If you could work with musicians who think like this, wouldn’t you jump at the chance?
“I feel like the way it is usually played is very foresty and has a damp, mossy atmosphere. I think looking at it like sparkly dust suspended in outer space could be a very interesting challenge rather than the dense, lush, green I would normally go for. As an ensemble, time is a huge focus in this movement, but the recording feels like it is outside of time and it is of no concern to the performer. It would be SO HARD, but SO COOL if we could invoke that as an ensemble.”
Well, you do work with musicians like this. The students in front of you right now have so much to offer if you can figure out how to open a channel. That’s what we’re up to here in the lab. Here are some insights from people who have experienced various aspects of our approach. If you are inspired by what you read, join us!
Thoughts from current and former UNL students...
I feel like this ensemble has given me much better perspective on coming up with my own intentions for performing, and I feel like that is one skill that further develops for many post-graduation. So many school ensembles are set up with someone telling the ensemble what their intention should be. We have the freedom and encouragement here to determine our own, and so I feel like that gives a much bigger perspective on performance, and what performance might mean.
AM (current UNL undergraduate)
A few months ago, our director was leading an improv class and talking about the flow of energy between performers; about how the energy should interact with audiences and other people in the room. This brought me back to Patsy Rodenburg’s video about the 2nd Circle you shared with us [in wind ensemble]. I shared the video with my director who was rather moved by it! So much so, actually, that he made it an assignment for everyone to watch and respond to. We then began finding ways to implement the circles into our technique and rehearsal space. Sharing that video has triggered some phenomenal emotional connections within the group, and some extremely fascinating and in-depth conversations about the practice of performing. More specifically, how we can work to elevate the show beyond itself and give the audience a chance to be a part of the program.
Clearly interested, our director asked me share more about how I came across this video and why it means so much to me. I of course gave credit to your wonderful education, and spoke about your ensembleship training methods. About the different exercises we would do, some of the language we would use, and the overall concept of what ensembleship is. Now we are all able to develop new ideas and share with each other an ensemble experience far greater than I have ever seen or felt in a winter guard.
To me, it is invigorating to see these connections made across different parts of my life. I hope you don’t mind me sharing some of your teachings and trust I do my best to give you credit. Believe me when I say playing in your Wind Ensemble has changed the way I view and approach performance practice forever. I am so thankful to have been given the experience.
DS (former UNL undergraduate)
I just wanted to write you a quick note to say how much I enjoyed the virtual Wind Ensemble concert on Friday night! My favorite part, however, was reading your notes on your website before the concert. …I feel like I fully understand it now and I LOVE it!! The Jenga building, the elephant, the whale, the mouse, the physics comparison, Peep bunny, the football analogies, the sympoietic approach, questioning traditional music advocacy, antifragility, rocketry, and everything are so incredible! The work you've done on the slides is amazing and really adds to the presentation and the overall understanding! I can't wait to see what the next part of the notes contain.
SA (former UNL graduate student)
I'm in my first year of teaching middle school vocal music, during COVID... with so many regulations from the district, and so many questions from these brilliant and curious little mice (oh yeah, I've been following the ideas coming out of the UNL ensemble performance lab 😊).
Not a day goes by that I don't think of and try to implement your philosophies. It seems that every day on my drive to work, a beautiful flock of birds soars overhead, moving as one, yet also as individuals. It is a beautiful reminder of the goal for my bright-eyed, intuitive, young musical explorers.
We are transferring ideas from one place to the next, coming up with new ways to explore music and all facets of it, and making miraculous discoveries all the time. It isn't even close to perfect, but any moment a new idea comes around (or more often a "how fascinating" moment), it leads us down a new path that we're creating as we go.
I wanted to extend a thanks to you both and let you know that any morning I see a beautiful ensemble of birds, it is a gentle reminder of where we're headed. I hope your semesters are going well and you are continuing to explore music and all the transfers within and outside of it every day. I look forward to hearing of the excellent things you discover next.
CA (former UNL undergraduate)
As time has gone on, I have started leading less and less of rehearsal, allowing each member to take turns being the bird at the front of the “V”. We've focused most of our technical efforts on ensemble communication, responsiveness, and play—the ensemble LOVES ensemble games. The development of the group has been significantly based in what I learned from you and materials your teaching led me to.
