Kenley Kristofferson


Tag: music education

Music Ed Monday – The Long Game

I’m writing this as my baby is fussing in the crib beside me — not crying or screaming, just kind of whining.

We’re in the midst of sleep training our seven-month old and there are many days where I feel like what we’re doing just isn’t working.  Even a week into this, there is still a lot of fussing and particularly around nap time.

It makes me think a lot of picking/rehearsing repertoire. As music educators, it’s one of the most important parts of our job: Picking the right rep for the right band. If I had a nickel for every time I said “I really like this piece, but it’s not right for this group…”

The strange thing is that sometimes I pick a piece of rep that I think is a great choice for my band and, despite my best efforts to pre-teach the concepts, it just doesn’t work; it may not even work for a few weeks.

If you’ve been there, you know the questions we ask ourselves: Did I misjudge the piece? Or my group? Why isn’t it working? And then the logical last question: Do I pull it?

Sometimes, the right decision is to pull it, right? How long as an ensemble do we decide to keep banging this square peg into a round hole? And no one is enjoying it at that point either (including us teachers) and we’re just dragging the band up the hill. Now we’re a month behind schedule and we have fill this gap left by this piece that we thought was going to be great.

This is how I feel about sleep training.  There are many days where I just bang my head against the wall and feel like a terrible parent, especially in the beginning.

On the other hand, there are times where my baby actually stops crying and falls asleep by himself and those are wonderful moments. They don’t happen every time, but they happen sometimes. Many parents tell me that’s normal and that I shouldn’t expect every nap to be a magical perfect experience…

… Just like a rehearsal, right? Some days, it’s two steps forward and one step back; and others, it’s one step forward and two steps back.  Those are the days we need to review.

And then the days get better. The baby needs to learn how to sleep and the band needs to learn how to work through pieces they can’t nail on the first read. In short, both the baby and the band need to work through things they can’t immediately do and that’s okay. It’s okay if it’s hard.

In my earlier years, I would give my senior big band a piece that was pretty above-level for them in September. To be sure, the band would usually listen to a recording of it and really like it, then barely get through four bars of it. I reassured them that it probably wouldn’t sound good until November, but that this was the next level and we needed to work on how to learn it. We needed to practice how to practice it.  I still think that there’s educational merit in it, but there’s a particular personal merit too.

As I’m writing this line, the baby is now sleeping. It took a few pick-ups and put-downs, a couple of head rubs, and a handful of shushes (and some screaming later on, on his part), but he did it.  It wasn’t a pretty hour of fussing–67 minutes, to be exact–but he got it.

Baby sleeping in crib

(not my baby, I found this one at

To bring this back to my big band, they usually started putting the above-level piece together around late November. And let me tell you, when something technical falls into place, it is joy that we rarely experience as educators because there is genuine accomplishment and success in the band and they know it. They worked hard and could do something that they couldn’t do before, then we give them genuine praise for their sincere accomplishment.

There is value in playing the long game.

That brings us back to the question: Do I pull it? If we believe in the piece and believe in the band, are we willing to play the long game, especially when there isn’t as much gratification during the day-to-day? Truthfully, maybe we can structure in more short-term gratification with smart pedagogy and rehearsal strategies, but the long game is the long game, no matter how you slice it.

With baby, we’re in this sleep training business for the long haul. The baby rests better and longer, and also is in a deeper sleep. And hey, we adults have more time during the day to do what we need (like writing a blog post?) so everyone wins, but especially baby.

If it’s the right piece, the band can also be the one that wins, not only by performing the piece well, but actively working through material that’s difficult and challenging for them–I say again, there is educational value in that! It’s a gift in life we can give to our students. Not only can we can teach them how to persist through adversity, but we can do it while making music.


P. S. …aaaaaaand they’re awake. A 20-minute nap? I thought they were supposed to sleep longer and better! Ugh, two steps forward…

Music Ed Monday – Fine-Thanks-And-You (Part 1)

(This is part one of a two-part post.  The first part will introduce the topic, while the second will address some of the skills associated with what it looks like in a classroom, at least at a rudimentary level).

The CBC (our public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a program this past year on its current events show about mindfulness in the classroom.  It portrayed various programs in Ontario who are adopting programs of self-awareness in students, but with a particular focus on emotional awareness.  The bit started with one of the show’s producers recounting his experience eating a square of chocolate with a Toronto-based mindfulness coach, framed around the idea of just “noticing” the chocolate.

