Read the Episode #66 with Ruth Friend, Part 1

Introduction

Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 66. Debbie O’Shea here with another episode of the Crescendo Music Education Podcast. I get to talk to Ruth Friend for this and the next episode.

So this is part one. My chats just go on for a little bit too long. So I’ve broken it into two parts. You’re going to adore listening to Ruth Friend, she really supports other music educators and at the later end of her career like me, she is turning her focus onto supporting other music teachers. Settle back and enjoy my chat with Ruth Friend.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too!
The transcript of episode 066 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.


Introducing Ruth Friend

Debbie
Hello, and welcome to Ruth Friend. Hello, Ruth.


Ruth Friend
Hi there Deb.


Debbie
I’ve always liked your last name. I’ve always liked friend, love, you know those sorts of last names they’re so cool.


Ruth Friend
It’s a perfect name for teaching primary kids.


Debbie
Oh, definitely.


Ruth Friend
They you know, they smile Oh. As long as I live up to it.


Debbie
Yes. And you say you know what? I am? Yes. All right. Now I’m going to start out the way I start out with everybody, I’d like to read your bio, just your brief bio, so that people who haven’t met you will get just a quick little background. All right, music educator and author Ruth Friend passionately supports music teachers to maximise their teaching effectiveness in the classroom, and rehearsal room.

She is an experienced facilitator in training teachers in the Kodaly approach to music education with 40 years of teaching experience, and expertise encompassing classroom music and movement, instrumental and choral programs from kindergarten to university. Ruth’s first publication, Put the Beat in ya Feet for Flute focused on developing independent, creative young musicians. She has since co authored the successful Take Note music series of student and teacher books, along with outstanding resources for the music classroom. Tada there you go.


Ruth Friend
40 years, I feel so old.


Debbie
Join the club, we are obviously a similar vintage. Yes.


Ruth Friend
And relishing it. It’s a lovely place to be.


Debbie
Oh, I think it is. And I was just reflecting the other day what a shame it is in a way that after this length of time, that’s when you’re actually starting to feel actually I’ve got my head around this job now.


Ruth Friend
Absolutely. I feel like I’m really cooking now. And I’m just at that, you know, but I think you know that there is more ahead for us. And we just have to continue, you know, to support the young ones coming through. I think that’s our job.


Debbie
Yes. Yes. I think that’s a great way of looking at it. But yes, I hear you, because that’s exactly the way I’m feeling. So I think as we were having a little chat leading up to this, I thought I shaped this bit of a question for you. Okay, are you ready? As a semi retired teacher, self confessed lifelong, Like, I sort of almost felt like I was talking about myself.


Ruth Friend
Talking about yourself. Yeah, I know. We’re peas in a pod.


Debbie
Yeah, she sounds like me. But I’m not at the semi retired bit yet, I’m still working full time. But anyway back to the first question. As a semi retired teacher, self confessed lifelong learner who has loved your teaching career and would consider yourself, what would you, ah, goodness, Ruth, can I just start again? Yeah, I’m just gonna start again. And I’m not even going to edit this out. All right, as a semi retired teacher, self confessed lifelong learner who has loved your teaching career. What would you consider the highlights? Or the joys or the power? Or the learnings from your teaching career? Like? It’s a really big question.


Highlights of Ruth Friend’s Career

Discovering Kodály

Ruth Friend
It is a huge question. And look, I think the big answer is Kodály. Discovering Kodály or stumbling across it when I was 10 years into my teaching career was just so formative, and I love the Kodály belief that every person has musical aptitude, and musical instruction should take place at a young age to the simultaneous training of a child’s ear, mind, heart and hand and that’s been so informative in my career. I moved as soon as I really got Kodály’d as I say, it’s like getting religion like, (sings hallelujah), you know, where has this been hiding all my life?

You know, I couldn’t believe that I had been locked out of this, how could I not have found this earlier. So it was really important for me, but, you know, it basically changed my whole world and it formed my teaching philosophy throughout my years. And each Kodály course that I took, strengthened my teaching and musicianship, and therefore my enjoyment of teaching, I was doing better, and I loved doing it more. So I’ve never stopped trying to improve. And I think that’s the joy about teaching which is where the publishing has come in, that you’re always trying to do better.

You’re trying to innovate, and improve and be the best you can be. So that has been the big power in my career. But adding on from that was the professional learning that I’ve gained from John Feierabend. Doing his First Steps when he first came to Australia in 2008 I think it was, and Davina and I went to Sydney to do it and it was life changing. It was just what, why have we been singing with the students? Why are we not expecting them to catch the song without our help, and that was pretty powerful.

