About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes we would rather skim visually instead of listening to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript to episode 015 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.
Episode 015 Transcript
Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast Episode 15.
Now for the second part of my chat with Ian Ross Williams, I know you’re going to love it. If you missed the first part, pop back and listen to Episode 14, before you listen to this episode.
Another question I like to ask and this is a huge question really, but for what are you most grateful?
It made laugh when I saw that question.
I’m grateful for everything. You know, my family, my upbringing, the country that I was born in, my health, it just goes on and on, the fact that I’ve been able to develop confidence in music. In my own little area. Now, you’d be very surprised, like my theoretical knowledge. And, you know, I’m very limited in so many ways, not very quick on the uptake.
But my little island of expertise, which is writing songs, and teaching, I found my level, primary school music, I can be really good at that. And writing songs for kids, I’m good at that. I go to these in-services and people like Richard Gill, or whomever it might be, they go, “Ah, yeah, you’re a bit limited when it comes to this that.” Ya know, I really am.
But I’m so grateful that I’m confident at least to be able to do that little thing that my family, my life, that’s just you wake up in the morning where I live, you know, the birds that sing in the trees or the sun, experiences the fallen in my life and the things that I’ve been able to explore. I’m grateful for everything.
We we are just so lucky, aren’t we? To be born here, born now. And, all of those things. I’m with you. Yes. grateful for everything, short answer. So we’re up to my nuggets of fabulous, which I’m hoping by now, listeners are going ‘oh, I’m looking forward to the nuggets of fabulous’, but I almost don’t think we need to ask it but I’m going to because you’ve almost you’ve already given us your nuggets of fabulous the songs that we’ve talked about, only a few but you have picked some of your favorites. I’m still gonna ask nuggets of fabulous even though you’re now retired recently.
Other people’s things that I’ve used in my class music classroom over the years. I always loved Big Black Train by Lucille Wood (singing), Big black train, big black train… so if you’re doing it in “C” (playing on the piano), big black train, big black train, take me up the mountain, big black train, big black train, take me down again. Sweet little thing lovely on melodic percussion, played on the guitar in the key of “C” so with my guitar program that we used to do, so I got…. (playing instrument). Using two strings, two fingers, so that’s one of my own little gold nuggets. I’ll get back to that.
So Lucilla Wood, I think it was published in The Small Singer, a little book in the 80s. Yeah big black train, Colin Buchanan is the mummy song, I’ve always had a lot of knowledge out of it. It’s a hilarious song, great to do live. Look it up, you can find it on YouTube, but it’s just a hilarious song that the kids I think that probably would rank one of the songs I would have liked to have written myself. Just a great, hilarious thematic song.
And speaking about the hilarious things, I’ll do this because this is a good platform to do. So this game, this is just a ludicrously ridiculous game works with most year levels, not very young. This is a game called evolution. And I got it through my wife Josie, who was teaching Italian at the time. She was a low teacher. The kids play scissors, paper, rock, and in our area of Queensland they do say scissors, paper, rock, other places they do it in different order like a 123 or whatever. The version, everyone doesn’t use scissors, paper, rock or whatever it is scissors, paper, rock.
You’ve got five levels, you started as a Chicky, if you win you go become a chuck, if you win you become a dinosaur, if you win you’ve come an old fossil, if you win you become the super being at the top level, so the only element of music in this as you seen veloday at the end as a super beam. So I’ll show you what you do. You crouch down as Chicky, you play scisosrs, paper, rock. If you lose you’re still a Chicky, if you win you become a chuck, so you’re a chuck, scissors, paper, rock.
You find someone doing the same actions and you, definitely must do the action so they can find you, so if you win you become a dinosaur, a long neck dinosaur. Play scissors, paper, rock, if you win you become an old person like me, you got a sore knee and sore back. If you lose, you go back and find another dinosaur. If you win, this is what you have to do with me, modeling what it is. (Singing and clapping) Whoa, whoa, whoa, doo doo, doo doo doo, doo doo, doo doo doo doo. And so it goes, it’s ridiculous.
Noise level absolutely crescendos up but then gradually everyone is doing this stupid dance and song routine. I don’t know whether it’s music but kids go to Italy and come back, “Mr Williams! I was singing that song.
