Practice Tips on Becoming a Conductor

Resources to Learn the Basics of Directing an Orchestra

foxsfiresides

One of my favorite times with the South Hills Junior Orchestra, leading up to preparations for the Charity Concert, is when members take the baton and conduct most of the carols.

According to “The Method Behind the Music” website at https://method-behind-the-music.com/conducting/intro/, “Conducting is more than waving your arms in front of the band/orchestra. The conductor has two primary responsibilities:

1.      To start the ensemble, to establish a clear, uniform tempo, and keep it throughout the performance.

2.      To help the musical quality of the piece (expression, dynamics, cues).”

I also like the comments from School Band & Orchestra (SB&O) digital newsletter:

 “As a conductor, you have one of the most creative jobs in the world – you sculpt sound with your hands! You evoke, shape, and inspire sound with your conducting. Have you ever asked a snare drummer to keep time for your ensemble? Many conductors are the visual equivalent of our snare drummer. If you were given the task of inventing conducting, would you pound the air on every beat regardless of the musical impetus? Or, rather, would you craft a set of gestures that indicates all aspects of the music, not just the meter. If you choose the latter, imagine your conducting as the artistic catalyst to inspired music making.” — SB&O

In other words, be an artist, and “shape the music!” Check out their “15 Conducting Tips for Inspired Musicianship” at http://sbomagazine.com/1269-archives/2320-59creative-conducting-15-conducting-tips-for-inspired-musicianship.html.

seriestoshare-logo-01The purpose of this short SHJO “Series to Share” is to get you started with some basic “how-to steps” to learn how to conduct. Truly, for success in directing an ensemble, the only thing you need to do is “give it a try” and practice those beat patterns with your favorite musical selections. During the Saturday SHJO rehearsals in December, we will give you the opportunity to direct the entire group and provide you a few hints!

Enjoy! PKF

 

1. Conducting in 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 (mirror image – follow her)

 

2. Conducting in 6/8

https://ourpastimes.com/conducting-orchestra-in-68-time-13580341.html

 

3. Tips for Conducting an Orchestra (series):

Common Time Signatures for Symphony Orchestras

 

Hand Movements to Conduct an Orchestra

 

Mistakes of Beginning Conductors

 

4. The Conducting Beat Patterns

http://cnx.org/content/m20804/latest/

 

5. Use of Left Hand in Conducting

http://cnx.org/content/m20895/latest/

 

6. Advanced Concepts about Conducting

https://www.ted.com/topics/conducting

 

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 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 “Practice Tips on Becoming a Conductor”

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

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by JerzyGorecki.

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.

Where Are the Models, Mentors, and Motivators?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Peter C.

 

Are You Listening to Solo, Chamber, and Orchestral Music?

foxsfiresidesWhen I was teaching full-time school orchestra music grades 5-12, the following conversation by students in my program may have been shared at the dinner table. “He wants me to spend time and listen to several outstanding players. I was a little embarrassed when he called on me in class and asked, ‘Who is your favorite violinist?’ and I could not identify a single principal string player or even the current Concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra!”

I was dismayed that as many as 80% of my instrumentalists could not respond with the name of a famous classical musician who is currently playing their instrument! This brings the issue to the forefront of my greatest concern: DOES ANYONE LISTEN TO GOOD MUSIC ANYMORE?

Obviously, most people learning how to play golf, tennis, ballet, ice skating, gymnastics or any of the contact sports, could instantly name their “hero” and leading examples in their field. Can you imagine not watching a professional athlete model his/her technique? For example, if you wanted to learn how to be a high-diver or competitive swimmer, would you simply read a book on the subject, study the moves, take a few lessons, practice in the pool, and not once attend a local swim meet or watch the Olympic event when it appeared on TV?

seriestoshare-logo-01Pittsburgh has a strong cultural base, providing a home for the world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Pops, the Pittsburgh Ballet and Pittsburgh Opera companies, and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera productions, to name a few venues. We are also most fortunate that many amateur or semi-professional groups such as the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra, Washington Symphony, and River City Brass Band are local (some concerts presented conveniently next door in the Upper St. Clair HS Theatre). Professional soloists and chamber groups visit our city nearly every month, and opportunities to enjoy free concerts are limitless on cable/FiOS television and WQED.

