Class Activity

I don’t usually past about class activities, however, I am making this exception because I’m enjoying the fruit of the activity. On the first day of school, I asked my students to create a playlist of tune to represent how they would like their school year to go. As I tend to do, I put together a playlist of my own as an example to give students a little insight into who I am as a person and some of my musical taste.

Here is my list:

  • Golden by Jill Scott from Beautifully Human cause that’s how I want to feel this year.
  • South Bronx by Boogie Down Productions from Criminal Minded, because that’s where I’m from, and I’m proud of that fact.
  • Mi PC by Juan Luis Guerra from Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual, cause I’m Dominican and his music reminds me of these roots as well.
  • Cold Sweat by James Brown & His Famous Flames from Cold Sweat, need no explanation…it’s Jame Brown!
  • Doctone by Branford Marsalis from the album Requiem, mainly because it reminds me of being a graduate student. I was constantly afraid of being discovered as a fraud and when I was most doubtful of myself this record was the soundtrack to finding my center and getting myself together during that time.
  • Giant Steps by John Coltrane from the album Giant Steps, because it’s an amazing piece of art and it’s what I want for my students. I want them to make significant moves toward their goal this year.
  • The End by the Airways was a tune introduced to me by a student, and it reminds me that I learn as much from them as they from me.

Some of the tunes picked by my students were cool, here are a few of them:

Hope you enjoy these tunes, I just added them to a class playlist and revisit them with students in a few weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Music and Words

Last month my school had an assembly celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Every year I think about how my school celebrates MLK. In years past, when I taught at a small independent elementary and middle school, we kept it to many of his highlights and events.  Students learned about nonviolent protest, marches and other key figures of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Most of it was done to not upset young students or parents.

In that setting, I would use my lesson plans and classes as a space to explore more of the civil rights movement. Since I teach music, I could use several avenues or artist to explain the artistic reactions to many of the injustices that came as a result of Jim Crow laws or segregation. However, it still felt like I was just addressing the surface of this subject.

Now I teach at an independent middle school and high school so I can dive a bit deeper and have students explore more. It helps that students are also studying the civil rights movement and are becoming social-activists. But still, as a new faculty member, I don’t want to upset the apple cart and do too much too soon. So when the opportunity came up to include music in the MLK assembly, I jumped at the chance.

At first, the planners of the assembly didn’t want the school orchestra to play. It would have been a lot of moving parts with a for a fifty-minute program. Eventually, we compromised and had a string quartet playing arrangements of Lift Every Voice and Sing and We Shall Overcome. In between the two pieces, an excerpt of the speech Dr. King gave in 1966 came over the theater speakers. Toward the end of his speech, we started the play our version of We Shall Overcome.

This moment may be the turning point in how I address teaching MLK and the civil rights movement. This proved to be a powerful moment for the audience and set the tone for the assembly.

Things Students Say and Drizzical

After watching my colleague work herself silly conducting, planning and teaching the all-school musical, I came to a stark realization. The end of the school year can make us feel crazy like everything is closing up on all of us, students, teachers, and administrators. I’ve been especially loopy lately and so have my advisory students.

In a conversation with them today, we discussed some of our favorite musical genres and the artist we associated with those genres. For example, I mentioned classical music with Missy Mizzoli and Igor Stravinsky, jazz music with Charles Mingus, rap music with J Cole. At least those are the folks I’m listening to these days.

One of my students said they love broadway-musicals and they also love Drake. Another student took that and said, “I guess you’ll love it if Drake made a Broadway-musical….oh, oh it would be a Drizzical.”

And then we all laughed. But seriously…Drake, what’s up with that Drizzical?

Interesting Week of Thoughts

When I share something that is linked somehow to popular culture, it’s often because “I am late to the party”, but still want to participate. In this case I may still be late to this party, however, I can’t shake how I felt after watching Black Panther.

My insights won’t offer anything new to the conversation, but I am very appreciative of having another platform to jump from when discussing certain topics with my students. We talked about the music and the imagery of the film. We talked about the significance of the cast and why representation is important. We even got to discuss (or at least I mentioned) they ways in which we view our parents and our roles with them as we get older and start to understand the world differently.

Ideas around representation and imagery of people of color were front and centered in my thoughts as students, a colleague and I watched parts of JAZZ by Ken Burns. Some of the images and ideas were shocking or disturbing to students, however, the discussions were honest and informative. Making sense of these connections in my own mind has been fun. I like being a teacher during weeks like this.

The things students do

The past four weeks have been quite difficult for me. I had to take a significant amount of time away from my day job as a middle school music teacher to care for my father. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that as I continue to cope with losing him. However with all that has happened, my students remind me (yet again) why I am a teacher, by creating this message for me.

They did manage to include music we have been studying and a song I made them research earlier in the school year. Great way of connecting our curriculum. Nice job Soundview Class of 2017.

Composition out of imitation

“What gives the artist real prestige is his imitators.” Igor StravinskyIgor Stravinsky

I deal with insomnia often. When this happens I try to do something productive. I’m a teacher, so I try to use this time to think about teaching or projects for my students. But before I was a music teacher I was a freelance musician. As a freelance musician you tend to give yourself project to match your thirst for creativity. At one point I decided to arrange a few pieces of music for a brass quintet. I did this often because I happen to be a member of a few brass quintets and thought, I might get some good traction if this arrangement becomes part of our normal repertoire. However the piece I choose was not working out in the way that I wanted it to work. The version I wanted to use as a scaffold was written for a large ensemble and a vocalist. The piece is by Kenny Wheeler and it’s called “Gentle Piece”.p03kc96g

After several attempts, over a few days, I totally hit the wall. At the time, I was also working on a graduate degree and preparing for a recital. So I had a lot on my plate. However, these sounds which I thought would work so well for the brass quintet and didn’t, felt great coming out of my out of tune piano. In fact when I tried the improvised section of Kenny Wheeler’s piece, I stumbled on to the opening ideas to my piece for trumpet and piano call “Fractured Trance”.33010

The opening idea lead me to explore more ideas around rhythm and space within that movement. That idea lead to a two more movements and later this became my first piece for trumpet and piano. I followed the same process with the second piece I wrote for trumpet and piano, which were both recorded by a Brian Chin. Finally I used this same process to compose a piece for my middle school students.

Out of that experience I figured out that I can use another source for inspiration, with the full intent on trying to recreate an idea, a vibe or a feeling offer to us by another person. It’s okay to imitate. This kind of imitation can lead to personal breakthroughs.

Prince and 4 Square

I’m Getting Old and We Lost An Icon

from http://www.in2it.org.nz/games/four-square/
from http://www.in2it.org

This week I spent time stretching before going out to do recess duty with middle school kids. Why do you ask, well that’s simple I tried playing “four square” with my students. Anyhow, it’s clear I don’t move like I used to…I’ve been limping since Tuesday.

Today I learned that Prince is no longer with us. Thanking him will be the job of everyone who loved…LOVE the music he created. 1401x788-prince-extralarge_1412016787658So I will continue to admire him as an artist and continue to use his music as fodder for funk/pop/hip-hop music education. However, I found myself sitting with some students and I eventually ask them the question “Do you know who Prince is?” The reply was no…I think my parents do.

At that point I came to accept once and for all that I am an “old” person. But enough about me, lets talk about Prince and how I’ve used his music in the past in my classes.

One of the tools I use, which was a gift given to us by Prince is his song Musicology. Just the names he drops in this song gives my students a jumping off point for exploration into american popular music. Then there’s learning about him and all his accomplishments.