Top Performers Reply

Top Performers

As teachers in training, Peabody’s music education students learn the skills they need to share their musical mastery.

By Rachel Wallach
Photos by Will Kirk

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Peabody’s William Scott with students at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore City.

William “Buddy” Scott settles on a chair between his two middle school trumpet students and tells them to take out their sheet music for Santa at the Symphony. “OK, let’s go straight to the hard part,” he says. “Let’s say the notes and finger it on our trumpets.” Someone misses a note. “Mark it,” Scott says. “If you’re not going to get it, mark it. Pencil.”

Scott, a Peabody student in the Music Education Department’s certification program, spent the fall semester student teaching at Baltimore City’s Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. A harpsichordist, Scott already has his performance degree and is pursuing his teaching certificate so that he can teach as well as perform.

A jumble of chairs, music stands, instruments, and trophies fills the classroom. Outside, a cold rain falls. Scott moves his students from saying the notes to playing them. “Try your first note, Taylor. Use lots of air. Sit up straight. Move your backpack if it’s in the way.” She pushes the bag away from her feet. They play, stop, play, stop. As each short section improves, he adds another, and the piece begins to take shape.
“See what we did, we took little parts and we sped it up,” Scott tells his young musicians. “That’s what you’re going to have to do at home. You have a week to go home and ‘woodshed’ it. That’s what we call it.”

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Nicole Papadatos conducts the band at Reservoir High School in Howard County.

Most music education students at Peabody enroll in the 35- to 40-student undergraduate program, which requires them to work simultaneously on their degree in vocal or instrumental performance, creating a kind of double major. Students graduate prepared to teach full time, and many also spend evenings and weekends performing. Others, like Buddy Scott—there are about two or three at any given time—already have a bachelor’s degree and enroll in the three-semester certificate program to gain teaching credentials. The department also offers a master’s program serving 20–30 area music educators who want to expand their knowledge, and a Saturday Series in-service program for music educators.

Simultaneously working toward mastery of one’s own instrument and learning the rudiments of good teaching is a powerful combination. Top-notch musicians have the most to offer children musically, but high-level playing is not enough. They also need to know how to teach effectively—how to reach children so the youngsters will be able to take advantage of the musicianship. “The musician-teacher is what’s best for our children in our schools,” says Audrey Cardany, Peabody’s vocal/ general music specialist and Saturday Series coordinator, who joined the three-member faculty in 2010.

Parker encourages students to plan what they’re going to say so they’re not making it up on their feet. Eventually, they’ll have a toolbox of phrases to grab for just about any situation.

There is something about learning how to teach others that often provides a bump in a Peabody student’s own performance skills. Every year, Harlan D. Parker, who is also the Peabody Wind Ensemble conductor and music director/conductor of the Peabody Youth Orchestra in the Preparatory division, notices improvement in several students’ own practice as they begin to teach. “They’re starting to learn how everything fits together,” he says.

Student teaching is the capstone of the Music Education Department at Peabody. Students prepare for it with rigorous course work, beginning freshman year, with Introduction to Music Education, which offers a foundation in teaching skills. As sophomores, they learn woodwinds methods, conducting, rehearsal techniques, and voice pedagogy, and begin practice teaching on their peers in “lab groups.” Juniors do two semester-long practicums, where they spend 30 minutes each week teaching real children in real classrooms, continue refining their conducting and rehearsal technique, and receive a one-on-one critique of each session with a faculty member. Only then are they assigned to student teach for a semester in an elementary, middle, or high school music class in Baltimore City or the surrounding counties.

Practice Makes Perfect
The practicum is the place where this learning really begins to take root, and in a very intensive way. It’s where Peabody students learn skills, knowledge, and background—all the things that make them look and sound like music teachers. How to choose the best rehearsal tempo, snap your fingers and say convincingly to a group of children, “One, two, ready, play.” How to write a lesson plan. How to understand child development and to meet each young student where he is musically, in whatever learning style works best for him.

Each practicum session is videotaped. A few days later, the student and a faculty member review it together. The videos can be cringingly awful for students, or they can be tangible evidence of progress. Most importantly, they are effective. As both watch, the faculty member often provides a running commentary of high and low points, pausing the tape when a teachable moment arrives. Armed with suggestions and new techniques, the student visits another classroom the following week to put it all into practice.

