Questions and Answers

Hello Friends,Retirement is every bit as busy as teaching was, hence the long delay between posts recently.  I’ve received several comments that contained questions or requests, so “Question and Answer” seemed to be the best way to format a new post.

Question 1 is easy: “Are you ok?”  Yep….I’m fine.  My schedule was frustratingly full during August and the beginning of September – so much so that I was beginning to ask “When do I get to start my retirement?”  Things are starting to slow down now, so I’m ready to get back to one of my top priorities: blogging.  Thanks so much, Judy, for your concern!

Question 2 was a request for weeks 4 and 5 of lesson plans.  One of my goals is to  write some of the activities that I’ve used in other years, but for now here are the links to the lessons that I did last year.

Primaries, week 4

Intermediates, week 4

Primaries and intermediates, week 5

An easy way to access these lessons is to use the “Search by Month” drop down.  There is still one more lesson in September, so you would choose September 2011 from the drop down menu, and it will take you to all of the lessons that were posted last September.

Question 3 was actually a series of questions from Theresa Ogan.

“How do you decide “when” and “what kind” of music program (theme, topic, musical, instrumental, vocal, or combination) each grade level will perform?2) Suggestions for how to schedule rehearsals. (The past few years, our school has been over-loaded which has dramatically affected the quality and what type of program we can do.)3) What Musicals have been your favorites and of course including your students, staff and family favorites?”

I could keep on inquiring, but want to respect your precious time and everyone else that reads your  blog!!”

First of all, ask away!  Questions really help me know what to write about.  I’d love to know what you’d like to read about!

The “when” of music programs in our district is, in many ways, a limited decision.  Our district has become large enough that the programs in an elementary building could easily interfere with a middle or high school program for families that have children at 2 or more levels.  Therefore, we decide upon our calendar of events together in a department meeting, to avoid conflicts as much as possible.  When a conflict is unavoidable we schedule the elementary concert early, (6:30), and the middle or high school program later, (7:30 or 8:00), so that parents will be able to get to both performances.

At the elementary level, all second graders participate in a performance.  We alternate between the holidays and early spring so that those of us with more than one building won’t have to do 2 programs within a week of each other.  e.g., in my building A there is a program in December, while building B does theirs in March.  The following year we switch, so that no one always has a holiday program while another always has a spring program.

Our 4th and 5th graders have the option of performing during both of those years by joining chorus and/or band.  That performance is always near the end of the year.  In addition, they sing at a local craft fair in December, as well as the school wide holiday sing along.   Rehearsing with 4th and 5th grades is a challenge, because, although they rehearse during recess, they do not have the same recess time.  4th grade is having lunch while 5th grade is having chorus.  We worked this out by alternating chorus weeks by grade,,,4th grade would meet on week A, 5th on week B.  They learn their parts separately.

As we got closer to program time I asked the cafeteria monitors to  please allow chorus members to get in line first, and then let them come to the music room as soon as they were finished eating.  In that way, I received some time with both groups together.  I was only allowed 45 minutes of rehearsal with both groups on stage the day before the dress rehearsal, because they had to be pulled from instructional time in order to attend.  Not ideal, but we made it work.

Themes of the programs were up to me.  During the holidays we did multicultural programs like “December in Our Town”, or added additional songs to “An All American Christmas”.    In the spring it was a bit more difficult to decide.  For the last 2 years I had to make do with whatever I already had on hand because of budget restrictions.  Last year I used my Music Express magazines to put together a program of jazz pieces that included “Route 66”, “Birdland”, and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Aint Got That Swing”.  The year before I used a different volume of Music Express for a program of Broadway songs including “Put on a Happy Face” from “Bye Bye Birdie”, “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” and “For Good” from “Wicked”.  One year I downloaded karaoke tracks from iTunes and made my own arrangements.

I can see I may have to do an entire post of favorite pieces…..

Question 4 is from me to you:

How do you, step by step, go about assembling a performing group, decide on music, schedule rehearsal time and mount a performance?

