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Between public school, business, and higher education, I have probably participated in hundreds of position interviews of the course of my career – on both sides of the table.  While supervising student teachers, I always made sure that we created some mock job interviews to get them thinking more like teachers, and less like students. This is a good time to sit and think about many of the following questions.

You’ll notice, many of them are NOT subject specific. A school principal doesn’t know enough about music to ask you for alternate tuba fingerings — that’s your job. I once had an interviewer take out my CV, put it in a closed folder on the table and tell me, “this is not about credentials — anyone who gets to this table is qualified. This is about fit, are you RIGHT for us?”  So take some time to think about your fit for those schools where you will interview. The principal wants to know if your are right for them.


  1. Describe your discipline style.
  2. How would students describe you?
  3. Is it important that students like you?
  4. Tell me about a parent encounter and how you handled it.
  5. How do you motivate students?
  6. In this age of standards and testing, how can you incorporate reading across the curriculum.
  7. You have a student who wants to participate in your music class, but their parents don’t want them to (or can’t afford it) – what do you do?
  8.  Tell me about a difficult encounter you had in your classroom and how you handled it. How would you have handled it differently?
  9.  How do you set goals?
  10. Why should we hire YOU?

These are just some sample questions, but they should have you thinking outside of your music room and see how you fit into the team that is a school. The other — very important question — that ALL interviewers will ask is: DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR US?

If you don’t have any questions prepared for this last question – let me tell you right now – you will NOT get hired. As you research each school – which is very easy to do nowadays – you will have questions. Ask them! I’m pretty sure I got hired for my current position because when they asked me that question, I said, “yes, I see that your new music education program doesn’t currently meet NC standards – how are you going to address the fact that you are not prepared to teach ____ class?”  I then proceeded to pull out their curriculum, along with state  and NASM accreditation requirements and go through each deficiency I perceived them to have. [And FYI, they didn’t have a music education person to know these things prior to me; and yes, this year they were granted NC accreditation.]  But, the fact that I did my homework – and  knew more about them than they did showed  them that I was serious and professional.

Here are a few things that you should discover before any job interview:
  1. Did this school meet AYP last year? No — why not?
  2. What is the SES of the school? What is the total enrollment of the school?
  3. How many/what kind of outside school activities did the music ensembles do this year?
  4. What scores did they receive at the state assessment? Why was that? What size ensembles? What level music did they perform?
  5. What comes up on Google for this school? Have they been in the news — good OR bad?

I also like to ask the Principal directly: What do you feel is the role of the arts in your school? (Also, be sure to Google the principal ahead of time. What area did they teach before they were an administrator? Lot’s of good music teacher go into administration.)

For all of the veteran teachers out there — feel free to add to this list. Good luck to everyone this job hunting season!!


I recently read a very interesting blog post by Andrew Ritenour on the new site Leading Notes, the State of Music Education. Entitled “The Music Education Paradox”, you can read it here. While no one can argue that you can’t teach any subject while your budget is being decimated by politicians only looking at the next voting cycle, this article – and many music educators – miss a few key points.

First, music enrollments in the K-12 system has been declining for more than 20 years. According to the 2008 National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, only 34% of 8th graders were enrolled in performance-based classes, and there has been NO growth in enrollment between 1997 and 2008. Of those 34% of 8th graders – you can also expect about 50% of them to drop out of those performance based music classes before they graduate (Kruth, 1967).  The state of FL has seen enrollment in it’s music classes decline form 14% to 11% from 2001 to 2005 (DOE data). In fact, on a national average, the current state of music education only enrolls 20% of the total student population. In my own data – I found that the average enrollment for high school band was 7.5% of the population. THAT’S IT.

