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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Current Musicians of Color for Black History Month and Beyond

In the United States, February is Black History Month. Making sure my teaching values the broadest spectrum of music and musicians possible has always been a passion of mine, but this year I feel an even greater sense of responsibility to my students (and to myself) to make more room in my classes for musical role models who are people of color.

I think as music teachers when we consider ways to incorporate Black History Month into our lessons, the history of jazz, a study of Scott Joplin, or maybe even protest songs or hip-hop come to mind. But today I want to focus on current musicians of color outside of the traditional "pop music" realm who are making music in a variety of genres with "kid-friendly" songs.


Of course there is an endless amount of material out there I could include and dozens more musicians I wish I could feature in this post, but I hope these examples will spark further exploration of other music by these artists as well as many other musicians as well. The videos and music below would be great to play "just for fun", to use as a listening example and discuss the musical and/or lyrical content afterwards, to introduce instruments of the orchestra or genres, and more- both during the month of February and beyond.

Kevin Olusola, best known as a member of Pentatonix, is an amazing cello player and composer:


Esperanza Spalding is an amazing bassist, singer, and composer:


Daniel Bernard Roumain is a violinist and composer:


Robert Glasper is a grammy award-winning jazz pianist:


Leon Bridges has lots of great songs with jazz influences:



India Arie's song "Breathe" is a great conversation-starter:


So much amazing, positive music from the show "Empire"- this is one of my favorites:


Alex Boye has written lots of positive, empowering songs, including this one which also features people with different abilities:


Alright, it's time for me to stop and pass the baton to all of you: what current musicians of color have/will you share with your students? I'd love for my readers to add to the list in the comments to create an even more amazing resource for all of us to use! It's so important for all of our students to see themselves reflected in the role models we choose to present to them in class. 

If you're looking to explore more ways to foster understanding amongst your students, here are some other related topics to explore:




Happy Black History Month.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Fresh Start 2018 Challenge: car

Welcome back to the Fresh Start 2018 Challenge!

This is week #3 of my weekly series this month to try to give my home life a bit more of a New Year's kick in the pants while dealing with the reality that school is back in session and I do NOT have the time or energy for a full-on deep clean/purge. I'm making an effort this year to find small but impactful ways to make my home a priority during the month of January. So far I've tackled closets and purses. This week's focus: the car!


I know the car isn't *technically* a part of the house, but I know my car could use a good "fresh start" right about now with all the "living" we do there! So this week's fresh start task is to clean the outside and inside of the car! 

The outside is easy: I'll be taking my car to the carwash and I'm getting that nasty salt and snow scrubbed off. Even better, Santa gave me a gift card to the local car wash (best stocking stuffer ever), so I don't even have to pay for it!

The inside will take a little more doing, but that's the area that really needs some attention. My main goal is to go through every nook and cranny to clear out the stuff that has gotten left in the car and doesn't need to be there: the trunk, glove compartment, and all those little side pockets and other compartments still have stuff in them from months, even years ago!

Bonus: here are a few things I do to try to keep the car clear and clean:

1) I try to go through and clear out the trunk every 6 months. I like having a few things stored there, like a small snow shovel in the winter and a bucket of sand toys in the summer, but I have to make sure I don't permanently leave everything back there or it becomes impossible to find anything!

2) I empty the trash out that collects in little compartments etc every time I get gas. I always seem to end up with dirty tissues, wrappers, and other random things left in the car, but making it part of what I do while the car is filling up with gas has made it easier to keep the junk from getting out of hand.

Want to join me in this Fresh Start 2018 challenge? I'm going to be posting a photo on Instagram on Sunday of what I accomplished for the challenge this week. If you want to join me, share your own pictures and include #FreshStart2018Challenge in the description. You don't have to stick to any schedule either- join me any time! The goal is to get a cleaner, more organized home without the guilt or stress.

This has been a great way for me to force myself to set aside some time to clear things out and clean up without feeling overwhelmed. Here's to a fresh start this new year!





Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Elementary Choir: tips for the first rehearsal

So you've got a whole bunch of eager singers signed up for your elementary choir class. You've got a very short amount of time to establish procedures, assign seats, and take care of other logistics to make the rest of the semester runs smoothly, but you also want to get them SINGING because hey, that's why they're here, right? Today I want to share my basic lesson plan for the first day of elementary choir that ensures I am setting the right tone, taking care of logistics, and getting kids singing as quickly as possible so they leave the first rehearsal excited about the next one.


1. Establish Behavior Expectations

The very first thing I do when students walk into the room on the first day of choir is talk to them about my behavior expectations. I do this before I even show them where to sit- on the first day I tell them to come in and sit down on the floor so I can talk to them first. I've narrowed my speech down to 2 basic components: 1) there is no speaking at all in choir, and 2) we don't have time to mess around in choir. You can read more about how and why I establish my very strict no talking policy in this post on Elementary Choir Rehearsal Procedures, but the basic idea that I try to communicate is that we are here to SING, and talking takes away from that. It both establishes my high expectations and gets kids excited about the right thing: singing.

The second point is primarily where I reinforce what I have students and parents agree to when they sign up: after a certain number of disruptive behavior incidents, you can no longer participate in choir. For me, because choir is a pull-out elective class, I can use this consequence. Depending on how your class is set up, you will of course have different consequences, but whatever they are it's important to make them clear from the beginning so you don't have to argue with anyone about it or waste rehearsal time explaining it later! I also make it clear that I can't take a bunch of rehearsal time to sit and chat with individual students about behavior like I might in general music, and I explain my process for enforcing expectations (I silently point and they go sit out for a few minutes to give them a "reminder", and after that they get a note sent home- 3 notes in a semester means you can no longer participate). It's worth noting that I've only had a student dismissed from choir twice in 5 years- once students (and parents) know you're serious, it tends to become a non-issue for most students.

