An Opportunity to Learn

Its day three of Minnesota’s adventure of sheltering in place. In some ways, this experience is different than I thought it would be; and in others, it is exactly what I expected. There has been progress on that ever-running list of projects that need attention in my space, and based on the current date for students to return to school it looks like I will be working from an online platform for more than two weeks. This break in normal life routine is starting to feel a little bit like a healthy tax return: an abundance of opportunities, but without direction and intent, likely to fade away without any tangible benefits at the end. To put it simply: I don’t want to squander this opportunity to stretch, grow and maybe even try something new. And I’m a little overwhelmed because the opportunities are endless. Literally. Even though physical travel is limited, virtual learning can pull resources from all over the globe. So if you are a new/temporary home school parent looking for projects to support your student’s homework (or even find things to do), or your a student looking to for new ideas to fill time after homework is finished I’ve got some great resources for you!

Anyone interested in creative writing, bullet journaling, or hand lettering?

Boho Berry, which is run by the amazing Kara Benz, is a fantastic place to explore the concept of bullet journaling. If you already are a seasoned bullet journaler, its also a great spot to find new inspiration if you’re feeling stuck in a rut. The concept of bullet journaling has always struck me as a perfect balance of art and words, organization and creativity. First rule of bullet journaling: you don’t have to have a fancy notebook, or do what everyone else is doing – you use what you have and make it work for you.
If you’ve always wanted to try hand lettering, Archer and Olive’s Bonnie Kuhl just lauched a free Modern Calligraphy class. If traditional calligraphy is more your desired style, SkillShare has a wide range of options. (Oh dear . . . SkillShare could become the next black hole in my life!) They also have a particularly interesting 10 day writing challenge class that would be really fun to do in a practicing-social-distancing online group setting.
And if we’re going to mention creative writing, I have to give NaNoWriMo a shout out. Not only do they host a month of crazy writing in November, they also host two (less stressful) events where writers get to pick their own word count coals: NaNoCamp in April and July. (Camping at its finest – no bugs, no leaky air mattresses, access to indoor pluming and hot water . . . but no guarantees regarding crazy neighbors.) Maybe this is the year you take the plunge and write a mini novel in April.

How about health sciences?

The Franklin Institute of Integrative Health Sciences is an accredited college offers evidence based distance learning programs for aromatherapy, herbal science and health coaching. They have a page of free resources which includes upcoming webinars and articles. (Save the date! April 10th – How Essential Oils Work is going to be a great class!)

How about maths?

Dave Ramsey is offering a free two week trial of his Financial Peace University program. I’m told that it is possible to binge watch the entire program in that time frame. Budgeting and investing are skills I wish I’d been taught in high school. Economic uncertainty makes wise money management an invaluable skill – I thought I’d pass along the link just in case anyone is interested.

So far my own choices are a blend of health sciences and fine arts. Two weeks ago I had the chance to take a four-hour class from Franklin Institute on Hydrotheraphy. (I’m still working homework for that.) The rest of my personal class list is filling quickly.
In order to stretch skills I haven’t used in the last decade, I’ve signed up to audit a music theory class from Coursera.org. I am also working my way through a sent of training videos on how to use the SmartMusic software. Last October I looked at incorporating this program into my teaching practice, but never pursued it. Now I’m sorry I didn’t provide that tool to my students and parents sooner.
I’ve signed up for a free trial of SkillShare and am working my way through a class on flat lay photography; I have a second class on traditional photography lined up, though I doubt I’ll have my camera fixed by the time I’m ready to take the class. (Pity.)

Oh so many things to learn and so little time to try! I’d love to hear how you are filling your time and all the things you are learning. Drop me a comment and tell me the best thing you learned today.

dear students, music

Playing Mozart

Happy Monday morning students!
Last week MPR posted a music exploring the structure of a theme and variations in music. They picked Mozart’s arrangement of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as their example. As violinists, it is one of the first peices we learn – but do any of you know who wrote it? Did you know that Charles Bradlee borrowed the melody in 1835 when he wrote the Alphabet Song?  Most people think that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the melody, but he actually borrowed it from a french folk song that already existed and arranged a Theme and Variations around it.  When composers write a theme and then want to make it fancy, its fairly common to have only two or three variations – but Mozart wrote twelve.  (They are all really pretty, but I think that number five, and number seven and maybe number 8 are my favorites.)

I found a video on Youtube that has the twinkle song in D major (starting on our open D string) that you can try play along with.  Even if you learned Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star a really long time ago, its still fun to try play along.  Pay close attention to the metronome’s beat before you start so you can match the tempo. When you’re finished, go back to the MPR music lesson page and use their guidelines to composing you’re own variation of Twinkle and we can go over it in our lessons this week. I can’t wait to hear what you create!