TP (former UNL undergraduate)
I wanted to thank you for your incorporation of ensemble games during my time in the Wind Ensemble at UNL. I have been using them with my 7/8th grade band as we have gotten into a somewhat boring, repetitive daily routine. The students enjoy working in groups and I have seen great improvement in their ability to listen and actually use their brains for critical thinking during class. Although apprehensive at first (much like I was), they caught on quickly and are attentive throughout the process. Just wanted to share our experience using your methods, I hope you enjoy the end of your school year!
NH (former UNL undergraduate)
Thank you so much for your response, which will be incredibly helpful! I'll be looking forward to diving into this sort of teaching full time as our marching season begins to wind down. The students have responded very well to the ensembleship games we've tried so far, which were the most basic ones.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be a part of something so special [during my degree program]... If I could, I would implore the current members to invest in the experience fully and never take it for granted.
MR (former UNL graduate student)
Thoughts from workshop participants...
I am a 4th-year music education student, and I feel so lucky to have been present at three of your talks/classes. …I often think about how I will navigate a classroom full of kids who come from many different backgrounds and have experienced life in so many different ways. I ask questions such as, “what do I do when a kid doesn’t want to talk or seems like they don’t want to be there?” and, “what do I do to keep kids from feeling embarrassed if they make a mistake?”. Through listening to, and experiencing, your ideas surrounding learning and teaching, I feel that I have a better idea of how to approach these kinds of situations. I am going to try to apply some of these ideas to my own teaching tomorrow.
Moving forward in the final semester of my undergrad, I hope I can channel my “puppiness” and feel comfortable earning flowers – both in music learning situations and in all areas of life (and hopefully inspire my students to do the same).
NS (Ontario, Canada)
I have a lot of changes that I would like to make after these [sessions with Dr. Barber]. My brain is spinning in reflection of the last couple years. I feel like I really have not been an innovator and this discussion and way of thinking has launched me into eagerly changing the way I do things, reflecting on why I did things a certain way, and how I engage with my students. The Golden Rule: “As much as you need, as little as you can.” This has particularly resonated with me because it has made me realize how much information I give to students and therefore NOT let them arrive at their own conclusions. Most of my rehearsals, especially under time crunches, were too podium driven. I felt driven to make sure everyone knew their parts, that students were playing in tune with good tone and balance. Musical ideas were given by me and then regurgitated by my students. I would say not a lot of innovation happening and definitely not a lot of collaboration in the rehearsal process. I would ask my students questions, but the way in which they were asked, they were again podium-driven.
One concept that resonated with me was the “categorization” exercise with the cow. Still when I go back and look at that photo, I cannot unsee the cow. This resonated with me for a few reasons. The first is how much we influence our students. This sounds fairly naïve, but everything we do, verbally and nonverbally influences their thought process. So if we say in rehearsal, “I like this group because of X,Y,Z” any part of that becomes part of their thinking. That can be good and bad all at once. We want to be extremely careful on “how” and “what” we choose to communicate with our students as we are constantly influencing them. The Silver Rule: “Do what only you can do, delegate the rest.” Something I need to get better at. Generally speaking, it is easy to get in the mindset of doing everything yourself because it is “easier.” By employing the Silver Rule, students take more ownership of the program and invest more.
“Next to = Following,” “With = Flocking” Following is the easy part. Most of our students are used to following. The flocking is the challenge, but the QFT helps us better engage and inform our flocks. That investment pieces from the Silver Rule and the investment in students arriving at their own conclusions is very powerful and will assist in the flocking.
… I am absolutely intrigued with the lab settings that Dr. Barber talked about, and I am looking forward to putting them into practice.
SW (high school band director, Illinois)
Overall, I think my biggest takeaway is the reassurance that there is a different way of running rehearsals and that it can have a profound impact on my students and me. I am intrigued to try several of the insights Dr. Barber shared with us, including:
First, I love the idea of productive failure. I think the language she used about this concept makes it more approachable for students. Yes, learning an instrument inherently involves making mistakes along the way. However, honoring those as ports of the learning process by using the word “productive” has a different implication.
