Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Some thoughts about Weston Noble

I’m not a Luther College graduate, so I never studied officially under Weston Noble who died yesterday at 94 years of age.

He influenced my life in a number of ways.

My first introduction to Weston was as a college student.  My college choir, the Northwestern College Choir, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Port, sang at a regional ACDA conference. I had been struggling with my choice of Northwestern, as I had passed on going to the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University to go to Northwestern because of finances.  Two things happened at that conference…Lawrence also sang, meaning that my college had achieved the same level of recognition as that other school (you have to audition to be accepted to perform)…and after we sang, Weston came over and gave Dr. Port a huge hug and talked to him for a while.  Other professors from my school made it clear that the interaction we had witnessed was a very special moment.  All of this led to my acceptance of being at my college rather than somewhere else.  This impacted my own happiness and my impacted my openness to learn in new ways.

Over the years as a high school choir director, I had opportunities to see Weston work at the annual Dorian Music Festival and other venues.  Shortly after he retired, one of my former high school students ended up working with him for a year at Carthage College in Wisconsin (she was thrilled). 

I saw Weston direct expressively–and obtain results–from the smallest movement of his index finger.  Some of his warm-ups are still a part of my routine. I wish I could work in an environment where students could be called upon to demonstrate things for each other.  He scared the living tar out of students when he did that–but he always called on people that could handle it.  He was incredibly smart.  He was incredibly kind.  He loved what he did.  He wasn’t full of himself or his program. He lived his faith, and while the world is a lesser place without him, he is with his Lord and Savior at this moment.

When I studied for my Ph.D., I took a course called “The Art of Choral Conducting” at the University of Minnesota, led by Kathy Saltzman Romney.  One afternoon, she had Dr. Craig Kirchhoff (band director) come in to work with us.  He selected a hymn (Amazing Grace) and the class asked me to direct first–confident 32 year old that I was.  I directed it as I normally would–and afterward I stood there for 45 minutes (not joking) as he berated me (and the class) for conducting the hymn to a pattern.  It was a humiliating experience–and no one else would go up to conduct after me.  Maybe Dr. Kirchhoff had a bad day–and he certainly wouldn’t remember me.  Maybe I was just another victim in a long line of conducting analysis.  Simply put, significant damage was done to me (and others in the class) from that experience.

On our last day of the course, the Minnesota Chorale was on hand to work with each of the conductors, and eventually I had to conduct a section of a Faurè’s Requiem.  Our guest clinician was Weston Noble, and after the Kirchhoff experience, I was terrified.  But I pretended to be okay, and I got up and conducted.  The choir sang.  Eventually the movement ended.  Weston turned to me, and said, “Do it again.”  So I did.  Weston said, “Do it again.”  So I did.  Weston said, “Do it again.”  Finally, I spoke up, “Is there something wrong?  Is there something I am supposed to focus on or fix?”  Weston looked at me, then at Kathy, then the Chorale, and said, “No.  It is just that your left hand expression is so lovely and so wonderful that I simply want to keep watching it.”

Wow.  The experience, as my colleague Joel Gotz commented, was cathartic.  It completely rebuilt my confidence after the very destructive experience earlier in the week. I do not think that Kathy put Weston up to that.  I still have the video from the experience somewhere.

I cannot discuss this in depth, but later in my life, some individuals (who had studied under Weston) made an effort to derail my career–and my faith, family, and that experience with Weston all helped me to make it through.  I will be forever grateful that Weston was our guest clinician that day, although I am sure he wouldn’t remember me.

Tim Sawyer referred to Weston Noble as the Yoda of the choral world…that was a perfect summary of his role for so many.  A true master and teacher of the craft. And incredibly kind and wonderful man without an ego (incredibly rare in today’s world of conductors ).  And the funny thing is that he was hired without a doctorate, and in today’s world would not even be considered for a job (even at Luther) without it.

To all those mourning Weston Noble, I am with you.  I promise you he is reaping the rewards of his  life this moment.

Digital natives?


I am not a fan of the term, “Digital Native.”  This implies that today’s students (including college students) are SO familiar with technology that they need no training.  After all, they grew up with the technology, so they know how to use it, right?