Practice well this week!
Miss Cara

music, StayHomeMN

Finding hope outside the box

Hello friends! Life had been changing at all kinds of crazy lately, and I’m starting to think about it in terms of “before” and “after”, although we haven’t really got to after yet . . . we’re still somewhere in the middle if COVID-19. Intentional perspective in my narrowed world is becoming increasingly important. Maybe it is in yours, too. With each change, each directive the state leaders issue trying to contain the spread, its easy to feel like we’re being pushed into smaller and smaller boxes: reducing the size of public gatherings, working from home, and finally today (for Minnesota) sheltering in place. I’m an introvert, so I will admit that I’m not stressed (yet) about being at home for more hours than normal. I really love the people I live with and I’ve got a home to-do-list that is longer than I am tall. I also have a pile of library books the size of a small child weighing down one end of my desk – between reading, lesson preparation, and projects there is no reason for boredom to be part of my reality at any point in the next two weeks.
However, taking a stay-cation and needing to stay home to help reduce the spread of a virus are two different things and I can see the potential for even the strongest of introverts experiencing a little anxiety and stress by the smaller world.

So when a coworker emailed me a link to a creative project the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra posted on YouTube, I intentionally saved it to share with you just before the weekend. Their mini gift to the world – which was not a quick five minute project, but hours of collaboration and editing – is an inspiring example of thinking outside the box to deliver hope and joy. I was inspired by how they chose to think outside the box to figure out how to stay connected with their fellow musicians and then extended that connection in order to share their gift with the world stuck at home. They could have seen it as being stuck, too, but they decided to find freedom in the boundaries and their world grew.

So go watch their cover of Beethoven’s 9th – I don’t think it was an accident that they picked the movement known as Ode to Joy. While you listen, think about how you can use your gifts to bring someone else joy. Let me a comment and share your ideas – because God gave us unique and different gifts so we could be stronger together.

dear students

Thursday Music Class: String’s Club Special

Dear Students,
Just because we can’t have in real life practices doesn’t mean that we should be putting ensemble practice to the side. I’m working on a set of lessons we can do together that will help our group play skills, and this mini project is a hint at things to come.

MPR has their new daily music lesson up, and I was thrilled to see that its focus connects to some of the things we had been discussing in our February rehearsals. Do you remember when we played tag with a solo? One member played a measure from a piece of music, at at the following measure, the next musician had to be ready to take over – repeating through the group until the entire song had been played. The goal was to make it sound like one one instrument was playing instead of (in our case) five by matching the rate of decay for each last note in a measure. It was a really great exercise in reading music, counting together and listening carefully to match the tone and volume of the other players. What you might not know is that we were also experimenting with melodic contouring – the shape that is created with a line of music.

Today’s assignment = head over to the MPR lesson on Melodic Contouring. Take a careful look at the line drawings they posted, then pick one of the listening samples. Create a basic line doodle of what you think the melodic contour of your chosen clip looks like. Take a picture and send it to me. (Make sure your song title is on your doodle so I know which clip to listen to!) Then – and this is the really fun part! – get ready to see how visual artists get creative with melodic contouring.

There is a growing movement of animators to create line riders – tiny cartoon characters that ride a line of music. A year ago there was barely a handful of videos on YouTube and it was strictly classical music. At this point, there are line riders for pop songs, techno, soft rock, and even the mashups made popular by The Piano Guys. The ability to see the shape of music changes the way we hear it, as well as how we play it.
Watch the video for Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King and leave me a comment telling me if you thought the animator did an accurate representation of the music with their line drawing. Remember that harmony and rhythm combined with the melody make a three dimensional shape, so remember to listen to how the piece changes around the melody as you watch the line move.

I can’t wait to see what you create!
Miss Cara

PS – Bonus tip: sometimes the melodic contour can be a hint as to the quality of music. Think about the shape of one of the songs on your current play list – is it complex or is it simple? Is it repetitive or is it varied?

dear students

Monday Music Class

While we’re waiting for MPR to release today’s music lesson, we can catch up on the Dance Party we missed yesterday. What a fun way to start the week! Leave me a comment and tell me what your favorite classical piece in the lesson was and if you’re working on any dance music for your lesson. (This is almost a trick question – almost all music can be danced to, but which pieces in your lesson assignment were written specifically for dance?)

