I realize that is an eye-roller of a title for the blog, but I really do feel like my part in IMEA was just keeping moving forward. Not to stop and just keep everything like it is, but to keep it moving toward better music education in Iowa. Below are my remarks at the 2020 Professional Development Conference on November 21, 2020
Keynote Ceremony - Nov. 21, 2020
I am so grateful that we have the technology and the people to do this today. We’re all aware of the dangers of COVID-19 and this is a great way to share ideas safely.
We’d like to recognize two members of IMEA who will be receiving Tenure Teaching Awards. These are teachers in our organization who have taught more than 30 years. This is a phenomenal accomplishment and the fact that they still participate in professional development is a model for all teachers. Our two members receiving the Tenure Teacher Award are Charles Grimm and Michelle Swanson. Thank you to both of you for dedicating your lives to music education and the students in your classrooms over all these years.
We also want to recognize someone who has served this organization tirelessly as our Conference equipment Chair. Charles Grimm has been the conference equipment chair for the past 25 years and this is his last year in Iowa. If you’ve ever presented at our conference, you know that he was always there to help and make sure you had everything you needed. I’m still not confident he doesn’t have a twin brother because it seems like he was everywhere. He made sure everything was working right and we had the most up-to-date equipment. When I did Rock Shop here in 2018 with 15 electric guitar amps, he made sure we didn’t blow the fuse for the whole Sheman building. Charles, on behalf of everyone in IMEA and especially the people who organize and run the conference, I want to thank you for all you’ve done. You made our sessions run smoothly so our music teachers can get the best professional development possible. Thank you!
Before I’m done, I just wanted to say how honored and humbled I was to be president of IMEA for the past 2 years. I wish I could keep going. It wasn’t until I became president that I fully realized the potential that IMEA has to impact the lives of music teachers and therefore the students in Iowa. There is so much to get done and I feel like we are just getting started. ¾ of our high school students never take a music class. Guitar is only taught in 11 high schools. I can count on one hand all the schools that have gospel choirs, modern bands and mariachi groups. Our music teacher workforce is almost all white and the student enrollment in secondary music reflects this disproportionate imbalance. But music is a uniter. Music allows children to express emotions they can’t put a name to...and don’t have to. Music allows us to learn more about another culture, only to find they are not that much different than us. But most importantly, music is fun. Music is joyful. Music can pick you up when you’re down, motivate you when you are tired and let you cry when you hear the song your mom used to sing. Many years ago, I would have heard someone say what I just said and thought, “Yep, I’d find that cross stitched on a pillow or on a cheesy poster with a wavy music staff behind it .” You know the kind. But I don’t think that way anymore. Now I totally understand the real power of music. Of all music. All music. Not just what we teach in our schools, but all music. This is the music that gives me hope and makes me want to do everything I can to get more students doing it. And this is where IMEA is THE music organization in Iowa that can bring music to all our students. So much potential and so much to do. I’m excited to see where we go from here.
I wrote an article for the Iowa Music Educator about the racism that exists in music education. It's not meant to just be critical and that's it. It examines the situation that we're in and connects it with the history of our country that is embedded with racist policies and ideas.
With the Fall being an unknown. Are we going to be in-person? Are we going to be on computers? Will we have school?
As you're thinking about what you can do this Fall, think about introducing more creative music making. Many of us feel tied to performance standards and expectations, but consider changing what your students do to allow them to create music. This can be easily done with online music creating platforms like BandLab.com or Soundtrap. If students have iPads or iMacs, they can use GarageBand.
When performance ideas seem like an impossibility, think about teaching all those things you always wanted to teach. Can a 2nd grader write a song? Can they write? Can they musical ideas on a computer? If so, then YES! They can write a song.
This past fall right before our conference, NAfME hosted the 2019 National Conference which also included the NAfME All National Honor Ensembles. The theme of this year’s conference was Opening Doors for All Students. This idea was woven throughout the conference and one could feel a new sense of change in music education to reach more students with all kinds of music.
