Today I was a strings teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. This was the first time I had subbed for a music teacher outside of a grade school, and so I wasn’t sure what the day would have in store for me.
The plans that the teacher left for me were to have the students practice in sectionals in preparation for a concert coming up in two weeks. I had three classes at the middle school; one for each of the three grade levels. While the day was looking to be rather boring, it turned out to be quite fun. The piece that all of the students were working on was an arrangement of Fantasia on Greensleeves by the immensely-talented but equally-insane composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. (Disclaimer: I have no idea if Vaughan Williams was actually insane. I just like to think so because his music is crazy.)
The seventh graders were first. They practiced in sectionals for the first 30 minutes of class, then spent the rest of the time doing a run-through together. I was able to put to use my skills as a musician and waved the baton in the air as they played. They were considerably better than I expected of 12-13-year-olds, and I think they actually made progress in their practice, which is always a good thing.
The second class was the sixth graders. They had four violins, a string bass,and a cello. They, too, were pretty good. The biggest problem encountered during the class was the the cellist was a rather bossy boy who had to be continually reminded that I am the teacher and, believe it or not, I do know something about music, so please sit down, okay, thank you very much. His classmates commented that their regular teacher has to do this quite often, as well.
Before having my 8th graders, I got to drive across town to enter the halls of a building I swore to never enter again. I speak, of course, of Champaign Central High School. I was there for one class that this middle school strings teacher offers: guitar. The students, mostly juniors and seniors, were expected to work on writing their own songs for guitar. Most were actually working on this, and I was pleased to hear a broad array of real music being composed and performed.
After lunch and an hour-long break, I finally had my 8th graders come in. All three of them. They spent the time practicing Greensleeves as well as a variety of other pieces on which they are working. I was surprised at the increased level of performance between even them and the 7th graders. I can tell that these three students take their music seriously, and they see it as a meaningful outlet for expression. I hope that they never let that outlet run dry or falter from lack of use.
Today was probably one of the most enjoyable days I have had teaching in Champaign in a long time. I’d love to sub for this teacher again, and be able to help his students continue to grow in their skills, even if I myself have no skill at drawing a bow across a string or striking the keys of the pianoforte.