Saturday, November 10, 2012

One year ago today...

Today is November 10. It is the 1 year anniversary of the day that Juanita Waxler (my mom) pass away and moved on to celebrate eternity with her Savior Jesus Christ and with her family and friends who passed before her.  This day, Saturday, is also the anniversary of her memorial service that celebrated her life.  At that service, I was blessed to give a eulogy and represent our family in celebration of mom's love for her family and for her God.  For those of you who may not have been able to make it to that service and for those who were, here are the words that I spoke on that day.  We miss her so greatly each and every day.  I hope through your reading this you can celebrate with me the life of such a wonderful mother and friend.

Mom’s Eulogy

We are here today to celebrate the life of my mom, Juanita Waxler, who in some way or another, either directly or indirectly touched each of the lives in this room. Whether you have known her for years or if you know someone here who knew her, you have been affected by her. As for me, my mom was possibly the greatest influence on my life. So I wanted to share some of the things that she taught me as well as voice the message that I know she wanted to have shared at her memorial service.

When I think of my mom, as many of us do, we first think of how she loved her Savior, Jesus Christ more than anything else this world could offer. Through all of life she moved along with a motto that she learned at one of the many bible studies or revival services that she played for and attended. It simply says, “Whatever Lord!!” Whether she was laid out in a hospital bed or rejoicing with us at the birth of our children or celebrating our birthday with our favorite meal (even if it took all afternoon to cook), she was always showing her smile and assurance the she was where her Savior was guiding her to be. All the while her love for God was displayed for us by what the Bible calls the Fruits of the Spirit. In Galatians 5 we learn that: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and sef-control.”

So, as I thought about how to share what my mother has meant to my life and some of the stories, I thought it best to tell how she showed these Fruits in her life.

Love – Mom simply loved EVERYONE. Whether a stranger on the street or at the grocery store or a family member, there was not a person that she met who was not overwhelmed by her smile and acceptance of them just as they are with no pretenses. Her unconditional love for all brightened days and changed lives. I am certain there were high school students who chose to be in Choir because they knew that Mom was going to be behind the piano each day during class… We would bring our friends over for dinner or a holiday and she would, without hesitation, go to the cabinet and get another plate to add to the table and ask someone to get another chair for them. All were accepted at the table and all were loved.

Joy – She showed her joy for life as she would watch her three sons together. She always said that those were some of her favorite times when she could finagle a way to get the three of us together just to see what we would do next. One of my favorite memories growing up was around the Sunday afternoon lunch table or at a restaurant. We would get going on some string of jokes or some funny story and that would build upon itself until we were all in hysterics. All the while, mom would just sit back and laugh and laugh at us not wanting the moment to end too soon.

Peace – Right at a year ago, mom suffered a major stroke that took away her speech, her ability to walk and her ability to do the thing she loved the most; playing piano. As I sat in the ICU with her facing so many issues and challenges ahead, we cried together and she looked at me, pointed to the sky and gave her infamous shrug to say “Whatever, Lord!”. No matter what she faced, she displayed a tremendous example of God’s Peace beyond understanding knowing that God is Sovereign and he controls the situations of life. What a great example for us all to remember as we face trials in our lives.

Patience – Mom had to live with 4 boys in the house. Enough said!! With all of the silly and dumb things that we would do, she would always give us advice in a loving and patient way. Even though in her heart I know she really wanted to just shout out how stupid we really were acting, she would show us her patient side and let us discover our errors on our own.

Kindness – Mom’s kindness showed in her willingness to give of herself no matter the cost. She would give of her time to play piano or lead the WMU back in the days Memorial Baptist or help with VBS and do so without the smallest of complaints. Personally, Jerry, David and I never left home to go on a long trip without a $20 slipped into our hand for “gas money”.

Goodness – Throughout the years and especially in the last few years I was always fascinated with mom’s choice of television shows. It seemed the most scandalous that she got was some of the videos on CMT or the frustrations displayed on the GameShow Network. Mom never had any desire to see an R rated movie or get into the crime shows of today. She just wanted simple goodness in her entertainment and in her life.

Faithfulness – The greatest display of mom’s faithfulness is the fact that she stuck with our dad for 48 years. No matter the struggle, whether finances or health or the crime rate rising in the Aldine area. Mom was faithful to one man and devoted her entire self to seeing that he was the best that he could be. Without a doubt, that example will lead us sons as we make our journeys with our wives and families.