– What does the wrapper look like?
– Is it shiny?
– How heavy is the chocolate?
– What does it smell like?
– What colour is it?
– (Notice and be aware of all of these things)

Then as he put it on his tongue, he received another set of questions/instructions:

– What is the first taste you notice?
– Is it melting? How is it melting?
– What are the first flavours you taste?

Then he bit down on the square:

– How much resistance is there against your teeth?
– Is it soft? Is it hard?
– Is it crunchy? Is it creamy?

And so forth.  This point may seem a bit laboured, but it’s relevant because I’ve eaten a lot (bold and italics) of chocolate in my life and my only question after the first square is usually “where is the next square,” followed by “what do you mean we’re out of chocolate?!” I would rarely notice anything about something I have a tremendous amount of experience with, which on the surface seems ridiculous, but I think that it happens everywhere and with the vast majority of people.


The program aired during a week when my nephew was staying with me to attend basketball camp at the University of Manitoba.  When I came to pick him up, I’d ask how he was doing and he would always (5/5 times) answer with “Good, you?” That tells me that he’s mechanically responding with a socially acceptable “good” while being polite and asking me how I am as well (“you”).  Five out of five times; same tone, same vocal inflection.

The adult equivalent of this is “fine, thanks, and you?” which often blurs together as fine-thanks-and-you.  This breaks down as:

Fine – I’m alright; not bad, not great, but good enough that you probably won’t ask anymore about it.
Thanks – I’m being polite, look at how polite I’m being.
And You – I’m going to further my politeness by asking how you are.  I’m not really that interested, I just need to give the impression that I am long enough to talk about something else.

Part of this response is to give the illusion of strength to someone not terribly connected to you, like Frank the Mail Guy or Jane from Accounting.  Not that either of these people aren’t important, they just don’t need to know much more than fine-thanks-and-you about you.

But I think that the inherent problem is where you start really believing fine-thanks-and-you and you don’t actually know what’s going on with your own feelings either.  When you wake up, you’re more tired than you’ve ever been.  You’re quicker to anger.  Your neck and shoulders are always tight.  You’re drinking more.  It takes you hours to fall asleep and you can’t seem to figure out why.

Now imagine that there is a person who is more sensitive than you, less experienced, more tired, busier, and works in a highly competitive and judgemental environment.  Now we’re describing teenager and it has never been harder to be one.

In terms of trying to live up to impossible physical standards in a world where your social media accounts all demonstrate your passion for social justice while featuring photoshopped professional photography, it’s all been said.  There is pressure coming from all sides to be not only be perfect (which is impossible, by the way), but to actively share it.  The only thing more important than keeping it all together is the impression of keeping it all together.

And don’t get me wrong, I don’t escape it either and (probably) neither do you.  This is the world we live in now, but for the adults reading it, at least we don’t have to grow up in it.  And this is where mindfulness comes in.

Remember the chocolate from above? And the noticing? Let’s pair that with why we can’t seem to fall asleep at night and how hard it is to keep up with the Joneses on social media.  It all boils down to a lack of emotional awareness – you don’t actually know how you’re feeling.  It’s okay, that’s the world you’ve been brought up into, but now imagine a scenario where you would learn to manage your emotions when they’re at their most volatile.

Imagine you learned to emotionally aware at sixteen.  Imagine a world where you grew up learning to gain a handle on your emotions.  That’s what we’re talking about here.

start-where-you-areThankfully, I get to team teach with someone who beat this trend by about ten years.  Educational culture is just getting on the wagon of teaching mindfulness and emotional awareness and my teaching partner has already been doing it for about ten years.*

Sometimes, he’ll lead them in guided meditation, but not terribly often.  He’ll usually just ask “how are you doing in there today?” as a start, followed by something like “just notice the sensations in your body and how they relate to how you’re feeling.”  Not exactly that, but something like it.   It doesn’t have to be a full-on Buddhist meditation or three-hour kumbaya, it’s as easy as asking them how they’re feeling today and genuinely caring about the answer.