The things that Scott said to his students last fall sound simple, but they didn’t just come naturally. Scott says he had to learn to keep his comments quick and to the point. “I was talking in slow motion [before],” he says. “Usually if you take too long, they stare at you. Now they don’t do that.”

Speed, or “pacing” in teacher lingo, is a common challenge for student teachers. Harlan Parker has a routine for it. When a long-winded passage comes up on a video, he turns on a stopwatch while he and his student listen—maybe 45 seconds—then clicks it off and asks the student what he or she actually said. The answer is often something like, “play louder with a better crescendo,” and he points out that was a five second comment. Parker encourages students to talk faster, but also to plan what they’re going to say so they’re not making it up on their feet. Eventually, they’ll have a toolbox of phrases to grab for just about any situation.

“Everybody has something to offer, and you just have to make sure the delivery is such that what they offer will be heard,” Parker says.

It’s not unusual to see huge progress from one week to the next, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. But how does that happen? How does the uncertain young person become the seemingly natural teacher who is instilling real knowledge into kids?

Laura Parker, instrumental music specialist and performance pedagogy coordinator, says some of the magic comes from teaching Peabody students not only skills but a mindset. It’s a clinical supervision model, she says—one where faculty help students pull apart their technique at a micro level, build in skills, model the process of reflection, and give them plenty of time to practice.

“It’s a place to plant the self-reflective disposition,” Cardany adds.

Making a Leap
Laura Parker and junior Patrick Bryan are seated at the corner of a table in a cluttered conference room. On the laptop screen, Bryan is helping his fourth-grade saxophone students adjust their neck straps, then move to a music stand. “All my altos, play your G. Be a little looser,” he says.

They watch for a moment. Parker comments approvingly a few times, then stops the tape. She suggests that Bryan might offer more verbal cues before getting the kids to play as a group—things like putting their feet flat on the floor, keeping their backs straight, setting their embouchure, and preparing to breathe—all part of starting to make good habits automatic. Bryan scribbles notes to himself.

“If they’re used to your voice in their head, with that sequence, then you can eliminate that sequence sometimes,” Parker tells him.

As the session winds down, Parker gives Bryan a Level II grade on a scale of five, where Level I is the highest. She offers some ideas for his next week’s class—beginning fourth-grade flute—suggesting he develop some activities to build on the planned London Bridge lesson. “If you get creativity in there, then you pop up to Level I,” she says with a smile.

An oboist, Bryan has known he wanted to teach since freshman year in high school when he served as student conductor of his band in Charlotte, N.C. He says the video appointments go a long way toward giving him the tools he’ll need to become the kind of teacher he wants to be. “You definitely walk out saying, ‘I learned this and this and this today,’ and you definitely feel you’re making progress,” he says.

Parker says that Bryan, like any student in a video appointment, will absorb everything she said, and probably really implement two suggestions into next week’s lesson. The rest will be “stored in his brain,” material for him to draw on as he continues to teach and refine. The point is not for him to dwell on how she wants him to do it, but to use her ideas to test what works for him, and to train his mind to go on reflecting and improving long after he finishes his degree and gets a classroom of his own. “You give them these techniques and skills and ways of thinking, but it’s the student who makes that leap. Then they just build on that,” she says.

Nicole Papadatos ’13 began building in earnest on her first day of student teaching at Centennial Lane Elementary in Howard County. It was a clarinet class—her own instrument— and cooperating teacher Frank Owens let her go right into her lesson on the two-octave F major scale. “With so many steps involved, I could not for the life of me explain it,” Papadatos recalls. “Things that come so naturally for you, you often don’t think about how to sequence it for other people.”

When she went back and told Laura Parker about her challenge, they strategized together using a textbook full of explanations for each wrong sound for every instrument. Before the next class, she went in an hour early and made the worst sounds she could coax out of the instrument, to figure out what was going wrong for the kids who didn’t yet get it. It made all the difference. That knowledge became part of Papadatos’ toolbox and helped her make a real leap.

