Ben Caston is the Chair of the Music and Arts division and Director of Choral Activites at Truett McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia. In the Fall of 2014, Dr. Caston taught a conducting class in which he incorporated Connect For Education’s OnMusic Conducting webtext, with integratedAcclaim.
C4E: Tell us about your conducting classes. What is the course content?
BC: Fundamentals of Conducting is an introductory level class for both choral and instrumental music students. Students learn posture, alignment, and meter; as well as different patterns of conducting. Most of the course materials are drawn from the online text book, OnMusic Conducting. We meet two times a week for one hour. Students are sophomore and juniors, and have had about eight courses in music when they begin my class.
C4E: How do you like the OMC approach to content and methodology? How does that fit with your approach to an intro conducting course?
BC: I’ve taught conducting for five years. It has been frustrating to find a text conducive to a first semester conducting class. While many textbooks include musical scores, few have supplemental recordings. Beyond that, students usually have difficulties finding the music online on their own. With traditional texts, I couldn’t find anything that helped students to become grounded, or to understand the physical part of conducting.
OnMusic Conducting has everything in one place. It’s really helpful that it includes so many videos. One aspect of the module I found to be most instructive were the 8 videos demonstrating the Laban Flow Efforts. These eight videos are worth the cost of textbook alone. Having audio and video elements provides much more demonstrative instruction than merely reading the text.
[IMAGE: Integrated conducting videos] Click here for more screen shots of OnMusic Conducting
C4E: Can you tell us a bit about the conducting assignments using Acclaim?
BC: Students have to complete a total of five conducting assignments from the On Music Conducting textbook using Acclaim. In the assignments, students practice the following skills:
- Three and Four Beat Patterns
- One and Two Beat Patterns
- Entrances on Other Beats, Fermatas, and Cues
- Subdivisions, Accents, Syncopations
- Asymmetrical Meters, Sustaining Gestures
After I record the videos, I assess students based on how their left and right hands compliment each other, their use of facial expressions to indicate breathing patterns and emotional content, and how they indicate syncopations and phrasing. The assignments encourage students to balance the intent of the composer while also allowing freedom for musicians.
[IMAGE: Student Conducting Assignment with Instructor Comments on Acclaim] Click here for more screen shots of OnMusic Conducting
C4E: How do students respond to having most of their course materials online?
BC: Students responded quite well. They are obsessed with anything that they can use on the web. They are used to it, and they expect it. The days of having a stand-alone text, with no connection to internet resources, are starting to fade.
C4E: How has the use of OMC impacted your teaching style and how you manage the course?
BC: It saves time for me with organizing course materials. It also helps to control expectations around student deadlines. I used the OMC quizzes, which ensure that students have to complete assignments by their due dates.
C4E: What did you think of the other features of the course, such as the score study resources and the instructor guide?
BC: There’s so much great material in the OMC course that you can’t possibly use it all. I’d like to try out the other features if I had more class time with the students. The instructor guide was very helpful, but I didn’t need to use it that much.
C4E: Any final thoughts?
BC: Students are living in a digital age, and we have to be able to reach them where they are. Students respond best to teachers who are always learning. Our content may not need to change, but our delivery methods have to.