School Year Finale

An end-of-school-year message (Maia Hamann)
An end-of-school-year message (Maia Hamann)

Musicians know the importance of choosing a good concert finale. The last music heard should engage the audience, show the ensemble at its best, and leave everyone with a good impression of the performance. Programming the end of the school year is no different. Engage students with fun educational activities, help them to recognize what they’ve learned and accomplished throughout the year, and leave them looking forward to coming back to music class next fall.

Review with Fun

In the last few days of school, energy levels are high, attention spans are short, and schedules are inconsistent. Teaching new content may be nearly impossible, but this time can be educational. Music games and activities that synthesize the year’s learning can be especially effective during those last days. Here are some activities that I’ve been doing with my kindergarten through third grade students:

Lucy Locket: We use the simple mi-sol-la song “Lucy Locket” to play a game very similar to the “Hot and Cold” game. An object is hidden in the classroom while a student waits outside in the hallway. When the student comes into the room, he or she tries to find the object while the class sings the song. The class gives hints by singing forte when the student gets close to the object and piano when he or she moves away from it. At the end of the school year, we expand the game by coming up with a list of musical opposites (loud and soft, fast and slow, high and low, etc.). In each round, one set of opposites is chosen before the seeker reenters the room, and when the student finds the object, he or she has to tell which set was used to give clues. This game reviews several different concepts, practices expressive singing, and reinforces the idea of communication through music. And the students can’t get enough of it!

Tempo Freeze: This game is a musical version of “Red Light, Green Light.” One student (or the teacher) stands at one end of a playing area with a drum, or other percussion instrument, while the rest of the class stands in a line at the other end. The drummer counts off four beats, then continues playing a steady beat while the students take one step per beat to get closer to the drummer. When the drum stops, everyone freezes. Then the drummer chooses a different tempo and movement continues after another four beat count off. Anyone who moves when they shouldn’t has to go back to the starting line. The first student to touch the drummer wins, and gets to be the next drummer. This is a fun review of steady beat, tempo, and rhythmic movement.

Sound Scavenger Hunt: Each student gets a list of sounds to find outside. This could include birds, cars, talking, playground equipment or any other sounds that are likely to be heard. When they hear a sound, they can check it off of the list, but they also have to indicate if the sound was forte or piano and high or low. This relaxing outdoor activity focuses students’ listening and trains them to identify and analyze a variety of sounds.

Give Thanks and Advice

Music is a social art form. Young students need to be taught that their music isn’t performed in isolation, but through the collaboration of performers, composers, and audiences, and with the help of many people in non-musical roles. After concerts, have students write thank you letters to people who helped to make their performance a success, including custodians, office staff, teachers, audience members, and more. Remembering how others were involved in and affected the concert helps students to reflect on the performance and their own collaborative role in it.

Another way to help students reflect on their accomplishments and learning in music class is to ask them to give advice to the incoming class. Their responses are often very thoughtful, and can demonstrate what they’ve learned (“You get to learn about woodwind, brass, percussion, and string instruments.” or “Don’t drop your recorder because it could break!”) and show their personal perspective (“Learning recorder is hard” or “You’ll have fun doing the holiday play”).

Transition to Summer

Transitioning from the daily routine of school to summer vacation is a big change that students will experience in a wide variety of ways. Many have drastically reduced attention spans as they plan their lives away from school. Some might be unusually clingy, angry, or sad as they worry about leaving school. Even if we can’t dissolve their concerns, just acknowledging the range of emotions in a class is important.

Take advantage of this time without the pressures of upcoming performances to connect with students, especially those who are having difficulties with the transition. Encourage them to continue singing, playing, and listening to music through the summer. If you teach consecutive grades, remind students who need consistency that you’ll be their teacher again in the fall (and hopefully they’ll think that’s a good thing!). Enjoy the time to have conversations, even when they’re not “on topic.” During a recent in-depth talk with a second grader about everything from hunting pocket gophers to hot rod cars, he said to me, “You know, it’s too bad we don’t just get to chat like this more often.” I couldn’t agree more.