Well, they know how to do recreational things.  They know how to use social media and how to play games.  But when you ask students to use technology for academic purposes–they struggle.  They still need to be taught.

A couple of months ago, a very popular technology guru “put down” a teacher because they showed them every step to do something.  “Let them figure it out on their own,” was the sage advice.  I interceded for the teacher, saying that my own students seem to be incapable of following CLEAR directions (written or spoken), and do not have the initiative to figure it out on their own.  The guru then attacked me, saying, “I will believe in your students even if you don’t.”

So I put it to the test.  With the limited time we had with ukuleles, students only learned the C and F chords through late October (10 minutes, maximum, every-other-day).  I decided to test their ability to play these chords by having them make an instructional video to teach others how to play the chord.  To earn a specific grade, they had to complete specific tasks.  One of the tasks at the A Level was to use picture-in-picture or split screen to show a closeup of specific chords when they were teaching how to play those chords.

Every student has access to an iPad and iMovie.  How do you use split screen or picture-in-picture?  Ultimately, you move your cursor in the iMovie project to where you want to add the picture-in-picture or split screen.  Then you choose a second video (or the same video) to drop into place, and a “…” option allows you to choose how you want to embed that video.  After the video is in place, you can reposition a picture-in-picture box, and you can even resize the image to zoom in.

How did I learn this?  A 20 second search in YouTube for “picture in picture iMovie iOS.”

I didn’t give these instructions–these are digital natives, who can read the instructions, and can search using Google and YouTube, right?

I have nearly 400 students in choir.  Do you know how many were able to do picture-in-picture or split screen in iMovie on iOS?  NONE.  I had one student that spent $6 to buy another program that would allow her to do it (and she earned an A). Otherwise, students were quite content to earn a B, as it did not require extra work or effort.  400 digital natives–and not a single one could figure it out.  That educational guru sure was right!

As we continue with the ukulele in the coming months, I will show them how to do picture-in-picture and split screen in iMovie, because I want them to be able to make instructional videos not just for ukulele–but for other things they are passionate about.  And I also want them to know the work that others do to prepare those videos. But I have to SHOW them, because they will not figure it out on their own (or tap into the knowledge of others on their own initiative).

Interested in using the video assessment idea to use with your own classes?  (Ukulele, recorder, playing tests)? Here is a PDF of that assessment.

Note: The photo is of my now 8 year old son, who started using our iPhones in a significant fashion at just over one year (this would be about 2 months after that).  And yes, even my own children struggle to use devices appropriately, particularly in education.

If you are at MidWest…

This is the week of MidWest.  I have never been to MidWest, although my high school band (when I was a senior) recorded the audition tape that sent the NEXT year to perform at MidWest (I attended Oconomowoc High School–a long tradition of band excellence, and was the tuba section leader).

If you are a band or orchestra director, MidWest is the key professional conference you can attend.  As a result, a lot of technology companies and products are there to reach potential customers.

Technology Vendors you want to visit:

  • MakeMusic: Finale, SmartMusic, New SmartMusic
  • Hal Leonard (Noteflight)
  • Charms Office Assistant
  • Newzik
  • MusicFirst
  • Olivet Nazarene College (Not a company, but they are a 1:1 iPad College)
  • Quaver Music
  • Pyware
  • Presonus

I am sure there are others that I missed from the vendor list..but this is a good start.  In particular, this will be a rare Stateside appearance for and Newzik, both French companies.  So…to those of you headed to Illinois…stay warm!

Some Potential Christmas Gifts for the Music Educator


It is December 3rd, just a couple days away from St. Nicholas Eve, where a Wisconsin tradition (going back to roots in Germany) has children put their lists to Santa in their stockings, so that Santa can stop by and get their lists, and leave them candy and small toys OR coal, with coal being a warning to get their act together so that Christmas can still be “good.”

I like that tradition.

So…if you have a music educator in your life, what kinds of Christmas gifts could you get them?

