Master of Music Education Completed

I am very happy to announce, that I have now completed my Master of Music Education degree at Northwestern University. It has been a life-changing experience working with and learning from my talented and musical colleagues and professors. What a wonderful program it has been.

A highlight for me this summer was having the opportunity to play a concerto with the Summer Orchestra. It was such a privilege and a wonderful experience. I played the Concertino in D Major by Cecile Chaminade. I enjoyed the performance and it went beautifully, thanks to the support of my fellow musicians.  And especially, to my friend and conducting professor, Dr Bob Hasty. He is a brilliant conductor who has the knack of bringing out the best in us all, yet remaining calm and friendly throughout the whole process of rehearsal and performance.

A sincere thanks to all of my brilliant professors: Dr Janet Barrett, Dr Maud Hickey, Dr Robert Hasty, Dr James Kjelland, Dr Susan Piagentini, Dr Peter Webster, Dr Laura Sindberg, Dr Carlos Abril.

 

 

Lumen – ISCMS 2012 – Best Yet!

 

500 on stage

I was about to start this review from Wednesday 15th of February, 2012 as this was officially the first day of Lumen, the Festival of the International Schools Choral Music Society (ISCMS). I quickly realised that we actually started much earlier. I could go back one day to the Tuesday, to the Chamber Music Concert, ‘A Night of Champions’ in which I was fortunate to perform with my talented colleagues. My professor from Northwestern University, Dr Robert Hasty also played fiddle in a duo with his wife, song-writer Christina Trulio. Also performing was the Dulwich College Big Band, and a number of amazing student composers and performers, Kathryn Chua, Pratcha Sananavanont, John Hui, Amy Yun and Julien Bell. This concert was really an entree to Lumen and set the tone for the incredible music-making to follow in the next five days!

 

Chamber Music

We could go back to the weekend and the arrival in Beijing of our practitioners. The first, and by far the most exuberant of our stars to arrive was Dr Beverly Vaughn. Known affectionately by all Lumen folk as Bev, she brought to the festival her vitality, sense of fun, passion for music and her sheer energy. She made a wonderful contribution to the success of Lumen and is now considered a part of the ISCMS family. ‘Go Bev!’

“Go Bev”

Another member of the ‘ISCMS family’ is our regular mentor and friend, Dr Martin Adams, whose role is Artistic Director – Repertoire and Development. His youthful joy in music making and concern for our talented young students always adds tremendously to the success of ISCMS. His energy levels too are amazing, bringing him into a close second place – only pipped by the super-human Beverly! He was caught napping (literally) in between rehearsals following a couple of marathon days of music-making and socialising but his enthusiasm for our ongoing project is inspiring.

Still looking for a place to start my review, I should go further back in time to the months and weeks of practice done by our dedicated teachers and students in the lead up to Lumen. As in other cities, we in Beijing combined our schools, Dulwich, WAB, BCIS and BISS for a number of preparatory rehearsals. This was in addition to the many hours of practice done by individual students and teachers – all before the official ‘first’ day on Wednesday 15th February.

Of course, being on the committee of ISCMS, I can say with pride that the excellent planning and preparation for this event went on for the whole year. All the work behind the scenes in logistics planning, financial management, artistic development, venue bookings, negotiations with artists and sponsors, hotels, transportation, school administrators, printers, music publishers…….etc. All the meetings, the 2170 emails I have tagged from festival@iscms.net …..all of these efforts by a passionate and visionary ISCMS committee must be considered a major factor in the stunning success of Lumen.

From the arrival of the first students and teachers from 26 different international schools, this year’s ISCMS festival was indeed a stunning success. Lumen, meaning light was the name of the festival and we have now established ISCMS as the premier student choral music festival in the region, possibly in the world. We attracted 500 participants to Lumen, which set a record on a number of levels. We now have interest coming in from all over the world, with teachers and students wanting to be part of this event.

