New Decade-Reflections on my S-Cubed Journey

On the East Coast of the USA, we are currently 8 hours away from the new decade.

It's an important moment to look back and assess what has happened in the moments that came before this one.  Since I started teaching in 1989, reflection has been an important component of my professional development journey.  From the first year I taught, I would come home and think to myself as I loved on my new Maltese puppy, Katie...

...What worked today?  What didn't?   How can I be better?

I've been thinking about writing this all year, and I am finally doing it. 

My journey with S-Cubed hasn't been the traditional one that the iconic middle school experts like Greg Gilpin and Roger Emerson took. 

I wanted that journey, but it didn't happen for me. 

In 2009, ten years ago, life presented me with the opportunity to live in Lausanne, Switzerland.  I had been teaching public school for 18 years when my husband's career path took us to this incredibly beautiful Swiss town.   I quit my job teaching at Henderson Middle School where I'd built a program from 80 chorus members to over 300 chorus members since I'd arrived in 2002. 

What am I going to do with my time?

Running a program that big had taken up most of my energy.

I had been a former USA National Champion in the sport of Aerobic Gymnastics.  After retiring from the sport in 1998, I became a coach and choreographer for other athletes who went on to win National and World titles in the sport. 

The headquarters of the FIG, the international governing body of the sport, was located in Lausanne. 

So, I thought...I'll try to become an International judge in Aerobic Gymnastics.  Two weeks after arriving in Lausanne, I took a train to Vienna, and I took the FIG judges test, and I was fortunate enough to pass this difficult test.    This was a big moment on my aerobic gymnastics journey.   While in Lausanne, I had easy access to one of the hotbeds of the sport:  Europe.  I judged events in Austria, Czech Republic and France.  I loved being around the best judges of the sport in the world.  I continued my "hobby on steroids" of judging Aerobic Gymnastics until exactly one year ago when I decided to move in new directions.    Here are my current credentials as the only International judge for the sport in the USA...valid until one year from today!

I had some of the most amazing experiences of my life through my work with this sport.

In hindsight, however, it wasn't the work with Aerobic Gymnastics that has had the most impact on this amazing opportunity I had to live in Lausanne.

When faced with this awesome opportunity to live in Lausanne, I also thought to myself...I will finally have the time to write my book about teaching Sight Singing to middle school beginners!

So, between judging competitions and studying for judges tests, I started writing my book about Sight Singing.  

My sister, who is a former music teacher, and one of my close friends helped me.

Each day, I would write a chapter and email it to them.

They would write me back with feedback.

I reached out to music colleagues to see if they knew anyone I could send my manuscript to in order to have the chance to get it published.  

They were all generous with their contacts.  I reached out to the best in the industry.

They were gracious and looked at my material.  We traded emails for about 2 years, but at the end of it all, what I'd put together wasn't the right fit.

In July of 2010, I returned to the USA and was lucky enough, in the middle of the Great Recession, to get a job back at the same school from which I'd resigned and where I still teach today.  

Blessings counted for sure... 

In the fall of 2012, my husband saw an article in a business magazine about a teacher who had success selling her lesson plans through Teachers Pay Teachers.  He said...this might finally be your path.

In the summer of 2013, I finally had time during the summer to look at the site to see if I thought I could figure out a way to make my work fit this site.  I downloaded some free lessons.  Most of them were cute and immediately useable lessons for K-3 teachers who were in a pinch for a lesson to teach that very day.  

The more expensive lessons were $1-$3.

I thought to myself...ok...this could work.

I could put my ideas in Power Points with YouTube video examples of me teaching the same lessons to my actual students "live".  And maybe I could include video teaching tips too!  

I'd always wanted to get into other teacher's classroom and watched them teach...and pick their brains about it too!  

This was going to be what I had always wanted when I started teaching.  

The only problem was that I'd never created a power point in my life.

Ok....the google.  I'll figure it out.  

My power points were awful.

But my heart was in the right place...let me keep going.

Week by week...hour by hour...I set up my tripod in the corner of my classroom and took video of me teaching my sight singing lessons to my students with my phone.  I came home every day exhausted but energized and uploaded the videos to my YouTube Channel while doing my best to create user-friendly power points with clickable YouTube links for the teachers who might find them on TpT.  

I sold each lesson for $3.

By December of 2013, I was about half way done creating Level One of the program, and I'd made $287.

...and I was tired.

But, I kept going.  

I finished Level One in March 2014, and I bundled it so that teachers could buy the program all at once at a discount.  After all, it was a curriculum.  Not many teachers were selling entire curriculum on TpT at that time.  I even got advice from one experienced and successful TpT seller that this would not be my venue.  

