Summer "LIVE" Sessions with Mr D June 27-June 30

June Summer “Live” events with Mr D!
June 27-June 30

So far this summer, I’ve done four “live” events on Periscope (@inthemiddlewith) and four Facebook Live events.  They usually last about 15-20 minutes.  I usually do “Periscope” first (thanks for the “hearts”!) and then pop over to Facebook Live and discuss the same topic for the people who are more comfortable with that platform.  I’ve discussed boy’s voices, classroom management, structure and other topics related to teaching middle school choral music!  I’ve loved interacting with teachers.  You all have contributed some awesome ideas during the interactions!  I’ve posted the “live” events onto my YouTube Channel for people to check out later, but the comments don’t show up, so it’s best if you catch it “live” when you can…

…Especially because of the “Two hour deals” that occur after the live events.  At the end of each “live” event, I will continue offering something from my TPT and/or TES stores for free or something that is very discounted at the end of the events, and sometimes, I will do both! 

Up until now, the timing of the events has been pretty random!  However, this coming week, I am scheduling four of them and giving some notice so people can plan ahead! 

Here is my “live” schedule for June 27-June 30…

Each Periscope begins at 9 AM and Each Facebook “Live” will start immediately after the Periscope at approximately 9:15. 

Monday, June 27-Developing tone in the treble voices
Tuesday, June 28-Getting your students to WATCH you
Wednesday, June 29-Smiling Before Christmas
Thursday, June 30-Sight Singing with the true beginner

Please share this information with your peers and colleagues.  Think of young teachers who’ve just graduated, teachers who are new to teaching middle school, and teachers who’ve struggled while teaching this age group. 

Thank you!

Check out my blog!

Have you seen this incredible Middle School Choir teacher?!?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the importance of having fun with our middle school beginners.  

Here is the link.

I wrote the article in response to a post I saw about "fun" in the choral music classroom. The post seemed to suggest that fun wasn't really that important for our middle school beginners, and after teaching public school middle school beginners for 24 years, I wholeheartedly disagree.

Here is a small list of things/ideas/quotes that I've heard over the years that I believe stand between many of us and our ability to reach the true beginning singer in the middle school choral classroom.

*(To the students)...."The music you like is not real music".  
*There is only one way to sing.   Chest voice is bad for girls.
*It isn't a good school.  I am not teaching there.  
*These kids don't want to be here.   They've been dumped in my classroom.  
*Every single note and rhythm must be sung absolutely perfectly always.  No exceptions regardless of style. 
*This foreign word is pronounced THIS way.  Because your choir didn't do it this way, I'm going to deduct in diction on your adjudication...(should be followed by..."Even though I've never been to or sung in the country of origin of the word about which I speak and deduct.")
*I NEVER sing pop music.  

Two days after I created that blog post, my niece forwarded me a video of this amazing group of middle school children who are "dabbing" and singing "Watch me" by Silento...sounding fabulous and having a great time doing it.

I was absolutely blown away.  

Andrea Squires epic video with her 6th graders went viral.  

Here is the link of the coverage by the local news station.

Look at them!  

...the uninhibited joy in their faces...the rhythmic precision in their movement...they are singing AND moving AND not rushing the beat!   

And listen to them!   They sound amazing.   They are singing a pop song with beautiful, appropriate tone for this age group.   

Most importantly, they are having an experience they will always remember because they have a classically trained teacher who also understands how to connect to what is culturally important to the students she teaches, and she teaches it effectively.  

The moment I saw this video, I said "Bingo!   This is a great teacher who is reaching all of these beginners and turning them on to singing and performing."

Every middle school beginning singer deserves to have an Andrea Squires in front of them. 

...Which is why I was so taken back when I saw the criticism trickling in from our ranks via social media.  

"Can't you teach them better literature?"
"This song is inappropriate."

On my own Facebook page recently, someone wrote, "Yes.  I went to my elementary feeder teacher's program.  She taught this to her kids, and I hated it." 

I had to delete the comment.

Ok people.   We've all got our European based music degrees.  They are a dime a dozen. Many people get them and never teach because they can't.  

Andrea Squires has the degrees, and she can.

...and not only can she, but she does it every single day.

We need to learn from her.  

Let's stop criticizing her and every other teacher who wavers from the singular European Classical model we were taught when we were ages 18-22.  

I am thrilled that I was taught to how to sing in 3/8 time by my professors.  

Thank you.  

Now, it is time to teach real children in real public school classrooms from a variety of backgrounds who like a variety of music styles. 

Heck...they might even like the more classical styles that some of us like if we teach it right...and if we meet them in the to speak.