When I overhear that, I might think “I feel a tightness in my chest” (which usually means I’m anxious) or “my traps and neck are really tight” (meaning that I’m stressed) or that I feel no sensation and I’m just feeling good.  The difference is that I’m actually taking a second to acknowledge what I’m actually feeling in real time.  Not at the end of the day where I reflect, but I reflect in that moment, which is an important part of it.

I want to delve into some of the more day-to-day of it next week and what it looks like in my classroom, but I want to give some homework for the next seven days (because I’m a teacher, you know).

– In a distraction-free environment, notice how you’re feeling in a given moment; that is, draw attention to the sensations happening in your body and how they connect to your emotions.  You don’t have to do anything about it, just acknowledge that it’s there and don’t run away from it.  Acknowledge it, then keep acknowledging it.

That’s the start.  Let’s have a great week.

Photo cred:

Music Ed Monday – The Starfish Story

Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”

starfishIsn’t that a lovely story? While originally by Loren Eisley, I read it in Ben and Rosamund Zander’s The Art of Possibility, which we’re doing as a trial run for the Fundamentals III novel study. It’s a wonderfully powerful read and challenges us from following the path of others in the world of measurement to our own path in the universe of possibility. In the words of a former student of mine, it challenges the reader to “stop stopping their lives and start starting them.”

Ben Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, so many of his anecdotes and stories are musically-based, which resonates with both myself and my students. This chapter focuses on “Being a Contribution,” rather than being caught in the engine of competition. What if I stopped measuring my achievements and accomplishments against those of others and, instead, focused on just giving the world what I had to give? What if I’m just fine where I am? What if it’s okay to give what I have, and not worry about giving what I don’t?

When someone starts thinking like that, the focus immediately switches from seeing the obstacles (“needing to give what you don’t have”) to seeing the progress (“it’s okay to give what I have”).

Ben Zander follows this story with this:

From our earliest days, we understand that there are tasks ahead of us to accomplish and landmarks to achieve. Life often looks like an obstacle course. In order to maximize success, we spend a good deal of time discussion what stands in the way of it. The man in the story sees only obstacles when he speaks of the countless starfish. He warns the young woman that her gestures are futile. Too many starfish, not enough time, not enough staff or resources, results too difficult to track…

The story told, however, reveals nothing about the “success” or “failure” of the rescue mission, or what proportion of the starfish survived or perished. It does not describe the past, nor foretell the future. All we hear is that the young woman was smiling and serene, and that she moved in the pattern of a dance. Absent are the familiar measurements of progress. Instead, life is revealed as a place to contribute and we as contributors. Not because we have done a measurable amount of good, but because that is the story we tell.

You just can’t measure all of the good, can you? Yet we try, especially in education. We need to assign a number to your progress. I don’t love it, but that is the institution where I’ve made my decision to contribute because I get to work with the most kids.

If I lived in the world of measurement, I may be saying “How can I make a difference in the world? I only see 120 kids a year? 120 out of millions! How can I impact the world when see so few kids?”

But now, if I live in a world of possibility, I could reframe that statement with something like: “I get to work with many individuals and some really need the help of teachers. Isn’t amazing that we get to be there and be positively present in their life?”

To be said another way: You don’t have to change the world to make a difference in it.


– Pick up this book and read it slowly, chapter by chapter. When you’ve finished one chapter, think about it throughout the day and see where you can change your perception to reflect the ideas in the book. You might not take everything from it, but you might take something, and that’s a great start.

Music Ed Monday – Little one, what do you choose to be when you grow up?

At the beginning of this year, we had a PD session on character development which really changed the way that think about teaching.  It didn’t change it in a philosophical way, but more in a practical and pragmatic way.  It’s good that you want to make kids more successful and happier people, but how do you actually do it in a classroom day to day?

I didn’t have all the answers that day because no one ever does.  You will just never, ever have all of the answers.  As soon as you resign yourself to that, you can start making progress.

So no, I didn’t get all the answers, but I got a few.  I got enough to get started.  Even moreso, I got enough to get me even more curious.

I started talking to other teachers around the school about the PD and it was largely well-received.  One teacher in particular (and who I have tremendous respect for) said she’d been interested in pragmatic character education for a while and had just finished a thought-provoking book about it.  It was called How Children Succeed: How Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough and she very kindly lent it to me.

I started reading it, but got overwhelmed at work and life and put it away for a while.  It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I really started digging into it again and I’m so glad I did.  It’s challenged me a lot while still giving me some tools to teach character education more effectively.

