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This story begins with a conversation on Twitter:

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Bring my A game?? A challenge???


The gauntlet has been cast5937288293_a50fca3d01_z

Photo CC licensed:

Jonathan, I accept the challenge to bring my ‘A’ game and I raise you to an A# game. (yes, that’s a sharp and not a hashtag) I present #MusicFood – or is it #MusicPhood? In our session today my students and I are planning to digest our notes.

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Music feeds the soul, and a bit of high grade cocoa powder helps too.

So, to the pholks at #phonar with your #phonarphood, I hope you haven’t seen the last of us…. we’ll be Bach. …and maybe one day you can join us!

Where’s your edge?

Photo CC licensed here: (3 min read)

Last night’s #ccourses webinar had some really inspiring moments, and several people picked up on Howard Rheingold saying “if you’re not falling off it, you’re really not exploring the edge.” (the full quote is below, and timestamps are from within the webinar for reference)

This really resonated with me. I believe it is very important to continually learn and to share this with my students and anyone I connect with. Sharing is new, new is daunting, daunting can be exposing if we are not sure how to recover from a stumble.

Gardner Campbell hit it spot on when he described students’ faux understanding of learning in the context of term papers of days gone saying:

“Imitating a spurious authority that they didn’t really believe people had…” (51:43) 

Oh my goodness, this is exactly why we need to allow students to see us on that edge, and yes, falling off the edge sometimes too. We need to show them that we learn, and how we do it.

Kim Jaxon raised a good point though about how “It doesn’t all have to be shared.” and there are limits. Laura Hilliger went on to explain that she keeps personal aspects of life separate, and that’s ok. Nobody would suggest that a window into learning, showing yourself walking that tightrope, should include everything. 

My question to all of us is where is your professional learning edge?

When something is new, we make a judgement about our capabilities, and this informs the course of action we choose, perseverance, the way we react in difficulty or failure – everything. This self-efficacy belief is important, and for our learners, they need to develop self-efficacy for the things they do – whether learning or performing. There have been various comments throughout these first few weeks of connected courses about learning how to … learn, trust, be, blog, … and yes, there are many learning how to aspects of what we do, and it is important to have models, and experience. Experience is the most informative teacher, but without the skill and belief – someone could easily dive headlong and end up doing a proverbial belly-flop, whereas if they see someone else (us perhaps?) teeter on the edge and sometimes wobbling, sometimes aceing it, sometimes falling a bit. As Harold said:

“I just want to reinforce that I am happy when I fail technically in front of my students, It gives me an opportunity to, first, say IF YOU’RE NOT FALLING OFF IT, YOU’RE REALLY NOT EXPLORING THE EDGE, and also to model what you do when you fail, which it – you try stuff – and I’d 95% of the time I can figure out what went wrong and how to fix it while they’re watching.” (32:13) 

This is learning how to learn for us, and teaching how to learn for our students.

What about connecting it up? I turn to Howard again:

“If you’re a bright person, a self-motivated person, and you don’t have access to great schools, or maybe don’t have access to schools at all, but you have access to the web- then you have access to great lectures, and access to other learners and to engage in an essentially social activity that learning has become” (48:00)

So how are you doing it? It could be small things or big things…

In the past I have put myself out there, in the student’s shoes in different ways – some private and some public. The most public was when I played a concerto a few years ago with the orchestra and having the students and the audience assess me just as the students are in their final performances… same assessment forms, same marking scheme. That was fun, but scary! and they were honest and it was a way in to assessment and the process for many of them.

The edge I am on now involves taking a singing exam at the end of the term. That may not sound scary, especially for a musician, but there are two reasons it is a big edge for me. 1. I had that dreaded experience where people told me ‘you can’t sing’ when I was a teenager. and 2. It isn’t just a singing exam, it is pop music. So this classically trained cellist is singing Joni Mitchell, Debbie Harry, and Mandy Moore, and the first reaction of people when I told them was to laugh. (!) I will be singing for my students as a stepping stone, and I it makes me nervous even to think of it, my edge. -but I love the challenge.

As for why we don’t share, I talked about that in my post yesterday for my own course MUS654 (scroll to the baby photo). It is important for me to show my students that they can explore what they like, that I will respect it, and that I will help them to learn as best as I can.

“It is important to impart the skill and thirst for learning. …they need to be equipped to learn on their own.” -Howard


Photo CC licensed here:

Halfway through MUS654: Are you finding your way?

Five weeks in… already?! So how is it going? Are you finding your way? What are you getting from MUS654?

My university students are drawing together a curriculum for a year’s musical tuition for a someone – the age, the level, the instrument is all up to them. You may be doing that too, or perhaps just following along and reading bits to stretch your musical brain.

(photo CC Licensed:

Someone asked me this week what did I want to accomplish with all of this?? and I said that I hope to give people the keys to think differently, to think about the things that they do or might be doing. Take a parallel, an analogy- when I came to London I didn’t like it.  As a post-graduate student coming from a different country, although London has a way, I couldn’t quite apprehend it – spatially, socially, or culturally – at least not in the space of those first 10 months I spent there. My experience involved carrying a cello an hour and a bit across London to and from music college where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t understand the routines or the ways it all worked.  I needed a key to somehow unlock the maze that I was busy running around in.

MUS654 is not an answer booklet, it’s no A-Z of teaching, but it is a catalyst, a tool to help you find or even custom-cut your own keys.  once you have the keys, you can have more freedom to go where you like. Think of the topics in the sessions as different houses, and we get to glimpse into some of the rooms – certainly not all of them – but a glimpse can give some insight into a topic or way of thinking, and you can take it from there. So far we’ve taken a tour of a neighbourhood of topics, and from here on out we are going to look at how to connect it up with both specific issues, and with links that bring the topics together.

Have you done a few tasks? Shared any thoughts or ideas? Commented on someone else’s tasks? Let’s hope so!


Timid? Quiet? Ah, perhaps that’s something deeply learned…  What are some of the first demands placed on a baby? What do the parents say? — Hush, don’t cry. DON’T CRY. HUSH. — as a mother of three, my heart sank a little bit. Yes, I did it too.

So could it make a little sense that children, that people, that we are reluctant to share things?Hopefully not. Please have a voice! As intellectually curious learners lets be keen to promote a culture of learning.

(Photo CC licensed:

 As you will know, we learn by doing, and so I hope that you are able to do some of the bits of MUS654 and sharing your creations and insights. Have a voice, as we make the learning community!

Here’s to the upcoming weeks,

(Session 6 is out on Thursday)



Writing with greats and randomness: reflections on the #dailyconnect

I loved the Daily Connect suggested by @dogtrax where we were invited to write something and various long-established writers would also contribute. It took me back to childhood days of playing on our Texas Instruments computer with a programme called Eliza. As far as I was concerned it was a great game where you had to outthink the questions and predicted direction of the auto-generation programme that worked hard to get the person at the end of the keyboard to avoid closed answers to questions. My goal was always to stump Eliza, and it was fun. There is a version of Eliza here that you can play with.

The daily connects are also fun. That’s what makes connection so great- I am not coming at it with a plan or an agenda – but just with an explore and to genuinely see what it is like to experience something of another person’s idea or something from their discipline or even from their teaching.

That random generator… apparently it uses something called Markov Chains and it has been used in more complex ways with surprising results. There are programmixn5es that compose randomly generated comments that we all see as spam on blogs (and our students get excited at the first one that almost makes sense, thinking it might be a real comment), but then there is also the random essay generator. Actually there are lots of these sites – I like the Postmodern Essay Generator. I just got this gem:

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What I love about these generators, is that people believe them! They have not only successfully generated whole essays, but this one from MIT’s SCIGen was accepted, yes actually accepted, as a conference paper. (the full paper is available here)

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As a doctor friend of mine likes to say – the mind boggles. (and I giggle)

I love codes, Easter eggs, and hidden things and meanings in general, but it can be a great tool when actually there is no meaning in it – randomness. I use the example to debunk the fears, assumptions, and expectations that my undergraduates have toward essay writing. Fancy words put next to one another don’t necessarily equal meaning. Sometimes fancy words are called for, but there is a time for simplicity too.


MUS654 Connecting the dots: Session 4

Session 4 is up and this week’s tasks are about connecting the dots. We hear perspectives from three different violinists (from L.A., Hawaii, and the UK) about how they connect their learning talking from Twinkle Twinkle to Paganini.

Listen, explore, experiment…



All the sessions are under the MUS654 tab:

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…or you could go straight to Session 4 with this link

Time for me to practice, teach, and talk to others.

Hope to meet you along the way!

Have a great day-


An appreciative word: Thank you.

This is a story of a connection that spans time, continents, and generations.

It started with a glance at my ‘others’ message box on facebook. You know, if you aren’t friends with someone (and yes, my security settings are that way inclined) then if they message you it stays hidden in this ‘other’ box without notification unless you happen to look. There was a very cryptic message in there. I am well versed in the issues raised by @jonathan_worth in this week’s #ccourses topic of Trust, and a message that seemed personal, but was from someone I didn’t know should ring alarm bells. But this was intriguing, because it had information in it that I hadn’t mentioned or even thought about in at least 20 years. It said:

I came across a copy of “Hope for the Flowers” with your autograph and was wondering if you remembered the book.

The comment was so specific that it had to be written by either someone who knew me, or someone who was extremely curious and picked up the book at a garage sale. At this point I wasn’t sure.

Screen shot 2014-09-30 at 08.26.49What is the book? It is a story of a pair of caterpillars who are basically running in the rat race of life, and they end up climbing on the hog-pile (caterpillar-pile) to get higher into the sky… and this involves stepping on others, losing any sense of vision, camaraderie, and openness to learning and becoming. In the end one of the caterpillars decides that he’s had enough and goes off. I don’t really remember the details, but I am sure it wasn’t easy to leave the pile and the routine, and it did involve courage and even loneliness, but then (you guessed it) he turns into a beautiful butterfly and is able to soar – and see above that rat race and actually be free.

So what the heck was my name doing in the book??? It was something my family used to give all of my teachers as presents – you know instead of a box of chocolates – and I would sometimes write something in the cover.


I was curiouser and curiouser. WHO WAS THIS??

I replied with something truthful, yet tentative:

…of course I do. glad it made it into someone else’s hands. That would have been from about 1983. We used to give it to my school teachers as presents…

It turns out I did write something and I was neither expecting nor ready for what came next:

Well I wanted you to know I have kept it all these years. I have shared the story with many others including my own kids. It meant a lot to me when I first received it. Still does. Trust all is well by you. I suspect you are still inspiring those lucky enough to know you.

…FYI, I kept the book because of the kind words you wrote. As perhaps the first written words of appreciation it has made an impression on me. Among other things, you taught me the value of showing appreciation. I contacted you to extend a belated thank you.


Yes I was sitting down. Yes I had tears on my face. No I am not good at receiving praise, and am guilty of preparing myself for people’s comments – armoured for criticism. This time I was completely unguarded, and it humbled me beyond words.

With more written exchange, I found out that this was from one of the people who came in to school to help with a club, and of course I remembered who it was. This particular teacher (yes, even though he didn’t run a class, he was my teacher) made an impact on me – coming to school to work with the individuals in the speech team, and in my case it was reading poetry. As a visitor to the school, he came without the judgements associated with how I did in other classes, or what friends circles I did or did not have, and he treated me as a valid person with my own potential. He wasn’t gregarious, and he didn’t lavish compliments, but acknowledged and encouraged. For me that was so liberating.

I remember writing in that book back in 1990. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I remember that I meant it – and wanted to really convey something, as much as an awkward teenager can, of what it meant to be allowed to be me.

So why am I sharing this soppy sentimental story?

I have been a part of Connected Courses over the past month and have started to meet people involved in different aspects of education across the world, and we are being encouraged to build networks, and part of that is commenting. There has been encouragement from facilitators to get talking to each other, and I see the same encouragement mirrored within courses like ds106 and #phonar where there are healthy communities of conversation and connection.

For many people this is daunting in practice – for example sometimes I feel that I don’t have the expertise to comment on these well established, flash-bang people’s writing – that it might show me as thick, or inexperienced… or I just wonder if I have anything of value to say.

The truth is we don’t know the impact of our comments, now or in the future. I certainly would not have thought that my comments could possibly have meaning for my teacher, but they did.

…As perhaps the first written words of appreciation it has made an impression on me. Among other things, you taught me the value of showing appreciation…

So to that teacher- you taught me to glimpse myself, to not hide, and to be free to speak. Who would have thought that of the many teachers, the one who helped at the after school club would have an impact so great. In my life speaking to people through teaching is a large part of what I do, and few people are actually trained in how to do this. I am very thankful that you were and are my teacher.

and for old times sake… I recorded one of the poems you helped me learn.

The Box, by Kendrew Lascelles

I still have them all.



The fish lady and the free lunch

No such thing as a free lunch?

(1-2 min read) Nope, they definitely got that one wrong. This is my story of the fantastic random act of kindness the fish lady bestowed on me yesterday…

On Friday at the university where I work there was a sort of food fair, and besides all the free packs of crisps, popcorn, and energy drinks, there were a few curious stalls. One was a complete cornucopia of veg and the other was a whole chiller display of fresh fish. I mean a proper chiller thing, like you get at a grocery store.

I did get some of the freebies to take home to my kids, and spoke to the stall holders who said they had been all round the country doing this for the past week and they loved putting a smile on people’s faces when they realised that they could just *have* something. So what was up with the fish lady?? She said that many uni students didn’t really know what real fish looked like. Of course they ate fish and chips, but could they recognise a whole cod? (actually that was one of the fish I did not know) It was a great idea. She had oysters, sea bass, Dover sole, plaice, cod, sardines, and at least six others, and then my eye fell on the salmon. It stretched across two bits of this chiller thing. I commented on how really nice all the fish looked, and she told me that it was a shame it had to go after the display – as the electrics weren’t working and she had the fish on ice…. so was going to offer them to the uni chef, but wasn’t completely sure if they would/could be used, and in reply, I offered to re-home the salmon… thinking this was a jolly sort of comment, and


IMG_1968I think I looked at her with the disbelief of a thousand disbelieving disbelievers, and that disbelief changed to amazement. I don’t think I have ever had a more fun time cycling home, that on Friday with a giant salmon, wrapped in paper and whatever plastic bags I could find, flapping half out of my bike panniers. And today we cooked it – and had to cut it in two just to fit in in the oven, and after lunch with our family and the grandparents, there is still 5.4 lbs of untouched salmon left. That was one giant fish! So not only did we have a free lunch, but we will also have a free supper, another lunch, and plenty of fishcakes in the freezer.

There is a lot of kindness out there, and I sincerely hope that chef was able to cook the rest of the fish for the uni students, because our salmon was gorgeous.

So to that kind lady I said with great sincerity and a huge smile- so long, and thanks for all the fish.



Connecting, allowing, and learning

Over the past month I have had the privilege of going to both the University East Anglia and the University of the West of England to speak and give people the experience of learning through doing something new – playing music. The f2f interaction and the tactile experience is magic. I love it and would go anywhere to share this with people, as the smiles and laughter that follow the initial reactions of ‘I can’t do that’ ‘I’ve never done that’ ‘I don’t do that’ make it all worth while.Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 10.33.04

It still amazes me how people say these things and effectively, not purposefully, qualify themselves as failures before they have begun, and this is not just in music but in anything that is new or perceived as daunting. In learning, having a fixed conception of ability is so limiting, (see the difference between ‘ability’ and ‘capability’ by Frank Pajares here) and if our students thought in this limiting way then what a battle we would have! We must not allow that unbounded sense of growth and achievement that allows a young child to really believe they can do anything – touch the moon and change the world- to disappear completely. I am not advocating that we all become completely unrealistic, but as Tali Sharot says in her TED talk on optimism,

“to make any kind of progress we need to be able to imagine a different reality, and then we need to believe that reality is possible.”

I work to keep that tethered to the ground, but I like to fly like a helium balloon with my dreams.

Music is my way in to share that feeling of you can in a way that people can accept it, where are neither expecting it nor resisting it. With so many new (and even developing) pursuits there are barriers, both external and that we place for ourselves. Sometimes these are in reaction to assumed societal norms, social groups, or even just a sense of self-doubt. I find that being given permission is liberating and sometimes that is all people need to take that first step. That permission can come in various forms, whether a comment on a blog, a telephone call, or a reassuring glance from someone you trust and believe in. I am certainly not immune. Even in typing this, it has taken me several revisions and thoughts of doubt kicking around before I dared to press ‘publish’.

…back to the story….

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 10.22.51When I visit people and bring my car or van-load of instruments, I tell them at the start – this is not about the music. (I am not sure if at that point they realise what it is about, but that is for another time) It is not until afterwards that they realise they have accomplished things – both musical and extra-musical, and I love that. Permission to experience, permission to do, permission to learn, and permission to be. They don’t even notice that they are problem solving and making all sorts of mistakes – in public, and without fear – because, like I said, it’s not about the music.

Recently there have been a few posts in unconnected places about failure and how that leads to learning, on Flickr by Sheri Edwards and on a blog by a former schoolmate of mine Lisa Chu who went full circle from classical musician, to Harvard graduate, to MD, to partner in a venture-capitolist firm, to improvising/art-making/people-connecting coach. Again, we don’t all want to go out there and fail, but it takes a lot of falling down before a baby walks, and I hope that my not-about-music sessions show people that they don’t need to get in their own way and that they are allowed, certainly in my learning environments- to fall down, and I will be there to pick them up.

What’s the down side? I don’t really know. I guess it’s the traffic in getting from A to B, and I really wish I had a transporter to avoid that. Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 10.22.38

Session 2 is here: #MUS654

1 min read

Just up!

What makes a melody? 

It’s week two of MUS654 in Chichester (England), and the second session is here! … well on the link above (or via the dropdown menu), and it starts like this:

Pitch is everywhere…

How are pitch and melody related?


Last week you we explored the experience of sound, soundscapes, analysing and describing it. Was that also about music? The sounds around us everyday can have musical qualities, but are they actually music? What about, for example, birdsong…

The session goes on to be practical, and comes with various tasks intended to inform and amuse. I am so pleased that jazz violinist Duane Padilla, in Hawaii, made a tutorial for this week. (more from Duane later in the course) and it is fantastic that a couple of my students have started to post on -

Most musicians are pretty new to both the idea of doing the technology stuff by themselves and of sharing different aspects of learning and music making before there is some ‘final’ edited product.

I admit to doing a little happy dance and speaking in ALL CAPS for a little when I saw those first posts. MUS654 is all about learning and I’ll be doing it too. …can’t be a cook if you won’t eat your own food.

So hop on and join us!