We've all sung  "high music".   We've all made excuses for why we can perform this or that piece of "high music" even though the subject matter is iffy.    We make our excuses for doing it because it's old.  

Listen...when Beethoven started going all "romantic" on us, people said his music made women "hot" and was inappropriate.   


...and LOOK at these middle school children's faces again.

 Watch them!

She is reaching them.  It's clear.  ...and they are loving it.  

I was so impacted by this fantastic teacher that I reached out to her to ask her some questions about this incredible journey, and she graciously agreed to speak with me.  

Here is the interview:

       1)   Where do you teach?
I teach at Desert Canyon Middle School in Scottsdale, AZ.   
 2)  Where did you go to university?  Highest degree?
I obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree in Voice Performance at SUNY Geneseo and my Master’s degree in Choral Music Education from Arizona State University. 
3     3)  How many students are currently in your middle school choir? I have 210 students in grades 6,7, and 8 grade which is 40% of the school population.
       4)  How long have you taught middle school choir? I just finished my 10th year teaching and all 10 of those years have been at Desert Canyon Middle School.
       5)  Please share the details about the video of your middle school choral music students that recently went viral.
A) At the beginning of each year, I have a process that I use to teach my 6th grade students how to be choir members. I tweak the process every year depending on the needs of the class but the sequence I use to teach the students all the things I hope they will know as a result of being in 6th grade choir hasn’t changed too much over the years. We have our first concert in October and our second concert in February. All through the year I have lots of student leaders help with certain areas of the class, such as teaching mini-lessons, leading hand sign activities or conducting games. I don’t give the 6th graders a choice in repertoire for the first two concerts because I feel like I must choose music that will meet specific goals and there is so little time to do that. After our second concert, I do ask for input from the students on a piece they’d like to perform. Sometimes I ask the students to write their ideas on a piece of paper and hand that in, sometimes we have a class discussion. I explain that we have to be able to purchase a choral arrangement of a song and that they should think of songs that would sound good in a choral setting, not just a solo setting.

The idea for “Watch Me” came about quite naturally! It is a popular song that kids are used to hearing at dances, birthday parties, and on social media. Add in the interactive aspect of the dance moves and you have a song that kids love. I think the students suggested the song to me in December or January because the song had been featured on our school’s video announcements. We have daily student-run announcements and they have featured students doing “The Whip” as a Fun Friday clip. The kids thought it would be funny if I were on the announcements so I did that at least 3 times over the course of the year! The kids know I am a terrible dancer but I pretend that I think I am amazing and they play along. It has become a running joke at school with kids saying things like *deadpan*, “Ms. Squires, when will you be offering a dance class?” When the students first brought up singing “Watch Me,” I said, “I don’t think our choir can pull that off. None of us sound like hip hop artists...”  They brought it up several times and asked, at the least, if we could incorporate the “dab” dance move into a song. So when I was driving home on my hour long commute, I got the idea to do a classical version of the song. I am always singing pop songs in a classical style to make people laugh so why not do this with the kids? It would be the perfect opportunity to teach a lesson in style and how elements of rhythm, harmony, vocal color and instrumentation can change the style of a song!

I bought 60 copies of “Watch Me” on and sent it to my accompanist. The piano part is simply a two measure ostinato and I asked her to play it classically and with a light touch. I came up with some harmony and the idea of adding melody and harmony for the chorus and we were off and running. I showed the students this arrangement of “Call Me Maybe” for orchestra and choir to set the tone:

They loved it! They saw the irony in hearing a pop song sung with harmony, perfect diction, and dynamics.  I asked if they thought we could do “Watch Me” in this style. For the next 6 weeks we worked on: learning about syncopation (the “bop” section) and recognizing if the notes were ON the beat or on the AND of a beat; we discussed the use of syncopated rhythms in hip hop music; how to build a minor triad; how to change tone color using our vocal technique; and of course adding movement. Once we started adding movement the kids couldn’t stop laughing and it took us over a week to get the good tone back. They understood why we had to pretend to take ourselves seriously, but it took some work to pull off. Some of the moves were copied from the music video and some the kids came up with. It was a group effort!

It was important for me to include a song of the students’ choice at the last concert, especially, because the other two songs they performed were difficult and the students learned on counting numbers and solfege, mostly a capella. I used the song to add variety to class and show there are different ways to have fun. Yes, it is fun to sound good and have a clean performance, but it is also fun for 6th graders to sing pop music and let loose! In addition, I want the parent community to be entertained at our concerts. If we cover rock, pop, classical, jazz, spirituals and musical theatre, there will be something for everyone. While it is my job to expose them to repertoire they may not find on their own, it is important that they are stakeholders in their learning and I want them to know I value their opinions and suggestions. The choir doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to us all.

