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Puppets In The Classroom
By West Music
1/26/2015 2:33:00 PM  

Using puppets in the music classroom can be a wonderful way to engage students and create a magical environment! Below are my favorite uses for puppets:

Vocal exploration: Whether using a rooster to get students to “cock-a-doodle-doo” or an owl to get students to “whoooo” in their head voices, puppets can be a great way to foster vocal exploration and pitch-matching. Students can also follow the path of a finger puppet, such as a butterfly, flying through the air.

Inner/Outer singing: Puppets that are able to pop in and out of something are wonderful for inner/outer singing! West Music now carries a raccoon that can pop in and out of the trash can: when he is out of the trash can, students can sing a known song normally, but when he is in the trash can, students have to sing inside their heads.

Song prop: A colleague of mine just told me that when she plays “We are dancing,” she has the child who is the wolf hold a wolf puppet to say what he/she is doing at the end of the song: you can then use it for vocal exploration to have kids howl like awolf! I’ve also used a turkey puppet for “Shoo Turkey,” and then had students gobble like turkeys!

Call/response songs: One of my favorite call/response songs is “Come back home my little chicks.” I teach the song using a rooster puppet and a chick puppet, so students can easily see who sings which part. Then, I have them only sing the chick part, or only sing the rooster part.

To encourage solo singing: Singing alone can be a bit overwhelming to some students, but if they think they are singing to a puppet, their perspectives can change dramatically! One of my favorite puppets is “Penny the Peacock,” who only answers questions when students sing to her. It brightens up my day to hear a child singing a solo to Penny, asking questions such as “What’s your favorite color?” or “What’s your favorite food?”

I hope you and your students enjoy using puppets to sing, play games, and explore!

Shop for puppets!


– Aileen Miracle


Tags: classroom, teach, education, children, students, puppet, Aileen Miracle
Categories: Classroom Furniture & Equipment, Kids & Movement, Music Advocacy, Music Education
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Smart Rhythms for Fall
By Denise Gagne
10/2/2012 1:18:00 PM  

A special thanks to Denise Gagne for contributing this article!

I first met Linda Miller after her sister was in one of my workshop sessions.  I had been using digital resources for recorders and Musicplay in my session, and she came up to me at the end of the session to tell me about her sister, Linda, who was amazing on the Smartboard, and suggested that I visit her classroom to see her in action.  I did, and she is incredible on the Smartboard!  We talked about the materials available for Smartboard, either for free on the exchange, or for purchase, and both of us felt that a single product that would have a sequential approach to teaching rhythm was needed.  Linda spent the next 18 months creating the activities and using them with her own classes.

Denise Gagne Linda Miller
Denise Gagne Linda Miller

Linda uses flashcards for reading practice at the beginning of many lessons.  She found that her kids liked to have the flashcards change with the seasons, so there are three sets of flashcards in Smart Rhythms - one for fall, one for October and one for Thanksgiving.  Each set of flashcards has an audio track.  Using the audio track will help you to find out if your students are maintaining a steady beat.  Each set of flashcards has 4 levels of rhythms:  Level 1 uses ta, ti-ti and rest.  Level 2 adds ties, half and whole notes and rests.  Level 3 adds sixteenth notes.  Level 4 adds ti-tika and tika-ti rhythms.

Games to practice reading are even more fun than flashcards.  In Harvest Happenings and Sneaky Spiders, teams take turns covering clapped flashcards with a token to get four in a row.  Part of the game strategy is to block the competition.

Once students can successfully read rhythm patterns, they can use rhythms for creative activities.  Linda included the creating of rhythm canons, rhythm rondos, and rhythm compositions with ostinato.  After creating, students choose body percussion or non-pitched instruments to play their creations.

Assessment of rhythms (listening) is included.  In Rhythm Bingo, Counting Candies, Game On and Which Witch students find a rhythm that has been played and cover that rhythm with a token.  These activities can also be used for individual assessment by having students listen to the rhythm and write it down.  

Notation of word rhythms is included in Fall Sentences and Turkey Canon.  

In this one collection of rhythm activities are reading, listening, notating, assessment and creating activities using four levels of difficulty.  Although the activities are themed for fall, the activities are so much fun, teachers will use them all year long!

