Since coming back from my hometown of Maidstone on Sunday, I have been unable to shake off an overwhelming feeling of mixed emotions which are clearly of a result of getting together with so many musicians of all ages to celebrate the life of Jeffrey Vaughan Martin, who played such a key part in so many of Maidstone and Kent musicians’ music education. As I sat on the front desk (reunited with my front desk buddy and general idol from 22 years ago, Jo Johnson) ready to play Finlandia and Crown Imperial, everything from my MYMS days came flooding back.
I remember the first time I sat at the back of the 2nd violins in the Maidstone Youth Orchestra (part of the Maidstone Youth Music Society – MYMS, a musical linchpin of my youth), I didn’t really know what was going on. There was a woodwind and brass section behind me (I had never known this before) and I am not sure how many notes I really played in that rehearsal. I clearly found the whole thing really overwhelming, which reminds me of the new Year 7s and 8s when they come to Concert Band or Orchestra for the first time. Every week I played a bit more, watched and listened to all the older students around me (many of whom I completely revered) and by 1996 I became leader of the orchestra, and led for what was one of the most memorable tours of my life – Poland, Czech Republic and Berlin.
Every Friday night, Jeffrey would generally shout at us. Usually for talking too much (or throwing polos at the ‘cellos), but often doing is utmost to bring out the musicians in us. Over the years, we all became so fond of the “Jeffrey Repertoire”: Gadfly Suite, Soirées Musicales, Finlandia, Crown Imperial, Elgar Pomp and Circumstances and many more. As strings, Jeffrey introduced us to Handel’s huge output of Concerti Grossi, as well as Holst’s St Paul’s Suite. I will also never forget taking a Vivaldi Concerto for 2 violins on the 1996 tour and playing this with my then (and still) best friend, Sarah.
Alongside the musical memories, Friday nights were also a social high point for so many of us. We would all rush from school across town to Invicta Grammar School for Girls (massive rival school) and make a start separately as Strings and Wind Band at 4.45pm. We would break at 6pm and hang out in the school canteen (with a great tuck shop) together. So many musicians of all ages from different schools all coming together. Some firm friendships (and romances!) were made here and still remain strong (the romances not so much?!). At 6.30pm the strings and some of the woodwind, brass and percussion would then rehearse as the Maidstone Youth Orchestra until 7.45pm or thereabouts. Once we were old enough, socialising would continue into Maidstone town centre, where you would find many of us in Muggletons, Strawberry Moons, Gabriel’s or anywhere that would let us in.
A large proportion of us were also involved in Kent Centre for Young Instrumentalists and Kent County Youth Orchestra, also experiences which I am sure have had a huge impact on us all. All the music in which I was involved (I was also fortunate to have also grown up in a thriving school music department) in my formative years has certainly influenced the kind of musician and music teacher I am now. I would never pick out one as being ‘better’ or more influential than the others, but Jeffrey’s legacy in Kent Music is certainly special. Not only the founder of MYMS and numerous other groups and choirs, Jeffrey believed that music was for all. He set up music centres across the medway towns and set up free instrument schemes to support families who needed it.
For me, Jeffrey introduced me to a whole orchestral repertoire which I still call upon now when planning music for the school orchestra. In fact, having been rehearsing Walton’s Crown Imperial (arr. David Stone) ready for our school’s Easter concert, I sat down to the same arrangement on Sunday morning for Jeffrey’s memorial concert. The musical world he created for us all, I aspire to create for my own students. So it was with utter pleasure that I got to go back to Maidstone and offer my thanks and tribute in the most fitting way possible; a memorial concert for Jeffrey mastermind by Tommy Pearson. The moment I set foot into Mote Hall, the years fell away as I met up with some ex-MYMs players from my generation and from many others, both older and younger. United by one person, the event was emotional. Chatting to other people during the day, everyone had their own special memory of Jeffrey to tell. One viola player showed me her programme of the 1992 performance of Noye’s Fludde in Mote Hall. She had sung the role of Mrs Jaffett. I found my name in the programme – aged 12 in the Invicta Strings! Moments like this happened throughout the day to the 300 performers there, and the emotion and nostalgia we all shared was really quite gripping. As well as the orchestral works, the All Stars’ Wind Band’s rendition of Woolfenden’s Gallimaufry was heart-wrenching, and by the time we got to the West Malling Singers’ performance of As long as I have music and You raise me up, I (along many others) was in tears.
So whilst we met up in the saddest of circumstances, Jeffrey’s legacy will live on somehow in us all. He shaped my view on music education, introduced me to a wealth of music, and really demonstrated what it is to be passionate about music and how much he cared for us all. Thank you, Jeffrey and rest in peace.
I’ve always enjoyed giving students an online option to resources used in the classroom and making homework tasks and deadlines as clear as possible. In 2008 I set up the Beaumont Music Department Blog which is still going strong. Curriculum and extra-curricular information and resources are posted here, and students understand that they need to check here before coming to ask me an “unquality question.” My school has made some attempts into VLEs, and both times I have jumped on board and tried to use them. However, the downsides (as many will agree) to Serco (I think it was called this) and Frog were too many to overcome and too many to name here. Students didn’t love it and quite frankly, neither did I. But I tried, and the students tried but only because I persuaded them to, not because they wanted to.
