Saturday, September 28, 2013

In the heart of a friend.

My composition, “The Arrow and The Song” was a reaction to the challenge proposed in the last issue of “Amis Updates”. My piece is a setting for SSA and piano. It works as well a a unison choir or solo. Dick and Georgia Bassett commissioned a piece by Paul Hopkins using the text “The Arrow and The Song” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Here are my thoughts for constructing this piece.

The Arrow and the Song
I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend. 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

First thing, I sang a melody to the text - “I shot an arrow into the air.” But where was the natural accent? Was it; “ I shot an ar-row in-to  the air”? I played around with it, and it just didn’t sound right. Where was the action?  Where was the actor? Moving the the accent to “I” and maintaining the secondary accent on “shot” seemed a solution. Now to symbolize the “shot”. I imagined shooting an arrow; the bow is drawn, aimed. Hmm, it wasn't’ aimed - further reading of the poem implies that. It seemed to me that an a leap was indicated a perfect fifth - no, to martial. Perfect octave - too much. Major sixth - hmm sounds good, with a hint of dissonance. Not a lot, but just a hint of the unexpected. The melody outlines a D6 triad- cool! Word painting - “It feel to earth” - descending line. “I knew not where.” Hmm - change the key centre! That’s the first two lines sorted out!. A descending sequence in the last two lines - decorated scale. Hmmm. The text runs out and it’s re not do. I know! The piano finishes off the phrase as an introduction to the next verse. The melody was an arc - 2 lines up - two lines down. 

I sang the second stanza. It fit, with a bit of rhythmic alteration. Now vary it for the third stanza. Where’s the drama? It is in the third stanza - “Looong, looong afterward.” - just saying it, the rhythm suggests itself. Sequence for the second line. The rest came in a flash. I repeated the last two lines in a mini-coda. 

Writing the accompaniment, I used tried and true method of boom-chick left hand on one and three, chords on two and four for  the first two stanza. For the third and fourth stanzas I reversed it with a pedal D. (Use the introduction for hand positions.) For the third verse I used the Rodgers and Hammerstein short - long - short rhythm - think “I Have Dreamed” for contrast and the feeling of tension that is created by pedal A with E minor chord followed by F# minor. A few more “finishing touches”, a modified thematic attempt at the end and it was done! 

“The Arrow and the Song” was dedicated “To Richard and Georgia Bassett - may your dreams go on and on.” The song is free of charge to all AMIS schools and license to copy freely granted to AMIS Schools. The song and a recording from Sibelius are available on the AMIS News Page. I hope you’ll at least consider it for your groups. 

Until the next time!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dreams and Hopes

“Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?”
Roger Ebert, (1942-2013), his last review of “To the Wonder”

In spite of the weather here in England, the end of school is in sight. No ends of lyrics have addressed this event. Whether you subscribe to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” or The Happenings' “See You In September” or even Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, the closing of the school year evokes mixed memories. Your mission, should you choose to accept Mr. Phelps, is composed of three parts:

Reflect: There are a lot of questions you can ask – it might be tough going. Søren Kierkegaard remarked, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Remember the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year? Reflection shouldn’t beat you with your own rods. Take a good look, a realistic look and judge how you are doing. Did you the meet them easily or were you frustrated in not achieving the goal? Can you set better goal for next year? Can you set more challenging goals next year? Can you set more realistic goals for you student and your self?

Re-create: Go wild. Explore. Travel. Paint. Dance. Read. Sketch. Take photographs. Whatever you do to re-create that joyful self. Be creative. Compose. Arrange. Sing. Play. Master that particular nasty spot in the piece that you’ve always wanted to play or sing.  No more attendance, fire drills, telling offs and dressing down. Refresh your spirit.