Several sections stuck out to me, but I’ve been thinking about the upcoming section quite a bit over the past few days.  It involves a low-income middle school in the US called IS-318 and their exceptional chess program.   In an email exchange between the author and a Scottish chessmaster named Jonathan Rowson, the master writes about the difference between wanting something for yourself and choosing it:

When it comes to ambition… it is crucial to distinguish wanting something and choosing it.  Decide that you want to become a world champion… and you will inevitably fail to put in the necessary hard work.  You will not only not become world champion but also have the unpleasant experience of falling short of  desired goal, with all of the attendant disappointment and regret.  If, however, you choose to become world champion (as Kasparov did at a young age), then you will “reveal your choice through your behaviour and your determination.  Every action says ‘this is who I am.'”

Isn’t that fabulous? Much of the context around this chapter involves practicing chess for hours a day (three as the minimum example, twelve-to-fourteen with the book’s most extreme one), but the notion still stands.  If you’re going to do it, then do it.  If you’re going to use your passion as your label, then you better do your passion.

Sometimes, I wrestle with this as a composer.  During school start up, I rarely compose as much as I want/need to.  If I do write through September and October for a deadline, I usually crash hard at the end of November and all the way through until Winter holidays.  But in the interim, there’s that nagging feeling of “you should be doing something creative right now…” and you just don’t have it in you.

That “nagging feeling” also means that you’ve made that choice, and you’ve probably made it because you like it, or it gives you some sort of enjoyment or meaning.  Here’s another section from the How Children Succeed about that:

During one conversation I had with [the chess teacher] whether she ever felt that her students were sacrificing too much to succeed at chess.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  “What’s missing from that idea is that playing chess is, like, wonderful.”

If you love it and love doing it, then do more of it.  “You are revealing your choice through behaviour and determination” and every action says “this is who you are.”  I love that.  Even when I’m not writing and I’m exhausted and the last thing in the world I want to do is compose, I know that I still love it and that brings me back to the piano.

Sometimes it’s this…

happypianoAnd sometimes, it’s this…


But that’s what it takes if you want to be this…

The same applies to teachers as it does to students: Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

If you are a student (or former student) reading this, what do you choose to be? Whatever it is you choose, know that you can do it.  You can do it.

You can do it.

… but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to do itself :).  There are never any substitutes for hard work, but there are a multitude of rewards.  Whether it’s seeing positive reinforcement on a paper you wrote, someone crediting your ideas, have a finished piece of art in front of your eyes, or seeing your work affect someone emotionally, the reason why it’s that good is because you put that much work into it.  But even moreso, all of your actions are a result of who you choose to be.

Think back to when you were a kid and an adult asked you what you wanted to be when you grow up? Reframe that situation and that wording: “Little one, what do you choose to be when you grow up?”

Let’s have a great week,

PS: For more positive results, see last week’s post.

Music Ed Monday – The Inspiration Board

We used to have this whiteboard at the front of our room, but then we got this incredible SMARTBoard.   It’s an enormous touchscreen monitor that’s rigged up to our iMac.  It’s like Star Trek, the future is now 🙂

… But then what were we going to do with this old whiteboard?

Well, we just put it off to the side on, really, the only wallspace that would fit.  We also didn’t have much to put on it either (because we did everything on the SMARTBoard), so it held rehearsal schedules or reminders for a while, but then it turned into something entirely different.

I love this thing.  It’s now the “Inspiration Board” and I can’t really take credit for any of it.  This is a brainchild of Michael Brandon, my collaborating teacher.  We each bring something different to the Music Room, but I’m sure glad that he brings this.

But then another amazing thing happened: The kids started writing on it too.  Take a look at this gem here:

Then just last week, Michael posed a question on the white board: “It’s your turn! What have you learned?” And just look how they responded…

Some of my favourites include…
– “Everyone leads from their own seat” (we can thank one of our clarinetists for that one)
– “No one cares what you can do without trying.”
– “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

It’s amazing what they’ll tell you if only you give them the opportunity 🙂

Have a great week!

