A musician’s life.

“Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.” 

“I play with children so that I can learn from them.”

S. Suzuki

From box violins to Mississippi Stop Stop, from soundtracking Halloween stories to learning from a renowned cello pedagogue, from jazz improv to classical rounds, the UT Elementary musicians continuously show love, respect, and dedication to their learning.

The second graders started the semester on box violins and are now playing on real violins (with bows!). This is a significant accomplishment! Holding the violin correctly requires focus, automaticity, and self-assessment, and moving the bow across the string with a relaxed bow hold to make a beautiful and clear tone is equally challenging.  The second graders’ patience, dedication, positive attitude, and tenacity have made for productive and joyful classes. The third graders continue to work on skill automaticity, self-assessment and are are ready to begin note reading, and play more advanced pieces.  We’re currently working on Backwards Twinkle and Jolly Old St. Nicholas. On Halloween, third graders experimented with movie music by writing a scary story and then composing their own soundtrack. Their compositions and stories were creative and spooky! The third graders consistenly demonstrate camaraderie with their classmates who just started playing this semester. The fourth graders (many of whom switched to different instruments this year) dove into a challenging concert piece, and have learned to work together as a team to accomplish a mutual goal. One of the most exciting moments of the semester was when Pamela Devenport came to Austin to teach our 4th and 5th grade cellists. This was an incredible opportunity for our kids (and me!), and I’m looking forward to creating similar opportunities in the Spring.  And finally, the fifth graders have truly impressed me this semester. Not only has their playing matured into a sophisticated sound, each class demonstrates true teamwork. They routinely analyze their sound, their tone, and their intonation. They help each other (a violist commonly translates his learning into cello-speak to help out a friend), they are supportive, and they have high expecations for themselves.  And, this week, a graduate student from UT came to teach one 5th grade class about jazz improvisation. A few students even learned how to take a solo! More to come on that, too!

An orchestra class is a community. Students work together, help each other, and learn to play together. They learn that mistakes will happen (they’ve even seen me make a few mistakes!), and that the remedy to a mistake is to try again. Music, like many things in life, requires a high degree of precision and meticulousness. These skills will not be mastered the first, second, or even twentieth time. But what I hope students take with them is that if they keep working, they will succeed. As a fifth grade violinist remarked: “I just keep on practicing, and when I get it wrong, I just start all over and try it again…and then it’ll eventually come together.” This philosophy, and the realization that joy comes from hard work, fosters a sense of pride and ownership of their own learning.

Upcoming events:

  • A handful of UTES musicians will play at the DDCE tree lighting ceremony on December 6th: http://diversity.utexas.edu/2016/11/28/get-in-the-holiday-spirit-with-jacobys-and-ut-elementary/
  • Wednesday, December 7th at 2:30pm – Our WINTER CONCERT! We’re so excited to show off our hard work, and most importantly, to enjoy making music as an 80+ member orchestra!

I hope you enjoy these photos from this semester, and that you take many more during our concert next Wednesday (December 7th at 2:30pm!)! Can’t wait to see you there!

– Courtney Castaneda

Bow holds galore!

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.”

Welcome back, Little Longhorns! We just completed our third week of school, and I am so excited! We have an enthusiastic and eager group of kiddos this year, and I am impressed by their focus and determination.

Orchestra classes focus on teamwork, peer-to-peer learning/teaching, and self-assessment. Music playing  requires a great deal of detailed work, and  we achieve this through varying means. For example we sing (a lot!)  which helps us with intonation, we play rhythm games to help internalize pulse, we play listening games to help with our musicianship, and most importantly, we help each other develop a unified and beautiful sound.

Once basic skills are mastered in class, students will be able to take instruments home. I only send instruments home once students have internalized and automated correct skills, are making beautiful sounds, and know how to practice effectively. Additionally, students should also be able to explain how to keep their instrument safe.

Here are just a few accomplishments for each grade, and some photos of our beautiful bow holds!

2nd Grade: We are working our way through the Box Violin Checklist! I’ve asked our 2nd graders to go over this list at home, and to teach a parent or care-taker some of these skills and songs. Second graders will be assigned violins once the Box Violin Checklist skills are mastered.

3rd Grade: Third graders are working on reviewing skills from last year (including bow holds), and have been sized and assigned an instrument! We are working on rhythms (pear, apple, watermelon), music theory (clef signs and nick names!), aural skills, bow holds, and playing position!

