Friday, September 30, 2011

Is It Live or Is It Virtual?

“Every day, think as you wake up, ‘Today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others. I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.’”

— His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

The idea of writing a common place book does seem a bit odd the the twenty-first century world. The practice of copying out a fair copy in your own hand as a reminder about bits and pieces of useful information constituted a form of scholarship. Thomas Jefferson filled many volumes, mixing useful facts, opinions and sketches for further investigation. My pages of quotes online is a homage to that spirit, a virtual common place book. The HeinSite structure gives a hint at my thinking. I'm writing this on my iPad on my way to the AMIS Board Workshop at Church Farm House, using Pages for the iPad. Syncing it all together is Dropbox, although could do the job. Let's explore...

“There is no shame in not knowing. The shame lies in not finding out.”
Russian proverb,

Knowing your boundaries is useful in life. Physical, mental and temperamental may come to mind. You want to play the flute. You get a flute, take some lessons, practice and...what do you mean? It's that easy? Ah, if that were only true. You haven't set a boundary, a goal for your flute playing: "to get a professional standard", "to play along with the hymns at church" or "my spouse plays the guitar and I want to play duets” and “I thought that's good sound." Whether you want to spend the requisite 10,000 hours required to achieve mastery at a psychomotor skill level or play for you own entertainment, the choice is yours. You've set a goal, a target.

Intellectual curiosity comes under this as well. The mind hungers for a challenge, right? Your always stimulated to know more, know better, know deeper. You are in the business of providing your students with authentic learning, meaningful goals and achievable, yet challenging, standards. We need a wilderness, a wild place to test us. Which leads us to next maxim:

“‎Not all treasure is silver and gold.”
— Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)

Relationships are precious. Those you love are more precious than gold and silver. They are your rock. They are your support, through thick and thin. Cherish your relationship; nurture it with love.

The love the teacher has for his students and the work that achieved are without a doubt the most satisfying benefits of the job. The bonds you make through teamwork and practice are strong. You may influence a career choice, have a crowning achievement, discover an 'a ha' point or a knowing smile at the end of the concert that says "Yes! We did it and we did it well!". As the ads say, priceless. Which leads to...

“Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.”
- Francesca Reigler

That goes without saying, but from time to time we need to reminded of that fact. Life is what you make it. Seeing the good instead of the bad is an acquired skill and needs practice. Remind yourself of the first quote on this page. I'm giving you time to read it now. Then on to the final statement. You will be shocked and amazed at the simplicity. Visit to take a look. For once, I have no further comment.

“Looking back over a lifetime, you see love was the answer to everything.”
— Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It all starts out with an idea...

You don't get taken with the colors of paints that you've got. You've got to narrow it down. It's great to have all the possibilities, but it all starts with an idea.

To sit there and hope something will happen is like dumping 400 gallons of paint on the floor and hoping a picture is going to emerge. It doesn't work that way.

Michael Nesmith
Wired News

Who is this visionary popular artist, some of you might be saying. Those of you who have studied American popular culture or were teenagers between 1966 and 1969 will recognise him immediately. He was the Monkee with the woolly hat. Since those early days, he has been credited with inventing MTV, spearheading the country rock genre, and writing one of the first online novels.

The genesis of this inventing spirit may become a little clearer when you learn that his mother invented Liquid Paper™. She was divorced, down to her last dime and mortgaged the house to go into production. Little Michael and his friends packed the boxes and delivered the product on their bicycles. He came from a family of innovators and people willing to risk everything on what they believe.

Daniel Barenboim, in the Reith Lectures for the BBC, claims that the musical journey is not the result of the movement from A to G. Rather it is the journey from silence to A that is the heart of the musical journey. You've heard it before in this space: great art is born of restraint. Here are two musicians from wildly different genres adding their voices to the argument.

One of my composition teachers gave the assignment to write a piece, less than three minutes, using only one note. It could be used in any octave, but only that one note. By constraining the melodic and harmonic content, we were forced to explore rhythm, repetition, variation and dynamics. This stretched our compositions into a new path. We had to "think different" to solve the problem. Whilst the pieces weren't masterworks, when we played them at the next lesson we were all amazed at the variety of compositions that appeared.

When we are using our new sequencers, whether they be Garageband, Logic, Amadeus, or whatever the newest latest tool is, we must remember that in order to learn to use the tool, we must structure the approach with appropriate restraints in order to allow invention to take place. In using today's loop based sequencers, one of the key skills is editing. How can you take the material presented and modify it to fit your needs? Add notes? Subtract notes? Transpose? The wise teacher amongst us then asks the student to explain why they made that choice. The answers may in the first instance be, "Because it sounds better." The educator in you won't let that answer stand. You'll look for a way in to see what the student is thinking.

