Friday, September 2, 2016

Furniture for Sale

I have the following items for sale....

Antique upright grand piano....
I wrote up a detailed description that includes lots of pictures here.

Vintage rocking chair - $20

This rocker is comfortable.  The seat is in great shape (no broken springs, etc).  The fabric is not worn or faded.  The wood shows some light wear, but no real damage.  This piece is great as-is or could be refinished and given new upholstery for an updated look.

Entertainment Center - $100
Towers measure 6'3" tall, 17" deep, and 2' wide.  Each has 2 shelves that are adjustable in the top part and one big open space on the bottom.

Base unit measures 27" tall, 40" wide, and 22" deep. Slide out drawer has DVD-sized holders, plus 2 tall & skinny storage areas and one big open area.

(We're still in the process of clearing it out, so legos, TV, and Wii games, etc, not included....)

The unit is in overall great shape.  The only issue dates back to the purchase.  The unit has a light bridge that goes across the top -- over the shelf.  When Rotman's delivered it, they didn't include the clamps.  We went back and forth with them and finally gave up.  We still have the bridge -- it's in our basement.  If you want it, we can include it.

The unit is in great shape.  No damage.  Doors close all the way.  No nicks real nicks or dings.  This is a big unit with lots of storage.  We've recently downsized our electronics and it's too much for our needs now.  It does accommodate plenty of A/V equipment, DVDs, etc.

Teak Cabinet - $50
Measures 6' tall, 19" deep at the base, and 33" long.  Top cabinet features 2 glass adjustable shelves.  Bottom part has 1 wood adjustable shelf.  The top also has an interior light.

This cabinet is relatively new - only a couple of years old.  No damage or wear.  The interior lights work fine.  The glass is fine.

Vintage Child's Table & Chairs - $10
Solid wood round table measuring 28" in diameter and 21" tall with two matching chairs.

As you can see, these are worn and need refinished.  The joints are also a little loose on the chairs and could be tightened.  My daughter just stopped using these, so they're still serviceable as-is, but with a little TLC, this could be a really nice set.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Piano For Sale

For Sale: Upright Grand Piano, Colonial Piano Co. (circa 1880 - 1890), $400 (plus the cost of moving)

I am selling my antique upright grand piano.  Despite its age, the piano has held up remarkably well.

Except for minor repair work, the piano is all original.  The keys are in fantastic condition.  The pin block is tight and the piano keeps its tune. The damper and sustain pedals work and the lid opening mechanism, while a little sticky when it's humid, still works fine. The piano has its original strings, hammers, dampers, and action.  The hammers definitely show wear but still work. The action is a little loose, but still responsive.  The sound board is also in great condition.  The veneer finish has some areas of fading and damage, but no peeling.  There is one area of the cover that's missing its decorative piece (not structural).  For a piano that's around 130 years old, it's in great shape!  It would make a great piano to play around on or a lovely student piano.

Included with the piano is a piano bench with storage (not original to the piano) and a brass piano lamp.  When I took possession of the piano, I also installed a Piano Lifesaver Humidifier which helps maintain its tuning.  I have all the paperwork, fill can, and some pad solution. Pad solution can be ordered through a piano tech who sells the systems or directly from the manufacturer.

Buyer is responsible for moving the piano.  It has a cast iron frame and is very heavy. I can recommend a piano mover who's done work for me in the past who does a great job and is relatively inexpensive.  Also, I can pass along the name of my piano tech who is familiar with this instrument and does a great job at a reasonable cost.

If you are interested in the piano, do not comment on this post.  Email me:  KatatonicState (at) gmail (dot) com

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Positive Peer Effect

[For this assignment, I was to discuss how I can mitigate negative peer effects in the classroom while maximizing the positive aspect of peer pressure.  This is another example where my anonymous peer reviewers didn't understand that many of the same issues faced in the academic classroom are faced in the choral classroom.  Many of the strategies I employ aren't that far from ideas utilized in other classroom settings.]

Music is similar to sports in that it is a team effort. Like team athletes, student musicians work on their individual skills and then come together in a choral or orchestral setting to create music. I am their coach: I teach private music lessons and I work with several children's choruses. According the Chorus Impact Study published in 2009 by Chorus America, choruses and group music programs have a host of benefits for students1. Music fosters more advanced social skills, strong senses of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence, stronger listening skills, and greater empathy. The study also shows that children are better team players in and out of the music classroom. Students who participate in chorus are better participants in other groups and engage in class discussions more than non-choral students. Student choruses are excellent examples of what a positive peer group looks like. Without that positive peer group, a choir would be unable to learn their music.