Music Ed Monday – Count Basie Eighth Notes

This past week, I took my Senior Big Band to the Brandon Jazz Festival in Brandon, MB, Canada.  It’s a fantastic festival and I hope that you all go 🙂

In which case, we played Count Basie’s “Hayburner,” an arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Spain” and then a local tune called “Hobgoblin” by Moses Mayes (and arranged by my bass player, which is fabulous).  In our clinic, our adjudicator talked about where the eighth notes lay in the Basie big band – sometimes on the 2/3 (as in a triplet, or swung eighth) or sometimes on the 3/4 (as in a sixteenth note, so really laying it back).

I talked about this with my friend and former bandmate, Brad Grieve, who played in Gordon Foote’s* big band at McGill.  He gave me a teachable tidbit that changed my whole perception on how to play Basie:

 The Count Basie swing is this: When a there are a series of 8th notes, the swing is triplets (2/3, 1/3), however, when a figure is followed by a rest, or is tied, the last beat of 8th notes in the series are 16th note related (3/4, 1/4). Every time. How “laid-back” the band is is a myth. Everyone plays on the downbeats at the same time, its the difference in swing of the 8th notes that give the feeling of being laid back.

So, if you teach big band, I hope that you find this valuable! Here is “Corner Pocket,” one of my favourite Basie tunes!

Until then!


Music Ed Mondays – What Does That Look Like?

In our last post, we talked about the things that that get in our way, if only…

Your homework was to find an “if only” in your life and write it down.  Beneath it, you were to write “what does the solution look like?”

So how did that go?

It’s hard to get what you want if you don’t know what it looks like.  We all think this way and kids of this generation especially so.  When we ask them to write a newspaper article or transcribe a solo for jazz band, they really need a template so that they know what’s expected.  You may not always need to explain every little thing, but let them go and guide them to find the patterns between the expectations and the examples themselves.  As a comparison, ask them how many instruction booklets they’ve read – they usually just pick up their new toy and start playing with it, figuring it out as they go.

And we need templates too, don’t we? When I go to festivals and hear a great ensemble, I often think “show me the steps to get there.  What is the sequence? What does that classroom look like?”

Michael Brandon and I talk about that a lot in our quest as teachers and, whatever element of our class culture or pedagogy we’re talking about, the same question always pops up: “What does that look like?”

Lately, we’ve been working on tuning fifths across the ensemble and using it as a method of teaching intonation to get that really transparent sound.  Michael’s been doing a lot of the big research and sharing it with me, my credit in the whole endeavour is much less than his, but we’re both pursuing it together.  He’s been reading like crazy and looking online for rehearsals that have been teaching that concept so that we can visually/aurally perceive what that rehearsal looks like.  I’ll share the results of our find when we get back to school from Winter Break.  But if the kids (and let’s face it, teachers too) don’t have that aural example of listening to great ensembles consistently, then they probably won’t understand what we’re talking about.  We both need the sound in our ear.

Let’s get a bit bigger, though.  Some classroom elements brought up were classroom management and having extra help.  What does that look like?

Just take a second and visualize what good management looks like to you.  Do that now.

Okay, now you see it, what’s next? Try telling the kids what you imagine that class looking like because they need a template, remember? Better yet, ask them what they imagine their class management looking like.

What’s the next step? What’s the sequence? What are some strategies you can use consistently? Keep that visual in your head and ask around.  Share your vision – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Speaking of which, how about that extra help? What does that look like? Remember to be realistic – another teacher isn’t going to teach your Biology class for you, but they may share resources, strategies or materials that are really fun and effective with you.  Tell the kids too, “I got this from Mr. Jones and it looks pretty fun, so let’s give it a try.”

What does that look like? If you don’t know, then visit a teacher who you respect (or even better, that your students really respect) and see how they do it.  Build your template, see what that looks like…

… (here’s the most important one)…

… Now go do it 🙂

That’s the third one.  Your homework for this week is:

– Find one element of your teaching (curriculum, materials, classroom management, etc.) and visualize what that looks like.  Make a list of five (5) attributes that manifest your vision.  If you are unsure, visit another teacher whom you admire.  But remember, this is your classroom.

Happy teaching!

(Cool eye picture from Under 30 CEO

Conception to Completion – Filum Vitae

Making parts and I have a love/hate relationship.  I love the formatting, the making every part beautiful, the tweaking of fonts and the slight adjustment of dynamics and articulation… until about the fifth hour.

You see, it’s painstaking and precise work.  I love that kind of work… up to a point.