Re-juvenate: Wait a minute – doesn’t re-create mean the same thing? There’s a sting in the tail. Literally take another shot a being “youthful” and learn a new skill from the start. It is very hard to learn something ab initio. Learn a new instrument. Learn a skill. Learn a piece of technology. Learn a new sport. Get your perspective aligned with your students. Try a different style of performance on your principal instrument. Try bluegrass instead of baroque; art songs instead of jazz.  Experience the thrill of conquering new heights and challenges. Chaucer said, “And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.”  Try your “inner student” on for size.

Teaching, like baseball, has its sages. I leave you with the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”

Remember the three steps of your mission and have fun! See you next year!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Oh, the humanity...

“User Interface affects everything Humans interact with. Even other humans. Simplicity, clarity, elegance: chase these ‘til you’re exhausted.”
Andy Inathko

Happy New Year - officially. Well, in the Western world, where Gregory's calendar reigns supreme. I write this as the Julian calendar reached Christmas. What a marvellous world - not knowing when the year ends, let alone what year it is! I always take the first day of school as my New Year's commencement, greeting one and all with, "Happy New Year!". 

(Get on with it, Ed.)

Right. Andy Ihnatko is one of my favourite "go to" guys for interesting tech writing. He has been around side the days of the Apple II. Younger readers, look it up - the young Steves had a revolutionary product before 1984. Or 2007. Or 2010. "Simplicity, clarity, elegance…" - brings to mind "Sunday in the Park with George" with the Sondheim dictum, "Order, design, composition, tension, balance, harmony."

Apple is renowned for attention to detail, and no where is so obvious as the user interface. Many of you are unwrapping iPads and iPhones and wondering where to start. Jobs famously said, "If you see a stylus or a task manager, 'they blew it'." Apple designed the interface mimicking the keyboard, but limited space on the device put paid to the original design. Here are the "tricks" to make typing as easy at q,w,e. I mean, 1 2 3!

Today's Tip: Keyboard Tricks for your iPad and iPhone

When using the on-screen keyboard, press and hold down keys to reveal alternatives to the character that appears. 

Press and hold the "a" key to have your choice of ã, å, ā, à, a, á, â, ä, and æ. Works for capitals as well. 

Press and hold the " key and have your pick of «  „  ”  “  ».

Press and hold the "£" key to display , €, $, ¢, ¥. 

Go on - press and hold all the keys to see what pops up.

Rather than switching to the number keyboard and then switching back to the letter keyboard, tap and hold the "123" key, then drag it to a number to select it. When you lift your finger from the number, the letter keyboard will appear again.

Double-tap the space bar to end your sentences with a period and a space. 

In your Home Screen, tap 'Settings' the 'General' and then 'Keyboard' and set up International Keyboards, including Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and even Emoji! Then a tap on the 'Globe' key enables you to change keyboards. 

Tricks for your iPad only.

Press and hold the 'hide keyboard' at the bottom right of your  keyboard and 'Unlock' and 'Split' buttons appear. 'Unlock' moves the bar off the bottom of the screen and 'Split' enables you to do 'thumb typing'.  Adjust the keyboard position by lightly touching the 'Hide Keyboard' key and dragging it up or down. Press and hold  'Hide Keyboard' again to dock, split, merge or dock and merge. 

You have to change habits to work in a tablet environment. The cloud forces a limit to how much you can take along with you. Go with the flow. Use you music player on your phone, pad or netbook with a severely limited playlist. You have a stand-alone music player for that. Use the camera on your phone for the "bread and butter" shots - sync to Dropbox or iCloud or one of the dedicated sites like Smugmug or Flickr. You'll be amazed at the resolution that you have at your disposal and camera apps are, literally, .99 pence. Try some out! 

I'm going to close here with thoughts that are appropriate for commencing on a journey, for teaching is a life-long journey of discovery.

“May you reflect upon the positive aspects of the past, plan and hope for the future, but most of all, realize that we have to live and adapt most readily in the present.”


“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”
 Henry David Thoreau

Keep on experimenting!

Rick Hein