This glorious stretch of time when everyone and everything “anyone ever knew” was being photographed, watched over, and sung to sleep by a Canadian hurtling around the planet a dozen times every day, has come to a close. But then, it seems a beginning, too.
How sadly strange and unique does it seem to find a public figure who inspires, yet is humble, has fun, and lights that spirit of optimism. It doe snot happen in politics, our sports figures and pop culture celebrities ring more as ego focused money chasers. Why are there so few who humbly inspire by example?
“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting,” Clay Shirky has argued, “until they get technologically boring.” The same may be said of space. As a destination — as a place, as a dream — space may be, ever so slightly, losing its former mantle of foreignness, its old patina of awe. Instead, the final frontier may now be experiencing the fate that befalls any frontier: It stops being a frontier. Its settlers come to think of it, more and more, as an extension of what they know … until it becomes, simply, all that they know. Until it becomes the most basic thing in the world: home.
Space is becoming ordinary. And that means it’s about to get really interesting.
Whatever the reason though, it has been a marvelous ride to share in, Commander Hadfield. You showed us our home planet and took us with you into space, showed us pieces of the future, and broadened the boundaries of our imaginations.
Thank you for all of that, and that which lies ahead.
So much of my musical inspiration has been drawn from Josh in the last few years, in fact, that when I played one of the first songs I wrote for my sister, she exclaimed that she didn’t know Ritter had written a song about so many of the places we’d been spending our summer vacations. To boot, the afternoon I spent in the Commodore with Josh, in addition to enjoying the show that night (despite it being already the third time seeing him in concert) provided a profound shift in my thinking about writing and performing music.
I was struck not only by the reaction the show brought out in myself – jubilation, revelry, and an unending grin that followed me home and into work the rest of the week – but also the appreciation I was gaining for just what it was I saw Josh doing from the stage: breathing life into the room and connecting to people through the sheer force of his love for what he had forged with his own imagination and enthusiasm.
It was a glimpse of what I would later hear Bruce Springsteen describe as music’s ability to allow for the creation of “a transformative self.“
By sharing what he loved to do with others. Could it be that easy?
Well… not entirely. But imagine my appreciation to find Josh’s series of blog posts laying bare his path to the Commodore stage that night. Here are a series of posts from 2010 wherein he offers advice for Making a Life in Music, from buying yourself a notebook, to sharing a tour bus with Joan Baez.
To strain a metaphor to breaking, Death is the enigma and Art is the engine we build to decipher it. Each of us makes Art as a way to understand human problems (Love, War, God, Death, Sandwiches) of great complexity. While we go about our day-to-day lives we are constantly feeding information into the engines we create for ourselves, gaining insight and slowly solving the enigma. Art is one such engine.
Goals are very different birdies. Even the words sound different. Aspiration, that airy puff of breath, is such a suave word, soaring high above its stolid, plunkier cousin, goal. You can even tell, by the sound of the two words, which one gets the work done. A lot of people want, for some reason, a tour bus. They dream about it and never sit down to figure out, actually, how they are going to get that tour bus. Aspirations are good, nice things to have, don’t get me wrong, but they’re the pie in the sky, and if you want pie, you’re gonna need goals.
Open mics are fun, but treat them professionally and you will learn about how to be a professional. Make them your second job. Attend them diligently, meet people, keep your instrument in tune, and in the words of a famous open mic superstar, learn your song well before you start singing. Pay attention to what the crowd needs, always have a mailing list with you, and if you have recordings, bring them along. It may take a few years and more than a few late nights before you’re ready to progress on from open mics, but you’re starting at the bottom and these will be some of the most memorable, beautiful, challenging times that you’ll have in your entire career, and I guarantee you’ll never forget them.
[Artists] should look for someone who thinks about their art as much as they do. Someone who sends them TOO MANY emails / texts / ideas about their music. They should look for the person in their life who’s pushing them. Someone who’s a good listener but who isn’t a tool or a yes-man. There’s someone in their life who’s curious. Someone who’s a little bit competitive. Someone they can talk music with and someone who is ready to work hard.