...But with the curriculum bundles, it started to change.  

Teachers gave me tremendous feedback during this entire process.  Some of it was difficult to read, but it was important and it was true.  With each bit of feedback, I made changes and tried to improve my program.

Then, in August of 2015, I decided that I needed to share Level Two.

Since that time, I've updated the product to make it better and more user friendly.  I've formed relationships with Sight Reading Factory (promo code S-Cubed at purchase point), Music Prodigy
and JW Pepper.

It all started right here...on a mountain in Lausanne...

I would hike.

...and reflect on my teaching...

What worked?

What didn't...

And today, on the final day of 2019...exactly ten years from when I started putting this curriculum onto paper...I want to say thank you...and to let you know how grateful I am.  I want to encourage you to follow the dreams and goals you've had and make them a reality for 2020 and beyond.  

Hard work pays off...especially when it comes from the heart.  

Thank you for using the program.  Thank you for your feedback on it.   Thank you for sharing news of it with the teachers you are in contact with who can benefit from something like S-Cubed.   I will continue to make it better for you because I am a public school teacher, and I've been one for 28 years.  I know how hard you work because I do it too.  

Wishing you the best in this new year and this new decade.


Mr D

Tips for a Successful Middle School Parent-Teacher Conference

It's November, and the rubber has met the road in terms of classroom management.

You've gone through the rules.

You've implemented and reinforced them in real time.

...But you find yourself with some children who are chronically disruptive and/or not meeting expectations.  You've gone through your consequences.  The daily grades of the disruptive children are low.  

What we allow continues.

So, it is time to have a conference with the parent and the child.

Here are the tips that have worked for me:

Step One:
Email the parent to request the conference and give them three possible options for conference times.  Make sure to ask that both the parent and the child attend the conference.  In addition, I ask the parent to make sure the child brings their chorus folder.

Step Two:
Before the conference-
a)  Gather an example of a perfect chorus folder from another student in the class
b)  Print out the digital grade book and the comments you've written in the grade book over the recent weeks/months to show the patterns of behavior you've recognized and documented
c)  Find and use as much "hard data" as possible to show the parent.  In my class, we use Music Prodigy.  It's a sight singing assessment program.  I also use Google Classroom and Remind.  I have tabs open on my Smartboard so I can easily pull up the information to show on the board during the conference.  In my experience, the children who are chronically disruptive don't take care of details like Music Prodigy homework, keeping a good folder or doing their Google Classroom assignments.  These "hard data" points are difficult for almost any parent to deny.  Whatever your "hard data" consists of, have it ready to show.

Step Three:
The conference-

Phase one- Listening

Start with this knowledge...The child has already talked to his parents about your class.    This child is not used to be held accountable and has likely learned to manipulate his/her parent.

It's time to wake everyone up, and you're the one to do it.

Set up the chairs in a circular fashion.

Introduce yourself with a smile and say hello to your student...who is very nervous.

Then, ask the child to wait outside your door for a few moments.

Start the conference by asking the parent how the child is doing. 

That simple.

And then listen.

Some parents are so taken about by this moment that they will say "What do you mean?  In school?  At home?"

Your answer is always "Please share anything you're comfortable sharing about what you've been experiencing with your child at home and at school."

And then listen.  Ask follow up questions.   Let the parent share, and you should try not to drive the conversation for a few moments.  

Show that you care.  Be willing to learn about this young child who sits in your classroom daily.  Drop your pre-conceived notions.  It's our job to help them and to help their parents help them.  Even if you are in the first month of your first year of teaching, you've likely encountered and worked with more middle school children than the parent who is sitting in front of you.

Parents and children often expect to be lectured when they come to a conference, and you are doing the opposite.  

Therein lies your power to help to get this child onto the right path with the parents support.

Phase two- Begin to share the data

Start with concrete data.  For me, it's the folder, Music Prodigy and Google Classroom.  Then, begin sharing the information about their behavior.  It can be difficult to quantify sometimes, but if you've kept good notes all along as I do in my digital grade book, you'll be set up for success.  

Be non-judgmental.  

For example:  

Undesirable communication:  "Your child has an attitude problem."

Desirable communication:  "When I called on your child to answer the question, she rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders.   I perceived that the energy your child delivered during that moment was aimed at me"

Be accurate and unemotional in your descriptions of behaviors.  If you've always been respectful of the child, as we must always be as the adult leading the classroom, you have nothing to fear in terms of reactions to what you are presenting about this young human who needs your help.  

Make sure you state clearly to the parent that your objective is to help their child succeed.