There were too many instances of creativity and music-making at an inspiring level, to review every one in detail here. I will try to mention some highlights, though.

The collaboration between students, teachers, professional and semi-professional musicians, academics and an army of volunteers, is what makes ISCMS a unique experience for all involved. The focus is always on our young ISCMS students, who are constantly pushed towards excellence in what they are doing musically. They have the opportunity to work alongside some of the best practitioners and highly experienced musicians in the world. There is no other student music event which can offer this standard of excellence and the results are clear to all.

The culmination of all the preparation mentioned above was of course the final Gala Music Concert held in the Forbidden City Concert Hall on Saturday 18th February. The orchestra and singers all performed magnificently. To mention a few personal highlights, the violinists standing and playing the reel solo in Lord of the Dance; Katie Targett-Adams singing “The Song” from Karl Jenkins’ Gloria; jamming with Bev; sitting in the orchestra and hearing the first beautiful notes emerge from the massive ISCMS Chorus behind me.

Katie Targett-Adams

Lumen was one of the best musical experiences of my life. Thank you to all who were involved.

Summer Orchestra 2011

I was very privileged to play this year in the excellent Northwestern University Summer Orchestra, conducted by my friend, Dr Robert Hasty. We performed two challenging programs and made excellent music together in the orchestra. All the players, made up of Northwestern alumni, current students and community members enjoyed great camaraderie. Here are the concert details, both performances were held in the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, Evanston, Chicago.

 

Concert One

  • Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor (principal flute)
  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in F Minor
Watch the YouTube video of the Tchaikovsky

Concert Two

  • Brahms Academic Overture (piccolo)
  • Villa-Lobos Saxophone Concerto
  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Sheherezade (principal flute)
Listen to the live recordings of both Concerts

Study at Northwestern – Summer 2011

I have just returned from my second summer session at Northwestern University, Chicago. I am studying for my Master’s Degree in Music Education. What a wonderful experience – exhausting, stimulating, satisfying. I love working there with my wonderful classmates, Jen, Krista, Leo, Phaedra, Amy, Samantha, Jim, and Matt. We have a terrific camaraderie and this was a particularly difficult session for us, studying two of the most intellectually demanding courses, Philosophy and Research. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief last Friday, when we were able to finally close our computers after an intense, sleepless six-weeks of thinking! The theme of the summer, was summed up in the words of our professor Dr Carlos Abril:

“Thinking is hard”

Yes, thinking has been hard, but very worthwhile and rewarding. To all my classmates and fellow Summer Masters students, congratulations!

Here is my Philosophy Class with Bennett Reimer – the illustrious philosopher who visited us at Northwestern.

Bennett Reimer with Philosophy of Music Education class 2011

 

 See below if you would like to read my final paper in Philosophy. (Best if you click on ‘full screen’ in the bottom right hand corner).

My goal for this year, is to work hard with my own students and colleagues at BISS and to embrace this philosophy as well as I can!

Openness – A Music Education Philosophy

View more documents from Gerard Dutton

MAD Collaboration

Yes, we artistic types are sometimes accused of being quite mad, but in this case MAD stands for Music, Art, Drama. Recently, students of the three disciplines at Beijing BISS International School were showcased in a very pleasing way. The three Arts teachers, Catherine Rankin (Drama), Gillian Mercer (Visual Art) and I collaborated in the presentation.

Grade 9 Clarinetist, Terry Zhu

Here’s how the show went:

‘M’

The first part, logically enough was the ‘M’ for Music and I had a selection of my grade 9 Music students playing short compositions from their Ground Bass Project. The idea of the project was to learn about this composing technique widely used in the Baroque Period. Most people are familiar with the Pachelbel Canon, which is a very good example of a piece composed on a ‘ground’ or repeating bass line. The students all created ground bass lines and then chose someone else’s to create these excellent sounding pieces. We have been building up a Ground Bass Bank in their class wiki. I hope to build the project into a wider collaboration next year. Here is one of the pieces, composed by Charles Zhou – called ‘EMO Bass’. Charles’ classmates Simon Lu (piano) and Terry Zhu (clarinet) did a great job playing his piece in the concert.