Smart Rhythms for Fall

Smart Rhythms for Fall (853178)

These 20 interactive SMART Notebook files have over 80 activities for teaching, practicing, assessing and creating rhythms at a variety of levels using a Smartboard. Additional assessment suggestions and rubrics are in the pdf Read Me file. All the activities revolve around the Fall season.

There are 3 sets of flashcards - one for fall, one for October and one for Thanksgiving. Each set of flashcards has an audio track and 4 levels of rhythms:

  • Level 1 - quarter notes, two eighth notes, quarter rest (ta, ti-ti)
  • Level 2 - adds half notes and rests, two tied quarter notes, whole notes and rests
  • Level 3 - adds four sixteenth notes
  • Level 4 - adds two sixteenth notes with an eighth note (ti-tika, tika-ti)
Click HERE to order and find out more!

Tags: Denise Gagne, Linda Miller, Smart Rhythms For Fall, Fall Music Guide, Fall Music Books, Music Books, Books, Book Products, Produts, Product Guides
Categories: Classroom Furniture & Equipment, Music, Books & Resources
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Teaching Classical Music in the Music Classroom Setting
By Ann Eisen, Sneaky Snake Publications, LLC
9/6/2012 11:44:00 AM  

Ideas for this article came from An American Methodology (Eisen and Robertson, Second Edition, ©2010) and From Folk Songs To Masterworks (Eisen and Robertson, ©2010).

Classical music in the classroom setting may be approached in several ways.  One way is through quiet listening, especially with younger children in pre-school, kindergarten, and the lower elementary grades.  Another way is to use classical music with kinesthetic activities that involve the use of movement in different frameworks.  With older children, a composer of the month program, or other theme programs featuring types of music such as symphonies, sonatas, operas, etc. can be utilized to present classical music to lower and upper elementary students.  These approaches are well known to us as music appreciation. 

One of the principal goals of the Kodály approach is to make the great art music of the world available to children through performing, studying, and analyzing music while developing a love and appreciation for all types of music.  The beauty of teaching music to children using the Kodály approach is that it leads beyond itself to the music of the masters. 

Kodály music educators follow a progression called the Three P’s (Preparation, Presentation, and Practice) in planning how to teach a new element.  As new elements (musical ideas) are presented, they are practiced or reinforced in eight different areas.  The final practice area is called listening.  In this listening to great art music, the teacher is challenged to be creative in a concise and sequential procedure.  Classical music is presented as a culmination of reinforcing a musical element and the music example must contain the element being practiced in a way that is obvious within the music itself.  Students are challenged to recall and reinforce many skills that they have previously practiced. 

A short piece of art music that contains the element being practiced is chosen for study.  At times, especially with younger children, the students may only listen to the music example but it is better if they get a fuller appreciation of that music by reading a part of either the rhythm or the melody before actually listening to that music so that their listening becomes active and not passive.  They listen intelligently.  The teacher will be challenged to find a piece of music for listening in which a specific element is applied.  When students have been well prepared in practicing an element in many different ways, they are able to use these skills to go from a folk song example that leads to the new listening of a piece of classical music.  Live music experiences are the best, but many recordings are available (from your text book series and your own collection) as well as on YouTube and iTunes.

Things to consider when planning listening lesson fragments:

  1. The fragment is only part of a complete musical lesson plan.
  2. A listening fragment is not a music appreciation lesson; it is a practice area that reinforces a conscious element by applying it in a chosen example of art or other types of music
  3. Choose song material closely related to the listening example
  4. Try to develop logical and musical steps that lead to the listening objective
  5. Keep it simple; avoid making the procedure too complicated for yourself and your students
  6. Make the experience enjoyable for you and your students—keep it musical above all else
  7. Know the music example well both aurally and visually before using it in a lesson
  8. Lessons may be planned to do over a series of different lessons

Make the time you spend with your students as musical as possible.  We are not only teaching musical literacy, but musical experiences as well.  What a wonderful way to become familiar with music that will last a lifetime and hopefully, become a way to enjoy great music for an entire generation.

From Folk Songs to Masterworks - Ann Eisen

From Folk Songs to Masterworks is a new book that is divided into sections by grade, although most of the lesson fragments can be used interchangeably among all grades. 77 art music examples and lessons are included. The art music examples come from a variety of composers including Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Debussy, Copland, Bartok and others. Background information is given for each musical example as well as abbreviated examples of music scores included for the teacher's benefit.

