character? Adolescents have short attention spans, and as a large chorus, must be coached in displaying real enthusiasm, self-discipline, and accurate characterizations one hundred percent of the time! Nothing is worse than an inanimate or lackluster chorus, talking on or backstage, or other noises that detract from the dramatic action portrayed by the leads.
  33. Be imaginative with special effects! Melt a witch (Wizard of Oz) using a trap door and smoke effects. Exaggerate their sizes—a ten foot Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof can be created by putting your lightest girl on the shoulders of an athletic boy; use a ladder on wheels to present a 14 foot giant (Ghost of Xmas Present) in Scrooge—all hidden by the costume.
  34. Supercharge 4 melting witchSet a fast pace for the show. Avoid those periods of inertia, especially the Act II “doldrums!” Always execute smooth set changes and transitions. Never give the audience time to talk or lose their concentration.
  35. Use theater P.R. firms (e.g. Pioneer Drama Service) to buy official logos, posters, buttons and publicity packets.
  36. Design an official show t-shirt and button. Announce musical t-shirt days and give out random cash prizes to students who remember to wear their t-shirt and serve as a walking billboard!
  37. Sponsor a musical trivia contest. Create a crossword puzzle and publish it in the PTA newsletter.
  38. Type-set and distribute a special musical issue of the school newspaper (e.g. an “Anatevka Times” for Fiddler on the Roof) in order to devote space on the background of the play, local historical “splash-backs” in the time period of the musical, and a picture album of the cast and crews.
  39. Insert a theater flyer in the school district or PTA newsletter mailed home to residents. Print informative articles about the play (Hammerstein anecdotes for South Pacific or Oklahoma, etc.)
  40. Sponsor an elementary school art contest (e.g. draw your Little Orphan Annie).
  41. Supercharge 4 special effect smokeDevelop a partnership with your local merchants. Print pizza box advertisements, restaurant place mats, etc. Place messages on mall marquees, store magnetic signs, and in employee newsletters. In exchange for local business help in promoting your show, sponsor a special “employee discount” on tickets.
  42. Make clever P.A. announcements using the leads and adaptations of the script.
  43. Plan a pre-sale ticket lottery to determine the order students in the cast and crews can go to the box office to purchase their reserve seat admissions. This generates excitement and actually helps to sell additional tickets!
  44. Sponsor a school staff appreciation breakfast (donuts and coffee) thanking everyone for their support of the musical. At the breakfast, pass out ticket vouchers (two complimentary tickets) to the teachers.
  45. Help formulate creative school cafeteria menus using musical themes (e.g. “Wicked Witch” stew, “Jiggerbug Juice,” and “Toto’s Favorite Burgers”).
  46. Supercharge 4 makeup bloody mary1Schedule an in-school theatre education assembly for younger students. Give a short synopsis of the musical and demonstrate several scene changes, technical effects and lighting, application of character make-up, and several dances or songs from the current show (make sure you retain the rights to do a segment of the musical!).
  47. After the final dress rehearsal, sponsor a picture taking session for the parents. Actors can pose in costume and in front of the finished sets. The taking of photographs or audio/visual recording during the show is illegal!
  48. Construct an attractive hall display of cast and crew photographs, “Music In Our Schools Month” materials, etc. Always include a photographic history of the evolution of sets in construction, and the student names in the company.
  49. Designate one performance as children’s night. Offer it one hour earlier (on a school night), and provide a special discount for children ages 12 and under, as well as backstage tours of the scenery, spotlights, soundboard, costume room, autographs from the leads, etc.
  50. Dedicate each performance of the show to a special adult contributor to the school music and theatre program. Invite the Supercharge 4 special effect flyinghonored guest to the pre-show cast meeting, and send him/her several free tickets. Announce the dedication on the P.A. before the Overture, and post it on the hall display in the auditorium lobby.
  51. Find a P.R. “hook” – something that might interest the media – such as sponsoring Annie “dog auditions” or twins casted in dual roles. Send a new press release to the media every two weeks.
  52. Print the musical performance dates on the computerized student report cards and school district payroll checks. Use inter-office mail to send personal invitations to all of the teachers. Be sure to list the names of the cast – teachers will be interested in coming up to see their former students.
SUMMARY: Concepts to Consider—BUILD is the Operative Word!
  • Involvement of greater numbers of students and parents will build audiences and community support.
  • Presentation of a quality production with student leadership and supplemental activities will build student enthusiasm and appreciation of the inherent “value” of theatre in school.
  • Finding the confidence to take risks and build on your own creativity—go ahead and adapt the score, script, set designs and staging to utilize your schools’ resources.
  • The allocation of ample time to publicity and promotional activities will build community awareness, attendance and EXCITEMENT in support of the show!
SAMPLE RESOURCES: Companies, Books, Sites

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© 2015 and 2020 Paul K. Fox