Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 10

Routine & Balance

After ten days of teaching remotely, plus a week of keeping track of assignments the week before, while preparing to be a virtual teacher, this thing we now think of as remote teaching, is starting to feel routine. Teaching from my makeshift home office is starting to feel almost normal too. In fact, it’s surprising to me how this pattern has evolved over these three weeks.

At first I kept the same sleep schedule and my morning routine for the sake of not making too many adjustments. After all remote teaching was at first supposed to last for about a month. Then after a few announcements by the WA State Governor Inslee, then the CDC stating that this may very well be our collective reality at least until May, I started to change my mind set about this experience. I became more positive and started approaching long term solutions to some of the challenges facing me, my students and most certainly my family. After all, they too are stakeholders in this environment with me.

The routine is becoming cemented with me, so I’m sure my students are starting to feel it as well. Working from home is no longer the hurtle it was two weeks ago, and now I’m most concerned with the balance of working from home and still being a good father and husband for my family. It seem that the work-life and home-life balance I had been trying to figure out before the coronavirus era began, is still something I’m going to need to tweak and work out. Funny how the challenges of being a full time teacher during regular work hours and keeping an active performance career doesn’t really change in our current situation. I still need to find the time in my day to work on my ability to play the trumpet, and lesson plan for my students with the added advantage of becoming 1/2 of our home school faculty for our kid. 

New challenges are coming. Old challenges are evolving. The earlier wave of obstacles is becoming routine.

My Old Notebooks

I usually carry a notebook in my backpack. It’s become a habit for me to just pull it out and jot down what’s on my mind or notes from a meeting, chord progressions, tone rows…anything I need to put on paper.  Sometimes I may even take a moment to review a notebook from its first page, so it functions as a journal as well. Dates may or may not be written in the notebook, the end of a thought might not be articulated due to some sort of distraction. In any case, I am fascinated by past me and those thoughts.

Recently I went looking through one of my old notebooks and found one of my melted thought-cicles on one of its pages. I referenced a picture of me and my dad. At the time he was diagnosed with cancer and I was in town to visit him. I can’t remember the reason for this particular picture or what were we staring at, but my notes about that moment seem more contemplative and vulnerable.

I lost him 6 months after that picture was taken, and I miss him. My guess is that my old notebooks are time machines because that particular entry took me right back to the moment that picture was taken, and I am lucky to have both to help me grieve.

 

ISM’s in me

The problem with being someone who likes to fix things is, you may end up causing more problems. Unintended problems which may put into question the very reason you chose to help. In my case, a bad mixture of paternalism, guilt, narcism, and hero’ism gone too far.

Recently I caught myself trying to help too much, though my intentions were good, the consequences of my action put some of my colleges in very tense conversations about how to help a particular situation. My flaw was thinking that if I were to get involved with that situation, the problem would somehow be remedied and it would all work itself out like some made for TV movie.

As teachers, I believe we try to fix things and find solutions to what needs to be addressed right now. The truth is, what fixes the particular problem I am reckoning with is having a balance of people that look like me and can speak to the multitude of experiences of people that look like me. Unfortunately, I can’t fix this with just sheer will of strength…in fact, I can’t affect the issue of lack of representation at independent schools. (At least not yet.)

I still have a lot of personal work I need to do to address the “ism’s” I deal with and the negative impacts of them on the people around me.

It’s Been A While…

It’s been a long time since my last post, so I feel the need to add something new. However, the something new feels like it will be a combination to things that have been on my mind since November. There are personal thing and other ideas and feeling related to music or teaching. I guess this is when the identity of this particular blog are at odds. Or at least with the music, thoughts and random things smash into one another.

Here are several things that have been on my mind over the past few months and in no particular order. First the book “Why The Cock Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola” by Michele Wucker. The People of Color Conference, held in Nashville in November, followed by some trumpet playing problems I’ve been experiencing. The music of Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, and the albums by the Now Ensemble. And finally, capping off the whirl wind of thoughts and experiences from November to now…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Along with all of those thoughts, feeling and experiences, there is family taking up space within all of these topics in my head. I think about my kid and wife, my parents, grandparents and my brother, when I think to what I read about the island of Hispaniola, PoCC and MLK. I worry about my ability to be creative when I wonder about my chops and whether I can participate or teach effectively the music I enjoy listening to.

