Turning a Corner

It has been a spring/summer of ups, downs, lefts, rights, and just about everything in between. But here we are in the middle of summer, and I’m seeing myself having turned a corner.

The spring semester was, of course, busy. But thanks to my commitment to work smarter, I found myself finishing this year significantly less stressed than I was back in December! Now, I look forward to jumping into the new year with a renewed sense of excitement and energy.

A few updates on the past few months:

  • We started a competitive winter colorguard this year, and in their first season the guard finished the year by taking 2nd place in their class at their final competition!
  • Jazz Band received a “Superior” rating at District Jazz evaluation (first time ever!), and went on to the State level to receive an “Excellent.”
  • Wind Ensemble received an “Excellent” at District Concert Band evaluation, on a very difficult program (probably too difficult by most accounts)
  • Two great concerts and the graduation of a very strong senior class finished out the school year for us….
  • …. but not before we were informed that our principal was being transferred to Miami Coral Park Senior HS (of all places… Coral Park is where I did my student teaching!). Our new principal is already here and has been a joy to work with so far!
  • Marching Band for the next year is already underway. The group is smaller due to a significant number of incoming seniors deciding they didn’t want to return for their last year. We’ll miss them, but we are moving on with a great show theme: “Mission: Accepted”

As for me? I’m looking forward to not having to move this summer (first time in 3 summers I haven’t had to do a major move!). Enjoying a lot of books, TV Shows, videogames, food, and sleep, as well as coming up with some very exciting new ideas/plans for the coming year – more on that later.

As I sit around, I of course find myself looking for something else to do… it’s been a while since I have undertaken an online project, but I think it’s time to get back in the swing of things! So, in addition to becoming more active on Twitter (Follow me at @Zweibz7!), I am pleased to introduce:

BandHacker: Tips and Tricks for the Organized Band Director

This is a series of posts I will be writing here on this website (perhaps to expand to a dedicated domain later on…) that will be geared towards the little things I do day in and day out to help me work smarter. It will include digital software, web apps, mobile apps, and “low tech” solutions that help me be more productive and organized so I can spend more time teaching and less time on everything else! I already have a bunch of ideas for posts, and am excited to share them with you all.

I’ll be posting as often as time permits, so be on the lookout on any and all of my social presences (by connecting with me) for links to new posts when they’re up! You can also view all my BandHacker posts at any point right here.

Don’t worry, though, this blog won’t be overtaken completely by BandHacker posts! There’ll still be the usual (albeit infrequent) interjection of “this is what my life is like” posts 🙂

Until next time…

A Day of Discovery

There are some days where lightbulbs turn on in your head at an alarming rate. I love those days, don’t you? I also love music education and technology. So when I had three huge lightbulbs turn on in my head today, ALL related to music education and technology, I’m pretty sure it can be classified as an amazing day in Andy-land! Here were my three major lightbulbs, in order of appearance:

iPads for Choir

I have been tasked with teaching choir this year, and it would be an understatement to say that this puts me outside my comfort zone. While I can hold my own on piano, I fully admit that I am not at the level where I can accompany a choir, especially while at the same time listening and assessing the ensemble. So when I saw a post by Dr. Christopher Russell this morning titled “Using iPads for Choir Sectionals,” my interest was immediately piqued!

In the post, Russell discusses the methods through which he creates practice tracks for each voice part in his chorus using Finale and Notion for iPad, and allows them to practice (along with the score, using ForScore) in sections while he works with other groups. While I intend to use this in my classes, my biggest take-away from the article was actually the “Guided Access Mode” on the iPad, which allows me to lock the iPad into a certain app (and even disable certain parts of the screen in that app!) to prevent students from playing Angry Birds when they should be practicing their part. What an incredible feature! I didn’t even know it existed. If you’re curious, you can find it by tapping Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Guided Access.

Between “Guided Access” mode and the musical potential that using Finale, Notion, and ForScore (in conjunction with Dropbox) create, I can’t wait to get back to choir this week!

Tonal Energy Tuning App

I have been hearing about the “Tonal Energy” app for iPad and iPhone for a long time, but thought I couldn’t find anything better than my (very expensive) iStrobosoft strobe tuner app. Little did I know… Tonal Energy is really as amazing as everyone says it is! In addition to a very easy to read interface, Tonal Energy is worth every penny of its $3.99 price tag (and then some!) just because of the “Tone Generator” feature. For anyone who has used a Harmony Director before to demonstrate Equal/Just Temperaments and help ensembles develop a sense of intonation on chords, this app can do the exact same thing. It allows for pitches to be played using any instrument sound, and you can sustain as many pitches as you want at once. This is PERFECT for sustaining an open 5th as reference while students tune their instruments at the beginning of class. This will be especially useful now that I know how to….