Phase three:  Bring in the child, ask questions and listen

Ask specific questions about specific incidences that occurred in your class and let the child explain it in front of their parent.  The version is likely to be different than the one they described to their parents before they came to the conference.   The parent will now be clear that the child has been dishonest.  You are continuing to build trust with the parent so that the two of you can work together to help your student get on the right track.

Phase four:  Cover the upcoming consequences/rewards

People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.

When I go into a conference, I am very clear about what I'm going to do if/when the behaviors continue, and I close the conference by stating them.

*I am going to penalize your daily participation grade more severely
*I am going to write up a referral to administrators when you ........ again.

Whatever they are, you state them in front of the parent.  

Find something that really means something to the child that will be taken away.  For me, it's being a member of the chorus.  When I threaten to move them out of the chorus, they are usually devastated and fix their behaviors.  

Remember the importance of rewards.  We get more bees with honey than with vinegar.  

  • Make sure to share what will happen when you see evidence that the child is working to fix the issues with work ethic or their disruptive behavior patterns.  

This is a child who is before you.  They need fast acknowledgement of the turn around in their behavior.  

I almost always see results on the first day after a conference, and I immediately email the parent to let them know that the child improved.  

You may wish to come up with a daily signature log that the parent signs in order to report their work each day.  Parents will sign the document daily.  When they do well, they'll get immediate positive feedback from you.  

This will build your relationship with this challenging child in all the right ways.  When the child brings the document to you for daily signing, you get one-on-one time with him/her that will be critical to the building of your relationship with the child.  

I hope these ideas help you in your classroom!

I am hosting a giveaway of the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners.  I'll email the winner on Thanksgiving Day and everyone who entered to share some awesome discounts for people who've been taking a look at this program that is designed to help middle school chorus teachers teach music literacy to their beginners.  

Thanksgiving week S-Cubed Sight Singing Giveaway!

What better time to do a giveaway of S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners than at Thanksgiving?!

Someone is going to win the MEGA Bundle ($369 value) on Thanksgiving morning!  I'll notify everyone who entered, including the winner, that morning, and then I will offer some amazing discounts that will last two days only.

Enter below between now and 11:59 PM Wednesday night before Thanksgiving!

...and if you already have the program, let a peer know about this giveaway!

I am so thankful for everyone of you who have followed my journey creating and sharing S-Cubed and classroom management ideas! a Rafflecopter giveaway

JW Pepper and Music Prodigy announce- Music Prodigy Subscriptions $50 off for 24 hours!

JW Pepper and Music Prodigy offering Music Prodigy Subscriptions for $50 for 24 hours!

This Wednesday, November 13 at 7 PM EST on my Facebook Page, I will host a Facebook LIVE about how I use Music Prodigy in conjunction with S-Cubed in my classroom.  You can ask questions about this awesome program so you can start your journey with this one of a kind assessment tool.

For 24 hours starting at 7 PM Eastern Wednesday, November 13, all renewals and purchases of Music Prodigy will be $50 off the normal cost.  Normally $199, you will pay only $149 for that 24 hour period.  You will have access to the Music Prodigy program for one full year for all of your students.  This is a deal like no other.  This is, hands down, the best assessment tool and least expensive option I've found on the market to assess my 300 choral music students.  

If you already use S-Cubed and haven't added Music Prodigy, it might be time.  If you don't own S-Cubed yet, and you're ready to jump in the deep end and go all in, Wednesday night will be your night because I will also have 2 hour deals in my TpT Store starting at 7 PM on several of my most popular S-Cubed Sight Singing Bundles.  

Want to learn more about Music Prodigy and S-Cubed before the Facebook Live Event?  Click here!

Want to purchase the Music Prodigy subscription during the flash sale?  Click here to purchase it from JW Pepper, and click here to purchase directly from Music Prodigy!  Both are offering $50 off the regular price until 7 PM EST Thursday, November 14.

I hope to meet you on Facebook LIVE on Wednesday night!

Crowd Funding Now Available to purchase S-Cubed Sight Singing Program on TPT`

TeachersPayTeachers has just made it easier to afford to purchase the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners.
The announcement was made in July, 2019 at the TPT conference in Austin, Texas.

At the conference, the leaders of TPT talked about the fact that educators tell them they need more of our resources than they’re able to buy  and they never want that to be the case.  They want educators to have access to all of the resources they need to truly teach at their best. As one solution for this problem, they announced TpT ClassFund™. TpT ClassFund will be a crowdfunding platform that allows every educator to raise funds for the TpT resources they need. This means more teachers will be able to access more of the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners. You can read more about it in the Forum  and watch a video to hear from some fantastic Teacher-Authors and teachers about how an initiative like TpT ClassFund would impact them. 

