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BHS Music Educators Inspire At-Home Music-Making

Music education has always been a core value in Bloomfield Hills Schools.  During this time of distance learning, our music educators are working hard from home to support and teach their students to continue making music, and to learn new skills.  Kendra Peterson, 5th-8th grade Band Director, shares, “even during this distance learning, I have seen many students reach out and want to push themselves beyond where we would be learning in class.”

At the elementary level, music educator Kate Philp shares, “Our elementary music staff meets frequently now, and I couldn't feel more fortunate to have this group of educators to collaborate with. At the heart of every conversation is our students and their well-being.  Our office hours have been a great opportunity to connect with students musically and at the social emotional level. We have seen families making music together, students sharing their musical gifts, and playing instruments and singing for one another.”

5th through 8th grade students, who specialize by choosing band, orchestra or choir, have a variety of exciting musical opportunities in their at-home learning.  Mary Baldwin, Nat Erde, Rachel Lucas, and Kendra Peterson, our Band and Orchestra Directors across the three middle schools, have all been using the chrome extension "Mote" with Google Classroom students, to make personalized comments, feedback, and even individualized mini lessons for individual students when they submit performance videos. Mary Baldwin notes, “It makes it incredibly easy to give feedback to kids on the work they are doing at home on their band and orchestra instruments in Google Classroom. We click on comments, use the Mote extension, and sing or play for them whatever it is that we want them to fix or try.  For a musician, a sound byte is worth a thousand words! It makes our feedback to students much more effective. Especially in these times of online learning, it's great to have a fast and easy way for students to hear our friendly voices and make that personal, warm, connection with them.”

Recently announced for middle school instrumentalists, Living Room Concerts will encourage our 5th through 8th grade families to celebrate their children's musical accomplishments. Baldwin shares, “Our performers are doing such great work online, and they deserve all the same acknowledgement and accolades that they would have gotten from family and friends at our Spring Concerts. We are creating an opportunity in their last weeks of online learning this school year, to pick their own favorite musical piece that they have recently worked on and give a "Living Room Concert" for one or more members of their family. Some of our students have already done this on their own and we look forward to rolling this out so that families can see and hear the great things that their musicians are doing!”  5th grade students Kate and Natalie Gyarmati already performed a Living Room Concert, with a note for their band teacher Kendra Peterson that read, “Grandma day - she insisted on a concert, in full attire. You would have been proud!”

Another recent, unique opportunity for middle schoolers is that multiple students participated in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) Virtual Side by Side project playing Antonin Dvorak's "Going Home" from his 9th Symphony.  The DSO will publish the video on social media once the project is processed.  

Kendra Peterson, 5th-8th grade Band Director, adds, “We are using a program called SmartMusic, that allows students to play along with an accompaniment track, hear their part played, and get immediate visual feedback on which notes and rhythms they played correctly, and which ones they need to work on. We are also making a lot of demonstration videos and instrument specific videos to help students get the assistance they need.  For the first time ever, I have 6th grade students completing the first round of the achievement system "Stars and Stripes,” and asking for a round 2!!  I also have many 5th grade students who have reached Black Belt on round 1 of their achievement system called "Band Belts,” and a few students who are well into Round 2 and plan on making it to the end before school is out!”

Middle School Choir students have also had some unique and fun opportunities during at-home learning.  Eve Pierre shares, “Students in the middle school choirs participated in the YOUnison Worldwide Day of Gratitude on Thursday, April 30th. This year's focus was frontline healthcare workers and acknowledging their work. The Bill Wither's song "Lean on Me" was chosen to honor those workers, so students were encouraged to record their own version of Lean on Me, create artwork, or write a letter.”  Pierre also shared that six students in Bloomfield Hills Schools participate in the Michigan Opera Theater Children's Chorus (MOTCC), and they are premiering their virtual opera "The Very Last Green Thing" by Cary John Franklin on Friday, May 22, 2020, at 11 am, on the Michigan Opera Theater Facebook page. The kids have been working at home for over two months taking videos for this endeavor. Originally scheduled to take place at the Fischer Theater in Detroit, the event will now be a virtual opera.  Pierre notes, “These kids have rehearsed hundreds of hours for this event. SO proud of them!”  MOTCC students include: Way Elementary 4th graders Lucia Jolokai and Lily Tang; Bloomfield Hills Middle School 7th graders Shanzay Ali and Joslyn Phillips; and West Hills Middle School 4th grader Ava Pierre and 8th grader Elle Pierre.

At the high school level, Choir Director Jessica Riley notes, “One of the things I've found really useful is FlipGrid, which is an app I used a few times in the classroom this year. With this new online schooling, I've been having students turn in video responses on FlipGrid where they not only share their thoughts about pieces we're working on, but also send in videos of them singing. It's been really helpful for me and given me a LOT of joy to hear these individual voices that sometimes get "lost" in the big choir sound. All of the kids who are participating have been doing a great job of getting over that initial nervousness and have been singing well for me as individuals.”  Students in the Black Hawk Singers, Vocalise, Concert Choir, Jills, and Bloomfield Chorale have been successfully utilizing FlipGrid.

The Bloomfield Hills High School Orchestra Director Scott Wolf shares that “the high school string players were asked to take on solo work and etude work from a collection of music from IMSLP, also known as the Petrucci Music Library, which houses approximately 158,000 works of music. Each orchestra student has been asked to work on scales and etudes along with some orchestral literature to make individualized improvement plans for our time away from school. So many musicians have done amazing things!”  You can click on the links at the bottom of this article to hear some of these orchestra musicians.

Alan Posner, the BHHS Band Director, has been inspiring band students with virtual visits from professional musicians.  Posner notes, “The jazz band was treated to an amazing Zoom clinic with Professor Scott Gwinnell on Friday May 8.  We discussed many ways to improve and practice improvisation.  Also, it was so great to have the world renowned Brian Balmages - Composer / Conductor speak with the band students at BHHS on a Zoom call on April 15. He had some great advice for our young students, as well as some tips on his piece "Reverberations" which we are putting together for our Virtual Band 1.0!”

Posner continues, “We have been working hard on Virtual Band 1.0 and hope to have the final video posted sometime in the next two weeks. Students have been using SmartMusic to work on the music before they submit their final videos. We recently wrapped up our March Madness Scales Challenge where 60 students competed among four different teams. Each team was tasked with completing as many scales as possible over a four week span. The winning team (Team Tchaikovsky) completed 212 scales!  Finally, Band students have been working on a number of assignments through virtual learning, including a Composition assignment where students must compose and perform a piece for their instruments that is 8-16 measures long; attend a virtual DSO concert and write about their experience; and learn the marching band music for next year and submit their progress for feedback.”

The creation of music in student homes is important during these challenging times.  Many studies and articles have been written about the benefits of music education for brain development.  Moreover, music is salve for the soul, a relaxing and comforting way to improve both brain function and emotional stability.  Thank a Bloomfield Hills Schools music educator today for their tremendous efforts during at-home learning to support the music education of your student!

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