Thursday, November 25, 2010


It's American Thanksgiving this weekend and I'm going to use that as an excuse to list some things I am grateful for in my life.

During last month's Canadian Thanksgiving we were in the midst of mourning the loss of my husband's best friend and preparing for his memorial service.  I was definitely not in the mindset to write anything on a blog!

Right now I have more emotional space and motivation to feel gratitude.

I am so very grateful to my husband for his attention, sense of humour and willingness to be an active, helpful, supportive, loving being in my life.  He'll cook for me, shovel snow and sprinkle roadsalt for me at work to keep my students and families safe as they come and go.  He makes my feel my life is complete even when something might be missing! 

I feel gratitude each time I walk in my music studio for the opportunity to sing and dance and play music with so many loving families. 

I am grateful to have our little dog, Moka, here too.  He makes us all smile and cuddles up every chance he gets!

I am grateful to have my work and the ability to make music everyday. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Science of Babies

My husband and I watched a National Geographic show on TV a few weeks ago.
It was about the first year of a baby's life.  

Everything was fascinating but the one thing that keeps sticking in my mind is the face of the orphan from Romania.  That little boy spent the first year of life looking up at a plain, white ceiling for most hours of his day.  He received little to no human interaction and it has permanently affected the way he behaves with other people.  He can not "read" faces and he has trouble understanding the needs of others (let alone himself).

Babies learn to read faces in the first year of life.  The seeds are sown at this time for how to connect emotionally to other people, how to feel compassion...extremely important abilities in everyday life.

When I hear or read about "the future" of technology and how people don't need people the way they used to because of technology I think about these kinds of children.

There will never be a time that children don't need parents and community - loving ones - and I think the real value in technology/facebook/and other social media is that they add another "tool" in our communication toolboxes...not that they replace face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder interactions.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Music as a second language.

You've heard of ESL? English as a second language?

More and more I meet parents who want their children to learn to speak music.  They don't want a classical education per say...but they want an ability to speak musical have an ear for be able to communicate in Music with others.

When you think about music and children from the developmental perspective of learning a language I think the performance expectations change from "get it right" to "way to go...nice try".

Different attitude entirely!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson entertains us again!


Sir Ken Robinson - an 11 minute animated talk...interesting and fun to watch!

Such great thoughts on education and how we can begin to improve our education systems by incorporating aesthetic education (education through the arts!)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Moms have better imaginations than you think

I played piano for years beginning at about 3 years of age and as a teenager was still not a fluent player.  

Somehow between the ages of 12 and 18 my skill level and performance ability just blossomed.  My mother was incredibly insistent that I would learn and play music so I could have that as a life skill.  She just did not give up...and believe me...I fought her about this.  

She even had our piano teacher move into our house!  So I lived with my piano teacher for many years.  While this might seem remarkable to some of you...I am amazed we all lived with my mother!

I had many musical friends and I seemed to be less able than all of them at that time.  Most of those friends didn't play piano though.

They played easier instruments ( me they seem easier) like violin or viola or a wind instrument or a brass instrument.

With those instruments you read one melodic line of music and that's it. That's it!

With piano, you read two different clefs simultaneously.  So your brain has to remember two systems of dots and then each hand plays a different system (different notes) at once.  It's a harmonic and contrapuntal instrument.   So much more going on with piano.

More dots on the page to decipher and translate into something musical.   Not as challenging as the organ though!  Look at all the keyboards the organist has to play and think about...the organist even plays tunes with foot pedals.

In the end, my continued efforts took me far beyond what my friends might have imagined!

My mom had a better imagination than all of us in our short-sighted teenager years!  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sing for bliss!

I sing with a choir called CapriCCio Vocal Ensemble.  It's a choir you need to audition for or know someone within the choir who can vouch for your skill and musicality.  

It's not one of those fun community choirs where anyone can join and no one needs to know how to read the music.  Having said that,CapriCCio  is challenging and blissful for me.  I experience little joy singing with the non-auditioned type of choir.  (I don't seem to have this issue with instrumental groups, however...I'm okay playing with mixed levels on instruments for some reason.)

We were sight-singing (that means we were singing from music we had never seen before) our new Christmas concert repertoire the night before last and I can tell you we all sounded stilted and uncoordinated, hitting wrong notes and mispronouncing the French or Latin text.

The director was patient and frustrated at the same time.  He let us know we were not okay!  As choir members we were looking sideways at one another.  Yet, we will figure it all out as we always do and be ready in about a 5 or 6 rehearsals for our public performance just a few days before Christmas.

None of us developed our skill overnight.  We've all been playing music and singing since our younger days.  Some of the members have perfect pitch and are comfortable singing solos.  Some of us do not have perfect pitch and are not all that comfortable singing solos.  We all love to sing in ensemble though.

We all sing for bliss!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When is it worth the investment to nurture your child's musicality?

Is it worth it?

I think that is the thought that is underneath a parent's questions about a child's ability or seeming non-ability.  How do you know if it's worth it to pay for lessons and give these opportunities when you can't see the result right away?  How do you know if it's worth it if the child is not always performing for you?  What if they are not even particularly joyous about it? Hmmm....

I'm not talking about child prodigies here...children who play at an almost unnaturally high level at a very young age. 
 Mozart playing piano at an adult level and he is only a child.

There definitely are children who seem to have obvious natural talent.  The child is more coordinated with an instrument somehow or the playing seems to "flow"...the playing is not stilted.  It appears that they are "natural".  

