Friday, January 28, 2011

"Live and Learn" or "Leap and Learn"

By Mark T. Burke

There's a link to music, music education and the arts here -- trust me.  Read on!

I've learned many things over the passing of time and I am grateful for the people and circumstances that have taught me those lessons. The phrase "Live and Learn" denotes that the passing of time is needed for us to learn.  I believe most of us see such a passing of time as a rather long adventure. When I hear people say, "Live and Learn," my mind pictures a wise, old person staring at me with a face that shows the ravages of time and eyes that reflect great history and wisdom.  I respect that vision each and every day.

The phrase "Live and Learn" also stands for conservatism. Depending on "Live and Learn" beliefs, beliefs that root themselves in awaiting things to change, grow and develop over time, is a sure-fire way of ensuring many things in our lifetimes will not change. So how do thing change along the path to "Live and Learn?"  Those initiating change through new ways of thinking and DOING trust in  the "Leap and Learn" mentality.  While "Live and Learn" has risks, they are more calculated. "Leap and Learn" actions are for sure riskier, but the results are more dramatic, more explosive.  Those explosions help get institutions moving in a new direction with little wasted time waiting to "Live and Learn."

So what does this have to do with music, music education and the arts?

Music programs have had a long legacy. We have "Lived and Learned" that this legacy is insufficient to ensure the continuance of music's role in education. I am truly inspired by those who are willing to "Leap and Learn."  They aren't being irresponsible as some may feel taking a leap is. They are not taking a "Leap of Faith."  For example, viaAcademies is working with Central Columbia School District.  Central is a school district like many in rural PA.  The geography is 100% rural and rural towns.  This area, once rich with band music in the schools and community has seen those days pass.  Bands are still alive, don't get me wrong, but I don't believe anyone would say instrumental music has a strong hold in our schools in this area.

Central has decided that to promote the art of music for now and the future, they have to change they way their program works with students, they had to re-think the resources they provide and even the way they teach. Working with them has been enlightening.  The staff, like most, was concerned about change, but they knew they wanted - needed - to change course to ensure kids had instrumental music opportunities.

They now have 30 kids working online, in addition to working with them directly at school.  To me, these are the heroes of the "Leap and Learn" movement. They serve as an example of how music teachers can create the explosive force we need to alter the course of music in our schools. Together, we are learning much and not just about online music education.  Working together we are learning about music education in general, how to work with kids in our web-driven world and how best to create effective change.

We need more people to "Leap and Learn."  How?  Here are several activities that can get you started.

1.)  Honestly assess the weakness of your program.  Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats).
2.)  Develop your program's key goals -- right now -- that would improve the program.  They should be student centered.
3.)  Commit 30 minutes a day for 1 week to learning new ways of addressing those goals through organizations like viaAcademies, The MusicPLN, TIME and SoundTree.
4.)  Create a plan to use new teaching tools, technology, new strategies, new communications, new advocacy, new ensembles, new scheduling, etc. etc. -- whatever tools you can to approach your goals.  The key is .....LEAP....act quickly and you will learn. Don't act, and you will have to wait for life to pass and slowly feed you lessons.

While "Live and Learn" has provided me a great history, I hope to change what I believe is a poor outlook for music in our schools if we don't start a campaign toward "Leap and Learn."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

4 Tips to Holding Better Meetings, Musician Style

By Mark T. Burke

I recently viewed this great TED video entitled "Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work, by Jason Fried. Jason hits us hard with a clear message that we waste a lot of time holding meetings and ... I agree!

What can we do to harness the power of meetings?  They can be great devices if used well. I believe musicians have much to teach business professionals.  Here are my top 4 tips, taken from my life as a musician and business professional on how to hold really awesome meetings.

Send this to your non-musician business partners, CEO or anyone who often calls meetings and needs a little help :-).

Thanks for reading and watching.