The other catch with making parts is that, while there are many steps between the beginning and end of transcription/arrangement, there is editing and proofreading between every step.

My work for concert band, Filum Vitae, has been rehearsed for many weeks and recorded twice by our school’s Senior Band.  The first draft wasn’t even complete, it got to about measure 50 and stopped (because I had run out of time before Band Camp, which was the first deadline).  It sounded pretty good, but there were still a few transposing errors, key signature things, harmony slip-ups and things that just didn’t work.  I’ll get back to that in a minute, but first, let’s go through conception to completion.

This may sound like a how-to, but it’s not meant to be quite so pretentious.  If you’re a composer and interested in getting performed, I’ve dropped in some notes – they worked for me, but the opposite of what I say may be equally true.

1) Inspiration

You can read more about this on the actual Filum Vitae page (linked above), but it’s really about the emotions in animals being similar to our own.  The concepts may be challenging human uniqueness (which may be comfortable and empowering, the evidence tells us that it just ain’t so), but it lends incredible power to the unity of life through a conduit of feelings – love, mercy, fear or happiness.

The clip that really did it for me is this one, from the BBC’s The Story of Science:


2) The Piano

My house isn’t big enough for a piano, so I have my little M-Audio Oxygen, which is far more than satisfactory.  Before I think of instrumentation or voicing, it starts with the piano.  I had the melody and harmony within about ten minutes, then it became a very late night 🙂

3) Text

Whether it’s choral or not, there is always text.  It just helps me figure out what I’m thinking and helps connect the music and my intention.  I was really into this idea of “The Thread of Life” and how life is a great thread that moves throughout time, but also that we’re all threads and together we make a brilliant tapestry.  That’s where the lyrics start – I may not use them, but they accomplished their task.

4) Music and Lyrics and Sketches

Again, whether it’s choral or not, the music and the melody go together.  Even if the connection of putting the text to the melody is psychological, it helps move the music forward.  But, it’s not just me moving the music, it’s the music moving me.  It needs to impact me as I’m writing, I need to feel something during the process and feel it often if the piece is going to get off the ground.  Thankfully, this one kept me going every step of the way 🙂

After the voicing and the harmony is figured out against the melody, I start pencilling in instruments: Cls + B.Cl… A.Sax/T.Sax join here… etc.

5) Checks and Balances

At this point, the instrumentation (if it’s not vocal) is worming its way into my head.  While I’ve got a pretty good ear for orchestration, I’ve still got to check some parts out.  This is the first of the checks and balances during my process and there are many of them.  I use Apple’s Logic as a sequencer and then check some of my sketches digitally.  They usually work, but not all the time… and that’s why we have checks and balances.

The mockup sounds like this:

6) The Long Transcription

This is, by far, the most time- and energy-intensive part of the process.  But let’s be honest, this is composing.  This is where the pencil marks the page and where your ideas can be worked out both visually and aurally.  Where you visually check the sound.  Where you make hard decisions about orchestration, range and all that good stuff.

I used to play all of my music in when I was younger and less patient.  I had it all in my head and I felt like I had to get it down before I lost it.  This may change later on, but I really feel like my work is better when I take the long road.  It makes the think twice about Copy/Paste (especially in percussion writing) and generic cliches because every musical decision takes more time, so think twice about it before you get it down.  This is check-and-balance #2.

7) The Score – Draft 1 

After I’ve finished the pencil and paper aspect of it, the actual “part creation” begins.  Some composers start with this step while others use the notation software to flesh out their orchestration.  Different practices work for different composers and you should do what works for you, but this doesn’t work for me.  I use Finale 2011 (right now, anyway) and this is another long process of playing in every staff of your handwritten-manuscript.  This is also a great time to check every line individually – is this the melody/ harmonic line that you hear? If not, good time to change it.

Check-and-balance #3.

How does your harmony sound? Have you transposed everything correctly? Does the instrumentation (even as brutal as MIDI is) sound like it does in your head?

Check-and-balance #4.

At this point, we get to the painstaking process of plugging in each articulation, dynamic and shape.  Again, this is where really make sure that we want x-note to be staccato, or we really want our bowing a certain way in the strings.

Check-and-balance #5.

8) The Score – Draft 2

At this point, you can make your score look reasonably nice and extract parts that look good enough to be legible.  If you get to this point – right on, good for you.  It’s a lot of work, but if you have a piece that you’re really passionate about then it’s completely worth it.