Collaboration was the theme for the whole night. More compositions were played by students through the concert. Congratulations to Alex Ding (flute), Tony Foo (guitar), Simon Lu (piano), Sang Hyun Woo (piano) and Jung Woo Han (violin). I also helped the students by playing cello and flute with them for some of the pieces.

Another highlight was the singing of Violet Lindsay. Violet is a grade 11 Music student who has been working hard on her singing during the past year. She sang a difficult song from Phantom of the Opera, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again –  accompanied by Julie Lindsay on piano. Well done Violet!

Violet Lindsay, Grade 11 BISS Student

We also showcased the performing talents of a number of students who played piano beautifully. Congratulations to Grace Chung (gr 10), Andy Park (gr 10) and Jesse Zhao (gr 8). A special note should be made about Jesse’s playing. Although only a grade 8 student, he plays with such a spectacular technique and sparkling musicianship, that he is someone to watch in the future. He played Chopin ‘Black Key’ Prelude absolutely brilliantly.

‘A’

We had a short interval in the concert at this point, which gave the audience an opportunity to look at the Art Exhibition on display in the Courtyard. Work was by the Grade 10 students of Gillian Mercer, our brilliant art teacher who will sadly be leaving China next year to take up a new job in Darwin, Australia. The works were beautiful two and three dimensional prints all created in the theme of ‘clouds’. As always, the quality of the visual art produced by Gillian’s students was consistently high, with the work always offering some deeper meaning than just a superficial, aesthetic experience. Wonderful work Gillian and students!

Grade 10 'Cloud' print
Grade 10 - Cloud print 2

‘D’

The final part of the MAD Showcase was the grade 10 Drama students’ play called Nosrep. ‘Nosrep’ is person spelt backwards and the script was created by the students and Cath Rankin, our talented Theatre Arts teacher. Nosrep is a puppet play and details the turbulent experiences of a young student growing up with dyslexia. The students, only four of them, performed beautifully and must be congratulated. A great highlight for me too, was the fact that all the music used in the play was composed by the grade 10 Music students! Yes, I was very proud to hear how well their ‘commissioned’ work fitted with the changing moods of the characters in the play.

What a great Arts Faculty we have at my school and what a great bunch of students we have to work with.

Grade 10 Drama 'Nosrep'

Requiem – Karl Jenkins

What a great concert! I was so glad to be involved with this performance, last Saturday night. Students and staff from a number of Beijing Schools  and the Beijing youth Orchestra, conducted by Shane O’Shane, collaborated in a really stunning performance of the beautiful Karl Jenkins Requiem. The piece is a mixture of traditional Latin mass text and beautiful Japanese Haiku. Also, to compliment the elegant words of the Japanese poetry, the score calls for solo shakuhachi (the haunting Japanese flute) to weave beautiful decorated melodic lines into the texture with the singing. I was fortunate to be given the chance to play the solo flute lines – on my silver flute rather than the traditional instrument. I did try playing the melodies on some more primitive bamboo/wood instruments, but not on shakuhachi, which really requires a master player to do it justice. I found that playing the intricate decorated melodies on anything other than my ‘usual’ modern flute was not going to produce a good enough result, particularly regarding intonation. Having a love of Japanese music, I have always enjoyed playing and listening to it, and I was pleased with my playing and tone, especially as much of the playing was in the difficult low register. In fact, the composer writes on the score ‘shakuhachi or flute’ so I believe the instrumentation was still authentic and pleasing.