This will be our second contest!  You may give general steps, or use an actual program that ou are working on.  (That would give us multiple repertoire ideas….!)  Once again I will submit all responses to a panel of music teachers for selection.  the prize will be:

Favorite Folk Songs, The peter Yarrow Songbook.  12 songs with cd.

Submission time begins now and will close November 1.  This gives lots of time for busy teachers to get their thoughts together.  Ready?  Go!



Week 3 Sequence of Lessons

Here are the links to the 3rd week’s sequence of lessons:


Grade 1 Literacy lesson number 3, continues working on steady beat.    You’ve gotta try Bo-wo-wones! 


Primary lessons: A rehash of Grade one, plus grade 2 review activities on quarter and eighth notes, mi, sol and la.

Intermediate lessons:  9/11, Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs.  Vocal production.


These lessons are in the calendar drop down near the bottom of the page under September 2011.  Clicking the forward arrow from there will take you into the next sequence.

Thanks for reading!


Week Two Sequence of Lessons….links


Grade 1, Music Literacy lesson #2 – continues work on  warm ups,phrase, steady beat, Song to Read: Michael Finnegan

Grade 2, Music Literacy Lesson #2 – Introduce half note, review mi, sol and la, quarter note, quarter rest, eighth notes, Curwen hand signals.

Grade 3, Music Literacy lesson #2 – fermata, line and space notes,  do, re and mi read from the staff, quarter note, eighth note, pick up note, and Curwen hand signals.

Grade 4, Music Literacy Lesson #2 – do, re, mi, sol, la, half note, quarter note, eighth note, bar line, measure, and double bar.

Grade 5, Literacy Lesson #2 – 16th notes, Curwen hand signals, do  re mi sol la high do

And, in case anyone is interested, our beginning composer last year was Bach.  Here are some online resources that I found:


Here We Go Again


Tomorrow is August 1st…the first day of school can’t be too far in the distance.  Personally, I plan to be on a beach when my district resumes classes, not because I particularly want to continue the “fun in the sun” too much longer, but to fend off any feelings of homesickness for my school that may try to assert themselves.  Last year at this time I was beginning the planning process for setting up my room, acquiring new resources, writing seating charts and all of the other things that need to be done before the kids walk in the door.

Because blogs are sequential by nature, all of my beginning of the year plans and activities are waaaayyyyyy back at the beginning of the blog, so I thought I’d  repost some links in sequential order, in case anyone may be trying to find something specific.

1.  First Week Procedures offers some of the things I worked on to get my classroom and self ready to roll.

2.  “Back to School Already?”  addressed warm ups and opening activities for kindergarten and 1st graders.

3.  Grade 1, Music Literacy Lesson #1 addressed teaching the concept of phrase to kinders or 1st graders.

4.  Second Grade, Lesson 1, Music Literacy Review addressed warm ups for primary students, and a review of concepts that second graders had under their belts: 8th notes, quarter notes, quarter rests, mi, sol and la.

5.  The Voice Lesson gave some ideas for teaching basic vocal techniques to elementary students.

6.  Grade 3, Lesson #1, Music Literacy focused on intermediate warmups and a review of tme signature, repeat marks, half notes, quarter notes , 8th notes , quarter rests and do re me.  It also includes the note value pyramid.

7. Grade 4, Literacy Lesson #1, review includes all of the Curwen hand signals, note values, solo singing and fermata.

8.  Grade 5, Music Literacy Lesson #1 addresses time siganture, bar line, bass clef, do re mi fa, quarter rest, quarter note, eighth note.

9.  Finally, for anyone who may be wondering not only where to start, but where to go next, take a look at the curriculum flow chart.

I hope these are helpful.  I’ll post the next sequence soon.


Jane the Retired


Jane Rivera, August 2012, All Rights Reserved

The Last Days of School


I’m baaaaaack.

I haven’t posted here in several weeks, and I humbly apologize for my absence.  Aside from a couple of major personal issues, I’ve been riding the Retirement Rollercoaster……the emotional ups and downs which occur at the end of one’s career.  Nevertheless my presence and participation were required, so here are some of the activities I used to keep the kids as productive and attentive as possible.


