Eden and Lucy Play Music Together

We have been having some wonderful concerts at our house.  As Lucy progresses with her violin music, she and Eden are able to play together — some really great music is made.

I just had to share this one with you.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Brett’s New Favorite Class: Man Choir at UVU

man choir

Brett’s discovered he loves to sing in a group.  As part of his music major, he is required to be part of a large ensemble, and this semester he auditioned for the man choir.  We were privileged to see their end of semester concert last night.  It was wonderful — and fun.

Eden’s Concerto

This year, Eden prepared and performed the first movement of Ravel’s Concerto en Sol for several contests and performances.  I  finally figured out how to show you her wonderful work.  She is accompanied by her excellent teacher, Juliet Preston.

UMTA State Composition Competition Winner

This weekend,  Eden and I drove up to Weber State University, where she received the Junior Division First Place Award for her Composition.

 

Her composition, called “Ode to Anonymity” was called simple but charming by the judges.  I was very thankful to her teacher for working with her toward a composition, and helping her notate and record her composition.

 

Eden was also asked to play her composition for the music teachers gathered for the luncheon and awards ceremony.  Hopefully, the recognition will encourage her to continue composing.  She thinks of herself as a music teacher and performer, but sometimes doesn’t wish to reach out into other areas.  This award helps her see that she does have that capability.

Summer Learning: Bluegrass Workshop

Three of the kids were able to participate in a really fantastic activity this summer.  This is actually the third year Brett has been involved, but Lulu and Max were able to join Bluegrass Workshops sponsored by a local city government.  For two weeks, they spent one hour every morning playing guitar or fiddle along with other kids and adults interested in making music together.  Led by a wonderful teacher, this was a great way for them to expand their repertoire and enjoy their music.

At the end, they had a show in the park to demonstrate what they had learned.

This was the  first time Max had ever played any guitar at all.  He enjoyed the picking, but not the chords so much.  He really enjoyed the singing — he learned “Grandma’s Featherbed” and “I Saw the Light.”

 

Lulu enjoyed singing, but her fiddle playing has significantly improved over the past year.  She was able to do a solo and do some backup with other players.

 

Brett was in the advanced class, and the songs they played were amazing.  They played “Old Joe Clark” and “The 8th of January,” and their fingers were flying.

 

In one of the Malcolm Gladwell books I read recently, he pointed out how much learning time many kids lose during the summer, because they are left to their own devices or to the TV instead of having learning experiences.  We certainly enjoy our summer learning experiences — such a change of pace and different style from our normal lessons.

In the past, the girls have participated in dance workshops and piano camps, but so far I think this is our favorite summer “camp.”  Do you try to schedule this type of activity into your hectic summer?  Do you think this is beneficial for kids?  Please leave me a comment.

Free Summer School Bonus: Concerts in the Park

I have to admit, I love summer.  One of the things I love the most is combining two of my favorite activities:  listening to music and being outdoors.  In the small towns around us, nearly every town has a few free concerts in the park during the summer.  We love to go and listen, enjoying both the music and the spectating.  After all, at how many concerts in symphony hall would you see this?

Do you see those little darlings behind my two?  Even though the crowd at these outdoor concerts is not as quiet or interested as the audience at symphony hall, aren’t you glad they are outdoors enjoying the beautiful music?

This concert included real cannon fire during the 1812 Overture, and actors dressed up as storm troopers and other Star Wars characters during the Star Wars theme.  Besides enjoying themselves very much, the kids were able to observe the reactions of others to the music that was being played.

One thing that our family gains from these concerts is the idea that someday, perhaps they will be part of an orchestra like this one.  In one of the books I read recently, the author defined amateur by its meaning of “lover of . . .” something.  He said that the amateur could be proficient at something and do it to bring joy to his life, not just “for pay” which is what being a professional really means.  I hope that my children will be amateurs in that sense of the word, and as such might be able to enjoy their music performing in various local settings.  Few musicians have the skill or the luck to be one of the very few professional concert musicians in this country.  But they can look for ways to give joy to others and themselves performing in other settings.

Have you searched for these type of concerts near you?  Do you use these as part of your summer learning?  Please leave me a comment below.

Some Thoughts on Practicing: How to Relax and Still Make Progress with your Music

I have been doing some work on making instrument practice more enjoyable at our house.  My two oldest kids work hard at their music and are very self-motivated.  Their hard work shows in the excellence with which they play.  But the two younger ones are still in the beginning stages of their music education, and they need a little outside encouragement to help them work hard at their practicing.  I used to go by the “Just make them do it.,” philosophy, and that is still the bottom line.  But as our homeschooling ideas have relaxed, I look for ideas to motivate without forcing.  Here are some ideas that have helped practice time to be happier at our house.

1.  Intermission.  I am frustrated when the practicing is punctuated by “I have to get a drink of water,” or “I need to use the bathroom,” or “Just let me stretch my back.”  I realize that those bodily needs are real, and that they become more urgent when our minds want let off the hook during a long period of concentration.  Therefore, we plan an intermission halfway through the practice session.  For five minutes, the kids run around, have fun, use the bathroom and get a drink of water.  The activity that is not allowed is picking up a book — I’m afraid they would never return to their practicing, they would get too distracted.  This intermission has helped me to relax about their concentration because they have a set break time.  This intermission does not get subtracted from practice time, so if they have an hour assigned, with the intermission it will be an hour and 5 minutes.

