Tag Archives: teaching

like it or not

“what is art today? […] the decent impotence of those who scorn to cloak the general sickness under colour of a dignified mummery.”

all art and patrons of art, throughout history, have faced an ongoing challenge: why do we like what we like? more importantly, whose opinion really matters? does my “like” trump your “like”? and, of course, do we like things because they are good?

what is good?

as someone who does a fair amount of study & reading on the philosophies and aesthetics of music, i come across this fairly often. i got hit with the reality, very bluntly, of what happens when you start asking these questions at a later age. there is no turning back once you realize that your concept of music, what it is and what it does, can be challenged. it can shake your entire foundation. this was tested last week in one of my classes. we devoted a whole class to postmodern aesthetics of music (with a little dash of Adorno) and i found myself in the position of preaching to the deaf. i could cite Pluto, Adorno, Derrida, and Lyotard till the cows came home but they were not having it. words like “good”, “undefinable”, and “beautiful” keep appearing and i kept cringing.

and what saddens me the most about all of this is that it’s not the fault of my peers. they’ve been indoctrinated and they don’t even know it. many of us come out of our musical academic experience thinking the only composers who have ever mattered are Bach, Mozart, (maybe) Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner and Mahler. god help you if you don’t like those composers because you are obviously not a real classical musician. how have we let it get to this point? this is canon formation in overdrive. are you really gonna like Beethoven because someone told you to and pointed out in all of his works what a genius he was? why wouldn’t you?

i had this experience with Bach. Bach was in my life from a very early age for, you see, he and i have the same birthday. not only that, but i was born 299 years to the day after the Master himself. (yes, if you can do math, i have just dated myself. whatever…) growing up, my favorite classical radio station would play nothing but Bach all day on my birthday and it drove me crazy! this led to a most likely irrational hatred of Bach and his music. but how could anyone hate Bach? did i not understand his genius? well, after years of rejecting common thought, i decided to really check Bach out on my own. and, amazingly, i had a moment. i liked Bach. from that moment on Bach and i have had an increasingly personal relationship. Bach became important to me because i found something relevant, relatable. Does common academic study tend to bolster those feelings? possibly, which, of course, i hate. but i never let myself take any composer at face value — if someone is going to tell me that someone is “great”, i need to know why.

as we all know, schools are intent on teaching the Austro-German Classical/Romantic legacy. it’s just easier. but in doing so, we produce a generation of musicians who are content with not taking risks, whether in programming or education, and it has real effects. in the Northeast, where i was educated, the “orchestra” was the only relevant and important music-making body. the wind band genre, which i grew up with was “less than”, “undesirable”, and not real art music. says who? says those who were educated within this system.

this reeks of bad things to come and i feel it’s my duty to curb it as much as possible. i will admit, i get a little overzealous (i know many people who are German Romanticists and it’s just my general feeling to loathe them, which is not fair — there’s just so damn many of them!) but i believe what i’ve subscribed myself to. don’t like Mozart? fine. but if you’re going to rebel against the institutionalized canon, be educated about it. and stay away from “good”, “better”, “best”. that trap is lethal — unless you’re Plato.

i saw this again on a much smaller scale (and i mean MUCH smaller) with the release of Christina Aguilera’s new video, “Not Myself Tonight” — there’s a lot of vitriol out there about what’s “good” and what”s not and i found myself asking the above questions in regards to this…and feeling badly that the same sort of institutionalized aesthetics happens on every level, from pop music to art music and everywhere else. i think part of the reason why it can be more inflammatory in music as opposed to other arts is because of the very deep connections we make with artists and their work. i’ll be the first person to admit it — to me, Bach’s Goldberg Variations feels like a warm breeze blowing through my hair and sounds like the silence of unconquered lands. and if you come up to me and tell me that Bach is shit, i’ll punch you in the mouth. but then i have to take a step back and analyze all of those feelings.

i’m not saying that we can’t like music just because and place value judgements because, let’s face it, that’s impossible. but if you haven’t before, take a look at why you like the things you do and think the way you do about certain musics. is it because of your own personal decisions or because you haven’t heard otherwise?

side notes: 1) i’ve decided to get my Britten tattoo & a new Bach tattoo to complement it on my right arm. i’m totally swagga jacking the lovely Ms. Lindsey Falbo, but let’s face it, Bach was a fucking baller who designed his own family crest. you can find the Britten here: http://drp.ly/V9Ifu (which i designed myself) and the Bach here: http://drp.ly/V9K1 (however the Bach will not be filled in but only outlines that i will design)
2) i’m sorry Christina, and i mean no disrespect but go away, again, figure out the artist you want to be, and then come back. when you do that, i will be happy. don’t pander to the lowest denominator with this video/song…you don’t need to be Madonna or Gaga, trust me.