To keep the little ones going, I resort to books at the end of the year.  Some of my favorites:

“This Old Man” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”  by Carol Jones.  Each illustration is covered by a page with a hole in it.  The students can only partially see the picture, and must guess what the next item is before we turn the page. (e.g.  He played knock knack on my DRUM).

I love “The Musical Life of Gustav Mole” and its sequel, “Gustav Mole and the Lost Music”.   “Musical Life” begins when Gustav is a baby mole and chronicles his experiences with music growing up.  He winds up becoming a composer with a wife and 5 little moles of his own.”  “Lost Music” continues the story, when Gustav’s children decide that they will never practice music again.  He takes them around the world showing them how important music is in other lands as well as their own.  Of course, there are demonstrations of all sorts of instruments that are native to other cultures.  Both have recorded narration and music.

Some of my favorites are authored by the actor, John Lithgow.  “Marsupial Sue” and “I’m a Manatee”  are both songs by Lithgow which have been turned into children’s books, and come with recordings of him singing the songs.  I always read the books first to the kids so we can discuss any words they might not understand and to be sure they catch the gist of the book.  Then we read it again as the author sings it.

I’ll be listing all of these books and others in the never-ending retirement sale soon, so stay tuned if you’re interested.

Music Express Magazine

Music Express is a great source for wonderful musical arrangements, but also for listening maps and composer lessons.  March of 2003, Vol. 3 #5 contains a partner arrangement for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” that was perfect after our “Quaver” video on form.  I used “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as A, the partner song “Triple Play” as B, and had them first sing it as an ABA arrangement, then AB partner songs together.  There is a third spoken part, but because I used this in 2nd grade I just went with the two.  Used as presented in the magazine’s teacher edition, this is actually an intermediate lesson. The following week we reviewed and followed the listening map for “Casey at the Bat” in the same issue.  The whole 12 minute poem is there, set to music.

First grade used the same issue to learn “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”  Some already knew it, but many did not.  Once everyone could sing the song, we played the “B” game.  Students stand or sit each time they sing a word that starts with the letter “B”.



Have the students count off by fours to divide them into 4 groups and place each group in separate areas of the room. Each group should have 1 recorder with a sheet of paper and a pencil. The students are given a category, and 5 minutes to list everything they can think of that will fit into the category. They should work as quietly as possible, since the other groups are allowed to steal their answers. (This actually works. Heheheh). The group with the most correct items on their list wins the round. Categories: Composers, Musical Symbols, Instruments, Songs We’ve Learned, (at any time), and Scientific Terms that Relate to Sound.


I have a video series at school called “Amazing Music”.  There are 4 videos in the set:  Emotions in Music, Pictures in Music, Instruments and Jazz.  They were recorded by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and hold the students’ attention well.  They are available from Plank Road Publishing.

Other videos that have come in handy are “Bugs Bunny’s Overtures to Disaster” and “Make Mine Melody”….soon to be listed in the retirement sale.


