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Posts from the ‘Life & Learning’ Category

Twin Peaks …coming soon!

This is possibly my first really silly, completely non-academic, non-deep thinking post, but Twin Peaks is coming in just over a week, and I really like Twin Peaks. When I was clearing out big files on my computer and came across this recorded skype conversation from the end of last summer that I had with a friend of mine (we were working on another project and happened to chat randomly in the middle…). When I mentioned Twin Peaks, and he had never heard of it, well my disbelief was tangible. My daughter wanted to share it with a couple of people she wanted to introduce to Twin Peaks, so…

Here it is, posted with permission (thanks Pete!)

If you don’t know about Twin Peaks, there is just about enough time for you to watch it before the new series is aired.

The baby on the train

I travelled a lot by train during the past two days as I went from south to north of the country and back again. The six trains were fine, and besides being vehicles of transportation, they were vehicles for a window into humanity. I saw some beautiful people. Actually there were so many beautiful people and kind people, and people loving their special people that I was really struck and pleased to be part of this thing called humanity. It gave me hope in a time when, if allowed or directed in a certain way, there is so much noise and hatred being spewed into the public arena.

I am not advocating hiding one’s head and putting on the headphones to block out the big wide world, but I was reminded of phrases and images, and I’d like you to indulge me in a short story of the people opposite me on the first train.

Firstly, she was a beautiful baby. Full of sunshine and absolutely not demanding anything from anyone else, but sat next to her mother and softly sang. She was singing. My first thought was, oh, how I wish I was so comfortable and felt ‘allowed’ to just sing. They I thought, hey, why can’t people just sing? Society? Convention? Baggage of the past? I still must believe deep down that some of those walls are real. Letting go takes time. Back to the story:

This lovely child sang, and what did the parents do?

They smiled and they joined in. Both of the parents joined in. They sang little nursery rhyme songs and later they softly sang full songs and the baby joined in on long notes when she caught on to the structure of the song. It was absolutely joyful.

I smiled and said she was beautiful and how lucky she was to have a mummy and daddy who sang with her.

The freedom of learning to express with music and to be so supported. There is far deeper meaning and transference than just a baby singing. There is a message about learning, an instrumental or musical vocabulary, about confidence and motivation, and about community.

I am reminded of words and the images they invoke:

We the people

1000 lights

laughter spreads

sing out

We are not without voice, we are not without purpose, people are not without love for one another. For me, part of humanity is celebrating those we spend our time with along the way, in our everyday journeys.

By the third train I saw this sign:

and on the fourth train, when I noticed amazing people I told them so. On the fifth train were two beautiful women. I told them so. When they got off two stops later, they were smiling and laughing and they thanked me again and wished me well. None of the other passengers had spoken, except to check directions with whoever they were already with. On the sixth train I smiled at the baby across the way. He waved back. The man opposite sighed loudly and took two headache pills. The baby and I smiled. The baby gave everyone smiles even though few smiled back.

Be the one who takes the risk to smile back.

Turning the tables: exam time

Friday afternoon I walked into an exam room with my cello, with the other students, to play in front of the Head of Music and the Head of Chamber Music. What on earth did I agree to??! I wasn’t really having an assessment, but I had agreed to perform for a final year pianist as his soloist so that he could be assessed on accompanying. Do you know how long it has been since I have been in a formal performance assessment situation? -not a concert but an exam? The final recital for my MMus at the Royal College in London was in 1997. That’s before some of my undergraduates were even born! When’s the last time you took a test with your students? On the spot, in front of them? and were assessed by other faculty?

I did do a simulated assessment where I turned the tables at a concert in 2012. I was playing a concerto with the orchestra and I offered everyone in the audience the chance to assess me, using the same forms as we use for the students. That was scary, but… this was different. There was no other audience, and really I felt a different sort of pressure. It wasn’t like a normal recital. With a normal recital or concert planning would be in place months before, and certainly the week of the event, I would do everything I could to clear the schedule so I could concentrate and rest. As there have been so many other demands on my time, any preparation for this was really focused (that’s a polite word for squeezed) into a very small space of time. Isn’t that what it’s like to be a student though? Finals time is crunch time, even if you are well prepared. You are required to spin several plates at once, keep them in the air, and deliver well on all counts.

If you put it into perspective: What if a teacher was coming up to several deadlines that coincided, like submitting an article, revising a grant proposal, preparing for the normal lectures, and coordinating a visit from an external speaker from abroad. Ideally we would like to plan these things not to coincide, but when they do, it is crunch time and even when very prepared, there is still a sense of ‘this is it’ and the balance of tasks gets pushed around. That’s how I felt with this student. I was aware that his grade was at least partly dependent on my not messing up, and that meant I needed to prepare. Two days before the exam I was to be found practising at 12:30 in the morning. Sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day.

