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Showing posts from 2013

The WORST Christmas Song ever!

I love Christmas songs with all my heart, but there are some that just make bile rise in my throat. In the spirit of fun and good humor, I offer you the worst songs this season has produced. During these ten days in 2013, the blog will have a poll so you can vote on the absolute worst carol ever written. I have a facebook post up to get title ideas.

Here are some of my "favorites".

Bad things can happen to good songs.

"Chrissy the Christmas mouse": Truly horrific, surpassing "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas" by a country mile!

Please VOTE!  There's a poll icon on the right sidebar. I'd love to know your pick.

"Do they know it's Christmas?": I think you have to have a mullet to appreciate this song. I love the sentiment, but the music is just god-awful.

 "Baby it's cold outside": Love it but hate that I do. This version performed by two men on Glee is tolerable. Am I sexist or is this scenario less rapey than t…

Dancing, the medicine of education

I did this exercise with all my classes this week. IT WORKS! I did it using "Soul Bossa Nova" by Quincy Jones. It was wonderful. Autistic kids were able to focus. Antsy kids were instantly given something to concentrate on. Buttoned-up kids were able to get loosened up. It was spectacular. I'm going to use the amazing minds of some of my classes to come up with other versions of the exercise.

TED talks are marvelous things, but they mean nothing if you don't apply what you learn in them. The winter is coming. We should all make sure we move and stay healthy. Here are talks that will inspire you to move your body, plan to have your students move theirs, and give you a platform for collaboration with your fellow teachers.

Use these ideas with math teachers, health teachers, and administrators. Maybe do the sitting dance just before administration of a standardized test.

Here's one about the importance of dance as a social bonder. This is a great video to sh…

The Lighter Side: Appreciating Ylvis, Monty Python for a new age

Many of you are familiar with the Norwegian group, Ylvis' mega-hit, "The Fox," but most non-Norwegians don't realize that the song is a work of comedy. In fact, EVERYTHING these brothers do is an act of comedy.

Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker grew up admiring the comedy of Monty Python. Now they have their own talk/variety show on Scandinavian television. I would like to go on record as saying that their show rivals The Daily Show, Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, Ellen, and The Graham Norton Show.

These men are an "undiscovered paradise" of comedy, so empty your bladder, sit back, and enjoy the laughs as I introduce you to Ylvis. (Press the CC button for English subtitles)

Sometimes they make fun of movies or television shows.

Here's one of a series of sketches they did called, "Intelevator." All the segments of Intelevator are hysterical!

Here's one called, "Voice controlled ATM"

Here's a similar prank pulled by Graham Norton…

He's Gone Away

I first sang this song as part of UMaine's women's chorus. I sung in the group while teaching at the University. It was a great pleasure. I remember wondering what the words meant. Nobody seemed to know. Since then I've tried to research the song, but its origins are very nebulous.

The song is very "sticky". It has flown through history picking up elements through the centuries, stopping the accumulation sometime around the American Civil War.

This rendition from the late 40s/early 1950s is a popular rendition of the ballad.

Here are elements of the song that are from various centuries.

16th-17th centuries and before

He's gone away for to stay a little while,
but he's comin' back if he goes 10,000 miles
O who will tie my shoes?
And who will glove my hand?
And who will kiss my ruby lips when he is gone?
Look away, look away over yandro.

The term 10,000 miles stands for an impossibly spanned distance in thousands of folk songs from the British Isles. Here is …

Denise Bacon

A grand dame of music has left us. Denise Bacon died this week. She was a pioneer of Kodaly concept in the USA. I only met her once, but it was quite a day. I spent a year teaching with Ingrid Kainen in central Massachusetts, and we became friends. Ingrid invited me to her home for lunch and a session in "Denny's basement" copying songs and swapping stories.

I remember walking down the stairs into the library with its floor to ceiling shelves of meticulously cataloged materials. Her library had that wonderful, dusty smell of Patelsons Music Store in New York. I smelled it a few years later when Gunther Schuller gave me an afternoon of his time and I went to his home.

It's been ten years since my encounter with Denise Bacon, and I remember more of how it felt than what happened. I would appreciate your comments and remembrances. She's one of those people I wish I had met again.

This is the email I received announcing Denny's passing. I reprint it here with p…

Inspiring Videos, New Finds

Let's all play our DRUM

This is a great exercise(click that link for PDF) for developing musical radar. Combine this with the dance/movement activities of Parts on the Floor and you've got the beginnings of a group dynamic of music making that really cooks!

This is another for helping to build group radar and following the conductor. The conductor NEED NOT BE YOU. In fact, if we are truly wanting our kids to be independent learners, it shouldn't be us (as much as possible)

Imagine how you could use this in a pantomime montage as part of a play. Maybe showing a dream? A wish? A fable's action? A magic spell? It's a great bridge in any action.