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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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oh, the places you’ll go! [AKA my torrid love affair with Apple]

somehow, during my 12 hour day chock full of classes, rehearsals, ceiling repair, and three, count ’em, three different bassoons, i wedged the Apple live event into my schedule. granted, i could only follow the liveblogs for about 15 minutes but that was just enough time to learn about Apple’s new creation, the iPad. all jokes aside about the name, i was initially impressed and excited to hear more.

well here i am at work, hearing more. no multitasking or face front camera? problems. i can live without flash, blah blah blah HTML5, you get the gist. so like many, i’m a little underwhelmed but, with the help of my twitter friends, i realized the possibilities.


dear apple,
you have no idea how many musicians/music students would buy this if it could do the following things. now granted, part of this is up to the developers (thanks for releasing the SDK) but you can help:

1) put textbooks in iBookstore! i’m about 100% positive that NONE of the texts that i’ve used in my 8+ years of college/grad school are available in iTunes U and if there were they wouldn’t be so geared towards individual fields of study. and when i say textbooks what i really mean is…

2) SCORES! what i would give to have a device like the iPad and be able to see my library of scores, to be able to carry it with me. now yes, i will always buy physical scores and mark them up (the same way with books, textbooks and parts) but to be able to catalog my entire library, play parts on the road without having to cart around my entire library…the list goes on. i would spend a ridiculous amount of money to buy scores in digitized form to use on this device.

3) pen input: one of my former professors at Appalachian State is working on a music theory program that integrates tablet use which allows professors to track not only how their students are working in real time but see their thought process in regards to analysis. well…you can’t do this without pen input. if there were some way to have a program with staff paper that you could write on, do theory & ear training exercises on, a way to write out Schenker graphs and of course save them…i think schools would invest in them wholeheartedly, along with individual students.

of course a lot of other things come with that like connection to printers via USB, etc but i believe you can do it, Apple.


i have sunk a lot of money into Apple: a Powerbook G4, MacBook, iMac, three iPods (2nd gen, Shuffle and Touch) and 2 iPhones. this is the least you can do for me…i’ll wait.

(and i’ll fangirl for life, i promise.)

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intersession days two & three [AKA laugh at my jokes!]

i think the most insightful things i could learn from this class are really about me and my capacity to make this my future. with each passing class, i become a little more relaxed and i try not to carry my stored anxiety about imparting knowledge. it’s difficult but getting better.

i felt bad for my students on wednesday because we spent the first half of the class talking about Wagner and his impact on drama. not what they were expecting, but they seemed to latch on to the complex ideas of integration theory and the Aristotelian orders of time. it’s funny because i have to keep reminding myself to “un-complicate” things — there is no reason why any of these students should be concerned with Neue Sachlichkeit — and try to let them know that while i know they are intelligent enough to understand these concepts when explained, all they need to do is be familiar with them. then i usually make some wisecrack about German being a debbie downer and we all relax.

the discussion on minstrelsy was probably the most frank we’ve had with the most participants while still being a little hesitant. but the comments that got to me the most were those about seeing artists with whom they were familiar (Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, et al.) under this new guise of blackface and how shocking it was to them. as someone who’s grown up with these films, that’s a reaction that is new to me and it was really nice to talk about it.

i think teachers dread their first monday and first fridays. as a student, i understand what those days are like (the word is awful) and today was no exception. i had a bunch of absences, of which i was aware, but those who came looked like they had been hit with mack trucks. i’m so glad i started with Gershwin — something about recounting the plots of Strike Up The Band and Let ‘Em Eat Cake out loud that always leads to hilarity. and then came the break. during the break, i asked if they were enjoying the class and apologized for beating them over the heads with a LOT of terminology. this led to a really spirited discussion about experiences in the theatre, what we like and don’t like and everyone laughed and shared. i was really surprised — it gave me the opportunity to get a little more personal. they enjoyed my Der Freischütz wolf call story and i didn’t know people could get so caught up in Beauty and the Beast the musical. the second half of class which started with Brecht was surprisingly rowdy, though i loathed having to talk about & describe things like non-Aristotelian drama and Gestus. turns out, many of them were familiar with Weill, partially because actor and Writing Seminars faculty member John Astin apparently talks about Die Dreigroschenoper almost every day.