“To be able to tell that trumpet player what he should be doing in three words and not disrupt your pacing … that’s when you become a different level of teacher,” she says. At that level, she says, your focus shifts away from your teaching and toward what is actually happening with the children’s learning, allowing you to analyze and respond on the spot.

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Scott goes over a score with young percussionists at Roland Park.

Papadatos, who earned her teaching certification in May, has been working this spring as a long-term substitute at Waterloo Elementary in Howard County. It’s a dream come true for the girl who knew she wanted to teach back in fifth grade, when she made the all-county band in her hometown of Long Island.

Practicum experiences at both the elementary and high school levels gave Papadatos real skills she sees herself using Scott goes over a score with young percussionists at Roland Park. throughout her career. In her first practicum—elementary general music—Cardany had her write out every word she was planning to say, and emailed her scripts back covered with red comments. If she stumbled in the classroom, the teacher avoided jumping in and let her turn things around herself, which helped her learn to think on her feet. “You need those little mistakes to kind of edge you along,” Papadatos says.

Cardany and Laura and Harlan Parker make a point of seeking a strong match when placing student teachers with mentor teachers in the schools. Organized and detail-oriented, Papadatos was able to relate well to Owens’ style and learned by mimicking him. “That’s how I created my teaching personality,” she says.

In addition, Harlan Parker says he and his colleagues look for a mentor teacher who can help support the particular skills a student needs, and look for a student who will bring a helpful element to the teacher’s classroom; for example, a brass-playing teacher may appreciate the presence of a woodwind musician. The best mentor teachers are good musicians, strong teachers, and confident enough to hand over a piece or two to the student teacher, providing guidance and feedback from the background, Parker says.

Scott’s cooperating teacher at Roland Park, Danni Schmitt Scangarello, says she always appreciates working with music education student teachers because they quickly become colleagues, more like assistant directors than students. “It’s definitely nice, especially toward the end of the semester, to have another set of hands,” she says.

Lifelong Lessons
With its small numbers and cooperative spirit, there’s an intimacy to the Music Education Department that graduates often carry with them. Years down the road, they find themselves emailing with faculty, working alongside other alumni, and relying daily on the hard-won techniques they learned in their video sessions and student-teacher classrooms—trying to treat their students to the same care and intensity the Music Education Department provided them.

Vocalist Matthew Rupcich ’90 has been teaching at New York’s prestigious Trinity School now for 15 years. Early in his tenure, he recalls teaching a high school concert choir class. The students were nailing the a cappella, six-part harmony in “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera, but something was wrong; they didn’t seem pleased. Finally one young man explained that Rupcich was pushing them too hard.

“It was kind of a mind-boggling moment,” he says. “I needed to lighten things up a little.” He and his students sat down and wrote Post-It notes about what each brought to the table, and displayed them on a bulletin board as a tool for improving the class. “It was a cooperative technique I’m sure I got from Peabody,” says Rupcich, who currently serves as a music teacher and dean of student life for grades five through eight at Trinity, and teaches choral music at Hunter College.

Rupcich recalls with appreciation the training he received at Peabody in the late 1980s, when Sandy Stauffer and Steven Baxter were music education coordinators. The two didn’t just teach material, Rupcich says, but modeled how to teach, so that students could immediately turn around and use the same techniques in their own classrooms. “That kind of support was just rampant throughout the experience,” he says.

Alumnus Mark Lortz agrees that something about the department’s teaching style pushes students to grow in ways that become lifelong habits. Lortz—who earned his bachelor’s degree in percussion in 1992, returned for his music education teaching certificate in 1995, and returned again for a dual master’s in composition and music education in 2007 —says music education faculty at Peabody “operate on a higher cognitive level.”

They’d say something in class, and Lortz would seek more research on the topic. “They always gave me this desire to look up more information,” he says. “That helped define who I am as an educator.”

The self-reflective habit that he began in the Music Education Department, and the process of self-critique, have become second nature for Lortz, who is Stevenson University’s first band director and in his 10th year of teaching music education at McDaniel College and music composition at Carroll Community College.

Lortz still uses video as a reflective tool, and still asks himself what Harlan or Laura Parker would do when a teaching challenge arises. Sometimes he picks up the phone or writes an email to ask them directly.

“The connection,” Lortz says, “is a lifelong relationship.”

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