This revelation motivated me to bring my laptop computer to every music lesson and ensemble rehearsal to share musical examples. With truly “basic” technology, there is really no excuse for not exploring a sea of masterpieces, watching a virtuoso performing his craft up-close – thanks especially to online resources such as www.youtube.com. Here are just a few “totally free” audio examples:

Here is the musicianship prescription – tips on providing meaningful motivation, momentum, and exposure to GREAT works of art in order to become more culturally connected and musically literate:

  • Families: Take the music break and listen to Classical (all styles/eras), folk, pop/jazz music at least once a week.
  • Encourage your musician to regularly use his/her computer/tablet to watch performances on the web.
  • Choose several favorite soloists playing the same instrument you are studying, and follow them.
  • Buy CDs of music or download movements of concertos, sonatas, or symphonies from iTunes, etc.
  • Go to a live professional concert at least once a year – more often in the summer, if possible.

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website… Under “Resources,” check out the two sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox. In particular, download and read the Listening Enrichment Session, the perfect companion to this article.

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.

PMEA in Retirement – What’s in it for Me?

retired member session 041918

PA Music Teacher Retirees – Renew Your Membership!

On behalf of the 375+ retired members of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (not to mention the nearly 4000 regular and collegiate members), let me congratulate and welcome you to retirement!

chorus-515897_1920This will sound like an advertisement (it is)… for retaining one’s professionalism, keeping involved albeit less active in the profession, supporting the future of music education, and on occasion lending a hand to PMEA throughout retirement! In return, the association will provide you opportunities to record and post your career accomplishments and position assignments (past and in the future), network with your friends and colleagues retired or still “in the trenches,” and nurture your personal quest for creative self-expression and artistry… everything from guest conducting or adjudicating ensembles to writing for PMEA publications or presenting sessions at the conferences. It is all about YOU!

When (now) Immediate Past President Dennis Emert appointed me to the position of State Retired Member Coordinator four years ago, I had no idea what I could offer… except to serve as a “cheerleader” and represent the best interests of our music teacher retirees. This blog-post is to acquaint you with the rich assortment of resources PMEA offers to its retired members, and examples of our retirees’ news, views, and rationale for continuing their participation in PMEA… even take a peek at sample Retired Member Network eNEWS issues and articles in PMEA News. That’s what’s in it for you!

grandfather-on-the-porch-1398795Research indicates that people either LOVE retirement or HATE it, and their journey to the blessed “golden years” can have many ups and downs, especially for type-A, peak-performing individuals who (used to) spend large amounts of time and personally identified with “the job…” like many music educators. Since retiring myself from the Upper St. Clair School District in June 2013, my goal has been to help others enjoy this life-changing passage, cope with life-style changes/altered expectations, and find creative new ways to self-reinvent and thrive. Objectives for retired members in 2016-18 are:

  • Continuation and expansion of PMEA Retired Members’ projects started in 2015-16, including the Retiree Resource Registry (R3), PA community band, orchestra, chorus and theater group listings, opportunities to volunteer at conferences, sessions on “how to retire,” etc.
  • Exploration of new and unique ways to inform, motivate, engage, and activate PMEA retired members, to enhance their feelings of value, purpose, and being “needed and useful” in support of PMEA and the music education profession: “The mission of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association is to advance comprehensive and innovative music education for all teachers and students through quality teaching, rigorous learning, and meaningful music engagement.”
  • Improvement in data tracking of retired members’ membership status and contact information in order to “keep connected”
  • Publication of news, awards, appointments, and successes of retired members
  • Promotion of additional tools for a smooth transition to happy retirement

Your first stop for retirement resources should be the PMEA website (look under the top menu “Focus Areas”), where we post recent editions of past issues of the digital newsletter Retired Members Network eNEWS, relevant articles in PMEA News, etc. Take a moment and “surf the net” at http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s so much you can do now that you are retired! Now that you have “more freedom” to seek out purposeful and “fun” activities in education (but only the things you WANT to do!), ask yourself: “How you can rekindle your expressiveness?”

  • Why did you go into music and education in the first place?
  • What have you always wanted to play… sing… compose… conduct… record… create?
  • Have you thought about learning a new instrument, skill, or musical style?
  • When will you complete your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and have it performed?
  • When are you going to publish your songs, sonatas, warm-ups, methods, essays on pedagogy, musical plays, halftime shows… or personal memoirs?
  • What is your next article, book, method, composition, drum-line feature, etc.?
  • When are you going to join a community band, orchestra, chorus or theater group?