Artists are empathetic people. They have a great capacity to feel the emotions of others. As such, they are easily able to imagine, rightly or wrongly, what it must be like to be someone else; someone more popular, more good-looking, funnier, wealthier. It is this ability to imagine that gives us the power to do create, but empathy is (again alas) threaded through with strong streaks of jealousy. A little imagination can go a long way towards envisioning what our life would be like if only such-and-such happened to us instead of to the other guy. We imagine ourselves in his place, and those grapes he is eating no doubt taste far better than these sour ones we ended up with. Well, imagining yourself in his place isn’t bad as long as you do something constructive with it.
If the open mic is where you first learn to play your songs in front of people, the opening set is where you’ll start to learn your place in the music business ecosystem. Here is where you’ll really be tested and where you’ll find out your capacity to make the best of demanding situations. The benefits of being on the bill are great, but the demands are also great, and your ability to conduct yourself professionally (and optimistically) is equal to the opportunity you’re being given.
The best stuff about living a life in music is the stuff that comes to you unexpectedly. Nothing about your life can be planned so well that the best stuff won’t find its way in and change everything. The sound system will break and you’ll be forced to play without amplification. There will be a storm and you’ll have no electricity. You’ll mess up your place in the song and a whole new way to play it will suddenly come to you. Something in your life will change and you’ll realize just how important the other parts are.
Something that I haven’t given as much blog attention here as I would have liked so far this semester is the vibrant community that has sprung up around our school’s Introduction to Guitar class. Having had students post their work regularly to a wiki site in past years, I wanted to incorporate some of the design lessons I learned in #Philosophy12 and create a site that could function as a hub of creation, collaboration, and community that would serve not only our school’s face-to-face guitar students, but also offer wayfinding musicians on the open web a place to play, learn, and offer their own expertise to one another.
…it is not a class that teaches guitar but one where you can learn guitar.
And while I think the course has always functioned this way as a ‘closed’ system (even though we have shared our exploits on Youtube, #ds106radio, and other places), the energy and inspiration that our open online participants have so far brought to the class has increased the creative combustibility of the group by several orders of magnitude. There are folks in Japan, Ontario, Australia, Singapore, and even Ontario-azona strumming along with #IntroGuitar lessons and assignments, sharing stories of their instruments, their struggles (and triumphs) of playing music, and making meaningful musical connections with the face-to-face students who meet daily in our school’s choir room through videos, blog comments, and listening to performances in class.
One such connection that has been working its way through the course community began as a poem shared by a student of Jabiz Raisdana, in Singapore.
Having made some trans-oceanic songs written with Jabiz over the years, I opened up a Google Document and began sanding the poems edges and syllables with some chords and a basic melody. I recorded this so that folks could follow up with what I had made out of Michelle’s orginal poem, and posted the works on Twitter and the #IntroGuitar blog.
Over the weekend, Nathan John Moes continued to work with the chords and Michelle’s lyrics and added this version of the song that has been stuck in my head since Sunday night.
Which all would have been amazing, right? A poem gets posted late at night (I might be adding that piece to the narrative…) on a student blog in Singapore, and a week later it’s spawned a song that has been amended, added to, and recorded by a few teachers in British Columbia.
Of his work putting the song and the recording together, Colin said:
...this is totally uncharted territory for me.
Totally uncharted territory, for a guy who isn’t even getting a grade or credit for the course and – beyond that – has been playing guitar for more than ten years.
And yet still, the ball bounces, and rolls. This morning Leslie joined the party all the way from Lima, Peru, Camrose, Alberta, offering the fifth (!) incarnation of the poem accompanied by her ukelele.
But this is likely not the end of this particular story, with chapters, verses and tomes yet to be discovered.
It’s fitting that two of the TALONS alumni that originally gave me the guitar pictured above are actually in Introduction to Guitar this semester. I’m glad that they’ll get to see some of the story of the TALONS guitar that they might not have been privy to in the last two and a half years of its life here in a post that hopefully gives you here an idea of some of the power of musical instruments as totems of community, of place and of the people that connect them to us.
Clayton was actually the (or, a) prior owner of this guitar as his classmates neared the end of grade nine, and were plotting a year-end present pour moi, he volunteered it as a possible canvas that Immy could adorn with some personal and TALONS-related icons and symbols in paints and felt-tipped markers. A group of about ten or fifteen of the grade nine cohort showed up on a day near the end of June in my office to present the guitar to me, and if I recall, in my gushing surprise, I said something like, “Ohmigod, you wonderful, wonderful children.”
Which they are. Which they were.
Since then the guitar has accompanied me and the ensuing TALONS classes everywhere; it is my and our “travel guitar.” Even if the action is a bit high, and it doesn’t hold its tuning perfectly, it is too pretty to only live indoors. And its story is too good to not introduce it to new people.
One of the first ventures the guitar got to take was back east and into Algonquin Park, at the inaugural Unplug’d Educational Summit. In feeling particularly blessed to be invited along to Unplug’d, where so many of my educational idols were going to be collected, I was proud to bring the class’ guitar to the event, as it has been through my working relationships with TALONS learners these last few years that any of these people would have ever heard of me. Sitting on the dock at the lake, singing Tragically Hip songs in the back of a canoe, and getting to lead a campfire singalong with forty educational leaders from across Canada was a supremely memorable experience, and one that the TALONS guitar played no small part in.
Somewhere out there on the lake, it was becoming clear that what GNA Garcia had tweeted to me upon seeing a picture of the guitar was true:
The gift of a musical instrument is actually a gift to all of the people that will ever hear it.
What a thing to contemplate: that these objects are conduits for community, and connections between people. I started thinking – although I was only just starting – about what it meant to be someone who wielded one of these instruments, and how musicians can be vessels of sorts as well.
But more on that later… this is about the guitar, not me.
Since then, I’m happy to report, the guitar has made it on plenty of TALONS trips – into the woods on the Sunshine Coast, to Squamish, Hicks Lake – and on a host of my own adventures – family vacations to Vancouver Island, camping on Galiano. It’s the guitar that seems to deserve to be taken on adventures, and played outside, and to acquire more stories.
In its way it is its own entity: a magical and powerful object, and one I’m grateful to have encountered, and to keep encountering, every time I pick it up or hear it played.
Thanks Clayton and Immy for introducing us!
[Photo credits starting at the top: In its natural habitat, by Me; Dr. Alec @courosa Couros playing the guitar by @GiuliaForsythe; Canoe Strumming by @GiuliaForsythe (she was also paddling the canoe); Conservation & Song by @Aforgrave.]
With the TALONS class setting out on its annual In-Depth Study, I wanted to get a little documentation going of my own efforts in learning the banjo. Having recently been given a rented (for three months) banjo from Long & McQuade in Port Coquitlam for Christmas (thanks mom and dad!), I’ve spent the last couple of weeks plucking away at the first few chords I looked up and trying to apply what I know from the guitar into my new instrument. You can see what this amounts to in the video above, as well as a few of my goals looking ahead at my relationship with the banjo:
To improve my fingerpicking by expanding beyond my thumb-and-index finger style.
Learn how to use different banjo tunings, and expand my ability and knowledge of different chords.
I didn’t mention this in the video, but I would also like to begin to learn different scales, and how to play lead riffs for the banjo when playing with others.
Beginning in semester II, I’ll have a daily opportunity to explore the project, and will be seeking out mentors in the spring. My parents gave me a few L&M gift certificates to invest in some banjo lessons, and in addition to getting some ‘expert’ help, I’ll be consulting with fellow guitar teacher and banjo player, Mr. Mancell. Playing on a daily basis with my guitar class should also provide a great study in seeing what I can do with my new musical acquaintance, and I’ll look to document my progress here, as well as on Youtube or Audioboo.
As a mode of teaching, Richard transcended innovation and went about continually inventing his classroom environment out of blank space and the unique personalities that filled it. And while many of these plays were banged out on a typewriter, and others were written into formatted word documents to be printed out and memorized, I always come back to believing that it is this type of invention and innovation our classrooms so badly need today, just as they always have.
On his last day of school, Richard and I were talking about the new guitar class I was going to be teaching the following September, just down the hall from what would no longer be his classroom’s black box. I told him that aside from being excited at the prospect of the course, I didn’t know where I wanted to take it just yet.
“The important thing to remember,” he said, “is that every class you teach is just another opportunity for students to practice forming communities.”
