Workshop Days 1-4

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December 29th 2009
Published: December 29th 2009
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My music teacher professional development workshop has been going for 4 days now, and I'm proud to say it's improving and growing every day. I'm extremely pleased with my small but motivated group of attending teachers, and I really feel like they're learning and growing as professionals as a result of my gathering them together and working with them. I'm again in the position where I need to copy from my notes to make this descriptive post about the workshop so far, so I apologize for mistakes of haste and minor repetitions. Here it is:

Wednesday December 23 was the first day of the music teacher professional development workshop that I’m hosting along with the director at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory. The first day started out a little bit slow; only three guys showed up: a full-time music teacher at a very big international school in Patan (called ‘school 1’ to keep these guys anonymous), a part-time primary music teacher at a small Christian private school in Patan (‘school 2’), and an after school guitar teacher.

We talked about my goals for the workshop: to work on a curriculum to be widely accepted in the city, to teach notation, and to create a city-wide communication network among music teachers. The day was mostly about introductions and descriptions of working conditions, with them teaching me more than I taught them.

School 1: This guy comes from a very big, rich school where he works full-time. He teaches mostly Eastern classical music: tabla, vocal, harmonium. His students take compulsory music from grades 1-4 (or 5), and choice music from 6-9 (or 10 if they want). He has about 300 students, and he teaches 24 classes in a week. He has a curriculum, but it is prescribed by the school, and he is under no accountability. He’s been teaching for 25 years now. His students come from many countries, and he has the ability to hire specialist music teachers throughout the year if he needs.

School 2: This is a smaller school, but western-oriented. The teacher teaches students from grades 1-4, and does mostly songs and rhythm games. Most of the primary lessons are song-based and taught through mimicry. He teaches part-time only, and sometimes teaches guitar after school. His school has a syllabus and a book for music, which he uses, but he also has a lot of freedom to teach what he wants to teach. The book is song-based. He has very little accountability on him, and he is encouraged to come up with creative lessons.

The guitar teacher is actually a computer teacher who works part-time after school teaching guitar lessons. He didn’t really have much to offer about working within school institutions, and he showed up mainly to improve his own knowledge of music and notation.

This first day of workshop only lasted an hour, with the promise to actually get started and have a bigger crowd on the second day and beyond.

On the 2nd day, the 24th, the group grew to 4 dedicated full-time music teachers, and the guitar teacher disappeared. I had a great discussion about music teaching with these guys—the ones from schools 1 and 2, and then two new teachers from other schools around the valley.

School 3: This is a large private grade school, and the teacher at the workshop teaches vocal music to students in grades 1-7. He works there full-time, and he mostly teaches lessons song-by-song. The school encourages English learning to the point where Nepali things are looked down upon, so the bulk of his teaching is done through English songs. He said that if he did Nepali folk songs his students would complain. He has a hard time with administrators—he mentioned that they do not care very much about the music program.

School 4: This school is a very large boarding school on the north side of town, and students come in from all parts of Nepal. The teacher teaches grades 5-7 only, and he teaches them Nepali folk songs and folk instruments. When he introduces an instrument for the students to play he describes its history and style along with its playing techniques. He teaches folk songs from all over the country—not just one specific region or ethnic group.

We started by talking about teaching subjects and methods by grade level. The primary grades, 1-4, are generally lumped together, and they are a time for teaching songs to sing (call and response, mimicry), basic rhythms, and basic scale patterns. The students learn to feel pulse and rhythm, but they reproduce it by rote and learn songs by rote. The school 2 syllabus and book goes song by song, and things like pitch and rhythm are not separated. At school 1 they do 4/4 rhythms, clapping, and other basic percussive things. At school 3 they also do song by song by rote. Moving on to grades 5-9/10, the students start picking up instruments. At school 4 they learn madals, folk music songs, and Nepali songs on guitar. At school 3 they only want the teacher to teach English music, so he does: English songs by rote. He doesn’t do harmony, he only teaches them to sing while he plays the piano. This is done by listening to recordings and listening to him demonstrate the songs. At schools 2 and 3 there is a wide variety of songs that the teachers teach—some of their own compositions, some popular, some game songs, some teaching songs, and some moral songs (brush your teeth, clean your room, etc.).