Email music teachers that you know, respect or are inviting of new work and see if you can get a read from them.  I might not start with a college or university, but there’s no harm in sending the piece out – the worst they can say is “no.”  If you can get a read and hear your work come to life, all of those late nights, shirts full of eraser shavings and sore fingers from writing will be worth it.  It will also sound very different than you thought, most probably in the orchestration department.  You may also have some wrong notes or chords that are voiced a bit strangely or cross-relations that you didn’t hear in your mockup (I know I did with this tune).

There is a big difference between what works digitally and what works acoustically, good thing to remember.  If they read it pretty well (as in, no wrong notes/rhythms and reasonably good shape/pitch/dynamics), see if you can get a rough recording of your tune that you can refer back to.  It doesn’t have to be great, but just so you can hear what it’s like acoustically, rather than always having to go back to your digital mockup.

This is check-and-balance #6.  Make sure you thank the teacher and the ensemble for taking a risk on you and supporting new music and writers.  If you can swing it, ask if you can go back and revise it then make a recording.

Our recording sounded like this:

9) The Score and Parts – Final Draft

There may be more drafts in the middle, but you could have a serious piece in about three or four drafts, if you really work your ears and the manuscript.  I went back to my score and put in all of my edits on my second draft – the cross-relations that I missed, the missing dynamics, the music that came alive during the performance, all of that.

More precise work.  I always miss dynamics somewhere along the way.  After putting those in, I make sure that they’re all in a line on each system, then line up the tempo information, then the shapes… it’s all formatting.  After that, the fonts and the page numbers, the “divisi” and “tutti” and the cues that should have been there, but weren’t.

Check-and-balance #7.

Then I extracted all of the parts and go through them, one by one, doing the same formatting on them (dynamics, articulations, etc.).

Check-and-balance #8.

Then a quick print, proofread again.  Oh, probably forgot something here…

Check-and-balance #9.

Okay… maybe… this is it? Ugh, this crescendo slipped down too far in the Horn 2 part.

Check-and-balance #10.

… Okay…

… Okay! Yeah! Looks great! Did it!

10) Party / Take the Rest of the Night Off

After many hours (probably about 20-25 in total), the whole editing/proofreading is done.

The University of Manitoba Concert Band is recording the work on January 26th, 2012.  So, this round of edits was to make sure that it was perfect when they got it.  I was also an awful university student, so here’s hoping that my old profs look at this and say “wow, I guess he turned himself around!” That would be nice!

Any comments on the post are definitely invited!

Long read! Have a great weekend!

Music Ed Mondays – If Only

“If only.”

Do you ever find yourself saying that? I find myself saying that all the time.

“If only there was more time in the day.”

“If only there were more money in the budget.”

“If only I weren’t so tired all the time.”

Those two words carry a lot of power because they really convince us of our own limitations as though the universe were conspiring to hold something back from us.  I mean, the ones above are small obstacles, but it’s often the smallest obstacles that inhibit us the most.  Time, money and fatigue hit us hard both at work and at home, right? They apply to almost everybody, almost all the time.

That’s everybody’s story.

I wrestle with that a lot, but so does everybody – it’s everybody’s story.

So… now what? I’m just like everybody else, but everyone else can do it – what’s blocking me?

Maybe it’s the things that are out of my control (because I can give commitments up to make more time, I can scrimp on luxuries to save more money and I can forego activities to sleep more).

“If only I were better at classroom management.”

“If only there were another teacher around to help me.”


What’s interesting about those two big problems is that they’re actually solvable with a bit of dialogue, relationship-building and research.  Ask other teachers how they deal with classroom management or poke around the internet (in the age of the internet, there is no need for a teacher to feel like there is a lack of resources).  Talk to your administrators or your counselors, or other teachers you really respect.  Also, if you’re not of the younger type, talk to the younger teachers because they may have some new ideas that will blow your mind.  Don’t be the old dog that can’t learn new tricks 🙂

This post isn’t about strategies, it’s about recognizing the barrier: IF ONLY.  The “strategies” listed above aren’t meant as an elixir or cure-all, but just demonstrate that the barrier can be overcome… most barriers can 🙂

This is the first of three blog posts in a little series about approaching the obstacles in our lives and our classrooms.  Your homework has two parts:

1) Find one “If Only” (big or small) and write it down in a place where you won’t lose it by next week.