So, please spread the word about TpT ClassFund so more teachers can get this resource into their classrooms for the new school year!  Start your TpT Crowd-funding now by clicking this link!

Multiple License Discounts for S-Cubed Sight Singing Program 2020

Many teachers around the world have heard of and are using the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners with great success!  It has been reviewed and tested by teachers all over the world in middle, elementary and high school teachers who teach beginners as I have done for 27 years in public schools with class sizes as large as 84.   3/4 cup of fun with 1/4 cup of learning is part of what makes the program unique and effective.  The program has changed classrooms around the globe, and for that, I am very grateful!

I created the program in a middle school classroom, but all along, I've believed it should be used from grade 4 through grade 12 for any choral classroom that contains a majority of beginners.  The consistency you gain when all of the teachers across your district use S-Cubed Sight Singing Program results in the following:

1)  High levels of engagement in the learning process
2)  Growth in the choral programs due to the philosophical approach of 3/4 fun and 1/4 cup learning
3)  Incredibly high levels of music literacy 

When all schools use S-Cubed, a child moves from one school in the district to another and they enter the new classroom with the same approach to the first 10-15 minutes of class as they did in their previous chorus classroom. encourage more district purchases and multiple license purchases during this back to school season, I am making a special multiple license discount!  

This year, only through my TPT store, I have raised the multiple license discount from 10% to 30% to make it less expensive for teachers who teach in the same building or in the same district to buy multiple licenses of the program.  

This back to school season starting today, July 22, the multiple license discount in my TPT store is 30%.   The first license purchase is normal price, and all subsequent licenses of the program are 30% off when purchased at the same time.  

This discount includes the following of my most popular bundles:

MEGA Bundle- Contains the entire S-Cubed Program.  Best for middle and high school programs who see their beginners daily or at least 250 minutes weekly.

Level ONE contains the first 2/3 of the program.  This is best for teachers who see their beginners 250 minutes or less per week and perhaps only teach two grades levels in their schools.

The Elementary Bundle contains the first 5 units in the program, and it is intended for anyone who sees their students once or twice per week for 30-50 minutes each time.  It is called the Elementary Bundle only because most Elementary music teachers only see their students one or two times per week for a limited time.  

Level TWO contains the final 1/3 of the program and is intended ONLY for those who have already completed Level ONE of S-Cubed and haven't already purchased the MEGA Bundle.  I do not recommend that you purchase Level TWO simply because you believe you have advanced students.  This program is cumulative.  

While S-Cubed is available in other locations, the only place you'll get these discounts is here on TPT.

So, go out and share this information with your district supervisors and the colleagues in your district.  I don't advertise in a traditional's all word of mouth and social media...because, from the start, I believed that if this program was really going to be effective outside of my own classroom, teachers who used it would tell the story.

...And I am grateful they have and that they are!

This offer will stay in place through August 31, 2019.

I teach middle school ...I got this!

Coffee Mugs!

If you teach middle school, you absolutely understand the meaning of this sentiment. When our friends and family members face a mountain that seems, to them, impossible to climb, but for us, is a simple task, this is the thought bubble in our heads. ...Because we solve problems for 11-14 year olds all day long. Unisex t-shirts, women's t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, mugs and more in multiple colors and all sizes!   Here is the link!


Have one for Samsung also!

For the winter!

And to carry those papers you need to grade!

July S-Cubed Giveaway!

Do you know anyone who is going to teach middle school chorus next year for the first time?  Do you need to reinvigorate how you teach sight singing to your students?  Do you want to have fun while you teach this tricky subject?  Do you like a step by step methodical approach aimed at the true beginner?  Do you enjoy stoking competition between you and your students as well as between your chorus classes?

This is your program.  

S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners has been tried and tested by teachers all over the world.  The results are proven.  Read some of the reviews here from the last several years since I began sharing it. 

I'm giving it away to one lucky winner on the morning of July 7th.  It is a $369 value.  I'll notify everyone who enters and offer a special discount that will be available for 2 days following the announcement of the winner.  

Enter below.  You can enter once with a single option or you can choose all of the options I've included below.

Make sure to share the news about this program and this giveaway everywhere music teachers gather.  Tag me during this giveaway, and I'll send you a special gift!

Good luck!

My Coming Out Story

I was summoned.

When I walked into the room, I could feel the tension as the prepared statement was read by the two people who were there waiting for me.

"You're finishing your first semester of your freshman year of music school.  When you complete your degree in four years, you're either going to be a minister of music or a music teacher.