Now, this performance was quite unusual and challenging for me personally, as I had two different roles in the ensemble. As well as playing the solo flute parts, I also sang bass in the chorus. I found myself swapping from a standing position in the front of the basses for the Latin parts of the Requiem – to sitting in the orchestra to play flute in the ‘Japanese’ movements. Apart from the challenges of physically moving between the two parts, I had to be very careful to mark each score with ‘FLUTE’ or ‘SING’ at the top of each movement and to quickly find the correct spot in time for the start of each movement. Also, what to wear? Black for the orchestra or white shirt for the choir? I opted for white, since I was standing in the chorus. It was very interesting moving from the lowest pitches to the highest and a great experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Singers from Dulwich College Beijing, Western Academy of Beijing, Beijing BISS International School (congratulations to Kanchana Jaishankar) were joined by a large group of very young choristers from the Korean School. These young singers were beautifully trained and sang their hearts out. All were dressed in little matching pink jackets and they made a wonderful contribution to the performance. Their boy soprano soloist sang beautifully in the stunning ‘Pie Jesu’ with its extremely difficult high phrases. In fact, congratulations must go to all the soloists as well as the chorus and orchestra. Also, to the producers of the amazing visual display of still images which was projected behind the performers and ‘choreographed’ to accompany the music and add meaning to the text. The concert was sold out and the audience left the auditorium uplifted and satisfied by a truly amazing musical experience.

Flat Classroom Conference – Beijing 2011

www.flickr.com/photos/julielindsay/5493353021/sizes/z/

 

Well, what a weekend we had. Yes, another one! Following on from my adventures in Shanghai the week before with ISCMS (see previous post), I attended the Flat Classroom Conference Beijing 2011 which was hosted by my school, Beijing BISS International School. A great achievement, particularly for my friend and colleague, Julie Lindsay who is one of the founders of the ‘Flat Classroom’ movement alongside her co-founder Vicki Davis. Congratulations too, to Kim Kofino for her great presentations and ‘presence’ at the conference.

We saw many smiling faces of kids from all over the world – which surely was the measure of the success of the conference. For some of the students, this trip to Beijing was the first time they had left their home countries and all feedback from the young participants was positive. I must also take my hat off to BISS for doing a great job hosting the delegates. As my wife Penny says, ‘BISS punches above its weight!’ yet again.

The idea is simple, really. Flatten the walls surrounding the classroom (metaphorically speaking) – in other words, lose the barriers to communication and collaboration. The world really is becoming flat (maybe Galileo got it wrong!).

Check out the hash tag #flatclass2011 on Twitter to see many interesting tweets packed with useful links from the conference.

Highlights for me were sharing ideas and skills with friends from all over the world. I loved the sessions on Visual Literacy (basic film-making) run by Frank Guttler who describes himself as a ‘film/video educator’. He gave us so much technical information which will be useful in the future and his manner was easy-going and patient with video novices like me. I also enjoyed being reminded of digital tools such as QR Codes – look out for them appearing all over BISS soon! Many thanks to the dozen or so students who each presented a different useful digital tool to us on the last morning .

I was less impressed with the sessions on Instructional Design, which for me and possibly many of the young people were too burdened with edu-speak and procedure. The fundamental ideas seemed good, but I believe the intention of making ‘instruction’ easier to implement, ironically, backfired in this particular example of ‘instruction’. By breaking all the steps of planning down and giving them a name (and the inevitable acronym), I believe, people’s creativity in designing their projects in a short timeframe (a weekend conference) was hindered by confusing templates and instructions. Perhaps the groups who were brainstorming some great ideas, might have had better results if just left alone to create and encouraged more at the end of the process. Just my opinion, of course. The other thing I did not enjoy, was having our project design ‘assessed’ and given a ranking against other ‘entries’. A poorly-conceived rubric was applied to our work, which we had not been given until after the task was finished. Also, I felt that the elements being assessed were not particularly relevant in judging whether a project concept was worthwhile or likely to be implemented. We as educators should be careful to apply meaningful assessment – especially to fellow teachers! Check out my group’s idea for a collaborative project called LIPS (Local Issues People Share). Who knows, we might just do it!