I like the Question Formulation Technique as well. This is something I thought a lot about in regard to my own children. They as so many questions! I don’t want to see them lose the ability to constantly question things around them especially in light of the current events. In regard to my students, I like that the QFT can show me more about what the students are thinking. Like Dr. Barber said, what I, the teacher, am thinking is most likely going to come out eventually anyway. In addition, students (myself included) are constantly seeking the “right” answer and can shut down if they think they don’t know it or think they are not capable of finding the “right” answer. Teaching them about how to ask questions is more valuable than only being able to determine a single answer.
I appreciate the golden and silver rules! Good reminders about how to approach and encourage the creative process. I am very interested to try different seating arrangements and less podium time to encourage a divergent learning experience! Last but not least, the games! I am still thinking through how to implement the games in a socially distant, in-person scenario vs. a remote learning scenario.
SL (middle school orchestra director, Illinois)
First of all, I am in a small program and we are fighting to keep kids engaged and enrolled – particularly in the concert band. …I feel that the use of games in the classroom is one thing that could go a long way to engage students and encourage them to continue. In addition to providing high quality learning opportunities for our students, they also introduce variety and make the entire experience more enjoyable, thus giving me the opportunity to grow the program in quantity and quality. Students as upperclassmen would have the opportunity to be leaders in these games and to take the games to the next level to improve their ensemble skills.
I also feel the same way about seating arrangements. By mixing up the classroom (particularly if I were to use something like the “pods” Dr. Barber used with her T.O.S. warmup), I can keep the kids on their toes and allow them to hear things from different perspectives and interact with different students. The interaction that this provides will also help engage all of the kids in what we are doing.
…I think that I can engage a small group better by focusing on ensemble building games that give them the opportunity to grow individually, in confidence, and as ensemble members.
MG (high school band director, Virginia)
These past few weeks with Dr. Barber have been ground-breaking for me. I tend to be a creature of habit, and once I establish my routines, I stick to them. One of the main take-aways I had was the idea of a Question Focus. Learning the QFT and having a resource of everyone’s QF process has created a host of neat ideas to begin to incorporate into my class. I like the idea of spending a month or so on a particular object and using it as a talking point throughout rehearsals and in the hallways with the students. This process is really good for the brain and I’m pretty sure no other place in the building is doing something like this!
Another area that sparked my interest was the seating arrangements. I love the idea of changing the seating arrangement around to fit the particular piece. Students will relate to the music so much more because of the different physical organization of the group. I’m excited to get out of my comfort zone with this.
Finally, I have been having a bit of a paradigm shift since being benched by COVID-19. Literally the day of our trip to the National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis, I got a phone call at 3 a.m. that cancelled it. We were all devastated, and continue to deal with bitterness in not being able to perform after all of the hard work and fundraising that we put into making this trip happen. However, I think a lot of the pain is coming from the fact that we were operating on a more “museum” level as a program. We had fun, but last year our primary focus was to “get the 45-minute program ready for performance.” We worked incredibly hard with some of the rehearsal being fun, but most of it was going to be all about the performance that we never got to do. [Dr. Barber’s] class has made me shift my idea of what needs to happen in my rehearsal environment to focus on the journey, not the destination. How can I make the most of rehearsal time and make it a fun and engaging atmosphere? I’m excited to “develop the inner puppy” with my students this fall!
MM (high school band director, Illinois)
I have always felt the mad-dash to get to the concert. Drill, drill, drill the concert music – there’s not time for anything else! With current events and many unknowns, we might not have concerts this year. We might have to rehearse in much smaller groups. We might still be implementing distance-learning. All of these circumstances will undoubtedly force us to be creative with rehearsals, and [after these sessions] I feel as though I have a head start and major advantage going into this next school year.
Despite always encouraging failure in my classroom, I have realized over the last few weeks that I don’t necessarily apply that philosophy in my own life, personal and professional. I don’t excuse myself from my own failings. I need to change that, and I need to internalize that I don’t always have to be right. I struggled with the Q-focus exercise. I’m always framing ideas and limiting myself, and wish I could see outside the box more. Perhaps my personal struggle with Q-focus will help when I’m implementing it with the students. Telling them I struggle with it too might give them permission and courage to fail. I’m looking forward to revitalizing my rehearsals.