In my experience, this just does not predict outcomes years down the road.  Sometimes the child who seems to be working away with less result will one day be the shining star!  And that child grows up to be someone who enjoys playing music beyond childhood.

It's my belief that exposure to music and learning through music are never wasted opportunities.  Children carry in their hearts the joy of making music as children and teenagers.

It's always worth it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How fun can change people's decisions - The Piano Stairway

Such a great example of how having fun affects behaviour.

This is why I focus on having fun when introducing children (and grown-ups) to the world of making music!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Becoming a Performer

My thinking about performance with respect to young children is this...

Encourage, encourage and encourage! 
Be positive!  Be happy!
Be respectful too.

Praise is different than encouragement.
Praise can lead to giving up while encouragement can lead to increased effort.

Praise can be given without even paying attention.  Encouragement requires us to pay attention to the child and what they are performing.  Encouragement implies we are expecting a positive outcome and looking for the good in the performance.

Before children become self-conscious (and there is no set age for this) everything they do seems to be a performance.  Life is a performance!

We enjoy watching babies learning to walk, fall down, walk...we encourage them.  We certainly don't criticize them while they are developing.   We don't point out what's wrong with their gait (because their legs are short and they are wearing diapers)...we express joy at their efforts or we just allow them to "be" without comment.

We enjoy the process.  We let that process happen.

Once children are older there are diffferent approaches to their efforts.  In music learning and performance there is sometimes an over-focus on "getting it right" because...well...getting it wrong just sounds bad.  Getting the notes wrong in music is kind of like the falling down part of learning to walk.  Eventually the notes will be right.  It just takes as long as it takes.

Just ask Grizelda the witch (aka Wanda) about getting those notes right.  It's a process!

Stage performance is another thing entirely...and I'll talk about that another time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Music I'm thinking of using for a puppet presentation this year

According to Wikipedia...

Zbigniew Preisner studied history and philosophy in Krakow

He never received formal music lessons and he taught himself about music by listening and transcribing parts from records.   He acknowledges Paganini and Jean Sibelius as his influences.  He has composed a long list of music for films.

That's remarkable!

Somehow, in my mind's eye his music evokes English subtitles.
I also see a dramatic play of marionettes dancing through the room.

I wonder what the children will see when they hear this?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I wish I'd recorded it!

Last week was Halloween Week at Musicalia.
All the "big" kid classes had halloween theme songs, games and dances and plays to perform.
It was exciting, fast-paced and fun.
We ended each class with apple-bobbing.

One of the Maestros classes is in their 1st year of guitar & harmonica, 2nd year of violin and 3rd year of recorder!

Being new...and being a guitar...the guitar seems to be the favorite instrument right now!

The kids have learned the E minor chord.  This is an exciting chord because we and can strum all the strings (instead of just 3 or 4) and sing that spooky song...

"There was an old woman all skins and bones.  Oooooooo
She lived down by the old graveyard. Oooooooo
One night she thought she'd take a walk. Oooooooo
She walked down by the old graveyard. Ooooooo
She saw some bones a layin' around. Ooooooo
She went to the closet to get a broom. Ooooooo
She opened the door and  BOO! (we all turn our guitars over and drum the back of it on the word "BOO")

It was a feel-good class that day because they kept asking to sing and play it over and over and over and over.  It became meditative and calming and the children felt confident and competent.  

I asked one of the dads (who happened to join us that day) to pluck low E and B alternatively on the cello.  What a great bass line!  
There was a 3 year old there with his mom and we gave him an E note tone bar to play.  He had a solo "boo" after each time we sang the song.  

It was a magical, musical ensemble experience.

I wish it for all 7 and 8 year olds!  I wish I'd recorded it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inner speech...what is it? how do I nurture it?

Inner speech is the process through which we hear ourselves think and listen internally. 
Inner-speech should be in place by the age of 8. 

How can you tell if inner speech is not in place?
Children without inner voice need to hear something to understand it.  Without a developed ability to process internally and think internally children may have difficulty thinking through their problems.  Sometimes you see impulse control problems because a child needs to move to think.  Sometimes the child will act before thinking it all the way through...sometimes we all regret that!

I like to begin singing songs that practise inner speech when children are almost 3 years old.
To enhance inner speech try:
1.  singing in rounds (singing in rounds may be more successful with ages 6 and up though)
2.  singing songs like “B I N G O” (where you think the words-using inner speech...clap the inner speech part in order to "feel" it)

Sing songs with actions so the actions help to keep everyone focussed on where we're at once the inner speech parts begin part way through a song.  Some examples:
3.  Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes.  
     Head and shoulders, knees and toes, eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

4.  Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill.  
One named Jack and one named Jill.  
Fly away, Jack! Fly away, Jill!  
Come back, Jack.  Come back, Jill.

5.  Birds have a beak.  
Cats have sharp claws.  
The elephant's trunk is very smart but fingers do it all!

6.  Any of the songs in Jos Wuytack's little yellow book, "55X Funtastic - 55 songs with Movement".

7.  Using any poem the children know and leaving out key words so the children have to fill them in.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Use a kazoo to develop self-esteem?! hmmm...

A wonderful music tool for young children is the kazoo. 

Kazoos activate bone structure because of the vibrations. 
This activates the vestibular system. 

Playing kazoo can positively impact language development! 

As a child plays kazoo, he or she is developing self-esteem (anything this much fun...or tricky to figure out....has got to develop self-esteem!), internalizing rhythms, having fun and establishing the beginning of inner voice, a skill necessary for higher-level thinking. 

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