Each lesson has an art music selection, music element focus, background information, abbreviated art music score and music lesson fragment (folk song score and teaching procedure). If a singing game is used, the game directions are included.

Click HERE to find out more about Folk Songs to Masterworks!

Tags: Classical Music, Kodály, Kodaly, Three P's, Three Ps, Music Education, Classical Music Appreciation, Ann Eisen
Categories: Classroom Furniture & Equipment
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Meet the West Music Education Consultants
By Melissa Blum
7/25/2012 3:09:00 PM  

Know you need some items for your classroom but you’re not exactly sure what? Have a wish list but don’t know if wishes can come true? Heard about a program or instruments but need some more information? Or, do you just need some extra time with your decisions? The West Music Education Consultants are here for you! Our Consultants have many years experience in the classroom, recording studio, clinical setting, and more, as well as a combined 70+ years helping West Music customers with their product needs. Contact one of our consultants today to help you find just what you need.

We welcome your phone or email inquiries, or stop and say hello when we are on the road at workshops and conventions. Our toll free number is 800-397-9378. See each listing for phone extension and email address. While we’ve included some of our specific areas of expertise, any of us will be delighted to help you with your overall classroom (plus studio, clinical, home…) needs!

  • Jenny Winegarden specializes in hand percussion, drums, and Music Therapy products and resources. You can reach her at extension 1320 or email jwinegarden@westmusic.com.
  • Judy Pine specializes in Orff instruments and recorders. You can reach her at extension 1300 or email jpine@westmusic.com.
  • Kathy Bohstedt specializes in books and media. You can reach her at extension 1307 or email kbohstedt@westmusic.com.
  • Kyle Ware specializes in keyboards, guitars and folk instruments, software, and sound systems. You can reach him at extension 1310 or email kware@westmusic.com.
  • Melissa Blum specializes in group drumming and early childhood. You can reach her at extension 1111 or email mblum@westmusic.com.
  • Randy Hargis is your Texas connection! Based in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Randy is available for our Texas customers to be a local source for your music education needs. You can reach him at extension 1309 or email rhargis@westmusic.com.

We all look forward to working with you soon!

Tags: Music Education, Music Education Consultants, Music Consultants, Education Consultants, Jenny Winegarden, Judy Pine, West Music Education Consultants, Classroom Consultants, Kathy Bohstedt, Kyle Ware, Melissa Blum, Randy Hargis
Categories: Classroom Furniture & Equipment
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Always have your wish list ready!
By Judy Pine
5/2/2012 3:08:00 PM  

It’s the end of a busy week and your principal contacts you to say he/she has found some funds for your program, but needs your wish list by the end of the day--and it’s already 3:00 pm!  While it’s exciting to hear this financial support has come to your program, what IS your wish list and HOW do you have it prioritized? 

I would recommend you have two lists at your fingertips at all times.  The first is an inventory list of the type and condition of instruments and resource materials in your classroom.  Do those 10 pair of maracas (that were in the room before you took this job) need to be replaced and if so, do you really need 10 pair moving forward?  Here’s an example to get you started!

South Elem. Inventory List (May 12, 2012)

Qty. Type of Instrument Condition More Needed? Approximate Cost?
2 Pair of finger cymbals Need new elastic straps No  
15 Pairs of rhythm sticks 10 pairs ok, 5 pairs to replace 5 to 10 pairs $1.50 each
2 10" frame drums New in 2009 10 more would be great $13.50 each x 10=$135.00
2 12" frame drums New in 2010 10 more would be great $16.75 each x 10=$167.50
10 PR maracas 4 pairs broken, 6 more than enough    
1 Soprano glock? Not sure if it's an alto or soprano, missing F#'s 1 new one with all bars $195.00 for an alto
1 Alto Xylophone Bars sound flat, maybe needs new tubing?   $26.00 for 4 yards of cording
1 Conga drum New in 2011    


With the inventory list above, you’re ready to spend that $200.00 from your principal within five minutes, as you know the condition and quantity of your instruments!


Then the 2nd list to have ready to go is your Wish List!  This is the list of all the instruments and materials you wished were in your classroom(s) in order to really give your students the music education experiences they need.  Be sure to find approximate costs so that when time is limited you’re able to put together your wish list in order of preference with reasons why all of these items are important to your student’s education.  Here are a couple of ideas to get you thinking about how additional instruments and materials can help you and your students achieve their goals in your classroom. 