Do they keep singing the winners song until there’s more winners?
Everyone is doing it except for the four leftovers. So that’s where you’ve got to be very, at the end, let them come in and join too because finally you do get one person and you’ve got two left, they play scissors, paper, rock, one wins, the other ones left on that level. So if they haven’t cheated, I write it up on a whiteboard, so they know, they don’t forget.
As a little kid they what level they are up to. But it’s a ridiculously funny thing. It just gives you joy because everyone’s just being an idiot and we just love it. You know, these are volare songs which I did learn when I went to Italy with Josie one time. We did learn how to sing, I’ve since forgotten sadly but I actually sang the whole volare song in public and did it in a bit of a silly way to.
I will have to learn, never having sang the volare song.
You don’t have to sing, you only sing the first few lines or so. There are nuggets of fabulous as you call them that I liked. Of my own material, I think if I had to name the biggest single thing that I got an enormous amount of positive feedback from kids and from parents, it would be the guitar program that I developed, which I got the insight into how to work it from Mooloolaba State School. I developed this guitar program which I’m happy to send people if they contact me, it’s demanding and it depends on how you approach your classroom.
It starts out, I’ve got it in levels so got 10 levels. You’re moving towards finger star playing, you playing melody. The very first thing I learned to do is learning (playing guitar) by playing by tablature with the written stick notation, so (singing). They’re learning to do this and keep this in the right order. So gradually you get up to Big Black Train in level 4 (playing), not that fast obviously. Then you got Jingle Bells, level 5 (playing). When you get to level 7, you got Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, my favorite.
So now we’re using three strings so a bit hard to see, and so on. Then we proceed and when you get to level 10, you’ve got things like (playing), so now the one that Wayne wrote which is (playing), so you’re learning to play finger style with three strings. And using these three the fingers. So rather than teaching on mass trying to teach chords, which works for a very small percentage of kids. Playing like that, they can all do it. I’ve had kids in year two, even in year one playing amazing stuff.
And so if you want to go down that kind of an instrumental path where you’re actually teaching an instrument, it’s enormous. But I used to line the guitars out, it’s taking the guitars home all the time, just given the sheets and what have you. I’ve got another, it’s a bit ordinary production, but it’s guitar star. So if you type in Guitar star level six, or level, whatever it is. It’s on YouTube so they can go and find how to play that stuff, so that was a big one. My most popular song to sing with the kids was “Secret Agent Magpie” and living in Australia, and “Whimsy Was a Little Fish”. The kids love playing that on melodic fashion, if you got xylophones and marimbas. You know, it’s just such fun to play. Because you get really fast at it, you got to look at your sticking pattern. So you’ve got to be actually teaching technique, but the kids really love that one.
There’s plenty of songs. I mean, everyone loves getting good at anything. But they did love that song. It was only one of my most recent ones before I finished. Yeah, so “Whimsy Was a Little Fish” was always a lovely little fingerplays style thing to do with the little kids. A lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable doing it but I used to make it quite a funny thing too so I’d substitute silly lyrics as well. So yeah, there’s all those things in your own teaching style that come out that you know, you value add as much as you can to whatever you do, of course.
Anyway, I still like recorders. There is such bad press about it and so many people in Australia sort of go “Ah, records.” and yet, you know, if you teach them to play well, and don’t do it on mass, I just that’s my pet hate. Don’t play with a class or playing recorders. It’s a waste of time. I can’t hear, they can’t hear themselves so they’ll blow louder and it’s just, it’s horrible sound in this plastic cheap recorders. I’m with you there, but I believe they’re a great tool and can be used in many ways, but not on mass. Send them out and learn separately if you’re gonna do it like that, or have little groups.
Yes, I still use them as a tool, they are beautiful and affordable. Yeah, absolutely.
Treble recorder, a good treble recorder are beautiful. It’s beautiful. Go and listen to “Stairway to Heaven”, that’s recorders.
I never made that connection. That would be cool to play for the kids, wouldn’t that?
I had a recorder ensemble do that, years ago. We didn’t get all the way in. We just did that first part forgotten how we sort of tapered it off. But yeah, I had bass, treble, tenor, whatever. I don’t think we had a piccolo. We had three different parts, three or four different parts playing “Stairway to Heaven”. Yeah.
