Monday, December 18, 2006

Stress, Music, and Thoughts

If our lives were easy would our music sound the same? Could a world without stress hear a requiem and be affected the same way that you and I are affected?

One of the reasons I feel in love with music is because it allowed me to express my inner-most emotions without fear of being criticized. When I played a solo, I would relate each part of the music to a part of my life, making the music my own. More often than not, the best part of my performances were those that I could relate to times of extreme stress in my life, and the more real I could make each memory at the time of performance, the more effective the passage was. At the same time, the "sad" parts didn't feel right without the "happy" parts. You can't have one without the other, so the more pronounced you can make one, the more pronounced the other will become.

Is this basic idea at the center of all music? A good composer can sit down write a piece of music without the spark of the inspired, but how much more effective is the music when the composer becomes intimately familiar with and develops a deep emotional connection to the music? As musicians and teachers, we often try to tell the students what the composer wanted and was thinking, but in reality, we can't know for sure. A composers thoughts on their music should merely be a guide, the first step on the journey of discovering the piece of music

Music is a very personal experience and no piece of music will affect everyone the same. We have to look beyond what the composer was thinking and feeling and discover what the music means to us as individuals.

Some people claim that older music is losing it's spark, that it has passed it's prime and we need new music for today. But I say that all we need to do is to pour ourselves into the "old music" and it becomes new. So when you listen to music, either classical or contemporary, do so with an open mind. There is musical value in everything from chant to rap. Anyone can complain about how music has changed, but it takes a true musician to find something worthwhile every time they turn on music.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Theory of Student Learning

First semester at DePauw, we were required to come up with our own theory on the way students learn.....here's what I did.

A Theory of Learning

By: Christopher J. Simerman Jr.


A theory, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is, “an idea of or belief about something arrived at through speculation or conjecture.” When one develops a theory, he/she takes facts, combined with inferences, combined with his/her personal beliefs and then declares it proof that they are right on an issue. In this paper I do not intend to say that I am right, I only intend to state my beliefs on the issue of the way students learn. I also intend to provide examples of how I believe this would work in a core class setting, as well as in a music class setting.

I believe students learn best with a combination of three styles of teaching. Since all students are different, they all require different activities in order to learn. In addition, since it benefits all students to be able to learn in many different ways, combining three allows students a learning experience in three different styles. Also, by being taught three ways they learn the information on many levels. I believe students will learn best when a teacher combines the lecture method, independent discovery, and with hands on activities.

The lecture method involves teachers passing information on to students. With this method, there is minimal teacher/student interaction. This method is good for teaching facts, terms, definitions and principles to groups (pg.91, Labuta). Some students work better when they have the facts, thus the lecture method is best for this type of student. In addition, some students have trouble memorizing facts, for these students, the lecture method is not as effective. However, by using it, students have to learn the best way that they will remember facts.

In direct contrast to the lecture method, is the independent discovery method. As the name states, students learn by doing independent activities which bring them to the answer. Again, there is minimal teacher/student interaction, because the students are all on their own working. This method provides students with an opportunity to learn skills that will help them glean information on their own as adults. There will be many times as adults that students will be given a task to complete even if they do not know some of the information required to complete it. In a situation like that, being able to teach yourself becomes very useful.

Finally, students should be taught with hands on activities. These activities, led by a teacher, allow for experiencing what they are learning. This type of teaching is catered to the student that learns best by applying immediately after learning. In this style of learning, teachers present information and follow up with an activity that reinforces the information just taught. Generally, the information and the activity are connected in a way perceived only at the conclusion of a lesson.

These same learning methods apply to music classrooms. Music educators can use the lecture method to inform students as to the history of the composer or of a particular piece of music. The independent discovery method can be used to have students find recordings of music and figure out how to play a piece of music before the ensemble plays it together. Finally, the hands on activities can be used by having the students pick out a piece and the conductor helps the find recordings and history.

In conclusion, I believe students will learn best under the influence of three teaching strategies: lecture method, independent discovery, and hands on activities. Under instruction, structured in this manner, I believe students will be able to gain more knowledge, and have better experiences than under other structures. Students, taught this way, will not only be given a varied teaching style, but will also acquire an understanding of how to learn the way they are taught. This makes them more marketable to colleges and companies.


Works Cited

Labuta, Joseph A. and Deborah A. Smith. Music Education: Historical Contexts and

Perspectives. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997





Winter Term 2007

I'm gonna continue putting stuff I've already done up here for a while so just be ready to read long stuff. If you're really lazy you could always skim but I think most of it is pretty worth the read.
Here is my Winter Term Proposal for WT '07

Producing A Marching Show:

Drill Design and Music Arranging

By: Christopher J. Simerman Jr.

Advisor: Dr. Craig Pare, School of Music



During the course of this Winter Term project, an entire marching band show will be developed. Everything from conception, through development will be studied and executed. The music will be arranged for a specified ensemble size and individual parts will be made available. The drill that corresponds to the music will be written and will be accompanied by instructions for execution. And a general concept for the choreography to be used in the show will be produced; including group horn flashes, group dance moves, group ripples, and entrances and exits by the battery and guard.

I decided on this course of study for Winter Term because of many factors. First, I was in marching band in high school and I loved it. Our band director at the time wrote his own drill and worked with the color guard director on choreography. It was great to have the drill writer present during the learning process to interpret his ideas and reword them as needed. Also, the last two years I have worked with marching bands. I have spoken with a few drill writers, and I have fallen in love with the art of taking audible music and creating a visual experience that not only complements the music, but expresses it. I aspire to be a band director, especially to work with marching bands, and learning to write drill and arrange music will not only be a valuable tool and a convenience for my students, but it will also make me more marketable when I finish college and go to look for a job.

I am looking forward to learning the skills required to write an effective marching show. There are so many things that go into writing a show and creating the finished project that I love, but I don’t know how to go about creating that finished project and I hope to learn, not only how to write a marching show, but how to write an effective show. While in high school, I would sometimes listen to music and wonder what a marching band would look like while playing that music. By doing this Winter Term project, I will be able to bring my ideas to fruition.

In order to make this project a reality I have already begun to prepare. I have picked out the music I would like to use, and I have gathered recordings. From the music I picked out I came up with the order of the music, as well as a title for the show. I have also talked with current drill writers about how they get their ideas and how they go about writing the drill. In addition to the experience I had during my high school years, watching and participating in marching band, I have also watched video of past marching band shows. From these videos I have gotten some ideas of how forms unfold and morph during different types of music.

But this alone isn’t enough to help me prepare for this project. I also plan to watch more videos, while actively taking notes; sketching forms that I like, noting group movements that are effective, and watching how the battery and guard are integrated. Taking note of forms that I like will act as a spring board from which I can write my drill. I believe, from my observations thus far, that effective drill writing is more about how it’s put together than originality. I have found many books on marching band, and I plan on reading excerpts from many different sources. Books on marching band, drill writing, music arranging, and choreography will all be helpful. Sampling as many of these texts as I can will provide me with a varied perspective on how to put it together. It will also keep me from developing a biased view of what is best, by absorbing several view points, I can pick and choose the parts that I like and the parts that I don’t.

In addition to watching videos and reading books on marching band, I also have to solidify some details for the project itself. The first thing I have to do is to take the music I want to use and cut it down so that the total amount of music doesn’t exceed nine minutes. This must be done carefully so that the music flows, the chord progressions make sense and the music doesn’t lose its effectiveness. To be able to arrange the music I plan to use, it will be helpful to have full scores of the music. From now until Winter Term, I will begin to acquire scores of the music and make notes as to where I might make the cuts. Once I have decided on the cuts for the music, I will listen to the music and try to envision what it could look like on the marching field, and sketch forms down that seem to fit. This will provide me with a beginning to the writing I will do come Winter Term.. Finally, I must decide on a size and makeup for the band. This will be done in conjunction with my advisor. We will list several very large ensembles, and several small ensembles, and find and appropriate middle ground from which my hypothetical marching band can be created.

