Identity and Representation

Little over a month ago I ran into a former student at a performance. As we caught up with one another, he mentioned conversations or topics we had explored a few times years ago. We discussed the idea of what it feels like when you feel like you don’t really, fully, belong where you are. Certain interests, that make us unique, can make us stand out, and sometimes, feel alone.  These interests may authentically line up with who you are as a person in the present, but at the same time, the expectation of who you are or should be professionally, or as a representation of a gender, culture, or race, is in conflict with your authentic self.

The example of this mix match in identity for me is being a Dominican man from the Bronx, who plays the trumpet, and specifically specializes in classical music. When I’m in NYC, I’m Dominican. When I’m in the DR, I’m American. Everywhere else in America, I’m African American, or for short, black (I’m also bald :)). The good news is that I am okay with all of these labels. In fact, I hold them as badges of honor. I can be all of these things at once while being a musician, and more importantly, being myself. Of course, there are expectations and responsibilities that come with these labels. Being a musician, who looks like me, comes with its own set of assumptions; for example, I hear, “you must play jazz or meringue, or salsa music” or, “you have a Doctorate in music?”, or, “really, you went to Yale?  Oh, for music.”  I love jazz, blues, and Latin music, but lately, if you were to pull the Bose headphones off of my ears, you’d find me listening to South African house music, rap, and John Dowland.  Not quite what one typically would expect.  Okay, maybe the rap music.

My former student, now my friend and colleague, teaches in a place where few people look like him; I can relate. He doesn’t see many folks who have the same intense love for music that he does, but yet he continues to find ways of connecting people, and helping his community see past typical stereotypes. He’s young, so I hope he keeps a positive attitude and stays resilient.  More than ever, we need teachers like him to teach in places where the teacher stands out from the typical normal.  That’s how we learn.

Picking a high school in New York City

Many of my middle school students already know where they will be attending high school. When I was their age I had no ideas where I’d be spending the bulk of my teen age years.

There were only 3 real choices for me at the time. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, mainly because it’s one of 5 specialized public high school in New York City. LaGuardia was the only one of those schools who featured the performing arts as it’s identity. The others were all about science, engineering or math.

Stevenson High School was an obvious choice for me, hqdefaultpartly because a lot of the people that march in the drum and bugle corps I was a member of went there. I knew they had a marching band and that was a big factor in my appreciation of that school.

Finally my other choice was Julia Richman – Talent Unlimited High School. They have a great performing arts department and were competitive with LaGuardia. I also knew a few of the students from my drum and bugle corps went there as well

The main reason for picking any of these schools was because they had music programs and members of the New York Lancers went to those schools. I guess the arts and like minded people to attend school with was important to me. In many ways that is still true today.

fiorello-470x240I was accepted to LaGuardia and I was very relieved to be going to a specialized HS in NYC. The movie FAME was about that school, so I was secretly humming that tune to myself when I got the news.

I was not a very good student, but I devoted myself to all my music performance classes. Music history and theory seemed like math, science and humanities. Not a good fit for me at the time. I had trouble putting into context why they weren’t as stimulating at the time, they were more of a hurdle I had to jump to graduate.

Eventually I got my act together as a student, and now I’m a teacher!

Middle of summer worries for a music teacher

music-school-560x328 It’s the middle of summer, my kid is watching cartoons while I look at my units of study for the up coming school year. Since I am a middle school band director, I tend to worry about how effectively I am helping students learn specific skills on their instruments and the other parts of music299de70a6b898c2b2e89733edb73c3e4, like music theory and music history. Never mind connecting them to other subjects studies at out school and finding ways to stay in touch with anything current and relevant to middle school kids, while thinking about making global connections to all we do.

Just for fun (or because I’m a glutton for punishment) we will be tackling intro to music theory, the Romantic era of music history, beginning conducting and beginning composition. IMG_2308

And yes, this will be the work 6th, 7th and 8th graders will explore with me. Should be a fun school year, so why am I worried about it in July?

 

BuzzFeed and Pop Music

It’s not often I get to use BuzzFeed as a reference for my students. But while learning about international pop musicians, I ran across this post from BuzzFeed.61APcLVzGML._SL1000_
I was blown away by a band call Tricot from Japan and G-Dragon from Korea. Some others were super interesting and have now been added to the rotation of tunes I listen to on a regular basis.
Check out the post 20 Songs From Around The World You May Have Missed in 2013

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Teaching Modern Music

There are times when I think I’m biting off more than I can chew. However, unlike most things I dread doing this could potentially one of the coolest topics I teach this year. I’ve decided to take on introducing three ideas of modern music composition to middle school students.

It give me a chance to explore aspects of music I truly enjoy: Serialism, Minimalism and Electronic Music. There have been many hours spent admiring the processes of some of the 20th century’s imaginative composers. So now I get to indulge in a not so secret vice.

Igor Stravinsky 2sakshy

I get to talk about and research composers and performers like Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Steve Reich, James Brown, Bjork and Hip-Hop artist/DJ’s of the late 80’s and early 90’s. There is potential for students to learn more about my personality through this unit.

Venn Diagram for next unitThe only way to express this for me is a venn diagram and these Youtube videos. Gonna be fun…at least for me.

Back To School

While I recognize the changes that occur in my life around the month of September are major shifts, I can’t help the feeling of running head first into the truth….. that I am an adult. Maintaining stability in two art based professions while dealing with parental and husbandly duties, is a total shift from the summer schedule of stay at home dad while checking off items listed on my “honey do/due list”.

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Having met my “honey do” goals, and satisfied the unicorn adventures with my kid. I now feel the focus of the other parts of my existence starting to flower. At home I get to watch football. As a teacher I go back to my favorite cup to sip coffee out of and listen to copious amounts of Beethoven for our Romantic Music Unit. Finally there is the constant wonderment on seeing the stars.

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Finding those little moments within my work and home duties, seems to be the fun at this point. Almost like stealing a single serving point of personal enjoyment while being an adult.

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Lyman Practical Daily Warm-Ups for Trumpet: Book Review

Practical Daily Warm-Ups for Trumpet by Zachary Lyman is a great set of exercises to add to your practice routine. I don’t often get an opportunity to review the work of a friend and colleague, so I take great delight in writing the next set of words.

I use this book often and I use it with my students to supplement their Schlossberg assignments. The first set of buzzing exercises have been particularly wonderful for my beginning trumpet students.  It has been a great addition to my library. If you want a copy of  this book you should look it up at Keveli Music. While there, look up some of their other publications.

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