Here is a link to the full performance:

Here is a link to the Fox 10 story the news came to do on the kids (they actually sound better here):

B) The night of the concert (Thursday, May 19th) an older sibling posted a 20 second clip of the performance to her Twitter account. By the next morning it had thousands of retweets. Even Silento, the original performing artist, shared it and said, “Tell them I said thanks.” By Friday night it had 10K likes. Silento shared a longer video of the performance over the weekend on his Instagram.  The students and parents were emailing me updates over the weekend, giddy with excitement. Our local Fox station came to our school on Tuesday and did a great story on the performance and that went viral, too. It was everywhere I turned on the internet. At first the students were excited but then they started reading the mean comments everywhere ranging from “I’ve never wanted to kill myself until I saw this video” to violent comments against me and our school. I told the kids that people just say things to get attention on the internet and they get away with saying really terrible things because it is anonymous. We are on summer break now so I hope they are all doing okay! The response was positive from our administration. I only heard from 2 other teachers on campus saying congratulations. It could be that it was the last week of school and everyone was busy. The kids hope we get asked to go on Ellen. :)

C)    My first interaction with the choral community regarding “going viral” was a person on the Facebook page “I’m a Choir Director” sharing the short Twitter clip with a caption, “Thoughts?” The first three responses were, “I’ve now seen it all,” “This is abhorrent,” and “Ummmmm, NO!” Now mind you, I did not seek this out; it showed up in my newsfeed. It stung. I jumped on right away to defend myself. I have worked hard in the last 10 years to provide a solid education and experience for my students and it was hard to have my work judged so harshly based on a 20 second clip. I also received emails asking, “Why don’t you teach them something meaningful? What are you doing??” I was surprised that people didn’t see it as fun and funny like I did and at the very least, didn’t come to the conclusion, “Hey, they sound pretty good so she’s probably teaching them other stuff.” Several people defended me and agreed with my choice and I started to feel better. Braeden Ayres posted a vlog reaction that was really positive and is willing to write a piece for us! Several people, including you, reached out to me as well to say that they saw the value in including diverse repertoire and giving students autonomy in the classroom. So that has been good to hear, and validating. I don’t think any music educator could convince me that including popular music in the curriculum is bad for the kids. Over the course of 6 weeks I watch my students become performers. They were already good singers and good readers but to watch them become animated and convincing performers was so rewarding. These middle schoolers are miles ahead of where I was as an 18 year old voice major and I think that is a skill they can use in other areas of their life. 

      6)  How has this experience impacted you and your students?   Are you students excited about what has occurred?  Do you think this experience will impact the size of your choral music program?  If so, how and why?   Would you do it again?  Why or why not?
I am not sure if it will affect the size of the program. We already have a good chunk of the school in choir but I’d be surprised if it didn’t attract a few more kids, especially boys. There were lots of confident boys in the 6th grade choir and the incoming students see that and feel like it would be cool to give choir a try! I started an after school Men’s Choir 2 years ago and we have 20 boys in that!

Part 2:

      7)  Do you participate in choral music adjudicated festivals?  If so, what ratings have you and your students received over the years?  Go into as much detail as you wish.
Each year in the spring, all three 7th and 8th grade choirs participate in an adjudicated festival. The auditioned treble group sings alone and gets a Gold rating each year with a score usually between a 97-99. I am equally proud of the two non-auditioned classes which also receive a Gold rating and typically score around 95. In addition, the auditioned group participates in the state ACDA junior high festival and always takes a superior rating. They were invited to sing at the Arizona Music Educators Association conference in 2011 and 2014. The students and I felt so honored to do that!
      8)  Do you teach your children to sight sing?  Are they adjudicated on sight singing at their festivals?  If so, how have they done over the years?  What is your approach to teaching music literacy to your beginners?
I am a huge proponent of teaching sight reading to middle schoolers! My professor at ASU, Dr. Brook Larson, always told us that the best gift you can give your students is the ability to sight sing. I start off the year introducing the scale and playing games to get the students comfortable with intervals. We sing different solfege patterns and memorize them. I have students come up to the front of the class and lead hand signs or point at pitches on a staff while the rest of the class sings. We also use melody and rhythm cards at the beginning of class nearly every day throughout the year. I begin introducing single lines of sight reading in October and start adding leaps as the year progresses. By the end of the year, my students can sight sing lines with leaps of 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths, though 4ths still prove to be difficult for first year students. Teaching sight singing allows us to learn music faster and more accurately. We performed “Art Thou Troubled” right before “Watch Me” at the concert, and we learned that by clapping all the rhythms on counting numbers and using solfege to sing the intervals correctly:

      9)  Name some pieces of music that you’ve used with your students at choral adjudications in the past.  Who are your favorite composers/arrangers for this age group?

