Category Archives: Academia

Restart, Refresh, and Reconnect.


Since my last post in June, things have happened.

I was told that our 3rd Spanish position in our school was excessed. We would go back and teach 36-40 students each period, which meant I would have to teach a minimum of 350 students per school year. During that same time, I applied for a position for a full-time Director of Music position in Ankeny, Iowa. I honestly believed my interview, while it went well, I thought it was a long shot. I was proved wrong. They were thrilled about my interview and wanted me on board. I had a difficult choice to do. Continue and work with an insane amount of students, teach my first language and culture to 350 + kids with my friend, Sam or go back to basics and go be in a full time music position. I went with the latter.

As of middle of July, I am the Director of Traditional Music and Worship at Ankeny First United Methodist Church in Ankeny, Iowa. I am in charge of all traditional music and adult worship in 3 sites, which includes an amazing music program that includes handbells, band/orchestra, choir, and praise teams. While still in a learning curve, it’s been a awesome start! As of right now we are in the finishing touches in reorganizing and beginning a concert series, getting musicians and ensembles to perform in our spaces, and community outreach with our music.

Here’s to new beginnings, to refreshing, restarting, and reconnecting!

Reconciling #musicalpoetry, #spanish learning, #CI, and #culture


I’m a music teacher. I’m a Spanish teacher. I am a both. I am a Native speaker. How do I reconcile both in my classroom? These were my thoughts throughout #CIIA2018 this month, especially when Laurie Clarcq was speaking in her breakout sessions.

As a Spanish teacher, I constantly use music in my room. Mainly in a indirect way for my non-native & non-heritage students (if you are ACTFL fan they are Novice to Novice-low, rarely a Novice-Mid as a Second Language learner because of contact hours). I mostly use my Spotify playlist “Songs in Spanish” to keep playing in the background. All. The. Time.

When I have commented to my coworkers about this during the school year (mainly a music teacher) I told them that it grounds me. It keeps me connected to music, but there IS a method in my madness.

The madness

My first 2 years as a Middle School, MYP teacher in an International Baccalaureate school, I have 35+ students. Every class period. Yes, that means that in 2 days (we’re in an A/B schedule) I teach a max of 400 students. In my classroom, I have free seating & “you have a phone, ok. Use it to your advantage.” Policy. Meaning, that if a student has a phone, I do not go “phone-Nazi” and take them away. I purposely teach focus. I did not realize that I did this, until our technology teacher told me that she did the same thing. I want to teach focus. Intentional focus. This is hard at the middle school brain.

I start the school year telling all my students that I am a music teacher, I conduct choirs, I sing in choirs, and that I conducted choirs in Puerto Rico, my home country. They are always “shook” and as one student told me this year “show me the receipts Brenda, or it didn’t happen”. I show them the “receipts” and they’re impressed (to say the least). Honestly, that was the point of “the art of musical poetry” when this blog began: how does music, language and culture works. As a Spanish teacher, while the core is still there, it’s been tweaked as I teach Spanish.

How do I use the madness to my advantage

Using my Spotify playlist, I put on music that I will teach during their 3 years in the program, music that is fun/different, music that my students (mainly my native speakers) choose to share to the “gringo students”.

It opens up conversation that yes, in Spanish-land you have as many musical genres as they listen to in English. From Taylor Swift-like pop, to hard metal, to Spanish covers of their “omg this song gives me life” favorite songs.

While it takes them some time (mainly new students and incoming 6th graders) to adjust, they LIKE the culture in the classroom. They KNOW that if they don’t have music playing something DIFFERENT is going to happen in the room. Students BEGIN to WITHOUT prompt sing the songs in Spanish, learn their favorite songs in a Spanish cover, and even better? ASK for SPECIFIC songs. This year Corazón sin Cara, Andas en mi cabeza, and La Gozadera were huge hits.

WHY?

We go back to the Why? Why would I do this? I do know that most teachers would think I am crazy for doing this. Well… I might be. But it goes back to who I am, what I do, and what I want my students to achieve and feel successful. In 3 years, in an A/B schedule, my students will NOT be awesome superstars with their output. I know that. I’ve accepted that. Now, this year’s 6th graders (next year’s 7th graders) might make me reject that reality. If so, #ChallengeAccepted.

In my room, silence needs to be important. Just like music. It has to have MEANING. It reminds me of what Laurie Clarcq said at CIIA (I’m paraphrasing)

The Teacher is the conductor of the orchestra. They know (or should know) the music, the theory, and each student must bring their “instrument” or kill so that they can continue to improve.