Wirelessly Mirror Video/Audio from iPad to Projector

I have been looking for a way to wirelessly mirror my iPad to my Promethean projector since I started teaching. I have an extra long VGA cable that works fine as a way to plug my iPad into the projector, but this creates a few problems:

  1. I can’t move around much, because the cable keeps coming loose from the bottom of the iPad
  2. I can’t play audio from my iPad through my classroom sound system without actually placing the iPad near the sound system and connecting it through an 1/8″ Aux cable

Enter Chris Burns (@clb1015 on Twitter) who suggested I look into AirServer as an option. Sure enough, this is exactly what I was looking for! For a nominal $11.99 educational license, AirServer lets me wirelessly mirror my iPad (video AND audio) to the iMac sitting near my Promethean board. From there, I can connect the iMac to my projector and sound system using the appropriate VGA/Aux cables, and with a tap of a screen, I can easily walk around the room with my iPad screen displayed on the projector and iPad audio running out of my classroom speakers. I can think of a few applications for this already:

  • Display TonalEnergy on the projector while I pump that open 5th through the speakers to help with tuning in band classes
  • Play audio accompaniments through the speakers while I use ForScore to follow along in Chorus (AKA never need a choral score again!)
  • Display Tenuto or other Music Theory/Ear Training app on the screen while playing ear training exercises in Music Theory classes
  • Quickly play listening examples in all classes without having to walk away from the class to plug in the iPad, causing the class to go nuts (happens EVERY time…)

The only downside to all these discoveries? I have to wait a whole day before I can start to implement them because we have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off tomorrow! Not that I’m complaining about the long weekend, of course…

What other applications am I not thinking of for all these great new ideas I came across today? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Burn, Baby Burn!

Isn’t it interesting how you don’t realize how hard you’ve been working until you aren’t working anymore?

I have been working my tail off for a year and a half. And when I say working, I really mean it. I once did the math… in a four-day week, I worked 90 hours. That’s three meals a day at work, never seeing the sun, more than two full-time jobs, run you into the ground type of work.

It has been paying off. The band program is growing in size and in ability. I have great support from my administration and faculty, the students are performing well (our marching band gained straight “Superior” ratings at marching band assessment, and finished 12th in our class in the state), and we are looking forward to the spring season. By almost all accounts, the countless hours of work have been paying off.

Almost all accounts.

I could have written this post in early November. On a weekend where my mom came in to visit, and spent the whole time watching me with my students because we had marching band rehearsal Wednesday and Thursday, a choir concert Friday, TWO marching band competitions in ONE DAY on Saturday (thanks, Sandy…), and a band concert Monday.

I could have written this post in mid-October, when we had marching band three nights per week and booster meetings/fundraising events the other two, followed by our first competition on a Saturday and another fundraiser Sunday.

But I am writing it now. Why? Because I finally can!

I fully recognize that I am choosing to commit this much time to my work. It would be completely reasonable for me to tone it back. Not to the typical 40-hours a week; I never expected to have that type of work schedule. Maybe 70 would be reasonable…

But I love what I do.

Am I burned out? A little bit. It has been a long and trying semester. I’m way behind on grading, I still have a few important things on the to-do list, but I’m giving myself a week to do absolutely nothing. I need it, and my students will be glad I did it when I return to school in a week and a half, revitalized by having some time off just as they are.

I am okay with the hours that I work. I am okay with the stress I put myself under. Because I love what I do.

How do I know that I’m doing what I love? I only now have realized how hard I was working. Now that I have been sitting around for two days, only leaving home to see Les Miserables and buy Chinese Food yesterday (as a part of my Jewish obligation to see movies and eat crappy takeout Chinese on Christmas…). I never had any idea there were so many hours in a day!

Will I tone it back a bit? Probably. I do love my job, but I know if I keep up at this pace, I won’t make it through a whole semester.

I’m going to try to work smarter, not harder. There will always be time to commit, but if I can get everything done while I have to be at school, there won’t be as many late nights or long weekends. Who knows, I might even have enough time to update this website regularly!

Until then, I will douse the flames of my near-burn-out in e-books, college football games, New Year’s celebrations, and sleep, while I look forward to getting to go back to doing what I do best.