Gentleness – I think of her gentleness as she accompanied soloists, choirs and church services for virtually her entire life and taught so many piano lessons. During practice sessions or piano lessons, being sensitive to the music, she would follow and repeat the passage over and over again until it was right and then always leave you with a word of encouragement making you feel that you were the best that ever played that instrument. I try to model that example in the music lessons that I teach to this day. Of course, speaking of lessons, I have to share that it did not always work with her sons during late night piano lessons. I remember taking lessons as a child in the formal living room of our house on Coach Road. After a long day of work at the legal firm and then cooking and cleaning up dinner, we would sit down to have our lesson just before bedtime. She would make it for about 5 minutes and then I would ask out loud, “Is that right, mom?” only to be met with a loud snore because she was sitting in the easy chair and the long day had caught up to her. She was gentle in her teaching methods.

And Self-Control – I cannot remember a time when my mother ever completely showed her anger in a way that was not controlled and reasonable. Mom always seemed to be in control of her emotions. She also was in control of her tough and taught me to do the same. I remember as a child in the bath one day just cussing up a storm with my toys. Suddenly, I hear from the other room (and I quote) “Mark Edward Waxler, what did you say?” I knew from that day forward to never cuss in front of mom again. And that brings up the fact that if she ever said all 3 of our names together, we knew we were in trouble.

Mom showed the world what it was like to live life as a Christ follower. But mom understood what it means when the bible says in Romans that no one is perfect and that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. Mom was not perfect. But God provided a way for us to be made right when he sent his son Jesus to the world to die a horrible death on a cross, absorbing the wrath from God that was due to us as sinners. After he died for our sins, he then rose again from the dead and conquered death, thus providing a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and overcome death as well. Mom understood that the only way for Eternal Life was to accept that we are sinners against God and that Jesus died on the cross to pay the punishment for that sin. And if we believe that he did that for us, we can receive his forgiveness and the prize of Eternal Life. You see mom is not hurting anymore. She can fully stand and run and move both arms and sing with a full voice around the Holy Throne of God. Christ was and is her Savior. He provided a way for all to receive that Eternal Life just like mom. I know that she wants this truth to be told at her memorial service more than memories or stories. You see she knew that what really matters in life is what you do with this truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through many conversations with her I learned that this was most important to Mom, that all would hear and know this Truth.

Today we rejoice for mom as she is rejoicing with her Savior Jesus Christ and we long to be there with her some day. We will miss mom more than words can say, but we know there is a hope to see her again someday and worship around God’s Throne with her on that Glorious Day!

We miss you Mom!!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

iPad Apps are Amazing!

I am having so much fun finding all sorts of apps for my new iPad. At first there was the time spent just trying to get my iPad to kind of look like my iPhone and give me all of the same capabilities such as Facebook, Twitter, Banking and Email. Of course I also found some cool games for the kids. That's a priority, right.

I also got the reading apps to enjoying the book reader part of the iPad (which by the way is really amazing). I have been patiently waiting to get some sort of Reader and it was well worth the wait. It is quite a pleasant way to read a book in a digital format and then be able to see it late at night when every one else has gone to bed. And have more than one book with you at a time.

Then there are the education apps that I really think will increase my productivity in the Fall when school starts. My friend Chris is the Technology Guy (not actual title) for a local school district and he has encouraged me with some of the things that they are doing in his district with iPads in the classroom. I also have been unashamedly asking anyone that I know that has an iPad to give me advise on their favorite apps. Here's what I learned so far:

-Pages, Keynote and Numbers are great resources to make your iPad run like and work with a "normal" computer. I haven't bought them yet because of the price, but plan to slowly buy them over the next few months.

-Teacher Assistant is an outstanding app for keeping track of classroom discipline (both good and bad). You can assign your own comments, behaviors and consequences and keep track of them with only a few clicks. The work will be in the initial set up I know, but it will make life easier for me to document behaviors between classes or at the end of the day (even when I'm away from school). The best part, though, is that the app can then compose and send an email to the parents telling them of the behavior and the situation that occurred. This can also be done in a spreadsheet, true, but I think this app organizes it just a bit more easily. I am most excited about using Teacher Assistant this next year to help me communicate better with my students' parents.

-SmartMusic has an app that helps you keep track of your inbox of assignments. As we continue to move in the direction of using SmartMusic more in class, I am excited to have access to this resource on my iPad.

There are numerous more apps to use in the band classroom and look forward to discovering as many as possible in the coming months and years. Using an iPad in class does not negate the need for good daily teaching of the instruments and ensemble skills as the students prepare for, most importantly, the next performance. But, I think, using the iPad as a supplement to the daily drills and to help better organize the class environment can only make the performance that much better.