RK (elementary music teacher, New York)
Over the past few weeks with Dr. Barber, I have come to realize that I don’t allow my students to have much of a voice when it comes to our rehearsals. It seems like it is: here is the music, learn the music, perform the music, repeat. In the process of that pattern, I want to have my students have much more of a voice when it comes to rehearsing and learning the music. I want them to be able to give feedback in terms of phrasing, dynamics, shaping, balance, blend, etc. I want them to be engaged in the process from day one. I know that this process will take some time for me to get comfortable with, but after seeing the possibilities of what can come about, I am very interested in trying it.
One of the first things I am going to do is show the two pictures/images of the birds (flying in a “V” vs. the cloud/flock) and ask them which one they want to be. We will have a discussion about what they mean (students leading the way, of course) and see what they would like to do as a class. I feel like giving them more of a voice will make them more engaged and give them more say in how we do things. I will be there for guidance, but I want to see how/what the students come up with and go from there. The nice thing is that we may fail along the way, but we will learn from our mistakes and get better from there. …I know we talk a lot about being musical, but I end up usually telling them how to be musical. I want to see if they can be musical on their own.
DL (high school band director, Michigan)
This is really the first time I learned about a lab experience in a music classroom. It was very eye-opening to hear about this style of teaching and learning. I am very intrigued by it. In some ways, I feel like it was giving me validation on some of the things I tend to do in my classes, but I just didn’t realize it. It also had my brain spinning with so many new ideas! I enjoyed learning about mindfulness (active noticing). If…may…might…could… conditional language. What might an answer be? Guessing is good. We are in this together.
I really enjoyed hearing that play and failure are linked. This got me thinking: how can failure be less risky? Can we be playful on the podium so they feel comfortable taking risks? How can we reward productive failure?
I really enjoyed the idea generation and QFT. I love making connections to other core subject areas as much as possible because I believe music classes are core as well! I am looking forward to reading A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, and I loved going through the additional content Dr. Barber shared in the folders – especially the various seating charts. The art of playing games was also very inspirational. I found myself very excited to look up games and figure out how I could apply them in my classroom setting. I also loved finding ideas from classmates that I could borrow for my classroom too! I would definitely love to be a student of hers and want to learn more!
LL (middle school orchestra director, Illinois)
I’ve really enjoyed Dr. Barber’s presentations and as someone who is coming from the elementary music world entering into the middle/high school ensemble world this fall, I’m really looking forward to being able to implement some of the approaches and techniques she’s given us. I just said to my husband the other day, “I am SO excited to turn that rehearsal room upside-down!”
Something that really stuck with me as the idea of changing seating arrangements. I’m guilty of having my students sit in the same seats every rehearsal, and having the same rehearsal set-up year after year. Meanwhile, in our elementary science/ELA/math classrooms (and I’m sure at the secondary level too) students are sitting in groups of 4 one week, partners the next, a horseshoe for a few days, and then on the carpet or outside for a few days. Dr. Barber’s seating charts and the information she provided made so much sense. Not only does it foster stronger musicianship and confidence, but I bet they are so much more engaged.
I found myself really anxious about the start of school and how we are going to be effective while social distancing, etc., but the more I think of it now, the more comfortable I am with the thought of seeing it as an opportunity. …I originally thought “What the heck am I going to do with them if we aren’t preparing for a concert?” but I am now seeing it as a chance to let students be creative and play. The games discussion was fantastic – I feel like there were so many unique ideas for developing strong musicianship, getting students into a new comfort zone, and fostering creativity.
I also really enjoyed the discussion surrounding letting students lead the way rather than counting off. I am looking forward to getting off the podium and allowing more student centered music making. Walking around the ensemble and listening intently will provide so much more insight, and I feel like it will help to develop a better sense of cooperation and teamwork among students.
JV (grades 7-12 band and choral director, Massachusetts)
I absolutely loved [working with] Dr. Barber. [She turned] a lot of conventions and traditions on their heads and made me rethink everything I do as a band director during rehearsal. It certainly made me realize how much of a creature of habit I am and how much I recycle the lessons and concepts that I’ve been taught in my own musical upbringing. I feel, like many, that I was having a hard time expanding my thought process or thinking outside the box with many of the exercises we participated in. But by doing these, and the questioning exercises, it definitely gave me a different perspective on how to not only approach the music we teach, but how we can connect with our kids in rehearsal.