As a choral director, my job is to keep the choral peer group on track. I must embody many of the qualities outlined in “Pupil's voice: My primary school teacher”2: knowing and understanding my students, organization, consistency, and communication. While I generally work with children who are older than those in the article, the needs are the same. A primary function of my job, highlighted in the article, is to “promote enthusiasm and motivation for learning” which means I share my love of music on a daily basis and help my students to see the relevance and beauty of a given piece. The only way I can do this is to know my students – their learning styles, their personalities, and their interests. It doesn't matter if I am directing 15 or 50 kids, taking the time to understand my singers is the only way I can effectively do my job.

By knowing my students, I am able to give them ownership in the learning process. My natural leaders take on responsibilities such as leading voice sections, mentoring new or younger singers, and assisting me with discipline (organizing groups of singers, keeping the chatter to a minimum during rehearsal, etc). These peer leaders become the role models for the group. All of my students learn aspects of conducting as this helps them not only hone their musical skills, it helps them follow me better and develops their musical leadership skills3.

For all my groups, I set high but realistic expectations. As we learn our music, I provide consistent feedback so they know what they are doing correctly and where they need improvement. My section leaders play an important role here. I selected them because I know they can learn music quickly and have a personality for teaching and mentoring. They are interspersed through their section so those still learning can hear the part being sung correctly. In some cases, section leaders may be grouped with one or more singers for individual practice. This provides more immediate feedback than I can give as a conductor.

Discipline is another key component with my groups. Throughout the rehearsal, there are always little pockets of downtime while I hand out music or take care of something small for one or two people. My students know that these are the times that they may talk amongst themselves as long as it does not get out of hand. My choruses are composed of children from several area schools, so they only see each other once or twice a week, and they appreciate a little time to catch up. However, they know that once we start working on a piece of music, they need to focus. My section leaders help maintain this focus if someone is still talking through gentle reminders to quiet down. They also help focus singers who are temporarily lost by helping them find their place in the music and/or helping them read the score. I keep everyone engaged and busy while rehearsing. Even if I am actively working with one group, the other groups are to quietly hum along on their part so they are reinforcing what they have learned. By keeping my practices consistent, I rarely have a discipline problem.

Choral music promotes positive peer interaction and helps students develop traits and skills that are valuable beyond the choral classroom. As a music teacher, I love that sharing my passion allows me to be a part of this process naturally.

1”The Chorus Impact Study: How Children, Adults, and Communities Benefit from Choruses”, Chorus America (2009)

2”Pupils' voice: My primary school teacher”, Vesile Alkan, Academic Journals, June 2013

3”Introducing Students to Conducting”, Debbie Galante Block, Teaching Music, January 2015

Self Esteem and the Learner

[For this assignment, we were to discuss gender or cultural issues that may affect self esteem and what I can do as a teacher to improve a child's self confidence as a learner.]

As a private voice teacher, I work with Middle School age girls (ages 10 – 14) regularly. According to Piaget's Process of Cognitive Development, along with the physical changes to their bodies and environmental changes in their schooling, young adolescent boys and girls are changing how they view the world1. As adolescents move into a more concrete operating stage, their egocentric view diminishes and they work toward either assimilating their environment or making accommodations. It's during this time that girls have difficulty identifying positive aspects of being a girl, but easily identify negative traits.2

Singers are complicated musicians. While an instrumentalist can replace their instrument or disassemble an instrument for cleaning and repair when they are having a bad day musically, a singer must work with what they have for that given day. A singer's body is their instrument and is therefore limited by their body – bad days physically and mentally affect that day's performance. Regardless, good singers are expected to not only know their music, but to perform with emotion, energy, and engagement. A highly trained, experienced singer sometimes has problems performing at this level. A Middle School girl, with the typical baggage that comes with this age, can find this task daunting.

Like boys, girls voices go through a change in early adolescence. Unlike boys, their voices take years to complete the change3. A series of physical growth spurts happen in the larynx which sometimes cause temporary vocal issues. Most of my middle school girls have been singing from a young age, and many of them have experienced great success – solos and theatrical leads. When this physical change occurs, what once worked for them vocally may not any more, causing them to lose confidence to the point of regressing in their abilities or giving up music altogether. How a girl deals with these changes is often predicated on how they are handling everything else that happens at this age.

