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teaching reflectively


First Nights Section Plan. #2 (Tuesday 9/23)

Hi everyone. The second week of First Nights sections is upon us, so here's the plan:

Today, I'm opening with a brief, low-stakes listening quiz. I'm going to give them three excerpts from Orfeo, which we've mostly finished discussing in lecture, and perhaps one from Handel's Messiah, which we're just beginning. It'll be on paper, because I'd like to see where they are, but ungraded, since it's still very early on. The goal is to show them just how important it is to know the listening assignments backwards and forwards.

From there, we're going to open the class proper by going over the homework assignment. Students were asked to "map" the second act of Orfeo in a way that makes sense to them, and will help them to learn it in detail. I've seen some of the results already, and it's fascinating to see how they've arranged the material, and what struck them as important (or by omission, unimportant).

Next, the bulk of the class will be a "Quick Write" exercise. I'm going to play an excerpt of Messiah ("But who may abide..." from Part I) and ask them to write a paragraph or two about it. They'll then trade papers and discuss them with partners to see what came out of it. I picked this piece specifically because it has interesting things to say about form (the completely contrasting "For he is like a refiner's fire" section), text-setting (there are only three lines of text in a four-minute piece...), the orchestra (the opening ritornello, etc.), and hopefully many other things. Class discussion will branch out from there.

Finally, if there's time, I'd like to return to some of the preliminaries that we didn't have time for in the first week. One of the recurring issues in First Nights is the distinction between live music and recorded music. I'd like to ask students to share some significant listening moments from either recorded music or live concerts, and how they might differ. Hopefully we can get a good, free-ranging discussion going here. My secondary objective with this is especially to involve students who might be less comfortable talking about the technical aspects of music.

My big concern going into this one is fitting it all into 53 minutes. I'm determined to start the listening as close to on-time as possible, to reinforce to them that they need to be punctual. (Although last week, that was undermined by my decision to move the chairs into a circle, which took a few minutes. The lesson there is that I need to be there before classes change at 4, to rush in and re-configure things). I'm hoping that this lesson plan involves a good mix of various types of participation: hearing and writing, sharing responses one-on-one, sharing work with the class, and having a free discussion on a more personal, less factually-oriented topic.



First Nights Section Plan for 4pm Tuesday, Sept. 16

I'm going to start in immediately with a listening exercise. I'll play the first number of Act II of Orfeo ("Ecco pur ch'a voi ritorno") a couple of times, and ask students to pair/group up and talk about the music for a few minutes. I'd like them to brainstorm as many ways to describe it as they can. After some time in small groups, I'll take notes as they discuss what they talked about.

After that we'll do some introductions and class business: the calendar, section syllabus, etc.

Next, we'll move into discussing the questions I set them for homework. Each student had to submit answers ahead of time to the questions:

1. What's your favorite moment in Orfeo so far?

2. What are three interesting things you've learned in lecture?

3. What's one idea or aspect of the class about which you're still fuzzy? (The so-called "Muddiest Point.")

We'll get a discussion going on these topics, primarily on questions 2 and 3. My biggest goal for this section will be to get this discussion going among students, not a bunch of them talking to me and me responding, the trap I fell into last year.

Finally, I'll ask some students to share their favorite moments from Orfeo. I'll play the music, they tell the class what's going on and why they particularly like that part.