Surprising to me still

When I think about things that upset me, I’m often surprised about the things that get me amped up and blood boiling. There are the usual thing like humans mistreating one another or lack of empathy toward suffering. You know…war, famine, wastefulness, bigotry, bullying, unnecessary shaming, miss using bacon to make other foods taste good, and on and on.

Those seem obvious and need not be mentioned, dealing with stupid humans and all of our feelings is part of the deal. However, I am caught off guard when I think I am in control of a process and find myself (and or the people I work with) are adversely affected. The fear for me is that the work we do will be judged not by our best effort, but by the shortcomings of the environment around us.

Teaching in the ARTS feels that way sometimes. We often need to overcome a situation or innovate around an obstacle. Some are within your control and you can deal with those issues. Logistics of getting equipment from one place to another, moving bodies from one place to another, learning to perform and have students feel the safety of a group of people working together to create something, are things I feel I can affect.

Dealing with issues for which you see coming and can’t control, is a set of muscles I need to strengthen. To my surprise, this infuriates me. Try as much as I do, sometimes I just can’t hide it. I need to learn this skill….eventually I’ll learn.

This might work out

I recently changed the curriculum of one of my classes to be a more project-based class. My want and desires are to give students an opportunity to dig deeper into a musical subject. As to not make my classes all about performance. It seems as if the only context given for learning about the history and theory related to piece is solely to prepare a student’s ability to connect with what they are performing. That approach worked great for my higher-level performers, and it didn’t reach students who were still learning (or relearning) the fingerings on their instrument. That is a subject for another day.

The class looks more like this, I pick a subject or an artist and we do the following things.

  • Make Connections
  • Respond to Art
  • Create
  • Perform

Since I look at this as a cycle, I tend to do these as they when the class is ready to do them. Often I’ll introduce a piece of music as a listening assignment, we typically learn a melody related to the subject shortly after. Students are given assignments that are grade and given time to research the subject, (i.e go listen to music and learn something time).

About midway through the term, students come up with proposals for a project. Many of them are ambitious, but eventually, I keep them grounded.

By the end, students present their research about the subject. Some choose to put together a performance in groups, others choose create a piece of visual art representing the subject. Some even put together a slide show with a particular point of view.

For far so good. Students have created some of the following:

Comic Strip

A children’s book

Created a short film (very short film)

Written and or performed in a one-act play

Like I said this may just work out.

 

 

The Composition Game

I was recently asked to participate in a pilot program connecting me with an artist of the same discipline to work with me and coach me achieve an important next step in my career. My peer mentor and I talked about using music composition as a way of stretching out to meet some artistic goals. The other goal was to get me to work around my writer’s block.

The game was to set aside an hour every day for the month of July to compose and explore ideas. There is no restriction about what I need to write, nor barriers to whom I was writing music for. The only stipulation was to set aside time to write music. By the end of the month, I would share with my coach about my process and some of the work created.

There was no stipulation that I would share any of this work publically, but I guess I need to put something out into the world. In any case here is one of the drafts I came up with. (forgive the MIDI sounds) This piece could still be orchestrated for any number of ensembles.

All of the pieces I started during this game used a 12 tone matrix. I gave myself this obstacle as a structure to help foster ideas.

 

Give these two a listen…

Toward the end of the school year, a few of us were sharing cool music and videos of performances we thought were really cool. Even after the end of the school year, I find myself looking up these videos and listening to some of these performances. Here are two that stood out and are still blowing me away.

Jacob Collier performing a version of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Nora Jones in a tear-jerking tribute to Chris Cornell of Soundgarden performing “Black Hole Sun” shortly after his death. Both fantastic performances.

Rabbit Hole and then Jennifer Hudson…

Sometimes I start listening to music and looking up different videos, just to see if I find something new and interesting. This time I landed on Jennifer Hudson. I must have listened to this about five or six times. Her inflections and phrasing are simple and beautiful. The kind of music making that makes me rethink the use of space within a line. Give it a listen and see for yourself.

Finals week approching

DCI finals are approaching and I am catching up with videos on Youtube and Facebook. Of course, this starts me down the rabbit hole of reminiscing. I start to think about all the years of drum and bugle corps I marched.

In 1990 I started marching in a drum and bugle corps in the Bronx. Those years were transformative for me. I learned a lot about dealing with people and becoming a participant in a large ensemble.

I went to the Jersey Surf Drum Corps camp with a buddy after we participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade with an Allstar Drum Corps in 1992.

My buddy showed me what it was like to belong. He showed up and settled in and asked to be taught. Later he became one of the leading members of the organization and eventually became an instructor with the drum corps.

I marched the 1993 & 1994 seasons with the Jersey Surf. However, if I’m being honest, I was really marching with my friend.

The summer of 1995, I went to the  Boston University Tanglewood Institute Music Festival. That HS orchestra music festival, the summer after my senior year taught me a lot about being a musician and responsibility of making music and being a chamber musician. A humbling experience for me. I felt most of these music students were much better at this music thing than I was. But somehow I felt I still belonged. I’m curious to see where my kid spends summers.