Friday, October 23, 2009

School Up, Parish Down, or Vice Versa?

My recent situation has been working in the crafted design of building a parish music by infiltrating the parish from the school. The concept could work, but not without huge difficulties.

Especially with only one music staff member. In such an environment, the musician will always lose. A person cannot work full time in a school and work full time (or 3/4 time) in the parish. One part of the position will always suffer.

Classroom preparation time, class planning time, meetings, extra mandatory appearance times, etc., all dig not only into the schedule of a human being, but also into the energy reserve.

Consider the K-1 group which I recently worked with. Delightful and beautiful children - oh, my. And they could be a bit rambunxious, as well (consider the age! Oh, to have that energy and wide eyes waiting to see what comes next). By the end of the first quarter, I discovered a way to have most control, keep the kids excited, and work their voices - simultaneously! Our entire class time was spent SINGING. Not vocalise as you might expect. Not hymns, pious ditties (although they got into the time on occasion), not how to read the music staff notes.... we sang everything - actually, I sang, the kids repeated. Doing this, we worked on intervals, both major and minor; their vocal ranges were strengthened, and in some cases, widened; their attention was more focused because they knew that if they didn't pay attention, they might lose out on the excitement. Then, one day, the boss showed up to finish working on my computer (he's the guru - wish I knew an iota of what he knows about the computer). His presence, during class time, was disruptive. It took a lot of hard work, and patience, to regain some of the momentum that was lost when he appeared. The kids were being natural - the boss thought they should have behaved better, because he's a priest. Au contraire, mon pere. The kids want to like you, and they want also to see what you are doing at their teacher's desk! This doesn't make them bad kids, nor does it make them a poorly behaved class (except for this occasion). And to suggest, later on, that those kids should not have received a satisfactory grade on their report cards??? It's a difference of perspective, perhaps. I don't view children, young or old, as adults or automatons. They're all free thinkers - sponges, too. The kids also knew something the two adults in the room didn't want to believe: there can only be one leader in the room at a time. Had another teacher been there, or a parent, or staff member, the situation probably would have been much different. But the other person was the boss, the pastor: a priest. Who do you think is going to "win" the attention contest?

So recently I was told that I'm not tough enough on the kids.

When the students come to my room:
K-1 is fresh from PE.
2-3 is fresh from their 20 minute lunch time
4-6 boys fresh from religion with the associate pastor
4-6 girls fresh from PE.

The kids cannot come into the music room like little soldiers marching to a beat, facing the same direction, holding their hands the same way, standing and sitting exactly the same way and on order, etc, etc., ad nauseum.

The academic program, while I may disagree with a few of the proponents, is tough. Many demands are made on the students and their home room teachers. Music is not a class in quantum mechanics, astrophysics, etc. (Although some of their questions can be "way out there" sometimes). Music is a gift of God to the human spirit (mind, soul, heart, intellect, emotion, sight, sound, touch). In time, kids mature and begin to grasp a few adult concepts for music. But they can't be kept to a rigid routine that sucks the very enjoyment, learning and excitement out of the art. That is why I allow the kids to wiggle a bit - so long as their wiggles are confined and not destructive of other people or property - or so outward that even I lose my concentration. And kids are more relaxed when they sing, if they are not in a tense position, either sitting or standing. And please, God, forgive us for expecting them to sing beautifully while kneeling.

When I'm teaching the kids to frame their phrases, we use the arms and hands to demonstrate the arch of the tune. We raise hands, stomp feet, etc., to demonstrate the rhythm, find the accents and pulse. A child doesn't learn that standing in formation that Sr. Mary Mean Jeans would appreciate, or Msgr. Dele Sade, as well.

So, the priest wants to build the parish music program through the school. It's an admirable concept and idea, but not imminently practical.

What could have worked here? (Aside from my being disrespectful even when being taken to the cleaners emotionally and time wise)....

Let the students be the various choirs of the parish. The format would need to change, but not so much as I might have thought:

Music classes/Choir classes, three days a week. Not four. Not five.

First two days, music for Mass, vocal technique, liturgy and theology all become entwined. This helps to bring about a well-educated chorister - one who knows the why's and how's of choral singing at whatever stage they are in. The third day, music theory, history, listening to all kinds of music, classical and contemporary. It's all available, and at very low cost, if any, thanks to the internet.

Each group of singers could then participate in one Mass each month. That eases the stress not only on the students, but on the parents, as well.

The kids would be prepared for their weekend Masses - and have time to be learning to be effective leaders in worship - without the stress of regular tests (like directors don't know what the kids don't know??? I always do.)

People in the parish see the choir as a parish choir and not an elite group singing from the school for a special occasion. This isn't worded exactly the way I want to do it - will work on that another time.....

This past week, I was told that the music room needed to be totally emptied so the youth group could turn it into a haunted house (the whole portable undergoes a transformation from the good, healthy and fun, to the dark world of demons and gore. . . which is why the teenagers love it...imagine what they'd think if they saw the real catecombs!). Anyway, I was ill - truly. You don't want to know so don't ask. . .

The newly appointed interim principal taught in that empty classroom two days (I think he only had the younger groups). This was the same room that I was not going to be allowed to teach in - my classes would have to have been held in the nave. And it became very obvious - what was happening. I was told several weeks ago, the date to have things cleared out. I negotiated a different date with the youth director, who wasn't going to really need the big room for two days early in the week - - - that would have been great. Two days in the classroom, a day off, then two days in the nave (without computer, desk, resources, etc). That date got changed back. Why? Because the mind was made up, the order given and the order would not be changed. Regardless. Still, I really want the kids to have great time tonight.

I've not been officially canned yet, and already I've heard from seven different sets of parents.


God's blessings! More to come (blessings and writings)

Probably jobless, but enjoying the 70 degree weather! Deo Gracias.


Argent said...

From someone doing the school/parish thing, I sympathize. Then, while everyone's out Friday night partying and enjoying the weekend, we're just getting cranked up for the back-to-back weekend Masses only to start the whole thing again Monday morning.

Hope you still have a job next week!

OhioDave said...

I'm late as usual ... but, regardless of the outcome (which may be is a fait accompli at this point) ... remember the instruction from the Lord to the Disciples recounted in Luke 9 ... "And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them."

P.S did you have the chance to advise the "newly appointed interim principal" to not buy anything on time?

That said ...

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum ...

Steve O said...

The newly appointed interim prin has no known intelligence level. He can't have any intelligence. Otherwise, he'd be of no use as another puppet to the pastor.