That would be so cool. All right. So we’ve got these basically two little questions left really. One question and one chance for you to get on your soapbox. So advocacy. Now, most people know I’m working pretty hard at this stage, as there are quite a few of us doing to save music education. You know, I’ll just put it that way. We can put it however you wish but there are programs being diminished. A lot of people not seeing music education as important. And of course we know, it’s not just important, it’s vital. So as I’m chatting to people I’m just asking if they have any advice to give other music teachers.
Oh, I wish I did. But I just think you, Deb are doing absolutely great job and I just hope people support you by following up on all your different strands of what you’re doing. Beyond that, no, I don’t have anything sadly. I think it’s already terribly unfortunate what’s happening. I you know, I don’t know whether it’s my age. I just look at things spiraling down and quality and it’s part unfortunately it’s part of a wider scene of things. Content being squandered in rather than sort of glossing over this surface of so much stuff that we’re cluttered with what we’re trying to achieve and not doing properly. To have this absolute wonderful aspect of Queensland education to being diluted and trickled away. It’s just criminal.
But I think you’ve got your finger on the pulse far near, I’ve really stepped back from you know, I haven’t quite retired, I think I told you I’m doing a day teaching music again, at the River School in Mulaney. And that’s great. It’s really interesting not to be in the state system. They value music, I have hour long lessons and the classes are small, which is lovely. So yeah, I’m doing one day a week now. So it’s a good work life balance. I don’t mean to brag, but you know, it’s never quite as simple as that you’ve got inservices and meetings and etc. I’m loving the different style of things and still getting used to it. So what a new learning curve. It’s fun actually.
That’s good. And you know what, it’s nice to know that you’re still working with children too.
Well, you know, I felt it is my area of expertise writing this stuff. And it’s where I’m still chasing as I joke with you one time, you know, the greatest and best song in the world. It’s a song was obsessed with it. That was actually about that song was supposed written about Stairway to Heaven, but and I didn’t that’s something I didn’t go down. When I wanted to talk a little bit more about getting inspired and how I write. We didn’t touch on that.
Oh, yes, we sort of didn’t get right into that. Yeah.
So, with regards writing, I’ve always written poetry since I was a kid. I began songwriting in my teens, and then realized that I had did have some element of talent in writing for kids, particularly once I started my teacher training and so on, but I’ve always admired good songwriting. You know, I love music, the world of music is enormous as an aspect of music songs, with lyrics is always interested me and I believe that songwriting is a noble pursuit, and I, and I do believe that and it’s a source of endless fascination to me, and great inspiration to me.
So the songs that I find excitingly good, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” tragic though it may sound. I know a lot about that song. You know, there are complex musicians that believe Mozart wrote it, he didn’t! He did 12 variations on it but that tune existed before Mozart, that tune was a French folk tune. And then it became popularized. And when it was popularized, around that times, when he decided, well, you know, you can do anything, I’ll do 12 variations, and they like, exhausting to listen to his variations that are unbelievable. Like, what a show off, but so he didn’t write it, but the whole background is song so and another thing that has always struck me with so many of the truly great songs, you know.
If I had to rank the all time greatest song ever written, as opposed to a folk song, it’s come through, like The Water is Wine, which is gloriously heart wrenching, and beautiful. I would probably rank “Over the Rainbow” as the greatest song. It’s a funny kind of a game because it’s all a matter of taste. But that song was written for children. And this happens time and again. The story behind it is fantastic. Louis Mayer didn’t like it was going to kick it out of the movie. The guys that wrote it, Arlen and Harburg, the lyricist and the composer, they had a method and it’s a method that is what I like, but I’m only one person.
So you have an idea lyrically, or as a topic or as a title, and then you go to the music, and then you bring in the lyric, but there’s so many variations on it. That was written, you know, that was the task they were writing for The Wizard of Oz. And the moment of inspiration when it comes is so exciting. And even on my little level, when you crack or you find the key to the song that is going to make it special. Because you’re looking for more than just like anyone can write a song, you can put a melody to anything you say, everything we say as rhythm and melody, but it’s not going to be memorable or useful or exciting.
