My husband asks me each day how my work is going. I'm learning a lesson - to create without judgement. I can truly answer that it's going well.
I find success in sitting down to be a part of the process each day. I find joy in doing the work, a work that exists only inside me at the moment, but that is percolating and will soon be ready to be brought in to this world. Sometimes it is hard, but I show up. Sometimes it's ugly; Sometimes it's messy. I do it anyway. And, I acknowledge that it is concurrently a process over which I have little control and over which ONLY I have control. I see that within my one creation are the seeds of many more works to come.
The neat thing is this: when you read all that, did you think I was talking about our baby or my research?
Maybe I was talking about both...
I've been in a strange limbo this year.
I find identity in many titles: Christian, wife, friend, sister, daughter, musician. Soon I'll add mother to that list.
But the one title I find that I cling to is this - teacher. Teaching is in my blood. I come from generations of teachers. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins have undertaken this noble and challenging profession. During the 2014-2015 school year, I took on a full-time new role at a non-profit organization that I care about very much, The St. Louis Children's Choirs. My title there was "Deputy Director". I still taught a choir (1-2 rehearsals a week) and engaged with educators in my role facilitating community engagement for the organization. However, the time wearing my "teacher" hat was far too rare to satisfy my soul. When Kyle and I found out we'll be expecting a new addition to our family in November, I felt God asking me to consider my life and current path. As time becomes an even more precious commodity, how will I use it to move toward what God has called me to do?
Over the summer, we had an intern in the office. She accompanied me to hold some auditions for young singers at a local summer camp. In between the 4th and 5th audition, she turned to me and said, "You would make an excellent teacher". My heart sank.
"But I AM a teacher..."
This was my defining moment. In this moment, I knew my decision for this coming year was the right one.
In 2015-2016, my employment will be pieced together in such a way that I will soon be qualified to teach future teachers in settings of higher education full-time. My 2 big goals this school year are to work on and finish my dissertation by the end of 2016, and to welcome Baby McFarFar to our family in November.
To make a more flexible schedule possible, I have two part time jobs that I feel passionate about! I'll be working as the Community Engagement Coordinator and director of the Choristers Ensemble for The St. Louis Children's Choirs, continuing the work I started last year on the Music Made Together project and building connections with area teachers and students. AND, I'll teach courses and direct the Women's Chorus as an adjunct faculty member at Webster University. The students and colleagues at Webster have already made me feel so welcomed. I can't wait to continue to work with future music educators, helping them to see the awesome challenges and fulfillment ahead of them as music teachers! There isn't much I'd rather do than teach music and teach people. I'm really blessed that I have the opportunity to do both!
I attended my first NAfME teacher education and research conference this year. WOW... what an eye-opening experience. The opportunity to meet other teacher educators and researchers, and to learn about research going on that is similar to my interests lit many little flames in my mind. The energy created by a large group of teacher educators differs significantly from my past experiences of being surrounded by large groups of choral directors in a way that is both fresh and thought-provoking. I experienced the nervous feeling that so many new to our profession must feel when faced with a convention full of new faces. I thrive on new interactions, and I was quite nervous at first! I know many who are frozen by the prospect of having to meet so many new people. I MUST remember this feeling when thinking of ways that those new to our profession can first engage in conferences.
Personal connections with my colleagues will be one of the BEST ways I can continue to grow and learn. Even larger than the superficial concept of "networking," for those of us in artistic careers our friendships fuel and inspire us, encourage us, motivate us, and cause us to strive to do better work. I am reminded of the importance of seeking out those individuals who bring value to my experiences and whose presence can be cultivated into a lifelong friendship.
Throughout my journey through this PhD Program, I have had more "think time" than in all my life to this point! I've been able to reflect on my past self as a teacher and the type of teacher I desire to become. I look back and think of the times with my students where I was optimally effective. I can also think of many experiences when I was less than stellar at classroom management, music teaching, and the like. What I most appreciate about all of this reflection is this: it is easy to get bogged down by the little details - but one MUST make the time to consider the big picture. Without keeping my "eye on the prize" it can be all too easy to be busy for busy's sake. When I measure all my actions with the yardstick of my big picture purpose, I can feel comfortable setting aside those activities that are not meeting the needs of myself or my students.
What is it about full-time public school classroom teaching that was not sustainable for me? I could have been with my students forever; they were the best part! In essence, I desired more time and space for creation. This desire is still a struggle amid my schedule, but I have tasted the sweet fruit of conceptual concert design and of diving in to historical or research literature and birthing a presentation or paper. For me, I realize creation is not a nice extra, but that it is vital to my health and happiness as a human being.
Counter-intuitively, when I pull away from a frantic life and allow space I open up possibility for new creation. When I quiet my mind and heart and go to God in prayer and meditation, I allow healing and change to be done in my spirit.
I often talk to my students about the concept of breath - how we don't have to suck in air, but if we open our mouths the air will just "fall in". This is a beautiful metaphor for our creative lives. We often struggle and force ourselves to do things that might come quite naturally if we released our grip. During one of the first weeks of my masters degree journey in Michigan seven years ago, I took myself on a day trip to explore Saugatuck and Holland. I arrived at Oval Beach in time to walk along the shore and experience the day's retreat as the sun set over Lake Michigan. I felt God's presence and love surrounding me so clearly that day. I came upon this rock that was the perfect size to hold and seemed to be shaped perfectly for my hand. I gripped it and squeezed, as you might a stress ball. The smooth rock felt solid under the pressure, but unlike a stress ball, I couldn't squeeze it or cause any change in its shape. Only when I relaxed MY OWN hand could I hold it comfortably. This moment has stuck with me and served as a perfect reminder in so many of the struggles I have faced in the past 7 years.