On Starting A New Year…

It’s hard to believe how quickly the last year has gone by. Believe it or not, I am set to start my second year teaching (!!) in just a few short days! Don’t worry, Grandma Leila, I’ll make sure to shower early tomorrow night to avoid the night-before-the-first-day-of-school water shortage like you always remind me to do! It has been a whirlwind 8 months since my last post, which has included:

  • A “Superior” rating with my Wind Ensemble at school (the first “Superior” at the school in over 50 years!)
  • The loss of my beloved grandfather, Poppy Arnie, who I have written about here before
  • Watching my first group of seniors graduate
  • A few nostalgic trips home to Northbrook
  • A move into a new apartment
  • Finding out that my department chair, who hired me and has mentored me through the last year, will be leaving for a job in the district office (leaving me the senior-most member of the music faculty!)

So much has changed in the past year, both in my personal life and at work. It’s astounding how quickly you grow up once you’re in the “real world.” It may have only been 14 months since I graduated, but I feel many years older than the young 22 that I was when I graduated. That’s probably the job… After five years of teaching I will be 28 going on 40! Receding hair line and salt-and-pepper hair, here I come!

Truth be told, though, I am very excited for the coming year. My schedule at school is much more manageable (two planning periods, jazz band, wind ensemble, symphonic band, AP Music Theory, Intro to Music Theory, chorus), the “other” aspects of the band program (management, band boosters-which we now have, marching band, etc.) are much more comfortable to me, and I have great support from my administration.

Most importantly, though, I have finally turned the corner with my students as I set out to do at the beginning of 2012. I have established a great relationship with my band kids, and I feel so blessed to have such a wonderful group of students. When Poppy Arnie passed back in April, the outpouring of cards, flowers, texts, tweets, and well-wishes from my students was overwhelming. The love they showed reminded me why I enjoy my job so much. I truly feel like the luckiest band director in the world!

Outside of school I am excited for the year ahead, too. I finally live closer to my Miami friends so I will be able to spend more time with them rather than sitting around at home. Also, I plan to take more trips back to Northbrook this year… Now that I’m out of school, going “Home” doesn’t seem so bad anymore!

Anyway, I’m not sure there’s a “moral” to this post other than how quickly time flies! Hoping to post more frequent updates as the fall progresses, but I know I’ve made that promise before. We’ll see how things play out. Until next time!

2012 Goals

I hate the phrase “new year’s resolution.” It seems silly that we should pick one day per year to “resolve” to do something on the first day of the year, as if to say the first day of January is somehow more special than any other normal day. Think of it… how many “new year’s resolutions” have we all made? Have we followed through on them? Here are some of the resolutions I have not followed through on the past few years:

  • Work out for at least a little bit every day
  • Take more pictures with my digital camera (I touched it for the first time in MONTHS this December)
  • Project 365 (one photo per day, all year turned into one photo per week, turned into no photos after March!)
  • Practice my trumpet more

I don’t know what the difference in my mind between the phrase “new year’s resolution” and “goals” is, but somehow setting goals for the upcoming year seems to make more sense, and since I was inspired by Julie Manfredi‘s post of her own goals for 2012, I figured I would take a crack at writing down my own. Maybe this will help hold me accountable… or maybe not! Anyway, here goes:

  1. Smile more often – 2011 was a great year for me, but the past few months have been deflating as I started a new job as the band director at South Dade Senior High School. I know any band director transition is difficult, and the transition to living on my own with not as many friends around as I’m used to has been trying for me as well. I hope to smile more often this year, both by thinking about things more positively and by creating more positive experiences for myself through improvements at work and at home. Plus, smiles are contagious!
  2. Work out at least 3 times per week – I like to set attainable goals, and I think working out every day wasn’t attainable given my schedule. After all, I’m not going to want to do even a fifteen-minute set with the weights after getting home from 14 hours of band camp! 3 times per week is much more attainable.
  3. Turn the corner at school – The transition to a new director has been a trying one on both me and my students. I hope to turn the corner this spring in terms of my relationship with my students. Now that my feet are more solidly planted on the ground, I think we will be able to work together much more effectively.
  4. Become more active in my PLN – One of the major cutbacks I had to make in my life during the first few months of teaching was the amount of time I spent interacting with my online Professional Learning Network. I basically abandoned the #MusEdChat Twitter chat (HUGE thanks to @jguarr and the gang for keeping it going), and disappeared from the online Music Education world. I hope to jump back in and continue growing as an educator by learning from these wonderful, passionate individuals!
  5. Keep in touch with the people I care about – I have lost touch with a lot of people I care immensely about over the past year. I have never been very good at keeping in touch with my extended family, and now that most of my friends are spread out everywhere from Nashville to California to Kuwait, it has been hard keeping in touch with everyone I care about. I am hoping to change that this year.

There you have it! Plain and simple, and I think they’re all attainable, too! Here’s to a happy, productive, and healthy 2012 for all 🙂