The keynote on Friday opened with a remarkable performance by the West Orange High School Bel Canto Choir. Their director, Jeffrey Redding, was interviewed on stage about his approach to music teaching. He emphasized the importance of teaching every student in the classroom. The most inspirational moments were when his students were spontaneously asked to talk about their experiences in the choir and the difference he had made in their lives.
The 2019 National Conference was structured into Day-long Experiential Learning workshops and Two-Day Amplify Strands. The Experiential Learning workshops allowed attendees to take a deep dive into a topic and learn skills they could take back to their classrooms on Monday. These included steel pan, gospel choir, ukulele, social and emotional learning, composition in ensembles, songwriting, liberation drum circles and digital and hybrid music.
I and 40 other educators from around the country participated in the Gospel Choir One-Day Experiential Learning with Jason Thompson of Arizona State University. In just one day, Jason was able to take us through the historical context of gospel choirs, performance practice of modern gospel choirs and rehearse about a dozen gospel songs. The day ended with an Informance Concert of all the Day-long learning workshops which included steel pan, ukulele (lead by our 2019 Keynote speaker Bryan Powell) and our gospel choir. Jason Thompson remarkably invited the whole audience onto the stage to be in a mass gospel choir.
On the second day, I was able to drop in on various Day-long Learning Workshops including songwriting, liberation drum circles and digital music. Without a doubt, the most important thread weaving through all these sessions was creativity. I wasn’t expecting a drum circle to be as creative as it was. We delved into very important issues such as activism and social justice teaching in K-12 settings with Martin Urbach. In the digital music sessions, the biggest takeaway was creativity. It was just as creative as the songwriting sessions.
The remainder of the conference included 2-Day Amplify Stands with 6 sessions each. These strands were Creativity, Student Engagement, Instruction, Access and Community. I attended Jasmine Faulkner’s session of teaching creativity in a modern band classroom. Jasmine teaches modern band K-12 at Polaris School in Ft. Collins, Colorado. She had many useful ideas for allowing students to be musically creative at school. Another memorable session was about diverse learners and teaching for tolerance in the K-5 classroom. Alice Ann Darrow from Florida State University presented ways music educators can make their classrooms welcoming to all students.
One of the highlights of the conference was the Saturday Keynote session featuring Constance McCoy of the University of North Carolina Greensboro and Cliff Madsen of the Florida State University. They both reflected back on the Housewright Symposium and the resulting publication of Vision 2020. Although some of what was predicted has come true, Cliff Madsen reminded the audience there is still a lot more to accomplish. The keynote session included two performances. One by Touch, an all iPad ensemble from the University of South Florida and UnLoCkeD, a musical group from Southwest High School in Minneapolis, MN. Under the direction of Ruth Lemay, UnLoCkeD gave an amazing and inspiring performance. The students in UnLoCkeD have special needs but no one could tell when they were on stage. This performance was historic because it was one of the few performances at a NAfME national conference by a group of students with special needs.
The conference ended with performances by the All-National Honor Ensembles: Guitar, Modern Band, Band, Orchestra and Choir. Each performance was excellent and students were extremely proud of their accomplishment. Iowa was fortunate to have two students who were selected to be in the All-National Honor ensembles. Anna Roodnitsky from Waukee High School played bass clarinet in the All-National Honor Band and Dorothy Junginger from Valley High School played Viola in the All-National Honor Orchestra.
A historic element of the conference was the first ever inclusion of an All-National Modern Band directed by Scott Burstein. Possible music was selected by the students prior to arriving in Orlando, but they didn’t select what to perform until after meeting and rehearsing for a day. Different from the other ensembles, the students in the modern band had almost complete control over what and how they would perform. The performance was extremely high energy and the students on the stage had the time of their life. I asked a student in the group what they thought of the concert and they said it was “Sick!” Compliments don’t get much higher.