As you follow the curve of the year keep thinking differently and looking for new creative approaches for your students. Look for the ways of getting them to own the music and the music making process. If you have the access to technology, create some "wacky" composition projects. Who knows – great beauty and a deeper understanding of music may be born from your constraints.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Life on the 'High Cs'

Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes?

Joseph Campbell

Welcome, dear reader. From this leaping off point, for jump is far too prosaic a word, we are going to journey together into the rapidly expanding world of technology. “Haven’t we done this before?” I hear you say. Yes, gentle reader, we have discussed this theme many times over the past ten years or so. However, in the words of the oft quoted Robert Zimmerman, “The times, they are a changin’.”

We once again stand at a crossroad. Some might argue that we are once again meeting with a stranger carrying a violin in the middle of the night. Others might say that we are being offered a chance to emerge from the restrictions of old practices and dance in the bright light of a new dawn. (Get on with it, Ed.)

The spectre of the always connected life looms on the horizon. With that comes the relatively new concept of device agnostic transfer of information. For the sake of a catch phrase, lets look at the “High Cs” of life in the modern world of technology by asking the question, ‘What do you do with your computer?’

Most answers will boil down to the two of the cornerstones of the High Cs: communication and creation. We will leave creation to our next meeting and explore some of the new ways of communicating. The twenty-first century is growing more and more dependent on constant communication. Students of today have been accused of giving up when the answers to their questions are not immediately obvious. E-mail is too slow, instant messaging is their preferred mode of communication. No doubt, our mentors and professors would say the similar things about us, as would their mentors and professors. We are now connected, for better for worse. How have you adapted your educational life to this?

How do you communicate with students, parents, peers and colleagues? Do you go looking for information or do you expect it to come to you? Connection leads to new pathways for communication. Do you distribute information via a wiki, a website or via a blog or Twitter? Do you push information to students or do you expect them to pull it from your sources? Have you built a personal learning network?

“Too many questions!” I hear you exclaim in frustration. The twenty-first century provides many avenues for communication. AMIS provides a fairly simple method of pushing information to you through the RSS feed. You can use a simple piece of software available for every device on every platform - an RSS reader. RSS is an acronym now largely expanded as Really Simple Syndication. By using a common structure, information can be abstracted and a wide range of information can be pushed, via subscription, via the Internet. By subscribing to the RSS feed at using an RSS reader you will receive a message when a new event is posted to the RSS stream. This means that you can receive notification on your smartphone, iPad, computer and netbook. Because of internet standards, information is no longer necessarily tied to one platform, device or operating system, it is known as device agnostic transfer of information.

In an earlier conversation we talked about the AMIS calendar being available online. Many of you browse to the website and look up the dates for the festivals and workshops. It is hoped that some of you have subscribed to the calendar and can see it on your device’s calendaring program and can overlay it with your personal calendar and your school calendar. If you have not done so, subscribe to the calendar at the following address:

Long term afficianados of this particular column may have already subscribed to its RSS feed. If you wish to read this online and be notified of the next instalment as soon as it is published, visit its online home,, and subscribe to “posts”.

How can you adapt this to your classroom? Create a calendar on any one of the services available or investigate if your school’s E-mail system or virtual learning platform already offers this feature. Place your rehearsal schedule online and include any special things students may need to successfully rehearse. If you go one step further and attach this to a blog, your students can then comment on your posts. Do you ask students to reflect on their performance and on group performances? How do you share these reflections? If you go one step further, you can create a wiki page or discussion forum where you create topic areas and students can create and contribute to the collective knowledge you are trying to build. Once again, your school may already provide you with such a platform.

You may have noticed another ‘High C’ appearing: collaboration. According to some definitions, authentic learning experiences are those which best enable learners to be engaged with their learning. Some of the common elements in authentic learning include facing real-world experiences and problems. We already provide plenty of real world experiences by constructing performances by a diverse group of individuals in real time. By inviting another layer of participation and collaboration with your colleagues and members of the class you foster the growth of a more authentic learning experience. You also take another step on the pathway to becoming a facilitator who encourages others to explore, grow and contribute to the end product.

By looking for ways to bend the technology into your service, you can learn more about and from your colleagues and students. The partnership you form through performance can be strengthened and expanded. You might also find that the resulting performances become better, richer and more emotionally satisfying.