Or, if you would like to “give back” to the profession, “stimulate your brain,” and develop more association leadership, you can jump in to PMEA and explore any of the following:

pmea-model4

  • Run for local or state PMEA office or council position
  • Serve as presiding chair or member of the PMEA planning or listening committees for the conference
  • Participate as guest lecturer or panel discussion member at a conference, workshop, or college methods program
  • Judge local/state adjudication festivals
  • Help plan or manage a local PMEA festival or workshop
  • Accompany, coach, or guest conduct festivals or school/community groups
  • Assist the local music teacher in private teaching, piano playing, marching band charting, sectional coaching, set-up of music technology, instrument repair, etc.
  • Write for PMEA or NAfME

r3_logoAre you still willing to “lend a hand” on PMEA projects or share your expertise and provide a free (but priceless) consultant service to new/transferred PMEA members and officers? We constantly update and publish a Retiree Resource Registry https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retired-Resource-Registry-update-02-12-18.pdf and R3 Help Index https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/R3-Help-Index-021218.pdf on the website. This project is a “win-win” as it also allows the retired member a place to archive all of his/her achievements, awards, past and current assignments, interests, and hobbies. To join this prestigious roster of “who’s-who of past music teaching leaders in PA,” please go to https://pmea.wufoo.com/forms/pmea-retiree-resource-survey/ or the PMEA website to complete the R3 sign-up survey.

Do you know it only takes $30 to join as a PMEA Retired Member ($65 for joint membership to NAfME and receipt of their publications as well!). What a deal! The membership form is at http://www.pmea.net/membership-information/.

Lancaster MarriottIn addition, retired member registration at the annual PMEA Spring Conference is… (drum-roll, please!) ONLY $10 early-bird! Our next spring conference will be held on April 19-21, 2018 at the Lancaster Marriott & Convention Center. Music teacher retirees get to enjoy some social time to “swap stories” with a FREE breakfast on Friday, April 20. In addition, we are looking for volunteers to help man the PMEA Info Booth… of course, “retired members to the rescue!” Invitations and more details will go out to current members next month, but check out this section on the PMEA website for more information about the conference: http://www.pmea.net/pmea-annual-in-service-conference/.

In case you are interested, a past PMEA summer conference session on retirement is posted on the retired members’ section. Feel free to download the workshop’s slides (https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retirement-Planning-Its-Not-About-the-Money.pdf) and the recently revised handout https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/ultimate-retiree-resource-guide-111717.pdf, the latter probably the most comprehensive “reading list” ever published for music teacher retirees.

PaulFox_LogoAs a part of reflection and sharing of positive strategies for “Crossing the Rubicon” to a happy, healthy, and meaningful retirement, I have assembled a super-site of every website, article, book, publication, etc. of post-employment “gurus” that I could find. Visit the top menu link “For-Retirees” and come back often for updates.

Finally, since January 2017, we have published numerous retired member columns in the state journal PMEA News (access to current PMEA members is available at https://www.pmea.net/resources/pmea-news/):

  • “Pet Ownership and Retirement” (Fall 2016)
  • “Act Well Your Part; There the Honor Lies” (Winter 2016)
  • “Tips for Music Teachers Who Are Retired, Retiring, or Soon-to-Retire” (Spring 2017)
  • “What Are You Going to Be When You Grow Up?” (Summer 2017)
  • “The Vocabulary of Retirement and Leisure” (Fall 2017)
  • “Sailing Through a Proverbial Sea of Self-Help Books on Retirement” (Winter 2017)

Also, as a teaser, check out the archived PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS editions… probably alone worth the discounted membership fee? (But, if you have the time and desire, perhaps you can submit better jokes and stories to “editor” Fox?): https://www.pmea.net/retired-member-network-enews-archive/.

Enjoy retirement… you have earned it! However, don’t forget the THREE BASIC NEEDS that work fulfills and which are essential to retirement, according to Ernie Zelinski, the best-selling author of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free:

  1. Purpose
  2. Community
  3. Structure

Let PMEA Retired Membership help you on the way to self-fulfillment as you take the journey towards “living your dream and finding joy in your life!”