The conference was titled Opening Doors for All Students and it delivered the message that our old model of music education for the few is outdated and exclusionary. It seemed that each session and each speaker was dedicated to expanding our mindset of what music is like in the schools. As Jeff Roeding said at the opening session, “We know one thing for sure: music will keep changing. Music education needs to keep changing too.” This conference challenged attendees to keep thinking of how we can expand music education to reach more students. Iowa music educators are extremely dedicated to serving the children in our state and I have no doubt we will be amplifying our music education to reach more students in the near future.
“...it contains the world.
- Charles Limb
I’m Totally Excited!
I’ve never been so excited about music education! That may seem like a Pollyannaism, but I am honestly looking forward to our future of teaching music with children and adults. You might be asking, “What’s there to be excited about?” Plenty!
First, this past summer I had the privilege of traveling to Washington DC to represent IMEA at the NAfME National Assembly. Prior to the first day of the assembly, IMEA Secretary Lisa Ott, Collegiate IMEA President Dylan Root from Morningside College and I participated in Hill Day. This is a day where we walk around between Senate and House buildings meeting with our Iowa US Senators and Representatives. We visited the offices of Dave Loebsack, Abby Finkenauer, Cindy Axne, Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley. We talked to them about the importance of funding Titles I, II and IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act and voting to support the GAAME (Guaranteed Access to Arts and Music Education) Act.
We weren’t advocating for music education. Instead, we were talking to our legislators and staff to ask them to represent music educators by voting to support initiatives that affect music education and our students. Of course we were asking for detailed votes, but ultimately it was the stories we told about what is happening in Iowa music classrooms that made the largest impact. Lisa shared about students in Nevada who have stayed in school because of music and the Title I funding that supported it. She also shared how her students of diverse ethnicities encounter diverse teachers and are then encouraged to go into teaching. Legislators heard a story from Dylan about how music changed the lives of children with disabilities in Sioux City. I shared how modern bands in Cedar Falls and Waterloo are opening the doors of music to children that were previously closed.
In every meeting, regardless of the letter that appears in parentheses next to their name, they were able to understand how music can be powerful. There was never a debate on whether music was good or bad. In fact, when our group was announced as visitors in Senator Charles Grassley’s office, a person in the office said, “Music teachers? Cool!” That’s right. Music teachers! Because we could connect with the people who manage our country’s government while agreeing about the power of music makes me excited about music education.
Second, my wife Shelley and I attended the 6th Annual Modern Band Summit in Ft. Collins, Colorado again this summer. We attended this last summer (see Fall 2018 issue) and were so affected by the conference, we had to return again. This conference was attended by music teachers, general education teachers, arts coordinators, superintendents, college professors, business professionals and teaching artists. Not to mention musical rockstars like bassist Victor Wooten and dummer Hannah Welton-Ford.
The summit is four days filled with sessions, presentations, concerts, jam sessions, games, meals and jam sessions (many jam sessions!). On the second night of the summit, a bowling alley was rented out and a stage was set-up across 3 lanes. While people bowled in the other lanes, teachers signed up to get into groups and perform songs on stage. The crowd cheered on every group and there was even a mosh pit (though relatively calm) at front of the stage.
This is the second reason I’m excited about the future of music education. We met music educators young and old who couldn’t wait for school to start to try the new things they’ve learned. As I write this, their Facebook page is constantly updating with teachers showing off their rooms and what they have planned. They put out questions to the community that are immediately answered by many. These are teachers from Maine to Hawaii and I felt a part of huge enthusiastic buzz for “more music for more kids.”
One of the featured guests of the Modern Band Summit was neuroscientist and surgeon Charles Limb (see his Your Brain on Improv TED Talk). He has studied how the brain works during music making and especially during improvisation. Although he practices an unbiased scientific approach to studying music, he is a strong believer in the power of music to communicate with others and to bring people together. He said that “music doesn’t need advocacy.” Using the example of a 40,000 year old bone flute as evidence that music has been around since the earliest evidence of human existence, LImb said music will continue to exist with or without advocacy. While driving in a car listening to music, Lamb’s daughter once asked him why he loves music so much. His answer was simple: “Because it contains the world.”