Development of Listening Skills through Observations

I think since then, I have focused more on the development of listening skills with the students. And that has made them more musical. It’s amazing. And then the other impact on my lifelong learning has been observations. And that’s where we met. When I came to Queensland. I organised the six schools over 10 days in my first long service leave, your school was one of them. And I went to Brisbane and met all these amazing Kodály teachers and had a fabulous time, consequently picked up all the bugs from six schools.

And got on the flight for my first European vacation at the ripe old age of 50. I was sick as a dog, I had no voice, laryngitis, blah de blah, anyway, so I don’t recommend that potentially if you’re not quite well. And then a couple of years later, I had a week in London as part of another trip to watch colour strings, classes, the Guildhall with Cyrilla Roselle. I saw an Aussie, expat Aussie, in a girls school over there and I saw the growth mindset in action. And we didn’t know what that was called at the time. But it’s since been really, really powerful in my teaching.

And then another powerful impact on my learning in my career has been going to visit John Feierabend in Connecticut and watching Lillie in her classes and seeing Karen Howard in her classes just before she finished teaching as a career and went into her PhD. And I got to go to an OAKE conference. So I’ve had a very fortunate time I’ve, you know, I’ve worked hard. My Mum would say, Oh, you’ve been very lucky in your teaching career. And I’d say yes, the harder I work, the luckier I get. You know, it’s not just the content that I gained from these experiences, it was actually more the manner of the teaching, that you just absorb, and really imbues your teaching with, you know, going down from secondary to primary is a big shift.

And I’ve just come off the back of a term and a half doing a bit of teaching in secondary, year seven and eight boys. And it reminds me that it is a big shift to come down to the you know, you need to be gentle and welcoming of these children because you are very informative on the socialisation when they’re middle years. It’s like whoa, you know, back off lady. So it’s a very different place. And you need every little trick in your kitbag to manage children growing up and learning to socialise.


Debbie
I love it. And I do agree with you that there is actually nothing like learning from, that involves observation of other teachers working.


Ruth Friend
Absolutely.

The Problem with Not Being Able to Observe Other Music Teachers


Debbie
And it’s a real problem in our profession. Because when you’re working away in your school, not only do you not get a chance to go and watch someone else teach, there’s no one near you anyway. Well, you had to fly. Well, you didn’t have to go that far. But you flew to Brisbane, you flew to the UK, you flew to America, you know, and of course there are we’re not saying that you have to go that far afield to find excellent examples, but you can’t do it easily. You know.


Ruth Friend
If you try to do it in your own state, you then have to get leave from your school to go and see someone teaching in another school in Melbourne for example. And that seems to be harder than doing it on your downtime in Holidays, etc. So, in all of this, it was holiday time, or pardon me, the OAKE conference was in March in the middle of a term and Caulfield Grammar had given me time off to say thank you for doing the acting head off for eight months.

So they said, Well, what would you like to do? And I said, I’d love to go to the OAKE conference. And so I put on the observation before that, and it’s just making connections with Kodály people around the world that it allows you to ask, look, would you mind and could I? Lillie Feierabend and John were fantastic, supporting me in that. And, you know, I think we’re so, so fortunate to be in our field, Deb, where we are all friends. We all support each other, we all are about moving music education on to bigger and better things. And it’s not about you know, tall poppy syndrome. And, you know, who does she think she is, and all the rest. I get that when I do my little videos, my teaching tips.

And I think, Oh, my God, you know, and I went to a conference recently, and I had someone come running up to me and put their arms around me, and I’m going, Ooh, I don’t remember you, your name. And she said, Oh, do more videos, please. You know, and then someone else said the same. And I went, Oh, gosh, really. So it’s just about sharing, and improving. Helping, every time you think about you know, every time I do one of those little videos, or I do a teacher training thing, conference, workshop, you learn so much, because you’re reflecting on your practice. And I think that’s been the joy of everything I’ve done.


Debbie
Yes, yes, I think probably, if you look up the dictionary under lifelong learner, I’d say that one of the listings would be Ruth Friend wouldn’t it.


Ruth Friend
Yeah.


Debbie
But you know, I do agree 100% that when you present, or when you make videos, or when you do podcasts, all of these things, they’re learning. You know, they’re learning for you even if you’re presenting, and you’re growing, and I’d love to go right back to something you said near the beginning of this chat, it actually adds to the joy of doing your job. When you know that you have grown. There’s sort of an excitement in your own development as a teacher, isn’t there?