2) Below it, write “What does the solution look like?”

If you feel bold, write it in the comment section as a public commitment.

Good luck!

PS: Image gotten from Gloomies, isn’t it cute?

Music Ed Mondays – The Music Lesson (Part 2)

So, how did your homework go? Could you see Music? What did he/she look like? How are you connected to him/her*?

This is one final essay and the student allowed me permission to use it.  It’s a long read, but I promise you, it’s worth it 🙂


Music and I have a complex relationship.  There are times when we are inseparable, and times that we may fight.  Music is my best friend, my mother, and my shoulder to cry on when need it and always knows just what to say when I’m in a mood, because it sense my feelings and I also share my feelings with it.  It is a two-way street, just like every relationship, and it knows me better than I know myself.

I’ve had days where I really just miss my best friend, (name omitted), when we haven’t talked in a while and I miss her thoughts and the feeling of comfort that comes from an old friend.  I miss Music like I miss her.  On days where I’m too busy or just forget that to have a chat, I feel like there’s a person missing from my day.  My best friend, the one who wants to have a musical conversation with me about my angers and about things that make me smile, who will be my voice of reason and calm me down.  Music agrees with me and takes hold of my emotions; it goes past listening and creates with me.  I feel like Music knows me better than I know myself because there will be a day that we play and an emotion or feeling or thought will just come forward, and I was unaware of it before then.  Music makes me aware of all the things I’m feeling, always demanding that I open up and be myself with it.  But that doesn’t mean I always do.  Music and I have our fights, the days that I blame it as a cause of my frustrations and stresses.  The days that I practice music instead of play music and it tries to get me to open up and resist, and Music does not appreciate it.  It does not create beauty with me because I refuse to create beauty with it.  Those are the days that I have to walk away, instead of warring with it and causing more problems.  But somehow, we always work it out.  I realize that I can’t blame Music for being there for me and challenging my ideas and being my only escape from the world around me.  Because the world really does go away.  Music sends it to a place to be dealt with at a later date.  Time slows down for me while the world spins around us, so minutes turn into hours and worries evaporate into the air.  That is sometimes the reason why I blame Music for taking hours that I could have used to study, but our relationship is always stronger after those days because my mood is lighter from talking to my best friend.  And our connection is stronger and I realize that I needed those hours to sleep and, without it, I would be grumpy and unsettled for no apparent reason.  I shouldn’t resist it because it would be as silly as resisting sleep.  I try it sometimes, but it just leaves me in a bad state of mind.  Sometimes, that is why I feel like Music could be a motherly figure too.  It’s right a lot of the time, even when you don’t always want it to be.  It has a way of making you see things differently, as my mother always tells me to do.  It’s a warm hug when times are tough and I just need somebody to be there, telling me that it will all work out.  And I believe in Music because it believes in me.  It shows when I break through on something new that I felt I never would be able to do and, as I play, I feel my amazement and this sense of ease that says “I knew you could do it all along.”  It’s a confidence that Music gives me, not only in my musical studies, but in all other aspects of life.  The knowledge that I can do, create, and achieve when I simply apply myself and I don’t resist the improvement because it feels different, new or uncomfortable.  There should be no comfort zone in Music’s conversations.  No ‘too personal,’ ‘too different,’ or ‘too out of reach.’  There is only what you do when all limits and expectations go away and the pressures of life are gone.  Some of my best conversations are when the world feels like it’s about to crush me, and it takes me away.  I love it.  I always breath through and accomplish something in those moments, which is one of the reasons why it is unreasonable to blame Music because Music can only help me.  And that is why Music would be a mother or a best friend to me, really, it could be anybody who would love and support me and help me reach my full potential.  Father, teacher, sister… Music is them all.


Isn’t that lovely? I just welled up when I read the awareness and thoughtfulness of this teen and their complex relationship to the art that they love.   I feel like Music knows me better than I know myself or I believe in Music because it believes in me.  Gush!

It’s amazing what kids will say if only you give them the opportunity to say it 🙂

Have a good week,

*I feel badly in using “he/she” and “him/her” in a world of transgender awareness.  I know that sex isn’t totally binary, I just don’t know which pronouns or descriptors to use.  Help would be lovely, let me know!