Tag Archives: GA

how the iPhone has made me a better musician

(and student, and teacher, etc.)

so those of you who know me know that i am obsessed with my iphone. i won’t lie, i can’t, it is a fabulous piece of machinery. and while i love it for all of the ridiculously goofy things it can do (and that whole phone business) i’ve tried to incorporate it into my life as fully as possible. now considering that i am a full time musician, student, graduate assistant and teacher, those are the things that need the most help. so how do i do it?

imani’s favorite, can’t live without iphone apps:
General
so of course, i couldn’t work without the first page apps from Apple: Safari, Calendar (i’ll talk more about this in a sec), Camera, Weather, Maps, Calculator, Settings and Contacts. these are all on my first page and are opened pretty much every day. in my dock i have iPod, Phone, Messages and Mail (which at last count has six email accounts in it). the one probably used the most would be Calendar because if i don’t schedule everything very carefully, well…CRASH! i am using MobileMe right now which i love mainly for the calendar sync. I have a MacBook, an iMac and my iPhone all with calendars on them. syncing between the three is vital.

Music
i am always on the hunt for great music apps which, i think, are few and far between. but the ones i have, i have totally embraced. this includes stuff for performing, practicing, listening and music reference.

  • Tempo is possibly the best metronome i have ever seen. it has a beautiful interface and is, possibly, more functional than my other metronomes. it goes up to 300 bpm, you can choose from a variety of time signatures (unfortunately only meters of 4 and 8 but if you want something like 5/2 or 8/16 just do the math), the accent can be placed on any beat and the beat can be subdivided into eighths, triplets and sixteenths. it also has a visual element (it flashes) which you can remove. my favorite part came with the new update. you can add specific tempi to a setlist. so if you’re working on multiple pieces you can save each one and then come back to them without having to reset the metronome. it has pretty much replaced my lovely little Korg and now that i have multiple instruments, i can keep one in one case and just carry my iPhone. i always have a metronome.
  • all the same can be said for Cleartune, a beautiful chromatic tuner. it has a great interface, works extremely well (i use it with my baroque bassoon), the calibration can be changed (i keep it always on A4 = 415.0) and you can change the temperament! as i enter into the world of early music, i have found this extremely handy. i keep my other tuner in my modern bassoon case, set to A4 = 440 and i never have to worry about re-calibrating.
  • Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music pretty self explanatory, the dictionary boiled down into app form. while i’m waiting for a much more comprehensive dictionary (i’m looking at you Grove! you got my email!) this is definitely worth it. i, myself, have the Oxford in book form and pretty much rely on that but i have played on this app and it’s easy, well designed and has all of the terminology any student might need.
  • Reverse Chord Finder a beautifully designed handy little chord dictionary that allows you to play the chords on the piano and then gives you a list of chord names with inversions, etc
  • Composer of the Day a cute little app put together by the folks at Wittenberg University with, you guessed it, info on composers each day! it includes audio samples, a short little bio and not as well known composers.
  • Ghostly Discovery and now for something completely different. i found Ghostly in an App Store “music discovery” list and figured i’d try it out. i pretty much use it every day at this point. it creates a playlist based on variables that you enter (laid back, agressive, etc. then followed by tempo) from their catalogue. so no, it’s not all of the music in the world, but the music on their label is diverse, interesting and now takes up a big chunk of my recently played playlist (as i bought three albums from them in the first week) find some new music, it’s good for you!

School/Organization
now these are a mix of music things and general things, stuff to help organize your life and make teaching lesson plans just a little bit easier.