PKF

© 2016 and 2017 Paul K. Fox

(Photo credits: FreeImages.com)

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Marketing Yourself and Your K-12 Music Certification

Model yourself as a competent, comprehensive “Generalist,” not a single-subject “Expert” or “Specialist” (which may decrease your chances in finding a job).

To get a music teaching job, specialization in Pennsylvania is probably a four-letter word.

Need proof? Examine the wording on the PA Instructional Certificate, accrediting you in “Music, Grades K to 12,” not directing choirs, concert or marching bands, or orchestras, nor teaching jazz, theater, music theory, music appreciation, or general music.

In the state of Pennsylvania, there are no prerequisite specialties nor exclusive focus areas in the music curriculum such as Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, World Drumming, Suzuki, etc. Perhaps an individual school district’s courses-of-study may emphasize a particular discipline (and as far as I know, only a few do), but the Pennsylvania Department of Education is “specialty blind.”

The exhaustive employment search process is all about finding a single job. The only thing that really matters is whether you are the “right fit” for a particular opening. Do you have the skills and training to teach the music classes for that posted position?

When a school district begins looking for a new music candidate in pa-educator.net or other web service, the human resource assistant may submit online search parameters such as “majored in voice” or “band” or “elementary” or other criteria. However, be wary of disqualifying yourself or possibly getting your name “thrown off the list!” Don’t be myopic in your descriptions of your music teaching competencies and personal philosophy. Give yourself the chance to prove yourself and at least be granted an interview.

It is paramount that you adopt a unified philosophy of music education (and be ready to relate real-time anecdotes that you are practicing these convictions), where all areas of performing arts instruction (from instrumental music to choral music to classroom general music and all other related arts electives) have equal emphasis and importance.

On your digital portfolio, employment webpage, resume, and interview handouts, document your field experience, summer camps, church or community ensembles, private teaching activities, and/or other employment in as many categories as possible… ideally, showing examples or artifacts from all of them – choral, strings, band, piano, and general music.

In your statement of philosophy, be sure to analyze and be ready to express why do you want to become a music teacher? Can you respond to the key questions renown music education clinician/technologist Jim Frankel (Director of MusicFirst) often demanded at his in-service workshops or conference sessions:

  1. What is your personal mission?
  2. What is the role of music in a child’s education?
  3. Are we creating performers, theorists, teachers… or lifelong music lovers?

Here are some additional tips to avoid being seen as unqualified or “pigeon-holed.”

  1. Embrace the concept and needs of “the whole child” (see http://www.wholechildeducation.org/).
  2. Do not allow yourself to be labeled to a specific subject area or grade level.
  3. Know the current educational buzz-words and acronyms… administrators love checking your understanding of the “alphabet soup” – terms like UBD and EQ, HOTS or DOK, RTI, IEP, and SLO. (This will be the subject of a future blog.)
  4. Still in school? Utilize your college resources now to “broaden your training” and master your insecurities.
  5. Identify your “worse area” and get to work on it. Ask help from your peers or secondary methods instructors!
  6. If you think you are a “miserable” pianist, take a few extra lessons. Or conquer your other “fears” such as learning to sing better, playing a new string instrument, crossing the break once again on the clarinet, practicing the basics of jazz improvisation, etc.
  7. Develop resources – personal contacts, ensembles, and associations – to help you land and keep a job outside your favorite “specialty.”

The job market fluctuates and suitable positions (especially in your “targeted” geographical areas) can be limited, so you may have to accept employment far from your college major, initial goals or interests. It happened to me! Although a viola major who never sung even once in a high school or college choral ensemble, I was asked to direct the 200+ member choirs (five groups) at the Upper St. Clair High School… for 16 years! What inspired us in that famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken?” For my career, “I took the path less traveled by.” But, we had great success, and it eventually led me to directing/producing plays and musicals as well. “And that has made all the difference!”

Remember, excellent teaching comes from excellent musicianship, NOT that irritating other quote: “Those who can, DO. Those who can’t, TEACH….”

Work towards marketing yourself as a “total music educator” while you have the chance – NOT just a proficient music specialist! After you land your first job, then you can be “picky,” and perhaps seek a transfer to your preferred area.

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox