Category Archives: Music

Junior High Choir

I got to substitute four days of jr. high choir in March. I have developed a new admiration for jr. high choir teachers.

I felt like I was performing on stage for 4.5 hours each day. The classes were huge and unlike in band where the students are looking at their instruments or their music, there was nothing between me and the students, no desks, no music stands. I didn’t realize how comforting a protection those simple objects were. Performing onstage doesn’t normally bother me, but that length of time was very draining. The longest performances I’ve participated in were about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Because of the size of the room it was impossible to keep all the students in my view at the same time. Some of the choirs had over fifty students. I was constantly turning my head back and forth to watch them. I don’t think this a big issue in college, community or even high school choirs, but in junior high, when students aren’t watched they tend to talk.

When they watched me and were singing it was thrilling. I especially enjoyed conducting the women’s chorus, made up of mostly ninth graders.

How long have I been playing violin?

The teacher who wrote the musical, that I conducted the pit orchestra for, asked me after one of the performances, “How long have you been playing the violin?”

I answered. “Two years.”

She looked at me funny, “I thought you had played forever?”

I shook my head. “I’m a flute teacher. I’ve played the flute forever, but I’m a violin beginner.”

She was surprised because I arranged the music for the orchestra and seemed to know what to do with the violinists.

I found that being a beginner was helpful in arranging the violin parts for the elementary students. I didn’t write parts that I couldn’t play.

It was fun that she thought I had played the violin for longer than I had played. Though if she had ever heard me play violin, she would have known I was a beginner.

Conducting! Yeah!

If you had told me last fall that I’d be conducting several groups in the spring. I wouldn’t have believed you.

December 2012 I offered to help an elementary school teacher by doing the music for the musical. She agreed to the idea of letting me do music arrangements so we could have a pit orchestra. She wrote original lyrics to several folk songs and then I took the piano parts and turned them into orchestrations, some for band only and a few for full orchestra. (The grand finale and the overture)

In January she asked me to lead the pit orchestra rehearsals. I led the first rehearsal and then the elementary school’s orchestra teacher volunteered to help the strings. She took them for about a month and taught them the string only songs while I worked with the band on the band-only songs. The orchestra teacher also did the arrangements for the string-only songs, which was a huge help. We split the songs, because learning ten pieces of music was a lot for beginning orchestra and band students.

In mid-February we put the groups back together with me conducting the full pit orchestra. We rehearsed the group numbers for about four rehearsals and then we added the chorus. At the end of March we had our four performances. I had so much fun conducting the elementary pit orchestra. They practiced hard and played great at the performances.

We even had to recruit some fourth graders to fill in for percussionists who were characters onstage part of the time. I and the sixth grade percussionists got to train them over about one month. I had a little too much fun writing percussion parts and they were scrambling to get all the instruments played at the right time.

During this time I also got to conduct some junior high choirs as a substitute teacher. Choir was very different from the pit orchestra. I love conducting.

Conducting an Orchestra helps my Violin Intonation

I’m getting to the part where I need to practice more, my violin progress is getting bogged down. With the musical rehearsals in February and March, I haven’t gotten much practice in. My violin teacher noticed an improvement in my intonation after I spent three days conducting the pit orchestra in rehearsals. I guess listening intently to the elementary school players and correcting wrong notes helped my pitch.

I’m getting to the point where I have a gut feeling if there are wrong notes being played, but I can’t always tell what section they are in. When I have each string section play separately then I can find the notes and fix them.

Lessons Go On

I’ve been taking lessons for fifteen months now. Slurring with a bow instead of tonging feels more natural now.

It’s easy for me to sight-read. My years of playing other instruments really helps in this area.

I’m starting to learn shifting. There’s nothing like shifting in flute playing. It’s like using a capo on guitar. I use shifting when I play piano, but on violin there are no black keys to use as guide posts while I’m sliding my left thumb around. I have to memorize the muscle movements.

In June I moved off my student 3/4 violin, to my newly repaired full-sized violin. The repaired instrument is a student violin owned by my great-grandfather. It was purchased before 1945 because it says “Made in Germany.” I don’t know what year it was manufactured. It has a richer sound then my 3/4, but all the spacing is different. I’m still having trouble placing my right hand’s fourth finger far enough down the neck. Sometimes my D’s on the G-string and my B’s on the E string are a little flat.

I enjoy playing violin, it feels so different from flute, clarinet or piano. I especially enjoy the challenge of sight-reading new music that’s at my level and seeing how quickly I can progress. I wish I had more time to practice.

Starting Suzuki Violin Lessons

I started my ten-year-old in Suzuki Violin October 2010, my five-year-old also wanted to start so she began November 2010. I was feeling left out so I started in June 2011.

I’m a Suzuki Flute teacher and active in my state Suzuki music teacher group, so I’ve observed violins in joint recitals since 1998.

It’s easier to teach an instrument then be a Suzuki parent. As a teacher I get paid to work with a student for a short time each week. As a parent I have to pay her (my now six-year-old) to focus and work with me on practicing. My eleven-year-old practices independently, but she finds it tough to stay motivated when she meets a new challenge on violin.

I love playing the violin. It’s much easier for me to memorize on violin then on flute. The finger patterns make more intuitive sense. More fingers down equals a higher note. I played on the spring recital, it was strange to feel nervous and not have to worry about having shaky air support!

Beginning Band 2

The flutists were doing great, so the band teacher had me move to clarinets, which I’ve played for a while. New clarinet students have it much easier than flutists. Getting the first sounds on a clarinet takes less trial and error than on flute.

The last four times I’ve gone I’ve worked with trumpets, which is a whole new experience. Since I’ve been going I’ve learned the fingerings for middle c, d, e, f, and g. I can’t play the notes, I don’t have a trumpet, but I play along with the clarinet. (The clarinet plays the same notes as trumpet and doesn’t have to transpose.)

It’s fascinating to watch the learning process on a completely different instrument. I’ve taught flute for years, but both trumpet and clarinet have different challenges for the beginner.

On flute the hardest part, for a beginner is figuring out how to place the flute on your lip and blow to get a good sound.

On clarinet out of a class of about ten only one had a hard time producing a sound and it was only because they were blowing too hard and tensing their lips so the reed couldn’t vibrate enough.

On trumpet the biggest challenge is finding the right note, because you can play many notes that have the same fingering, but you have to figure out how to shape your lips and air to get the fifths and octaves.

Beginning Band

I’m working with a group of ten flute students. They’re fifth graders at a local elementary school. I’ve missed working with a group of music student over the summer. They are so excited about playing their new instruments, and they want to know everything. The trick is balancing how much to teach them and how fast. I want them to master the notes they already know before adding more.

The band book they are in starts with middle range D, C, and Bb. The D to C note changing is the hardest set of notes to switch between on the flute, every finger except the left hand pinky switches up for down, or down for up. Today I taught them B, A, G to go with the first three notes. Most of the group were able to play Hot Cross Buns with the new notes (BAG) with about ten minutes of practice. It took them all of last week to get Hot Cross Buns with the notes D, C, and Bb. They had to go home and practice.

I wish that beginning band books started with BAG for the flutes first notes, instead of starting with D. The fingering is less complicated.

Find joy in the little steps of progress you make each day, then returning to practice the next day becomes easier.