All of this is key to the learning goals of this project. There are two main goals, which encompasses many smaller goals for this project. First, I will learn how to write and arrange music effectively for a marching band. To accomplish this goal, I must gain a basic understanding of how the instrument voices sound, their various colors and transpositions. This I will have accomplished by the end of the current semester because I am currently in Orchestration, and we are covering all this material. Also, I must learn the basics of part writing and score writing. I will cover some of this in Orchestration, but I will also need to study scores and do some reading in order to make sure I put the music together into one cohesive unit. Finally, I need to write the music to my marching show, as a final practice of what I have learned.

My second learning goal is to learn how to write effective marching drill. To accomplish this, I will need to accomplish several smaller goals first. First, I need to make note of popular drill designs, and the typical types of formations. Although the show is built from my mind, it is important to understand what others do, and what seems to impress marching judges. Second, I need to develop a method to go about writing the drill. To do this, I need to read various materials on marching band, and drill writing; to familiarize myself with what others believe is the way to go about crafting effective drill. Finally, I need to write the drill for the marching band show I am planning. This will prove that I can write effective drill.

In order to accomplish all of this in the relatively short time span that Winter Term offers, it is important to have a time table laid out. There are twenty-six day for Winter Term, and this allows me to spend six days on each of the four movements of my marching show. Right now I have planned to spend the first three days writing and arranging the music, and the second three days will be for writing the drill that corresponds to the music I wrote. Twice a week throughout Winter Term, I will also meet with Dr. Pare, and a current drill writer named Eric Berger. Dr. Pare will be helping me with a little of everything, and will be providing his expert opinion on the music. Eric Berger will be helping me with the drill and providing me with hints and tricks for writing the drill. I will also be posting my drill onto the web through the drill writing program. This will allow Eric and Dr. Pare to look at my progress at any given time. This also provides me with an opportunity to get feedback for many different sources. I plan on asking several students, both college and high school, as well as a couple high school directors for their opinion. I will be using their opinion for broad topics, and Dr. Pare and Eric Berger for the details as well as broad topics.

Once I have finished, I plan to have a presentation that features my marching band show. I will setup a projector and speakers, so that I can play my show for anyone and everyone to hear. I will also include a short presentation on the steps I took in order to accomplish the writing of this show. This presentation will cover how and why I picked the music, the hardest part of writing a show, comments from others on the show, as well as a time for questions. My presentation will be accompanied by a display board. On this board I will include; copies of hand written drill, musical outlines, pictures, hand written notes, and articles used. I will also talk to Dr. Pare about the possibility of having the DePauw University Band, record a performance of the music that I arranged.

This project will be a lot of work. I will most likely spend at least ten hours a day, six days a week working on it. But the final product is something that I will always remember, and that will be infinitely useful to me. By completing this project, I will be able to make myself more marketable after college when I am looking for a teaching job. And I will also be able to sell myself as a music arranger and/or a drill writer to high school band directors. Besides the career opportunities this opens up for me, I will feel that I have accomplished something. I have always loved marching band, and to be able to fully understand, and create, a marching show will be an experience I will never forget.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Secondary General Music Classes

So my first entry is something I put together for my portfolio submission. We did a brain storming assignment and this is the expanded version of what I cam up with.


Assignment:

You are in charge of creating your own secondary general music classes. You have three class periods and your classes are on a two-year rotation. You have complete creative control for this assignment. You can choose to make your classes any length (nine week, semester, year, etc.) and these classes can be for any level of musical experience.

Class 1 - Three classes over two years that build upon each other. The first two

classes are semester long classes followed by a yearlong

class. This set of classes is designed to be for students

of any musical experience. The classes are structured

as follows:

Beat It! - Move It! - Make It!


Beat It!

This class is designed to be accessible to anyone, but is easily accessible to those with no musical experience. This course is designed to allow students to explore many different sounds and to discover that music can be found anywhere. The students will use any items that can be obtained to create sounds by striking, dropping, or throwing them. As the semester progresses, the students will be required to write down their favorite ideas. Also during the semester, the students will watch other groups that also perform on makeshift instruments to get some ideas. And at the end of the semester, the students will put on a performance without any musical notation. This performance could just be video taped for the class or could be in front of an audience, that would be decided by the class.

