Does Composition belong in a Music Appreciation Course?


In a previous post, I mentioned I was creating a Music Appreciation course for my district.  In that post, I talked about having to unpack the standards to figure out what I needed to include in the course.

In our state, there are four arching themes for the standards:





This is a new state core as it goes into effect this Fall.

The idea of the creators seems to be one in which there is more individual accountability than there had been in the past.

There also seems to be more connectivity within these four groups.  What I mean is…a lot of the standards under these headings or themes are repetitive. For me, this is not a bad thing. It means that I can cover more of the standards with a single lesson concept or idea.

The one idea I am struggling with is: Composition and to a lesser extent Improvisation.

Now…don’t get me wrong.  As a musician that got a degree in music, these things are inherent of all musicians.

That’s not the problem.

The problem lies in: 

One, Does Composition belong in a Music Appreciation course? 

Two, How do you teach composition when the course taken completely online?

Three, How do you know the students who are this class understand enough about music to be able to write (or even improvise) something when the course is online? 

Okay, so let’s address these issues.

First, let’s look at #1.  Does Composition belong in a Music Appreciation course? I’m sure a lot of people have a lot of ideas about this.  I’m sure you do too.

At first, I wasn’t convinced. However, the more I pondered the idea and more resources I found, the more I realized I thought it did.

I mean…what other way would a student understand and appreciate an art form more, if not for the creation of it?

It doesn’t mean the students have to write an entire symphony.  It means, let them explore the possibilities.

This train of thought led me to answering the next two questions.

You let students explore.

You don’t expect perfection or even a complete understanding of the process.

You give them as many resources as makes sense and you let them follow the path.

So…what did I do? Well…it’s still a bit of a work in progress but here is the idea:

In the first Module of the class, I will give students websites, articles and some videos to explore the various music notational devices that are used and/or taught.

I want them to figure out what they are, what they are used for, why someone would use that particular form and then allow them to explore using the different forms.

They will also listen and watch a variety of genres of music during this module. Many of the examples will be within the context of their exploration and many will be used as a way of proving what they learned.

The students will evaluate what notational form is used, what they were thinking when they heard the piece, what they felt, and what images came to mind.

Exploration is never enough for me so the students will reflect at the end of module (this also helps with the respond and connect portions of the core) about which form they like best and why, which was easier to use and why (these don’t necessarily go hand in hand) as well as which pieces they enjoyed the most and why.

Now, this is only the first module and it is definitely a work in progress as I have many of the resources chosen but not all, and I feel that I will tweak it before it goes to publishing.  However, I like what I have created thus far.  It is definitely, in my mind, better than giving students numerous handouts about music notation and testing them in the traditional way.


What was your moment of epiphany?


What does it mean to you?

I think it’s that “aha” moment you have when something just makes sense.

The dictionary puts it as: 

“a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something”

My latest big “aha” moment was during a class about BreakoutEDU, I attended last week.  This was a two-day class that was jam-packed with different breakouts and ideas about how to create and run them.  The first day was all about the traditional format of Breakouts whereas the second day was all about the digital form.

So my “aha’ happens on the first day of class.

Fairly quickly, we are told we will work on a 1st grade Breakout as a whole class.  It had both positive and negative sides to doing this as a whole class. After reflecting and discussing some other options, we are told we are going to do another one.  This time, we will be in small groups. 

We get to work.  Our first task is solved quite quickly.  My friend and I had done a digital version (if you want to know about mine, check it out) previous to the class, unlike our peers and so it started out a bit easier for us.

However, as always, things got a little more difficult along the way.  That’s when differences of opinion came in.  I am used to that:) There is always someone who disagrees in these situations. The solution?  Let them work it out how they wish.  No need to argue.

I was thinking…no big deal.  People will try different possibilities and either have to go back to drawing board for new ideas or they get lucky and solve it with their first suggestion.

Wow, did I miss something! 

When everyone got done and we got into our small group for reflection, one participant accused me of stifling her idea by disagreeing with it.  She said that I made her feel as though her idea wasn’t worth pursuing simply because I shook my head in disagreement.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have my own children and I know that peer pressure is a real thing.  However, I thought…did she just stop herself from trying, because I disagreed with her?

She went on to say that if it hadn’t been for another participant telling her to try it anyway, she wouldn’t have.  She even said I intimidated her.

Let just say…I was shocked!  I couldn’t understand why she let my opinion (someone she didn’t even know) affect her ability to make an effort.

