Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Home School Music Class -- a nontraditional path to music education.

Band is an important part of America’s collective grade school nostalgia.  Many of my memories about school involve band, recitals, and hours of practice.  I had to practice on our apartment balcony sometimes, and frankly I enjoyed that much more than my neighbors.  Band is part of our grade school tradition.

But what happens when traditional schools no long fit you or your student?  Unsatisfied with the curriculum and disappointed at the political failures that are hurting schools all over the country, we’ve opted give it a go.  This year we are making the move to a virtual school – a home school.

Our home school curriculum, from K12, offers music as an elective in some areas.  This means that the nontraditional route doesn’t require abandoning all of our traditions.  It is very liberating.  The music course offered through our virtual school requires additional fees.  But we feel those fees will be well worth the smaller class size, even one on one sometimes.  The true drawback is that these classes require the student to provide their own instrument. 

Rent an instrument or buy one?  It is true that we could buy a used instrument.  But not a very good one, and who knows how it was treated or if it was even cleaned before being sold again.  And who knows how long our student will be interested? What if he’s a natural?  Could we afford to step up?  Renting was our choice.

So tell us, is your student enrolled in traditional school or home school?

By J. True Anderson
read my blog at JTrueAnderson.com or follow me on Twitter @Justinwrites

Monday, August 8, 2011

Music Helped my Son, Can it Help You?

Music has a definite impact on us from a very early age.  Every parent has used music to soothe the savage infant, hoping to help them drift off to sleep – so we can sneak in some sleep ourselves.  So it isn’t much of stretch to think of music affecting the way we think and learn.

Successful Sounds is one organization in Kansas that is putting that to use helping children who face challenges in learning.  They use music to achieve non-musical goals.  Their website says that music is ”extremely influential on the neurological processes that are responsible for organizing and managing behavior, communication, emotion, sensory, motor and cognitive functioning."

In kindergarten our son was assigned an Individualized Education Plan that made various adaptations to his day in school.  He was given a wobble seat to help him sit right, a tilted desk, specially shaped pencils, and music therapy.  And as he grew older many of those adaptations were no longer necessary.

But music helped him get past a few hurdles that were a source of great frustration for his regular classroom teachers and prevented him from falling behind.  By the end of the second grade he no longer received music therapy.  We were fortunate enough to live in a school district that made such a service available.  Now he is heading into the fifth grade and soon we'll be picking out his first instrument.

So if music is therapeutic and can help us overcome obstacles to learning then shouldn’t we consider it a priority for the students in our own families?  Play an instrument, even if you play it badly – I did.

by J. True Anderson
follow me @Justinwrites
check out my blog at www.jtrueanderson.com

Friday, August 5, 2011

Band Nightmare in the 5th Grade

Back to school shopping is in full swing folks.  Unless you’re like me and you haven’t even started yet.  No stress…  Really.  Ok, not really.

Shopping is my least favorite thing to do (my son and I share this).  We were cruising through our local Wally World with my son’s 5th grade supply list.  We quickly gathered the basics.  Number two pencils, glue sticks, Rose Art markers (why so specific?) – you know the drill.  We had finally moved on to the fun stuff; backpacks, shoes, jeans, and whatever else a hip and happening 10 year old needs when my wife spoke up.

“He’ll be starting band this year,” my wife says to me.  “We both were in band, did you know that,” she asked our son.

“Cool, what instrument did you play?”


“What about you dad?”

“Clarinet.  What do you want to play,” I asked.

“I don’t know.  Tuba, flute.  Something like that.”

“I can see how the choice could be hard.”  I cocked an eyebrow at my wife and she just shook her head.

Enter my flashback.  It’s a warm September afternoon, cafeteria lunch still hot on our breath, and the band teacher calls each student over one at a time.  Amid the cacophony of children talking amongst themselves he asks each student to offer him his or her hands for inspection.  Mentally he measures them against various instruments.  He scrutinizes each facial structure for compatibility.  And before he’s finished he instructs each student to make the “ok” sign with his or her hand and place it against their lips – then motor-boat.