As I approach my last few weeks of coursework in my degree and stand at the precipice of beginning my dissertation project I can see that I made the right decision about next year. When I decided to give up my teaching assistantship and all that came with it for next year, I worried - this was the first time I would be "unemployed" in the past 15 years! However, already I am seeing the fruits of creativity and possibility blossom since I created the space for it in my life. I savor the last moments of learning and anticipate what life will be like as a Doctoral Candidate.
I took part in a presentation at the recent SWACDA convention in Little Rock, Arkansas with Dr. Marci Major which discussed ways to teach choral students to embody musical sound via movement training. Included below is the video we used in our presentation. Thanks to Nicole Lunger for her work editing the videos!
In July, I had the honor of being appointed to serve as Missouri ACDA's Repertoire and Standards Chairperson for Youth and Student Activites. It's a great fit - I'm passionate about connecting the next generation of music educators to communities that offer support, education and encouragement for their next phase of life!
My colleague, Kathy Bhat, had an excellent idea - why not send out a monthly update specifically for our Youth and Student Members? December marks the first of our monthly attempt to keep our budding choral enthusiasts in the loop with opportunities and events, or with articles of specific interest to them. This month's newsletter is published at Missouri's ACDA website, but I'm reposting it here as well.
I want to congratulate you on completing your final semester of 2013! That's one more semester under your belt on your way to becomming the next impactful choral music educator, and a feat to be celebrated! I know, because I am living it, too... Music students at the University of Maryland also relate; here is their Carol of Final Exams.
Did you know that you can STILL REGISTER as an ACDA MEMBER as first time members for the low price of $5.00? You can find all the information you need to register at our Student Memebership Page. Returning members still receieve a discounted rate, too. Register today!
I hope to see all of you at the ACDA Southwestern Division Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas from March 19-22, 2014. March 19 is a special Immersion Day for College Students and New Teachers (12pm-5pm) so make sure to arrive in time! Missouri's own, Melissa Baughman (PhD Candidate from the University of Missouri) is a featured speaker during this day! If you plan to attend, please post to our facebook page so we know to look for you! I would love to plan a meal with all of the Missouri student/new teacher members, but I can't do that unless you tell me that you'll be there! Carpool, roadtrip, or hitchhike down (with another ACDA member, of course) - we hope to see you there! National and Divisonal conventions offer an unmatchable opportunity to hear excellent choral groups from around the world. It is rare to have such an opportunity taking place in close proximity to our home!
Mark your calendars, Missouri ACDA's summer conference will be held in Jefferson City at the Capital Plaza Hotel on July 23-26, 2014. More information will be made available on MCDA's website very soon. 8 collegiate students will be selected through an applicaiton process to work in exchange for housing at this summer's convention. Applications will be made available in the early part of 2014. This is an amazing chance to meet choral musicians from all over our state, to hear great choirs and lectures on our art, and to reconnect with old friends.
SWACDA president-elect, and Missouri's own, Mark Lawley, shared a fantastic article recently about leadership qualities necessary for success as a conductor. Check out the article, at Forbes online, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below. How did you know you wanted to be a music educator? Are these leadership qualities natural to you, or do you have to be intentional about developing them? In what ways are you devleoping your choral artist chops while still in training?
From all of us at Missouri ACDA, we wish you a happy and healthy winter break. Take time to reflect on the lessons you have learned this semester. Set goals for the coming year.
Elizabeth Hogan McFarland
I am passionate about helping people learn the exciting possibilities of creativity through music!
During my public school teaching experience, I taught general music in middle school. As part of my current teaching assistantship, I teach Basic Music Skills and a course called Music for Children. Both of these courses allow me to teach musicianship skills to college aged students who have little musical training or background knowledge.
You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that the music education course I am currently enrolled in focuses on General Music Curriculum! While the primary focus of my teaching background has been chorally based, I have a fondness for musical exploration through games, dance, improvisation, and finding musical connections to our lives outside of the classroom. In addition, I am continually amazed at the opportunities for musical exploration available using today's technology.
These interests led me to create two new resources for secondary music teachers:
In this phase of my life, my daily struggle is most definitely balance. Balancing the plates of full time student, two assistantships, children's choir director, and wife is a challenge. I do my best, though I am not always the most successful. Each week, I sit myself down to make a plan - daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals get set. If I follow my own plan, I can find ways to fit it all in.
Two tools I have found invaluable in my organization are:
Wunderlist. This app, free for my iPhone, lets me categorize my to-dos and combines the multiple lists into a daily and weekly list. I love the feeling of checking things off as I accomplish them! I can share honey do and grocery lists with my husband, or with my colleagues on combined projects. The app has a version for my computer and another for my phone. They sync automatically, so I'm always just a click away from productivity.
iCal sync'd with Google Calendars. Thanks to iCal and google calendars, my husband and I can keep up with our crazy schedules at the same time. We share our calendar between all of our devices. I keep track of appointments, gigs, and travel information here. Specific due dates and to-dos pop up in Wunderlist.
In combination, these two programs keep my life on track. An occasional operator error is all that derails my productivity! How do you keep up?