Post your meeting strategies here. How do you ensure the meetings you call are productive?

viaAcademies promotes the value of Music Education and the Arts for today's youth. They will be our leaders of tomorrow. The Arts provide creative experiences like no other subjects can. Support the Arts in your communities and schools today. Encourage innovation within your school's music and arts programs. We need music and the arts for a better future.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Standards are Too Hard for Most Students.....but we keep insisting students learn them.

By Mark T. Burke

The district I live in has consistently had fewer and fewer students coming out for District Band pre-auditions year over year. In the 1990's, numbers approached 700-800 students auditioning for a band of 150. Now, fellow band directors tell me those numbers are more like 300-400 with some instruments not having enough students pre-auditioning to fill the band spots. The message I hear consistently is that few students come close to the skill level needed to convincingly perform the pre-audition pieces. 

I wish I wasn't reporting information second-hand, but my instrumental teaching friends are long-time professionals with nothing to gain from negative press. In fact, they know that positive things come from discussing the not so positive state of affairs.  Change only comes when we talk about the true condition of our educational field. 

I believe this festival is one symbol of the change needed in music education (at least locally for my area and I imagine more decide).  These students are given incredibly difficult solos, solos found on college level performance requirement lists, and told they must learn the solo for auditions.  As a trumpet player in my youth, learning pieces like the Haydn, Hummel and Neruda occurred in at then collegiate level.  And, I was a PA all-state trumpet player for 2 years in high school. If I would have had to learn these works in high school, I say for sure, I would have not succeeded.  I know some students can approach solos such as these during high school, but certainly for the majority, this level of solo work is out of reach. Yet, today, these solos, and similar for most instruments are being passed out for kids to work on.

While I agree that stretching kids, exposing them to great works is INCREDIBLY valuable, we have to have a reality check. We do little to encourage musical growth if students spend the majority of their year preparing a piece that is too hard only to audition and be told what they expected to hear, "you didn't make it."  A teacher once told me, "If you play through a solo more than 4 times and still can't come close, it is too hard."  I do believe that mentality is one we must adopt in Central PA. 

Added to the difficulty of the compositions is the complexity of teaching great works for all instruments.  The nuances to do so requires a truly diverse teacher.  Resources to learn these works have been few and far between. In fact, this is the premise behind my new "Solo Masters" program. Change takes time, experience and education.  So, I believe that helping music teachers be as proficient as they can be regarding the literature can help us be better teachers as well as assist us in making better committee recommendations on what solos we can use for audition and educational purposes. 

Rebuilding interest and skill level for festivals is important if we believe festivals contribute positively to the learning environment.  Doing the same thing and expecting different results is also a pattern we must break.  By diving into this topic and creating awareness a path to resolution will emerge. 

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Peanut Butter and Online Music Courses Have in Common

By Mark T. Burke

Take two pieces of bread and toss them across the room. Did they stay together? Most likely not. Now, grab some peanut butter and spread one slice. Put the two pieces together and toss them again.  Now....did they stay together?  Most likely they DID.

Now, grab the sandwich and enjoy! Never waste food!

Music programs need binding forces to keep all things good moving forward and keep bad things from happening. Music programs with no binding forces, resources that knit and glue "things" together, get blown apart and fall to the ground, scattered.  For example, when music programs simply exist to exist, binding forces are not present.  There has to be validation, purpose, value beyond just existence. 

Online music courses, when added to existing programs act as a binding force.  The online materials connect students to instruction BETWEEN lessons.  See my post "It's What Happens Between Music Lessons that Counts."  Online courses CONNECT music programs to educational systems by providing a one-stop shop to demonstrate performance and skills mastery through recordings, feedback and recorded test scores. Online courses also GLUE families and communities to student efforts through the sharing of student progress, continually demonstrating the work involved in becoming a musician and the true personal pleasure it brings to students.

Looking for a way to CONNECT, BIND or GLUE your program into your school system?