Currently in my studio, I have two students (C and M) who face these challenges. Both started singing at an early age. C focused her effort on choral singing and choral work. She received high scores at a vocal competition and performed in several honors level choruses. This year, because of vocal issues associated with her changing voice, C has struggled to pass any auditions which, while discouraging, has motivated her to find other opportunities musically. While M also participated in choral activities, she focused most of her time on theatrical work and was quite successful. As her voice changes and matures, M struggles with standing out amongst other singers because her voice is developing a mature sound faster than her peers. Because she already struggles with self-esteem issues, M developed performance anxiety in the past year that dramatically affects her ability to sing in front of an audience.

I constantly look for ways to encourage C, M, and other girls struggling with similar issues in my studio. I have found that the most important skill I use is listening. As a study about helping adolescent girls finding courage suggests, I must look under the surface of what is being said in order to find the “true I”3. In doing so over the course of several conversations, I was able to figure out that M's true challenge was not that her voice was changing, but that it was developing into a sound that was different from most of her peers. During our conversations, I was able to point her to successful adult singers that have similar qualities to her voice. She and I also discussed how a unique voice might provide beneficial opportunities.

I also engage and encourage these girls through variety and challenge. I never pigeon-hole my singers. Doing so can have long term implications on their abilities4. Just as important, providing a variety of music not only teaches them music theory and history, but also exposes them to different challenges and styles. As their voices change, they may find styles that fit with their emerging voices that they may have otherwise ignored. While doing this, I strive to set my students up for success. I give them challenging repertoire, but not too challenging. Small successes help build self-esteem. C benefits from this as we branch out and try different music styles. Variety helps her strengthen her maturing voice while test-driving her new “sound”.

When I began teaching voice nine years ago, I believed that the majority of my work would involve teaching music. While this is certainly a large part of my job, I am often times a counselor, coach, and motivator – especially for adolescent girls. It's a challenging age that I truly enjoy working with because I enjoy watching them blossom not only as talented singers, but as strong, intelligent young women.

1 “Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development”, W. Huitt & J. Hummel, Educational Psychology Interactive (

2 “Middle School Voices on Gender Identity”, Cynthia S. Mee and Others, Women's Educational Equity Act Publishing Center Digest, March 1995 (

3 “Adolescent Singing Voices”, Leslie Leedberg (

4 “Did Your Chorus Teacher Ruin You?”, The Aspiring Singer, October 2014 (

Language, Music, and Teaching

[For this assignment, I was to study the the implication of language in my teaching.  I was particularly excited by this assignment because music is a language unto itself, but it also impacts how children learn in their native tongue.  I was actually very disappointed by the feedback I received for this essay as my peer reviewers felt that music isn't academic and implied that I was not a real teacher because I teach music. Such is the way of anonymous peer review, I guess.  Regardless, this topic still excites me and I think merits further research.]

“Music's function in the developing child is to help prepare its mind for a number of complex cognitive and social activities, exercising the brain so that it will be ready for the demands placed on it by language and social interaction.”1 Music teachers not only have a language all their own, they are partly responsible for shaping a child's cognitive abilities and their understanding of language. Indeed, studies such as the one performed by the National Association for Music Educators (NafME)2 show that children who participate in formal instrument or voice training attain higher academic achievement. A more recent study3 shows a link between a child's ability to distinguish musical rhythm and his or her capacity for understanding grammar. “There is little doubt that regular exposure to music, and especially active participation in music, may stimulate development of many different areas of the brain...Music can be every bit as important educationally as reading or writing.”4

Music can be intimidating to the uninitiated. It is the epitome of Basil Bernstein's “restricted code”5. In order for music to enhance our language centers, we have to understand the language of music! We talk of rhythm, pitch, intonation, and a myriad of other terms, and it takes time for a new music student to master the terminology – sometimes years. My job centers around not only conveying an intellectual understanding of the terminology, but also teaching students how to tap into their innate sense of music to feel and embody these terms.