The assessment came and went and it was fine. I did ok, and my accompanist accompanied away. I felt safe, and that’s the point. I was still nervous and wishing I had an extra 20 hours to practise that solo part, but beside playing the part, the overall experience really taught me a lot.

  • Firstly we should all have to experience being on the other side of the assessment table, exposing our craft or knowledge, whether practical, presentation, or essay writing to our teaching peers, bosses, and students. The students should see us do this. I need to be as good as my word. I need to be able to do what I ask them to do.
  • Second, I have a huge respect for those who accompany regularly. I know it is different to being a soloist, but there is a great responsibility to support, be reliable, be prepared, and the amount of preparation and commitment from accompanying personnel is often completely unseen. People just see someone turn up and do the job. Hats off to you. It is a jolly important job and I’m grateful to those who have supported me.

And after that assessment I had the biggest headache – mostly from only eating cheese and crackers for the best part of 24 hours and not drinking nearly enough water, but also from the rush of relief at having done it- and they weren’t even assessing me! …oh the perils of crunch time. Balancing plates is tricky, and sometimes taking care of ourselves is one of the first things to go. So many good lessons. …and when I do it again, I’m going to think and plan differently – or at least drink water and sleep!

Hear our voices: Sing for unity

Last night was the event, a time to be heard and a time to sing and make music. It keeps me thinking there really is no time like now.

A few weeks ago I put out an invitation for people to contribute to what would become a performance piece in a positive (action) event at my lovely university. This was the second event under the banner ‘love music, hate racism’ that we have held, and this like the first was scheduled to coincide with a day (this time the eve of 100) when music, art, and positive voices needed to be heard.

Huge thanks goes to Veronika for organising the event and instilling a real sense of collegiate community – in the true sense of those words. This time we had solo voice and solo piano, the ‘Singing for Health’ community choir (led by university students), original poetry by Kay Channon from her new book, historical poetry (read in the original language first and then translated to English), and an offering by me and Pete, which included a collaborative piece that you might have contributed to. (if you did, sincere sincere thanks to you!)

The thing that made this event so very special is that there were all sorts of performances and there was not an ounce of stuffiness. There was genuinely room for everyone and everyone’s efforts were respected and enjoyed. I did have a moment of nerves and doubt before the event began as the alumni singer rehearsed her aria and I heard her lovely operatic voice fill the hall. I thought, I am singing a Dylan song after she sings. The gulp in my throat was not about Dylan, it was about me singing, but that passed and it was ok. It was really ok, and I was proud to stand up and share what 10 people had come together to make.

The Singing for Health choir sang a magic song about the lightening tree.

Down in the meadow with the wind in the west, the lightening tree faced up to the test. It was hard when struck, when you took the wrap, the terrible wrap of the thunder clap.

Grow, grow, the lightening tree. It’s never too late for you and me. Grow, grow, the lightening tree. It’s never too late for you and me.

 

Beautiful.

We had a Bertold Brecht poem read in honour of Worker’s Memorial Day, and we paused to think of those who built the buildings we use, and for all those who have expended effort that often goes unrecognised. Adam Swayne played two very moving piano solo pieces ‘(speak to me)’ by Amy Beth Kirsten and ‘Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’ by Stephen Montague. The second told the story of John Henry, building the railways until his end, and then his wife picked up that hammer and carried on.

It’s like our brilliant Vice Chancellor, Clive Behagg said in a speech earlier in the day, at his farewell (retirement) event:

It’s [a place is]  about the people.

We must never forget that. This event wasn’t about elitism, or perfection, but about inclusion, coming together, and respecting and receiving what others had to give.

I was very pleased to be among those who came together and made their voices heard in such a positive and celebratory event. Thank you to those near and far who contributed to the Affirmation Quilt and helped me share our voices together.

A brilliant typo

It’s coming to the end of the semester and student minds are beginning to focus on assessment tasks and performance exams.

A student came to me with an early draft of an essay that was part outline, part drafted text, and in it there was a brilliant typo. The student had either mistyped or autocorrect had it’s way and changed mediation to meditation.

The essay notes read like this:

Learning is meditated by the child’s behaviour. Meditation is key concept in child development and culture- it enables the child to interact with their individual development.

