Montana MEA Post Conference Notes


Montana Music Educators MMEA ConferenceBillings, Montana – Friday October 16th

Five workshops led by Peter & Mary Alice Amidon

Thanks so much to Dorothy Morrison who worked closely with us to plan the visit and who took such good care of us during our stay.  Also to Traci and Joy and to everyone else who worked so hard to make this an outstanding and fun visit for us.

First some announcements, then the notes:

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Sign up on our email mailing list for approximately once-monthly notices about upcoming Amidon workshops and publications.  Just go to the Amidon website and sign up on the homepage:

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MEET OUR BOYS & their ladies:

Stefan and Zara singing with the Starry Mountain Singers. Zara singing lead on the left, Stefan singing bass on the right.

Stefan on percussion/vocals and his wife (red head) Zara Bode with their band the Sweetback Sisters

Sam singing

Sam fiddling

Sam’s wife Beth Orton 

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 Go to your own local dances; they are fun, welcoming, aerobic, and it will make you a better dance teacher:

Here is a great webpage to find out about the dances in your area in Montana

Montana Contra Dance, Waltz & Square Dance Schedule

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8:00 – 9:00 AM Dance and Singing Games K – 2

Sun is in My Heart
A Little Seed
Both of these are in in the handouts, and in NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD.  Both are calming chants that we use as much to center ourselves as the children.

Shut the Gates – Mary Alice learned this from Kathy Reid Naiman in a workshop for teachers who work with young children.

Ten Little Fingers – Try this for Halloween.

Tree Songin NEDM’s “Down in the Valley“.  I introduced this with a story about Roger.  It is basically the same family: Roger, Mary, their thirteen children, their youngest daughter who then marries and lives with Roger and Mary and has Eliza.  I use this same family for the storytelling introductions to “Chiney Doll” and “When I First Came to This Land”.   You can order the music (unison/piano) for your younger children’s choir from our Amidon Online Choral Sheet Music Download Store.

Form the CornIn NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. A great no-formation dance for any age, any situation.

Sleeping Bunnies In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. Children will ask for this over and over!

Here We Go Riding our PoniesIn NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. Children practice handshakes and eye contact in this instantly engaging singing game.

Hop Up My Ladies Mary Alice made up this dance to go with the recording of the traditional song as sung by Elizabeth Mitchell; which you can purchase on iTunes.

Old Brass Wagon – In NEDM’s Down in the Valley collection
This can be an a cappella singing game, or, with the CD (or live music) a great early dance to instrumental music.  When Peter teaches it he walks through the figures first, and then says “Now just do whatever Mary Alice says,” and puts on the CD.

Kindergarten Reel in “Listen to the Mockingbird”. This is a great first longways dance for young children. New England Dancing Masters made a recording of this that is not on any of our CD’s.  If you want the mp3 send me an email and I will send you an mp3.

Virginia Reel in “Chimes of Dunkirk”. You can do this even with Kindergarten children after doing “Kindergarten Reel”. Just put on any jig or reel and have the beginning of the dance be something like: Forward and back, one hand turn, two hand turn, dosido.

Noble Duke of York – in NEDM’s “Rise Sally Rise” (formerly “Jump Jim Joe“) Also NEDM’s “Alabama Gal” book/CD/DVD.
I added the up, down halfway up and jumping movements that the rest of the dancers do while the top couple sashays down the middle and back.  My favorite moment is when the top couple’s sashay back up the middle turns into a skipping cast off just as the other dancers land from their jump and, skipping, follow the lead couple in the cast off.  We were inspired to teach skipping as an art form by watching the wonderful Mark Morris Dance Company.  If you have the older “Jump Jim Joe” CD but would like the updated mp3 of the music we used in the workshop (which is only on the “Alabama Gal” book/CD/DVD and “Rise Sally Rise” CD) send me an email and I will send you the mp3: <>

Bye Bye Butterfly in “I’m Growing Up“. Mary Alice learned this from a Kindergarten student.

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9:10 – 10:10 AM Teaching Dance Grades 3 – 6

Traffic Jam – learned from John Krumm
Use “Heel & Toe Polka” for music from “Chimes of Dunkirk” CD.
This is a terrific “scatter mixer” for any age; particularly for older students who do not have much dance experience.

Comment ça va in “Sashay the Donut
For music we often use “Martin O’Connor” from “Other Side of the Tracks“.
The key figure in this dance is the B1/B2 part of the dance: Allemand left corner/dosido partner/allemand left corner, promenade partner.  One of the best ways to help dancers negotiate this is, once you have established who is their partner and corner, have dancers allemand left corner WHILE LOOKING FOR THEIR PARTNER and dosido their partner while looking for their corner, allemand left corner again while looking for partner and then “shake and take” partner (shake right hand and take left hand) to get in position for the promenade.  We also worked on making a circle from a promenade: “Hang on to your partner, stop walking.  Hang on to your partner, face the center. Drop your hands. Take hands (in a circle).

