Singing Brings Joy!

“Singing brings joy.” – Art Garfunkel

The summer after my freshman year of high school was when I was formally introduced to the music of Simon and Garfunkel. My friend and I convinced my father to drive us down to the Wisconsin State Fair, where our school’s jazz band was playing. We got there early and heard a jazz band and swing choir perform, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” I was hooked. I had to find the original version, and I still own and often listen to the greatest hits CD I bought that summer.

Ever since then, I have been a complete devotee to the music of Simon and Garfunkel. The simplicity, the lyrics, the purity of tone, the orchestrations, the harmonies. All of it. I have never seen them perform together live, and I pray there is still a chance in my lifetime. Two years ago my husband and I had the opportunity to see Paul Simon here in Milwaukee, and it was a concert experience I’ll never forget. The voice, the guitar playing, the backup band, the passion for his work after all of these years. Last month my husband surprised me with tickets to see Art Garfunkel at a small old theater in Madison. Again, it was a concert I’ll never forget but for very different reasons.

We walked into the Barrymore Theater and saw a relic of the past. The seats are probably original to the old building, paint peeling from the ceiling, the floor painted baby blue. All told, the venue probably holds less than 400 people. For any other performance, it might be an improper or unsuitable location. But this was “An Intimate Evening with Art Garfunkel.” Mr. Garfunkel had been battling a condition called vocal paresis, which left him unable to sing. After many months of work and rehab, the voice was starting to come back in its beautiful form. For 90 minutes, he sang and read original poetry and told stories of the old days, and all was well with the world. I got to hear one of my favorite singers, though not at the top of his game.

One of his poems posed the overarching question of why someone with so much life experience and no need for anything want to work so hard to resurrect his art. What’s the point? Singing brings joy. So simple, and yet something so easy to lose sight of.

I love what I do for a living. It’s my pleasure, my hobby, my passion. Playing, creating, listening, teaching music. I cannot imagine life without it. There is no doubt that the last year of my teaching career has been a series of challenges to what I do, what I believe, and what I stand for as a music educator. The time, the late nights, the emails and phone calls, the scheduling, the meetings, the paperwork. I have often thought about the many ways there must be to make a living with less stress than I’ve felt, but in the end, Art’s words speak to me. Singing brings joy. Music brings joy. Listening to my current playlist in my car has kept me grounded in that simple truth. “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers, “Carry On” and “Some Nights” by Fun, “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan, and even “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. How can you not feel a sense of joy listening to good music?

So while I am caught up in the minutia of the struggles of my work, I will remember Art’s words and look at my old CD cover with his picture on it, and I will remember why I do what I do and could never really be happy doing anything else. For me, for my students, for all. Singing brings joy. Maybe someday I’ll have any opportunity to tell him how much those three words meant to me that night. Thanks, Mr. Garfunkel. Love, Your Adoring Fan.

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Another Use for GarageBand on iPads

Full disclosure: I am not much of pianist, and guitar is on my to-do list for this coming summer. I am a saxophonist. Band directors, leave your jokes in the comments…

I love GarageBand on iOS. Love it. There’s no other way to say it, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what can be done with it. My Music Technology class at our high school used it briefly last semester, but we were only able to use parts of it. GB went freemium last year, and our iPad cart is set up so that paid apps are almost impossible to do.

One of the best features of GarageBand on the iPad is Smart Instruments: piano, guitar, strings, bass, and drums. Instead of needing the skills to play chords on a guitar, I can touch or strum the primary chords in any given key signature, allowing me to accompany a melody I’ve created in the app.

Recently, one of my private percussion students wanted to learn how to play, “Cantina Band,” from Star Wars on the bells. This student has a pretty good ear and likes to figure out melodies by ear. He and I didn’t agree on how a few intervals went, so we found an online version of the melody he had in his head. This arrangement had chord symbols above the melody, so that a guitar or piano could play along. (See note above about my proficiency on those…) He was taking some serious liberties with the tempo, as you can imagine when a student is learning to play a song. It can sound like a car engine when someone is learning how to drive stick for the first time. If you’re a music teacher, no further explanation needed.

To help keep him on a steady beat without counting or clapping along, I grabbed my iPad, pulled up GarageBand, and dialed up the Smart Guitar in the key he was using. Taking those chord symbols on his page, I played along and helped him negotiate the rhythms in time without getting in his way.

Rocket science? No. For me, it’s just another way that my iPad helps me to be a better music teacher. If you haven’t taken the plunge into GarageBand for iOS, do yourself a favor and spend the $5 to get the full version. You won’t regret it.

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TMEA Presentation

Digital Portfolios in Music Classes: The Basics and Beyond


Sarah Mayer

Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School


Stephanie Sanders

Berwick Academy



Why do digital portfolios?


  • Evidence of learning over time for parents, students, teachers, administrators, supporters


  • Grades do not always reflect the true story of musicianship. Participation points/grades often reward students just for showing up, not musical activity.


  • Engages the students in the assessment process and gives them the opportunity to become more actively critical of their performances



Getting Started


  1. Be consistent.
  2. Be persistent.
  3. Start small.
  4. Be flexible with the means of collection.
  5. Find ways for students to reflect, critique, and goal set.
  6. Samples should reflect your priorities as a music teacher.


Apps for Collection and Curation





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PLN Blogging Challenge

Yesterday, my PLN friend, Kevin Dengel (@kevindengel) gave me a blogging challenge. I haven’t been very faithful in blogging this school year, so maybe this will kick off more writing in 2014!