(and yes, i mean that John Astin.)

in any case, the class enjoyed listening to a little Lotte Lenya and watching clips from the LA Opera’s 2008 production of Mahagonny, more than i could have expected. i didn’t finish my lecture, got started with Blitzstein but let them loose to finish it on monday and i was incredibly pleased.

i have to remind myself of what it feels like to be in their shoes, i mean, i should know. it’s just as hard to be a student sometimes and i don’t want to ask too much of them. as long as they get one thing out of this, then i’ve succeeded. unless that one thing is about Wagner because then, well, i’ve pretty much failed.

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intersession: day one [AKA wits, skits & tits]

this was it. today was the first day of my intersession class, The History of the Musical and my anxiety about teaching was amplified by my returning home to baltimore sunday night only to find that the water in my bathroom pipes had frozen solid. luckily, that issue had a very straightforward solution but it raised my heart rate. i got to my classroom early to get all of the A/V stuff together (it worked but my projector’s color scheme is off and everything is purple?) and survey the landscape. one by one, students came in, unsure of what they were walking into…

the class maxed out at 21 people, a great number. i did my introduction and had everyone go around and say their names, their major and why they wanted to take the class. i got some surprising answers. many had theatre/dance backgrounds, many knew nothing about musicals and the class interested them and many just like to watch musicals. i didn’t know people still did that in this day and age. after the intros, i told everyone to stand up and push all of the chairs to the side. that can only mean one thing…THEATER GAME. thanks to the sound advice of my colleagues, i picked machine to do on the first day. i put everyone in groups of four (myself included) and each group had to form a machine with their bodies, sounds and all while the other groups guessed. they seemed rather into and came up with some great ideas. when i proposed the idea of doing one every class, they responded with a resounding yes. i think it was this that broke the ice for me.

after that, class was standard fare. i think my lesson plan was cohesive, they asked a few questions and responded to the few questions i had for them. i feel the first class will always have hangups as they have no material assigned beforehand so i didn’t let it bother me that i was doing most of the the talking. i felt bad that i was assigning Wagner’s “Art and Revolution” to read for the next class (and told them so) but you know, such is academia.

i’m not sure why this post is as colloquial as it is, possibly because it’s 12:43 in the morning or because the only way i can relate this story, at the moment, is from a place of pure giddiness. over the course of the next three weeks, i hope to learn a lot about myself as a teacher and as a student. maybe the next few classes will be a little more revelatory.

wednesday’s class is “Wagnerian form and the Early Musical” and “The Continuation and Effects of Minstrelsy” about which i am very excited. that might be the first time in my musicological career where “excited” and “Wagner” appear in the same sentence.

and because i fouled up and didn’t show my dance clip of the day in class, here it is for all of you..a little Fred and Ginger, the best way to start a semester.

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i’m gonna teach you but good! [courtesy of Scrubs]

first off, merry christmas, etc etc. it’s a little hard for me to write that as this is the first christmas eve that i haven’t spent at my parents’ house, doing my usual christmas eve ritual which includes decorating our tree at night while listening to Ravel’s Bolero on LP. i’m still struggling to deal with it (sniff sniff)…

since my winter break has been curtailed by, well, winter, i’ve been in my house writing lesson plans for my upcoming intersession class and watching hulu. with most of my favorite shows on hiatus, i’ve been trolling around for something to keep my attention. this brought me to the new season of Scrubs [med school] on ABC. i had always liked scrubs before so i figured why not. little did i know that i was going to learn a lesson from the television.

it’s hard to envision what kind of teacher you’ll be. i’d like to think i’m a cool musicologist who imparts only the most awesome historical information. well in the classes i have taught, i’ve gotten a few laughs and dropped a little knowledge. i’ve taught classes before but not on this magnitude. three hours is a test for anyone. so what kind of teacher will i be (besides, hopefully a good one)?

i’ve always considered myself a tyrant. and i say that in the nicest way possible. i’m a tough grader and don’t really allow for craziness but only because something in me wants the students to know that they can give more, not to settle. maybe that will relax over time but i don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting that. what i don’t want is to be a dr. dorian — too concerned with being liked and wanting to nurture. all teachers want that to some extent or they wouldn’t be teachers, but that kind of thing scares me.

you know what else scares me? not feeling prepared or knowledgeable. i feel like people can see right through that and what i am concerned with is having students leave with something new and positive. it seems to me that it’s a delicate balance between mentor and dictator that works best. and what really helps is if the one teaching really enjoys what they’re doing, which, under all of the terror, i do.

this is probably way too early for me to think about these things as i am in the most nascent, proto-stages of what i hope will be a long career. but you know, if you watch enough TV it can either make you think or…turn your brain to rot. /PSA.

i will actually take a vacation for christmas (maybe to new years) so with that, sing me off, jingle cats!

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