Eventually, along with my colleague and now boss, Dave Guinane, we have been using the blog, Evernote, and a very cool app which Dave designed to manage students’ work. Of course, at KS4 and KS5 they still hand in work on paper, and that’s fine too. We have always known that it hasn’t been the perfect system, but it’s been close. There is a link to KS3 recordings from lessons on the blog, and feedback and “dialogue” (groan) all on the end of each recording. Boom. At KS4 and 5 however, I still found myself with a huge folder of stuff. Most of it is written or harmony work which needs marking which is fine, but then there are countless bits of paper with information like names of pieces for solo and ensemble performances, or music which needs to be scanned in for submission to examiners. It was manageable, but you know how life is, the fear of losing something really important was always there, and occasionally it happened.
Students can also post comments on the classroom. Whilst you may fear that they might take advantage, I have found that giving clear boundaries with clear sanctions for inappropriate comments deals with this issue. Students have posted questions for me or classmates.
New Year’s resolutions…
I don’t really like them, because I rarely stick to them and then I feel bad. Whilst trying to get to grips with the new Runkeeper app this morning (I know, it probably changed ages ago), I accidentally set myself a goal (I can’t even remember what it was) and then got really annoyed that I had. Whilst running, I pondered over why I was so annoyed. I think I have just realised that for every day life, I can’t keep setting goals and then not meeting them. I appreciate that targets/goals/resolutions can be motivational, but I’m not feeling it this year. I can’t keep beating myself up over things I don’t achieve, because I end up focussing on those, despite other achievements.
So this year, I have just decided that I might do more or less of certain things. It’s not measurable (for me, this is a new thing); I see them more as intentions as opposed to specific goals I MUST achieve in order to be a very good person.
This year I would like to do more of the following:
- regular exercise
- playing my violin
- read for pleasure
I propose to do less of the following:
- working late (less, not cut out entirely)
- eating chocolate and cake (as above)
- moaning about all the new year’s resolutions I haven’t kept
I think this is all pretty manageable, and if I don’t achieve some of these, I’ll just start again and try harder, which is fine. I’ll let you know this time how it’s gone this time next year.
Happy New Year.
This blog post has been on my todoist since the Summer, but I have just completed two book projects with my wonderful colleague, Dave Guinane. The first one, completed in September, is the new OCR GCSE Music Revision Guide published by Rhinegold. On Friday night (yes, we know how to party), over Google Docs (it was so much fun), Dave and I put the finishing touches to our first draft of 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: An Outstanding Music Department. Both books are due for publication in 2016, and you can pre-order the 100 Ideas by clicking here.
You will see on a few posts below that I blogged about a potential project for Year 12s for the summer term, and I wanted to share some highlights of the work I received from my students this year. The idea came from two dear friends, Gavin Plumley (writer and broadcaster) and Alastair Tighe (now deputy head of Bedford School). As well as the usual performances, analyses and information handouts, we asked for a multimedia presentation, mainly because we didn’t want the students to stand there awkwardly reading out their findings directly from a powerpoint. Below you will see two videos which I thought were pretty impressive. The student who worked on Tristan also grabbed a soprano in the year above and they had a go at performing the Liebestod which I thought was brave and impressive. The student who worked on the Schoenberg truly went on a journey of discovery. Having been desperate to do research on the Palestrina, he took on the Schoenberg with some reluctance really enjoyed what he found.
There’s now a lovely display in my classroom (photo to follow) with QR codes to relevant videos and performances, two of which are below. Enjoy!
“A chorale a week keeps the harmony doctor away!” I say sagely to my 6th form students every week (usually met with a groan – hopefully due to my amazing adaptation of this well known expression, not because they don’t like a chorale a week). I firmly believe that in order to teach 4-part harmony effectively, that you should get your students to sing through a chorale a week throughout the year. It doesn’t matter whether you make it to 2, 3 or 4 parts, or simply sing each line through, any kind of singing has its value in terms of internalisation, and analysis can start with key signatures and progress through to melodic shapes and chord progressions.
After your students have grasped the basics of 4-part (i.e. keys, chords, melodic shapes etc) ,then this is the perfect time to consolidate the learning, as well as beginning to develop aural skills, for their own musicianship, but also if you know you have dictation in your listening paper at A2. The following game ensures that all students participate, listen and internalise, and combine all this with their knowledge of 4-part harmony.
Before you start:
Put the class into groups/teams. 4 per team is ideal, but obviously it depends on your size of class. A spread of SATB voices is desirable, but again, this depends on your class. You will have prepared them for singing by “A chorale a week” so they should be happy to use their voices.
Set up a keyboard with headphones (ideally the number of headphones should be the same as the number of teams). You will play a melodies through this to each team member.
Take a phrase (or two!) from a reasonably simple chorale (i.e. easy key, not too many passing notes). Label the SATB lines 1-4 randomly.