For this upcoming school year, I definitely plan on using a lot of the questioning techniques that we practiced together and what I observed Dr. Barber doing with her band. I feel that there is a lot done with the college-level ensemble that can still translate to my middle school band. I love the laboratory approach to rehearsals. It seems to fall into that “Distinguished” category we educators are always in pursuit of. It is more student led, and has the students more invested in their own learning. I really like the idea of allowing for productive failure to take place with the students in rehearsal. They will attempt things in the course of rehearsal to make music together and they will come up short. But guiding them through and seeing them succeed will be so much more rewarding, especially if they are the ones leading the charge. The approach overall has a feeling of not only allowing mistakes to take place, but for mistakes that are made to also teach lessons and help move the class along. From mistakes can come new ways of doing things. I also plan on trying out the different seating arrangements in rehearsals (maybe even for concerts?). I definitely plan on doing this purposefully so the kids can not only get a different auditory perspective, but a different visual perspective on the performance space and utilize the non-verbal communication we often focus on in musical ensembles.
…This year I might be able to find ways to prepare the students musically in a timely fashion, but in a way that is innovative and engaging. Also…it is an important opportunity for our own creativity to flourish as music teachers and how we operate our band programs.
SS (middle school band director, Illinois)
Dr. Barber is one of the most engaging presenters I’ve ever learned from. In reflecting on my own teaching in respect to what I learned from her, it’s that I sometimes break the golden rule by over-explaining and putting my students in a box that is build to my specific frame/lens. I think my students are too focused on my opinion and have become reactive – I would like to give them more autonomy in the music making process.
CM (high school band director, California)
Thank you for the amazing resource. I've been meaning to write you to thank you for all the teaching tools you armed us with. I feel like a completely different teacher this year and I think my kids see a change too. There were two main takeaways I've have ingrained in my teaching philosophy. The first is that we have plenty of time (if not too much) to rehearse so I can spend class time working on these other skills that will in turn make them even better musicians. The second monumental shift is the understanding of the creative process (or at least the beginning of understanding it). You made me be not afraid to try new things or teach in a different way beside the traditional manner that I, my teachers, my teacher's teachers, etc. were all taught.
The first week of school we broke had some quality circle time where we were able to do some of your initial assessing an ensemble game. Already, the kids don't think it's weird and they are asking, "hey, can we try this in a circle." I was also inspired by your sectional assignments to take a melody and arrange it into different styles. We are doing a theme and variation piece so I tasked the students with the same project. Needless to say, they ATE. IT. UP! I won't bore you with all the cool things that I am so thankful to steal from you but I do want you to know how much I appreciated your time with us and how much of an impact you are having on my classroom!
DH (high school band director, Illinois)
One of my big take-aways from Dr. Barber’s lessons is to “Embrace Inefficiency.” This is a concept that I’ve been toying with and circling around for a while, but without really considering how to go about incorporating into rehearsals. I know that I spend so much time and energy on figuring out ways to eliminate inefficiency from life (not just my classroom) that I sometimes have to stop and remind myself that it is actually best practice for our brains and bodies to SLOW DOWN. And that maybe the best way isn’t the one that takes (seemingly) less time for kids to learn a concept or skill. As an example, the act of creating that long list of questions (some of which will have nothing to do with the concept we’re working on!) really resonated with me as a way to help kids embrace curiosity in their learning process instead of being force-fed prescriptive assignments and tests, and to build creative thinking skills.
Another take-away is to “Be Mindful About Play.” This is something that I know I have (regrettably) pushed out of my classroom more and more over the last 2-3 years, and I knew that I wanted to find a way back to the joyfulness of teaching, and of music. I cannot wait to incorporate many of the games and playful methods that Dr. Barber talked about! The funky seating arrangements that I’m going to try are going to be awesomely challenging! I think that introducing the kids to the works of Christoph Niemann will be a great metaphor for why we’re doing that. He creates art by looking at objects in new/different ways; we will create art by listening/playing in new and different ways.
…this gives me a huge opportunity to reset, re-work, and replace some tired, ineffective-in-the-name-of-efficiency habits with exciting, slow, messy, effective practices without the pressure to perform right away. I am going to harness my inner puppy.