Now, I’m a music educator – and I passionately believe in the power of arts education for all students. But, I’m also a tax-paying parent. And I taught music in the public schools during a financial boom (the Clinton years). And you know what – I still didn’t reach more than 20% of the school population. Now, when hard financial decisions have to be made in a budget – be it a personal or state-wide budget – you have to trim where you do the least harm. And sadly – with only 20% of the students – we are doing the LEAST good, and therefore, the least harm will happen when we are cut. If music education wants to really be too important to cut – then we have to provide a quality education for ALL students. And the current domination of performance based classes DOES NOT DO THAT.

Second, I think they would revoke my Ph.D. if I didn’t point out that the research that you cited didn’t “prove” anything. Yes, there is compelling research out there about the correlation between participation in the arts and the improvement of every test score known to man. You can find very compelling data from the Florida Music Educators Association in their 12th Grade Cohort Study that across every socio-economic status, race, and gender that the more music/art a student participates in, the better their test scores and less likely they are to drop out of school. However, this does NOT show causation — nowhere do it show that music causes these results. Perhaps students who are intuitively less inclined to drop out of school just like to participate in music or art more? It is a correlation – not a cause. And as much as we wish it were, we need to be careful to not jump on the “Mozart Effect” train of the late 1990’s and end up with egg on our professional faces again. (yes, I just cited Wikipedia – easy to digest for the average reader – shoot me). The example I like to give my beginning researchers to demonstrate how correlation is different than causation is this one:

Dear New Parent: I would like to sell you my secret GUARANTEED to improve your child’s reading ability. As your child increases this secret — they will improve their reading skills! 100% money-back guarantee! Only $100, buy now. [When you buy the ‘secret’ you get an envelope that says “shoe size”. <— Think about it, my 3 year old has bigger feet than my 2 year old, and can read more. I have bigger feet than both, and I – hopefully – can read the best out of all of us.]

You can’t argue with the above story. I can’t get my money back, because indeed as my children’s shoe size increases, so does their reading ability. But we are all pretty positive that shoe size DOES NOT CAUSE reading ability. My only point with the above story being that we can’t hang our hat on these arguments that the “research proves” anything. We need to be our own best advocates and allies – and if we want to become indispensable, then we need to reach ALL students. And that means we must —- gasp —- change what we do.

If you walked into a music room more than 100 years ago when MENC was formed, it would look oddly similar to a music room today. One person on the podium, students playing the same instruments, large ensemble, etc. Math, Science, English, Computers <– these classroom look vastly different 100 years ago then they look today. But music….?

I had the pleasure of hearing Daniel Pink speak at the Texas Music Educators Association conference back in 2009. I had just finished his book, A Whole New Mind, and it had forever changed my view of the importance of creativity and the arts. When he came on stage he said he wanted to talk to us about the importance of arts education. He immediately got a standing ovation — and the HE turned around and BOOED us and said:

“You believe too much in the outcome to realize that your argument sucks.”

As we move music education for ALL students forward, let’s be sure we are forming the right argument.

Laurie Berkner

In my quest to be the ultimate Rockstar-Supermom, last weekend i took my kids to see Laurie Berkner in concert. If you haven’t heard of Laurie Berkner, she is the undisputed queen of preschool rockers. This is a huge new genre of music that has blossomed over the last 10 years. And truth be told, even though we took the kids to the concert, it was mostly for me.  When I first found out I was pregnant I cringed at the thought of having to listen to icky-sweet Barney songs all day. Someone actually gave me a CD of Metallica songs played as lullabies – I almost puked. But I would listen to Laurie Berkner even if I didn’t have kids, it’s pretty good music.

I sent a photo to my best friend from the concert who immediately texted me back saying “I can SO see you doing that.” Coincidentally, my husband told me the same thing when we attended a profanity-laden singalong at Irish Kevin’s in Key West. [You can make your own assumptions about my ability to lead drunks and young children in song.]

