This week we feature Eric Wilson, the second-place winner in the “Share Your SmartMusic Story” contest.
Eric is a graduate of Slippery Rock University (B.M.Ed.) and Arcadia University (M.M.E.). This is Eric’s 10th year teaching and his seventh year teaching at the Colonial Elementary School in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. An active performer, Eric plays first principal bassoon with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra and also plays with the Pennsylvania Symphonic Winds.
Congratulations on winning second place in the contest. What was your reaction when you learned that you had won?
My biggest surprise was making it as one of the eight finalists. I’m just humbled by all the people who wanted to vote and wanted to help make sure that we got a prize. I think it was a great thing for our school district and for the parents because I really think it raised the awareness of the program.
What was your first exposure to music?
When I entered the fourth grade the teachers demonstrated the instruments and something just spoke to me. I started on bass clarinet but quickly switched to clarinet. I went through the Colonial School District and now I’m back as a teacher. It’s neat to be able to do that.
Was that your plan all along?
It certainly wasn’t my intention to do that; it was serendipity. I always wanted to be a high school band director. I actually was an assistant band director with a high school marching band for a couple of years. And then I got this job and realized that I love teaching elementary students. I wouldn’t trade it for the world now.
Did you know early on that you wanted a career in music?
I would say by the ninth or 10th grade I was thinking of pursuing a degree in music. When I applied for college I was a little hesitant because I knew my skills probably were not as good as they needed to be. I actually was going to become a history teacher and at the last moment I changed my mind and went with my gut feeling. I’m glad I went with it because I always knew deep down that’s what I should be doing.
I think that following one’s passion or calling in life is always a good thing to do.
That’s what I try to impart to the kids too. I want them to be really sure they’re following what they want to be doing. However, I’m not expecting my students to become a music teacher or a professional musician. I‘m just trying to foster an appreciation for music and encourage them to play throughout their lives.
When did you first hear about SmartMusic?
I observed another teacher’s classroom where they were using it. I thought, “Oh wow, I’ve got to start using this in my room!” So I asked the principle to purchase a copy of the program for us. It’s really transformed the way I teach and the way the kids learn.
How do you integrate SmartMusic with your music program?
I have a projector in my room where I put SmartMusic up on the white board and we go through the exercise. With the visual cue up on the board everyone’s on the same page. We also have one of the instrument microphones set up and we pass the microphone around the room and each time we play we’ll have one student who can see their results up on the board. The kids love that feature. They want to show off their skills for their peers.
I think it’s so important that students learn to start listening to what’s going on around them. Anyone can pick up an instrument and learn how to play a note on it but it takes a musician to figure out how their part fits in with the rest of the group and where their note lies within the melody.
What helps me the most is that I can differentiate instruction for those students who are having a little struggle and those students who are moving further ahead using the gradebook feature. I can tailor assignments for every student in the class. They don’t always need to wait for that next lesson in order to get the feedback they’re looking for. It’s helped me a lot with students who participate in the band fests. I can prepare much harder music than we might normally go over in our curriculum here. They can hear the whole band before they get to that band fest.
What do you think about SmartMusic 2011?
I like the simplified interface, especially the “Start take” button that automatically records and assesses at that same time. I think a lot of my kids were missing that component before. That’s really good feedback.
Do you have any tips you would like to share?
I use it when I practice at home. For example, I had a solo that I was preparing for. I wanted to hear what the orchestra sounded like behind it so I scored the whole thing in Finale and transferred it into a SmartMusic file. Teachers should be taking advantage of switching between Finale and SmartMusic to tailor their own exercises.
What advice would you give to teachers who are just getting started with SmartMusic?
Don’t be afraid of the technology! It doesn’t take much to try one thing in the program and learn how to do it. If you’re willing to give it a shot you can learn a lot by just doing a little.
Do you have any special plans with the prizes you have won?
Well, I’ve already used the gift card to buy a lot of new music for the band program, specifically some jazz stuff. I feel it’s something that students should be exposed to early on. I’m looking for something special to use the money for.
Thank you, Eric. We appreciate your time and the opportunity to speak with you.
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