If you are gay, you'll be neither.

If you decide to be gay, I'm going to tell everyone in our family.  You'll be disowned by all of us.  I am not paying for your college education as I promised you I'd do if you choose to be gay.  I'm going to send you to twice weekly reparative therapy sessions for six months at Duke University so we can fix this.  Right now, we are going to call the known homosexual you've been dating, and we are going to tell him you won't see him anymore."

10 minutes later:

Me:  (With my father on the other line in the other room listening):

"Jeffrey...I am calling to tell you that I can no longer see you."


"What?!?  Where is this coming from?  What has changed all of the sudden?"

Before I could get any other words out, my father yells into the phone:

"You faggot...keep your hands off my son."

...And then my father hung up the phone.

Those were the words I heard from my father on December of 1982 when he realized I was gay as I was coming of age at the start of the AIDS crisis when young gay men just like me were dying of the "gay flu".

Merry Christmas!  :-)

I was completely devastated.  In this moment in time, my world had completely fallen apart.

I felt abandoned and alone.

Jeffrey was my first love.  I had never shared this sort of special connection with anyone in my life.  In my young naive mind, I really thought I'd met the person I'd spend the rest of my life with.

Just like that, my father's love for me appeared to have vanished.

So, after the "intervention" to stop me from being gay, I did what any self-respecting young college gay male did in 1982 on a Friday night...I went out and played Ms. Pac Man with my best girlfriend, Tracy, from high school...just like I did every Friday night during my freshman year of college.

I was quiet that night while we were at the arcade as I began processing what had just happened.

My parents were divorced, and I wondered how my Mom would react when she learned the news.  How would my sister and brother receive the information when Dad told them?  Would they still love me and accept me?   Was college over for me?

Tracy knew something was up that night.  She asked me..."Are you ok?"

I couldn't tell her. 

I couldn't even process it myself.

In those first few nights after the confrontation, my father would drag me out of the bed and into his office.  Slurring his words from the alcohol he was drinking to cope with the realization that he had a gay son, he held my hands across the desk, and he said, "He loves you Dale."

"What are you talking about Daddy?"

"He loves you Dale.  I saw what he wrote in those letters."

He'd gone through my stuff.

Sobbing, he would say, "My sons a homosexual."....over and over as he lowered his head and sobbed.

In my young and hopeful 18-year-old mind, I thought I could share my story with this man who had raised me...who provided for me...this man, who at age 18, lost his leg in a hunting accident 6 days after he'd married his high school sweetheart...

I thought I could help him understand...not realizing then as I do now, that our coming out usually becomes more about the person who is coping with this new information about their child than it is about the child himself.

In their minds, they think....What will the church people say?  We can't tell my side of the family...and on and on.

We...who've just spilled our hearts and who need the most support of the people we believe love us the most give rope to the people who've shown us that they don't deserve it.

...but, ever the optimist, I thought I'd give it a go...


"Dad...I've known about this since I was five."

I remember watching Elvis Presley movies with my sister.  When I told her that I thought he was cute, my sister, who was 11 years old at the time, said, "You're not supposed to think that Elvis Presley is cute.  You're a boy."

So, I shut that down.

But I knew that I thought boys were cuter than girls.

I also learned in that innocent moment that it was something I needed to keep from my family.

I'm sure that after the volume of alcohol he had consumed on those first few nights as he tried to cope with this challenging new reality, he has no recollection of those conversations.

My world had crashed down around this 18-year-old version of myself who'd been raised Southern Baptist during the 1960's and 1970's.

Many teens who experience this sort of rejection from their parents take their own lives.

I'm not sure why I didn't commit suicide.

By the grace of God, it didn't occur to me.

I am so grateful that somewhere within me, the strength arose to handle this and to go on with life. 

I am so sorry for the children who die senselessly because they aren't able to cope with the fact that the love of their friends and family they thought was unconditional actually isn't.

When you're born black in America, most often, you grow up with parents who share the same experience.  Your parents teach you about the subtle ways you'll experience racism and how to cope with it so you decrease your chances of getting shot and killed by the police or losing a job opportunity for which you are equally qualified.  When someone calls you a racist name when you are 8 years old for the first time, and it cuts you to the core of your soul, you can come home and tell your parents.  Your parents can comfort you and advise you on how to handle the situation.  Because you share a commonality with these two humans who have given you birth and raised you, it is possible for you to receive critical support and guidance during those very difficult times.

Growing up gay, most of us don't get that.

Instead, you hear homophobic slurs and jokes told by your relatives at Christmas with all the people you love the most laughing at the "humor."