Rockstar Supermom

And you know what, they are both right. I always wanted to be a Rockstar, and I still do. The problem was – when I grew up – your options for music in school were band, orchestra, or choir. Since my mother was a singer, and I had been singing in my church youth choir since I could talk, I chose to play the flute in school. And I was pretty good. But – truth be told – I did not join the band to be an awesome flautist, or to rock out to Bach, Sousa, or Grainger. No, what I really wanted to do was play the music I listened to, and I did. I owned every “Themes of the Movies,” “Today’s Pop Hits,” or other schlock I could get my hands on. I was super jealous of my neighbor who figured out how to play the flute part on “Down Under” by Men at Work. I couldn’t do it – it wasn’t in THE BOOK. I could play the snot out of anything you put in front of me, but playing by ear? That was for jazz musicians – and I was a flute player. After a few years I also gave up singing. That was for choir people – and I was in band. I was good at what I did, and loved playing in all things purely instrumental – marching band, symphonic band, orchestra, flute choir, etc. But there was no Rockstar option that I desperately wanted to study.

Recently, I attended my [cough] 20th year high school reunion. I was amazed at the number of people still involved with music all these years later. I spoke to about a dozen people who played in a band – ranging from a large scale Pink Floyd tribute band – to a local back porch bar kind of group. But the thing that struck me the most – is that NONE of these people participated in school music. No band, orchestra, or chorus people. These were part of that other 80% that do not participate in traditional performance based music classes. In a completely un-scientific poll of my Facebook high school music friends, only 1 of them still participates formally in music – and thats because he is a music teacher, like me. This is pretty typical of the national average that most students do not continue in music after high school (Williams, 2007).

FL Guitar Enrollment

I recently was asked to facilitate a Professional Development Workshop for music teachers in a local county on how to increase enrollment in music classes. I gave them all the relevant data – that nationally the median enrollment in band classes is only 7.5%, and that  on a national level, enrollment in music at the secondary level is declining (Kerstetter, in press). Meanwhile, schools such as Greenwich HS in Connecticut (Freedman, personal e-mail), that offer 4 levels of Electronic Music classes out enroll band, choir, and orchestra combined. That in the state of Florida enrollment in secondary music classes has declined from 14.2% to 11.6% at the secondary level, however enrollment in guitar classes has skyrocketed from 3,000 to nearly 10,000 from the first 10 years of the 21st century. I was given a polite “thank you” when I was finished and got the overarching feeling that this was not what they wanted to hear – they just wanted to push the EASY button to increase enrollment without fundamentally changing anything that they are currently doing. (Thanks to Ed Prasse for enrollment figures in FL).

In her groundbreaking book, How Popular Musicians Learn, Lucy Green investigates what those non-classically trained musicians do. While you may have your prejudices about the pop-music business, few can argue the musical talents of people like Elton John, Dave Matthews, James Taylor, Carol King, and His purpleness: Prince. Here are some things we DO know:

  1. Pop musicians learn to play be ear FIRST. To use an Ed Gordon term, they audiate. (coincidentally, Gordon came about his Music Learning Theory by watching how jazz musicians learned their craft – many of whom never studied in a formal school-based large ensemble setting). Because they are learning by ear, they are listening many times – repeatedly – purposefully. They are listening at much deeper level than most any student concentrating on the notes.
  2. Many musicians are motivated because they get to select their own music to be be performed. In a garage band, there is no one demanding that the punk band learn Eleanor Rigby just because someone told them it was a “classic.”
  3. These musicians play several different instruments. Guitar, bass, percussion, whatever is needed for the music. In her follow up book Music, Informal Learning, and the School she illustrates how middle school students would readily pick up and play a recorder/penny whistle if the song needed that sound. This was the same instrument  that was earlier scorned in the same class as an instrument for babies.
  4. Everyone sings. Let me repeat: everyone.
  5. Groups are smaller, and even though natural leaders emerge in a cooperative learning setting, there is no one really “in charge.” No one stands in front of the group just to lead. They lead from inside the group, and a there is a large sense of shared responsibility.