You can read the whole post on the CEA blog. See the other contributions to the series on innovation here. Thanks again to Max and CEA for the invitation, and to Richard for the eternally sage advice.
Without taking away from the stellar work that the other two groups in Philosophy 12 contributed to our Ethics’ unit endeavour to create teaching/learning materials for a younger audience (middle school on downwards), I wanted to share a recording I made of Iris, Megan, Greg, Zoe and Toren’s group’s presentation in a grade one classroom on Friday afternoon (the file is too big to post anywhere other than here on my site).
You can listen to the participatory magic the group brought to life in the way of a story, a singalong, and even some Christmas cookies if you like, by clicking the link below (sorry, I couldn’t manage to hyperlink the cookies).
Max’s Christmas Story by Megan (story), Iris (song), Greg (song), Zoe (illustrations), Toren (editing/photoshop/cookies).
I’ve had the good pleasure the last few years to have been able to enrich my personal learning network, as well as add to the constellation of thoughtful individuals that interact with my classroom(s) through the DIY magic of distributed web radio. Even casual readers of this blog will recognize the religious fervour that has often attended to my posts about the magic of #ds106radio, an organic offshoot of the Digital Storytelling course DS106 run out of (originally) the University of Mary Washington, in Virginia, as well as (these days) a host of other institutionsaround the world. In addition to becoming at various times my own open-mic coffee shop, where I’ve written, rehearsed and workshopped almost every song I’ve ever written, DS106Radio has also played frequent host to many a TALONS lesson, field trip, celebration, and a regular spate of Gleneagle’s Music Department showcases.
In the last week, I have been talking to a few of the administrators in our district about the how and what of distributed web radio, and in an effort to collect some of the power and relevance to K12 learning such a setup could offer us, I wanted to share some of what I’ve been able to be a part of because of this wonderfully easy, open-source technology solution to building community and communion around shared sound.
But first, a little history.
The following audio documentary was recorded with a few of the people who had seen DS106Radio grow out of a conversation around a dinner table into a powerful node in each of our networks. Here you’ll hear GNA Garcia interviewing Grant Potter, Guilia Forsythe, Alan Levine and myself about how we’ve seen the radio evolve and effect our lives and professional practices. Alan points out near the end that without the inception of the radio, we wouldn’t even know each other, which, given the amount of time, face-to-face or otherwise, we’ve spent revelling in one another’s company over the past two years, is a humbling thought. (That’s Zack Dowell providing the acoustic musical bed; Jason Toal provided the actual bed.)
But without veering too wildly into my own personal affections for the station, I want to focus here on sharing the ways I’ve explored in bringing my various classroom spaces, and beyond, to the web, often using free software on my laptop, or a $6 app on my phone. It is my hope that with a few examples to get things rolling, we might see some momentum around sharing audio in Coquitlam classrooms.
Almost as soon as we figured out how to ‘go live’ from my laptop and iPhone, my music classroom became a regular performance space for my guitar students, and then a host of other interested individuals to share informal jams, songs and laughter with an audience that just as quickly fell into the habit of tuning into the sounds of the school’s music wing.
Since then we’ve broadcast almost every one of the concerts at Gleneagle live onto DS106radio, sharing the ephemeral sounds of the performing arts with an international audience who can recognize our lead trumpet players and vocalists by the tenor of their solos, and who know that in Coquitlam, there are some crazy-talented kids that love to share their art. How many schools or districts can claim the same notoriety? (If they can, I would bet they’re spending more on marketing than we are.)
Class Activity as Public Learning Project
Last spring, a guitar class I was teaching took on the grandiose endeavour to convert itself into a Thirty Person Rock Band, a process that in addition to being shared on Youtube and Instagram, was conducted almost entirely live on the #ds106radio air, where people were able to tune in and play along with our rehearsals, band meetings, and triumphant last day of school show in the Gleneagle foyer. Our listening audience served as mentors, cheerleaders, and a reflection of the raw energy the creation of live music can bring to a community, and shared in the celebrations at the end of the term.