All of the things we talked about initially can be divided up into some categories:
Teaching methods
Music styles

For performances, they stressed that performances came a few times a year for special occasions. Some occasions are ‘diversity day,’ parents’ day, teachers’ day, Christmas, and Dashain. Students learn to play songs geared toward these performances. For diversity day, they learn folk songs from many parts of Nepal, for Christmas they play Christmas songs, etc. At school 1 the students learn Panchebaja and sarangi and other folk models for special performances, the teacher hiring experts in these forms to come and teach the students for a limited amount of time.

Expectations: This discussion was a little bit difficult to get started, but we got down to the points that the teaches expect their students to learn rhythms and feel pulse, be able to mimic rhythms and come up with rhythms by ear, and work within 4/4, 2/4, and ¾ meters. At school 1 they expect their students to learn some music theoretical knowledge like staff, clef, and basic notation. At all of the schools they expect their students to be able to perform. They want their students to have performance confidence and be able to perform solo on something—a solo song, a solo instrument piece, a solo drumming, etc. They want their students to know about eastern music and western music, and they want their students to be fluent with vocal and instrumental styles and melodic contour.

Teaching methods: The most common teaching method we talked about was teaching song by song by rote. The teacher has a song picked out, he plays a recording for the students, demonstrates the song for the students, and they copy him and sing the song. We also talked about the explanation period before introducing an instrument—discussing the parts of the instrument, the instrument’s history, the styles associated with the instrument, and finally instrumental playing technique and songs on the instrument. From class 6 the students specialize in instruments, and instruction is to specialized groups, except when preparing for a concert, in which case the instrument groups are combined into performance groups. The groups are roughly by class—6 and 7 perform together and 8 and 9 perform together, but this is flexible if there is an outstanding younger student. In some schools they introduce pianica and harmonium in class 4 to provide an introduction to the keyboard and to distinct notes. The teacher at school 1 described having the students be familiar with scale patterns in grades 1-2. Also at school 1 it was stressed that in grades 1-4 the students perform with the teacher, and in the older grades they perform without the teacher. Grade 10 only sees the really dedicated students in music class; otherwise the grade 10 students prepare for the board exam.

Music styles: The music styles taught at these schools vary greatly. In the beginning the students mostly just learn childrens’ songs—fun songs, game songs, simple songs, easy to remember songs. These songs are developed for teaching and fun, and they lead to lessons about other things. In class 5 they seem to get down and differentiate between music styles. Nepali folk songs, modern guitar songs, eastern classical songs, and English songs are separated out and taught as such. School 1 stresses eastern classical music, school 2 only does primary instruction, school 3 stresses English songs, and school 4 stresses folk and modern Nepali songs.

After this wide-ranging discussion we had a more serious, focused discussion about the place of music in each of their schools. It was brought up that the teachers can be very constrained by the expectations and limitations of their administrations. The music teacher is many times the last in the hierarchy, and it can be difficult to get talented, motivated students in their classroom (they have to wait until every other teacher has had a chance to get those students). They often don’t have enough time to teach what they want to teach, or they get the worst times of the day for teaching. The teacher from school 3 had a hard time convincing his administration to send him to the workshop at all—they didn’t really feel it important to invest in the music program. He said that school administrations have music to show parents they have music, but they don’t focus on it or give it any importance until it’s time for a performance for parents. The school 1 teacher made the point that it all comes down to the principal—if the principal is musically minded, the music program will be much much better. The school 3 teacher also talked about previous schools where he worked that did invest more in music. The school 1 teacher said that he has a lot of independence and that his school is an easy place to work. They have a large budget and everybody is on salary, but he still is on the less important side of the hierarchy. It sounds like each of these schools already has a system in place for music teaching, and the systems are all different. It also sounds like the teachers don’t have a really defined idea of what they want their students to walk away with. The school 2 teacher made a big point about wanting his students to have self-confidence and performance ability. The teachers talked about this workshop and how they are coming because there has been no outlet for their improvement in the past, and they’re looking for things that will help them when they go back to school.