My response to her was I didn’t even know there was a problem.  I had expressed my thought of how to solve the problem, she disagreed, it looked like she was going to try it her way and I had moved on to help someone else solve a different part of the puzzle.  I figured…let her try it.  If it works, great! If it doesn’t, we try another idea. I had no idea she had had that much of a struggle.

Epiphany…here we go. 

One, I looked at it from the viewpoint of myself.  I have had a lot of people tell me I intimidate them.  I don’t personally understand it…I am 5’2″ and don’t really see myself that way.  However, over the years, it got to the point that I stifled who I was, just to avoid making people feel intimidated.  Finally, through the help of a friend, I realized, I was just hurting myself and my self-worth.

I became a true me again.  I’m not perfect.  I tell it like it is, which may come across as being forward but I don’t want to play games with people and I certainly don’t want to be passive-agressive.

This experience made me realize that the reaction this individual had, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with how she saw herself.  I finally realized that I hadn’t been intimidating, meaning I hadn’t purposely gone out of my way to put someone down or make them feel inferior.  Instead, I had just shown confidence in who I am.  The realization that I was really okay and not hurting people on purpose was a huge thing for me.  I knew now why some people had felt that way.  They didn’t have the same sense of confidence.

Two, I looked at it from her viewpoint.  I knew I could empathize with her.  I knew I didn’t understand where she was coming from but I could feel for her.  I could feel her frustration.  I could even feel her doubts since we have all had them.

This made me think of some of my students.  I could see many that would react the same way.  Why hadn’t they?  I think it has come down to my persistence in getting to know them personally so they feel comfortable around me sharing their ideas.  It also is about getting them to understand that if I shake my head, it may not have anything to do with what they said, did or the situation at all.  I may have just gotten into my head a little too much, and am shaking my head at my own inane thought.  They come to realize that if I am making a stern or frustrated expression it is rarely because of them.

It also made me realize that if we had had even just a moment to get to know each other, this incident might not have played out the same way.  It shows how much we need to communicate and get to know each other before working with each other.

Wow, NOW…I call that an epiphany!

Let me know what epiphanies you have had!


New Opportunities Can Bring New Challenges

What happens when life’s New Opportunities bring New Challenges? 

Two weeks today, I was sitting in a meeting getting ready to embark on a new opportunity…teaching Theatre classes in addition to my choir classes.  A subject in which, by default of being an opera singer, brings understanding but not necessarily the ability to teach it. Thankfully, I have a bit of background in that and I have a lot of new and old friends that will help me in this new endeavor.

That same day, I noticed an email by the district rep for our department…he was sending a request for some individuals to write an online version of the High School Music Appreciation Course.

Of course I responded! And…so did a number of individuals.

Later that week, I hadn’t heard anything and so I emailed again just to see where things were.

Fast forward to later that day…

I was selected!!

What did this mean? I had assumed that I might be working in a team.


It’s all me. 

We set up a meeting with the district rep for my department and the district rep for Curriculum so they could let me know what I was to expect.

We met last Friday.

Apparently, the course was for students that would be placed on temporary or permanent Home and Hospital Educational Services. The previous course was done in PACKETS! UGH! The curriculum department had been asking why they were still using packets as their only source of education for these students when we had such wonderful resources available to the district. They eventually got their wish.

I am to completely rework the course. Which is a very good thing when I saw what had been done before.  AGHAST, would be best word for my reaction to seeing the previous options.  BORING, is what my own children said when they saw it.

I can use any tech tool I have learned as part of the Ed Tech Endorsement I am in process of getting.  I can use any resource I deem viable.

I just have to make sure there is enough material, the material is engaging and if necessary, most of it can be done without a computer should a student find themselves prohibited from using one because of medical or other reasons.

The deadline for getting everything done is August 1st.  

So, as soon as I got home,  I got to work.  I looked up the state core only to find no course listed for Music Appreciation any longer.  Until this year, we have had a Music Connections course that was the supposed equivalence.  I had assumed they would keep a similar course.  However, the only options this year are: Choir, Instrumental and General Music.  The General Music is divided like the others into three parts.  This is where it changes though.  Where Choir and Instrumental are Level 1, 2, and 3, General Music is: 7th/8th grade, Theory/Composition Level 1, and Theory/Composition Advanced.

Where was I supposed to put a class called Music Appreciation in Theory/Composition at any level?