Jane Rivera, May 2012, All Rights Reserved

May 1-4, 2012; Aaron Copland


Once again it’s been a one-lesson-plan-fits-all kind of week.  It makes for easy lesson planning, but boy, am I tired of it and happy to move on by the end of the week.  This week I caught everyone up on our composer for the last quarter: Aaron Copland. After warming up and reviewing the Star Spangled Banner, (last week’s lesson), we begin our study of Aaron Copland with an animation. After viewing the video I asked the students a series of questions to solidify any information they may have acquired.  As it turned out, they were paying attention and able to answer most of my questions.  I have to say, I like very much.  I enjoy creating the animations, and they really hold the students’ attention. If you’ve watched the animation and can think of any questions I should have asked, please comment. Questions 1. ” Who is this?”  I ask this while pointing to my animated Bach.  The video is paused and all of the characters are visible on the screen.  The students identify Bach, Tchaikovsky, Haydn and Copland in succession.  It’s a quick way of reminding them who we’ve studied through the year.  We didn’t study Michael Jackson….I just threw him in there because a couple of students created him for their own animation, and I knew he’d be a hit. 2.  “Where is Aaron Copland from?  (America). 3.  “When did he live and compose?”  (The 20th century, also known as the 1900’s). 4.”Copland was born in 1900 and died in 1990.  How long did he live? ”  (Even the first graders can figure that one out). 5.  “For what does one receive an Academy Award?”  (Some facet of movie making; best actor, best director etc.  In his case, best musical score). 6.  “What did Aaron Copland do with his Oscar?”  (Used it as a doorstop.  This generated some discussion about humility, and never being too impressed with yourself.  My favorite Copland quote is “Nobody is a nobody.”) 7.  “What can you tell me about Aaron Copland’s music?”  (A lot of it was based on American folk tunes, he wrote some ballets and he wrote the music for two movies). Since my animated Aaron Copland suggested that we learn to sing “Simple Gifts, that was our next step. This is a Shaker song, but since we live not too far from Amish country I explained the Shakers by comparing them to the Amish.  Although the two denominations are quite different, both adopted a simple lifestyle. I taught it by rote, phrase by phrase.  By the way, there’s a nice little Orff arrangement of this in MusicK-8 vol. 1 #4. There was also a lot of information about Copland in that issue. ‘Tis a gift to be simple.  ‘Tis a gift to be free. “Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained to bow and to bend we shant be ashamed.  To turn, turn will be our delight ’til by turning, turning we come ’round right. Once the students learned the song we listened to Appalachian Spring.  This is a great piece for studying Theme and Variation.  I told the students that they would hear “Simple Gifts” played by a clarinet.  (Theme).  Then they would hear it four more times, but each time something would have changed. (Change is a basic meaning for variation).  I gold them when each variation began.  Their job was to figure out what changed. Theme – Clarinet Variation #1 – played by an oboe in a different key. Variation #2 – played by strings in canon at a slower tempo. Variation #3 – played by brass at a faster tempo. Variation #4 – played by the whole orchestra at a slow tempo. Actually, I’m not sure whether augmenting and diminishing the rhythm is constitutes a tempo change or not, but that’s what it sounds like to them.  They actually are able to hear all of the above and we summed it up like this: There are changes in instrumentation, tempo, dynamics and pitch. (Key changes). We listened to it one more time, and this time I verbally labeled everything that was happening. Next week we will review “Simple Gifts” and then play a game that I have on my iPad called “iPuzzle Songs”.  The app rearranges the phrases of various pieces of music and the students have to put them back into the correct order.  “Simple Gifts” just happens to be one of the songs in the game.  More about that next time. Thanks for reading!  :0)

Jane Rivera, May 4, 2012, All Rights Reserved

April 24-30, 2012, The Star Spangled Banner


This will be an easy post for me: we did the same lesson in grades 1-5 this week.  Our field day will be coming up in a couple of weeks.  Our Phys Ed teacher sets up all kinds of games and activities on the playground and out in the field.  The whole school goes out and rotates through the activities.  Before we begin, though, we have opening ceremonies.  We sing the school pledge, say the pledge to the flag and sing the Star Spangled Banner.

The national anthem is nothing new to the 2nd through 5th graders.  Still, I like to make a big deal out of it at least once a year.  I use the book “Oh Say Can You See“.

Oh Say Can You See

I begin by asking the students what a star-spangled banner is.  If they can’t answer right away we break it down.  A banner is a flag.  A star-spangled banner is an American flag, spangled with stars.

The book is a wealth of patriotic pictures, information and discussion starters.

Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light

The first photograph is a picture of THE Star Spangled Banner….the very flag that the song was written about.  The book has little flaps with “secret messages” underneath the flap.  The message for theism photo says that the original Star Spangled Banner, which is now 200 years old, resides in the museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.  My school is in Pennsylvania, so this opens a discussion about how many of the students have been to D.C., and how fortunate we are to live so close to many historic monuments.  The picture shows some extensive holes in the flag.  They’re there, not because the banner is 200 years old or flew in the midst of a battle,  but because there was a time when, for some inexplicable reason, people felt that it would be ok to snip  off a piece of the original Star Spangled Banner and take it home as a souvenir.  Since that time the flag has been placed under glass.  We can still look at it, but no one is allowed to touch it.