This will help me structure the future workshop days. First I need to define the musical expectations for the students that we discussed, and then turn them into yearly expectations. We’ll look at the 4 subjects that came out: performance, theory, teaching methods, and music styles, and break down how to teach specifically for each one. Teaching is no good if your students forget afterwards, and it’s important that the teachers have an idea of exactly what they want their students to come away with. Teaching among this group has so far been song-based only, but we’ll look now at how the songs can lead to insights about other aspects of music. A big part of the coming weeks will be notation. Notation is especially valuable for the school 3 teacher as it plays right into English music. We’ll look at how to teach theoretical things, and how to teach practical things in such a way to make the students remember in the future. If they learn a song only, it can be very easy to forget in the future. If they learn the ‘do re me,’ or ‘sa re ga’ systems, they will likely remember them for quite a while. With these systems they can take any song and translate it into pitch syllables, during which process they will be distinctly learning melody. They can separate rhythms from songs. These will all be useful for making all-round musicians of their students. They can have their students bring in popular songs and then take them apart into pitch and rhythm. With notation they can have their students write songs. For different music styles they can stress different kinds of music understanding. They can show how Nepali music is played by these instruments and has this sound, and they can show how it’s different from eastern music. They can do units on eastern music and units on western music. This can all be possible, but the teachers need a written set of expectations, and knowledge of how to teach these different things. That’s what we will start doing on Monday (day 3). I absolutely have to give these teachers something they can go back and use in their classrooms, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a new curriculum. They already have curriculums—for better or for worse—and a big change like that takes time. What they can do is modify their curriculums to include some of the things we do in the workshop. They should have their students ask ‘why’, and then be able to provide a good answer relating to music teaching. We can look at different teaching games for various subjects. For rhythms they can do the improvising game for younger kids where they just learn to perform different rhythms. With notation they can have their older kids sight-read written rhythms, and write their own rhythms. They’ve heard many different rhythms in popular songs, and they can do exercises where they listen to a pop song and write the rhythm or clap the rhythm—depending on their age. For eastern classical rhythms they can listen to tintal and try to figure out where they are on the beat cycle. Most importantly, they need to learn how to improve their performances, and pitch their music programs to their administrators. I’ll give them copies of studies relating to the benefits of music education, and we’ll talk about good combinations for performances and good ideas for songs and processes. Also, if their kids are having fun they can get the kids involved in advocating for the program. It can be more attractive and better performed. With notation they can introduce harmony and get even cooler sounds out of their students, further impressing the administrators and making an argument for more music. This can be really exciting, and it can all start with this workshop.

After the workshop I spoke with the KJC director about how it should go if we only have 4 people coming. He agreed that people need to be there even if they can’t pay, so I’ll be able to invite some of my other music teacher friends to join. A big part of this workshop will be to get lines of communication open, and on one of the days we’ll discuss what we want to see for the future of music education and what we can do right now for its improvement. We’ll also discuss all connections we know and get a directory started. With a directory we can call general meetings and do more workshops, and we can work together on things like performances and contests. We can get all-star groups together and sponsor inter-school auditions.

All of these projects aside, I think a very important thing I need to work on to make a lasting difference with this Fulbright is to make a directory of places to learn music. For teachers and institutions and improvement, these ideas need to be spread. They can only be spread with a directory like this.

Workshop Day 3:

This was a breakthrough day for this workshop—we started quickly with a diagram of the things that they told me they want to teach their students: Music theory, further broken down into rhythm and melody; and music performance, further broken down into confidence, skills, practice, and improvisation. I then took the other thing they told me about their lessons, that they are primarily song-based, and showed how they can teach all of those expectations separately through the lesson about one song. Specifically I used Resham Firiri (a very common Nepali folk song) and showed how that one song could be broken up to demonstrate rhythm and melody separately, enhance their performance skills focusing on confidence, technique, practice, and finally, bridging the gap between theory and performance, improvisation. These guys in the past hadn’t really looked at music teaching in this way, and it was apparent in the way they appreciated my presentation this day. I asked about their own lessons, and the guy from school 3 said that he usually just teaches the songs and has the students repeat back to him. These guys were really interested in this, and they looked to be tuned in the entire time. After the demonstration of taking one song to teach various distinct aspects of music, I showed them the Texas standards for music learning from K-12. They hadn’t seen anything like this before—it is different from what they use as curricula and syllabi (the ones who do use curricula and syllabi). I explained that this is a very broad list of the things that students are expected to learn in each class (grade), and that these year-end standards need to be broken up by the teacher into term by term, and then week by week, and then lesson by lesson plans for teaching. I showed how they can take a song and teach these various standards, and plan for specific standard-teaching throughout the year. The guy from school 1 told me that he just in the past 3-4 years started planning his lessons, and they have gone so much easier since that time. They all told me how important it is to keep their students interested in the music, and I showed how having a plan keeps both the teacher and the students focused, creating a much better learning environment. Kids learn better when they know there’s a reason for what they’re learning. I got all of the guys on board with the idea that Nepal needs a set of standards like this, and we can make them at the workshop. In future workshop classes (after notation), we’re going to come back to this issue and break down a standard into terms, weeks, and lessons. We’re also going to practice making lesson plans that address many standards. We’re going to take a lesson and figure out what standards it applies to. These guys need practice, and that’s what the workshop is for. If they take this idea away, that they should have standard goals for their teaching, then it might spread to more music teachers in the city, until finally the system is adopted generally. I also decided that I need to keep following up with these guys after the workshop, so I’m personally going to continue it every Saturday, alternating from Patan to Lazimpat so that more teachers can attend. The standards shouldn’t be too hard—we can use the Texas ones as a model, and then look at things in their own syllabi and curricula that may affect the yearly outcomes and alter what is expected in Texas. For instance, the teaching will necessarily focus more on Eastern forms than Western forms, and should include knowledge of Eastern music history and notation systems and melodic and rhythmic theory. I told the guys that once they make lessons plans for a year, they can reuse them in later years and make their jobs easier. We finished with a discussion about Western notation and the grand benefits that it can bring to their classrooms. We equated music to language—what’s more important, to speak a language or to read and write a language? Both! You miss out on very much if you can’t read or write. We talked about how in the west we can still play and sing music that was conceived hundreds of years ago because it was written down. We talked about how notated music can give people another way of communicating musical ideas, and that one piece of written music distributed all over the world will be played the same way (aside from interpretation). We talked about how they can write down their programs and save them the hassle of composing new programs every year. We talked about how they can write down Nepali music and then spread it to other countries on paper. We talked about how students can take home a piece of written music and learn it without the teacher needing to be there. We talked about how written music can keep 50-80 and more people together playing the same grand piece, combining to make something greater than the capabilities of only one performer. We talked about how written music can visually separate ideas of rhythm and melody for their students, and get them to notice patterns and structures in the music that would be difficult to comprehend from listening alone. Written music can also provide an easy directory of musical concepts learned and yet to be learned. In addition to all of these good things, we discussed the dangers of written music as experienced in the west: that is, musicians who can’t improvise. Written music has the capability of stripping the performer of self-confidence and creating a dependency on the page. These guys have an advantage in that area because much eastern music is improvised and it’s appreciated because it’s improvised. With that conclusion, I prepared them for the notation lessons to come the next day. After they learn notation we’ll go back to curriculum and planning and standards, and then they’ll be back to their schools implementing all of these ideas.