Monday morning also seems like a good time to lay out some expectations for practice under the absence of formal class schedules. So as an encouraging note to students, especially mine: homework is important, but so is lesson practice. Social distancing is an opportunity to catch up progress in music lessons that was delayed during the finish of the winter sports season. I’m very sorry that spring sports have been put on hold and extra curricular activities have been canceled because I know how much you enjoy them – but know that outside of dire circumstances (the kind where emergency calls are made and lessons are canceled) I will not be accepting “I didn’t have time” as the reason you didn’t practice. Every student, no matter their age or level of advancement, should have no problem practicing consistently for 30 minutes every day this week. (Notice I said practicing: this is intentional effort to improve your lesson material, not time spent experimenting with YouTube videos which is that is playing. Play is important, too, but needs to take secondary priority to practice.) I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes practice isn’t fun and doesn’t seem like it gets us very far very fast. But getting good at the basics is what makes music extra fun later; it is what lays the foundation for all those hard things we wish we could do now. Practice, even when it isn’t fun, is well worth the effort.

I don’t agree with Yoda’s insistence that the only options are “Do or do not – there is no try”. Try is how we learn. So keep trying students! If you are putting full effort into your practice you are going to be amazed by your progress when you compare where you are now to where you were in September!

You know where I am if you need me. You are always welcome to send me a text or a message on Google Hangouts if you get frustrated with part of your assignment, or you need just a little bit more to do. 🙂 I’m here to help.


Love of Learning

Dear Students,
Today you embark on a most marvelous adventure – you will be taking on the quest of Learning at Home. There will be formidable foes: Procrastination (an oily character, silver tongued and sneaky – beware!), Distractions (be gentle with those posing as sibling and ruthless with social media) and Restlessness (this is actually Discontent trying to convince you that school is easier at school). But the battles won will be sweet and the victory earned through your wise time management and perseverance will be priceless. And all I can think to say is . . .

Welcome to my world!!

This is how I was given my education, every day from Grade 1 through completion of high school in Grade 12: textbooks and assignments handed out by my mum; a patchwork of assorted grade levels and subjects gathered round the table at any given moment; average class size = 1. The principle always joined us for lunch (my dad) and story time wasn’t limited to the kinder class – the superintendent read an assortment of classics while we finished our home economics class (aka, after lunch clean-up – don’t underestimate this skill because it is a necessity).
I loved my education experience and am pretty chuffed (as my Australian friend Danielle would say) that you get to sample this experience of home schooling. (Pro tip: once assigned homework has been completed, moms will sometimes allow baking cookies to count as extra credit in math and science, especially if the recipe had to be doubled – because hello #fractions and #foodchemistry!) Someday the world will go back to normal, so it might not be a bad idea to write down five things you think home schooling will be like to look back on.

So happy studying friends! Be curious. Be dedicated. Be willing to be stretched and look at things from a different perspective. You never know what you might learn.
And, quite a number of years after the fact, I’m happy to report that the learning doesn’t stop at the end of grade 12, or the completion of college. If you are curious about things, it keeps going for your whole life. Because fully living life is learning, and that is pretty great.


Friday Fun

Minnesota Public Radio has today’s music lesson up, and it is so much fun! Different sound techniques makes music richer and paints a more vivid picture. MPR put together sound clips and videos that highlight the difference between arco (using the bow to create sound) and pizzacato (plucking the strings with fingers) on string instruments. My challenge for my students today is to take one of the solo pieces you’re working on and adapt a section by utilizing pizzacato even if it isn’t specified. Leave me a comment and tell me which piece you chose, where you moved from arco to pizzacato, and how you think it changed the song as a whole. Be specific – and have fun!


Five Weekend Activity Ideas

As much as I would love to spend the weekend wrapped up in a blanket with a bottomless much of hot cocoa and magic plate of self-renewing snacks while I work my way through a lovely stack of books, it might not be the best use of my time. There have been a lot of web posts suggesting things to do inside to keep families occupied and entertained – even though there isn’t a distinct need, I’m choosing to add to the choice opportunities with my own list. Because I can. And because, just maybe, you’d like options for when you’ve finished binge-watching your current Netflix cue.