2.  Workouts.  We just began doing intense workout sessions for only ten minutes.  For ten minutes we work on a specific technique without stopping to correct any other flaws.  For example, last week we worked on Lucy’s bent thumb on her bow hold.  For ten minutes she would play easy songs, starting over every time she let her thumb straighten.  She showed marked improvement after just one week of these short daily workout sessions.  This week, we will choose another technique to concentrate on for our workouts.

3.  Recordings.  Eden got us started with this as she was recording herself in preparation for a concerto competition.  Now, we realize that video recordings of just one piece allows the child to critique himself.  We are trying for two recording critiques each week.

4.  Performance.  While we always perform for friends, family and frequent recitals, this month we are trying something new.  The kids and Eden’s piano students will perform at an assisted living center as a charitable act to bring some music to the lives of older individuals.  The kids have been excited to practice, thinking about this performance and the joy it will bring.

5.  Bribery.  Lulu has wanted a camera of her own for some time.  I made her judge of her practicing, and if she feels she has concentrated well enough, she and Max each can earn 50 cents for a practicing well done to save for the camera.  She has been happy to practice, knowing she is earning a reward in the near future.

I hope these thoughts help you as you work with your children on their music studies.  Do you have a great tip you would like to share?  Please leave it in the comments below.

Homeschooling: Why Music

One of the questions many of my friends wonder as they look at the way we spend our time is why we put so much emphasis as a family on music.  The kids spend hours practicing every day.  We spend hours driving to and from lessons, participating in group events and competitions.  We spend a large portion of our income on lessons and music-related events and books.  We frequent the symphony and other concerts.  We talk about music and listen to music all the time.  Why put so much time and effort into just one subject?

There are a huge variety of answers to this question, but they all boil down to two important things: value and enjoyment.  Music has great value to us.  It is a subject that requires concentration, coordination and talent to succeed.  As  my children practice, they build character skills such as patience and self control.  They build small and large muscle coordination, and hand eye coordination.  They learn to listen.  They begin to appreciate beauty.

As they grow older and become more accomplished on their instruments, they do reap more enjoyment.  But even the six-year old who is just beginning finds real joy in making good sounds come from the piano.  In fact, as I write this, he is enjoying himself at his piano practicing.  They begin sitting down to play just for their own enjoyment, and some of the best times at our home are when Grandma and Grandpa come over for a concert.

We stopped having practice wars several years ago with the two oldest, but occasionally one of the younger ones will protest that they “hate the piano!”  Lucy never says she hates violin, only piano, and perhaps someday she will be able to concentrate only on the violin.  Until then, it is up to me never to give in, but to keep requiring her daily practice.  After all, if she does not practice, she will never enjoy her music.

An important path to enjoyment of practicing and music is listening to other musicians.  We are not able to dream of being something we have never seen or imagined.  When the kids see the musicians at the symphony, or at a local fiddlefest or jazz concert, they are able to project themselves into an adult life where music plays an important role.  In fact, the two oldest are considering pursuing careers in music.  Of course, not everyone who enjoys music has to be a concert performer, and in fact most are not.  But wouldn’t it be a fulfilling life to be able to teach what you love?  If they do truly love music, this is a good choice for them.  Many adults wish they had learned “when they were younger” to play an instrument.  Luckily, my kids won’t have to wish this!

Do you think music is an important subject for homeschoolers?  As an adult, do you continue to enjoy listening to and playing music?  Please leave me a comment.

 

Relaxed Homeschooling — Community Art Resources

Sometimes I feel like I have split personality disorder.   Half of me wants to be a completely unschooling, backwoods homesteader, while the other half of me wants to take advantage of every art and music opportunity that a busy city can provide.  Although it means spending lots of time on the road, I guess we are lucky to live within driving distance of this sort of event.  So after a weekend spent feeding one side of my personality in the desert, we spent last weekend on the musical side.

Our family is a member of the Utah Symphony and Opera Youth Guild.  I heard about this by chance a few years ago, and immediately signed up for the program.  In return for a very nominal fee, my children and I have been able to participate in coat checking and educational opportunities offered by the guild, and see many wonderful concerts very inexpensively.  In addition, they offer many extras including a special youth guild recital in which selected members of the guild can perform with the Utah Symphony.

Last weekend, our whole family, including my parents, went to Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City to see the Utah Symphony perform the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2, Tottentanz, and two Ravel Suites (Mother Goose and Daphnis et Chloe.)  It was Maximus’ first experience with a full length symphony concert, and he was very excited to be included.  While he had gone to shorter, “Lollipops” series, and even an opera, I was unsure how he would sit quietly for the length of the full concert.  He did wonderfully.   The music was fantastic, as well.

Since all my children are musicians, I have long felt that exposure to live performances is a must as part of their school experience.  Even less-than-stellar live performances have an energy and spark the imagination in a way that listening to a recording usually does not.  Another reason to go to live performances is that we are exposed to music that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for ourselves.  For example, our last concert included a percussion concerto that was very exciting to watch.  I don’t know if my children dream of being on that stage while we are watching the concert, but I certainly dream of them being there someday.

How can you find out about programs like the youth guild?  Many organizations have special programs to attract children and educators to their events.  Many times, it is just a matter of visiting a web site and finding a live person to call or e-mail.  Look for a heading like “Education/Outreach.”  Once you have established contact, you can find out what they are offering and how you can take advantage of it.  Calling the box office is another way to find out about these programs.  Don’t be afraid to be a little pushy.  You are the media department for your little school!  Take advantage of these programs – you’ll be glad you did.