The end is fast approaching. It is shocking how quickly these two weeks have flown by. I have really tried to be more conscious about enjoying my time and savoring life rather than wishing it away by thinking way ahead and being stressed, etc. While these two weeks have been busy and stressful, I would say I've taken more time this year to just enjoy it, though it certainly was super stressful. For example, last year, I lived off PB&J sandwiches for the entire two weeks. This year we've shared grocery shopping and cooking and sometimes invite the suite across the hall to join us so there have been many nights where we've all sat down around the table to enjoy a meal tighter. I still took a pass when the group went out for trivia night and to go to a bar, but I participated more with my class outside of homework, which has been great.
Today in Folk Song Research, I had my one-on-one meeting to review my final project. It went just fine (thank goodness!) and I even showed him the curriculum planning spreadsheet my friend Katie and I created. He was very impressed with this idea and said in all the years of teaching he had never seen anyone lay things out like that. Yay!
Then somehow it came up that I teach at a Lutheran school. He commented that he taught at a Lutheran school once and that he was so impressed at how much that school sang and what those kids could do. He said it was as if they were born to sing in parts. My Lutheran pride swelled up like crazy. While Lutherans sadly don't sing like they used to, it's good to know we still have a reputation of being a singing people.
My suite mates Sue and Jessica and I spent a good chunk of the evening in the library working, then went out for ice cream once last time since this is my last night here. I can't believe my time here is almost done.
Week two is always more challenging than week one. The fatigue sets in pretty hard. We've all been together non-stop for more than a week so patience runs thin. For me this year, there is the additional stress of trying to finalize prep for Europe since I will have a VERY quick turnaround between trips.
In solfege II today, our teacher heaped on an extra dose of insults and yelling because we were making so many mistakes. He said "Now you will all confess your sins one by one" and made us go around the room singing individually until we got it right. It was brutal, and several of us left feeling overwhelmed and deflated. No pain, no gain, I guess.
Tomorrow we have a test for one class, a huge project for another, and of course it goes without saying that Gábor gave us more homework than we could even realistically get through. I stayed in the practice room until nearly 11:30 and then returned to the dorms to work on written homework.
I'm so glad I'm here, but I also am pretty sure I will sleep the whole way to Europe, which actually would be a pretty good thing. I also know that at the end of the week, the sense of accomplishment at finishing level two will be well worth these tough and busy days. Fortunately, everyone in class understands because we're all in the same boat together. This makes a huge difference.
I love it here. I love the challenge, even though sometimes I am at my wits end. We literally walk around campus singing. Non stop singing.
Friday evening was the Strawberry Social. Students, faculty, family, and friends all gathered together to share in strawberries and whip cream and then we danced together for two hours. We were in for an extra special treat this year since the Amidons were there to teach and call all the dances. I LOVE to dance. It is so much fun. It was so hot and it wasn't long until everyone was covered in sweat, but everyone was smiling and enjoying each other's company. There is nothing like dancing in a room full of people, just connecting and dancing together. You end up dancing with zillions of people. We did contra dances, circle dances, line dances, and of course ended with a waltz. I was spun and twirled until I was dizzy. I haven't had such a good time in a long time and couldn't stop laughing. I even was lucky enough to dance with Peter Amidon, John Feierabend, and Jeff Rhone. These teachers of mine are wonderful and I look up to them and admire them so much. It's fun to learn new dances and when you get to dance with someone who knows how to do it well, it is light and effortless and magical. I LOVE to dance and wish I had more opportunity to do so at home. There were several children at the dance as well, and it was so beautiful to watch these young children dancing along with grown ups and learning about their world through dance. After we were all exhausted and sweaty and the sun had set, we pulled chairs around and sang for another couple hours. The banjo, accordion, and mandolin came out and we sang like crazy. It saddens me that our culture has lost the sense of tight communities. While the people from long ago may have been poor and not had a lot of material goods or big houses, they were rich in different (and more important) ways. It's such a beautiful and powerful thing that we've lost as we've become busier and more and more separated and isolated. People were meant to synchronize together. If we all sang and danced together more, the world would change. I'm convinced. By the time I finally got home, it was very late and I collapsed in bed exhausted but exhilarated.