  1. De-clutter your closet. Spring is coming friends, and I know when I packed summer clothes away last fall there were pieces that needed to be replaced. We may still need our winter clothes, but taking time to write a list of what will need to be replaced next winter could be quickly accomplished because we’re still wearing that set of outfits. Work ahead by assessing two seasons now and creating a specific shopping list for when spring sales start in earnest. (And if you’ve been meaning to downsize and are intrigued by the concept of a capsule wardrobe, check out Justine Leconte’s series on the subject. Her wisdom applied to fashion is pretty brilliant.)
  2. De-clutter the toys in your house. This extends beyond Legos and stuffed bunnies – grown-ups have toys too. (Please don’t look under my bed – my craft supplies aren’t toys!) I’ve discovered that if you go into the process with the goal of sharing what you don’t use, rather than simply downsizing, its a lot less stressful and takes less time.
  3. Bake bread. This used to be a skill that was essential to daily life – now it is an amazing art form. And the physical labor of kneading a ball of dough into a fluffy soft loaf is pretty therapeutic. I’m fascinated by the science that goes into a simple loaf of bread – simple ingredient changes like using milk vs water, adding eggs or eliminating them can completely change the structure of your bread.
  4. Write all of the words. Dust off our journaling skills, which can be about words or doodles. I love the doodles that other people add to their journals, but am artistically challenged – so I’ll be heading over to the Personal Planner blog and watching the mini videos they listed on simple doodles. (I may also take a look at their Spring Bucket list and see how many items I can cross off in the next week . . . could be fun. P.S. Don’t go to their home page – personalizing a planner is more fun than it should be.)
  5. Color some art and listen to old radio dramas. I love stories, and well told stories on the big screen are great – but so are the old radio dramas from the 1940’s and 1950’s. While I do some tidying up this weekend, I’ll be streaming a re-released Paul Temple drama on BBC Radio, or browsing iTunes podcasts for Old Time Radio. (Fibber Magee & Molly, George & Gracie, The Saint, Tales of the Texas Rangers, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Johnny Dollar can all be found quite easily – and sometimes the old radio advertisements make me laugh harder than the comedy routines.)

Though I don’t think it is intentional, social media and news agencies are attaching a certain amount of stress and anxiety to being ‘stuck at home’. But if we flip it around and look at it differently it could become one of our greatest adventures. Leave me a comment and tell me what adventures you’re creating for yourself this weekend!


Believe it or not . . .

. . . moving violin lessons to an online platform works surprisingly well. I haven’t quite gotten my studio re-set for the transition of working from home again, but technology has come a long way since the last time I experimented with this platform of connecting with and encouraging students.

I strongly believe that music is a good coping mechanism for uncertainty, it is therapeutic, and any degree of stability and normality I can bring to this unusual situation will (I hope) be seen as a benefit to the students. Online lessons may not be ideal, but they will maintain forward motion and a community connection that is becoming increasingly important.

I am also convinced that the music that shapes our environment is a key component to our general outlook. I’ve found that streaming Minnesota Public Radio’s classical station during my work hours has made a distinct impact on my ability to focus as well as remain calm in stressful situations.
When Minnesota’s governor announced the temporary closure of all schools, MPR launched a new page dedicated to musical activities for students – Classical Kids Music Lessons. There is a current backlog of about four music themed activities and each one explores a different idea connected to music. (I will be utilizing their lessons to review specific concepts with my students in the next few days.)

MPR’s Classical station also has a wonderful selection of live-streams to integrate music into your day. I tend to gravitate toward their classical stream, but they also have a choral stream, or relaxing piano music. And just for fun, they have a program called Friday Favorites at 3:00 p.m. where you can request your favorite classical pieces . . . which I might have done on behalf of the Double Sharp Strings Club. Listen in tomorrow and see if our request gets played on air!


Re-Adjusting Normal

The reality of a new ‘normal’ is feeling extra real at the moment. I remember the SARS outbreak in the early part of the new century; I remember attending web seminars on Ebola when I was taking my natural wellness classes. So I might not have taken COVID-19 as seriously as I should have in the early days. (Maybe it still is early days.) But this week my daily schedule is changing because of the virus: hours at my corporate job have been suspended since my responsibilities are not something that can be transferred to home; the local school closed Tuesday night and all the independent music teachers are working to transfer their students to online platforms. Over the weekend I told a friend that I was working proactively to be safe, but I wasn’t anxious . . . and when the last minute runs to the grocery store and library were made yesterday, I realized that its easy to not be worried when one is busy. Fortunately what was true before the weekend is still true now: God’s grace has always been and always will be enough.

Just because we have been encouraged to practice social distancing does not mean we have to strictly adhere to social isolation. As my community navigates its way through this soft lock-down, I’ll be compiling resources to help my students utilize their extended practice opportunity to the best of our abilities. I’ll also be sharing other resources of general things to do – I don’t know about you, but I get a little overwhelmed by large chunks of free time. I always have a running list of things I want to accomplish “when I have time”, but without a structured plan in place, too often free time gets lost in social media or that curious mental maze of “what should I be doing next?”

I’m grateful that technology allows us to maintain connections and community as we adjust to a temporary new normal. I hope you drop in to my virtual living room often to say hi.