Teachers and administrative staff wave goodbye to students (Wikimedia Commons)
Teachers and administrative staff wave goodbye to students (Wikimedia Commons)

The end of the school year is bittersweet. It can be a challenging time, but it can also be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of the year for students and teachers. Relax, reflect, and relish these last days with your students. Give them a school year finale that will motivate them to continue enjoying music through the summer.

Herr Mozart, Herr Beethoven… Hair Auction

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (via Wikimedia Commons)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (via Wikimedia Commons)

A lock of hair from the head of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is expected to be sold for up to £12,000 (around $18000 U.S.) at a Sotheby’s auction this week.

It’s not the first time a piece of Wolfie’s hair has been sold. In 2002, Sotheby’s sold another lock which was acquired after being passed on by the mistress of one of the composer’s sons. That sale set a record with a price of £38,000 — the equivalent of nearly $60000 U.S.

The same auction will include an invitation to the 1827 funeral of Ludwig van Beethoven, along with a smaller lock of his hair. A friend of the composer once recalled that when he came to pay respects after Ludwig’s passing, previous visitors had already helped themselves to snippets of his white hair.

The memorabilia of both composers will be on display until the music and manuscripts sale tomorrow.

VocalEssence to perform with the Rolling Stones in Minneapolis

Rolling Stones

When the Rolling Stones perform on June 3 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, they’ll be joined by VocalEssence, the choir announced today.

“VocalEssence is honored—and thrilled—to be before an audience with the Rolling Stones. Could it get any better than this?” said VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle in a press release. Brunelle also pointed out that both he and Mick Jagger were born in July 1943. “Maybe we’ll have an early celebration on stage,” Brunelle speculates.

It hasn’t been announced exactly which song(s) VocalEssence will appear on, but at the Rolling Stones’ San Diego tour opener, they were joined by the Bob Cole Conservatory Chamber Choir for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the opening song of their encore. In other words, if the Stones leave the stage next Wednesday and you haven’t heard VocalEssence yet, don’t panic.

For more on how touring performers hire local musicians, read my interview with Jill Olson Moser—a violinist who soloed with Stevie Wonder in March at Target Center.

Photo via the Rolling Stones on Facebook

On the Air This Week

Highlights from May 19 to 26

Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight: Mound-Westonka High School Concert Choir.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: professor Nanette Goldman.
Tuesday, 6:30 pm: School Spotlight: Mound-Westonka High School Concert Choir.
Thursday, 3:15 pm: Regional Spotlight: the Miro Quartet plays early Beethoven.
Thursday, 7 pm: the 2015 Minnesota Varsity Showcase Concert.
Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Brahms’ second piano concerto, with Andre Watts.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Classic Concertos.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The RTVE Symphony Orchestra is joined by Stephen Hough for Dvorak’s piano concerto.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen.
Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: Ultimate Frisbee player Kevin Held.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature.

Report shows most teachers and parents want music in schools

Young boy trying out the piano (woodleywonderworks/Flickr Creative Commons)
Young boy trying out the piano (woodleywonderworks/Flickr Creative Commons)

In a recent report released by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, communities across the country were asked to provide information about their music education programs.

While it’s not necessarily a surprise, the study found that 77 percent of teachers and 64 percent of parents feel that music/arts education is “extremely” to “very important.”

Michael Butera, Executive Director and CEO National Association for Music Education (NAfME) says:

“We hope to use these findings as we move forward in advocating for music for all students. Students are yearning for meaningful education that taps into who they are as people—not just rote learning that enables them to fill out a bubble test of questions. Music is the answer. This report illustrates the collective agreement with this sentiment.”

Read the full report here.

Click on Classical: Notes from Cuba, to sing and to lead, the music of ‘Poltergeist’

Cuba note

On Monday mornings at 9:15, I visit the Classical MPR studio to talk about stories we’re featuring on our website. Here are the features I’ll be discussing this morning—Tuesday, due to the holiday weekend—with Melissa Ousley.