We all took our turn blowing duck-like sounds through our hands.  And none of us really suspected that this provided a measurement adequate to determine our musical destiny.  For many of us it not only led to an imperfect match, but an impermanent one too.  I wanted to play Saxophone, but I was given a trumpet.  It came in a scarred black case with “Volker Elementary” spray painted across the outside.  The fake velvet lining reeked of some bizarre combination of Brasso and garlic.

Trumpet eventually proved impossible for me.  After a few weeks of lousy playing the teacher decided to try me on woodwinds.  Alas my hands were still too small for the sax.  But the clarinet was just the ticket.  Or so I thought.

Music is not what you would call what it is I produced.  I had trouble from the get go.  The instrument fit together poorly.  The wrappings at the unions were old and half rotted.  One key didn’t function smoothly.  I did more squeaking than playing.

Let me tell ya, I feel sorry for the pain I caused my three-story walk up.  And I hope I have the patience to survive that time with my son.  But I know something my mother didn’t.

Instruments of poor quality or condition can hamper a student’s progress, diminish the experience, and turn a child away from the joys of music forever.  Who knows, maybe my son is the next Mozart, but I hesitate to buy him a high-end instrument when he may be like me and decide by the end of the 5th grade that he’s really more of a listener than a player.  I just don’t want the instrument to decide for him.

That’s why we’re going to rent one until we know.  What’s your band experience like?

by J. True Anderson
follow me on Twitter @Justinwrites
and check out my blog at www.jtrueanderson.com

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Top 5 Best Marching Band Movies

1.  Drumline.
Surprised? We weren’t either. The 2002 film highlighted what most band members already knew; that participating in the marching band was cool. The main storyline is about a freshman drummer, played by Nick Cannon, who attends a fictional Atlanta A&T University. During his journey, he joins the schools drum line, however, feuds with the leader, and eventually exposes his darkest secret. Of course, along the way, Cannon finds love, conflict, and success, yet, that is not why this movie has reached number one on our list.

We love this movie because it was the first, and one of the only, movies to truly draw attention to the marching band. Another reason that this movie has reached number one is because of its use of high school and college marching band students across the country.

2. From the 50 Yard Line

Not our conventional movie, but documentaries deserve a little credit too, especially From the 50 Yard Line. This documentary tells the stories of two high schools marching bands, one out of Ohio and one out of Los Angeles. We see each life-changing event, through band camp, the marching season, and the 2006 competitions. Viewers are thrown into the lives of each student, showing off their disciplined practice, as well as their technical artistry.

The realness and emotion of this movie is what lands it at our number two spot.

3. Mr. Holland’s Opus.
The 1995 movie is presented in a video biography style of Mr. Glenn Holland, who is a talented musician and composer. After performing as a professional musical for many years, exhausted Mr. Holland wants to spend more time with his young wife, and decides to accept a teaching position. Many conflicts arise, however, the most difficult being when Mr. Holland finds out that his son is severely hearing impaired, making his dream of teaching him music, impossible. As Mr. Holland grows further and further apart from his family, he throws himself into his work, changing the lives of hundreds of students.

The emotional tale of Mr. Holland is why this movie is our number three on our list.

4. The Music Man.
The 1962 musical film is a classic in American history. Set in 1912, Harold Hill posts as a traveling band instructor, only with the intention to scam the River City, Iowa residents out of money. The town pays Hill to create a boys marching band, complete with instruments, uniforms, and musical instruction. Throughout the musical, Hill finds love, friendship, and eventually conflict when his plan is revealed. Yet, when the boys come to Hill’s defense, with a new found musical talent, all is forgiven, and Harold Hill is a changed man.

The classic film impressed then and now, making it our number four best marching band movie, as well as preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
5. American Pie.
The 1999 movie used sex, drugs, and alcohol, all involving high school students, easily creating controversy heard around the nation. However, it’s most remembered scandal was the one involving band camp, making it our number five top best marching band movie. American Pie’s sexual references towards band camps set the reputation of marching bands on fire, creating scandal and humor.

Written by: Patricia Freeman @rentmyinstrum