Option #1:

South Elem. Wish List #1 (May 12, 2012)



Type of instrument


Cost each

Extended cost




Soprano glockenspiels




West Music of course!



Alto glockenspiels




West Music of course!



Fiberglass soprano xylophones




West Music of course!



Fiberglass tenor/alto xylophones




West Music of course!



Fiberglass bass xylophone




West Music of course!



Tenor/alto metallophone




West Music of course!





Additional thoughts…

Or maybe call West Music and ask if they will help us with a custom package of the above instrument for even greater savings!

Rationale for this wish list.

In the summer of 2011, I was able to take Level 1 Orff Schulwerk training at ABC University.  The above list of instruments would allow those new skills to be incorporated into every classroom. With an average of 26 students per class period, this assortment of instruments in addition to what is already in the classroom, allows every student the opportunity to play something every week.

Or perhaps you are interested in adding some drumming to your classroom…this is what your wish list might look like:

South Elem. Wish List #2 (May 12, 2012)


Type of instrument


Cost each

Extended cost



10" tunable/tubanos




West Music of course!


12" tunable/tubanos




West Music of course!


14" tunable/tubanos




West Music of course!





Additional thoughts…..

OR, would it be better if I purchase the West set of 12 Remo tunable tubanos and a Ngoma for $2392.35.  Let's go for that one!


Get your lists together now, so you’re always ready when anyone approaches you with some new source of money for your classroom! Remember the knowledgeable staff at West Music is ready and willing to create your ideal classroom any time. Just give us a call or send an email. We look forward to hearing from you!

To create your West Music Wishlist, please visit us online.

Tags: wish list, classroom wish list, financial support, inventory, new instruments
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Orff, Classroom Furniture & Equipment, Pianos, Digital Pianos & Keyboards, Drums & Percussion, Guitars & Folk, Kids & Movement, Music, Books & Resources, Recorders
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Exciting products and a catalog retrospective
By Jordan Wagner
9/9/2011 11:29:00 AM  

West Music's Judy Pine and Melissa Blum walk us through a retrospective of past West Music catalogs, leading up to our brand-new 2011-2012 catalog. The catalog is jam-packed with 186 pages of products to nurture your student's musical education.

In addition, Judy and Melissa share their personal favorites from the catalog! For more information on these products--or to order--go to www.westmusic.com!

Tags: West Music catalog, new catalog, catalog video blog, retrospective video blog
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Orff, Classroom Furniture & Equipment, Pianos, Digital Pianos & Keyboards, Drums & Percussion, Guitars & Folk, Kids & Movement, Music, Books & Resources, Recorders, Music Therapy
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Jump into the School Year with Freddie the Frog!
By Sharon Burch
9/7/2011 3:43:00 PM  

Dreading that next kindergarten (or pre-school) music class? Simply placing a puppet on your hand (no voice, just shaking the head up and down or side-to-side) will transform your room.  A puppet works magic in lower elementary classes!  It doesn’t need to be Freddie, any puppet will do that you build a story around.  Obviously, I use Freddie, so here is what I do at the beginning of every year.  It works like a charm! I use this lesson plan EVERY year with the kindergarten music class. It works with Pre-School, too! 

Freddie the Frog Class

Music Lesson #1 with Freddie the Frog®

Kindergarten or Pre-School:

  1. Kids sit on the floor facing me at the front of the room.
  2. Meet Freddie the Frog.
  3. Freddie is shy and a little scared.  We help Freddie feel more comfortable by learning his song, “Hello, Freddie.”

Hello, Freddie(To the tune of "Where is Thumbkin?")  Lyrics by Sharon Burch

Hello, Freddie
Hello, Freddie
Who are you?
Who are you?

We are friends of Freddie.

We are friends of Freddie.
(Freddie) How are you?
(Kids) We are fine.

  1. Freddie is happy and asks the kids if they would sing it every time they come to music.
  2. Freddie wants to tell them a story.  I tell him that I’m sorry, but we don’t have time.  We’ll have to share it next time.
  3. Continue class with a few fun activities that get the kids moving and establishing movement rules in your classroom.  (Remember, they only get to “play” if they play by your rules.  Sit them down once, and they will follow the rules to get to play.)
  4. Return to their seats.
  5. Stand, turn in direction of the line and leave to give Freddie a hug and return to their classroom.