Saturday I was up early for the 8:00 AM lecture and spent until 5:00 PM going to different lectures. I went back to the apartment for a quick dinner, then back to the community center for a 2 hour community sing. This was led by the Amidons and we sang all sorts of things. It was a beautiful and emotional two hours of singing with banjo, piano, guitar, unaccompanied, unison, in parts. Music is so powerful and such a wonderful gift. All week I keep thinking about other ways I can use music in my ministry as a way to connect people. I have many new ideas of how to get people singing, dancing, and spending time being together. I'm constantly realizing that music doesn't have to be just in the context of worship or even just "Jesus songs" for it to be good ministry. I know some would disagree, but sometimes a gentle side-door approach is just the ticket to ministry.
It is such a treat to have spent time with the Amidons. If you don't know who they are, look them up. If you're a teacher, buy all their stuff and teach it to your kids. 90% of the dances I teach to my students come from them. They are such special people who just live and breathe folk music and dance. They are humble, talented people and just some of the kindest and gentlest souls you could ever imagine. They live life to the fullest and set an example for everyone. It was very wonderful to see them working together. They work as a seamless team and it's as thought their lives and work are so intertwined that you couldn't begin to separate them. They are the kind of people who are just very wise, and truly listen and know what matters in life. It's almost as though they are surrogate grandparents to everyone they meet, and you feel comfortable with them the moment you meet them. I have such admiration for these fine people and hope I have many opportunities in the future to go to their workshops.
The conference was also great because I had the opportunity to hear Lillie (Dr. Feierabend's wife) speak. She is one of the most amazing teachers ever. She truly loves children and is one of those wise teachers who understands children and takes the time to see them for the wonderful people they are. She said over and over that we teachers may get tired of repeating things, but it doesn't matter, because the students will never tire of repetition and we are there for them. I've taken classes with her before and she just never ceases to amaze me with her wisdom and ideas. I walked away from her lecture with pages and pages of notes. Her wisdom and intuition is something that isn't learned from a book. Like the Amidons, it was fun to watch the Feierabends working together. In a culture with such a high divorce rate, it's wonderful to see couples who have been together forever working together and supporting each other and striving to make the world a better place. You can tell that they have a deep and mutual respect for each other and their work together is far better because they could work together. Two of their three grown sons were also in attendance and it was just fun to watch them all interact. (I love to people watch and see how different families interact together.) The Feierabends are just wise, wise, wise, and both of them LOVE children and LOVE music and can see the wonder and innocence and magic of childhood. They are so committed to helping teachers learn to give children their best. At the end of the conference, John said "Go out and make the world a better place for children to work and grow." I got goosebumps and that quote has been echoing in my head all day.
Being here has stretched my musicianship, challenged my thinking, allowed me opportunity to connect and share with other teachers. It has reaffirmed over and over that my vocation is that of a teacher and my ministry is to use music as a tool to enrich the lives of the people I work with and to help them to connect to each other. It is through building community and trust that we build relationships that allow for more genuine and honest conversations about the Gospel. While traditional church-music models are fine, music ministry must not stop at Sunday morning music within the walls of the church. Rather, the music ministry should start with worship in the walls on Sunday, but then be carried out into the community to those who are in need and who don't have church homes. Music is such a universal and non-threatening medium to get people together. It can melt away stress and make a bad day seem better. It's such a wonderful gift. I am so very thankful to work in a congregation who views music as a powerful ministry tool and allows the the privilege of teaching music classes to community children and being creative with the music ministry. They trust me to do the job I'm called to do and don't stifle my crazy creative nature, letting me try different things knowing full well sometimes it's trial and error to find what works best. I'm already dreaming big (shocker, I know) for things I can do in the future.
But for now, I just can't wait to see what week two has in store!