KK (middle school band director, Missouri)
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to and conversing with Dr. Barber these past few weeks. She is so joyously intense! Her passion and complete joy for what she does radiates outward from her. I hope to achieve that level some day. She’s not teaching us specific strategies to use in our classrooms, she’s teaching us a whole new way of thinking. I LOVE that. In Dr. Barber’s classroom, there are no ‘mistakes’ or ‘wrong answers.’ Everything is met with enthusiasm. Instead of saying ‘incorrect,’ it is changed to ‘thank you for your answer.’ This way, instead of hunting for the correct answer from students and driving them down further into the chasm of becoming robots, we get a genuine glimpse into how the students are thinking. Instead of identifying students for playing a ‘wrong’ note, students are celebrated for their proud ‘colorful’ note. It’s all about perspective.
In addition to this, I adore the idea that learning is a game. It’s absolutely true. Everyone learns better when it’s put into a game-like situation and is fun! Being able to see so many ideas really has me gearing up for new ideas to try with my ensembles, especially the around-the-room scales.
In regard to changing seating arrangements for the ensemble, I actually have a short story. My fiancé had asked about the class [with Dr. Barber], and I told him about all the things she had been teaching us (especially about the unique seating arrangements). His very first reaction was, “Wow…that’s some high-level ensemble methodology.” And I had to respond, “Why? Why can’t we incorporate those ideas into all of our ensembles? What’s stopping us?” Having the students hear themselves play from a multitude of different perspectives will overall help them understand music better.
Listening to Dr. Barber came at just the right time, as we are heading into this next school year. Knowing we will have to be creative with what we are doing with our classes was frightening at first, but now I have much more confidence tackling the unknowns.
JW (high school band director, Illinois)
Dr. Barber does an excellent job of showing that there may not be one pathway to get to the same idea. I loved her teaching with the winding pathway. I found the graphic where the people were sharing different ideas about light to be so true to the idea of teaching.
As a middle school teacher, I always struggle in getting students to participate in discussions, so I am excited to use concepts such as the QFT to help students become more curious and more playful. Through Dr. Barber’s presentations, I realized that maybe some of my own actions and comments and how I was leading activities may contribute to the lack of preparation. I realized that when I have a class discussion, I may offer too much information and guidance. My goal is to better remember the “Golden Rule” and conduct or explain or guide as much as I have to, but as little as I need to. I believe that using the QFT could also help my students become more comfortable discussing things and sharing ideas. I think it will also be a great strategy to help students think outside the box.
I also enjoyed the many suggestions that Dr. Barber shared about getting ensembles to be more playful through strategies such as performing without a conductor and unique seating charts. I appreciated Dr. Barber even shared step-by-step strategies of how she implemented the conductor-less performance. I noted that she let the students figure it out for themselves and asked a lot of questions, but did not really directly tell the ensemble anything. I am also excited to implement some of Dr. Barber’s seating ideas into rehearsals to help the ensembles better listen to one another. Lastly, I really enjoyed the many games that were shared and am excited to try those with my ensembles, particularly the flocking game.
As for dealing with current events, I can see so much potential in incorporating some of these strategies no matter what the situation is next year whether it be in-person, virtual, in small groups, or some combination. The QFT strategies and teaching students to ask questions and be curious could easily be taught either via Zoom or in-person. A Google Form or Google Doc could be an easy way to have students complete questions from a QFT activity. I also think that many of the games that we discussed in the class could be altered to fit a virtual format. One game that could work particularly well could be the flocking game when done in a Zoom break-out room. …I think that implementing these strategies could be so helpful and engaging for our students.
KS (middle school band director, Wisconsin)
[While working with Dr. Barber] I’ve started to notice more and more how much my band classes lean much more to the traditional environment with just a little bit of the lab setting. For me, it’s been pretty effective but the more I reflect on it the more I start to think my students are just regurgitating info that I told them instead of discovering things or experimenting like how you would in a lab setting. …I remember learning in undergrad that a great way to engage in student learning was by using questions to guide them, however I didn’t really learn about how the QFT was structured in order to be super effective. …I really look forward to implementing QFT strategies more in my class. I thought it was pretty awesome during a couple of our discussions how many different ideas we were able to come up with. It will be even more interesting to see how the kids respond and see what they come up with.