So when you find those little things, it’s just great. To get into that zone, so it’s always on my agenda. I am a songwriter. That’s what I do. And that’s always so this is part of the battle, because if you’re only doing it part time, you’re gonna have to find time to do it some, but I do it, like every day I’m thinking, I don’t spend a lot of time but I do. I tell my wife, I’m not just sitting here doing nothing, you know, I’m thinking. I might be working through some idea. The other thing that kids and great timeless songs like Over the Rainbow, so that was written for children may have felt that it was too adult for kids.
But of course, this is another thing that happens in children’s music, people undersell what kids can understand. And you can pitch any concept at all to a kid, if you pitch it at the correct level. There’s nothing you can’t get a kid to gain some understanding of. So I never want to undersell what often it’s not to say I don’t do stupid, silly songs that are just silly and fun.
Though I don’t do that particularly well I don’t think, I’m a bit more of a serious dude but I just find it exciting, the backstories to some of the great songs so don’t if you know the song, even actually saying this song makes me get emotional. The song called “I can’t make you love me”. Do you know that?
Look it up, Bonnie Raitt, I can’t make you love me.
Write it down, just a minute. I can’t make you love me. Who is it by?
Bonnie Raitt, seems the best version. It’s one of those songs. It’s simple piano, quite a famous piano accompanist find the piano for it. The guys that wrote it, though American guys and the kernel of the song happened because this guy read an account of the legal proceedings in a newspaper.
And this guy had got drunk and fired shots at his girlfriend’s car. I don’t know whether she was in it, but no one was injured. And it was you know, whoa. And so he’d been hauled before the courts and using deep doo doo. And so the magistrate or the judge or whatever said to him, “Have you learned anything from this?” And this is the account in the newspaper. And the guy said, now I’d like to quote this properly. The judge asked him if he had learned anything to which he replied, I learned your honor, that you can’t make a woman love you if she don’t. (laughing)
And this, I love the fact that they worked with this song for six months. I love it when you hear stories of it just arrived in your lap like yesterday, the tune arrived in McCartney’s lap took him a couple of months before he came up with yesterday. He was driving through Scotland and he just wanted a three syllable da da da he came up with the word yesterday. And he was in. So I love that moment where you get whatever it is the key to it. So they knew that they were onto something with this, I can’t make you love me.
But they nailed it, it took them a while. And then I playing it at a much faster tempo. And then finally the guy that wrote the music, called it back, and he got his friend who had been working on it each once a week for best part of six months. And he played it slowly and they sang it. And they just practically sort of fainted, they knew this was the most important thing that I’ve ever done that I’ve ever been part of. These stories are just lovely, you know, but back to the theme about children and great songs.
I don’t know if you know about the Beatles documentary, the eight or nine hour, Beatles documentary “Get Back” which has just been released on Disney. It’s a huge thing done by Peter Jackson, who did Lord of the Rings. He’s waded through out of many hours of footage and put it together. And of course, I’m a big Beatles fan, the middle/late session of the Beatles is miraculous and a source of inspiration because of the breadth and the amount of good children’s material that’s in there and as songwriter Lennon in that period of time was doing a lot of that psychedelics, so called psychedelic stuff which is in fact, an ostalgie for the simplicity and the innocence of childhood and songs like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds directly from his child’s drawing, but about his own childhood, incredible lyric, Strawberry Fields.
His ability, his abilities as a songwriter, but the way that it was often pitched towards children, Dear Prudence is another favorite of my stuff, all the references to childhood in that, when Dear Prudence wanted to come out to play, he did this a lot. And what’s called psychedelic music and psychedelic stuff is actually really well connected to children again. And you see this time and again, great songs that have a real connection with the child and yourself as a songwriter.
And yeah, so I find that really exciting. But also just loving the backstories of some of these songs, you know. That gets me in a zone because I do find it really exciting. Back on Lennon, you know, his lyrics was so sophisticated and so individual. Just to quote, two quite different songs, Strawberry Fields, when he says in verse two, I think it is, if you read it out, “always know sometimes think it’s me but you know I know when it’s a dream, I think I know, I mean, yes, but it’s all wrong. That is, I think I disagree”. I just find that astounding, you know, he was rattled with drugs at the time, but he was using this to come up with these incredibly sophisticated word play.