But let’s be real, most of the students do not have some skills, what ever skill you’re looking for (reading, writing, social-emotional, etc) so we have to address it and teach it.

How do I teach it

1. Student’s who are notoriously late: Conversations.

As of this year, students have a grade that directly ties their attendance. It’s a small rehearsed conversation: Hola Maestro. Me llamo ____. Como estas? Now while it was surprisingly spanish (Sam Finneseth) who started this year, I followed suit and it gave me a lot of rewards. Students who are shy and are more receptors rather than “sayers” they have at least 1:1 interaction with me. Most importantly it teaches students that they need to be on time, is simple and parents are supportive.

2. It can be used as a warm up.

3. I use it to actually remember students and their names. (I am horrible with names)

4. Students with phones: Teach self-control

I am a phone-a-holic. I am. I let my students know this. I even check my phone (sometimes) while they are working. It’s part of life and these kids never lived in a time where people have smartphone (and I feel old about that). So I have to teach them, just like a part of the orchestra, they do not need it at the moment. IF you are grabbing the phone its to check time, listen to your OWN music when SPANISH music is not plating (which is almost never), using Quizlet in class (when we need to), etc.

5. What to do with silence

If we have silence in the room, we are using it when we play mafia (listen to be understood. Listen to comprehended), when we are reflecting on our process, when I am talking about our CFA’s, Scales, and/or “big things” like real-life connections of culture and what we are reading, etc.

Would love to hear from you, what are some things that some peers think is “unorthodox”, “crazy or mad ideas” or simply how do you mix music, culture in your classroom that might be out of the norm?

My first experience in #CIIA2018


I honestly thought that these things would be a waste of time. It’s probably because I’m a second career Spanish teacher. Music is first, so I always go to ICDA (Iowa Choral Conductors Association) instead or I just simply saved my money and go to Puerto Rico to see my family. This year has been different. Way different.

This year, as I may have mentioned in a previous entry, my friend Surprisingly Spanish suggested that since I have been dabbling in the arts of Comprehensible input, that I should go to CIIA or Comprehensible Iowa this past weekend. I was surprised. Very surprised. In a very good way.

I like that CIIA is made for teachers by teachers. They talked to us in a very real way that was not what you sometimes experience in these types of conferences. Everything was directly “from a classroom” and how “it has worked in a class” and “how it can be better”. I also enjoyed that there were moments where you truly can reflect. Ergo, Laurie Clarq, the keynote speaker. which took us back to basics. Her 3 rules in a classroom: a) one person talks, everybody listens, b) listening with the intent to understand, and c) self-control as a necessary skill where not groundbreaking at all, but it reminded (at least me) that if I want a positive culture and community these need to be part of my expectations and priorities in my class.

41wvjgctxvl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I went to 3 of Laurie’s sessions which were amazing. I also went to Sam Finneseth’s Heritage students in a CI classroom. I loved this presentation. I believe that it was very real as mostly her reflections on the past school year as a Spanish teacher for Heritage students. As a native speaker, I hear constantly that these students should not be in a Spanish classroom. While I had this mentality during my first year of teaching, I was able to create a Heritage class at my school and I could see what was Finneseth’s thought process. I do know that we NEED an active NEED in our state and nation in how to help these types of students. I already have my book by Mike Peto to help me for this next school year. I also had a lot of people asking me what I actively do with my 8th graders when it comes to curriculum, which that will be a post in the near future.

In all, I believe that CIIA is a great resource in our state and midwest area for teachers who actively teach with the CI methodology, but also for newbie teachers like myself in helping us get acclimated to this CI world.

I am excited and looking forward to next year’s CIIA and Iowa’s and Midwest professional opportunities!

School’s out for the summer! (not really)


 

As the song entails, school is officially over. But, not really.  As the end of the semester windles down, I decided to take the nerdy way out and register in a summer course. This semester has ben a hectic one. I’ve had a lot of stress, mostly papers to write, concerts, and not to mention, more papers. It has been a good semester. I wasn’t fond of the grading I received, especially in my music history course, but you can’t always get what you want. In this semester, I have also pondered on the two possibilities I have after I finish my Masters. I could stay here in the United States or go back to my home country, Puerto Rico, and search for a job there

As the song states, schools out for the summer so I won’t think about it… too much. ‘ve also toying with the possibility of pursuing a Doctorate degree in Musicology (a PhD), instead of a DMA in Choral Conducting (for all of you who do not know the acronyms a DMA is a Doctorates in Musical Ars).  The root of this moral, career dilemma, is that with a PhD in Musicology, I can assess Latin American repertoire and unveil the mysteries and all of the inaccuracies that’s out there (this is technically called ethnomusicology. With a DMA, I would just focus on an ensemble and how to create a professional sound out of them. Both of the things I would love, but time will tell which one I will choose.