After the workshop I had coffee with the KJC director and we talked a little bit about where to go from here. We decided to keep the workshop going no matter how few teachers show up, and we underscored the importance of giving them something that will last. The guys left motivated today, and if they can keep that up throughout the workshop and later then we can do more workshops for their friends. The network can grow, and ultimately we’ll get a sizeable number of music teachers all buying into the ideas of planning and notation. If a prominent embassy comes through with funding for a big teacher training program, this workshop can prime the teachers for accepting the bigger program. We talked about an attitude of complacency that’s all too common with regular working people, and we discussed ways to keep pushing and overcome that. The guys at this workshop don’t look complacent, but so far there are only 4. It’s a start, but it absolutely must grow. We talked about ideas for future workshop classes with duet notation and showing how two music lines can be written to play at the same time. We discussed Jose Abreu and his program in Venezuela and how we might start something similar here. With 4 motivated teachers on our hands the outlook is infinitely brighter than with none. Hopefully my friend will come tomorrow and add a 5th name to our roster. The KJC director talked about starting up the big band again—apparently he led one in years past, but it has since been dissolved. I think it’s a great idea for music teaching, and gives kids musical things to do outside of school. We also talked about the necessity of getting involved in some bigger music education organization and exposing these guys to magazines, newsletters, journals, and other writings about music education from other parts of the world. El Sistema (Venezuela) seemed to have as small beginnings as this, and it’s exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. Might not the same happen here? The next day’s workshop lesson will start with a reinforcement of the benefits of knowing notation, and then move right on into teaching notation. I’ll have examples of complex and of simple notation to show them, and we’ll do practice exercises on the board. I won’t be there on Wednesday or Thursday, but the KJC director is more than proficient in notation and is a capable teacher.

Workshop Day 4
This morning everybody showed up within 10 minutes of starting time! At 15 after, one of the teachers made it clear that he was ready to start learning, so we went to the room and got on with it. I began by playing them some recordings of the Baylor wind ensemble, showing them that we could play songs that were 200 years old, and songs that were just written, and that they can be very difficult songs, and that it could all be reproduced by other groups (no improvisation). The two songs were Berlioz’s Marche Hongroise, and Carter Pann’s Slalom. I briefly went over the points why they should learn notation and use it in their classroom, and then we got started actually learning the notation. It went very quickly—these teachers must have been primed in some way toward notation because they caught on to the symbols, the places in the measure, the counting, and figuring out complex rhythms very quickly. I probably covered the same material with them in one hour that I would cover with a group of beginning school students in 4 hours. We did 4/4, ¾, 6/8, rests, dotted rhythms, mixed meter, and multi-measure rhythms. When it was clear to me that these teachers could read rhythmic notation, I shifted gears and started explaining how they can teach it to their students. I gave them an order of concepts that makes sense, and told them how much time it takes to teach each concept (in my experience). I also stressed the importance of practicing reading notation so that it becomes a fluid habit. Tomorrow I won’t be leading the class, but the KJC director will show them how it’s done on the staff (we only did rhythms on one line), the rules for writing notation, and will start doing some exercises where they hear rhythms and then have to write them. These teachers are going fast enough that I think in 2 weeks I’ll be able to give them music and have them figure it out and sing it, and I’ll be able to give them an assignment to write down notation for a Nepali song. That’s what it’s for—to be used, not just to be known. I’ll also show them the score for one of the tunes I did with a middle school band in Austin and have them listen to the recording at the same time, drawing parallels between the two forms of music.

We were also joined by a teacher from another school around the valley, and I’ll call it school 5. This one works in a large boarding school in a small town outside of Kathmandu, and he mostly teaches the students piano and western notation. Students at his school take compulsory music from grades 1-7, and his class sizes are around 24 students each. He only has a few pianos, so the students rotate every 15 minutes during a class. He teaches there full-time. Next time I’ll ask him about performances at his school.

The most exciting thing about this class happened after it finished: the teachers who participated had a long, lively, informal discussion about it in the parking lot before going home. I walked by the group with my bike, they greeted me and said they were discussing the class, and then they continued in their rapid-fire Nepali as before. Satisfied that this workshop is now spilling outside of the classroom, I hopped on my bike and rode home. It’s still a small group—7 participants from 6 schools (school 6 is the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, the place where it’s being held)—but it’s a small motivated group. I can do so much more with 7 motivated guys than I can with 30 indifferent guys, and it’s really exciting to see their interest and enthusiasm.

I will be traveling to Pokhara on December 30th to play a concert for New Year’s eve, and when I return I’ll write a post about my Christmas and New Year celebrations here in Nepal.


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