Summertime Prep for Music Ed Majors

Collegiates: You snooze, you lose!

After a well-deserved break from your academics and other college or work deadlines, music-2674872_1920_kevinbismnow would be the perfect time to explore supplemental resources and get a “head-start” on additional pre-service training for next fall. These tips are especially valuable to anyone entering his/her senior or final year as a music education major, finely honing in and marketing your skills as a professional in order to be prepared for finding and succeeding at your first job.

Actually I hate to admit it, I enjoy assigning college students a little “homework!” But, most of this you can do from the comfort of your patio, beach blanket, swimming pool lounge chair, or couch in the game room. With the exception of “getting your feet wet” and diving into enriching music teaching field experiences and a summer workshop or two, all you need is a pencil to take notes and a device with access to the Internet.

There’s a lot to-do right now, and you only have the rest of July and August. Please try to “keep your eyes on the target” and squeeze in a few of these self-improvement plans around your vacation trips (seven lessons – see sections below) :

  1. Summer practicum
  2. Conferences
  3. Online research
  4. Skill gap-filling
  5. Ethics training
  6. Digital archiving
  7. Interview prep

 

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1. Are you really ever “on vacation” from music education?

Most veteran music educators would respond with “NEVER!” We maintain our professionalism by participating in workshops, reading teacher journals and online articles, perusing lesson materials and new music, practicing and advancing our personal musicianship, undergoing technology “tune-ups,” and focusing on other career development. This is a 12-month, even 7-day process, and academic breaks when they appear on our calendar allow us to “double-down” in areas we need the most help.

“Hands-on” training not only “fills-up your resume” with primary employment/volunteer sources, but more importantly, exposes you to realistic opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge of the “best practices” in music education and leadership training, while building techniques for handling student motivation and discipline best learned from “the school of hard knocks.”music-3090204_1920_brendageisse

These placements don’t always come “knocking at your door.” Go out and seek a little adventure! For leads, talk to your high school band, string, or choir director. Your purpose is to find something that allows you some contact with children… free (usually) or paid, in or outside the field of music and the arts. Here are a few ideas:

  • Coach summer band sectionals, field rehearsals, marching or dance practices, etc.
  • “Put up your shingle” and teach private or small class music lessons.
  • Offer to arrange music or or provide choreography for local school drum-lines, marching bands and/or auxiliary units, or theater groups.
  • Sing in a community or church choir, and offer to help accompany, vocal coach, or conduct.
  • Sign-up to assist in local youth ballet, modern dance, or drama programs.
  • Sing, play, or teach solo or chamber music for summer religion or music camps, childcare facilities, hospitals, or senior citizen centers.
  • Volunteer (in almost any capacity) at a preschool or daycare center.

 

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2. The tools of the trade – CONFERENCES!

Summer is a GREAT time to grow your network of valuable opportunities for future collaboration, do a little goal setting, and “push the envelope” with professional development of the “latest and greatest” and “state of the art” music and methods.  The primary source for professional development is the education conference. There still may be time for you to find one close to you, perhaps in conjunction with a little sightseeing or visits with friends and relatives in the same city, like the following:

Thanks to www.takeflyte.com/reasons-to-attend-conferences, we know that attending workshop sessions are “good for you!” Participating in a conference helps you to…

  • Sharpen the saw (sharpen your skills – Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of highly effective people)
  • Meet experts and influencers face-to-face
  • pmeaMix and mingle to improve your networking opportunities
  • Find new tools and innovations
  • Learn in a New Space
  • Break out of your comfort zone
  • Be exposed to new tips and tactics
  • Relearn classic techniques with greater focus
  • Share experiences with like-minded individuals
  • Discover the value of the serendipity in a random workshop
  • Invest in yourself
  • Have fun!

If you really need any additional rationale for spending the money, click on the blog-post “Getting the Most Out of Music Conferences” at https://majoringinmusic.com/music-conferences/.

Finally, believe-it-or-not, you can bring the conferences to YOU! For the annual $20 subscription fee, you can view NAfME Academy professional development videos on almost any topic you can imagine. Check out the NAfME library of webinars: https://nafme.org/community/elearning/.