- waxler

Friday, June 15, 2012

My "new" toy - the iPad

So I have finally, yet again, joined the world of "new" technology and purchased an iPad (a few years late). I am so looking forward to finding out all of the cool things it can help me with in my teaching. I have been patiently waiting for the finances to purchase such a tool and for my school district to approve the means to use it in class. The district has not opened that door yet, but I am sure that I will be able to use the iPad to supplement my organization outside of class as well as get me prepared for the time that they do open the door for me to use this tool in class. If you have any thoughts on how I can use a single iPad in my band classroom or even ideas on how it can help me better organize, please let me know. I'm still relatively new at this... -waxler

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tuning with your Ears 2

I'm finally following up on a series of posts that I began a few months ago about teaching students to tune themselves by ear rather than relying on a visual tuner all of the time. In this post I'm going to share some real world ideas of how I use the Harmony Director(HD) and/or the 5th CD in the classroom on a daily basis.

Note: This is not a plug for the Harmony Director but rather a plug for the concept of teaching kids to listen as they play. The HD is just a really great tool for doing this with ease and little effort.

We begin the year by playing Concert F long tones with a steady F playing on the keyboard. I want them to hear what they are meant to play before they actually make a sound. In the beginning, we don't spend a lot of time with the HD but work to first make a clear sound as we dust the cobwebs off after a long summer.  When we have a somewhat clear sound we quickly move to playing Concert F Remingtons while the drone of an F is playing loud enough to be heard. My goal in this is for them to match the 1st and 3rd notes of the Remington Exercise.  I find that as the notes get further apart the students struggle to get the pitch back to a center on the Fconcert so we pause on these notes to listen and adjust to the true pitch.  For even clearer hearing (and the next step) I play a drone of F and C (5ths) to fit into.  This is where the CD can be used to play the 5th and it is acceptable to begin with this if you don't have the HD keyboard.  (Side note: I use the Pure Tuning on the HD to get a pure 5th in the key of F).  So, basically, whatever we are playing for warmup (Remington or Chickowicz or whatever) I try to find something that they will hold out and can focus their listening ears to match.

As we progress, I will have the brass buzz on just their mouthpieces while I use the HD Keyboard to play the Remington Exercise.  We are currently doing this sort of thing in my class.  I play the first group (F - E - F) so they can hear the interval. Then the brass buzz it back to me with the woodwinds playing while I play the interval again so they can match.  Then I move to the next group (F - Eb - F) and they buzz (brass) and play (woodwinds) back to me.  We work our way through the excercise, both decending and accending, focusing on all players really listening to each pitch and matching.  The brass benefit from buzzing the pitches and the woodwinds benefit from not having the loud brass to interfere and it is easier to listen and match.  (Side note: This a great way to use the Berp aperatus for brass instruments)  In the last few weeks I have noticed that my brass are stronger players and have a clearer tone and woodwinds are more in tune.  We still have a lot to work on with this and it will take time for them to really get it, but I can see progress in just a few weeks.  It is difficult to do this excercise with the 5th CD, but can be done with the brass buzzing and and woodwinds playing and matching the drone as before.

When we are working on a Chorale as part of our Ensemble Time I find it very useful to have the HD Keyboard and its ability to create Pure Tuning in any key.  The 5th CD can give you 5th in any key to work with, but the keyboard can provide the 3rd to listen to and can (of course) change chords as the students play.  I play the first chord for them to match and we play the first chord together listening some times to individual notes.  I don't spend anytime at first talking about correct chord tuning (3rd lowered and 5th raised) but just force their ears to hear it and match as best they can.  Later, I may get into those concepts if they seem mature enough.  After we play the first note and tune, we pause and then begin the chorale.  At first I focus on the 1st and last chords for them to hear because they are usually the same chord.  As we progress, I will add a hold while playing other chords to make sure that we are matching.  This can also be used in any piece of music to be sure that the students are listening and matching to correct pitch.

At this point in the rehearsal I will usually only make use of the metronome part of the HD Keyboard but will refer back to these concepts of listening when we have a spot in the music that needs adjusting.  Some might say that using technology can get in the way of doing the real teaching of how to play the instruments.  I completely agree that the first priority is for students to be able to play with a clear sound.  I would say, however, that as long as it is used in a good balance, technology can be extremely useful in the band rehearsal.  There is a time to strap in and work on the music.  There is also a time when the students know the notes and rhythms well enough that we can begin to use these tools to improve their overall performance.  The HD Keyboard will get lots of use in my section rehearsals and as we get closer to our UIL Contest date.

