It has been a tough couple of years, and the first term is always hard. Even without international pandemics, life in a music department can be tough. I think being jolly this Christmas is therefore quite important. In this blog I want to share with you some of the ways I get through the festive season and enjoy all the best bits. Being jolly this Christmas starts with you and hopefully these tips will be useful for you! I also have a blog from a couple of years back that looks at the month of December, so do check that out. Last year I blogged about Making Christmas Merry, so you might also want to have a good read of that blog before you finish the term.
I know you will all plan, but it is good to remind you. Planning is so important and it is crucial to have diary for all your concerts & events this festive season. If you are going to be jolly though, you need to plan in time for yourself. In your diary make sure you put in where you can have a free evening, or a night out. I always find that when I do this, I don’t end up filling the slot with another carol event.
But you should also plan lessons, making sure that you aren’t trying to do too much. Lots of composing for GCSE & A-Level will be great when the cold weather kicks in and the students are tired from playing Silent Night every 10 minutes!
Choose repertoire is both fun and also quite stressful. Getting the right music, finding something a little different and keeping the students happy. Picking carols is easy, but what about a new arrangement that you might want to try out. Spend time picking music and enjoy the process. It is important that you keep the students entertained in rehearsals an provide suitable music for your carol service. I use Studio Music for lots of my music as there is a great range, lots of flexible arrangements. Being Jolly this Christmas does mean playing music that you enjoy and your students enjoy.
Christmas Themed lessons
I loved a lesson with a theme, it is nice to break away from a scheme or project and focus on something. But a Christmas themed lesson can often be an after-thought and I would say this is an over-sight. It is good to think about all of the things that we can get out of Carols, Christmas songs and those chart-topping hits.
One thing I love to do is get practical with my classes. It is simple really – we play carols. But we don’t just play the carols and then stop there, we look at what musical knowledge we can gain, and I have a few ideas to try:
- Make it minor – change the right notes at the right time to turn a carol from Major to Minor
- Play it backwards – live retrograding, if that’s the right term, is a lot of fun!
- Change the rhythm, swing it or even change the time signature!
- Swap instruments – a good chance to get students trying out different instruments to see how they get on
- Turn it upside down – what actually happens when we play a piece upside down.
It is great fun to use well known carols to really have fun with music and learn along the way. I think that these kinds of lessons keep me jolly that’s for sure!
Whole School Engagement
One thing I love about December, is that I get to have the whole school involved in our carol service. Through two assemblies, I teach them the carols we will sing at our end of term service. This means the whole school are singing together and enjoying making music. It is so much fun and I think the students really do enjoy the chance to work on their singing. It can be a slow start, but by the end of the second session they are loving it. There is never a better time of year to get the whole school involved in music.
- House/year group Carol signing – if you can’t do a full assembly, why not use the house or year group assemblies for some singing
- Recreate a famous Christmas song competition – this could be done in tutor groups where they fill their recreation
- Christmas Carol Competition – encourage students to form small groups or choirs to record their own carol!
Anything that is fun and can get students involved gets my vote! And I love seeing so many young people engaging with music, so that is another tick for the staying jolly at Christmas.
Sit Back and Listen
When you are a music teacher you can quickly find that you play lots of carols but never get to listen. I like to find a couple of events during the festive period where I can sit back and listen. Midnight Mass is a great example, although I am always so tired by then that I worry I will fall asleep. Maybe support another local school, church or charity. Just find something that you enjoy listening to and go along to that. You might not love Christmas music as much as I do, so just go and hear something else!
Being Jolly this Christmas
It isn’t always easy to stay jolly when you have lots to do, and trust me I don’t! But it is a good thing to aim for and I hope this blog has provided lots of thought provoking ideas. It is important that as music teachers we come to the forefront and put music centre stage in our schools. It will have a great impact on the students and on all those who come along to listen.
But when you do feel like things are getting a bit much, don’t try and be something you are not. It is fine to not be sparkle & shine every day of December. If you are feeling tired, fed-up and over worked, then take some time to stop. But as I said earlier, plan in the time for you so that you have the energy to keep going. But also stop and enjoy the musical world you will bring to life in your school and community! It is the most wonderful thing to bring music to the school and community, so look at the positives!
Dare I say, Merry Christmas! And keep in touch if you have any more ideas or questions! I love hearing from teachers!
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