And I just find word play fascinating and I love it. And I do love when the whole melodic and chordal thing too. But I’m not very sophisticated in that area but I do love lyric. I’ve been trying to get away with the oriff thing from the oriff thing because I’ve been doing the oriff thing seriously for 10 years now, I’m trying to get back to lyric driven, topical stuff, but I’m still getting dragged back into the oriff thing.
The other John Lennon example of Lennon’s sophistication with his lyric, which seemed to dissipate after he left the Beatles, but he was using that whole ‘the child’ aspect to inspire his lyric. But another example of his lyric which I just love, and people may laugh at this too. And in fact, in Let it Be, they claimed that his song “Don’t Let Me Down” was corny but I think it’s heart wrenching. So “Don’t Let Me Down” beautifully recorded “and from the first time that she really done me, oh, she done me. She’d done me good”. And when you come across something like that, to me, and I find that as a lyricist, just when you can turn something around to have layers of meanings and just love it. Absolutely love it as you can tell. Don’t get me started.
I really think that does come through in your music that you write. Your love of the lyric.
I hope that does because I agonize over these lyrics. Yeah, many sleepless nights of just working through things. But when you find, it’s just so exciting when you do find the little key or you find a little aspect that’s just raised your song a little bit to another level. We were talking about rounds. I nailed that song, which has now called Monotreme Dreams, it’s a round. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written. It’ll be coming out in about probably in a couple of weeks. It’s virtually ready to go. I’ll finish the recording. I’ll be putting it out on YouTube.
It’s called Monotreme Dreams and that song, I’d come up with the lyric and I ran it past you actually.
(Singing) I’m an echidna and everyone knows, you’re the platypus that I chose. Beaming across Australia; documentry stars of the show.
I didn’t like the original lyrics I came up with but I finally came up with “beaming across Australia”, which then tied in with the documentary, and it was the right word. And when you get that you go, yes. Then I was playing with monitoring. So I’ve got (singing) TV monotremes in stereo; cuddlin’ my puggle in my burrow (I know, ‘coz). And that internal rhyme of cuddling my poggle on borough? So I thought, Ah.
No, that’s it. I know what you mean, that little magic, that little bit of that internal rhyme that ties up.
You can then build on that excitement, the juices flow and the ideas come. So that melody for that gave me a bit of grief because a round, you know, it’s got to be so cyclical, and it’s got to layer properly. And so I spent a bit of time on that. Not a not a lot of time, but I really like it. It’s nice and interesting chord progression.
Most of them are dead simple that I do, but so when from E minor, B minor, to C to D. So we started with only a minor. So you got the one that you got the five minor, then you got a six and a seven or something C to D. So yes, it’s interesting enough on that level, but it’s quirky.
But again, when you think about how quirky some of the stuff that Lennon did in that Beatles, middle delight, it’s right out there, you know, it is sometimes surprising songs that you think it’s one of the best things ever written. They don’t go very well necessarily, but so I am aware that my YouTube audience is primary school music teachers, and that’s fine, because that’s where I’m at.
But it’d be lovely if some of these more topical songs could find their way back into the world. You know, as kid songs go, people always think of, particularly from our generation, Puff the Magic Dragon. But then there’s like The Lion Sleeps Tonight, well that’s an interesting story, because that’s actually based on an African song called mamba.
And I finally got a royalties from Pete Seeger, who’d made a hit with Wimoweh, the biggest hit was with a song called The Lions Sleeps Tonight. It all came from this, they know who wrote it. Solomon was his surname, but all these big songs, so many of them connect with some aspect of childhood. And it’s really the kernel of who we are somehow that you carry the child that you were with you. And it stays, you know, and it comes out and I’m lucky to be able to play with that.
You’re allowed to indulge your inner child all the time. And we get to benefit that.
That’s going back to teaching again, you do miss the actual contact when you do the music, and you’re seeing you’re getting that award. You’re getting that back. Yeah, so that’s, of course, one of the highlights of writing and writing songs is seeing and hearing when people do recordings in some other country or ex students asking for recordings or saying how much it meant. All of that, you know what it’s like, it’s lovely, yeah, but to know that your songs being sung is exciting and heartening eminently pleasurable.