Lucky SevenIn NEDM’s “Chimes of Dunkirkcollection
We used ‘The Coming Dawn’ from NEDM’s  ‘Other Side of the Tracks” CD. The grand right & left exercises: First all promenade to determine inside/outside gent/lady or moon/star roles.  Then all face partner.  Ladies crouch while men weave around circle, starting on the inside. Then Men crouch and assist ladies as they weave around: right hand for outside, left hand assist for inside.  Then all stand and face center and do a stationary grand right and left just with the arms, counting up to seven.  Repeat that, but this time stepping in place (two steps per arm reach).  Then face partner and ‘repeat after me’ some of the rules: ‘I will not turn around, I will not go back, I will only take a hand when I say a number, I will only say a number when I take a hand.’  Tell them that it always takes seven times to get it right,  and make sure, when it doesn’t go right, that they all go back to where they started from (rather than trying to fix it in the middle of the grand right and left figure). Level one: Wait 8 beats on 2nd half of A2 music.   Level two: dosido partner on 2nd half of A2 music.

Choosing partners
We think it is a real gift to children to teach them  how to choose their own partners.  I like to frame this in ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’ language to help the children get over their self consciousness over  choosing partners. I start with a story about how Kings and Queens realized that it might be more fun to dance with more than just their own spouses, and so they needed to devise a polite and efficient way to choose other partners.  “And the method they came up with was so good we still do it today.” I have them all practice the words: ‘May I please  have this dance?’ ‘Yes thank you.’ and then practice answering me, and then practice  asking me.  Then I demonstrate what it looks like to ask a partner to dance, by asking one of the ‘Queens’.  Then, I have that Queen sit down, and I ask her again, showing the 10 steps: The approach. Eye contact. The question. The answer. King puts out his hand. Queen stands and takes King’s hand. They hang on to each other’s hand and walk to the top of the hall.  If there are  two Queens then there is a Queen on one side and a Queen on the other side.  If there are two Kings (you know the rest). If it is a King and a Queen, the King stands on the King’s side, the Queen on the Queen’s side and they face each other, nose, toes and bellybutton, taking two hands. Then they drop their hands, and, voila, there they are.

Kings & Queens – in NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut” collection.
We used ‘On the Danforth’ from NEDM’s ‘Other Side of the Tracks’ CD for this dance.  You might also use our other version of ‘On the Danforth’ which is on our ‘Sashay  the Donut’ CD. Before we teach this dance we will dub each child a King or a Queen, and talk to them (sometimes while the music is playing to help sustain the mood) about what it means to be a King and Queen: They have royal posture, they never rush, they make good decisions, they are very attractive; basically describing the ideal King/Queen or, which, in my mind is being the very best person they can be.  Then I “dub” each child a  king or a queen, making sure they have their royal posture before I dub them. This is in the style of an historic English country dance (e.g. dances done in Jane Austen’s time).

AccordionThe best place we have found to find a good smaller accordion for music teaching is “The Button Box” in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Circle Waltz Mixer – in NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut” collection.
We used ‘In Continental’ Waltz from the ‘Sashay’ CD  for the music. This is a wonderful dance for a wedding  where you can do it the original way we learned it, doing  a short waltz instead of the two hand turn.  It is helpful to have boys be “rocks” and girls be “twirlers” (or vice versa) to help keep track of who are the rocks and twirlers.  Here are some tips to for teaching this dance: Start by having everyone promenade. Tell all the inside (left hand) partners they are “rocks” and all the outside (right hand) partners they are “twirlers”. All look at partner and say “goodbye”. Rocks stay in place and keep their feet planted during the “twirl” figure. Carefully teach the first “twirl” each “Rock” does with their left hand neighbor, from left to right. Once the dancers get that twirl, the rest of the dance can go pretty smoothly.
Here are two Youtube tutorials for teaching and dancing the Circle Waltz Mixer:
Circle Waltz Mixer – Teaching
Circle Waltz Mixer – Dancing

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11:30 – 12:30   Storytelling, Picture Books, Literature and Music

Owl & the Pussycat in Song in My Heart” book & CD.  I introduced this with a story about how the Owl and the Pussycat first met and fell in love.

Picture Books I
The Earth & I
These to books both to the music of David Darlng.
   Waking Up Is Hard to Do
We older folks remember the pop song “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” that this book is based on.
I Miss You Every Day
A companion to the Woodie Guthrie song “Mail Myself to You” in our “Song in My Heart” book & CD.
   Owl Moon
Mary Alice sang the song that was written to go along with this Jane Yolen book.

