I spent the past six weeks working on the first of two residency summers working on my Masters of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. The program consists of three 12-credit semesters, two of which must be done as residencies. The other semester involves taking continuing education credits in their MECA program. These credits can be taken online or in person throughout the school year. I completed this portion of my program last year:
- Finale Music Notation Software with Vince Leonard
- Developing the Successful Jazz Ensemble with Mike Steinel
- Teaching Music in the Common Core World with Bill Koch
- Band Arranging with Ken Snoeck
- Sound Reinforcement and Recording Techniques with Rick Palese
I wanted to take some time to reflect back on what I learned this summer (and take a break from packing for our move in two days). Here are the courses I took:
Introduction to Graduate Studies - Dr. Roseanne Rosenthal
All students in VanderCook’s MMEd program are required to produce a Masters Project at the end of their course of study. These may take a variety of forms, but the most common is to research on a topic that is interesting in an attempt to contribute to the music profession. This course is designed to help graduate students choose a topic and structure the project so it can be completed on time.
Originally, my plan was to look at standards for performing ensembles. I wanted to come up with a guide that discussed when skills should be introduced in different experience levels to full ensembles. Our team in Ankeny has worked to identify standards for individual students and what each of these skills looks like at different grade levels. We’ve also extended this work to jazz band. I wanted to take that work and apply it to skills the full ensemble should have in each grade from 6-12.
However, after attending VanderCook’s Poster Session, where soon-to-be graduates present their projects to the general public, I found myself wanting to change my project. My high school colleague and I have discussed getting small jazz combos going as part of our program. Next year, we may have almost 70 kids in high school jazz! How can we get students motivated to work in small groups to improve their craft? This is what I am going to try to answer with my Masters Project. More on that in a later post.
VanderCook requires students in the band track for their MMEd program to take methods courses in brass, woodwinds, and percussion where the focus is placed on pedagogy. They also require two residency electives with many choices available. There is a cycle of techniques courses, where the focus is placed on performance. I chose to take flute and clarinet techniques as these are a weaker area in my own playing.
To be perfectly honest, I was planning on just surviving the three weeks of flute in this course. In fifth grade, I was “not recommended” to play flute, and my collegiate flute methods course was a gift. However, Professor Stingley had excellent exercises and strategies for helping me improve my tone and technique. While we disagreed philosophically about certain pedagogical aspects, I learned a great deal about producing a good sound on flute and navigating high school flute literature.
The clarinet portion of the course made me hyper-aware of my embouchure and tongue placement. I have been relatively happy with my own clarinet sound and technique prior to this class. Dr. Campbell was able to help me really process what was going on in my own setup and how I could help students improve their embouchure, tongue placements, and reeds.
Symphonic Band - Dr. Charles Menghini & Stacey Larson-Dolan
Students in the band track also are required to perform in the graduate band. Auditions were held the first day of classes to determine chair placement. I was quite surprised to find myself sitting principal trombone! The ensemble is conducted by the President of VanderCook, Dr. Charlie Menghini and the Undergraduate Dean, Stacey Larson-Dolan. The group performs three times over the course of the summer: Chinatown Square, Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens at the Clarke House Museum, and the Graduation Ceremony at Symphony Center.
This was an outstanding ensemble to be in! While all of the graduate students are teachers first and (hopefully) performers second, there were very strong players throughout the group. The ensemble functions in a community band type role in the first two performances. Our literature consisted of a few major works for wind band with several marches and popular tunes.
The real work came when we worked in rehearsal with world class conductors. We got the pleasure of working with H. Robert Reynolds on his transcription of O Magnum Mysterium as well as Holst’s First Suite in Eb. We also rehearsed with Gary Green and Frank Ticheli on Russian Christmas Music and Wild Nights, respectively.
Percussion Methods - Kevin Lepper Everyone I talked to about the program at VanderCook said I had to take Percussion Methods this semester because Professor Lepper was retiring. His class was nothing short of outstanding! We had incredible discussions about techniques that can be applied across many instruments. There were several large projects: creating a cheap instrument from items at home, writing and performing a junior high level drumline cadence, writing and performing an accessory ensemble, and completing a massive notebook of resources to be used as a reference in the future.