My 11 Random Facts

1. Most people in my church don’t know that I’m a saxophone player, since I play flute in church.

2. I detest taking a shower.

3. It took me 6 years to complete my master’s degree, but I finally graduated!

4. I used to be a third grade teacher.

5. I love Phineas and Ferb more than my kids, and they are big fans. I admit that I have watched it without them.

6. My husband is a wine buyer for a grocery store. It has a its perks.

7. As a child, I was terrified of dogs. I wouldn’t go to friends’ houses if they had one. Now I have 2.

8. Someday I want to run a 5K.

9. There are so many places I would like to see, but I hate(fear) flying.

10. I am a news/talk radio/political junkie.

11. When I have time to start a hobby, I would like to take up woodworking.


My answers to Kevin’s questions

1. What (or who) made you decide to be an educator? I love to learn, and I had some great teachers along the way. I wanted to give others the same inspiration I was given.

2. Who is the most intelligent person you know? My former colleague, Dr. Matthew Schlomer
3. Have you watched the entirety of the music video “What does the Fox Say?” Yes, but only because my Music Tech class forced me.
4. If you were a giant mega monster what city would you rampage? Detroit. Easy pickings.
5. What was your first mobile phone? I can’t honestly remember. It was 13 years ago.

6. What potential talents do you think you might have if you worked at them? Writer, composer, public speaker.

7. What do you consider is the most important appliance in a house? Coffee maker. No debate.
8. What song sums you up?
9. Name your favorite Great Lake. Come on, everyone’s got one… Lake Michigan!
10. Are you a morning person? NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
11. What would you call your autobiography? My Journey to No Particular Destination


Now, For Your Homework Assignment

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate and let the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
6. Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment.


11 Bloggers

1. Catie Dwinal (@musiccargirl14)

2. Vincent Du Beau (@maestrodubeau)

3. Chris Russell (@choirguy_)

4. Deb Heiden (@debheiden)

5. Rachel Pierson (@aleixa)

6. Matt Chasco (@matt_chasco)

7. C. M. Kolar (@TBone_Guy09

8. Stephanie Sanders (@stephdon)

9. Ruby Boyden (@RubyVBoyden)

10. Kyle Gardner (@kgard)

11. Chris Sepersky (@sepersky)


My 11 Questions for You

1. Why do you blog?

2. Who is the most intelligent person you know? (I stole this one.)

3. Name 1 professional accomplishment you are particularly proud of.

4. If you could quit your current profession and take a new one up, what would you choose?

5. Name the most interesting place you’ve ever visited.

6. Mac or PC?

7. If you were given $1,000,000 to give to charity, what cause(s) would you give to?

8. Name a movie you can say most or all of the dialogue along with.

9. Where did you complete your undergrad?

10. Where would you like to live when you retire?

11. If someone were to visit the city where you live, what would be the best thing to see or do there?

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Web 2.0 Tools for Engaging Music Classes Handout #wlstc

Web 2.0 Tools for Engaging Music Classes

Sarah Mayer, Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School

Classics for Kids




Carnegie Listening Adventures

DSO Kids

Theta Music Trainer

Music Tech Teacher



Melody Street

Practice Sight Reading

The Music Interactive


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How Do You Let Go?

imageimageI’ve seen lots of people talking about recruitment and retention as the end of the year approaches. It was the topic of last week’s music education chat on Twitter as well. Understandably, we music teachers are already looking ahead to next year. What will be the dynamics of our ensembles? Will instrumentation be balanced? What music can we start the year with? We are planners by nature, even if we don’t all keep a strict system of lesson plans like other teachers.

I find myself not thinking about next year yet. How about you? It’s really an unusual place to be. And I think the reason for it lies in two facts: 1. I’m finishing my master’s degree the summer, and I really need to focus on that in the short term. 2. I really enjoyed working with my older band this year, and the fact of the matter is that I don’t want to let them go. Having a band with that kind of chemistry and work ethic is a rare treat, and I am not ready to give them up.

I think you know the kind of group that I am passing on to my colleague next year. Kids who work hard. Kids who are creative. Parents who support music education and really want their kids to love it and do well. A group who plays well together, even if music isn’t involved. A group that is more than the sum of its parts. Good players? Yes, for the most part. Good people? For sure.

So the summer will be busy, and the fall will bring the same questions as every other year. Chemistry, ability, and the like. I think Dr. Seuss had it right. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Maverick Band of 2012-2013, you’ve given me lots to smile about. Bravo!

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World’s First Robotic LEGO Band Rocks Out

World’s First Robotic LEGO Band Rocks Out.

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Young Composers & Improvisors Workshop at LREI

Young Composers & Improvisors Workshop at LREI.

This looks like an amazing resource! Their course is also available in the iTunes U format. I have wanted to teach composition to my young students for a long time. This might be what gets me going forward!

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A Midwinter’s Rut

I have always lived in the upper Midwest. Wisconsin, with a 4-year stopover in south central Minnesota for undergrad. I think it’s fair to say that I detest this time of year. It’s cold, dark, and snowy/icy. The grind of the school year is getting to students and teachers alike. Spring seems like a distant light at the end of the tunnel. Is this just a frozen tundra thing? Does it happen to you and/or your students? I feel myself wanting to check out like senioritis all over again. Obviously I can’t and I won’t. I had always wondered if a midwinter trip to some warm destination would be the cure. After coming back from eastern Texas last week, I can say no. I think it has actually contributed to this blah. How do you get through the 3rd quarter grind?

Coffee is always a good place to start. For the record.

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