Monday, March 23, 2015

Thoughts on Vibrato

For a few years, I have experimented with various strategies and techniques to introduce and develop students' vibrato. On the whole, I feel vibrato is taught too late in string sequencing. The one element that most interferes with students' success is a sub-par shoulder rest. When the shoulder rest is not adequate, the left hand/arm becomes a kickstand more than a functional mechanism for musicality. My students with foam shoulder rests (for example) are least effective in both learning and executing a quality vibrato. Consequently, the mobility necessary for vibrato is locked. Walking around one day helping a student who said, "I just cannot get this!" I slightly elevated their scroll so it was disengaged from the left hand. Suddenly this student was miraculously able to do a fantastic vibrato motion. Illustrating for students the importance of a quality shoulder rest is vital! 

We teach students block hand shape to develop muscle memory and fingerboard geography; however, this develops two habits that can be difficult to reverse. The first is the adhesion of the index finger to the neck of the instrument (particularly for violin and viola) that makes vibrato next to impossible. The second is the difficulty associated with keeping multiple fingers down during a vibrato-ed pitch. Most frequently, the index finger is disengaged from the neck and elevated like one is pointing toward the sky. It would seem most effective to codify the mental map of the fingerboard (through the Ionian pentacle on each string) during the first year and teach chromatic alterations and the use of single-fingers during the second year. Disengage the index finger! 

Variable speed within the vibrato motion is important, to meet the demands of the music. The standard practice using a metronome to assist in "metering" the motion and increasing speed is a great tool; however, it feels sooooooooooo dull. Throw some Richard Simmons on YouTube for a more entertaining tempo reference - the kids love it. True Story: I have had an entire class of well-respecting students clear the stands and chairs to join in the motions for at least 5 minutes. It was a proud moment in my teaching career. 

Another idea is to increase vibrato speed through a crescendo. This trains the hand (and brain) that long notes are not "dying" notes but "thriving" notes. Playing long tones (whole notes) at 60BPM provides a chance to develop "vibrato gears" to shift between. From this you can develop a common language for students to assign vibrato intensity to (1) each piece, (2) sections throughout the piece, and (3) individual notes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Standards: Sure! But Which Ones?!

My colleague and I are working to overhaul the 6-12 Course of Study for the orchestra department. With revisions to Ohio's State Standards (2012) and National Core Arts Standards (2014) an update is critical. The existing Course of Study, developed 12-15 years ago is not current, and best-practices have changed with regard to standards and assessment. Additionally, there was no (1) teacher, (2) student, (3) parent, nor (4) administrator friendly version that could be used "in the trenches."

We find ourselves overwhelmed with Standards. Particularly in their perceived incompatibility with each other. Do we use the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) Curriculum? Do we use the 2012 Ohio Department of Education Music Standards? Do we use the NEW National Core Arts Standards? Do we combine them all? How do we do that?! Do we model our curriculum after another model district? ... or do we become the model district? 

After attending a professional development conference, we decided to ditch them all - for the time being anyway. Why?

1. We found the ASTA curriculum, while excellent, to be very cumbersome. 
2. We found the ODE Music Standards to be off the mark, and lacking specificity for orchestra.
3. We found the National Core Arts Standards to also lack necessary specificity, though this was intentional for the breadth of ensembles under the umbrella category of "Traditional and Emerging." 

As a result, we are developing a composition- and skills-based curriculum. The rationale is that by using this approach we establish the (1) process-orientation of the National Core Arts Standards, (2) the specificity aimed by the ODE standards, while making the means through which we achieve our desired end a (3) string-specific curriculum. 

Stay tuned for more!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflections from IMEA (2015)

On February 16 & 17, I had the privilege of presenting at the Indiana Music Education Association's annual Professional Development Conference. This convention was held in Ft. Wayne, and provided an opportunity to learn from and meet some great educators. My session was entitled 'The Power of Story: Enhancing Your Program,' and summarized some of the efforts, principles and frameworks that have helped increase the Gahanna Orchestra Department's participation levels by 116% and elevate the average retention rate to 78% in six years. There was time at the end where attendees shared their own successes.