As a young LGBTQ person, you don't get the support you need because, most often, no one in the family is like you.

And if they are, they aren't "out".

So, you just have to figure it out.

The psychiatrist my father sent me to, for me, was an angel.  With gay conversion therapy in vogue during that time period among many religious groups, and with homosexuality still not completely removed from the list of mental disorders by the American Psychiatry Association and the World Health Organization, the 6 months of therapy could have been a completely different scenario for me than it was.

My psychiatrist started each of our twice weekly sessions with this question:

"Do you want to be straight?"

It was like some sort of obligatory question he'd been taught in a Saturday morning three-hour  continuing education course.

My answer each time was:

"Who wouldn't want to be straight?  It would be so much easier than what I'm going through and what I've gone through alone in middle school and high school at the hands of my peers and the teachers who sat on the sidelines and let it happen.

...But I'm not straight."

After hearing my answer each week, he would then listen to me as I tried to cope with the loss of my first love, Jeffery, who was simply not equipped to deal with this kind of volatile family drama.  He, too, was closeted with his family.  Our relationship ended.

I was heart broken for the first time in my life.

My psychiatrist helped me cope as I faced the end of the six months together when Dad insisted on a "report card" to close out the therapy.

I would ask the therapist..."What am I going to tell my Dad in that final session when he walks in the door to hear that I'm 'straight'?"

The doctor would say, "We are going to tell him that we are not going to make any promises."

At home, my father had stopped looking me in the eye.

He was continuing to work through his own mourning process.

On Sunday mornings as he was getting ready for church, he would ask me how things were going with the doctor.   I would answer..."Everything is going well."

...And then he would exit the room, get in the car and drive to the church to spend time with the people he felt most comfortable.

Fast forward to 1998...Our relationship had been distant for 16 years.  I was competing at the World Aerobic Championships in Orlando, Florida.  I was retiring from competition after this event.

My father had expressed an interest in coming.

I was surprised and happy to hear it.  My spouse was going to be there too.

I wanted them both there, but how was I going to navigate it?  "Ok...I'll have lunch with Joe.  I'll have dinner with Dad.  Joe can sit over there.  Dad can sit over here."

As I was about to go on stage for the final competition of my career,  I thought to myself..."This is not what I should be focused on right now."

After training for hours and hours?  After paying for choreographers and coaches with my $18,000 a year teacher salary?


I'm not doing it anymore.

No more separate vacations.  No more holidays where I've got to do what is "comfortable" for people.

After the event, as a 34-year-old man who didn't need anything but love from anyone in my life, I sat down with my Dad, and I said, "Dad.  I'm gay.  I've always been gay.  I'm not going on anymore family trips without my spouse.  I'm not doing holidays without him either."

A long pause...and then my Dad says...

"Is it my fault?"

"Daddy...NO.  Is that what you've been carrying all these years?  No.  Absolutely not.  Since I was five years old, I've known I was gay.  It has nothing to do with you.  If it did, your two other children would probably be gay."

With that moment, he sighed with relief.  His entire face changed.

And, from that moment on, we proceeded with developing a beautiful, mutually respectful relationship that is one of the deepest of my life over the 21 years since that conversation.

It hasn't always been wine and roses, but it has been worth every ounce of energy the two of us have put into it.

I can't wait to fly to North Carolina so see him this weekend.

Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.

I just completed my 27th year of teaching middle school chorus in the public school setting.

This is the profession my father told me I could never be a part of if I were gay.

I've had an incredible career touching the lives of the over 300 students who walk through my public school classroom door each school year.

...And some of my students are LGBTQ...some of them know that if they come out to their families, they will face what I faced and worse...some of whom face bullying each and everyday and are afraid and embarrassed to tell an adult.

If, by standing before them, as an out gay man, I can give them hope to live and fight and flourish another day...if I can provide them a safe space where they know that an adult in the room will not tolerate any sort of bullying... then my life has more meaning than I ever could have anticipated.

I feel sad for the parents who reject their gay children and whose children take their own lives.  The grief those parents live in for the rest of their lives after their children are gone is beyond anything anyone who hasn't lived it can possibly imagine.

Just last week, I had dinner with a 63-year-old colleague whose brother was diagnosed with HIV and who passed away before the drugs that have helped extend lives existed. 

I hurt for her and for all of the sisters and brothers of gays who were unable and unwilling to comfort their siblings who contracted HIV in the 1980's and 90's.  They can't get their siblings back, and now they sit in their grief.

My heart aches for the parents of adult gay children who've chosen never to truly know their children because it's easier just not to talk about it.

