How I got started

Hey people. Here’s a video I put together last night explaining why I do what I do on this blog, particularly with regards to putting my arrangements out there. Hopefully it will give some of my readers a bit of a push to do the same.

 

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Singers, Know Your Instrument!

A letter to my younger singer self would tell me to do so many things- Learn your opera languages! Learn to ballroom dance! Audition for everything! Learn more repertoire (even if your voice can’t sing it yet)! Practise every day! … One thing I didn’t really have on my list was read about and truly understand your instrument.

What do I really need to understand? Surely I just open my mouth and sing!*

Oh… I still have so much to learn. And thank goodness I’m broke and on maternity leave, or I wouldn’t have ended up in the library looking for something to feed my mind. Two must have books for classical singers have come into my hands, courtesy of Auckland library, but I wish I’d read them 10 years sooner- Singing in Style by Martha Elliott and The Owner’s Manual to the Voice by Rachael Gates, L. Arick Forrest and Kerrie Obert.

Singing in Style is the perfect read for someone looking for a cheat sheet for interpreting a composer’s intentions, particularly with regard to embellishments/ ornamentation. As a singer of Baroque opera and oratorio arias, this is really useful. While I was preparing my pieces for my DipABRSM and while preparing to sing ‘Piangero la sorte mia‘ by Handel (just because) I really needed to know what kind of ornamentation was appropriate to add in Da Capo Arias, and now I know that you can go as crazy as Natalie Dessay does in the link.

The Owner’s Manual to the Voice is great for a bunch of reasons

1. gory medical pictures of the voice in action

2. breaking down medical terminology about the voice

3. dispelling myths about how the voice works

4. Reminding singers everywhere to drink more water!

5. Informing (scaring) singers about what can go wrong with the voice and why, based on actual science (instead of old wives tales passed from one singer to the next), e.g. did you know that the trachea (wind pipe) is only wide enough to fit an index finger down it? (I always pictured it 3 to 4 times as wide!)

So, yep, that’s about all I had to say about that. Reading books is good.

*  = My long list of singing teacher’s will kill me for implying that’s all they taught me, especially given how much singers have to overcome that stereotype! Now I’ll have to write another blog post thanking them for making me the enlightened singer I am!

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Dream Job: Digital instrument creator – tech – 04 March 2014 – New Scientist

Cool article about new digital instruments. Enjoy.

Dream Job: Digital instrument creator – tech – 04 March 2014 – New Scientist.

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School Music vs. Real Music

I really liked what this blog post had to say about incorporating more student choices of music in the music classroom. Here’s to open-mindedness!

 

School Music vs. Real Music.

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Singing for my daughter

My daughter is now seven weeks old and I have loved spending these past few weeks getting to know her. I go back to work a week from today and she will be loved and adored by her father during the day until the Christmas holidays begin. It’s not quite time to be singing Christmas carols, so here’s a few songs I’ve been singing for her…

- Twinkle Twinkle

- Baa baa black sheep

- Miss Polly Had a Dolly

- Old McDonald

- Polly put the kettle on

- The wheels on the bus…

Oh, you get the idea. There are so many. The best thing about them is changing the lyrics (especially to get a laugh from my husband).

My mother was always singing for me and taught me so many children’s songs. However, I’ve come to a bit of difficulty with a few songs as some of my favourites are from the church and neither my husband or I are Christians. My mum would occasionally change the lyrics of her favourite Christian songs to use at the schools she taught at. Here’s an example…

With Christ in my vessel I can smile at the storm.

With food in my stomach I can smile at the world.

Both have actions and are a lesson in musical imagination where you gradually replace all the sung words with actions.

With Christmas carols I have always insisted on singing them with their traditional lyrics because they come from a festival. In the same way if I was singing a song from the Diwali festival I wouldn’t change the lyrics, and even though I’m no longer a Christian the lyrics to Christmas carols are part of my cultural heritage. However, I feel different about “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” and “Jesus Loves The Little Children”. I simply cannot sing those lyrics for my daughter, but   do I change the lyrics? I don’t know where my heart is at with that decision. I think for the meantime I’ll stick with humming the tunes.

I can’t wait until she’s older and can sing along with me, or I can tease her like my father did singing the tune for Rossini’s William Tell Overture while chasing me around the house!

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Music and memory: Preparing for a test.

While most of the world has been on school holidays this week, New Zealand has still been going. In fact we don’t get a break until July 12th and then there are still two terms until the end of the school year, so I’ve had to dig a little deeper as a teacher this past week, and you know what, I’ve had some great teaching moments I’d like to share with you.