By now you may have heard the Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba concerts, and perhaps seen Nate Ryan’s photos of the orchestra’s historic trip. To add to your understanding of what the trip meant, it’s well-worth reading clarinetist Rena Kraut’s “Notes from Cuba”: first-hand accounts of Rena’s encounters with Cubans.

A choral program at Como Park Senior High in St. Paul gives kids the chance not just to sing, but to conduct. Read about what the program has meant to graduating student Esther Vang.

Over at our new listening site YourClassical, Garrett Tiedemann has been writing about the music of some of the biggest summer blockbusters. This week, he looked back on the mixed history of the Poltergeist franchise, which has just been revived.

A different kind of ‘water music’

When kids stay at a hotel, often the best part for them is getting to swim in the hotel pool. When those kids are also talented members of a high school choir, the fun goes even further.

The members of the Stillwater Area High School Concert Choir proved just how far the fun can go when they discovered the acoustics of the indoor pool at their hotel in Ames, Iowa, were ideally suited for a performance of “O Day Full of Grace” by F. Melius Christiansen. Many choral-music fans seem to agree; as of this report, the resulting YouTube video has been viewed nearly 1.4 million times. Here’s the video of the performance:

h/t John Birge

On the Air This Week

Highlights from May 19 to 26

Tuesday, 7:15 am: Teacher Feature: Keith Swanson, of Hermantown High School.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans: poet and writing instructor Kris Bigalk.
Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Teacher Feature: Keith Swanson, of Hermantown High School.
Thursday, 3:15 pm: Regional Spotlight: Accordo, with guest Julia Bogorad-Kogan, plays a Mozart flute quintet.
Friday, 8 pm: Minnesota Orchestra: Brahms’ first piano concerto, with Garrick Ohlsson.
Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Tongues of Fire.
Sunday, noon: From the Top.
Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: cellist Ralph Kirschbaum plays Tchaikovsky, with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Monday, noon: Learning to Listen: Beethoven’s piano sonatas.
Tuesday, 7:15 am: School Spotlight.
Tuesday, 5 pm: Music with Minnesotans.
Tuesday, 6:30 pm: School Spotlight.

Osmo Vanska plays clarinet with Cuban ensemble

Osmo Vänskä joined a jazz ensemble, playing his clarinet.

The eyes of much of the world were on Cuba as the Minnesota Orchestra performed two historic concerts in Havana. In addition to playing the spotlight concerts, orchestra musicians — including Music Director Osmo Vänskä — ventured out to perform Cuban music in a smaller venue.

MPR photographer Nate Ryan’s images from Cuba are truly captivating, but Nate explains he was not alone in covering the Minnesota Orhcestra’s historic visit to the island nation. In and around the musical activities in Havana, Nate saw teams from Al-Jazeera America, from BBC World (which produced this video) and from Chinese media. As one might expect, Nate also met a photographer from Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Osmo Vänskä’s native Finland.

Helsingin Sanomat’s Vesa Sirén covered the concerts at the Teatro Nacional, but Sirén and his colleague Juhani Niiranen also reported on and captured video of Vänskä and other Minnesota Orchestra musicians playing with a Cuban jazz ensemble. Minnesota Public Radio’s Toni Karlsson provided this translation of what Sirén wrote in Helsingin Sanomat:

As expected, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra Osmo Vänskä played jazz in a nightclub on Saturday night in Havana. The first visit of a U.S. orchestra in this century ended up in the Habana Café nightclub, where the orchestra players who are skilled in jazz jammed with the traditional Cuban ensemble, Orquesta Aragón.

Before his conducting career, Vänskä was first-chair clarinet in both the Turku and Helsinki orchestras. On this evening in at the Habana Café, Vänskä plays clarinet on many of the numbers [watch video here]. The audience consisted mostly of people from the Minnesota Orchestra or from the U.S. delegation; Habana Café is too expensive for local Cubans. On the other hand, the Minnesota Orchestra concert tickets were affordable to Cubans, who filled the Teatro Nacional twice.

The audience, saturated as they are with the Castro brothers’ socialist rhetoric, weren’t bothered by the U.S. national anthem when the orchestra played it alongside the Cuban national anthem on Saturday.