JG (7th-12th grade band & chorus director, Iowa)
One of the main points I’ve taken away [from sessions with Dr. Barber] is that there is not always a “correct” answer, and often there shouldn’t necessarily be a correct answer. This allows the students to imagine many possibilities for how the music could be. I also really enjoyed the use of games in the classroom. I’ve done games before, but mostly with elementary or middle school students. I forget that high school students can enjoy playing games as well, and that can be a great way to engage them in the classroom.
EE (high school band director, Minnesota)
I was particularly intrigued by Dr. Barber’s work with the QFT method. This was initially very uncomfortable: I was unsure whether my answers would be considered ‘right’ and put some limits on myself early on in the process. She certainly put is in our student’s shoes with this activity! However, once she introduced ‘framing,’ it helped me realize how many different directions and perspectives could come out of a single QFT prompt. I wasn’t able to see these connections until they were all written down, and her suggestions to collect QFT input via exit tickets, etc. is a good stepping stone for me to get started with this in the classroom.
I considered myself to be a good discussion facilitator prior to learning about QFT. In actuality, I’m great at asking leading questions and just okay at discussions which nudge away from my goal or ‘big idea.’ However, watching Dr. Barber lead QFT discussions in our classes helped give me ideas for you to let go and let ideas happen naturally. Her neutral but enthusiastic “thank you” to all input seemed to encourage further conversation, even over Zoom. As well, her video clip with her college ensemble (and not interfering – wow!!) solidified that band directors can use QFT to get more thoughtful, musical playing out of an ensemble. I’d never seen anything like that before, and I will consciously work to use the Golden Rule to better facilitate ensemble work and discussion next year.
Finally, I’ve attempted a few alternative seating/gaming concepts in my ensembles before, but Dr. Barber really underlined the power of intent and artful planning behind these activities. In particular, I was struck by [her design of] specific seating arrangements for each ensemble’s repertoire. What a powerful and quick way to focus on ensemble skills and problem solving! I will certainly be more explicit with my kids this year about why we are moving into alternative seating, and will start developing strategies/routines to help this happen efficiently.
WL (middle school band director, Wisconsin)
And last but certainly not least, a word from our original lab partner - a person who set up their own lab and whose work perpetually infuses new ideas into the UNL lab...
Any time I have the opportunity to take a Carolyn Barber class or presentation, I try to take advantage of that opportunity. There is a strong influence toward methodized and standardized instruction in most public schools. I can also fall for this “efficiency” when the school days get extra long and time is short. In these times teaching music feels like checking off boxes on an outline to get from point A to B, rather than embarking on a discovery of music with students. Dr. Barber’s teaching never falls into this kind of proscribed method or “lather, rinse, repeat” type of instructional design (“The Play”). Each student is considered as their own unique individual and each piece of music is considered as a unique creation. I really appreciate this reminder to build instruction individually for each student and piece that is studied. It creates a much richer interaction and creative process. It keeps me focused on a pathway for musical discovery rather than just producing a concert.
I also particularly enjoy the way it empowers students. I feel that I do my best work as a facilitator for students. Rather than providing answers or taking students through a prescribed sequence of study, it is much more rewarding to explore multiple options for problem solving. It is exciting to remove limitations (mine or my students) from our options to experiment and create. The experimentation process leads to both fantastic failures and successes, with the failures often being crucial steps toward success. This process also means that we are looking for unique and authentic pathways to learn music. Not just a process to perform notes, rhythms, dynamics, phrasing, etc. but to connect with and make our best effort at creating something meaningful to ourselves and others.
The Q-focus information is new to me and I am very excited about the options it provides for gathering lots of perspectives. I can see the opportunity to integrate input for all students to our musical exploration and discovery. This seems like a tool to create new, rich, and potentially unexpected ideas and perspectives to our musical efforts.
As my students and I have embraced this type of laboratory learning in music, our music making has really grown. By focusing on music making rather than concerts, our performances have improved in both facility and musicality. I also notice that my students smile and laugh more with this approach to musical discovery.
JM (middle school band director, Wisconsin)