4th Grade: Fourth grade is an exciting year because students have the opportunity to pick their string instrument! Instruments have been assigned and students have been sized. We are working on reading rhythms (!!), bow holds (of course), and will begin to play in playing position this week.

5th Grade: Our fifth graders are off to a running start. They are working on Viva La Vida, Martin’s March, and are finishing the Mastery for Strings curriculum.

A new generation of musicians!

   “I learned the value of hard work by working hard.”

-Margaret Mead

If there is one thing we know as musicians, it’s that playing an instrument well is not easy! And in December, the Little Longhorn Orchestra members presented a successful and impressive concert demonstrating everyone’s continued mastery of their instrument. For our 2nd graders, this was their very first performance and they handled the situation like professionals! Preparing for a thirty-minute concert means hours and hours of difficult (and fun!) work focusing on minute, but very important, details. As we looked out at the sea of young musicians, we saw their hard work come to fruition through their intonation, their bow direction, their flexible bow holds, their beautiful playing positions, and most of all their excitement and smiles.

The day after our winter concert, we relaxed by playing outside. One of our students remarked that he understood that by working hard and being proud of their concert, he and his classmates were able to appreciate their day of relaxation.

We hope you enjoy these photos from the past few months, and that you continue to encourage your children to work hard at becoming the best musician they can be!



Beautiful Tone

“Beautiful tone, beautiful heart.”

-Shinichi Suzuki

Our fifth graders continue to work diligently on their posture and instrument set-up which are integral to the production of beautiful tone. Playing with a clear and beautiful tone gives students a foundation upon which they can develop their own artistry and musical ideas.

Last week we also focused on fingerboard geography (knowing where and what the notes are on the fingerboard), and playing as a cohesive ensemble. We love to see our students working together as a team and helping each other succeed!

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UTES Musicians!

Check out our photos from the past few weeks! Our 3rd and 5th grade students have been reviewing their posture skills (playing position and bow holds), and our 2nd grade students are transitioning from box violins to real violins! Our classes are moving along quickly, and we’re proud of everyone’s hard work!

Here are some skills and activities you can practice with your child at home:

  • Songs: Rest Position Song, This is My Violin, Chicken on a Fencepost, Old Brass Wagon, Popcorn Song, ANTS song, Parts of the Instrument Song, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Rocky Mountain.
  • Arm Scrubbing (rhythms): Mississippi Stop Stop, Down Wiggle Up Wiggle, Ice Cream (shhh) Cone, Strawberry Blueberry, Grandma Rides a Motorcycle.
  • Posture:
    • Ask your child to tell you components of a beautiful playing position!
    • Ask your child to tell you components of a beautiful Bow Hold! Have them teach you how to hold the bow (straw) correctly!
  • Parts of the Instrument: Ask your child to name all of the parts of their Instrument. They can also teach you the song!
  • Musical Alphabet: Have your child say the musical alphabet forwards and backwards.
  • Bowing: Have your child teach you the proper way to bow! Remember to always look at the ground, and not the audience!
  • Instrument Safety: Have your student tell you how to take care of and protect their instrument (unpacking/packing up, etc).
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– Courtney

Welcome to our UTES Orchestra Class!

Our eight orchestra classes are off to a wonderful start! We’ve loved seeing our returning students, and welcome our new students to the Little Longhorns Orchestra. We’re very excited to venture into the amazing world of string playing with you all!

Returning students have been busy reviewing skills from last year, while our new 2nd graders are starting on their box violins. We are in the process of sizing our 3rd – 5th grade students on their instruments, and hope to have that finished by the end of the week.

Here are a few things to know about the 2015 – 2016 Orchestra Class:

  • 2nd and 3rd graders play the violin.
  • 4th and 5th graders may choose to play violin, viola, cello, or bass.
  • There are at least two large group performances. One is typically in December, and the other in May.
  • Each student will have his/her own instrument for the year, however the instruments are owned by UT Austin and must be returned at the end of the school year.
  • Instruments may be taken home once a list of mastery skills have been achieved (will be clearly specified), and when proper handling of instrument is demonstrated in class. Once that happens, we hope students play for their families and show off their hard work! In the mean time, there are many activities students can practice at home without an instrument.
  • There is a small yearly fee of $20 which covers instrument maintenance and supplies for each student.