The goals of this class would be to teach some basic notation. As the students start to need to write their ideas down, notation becomes a needed subject. Pitches would not be emphasized unless it becomes necessary. Students will also learn the basics of improvisation. They learn to start with known rhythms, and then to create rhythms on the spot from a synthesis of know rhythms. Finally, students would learn about putting on a performance, and they would have to evaluate their performance from a video made of them doing their final project.


Move It! (prerequisite: Beat It!)

This class follows Beat It! and continues with the concepts learned but begin to add movement to beats that the students create. They will not begin to move while playing until about halfway through the semester. The beginning focus of the class will be to continue to create music while half the class moves to the music. Students will be encouraged to explore as many different types of movement, as well as contrasting their movement with the style of music. As the class progresses students will be taught various styles of dance and will learn about some basic choreography techniques. The goals of this class will be to teach the students a little history of dance, to teach the students various styles of dance, and to get the students comfortable with planning movements to music.

The class also would further develop past concepts.


Make It! (prerequisites: Beat It! and Move It!)

The third and final class in this series is a full year long and combines the principles found in the previous classes plus adds a few new elements. The end goal of the class will be to develop a variety show that includes fast and slow music as well as many different dance styles, synthesized however the students visualize. The new element in all this is that the students also learn about the different elements of the stage. They will explore every aspect of the stage from curtains, to lighting to sound. The students will also learn about set designing and set building. Intertwined with all this will be a history of the stage and all its components. The goal of this class would be to design and execute successful stage productions. The class also would further develop past concepts.


Class 2 - Three classes over two years that build upon each other. The first two

classes are semester long classes followed by a year

long class. This set of classes is designed to be for

students of any musical experience, but it is geared

to those that already have some musical experience.

The classes are structured as follows:

Theory/Composition I - Theory/Composition II - Composition Styles


Theory/Composition I

This is a one-semester class designed to be available for anyone, but it is geared to those students that are already into music. This class will teach a basic understanding of theory; note reading, triads, sevenths, and inversions. While learning this basic theory, students will be shown examples of what they are learning from real music, everything from classical to contemporary. Students will also be shown examples of what they are learning in music that is found on the radio making this a very applicable course for students.

Also mixed with this course will be elements of composition. Students will be taught the basic rules of composition and will be given assignments that correspond with the theory that they are learning. At the same time they will have one project that they constantly expand and modify and toward the end of the semester they will be encouraged to finish the piece and the piece will be performed by available performers and will be recorded.

Theory/Composition II (prerequisite: Theory/Composition I)

This is a continuation of Theory/Composition I and is designed to follow the same pattern as the previous class. The main difference is the theory content; special chords, voicing, form, analysis, and transposition.


Composition Styles (prerequisites: Theory/Composition I & II)

This class is a two-semester course designed to teach the histories and styles of composition. The students will also learn about the various instruments and ensembles and how they fit together. The first semester is dedicated to the intensive learning of all this as well as going to rehearsals and performances of professional ensembles. Also, the students will compose small pieces many of the styles that are discussed. The second semester is for the students to use a few styles of writing and then to compose a full piece. The students will pick a few styles that they want to write for, then they will pick an ensemble they want to write for, and they will spend the rest of the semester writing their piece. At the end of the semester the students will have their pieces performed and recorded. The final project will be a CD compilation of all their pieces.

Class 3 - Four classes over two years that are completely independent of each other.

The first three classes are designed to give students a

basic understanding of instruments that can either be

rhythmic or melodic. The fourth class is designed for

students of some musical interest or who have taken

one of the previous classes. The classes are structured

as follows:

Percussion - Piano - Guitar - Jam On!


Percussion

This class is one semester and teaches all the basics of the percussion family. The students will start on non-pitched instruments, then move to mallet instruments, and finally to the drum set and various toys. The students will play in various ensembles and learn some improvisation techniques on the various instruments with the intent on being able to play in another ensemble as a rhythm instrument.


Piano & Guitar

These two classes are each a semester long as well. Students will learn beginning playing techniques. They will begin with single note melodies then will move to chords. The students will also learn about chord structures and basic accompaniment techniques with the emphasis on being able to play as an accompaniment instrument or a melody instrument in a smaller ensemble.

