Thursday, August 16, 2012

Science Fiction Reading and Writing: A Middle School Literature and Creative Writing Seminar: Intro

Welcome writers and parents!

I'm SO looking forward to reading and writing with your children. The material we're going to be working on is stuff that I devoured obsessively when I was in middle school -- my goal is that at least a few of the kids in this class will get bit hard by the sci-fi bug and become scifi geek nerd dork fans like I am! Science fiction is a great "gateway" for young students to begin talking about adult literature, as the themes and ideas are so overt and accessible, and there's plenty of action and adventure as well as characters to remember. 

Here's how the class is shaping up. 


We're going to be reading this short story collection: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol. 1, 1929-1964, edited by Robert Silverberg. You can order it, get it from a bookstore, whatever. Kindle/Nook/iPad is fine, but it would be nice if the student could bring the device to class so we can refer to the text. Also, I'm not totally sure how the pagination works in the different e-versions, so it might be tricky for them to answer some of the discussion questions, as everything I produce will refer to the print version. 


Each child must have some sort of notebook/composition book/journal/folder and paper/binder. They must also have a writing utensil. If they show up to class without these items, they will be visiting you on a weekly basis if necessary, to get them. :) I provide the weekly opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your child about being prepared for class, but I do not provide weekly pencils. 


Each week we'll read one short story. I will have homework questions based on the story for them in several categories: Science Fact, Creative Responses, Craft of Writing, and Personal Reactions. They can choose what to focus on and how they want to interact with the text, and I encourage you parents to look at the choices and decide how to direct your child and what you want them to get out of the class. It can also change by the week, or they can mix and match questions and answers - whatever interests them for that week. I will be posting homework questions on the internet on Tuesday evening for each week's lesson. I'm going to be using Freedcamp, an online project management software to do organize information and interact with the students, and I will let you know very soon how to work on that. It has the capacity for group discussions, a reading timer where we can all log our reading minutes and try to get as many as possible as a group, and more. 

I will also be flagging some vocabulary that might be unfamiliar, and assigning a brief writing task each week which can be emailed to me, uploaded to the site, or turned in in class if written by hand.

It is very, very, extremely, monstrously, volcanically important that they read the assigned stories. If you don't feel your child can keep up with at least that, then I love you, and your kid, but this class not for you. I understand we all get busy and this might not be a pedagogical priority for you -- if you don't have your kid doing homework, that's your decision, but if they don't at the very least read the stories, they can't participate. This is me, standing on the roof, with a megaphone: THEY MUST READ THE ASSIGNED STORIES. Don't make me do quizzes now. Because you know I will. I'd like them all to also log in and check the Freedcamp site at least once/week to look at the assignments, the to-do lists, the milestones, the discussions, etc. 


Reading: Over the course of the semester, each child will read one longer work -- a sci fi novel of his or her choosing. The assignment will be to write at least one question in each of our homework categories, for this novel. I'll be giving out a list of suggestions. 

Writing: Over the course of the semester, each child will write a short story -- a work of fiction between 500 and 5000 words. We'll be workshopping these in class a we go along, with the goal of revising, polishing, researching markets, and submitting our work for publication at the end of the term. 

This is a meaty, academic class and this material I care deeply about. I intend to teach my butt off, and deliver a course that's on the level of a high school literature class. If this all sounds overwhelming, bail now! No one will blame  you, and there's still time! But if it sounds awesome and right up your kid's alley then GREAT! I can't wait to get started. 

If you're in (and you're registered for the class), please send me your preferred email and your child's preferred email, so I can add you both to the Freedcamp project site. 

Polynesian Choir and Ukulele Band: Intro

Hello parents and singers!

If you are familiar with my choir classes, you may be wondering about a songbook. I have lots of songs in mind, but I do not have a book ready. I am just not sure, until I see the kids in front of me, what we'll need in the books in terms of lyrics, chord notation, uke fingerings, etc. I am also not sure what level of difficulty we can tackle until I have a final roster and get a measure of everyone's interest level in the first couple of weeks. So, the songbook may be coming, or we may just wing it. 

IF YOU ARE SINGING: Welcome. We'll be learning some pop songs about Hawaii, some popular Hawaiian songs, some songs from the musical South Pacific, some folk songs from South Sea islands, and even some island chants.We'll be doing a bit of music theory -- recognizing minor/major chords, intervals, understanding and controlling pitch and volume and tempo, and other stuff. Some of the songs are FUNNY. Some are sad. Some are love songs. This is definitely a type of music that most people never really explore, so prepare to have your musical horizon expanded! 

IF YOU ARE ALSO PLAYING UKULELE: Welcome to you too. :) I've had some questions about what ukulele you need to participate. Any regular old ukulele is fine. The cheapest, silliest one is A-OK, in any color. :) The standard size ukulele is a soprano. The brand most people buy as a starter instrument is a Makala or a Lanikai. Here's the one I bought for my daughter a few Christmases ago: 

If you have a tenor or baritone uke and you know how to play it already and want to bring it, go for it. Our instruction will be on the soprano uke with standard D6 tuning. If you don't know how to tune your ukulele, please come a bit early to class so Benny can handle all that before class begins and still have lots of time to sing and play. If you want to bring a folding music stand, this would be great! It'll be much easier to read the chords and lyrics while holding a ukulele if you have a music stand in front of you. Note: We will not be using the ukuleles for all the songs. Please prepare your child for the fact that she/he will be putting the instrument down and just singing sometimes. :) We will not be going FAST on the uke instruction. We'll try learning one chord per week. So, on our first song, when we only know the one chord, we'll work on playing only when that chord comes around. 

PRACTICE: I do expect children to memorize some songs. I've always had, in choir, a few songs that were based on poetry -- in Celtic choir we learned some Yeats, and in Appalachian choir we learned some Stephen Foster. This semester I am very much hoping that we can learn at least one traditional Hawaiian chant. This will be challenging because I'm neither Hawaiian nor traditional, but we're going to try it with a soundtrack. I'm going to have some YouTube videos and some iTunes downloads to listen to each week -- optional of course but I think helpful! I'll leave you with this one:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Walker Family Band Summer Fiddle Camp

Last summer we tried an experiment. Instead of going to a Suzuki Institute or a local music camp, we packed up our violins, tin whistles, guitar, cello and ukulele, and headed to the mountains of North Carolina for a week of fiddling fun with Scott Walker and his family fiddle camp. I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to the camp before and I didn't know anyone who had gone. But I did know that what I wanted for my children was to experience some freedom and joy in music, and to kick back and relax with their strings.

First Night Jam Session

I met Scott Walker and his brother Landon at a Suzuki Workshop where he was teaching cello master classes and fiddle group classes. His immediate connection with both my kids impressed me -- his gleefulness, his sense of fun, and his ability to work with Benny immediately and effectively, and charm the socks off Sadie -- I was impressed. During the faculty concert, Scott and Landon played a song together that is without a doubt one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard played on the cello. When I found that Scott had written the song, I knew that I had to get my kids more time with these people, so I began to look into their summer camp.

We've been a Suzuki family since Benny was 3. When Sadie was born she began attending his lessons in the baby sling, and by the age of two she had a foam-a-lin under her chin. The best thing about Suzuki, for us, has been the teachers: their willingness to accept children as individuals, their patience and faith in their method, and their positive, forward energy. But after 8 years of toil along the Suzuki path to enlightenment (and Benny's path has not been without thorns and potholes) I felt like we needed to step outside the program, and try something new.

Advanced Fiddle Class

The Walker Family Band Summer Fiddle Camp was without a doubt the best week my kids had all year. The teachers were fantastic. The other families were welcoming and fun. The other kids were music-obsessed, violin-addicted, foot-stomping fiddle-fanatics. It was amazing.

The camp is held at the Blowing Rock Conference Center, which is a resort way up on a hill at the end of a road. It's on a lovely green campus with lots of room for the kids to roam around, and there's nothing else out there. They eat in the cafeteria, they play outside on the grounds, all the classes are in one of the main or adjoining buildings, you sleep in your room in the main building, and everything you need is right there. There's no need to use your car for the whole week if you don't want to.

When I arrived I was concerned my kids would find friends, would be able to get to their classes, would be able to adjust to all the new people, etc. Let me tell you. On the first day, my little 7 year old got herself to her first class, and made a friend by the end of her second class. By the end of the day Benny had his own room key and was getting himself around the campus like a pro. He was telling *me* where stuff was located. They got themselves to their meals, got themselves to their classes -- the self-sufficiency of all the kids at the camp was amazing. I had so much time to chill out that this time *I* am going to take classes!

The culture of the camp is obviously very music positive, but it shows up not just in the activities and the official mission, but in all of the people too. There's a gang of teenagers -- they're all walking around with instruments in their hands, and when they clump up, they're playing fiddle tunes. To "be cool" you better be able to play Devil's Dream real fast -- these are the teenagers I want my kids exposed to! There was such an inclusive, warm, family feel to the whole thing -- moms helping other moms' kids all over the place. It reminded me a lot of our homeschooling community at home, and unsurprisingly a lot of the kids are homeschooled.

There's a pool:

Silly girls playing in the pool during an off hour. 

You can make new friends:

Phoebe and Sadie wrote to each other throughout the year.

A trio that formed for the talent show: Flute, violin, and cello. 

There are lots of red haired boys who know "Red Haired Boy":

During the talent show performance.

And I haven't even mentioned the bonfire, the awesome pottery teacher who fires all the pieces in a spectacular fashion on the last day, the kayak river trip, the yoga, the nature walks, the song-writing class, the kitchen sink parade, the talent show, and more! 

Look, if you're a Suzuki parent, and you're worried, I get you. You may look at the web site and wonder, "Where will my kid fit in? He's in book 4 -- is that intermediate or advanced? Will he have to read music? Will I be able to sit in the classes? Will they let his bow hand go to heck? What if he doesn't get along with the teacher?" The culture of the place is a little different, for us hard-charging classical academic types. 

But I'm telling you: Don't worry. These are good people. All of them. Their sole purpose for the week is having a good time -- with the kids, with their instruments, with you. You can juggle the classes around if you need to. You can sit in. You can hang out. You can pick up a drum and join in. Your child will learn an ENORMOUS amount. Not just repertoire, or new bowing techniques, or how to play a new instrument like the mandolin or whistle, but also how to really participate, how to join in without fear, how to step out with confidence, how to enjoy his instrument, how to really "play" the violin instead of "work" on it. 

The Walker Family Band Summer Fiddle Camp was a great investment in my kids' growth as people and their love of music. They have been talking about it all winter, and they cannot WAIT to go back this year. 

Go to this web site: Summer Fiddle Camp.

Look at all the documents and follow the directions. 

If you get confused, call. They will help you figure it out. 

If you're still confused, go. When you arrive, you will begin to understand. Maybe this photo will help. My 7 year old daughter, with her ukulele, perfectly happy and comfortable jamming with these experienced pros, who welcomed her with respect and good humor, and helped her fit right in. When I saw this happening, I knew I was in a good place. 

Robbie Wells, Landon Walker, Scott Manring, and Sadie.

If you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them from my experience. Here is a slideshow of all the rest of my pictures from 2011! I hope to see you at camp in 2012! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Suzuki Violins and Cellos in an Outreach Concert

On Sunday we went to Suffolk, VA for a pair of outreach concerts with Mrs. Morton's studio. The kids played beautifully in a country church and then in a retirement home. Thank you to the church ladies who made us lunch, and to Mrs. Morton for putting together such a lovely program!

Sadie got to play along for two songs. The first was Minuet 2 from Suzuki Book 1:

Then Lully Gavotte from Suzuki Book 2:

Benny and his buddy Stephen share a stand in their youth orchestra, and also share a cello teacher. Here are the "Bad Boys of Cello" with their teacher, performing Minuet in G by Beethoven as a trio:

"The Prayer" in ensemble, a song made popular by Celine Dion:

And finally, "Hot Canary," a crazy-to-play but super fun violin lark:

A great way for the kids and me to spend a Sunday. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Homeschool Choir is Fun!

For the last two semesters at Homeschool Out of the Box, our secular co-op here in Norfolk, I have been teaching a choir class for all ages. The first semester we learned some basics -- interval training, breathing, projecting, etc. and some simple songs. The second semester we took on Celtic music -- ballads and jigs and reels and silly songs and sad songs, all from the British Isles. This coming semester, we will be diving into the music of Appalachia -- murder ballads, nonsense songs, Stephen Foster standards, and bluegrass favorites.

We work on memorizing lyrics, ear training with notes and dynamics, and have lots of fun in class. Here are a couple of examples of our songs from last semester. We love to incorporate instruments that the kids play -- you can see a cello and tin whistle participating in this song, as well as my guitar:

Last semester we memorized several poems from W. B. Yeats, and here's one of them, one of our more serious selections:

This spring, we're singing American tunes like "Beautiful Dreamer," "Skip to My Lou," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "Cotton Eyed Joe," and "Shady Grove." Our songbook can be purchased as a coil-bound notebook from for $10 or you can download and print your own for free from our Yahoo Group files section. If you order the official songbook, the cost of the class is $60 for all 15 weeks. Without the songbook, the cost is $80 for the semester. We meet for an hour every Tuesday morning near the Chrysler Museum in downtown Norfolk. Won't you join the fun?