But overall, I am more and more convinced that it is better to help students to listen for their tuning rather than to always rely on the wheel or needle of a tuner.  Climate, room size, muscle fatigue and stage lights all will effect the pitch of the instruments in so many different ways and there is not always a tuner available.  So, let's make an effort to really teach kids at the younger levels to listen and trust themselves to play in tune.  Because after all, they are the only ones that make themselves play in tune!!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Tuning with your Ears 1

In my last post I shared a terrific article by Si Millican in the August issue of SBO Magazine.  It discussed the concept of making students use their ears to adjust their pitch rather than relying on a tuner to find what is "in tune".  In this post I want to share why both a CD with Perfect 5th drones and a Yamaha Harmony Director 200 can help students understand these concepts and put them into practice.  In a second post I will share some practical ways to use these in the classroom setting to help students use their ears better to tune as they perform.

The Perfect 5th Drones CD (5th CD) has perfectly tuned drones at an interval of a 5th.  These drones are in all 12 major keys in both low and high registers.  When a student plays any note in that key it becomes very evident when they are not in tune with the drone because they will hear loud beats when the sound waves do not match up.  The interval of a 5th is the purest interval (next to the 4th)  and, basically, the note that is played fills in the chord causing the student to adjust to both notes rather than just the single sustained note.  This allows for little if no wiggle room to be out of tune with the intervals. This is a practical way for students to hear their note as compared to a set (in tune) interval and decide what adjustments need to be made.  However, with only the two notes sounding, you can't adjust chords and other intervals involving more than one note for students to hear.  You also have to make sure that your CD player is on Single Track Repeat so the drone can continue for a long time.

The Harmony Director Keyboard takes the these concepts of playing against a 5th and adds the ease of a keyboard with the ability to play more than two notes at a time, the ability to have real tuning for chords (as apposed to even tuning like any other piano) and to instantly change the notes as the students play.  For instance, when my students play a chorale, I will set the keyboard for the real tuning of the key they are in and give them the beginning chord before they play, but then play the major (long) chords as they get to them.  We will pause on that chord long enough for them to adjust their tuning before we move on in the chorale.  This takes many weeks to get the hang of and the students often want to "get bored" and complain about the drone sound before they begin to grow excited about getting it right.

Next, I'll share some daily drills using these tools to improve student's tuning tendencies.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Great Article on Tuning

I saw this article in this last month's SBO Magazine and I thought it was worth sharing with those who maybe don't get that magazine. 

Article: Turn Off the Tuner for Better Ensemble Intonation

In this article Si Millican plainly speaks to the concept of making the students use their ears to tune rather than the wheel or needle of a tuner.  For years I have been working this concept with my students and I have seen a dramatic change in their tone quality and their performance.  At that time I was using a CD that sounded a drone of perfect 5ths in all keys for students to listen to and match.  Recently, I moved schools and one of the first purchases I made with my new budget was a Yamaha Harmony Director 200.  Those who work in my district asked me why I bought it and how I use it.  When I saw this article, I thought it put together all of the reasons I believe in using the Harmony Director into one article so I immediately shared it with them.

You don't have to have a fancy keyboard to work this idea, though.  Sometimes, when I don't have access to my Harmony Director, I will play the note on my instrument (trumpet) for the kids to match.  This will remind them of the concept of unwanted beats in the sound and begin to make them want to fix it. 

I so appreciate the way Dr. Millican provides a basis for this idea of listening rather than seeing to tune in his article.  In my next blog installment I will share some ways that I have used the 5th CD and the Harmony Director Keyboard with my classes to work the students' ears to become independent tuners when they play.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prize Shirt

This last week we have hosted a Band Camp for my students.  The purpose was to begin learning the "football" music for the Fall and to get the cobwebs off of our instruments before school begins in a few weeks.  We have had a great week with over 30 kids committing to come up to school for 3 hours and play their instrument rather than sit at home and play video games.  I'm really proud of them for being so dedicated.  As an incentive I told them that if they come to all 5 days they would get a prize for their effort.  I did not tell them at all what it would be.

So, I thought all summer, "What would be cool to a middle schooler that is affordable?"  My wonderful wife had a great idea that turned out to be amazing.  We will give them a shirt that looks like this:

With our great Tshirt companies offering affordable prices on shirts, it turned out to be a great thing that the kids will love.  I can then use these as incentives for the entire year.  Make District Band - get a shirt, Pass off all your scales - get a shirt, Earn "Good Discipline Points" - get a shirt, etc., etc., etc...

AND when they wear it on spirit shirt days at school and someone asks why they recieved the "Prize Shirt" they can tell what accomplishment they did to earn it.  I think it will be a really positive thing for the band this year!

I'm even to going need to earn my "Prize Shirt" this year by accomplishing something big - yet to be determined.