 

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3a. A winning website

The aforementioned Majoring in Music website is an excellent place to visit. It is amazingly extensive. You should read these articles for your “final year of prep.”

 

3b. These “awesome” resources are brought to you by NAfME

Besides the broad-based music subject matter and specific teaching skills, here’s some valuable advice, including how to “run a music program” (first link). I hope I am not stating the obvious: You should become a member of this national association for the advancement of music education.

 

Amplify

I also want to point you to the community discussion social media platform called Amplify, a benefit of NAfME membership. We are stockpiling a lot articles for college music education students, as well as sharing dialogue on everything from pedagogical issues to music equipment purchasing recommendations in both the collegiate member group and “music education central.” Go to https://nafme.org/introducing-amplify-largest-community-music-educators-country/.

 

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4. “Filling in the gaps”

Your music education methods courses and other college classes were never expected to provide 100% of the necessary tools to become a competent teacher in every setting. This spotlights the need for professionalism. Once you land a job, you will have to “catch-up” and seek additional training to improve those areas in which you feel inadequate or unfamiliar. You can begin NOW to explore a few of these areas while enjoying your less stressful off-campus schedule:

  • child-621915_1920_skeezeUnderstanding specific educational jargon and the latest approaches, applications, and technologies in the profession (e.g. Backwards Design, The Common Core, Whole Child Initiatives, Multiple Intelligences, Depth of Knowledge and Higher Order of Thinking Skills, Formative, Summative, Diagnostic, and Authentic Assessment, etc. – Do you know the meaning of these terms?)
  • Teaching outside your “major” area or specialty (e.g. instrumental music for voice students, etc.)
  • Comprehending behavior management techniques and suggestive preventive disciplinary procedures
  • Mastering the use of valid assessments (e.g. can you give specific examples of diagnostic, authentic, formative, and summative assessments?) as well as a variety of music rubrics and evaluative criteria
  • Knowing the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other confidentiality statutes, Individual Education Plans and service agreements, and accommodating students with disabilities

flute-2245032_1920_congerdesignYou need to ask yourself the question, “What are my greatest weaknesses in music education?” Or, to put it another way, “What school assignments would I feel the least confident to teach? After earning your state’s all-essential credential, your certificate will likely be general and only say “music Pre-K to Grade 12.” Administrators will expect you can “do it all” – introducing jazz improvisation at the middle school, accompany on the piano or guitar all of the songs in the grades 1-6 music textbook series, directing the marching band at the high school or the musical at the middle school, starting an elementary string program, etc.

Figure out and face your greatest fears or worse skill areas. Work on them now! Take a few lessons, join a new ensemble of the “uncomfortable specialty,” ask help from your peers, etc.

More about this was printed in a previous post: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/transitioning-from-collegiate-to-professional-part-ii/.

 

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5. The ABC’s of professional ethics

So far, have you been given any ethics training in college? Most pre-service educators only receive a cursory introduction to such things as codes of conduct, moral professionalism, guidelines to avoid conflicts in relationships with students, use of social media, confidentiality regulations, copyright infringement, pedagogical and economic decision-making, etc.

Now in my 46th year working in the field of music education (although retired from the public schools in 2013), I unblushingly admit I never had a full-blown course in ethics. Music colleagues have confirmed to me that it was barely (or not at all) touched-on in music methods classes, introduction to student teaching, school district orientation or induction sessions, or back-to-school in-service programs. choir-458173_1920-intmurrSince music teachers are all “fiduciaries” (do you know the meaning of the word?) and legally responsible for our “charges,” wouldn’t it be a good idea to review our state’s regulations and code of conduct, and hear about the challenges and pitfalls of ethical decision-making before we jump in and get “over our heads,” so-to-speak?

I can offer you two ways to immerse yourself into music education ethics. If you are a PCMEA or PMEA member and an “auditory learner,” you might prefer the FREE PMEA online webinar video (two-part) plus handouts at https://www.pmea.net/webinars/. Otherwise, visual learners and others may like this five-part blog series:

 

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6. “A picture says a thousand words” in marketing yourself

Have you been archiving your last several year’s of field assignments? Have you recorded numerous moments of teaching, music directing, performing, and working with students? Are you prepared for the coming year’s student teaching, getting ready to take still photos, audio samples, and video excerpts?