Ruth Friend
Absolutely. Yeah. And, you know, I pity the teacher in any area, who just keeps doing year after year after year after year, the same thing the same way, because I will never do that. And I love the fact that every term every year, we get to have a fresh start. I don’t think you’d get that in any other gig. Because teaching, it’s a new set of students and a new year, and you might have a different room or you know, whatever. And you can say, Okay, this year, I’m going to do this when they arrive in the classroom, I am going to have these expectations and you start afresh. And each class comes in and Oh, okay. You know, that’s the expectation. So I have absolutely loved that journey.


Debbie
And I do think that that’s the difference. It’s going to sound a little mean, in a way, but it’s the difference between a good teacher and a teacher that’s not a good teacher, really.


Ruth Friend
Yes, who’s not responsive.


Debbie
Not responsive in any way, that’s when you start getting that I’m feeling stale. But do you know, it is also just a mindset thing? Like, you can look at that having to start over again, fresh and exciting. You could also go, Oh, my goodness, this glass is half empty, a new set of kids. Oh, how many special needs kids are in here? Yeah, you know, how on earth am I going to cope with this child doing this? No, I’ve got that class after lunch. They always so naughty after lunch. What am I going to do? You know, I do think part of it is a mindset thing.


Ruth Friend
It is, and it’s being proactive.


Debbie
Yes. All of those advantages could be disadvantages. It just depends on the way you look at it. And yes, proactive rather than reactive.

Improve Your Music Teaching with Organisation


Ruth Friend
Absolutely. And it all comes down to being well planned. So you know, at Caulfield, I had a boy who was ASD and he had an aide, which was great, who would always come to music. So that was great. And I knew that next year when I had him for my recorder classes in year three that he would go Whoa. So I organised for him to do the keyboard thingo with the program there, with earphones on, and he was great. The following year we managed to get him on to the tuba, in the band program, and he ended up in year six to be our best tuba player.

So it’s catering for, it was only that segment of recorder in the lesson, I didn’t sort of push him off to the side for the whole thing. But it was just I knew that that would do his head in. And when the parent got in contact with me and the homeroom teacher, before we started music, I said, Yeah, it’s all under control, it’s all done. So you know, if you plan ahead, then you are more likely to have success in your classroom, but each child will then have that feeling of success as well as a learner.


Debbie
Fabulous. I love it. All right, I’m going to give you another official question, even though you have already talked about so much of this. A highlight or highlights of your journey as a music educator, and gratitude. For who are you most grateful? Because you’ve already mentioned a few things that have to be highlights and people.


Ruth Friend
Exactly.


Debbie
Yeah. Is there anything else you want to add?


For What or Who Are You Most Grateful?

Ruth Friend
I was listening to one of your podcasts the other day and I hear you that so many music teachers are out there, and they’re it. They have no teaching colleague.

And I have never done that. I have been so fortunate. Look I’ve chosen to teach in the private sector, where I do have a teaching buddy. And it has been the joy of my life. Because you know, oh, you’re just about to go into the class and you’ve forgotten, how did that body percussion thing go again? I’m always singing and dancing in my office, in the corridor, with my teaching partner, that has been a joy. And so these teaching partners have become lifelong friends.

Claire Preston, who’s now in Queensland, you guys are lucky up there, Marian Stafford and Davina Mcclure, of course. Then working on choral projects with Paul Jarman, that was you know, it’s so much fun, and the learning and the collaboration that goes into those sorts of things was just so joyful. So, you know, making those lifelong friends has been a really core part of the journey. So music is my heart, my soul and my life. You know, the friends are there. And I know you and Deb, it’s the Deb and Deb show.


Debbie
We get called Deb and Debbie so that people who work with us a lot know as well. I never get called Deb and she never gets called Debbie. And that way we are distinguishable.


Ruth Friend
I will have to do that. Thank you, Debbie.


Debbie
If someone calls me Deb, I think oops, where is she?


Ruth Friend
Where is she? (laughs)


Debbie
But you really have to form those relationships if you don’t have someone at the desk beside you.


Ruth Friend
That’s right.


Debbie
You know, and I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve worked with a lot of amazing people, but often they’re on shorter term projects. But luckily with Deb and I as we were starting to work together, we’re going okay, and mind you, we also enable each other too. I’ve got a good idea Deb, and we think Oh, no, here we go again, you know, and with that we egg each other on. However, some good things have come out of that, Together Sing.


Ruth Friend
What do you mean, however? You mean because of that? Davina, and I very much like that we just complement each other as well. So it’s a wonderful partnership. 20 years long now.