When meeting with members of the US Congress and jamming with music teachers in Colorado, I realized the musical experiences we provide for our children are CRUCIAL!!! Think about the students attending any high school in Iowa. How many of those students will be our future senators, representatives, school board members, business leaders, philanthropists, doctors, city council members, volunteers, principals, superintendents and parents? Basically, which one’s will be making decisions about the future of our society and how many of those are leaving high school with a memorable musical experience? I don’t know, but to hedge our bets, we need to get more students doing more music...NOW!
This is why I’m so excited for music education. There is so much to do with music and as Limb says, “It contains the world.”
This summer I had one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had as a music educator. My partner Shelley and I attended the Modern Band Summit in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their website provides the best description of the conference.
Modern Band Summit convenes music educators, arts administrators, and college and university professors from across the country to advance Modern Band in our schools. This four-day professional development conference includes teacher-led workshops, special guest speakers, and nightly jam sessions that foster creativity and community in a peer network of more than 2,000 Modern Band practitioners nationwide (https://www.littlekidsrock.org/mbsummit).
This summer was the sixth year of the conference. It’s organized by LIttle Kids Rock, a non-profit school music organization that trains music teachers and donates instruments, resources and support so that teachers can teach modern band. The former name of the conference was “Modern Band Rockfest.” This provides an idea of the kind of atmosphere one can experience when attending. It was unlike any other conference I’ve attended.
First of all, many teachers attend the Modern Band Summit with little to no experience teaching modern band. On the first day, all teachers who are new to modern band are enrolled in Modern Band 101. This one-day training provides teachers with resources and pedagogy for teaching modern band. In addition, teachers learn about the music as a second language philosophy on which the pedagogy is built. The conference creates a very welcoming environment for teachers not familiar with modern band because it gives them an opportunity to learn the basics in order to take advantages of the other sessions.
A very important aspect of modern band pedagogy is that it differs significantly from school to school and from teacher to teacher. Because the music used in modern band is connected to the students and community, there is no one prescribed curriculum. This can be refreshing for those wanting to make music relevant to their students’ lives, but a bit uncomfortable for those brand new to modern band and looking for set activities.
Second, there is an immediate observable difference between the Modern Band Summit and other conferences: teachers are walking around with guitars, basses and drumsticks. For most conferences I attend, teachers are only walking around with bags and their conference program. At the Modern Band Summit, teachers attend sessions to improve their instrumental skills and their teaching skills. Guitars are checked out to any attendee who doesn’t have their own guitar. At many sessions, teachers are encouraged to use any instrument they have to contribute to the current activity.
This leads to the third and probably most enjoyable aspect of the Modern Band Summit. It’s an extremely welcoming and supportive environment of teachers passionate about getting “more music to more people, that is relevant to their lives and for more of their lives” (paraphrased from Little Kids Rock founder Dave Wish). Teachers were enthusiastic about sessions and spent much of their time sharing how they teach modern band. During sessions, teachers are encourage each other to participate and learn. Nightly jam sessions are fill with teachers getting on stage and making music for everyone else.
The demographics of the Modern Band Summit is a mix of elementary, middle school and high school music teachers along with administrators, professional musicians and university professors. Attendees come from all over the country including New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Colorado and Southern California. This combination of teachers from all over provides a view of how the modern band movement is growing in the United States.
I said that this experience was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had as a music educator because I was able to make music with other educators and also share ideas about how to reach more students with music. (Having the conference in Ft. Collin near the foothills of the Rocky Mountain doesn’t hurt). Our National Association for Music Education promotes “Music for Everyone.” (NAfME..org). The Modern Band Summit provided by Little Kids Rock is taking steps toward this goal. This is heartwarming and rewarding to experience in person.
For more information about the Modern Band Summit, go to https://www.littlekidsrock.org/mbsummit/