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

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