Debbie
Oh, that’s wonderful. So good isn’t that.


Ruth Friend
And gratitude sorry. I should not omit my beautiful Kodály teachers. So Julia Piggin and Mark O’Leary in Victoria and the Queensland team. Oh when I caused the flood in 2011 coming up to do my first and only summer school. I do apologise Brisbaneites because I did feel that I caused the Brisbane flood coming up there. She is finally getting here to do her summer school. And yeah, we got flooded out. That was an experience. So Maree Hennessy, etc. Yeah, amazing people.


Debbie
Beautiful people. Yeah. Gorgeous people. So tell us a little bit more about your publishing career and about that sort of publishing journey. Because I think it’s very different now to what it would have been when you started on your journey.


Ruth Friend’s Publishing Journey

Ruth Friend
Well, it certainly was. So I had been teaching flute for 15 years, and I was home with my second child. And he was six months old, and I just thought, oh, wow, I get an opportunity from five til seven in the morning after his feed. I’ve got my own space. Now. Some other people might have gone back to bed and read a book, but no, no. So I started writing Put the Beat in ya Feet. And it was just a way of really putting down my teaching format for teaching flute with the using the Rhythm Time names which were not included in anything at that stage.

And then also picking out the tricky parts of a song and putting them into finger teasers outside of the song material. So as a little technique thing, so you know, and I really honed the audio that went with that, and it focused on improvisation on the blues. So it had folk tunes, my own original songs and the blues because I had been bought up, well through uni more so, improvising and working on my improvisation not that I’m a practicing jazz muso now, but I just thought it was so important to have students from the start creating, you know, as soon as they play one note, they can start improvising. It’s actually a great tongueing practice.


Debbie
Wonderful. And can I say from the little that I know, not being an instrumental teacher, but I’ve certainly seen quite a bit. That’s definitely something that’s missing, the creativity improvisations. There’s a lot of you know, we’re doing exercise six, in the book, we’re up to page 10.


Ruth Friend
It’s all very, yeah, it’s mind blowing. I mean, the thing about in the music classroom, where you’re all in the same key on your tuned percussion or recorder, you can do it all together in unison, but when you get into a band context, then you’re on concert B flat, or you know, and it does get a bit harder with the other instruments, but just doing it on flute, it was such a joy to see my students once I finally published it. And you know, I went through the submitting it to Allen’s and to whatever was around at the time, but they said no, we’ve got a flute tutor. Yes, check. So that was enough. And it didn’t matter that this was a different approach. So I went ahead and got my $3,000 loan, to publish and print it.

And you know, it was a real learning journey. But it opened up so many doors to collaborate and talk with all the Australian flute teachers, when I met them at a conference or something. And they were interested to talk to me about specific elements because I was basically saying, I’m out there, this is what I think. But it was a wonderful way of having really rich, meaningful discussions with other teachers who were, you know, world renowned, who were saying, Oh, yep, this and this. And so it was another learning journey. It was wonderful.


Debbie
Can you still get Put the Beat in ya Feet?


Ruth Friend
No, you can’t. So what happened was, I can’t bear the business side of business, which is the whole tax and all that sort of stuff. And thank God for Davina’s husband, Rod, he is amazing. And he does all that side. I just couldn’t bear that whole thing. And so when the first print run of 1000, student books ran out, I thought, no, no, no, I’m not not going to pursue that. But that was sort of, at the time I was heading towards meeting Davina anyway. So it was good, but I think, you know, potentially something that I can pursue in my semi retirement, but I learnt heaps from it and it was a great experience.

And it sort of, I suppose, opened the door to the Take Note music journey because when Davina and I met, I arrived at Caulfield Grammar and we’d been teaching for that year together. And I just said I’m really not happy with what’s out there, with the way you know, a textbook for classes. So we started working on Book One for our prep students. And we had the sheets down the hallway, you know, like no, no, that needs to come first, that needs to come next, you know, so the sequential nature of it was super important.

Then we had her sister doing the graphics for the song pictures and you know, it just got bigger and bigger. And then I said look, if we need this so do other people and that beget Take Note music. So we spent years, probably six years developing the first three books and trialing and trialing and trialing and perfecting. And then you know, so you know, the success of the whole business is based on the fact that we’re both in the classroom, we’re dedicated hands on living it and we keep it relevant to music teachers who want something carefully scaffolded and with lesson plans and worksheets and you know, a really wonderful Kodály writing program.

