Monday, February 11, 2008


Work is progressing fairly smoothly on programming for Restoration. Besides a few details to clean up, pretty much all of the music and other parts of the service are set. Among the musical treats you can look forward to will be a string quartet and a vocal ensemble from LLU, an orchestra for Sabbath, and a couple of small instrumental ensembles from Loma Linda Academy (ok, including yours truly; couldn't resist). The theme song will be "Come Holy Spirit" (#269), a nice two-liner to the tune of "Jesus The Very Thought of Thee." I chose it partly because of the words in the first verse:

Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.

Thought it went pretty well with the theme, "Ignite." 

One thing I was worried about was obtaining the powerpoint slides for the words of the hymns. Writing slides for 4 or 5 songs for each of the 14 services seemed like a huge task, so I asked around to see if anyone had them already, and racked my brain trying to come up with some good options. Then my boss Adrian, displaying the excellent resourcefulness and leadership that makes him such a great director, suggested, "Why don't you search for them online?" I honestly had not thought of that. So I googled "sda hymns powerpoint" and came up with this. I will try to restrain myself from extolling the virtues of this resource until it's actually been tested in the meetings, but it sure looks like a good deal. It took one click and a minute or two to download the words from entire SDA hymnal on presentation-ready powerpoint, easy to use, for free. Somebody ought to give that guy a donation.

So, I'm hoping the Restoration meetings will go well and will be a blessing to the university and the community. I listened to a tiny bit of one of Matt Parra's sermons  and although I didn't get too far into it before I had to do something else, I will say that I do like his voice a lot. I have a suspicion we'll get a good turnout of young people this year. We'll have to take note of the gender demographic. 

Friday, February 08, 2008

Grading time

This week I've been writing grades for my students. Yes, you might think, why is a private violin teacher making grades for her students? It's not a school class, just an extracurricular activity, and any grades I make for them don't count for a thing, neither on their report cards nor transcripts nor anything. I've certainly never received grades from any of my violin teachers, nor have I really even heard of anyone else doing that exactly, although many music teachers use various incentives to motivate their students to practice.

I grade my students solely on how much time they spend practicing per week. Here's my reasoning behind it. I have quite a few students who are getting into middle school age, and they comprehend grades. (I don't grade my 5-year-olds, although I might give a sticker for practicing every day.) I think many of them could invest more in their work on the violin. Giving them a "report card" at the end of the quarter makes them feel like it's a class that they have to take seriously, just like math or reading. I like for my students to know what kind of standards I hold for practice. I don't make it very hard on them--I realize that violin lessons are more optional than math or reading, and that there are times when they have a lot of homework that has to get priority. I grade them according to how many minutes they practiced per week, so if they skip a day or two they can make up for it on another day. I calculate grades for the quarter by averaging out all the weeks in the quarter, so if they have a busy week they can make up for it in another week. I also let them include lesson time, group class (45 minutes every week), and whatever else they might do with their violins (play for church, impromptu recital for Grandma, etc.) as practice time. What this works out to is about 180 minutes a week for Book 1 level (about 30 minutes a day for 6 days), 225 minutes for Book 2, 300 minutes for Book 3, etc., to get an A+. I also grade myself at the Book 6+ level, just to be fair. 

Here are some observations I've made from the experiment so far: 

1. Most of my students get A's. Many of them get A+'s. They enjoy seeing A+ on their report cards, and so do their parents. 
2. Those who are progressing more quickly through the repertoire are the ones getting good grades. Those getting C's are not learning as many pieces as quickly. Hmm. 
3. I can usually predict who will get what grade. 
4. I can usually detect a pretty good correlation between how much practice time they report to me for the week and how prepared they are for that lesson. Also, hmm. 
5. Hopefully, some of these students and parents will understand better why I say the things I do in the lesson, and also why they are not progressing very quickly through the repertoire, when they see their grades at the end of the quarter. It helps keep them from being discouraged, thinking that they are not talented, but rather realize that it's mostly a matter of time invested. 
6. I feel as though I am less arbitrary when I understand what is going on with my students' practice at home. If I see that a student is struggling with practice, I can talk with them about how to manage their time wisely, how to organize practice, and so on. It also helps me decide if I should assign each student more or less work.
7. Considering the average grades my students have received, I feel as though my grading scale is fair (maybe even on the soft side). Parents seem to like it, and nobody has complained about it yet. 
8. Grading myself definitely helps motivate me to practice! I feel like I'm accountable to my students, as well as they are to me. I've gotten more done the last few months than I have for years!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Lynn Harrell lecture

Today my friend and coworker Theresa took me to a free lecture by the world-renowned cellist Lynn Harrell at the AFM building in Hollywood. It was a fun experience in many ways. First of all, Theresa and I commented that many of our friends from other states get excited when we tell them that we live in Southern California, and immediately say something like, "So you can go visit HOLLYWOOD!" Well, I can tell you that Hollywood itself is nothing glamorous. It's mostly graffiti-painted pawn shops with bars on all the windows and riff-raff hanging around outside, and places like that. Theresa and I wanted to take a picture of ourselves in front of Pete's Lube & Tune to say, "Look, we went out on the town, to Hollywood!"

The musicians' union building is no better. It's an excellent example of dilapidated midcentury boring architecture. The lecture was held in a large room, not even a recital hall. Theresa and I arrived early because we didn't know what the parking situation would be like (it turned out that the area was un-glamorously deserted on a Sunday afternoon, so we were able to park right in front of the building), so we got a seat on one of the front rows. Harrell strolled in about 20 minutes before the program was about to start, in khakis and a pullover sweater, and proceeded to warm up right there on the stage while the audience came in.  He spent the next two hours lecturing about how bow hold and left hand positions affect tone quality, and showed close-up pictures of many different hand positions on slides to go with it. Some interesting points he brought up were that you can actually play louder and stronger with the bow without making a crunching sound if you add more vibrato, and that left fingertip placement (whether on the bony tip or the fleshy side of the finger) influences sound a great deal. He also equated string instrument sound with vocal styles; for example, when he's playing French music he plays with narrower, faster vibrato to imitate the slightly "nasal" tone that the French language has. I was expecting him to play more, but it was mostly just a lecture. It was very interesting to us, though, and even though it was mostly cello-oriented there were some interesting points I'm excited to try out on the violin.

After the program Theresa took me to her favorite vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant in Rosemead or San Gabriel or something, where the wait staff didn't speak English. As usual, she ordered far too much food for us. We had very yummy noodle soup and curry soup and spring rolls; and also as usual, she jumped to pay the check and threw in some special Chinese New Year rice wraps for me to take home. I'm so blessed to have such a generous friend like Theresa.