Congratulations to all involved with a terrific Flat Classroom Conference – especially to Julie, Vicki, Kim and all those great students! Kudos to you all.

Oriental Fables – Shanghai

Bravo!! What a wonderful experience, singing in the chorus for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast last Saturday. I took ten of my talented musicians from BISS to Shanghai for the annual ISCMS Festival and the mighty challenge of preparing and performing such a difficult work. We think it might be the premiere of this important choral work in China – certainly it would be the first time it has been attempted by school students.

Also on the program, was Prokofiev’s enchanting Peter and the Wolf and the stirring concert finale, Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar with the orchestra joined by our 200 piece chorus in the magnificent Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre.

The philosophy of the International Schools Choral Music Society was clearly evident in the happy engaged students who all did so well in Shanghai:

The ISCMS philosophy is borne from a unique approach based on collaboration, innovation, creativity and passion. At its core is the challenge to bring together many cultures with diverse backgrounds; to foster a more global music experience for all; and offer an experience that cannot be gained in one’s own school. We will endeavor to give our participants an unrivalled and memorable experience that will develop, foster and grow the musician within whilst aiding the promotion of a more holistic person through engagement and experience.

I look forward to next year’s festival when it returns to Beijing. The group is driven by the enthusiasm of the twenty core member schools from all over Asia.

BRAVO TUTTI!!!


Beijing Learning Summit

I had the privilege of speaking at the Beijing Learning Summit on the weekend. Check out the hash-tag #bls2010 on Twitter. The event was a great success on many levels, but for me the best part was mingling with 170 enthusiastic teachers who were willing to give up their precious Saturday to share skills and knowledge with each other. Many hands-on sessions were offered by teachers with diverse experience engaging with technology.

I attended an enlightening presentation by Ann Krembs, called ‘Weavin’ the Web In’. Ann is an inspiring Elementary School Librarian at the International School of Beijing. Her enthusiasm for ‘weaving’ fantastic Web 2.0 tools into teaching and learning is infectious and I have a great new list of resources to investigate. Look at her blog at http://www.dearlibrarian.com and her great wiki which is full of useful links http://dearlibrarian.wikispaces.com . Many thanks for the great presentation, Ann.

The second session I attended was called ‘Inbox Omnitrix’, presented by my friend Tod Baker who is the IT Coordinator at the International School of Tianjin. Tod’s presentation was focussed on reducing email stress through his philosophy of clearing unwanted clutter, not only from our inboxes, but from our lives in general. I found it very inspiring and have spent today applying his simple mantra of – Do, Defer or Delete. I am happy to announce that today I have successfully reduced to a mere 5, the 4500 emails (I kid you not) which had accumulated in my school email inbox folder. Very liberating, thanks Tod. He suggested some reading on the subject: Check out ‘Inbox Zero’ by Merlin Mann; ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen and ‘Mastering Email Overload’ by Stever Robbins.

My own presentation was called ‘Wedding Wikis With Web Tools’. I wanted to show how easy it is to embed web 2.0 tools such as Noteflight scores into wikis for use with students. Also, how using and embedding active web tools can engage students and increase their creativity. I started a new wiki especially for the Summit which shows a number of my favourite tools embedded into wiki pages. I plan to use a wiki like this shortly to showcase student compositions and share them with my colleague and Northwestern classmate, Jen Brush who also uses Noteflight with her students in the United States. Have a look at my presentation at Slideshare -embedded in my wiki, naturally!

There are so many clever ideas to be discovered and shared amongst like-minded people – often working right next door in the same city or even the same school. Summits and workshops such as BLS 2010 give us the opportunity to simply get together and put our busy routines on hold for a few hours. We focus our energies on sharing what we do and on learning something new and being inspired by each other. What a great idea!

Student Life – Loving it!