Perhaps I just need more time to process, think and feel these thing out….. then I can share my thoughts.

Appreciation, Hip Hop and Fatherhood

As a musician and a teacher, I have had the pleasure to be a part of many cool moments of discovery. This even happens with my daughter sometimes. I still remember with pride when I asked her “Can I Kick It” and she replied (appropriately) “Yes You Can”. Thank you, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed and Jarobi for that moment. 

Recently I had another one of those with my kid. She asked to listen to “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys…so  I put it on in the car. She said she likes the robot sounds in the song, but she always cracks at the end of the track when Biz Markie jumps in at the end of it. We listened to it again with the same result, so I decided to play “Just A Friend” for her. She loved it and sang the chorus the whole way home. 

Soon we’ll have an awesome playlist for our father-daughter car rides.

Playing Games

I’m sitting here watching my kid play with her friend and I start to reflect on what winter breaks of the past.

Winter break has always been tricky for me, like my kid I need a structured day. Work tends to give me the grounding I need, a task list or a deadline gives my day order. Whether I get it all done or not depends on the amount of time allowed over the course of my day.

Last year at this time and in this vacuum, I was totally lost. However, my kid seemed to have a plan. With no hesitation to my question “What should we do today?” my kid answers “Let’s play a game. Let’s play the lava game!”

We then proceeded to build an obstacle course from the playroom through the living room and into the dining room. Which in truth is all one big space anyways, but our furniture makes it feel like three separate spaces.

Knowing this my kid makes a course which requires us to climb up, in and over stuff. Stepping on, crawling through and stretching over stuff like pillows, shoes, pots and pans blankets and trampolines.

Needless to say after doing this for about 30 minutes as fast as we could go I was sufficiently sweaty. Sucks being old and out of shape…still fun though!

Tears at random times

I can’t say I usually cry at movies, however with the recent loss of my father I’m finding it difficult to sit through certain scenes in movies. This morning I fell victim to one of these moments while scrolling through things on Facebook. It reminded me of my relationship with my dad, and I appreciate him for it.

To say the James Earl Jone and Courtney B. Vance are brilliant actors, would be an understatement. However for some reason this scene from the play version of Fences took me down. Since the movie version of Fences has been such a success, it’s nice to see versions of the stage version as well.

The things students do

The past four weeks have been quite difficult for me. I had to take a significant amount of time away from my day job as a middle school music teacher to care for my father. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that as I continue to cope with losing him. However with all that has happened, my students remind me (yet again) why I am a teacher, by creating this message for me.

They did manage to include music we have been studying and a song I made them research earlier in the school year. Great way of connecting our curriculum. Nice job Soundview Class of 2017.

Coping with first day of 1st grade

000255x_rain_on_pavementMy breathing becomes labored, I don’t know what to do with my hands. By the time I get to my car, I’ve got several tears rolling down my face. Luckily it’s raining…so if anyone saw me they might think it was just the rain. It’s 9:30 in the morning on the first day of first grade for my kid and I can’t deal. The car door closes and I can’t hold my tears any more…

A few simple words sent me into this state. First I apologized to my kid for forgetting to give her, her medication. Then she said “It’s okay daddy, things happen. This will help me with my day, I’m really nervous”.  We talked some more and by the end of the conversation she gave me a hug and a kiss, then went back to her new classroom and I walked back to my car.

img_1024The image of her walking towards her classroom stayed with me the rest of the day. If I had this moment back, I might have ask her for one more hug.

Middle of summer worries for a music teacher

music-school-560x328 It’s the middle of summer, my kid is watching cartoons while I look at my units of study for the up coming school year. Since I am a middle school band director, I tend to worry about how effectively I am helping students learn specific skills on their instruments and the other parts of music299de70a6b898c2b2e89733edb73c3e4, like music theory and music history. Never mind connecting them to other subjects studies at out school and finding ways to stay in touch with anything current and relevant to middle school kids, while thinking about making global connections to all we do.

Just for fun (or because I’m a glutton for punishment) we will be tackling intro to music theory, the Romantic era of music history, beginning conducting and beginning composition. IMG_2308

And yes, this will be the work 6th, 7th and 8th graders will explore with me. Should be a fun school year, so why am I worried about it in July?