Jam On! (prerequisite: some musical experience or Percussion, Piano, or Guitar)

This final class is designed to help student with performing prepared and improvised music. The students will be taught how to work together to improvise music based on a set form, and also how to plan out chord progressions and create melodies out of chord progressions. The goal of this course is to develop the ability to be creative musicians. So that when the students are on their own they can still create music.

Friday, December 15, 2006

My (first) Philosophy of Music Education

“No one will doubt that the government should direct it’s attention above all to the education of youth…” (pg.10, Mark)

Education is an integral part of the American society, and has been since its founding. But since the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth Rock, educators have debated on what should be taught in public schools. Every educator has personal beliefs which influence the way he/she teaches. From these personal beliefs comes his/her philosophy of education.

Education doesn’t just happen inside a classroom. From parents to teachers, the entire community is involved in the education of children. Everything from the environment that a child lives in, to the way he/she is spoken to influences his/her education. Basic common sense, and other “hidden curriculum” mostly outside the classroom, but can be picked up from a students surroundings. Formal education provides a level starting point from which all kids may start from. Thus, formal education has a better opportunity to reach its specific goals.

The goal of formal education is to sustain and encourage the growth of society (pg. 41, Labuta). Society is sustained because each generation learns the customs and traditions of its predecessors. Yet it continues to grow because each generation’s knowledge starts with what the previous generation knew. Without formal education, this passing on of knowledge would still happen, but it wouldn’t encourage the same growth because when information is passed on by word of mouth, it can be incomplete, distorted, or even forgotten, as illustrated by the game “telephone” played by kids. When this happens, each generation isn’t able to start where the last left off because some information must be relearned.

Formal education is also a key element in exposing students to many different disciplines. When students are allowed to experience many different subjects, they become well-rounded, and are better able to find their strengths and weaknesses. Exposure helps students become familiar with all fields, even those in which they decide not to pursue a career. It also helps spark curiosity in several different areas. This curiosity can lead to career choices. Developing skills in multiple subjects makes students more attractive to colleges. It also helps students become more comfortable in society.

By allowing each generation to build on the knowledge of all the generations before it, we are able to better our society. Whether the information is passed on by rote or by public schooling, each student learns skills essential to becoming a contributing member of society. Formal education introduces students to many different subjects, which allows them to make informed decisions about their career choices as well-rounded citizens, rather than being ignorant and making uninformed decisions. In doing so, educators have helped create another generation of informed citizens.

Music education is just as important as formal education to our society. Plato believed that in a state of nature, or ideal state, education of citizens included, and even emphasized, music and the arts (pg.5, Mark). Among all the art forms, music was the fist instituted in the public school system (pg.35, Birge).

Music education is important for many reasons. Like formal education, music education enhances our knowledge about our heritage and culture. In every culture, there is some kind of music, whether written or not, it is an integral part. Like history, cultural music is passed on through the generations. It is also important when learning about other cultures. A well-rounded student will know, not just a culture’s history, but also their music, which is unique to every culture. Sometimes cultural music varies within itself.

“Music is the best cordial to a person in sadness; it soothes, quickens, and refreshes the heart” (pg.31, Mark)

Music helps students express themselves where it would otherwise be difficult to. Because of this, music has the ability to improve the quality of student’s lives. Music is also a means of communication, one of the few that is understood world wide. Through music, students can communicate sadness, joy, or even anger. All students should be given this opportunity to connect with others on a different level. Without music, students would have a void within themselves that couldn’t be filled by other things.

Since President Washington, every president has had something to say about music in public education (pg.65, Mark). Bill Clinton said, “Learning improves in school environments where there are comprehensive music and arts programs.” And George Bush stated that, “Education prepares children for a lifetime of learning and enriches their quality of life…arts instruction is…a major building block in school curriculums.” (pg.65, Mark) Every one from Plato to George Bush has had an opinion, whether it be for or against, on education. Clearly, music and formal education are closely intertwined. Both encourage the growth of students by providing positive learning situations in which students are exposed to many different situations. When music and formal education are combined, a well-rounded and knowledgeable citizen is developed. Most importantly, both music and formal education aim at sustaining and encouraging the growth of society.