Graffiti: An old song with new friends at the GSGW Fall Jam

TwoMy sister brought back a picture of some graffiti in Saskatoon a few summers ago that I ran with, writing one of my first songs that has continued to grow with me in the years since, and which continues to accompany me in new musical places.

I’ve played this song in my kitchen by myself, in classrooms, around campfires, and in canoes. “Graffiti” was a natural choice to perform when I was invited to share a song on Jowi Taylor’s Voyageur, the Six String Nation guitar at the opening of Unplug’d 2012 in Toronto.

And I’ve worked up a few different versions of the tune with different groups of musicians I’ve played with in the last few years. One such group I came upon this fall at the Georgia Straight Fall Jam in Crescent Beach, BC, where I enlisted a few members of Doc and the Disorderlies, and a few other new friends, to join me in the Saturday concert.

Unfortunately, the battery on the camera died as the song was ending, but I did catch a full recording of a rehearsal that afternoon, which is posted below.

On Jack’s 92nd Birthday

Jack Kerouac would be ninety-two today (March 12th), a birthday the New Republic has celebrated with a Reconsideration originally published in December of 1972. Noting a recent change in fashion that “left Kerouac’s work inert and his legend inactive,” William Crawford Woods set out to devour the scope of the author’s “one vast book” of a life in literature, discovering (in Dharma Bums)

Kerouac’s special grace—which is, at his best, to shower mindful tenderness on the crummy specifics of the day-to-day. It’s a grace given no- where more freely than in this book, where the writer’s later bleaker vision (“Why else should we live but to dis- cuss . . . the horror and terror of all this life . . .”) is crowded off the page by animal enjoyment. The uniform celebration of food, sex, art and exercise that is the core of the book suggests the intellectual sensuality that was the core of the Beat esthetic: poems and women, both to be made.

This past summer I made a point of rereading On the Road more than ten years since I discovered it as an undergraduate, and was struck with the same sense of energy:

Like Wordsworth, Kerouac’s work is not so much craft as it is a beatific exaltation of This Moment in Life, spoken plainly in the language of the people. Not to say this wasn’t also Hemingway’s concern; but one gets the sense that for him or Fitzgerald, there is an intellectual factor at work. In Kerouac, the mind is an obstacle to be overcome in deference to the Now, and the image Kerouac creates of Dean and their mutual quest is a story of saints engaging in communion with the people and the land  West, where the Beats introduce the transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson to the American Night.

Woods points out that Jack’s legacy is rightly obscured by rising tide that drowned modernity’s brief infatuation with “spontaneous prose,” noting that:

Kerouac, by subscribing to so strict a program, had made himself into the one thing he professed himself to be at war with: an academic from the start. Another novelist might discover his materials and methods painfully from book to book, but Kerouac came with a design that only genius could save from formula, and I think we will see that that salvation was not forthcoming. For what the author did was write the same book eight, 10, a dozen times, and in the end his “spontaneous prose” was shuffled from volume to volume in an unspontaneous manner.

But as I discovered this summer, “I could have had worse idols than Jack Kerouac, who told me all about the pitfalls of the wandering life all the while extolling the virtues of the truly beatific moments their could be exchanged for.” He is, Woods reminds us today on what would be Jack’s 92nd birthday, “the kind of unanonymous writer to whom some of us have a specific special debt.”

“…not a class that teaches guitar, but one where you can learn guitar.”

#IntroGuitar Performance Day

I’m forever indebted to Alan Levine’s description of #IntroGuitar sometime last spring, where he included Gleneagle‘s Introduction to Guitar 11 in a list of experiments in Open Courses You Won’t Find in the New York Times, A Cheesy Edudemic Infographic, or Among Davos Champagne Sippers:  

In a basic hosted WordPress web site, he has a place for his high school students and anyone else interested to post their recordings, videos, and writings about elearning to play guitar. There is a loose curriculum, but open participants can jump in and out easily.

And a semantic distinction, it is not a class that teaches guitar but one where you can learn guitar.

Already people are sharing stories of their guitars, taking tracks recorded by one participant and layering their accompaniment on top.

How much easier could it be to open up a course? A free hosted platform, invite people in? Who needs $6,000,000?

Not that I would turn down the six million, but I am humbled to have played a part in creating something that so naturally and easily manifests so many of the things we talk about as 21st Century Educators: choice, flexibility and relevance, the blending of digital and physical collaborative spaces, and the building of communities of practice for our students and the wider world.Screen shot 2014-02-02 at 11.51.56 AM

As Alan introduced, the course itself consists of the 25 for-credit students that have enrolled in the class at Gleneagle, and a website I set up using the free WordPress.com site.  From there, I have tried to set the for-credit tasks in line with creating a blended learning community for folks beyond the class to engage with and benefit from: categorizing assignments and allowing anyone who fills out a Google Form to become a site author, offering feedback, creating their own assignments, or tackling existing tasks on the site.

For those enrolling as Open Online Participants, there are few rules, expectations, or guidelines to speak of:

There are no minimums, and no apologies for open-online learners in Introduction to Guitar: do as much or as little as you like.

With this lackadaisical invitation, some of the most profound and creative learning in last year’s cohort was contributed by folks – from around the world – joining in for fun. 

In a particular piece of open-serendipity documented in more length here, I took a poem written by one of Jabiz Raisdana’s students in Singapore and lent it some musical accompaniment that I shared as a Google Document.

From there, Nathan John Moes, in northern BC, recorded a gem of a cover – that has since disappeared from Soundcloud – which survives courtesy of an asynchronous jam provided by Keri-Lee Beasley (back in Singapore), who sings over Nathan’s version here:

Sylvano Bussotti, Rhizome, 1959 (Via MaryAnn Reilly)

But that’s not even all of it: Jabiz took his own swing at what had become of his student’s poem, and so did Colin Jagoe (in Ontario) , and Leslie Lindballe (while she was down in Peru).

In an example of truly rhizomatic learning, momentum gathered around a personally relevant course of study for those who found the assignment compelling; others were free to join in or pursue their own plans:

With the start of another semester of Introduction to Guitar at Gleneagle, I’m excited to build on our open experiences of last year, and have already begun the process of serving as tour guide to our prospective Open Online Participants (something I hope will help throughout this semester), and enculturing our new For-Credit Students into the blended online learning environment.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll hopefully be seeing the fruits of this initial infrastructure setup in the type of spontaneous creativity and learning many of our participants will benefit from in the coming months.

Want to join us? 

Visit TalonsRockBand.Wordpress.com and our invitation to Open Online Participants, drop your details in our registration form, and familiarize yourself with the course site.

You’ll find a variety of assignment possibilities categorized on the dropdown menu at the top of the page, and a host of student\participant examples to guide you in your first efforts. If you don’t find an assignment worth pursuing, make one up!

It is, after all, your course as much as it is anyone else’s.

“…totally uncharted territory.”

#IntroGuitar Performance Day

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.

Alan Levine nailed it with this description:

…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.

Take a listen. Seriously, wow.

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.

But this ball is still rolling, still bouncing.

Coming full circle, Jabiz spent this past Saturday morning recording a new incarnation of the song (version III now, if you were counting), and so did Colin Jagoe, in Ontario.

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.

Maybe by you?

Update: 

Back in Singapore, Keri-Lee Beasley has added some stellar vocal harmonies to Nathan’s track. Check it out:

Poetry is Nothing… in the woods.

I wrote a few weeks ago about team-teaching a wilderness journaling activity with my TALONS colleagues along with my oft-mentioned Internet brother Jabiz Raisdana, using his poem-turned-song “Poetry is Nothing” as an introduction to a solo-walk around Hicks Lake, in Sasquatch Provincial Park.

Having turned the corner here in metro-Vancouver toward fall and winter, I thought I would post the video of a very warm afternoon (the last official day of summer 2012) and a writing prompt that travelled a long way to get there.

Special props are due to Liam, who rose to the occasion and supplied the harmonica solo.

Port Moody Youth Arts Festival Songwriting Workshop


A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to meet a handful of local talented musicians in an afternoon session I delivered at the inaugural Port Moody Youth Arts Festival, where through the course of an afternoon we would set out to write a song. In addition to the afternoon workshop, my name was slated for half an hour as the opening act of the evening showcase, and I hoped that I wouldn’t be standing on the stage explaining a failed effort.

I prepared the sparest of materials to make the most of our time during the afternoon, and spent my energy providing the space and the canvas, along with whatever emerging know-how I’ve gained in the last year about what makes songs come together and what they require to be performed convincingly I could. Fortunately, the Port Moody teens who had signed up for the workshop were exceptionally talented writers, musicians, collaborators, and performers.

The workshop was scheduled for the top floor of City Hall, a vaulted dome ceiling befitting our quaint suburban capital with a veranda that offered a view of Inlet Park, the rec center, and public library. It seemed a dignified place to be crafting a song out of the ether, and even if this went unspoken, the group set about searching for riffs and opening hooks, imagery and themes in pairs and individual spots around the space with diligence and urgency. At fifteen minute intervals, the group met as a whole to share the pieces they had come up with, and teach them to one another.

Eventually, the collective settled on an opening verse by a marvelous budding singer-songwriter named Julia, and while she retreated to the patio to extend the verses and lyrics, the rest of the group experimented with various other instrumentation that began to bring the song to life: acoustic guitars, bass, ukelele with slide, drums, a twelve string.

As a few of the participants were called to the stage to soundcheck their own band, Julia, Mickelvin, and Patrick worked to develop a chorus with transitions and complimentary guitar licks that built a musical tension throughout the song, and it was quickly typed up and photocopied in the library downstairs. There were a few last minute run throughs in the evening light of the floor-to-ceiling windows, and at five o’clock we broke for dinner.

The evening showcase was set to begin with us at six-thirty, and the group had yet to play the song on stage. But after a handful of run-throughs after dinner, the mood was relaxed while the newly minted band hung out with the evening’s emcees and the other acts, picking at pizza and veggie platters before being called to the stage.

I introduced the group and provided a brief summary of the day’s events, and then scurried into the audience to record video as the troupe proceeded to bring the house down. In a scaled down version of the Thirty Person Rock Band Project,  the workshop was a success for the way it allowed the individual talents of the participants to shine. Julia, Mickelvin, Patrick, Theo, Ian, Isaac, Jonathan and Michael came to the session open to who they might meet, and what they might be able to make together.

They all rose mightily to the occasion.

Family Legend

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Campire Stories

A little twist on the Family Legend assignment from the Daily Create let me bring this neighbourhood legend to the Camp Magic Macguffin campfire. 

They had come from Burnaby, had the MacDonalds that came to reside on Garcia Court, and beyond the neighbouring suburb were from points across the breadth of Canada and back into Europe. Both branches of the family we knew reached the old countries of England and Scotland eventually, but had each traced vastly different routes across Canada to the coast.

Mr. MacDonald’s family had splintered out of a line of Joneses in Ontario and settled in southeastern British Columbia near the American border where towering mountains are ringed by lingering smog of a half-century’s smeltering. Mr. MacDonald’s father had worked in that smelter, and he and three siblings were raised in a narrow two-story house near their elementary school. The family lived above the gouge of the Columbia River and knew well the hoards of river moths that owned the dusks and dawns of summer with a singular and biblical tenacity.

It has struck me each time I’ve heard it told that Mr. MacDonald never passes over the subject of his hometown in conversation without mentioning these moths. His eyes sharpen and he pointedly engages each person within eye and earshot in his narration; there is no mistaking the onus he places on the regular emergence of the hovering pests.

“You have to drive with your windshield wipers on,” I have seen him marvel. “And the town hides itself indoors, sure to seal every window and door – even though you could at best keep only ninety percent of them out!”

Listeners cringe at this image, and Mr. MacDonald relishes their discomfort. “Oh yeah!” He often repeats important details for effect, stalling and indulging brief cul de sacs and dead ends before continuing with the story. These productions never seemed scripted until I began to hear these various narratives told and retold by Mr. MacDonald, and then also by others on the street, word for word.

