Meet SmartMusic Teacher Karen Froehlich

Karen and her husband (a math teacher) love to travel. Here they’re pictured at Machu Picchu on a recent trip to Peru.

This week we feature Karen Froehlich, the third-place winner in the “Share Your SmartMusic Story” contest.

Karen is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University (B.M.Ed.) and Yale University School of Music (M.M.). Her primary instrument is the French horn.

Karen is on the faculty of the Hoff-Barthelson Music School in Scarsdale, New York, and the Mount Kisco School of Music in Mount Kisco, New York. She also maintains a large private studio, currently 25 students. Karen performs in the Westchester County area with the Chappaqua Orchestra and the Taconic Opera and has also performed in numerous freelance groups in the New York City area, including Broadway productions of Cats, 42nd Street, and West Side Story.

Congratulations on winning third place in the contest. What was your reaction when you learned that you had won?
I was in Quito, Ecuador, when I found out I was a finalist. That was fun. I was very happy and very appreciative of all the people in the community who had voted and supported me. I have yet to figure out how I’m going to use the gift card. I think the basic thing is to find songs that are in the SmartMusic library that I can order for my kids.

Did you grow up with music?
My father and mother both played the trumpet. My mom played with an all-female orchestra in Washington, D.C. I have a picture of her standing behind Eleanor Roosevelt playing her trumpet.

My mother started teaching me songs when I was able to walk. I actually began performing when I was about two. I started piano lessons when I was seven. When we could choose an instrument in sixth grade it was logical that I would pick the trumpet. After about a year my band director said, “We have a French horn and nobody’s playing it. Would you like to try it?” This was really intuitive I think on the part of my music teacher at that point because she knew that I had the background and the ear and would really excel with the horn. And I did.

That’s quite a switch because the French horn is so different from the trumpet.
You know, I’ve been doing this for 50 years and I’m still learning! It’s its own animal. You can put down the wrong finger and get the right note and put down the right finger and get the wrong note!

Did you always want to be a music teacher?
I knew I wanted to be a music teacher when I was in high school because I was coaching kids in the section even then.

What types of music do you like best?
Whatever I’m playing at the moment! As far as really listening, I like jazz. I listen to most everything. I have satellite radio in my car so I just keep flipping channels if they’ve played something I’ve heard recently.

How did you hear about SmartMusic and when did you start using it?
My daughter went to the New England Music Camp in Sidney, Maine, for many years. One summer she used SmartMusic for accompaniment in a master class. When she came back from camp she was talking about it and how much fun it was. I started looking into it and persuaded the middle school to order subscriptions for us.

I used it the first year with my colleagues and we kept raving about it so much that when our new supervisor was hired last year she said, “Well if it’s this good, we should get it for everybody.” So now we have it for all the district teachers.

How do you integrate SmartMusic with your music program?
I use the gradebook feature to send student assignments from the SmartMusic library. They submit their recordings, which I review, then I send them my comments, all within SmartMusic. We also use it in our small group instruction. I use it with the band when we warm up. We do some listening and play-by-ear type of stuff. It plays, they play it back, and I change the key on them and do different things with that. We also do rhythm exercises.

When you’ve got four clarinets playing in a lab group you’ve got the entire band behind them and they feel supported and aren’t so timid about trying to play their part. Even in the method book there are so many things that they can do. With my private students I take some of my own pieces that I’ve arranged or I take something that I know they haven’t seen and I make a Finale file out of it. I send the file to them and ask them to play it for me like as a sight-reading example and see how well they do with that.

Are you creating a lot of SmartMusic accompaniments in Finale?
Yes, I have created a number of arrangements for the band and all the parts are there for the kids if they want to practice them at home with SmartMusic. I can send it as an assignment. I love being able to do that.

Last year, one of my co-workers decided to retire and one of the things he always wanted to do was conduct me playing a solo with the band in a concert. We performed “Nessun dorma.” I made an arrangement with the French horn as the solo and all the kids were able to access their parts in SmartMusic and practice.

What has been the students’ response when exposed to SmartMusic?
Most of them absolutely love it. The kids that really want to do well are using it independently, without any assignments coming from me. For example, if I use the Standard of Excellence book and I want them to perform number two they can work at it at home without SmartMusic, but if they have it it’s to their advantage. I think the kids that don’t have SmartMusic at home are going to see that the kids who do are excelling.

What do you like best about SmartMusic?
The fact that the kids can hear their part and how it works with the whole. You’ve got a kid who says, “I don’t know how it sounds so I can’t do it.” So then you can play their part and they can hear it in relationship to the rest of the accompaniment. Or they can take the accompaniment away and just hear their part. For some kids that’s a really important feature. It really helps them to blossom.

It gives them the confidence to say “Okay, I can do it, I can slow it down to do it, then I can work to get it to where it needs to be.” Hopefully, it inspires them to work harder because the whole video game effect of turning those notes green encourages them to say, “Oh no, let me do it again, let me do it again!”

What advice would you give to teachers who are just getting started with SmartMusic?
Start playing with it yourself; look for ways that it can help you in your practicing.

I had a student teacher last spring and she is starting to go out for interviews. The schools want her to be able to play most instruments on some sort of basic competency level. And she’s using SmartMusic to learn them. She’s using it very much the way John Kuehn uses it with his students. She’s taking different instruments and learning to play them up to a certain level and trying some of the solos that are available. If the teacher learns to use SmartMusic and is excited about it, it will be infectious. Enthusiasm has a way of rubbing off on people.

I’d like to congratulate Karen again and thank her for sharing her experiences with us.

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