It's Friday, so we don't have our last class of the day. Thank goodness, because I'm exhausted. These classes are some of the most intense classes I've ever taken in my life. I still wonder sometimes why I decided to come back for level 2 after knowing what level 1 entailed. (I'm only being half serious. Anyone who knows me knows exactly why I came back and knows that even though I complain, I LOVE a good challenge.)
Here's a brief synopsis of what my days look like here at the Hartt School of Music.
8:00- 10:00 Conversational Solfege on the first floor with Dr. John Feierabend. He's pretty much the reason I came to this school. Hartt was my first choice for this masters program I'm working on, but Anderson ended up being a better fit since he is adjust there and I could do Kodály here and basically have the best of both worlds. This is a whirlwind class that has more information that I can process. I take notes like crazy and try to put it all together. We begin each day with a canon, a dance of some sort, and movement with classical music. I'm not a morning person by nature, but it is just delightful to start each day making music and synchronizing with other people. These two hours fly so fast it is ridiculous. The teacher is hilarious. He comes to class in flip flops, bright clothes, is always happy, telling jokes, and super smart. He is a very good teacher and has done so much research. He is super opinionated, so sometimes I struggle with if I agree with everything he says, but I love being in his class.
10:00-10:15- Break time on the second floor. Each day they provide some juice and fruit for us, which is excellent. I usually run up the stairs, grab some food, and then run up for my next class.
10:15-12:15- Folk Song Research II on the fourth floor. I LOVE this class. So, so much. We do more folk dancing, lots of singing games, and learn more and more about everything. We talk about the origins of folk music and culture, the hidden (sometimes ugly and dark) meaning behind some of these songs, and teach each other variations on songs. This class has sooooo much homework. We had to come with 50 master copies prepared. We are spending this week analyzing and indexing all songs. We are identifying tone sets, range, tonality, scale, interval element and note group content, harmonic feathers, etc. Of course, this means we have to have a clear sequence of what we teach. This was the hardest part for me. Sequencing is grey, not black and white, and really has a lot of factors. For this black and white perfectionist, this was a very good exercise to go through but one that had much struggle. I'll likely wrestle with this for quite awhile. Mind blown. The teacher for this class is an elementary ed teacher and is amazing. Humble, kind, wise, and just lives and breathes music. He studied under Jill Trinka (who used to teach here at Hartt). He's one of my favorites here. He told us the first day that "all good folk songs will corrupt you." He told us on Thursday that the 2nd years all walk around crying with bags under their eyes from being up late struggling with their analysis and looking like their brain exploded. He keeps apologizing that he has to do this to us, but to trust him that it will all be OK by the end of the 2nd week. He gets it. He's a good teacher. Unbelievably good. He dresses like the stereotypical music teacher and I can imagine his students must just absolutely love him. You can tell that he just "gets" life and children and has a conscious and is aware of the music and the message he wants in his classroom.
12:15-1:00 We walk back to our dorm rooms and sing the entire way. Literally, because we have so much to learn. By the time we get back, we have all of 30 minutes to make and scarf lunch, then walk back to class, again singing the entire way back.
1:15-2:15- Choir. Lots of music. Lots of talk about vowels. You know, the usual. The instructor is crazy-good and the people in Hungary like him because he can do things that no other American can in terms of his musicianship.
2:30- 5:00 Torture on the third floor. I mean Solfege II. Hardest class ever. We do all sorts of horrible things. Sing through modal scales, sight-read, dictation, play and sings that must be memorized. This teacher grew up in Hungary and his ear is so sharp it is frightening. While I very much despise his foul and crude language and find it offensive, I am really challenged musically in his classes. If you can see between the bad words, he really is a funny guy. His ear doesn't miss a thing. If you get the tiniest bit flat or sharp, he pounds his fist on the piano, makes a face, asks "What was that? Idiot! Do it again!" I suspect some of what I find offensive isn't meant to be offensive but is a difference in culture and grew up in a rough time, but still. Last year there were at least six people who cried in his class and he just went right on teaching. He pushes us hard. Every once in awhile, he'll show that he can be understanding. On Wednesday the entire class was deflated and exhausted and discouraged. He told it's Wednesday and the normal slump. "It's normal. You right where you should be". Part of what makes him funny is that he has a thick accent and says things in strange ways sometimes because English is his second language. Favorite quotes so far include
"You all so quiet. Like right before execution...."