 

Speaking of  musicology and the mysteries it implies, specifically ethnomusicology, my independent study will focus on what ethnomusicology is, how it has evolved, and how it has been reflected in Latin America. I will hope this new adventure provides itself to be truthful! Also, in this summer I will add to my agenda to update this blog (more than I have been lately). So I will stop with my binge watching of anything that is on Netflix (although Scandal Season 3 is really tempting, I kid you not) and focus on maintaining this blog in tip, top shape.

That will be all for now!

-MP.

Art is Absolute


Art has no aim; it is aim itself; it is the absolute because it is a reflection of the Absolute- the Soul. And since it is absolute, it cannot serve an idea, it is dominant, it is the source from which all life comes. 

Art stands above life; penetrates the essence of the universe; reads to the ordinary man a secret, runic writing; interprets all that exists from one eternity to another; it knows neither limits nor laws; it knows only the duration and power of the soul; it binds men’s soul to the soul of the universal nature and considers the soul of the individual as a phenomenon of that other soul” 

by: Stanislaw Prybyzewski, in “Confiteor” in Zycie (Life), January 1, 1899

Polar winds v. Tropic thunder


And so my winter break is coming to an end. Next Monday I start my second semester of graduate studies, where I shall immerse myself anew in music, music, and music (and the midwest weather). Between a musicology course in twentieth-century music to twentieth -century musical analysis, choral conducting, graduate musical composition, and ensembles. This semester will be challenging, but rewarding, I’m sure. Let’s see what this semester brings. Up until now I will be a part of the IMEA in Illinois, and there might be a slight (very slight) possibility that I can get enough funds to go to the ACDA convention this year. If I get the chance, it would be amazing. It’s still somewhat incredible and humbling coming back to the island and meet again my professors and peers. The pressure is still on when the hint, again, that I am the “new guinea pig” because before me nobody has done a Masters in Music, specially Choral Conducting. I just have to work harder this semester. As we say in the Choral Department (thanks to me) “If you try hard enough and believe in yourself…”

Sweltering heat, Frigid Winds


Finals are done, and I’m back home in Puerto Rico for the Winter Break. Coming back home is good. I’m still not accustomed to the change in temperature. Living in twenty-something degree weather (that feels like ten-something because of the wind chill) to the drastic eighty degrees with seventy percent humidity is… taxing. Nevertheless is good to be back, at least for two weeks or so to say hello to the family (in person and not by FaceTime) and see some familiar faces. So far, I crashed a choral rehearsal from my undergraduate. Saw my highschool/undergrad voice teacher, and my choral conducting/literature/methods professor. It’s been good, but bittersweet. It has put a lot of things in perspective, such as family, friends and what I want to do in my life.

Flamenco Beach. Culebra, Puerto Rico

Flamenco Beach. Culebra, Puerto Rico

I’m still debating coming back to the island after I receive my Masters degrees. In one side it would be returning to my comfort zone. On the other, it would be returning to a place where I know I could find a collegiate work opportunity, because of my networking. I don’t know if the job opportunity would be a stable one, but with the way things are back here, it is… daunting. When I came here, teacher’s went on strike, and the overall teaching opportunities/lifestyle are light and day in comparison of what I’ve seen in Iowa and in Illinois. These past six months of actually living alone, in a place where no one knows me has made me seen life in a different ways, and I’ve remembered and learned new this. Some of these are…

  1. No matter where you come from, people judge you (or should judge you) for your actions and how you present yourself.
  2. Everybody should deserve a chance for every job opportunity.
  3. Don’t tell everybody that you don’t have something, do something and find something similar.
  4. Family is only a phone call/text/FaceTime session away.
  5. Family can also be your close friends.
  6.  If you try hard and believe in yourself… (inside joke)
  7. Everybody can pass through a storm, they maybe unresponsive and not believe your words, but they can appreciate (or so you think) that you are a phone call/text away.
  8. No matter what happens, you have to work hard, because in the end it’s your future. Your life.
  9. Pick people’s advice like a grain of sand.
  10. Only the past is set in stone, the present is a gift, and the future as the sea’s wave. Even though the past is set is stone, do not throw it to the sea for the waves will carry it back to shore.
  11. Drink wine.
  12. Graduate School helps you use the most obscure and random scholarly words just to make your argument that more… scholar.
  13. It is in our scholarly duties to make up words so that other scholars can use them, and so the scholar circle begins.
  14. Personal style evolves. I still laugh when people say I have good fashion taste, if they could see me in my undergrad…
  15. Mozart is in fact from the 54th, later 45th century. He was possibly a woman, and he did in fact use non-human technology. He may have been indeed a reincarnation of The Doctor.
  16. The Doctor Donna is a professor of mine, also she is hardcore. Also, she loves French stuff so when you do a research project in French Chansons, you better werk if not she will shred you to pieces. Good for me, I rocked my paper AND presentation.
  17. Musicology might be a career move for me, or at least be a minor in my doctoral degree
  18. Always hope for the best, even when things seem dark.
  19. Just as in BBC’s Merlin. “The Darkest is just before dawn“. And, Just as Dumbledore said “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light”
  20. Yes. I am a huge nerd.
  21. Study hard, but nobody can part-ay like happy choral grads who laugh so hard that they fall from their chairs, and then laugh harder. (looking at you, yes you.)
  22. IF you put  three choral grads in the same hotel room, they may or may not start laughing. This laughter would be loud (in harmony, with a certain counterpoint), and it WILL last for AT LEAST 30 minutes. The undergrad in the room would later tell you, “I though you guys were going to be all serious.”

In short… if I’ve learned or re-learned some of these things in a short amount of time, I know that I have so much more to learn. All you can be in life is a sponge, learn from everything.

 

Happy Holidays from Puerto Rico
-Musical Poetry

The French Smuggler: French Inspiration in Henk Badings’ Trois Chansons-Abstract


As part of my first semester in Graduate School, I had to enroll in a Graduate Research class supervised by Dr. Anita Hardeman. The abstract for my paper is the following:

After the end of the Second World War, Henk Badings, a Dutch composer, wrote his Trois Chansons Bretonnes. Seen as the continuation of the nineteenth century German composers equivalent to Brahms and twentieth century Hindemith, Badings, changes his composition style to accommodate Parisian techniques with a Romantic flair. In changing his composition style, Badings allowed his music accommodates textures, chord coloration, and text painting in his choral scores so that his compositions could be presented without interruption. With this style change, Badings’ choral compositions have a distinguishable Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc influence, specifically. The purpose of this paper is to acquaint the reader to the Dutch composer, Henk Badings. Second, to cross-reference and identify inspirations from French compositions such as Claude Debussy’s Trois Chansons De Charles D’orleans and La Cathédrale Englutie: Profondément calme, Maurice Ravel’s Trois Chansons, and François Poulenc’s Un soir de neige. As a method of analysis, I will reference art vocabulary, specifically en plein air, divisionism, pointillism, and score analysis to enhance this study’s comprehension.

In comparison to the scores mentioned before, Badings’ Trois Chansons has many similarities and differences. For example, the piano accompaniment to one of Badings’ Trois Chansons: La nuit en mer is similar to Debussy’s piano prelude La Cathédrale Englutie: Profondément calme due to the use of arpeggiation and thematic development. Also, Bading’s chansons have a similar vocal exposition and development to Debussy’s chansons. In allusion to Poulenc’s Un soir de neige, Badings’ chansons have similar modulations and phrase structure. Regarding to Ravel, Bading’s structure is somewhat close, but it is not in tune with Ravel’s chord progression and form. By being influenced by these French composers, Badings differentiates himself from his contemporaries, and paved the way for new composers using Neo-Impresionistic art features in combination with his music.

The playlist for the eleven scores I had to analyze and compare is in the link below.

Ready? BREAK!


And so, Thanksgiving break is upon us in Western Illinois University. Now. If you’re a graduate student you realize that “break” is something that is found in mythology. As the semester starts to close you can observe graduate students with less hair, irritability, frustration and perfumed in desperation. Deadlines close in, projects and papers are due. First or Second drafts are received, in a nutshell lots of paperwork. Before you start eating that turkey, remember that:

  • The organ point does indeed mark the end of a phrase.
  • The first draft will always be the crappiest crap you have ever crapped. No worries, it can’t be that bad, right? RIGHT?!
  • When deadline approaches, you can see the graduate student drinking coffee and different types of alcohol. Remember you’ll sleep when you’re dead so, drink alcohol to get ideas, drink coffee to actually finish your ideas because WRITE CHILD! WRITE! THIS IS DUE!!! *please read capitalized words in the “THIS IS SPARTA” tone*
  • Remember to TRY and rest.
  • If you’re an avid coffee drinker, do NOT go a day without drinking it. You will crash. It will not be pretty.
  • Meet friends that are life family, it will make this passing week better.
  • If your advisor says that you can do certain things it’s because they can see something in you. I have found that if they actually say something, it’s because they mean it. As in:Me: So… about my paper. I know it sucks.
    Advisor: Jose. You’re paper does not completely suck. Remember it’s the first draft.
    Me: (thinking)Yeah, it kind of does. Well… I think it is that is the crappiest crap that has ever been crapped, but I think I can improve it by the final deadline.
    Advisor: Yes. It has much potential, and again your motivation and organizational skills are excellent so I am assured that you will work hard.
    Me: Yeah. I will. All I want to know is… does it has potential?
    Advisor: OF COURSE IT DOES! Your perspective in how Debussian style piano arrangements in comparison to a four voice harmony with polytonal perspective and how these mesh with pointillism and French Impressionism from the 19th century is very interesting. You only have to talk as if you’re talking to non-intelligent people. Aka: people who know nothing about your topic.
    Me: Ok. I just have to take the reader’s hand and take them on a journey (thinking of “I can show you the world” from Aladdin.)
    Advisor: Exactly

As you can see, my advisor is awesome. Also, I am just stressing myself too much (it has to be something in my genetics…). I just need to breathe, try to relax and do this. You know what world? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

On the twelfth week of Grad School, my baton said to me…


On the twelfth week of Grad School, my baton said to me: ‘member all that’s happened to thee…

  1. I am stronger than I look, wiser than I know, and a hell lot a braver than most people I know.
  2. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race, sometimes it just means your dead.
  3. Show the ictus, my child, then they will rejoice in the Lamb…
  4. No matter how awesome you thing the idea for a section in your paper is, chances are you WILL NOT know how to put it into words, hence the frustration cycle begins.
  5. can work under pressure *dum dum dum duru dum dum*
  6. The number of scores/things you have to do for a specific week will be equivalent to the motivation you have in NOT doing it. This is multiplied by 9 for when you get your weekly breakdown.
  7. If I think I don’t have an Independent study class, maybe it will go away.
  8. And now I started to sing Meldelhson’s Octet
  9. with a rhapsody of Lully’s Laudate Domino
  10. You really know you love X musical period. In my case, Romantic music. Because let us SHOW YOU HOW MANY FEELINGS WE HAVE WITH THIS CHORD AND THESE DYNAMICS!
  11. You may have nightmares of losing your assistantship because of reasons…
  12. Realizing that you do want to be a Doctor in Music is epic.
  13. Bonding with fellow graduate students is cool.
  14. Sometimes having alone time is needed.
  15. Sometimes saying “NOPE. Not doing anything today!” is necessary. Be prepared for having a little meltdown the following day because you procrastinated. Notice how the graduate student comes back to his natural habitat, made out of choral scores, scholarly articles, and Doctor Who references. This scholarly igloo made out of responsibilities, will keep the graduate student (who’s not form the United States) warm from the upcoming winter.
  16. Practice, young Padawan, Practice.
  17. Christmas Carols are hard to memorize, but huge pieces of Masterpieces can be memorize in a one, a two, a three, let’s go!
  18. Everything is a song cue.
  19. Even though I may not notice it, I am getting better.
  20. Stop being a perfectionist. (Easier said than done).
  21. To every family member, when your son/brother/sister/sibling says he/she want to go to Graduate School, give them a crockpot.
  22. Crockpots are good for pianists.
  23. No matter how much you try… the Ole will never vanish. It is called HERITAGE. Sorry.
  24. Having a tour, a paper due, and a presentation on the same day will make you crazy, but… it will make a Man out of you. *cue Mulan music*
  25. Yes. This post may not be very coherent. Sorry. This graduate student hasn’t slept in a while.
  26. You will start to lose count on how many coffee cups or caffeinated beverages you drink in a day.
  27. There is power in numbers. For example, let’s count how many scores you have to give a graduate student so that he/she can cower in fear (and be more nerdy than before).
  28. When your first undergrad mentor is recognized by your hometown, it is totally acceptable for you to Skype with a fellow friend, and for her to basically go everywhere so that you can talk to everyone. Including your three mentors from undergrad, more than 15 choristers, more than 5 teachers, and so much more.
  29. Going to Chicago for Thanksgiving, makes this guy very excited.
  30. Hoping that when this degree is over, I will have made life-long friends and colleagues.
  31. Knowing that when I finish this degree, I’ll be even better and stronger that I was gives me hope for my career.
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