Now it’s time to introduce Freddie's first story!

  • If you have a 25-30 minute class period, pretend to tell Freddie that you will have to wait until the next music class to tell his story.  Students will remember and arrive at the next music class already focused and anxious to hear Freddie’s story.
  • If you have a 40-50 minute class, skip step 8 above and segue into the next lesson…

Now it’s time to create a personality for the puppet.  A story is the best way to bring a puppet to “life.”  Through a story, the puppet is no longer a puppet, but “real.”   Freddie came to life through a story I created a long time ago.  Create your own or use mine.  This is how kids fall in love with Freddie the Frog through Freddie the Frog and the Thump in the Night.

Music Lesson #2 with Freddie the Frog®

Start class with Freddie’s Hello Song: “Hello, Freddie”
Freddie shares his 1st story
"Thump in the Night"

Thump in the Night Book

Click to watch a short video clip of Introducing Freddie the Frog's 1st Story: Thump in the Night.

Watching the video clip is the easiest way to see how to introduce the story.

Once the initial year with the puppet is established, I continue to bring out the books for each level at the beginning of each year.  This refreshes the students’ memories and brings all the new students on board. Following is a synopsis of what I do at each grade level.

Kindergarten - Sharing it for the first time.

1st grade & 2nd grade - Review for returning students; acquaints new students to the magic of Freddie.

3rd grade - Review for returning students; acquaints new students with the story we are referring to.  Move to the “4th grade way” transition.  Correlating how the story, Freddie’s alphabet and your hand all represent the staff.

If you are using Freddie or another puppet, use the stories as the connection to the puppet, bringing it to “life,” and the introduction to the chosen concept. 

Kids come to music class to see their new puppet friend. In my class, they arrive eager to learn anything that Freddie thinks is fun! And he is “real!”  That’s the magic.

Now the learning really begins with your puppet initiating games, songs, and activities that continue to build on the foundation of the music concepts introduced through the stories.

Sharon Birch

Sharon Burch
Freddie the Frog®

For the whole sequence of lessons using Freddie the Frog® and the storybooks, check out the teacher's book, Beyond the Books: Teaching with Freddie the Frog!

Beyond the Books

The NEW teacher's book outlines 14 sequential lessons developed to teach music concepts, utilizing the storybooks and far beyond. The lessons include when and at what grade levels to introduce each book, how to introduce and review key concepts, plus extension lessons that reinforce the learning.

The enclosed CD-ROM includes:

  • Reproducible Student-size Flashcards
  • 25 Coloring Pages
  • Interactive Whiteboard Lesson flipcharts/PPTs
    • Freddie’s Mystery Song flipcharts/PPTs
    • 4-Beat Patterns to 12-Bar Blues PPT
    • Freddie the Frog® ClipArt (create your own Freddie Mystery Songs and more)
    • Assessment Report Sheets
    • Assessment Teacher Files

Tags: Freddie the Frog, puppets, lower elementary, general music classes
Categories: Classroom Furniture & Equipment
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Last Minute Budget Opportunities
By Judy Pine
5/3/2011 3:05:00 PM  
Has your principal ever contacted you on a Friday at 1 p.m. with the good news of money for your program – BUT they need your wish list of materials by the end of that day? Or a dollar amount is actually spoken of, just the idea that monies may be available to you?  I remember that happening to me once when I taught school so I always encourage teachers to have a wish list ready just in case!
First evaluate the instruments in your room.  Do any need to be repaired or replaced?  Do you wish there was enough unpitched percussion for every student to play all at once or at least enough for ½ or 1/3 of them?  Look at the variety of unpitched in your music room.   Do you need anything to round out your assortment of woods, metals, shakers/ shakers, jingles and skins?
Now move to your larger percussion and or Orff instruments.  Is it time for new drum heads on the tubanos, are there bars missing on your Orff instruments?  Do you wish you had a new set of temple blocks or a gong to round out the ensemble?  How are the mallets with any of your unpitched or pitched instruments?  Is the yarn wearing out or are the wooded headed mallets wearing down to the nub?
Now look through your favorite catalog – West Music of course, and see what we have to offer for you.  Give us a call at 800-397-9378 or email us at service@westmusic.com and we’ll do our best to quickly provide a quote for you yet that day. 
Think about what you really need to help your student’s value from learning about music in your classroom.  Plan for the future and have your list ready, as the end of the year money has to be spent soon!