Elaborating the code goes beyond simple definitions and discussions. It encompasses physical exercises that help the student learn to feel rhythm, position their faces for clear sounding tones and learning to breathe in a specific manner. It becomes a learned set of behaviors and habits that at the onset feel unnatural because they are not necessary for normal everyday functions. It takes time for the student to adopt this new skin – some never feel totally comfortable wearing it. While we are working on these habits, we are learning the notation of music – the note names and values, the musical markings that indicate how it should be performed – the actual musical language.

I am lucky that I have a well established music studio with low student turn over. Additionally, I work with a youth choir which regularly attracts new singers, but most of these singers arrive with a solid education in the basics. Sometimes I forget how restricted the musical code really is when I have a new singer who is not well-versed already. With one-on-one students, this is easier to accommodate because of the constant dialogue that my student and I share. Even if he or she does not ask, I usually know when they do not understand the concept we are working on and I can adjust.

In a group setting, this is not as easy for me. This year, I have many new singers in my choir who do not have a solid background in the basics. During one afternoon rehearsal, after working through a piece, one brave soul raised his hand and asked a question about the music. This opened the flood gates with the others, showing me that I had underestimated their musical understanding. Shortly after this, I watched the video lecture for this course specifically about restricted and elaborated codes which drove the point home. Not only did I need to rethink my language, but I also needed to restructure my learning environment to make it easier for my new choristers to get the information they required.

I have since quickly adopted a few new strategies with my new choral singers, who are eager learners. Most importantly, I make room for questions in our rehearsal time. Using a series of open and closed ended questions, I make sure they are clear on the terminology and what the music piece asks of them. I'm also recreating the culture in the group that allows them to ask questions. My established singers are now mentoring the newer members – it is exciting to watch them teach other. Not only does it reinforce concepts, it is creates camaraderie. I take more time to teach the habits and behaviors of a good singer – even the experienced singers need reminding of this from time to time. I am excited to see where all of this takes my chorus – I believe we will be better and stronger for it!

1. Levitin, Daniel, This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Plume (2006), p264
2. Wallick, Michael D., “A Comparison Study of the Ohio Proficiency T
est Results between Fourth-Grade String Pull-Out Students and Those of Matched Ability.”, from Journal of Research in Music, Summer 1998, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp239 - 247
3. Batcheldor, Matt, “Researchers explore links between grammar, rhythm”,, 10/30/2014
4. Sacks, Oliver, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Vintage Books (2008), p102

5. “Basil Bernstein on Restricted and Elaborated Codes”, New Learning: Transformational Designs for Pedagogy and Assessment, (2012)

Teacher Development

[For this essay, I was asked to discuss the importance of professional development for teachers and what it means to me personally.]

I am a cautionary tale. I transitioned from a semi-professional singer to a private voice teacher and full-time professional singer nine years ago. When I started teaching, I wanted to learn everything there was about how to teach voice and so, I attended seminars and read everything I could. Teaching my new students became an education in itself as I learned how to handle the various challenges they presented me. As time passed, my studio filled up and I became too busy with work to worry about furthering my own education. This past year, I realized I was in a teaching rut. My studio is still full and I consider myself a successful teacher, but I was bored. I had not added any new tools to my “teacher toolkit” in a long time and my students no longer taught me like they once did. I lost the spark that I had when I struck out on my own nine years ago and I wanted to find it again.

I came to teaching voice almost accidentally. My mother, an accomplished singer, started me on music at an early age – singing with her and taking piano lessons from a highly respected teacher in town. In high school, my chorus teacher mentored me and helped me compete in (and win) various vocal competitions. Despite my mother's early encouragement, my parents decided that they would not pay for a music degree so I attended a technical school where I received my Bachelor's Degree. During my time in college, I still sang and found myself being mentored by another choral director who ultimately connected me with my vocal coach. Almost 10 years later, my coach declared that she had no more to teach me. If I wanted to learn more, I would either need to go elsewhere or start teaching. My daughter was an infant so going to graduate school for music was not an option. I wanted to leave my high-tech job because of the long work hours, so I took this as an opportunity to start my own voice studio. Only when I began teaching did I realize how much my coach had done to teach me how to teach voice. To this day, many of the routines I do during the course of a lesson are rooted in what she taught me.

Teaching music extends beyond notes and rhythms. In may ways, it is “authentic intellectual work” that Newmann discussed in his Authentic Pedagogy article because when taught properly, a music student is not only learning the fundamental “how-to” for making music, but also bigger picture concepts that tie into history, music appreciation, and human physiology and emotion. Even if a student does not pursue music as a career, he or she is left with an understanding of music that allows deeper enjoyment of the art.

Being able to tap into the many different facets of music education requires continual teacher development. No one source – not even an advanced university degree in music – can completely prepare the teacher for a lifetime of teaching. Music styles evolve, research into how the human brain processes music broadens the field, and the needs of music students continually shift based on their own personal goals – just three items on a list of many moving parts in the field! Continual teacher development is required to keep up.

As in many other fields, music offers many opportunities to continue learning formally and informally. Organizations such as the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) serves as a professional learning community by offering regional and national conferences, online resources and classes, and localized networking opportunities. They also offer a fantastic journal full of white papers, articles, and reviews of teaching materials. I joined NATS as soon as I was eligible to join, but until recently, I have not fully utilized their resources.

This past summer, I evaluated my current situation as a teacher and determined that I needed a change in order to continue in the profession. I love many aspects of my work, but I need to grow and learn so I can better teach my students and stay engaged. I am already utilizing the NATS resources more fully, and I am in the process of laying the groundwork necessary to toward my PhD in Vocal Pedagogy. A Vocal Pedagogy degree will give me many more tools in my teacher's toolkit, and will also allow me to expand from just teaching voice students to training voice teachers and/or work in the therapeutic realm of vocal health. These prospects excite me and I look forward to discovering where this path may lead.

In the short term, using Evans' terminology in her teacher development article, I am focusing mainly on my “functional development” by working on an online vocal pedagogy certificate and an online music theory and composition certificate from two different respected music schools. This will fill in some gaps in my learning and will give me the credibility I need when I apply for my graduate degree. In the meantime, I am doing what I can for my “attitudinal development” through classes such as the Foundations for Learning series. My short term goal is to find resources that I can use immediately while building toward the long term goal of an advanced degree.

I learned a valuable lesson this summer: I need to check in with myself more regularly and evaluate where I am – a practice that is regularly discussed in this very course! My cautionary tale is ending as I am learning to feed the teacher inside of me so that she may grow and flourish.

Evans, L., “What is Teacher Development?”, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2002
Newmann, F., “Authentic Intellectual Work: What and Why?”, Authentic Pedagogy, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall 2000
Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., et al, “What is a professional learning community? A Summary”

Monday, October 20, 2014

What I do as a teacher

The assignment: Create a list of everything that I do as a teacher. Then, from that list, pick what I believe to be the most important things and think of how I can get better at them. For the purposes of this list, I am going to use my experience as a homeschooling parent and as a teacher at a homeschool cooperative. Much of this list will also apply to what I do as a private voice teacher, but my approach when teaching voice is a little different from other subjects.

My list:

  • Identify learning objectives & goals
  • Create lessons to support the objectives.  These lessons might include reading assignments, hands-on activities, experiments, field trips, discussion, etc.
  • Teach those lessons
  • Set learning pace and adjust as necessary
  • Listen - to questions (even the unspoken ones)
  • Take advantage of teachable moments
  • Find resources
  • Set expectations and hold students accountable
  • Keep students engaged and interested
  • Provide a springboard for further exploration (in and out of the classroom)
  • Pay attention to student needs and differences
  • Communicate with parents
  • Assess students - informally and formally
  • Administrative paperwork
  • Be flexible
  • Maintain order in the classroom
  • Give everyone a chance -- to be heard, do the activity, etc.
  • Buy supplies and learning materials
  • Be a resource for other teachers at my co-op
First, let me start by saying that sitting down and thinking about everything that I do is hard! I'm sure I'm missing a ton of stuff. This are what I came up with after 5 - 10 minutes of brainstorming.  

The items in purple are what I believe to be the most important things on this list. The latter five support my ability to be a good teacher. Some days, these bullets are easy. Other days, when I'm in a hurry, or I'm tired (for example), I lose some of my flexibility or my ability to just take a second and listen to what my students or daughter are saying or asking. These are the days that I need to do better -- just because I'm having a bad day doesn't mean they need to have a bad day too.

When I teach voice, I normally don't have a problem with this. I get in "the zone" and work with my students. In the home and co-op classroom settings, I need to learn how to get into the zone.  It's a different dynamic and the subjects are continually changing so to a certain extent the routine does as well. Figuring out what the zone looks like so i can get there more easily is the first step in being more consistent with the above bullets.