My goal with this part of rehearsal is to keep my "speech" as short as possible while making sure I communicate both the seriousness of my expectations and the fun I anticipate having as a result. Once I've established my expectations, I enforce them for the rest of rehearsal, even as we go over logistics etc. It sets the tone for the rest of the semester so I'm very strict with them!

2. Assign Seating

Once I've established my expectations, I show them their assigned seats. I always give the caveat that I may move them around once I see and hear them in their spots, but I do always start with a premade seating plan. The one exception is when I'm coming in to a new school and don't know any of the students. In that case, I make mental notes as I give my behavior speech and assign seats on the spot based on those observations. This is a great time to reinforce how serious I am about the no talking rule as they wait to hear their name called!

3. Practice Routines/ Warm-ups

Now that they're in their seats, I walk them through the most essential parts of the rehearsal routines and procedures they need to know so they are ready to start rehearsal the right way the next time we meet. This includes procedures for entering the room, getting out folders/sheet music (more on that in a future post), and routines for the beginning of rehearsal (for me that involves stretching and vocal warm-ups- read more about my routines/procedures in this post and see all of my favorite vocal warm-ups here). As much as possible, I have them practice doing each of these procedures.

4. Quick Song

I never want students to leave choir without singing! I always want them to walk out of the first rehearsal excited about singing, so my goal here is to choose something that feels good to sing, is quick to put together, usually involves some movement, and sounds cool in a large group (which usually means having some kind of partwork happening). Usually I choose a round/canon for this purpose- read about how I teach rounds and see one of my favorites to start with in this post- but sometimes I'll also pull out a short phrase or section of music from their concert literature if it is easy enough to learn, or choose a silly song with actions like these. A lot of this will depend on how much rehearsal time we have and how experienced the singers are, but it's important for everyone to leave feeling excited about singing!

5. Affirmation

On the topic of leaving rehearsal feeling excited: I always end rehearsal with positive affirmation. My favorite way to do this is by telling the teacher who picks the students up how awesome this group of singers is and how excited I am for the semester ahead. But out of the 3 choirs I teach, only one is picked up by a teacher. For the students who are dismissed by me, I make sure to tell them how excited I am and how great they sound directly. It may seem like an obvious thing but with everything we are trying to juggle in our brains as teachers in that first rehearsal, it's important to make it a priority!

The number one thing I try to remind myself of before the first rehearsal is the importance of my energy level and enthusiasm! It's hard sometimes, when I'm using a lot of mental energy to remember all the logistical things I need to address, thinking about that last lesson that bombed, or just feeling tired from the start of the year/semester, to muster up the energy to make the rehearsal as fast-paced and positive as I'd like it to be. It really does set the tone for the rest of the rehearsals, though, and affects how students view singing as a whole, so I try to keep that at the forefront of my thoughts.

I love teaching elementary choir, and I can't wait to welcome a fresh group of students this week in my choir classes this way! What are your top priorities for your first rehearsal with elementary choir? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Fresh Start 2018 Challenge: purses and bags

Welcome back to the Fresh Start 2018 Challenge!!

This is week #2 of my weekly series to try to give my home life a bit more of a New Year's kick in the pants while dealing with the reality that school is back in session and I do NOT have the time or energy for a full-on deep clean/purge. I'm making an effort this year to find small but impactful ways to make my home a priority this month. Last week I focused on closets (click here to see my post), and after doing some serious purging in my closets I thought I would stick with an easier but equally impactful project: purses and backpacks.


Remember if you're looking for a fresh start at school or home, you can download my Fresh Start Checklists for free (and they're editable!) and work at your own pace!

This week's fresh start task: clean out your bag(s) (and family members' bags)!

I'm sure I'm not the only one whose purse has collected little bags of cheerios, stray chapsticks, meeting handouts, and everything in between. Not to mention the expired or never-used membership cards and coupons hanging out in my wallet. And then of course there's my daughters' backpacks- as much as we try to clean them out every day, there are all these random little pieces of paper, pencils, and other items that seem to find their way to the bottom of the backpack! It's time to clean everything out (so that, let's face it, we have room to accumulate more unnecessary junk until the next time we do this).

Just like with the closets, my main goal here is to purge effectively but with as little time commitment as possible. Here's my plan:

  1. Empty the bag completely and clean up any messes on the bag itself
  2. Sort through everything that was in the bag and separate into 3 piles: 
    1. things to keep in the bag
    2. things to keep but put somewhere else
    3. things to throw away.
  3. Put things away in their proper place
Honestly this shouldn't be too difficult of a process- it's just a matter of setting aside the time to actually sit down and DO IT!

Bonus: I am not a huge purse person, so I don't claim to have the best system for keeping my purse organized, but I am happy enough with it and I usually have what I need. If you want to see what I tend to keep in my purse, here are some previous blog posts you can check out:



Want to join me in this Fresh Start 2018 challenge? I'm going to be posting a photo on Instagram on Sunday of what I accomplished for the challenge this week. If you want to join me, share your own pictures and include #FreshStart2018Challenge in the description. You don't have to stick to any schedule either- join me any time! The goal is to get a cleaner, more organized home without the guilt or stress.

Here's to a fresh start for the new year!