So, what does this all mean for this Rockstar-Supermom.? Well, I now play in a band — even if is mostly a reason to play guitar with good friends, enjoy a few cold ones, and turn faculty meeting scribblings into songs about the ineptitudes of higher adminstration. [When I was in K-12 education, I had a whole book filled with Faculty Meeting Haiku – you should try it next time you want to gauge your eyes out with your “we love testing” pencil]. And as I watch this country struggle with budget woes, I think perhaps this might be the impetus needed to create a few less marching followers and a few more Rockstars of Tomorrow.

Matilda Xmas 2010


You can get your HELLAgoodTIME merchandise here. All proceeds go towards purchasing the aforementioned cold ones. The coffee mugs are awesome…. ;p


Most awesome mug ever.

As my 3 year old, Matilda, would say, “I have a secret to tell you.”  I have a serious crush on James Frankel.

Any of you who are reading this, probably already know Jim Frankel. If you don’t know Jim, he’s the Managing Director of Soundtree, author of several books and articles on music education and technology, adjunct professor at Columbia Teachers College, the President of the Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI), the former VP of TI:ME, a past middle-school music teacher, and overall music technology bad-ass. He is everything I admire and respect in my field, rolled up into a very likable 6 foot ball. Because I’m in higher education and fairly entrenched in the conference circuit, I see Jim a few times a year. When I was teaching in Florida, I used to direct my music education undergraduates to all of his sessions. They would always come back beaming and telling me “Dr. K, OMG, he is so cool. Did you know…..”  Yes, actually – I DO know, that’s why I sent you there. So I guess I am also the founder of the Jim Frankel Fan Club, too.

So, why on earth am I telling you this??

Well, because before the days of Twitter Jim Frankel would probably have little to no clue who I am. He’s a nice guy, so I’m sure that he would smile and wave when I go by the Soundtree booth to play with all the new music tech toys. He’d probably also say to himself, “Who is that bizarre woman who comes to the booth at every conference?” But, thanks to Twitter and many other social media, the fields of music technology and music education have been democratized.

According to some information compiled by Kathy Schrock :

  • 26 million people in the US use Twitter.
  • Almost 70% of educators had a Twitter account
  • 87% of responding educators use it to network, keep up and share with the profession.
  • Sadly, 40% of the respondent who do NOT use Twitter reported that they didn’t know how to use it.

Thanks to the Twitterverse, I can now interact with many highly respected professionals in music education on Twitter – including Jim Frankel! Really? No longer was there a situation where one of us was on stage giving a presentation and the other was in the audience; no longer was one person the merchandiser and the other the consumer. We are now both Tweeter: I tweet – he retweets; he tweets – I respond. We both discuss #musiced, and #musictech.

The first time I realized the power of Twitter was September 2009. I was on the 50 yard line in LandShark Stadium dancing for a halftime show for the Miami Dolphins. We were all there because we thought Jimmy was going to play – he didn’t. I felt lame, and let him know.

Later that night, I did receive a tweet back from Jimmy’s camp. He heard me? I had an equal voice? Cool.

Now there are many ways to use Twitter for professional reasons, it is part of my everyday lifestyle. I can control give me most relevant, up-to-date information on a topic of my choosing. My mother was in Hawai’i in February 2010 when – according to NBC – a giant tsunami was coming to decimate the island. According to the Twitterverse – unfiltered and on the ground – it was a beautiful day and the locals enjoyed watching the networks make something out of nothing. It made me feel much better about not being able to get a hold of my mom personally. So, how can you use it effectively? Here are some tips:

  1. Sign-up and start following some great people. You can check out Dr. Joe Pisano’s music education Twitter list.
  2. Spend about 2 minutes to learn the lingo.
  3. Follow hashtags about stuff that is important to you. For example, you can find information regarding #tsunami10 without having to follow individuals. #musiced #musedchat #mpln #edchat are all tags that I follow daily, just in case there is something that my didn’t get tweeted by my peeps.
  4. Engage – or not. You can just read tweets in your field, or you can participate as much as you like. There have been many Tweetups of people who know each other primarily through Twitter when they are together at conferences. It is really nice to finally get to talk face to face with people that you feel you have known for some time.
  5. There are about a zillion ways to engage in twitter with your colleagues. See the resource from Kathy Schrock (and thanks to Bill Bauer’s article in December 2010 Music Educator’s Journal for this)
  6. And finally — have some fun. You will get to know your tweeps and will be able to engage in meaningful dialog with them. Sometimes, it’s fun to banter and communicate with your colleagues from across the state, country, and world. Most of them will have a sense of humor, too….as I hope does Jim Frankel.

Coda: Here are some other blog topics I’m currently considering:

  • Joe Pisano and I are distant, long-lost cousins (hey, I have family in PA, it could happen).
  • My plan to officially adopt Andy Zweibel.
  • My new venture: The Functional Business of Music Babes (The F-BOMBs) with Barbara Freedman.

Dear Christina Aguilera,

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Really. Thank you. So you forgot – or just don’t know – the words. It’s ok — sadly, you a not alone. A 2004  Harris poll found that 2 out of 3 Americans don’t know the words either. That’s right — 61% of your friends will screw up the lyrics, too. More fun facts:

  • Less than 35% can name the author of the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner (Francis Scott Key)
  • 38% of Americans don’t know the official title of the National Anthem (Star Spangled Banner)
  • As few as 15% of American youth can sing the entire anthem from memory.

I have spent years trying to get my future music teachers to realize the importance of educating students on the Star Spangled Banner. At my last position we organized a SSB sing-a-long on campus with the School of Music faculty and the CMENC undergraduates. We passed out our own “Fun Fact Sheets” on the song. We did “man on the street” interviews and asked people about the lyrics to the National Anthem. If it wasn’t so sad, they might actually be funny. And if you are sitting there saying “oh not me, not my students – of course WE know all the important things about the SSB”. Really? Go ask your students what a rampart is….come on, I dare you.

So, if you are inspired – like me – by the performance of Ms. Aguilera to take this opportunity to get America singing — CORRECTLY — again, there here are some great ideas.

  1. Visit the National Anthem Project. You will find lots of tools available for your classes and probably learn a thing or two.
  2. Visit the Smithsonian Star Spangled Banner sight.
  3. Play examples of how the Star Spangled Banner should sound. And yes, it can be sung by a pop star correctly. One of my favorite renditions was the Grateful Dead from 1993 at a Giants game. 
  4. Start a National Anthem Day concert in your school or community. With a little planning, you can coordinate some lovely music making with others in your area.
  5. And finally – we would all be remiss if you didn’t visit the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Shrine. Ok, call me biased – I grew up in Baltimore. But we should all take time to support our national parks, they are treasures.

And yes, I’ve seen the flag, the view of the harbor, and even stood on the ramparts.

For some of us, we actually don’t always like the spotlight. We like to play 2nd flute or rhythm guitar – because it is about the sum total of the experience – together – that makes music. If someone else really wanted the attention to make their musical product, by all means, have at it.  I’m about the process, the group, the experiential learning. But sometimes you gotta say: “Hey, look at what I’ve done. This is SO cool. I want to share it with you.”

So, here it is. Look at what I’ve done — with help. It is SO cool, and I want to share the experience with you.

In the early months of 2010, I was teaching at FIU in Miami and one of my students from the Cayman Islands came to my office after returning from the semester break. “Dr. K”, she said, “sometimes when I go home I get depressed about the music education in my country. Here we talk about music for all, and moving beyond a talented-only performance based system. But I think that is where the Cayman Islands are right now. I want to go and do a workshop there with students and teachers that show some of the cool stuff we do here……Oh, and I submitted your name with a proposal to the Ministry of Education to do this sometime this summer. I thought it would be a good service project for CMENC.”