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shake the Snow Globe...3 Ways to help kids PROGRESS during snow days

By Mark T. Burke

Sitting in the heart of the latest Northeast Snow/Ice storm, all of the surrounding schools in my area are closed.  Musical activities can quickly become faded memories this time of year. After coming off a long holiday break, snow and ice closures start to impact programs beyond our control.....WAIT....but we CAN be in control. Music teachers are resourceful...right?  We're smart people, clever, organized....innovative.  That's right! 

Ok...that felt good.  I needed a pick me up this morning.  Last year I posted "Snow Days Defined: A Musician's View." In that post, I defined, or at least attempted to define, the euphoria we experience at hearing "SNOW STORM" during our local weather. Point back to that post when you have a minute. 

With online course access in the hands of your kids, snow days can become productive days where musical skills can PROGRESS rather than REGRESS. How?  Here are my top 3 (or maybe even a few more) ways you can prepare students to make progress during snow days. (If you don't yet have online courses in your program, send me note).  

1.  Before the day comes (yes, we almost always have a warning), engage the students in a conversation around their progress in the online course.  Keep the course access fresh in their mind. Review sections together in band or music class prior to the impending storm.  This activity will increase the likelihood of students logging in and using the online course during school closure.

2.  Create an assignment where the students submit their recordings to you (as they are instructed) as well as send them to a friend.  Encourage the students to share their music skills using technology on days when they can't meet face to face with you or their fellow classmates. 

3.  Plan a time when you will be online and use the classroom tools to talk with your students about a specific musical topic.  This doesn't have to be long, 15-20 minutes, but a little is better than nothing. Before you hold the session, get a few really active online students and schedule a time with them.  Have them grab their friends and encourage them to participate.  When you return to school, talk about the session and what the students who participated accomplished. 

4. EXTRA :-)  Send an email to parents before the day mentioning how glad you are your school provides this service and thank them for supplying a computer and the right environment to practice at home for their kids.  Let them know how valuable having online access to the courses can be during snow days and encourage them to support the online activities of their kids during their "day off."

Now....time to shovel and then back to work.  Enjoy the day.

For more information on viaAcademies, visit us online using the links to the right.  Write to me, Mark Burke with any questions you may have about online music instruction or just to say hello. Mention this post....I appreciate your support. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Knowing What's to the Art.

By Mark T. Burke

Over the last few months, the team at viaAcademies has been busy focusing on our 2011 priorities. Near the end of 2010, we quietly changed our tag line to match our focus which includes products and services for any and all art forms using various delivery methods.  Our name continues to demonstrate our use of powerful virtual tools that help our customers connect, either student to teacher, teacher to teacher, or teacher to business and music industry professional.  

Our plan is to build on our expanding list of services which by 2010 had already pushed beyond being solely a "Virtual Instrumental Musical Arts Academy."  We launched our summer workshop for saxophone students in July 2010 as well as opened our Professional Development Center.  We will soon announce details on our Summer Workshops (yes Workshop"s") 2011 and we are currently working with several key partners to provide several additional professional development opportunities for the remaining part of this schools year and next.  While our focus is on expanding services, we continue to develop innovative online music curriculum including our Exploring Music course (available for GarageBand and Mixcraft). 

What does the future hold? Predicting the future is an ART any business would like to master. While we don't have supernatural vision, we believe we are good listeners.  First, reacting to what our customers and partners are broadcasting means we recognized in 2010 that the Arts need groups willing and able to help those within CONNECT.  While our name demonstrates our use of technology to help build those connections, we in no way want to send a message that we believe we should (or must) be 100% virtual.  The Arts need connections, and helping others (and ourselves) make those connections using technology is our goal. Through our connections last year, the programs we launched came to reality.  Second, we believe an integrated arts academy, with strong virtual tools and the ability to connect various audiences through various art forms serves as a model for the future of arts education. We'll make mistakes we know, pioneers often do. However, we are already rolling up our sleeves even future and getting our hands dirty. Hopefully that is just enough of a teaser to attract some comments and new connections among us all.  For now, the details are "what's to come." 

We love and welcome all comments.  Our team, partnerships and connections are growing. If you have an idea for how we can connect, send me a note