“We cannot emphasize the power of pictures enough when it comes to portfolios. During interviews, committee members are trying to get to know you and trying to envision you teaching. Don’t trust their imaginations to do so, give them pictures… photos or newspaper articles of you teaching students in the classroom, with students on field trips, learning excursions or outside class activities, with children while you are serving in adviser roles, with your students at musical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.” – http://www.theeduedge.com/top-five-must-haves-top-five-could-haves-your-teacher-interview-portfolio/

As I mentioned in a previous blog, be careful to obtain permission in advance to video record students for your e-portfolio. During your field experiences or student teaching, little-girl-3043324_1920_Atlantiosask your cooperating teacher (or his/her supervisor’s) permission. Some school districts have “do not photo” rosters. (However, in my district, only a few elementary students were “on the list” and most defaulted to a “permissible” status unless the parent opted out. The principal’s secretary had a record of all exceptions.) It is also suggested that you focus your camera mostly on YOU and not the students, from the back of the classroom or rehearsal facility (possibly from afar), so that the student faces are not clearly discernible. To respect their privacy, in the recorded excerpts, do not use any segment announcing the names of your students.

What would be ideal to place on/in your website/e-portfolio? Show a wide spectrum of experience and training: elementary and/or middle school general music, band, choral and string ensembles (all grades), marching band, musicals, dance, music technology, piano and guitar accompanying, Dalcroze eurhythmics, Orff instruments, etc. Competency, versatility, and being well-rounded are the keys here.

 

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7. Teacher interviews – “practice makes perfect”

I have written a lot on the subjects of assembling a collection of your teaching anecdotes and stories, marketing your “personal brand,” and preparing for the employment screening process. (Have you wandered through the comprehensive listing at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/?)

However, I recently came upon several new-to-me online articles that summarize the basics. Please take a look at these:

After reading all of these (and compile your own list of interview questions), you should get together informally with your fellow juniors and seniors and hold mock interviews, record them, and jointly assess the “try out” of your interviewing skills to land a job.

Finally, have you recently updated your resume, and created (or revised) your professional business card, website, and e-portfolio?

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Okay, I admit it. I got a little carried away. You would need TEN SUMMERS to cover everything above. What’s that saying? “There’s never enough hours in a day…”

Hopefully these resources  and recommendations are helpful “food for thought!” You cannot accomplish anything by procrastination… or just “sleeping in!”

 

Many have said that aspiring to be a music educator is a lot like a “calling.” Using your summer “free time” is all about “professional engagement.” One of my superintendents said he expected prospective new music teacher recruits to show high energy, enthusiasm, sense of purpose, and dedication during the interview… even a supposed willingness to “lay down in front of a school bus” or “do whatever it takes” to make the students (and the educational program) successful. Regardless of the hyperbole, that’s engagement!

So, what are you waiting for? Pass the sunscreen and the ice tea. Then, after a quick swim, jog, round of golf, or game of tennis, get started on your summer assignments!

PKF

 

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “music” by ArtsyBee, “music” by KevinBism, “orchestra” by HeungSoon, “music” by brendageisse, “kids” by klimkin, “marching band” by sam99929, “guitar” by sunawang, “child” by skeeze, “flute” by congerdesign, “microphone” by klimkin, “choir” by intmurr, “band” by Pexels, “little girl” by Atlantios, “boy” by Silberfuchs, “children” by mochilazocultural, and “piano” by nightowl.

Summer or Anytime Music Enrichment

Focus on YOUR MUSIC during summer vacations, holidays, or academic breaks

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The following idea-bank is a checklist offered to Band and Orchestra instrumentalists, their music teachers, and family members as “food for thought!”

Here are a few suggestions to consider as a TO-DO LIST after all the standardized tests, final concerts, and end-of-the-semester projects in all academic areas. Summertime is a wonderful way to “get to know” your instrument and build on your knowledge-base, technique, musicianship, and repertoire.