I was stumped.  However, the individuals I reported to didn’t have enough background to help.  It was up to me to figure out what to do.

This is why I came up with the title:

New Opportunities can bring New Challenges. 

My task was clear…figure out what standards to use and the level of flexibility within those standards in order to provide the opportunities in music to help these students achieve and have fun while doing it.

I decided my best start was going to be with the General Music-Theory/Composition Level 1, simply because the other possibilities just seemed to be out of the question.  The department reps agreed.

So I began unpacking the standards.  

Let’s just say, I got a good start and it’s a good thing I have until August 1st.

I also trolled the internet for suggestions and ideas.  I came across one but the author seems to have stopped blogging.  However, his suggestions and ideas for this class were spot on and in line with what I was thinking.  Although I have to write this course based on what I know generally about the students in our district, and therefore will definitely change some things, I really liked the basis of what he had to say.  Of course, I wish he had finished his thoughts on all of the class units, it definitely gave me a starting point.

What did I come up with?  

Well, the first thing I knew going in was that I didn’t want this class to be like any Music Appreciation class I had ever heard about or read about.  For me, this meant that I had to get rid of the idea that the students had to have knowledge poured into them starting from early music history and go through the ages.  UGH!  So distasteful.

I wanted to provide the students examples of different genres and allow them to do the comparisons themselves.  I wanted them to be making the suggestions and exploring the areas they would be most interested in while still exploring areas I would like them to try.

I put this thought in front of my own children and one of their friends to see what they thought.  I wasn’t sure if this would get a good reaction or not.

To my delight…they loved it.  Maybe it helped showing them what was before but regardless, it seems to be a good idea.

Now…I just need to get to work.

I plan on sharing some of the ideas I come up with and adding them to the blog posts as well as some of the Choral pages I have started so others can maybe use them.

This is definitely a New Opportunity and it is going to come with New Challenges.

But, I am looking forward to it and hopefully, things will be engaging, educationally enlightening and rewarding for myself and all of the students who take the class.



Makerspaces…Makey Makey

Today was my first day in the Makerspaces class I am taking for my Educational Technology Endorsement.

If you want to know more about Makerspaces check out the link…

I liked how we went through No, Low and Hi Tech options today.  I also like how I was able to see where I could use these options in both my choir classes and my new theatre classes.  The possibilities are endless with a lot of imagination.

My favorite from today was Makey Makey.  

I was first introduced to Makey Makey at the UMEA conference a year ago. The presenter was a professor from the local state college.  He showed us what he did with the setup.  It was really cool!

I immediately wanted to have access to this equipment.  I looked up the videos that were recommended and even talked to my principal to get him excited. However, I completely forgot to add it to my Needs/Wants/Wishes List at the end of the school year!

Fast forward to today…I got to play with them! There is a bit of a learning curve but I really could see using them in my specific content area.  My group was, amazingly enough, all from my school and they got to see my excitement!  I’m hoping it was infectious:) One of the teachers was a 7th grade science teacher and we worked together to create different small projects using the Makey Makey board.  The only downfall was the amount of time we were given to play with the setup…only 15 minutes.  So not enough time!

We can only hope I get the set I requested on my Needs/Wants/Wishes list so I can convince that teacher and maybe others to work with me to create more things!  I think integration using Makey Makey would be a really addition to our school culture.  The  exciting thing for me would be getting a lot of teachers from other content areas to understand how we can integrate and work together using this and other tools.  Let’s hope for the best.


Getting Organization…Discovering Bullet Journals

Getting Organized!

What are some ways to get organized?  I’ve tried many and I usually end up buying a calendar from a dollar store or a planner or something similar. However, these options usually are discarded quite quickly.

I knew I had to make sure I was organized this summer as  I have a lot going on!

I am continuing my Educational Technology Endorsement and so I am taking one semester class and five UEN courses so I can leave my Fall Semester with only one more semester class to finish the endorsement.

Although…since adding teaching theatre to my schedule in the fall, I need to start preparing for the eventuality of needing to get that endorsement as well. That means, I need to take some more classes! So…I have signed up for two classes that will be taught at the Utah Shakespearean Festival.  I have also sent off my registration for two summer classes at BYU.  In addition, I just found out there is a theatre conference.  I am hoping to attend that as well.

What does this mean?  Well, hopefully you can see why organization might be pretty important to me at this point.

What I do about it?

