Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Real School

So much of my approach to teaching is the opposite of “real school.” Gathering in circles holding hands instead of sitting in desks in rows, cheating by looking at the xylophone next to you, stealing ideas, relaxing about making mistakes in ensemble class, shoes off, the teacher moving and singing and playing with the children.

But today I gave a jazz history class and wasn’t that different?! The kids came in all nervous and serious and somewhat stressed and I told them, “It’s good to see you this way. This test is probably just 15% of your upcoming grade and the other 85% is based entirely on effort, attention and improvement. You’re probably nervous about that grade and of course, I don’t like to see you so stressed. But a little stress is healthy because I happen to think this information is every bit as important to know as quadratic equations, the water cycle and the War of 1812, if not more so. You may never take a class again where you have to show that you can recognize Louis or Ella’s singing and show that you understand a little bit of what they went through to bring such beautiful music to us. So I want you to care about getting it right and if you did the time-honored school thing of actually studying, you should do fine.”

Once the test started, I never heard them so quiet or seen them so focused! School is great!
So while I still hold to changing the bathwater of too much testing and mere reading and writing and too little active engagement and creating and moving, it feels good not to throw out the time-honored baby of studying for tests and showing yourself and others what you’ve learned.

I know you didn’t get a chance to study and you can’t to the listening examples and the jazz theory is too much for the layman, but let’s see how you do on the first part of the test. Good luck!

1. The roots of jazz lie in:
            a) rock and roll     b) African American folk music    c) European folk music

2. Who wrote a ragtime opera named Treemonisha that closed after one performance?

3. What famous piece by the above composer sold a million copies of sheet music in 1899?

4. What colorful character added swing, blues and improvisation to ragtime, almost justifying his claim that “he invented jazz in 1902?”

5. Which city has been called The Birthplace of Jazz?

6. What was the name of the nursery rhyme song that catapulted Ella Fitzgerald to fame?

7. Whose musical career started in reform school?

8. The art of the jazz solo began with this musician’s trumpet playing and scat singing.
What was one of his nicknames?

9. Who got her start at the Apollo Theater in Harlem by winning a contest?

10. Name one additional fact about any of the above jazz musicians.

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