Starting the day fresh at 8 AM with coffee and bagels, the participants of the NY-ACDA conference were buzzing with excitement about the upcoming day. Our director of choral activities, Dr. Janet Galván, kicked us off with a welcome, and our key-note speaker Francisco Núñez made an opening speech. He shared some thought-provoking and poignant ideas. He discussed music as a "vehicle to knowledge," stating that music isn't technically necessary to living, so why teach it? It is because music is an integral part to making us better people. He talked about the psychological implications of music, saying that music is one of the most influential catalysts in brain capacity growth. Mr. Núñez is certainly an inspiring speaker, and my own personal drive to pursuing music and music education was only solidified even more though this speech!
Following the opening session was our very own Dr. Derrick Fox's session entitled, "50 Shades of Grading." I know that I learned a great deal from this session -- assessment in a music ensemble has been a long-discussed issue, and Dr. Fox presented us with his creative ideas and solutions. For one thing, although grading can never parallel someone's true intelligence, educators nevertheless do need "artifacts," or proof of assessment. How can we keep the administration and parents happy while still challenging students to a higher cognitive level of thinking? Dr. Fox gave us many solutions: first, always be aware of how you are phrasing your questions. Instead of, "What's this key signature?" that calls for a simple answer, say, "How do you know what this key signature is?" that calls for critical thinking. Although it may take more time in the classroom, I truly believe it is imperative to give that time to your students in order to facilitate higher level thinking in your ensembles as well as individual assessment. Always anticipate certain questions by studying the score, and constantly be challenging your students to think at a deeper level. In terms of artifacts, you can do a number of things. Of course, you can go with a traditional music theory or aural skills paper test. Dr. Fox offers a few more suggestions:
(1) Record a mute video of you conducting, and have your students identify what piece you are conducting and how they arrived at that conclusion
(2) Use YouTube as a source, give your students 2 videos to observe and have them write observations: how were they engaged, how were they singing, moving, etc.?
(3) Have them use the analytical process of SHMRTFO (sound, harmony, melody, rhythm, texture, form, and organization) to describe a piece
(4) Use roll-call as a time to test aural skills by calling their name on an interval
(5) Have them draw a measure number out of a hat, where they will sight-read that melody or rhythm when their measure number arrives (which will assess internal pulse as well).
I thought these ideas were just brilliant -- I know that I've been questioning assessment a lot lately, and Dr. Fox did a fine job sharing his creative ideas for assessment in the music ensemble classroom.
Next was our first concert session, with Camillus Middle School as Don Schuessler as conductor, and Cantare of Young People's Chorus of NYC conducted by Elizabeth Núñez. I can honestly say I was incredibly inspired by these two groups -- middle-school aged students who loved music and were already passionate about it, as well as these fantastic conductors that were able to convey the importance as well as beauty of music to these children. I also thought Mr. Schuessler's use of an iPad for music was a great, innovative method for easy page-turns and light traveling. After their performances, Francisco Núñez held a demonstration rehearsal with YPC, where there was a physical warm up with stretching and sitting in a "chair pose" and breathing for different counts, and solfeging exercises where they started with unison and then split to hear different intervals. Mr. Núñez also discussed the importance of teaching that a long note is not static -- it moves! It is crucial for a conductor to teach with gesture as well as words.
We had a break for lunch, and reconvened in Ford Hall for the second concert session. This time, we were privileged to have the Queens College Women's Choir conducted by Sandra Babb, as well as the Ithaca College Choir conducted by Janet Galván. The Queens College Women's Choir performed very well, and had some wonderful repertoire -- I especially liked "Svatba," a traditional Bulgarian song. They ended their portion with "Ride on King Jesus," arr. by Moses Hogan, which is always fun. The Ithaca College Choir then performed, and it was wonderful being able to share our music with such a wide range of people. It was especially inspiring to see Young People's Chorus's reaction to "Entreat Me Not to Leave You" by Dan Forrest; they seemed to be very moved by the beautiful text and music of this piece.
After the concerts, the New York Voices (IC's own!) presented a session, kind of a "teaser" to their concert later that night. In the light of not making this blog post much too long, all I have to say is that if you ever get a chance to go see them, do it! They are not only wonderful people, but incredible performers.
So that's it! The New York ACDA conference was a success and an absolute privilege to be able to host. We were presented with so many opportunities that not many people get to experience, and I know that I am truly grateful for it.
Thanks for reading!
-Sunhwa Reiner, treasurer of IC ACDA