One of my favorite things to do is zoom down the highway late at night, driving exactly six miles over the speed limit, and blast the best, most epic classical music of all time. I crank the volume, pump up the bass and sing along as best as I can.
The epics I blast include
- Mozart’s Requiem
- Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto
- Schubert’s Death and the Maiden
- Shostakovich Symphony No. 5
- Beethoven Symphony No. 7 (or 5, 4, 9 etc)
- Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi
- Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony
- Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
- Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet
- Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique
- Mussorgsky’s Pictures at and Exhibition, and the
- Bach B minor Mass.
This list could go on and on and on.
I feel like it is in these moments, when I’m driving too fast and signing too hard, that I am expressing unbridled love for amazing works of art.
Belting by myself in the car feels quite different than the reflective, still silence we expect at classical music concerts. In some ways I feel that my appreciation of these wonderful pieces comes not from the refrained live concerts but from my frenetic, guttural reaction to them as I blast them on the highway. I am able to appreciate them in concert because I’ve allowed myself to respond to them naturally in the car. I let my excitement flow by singing, shouting, exclaiming, and anticipating.
My good friends have seen (tolerated) me doing this on many a car rides, and they know exactly how excited I am by pieces that are in some cases hundreds of years old. But if those friends had been sitting next to me at a classical music concert, they might not know just how wild I am about Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, et. al.
So, of course, one of my favorite things I did at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp this summer was teach the music appreciation minor. I had the privilege of sharing my unbridled excitement for works that some students had never even heard before.
Each camper in Camp Bernstein, the sub section of Blue Like Fine Arts Camp in which I worked, plays a band or orchestra instrument. They attend three ensemble rehearsals a day, go to sectionals on their primary instrument, participate in camp activities (skit night, talent show, carnival), attend concerts, and go to their minor class. Students pick their minor class before they come to camp, and have a variety of classes to choose from. The minors offered in Camp Bernstein include visual arts, jazz, nature studies, theater, choir, and music appreciation.
Music Appreciation, both because of its close relation to the rest of a music filled day and because it is ambiguously named, does not attract many campers as they sign up before camp. I would generally get classes of 10-14 students. However, the few campers who do sign up for the music appreciation minor are some of the best on camp. I had session after session of incredible individuals who took a journey with me through the history of classical music. Because the class was so small, I got to know each student quite well. We had a blast!
Beyond getting to teach what I love and work with amazing campers, the class gave me the opportunity to practice structuring a course with objectives and lesson plans. It was a good taste of what classroom teaching would be like, and I was thrilled to put my creative energy designing a class that would be both engaging and educational.
I’m going to describe the format of the class, discuss strategies that worked really well, and include my actual lesson plans below.
The Music Appreciation minor class met nearly every day for 40 minutes. We met in a little hut called Allegro, tucked into the woods on the edge of Camp Bernstein. The hut itself had a roof with benches on three sides and steps leading up into the hut on one. It was open air, with the benches forming a sort of half wall, so we really felt like we were in the forrest. We were surrounded by trees and forest sounds, and could also hear the experimentation of the jazz and choir minors as well as the cross camp rehearsals. On the final day of class we had a presentation in front of the whole camp. Students would present what they learned throughout the session in the format of a game show, but we really didn’t begin practicing that until the second to last class day.
Here are the strategies that were most successful in our Music Appreciation “classroom.”
- I used my mac laptop with downloaded music playlists on Spotify and a bluetooth speaker. This was much easier than using the CD player
- Including as much music listening as possible into the curriculum
- Grounding the class in student’s prior knowledge (pop music, common “classical music” tropes, famous composer names, music they are currently working on, the performances they go to each night)
- Prioritizing stories/anecdotes/memorable details as they related to themes over terminology, vocabulary, theory concepts
- Catering to as many learning styles as possible (aural, visual, kinesthetic, tactile)
- Signing up for the Instrument Museum! It is an incredible resource and allowed me to ground information like I discussed above. I signed up on the Thursday before the next session.
- Learning names on the first day. With so few students and so much content, it is imperative to check for assessment on an individual level.
- Allowing students to teach each other and draw their own conclusions as much as possible
I liked to start the class with group camp games (“I like my neighbor who…,” Poison Dart Frog, Counting to 20, etc). It got the students moving and interacting with each other, and as the days went on I started incorporating the class material into the games. I spent a lot of time working against the bias that Music Appreciation was less “fun” than the other minors — starting with games helped!
- Using only a few tracks and building on them as I went through the session. Students started to become very familiar with Bach, Mozart, John Adams, Beethoven, and Gregorian chants.
- I loved mixing in modern tunes (Maroon 5, High School Musical, The Beach Boys) for some shock/surprise value. Relating the two in class helped to break down the idea that classical music is irrelevant, boring, or separate from our pop music.
- I tried to include the minor “assistants” as an equal teaching partners as often as possible. I asked for their input on the class, let them ask as many questions as me, and we shared the “lecture” load (for example I would teach Tuesday (Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque) and my partner would teach Wednesday (Classical, Romantic, Contemporary). This approach worked well because the assistant was able to incorporate their own knowledge and interests that were different from mine, having two styles of teaching kept the students’ attention, and the assistant felt more fulfilled and empowered by the end of the session.
Here are revised, Music Appreciation Lesson Plans I updated at the end of the summer. Feel free to review and borrow ideas if you find them useful!
I hope to have the opportunity to teach another class like this one soon. It was so much fun, challenged me to think creatively, and helped me get closer to a lot of wonderful students. I wonder how I could incorporate this style of teaching into my own home studio in the future? Perhaps it is something I can think about doing in the community or offering at an institute/summer camp? Either way, I will continue to write about my teaching experiences including classes like these in the future!