At first, I wasn’t sure.  I guess I could try another planner, a digital planner, etc.  But I really didn’t want to.  Then I came across an idea on a Facebook group I am a member of.

It mentioned Bullet Journals.  What the heck is that?

I decided to look into it.  There were lots of possibilities and lots of blogs to look at.  I chose to only look at a few…the Bullet Journals specifically mentioning how to organize the journal for students or teachers.  Below are a few I looked at:

Little Coffer Fox 

Productive and Pretty 

Hannah Emily Lane 

The Lazy Genius 

After looking into the concept of a Bullet Journal, I really thought I would like it.  I didn’t have to think or plan a year in advance.  I didn’t have to fill all of the pages with numerous ideas or scheduled pieces of information.  I just had to start.  It was pretty simply

  1.  Decide what type of journal you want.   Make sure your book has page numbers.  You can either buy one that has them already there or you can write them in as you go.

  2. Decide what you want to use to write with.  Some people like only black, some blue, some put a ton of color.  Whatever you want works just fine.

  1. Follow the guidelines as to what pages you really need:

a. Index: This is like a table of contents so you don’t have to worry about where things go or if they are even in a specific order because you can just go to the index.  It’s awesome!

b. Future Log:  This is a place where you can write down plans for the future.  You can also use it to mark birthdays, events, ideas, etc. Whatever you want. I chose to have a section for the future log where I put ideas down or things I needed to remember that were far off in the distance.  But I also put a calendar in there so I could track school dates I needed to worry about as a teacher and mother.

c. Weekly Log: This is where you add tasks, events, ideas, etc that you want to do each day or each week.  You put a strike through if you are done or you can “migrate” the item to another day or week.  I love the simplicity of it.

That’s it.  That’s all that’s required.  Anything else you choose to add is totally up to you and your imagination.  Trust me…if you don’t have one, check out those websites above and you will get more than plenty of ideas.

It’s only been a couple of days of using the Bullet Journal but I really like it.  I almost can’t put it down.  I added a couple of colors just so my mind didn’t gloss over what I have written but I definitely didn’t go as colorful as some have.

What do I like the most about the Bullet Journal?  I like the flexibility.  I like the fact that I don’t have to do anything special.  It can be just a reflection of who I am and what I need.  I can add notes, color, doodles…whatever I want and whatever I need at that time.

I can’t wait to use it during my first class next week:)


Why Decisions often take us on New Adventures

Why Decisions often take us on New Adventures

If you have read the post titled Confusion you know that I recently had to make a very important decision.  One that was to affect where I worked, where I lived and where my children went to school.

My children and I looked at the pros and cons and all of the many details that would be involved and together we made a decision.  We were moving.  We were going to start a new journey in another place, in another state.  We moved forward with this decision.  I was going to take my dream job.

If you read my post called “How do we finish strong?” you might have noticed the comment about re-evaluating a recent decision especially since I also mentioned being overwhelmed because of it.  Well, that was this decision.  I didn’t want to rethink or reevaluate this decision.  I knew we had made the right decision for us.

However, there were things I didn’t know that would very quickly force me to rethink everything.  

So, my children and I had to process all over again.  We made a new decision.  I tried to avoid thinking about that decision.  I knew what had to be done and I knew I didn’t want to do it.  I was frustrated to the point of being cranky anytime the subject came up.

Eventually, I had to face it.  It hasn’t been easy.  Yet I knew there was a time-table that made it so I didn’t have a lot of time.

Over a very short week, I took one step at a time towards that new decision. Yesterday, I made the final step.  Instead of opening the door to a new place, new job and new adventures I understood, I am opening a door that is both familiar and somewhat unknown.

I am not moving.  I am not taking that dream job.

I AM staying where I am at.  I AM teaching in the same school as I have the past two years.  I AM still teaching choir.

I WILL be adding Beginning and Intermediate Theater classes to my schedule.

Yes…you heard me correctly.  I am now a theater teacher.

What does this mean for me?  I am stepping out of my comfort zone!  As an opera singer, of course I sing and act, but it is a lot different from teaching acting.  This is not the adventure I expected.

Things have moved quickly in just one day.  I have signed up for Tech for Directors and Secondary Methods classes to be taught at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in July.  I am about to sign up for a week-long comprehensive Acting and Theater Production classes to be taught at BYU in August.  I also just found out I have a meeting with other theater teachers in my district tomorrow.