Here are some pieces my students have performed at AMEA and at our spring festivals:

And Miriam Sang by Zebulon Highben:
Famine Song by Matthew Culloton:
Wie Melodien..Brahms, arr. Victor C. Johnson:

  10)  Have any of your children ever participated in Allstate chorus?  Honors Chorus? Yes!

       11)  It is apparent that you have a special relationship with your middle school singers because of how they so freely expressed themselves in the video.  How have you created that dynamic? I think my students know I care about them as musicians individually, and more importantly, as people. They tell me that I am strict and have high expectations but they also tell me they think I am fun and funny. I ask them questions about their lives and always take time to have fun with them. I’ll do anything to make them laugh! This includes things like using ridiculous solfege puns, to dancing on the announcements, to making an eraser collection video for them. I think this encourages them to be more vulnerable in the rehearsal and dig a little deeper, both in terms of engagement with the music as well as their daily effort in class. When I make mistakes I say, “Sorry, my fault!” I tell my kids that although I have many answers, I think there is still so much to learn about singing and teaching. I want them to know I am on the journey with them.
      12)  How has your choral music program grown or changed in terms of enrollment during your time teaching at your current school? When I first started at Desert Canyon, I had about 130 students in choir with a school enrollment of about 700 students. Even though our school enrollment is in decline due to new charters and private schools in the area, I now have over 200 students which is almost 40% of our school population.
      13)  To what do you attribute that change? I think the choir program has become a point of pride at our school. Kids want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and while it takes hard work to get superior ratings, my kids started SINGING better when I loosened up and started incorporating more movement, games, and choreography into the program. Their voices freed up, especially on the classical music. The kids learn how to be comfortable with themselves when we have fun in class and this shows in their performances. The other kids at school see this and want to be a part of it!

      14)  What do you think are the three most important traits of a middle school choral music educator and why?
1.     A middle school teacher must have a sense of humor. Kids this age are hilarious and it doesn’t matter if you’re actually funny or not, you have to show them YOUR sense of humor. The connection you make with your students is crucial! My license plate is SCHOIRS and the kids think that’s funny. When I made the silly eraser video for the kids this year, they told me I had to come up with a name for my YouTube subscribers. I called the kids my Squire-flies (because they light up my darkness) and it stuck. Of course some will think these things are dumb, but then you find a different way to connect with those kids!
2.     A middle school teacher must be a hard worker. You cannot stand in front of a middle school class and wing it. You must be willing to spend time preparing activities, choosing literature that will teach them how to read and how to sing, and you must be willing to put in extra time for those non-pitch matchers because at the middle school level, there will be many of them!
3. A middle school teacher must have high expectations. While taking physiological limitations for singers this age into consideration, I know that my students are very intelligent, capable, curious, enthusiastic and I let them know I expect greatness out of them. They almost always exceed my expectations! I often hear middle school teachers talking about how they’ll teach middle school until they can get a high school gig. I believe the kids can feel that.

If I ever get a chance to watch Andrea Squires teach, I'll make it happen.

And look at those "North/South with your Mouth" positions...from the kids who were taught by the same teacher who taught them "Watch Me"!

Thank you, Andrea Squires, for being my current inspiration for my upcoming 25th school year teaching middle school beginners in the public school setting.  

You are an angel.

Instead of criticizing her for reaching these students, let's all dig a little deeper and ask ourselves how WE can reach our students better.  I'm not suggesting that you must teach pop music to your students.   "Watch me" will be "old" in a month anyway...but she did, and it worked.  She captured the moment of cultural importance for her students because it meant something to them, she maintained appropriate singing style for age group, and most importantly, she EXCITED them about singing and performing.

...And they will never forget it.  

What CAN you do?  Are you passionate about teaching madrigals?  Then, teach them.  Go all out.  Get the costumes.   Gospel?  Broadway?  Do it!   

Give them an experience they will never forget.

It comes from us...It's OUR passion they remember.  

Andrea Squires...

Wishing you continued future success at adjudicated festivals....and more being able to reach the middle school beginners who land in your classroom each and every year and continuing to be able to excite them about singing "high" music, "pop" music and everything in between.

You are an inspiration to me, to other teachers and most importantly, to the students you teach because they don't care whether you've been to the best music school in the country, sung at Carnegie hall, taught 8 part dissonant harmony to 6th graders, or written a dissertation.

They only care whether they enjoy the learning process in your classroom.

Clearly, your children do.

Keep it up.

This is exactly why I created S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.

Kids should enjoy the learning process.

 This is exactly why I created S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.

Dale Duncan
Creator of the S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners