Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jack of All Trades

This week I added yet another skill to my repertoire: I am now able to say I've been an orchestra conductor.

It's not unusual for a school to ask teachers to substitute for another class during their prep if the regular teacher has to leave during the day when it's too late to contact a substitute. Such was the case this Monday. There I was, partway through the day, being asked to cover orchestra. I recognize the importance of helping out others, and have previously done so, but I reluctantly agreed. I can do a pretty good job leading a lesson in a content area, but these arts are different affairs.

The conductor had jotted down plans for the hour: "Take attendance. Have them do Warm Up 1. Rehearse the three songs for concert. OR Run as a study hall."

Certainly the easy route would have been to ask students to bring study materials, but I'm a tough cookie. Students streamed in, glancing questioningly at me. I knew about half of them. I admitted to them that, while I had been in band, I had been a percussionist. Neither tuning nor scales required! One student tuned the group for me. Now was the time of reckoning. I recognize, as a teacher, the trick is capitalizing on the strengths of others. I knew that, while I could conduct, I was ignorant of the tempos for the songs, and I would stumble awkwardly through them. Better to pass the buck.

Fortunately, I had several willing volunteers to conduct. I first selected someone whose father was a conductor. Then another girl conducted for the next song. The latter even stopped the group in the midst of a song and mentioned the measures where they started falling apart; she gave helpful suggestions, and they continued. Their ears were more attuned to such things than mine. The experience was a success. There I was, watching junior high students conduct their peers and instruct them. Much more rewarding than if only a study hall had been held.

I did, however, acquiesce and allow them to spend the last half of the time to study and socialize. We had been able to work through all the songs, and short of the conductor being present to focus on specific sections, there was little more for us to do.

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