I feel mournful for the adult LGBTQ human beings who will never get to have a fully three-dimensional, mutually respectful relationship with their parents...the parents who love their children deeply but who aren't sure how or when to ask the question because they are respecting their child's decision to remain in the closet.

Nothing worth anything is ever easy.

I'm so thankful the world is changing...and I'm thankful that the psychiatrist didn't try to fix what wasn't broken because I am living a life I could never have imagined as a young, closeted gay boy from north Durham.

Here is a photo I took last week at the New York Public Library as they prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the unofficial beginning of the LGBTQ civil rights movement:

Here is a photo of my husband and me when we got married on June 26, 2015 after nearly 25 years together on the day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Marriage Equality.  We ran to the court house!

The Ms. Pac Man machine that my spouse bought for me on my 40th birthday as a surprise because Ms. Pac Man probably saved my life on that dark, sad, scary night.  Thank you Ms.!  :-)

And here is a picture of my Dad and me from earlier this year.  I'm so grateful that the two of us did the work and that love won.

Classroom Management for the Middle School Classroom

This past week, I presented two seminars for the second annual International Music Educator's Summit (IMES) created and hosted by Elisa Janson Jones.   It is an online conference for music educator's from all over the world.  It's truly cutting edge.  You can watch the presentations from your home in your PJ' them later if your schedule doesn't permit you to see them "live"...the options are awesome.  And as teachers who live our daily lives with incredible structure seeing our students for 47 minutes starting at 10:03 each day (or something get the point!), we deserve the flexibility in the summer!

At the conference, I presented my materials on Sight Singing and Classroom Management.  After hearing from teachers who'd seen the presentation and realizing the incredible demand for this type of presentation, Elisa Janson Jones decided to make the presentation available for FREE to anyone with a link!

So, here it is!

Enjoy...and I hope it helps lots of people!

Moving Toward Fluency in Solfege in Elementary School

If you, as an adult, moved to Japan right now, would you be able to speak with the non-English
speaking population?  Would you be able to read labels in the grocery store? Would you be
able to navigate the transit system if there were no English translations on the signs?

If not, what would you do?

Certainly, as survivors, we would figure it out, right?  Slowly, after many years through our
daily experiences, we would start to make associations and build our vocabulary.  

The writing  

I’m guessing we would probably need lots of private tutoring to master that.   

That’s how many of the students in our choral classes who’ve never taken a private
lesson in their lives feel about taking the notes and symbols off the page and translating
the symbols into rhythmic pitched sounds that are accurately executed.

Yet, so often, we expect our beginners to be able to figure it out without supplying them
with the tools they need to be able to successfully read.

Learning to sight sing is, in my view, one of the most complex tasks the brain can master.  

For us, as music teachers, reading music is simple.  Many of us not only sing, but we have taken
private instrument lessons.  When we learn to read music using an instrument, we have the luxury
of learning in a tactile manner which really helps it makes sense for the learner.

Music is a language just like any other.  The learning curve is much the same as learning
Japanese or French or any other world language.  The skill sets required to become truly
fluent in any language take years and years to develop. Tenacity, persistence, and frequent
exposure to the language helps speed up the learning process.

The earlier we start, the easier it is to become comfortable speaking, reading and writing
the language.

I teach middle school beginners.  Most of my students come to me in 6th grade, but I get
some new students in 7th grade as well.  That single year of “aging” in the children,
in my experience, makes a big difference. While my 7th graders are still able to learn solfege,
the students who didn’t have me in 6th grade are far slower at mastering all of the skills required.

We have all seen many posts on social media pages about what is better for learning to
sight sing...numbers or solfege or random syllables.  It’s been debated for years. There is no
right answer. I have my own feelings about it, of course, but I think the most important piece of the
puzzle is to consistently work on sight singing and to be able to break down the skill sets required for
success.  If we are tenacious in our approach, regardless of whether we use numbers, random
syllables or solfege, we will succeed in helping our students become solid sight singers and that is
the goal.

When I received my public school education in North Carolina, I wasn’t given tools to read.  
I had taken piano lessons, so for me, reading music was easier than for most. In my choral music
education in K-12, we were either taught by “rote” or we sight sang new pieces on “loo”.  
I guessed as the pitches raised, lowered and skipped. Accidentals? Forget it.
Not happening...And most of my rhythms were quarter notes, half notes and whole notes.

With my background in private piano lessons, I was able to make educated guesses.

When I started school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as a music major,
I watched as my peers dropped out of music school because they couldn’t pass sight singing.   
It was very difficult, and they hadn’t been given the tools they needed to succeed.