  • Here, File, File! this app just hit the App Store and i am totally in love. HFF lets you view your computer’s files remotely from anywhere, not just on your local network. the interface is GORGEOUS (the best is your computer sits on a desk with your current wallpaper), it’s intuitive and allows you to look at (and play) all of your files. by favorite-ing them, you can go right to files and folders directly and the search is clean. let me give you an example of when i could have really used HFF: last fall in the Faustus class, RG asked me if i had a recording of Mahler 9 on my iPhone. i, of course, did not. but had i HFF, i would have connected to my iMac (also known as my giant repository of music) and we would have been set to listen to the last movement, and cry. a fabulous way of accessing all of your files and necessary if you have more than one computer. may need a little technical assistance setting up, depending on your router but totally doable. get it now while it’s 30% off at $6.99!
  • Dropbox the same can be said for Dropbox — i use Dropbox and HFF in completely different ways and for some people, all they may need is cloud storage. well i find Dropbox to be the best, especially when it comes to sharing files. during my intersession class, i created a Public folder with all of my videos, articles, etc that my class was able to access (since i did not have access to WebCT) and it was much easier than printing out everything.
  • iTranslate a universal translator that really translates! there is the free version and then iTranslate Pro, the difference between them being no ads, landscape mode and a favorite phrase list but both versions have text-to-speech add ons (which i don’t use but look good). i have used iTranslate for my German translation work and it has done quite well, having words that some of my dictionaries don’t have. if you don’t mind ads, just get the free version, they’re pretty unobtrusive. also, if you turn on the keyboard for the corresponding language (Settings –> International –> Keyboards), the iPhone will do Auto-Correct in that language (with corresponding diacriticals!)
  • Google/Inquisitor both really great search engines (Inquisitor is from Yahoo!), Google has a voice search option that works very well. both search engines search through all available engines and have very clean, useable interfaces.
  • 2Do this app has earned a permanent spot on my first page. a checklist app with more than checklists, i use this to organize all assignments for classes as well as my everyday tasks that need to be accomplished. it is full powered, again, with a beautiful interface and syncs with iCal (thankfully! i lost everything on my iPhone but the 2do backup was there & ready) while there is a free version that works if you have minimal task needs, i strongly recommend the full version that comes with unlimited groups/tabs and push notifications.
  • Things for those of you with more intense GTD needs, there’s nothing better than Things. i think the screencast explains it better than i ever could but i couldn’t live without it. granted both the iPhone app and desktop app are pricey ($10, $49.95 respectively) one could do with just the iPhone app if necessary. the integration between the apps and iCal, however, make it well worth having both.

other apps that i love include WorldCat, Pastebot, Simplenote, and Wikipanion. keeping everything on all of my computers synced and having access to everything keeps me prepared for, well, anything. could i get along without all of this? absolutely! i still rely on my handy Moleskine notebook. but if the technology is out there, why not take advantage of it? i mean, as spacey as i tend to be in conjunction with my intense OCD, i need it.

please list any apps that you think fit into these categories or that you just love!

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the end of intersession (and what i learned)

last week was my last week of teaching and it was filled with so many emotions and feelings that, honestly, i was a little terrified. i felt like throwing in the towel pretty much every day — i was starting my own classes as well, a balancing act i could not have prepared for no matter how hard i tried — and i was worried i was running out of ideas and steam.

it was odd that i would feel so helpless during this last week considering that week had the topics that interested me the most. they seemed to be the most enjoyable classes and who knew the thing that would get my class the most riled up was an argument over whether or not Disney’s Snow White was a strong female character?

i ended the last class early after a very live conversation about the state of Broadway today and expressed to them how grateful i was to have had this opportunity and to thank them for being so patient with me. they gave me a round of applause which was unexpected and sweet. on the way out, i talked to one of my students about NYC and musical theater. he seemed very grateful for the class and enthused. that kind of validated it for me, all the back-breaking, ass-kicking work. that night i came home to a flurry of emails from my students, not only with their final papers attached, but with well wishes for my (academic) future.

so the other day, my good friend (and very talented teacher) Gina called me and in our conversation, she asked what i had learned from this whole experience, which, to be honest, i had never really sat down and plotted out. so saying it out loud was as new to her as it was to me. i told her that i learned not to take things so personally: i know what it’s like to be a student in a three hour seminar and i am never really a ball of sunshine. it would be a mistake to not draw upon my experiences as a student and let them influence me as a teacher. also i realized that i needed to trust and be confident in my own knowledge and i think that’s a very difficult thing to do. i still worry about it. i’ll be teaching two new classes in MH4 this semester (one new for me and one new for the course) and even though it’s material i covered in my own class (Gershwin and Weill), i still worry that the words that will leave my mouth will not correspond with reality in any way, shape or form. but they will and they do. and no one wants to learn from an insecure teacher.

so i couldn’t be happier that intersession is over. the weight was massive and now that weight has to be transferred over to my own studies. but i am thankful and blessed, hopefully a littler smarter, a little wiser, a little more relaxed from this endeavor.

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my problem with Monsieur Berlioz

the great thing about being a graduate assistant is that it gives me the opportunity to really soak up all of the questions posed in a seminar without the burden and trappings of work and assignments. (and the money.)

i am here, presently, listening to an analysis of Jacques Barzun’s Berlioz (The Cambridge Companion to Berlioz, Berlioz as man and thinker), and wonder if i as a 21st century musician/musicologist can reconcile myself with Berlioz’s 19th century ideas about music and aesthetics. now, maybe, it would be naïve of me to try to do this, or some kind of logician’s folly but i think it’s worth investigating.

the post-Romantic world is an ugly one, full of doubt and mistrust, of music especially. no longer is there a belief that music (and the arts) can stand alone in this world and above the fray. Berlioz, even in the time of political revolution and upheaval, believed that no matter what one’s beliefs may be that a) they should not in any way contribute to one’s artistic agenda and b) that music rises above all terrestrial burdens. is this the Romantic aesthetic taking hold? was Berlioz alone in this?

from reading his memoirs, it seems that this sort of belief in the fortitude of music was pre-natal. but it would not be fair to exclude the influence of theories of the day. even though Berlioz and Wagner were complete opposites in regards to musical aesthetics, it is the world in which they lived that allowed such disparate yet connected views on the role of the arts in society.

from where i stand, Berlioz is the one who seems naïve. how dare he not be prescient enough to forsee the calamity awaiting in the coming century! in this i realize my own folly, expecting too much of the man. but i believe it was foolish to not see the dangers that lay hidden within such a dogma. and here’s where insight into Berlioz as man comes into play. Berlioz was a man stranded on the line between fiction and reality. From this place, it’s hard to see the dangers of artistic ecstasy. But it is possible that this is where music has remained from creation, somewhere between the grim nature of reality, where it can be manipulated, and fiction, where the greatest of possibilities lay dormant.

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Der Fall Englisch (The Case of English)

the english language is a curse.

at least in my line of work. but this isn’t about the need to be multilinugal for scholarship’s sake. this is grounded a little more in reality (and practicality). when i became a graduate assistant, my first class was graduate history review. it was exactly like it sounds: if you did not score well enough on your master’s history entrance exam, you were placed in this class before you were allowed to take any musicology seminars. my class was moderately sized, about 35 people, and the majority of them were non-english speakers. well teaching worked pretty well and so did answering their questions. then one day, one of my students wanted to do a one on one midterm review session. “great!”, i thought. the opportunity to really help someone. but as soon as we sat down, i realized this would be a challenge. yes, the student did not have the greatest grasp on english but that wasn’t the main problem. the problem was with me. i had to explain pythagoras, music of the spheres, and the Latin Mass. i realized this was all way out of my purview. how do i break it down? how do i make it accessible? at that point i had no idea and i felt like a failure. i felt like i had let someone down who came to me for help.

fast forward a year. a few days ago, one of my students sent me her discussion posting to look over and give comments. she’s been doing this for a while now with marked success. i’ve tried to make my comments reflect her content and not her writing ability because i’ve never felt like that’s been my place. as long as she understands the concepts, right? well not only was this recent discussion posting been riddled with grammatical mistakes but content mistakes as well. i got a little frustrated, moved past it and responded to her email. was i helping her? or was i, again, at a loss in how to do so?

in my community involvement class, this discussion arose; what happens when a large part of your community doesn’t communicate in quite the same way? as much as we’d like to believe, music is not a universal language, especially where history is concerned. how do we, as teachers, communicate the more complex (and less musical) ideas?

this is not a referendum on english in america, in conservatories or anywhere else. my main concern is reaching everyone as best as possible. that may not be possible. sometimes, you have students who are just not all there (no matter what language they speak), sometimes, you have students who try their best and still fail. maybe this falls into one of those subcategories that has to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

or maybe this bothers me too much, who knows.

all i know is, i’ve yet to find an answer that satisfies, well, anything. and maybe that’s another part of my journey that i will come to understand more in time.

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it’s ralph vaughan williams!

my thesis advisor (to whom i happen to also be graduate assistant) said the novelty of grading has worn off on him. shortly following was this conversation:

me: i think i will always love grading.
RG: i think that’s the judgmental streak in you, imani.
me: possibly.

well i have been put to the test (no pun intended) this weekend with the task of grading midterms. all 66 of them. and as i finish them (i took some time out from grading to write this post — i needed it) i have come to realize that, yes, i will ALWAYS love grading. some of the answers on these test brought a tear to my eye, in a hilarious way mind you. these students are, for lack of a better word, creative. and seeing a glimpse of the inside of their minds is a psychological excursion i want to take over and over and over…

and now i present to you:
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM GRADING (the midterm edition)

  • Mallarmé and Debussy were partners in crime. No, literally, crime.
  • Vaughan Williams, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky all sound exactly alike.
  • “common intervallic source” is when melodies and harmonies have a common intervallic source.
  • just because something is sung in French doesn’t mean it can’t be Spanish!
  • Ballet Russes is an opera company. True story!

now don’t get me wrong, my kids did a great job overall and i’m very proud of them but honestly, when you wake up at 2pm, hungover and covered with blue body paint, everything’s going to be funny. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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