  1. Help organize your time by setting up a regular daily practice schedule. Practice a little every day. Consistency creates confidence!
  2. Create a “scale journal.” Write down on manuscript paper all your major and minor scales and the I, IV and V7 arpeggio series. Practice scales in all keys.
  3. Shriya NarasimhanCreate four new scale variations every day and add them to your “journal.” Creative new variations should make playing scales more enjoyable. Some examples are unusual rhythms (pizza toppings, desserts, interesting proper names), more difficult slurs, scales in thirds, etc.
  4. Explore the performance of one, two or three octaves of major, minor, chromatic, pentatonic and whole tone scales.
  5. To improve reading skills, play new music “at sight,” even music written for other instruments. Don’t be afraid to play a challenging piece above your ability level or even read a song from a piano score.
  6. Play through some of your “oldies” and favorites from past lessons or Band/Orchestra classes.
  7. shjo_Jonathan Pickell and Wendy HartVisit the local music store and browse. Explore new publications of Classical, pop, folk, fiddle/jazz, show tunes or other styles.
  8. Sign-up for a music camp or college classes of music appreciation, theory, eurhythmics, etc.
  9. Take a few private lessons. For enrichment, take piano, voice and/or learn a new instrument.
  10. Spend an entire day in the sheet music, recordings, and music book section at the local library.
  11. Purchase and learn the music audition requirements for your MEA band/orchestra ensemble or solo adjudication festivals.
  12. Form a chamber group with other players in your neighborhood and rehearse at least once a week.
  13. _shjo_violinistsPurchase a duet book for mix or matched instruments (such as Beautiful Music for 2 Stringed Instruments by Applebaum—Book I (easy), Book II (medium), Book III advanced). Team up with another musician (band or string) and share non-transposing parts (flute or oboe with violin, trombone with cello, etc.).
  14. Encourage yourself to “pick out a song by ear” and try to write it down on music paper.
  15. Sit in or join a local community or youth ensemble like the South Hills Junior Orchestra which rehearses on Saturdays in the Upper St. Clair High School (Western PA) Band Room. Rehearsals resume on September 8, 2018.
  16. shjo_David Levin_and_Devon AllenPlan a vacation or academic break around an out-of-state music workshop or concert series.
  17. Update your iTunes, Google Music, Amazon Music or other online music streaming services by purchasing and listening new solo or chamber works by artists who perform on the same instrument as you.
  18. Subscribe to SmartMusic, install/learn new music software, or peruse free online programs. Samples: Have you tried https://www.musictheory.net/ or https://www.good-ear.com/?
  19. Tune in to WQED FM, WDUQ or PBS and share a few minutes of classical music at least once a week. Attend concerts by professional musicians (like the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Civic Light Opera, or River City Brass).
  20. Prepare and perform a fifteen-minute recital for the residents of a local nursing home, hospital or Senior Citizen center.
  21. _shjo_in_rehearsal_031018 - 00Read books or magazine articles about famous musicians, performers, conductors or composers.
  22. Take a “field trip” to a luthier (person who makes or repairs string instruments) or the instrument dealer. Have your instrument examined, cleaned, adjusted and appraised. Purchase accessories and do any necessary repairs. If necessary, update your insurance!

How many of these can you accomplish over the months of June, July and August… or throughout the year? “Practice makes self-confidence,” and the more time you put into it, the more you take away from the experience. Please enjoy your summer or winter breaks, but learn to have fun with your instrument and EXPLORE MORE MUSIC!

Click here for a digital “take-away” of this list. Also, please feel free to share the other SHJO enrichment resources and “Fox Firesides” at http://www.shjo.org/foxs-fireside/ or https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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Paul K. Fox, Director, South Hills Junior Orchestra        www.shjo.org

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “fire” by skeeze.