  1. If you have a bit of money available, I would suggested a used iPad Pro 12.9″ device–the 128GB or 256GB versions (stay away from the 32GB model).  Make sure that you pay no more than $700 for a 128GB ($850 for the cell version) or $850 for the 256GB version ($925 for the cell version).  A device refresh is coming up [likely in March], so I would not buy a new one.  If you buy from someone in person, make sure that you can log into the iPad and register it to you before handing over cash.  Since iOS 8, if “Find my iPhone” is enabled on a device, you cannot register it again until that setting is removed.  Sometimes sellers don’t know this–and sometimes they are selling stolen items.  Again…make sure everything works before handing over those hundred dollar bills!
  2. If your music educator already owns an iPad Pro (12.9″ or 9.7″), get them an Apple Pencil ($100).  They will not be disappointed.
  3. If your music educator is on the iOS platform, an iTunes Gift Card is always a nice gift.
  4. Take a look at the JamStik ($299) as a bluetooth MIDI guitar interface, or the CME XKey Air ($199) bluetooth MIDI piano interface.
  5. If you know someone that does recording on an iPad, consider an external microphone, such as the Blue Snowball ($50), the Shure MV5 ($100), the Blue Mikey ($90), or the Shure MV88 ($150).
  6. The ukulele has brought a lot of joy into my life, while we are buying Caramel ukuleles for our school, they will never arrive in time for Christmas.  I would suggest the Outdoor Ukulele Tenor models ($150) for a ukulele that literally can go anywhere; or for a high quality, low priced ukulele, I love all of the products at Mainland Ukuleles ($200-$400).  I am particularly fond of the Cedar/Redwood Tenor.  If you buy a Mainland, make sure to order a case and a humidifier, as solid wood ukuleles require basic maintenance with humidity; I also suggest getting 2 shoulder straps on any Concert or larger ukulele (one on the bottom, one on the heel–although Outdoor Ukulele installs them elsewhere), and if you plan on amplifying your ukulele, order a pickup with the instrument.  The Outdoor Ukulele only has one option; order a MiSi with the Mainland if you choose to buy a pickup.

iOS users who use music apps are fortunate…

As this Thankgiving Day draws to a close (and a very late “Happy Thanksgiving” to everyone), I was reminded this evening how fortunate iOS users, who use music apps, truly are.  Perhaps I could pen that sentence in a better way, but I think I am going to leave it.

This afternoon, I purchased some ukulele Christmas tab books from The Ukulele Hunt.  When we arrived at home, I wanted to put those PDFs on my iPad and started playing.

My usual PDF app is forScore.  forScore recently issued an update, and I cannot get the app to install on my iPad.  Therefore, it is sitting unusable on my device.  I’m not mad about this, and it wouldn’t cause me to tell people to not buy forScore.  Instead I fired up unrealBook, imported the PDF files from Dropbox, and was playing ukulele in no time at all.

Here is where iPad users are fortunate: we have devices that work VERY well for music reading, in a number of configurations, including a 12.9″ iPad.  At the same time, we have a number of accessories that make interacting with the music easier (AirTurn pedals, AirTurn iPad mounts, Apple Pencil (for pro models), and Adonit Jot Dash and Adonit Snap styluses), and a bunch of great apps that other platforms can only dream about.

Beyond forScore and unrealBook, which I recommend the purchase of both to everyone, there are many more PDF music readers, such as NextPage and even the (generally free with IAPs) app, PiaScore.  There is also another generation of music readers, such as Newzik, SuperScore, and Gustaf that combine the possibilities of MusicXML as well as PDF files.  And in a pinch, many other PDF apps can work very well, where other platforms lack a single good app.

I don’t want to talk down other platforms, and iOS has its issues, too.  But I am still amazed at my iOS devices and how they have seamlessly integrated into my daily life and my teaching–and I cannot imagine my life without these devices.  They improve the quality of my life (and allow me to invest my time in the things that interest me) and they help me in my profession.  The combination of ease of use and quality apps, along with core functionality (e.g. Core MIDI, BLE MIDI) make my iOS devices a essential element of my existence…and I am thankful for them today.

Again, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Check out my friend’s, Paul Shimmons, web page for a bunch of music apps that are on sale for Black Friday!