Chiney Doll  in Song in My Heart” book & CD. I introduced this with a story about Roger’s (from the introductory story to “The Tree Song” grandaughter Liza.

Nyangara – Try telling this to your students.  Here is a pdf of a transcription of my telling of the story, including the songs.

Acting out story – See the section in the notes about acting out stories. This is a wonderful and dynamic activity to do with your students.  You also might “give” the acting out more to the students by having one of the students be the narrator.

Fox Went Out in Song in My Heart” book & CD.  I introduced this with a story about how the Fox family got so hungry that Poppa Fox just had to go on the dangerous journey of stealing a duck and a goose from the farm.

Johnny Appleseed in Song in My Heart” book & CD.  Jonathan Chapman, of course, really did roam the country planting apple trees.

Picture books II
Mary Alice mentioned, but did not read through:
   Day Is Done
   Wild Strawberries
Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name

Sam Amidon retells and sings Chiney Doll
When Mary Alice asked 2 1/2 year old Sam to sing “Chiney Doll”, first he had to tell the story.  His grunting and pauses through the story were not because he could not remember the story; he remembered it perfectly well.  That was his efforts to change the images in his mind into language; the very essence of storytelling.  Sam, 34, now makes a living travelling the world singing folk songs and telling (sometimes kind of strange) stories.

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2:10 – 3:30  PM  Singing with Children – Classrooms, All School Sing and Children’s Choir

I’m Growing Up in “I’m Growing Up” & “Song in My Heart
Brotherhood & Sisterhood in Song in My Heart
These are songs by, respectively, Mary Alice and me. We have found that being creative is one of the keys to good health (I mean this literally, to not getting sick). Writing songs can be a deeply creative activity; but it is not mysterious.  Here is how you write a song: sit down and write a song.  You might start by setting a poem to music.  Just try singing the poem.  Use whatever first melodic idea you come up with and work from there.

Vote for Me in Song in My Heart” book & CD.
I’m Gonna Lift My Sister Up in “Twenty-five Anthems” & “Online Choral Store
Both of these songs are by Rose Sanders, AKA Faure Rose Toure, the first African American female judge in Alabama, and a Selma-based educator and song-writer.

Children’s Miracle in “Online Choral Store“. Note; this piano/SATB (you can ignore the harmonizations and just have children sing melody) song is a free download. You can get, also for free I believe, a DVD and teaching packet about this amazing and pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

My Heart Is Ready in “Twenty-five Anthems” & “Online Choral Store

Solstice Song – inOnline Choral Store

Sonnet 18 – Let me know if you would like me to send you the pdf of my piano/unison (or solo) setting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. . Please feel free to try this with your children’s choir.  If you do, please tell me how it goes.

Sylvie in “Online Choral Store

From the Seed in the Ground in “Online Choral Store

How Could Anyone in “Twenty-five Anthems” & “Online Choral Store

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3:40 – 5:00 pm PM  Making the Most with Dance and Song.

Sandy Boys – We are sad that the cut we used is no longer available on iTunes, but you can do this simple and very accessible dance to any reel medley.

Quartz Mountain – Created by music teachers in Oklahoma.

Accretian Reel – Challenge your students to do this dance without your calling; following on their own the phrasing of the music.

Solomon Levi in “Sashay the Donut“. A great simple square dance. After you teach it, just put on the CD and let Andy Davis call it.

Intersection Reel in “Sashay the Donut“. Although you can get away with doing this with a minimum of 32 dancers (four couples each in four sets) I prefer doing this with at least 40 dancers.  If you have loads of dancers and are feeling reckless you can do it with a six (instead of four) legged star, where six couples are crossing through the middle at more or less the same time.

See Saw Hokey Pokey by YOU!

Formation: Circle Mixer
Music: Any jig or reel
A1: See Saw partner (8)
Right hand turn (palm to palm) partner (6)
Clap twice (2)
A2: All forward (not taking hands) (4)
Macarina 1 (4)
All back (not taking hands) (4)
Facing partner: Macarina 2 (4)
B1: Grand right and left six changes (12)
With the next person you meet (your new partner) clap:
Their right hand with your right hand (side to side) (1)
Their left hand with your left hand (side to side) (1)
Clap your own two hands twice (1)
Clap both new partner’s hands straight in front twice (1)
B2: Take two hands with new partner and sashay in (4)
and sashay out (4)
Do the Hokey Pokey (8)

What a fantastic and playful dance; congratulations!

We had such fun with you; keep on singing and dancing, and tell your students stories!


Peter (and Mary Alice)