 

The PMEA State Conference Primer

Getting the Most Out of Music Conferences… Suggestions for First-Time Attendees or New Teachers

Music conferences offer students as well as seasoned musicians a wealth of professional opportunities. They are motivating and help recharge your battery. They even help set future goals. Consider music conferences an essential component of your training and career…

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE – The original release of this article is at http://majoringinmusic.com/music-conferences/

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. – Malcolm Forbes

The greatest benefits of attending an academic or professional conference are the opportunities to build your network and increase your awareness of new trends happening in your area of interest. – Emad Rahim http://www.coloradotech.edu/resources/blogs/june-2013/professional-conference

Networking with others in the field, getting new and innovative ideas, self-reflection and re-thinking of previous methods, and improving communication skills are just a few of the ways professionals can grow and develop.  – Conferences and Professional Development by the Grand Canyon University Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching https://cirt.gcu.edu/research/developmentresources/research_ready/presentationready/prof_develop

For professional networking, it is your “charge” to create multiple pathways to/from school administrators, HR managers and secretaries, music supervisors and department heads, and music teachers… and you – your skills, accomplishments, unique qualities, experience, education, and personality traits. Paul K. Fox https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/networking-niceties/

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Welcome to the annual state conference! For Pennsylvania Collegiate Music Education Association (PCMEA) members and soon-to-be-hired music educator prospects, this guide will help you get the most out of attending the 2017 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Spring Conference (and future professional development events).

Reasons to “drop everything” and attend an in-service conference:

  1. Conferences “grow” your professional network and opportunities for future collaboration.
  2. Conferences build your knowledge base: to hear about potential job openings, stay current in the field, learn new ideas, music literature, classroom materials, curriculum initiatives, research, technology, and unique approaches to problems, and to see “state-of-the-art” (“model”) performances of student and professional music ensembles.
  3. Conferences expand your resources.
  4. Conference motivate (a.k.a. “recharge batteries”) and help you plan future goals.

People in academics cultivate exceptional resources—and they’re excited to share them with like-minded colleagues. During the conference, I had an opportunity to test out new technology, review upcoming publications, share teaching tools and techniques and obtain samples of textbooks, software and mobile applications. Conferences are full of people promoting new ideas, vendors selling new products, and consultants teaching new methodologies. I always take advantage of this opportunity to fill up my academic tool-shed with new techniques and technology to improve my career. – Emad Rahim

bayfront1_highThe annual PMEA Spring Conference will be held on April 19-22, 2017 at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center. These sessions may be “perfect for PCMEA!”

  • Opening General Session with Tim Lautzenheiser Thursday 8:30 a.m.
  • PCMEA meetings Thursday 10:30 a.m. and Friday 11:15 a.m.
  • Getting the Most Out of Your Student Teaching Experience Thursday 1:30 p.m.
  • Cracking the Graduate School Code: When, Where, Why, How, & How Much Thursday 3 p.m.
  • Starting with the End in Mind – or – You’ve Got Four Years, Use Them Wisely Thursday 4:30 p.m.
  • Music Education & Gaming: Interdisciplinary Connections for the Classroom Friday 8:15 a.m.
  • Ready for Hire! Interview Strategies to Land a Job Friday 9:45 a.m.
  • Planning Strategies to Develop a Responsive Teaching Mindset Friday 2:15 p.m.
  • Final General Session with NAfME Eastern Division President Scott Sheehan Friday 3:45 p.m.

For a complete conference schedule, consult PMEA News or this web-link: http://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-PMEA-Annual-Conference-Schedule-for-Winter-News.pdf.

pmeaFirst things first! Prepare yourself in advance. Grab your winter or spring issue of PMEA News. Review the program of sessions which is usually laid out in chronological order and also by content strands (e.g. advocacy, choral, classroom music, collegiate, curriculum development/assessment, higher education research, instrumental, music technology, World Music, and special interest topics), as well as the list of keynote speakers, guest clinicians, showcase (music industry) demonstrations, association meetings (like PCMEA), and performances. Using an “old-fashioned” 20th century tool, mark up the conference schedule with two different colors of highlighter marking pens, first targeting “high interest” areas in yellow, and then “must attend” events in hot pink or other favorite color.