At this point, I think I had to pick my jaw off the ground and wipe the gynormous grin off of my face. I smile when I’m happy and nervous — you decide which one this was.

Not only did this student ‘get it’ – she acted on it. And — very long story short — we did it. We put on a 1 week free music workshop in the Cayman Islands for elementary students and music teachers. We begged, borrowed, and stole (ideas mostly) everything we could, and ran this this project essentially on instinct. I can quite honestly say that this experience changed every member of the team for the better. While we were sitting in the airport getting ready to depart, we wanted to do it again. All the hard work, hours of planning, fundraising, sweating, crying, and of course making music. We wanted to do it again – and again – and again. Since the university had given us very little [read: financially zero] support in this project, and several of the students were graduating we decided to create non-profit organization dedicated to continuing this project – first in the Cayman Islands, and then to spread where ever we can be effective. We got a new name, a new logo, and continue to are ready to go!

Our overarching goal of this project is to support non-traditional music students. As Rick Dammers and David A. Williams call them — the NTMs. You know, the other 80% of students not engaged in performance based music classes. We wanted to show students other ways of knowing music than singing or playing, and we wanted to show teachers how to do it. If you are reading this blog, I doubt this is the first time you have heard about the other 80%.

We are all ready to go for 2011. So far we have in-kind donations to provide airfare and lodging, and we are currently working on the all the IRS paperwork. All we need is you. Would you like to be part of this project? If you want to know more about this — and join us, you can apply on our website. We will be expanding to support 2 sites for 2011. We will continue to work with the primary school, and we will expand to the secondary school level as well. We will be sponsoring 12 teachers (to teach the workshop) and 3 administrators (to teach professional development to current Cayman music teachers) this year. On our website you can also find out more about our successes last year, and watch some of the group in action.

Creative Music Project, Inc.

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While the rest of the world is looking for snow days that lead to spring flowers, those of us in education get a little less sleep in the spring. It’s not lack of sunshine, but the over emphasis on testing. And this is testing season. Whether you are preparing your students for their annual Music Performance Assessment (MPA), solo and ensembles, college auditions, or just the onslaught of academic tests, the spring can cause some educationally induced anxiety. As educators, parents, and just plain people who care about other people, we can help reduce anxiety by talking to others about it.

Performance anxiety is not unique to musicians! Just look at Ricky Williams. This Heisman Trophy winning professional football player became the poster boy for performance anxiety back in 2003.

To combat adding to performance anxiety in yourself and others, consider a few things.

1. Are you creating a success oriented or failure-threatened atmosphere? 25% of your students will fall into one of these categories — how are you helping create success-oriented students?

2. Does the difficulty of the project/music match the level of the performers? Whether it is a college audition, MPA, or just a fun recruiting concert, does the music show off what the students can do? Highlight their strengths?

3. Who is this for? Anxiety will be highest when you are playing before peers or critics, playing solo, or playing for a very large or higher status of audience. Do you acknowledge this with your students, or sweep it under the rug?

4. Do you use a coping strategy? A moment of silence? Meditation? Deep breathing? Yoga? Positive self-talk? Imagine the audience naked? I have read recently about school systems using yoga to combat test anxiety in students, and organization such as YogaCalm have been create for classroom atmosphere. Master choral teacher Doreen Rao even addresses this in her book Circle of Sound which adds movement and meditation to singing instruction.

5. Some anxiety can be a good thing. That rush you get from performing live on stage – that buzz. I get it. I like it, too — that’s why I’m a performer, speaker, teacher, Supermom-Rockstar. Some level of excitement is needed to get you to the top of your game, to create enthusiasm. Don’t overlook this either. It can be a good thing, too.

Whatever your approach, the point is that you have do something to address the anxiety issue with yourself, your children, and your students. Knowledge is power and nothing is that scary when examined by the light of day.

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