Well, I can tell you, I’ll speak on behalf of all the other music teachers, we’re very very grateful that you’ve written all these beautiful things and that you’re still writing so thank you.
Everyone song you finish, you think ah, is that the last one? Because I’m at that juncture I worked was it yesterday quite a while something that didn’t go anywhere. So pay a portion of the day let’s say three or four hours and more because then when I go off walking in the bush or on a bicycle, still, I didn’t go anywhere but so yeah, I’m currently I’ve got three or four songs in the wing.
I’ve got the Monotreme Dreams is one. I have virtually finished a ridiculous electro pop song called Wombat on a Mission. I’m trying to get away from that Australian animal thing too, but I’m also trying to get thematic and not sort of music teacher off but keep getting dragged back into that because I suppose that’s my Heartland.
We like you there you can hang around here.
I’m comfortable there but I think you know, I’ve really given the music teacher oriff thing a good shot. My last CD that I ever recorded One Heartbeat from the Sun was infused with that as well. So these current songs, ridiculous as it is Wombat on a Mission isn’t a school teacher Music Teacher Song. You might, I don’t know that when many music teachers are gonna like it, actually. But it’s ridiculous. It’s quite more closely related to Crazy Frog than anything else.
Oh well, I’m looking forward to it. Oh, I’m looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, my video budget, my animation budget, not up there.
But I still like to hear it. I think that’ll be amazing.
It’s not meant to be taken too seriously. That’s the last thing I’ve written. So now I’m in a space so stay tuned, check out YouTube, in that, you know, I try and get one up a month to write and record and make a video is tricky, though, I have got a back catalogue that I dip into as well. Yeah, got a back catalogue.
That is amazing. I have learned so much. It’s been absolutely fascinating speaking to you this morning, I just think I’m probably going to split this into two episodes. So that it’s you know, I think because it’s been long and wonderful. But I think I’ll chop that in two.
Before you go, I do want to thank you for all your support and interest too. I really do appreciate it. I really, really do. If people want to find me, check out my YouTube channel and check the playlist, it’s got a music teacher playlist, and that, like there’s over 100 songs up there now. It’s quite getting unwieldy, you know what it’s like because you’ve got needs to. I don’t know how you do it with your do you do playlists and stuff. But my playlists for music teachers, music teacher Primary School has gone about 40 or 50, maybe 40 songs, check that out, rather than go, where am I going to stay start with this?
Oh, that’s good. I don’t think I even realized you had the playlist. And it’s, yeah, we’ll put the link to the actual playlist in the show notes. And your website ianrosswilliams.com.au which we also will put that in the show notes. But if people have a look first, look at what they like and then they can get onto your website and find, you know, the albums and whatever that they can purchase to support you.
It’s not even about purchasing. Look, I’m not trying to make money out of this so I’m under no illusions that I’m even going to. I get royalty checks, royalty, royalties, you know, $3.21, or, you know, big one might be $4.63 or something. Whatever it is that clicks my digital sales when it gets up to $50 I think I get one which might be once every quarter or six months or something. I’m not trying to make money. So if people want to, and I’m not likely to I’m not worried about that. I just love people to use my material, contact me. I’m quite contactable and mostly just give it to you. You know, we’re a nominal fee for whatever you want.
That’s very generous, very generous.
Just not about that. It’s just about having joy of people using the stuff.
Oh, wonderful. No, that’s a beautiful note to finish on. But if there’s something that you would like to say, I’d like to just give you a chance to get on your soapbox and tell the world something. Assuming that there’s 1000s of people downloading this episode. And you want to tell them something really important to you. A message to the world.
Getting emotional. The thing that springs to mind is to be kind, be kind to yourself, and to be kind everyone else. We’re all carrying a load, every single one.
Oh I love that, stop it. You’re gonna make me cry. Stop, Ian. Okay, on that beautiful note, I am saying bye for now to Ian Ross Williams. And I know that the whole world appreciates the music that you’ve put out there.
And you’re kind heart, bye.
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