Friday, December 01, 2006

Tidings of the season

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing were a miracle. The other is as if everything were a miracle." Albert Einstein

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke

As we approach the midway point in our academic year, the topic in this column generally turns to "what are the new gadgets for Christmas'. The festive season is one way that our personal stock of technology can be increased, to almost quote the fab four "with a little help from our friends".

The first is a set of tools to help you in your classroom. No, really. We all have a variety of devices that we use to record our progress day by day. Many of your classrooms have state of the art stereo systems. But how many of you record your group on a regular basis and offer them the chance to reflect on their performance and the changes that have taken place in their performance over time? Wouldn't you like to have a one touch recording system that you can carry easily and set up at a moment's notice? Here's a candidate for that magical combination.

Apple's new iPod has the ability to record at CD quality. It does not, however, have any form of built in microphone. Previous iPods had the ability to record at "voice memo" quality which is unsuitable for music. A third party, xtrememac has introduced a device, the micromemo, which has a small microphone that clips on the iPod dock connector and allows for direct one click recording to the iPod. The files are stored as uncompressed .wav files in mono and transferred to iTunes when you connect the iPod to your computer. The micromemo works with the new "Fifth Generation" iPOds that playback video. It will not work with the iPod Nano or Shuffle.

Once your recordings are on your computer in iTunes, (free - remember?), it is about a three click process to burn an audio cd. You can also just store them on your iPod and computer. Immediate layback can take place when you connect your iPod to a set of powered speakers or plug it into your classroom stereo and press "Play". The recordings consume about 10 megabyte per minute of stereo audio. Recording a fifteen minute session will use about 150 megabytes. The smaller iPod with its 30 gigabyte hard drive will hold at least 100 hours of stereo recording, plus about 3,000 songs from your music library. The larger iPod holds 80 gigbyes, so you can more than double those figures.

I hear you say, "Mono - I thought that died with bell bottoms and paisley shirts? Yet you've given us stereo recording times - what gives?" You're right: there's more. The small microphone on its flexible stalk can be removed. revealing a 3.5 mm socket. Many of you will already have a battery powered stereo microphone, like the Sony ECM-MS907. Pop a fresh battery in it, turn it on, plug it in, press record. You're now recording at CD quality in stereo. Flick the small switch on the micromemo from "Mic" to "Line" and you can record at CD quality straight off your mixing desk or home stereo. Yes, you can now digitise all of those priceless LPs that have never and will never be reissued as CDs. Certainly these small boxes must contain some serious magic!

The second gift you can give can be shared with everyone you know. It is free. Visit Pandora is Internet radio, but with a difference. It is an outgrowth of the Music Genome project. A group of musicians analysing music in terms of melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. You create a radio station by requesting a song or an artist. Pandora then sifts its musical genome database and finds songs that are genetically "like" the one you selected. It then creates a playlist and plays you music that is like the song or artist you selected. You can give a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" on each song as it plays to refine the databse's criteria. You'll need a broadband connection and a nice set of speakers.

The third gift for you is the most magical and mystical and one that is within the reach of all of us. It is the chance to bask in the reflected glow of the gift that you have given to your students, the gift of music. You have been instrumental in offering them an opportunity to collaboratively create a sculpture in the air that affects everyone who hears it. Take the time to recharge your batteries. Whether it is by travelling to new places and experiencing new cultures and ideas or by snuggling into the comfort of your own home surrounded by those you love and those who love you, take the time to refresh and renew your creative essence.

Enjoy all of the magic of your holiday season.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

And gladly would he lerne, and gladly teche

I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
Umberto Eco
Italian novelist & semiotician

As we look back on our route to our current positions, we can find the logic in our steps: these courses, this university, the right job, the right performances – the list goes on. We all look back and usually find a logical explanation for the way things happened. When we work on music we look for the construction of the piece, the structure so we can convey the logical plan of the author.

Our academic lives have been built piling datum on datum and searching for the structure and building information. We then analyse the information and through the logical tools find the higher level structure that we seek and construct knowledge. As we examine more and more data and build information and analyse the resultting structure we gradually grow to understand what is acknowledged as wisdom.

As educators we are in the business of leading others in the same dance. We lay out the progression and encourage our students to make the same steps on the journey and build on the structure that we, and others, have erected.

What do we do when all of our assumptions are challenged? What do we do when there appears to be a new way of doing what we do and believe we do so well? How do we examine the path we followed?

We look at the professional practice in which we participate. How are others practicing the art of teaching? Many of us have been exposed to new styles of thinking brought about by neurological research. The nature of our subject has grown in time and become more mature. The understanding of the role of the conductor has become more codified. We would like to believe that we are more aware of the individual and their style of thinking and understanding. The effects on the students of preparing a performance and developing their musicianship have been more fully observed. In our own way, we all have been examining our paths towards wisdom and looking for our way to the new ideas.

During the year we will have opportunities to listen to the work of our colleagues, whether at festivals or in the groups lead by our colleagues at our schools. We will also listen to and lead performances of students who have all arrived at that time and place on a variety of paths from a variety of locations.

As we watch and listen and teach, both in our classrooms and in the concert hall, we must all be reminded that we are still dancing that dance of learning and moving towards the light of understanding.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


To everything, turn, turn, turn;
There is a season, turn, turn turn;
And a time for ev’ry purpose, under heaven.
Turn, Turn, Turn
The Byrds, after Ecclesiastes

Welcome back to a new year! For many of us it is back to the same job, for others it is off to a new school. For some others it is a wonder when the new school will open or when you will be able to get to the new school. For AMIS it is the start of another Festival year and for the AMIS web site, it is a time for a new look.

Over the summer, we’ve been working to redesign the AMIS web site to make it easier to quickly find the information you need. To save you logging on, here’s the “new face” of AMIS. All of the Festivals are now permanently listed down the left hand side. Click on the name of the festival and the latest information will appear instead of the Berlin Honor Band and Choir finale picture.

The blue bar across the top is a link to the major sections of the web site. Once again, one click and the information appears. So in the new look AMIS web site the main section links are always there and the Festivals are always there. One drawback - any bookmarks are solely for the first page.

We’ve worked at getting all of the new information up there, including Director’s Handbooks and Hosting Handbooks for all Festi- vals. The forms are in the process of being reworked and we’re hoping that everything will be tick over nicely by the middle of September. If you are looking for a form and can’t find it or it doesn’t appear to work, please E-mail me at the address at the end of the column would hope to fix it within twenty four hours. Likewise, have a look in the AMIS Mailroom and check that your address and teaching position are correct. If they aren’t, please let me know at the E-mail address at the end of the column. If you’re not on the AMIS Mailroom and would like to be, please fill in the form either on AMIS News or the AMIS Mailroom.

So log in to or and check out the new look AMIS web site. See you next issue for more “Notes, Thoughts and Random Musings”.