Classics For Kids

Far Beyond Survival

Teaching Can Thrive Online

Zoom: It's not the choir room. But for most music students and educators these days, online lessons, rehearsals and even performances are the new normal. How can we make the most of it? We asked Cincinnati Boychoir artistic director Jason Alexander Holmes to share some of the wisdom he's gained over the past summer, teaching voice and musicianship virtually and preparing a COVID-safe new season for his young singers. Here are his reflections.

Student choice and metacognition are powerful forces for student learning.

We designed the Cincinnati Boychoir summer lessons to stay connected with our singers over summer after a rather abbreviated spring session. Since I hadn't seen the singers in a while, I struggled to come up with what to offer in our lessons. So I decided to tackle two objectives with one design. If the singers selected their own areas of focus, they would need to reflect on their own singing and musicianship and I would gather useful information about where to focus our teaching and learning activities. It worked like a charm. Our singers were thoughtful about what they wanted to learn and, because they were learning what they wanted to learn, they worked hard throughout the summer. This led to observable positive results, which is motivating. It was a really beautiful cycle of reflecting, teaching and learning, reflecting, teaching and learning, etc.

Technology can be fickle, but patience and persistence go a long way.

Technology is a tool, and there's a learning curve with any new tool. On top of that, I don't know about your wi-fi, but mine definitely protested a few times! I found it necessary to be patient with the technology, with our singers and their families, and with myself. So you lost half of your lesson, because the internet randomly stopped working? No problem, we can reschedule. So you discovered that everyone in a singer's house is using wi-fi for work and school, and the connection just isn't strong enough for effective communication? No problem, we can find another time. Teaching and learning always require us to be flexible and to work around and through obstacles to achieve our goals.

It is possible to connect in a meaningful way via teleconferencing, and it's as easy as looking into the camera and asking, "How are you today and what's going on in your world?"

We all learned so much about making connections via teleconferencing. The first lesson that was highlighted in a new way was that we, teachers and students alike, need those connections. And with all the traumatic experiences in the spring and summer, we need those connections now more than ever. Secondly, making time to ask, "How are you and what have you been up to today?" can be a game changer. During a few of our online lessons, those questions changed the course of the entire lesson. And that was okay because of our focus on student choice.

Connecting with our choral singers as individuals is so powerful.
Choral directors often speak about group dynamics and we tend to be really good at guiding groups of people. (Anyone who has experienced some of the seemingly absurd sounds we make during vocal warmups can attest to the fact that we can get a group of people to do just about anything.) The really great choral directors understand group dynamics and are able to connect with the individuals that make up the group. The difficulty of group singing via teleconferencing offers us a great opportunity to appreciate and interact with our singers as individuals. This spring and summer, I learned things about my singers' lives, their singing, and their musical abilities that helped me design our fall session. Understanding the importance of these individual connections in a new way, I'm charging myself with the professional growth goal of forging relationships on an individual level with each of my singers, not just the ones who present a need or desire for individual attention.

General reminders and tips

  • It is so important for teachers to have several ways of explaining a concept and/or demonstrating a skill, especially on a platform to which student and teacher and student are novices.
  • There are some great, effective, and free online tools (that I should have been using a long time ago) to help singers visualize some of the more abstract notions of our craft. I really loved using the Chrome Music Lab and Google Creatability Experiments.
  • Quirky kids are the coolest. (Yes, I'm biased as a quirky kid turned quirky [almost] adult.)
  • Sparking curiosity based on what the teacher has learned about the student is a wonderful on-ramp to new knowledge and skills.
  • Students need so many reminders that it's okay to take risks. Create an abundance of learning opportunities in which it's impossible to be wrong.
  • Rhythmic synchronicity via Zoom is not a thing (yet), and remembering that is not easy for us conductor types. It's all the more reason for us to teach our singers to be confident and one with the pulse.

We can go far beyond survival as we switch to virtual instruction this fall; we can thrive as we reimagine ways to create and teach and perform. As we reimagine, we can make our work more inclusive, more accessible, and more relevant. Most of what I've written above are just good teaching practices, period. They happened to have been highlighted because of a need to pivot the mode of instruction to respond to a new reality. May we all think about the ways our teaching and programming can respond to the realities "we been known": students who have been marginalized by ableism, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

Finally, my most important takeaway of the spring and summer was that I really love teaching and I'm a better person when I'm engaging young people with music. That love and passion have carried me through when the physical and mental exhaustion was real. What do you love about your work with young people? How can you show that love even when the traditional methods are not available? The answers to those questions will take you, your students, and their music as far as your dreams—and your wi-fi—can go.

--Jason Alexander Holmes

For more on the Boychoir, including fall (virtual) audition and registration details for boys in grades 3-12, visit https://cincinnatiboychoir.org/.