Next is a picture of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the poem.  The secret message under his picture tells that he wrote it on the back of a letter – the only piece of paper that he had on hand.  This was because he was on a boat, seen in the next picture.  The secret message says that it was called “The Surprise”.

This is a perfect time for me to give a brief synopsis of the events leading up to Francis Scott Key’s inspiration for “The Star Spangled Banner”.

“He was on a boat, watching a battle on the shore, at Fort McHenry.  The year was 1812.  He knew that as long as the  flag was flying over the fort the Americans still held it, and had not surrendered.  But then it started to get dark, and he couldn’t see it anymore…..  UNLESS an aerial bomb went off.  Have you ever been to the fireworks on the 4th of July and seen an aerial bomb?  It’s not one of the real pretty ones.  It’s just a bright light, followed by a boom so loud that you can feel it in your chest.  The whole sky lights up, and for a few seconds you can see everything around you.  Whenever one of those went off at Fort McHenry in 1812, Francis Scott Key would look to see if “our flag was still there”.  Do those words sound familiar?  They should, because it was this experience that inspired him to write the words of “The Star Spangled Banner”.

There is a picture of Betsy Ross, with a brief comment about her possible connection to the flag, and also one of our current American flag, explaining the 13 stripes and original 13 stars.  The kids always know the reason that there are now 50 stars.

I sing the first phrase while  pointing to the words, turn the page and do the same with the second phrase.  I stop to translate it for them.

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming

“This is a question.  First of all, when are dawn and twilight?”

They rarely get that one right on the first try, but once we’ve established that dawn is sunrise and twilight is sunset, we can figure out that the question is: “Say, now that the sun is coming up, can you see what we proudly saluted last night as the sun was going down?”

There are more pictures on this page.  I go through all of the Washington D.C. pictures first.  Each has a secret message about the photo under the flap.  Some students in each class have been to D.C., so each picture generates quite a bit of discussion, and I learn things as well.  For example, I learned that since the earthquake last August, no one is allowed inside the Washington Monument, and in fact, the entire perimeter is off-limits.  Apparently there is now a crack in the monument, and for safety’s sake people must keep their distance.  We felt the earthquake all the way up in PA, so of course we had to take a moment to discuss where they were at the time and the circumstances they encountered. The information under the picture of the White House is especially interesting to them.

Also on this page are pictures of the Liberty Bell, (Philadelphia), and the Statue of Liberty, (NYC).  None of these monuments is more than 4 hours away from us, and some are considerably closer.  We’re very fortunate to live near  some of our greatest national monuments.

I go back to the first phrase now, and connect it to the second.  We discuss the meanings of the words “Perilous” and “ramparts”.  Translation: Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the dangerous fight, streamed over the barricades.”  (A barricade, or rampart, is a bunch of piled up stuff that you can hide behind to stay safe).

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

The information around the edges of these pages pertains to the origins and use of fireworks on Independence Day.  I call attention once again to the connection between the words and the actual situation in which Francis Scott Key found himself: waiting for an aerial bomb to go off so that he could see whether the flag was still there.

The last page opens to show a representation of the 300 million people in the United States at the time the book was published.

O day, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Since I have a number of bilingual students in our school, I mention how very fortunate the person is who can speak and understand more than one language.  In the past I’ve found that students are sometime embarrassed by their ability to speak a language other than English.  I make a point of asking in each class if there are any students who can speak more than one language.  When they see all of the students who are eager to tell me that they can count to ten in Spanish, they feel better and are able to take pride in their ability to speak Spanish, Arabic, Greek, Swahili or Kikuyu.  (One of the languages spoken in Kenya).

The last thing we do before standing to face the flag is a review of flag etiquette.  1.  Stand.  2.  Remove your hat.  Hold it over your heart, at your side or under your arm.  3.  If you’re a scout, you may salute. All others may place their hand over their heart or at their side. 4.  If someone is singing the anthem, listen quietly and respectfully.  We never talk during the Star Spangled Banner.  5.  If the anthem is being played it becomes your job to sing it.

I assign one person to hold the flag.  The rest of us face it and sing “The Star Spangled Banner”.

It is the one song I can always get everyone to sing.


Jane Rivera, April 30, 2012, All Rights Reserved

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