This particular story of the onslaught of minuscule beasts wobbling as they rise from the Columbia River Valley inevitably meanders to the recounting of the childhood of Mr. MacDonald’s youngest brother, David. (No one fails to mention, in this telling, that Brandon bore such a resemblance to his father’s brother that once Brandon had reached the age of fourteen, they were christened “DavidBrandon” for the duration of several family gatherings that spanned almost a decade.)

It is told that as a child David never harboured the town’s apprehension for the river moths, and would await their nightly coming tide at the crest of the bluffs above the river. Standing bare-chested toward the setting sun, he would watch the air thicken above the flat pools on the Columbia and hear the million hatchlings popping onto air. The hum would drive in a cloud toward him on the hill and his heart reportedly raced as the million moths reached and engulfed him before sweeping over the bluffs like a humming wave. They would fly through his hair and glue their wings to the sweat of his arms and legs, and he would let the ones that could land and begin to crawl, trekking his skin and covering him from head to toe. Only once the night’s flight had subsided would he walk the steep grade of the hillside and descend slowly into the freezing depths of the river. The moths that resisted at the surface of the water would come unstuck once submerged, and David would rise from the water clean, washed with the first boilings of the next night’s hatch.

I heard this story for the first time at a cul de sac barbeque at the end of my driveway. Mr. MacDonald had put his silver beer down to do the telling, and as many as fifteen of us looked on as he reached the dramatic finish, painting his brother as a shining martyr of these moths. Perceiving that I was perhaps the only one present who had yet to hear this tale, he nodded to me for what I assumed was my appraisal of the tale.

I said meekly, “Didn’t anyone ever go out there with him?”

Mr. MacDonald laughed and said, “DavidBrandon always wanted to know the same thing.”

The Thirty Person Rock Band

Among the more ambitious spontaneous projects I’ve attempted as a teacher, the 30 Person Rock Band project came out of a conversation with my guitar class about what our next endeavour should be: songwriting, another recording of individual or group progress, a performance, or… something a little bigger. Something we’ll discover as we go, together.

So to start, we are asking for input: we don’t yet know even what we don’t know, and in the interest of finding a suitable starting point, we are hoping that you might help us with the initial creation of individual and collective responsibilities. We’re hoping that, whether you’ve played in a band or not, you might be able to help us delegate responsibilities to make the 30 Person Rock Band Project a collaborative and successful undertaking.

Arthur C. Clarke Blackout Poetry

Though it’s not a newspaper (as the original #Ds106 assignment prescribes), I had the idea this afternoon while my teaching parnter was teaching the Arthur C. Clarke short story, “I forget thee, Earth” to give the front page of our handout the blackout poetry treatment.

The text of the new work, Art Clark’s “I forget Earth…” is below, should anyone want to give the piece a Tom Woodward “snowball” and turn the text into something else: song, dialogue, a rock opera…

Ten years old, his father
took up Administration and
Power, the uppermost and
swiftly growing Farmlands.

Great, slender plants
creeping towards the sun,
Down the domes to meet
the smell of life.
Everywhere,
inexpressive in his heart

no longer.

Breathing dry cool air,
residential levels, purged
of smells but ozone.

Here, little father, onwards.

Reach to the observatory.
Never visit, but sense rising
excitement.

One goal: life, outside, surface wide,
and pressurized. Servicing scout car[‘s]
circular door.
Tense expectancy, settled down in
cramped cabin.


Poetry is Nothing

A few weeks ago I saw a post by my “Internet-twin” Jabiz Raisdana that included a few photos and a poem beginning, Poetry is Nothing…

Poetry is nothing… – Based on a poem by Jabiz Raisdana by Bryanjack

As I’ve had inspiration to do a few times before, I took Jabiz’ lines and picked up my guitar, began strumming a few chords, and almost immediately had the thread of a melody line to fit with the first stanza. Within a half hour, I had recorded a demo of the song, and sent it back to Jabiz.

This week, the poem continues to lengthen its tail, as I’ve introduced it to my guitar class.