Tags: Budget, Tips for Class Budgeting, Tips for Classroom Budgeting, Classroom Budgeting, Class Budgeting, Tips, School, West Music, Orff
Categories: Band & Orchestra, Orff, Classroom Furniture & Equipment
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Let’s Get “Classy”: Class Guitar Trends and Resources
By Melissa Raap
4/5/2011 3:36:00 PM  

Recently, I decided it would be a good idea to educate myself on the current trends and products available for class guitar, since this is an area that I am very unfamiliar with.  I was actually surprised by the variety of resources and books available for this subject!  I came across a couple of really great non-profit organizations that help teachers get started on teaching group guitar, and that also have many great free resources available for current teachers right on their websites.  Check them out at http://www.guitarsintheclassroom.org/ and  http://littlekidsrock.org/index.html.

Many message boards that I looked at in the process of my research had posts from class guitar teachers saying that they are forced to use books meant for individual students, because there are no class/group guitar materials out there. This is simply not true! Yes, it is true that sometimes the books meant for individual guitar students (like the Hal Leonard Guitar Method or Essential Elements for Guitar) might be best-suited for a particular teacher and their class guitar group, but there are a wide variety of other materials available to choose from in the print music world. Below are just a few options take a look at.  We have some of these books in stock at our West Music locations, but if we don’t, we can always quickly and easily special order any these for you! Just stop into one of our retail locations and we’ll help you out with anything you need to get started!

Essential Elements for guitar

Hal Leonard Essential Elements for Guitar

Guitar Method 1Guitar Method 1

Jerry Snyders Guitar School

Jerry Snyder's Guitar School

Tags: Melissa Raap, Guitars, Guitar, Guitar Class, Guitar Resources, Guitar Books, Classroom, Class, Hal Leonard, Alfred, Kjos, Melbay, Guitar Books, Guitar Resources, Classroom Resources, Classroom Books, Class Resources, Class Books
Categories: Classroom Furniture & Equipment, Guitars & Folk
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The Problem with Music Advocacy
By Jordan Wagner
12/7/2010 11:55:00 AM  

by Sharon Burch, author/creator of Freddie the Frog books ( http://sharonburch.wordpress.com/ )

Have we, as an interested group in music education, damaged our own efforts simply by labeling it as "music advocacy?"

I, along with many music educators, am very thankful for "VH1 Save the Music," and other music advocacy efforts. But only those who are already passionate about the value of music education truly champion those efforts. Although the term, "music advocacy," has its place within the circle of music supporters, it is a misrepresentation in general society.

The word, "advocacy," indicates helping an underdog. It places it in a category of sympathetic efforts toward something worthwhile in need of saving. Contemplate the term, "child advocate." What pictures come to mind? Visual images of children in need pulling on your heart-strings of giving, right? We love them and want to do more for them, but invoking emotions of sympathy only reaches a few. Think of all the phrases that include the word, "advocate," or "advocacy." What is your instant emotion? pity? charity? sympathy? empathy? left-wing? righteous? desire to fight for the cause?

Why do we feel that way? It indicates a need to fight for the defenseless, vulnerable, needy. Who puts on the gloves and does the defending? The one's closest to the underdog. Those with a deep compassion and emotion connected to the victim. How do they fight for the victim? They work to bring the world's attention to the problem. They paint graphic pictures through word and images that guilt people into giving. Those most passionate for the defenseless work tirelessly, attempting multiple methods to reach the masses, but only winning a few.

Music is not the underdog in reality, just in the education system, and in lack of funding. In our efforts to improve the perception and financial support, we sabotage the greater mission to revere and admire. Music is not something to sympathize, but to admire and seek to aspire to greatness.

What if we turned sympathy into admiration? People love winners. People love champions. People want to be part of the winning team. It inspires them to go after their dream and admire those who did and succeeded. For example, I'm not much of a sports fan, but when the local high school team begins advancing to the state playoffs, I'm there with the rest of the town. Everyone loves a winner. Sound familiar?

