Back to School!


After two glorious months of summer, it’s that time of year again.  I’m heading back into the classroom to mold another set of young minds!  In my eighth year teaching middle school general music, (amongst other things), I am feeling really optimistic about this fresh start.  I thought this would be a great time to write my first blog about my passion for teaching!

I have a dream job. I have a classroom full of iMacs with Logic on them, a closet full of hand drums and amps, a set of ukuleles and MIDI keyboards, and I’ve collected a set of guitars.  I get to teach everyone in my school who has opted out of band, orchestra, or chorus. Those who have not yet found their passion for music, or those who are so dedicated to their school work, that they don’t have the time to practice for an ensemble. My hope is to ignite a love of music and create informed listeners who know that they can use music as a form of self expression.  

With that goal in mind, over the last 8 years I’ve put together two separate curricular tracks that my kids can choose from: General Music and Music of the World.

In General music, my students spend a lot of time working with computers to learn about the elements of music, music production, music history and the paths of influence that lead to the music they listen to today. In Music of the World, my students and I explore the cultural musical styles from around the globe together, with an emphasis on West Africa and the Caribbean.

I have been incredibly lucky in my teaching career. I never knew the struggle of searching for a job, interviewing and doing demo lessons. I was lucky to have spent my first five years substitute teaching, as a daytime job while I toured and played locally at night.  When a position teaching middle school general music came up, I was lucky that I already knew the class well due to my experience subbing. I had already had the experience of inventing fun projects for the kids to get a handle on multi-track recording. I was lucky when the head of the arts department at the time believed in me and found a way for me to work as a permanent sub while I frantically collected 15 more credits and became certified.  I was even more lucky that, while in a month to month leave position, my district held my job for me while I went to Nashville for two months to record “Here’s to You” after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I really lucked out when they gave me the time I had spent as a permanent sub and on leave towards tenure, and now I am absolutely blessed to be tenured in the same district that I attended as a student.

This summer, I took a week to look back at all of my experience, all of the projects I’ve come up with, and brought it together into a three year curriculum for both the General Music and Music of the World tracks.   The tweaks I’ve made have got me so excited to start this year!  

First of all, everyone in all of my classes will be working for part of the year on a harmonic instrument of their choice, choosing from ukulele, guitar or piano and prepping for in class recitals.  (I get crazy for the recitals and black out the windows, bring in stage lighting, setup screens and audience seating, but I have seen some of these kids do amazing things! We spend a unit on it in every class, and I try to squeeze some practice time in between other units too.

In general music we’ll be working with MIDI to recreate genres and creating pieces from recorded sounds from their lives.  My older kids will be getting that chance to try their hand at songwriting, recording, and marketing an album. It’s a curriculum that few out of my personal experience songwriting, home recording, and marketing.

In Music of the World, we loosely follow the “World Music Drumming” curriculum by Will Schmidt, but We also dive into new cultures music styles whenever the kids are into it.  We spend most of the time working with West African and Caribbean rhythms, and arranging cover versions and songwriting in those styles, but based on the interest of the class, I’ve created units on Indonesian gamelan, Tibetan throat singing, Puerto Rican Bomba, Mexican Mariachi and Cumbia, Maori drumming and singing from the Islands of the pacific, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the world with my kids this year. As one of my teachers, Sowah Mensah said, “if you want to learn about a people, about a culture, just look at their music. It’s all there.”

So that’s basically what I’m up to for ten months of the year!  Now that you guys know the basics, I’ll write some more blogs about specific units, teachable moments and more.