So it sort of grew organically from that need for our preppies and grew from there so that the books came first and we’ve always aimed to keep improving them and you know, second editions, third editions to meet the needs of people’s feed back. And then all the other products came from, the resource kits came from, you know, the song pictures and everything is standing in front of a blasted laminator with everything burning and crinkling and fair dinkum, I just couldn’t believe that that’s what people did.

So, you know, if we provide the books, then we should provide the other things that support the learning. And we didn’t want teachers, I just didn’t believe that teachers should be standing in front of photocopiers or laminaters, that is not our core business, our core business is planning and reflecting on your practice. You know, spend your time doing that and you’ll be a better teacher, not laminating your own this and that, and it’s because we’re so underfunded that people have had to do that.

And then the fun parts of our publishing with Mrs Clef, our eBook series, where that came out of Davina living on a farm with her chicken coop. And she came up with the concept and then we worked on it together and you know, recorded her chickens and had Mr Clef sing and just, it’s a wonderful storybook for little kids.

Then it unpacks the note names in the treble stave, and as the students get older, they understand this. And then when I’d added the melodic contour journey from those lovely music map books, that series and then in all the things that I’ve developed through the classroom, that the giant music stave kit, the Xylo magnets, because, you know, I had a bunch of year five, mainly boys, who could not get the xylophone set up to play a pentatonic scale. I would draw the pentatonic scale, you know, the notes, the keys on that with the arrow going, now you take the F off and you take the B off, they still couldn’t do it.

And by the time I’d gone around and set them up, the whole class was, you know, having a riot, of course, having a great old noisy time. So I thought there’s got to be something better. And you know, so all of our resources have developed from the need for something in the classroom, you know, and we’ve developed puppets, getting them made in Nepal.

And we’ve got a partnership with Optimum because they’ve taken over the production of our xylo mags and our chime bar mags and the chime bar staircase and all that because they’re a bigger operation and they’ve got storage and all the rest. So that’s worked really well for us. And the great thing it’s been sort of the whole family involvement. So my family working on laminating the flashcards and whatnot, and the kids paid off their overseas trips by doing the, we call it lovingly the sweatshop, you know.

And my husband was called Bert the warehouse manager because he’d manage all the books, you know, we’d need five, five of these boxes and whatnot. Rod doing the banking and the business side of our business. And Davina’s kids were doing artwork for us and IT. Yeah, it’s been a real, two families joined together and working towards, you know, just providing teachers with rich learning for their students.


Debbie
Wonderful that it really does sound like it was a fabulous time. And you help lots of people. I do believe I am still using one of your ghosts.


Ruth Friend
Ah, lovely. Yes.


Debbie
He’s quite beautiful. Yeah, so he’s one of my vocalisers for my little kids.


Ruth Friend
Yes. Yeah. It’s such a simple idea, isn’t it. And I remember teaching the early learners at Caulfield and having our ghosty with the little club, you know, probably had 15 children in the class, and the concept of whooooa and the children would echo and then I’d pass it to the next person. And they were supposed to create their own vocal expression, and then pass it but the concept of passing I realised that’s a very difficult thing.

I don’t want to give it away. And who should I give it to? Well, it’s round, you know, like, let’s pass it around the circle. Oh, that was very, very difficult. I remember. But it was joyful to see them experience the joy of the echo coming back from the other children. It just was such a powerful social moment for them that what I just did, my friends did back to me and that is really just a wonderful feeling. Yeah.


Debbie
Great. Oh, well we’ll have to put in some links and things anything that you can think of.


Ruth Friend
Yeah, okay.


Debbie
We’ll pop them in the show notes so people can pop on and check some things out. That would be good because also your your tips, your tea and tips, tips and tea, tipsy tea.


Ruth Friend
Teaching tips and tea, I’ll have to do that one time with a G&T.


Debbie
G&T okay, I get it. I like it.


Ruth Friend
It’s teaching tips and tea.


Debbie
Love it. Yes. So we will have to put people on to that too. I think there’s some great things in there.


Sign-Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education connecting supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes you’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member, for a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops and webinars and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.


Just for Laughs

As we know, laughter relieves stress.
Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.
I always wanted to be a Gregorian monk, but I never got the chants (chance).
There’s a music one for you.


Links Mentioned in the Episode:

‘Put the Beat in ya Feet’ has been added to our Music Making series!

Ruth’s Website: https://www.takenotemusic.com.au/

Music Writing books: https://www.takenotemusic.com.au/music-writing-resources.html

Teaching Tips and Tea

Music eBooks (YouTube Video)

Where to find me:

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