It was a great pleasure last year to share in a day of #RadioforLearning with #ds106radio K12 sister-station 105theHive, where my guitar class joined in a day of cross-country broadcasting with classrooms in Ontario and northern Manitoba. As the Hive’s rolling live broadcast took reading exercises from rural Ontario north toward Hudson’s Bay, Gleneagle’s Music Department shared its guitar presentations with an audience that wound up reaching listeners in South America, as well as Hawaii.
Essay Feedback as Podcast
Back in 2011, I brought the audio elements of DS106 into the TALONS classroom as part of our This I Believe essay unit where, in addition to submitting individual essays as recorded spoken word pieces, the class collaborated to remix and synthesize the different threads into larger audio compositions.
In an attempt to fold my essay feedback into the process I had asked the class to engage in, I created my own synthesis of the collective learning into a twenty minute radio show of my own to serve as feedback and commentary on the larger lessons of writing and storytelling that I saw in the group’s essays.
Field Reports & Outdoor Education
Some of the most powerful learning opportunities we bring to our students happen outside of the classroom, on field trips or other opportunities for place-based learning that are effectively captured in photographs and videos, perhaps; but these events and experiential learning also opportunities for capturing vital audio artifacts that might otherwise disappear into the ether.
Remixing the Class Discussion
Just this past semester, one of the #Philosophy12 students recorded a few days’ worth of investigating Epistemology, and the notions of Opinions, Beliefs, and Truth, and posted the files for download on Soundcloud. As a possible extension of these open educational resources, I thought I would try my hand at remixing the contents using the GarageBand app on my iPad. The cognitive value in sifting through an hour of recorded audio to pull together a narrative, or logical argument is something that I found both incredibly challenging, and entirely relevant given the emerging digital landscape of the read-write-sing-remix web, where the original artifact of learning is further-evolved to include new reflective perspectives.
Everything above is just the beginning…
I’ve tried to pull together as many different examples as I could over the course of a few days, but there may be a few notable broadcasts or events that I’ve neglected to include here. GNA Garcia used to broadcast concerts and conversations from her job at a highschool in Philadelphia. And the Hive folks have been creating live and canned shows for almost a year now (!). Matt Henderson started a terrestrial radio station with his kids in Winnipeg, and I’m sure there are other folks out there podcasting, sharing Audioboos, and finding other ways to explore the power of audio in their classrooms.
But I hope what I’ve shared here can serve as a catalyst and motivation for folks in my own back yard who may want to jump into an experiment with a Coquitlam branch of web radio over the course of the next semester. I’m hoping that local English, Music, Journalism, and other teachers start getting their phones out, warming up their GarageBands and Audacities, and seeing where our own digital campfire might take us as a learning community.
It might seem hyperbole to claim, as many Wagnerites do, that The Ring Cycle is “The Greatest Work of Art Ever.” But the grandeur and power of this monumental work have permeated our culture from Star Wars to Bugs Bunny to J.R.R. Tolkien.
WNYC’s “The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania” asks what many of the uninitiated must wonder: “What’s the big deal?” This journey, intended for both devoted fans and newcomers alike, visits with a diverse cast of characters who weigh in with their answers to this complex question…
Having been able to meet a few of the people, and see the inner workings of tonight’s performance – even getting a chance to stand on the Queen Elizabeth Theater stage – and just what it takes to put together a single performance of an Opera, we glimpsed the inner working of the staggering achievement of a veritable town of committed individuals working at the top of their games.
Wagner’s Ring Cycle, or at least the picture of it painted here,is a sprawling attempt to document the heights of the period’s musical themes along with the richness of Germanic mythology that pervades the English language, as well as forms the foundation and archetypes for almost all of western civilization’s history and storytelling. In strives to attain epic in its every breath.
I’ll admit, when I came across the episode billing something I had scarcely heard of as The Greatest Work of Art Ever, I was skeptical. But Jad & Robert help introduce one of the most daring composers who ever worked in one of the world’s most grandiose art forms, and it’s difficult to argue with the scope of the Ring’s influence.
Think about it: Star Wars, Bugs Bunny, JRR Tolkien.
What is the real meaning and appropriate function of the Internet itself?
Gawker introduced the video by saying, “The Entire Internet has been a prelude to This Mashup of LCD Soundsystem and Miles Davis,” answering the question and quoting its author who says it contains, “No editing or other tricks, just 2 youtube videos played at the same time.”