I had the “piano” advantage. Even with that advantage, I struggled with the sight singing tests.
They wanted us to use SOLFEGE.  


It felt so unnatural...And I didn’t feel like it helped me find the pitches.  Because I had no exposure
to solfege when I was younger, it just made it harder for me.

Determined to succeed, I went to the practice room and made piano recordings of each sight
singing example that would be on the test.  Then, I put my walkman on...yes...I’m a dinosaur…
If you’re under 40, “google” it...they were cute back in the day….don’t judge! :-)

As I walked across campus from class to class and back to my dorm, I listened to
the examples over and over again until I had them memorized.  Then, the night before the test,
with all of the melodies in my head, I would sit down and practice with the solfege slowly so that I
would be able to sing it the next day for the test.  

That's NOT sight singing...but I passed! 

From the first day of teaching public middle school, I was determined to figure out how to give my
students the tools they needed to successfully read music. 

I failed over and over, and I learned from each failure.

I decided that solfege with the hand signs and pulsing for rhythm was the best path for my students.

That’s a tall order.  I had never used the hand signs before.

And it’s an even taller order for the students.

It’s not like you can just walk into the classroom and say “go”.  The skills have to be taught slowly and deliberately one step at a time.

I decided on solfege because I like what it does for vowel production.  Singing “one” instead of
“do”’s a lot. Between the “W” sound that starts the word “one” and the “N”, all sorts
of issues arose with tone and vowel production that I wanted to avoid.  And “one sharp” when
singing chromatics...many more challenges with tone resulted.

But I’ve seen many people teach sight singing with numbers with great success.

I made my decision and moved forward to find ways to make the language of solfege easier
for my students.

I decided to find multiple ways to help them use this new language of solfege each day...through
games, scales, teaching melodic lines in new music and more.  I wanted the journey to be fun and
methodical and most of all, effective for the true beginner who has never played an instrument.

I suppose when teaching World Languages, they call this approach “immersion”.

At first, I didn’t use the hand signs when singing solfege.

I was nervous about doing the hands signs myself.  I’d never done them before.

There is something about the raising and lowering of the hands...showing the skips versus the
steps...that helped my students successfully locate the elusive pitches.  I found that the hand signs
gave them the kinesthetic piece that is missing for singers with no instrumental training so it was
important for me to get comfortable with using the hand signs too.

With use of solfege and the hand signs, my students got better at locating pitch, but they struggled
with successfully executing rhythm at the same time they located pitches.

So, I added pulsing.  

The coordination involved in executing all of these things at the same time is very challenging,
but less so when taught one careful, fun step at a time.

It makes sense that it would take time, right?  

How long would it take to become fluent in Japanese if you spoke it 10-15 minutes a day a few times
a week?

Once I figured out how to break the learning process down, I shared it
through S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners, and I did my best to share every secret
I’ve learned along my journey.

My sixth graders walk into my room mostly as true beginners.   They’ve had general
music once or twice weekly. Some have had exposure to solfege but most have not, and
after 27 years in the classroom, I am still waiting for that little Mozart to walk into my room!  
Even though they are beginners when they walk in, when they walk out in 8th grade, they are doing
things that I couldn’t do until my senior year in college...all a capella.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if a majority of our students came into our classrooms able to use the
Kodaly hand signs?  What if they could sing correct stepwise pitches simply by following your hand?
Even better...what if your new sixth graders were able to successfully sight sing stepwise quarter
notes off the page a capella?

I suppose we can compare it to having the desire and expectation that our students
will enter kindergarten knowing their A, B, C’s.  

When I created S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners, I envisioned that teachers who
taught music to grades 3-5 would use lessons 1-5 of the system in order to prepare their singers
for middle school chorus so I created a bundle with just those lessons included.  The first five
lessons of the program are just enough to start students on their journey toward becoming fluent
sight singers down the road. Elementary teachers who use the Elementary Bundle are laying the
foundation for their students.  

If you’d like your elementary feeders to come to your middle school chorus with a solid foundation
in solfege and hand sign usage, let them know about the Elementary Bundle for S-Cubed Sight
Singing Program.  It’s an entire years worth of sight singing lessons for most elementary teachers
if they spend 10 minutes per meeting with their students teaching the lessons, and they’ll have a
great time on the journey using the game, Forbidden Pattern.  The early exposure to the language
of solfege in a variety of ways will help them as they continue their journey toward becoming literate
readers of music.  The S-Cubed Sight Singing Elementary Bundle is normally $99, but for the whole
month of April 2019, it is $39.

S-Cubed large bundles are also available at JW Pepper.