New ideas from a conference |

New ideas from a conference

This past weekend, I attended the MKMEA conference in Chicago. MKMEA (Midwest Kodaly Music Educators of America) is one of the regional organizations of OAKE (Organization of American Kodaly Educators.) MKMEA has a conference almost every year, and I always come away with lots of wonderful ideas!

As President of the organization, keynote speaker, and session presenter (whew!) I was pretty busy, but still managed to attend several sessions. I came away with so many great ideas, and came back to my classroom feeling rejuvenated, ready to teach my students with renewed energy and ideas. This is exactly why conferences are so important; there is only so much information you can glean from a blog entry or from a book. Sometimes you have to be there in person, hearing and seeing new ideas, talking to other educators who do exactly what you do every day, for the information to really make a difference. I encourage you to check out music education conferences in your area and talk to your principal about how important it is to attend!

That being said, I will share a sampling of the ideas I'm excited to try out!

I was able to attend two sessions by my friend Sue Leithold-Bowcock, who I taught with at Colorado State University. She has a blog that is mostly for her students, but she also has teacher resources. Check it out at: (Some of her ideas from her second session are showcased on this page.)

Sue presented her first session about pitch-matching activities. So many great ideas! An idea I really loved was to use a laser pointer for students to do vocal exploration (just like the one you use to entertain your cats!)  You can turn off the lights, move the laser pointer around, and students make their voices match the path of the laser pointer. Another great idea  was to have students sing to a puppet instead of to you. She used a puppet she called Stanley, but of course you can use any puppet and any name you want. A really brilliant idea she had was to have your puppet sing either on pitch, too high, or too low, and students have to assess how the puppet sang. I love this idea of peer assessment, without putting any kiddos on the hot seat!

My friends Karla and Katie presented about how to foster a great student teaching experience. Karla has had several student teachers over the years, and Katie is a first-year teacher, so they approached it through the lens of coordinating teacher and student teacher. They had lots of great information, and I was very excited to see them discuss the book "Sing," shown below (click on the link to view it on Amazon.)

This song has a special place in my heart, as my sister Tonia and I used to sing it all the time as kids. I was a little disappointed, though, when I bought the book. The illustrations are adorable, but the music is very dated (my daughter Jenna exclaimed, "WHAT is this!??!" when I put the CD on in the car!) Karla and Katie had the same reaction, but found a wonderful recording by the Carpenters, which you can find at Just the way I remember the song! Karla and Katie mentioned the book as a great way to get a student teacher involved the first week of his/her experience.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was watching the children's choir rehearse. I had six students performing with the choir (three who are students of mine currently and three former students); the choir was under the direction of my friend Frank Gallo. (You can find his website and a link to his blog here.) I have known Frank for a few years, and have seen him work with adults. I've known him to be an excellent teacher and outstanding musician. But I have never seen him work with kids...and I was amazed. His energy and joy in working with children was inspiring. They sang such beautiful yet different pieces, from Rollo Dilworth's "Climbin' up the mountain" to Caldwell-Ivory's "Ani Ma'amin." The choir sang these pieces so beautifully, and it was such a joy to see my own students work under Frank's direction and perform the music. I decided after watching the rehearsals and concert that I needed to infuse even more energy and joy into my rehearsals, that I needed to sit in the first row of choir concerts I attend so I can watch the director's cues, expressions, etc., and that I need to watch more choral rehearsals with excellent directors. What I learned watching that rehearsal wasn't something I could have learned from a blog or a book; it was only something you can experience in person. If you are looking for a choir director for a choral festival you are organizing, I highly suggest Frank; even after re-reading what I wrote, I'm not sure that I captured how much his directing and the children's singing moved me.

The conference was, as I said, rejuvenating. I was so happy to gather more ideas, spend time with friends I don't usually get to see, and hear such wonderful music!

I will be posting some more ideas from the conference soon. Did you attend? What were your favorite ideas?

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