I am well into my course now – week three. The 4-Summers Master of Music Education program at Northwestern University is a wonderful opportunity for me to formally take on the role of student again. As we always declare ourselves ‘lifelong learners’ in the International Baccalaureate program, this has been a test of my commitment to that mantra. I am happy to report that I am having a great time and learning heaps! The lecturers here are dynamic and very knowledgeable, experts in their fields. And my classmates are all highly motivated and experienced professional music educators. I am learning so much from networking with my colleagues as well as the formal lectures and assessment tasks.

MME Class of 2013 - Photo by Dr Carlos Abril

The social life amongst the students, is very ‘energetic’ to say the least. A ‘quick drink’ after ensemble rehearsal often ends in a 2:30am finish at Nevin’s, the local watering hole here in Evanston. Although I have been feeling ‘young at heart’ working with my much-younger colleagues, I must admit to ‘bailing out’ early a few times during the past week. Discretion the better part of valor!

Nevin's Pub
Gerard & NU Friends

We have six weeks each summer (four times) to cram in as much learning as possible. We are expected to take three course subjects each time and play or sing in a Summer Ensemble. My courses this time are: ‘Advanced Conducting: Before the Downbeat’; ‘Music Theory Review’; and ‘Music Technology’. I am also playing piccolo in the Concert Band.

I have been learning new skills and new ways to look at things (the most interesting aspect, I feel) in all of my subjects. Particularly, I have been impressed with my theory lecturer, Dr Susan Piagentini. She has a powerful knowledge and passion for the subject and teachers us in such a well-organised and thoughtful manner. Each day, we are set homework assignments which she returns immediately at the following class with excellent feedback. She monitors each student’s progress in a non-judgmental way and is the model of a good teacher. I have learnt new theory techniques and can feel my skills improving under her guidance. This will directly benefit my students, I am certain. Wonderful!

The conducting course too is great. Directed by Dr Robert (Bob) Hasty, my friend who conducted the wonderful Mozart Jupiter performance in the Forbidden City Concert Hall (see previous post) in Beijing earlier this year. His expertise in analysing scores (before the downbeat) has been enlightening. I will take a second course in a future summer to deal with the craft of conducting ‘after’ the downbeat. I have found it useful doing the two ‘analysis’ courses in tandem, as the skills studied in both are interchangeable. Both of these lecturers have opened my eyes to a more linear approach to music analysis. I have enjoyed refining my skills of looking for melodic ‘key markers’ and making informed judgements about phrasing, harmony and rhythm.

My third course is a compulsory component in the program, Music Technology. As my readers and colleagues will be aware, I am a lover of technology and particularly its use in music education. To be quite honest, I have been finding the learning tasks very easy in this course. I do see the value of ensuring that all graduates have the skills to confidently use available technology in their classrooms, but thanks to my work at BISS, I really am ahead of the game. We have a wonderful, dynamic and enthusiastic lecturer, Dr Maud Hickey. She has guided us patiently in our learning tasks, such as website publishing on the Northwestern University server. I am very pleased that I have had the chance to learn more about HTML code and video and audio streaming. I spent a few late nights tinkering with these skills. Having previously relied on WordPress templates for my web publishing (this blog), it has been a great chance to discover a few ‘tricks’ for designing and publishing my own pages. Check out my video page designed using iWeb and hosted on my own domain! Also, have a look at my Northwestern homepage designed using HTML and SeaMonkey. Follow the links to see some of the assignments we have done, including streaming audio and audio editing. As I said earlier, I feel have not been stretched with this course, but I have had the chance to refine and share my skills. Another valuable experience from my studies here at Northwestern and a good reflection of our successful use of technology at BISS.

The higher-years students have been warning us not to expect much ‘social’ time in our second year. We are expected to complete the two other compulsory components of the program, Philosophy and Curriculum concurrently in that six week block. This is apparently an onerous task. Well, at least we will have a year of teaching at our respective schools to get our minds ready for the challenge! I might even try to get a head-start on the reading before then.

Enough blogging for now. Back to my Bach Fugues!