I was fortunate to attend two sessions by Bob Phillips, one of the foremost string educators in the country. While the information on the provided handouts were familiar ideas, I knew that the real gems would be when he shared his experiences and impromptu recollection of pedagogical tips and tricks used throughout the years. The margins on my copies are filled to the brim with ideas and actionable steps to implement in GJPS.

At his session about the Double Bass, I was fortunate to meet David Murray (Professor of Double Bass at Butler University). David is a former student of Gary Karr. THE GARY KARR. His musicianship, performance history and curriculum vitae are equally impressive! After a great lunch with both he and Soo Han (in addition to some of his current and former colleagues), we are planning for David to visit Gahanna Lincoln H.S.!

Many thanks to the GJPS Administration for providing coverage on Friday, February 16th while I traveled and presented. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reflections from the State Board of Education (Nov/Dec 2014)

For the past two months (November/December), I had the privilege of attending the Ohio State Board of Education meetings to provide testimony on behalf of Ohio's students.

In the 1980's, language in the Operating Standards mandated that schools in the state hire 5 of 8 full time positions; including: counselor, library media specialist, school nurse, visiting teacher, social worker and elementary art, music and physical education. This came to be known as the Ohio 5 of 8 Rule ("Rule") and the individuals staffed for these positions were defined as "Educational Service Personnel" ("ESP"). At the time, there was a funding formula that (basically) incentivized districts to provide these services. With the redaction of that funding formula, the Rule has been without enforcement for a number of years. Additionally, with an increased demand for local control in the political arena, districts throughout the state (to my understanding) have advocated for a language change to this rule. Such a language change would allow the flexibility to provide services to schools/districts through partnerships with local and county entities. For example, board members shared the following scenario: "If a school, particularly a small one, is across the street from a county hospital, should they not have the flexibility to cost-share?"

Below you will find (1)(2) my testimonies, advocating for language change within the Rule to place music, art and physical education alongside other core academic content areas, (3) the amended language, which I feel is an improvement to the previous language, (4) my emails to Ron Rudduck, chair of the Operating Standards committee, following a phone conversation, and (5) my email to Debra Terhar, president (at the time) of the SBOE.

This conversation is just beginning. Zip code should not determine Arts programming, no more than Math and Science. Per my December testimony, the most fundamental language change that needs to occur is the inclusion of "elementary music, art and physical education" into a listing of credentialed staff and explicitly name it alongside other content areas.

Many thanks to Tim Katz (Executive Director of the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education), Michael Collins (SBOE) and Ron Rudduck (SBOE) for their work and collaboration to develop the amended language.

I am deeply grateful to the Gahanna Jefferson Public School's Administration and Board for their support, for allowing me to advocate for what is best for Ohio's students.

(1) November SBOE Testimony
(2) December SBOE Testimony 
(3) Amended Language (via OAAE Statement)
(4) Email to Mr. Rudduck

Mr. RudduckThank you for the opportunity to speak with you the other day. The new language has much strength and provides more flexibility (local control) for districts, with regard to "social services" (e.g., nurses, social workers, counselors, etc.). While we are both in agreement that the protection of core academic content areas (e.g., music, art, and physical education) is a larger discussion, I do believe the SBOE can provide the necessary guidance without creating an unfunded mandate or relinquishing local control. 
This afternoon, I was considering what could be added to the K-12 Operating Standards that met the current agenda: (1) not creating unfunded mandates, and (2) providing local control. The italicized language below, I feel, is a step in the right direction to (1) provide a guideline for districts, (2) acknowledge the academic nature and value of these curricular areas [though the classroom environments are different from other content], (3) explicitly state what many on the State Board have expressed,  and (4) support neuroscience and current research in this arena. 
The language also supports the amended Rule 01 and 05.  "Lifelong participation in the Fine Arts and Physical Education provide innumerable cognitive and noncognitive benefits. It is an expectation by the Department of Education and the State Board of Education that curricular courses (with approved state and national standards) in music, art and physical education be provided at each level of education (Pre-K-12) to all Ohio’s students."

Please let me know your thoughts.