And get to know a few Boychoir singers in this new video by our friends at Elementz:

Classics For Kids

Far Beyond Survival

Teaching Can Thrive Online

Zoom: It's not the choir room. But for most music students and educators these days, online lessons, rehearsals and even performances are the new normal. How can we make the most of it? We asked Cincinnati Boychoir artistic director Jason Alexander Holmes to share some of the wisdom he's gained over the past summer, teaching voice and musicianship virtually and preparing a COVID-safe new season for his young singers. Here are his reflections.

Student choice and metacognition are powerful forces for student learning.

We designed the Cincinnati Boychoir summer lessons to stay connected with our singers over summer after a rather abbreviated spring session. Since I hadn't seen the singers in a while, I struggled to come up with what to offer in our lessons. So I decided to tackle two objectives with one design. If the singers selected their own areas of focus, they would need to reflect on their own singing and musicianship and I would gather useful information about where to focus our teaching and learning activities. It worked like a charm. Our singers were thoughtful about what they wanted to learn and, because they were learning what they wanted to learn, they worked hard throughout the summer. This led to observable positive results, which is motivating. It was a really beautiful cycle of reflecting, teaching and learning, reflecting, teaching and learning, etc.

Technology can be fickle, but patience and persistence go a long way.

Technology is a tool, and there's a learning curve with any new tool. On top of that, I don't know about your wi-fi, but mine definitely protested a few times! I found it necessary to be patient with the technology, with our singers and their families, and with myself. So you lost half of your lesson, because the internet randomly stopped working? No problem, we can reschedule. So you discovered that everyone in a singer's house is using wi-fi for work and school, and the connection just isn't strong enough for effective communication? No problem, we can find another time. Teaching and learning always require us to be flexible and to work around and through obstacles to achieve our goals.

It is possible to connect in a meaningful way via teleconferencing, and it's as easy as looking into the camera and asking, "How are you today and what's going on in your world?"

We all learned so much about making connections via teleconferencing. The first lesson that was highlighted in a new way was that we, teachers and students alike, need those connections. And with all the traumatic experiences in the spring and summer, we need those connections now more than ever. Secondly, making time to ask, "How are you and what have you been up to today?" can be a game changer. During a few of our online lessons, those questions changed the course of the entire lesson. And that was okay because of our focus on student choice.

Connecting with our choral singers as individuals is so powerful.
Choral directors often speak about group dynamics and we tend to be really good at guiding groups of people. (Anyone who has experienced some of the seemingly absurd sounds we make during vocal warmups can attest to the fact that we can get a group of people to do just about anything.) The really great choral directors understand group dynamics and are able to connect with the individuals that make up the group. The difficulty of group singing via teleconferencing offers us a great opportunity to appreciate and interact with our singers as individuals. This spring and summer, I learned things about my singers' lives, their singing, and their musical abilities that helped me design our fall session. Understanding the importance of these individual connections in a new way, I'm charging myself with the professional growth goal of forging relationships on an individual level with each of my singers, not just the ones who present a need or desire for individual attention.

General reminders and tips

  • It is so important for teachers to have several ways of explaining a concept and/or demonstrating a skill, especially on a platform to which student and teacher and student are novices.
  • There are some great, effective, and free online tools (that I should have been using a long time ago) to help singers visualize some of the more abstract notions of our craft. I really loved using the Chrome Music Lab and Google Creatability Experiments.
  • Quirky kids are the coolest. (Yes, I'm biased as a quirky kid turned quirky [almost] adult.)
  • Sparking curiosity based on what the teacher has learned about the student is a wonderful on-ramp to new knowledge and skills.
  • Students need so many reminders that it's okay to take risks. Create an abundance of learning opportunities in which it's impossible to be wrong.
  • Rhythmic synchronicity via Zoom is not a thing (yet), and remembering that is not easy for us conductor types. It's all the more reason for us to teach our singers to be confident and one with the pulse.

We can go far beyond survival as we switch to virtual instruction this fall; we can thrive as we reimagine ways to create and teach and perform. As we reimagine, we can make our work more inclusive, more accessible, and more relevant. Most of what I've written above are just good teaching practices, period. They happened to have been highlighted because of a need to pivot the mode of instruction to respond to a new reality. May we all think about the ways our teaching and programming can respond to the realities "we been known": students who have been marginalized by ableism, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

Finally, my most important takeaway of the spring and summer was that I really love teaching and I'm a better person when I'm engaging young people with music. That love and passion have carried me through when the physical and mental exhaustion was real. What do you love about your work with young people? How can you show that love even when the traditional methods are not available? The answers to those questions will take you, your students, and their music as far as your dreams—and your wi-fi—can go.

--Jason Alexander Holmes

For more on the Boychoir, including fall (virtual) audition and registration details for boys in grades 3-12, visit https://cincinnatiboychoir.org/.

And get to know a few Boychoir singers in this new video by our friends at Elementz:

 

Classics for Kids® is supported by:

Dater Foundation
Naxos
Dater Foundation
Naxos