Now contemplate a contrasting picture--Shawn Johnson. Have you heard of her? A young girl from Iowa had a dream. With only the support of her family and coach, Shawn focused on the gold and passionately dedicated her time, energy and talent toward achieving excellence, and she did. Shawn obtained a gold and silver in the 2008 Olympics held in China--and hasn't stopped yet. Before the Olympic season, only those within the gymnastics' circle knew of Shawn Johnson. Similar to only those within the music circle are aware of the benefits of music instruction in a person's life.

Shawn Johnson is not a sympathetic picture. No one is a martyr for Shawn Johnson. No one needs to be or even wants to be. Shawn Johnson is one girl who had a dream with an action plan. She had a small support team of her family and a coach. Shawn did not recruit "advocacy" groups to help pull her along and represent her case. She did not see herself as an underdog. She was going for the gold--the Olympic gold. Did she dedicate a percentage of her time reaching for sympathy votes and support groups? No. As she poured her heart into her work, she began to excel and as she began to win, the world clamored to see her, learn about this incredible success story, take pride in her as one of our own in the U.S. Everyone admired Shawn's dedication and proudly claimed her as a representative of what is possible when you aspire for excellence in your craft. For Shawn Johnson that is gymnastics. For us, it is music.

Millions of kids take gymnastics, but it's only the excellent ones that the world wants to watch. Many people are involved in music, but it's only incredible musicians that draws the world's attention.

The large majority of U.S. citizens never attend, or watch, or participate in gymnastic events, but in the summer of 2008, all U.S. eyes were watching Shawn, willing her to win and celebrating her victories. Google "Shawn Johnson" and you will find articles and video clips from around the globe. Fan clubs and web pages came into being. All of this from one girl with a dream that took the necessary action to make it happen. People love a winner. People want to be apart of the winning team. People gravitate and seek out winners. They want to be part of that dream. Music is a winner.

We, musicians and music educators, know that. Anyone who sits in an audience and is moved to tears from the sheer beauty of the perfectly sung notes in a musical or opera, or the exquisite sounds of the instruments in an orchestra or band that cause people to rise to their feet in impulsive applause, understands. Music experienced at that level does not evoke sympathy, but awe. Everyone that experienced the incredible music shares it with enthusiasm to anyone who will listen. Like a virus, everyone clamors to experience the magical moment created through music. All eyes turn toward the source of the inspiration and want to experience it again. We know that, but does society?

We need to stop portraying music education as an underdog needing rescued and start exclaiming the opportunities for incredible experiences unlike any other. If our music programs inspire and excel as winners, all eyes will turn to us and want to be part of what we are doing. They'll experience what we already know and music will be viewed as the hero it already is.

"Music advocacy?" I don't think so. Within our music circle? Maybe, but only within our circle.

We need to view it as something with wondrous awe that we are excited to share, not defend. Does music education need more support and help to keep it in existence? Absolutely. No question. But we are going about it the wrong way.

Outside of the music world, the phrase, "music advocacy," hurts the mission before it even starts. The term indicates a solicitation for sympathy votes before you even understand what they are about. They only really effect those who are already passionate about music and already see the problem. Music education will NEVER be elevated and perceived with respect with labels that indicate defenseless losers and illicit pity.

Pursue excellence in music with a single-focused passion and people will follow. Pursue excellence in music education with passion and people will rally and clamor to be part of the success of their kids--your students.

We treat music education like a needy child trying to compete in an olympic games out of sympathy votes. Only eyes of pity on that child--and then they are fleeting. Music education needs to be Shawn Johnson, and in many schools it is perceived with admiration and respect. Music performed with excellence already is admired and respected with wonder and awe by those who have the privilege to witness it.

There are many examples from Paul Potts and Susan Boyle to Kristen Chenoweth, Bobby McFerrin, Yoyo Ma, etc. Pursue excellence in music education and the world will notice and be inspired. How do we achieve this? Teach kids with passion. Practice with passion. Conduct with passion.

Educate parents with the beneficial facts of music education and instruction, but not as a plea, but as an exciting opportunity to involve their kids in the best. We have something that is in desperate need--smarter, brighter and more creative citizens. Music education instills, develops and exercises those qualities. We have wonderful tools available for today's children.

Teach with passion and the term, "music advocacy," will become obsolete.

Tags: music advocacy, music education, passion, Shawn Johnson, gymnastics, Olympics
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