All the best,Kevin Dengel 

(5) Email to President Terhar: 

Mrs. Terhar,
It was wonderful speaking with you following Monday’s SBOE meeting. I appreciate the new language and the efforts by the Board and Tim Katz, because I believe it helps move this discussion in a productive direction. There are many elements in the amended language that appear stronger; however, I still do not understand why core curricular content areas (e.g., music, art and PE) are on the the list of ESP.  I shared with you the situation with middle school art in my own district, and while you said “they should be ashamed,” it did not protect this subject area when a financial decision was on the table. Music, Art and PE should NOT be included as ESP at any level, because it undermines the Ohio Graduation Requirements and the value system (seemingly) of many members of the SBOE. For example, when Tim Katz shared information about reduction/elimination of art(s) curriculum, you spoke up about protocols/systems in place for the (1) reduction of funding, (2) revocation of superintendent’s/principal’s licensure, etc. for these districts.
It would seem that you, and others, rightfully value Arts education in schools. If the Board is encouraging formal disciplinary action against these offending districts, principals and superintendents, then it would stand to reason that music, art and PE are too valuable to make optional and should thereby be codified into language.
There is still an opportunity to provide local control for the staff presented in (B) and (C) of Rule 01; however, music, art and PE should not be on this list - again, because they are core academic content areas of high-value. Both the previous and amended language do not protect these K-12 curricular areas from budgetary cuts, as evident in the 50+ schools OAAE has identified via ODE EMIS data. 
I would implore you and the Board to look at the language in both the ORC and the Operating Standards to see what could be done to ensure that all students in Ohio have opportunities for music, art and PE throughout grades K-12.Districts do not get an option to make Math (another core subject, like Music) available to its students. As I stated in my November testimony: the Operating Standards are a value system, and students of Ohio deserve to see music, art and PE alongside their other core academic subject areas in language and law. I plan on contacting the Ohio legislature, per your suggestion. I would love to speak with you further about this.
Lastly, hearing about your son's success in music was awesome! Music clearly had (and continues to have) an impact on his life - and yours. I would love to hear a recording of one of his performances! My address is at the footer of my December testimony, and I would welcome a CD via mail or MP3 via email.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Remind: Uses, Fears and the Future

Remind (formerly Remind101) has been gaining tremendous popularity in the past year - and for good reason. This platform is a must for faculty, teams, and large groups. Since first joining, the free service has continually made it easier for parents and students to sign up for "classes" and receive timely information.

Last autumn, I took the Gahanna Lincoln H.S. Orchestra to Chicago and we used Remind to communicate with students while on the buses, in the hotel and walking with chaperones downtown. This was invaluable tool to maintain a flow of time-sensitive information to the students. It also kept parents at home abreast of happenings while their students were away.

One of the many benefits of Remind is that students become "informants" to their peers who may not own a phone with text messaging features. This has improved accountability in various ways in my classes. In fact, if I happen to forget about my "Week at a Glance" reminder (sent on Sundays) I hear about it the next day from students. "Where was the text, Mr. Dengel?" What started as a courtesy, in some ways, has become an expectation. As more parents and students gain familiarity with this tool and an increased number of teachers begin utilizing this service in their communications, I do have a concern.

As educators, we must be cognizant not to become overzealous with Remind. Sending only the most vital information at appropriate times is critical: otherwise, this tool becomes a thorn in individuals' sides. Imagine for a moment that a student has seven teachers and one coach using Remind. If these teachers send one text each day during the work week (a bad idea in itself), the information housed within these 40 weekly messages would lose the attention and follow-through they deserve. Although students can receive hundreds of texts each day from their friends, receiving Reminds from teachers do not garnish the same appeal.

Be judicious in your Remind-ing, and be sure to also use other viable social networks to communicate.

While I am on that point: Facebook is dead to our students. Few use it. Too many "old people" have crashed the party. It's just not cool anymore. On the other hand, parents love it! Twitter is in the process of dying. Too many adults and teachers are using it for professional development and connecting with brands. Fellow "Old people," congrats! We've infiltrated another social media platform! Students have moved on to Instagram and others.

If we've learned anything, tech-interfaces change quickly. Indeed, a few years ago I thought texting was pointless. Just call someone for heaven's sake! Now students have "phone anxiety." It's true. And adults use it as a primary means to communicate with their busy children, students - and spouses. The question now is ... what is the future of Remind? How long will texting be around? What other interfaces are out there, and/or being developed? What would that even look like?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Process above Product: The NEW National Arts Standards

In July, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) released the new National Arts Standards (SEADAE, 2014). This revision of the National Standards of Arts Education (1994) is a sweeping and necessary overhaul to reflect today's learners and educators. The former standards provided music educators a framework that kept us accountable to teach within the comprehensive musicianship model of the 1960s, and not just the performance-based machine model.

One of the greatest advantages and hindrances to the performance classroom is 'the Concert.' While this is an authentic, project-based learning opportunity, it can leave students in the "teach to the test" hamster wheel if not consciously avoided by the educator- not unlike other content areas preparing for state assessments. Within the comprehensive musicianship model, we are most concerned that students go deep into the DNA of the piece and not just surface level understandings (accurate notes and rhythms). A culture stressing performance can fall into the trap of  elevating that element to a place first-importance, above other critical, and equally important artistic understandings (e.g., composition, improvisation, connecting repertoire to cultural and historical elements, etc.) 

The culture is difficult to change, because it is sometimes challenging for educators to completely shed the paradigms used when they were a student and formative educator, even though they are in efforts to utilize researched, best-practices in pedagogy. We see this also in the general population's comments regarding education, as individuals project their own experiences from school into the current educational landscape. The good news for these overhead projectionists is that much has changed in our schools and learning communities since the 1960s ... and even the 2000s. Heck, even last year! 

The new National Arts Standards will take some time to gain momentum. After 20 years of one framework, the new paradigm places greater emphasis on the process of creativity and not the product - thought still important. Although music educators often pontificate their classroom as a breeding ground for the development of 21st Century skills (including creativity), this is often a misnomer. Without intentional learning activities to fight against the "performance is king" mindset, much of the performance-based model is purely re-creational (after all, Mozart needs to sound like Mozart, not Brahms). Music educators must be cognizant of this easy trap and provide learning that equips students with skills and understandings beyond the current repertoire.

The 2014 "re-imaged" standards take students through the entirety of the creative process: Create - Perform - Respond - Connect, with subcategories in each. I anticipate this structural change to have major implications for the kind of student schools produce, if properly executed. I encourage you to take a moment to share these standards with your district's administrators and curriculum personnel. The website is exceptionally user friendly - Kudos to the developers.

Though we have increased the number of music standards from 9 to 11 (no, this is not a This is Spinal Tap reference), the strands equip students to deeply understand and connect with how the creative process unfolds in the real world. The standards state clear, yet intentionally broad, learning objectives that provide educators and students the necessary freedom to develop their own understandings and experiences (Marzano, 2009). 

I am looking forward to the journey and unpacking these standards for my students.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's time to rename your Volunteers.

I recently completed Denise Locker's The Volunteer Handbook: A guide for churches and non-profits. This quick read provides lots of great ideas for individuals desiring to start and/or improve one's volunteer program. Below are a few of the biggest take-aways from the book that will develop AMBASSADORS. 

1. Volunteers MUST have meaningful tasks, and they must know their IMPACT.

2. Take inventory (by involving all staff) of the needs of the organization that can be filled by volunteers.
3. Volunteers' hours can be equated to "gifts in kind" on organizations' tax forms.
4. Shirts worn by ambassadors become walking billboards for the organization.
5. Video newsletters are a great way to share "insider information with stakeholders.
6. All gifts and promotional items for volunteers must have the organizations name and logo.
7. Share great photos of your great volunteers (ambassadors) doing great things.
8. Seek feedback from ambassadors after events; "What did you think about the experience?"
9. "'s what the current volunteers say that matters most (p. 28). Ensure no negativity.
10. Volunteers can be advocates for volunteering. Invite them to speak at events.
11. Develop job descriptions which detailing expectations and responsibilities for volunteer positions.
12. "Volunteers come back because of interactions with others and the perception of meaningful contributions (p. 43)."
13. Nametags. Use them.
14. Create protocols for volunteers coordinators to ensure success at events.
15. The Four Thank Yous

  • Thank You upon arrival 
  • Thank You during 
  • Thank You after
  • Thank You follow up (see 8)
16. Look for individuals that have these leadership traits to be volunteer coordinators. 
  • Well-liked by volunteers and staff
  • Good communicator
  • Detail-oriented 
  • Servant's heart 
17. Develop an organizational structure/framework to define "chain of command." 
18. Find opportunities for others to discover and use their gifting. 
19. Nominate top-notch volunteers for the President's Volunteer Service Award.