"You know, Dead People's Day" (He was referring to All Saints' Day)
"I do feel your pain, I really do. But I don't care! Keep going!"
"Shhh! Stop talking! People are suffering at the piano!" (Said while a few were whispering during class.)
"When he was in and out?" (He always asks this when asking when a composer lived)
"Does makes any sense?" "Do you understand?"
"I had a little time on my hand...."
"Check this out! Check this out!" He says this all the time.
"That was terrible! I don't know about this country, but in Europe the flat means it's flat for the whole piece." (This was after we totally sang the wrong note.)
"That was an East German moment. I love it!"
"Who is gonna be the offering and go first?"
This class is a trip. A very, very stressful trip. He also gets his key out to tap the tempo on the table, and if you mess up he'll burst into funny jazzy blues chords and be silly.
After this we eat dinner and then go to the practice room for several hours, then to the kitchen table for several hours. Average bedtime is between 1 and 2 AM.
I love that I get to meet so many people and have enjoyed catching up with the friends I made last year. It's also a little humorous to see the Level One people freaking out and looking overwhelmed and hearing homework that I had to do last year. I look at them and know I looked exactly like that last year.
It's fun to hang out with music teachers who get it. Many of them (including me) ditch shoes the minute we get to class, and we are all music nerds. It's nice to have music conversations with people who understand and talk about joys and struggles of teaching.
I feel so blessed to be here and for the opportunity to learn. I feel blessed to be a music teacher. I feel blessed to live in a free country. I feel blessed to work at my church. I've turned into a rather sappy sentimental mess. Maybe it's the stress. Maybe it's the exhaustion. Maybe it's the fact that I'll be away from home for so long because Europe is right after this. Maybe it's the East coast. Maybe it's the change of pace. Either way, I'm exhausted but very, very happy.
I understand that up until this point this blog has been exclusively used to document my European travels. Throughout the year, though, I have regretted not documenting my Kodály Level One Experience. Since Kodály Level Two is happening right before Europe and feels like an extension of my summer travels, I decided to do a couple blog posts about these adventures. If you have no interest in the East coast or music nerd talk, check back in two weeks when I'm in Europe. If you like music nerd stuff or the East coast, read on and check back often.
I arrived in Hartford yesterday and was both excited and terrified for what level two would be like. I've been through level one and that was more intense than anything, so I could only imagine what this year would be like.
Thankfully, though, this year will be better since I have friends here from last year. It was so nice to see familiar faces and know who I will be rooming with for two weeks. Last year I came alone, knew absolutely no one, and was more or less terrified. Interestingly, both of my roomies commented upon arrival that they were also terrified last year, so I was glad to know that I wasn't the only one so nervous last year!
We moved in, which proved hilarious. I had a carry on. My roomie who flew from North Carolina had a carry on. My roomie who drove from Pennsylvania had an entire car load. We laughed so hard as we hauled up box after box of dishes, groceries, pots, pans, and other things. We kept reminding her that we are only here TWO WEEKS. It looks like we're here permanently. Hilarious, yes, but I am thankful for her bringing all this because it is much cheaper to grocery shop and share meals than to eat in the overpriced and less-than-tasty cafeteria on campus.
Today kicked off the first day of classes. Classes met from 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening with a 45 minute lunch break, and then it's straight to the practice room and kitchen table for hours of homework. These are the kind of classes where you better pay attention every second or you will be put on the spot and humiliated. We worked until 11:30 tonight with minimal goofing off because there was so much to do. I was eager to see how many people would be back this year. I've heard that with the intensity of the classes, each level gets smaller. Last year we had more than twenty people. This year, there are are only ten who made it back. I can only imagine how small level three might be next year.
I'll try to write more about the classes and amazing instructors, but I have a pile of homework tonight and need to go hit the practice rooms pretty hard.