My Mr. Berv

The First Lesson
I had taken the audition on a lark, but made the top orchestra in Juilliard Pre-College. Now, just a few months shy of my sixteenth birthday, I took the elevator (the one my friend, Kristen would ride later that semester with Mikhail Baryshnikov “He was sweaty and ahhhhh”) to the fifth floor to find Mr. Berv’s studio.  The door dinged as it opened. Some cellists were eager to get on. I stepped out. There was a scrum of violinists and mothers outside Miss Delay’s studio (though I didn’t yet know who she was.) I walked down the halls of golden carpet. I remember the carpet. It was nice, nicer than what we had at home, even nicer than the fancy carpet at the Bellevue Stratford, where I’d stayed in the past year on a youth orchestra tour. The carpet muffled sound, setting a hushed soundscape with an underlying, excited buzz of young adrenaline. I checked my schedule and matched the door number. I knocked. Mr. Berv opened the door, his happy blue eyes smiling. “Hello, Suzanne…

Radioactive, Cups (When I'm gone)

More Middle School ideas using popular music. Imagine Dragons "Radioactive" Okay, this song is metaphorical, not scientifically accurate. If you were that radioactive, you'd join the ranks of Mme Curie and die! Still, the lyrics are pretty thought provoking, the beat is freakin' awesome, and it's got some back-up singing potential.

Anna Kendrick "Cups" (When I'm gone)
THIS IS A KODALY THING!  It's a folkgame for passing cups. Here's the cup game.

Try singing the song to the slower version here. They speed up, so can you. This way you can teach the children how to sing on the breath and keep it on the breath at a faster speed! You can also practice the cup game with the song instead of John Phillip Sousa!

Safe and Sound, Same Love, Gone Gone Gone (For You), Royals

More ideas for Middle School music using popular songs.

Capital Cities "Safe and Sound" 
This is such a favorite of mine. The video is surreal, the singers look like ordinary guys (who could play with the Red Sox with those beards!) and it's so teachable.

This is a fantastic piece for teaching high E as well as the D'-E' fingering. It's addictive!

(') denotes higher octave of the note.

E' A B C' D' E' G G B C' D'
E' A B C' D' E' G G G' F' E'

D' E' E' E' (play rest, 4 sixteenths as an ostinato) This ostinato happens much of the time the hook is not being used.


Awesome for beginners. Have students anchor their first finger to first fret, second string. The chords are F, C, Am, G. Use simple versions of these chords and have the students play the progression just lifting their first finger and placing their third on the E string for the G chord. So easy and so fun!

Wrecking Ball, Mirrors, Take Back the Night, Roar, Wake me up

Many of you comment that Middle Schoolers want to sing popular songs, but most songs are really, shall we say, "twerky." So what's a music teacher to do? You have to listen a lot! Fortunately, there's a new trend in popular music for songs that are tender, fun, nostalgic, and sweet. Yeah!

I'm going to devote at least a month of posts to songs that will get your kids singing, playing recorder, drumming, and having a hell of a good time in music class. You will see that the latest crop of popular music is truly wonderful. Gone are the days (for now) of lyrics just for shock value. These songs mean something. Finally, we have lyrics that an English teacher can love. I'm so excited to share these songs with you. Let's get started!

As mentioned in a previous post, Miley Cyrus seems to be going through a slut phase, but her music is pretty wonderful. Still, if you use a song like "Wrecking Ball," you're going to have to deal with the fall-out ove…

GUEST POST: Austism Conference, Part 4

Conference: Teaching Music to Students on the Autism Spectrum – May 9 and 10, 2014 The Boston Conservatory Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum will present its second annual two-day conference on Teaching Music to Students on the Autism Spectrum on Friday afternoon, May 9 and all day Saturday, May 10, 2014. The conference will take place at our Theater building at 31 Hemenway Street, in room 401. For information about the conference, please see This year’s conference will feature a keynote address by Dr. Stephen Shore, renowned expert on autism, music, and education. Dr. Shore is a musician and educator on the autism spectrum who currently teaches at Adelphi University. He is author of Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Aspberger Syndrome. He presents lectures and workshops to audiences around the world. We are delighted that Dr. Shore is a long-term supporter of The Boston …

GUEST POST: Oklahoma! Autism Part 3

Autism-Friendly Performance of “Oklahoma” at The Boston Conservatory – October 20 at 2 p.m. I am delighted to share this wonderful news with all of you: The Boston Conservatory will present an Autism-Friendly performance of the musical “Oklahoma” on Sunday, October 20 at 2 p.m. in the Boston Conservatory Theater at 31 Hemenway Street, Boston, MA 02115.
For information about the performance, please visit: The website includes a video to help prepare individuals on the autism spectrum for the performance, as well as a social story, a plot synopsis, and a character guide. It also explains the ways that the performance and the environment will be altered in order to make the entire experience Autism-Friendly.
This very special event is sponsored by The Boston Conservatory in conjunction with its Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum. For more information on that program, please visit: