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My love of singing. Also, a fart cartoon.

Before I discuss my intended subject, I feel that I need to address this:

Yesterday, someone found my blog with the search term “stories about sisters smelling each others farts.” I wasn’t sure what I’ve written that would cause my blog to appear in those results. So, I did what anyone would do, and searched for it myself. My blog didn’t appear on the first results page and I felt too creepy to look on the second page, so I just closed the tab and decided that someone was searching really deep for those fart smellers of sisterly love.

Half of you are searching for it right now, I bet. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

English: Treason!!! John Bull emits an explosi...

I’m sorry. When else would I get to use a photo like this? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I probably just lost 25 of my subscribers.

My original reason for posting today, though, is to discuss my love for singing. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, but mostly I sing alone. Before I started driving, it was difficult to sing alone and there were multiple times when I was caught. Usually, the person who caught me singing is my younger sister and she would always burst out laughing because I was typically belting out a particularly embarrassing guilty pleasure type of song. It was always a pretty mortifying experience. It usually went something like this:

The year is 1999. My 13 year old self is locked in my room with my boom box. My sister is down the street with a friend and my mom is at work an Al-Anon meeting. “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey is blaring from the cheap speakers. I’m belting out the high note with sappy vibrato and my hands outstretched….

English: Mariah Carey performing live in Las Vegas

I imagined it appeared similar to this.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The door bursts open and Sister falls into the room, cackling and clutching her stomach. My friend from down the street is with her, also giggling. Gasping for breath, they tell me they’d been listening outside the door for the past few minutes.

“Shut up!” she says to me. “No one wants to hear you sing!”

My first car brought with it a place where no one would discover my singing sessions. Unfortunately, my first car also had really junky speakers. I used to crank up my Evanescence CDs so the music’s volume would match the volume of my voice. Within a few months, I had blown out one of the rear speakers. Husband (who was Boyfriend at the time) replaced my speakers for me, though the speakers were probably worth more than the entire car. I think you can guess what happened to the new speakers.

After a few years, that car drove its last mile and I got a new car. It had a 6-CD changer in the trunk, so I had variety in my solo karaoke repertoire! That car didn’t last long, though, and neither did the next. I currently have a car with a fairly nice factory sound system. There’s a subwoofer in the trunk and it certainly has great sound quality. My in-car concerts have never been better.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make in a long-winded and round-about way is even though I’m a music teacher (as discussed in my most popular post), I get very nervous about singing in front of people. The better I know the person and the more intimate the setting, the more scared I get. More than once, Husband has asked me to sing for him and I vehemently refuse. To this day, I have never sung for him by myself. It’s a completely irrational fear because the people I’m most afraid to sing for are the people I know are the least likely to judge me or put me down.

I have no problem singing for large crowds. In high school, I played Laurey in Oklahoma and naturally, I did a lot of solo singing during rehearsals and for crowds of about 500 people during the performances. During college, my friends and I loved to go to Karaoke Night on Mondays. On occasion, I would win tanning gift certificates, which I would give to my friend who wished to submit herself to cancerous rays. I even sang for my school a couple years ago during the talent show with another teacher.

So, how about you? Do you sing in the car? In front of other people?

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone. My mother is always wonderful material for my blog, so you can expect a hilarious recap of my turkey day later this week.

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A completely true scary story for my two remaining readers

Three months ago, I had thousands of readers every day and this blog had the opportunity to become somewhat successful. So, I did what any intelligent blogger would do and updated every day completely abandoned it for months. I expect that my remaining audience of two people (probably my sister and my mother-in-law) wonder where I went.

Well, folks, in case you have forgotten – I teach marching band. My family and friends refer to these four months of the year endearingly in such terms as the “marching band shell” and the like. In one week, I will emerge from the shell and will join my colleagues in gleeful shouts of “TGIF!” because I’ll get to work 8 hour shifts rather than up to 18 hours on Fridays.

My poor blog fell by the wayside due to exhaustion and lack of inspiration. That was, until last night when something happened that was worth breaking my writer’s block.

Husband and I decided to go out to eat and took the back roads on the way home. It was completely dark by this time and we turned right onto a country road. This road is so country, even the Beverly Hillbillies would call its inhabitants rednecks. Honey Boo-Boo is too good to live on this road.

A minivan coming from the opposite direction turned to follow us onto this road. As they turned, the driver began to turn the headlights on and off, flicked the brights on and off, and toyed with various combinations of headlights and emergency flashers.

“What the hell is wrong with this person?” Husband asked me.

“I don’t know, but they’re really freaking me out,” I replied.

Finally, the van’s driver turned off their headlights and left their flashers on, then sped up until they were almost touching our back bumper.

“I’m losing this guy,” Husband decided, and hit the accelerator. We flew down the road, far from the creepy van.

The van’s driver accelerated too, and soon they were right behind us again. At this point, I reached into my purse and found my cell phone in case I had to call 911. My imagination began to create scenes from horror movies and worst case scenarios. I started to wish we had a gun in the car.

About 5 minutes later, the van suddenly slowed down and stopped following us. We watched in the mirror as the van turned onto another road, once again putting on a light show with combinations of headlights, brights, and flashers. Both of us breathed a sigh of relief, and luckily that was the last we saw of the van.

Honestly, that’s the most exciting thing to happen to me lately, so it’s probably good that I haven’t written in a while, anyway. You hear enough mundane stories on Facebook as it is.

Well, I do have one other thing to talk about. I downloaded the new Muse album titled “The 2nd Law” a couple weeks ago. All of the music snobs of the world are in an uproar about it, calling it rubbish. I’ll admit there are a few songs on it that don’t give me the warm fuzzies or anything, but overall, I think it’s a great album and I don’t regret the $14 I spent on it.

Maybe it’s the musical training I have that causes me to analyze a song in much more detail than the average listener. When I listen to a song, my brain tears apart every track, analyzes the harmonic progressions, and picks out every little instrument and voice in the background. Matthew Bellamy is doing things with music that frankly, I don’t hear happening anymore in music. Who else these days is using an 80-piece orchestra or a choir in rock songs? Muse has a brilliant talent in knowing how to build a song from a whisper to a dramatic explosion in the matter of 2 minutes.

Most of the criticism is coming from long-time fans who call the album sold out pop, just because the band is experimenting with electronic sounds and songs that are inspired by dubstep. If you watch the making of the album videos that come with the deluxe version on iTunes, you can see that every sound is still created organically by the band’s instruments. There is nothing fake about this music. I guarantee you don’t hear any songs in this style on Top 40 radio that don’t use synthesizers and computers to create these same sounds. In my opinion, this is true talent.

Watch Muse on youtube to see them performing these new songs live. They sound just like the album versions. Matthew Bellamy sings in tune. Chris Wolstenholme sings background vocals in perfect harmony. Dom Howard is a percussion beast. The most impressive part for me is how well Matthew plays difficult lead guitar solos while singing in the top register of his voice with an unrelated melodic line.

Another criticism for the album revolves around the fact that there isn’t exactly a theme within the genre of the songs. They jump around quite a bit in terms of their sound. You know what? I think that’s one of the best characteristics of Muse. In my opinion, a band is truly talented when they can be so versatile in their sound. I like when a band’s songs don’t all sound the same.

Watch the following video and tell me these guys aren’t talented.

 

Playing piano will make you popular, unless you do what I did.

When I was about eight years old, I started piano lessons. I really have no idea why I started taking them. There isn’t a conversation in which I remember discussing this with my mom. Honestly, my first memories of piano lessons are of simply being in a room the size of a closet with a 30-something prude who would put check marks and smiley faces next to the exercises that I had mastered in the book.

I still shudder at the thought of those check marks.

Every week, she would assign something as homework for the next lesson, the same way I do now with my band students. For some reason, that check mark was really intimidating to my third grade brain. It was as if she were standing behind me as I practiced, scolding me for bad hand position and missing accidentals.

My main memory of piano lessons actually has nothing to do with the piano. The adult in me says that my audience might not find it as funny as I do, but the child in me says keep typing, so here I go. My family was always very open in our home. We never felt the need to stifle our enjoyment of potty humor and thus, we never apologized for rude noises at home. During one particular lesson, my worst nightmare came true. It turns out that a piano bench, with its flat wood structure and hollow middle for storing music, is a wonderful amplifier for noise. Yes, I farted during a piano lesson.

My teacher looked as shocked as I felt. I’m sure she thought about ignoring it for my sake, but instead she asked, “What do you say?”

I didn’t know.

Normally at home, the response would simply have been to laugh. Now I realized, all too late, that there was some sort of protocol in civilized society for this situation, and I had never been taught.

“I’m sorry?” The look on my teacher’s face indicated I had guessed the wrong response.

“Say excuse me.” And I did.

Anyway, I digress. The point of this little foray into my two year stint in piano lessons is that I never really learned to play the piano. Our piano ended up being repossessed and I had to stop lessons. My piano lessons were a great primer for the instrument I ended up playing for life, which is the flute. Don’t ask me why I chose the flute. I’m pretty sure that I only chose it because it didn’t require reeds and I was trying to save my mom money. (Our family’s financial situation was bleak, to put it mildly.)

So here I am, 16 years later, and it has occurred to me that I should have learned a cooler instrument. I mean, seriously, how often is the flute featured in popular music?

Anyone says Jethro Tull, I’ll cut you. My mom bought me a couple CDs when I was in middle school and I couldn’t stomach it. Now, the Marshall Tucker Band is a whole different story. Badass.

Overall, you never hear the flute used in a cool way. Piano, though, is used all the time. It’s versatile. It’s…just cool.

Allow me to cite some examples of why I probably should have stuck with the piano lessons.

First of all, Matt Bellamy of Muse’s Rachmaninov-inspired piano intro to “Space Dementia”:

 

 
Regina Spektor’s ballad “Samson”:

 

 
Amy Lee of Evanescence begins gently, but turns “Your Star” into a collage of crunching guitar and arpeggiated piano:

 

 
One of the greatest piano rockers needs no introduction for “Crocodile Rock”:

 

 
Ben Folds is one of my inspirations for improving my piano skills. Here’s “Zac and Sara”:

 

 
And yes, it’s cliche, but I have to include the original piano rocker, Ludvig van Beethoven. “Moonlight Sonata” is one of the pieces that inspired me to teach music.
 

 
Had I not stopped piano lessons about 17 years ago, I could have been pretty good by now. And much cooler. I guess I need to start practicing again.

Just don’t expect to see any check marks on my music any time soon.

What Every Music Teacher Wants You To Know

There are some stereotypes about music teachers in this country and for some reason, they’ve been getting to me lately. Generally, I avoid discussing my career on here because honestly, I have a great job. I get to play games, teach kids how to create music, and I get most of the summers off. You won’t hear me complaining about the pay (except in jest) and frankly, there aren’t many music jobs out there. My district has brand new, state of the art buildings with SMART boards in every room. I am NOT intending to write this post about my specific job, just the general problems that any music teacher can appreciate. Now, with that being said, here I go….

1. We get really tired of people thinking that our job is nothing but fun and games.

English: Young Children (Suzuki students) Play...

Nope. No work was required to get to this point. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was once asked, “Are you a real teacher or just a music teacher?” Questions like that make my blood boil. Obviously, I can’t get the entire world to see it my way, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m a teacher. My subject happens to be music. I say that in the same way that someone would say they teach high school biology. Music is defined as a core academic subject in No Child Left Behind. Music has National and State Academic Content Standards, just as any other subject. It is my job to make sure that my students master the material. I just have about 22 hours of instruction time per school year to make that happen.

2. The general public thinks that they know everything about what I do, and that anyone can do it.

I played guitar in a band in high school! What do you mean I can’t teach band better than you?

Every nincompoop who has ever touched a drum tells me they can “play” the drums. Now, some of these people actually can. I am totally not a music snob and I understand there’s a huge difference between being a talented amateur musician and someone who just beats on things. However, unless you have a music degree, don’t pretend like you could do my job. It’s not common knowledge and there’s way more to it than you think. Unless you have had to be tested on everything from music history, educational psychology, your performance of a concerto for an audience of highly trained professionals, memorization of fingerings for the bassoon (and every other instrument), etc., don’t tell me you could do my job.

3. We have to constantly remind people why what we do is important, for fear of losing our programs.

This is what happened to the last guy who threatened to cut music.

 I’d say most music teachers live in constant fear that we’re going to lose our jobs. We fear it not just for ourselves, but for our students. After all, who do you think inspired us to teach music? That’s right – our music teachers. Without music programs in schools, we risk losing part of our culture for the future. When we examine past cultures, what do we use to judge how civilized they were? Paintings, musical compositions, architecture, tools, language, and clothing. In other words – ART. In fact, we use the fine arts of past cultures to judge how much they knew about our current so-called “core subjects.”

Do you think people in the future are going to look at our standardized test scores to see how well we lived? Of course not. They’re going to study our ability to create ART.

And along the same lines….

4. We really hate using other subject areas to justify our subject.

If one more person mentions the “Mozart Effect” I’ll scream!

Yes, it’s totally true that instruction in music helps people to understand math and science better. It raises college entrance test scores. It forms new synapses in the brain, connecting the two hemispheres better than any other subject can. In fact, stroke patients who are no longer able to speak can sometimes still sing songs and use that for speech therapy. So yeah, I guess you should learn music because it makes you smarter.

But…

Music teachers are so tired of using that spiel in order to defend what we do. We didn’t go into teaching music because we wanted to get better at math. We want what we do to be valued for its own purpose. We want people to think it’s important to have music in schools, well, just because it is! Imagine your life without music.

Silent commercials and movies, with the exception of dialogue. Awkward silences while shopping. Silent car rides. All in all, pretty boring. We teach music because it’s like painting for your ears. It expresses emotions. It can even change your emotions.

5. People think that you can’t test what we teach, and that every student should be given an A.

Brian was devastated that his daughter didn’t pass choir. After all, she sang during at least half of the days she was there.

Music teachers are data-driven teachers who use research and self-reflection to constantly assess the effectiveness of their instruction and to improve their teaching methods, just as any other teacher does. Yes, you can give a test on how well little Johnny plays the trumpet. The notes are either right or wrong, in tune or not, played for the correct duration or not, and so on. Using a rubric, it is possible to assign fair grades to students based upon performances and written tests that are based upon facts taught during class. No, your child should not be given an automatic A in a performance-based class. Grades are earned based on your child’s demonstration that he or she has mastered the skills taught in class, which are based upon the academic content standards in music.

6. We really do love our jobs – and our students!

We mean it. We are some of the only teachers who literally get to watch our students grow up. Music teachers usually have their students for multiple consecutive years and form great bonds with them. Our jobs are super fun and best of all, we get to do what we love every day – make music.