Step 1: Give the students the key, starting note of each melodies 1-4 (not necessarily at the same pitch) and indicate any other points of note (eg. crotchet anacrusis etc)
Step 2: one student from each groups comes up to the keyboard to “fetch” a melody. They are not allowed anything on which to write. You play them melody 1 (for example the bass line, but an octave above) twice.
Step 3: The student then dashes back to his/her group and sings as much of the melody as they can remember. The others try and write it down.
Step 4: The next student then comes up for either the same melody or the next melody, depending on how much they have been able to write down. Again, twice only. Sometimes you can combine this with a member from another team coming up, sometimes not, just play it by ear. Don’t forget to vary the pitch of 2 or 3 of the melodies so that the students don’t just guess which part it is due to its register.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 as many times as it takes for the teams to get all the melodies. EVERYONE must go up and the must take turns.
Ban the use of the keyboard until things are getting a little desperate or you are running out of time!!
Once the group has all four melodies written down, then they need to decide which melody is soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The first group to write out the chorale, sing as many parts as they can (together) are the winners.
It’s up to you how you mange the remainder of the game. As the extension, the winning group could do some analysis of chords at the cadence, and also justify why they think each melody belongs to each voice part.
The memorising aspect is a good way of encouraging the students to try to memorise a whole phrase, not just note by note. It also encourages them to assess how they try to memorise melodies, and how effective they are. The ability to reproduce the phrase to their peers is also telling in terms of how well they have internalised the melody. I played this with a group of approximately 50 music teachers at John Finney’s NAME Eastern Region Conference in 2013, and the results were fascinating. Most teachers complained that they weren’t allowed to write anything down at the time of hearing the melody and became preoccupied with writing each and every note down, that they forgot to think the phrase as a whole. They acknowledged that had they not been so busy being cross about not being able to write, they could have probably been more efficient and successful at the “fetching” part.
I think that the benefits of this game are clear, as well as engaging the students in a slightly different activity. I have played this 3 times with AS class this year. The 2nd time, I created sound files of me and my colleague playing a variety of instruments (apologies for the quality – some of them were our Grade1athon instruments!), and also formalised the game with a worksheet. The resources can be found below, as well as the number of the chorale used (Riemenschneider).
I have also included some videos of the first game, and can only apologise for my hilarious 6th formers who are posing at the back of the winning group’s sing through.
Click below for resources for the Harmony Game:
Videos of the game in action:
Feel free to contact me if you want more details: @myhanhdoan @BeaumontMusic
Those of you who teach 6th form might be wondering what you will do with your Year 12s when they return shortly after half term. There are always discussions on social media with a variety of suggestions including composition and performance workshops (great!), or what I consider to be the most unimaginative option: “getting on with the course/set works.” It’s this final response which always makes me a little sad. We have about 4 precious weeks with this group (of whom some will not continue to A2 anyway), so why not embark on activities which allow them (and you!) to step away from the constraints of an exam specification and develop their musicianship in other ways. For me, the set works or areas of study can certainly wait (although with some, the wider listening could be a useful starting point), as can most of the other components. This post (and the next – to come some time later this week!) contains some ideas which might be of interest to you and your students.
This idea originates from Gavin Plumley (writer and broadcaster) and Mr Alastair Tighe, former director of Music of Eltham College and now deputy head at Bedford School. Like most music teachers, a few years ago, he was in a quandary about the final half term with Year 12. He came up with the title “The six pieces of music which changed the world.” We promptly took on this idea too and came up with a task for our AS class (8 students). The basic aim is for the class to present a substantial dossier on the works (which we had selected in advance), dividing the sections up into historical context, analysis etc. Apart from the resources and guidance, the onus is on the group to organise themselves and how they will go about producing the dossier. As well as a musical challenge, this is aimed to develop students’ independent learning, organisation, and time management.
Here is a note with all the resources we provided the students, along with links to Spotify playlists we created for them, and our original blog post: https://www.evernote.com/l/AFSe8SJHOaxInqykKsF-KgQTUWtlAQ9OKjI
For one particular cohort, we organised for the final dossier to be sent to a musicologist (my good friend Gavin Plumley), and for him to come and discuss their findings with him. It was an exhilarating end of the project for them, and they found themselves having to justify what they had written, why they had written it, and offering their responses to the music selected. It was a fantastic opportunity for the students to dip their toes into musicology and gave those thinking about it an insight into what a music degree at university could look like. Of course it depends on the ability of the class and their interests, but I am sure that this task can be adapted and tailored to suit the strengths of the class.
If you are stuck for what to do this half term, then I hope this gets you thinking!
Inspired by Dave Guinane’s recent move, I have also decided to grow up, move to WordPress and get back into blogging. But it really got me thinking (sorry to quote Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City) exactly about what I would blog. I love my job as a music teacher and think I am good enough at it to put some ideas/resources here, particularly when it comes to the importance of singing in all aspects of music. I am an unashamed harmony geek. I love bringing harmony to life for my students (and anyone who will listen) and showing them that the “theory” they all moan about is actually just music itself, and that it is simply amazing. As well as all this, I do my best to take part in discussions and debates about music education. So I hope that my blog will contain posts about all of the above and that you will find them interesting, and perhaps even useful. Back soon.