My year 11 class have a non-compulsory exam in December which requires them to know a thing or two about reading musical scores, which is something they really REALLY hate doing. I think their main barrier to completing the test has simply been a lack of understanding in how to study, so for the past couple of weeks I’ve been giving them some study tools that my dad (a former languages professor and chess player) had drilled into me from a young age and that I’d also read about in journal articles. I’ve outlined them below…

Chunking

I read somewhere that our brains can remember up to about seven things and that beyond that it becomes too complicated, however each of those seven things can become a branch for a further seven and then a further seven, and so on and so on. It makes sense therefore to compartmentalise what you know into branches of seven,

e.g. 1st seven =  Elements of Music- Timbre, Texture, Structure, Expressive Techniques, Duration, Harmony, and Melody.

Next seven (actually six, but you get the idea) = Timbre (Instruments) – Brass, Woodwind, Strings, Percussion, Keyboards, Voices.

Next seven = Brass – Tuba, Trombone, Trumpet, French Horn, Euphonium.

Etc.

Flashcards

Often you need to learn information or terminology forwards and backwards and writing the information on a flashcard (or typing into a series of powerpoint or keynote slides) is a great strategy to learn the information. Also colour and pictures/ symbols on the flashcards can also help. Being an avid public transport user, I often have half an hour of sitting on a bus where I can pull out flashcards to revise information and I encourage my students to do this. (I’ve also read that changing study locations can help information sink in too… something to do with remembering the location and then the information flooding back when you think about being in that space.)

e.g. For Italian terms in music have one side of the card say the Italian word and the other side the English meaning, therefore when you study you can flash from either side to the other. I’ve used this when learning Japanese characters, musical note names and the first 20 elements of the periodic table and I can still remember all these things.

Put it to song!

How great is it when you can turn an annoying song into a way to study? Most of the Indonesian that my husband remembers from his time in high school (poor guy, my dad was his teacher) comes from the annoying songs my dad would make the class sing and dance to or that other students had made up (Philip Korare, if you’re out there, your Nasi Goreng song has become infamous!).

Bizarro word and image association

Can’t remember the meaning of a word? You need to link it to a picture that has something to do with the word, and often the more bizarre or funny, the better. One of my teachers from school, Mr. Tracey, used this to great effect when teaching the periodic table of elements. Here are a few gems from that lesson…

5 = Boron Why? Imagine a hand, the hand has five fingers, the fingers spread and tense (now here is the bizarro part) suddenly each finger is giving birth to a baby (told you it was weird, now the babies are born. Born sounds like Boron.

It also works the other way around.

Boron = 5 Why? Boron sounds like born, imagine birth, for some bizarre reason the image of the fingers giving birth pops into your head. How many fingers are on a hand? 5. Boron is the fifth element.

Here’s another. Aluminium = 13 Why? It’s night time. All the loonies are out with aluminium helmets they’ve made, it must be a full moon, you look up at the moon, there’s a witch flying past on a broomstick wearing an aluminium mini skirt (I’m still scarred by that image!), Witches and full moons make me think of bad luck, so I think of the number 13. And now the number 13 in my mind is forever linked with aluminium.

OK, so let me give you a music related one. The following memory tool I attribute to my mother, she may seem sweet and innocent, but sometimes her mind could go to the gutter! “Miss, how will I remember the difference between p and f?”, Mum: “Well you p softly and you f loudly!”

Brain dump

So you’ve made it to the day of the test and you’ve got all this information stored in your head and you’re about to explode with nervousness. Good! As soon as the exam starts, before you’ve even read the exam questions, use all that nervous energy to write down all the things you have stored up in your brain on a piece of paper. Don’t even look at the exam questions until you’ve done it. It’s like a wonderful emotional release that will actually end up helping you on the exam. As you read each question refer to your ‘brain dump’ piece of paper, it will also help you to remember to carefully read each question before giving an answer. I used this technique for both music tests and physics tests (too many formulas that I couldn’t remember when to apply!) to great success in my final years of high school.

Leave me a note in the comment section about your secrets to studying for exams! Alison.

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Too many fabulous music teachers in one room!

On Friday I attended the MENZA (Music Educators NZ Association) annual conference and boy did I have a fabulous time. Isn’t it wonderful when you leave a professional development workshop inspired to teach? So let me just mention a few people who left me buzzing about how great it is to be a music teacher…

David Squires- choir master extraordinaire led us through some great little warm ups (there’s nothing like My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean with brain gym actions to wake you up in the morning)

Mike from Pakuranga College- this lovely gentleman helped me to get iMacs in my music classroom through running such a fantastic program himself.

Tama Waipara- singer/ songwriter and clarinetist as well as guest speaker… wonderful to hear such gorgeous new Maori songs being created (check out the album Whitiora)

Emma Featherstone- for reminding us all of the fun challenge of teaching a band program from making a sound with the mouthpiece to actually playing five notes (I chose flute and had a hoot!). I’m also very keen to catch up with Emma at the University of Auckland to take a look at her Music and the Brain course.

Jack Body- masterful composer in residence with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra who introduced me to a few composers I was in the dark about (check out Conlon Narcarrow’s Canon X, below, and the works of Ligeti)

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