Next, download the PMEA Conference App (usually from Core-Apps.com). This is the 21st Century technique for setting up your conference schedule (“where to go and what to do”), reading the bios of the presenters, locating the session rooms and exhibit booths, finding out who is attending, taking and storing your notes, and learning about last minute changes. Here is the picture of the 2016 PMEA app:

pmea-app

More DO’s and DON’Ts for effective conference attendance:

  1. DON’T remain in your “comfort zone” by sitting exclusively with your friends or college buddies at every session and concert. DO socialize with your peers at meals, and DO attend meetings of your PCMEA. However, if you are trying to take advantage of networking opportunities, to get to know other professionals, possible job screeners, administrators, etc., DON’T just sit with people you know at every other event.
  2. SONY DSCDON’T focus exclusively on attending sessions or concerts in your specialty or most proficient areas, such as band if you’re a woodwind, brass or percussion major, orchestra if you are a string player, general music/choral if you are a vocalist or pianist. DO go to sessions that are not directly related to your major. You might be surprised at the connections you discover or the new interests that arise. Imagine “they” want to hire you next year as the next middle school jazz coach, HS marching band show designer, choreographer for the elementary musical, conductor of the string orchestra, teacher of AP music theory, etc. Could you select music for an elementary band (or choral) concert, create a bulletin board display for a middle school general music unit, set-up a composition project, or lead folk dancing at the kindergarten level?
  3. DO stay at (or near to) the hotel where the conference is being held… to see and DO more!
  4. Learn and DO the best practices of networking, personal branding, business card creation and distribution, and record-keeping of conference notes, job openings, and contact information. DO read my blog-post on Networking Niceties: The “How to Schmooze Guide” for Prospective Music Teachers at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/networking-niceties/.
  5. playing-harp-1563567DON’T be shy! A conference is no place for being timid or afraid to start up a discussion with a more experienced music teacher. PMEA is all about circulating and introducing yourself, exhibiting your “charming self,” exploring resources and who are the experts/leaders in music education, getting the “lay of the land,” and adding as many names and emails to your professional contact data base as possible. Of course, DO follow-up with anyone who suggests that there may be a future employment posting from their school district!
  6. DO attend both general sessions, one usually scheduled on Thursday morning and the other on Friday afternoon. These will feature the keynote speakers and a special performance or award presentation. Since it is free and another opportunity to network, DO attend the Saturday morning awards breakfast and general membership meeting.
  7. DON’T be the first person to leave a session, and definitely DON’T “hop around” from one clinic or concert to another. Many attendees consider leaving early disruptive and rude, and it does not allow you to get the “whole picture” of the presentation. DON’T run in and grab the handouts… they will not have much meaning unless you attend the entire one-hour workshop. DO interact with the clinicians and conductors. If someone gave a talk, introduce yourspiano-and-laptop-1508835elf and ask a thoughtful question on some issue about which you are curious or found interesting.
  8. DO attend (and participate in) at least one panel discussion, music reading workshop, and technology session. DO search for special sessions held for college students on interviewing and landing a job. DO visit the displays of the PMEA Research Forums and the Exhibits.
  9. DON’T expect to get a lot of sleep at the conference. DON’T miss the interesting concerts to attend at night as well as early morning breakfast meetings and evening receptions. But, whatever you do, DO have FUN at your first music teacher conference!

Actually, PMEA represents only one of a series of outstanding music education conferences offered to school music teachers. In addition, you should look at:nafme

Hopefully, these tips on networking and taking advantage of the many professional benefits for attending an in-service conference will assist your successful pursuit for “landing” a job, discovering your own “calling” in the field of music education, and contributing a lifetime of meaningful work to our profession. See you in Erie!

Suggested Additional Readings:

  • Caffarella, R. S., & Zinn, L. F. (1999). Professional development for faculty: A conceptual framework of barriers and supports. Innovative Higher Education, 23(4), 241-254.
  • Guskey, T. R., & Huberman, M. (1995). Professional development in education: New paradigms and practices. Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027 (paperback: ISBN-0-8077-3425-X; clothbound: ISBN-0-8077-3426-8).
  • Guskey, T. R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Corwin Press.
  • Snow-Gerono, J. L. (2005). Professional development in a culture of inquiry: PDS teachers identify the benefits of professional learning communities. Teaching and teacher education, 21(3), 241-256.
  • Sunal, D. W., Hodges, J., Sunal, C. S., Whitaker, K. W., Freeman, L. M., Edwards, L., … & Odell, M. (2001). Teaching science in higher education: Faculty professional development and barriers to change. School Science and Mathematics, 101(5), 246-257.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits: saxophone 24youphotography, harpist Gerrit Prenger, and computer/music keyboard LeslieR at FreeImages.com

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