Jazz Arranging - Anthony Kidonakis
Tony is one of the most incredible educators I have ever met. He used Mike Tomaro and John Wilson’s text, Instrumental Jazz Arranging: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide as well as his extensive skills as a pianist and arranger to build us up to writing a full arrangement for jazz ensemble. We began with doing an 8-bar melodic paraphrase of the first eight measures of Ray Henderson’s Bye Bye Blackbird. We continued through eight measure chunks of the tune with two-part harmonization, countermelody, and four-part close voicing. We then moved on to the bridge of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies to look at harmonization of non-chord tones and open voicings. The rest of the time was devoted to building our full arrangements to include an introduction, melodic statement, solo section with backgrounds, interlude, shout section, recapitulation, and an ending. The final involved the jazz band performing each of our arrangements.
The performances were incredible! Each of the compositions were sophisticated and unique. I would love to perform many of them with my own ensemble! Charts included: Louis Prima’s I Wanna Be Like You from The Jungle Book, Larry Morey and Frank Churchill’s Some Day My Prince Will Come, Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood and Satin Doll, Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington’s On Green Dolphin Street, George Gershwin’s Summertime, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, and many others. My own arrangement was J.J. Johnson’s Lament.
Instructional Design - Hank Vaughan
In the course catalog, this class is described as follows:
A study of the traditional elements of instructional design coupled with an analysis of computer applications in music education. Candidates develop units of instruction for use in school music settings using multimedia authoring software. Current music education software is reviewed and analyzed.
In practice, Hank (a Chicago area high school band director) gave us hands-on experience with a variety of technologies we could potentially integrate into our own programs. Software we used included: Microsoft Excel, Audacity, GarageBand, Blogspot, Finale, Sibelius, and inDesign. We also spent a day demo-ing iPad apps for each other.
Our final project was to implement at least one of these technologies into a product we would use in the coming year. I used this time to take our team’s Power Standards document and mail merge it into documents to hand to students detailing the content of each of their assessments. Another student in the class was able to show me how I could do this all in Google Drive instead of using Microsoft Office. We were also able to discover the possibility of integrating this with Google Classroom, Doctopus, and Goobric.
Concert Choir - Dr. Robert Sinclair
Every undergraduate and graduate student in any of the programs at VanderCook are required to participate in at least one semester of choir. To be honest, I was not looking forward to this. I had some negative experiences with choir in middle school and undergrad. My experience at VanderCook, however, was quite different.
I was part of the graduate Concert Choir, which included all graduate band, string, choral, and general music students. We performed at a concert on campus as well as at graduation. It was an outstanding experience because of Dr. Sinclair. He is an expert teacher that knows exactly what he wants to be hearing and how to get his ensembles (even the non-choral students) to produce it well. He was constantly using different strategies to make sure everyone (especially the non-choral people) understood what he was asking us to do and what we were doing with our bodies to produce sound. Coupled with the embouchure and tongue placement work we were doing in the clarinet portion of the class, and I have a much greater appreciation for what our students and choir colleagues are working to accomplish.
Applied Improvisation - Anthony Kidonakis
All of the graduate students are required to take thirty minutes of applied lessons each week. However, these lessons do not need to be on our primary instrument! I chose to study improvisation on trombone to help better develop a progression for our 7-12 jazz students back home. It was great to absorb all of Tony’s strategies for improvising! We used Jamey Aebersold’s Volume 54: Maiden Voyage to study melodic paraphrase, blanket scales, chord outlining, II-V progressions, and altered scales. All of the different skills we looked at will integrate well in to my Masters Project.
Jazz Band - Anthony Kidonakis
I was out of credits, but I could still play in the jazz band without receiving credit for the course. We had several excellent players in a full ensemble. We played in Chinatown Square with the Symphonic Band, on a boat cruise down the Chicago River out into Lake Michigan, and with the final for the jazz arranging course. It was fun to play with such great musicians and study literature from a variety of sources. The biggest thing we studied were several pieces from Sinatra at the Sands and Before Frank.
This was an amazing and intense summer! I learned so much that I can’t wait to begin implementing in my classroom. I met and networked with high quality educators from across the world. I can’t wait to go back next summer!