John’s Journal – February

Happy New Year everyone!

I started my year on the rooftop of a hotel in Santiago, Chile. It was kind of a strange experience in that, unbeknownst to me, Chilean folks don’t really start their New Year’s party until about 2 AM on New Year’s Day. At midnight the streets were as quiet as a regular Sunday morning. Restaurants were all closed, and you could walk down the middle of the busiest street because they were all void of any vehicles. I later learned that most Chileans spend the time up through midnight at home with their families. Then, after ringing in the New Year, Mom and Dad go to bed and the young people sneak off to a government-sponsored party on the plaza in front of the main government building. The next morning I heard that there were 600,000 people at the party and I missed the whole thing! I spent some fun hours instead with a couple of young Australians on their honeymoon – as equally baffled by the quiet as me. We had a memorable time anyway and I hope I see them again someday.   In the cab to the airport the next morning I witnessed the remains of the official party and not just a few folks that continued to revel. Looking out the window I was kind of glad I missed it, if you get my drift.

From Santiago, I flew up to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. It’s the driest place on Earth! Yes, even drier than California the past few years. It’s an incredibly exotic and remote part of the planet. However, in the van ride from the airport to the hotel I rode with two folks who were dear friends of the one and only Freddie the Frog, and of course his creator, Sharon Burch. So either the Atacama Desert is not that remote, or Freddie has finally become the international star he so deserves to be.


I spent about four days hiking and biking in the Atacama and then went somewhere even more remote. (I didn’t know it was possible until I met Freddie’s friends!) I crossed the border from Chile into Bolivia. I wanted to see the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats). This is a huge expanse of land that is covered with bright white salt. You see, Bolivia has no outlet to the sea. So all the water that falls just seeps down and leaves this amazing layer of salt. Neil Armstrong saw it from space and said “when I land I want to go there.” He landed and he did go there, and so, so did I. It was amazing, but not an easy slog to get too. It was a four day adventure in a truck. Had to sleep at 16,000 feet one night. And this is my idea of vacation!


(Look! I’m wearing my Show Choir Camps of America hoodie above the Bolivian Salt Flats! Thanks Dwight and Sue!)

After Bolivia it was back to Valparaiso on the coast of Chile for some recuperation. Then I joined some members of my family in Lima, Peru to wrap things up. My brother is the superintendent of schools for the Roosevelt American School in Lima. It’s always wonderful to visit an “American” school overseas. They are generally filled with a combination of the children of ex-pats living there for one reason or another, (business, USAID, embassy workers and so on) and local people, which give these schools a marvelous energy and stimulating learning environment. I’ve been lucky to visit them in such places as Japan, Taiwan, China, Germany, Italy, Thailand, and few others and now, Lima , Peru! I consider it all research for our Musical Planet series, not that I ever need an excuse to go exploring either here in the States or overseas. I think to keep growing you have to keep going and doing, meeting new people, trying new foods, listening to new music and learning new dances. At least, it seems important for me. Look at these new friends I met in Peru.


I have to share one more little video clip with you because, like the Freddie the Frog story it proves again how small this beautiful planet really is. I had the cutest, smartest tour guide for a day in the Atacama Desert and a driver who spoke little, if any English. After an entire day together they somehow wrangled out of me the story of Double Dream Hands. Of course, they HAD to immediately look it up on their I-Phones (yes, even in the remote desert.) Here is their reaction as they watched some of the versions people have posted over the years on You Tube. Ya gotta love the way it made them smile:)

Okay , enough. I’m home now…actually on my way to exotic Peoria and the Illinois Music Educators’ Conference! How much better can it get?


Tales From a First-Year Teacher: January

We are following Caitlin Pronley, a first-year teacher in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, through her experiences this year.   She is a Music Express subscriber, and we’re excited to see how she uses the magazine in her classroom.  Watch for her monthly updates, and feel free to offer advice as a comment to the posts when you can!  She’d love to hear from you. 

Christmas Concert Memories
By now teachers have been back in their classrooms for a few weeks and it feels like we never left. December flew by quickly with my concerts and sing-alongs, and then the much-needed break of the holidays. Overall, my first holiday concert was a success and my students had a great time. Here is video of the 4th grade’s favorite piece. They loved how we added cups and instruments to “Sleigh Ride,” which was sung by the high school chamber choir.  It was a success and a new experience I can check off my list as a first-year music teacher.


January Brings….Recorders!
Another subject on my list is the recorder unit. We just started recorders in 4th grade and so far it is going well. The first thing we started with, before I even got the recorders in their hands, was breathing exercises. To help them create soft warm air I used an activity learned from a recent music convention. I had them work in teams to try to keep a small, Styrofoam ball from falling off a Frisbee. They were also not allowed to let the ball stop moving. At first it was not easy, but after some practice they were really starting to understand the concept of soft, warm air. Allowing them to practice this concept has really helped their sound quality.

Then we started with the basic B-A-G notes and have been learning a few songs. What I began to struggle with was the different paces of each student. Some caught on to the different notes right away while others barely understood B. I knew that I needed to work one-on-one with some students so I created centers. I had 5 different centers and about 5 students in each group. The centers consisted of sight-reading simple 4-beat melodies with the B-A-G notes, working with me on a simple song, practicing a new song, a staff spelling bee, and a staff beanbag toss. I mixed in the staff centers to allow the students to practice the staff letter names. This was new to the students but it seemed to work very well because I was able to work with students and assess their progress individually.

I am excited to see how the students continue to progress as the year goes on. For those that have taught recorders before I have a few questions:

  1. How do you have students clean the recorders? Currently we use Kleenex but that is going to get expensive. Students do have a cleaning rod that came with their recorders.
  2. Any suggestions for a small recorder concert at the end of the year?
  3. What other concepts do you usually combine with your recorder units besides learning certain songs?

Caitlin Pronley graduated from Winona State University in May 2015 with a degree in vocal music education. She was, and continues to be, actively involved in NAfME and ACDA. Currently she is teaching elementary general music (K-4) at St. Croix Falls Elementary in St. Croix Falls, WI. 


Music Express Tutorials

We’ve created a series of short videos to help subscribers download and use the features of our new Digital Lessons:

Tutorial #1: Finding and Downloading Digital Content

Tutorial #2: Using Digital Student Lessons

Tutorial #3: Using iSongs

Tutorial #4: Using Digital Teacher Lessons

Let us know if you have additional topics that you would like a tutorial made for – email Andrea at with your ideas.

NEW Digital Lessons are Here!


We are VERY excited to pilot our new digital lessons format in the January / February issue of Music Express.  We are updating the format of our digital lessons for next year, and we’ll be including these with EVERY subscription.  But we need to test it and gather feedback to make sure it’s the best it can be.  So we put all of the content for our January / February issue into this new format and we gave it to EVERY subscriber.

We’re already getting some great feedback on it, and we’ll be including some of that on this blog.  We’ll also be including things that we learn about downloading and accessing the file, and any additional tips our readers give us as they discover new features.  So stay tuned and check back often!

In the meantime, look in your January/February teacher edition and download our new Digital Lessons!

Music Express in Action – “The Chipmunk Song”

We just received this adorable video from Jessica Marks, music teacher at the Academy of Accelerated Learning in Milwaukee, WI – one of the Milwaukee Public Schools programs we are following this year.  This is her K5 class singing “The Chipmunk Song” from our December 2012 issue, and we had to share it with you.  The “cute’ factor is off the charts…..


We love seeing videos of classes singing our songs, so if you have one you’d like to share, please send it to Andrea at  Please be sure we’re allowed to share your video, and include the name of the song!  Happy Holidays!