The Saturday-night concert was not quite as good as the previous night’s supernatural Beethoven concert. The Minnesotans sought to achieve Cuban rhythms in the Alejandro Garcia Caturian danzón, and in the Bernstein, they achieved the evocations of the musica, West Side Story. The playing was very good, but not quite exceptional.

In bits and pieces of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet music, we heard many bulls-eyes. And matching the Latin rhythms, Vänskä concluded both nights with the Säkkijärven polka.

The Cuban audience was spellbound.

MPR’s Nate Ryan was also at the Habana Café nightclub, where he captured the photos below.

Photos by Nate Ryan

Musicians Kate Nettleman and Manny Laureano talk on the way to Habana Cafe.

Walking up the stairs at Habana Cafe.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians arrive at Habana Cafe.

Osmo Vänskä playing clarinet on stage at Habana Cafe

Osmo Vänskä performs with a Cuban jazz ensemble. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

The Habana Cafe.

Dancers on stage

Cuban performers at the Habanera Cafe

More coverage available at

Photos: Minnesota Orchestra’s final 24 hours in Havana

Osmo Vänksä

The Minnesota Orchestra closed out their whirlwind tour of Havana Saturday night with an awe-inspiring performance of both the Cuban and American national anthems. Classical MPR’s Brian Newhouse writes, “‘Burst into song’ is cliché, but that is exactly what happened, a mix of shock and joy on those faces. An American orchestra playing the Cuban National Anthem? While the roar of applause afterward was still going, the Orchestra went right into the Star-Spangled Banner. That’s when the tears began. The Cubans didn’t know the words, of course, but they instantly knew the music, and the symbolism of playing the two anthems back-to-back.”

While the trip was so intently focused on music — both in terms of outreach and education — as well as performance, it’s important to get a final tour of the surrounding area. Photographer Nate Ryan captured the scenes, the performances, and the after-hours fun before the members of the Orchestra boarded their charter back home.

Saturday morning around Havana

Residents of Havana on the street as a pedicab goes by.

Mural of Che Guevara. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

Broadcast engineer Johnny Vince Evans riding in a Desoto convertible.

The Havana skyline.

Desoto convertible dashboard.

Driving down the Malecón.

A woman smokes outside of a small restaurant.

Banyan tree.

Palm trees line the road in Havana.

Havana apartment building.

Hotel Cohiba outdoor lunch.

Motorcycles and travel cases.

Havana street scene.

A coconut drink on a sunny Saturday in Havana, Cuba.

Live performance at Teatro Nacional de Cuba

Featuring performances of the Cuban national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, and pieces by Caturla, Bernstein and Prokofiev.

A musician reviews the score before the May 16th performance

Trombonist warming up

Anthony Ross applies rosin to his bow.

View from the Teatro Nacional de Cuba

Sculptures outside the plaza

Guests dropped off in front of the theater.

A quick candid snap of rehearsal.

Osmo Vänskä takes a bow.

The audience, already standing for the Cuban national anthem, applauds.

The Minnesota Orchestra perform The Star Spangled Banner

A view from the strings section.

Tubaist Steven Campbell.

Trumpet player Manny Laureano.

The woodwinds section of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Osmo Vänskä viewed from behind the harps.

Osmo Vänksä

The audience rises to their feet for the first of several ovations.

Osmo Vänskä reacts to the audience's applause.

The Minnesota Orchestra bows as the audience gives them another standing ovation.

Post-concert at Café Habana

Musicians Kate Nettleman and Manny Laureano talk on the way to Habana Cafe.

Walking up the stairs at Habana Cafe.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians arrive at Habana Cafe.

Osmo Vänskä joined a jazz ensemble, playing his clarinet.

Osmo Vänskä playing clarinet on stage at Habana Cafe

Osmo Vänskä performs with a Cuban jazz ensemble. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

The Habana Cafe.

Dancers on stage

The trip home

Minnesota Orchestra board the Delta charter back to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Family and fans await the return of the Minnesota Orchestra and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The musicians arrive through customs.

A warm welcome from fans at MSP.

Complete coverage can be found at