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?


Planets from my house

I have been fascinated with outer-space and astronomy since I was a little kid. So when I had a chance to teach students some astronomy at a summer camp, I totally geeked out. Truth is, I’m still geeking out, because I have a great view of two planets from my house. Venus on the right and Jupiter on the left.


Lyman Practical Daily Warm-Ups for Trumpet: Book Review

Practical Daily Warm-Ups for Trumpet by Zachary Lyman is a great set of exercises to add to your practice routine. I don’t often get an opportunity to review the work of a friend and colleague, so I take great delight in writing the next set of words.

I use this book often and I use it with my students to supplement their Schlossberg assignments. The first set of buzzing exercises have been particularly wonderful for my beginning trumpet students.  It has been a great addition to my library. If you want a copy of  this book you should look it up at Keveli Music. While there, look up some of their other publications.


Becoming an independent middle school music teacher

At some point after graduating with a yet another music performance degree, I found myself looking for a solution to the question of employment. Looking for a job becomes your job when you are unemployed, self-employed or underemployed. However, when you cast your net as wide as some of us do, you end up sending your information to anyone who will listen. This was the situation I was in when I was asked to substitute teach at an independent private school.

Until that point I was a substitute teacher for public schools, a sales person at a music store, a painter for a painting company and a freelance musician. In one way or another all of these job have helped me at my current job. Like most people, you learn to take advantage of your strengths and hide your shortcomings while you work to improve both. I knew that what I lacked in music education credentials I could make-up with creativity and hard work. Even if you can pull one over on the people hiring you, you can’t do the same with kids. The kids don’t care about degrees or life experience, they don’t care about your belief in the potential of every learner or that you have their best interest in mind. The last thing they’re thinking about is that this is a job for you and you really want to do well at your job. What they see is another person telling what to do.

When I was a kid I heard a phrase that made sense to me, “you fake it till you make it”. I did this right until the first concert the following January. The little jazz ensemble I taught most mornings played their first tune, “In The Mood”. I picked it because I figured it was easy and still challenging for my students. Between counting the tune off and the first note, my whole attitude changed. My students hit their first notes and I felt like I had learned something new, my eyes were opened when I realized what I was allowed to do with these students. The freedom to create my curriculum according to what I thought was good for these particular kids. The option to let a lesson steer itself into any direction student learning lead it. Suddenly this environment which was just a job till that point, became the kinetic jump for creativity, inspiration and hope. All at once, the high of watching my students perform with confidence and excitement, gave way to pride. I was proud to be a teacher again, I was proud to be part of a community. I was proud to help these students become leaders within our school. I guess the root of all the different thing I felt that night stemmed from the pride I felt because I was working at this little independent school.

I have been a teacher at Soundview School for 6 years….and counting.

Dr. Ed Castro

Why I teach

In the seventh grade, I was all about playing the drums. I would carry my sticks with me everywhere I went, tapping out beats on my notebook and/or playing along with one of my favorite songs on my Walkman. On the day of our first band class of the year, my buddy came to me upset, specifically because he had left his drumsticks at home. He too, was “all about the drums”.  In fact, most ALL of my friends were all about the drums as well. Yet, as we walked into our music class, I handed over my sticks to my buddy.  I then walked over to the shelf in the room and picked up a trumpet.  It was as simple as that.  I now played the trumpet.  Seeing and reading the Harry Potter movies/books over the last decade, where Harry chooses, yet at the same time is chosen by, the hat from the House of Griffindor, sometimes has made me wonder if we choose the instrument, or if the instrument chooses us…

I attended the performing arts high school in New York City.  There I met a teacher who changed my life.  He was my jazz band teacher. “Time, time, time is fine…” is something he would shout out above the rhythm section, clapping along, swaying back and forth.  One of the most valuable lessons I learned from him, has stayed with me as a student, a teacher, and a musician: According to Justin DiCioccio , if we wanted to succeed as professional musicians, it wasn’t enough to simply, solely, play our instruments; each of us needed to become a four-leaf clover musician. This meant becoming a master of our craft in four major areas:

1. Performing on an instrument
2. Teaching
3. Composing
4. Arranging

Throughout the remainder of my time as a student of the trumpet, I always heard the familiar voice of, and message from, Justin DiCioccio in my head.  His lesson and direction has shaped me profoundly into the trumpeter, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher and overall musician that I am today.

I describe this at such length because this has become my teaching and my own philosophy when approaching music.  I currently make a living by teaching 5-8th grade band and music at an independent school, combined with regular performances in local brass quintets, in addition to working as a freelance trumpeter.  The kids at my school are all required to take an instrument, but it doesn’t start and end there. The instrument they use is really just a pathway to exploring the world of music.  My lesson plans focus on the basics of rhythm, pitches, style, meter, etc., but they also tie into something bigger; I do have an advantage of teaching at an IB school, where I am able to integrate my lesson plans with what is going on month per month in the other classrooms and subject areas, let alone with what is going on in today’s world.  Music history comes in to play, often as the school works on various periods of history, as well as current events, in that we examine what role music has in our society, media and everyday lives. I enjoy arranging and producing specific charts for my band, often writing in parts to feature students that I know are ready to take on a solo or the next challenge within their range. I conduct and produce several concerts and competitions with my band, and I also teach private lessons.

In addition to my teaching at an independent school, I teach private trumpet lessons to students who are just starting out to students at the university level.  I appreciate this as a teacher because I get to really dive in further with trumpet and brass techniques and help them discover their overall musical potential and interests.  I value the commitment in working with students one-on-one.  Private students are encouraged to become their own four-leaf clover musician.   I tell them about my own personal experiences of teaching, composing, arranging, and playing the trumpet, and that with all of these experiences and skills utilized, I am making a living in the field of music.  I want to set the example that while it is a great thing to be an instrumentalist, it is an even greater thing, in my opinion, to be an educated, well rounded, musical individual who is capable of expressing themselves through an instrument, through a song they’ve written or sung, a chart they’ve arranged, or through a choir that they have just conducted.

My ultimate goal as a musician and educator is to finely “round out my clover”; finding the pristine balance through music, juggling all of the aspects that I have described above. My agenda is to contribute to the overall musical education of people who would be challenged by the world of music.