Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Back to My Roots

I am the daughter of an immigrant's son.  My father's people came from Syria; my mother's from Lebanon.

As a child, my family attended the annual convention of the "Southern Federation of Syrian Lebanese American Clubs" that was held in various cities across the southern United States over the 4th of July.  Part of the experience that is forever embedded in my mind and heart is participating in a Middle Eastern dance called the "dabke." 

This dance is one of several "community dances" that is unique to that part of the world.  To this day when I hear that unmistakable drumbeat and Middle Eastern tonality, I can hardly contain myself.  My feet start to move and my body just follows.

This video clip was sent to me by my uncle.  I just had to post it here on my blog.  It was taken in the duty-free shop in the airport in Beirut, Lebanon.  Let's hear it for "flash-mob" dancing, Arab style.  Enjoy!


Until next time...

Expressive Qualities in Music

When writing a musical composition, a composer has lots of options to keep the listener engaged in the listening process.  He can vary the dynamics (loud/soft); he can change the tempo (fast/slow); he can raise or lower the pitch (high/low); he can start out in a minor key and modulate to a major key; he can add instruments; change the voicings; write a descant above the melody - the possibilities are endless! A trained ear is required to be able to hear vertically instead of horizontally (the way most of us listen to a song). 

My students have been working on honing their listening skills over the past few weeks as we have listened to and thoroughly analyzed a patriotic piece of music.  We listened to several different recordings of "America the Beautiful" to try to determine what the composer did to make each version sound unique.  Here is what we discovered...

Example 1 was a recording from the "Music Connection" CDs we have in our classroom library
Example 2 was a recording by Lee Greenwood (country music artist)
Example 3 was a recording from "Celebrate America" by Twin Sisters Music
Example 4 was a gospel version from the "Music Connection" CDs

Each arrangement was uniquely different.  The piece was set in various genres (hymn-like, country, jazz and gospel).  The instrumentation was chosen specifically to give the piece a certain sound or feel.  The vocalists were chosen for the same reason (some were children; some adults; one singing a solo; others in a choir or ensemble).  This lesson made for interesting listening, vigorous discussion and prompted a spontaneous movement presentation by a small ensemble of students...

Until next time...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Budget Time in Tallahassee

Each Spring, I am called upon to contact my legislators in Tallahassee, to fight for the rights of students in the State of Florida and to extol the virtures of Arts Education in the lives of my students. 

I believe it is very important that those who have been elected by the people should also be the true voice of the people and speak on behalf of the people that voted them into office in the first place.  Over the past several years, I have written letters, waved signs and attended the "Rally in Tally" - so that my voice could be heard.

Below is a letter I sent to my representative in Tallahassee today.  SB 736 is being debated and voted upon today.  It is yet another unfunded mandate by the State of Florida that I am certain will pass in the House and then make its way to Governor Scott for signature.

Athby Tamburrino

Jacksonville, -

03/16/11 6:11 AM
To the Honorable Lake Ray;

Dear Mr. Ray:

As you spend your day today discussing the attributes of SB 736, I would appreciate it if you would consider the following:

If you are going to vote in favor of this unfunded mandate, somewhere in this legislation it should state that all teachers (art, music, physical education, special education) should have equal access to every student they teach, especially if our pay is going to be tied to their test scores. The core curriculum teachers see them every day, five days a week (at the elementary level). I simply do not have that luxury.

In my school, there are nine 5th grade classes. I see each class 12 times per school year. Out of 180 days of potential contact time with my students, I see them approximately 1.5 days. On the other grade levels there are 7-8 classes which means I will see them up to 14 times per school year (40 to 50 minutes per class, depending on the grade level - approximately 2 days worth of instruction).

What I am being called upon to do is impossible to achieve with the amount of contact time I have with my students. As you debate this bill today, kindly consider a provision that will level the playing field for all teachers across the board. As a music educator, I have benchmarks and standards that I am required to teach. This is rarely factored into the amount of contact time I have with my students and this needs to be addressed as you debate the pros and cons of this bill today. I thank you for being my voice in Tallahassee.


Mrs. Athby M. Tamburrino
National Board Certified Teacher
Early/Middle Childhood Music
Duval County, Florida

My hope is that our collective voices will be heard in the hallowed halls of Tallahassee during this legislative session and that the children of Florida will be blessed with the high-quality education they deserve.

Until next time...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Form in Music

A well-circulated definition of music is "organized sound."  When you organize sound into something recognizable (such as a song), it follows a formal structure.  If it doesn't, it is not music.  It is noise.

Some songs are "through-composed" and don't divide nicely into recognizable sections.  Most, however, are easily broken down into recognizable sections where certain sections are repeated and contrasting material is juxtaposed or layered in between.  A whole song is made up of the sum of its parts. Smaller sections make up the whole piece and tend to follow a pattern.  If you can teach your students to unlock the pattern, the song is much easier to learn. 

Patterning begins in kindergarten and I often refer to "the pattern" when teaching a song.  I am always asking my students, "Is it the same or different?"  "Have we heard this before or is this new material?" This requires higher level thinking because they must be able to recall the melodic and rhythmic structure of the previous phrase or section of a piece of music and then compare/contrast what we just learned with what was previously learned.
Notice the boat/bucket icon under the 2-part form.  This is a visual representation of the song "Yankee Doodle."  "Yankee Doodle" is a song that is written in "AB Form." 

Consider the lyrics:
A:   Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony; stuck a feather in his cap and called it "Maccaroni"
B:   Yankee Doodle keep it up, Yankee Doodle dandy; mind the music and the step and with the girls be handy.

A song that is written in AB Form simply repeats the pattern AB AB AB, etc.

Now notice the icon for the 3-part form.  You see a yellow cowgirl, a blue cowboy and a yellow cowgirl.  A song that follows this pattern is written in what we call ABA Form.  A perfect example would be "Shoo-Fly."

Consider the lyrics:
A:   Shoo-fly, don't bother me; Shoo-fly, don't bother me; Shoo-fly, don't bother me for I belong to somebody.
B:  I feel, I feel, I feel; I feel like a morningstar; I feel, I feel, I feel; I feel like a morningstar, oh  [contrasting]
A: Shoo-fly, don't bother me; Shoo-fly, don't bother me; Shoo-fly, don't bother me for I belong to somebody.

ABA Form is a song wherein the opening and closing sections are exactly the same (words/music) and the section in the middle is contrasting material (different words/music).

Verse/Refrain is another formal structure that many songs follow

The column on the left is the structural outline of "It's a Small World" by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.  The verse tells the story; the refrain is the repeated part.

Consider the lyrics:
v. 1  It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
        It's a world of hope and a world of fears
        There's so much that we share, that it's time we're aware
        It's a small world after all

It's a small world after all,
It's a small world after all,
It's a small world after all
It's a small, small world

v.2  There is just one moon and one golden sun
       And a smile means friendship to everyone
      Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide
      It's a small world after all

We mapped the formal structure of "It's a Small World" together as a class and then I turned them loose to discover the formal structure of a spiritual entitled, "Every Time I Feel the Spirit."  This activity provided an opportunity for application and concluded our lesson on Form in Music.

When we study form in music, we cross curricular lines in several subject areas.  Math - patterning and sequencing; Language Arts - verse/stanza, poetry, lyrical speech, rhyming words; Social Studies - the Revolutionary War (Yankee Doodle) and the origin of the "spiritual" from the days of slavery and why it was culturally significant.  When music education is taught properly, it encompasses all of our core curricula and enhances learning that is taking place in other content areas.

Until next time...