I never thought my life would take this direction.  I mean, I have directed a couple of musicals–one at my current school where I co-directed it and one for my church that I wrote, I have been in a few operas and even some musicals but I never thought it would come to this…me teaching theater.

My mind has already started forming thoughts as to what lessons I could do.  I have been lucky enough to be friends with the outgoing theater teacher who left me all of her stuff as a way to help me this summer to prepare.

But I know that there is much to come and much learning that will be needed…both in me and in my students.  I will also be fully responsible for our school musical, which is another overwhelming thought but I know now that my friend was right.  I have all the support I need…other theater teachers, other teachers at my school, my current students that were thrilled to hear I would be teaching both classes and the parents that have been so helpful and supportive for the past two years.

New adventures don’t always take the form you expect them to.  Where will yours take you?


Finals follow-up…student reaction

The other day, I talked about the Final and what I was going to do.

I briefly explained what the final was going to be and even included a link to the website I used.

Now…let’s talk about the reaction of the students.

As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, I did have a student ask me in the middle of the “final” why I couldn’t have just given a traditional final.

Yesterday was a different story.  

*Students that had struggled during the first day of exploration with this new concept weren’t struggling as much as did before.  They were even letting loose a little and seemed to enjoy it.

*Students that usually were labelled “not the best students” or “students that didn’t put enough effort into their work” or any other typical complaint of some teachers, were doing better than the traditionally “superb” students. Immediately I thought it was because this was out of the box thinking process that doesn’t always follow students that used to formulaic teaching and learning.

One student, who has struggled in every class she takes, was flying high because she was getting the answers despite her partner being one of those “good” student.  The joy I saw on her face when her thought process or answers were proven right was worth everything!

*Students that were burnt out on school?…HAD FUN!

*Students that usually stayed in the background because they didn’t always feel connected to their peers and/or had interests that didn’t always match their peers, found ways to contribute.  My favorite part of the final for these students usually came when their group was faced with the Minesweeper challenge.  If they were familiar with the game, they aced it right away and helped their group moved forward.  Even if they weren’t familiar, they usually figured out what to do first, which earned them the same result.

So…what happened today? 

Today was an interesting day:)

Today, we arrived at school to find our power out and not knowing if we would be able to get the planned activities done, whether we would hold school the entire day or send them home.  Eventually, it was decided to keep going with school even without power.

The interesting part about holding school when there is no power is what to do with the students that showed up.  See…today was the day the 9th graders went to our local amusement park about an hour after school started leaving the 7th and 8th graders to have shortened class periods so they could have a field day in the later portion of the day.  We already had much fewer students but now we had the added scenario of no power.

This meant, whatever technological idea a teacher might have had, was out the door.  I felt as though I couldn’t just have the kids sit around but I also didn’t want to just put them to work cleaning my classroom.  In the end?  A little of both.  Each class was given a small task to help with end of year preparations.  Once we got to fourth period, I had a few more students and they wanted to do more.  So, together, we got to work on a task I had recently found out about and wasn’t really looking forward to.

What’s the point of this train of thought?

Well, I found it interesting that the students I worked side by side with over the next few hours (many stayed to help rather than go onto their other classes) asked questions and made comments about the final.

I had one student remark over and over again how she really liked our final. This is a good student.  She always puts in the effort she needs to succeed and she seems to do well in all of her classes but I wouldn’t say she was at the top of her class, not that that is really all that important, but she said that the final gave her a chance to use her music skills in a different way.

I know I’ve already said this but “this was everything”.  It was everything I had hoped for.  It was everything I had planned to happen but was unsure if it would.

I even had a student that had been absent for the final, show up just after the power came on so we put her to work on it.  I got her started but since the power was on, I needed to get our auditorium set up for a slide show so I asked one student to supervise her and come get me if there were questions.

This was a student who, again was a good student but not one that some teachers would call great.  The student I asked to assist her was one I knew wouldn’t just give her the answers but would actually help if there was a problem.  Despite not having the opportunity to work with her peers in the days previous, she BREEZED RIGHT THROUGH IT!  She didn’t fly through it but she did it well and rather quickly.  I was asked a couple of times to answer some questions but she took my assistance well and figured it out.

It was pretty cool to peek in and see her progress.

And…she loved the tasks!

Success happened here.  I didn’t get a chance to get student feedback on what they would do differently but I am planning on doing that next year.  It will be fun to see how the Breakouts can be used for different purposes and which purpose fits best for my students.