Although it wasn’t what they meant, it stuck with me so much that a few weeks later I told the student I thought it was actually the most meaningful typo I had come across and I wanted to write about it. There are so many things that I profoundly like about it. Firstly there are key concepts of learning, behaviour, children, development, culture, and interaction. That might just be a whole world right there. It made me think about how they worked together, like a steampunk model of the universe, orbiting and balancing with one another. Image CC-BY-NC-ND by Andrew Poole

The associations with learning, especially at exam time, are anything but resembling a child’s behaviour. Children play. Learning should be play, or at least incorporate elements of play as fundamental – play as in experimenting, experiencing, first-hand, where you are at the helm, making the rules and experiencing the consequences of how concepts work or not in practice, in dedicated time, deliberately, and with all our attention. Playing is hard work, and can include incredible precision. The difference between play and work? Perhaps this has to do with ownership. My work becomes play when I feel in control of the parameters, and also when I am allowed to fail, or have iterations to get to the final product. When we play a game, outside in the field hiding behind trees, and someone spots us and we’re ‘out’ then oftentimes the rules get adapted so we can continue. Are we not engaging in a new strategy? Persisting, demonstrating some form of resilience to continue toward the goal. Having another go so we might ‘win’, or climb the tree, or stand on the mound in the middle of the field, or get to whatever the goal might be.

Going back to the inspiring typo:

Learning is meditated by the child’s behaviour.

I imagine these melting into one, becoming transient stages of one another. The link for me was the ‘is’… back in school I loved grammar, and although it doesn’t apply to this sentence, when there is a simple state of being verb, the subject and predicate commute – you can reverse the sentence. In this case there is a helping verb, so it doesn’t work, but I took the principle and applied it to the concepts:

What if learning is a form of behaviour and this in turn is a form of meditation?

In different traditions, various types of activity can be prayer, so perhaps different activities can also have meditative qualities. I don’t know if I really know what meditation is. I think if I thought I understood, I would be wrong as well, so there’s comfort in admitting that I don’t know. I do know that reflection, stillness, and activity are all important components in my learning and it helps when I can regain my childlike mindset. I don’t mean a mindset of folly. Just as exams bring out the worst connotations of learning, sometimes the idea of being an adult somehow invokes images of being through or finished with all that experimenting, learning, growing. Am I going to get taller? No, I’m an adult. Am I going to stop growing? No, I am childlike.

See where I am coming from?

so if I rewrite the brilliant typo to demonstrate what it made me think, it could go like this:

Learning, childlike behaviour (play), and reflective Meditation is are key concepts in child my development and culture- it they enables the child me to interact with culture their individual and development.

without all the visual edits, and put into the right order, here’s where it took me:

Learning, play, and reflective meditation are key concepts in my development. They enable me to individually develop and interact with culture.

It was the best typo. Thank you to the student for being willing to share that developmental draft, and for letting me write about it. Featured image CC BY-ND–NC by the-sillies. Above image CC-BY-NC by Lee Davenport

I have a dream, about music and you

I have a dream and a vision and I believe in connection, and that collaboration allows the creation of far more than one mind could see.

I would like to invite you, whoever you are, wherever you are, to participate in a collaboration contributing to a piece for a concert-type event at my university at the end of April.

It is a positive action event to affirm life, music, and each other called ‘Singing for Unity: Hear our Voices’. It coincides with a certain 100 days, when many of us might like a reminder of the positive aspects of education and the arts. This event is not about politics, but about people, music, and life.

All sorts of contributions are invited: spoken word, music, poetry… It is open.

I would like to make two things- firstly a song. (Yes, I know I play the cello) The old Dylan song – The times they are a changing. I love it. Now here’s the invitation. I had in mind something like the giant internet choir project of Eric Whitacre, but then I thought, hey wait, I can think broader….  And I reached out to a friend in Arizona who recorded sent me an audio track of the chords HERE

and I thought wouldn’t it be great if this could become something more? Remixed into something- a bigger work? The song is the basis and I invite people to contribute how they see – with your dream, your vision. The event will have contributions people from across disciplines at my uni, and I thought it would be a great thing to include the wider educational and artistic community as well.

I would love to have images, music, a verse without words and with different instruments. I would love to have everyone send me their voice, or a talking head, or even just some words that I could edit in over an instrumental section where people said something – a sentence.

 

I believe in connection.  (that might be what I say)

 

Maybe people’s ‘I believe’ sentences string together to become a poem in themselves. (You can see this idea developing as I type.)

I am good at ideas, but I need you to make them work, so please take up the invitation. Feel free to contribute anonymously or as you, however you feel comfortable, to either (or both) of these two things (to interpret as you wish):

1.     A contribution to ‘The times they are a changing’, which could be sound, music, image. The basic song is based on the Peter, Paul, & Mary version (because I really like that one) and the guitar backing is here:

2.     A sentence, in audio, typing (you could always leave a comment below, and I am happy to string them together), or a video of you saying something positive. I suggest the beginning ‘I believe’ or ‘I will’ or ‘I am committed to’…

Feel free to comment on the post, email me, or you could even post a letter! (that would be exciting!) Hope you join me as a named or anonymous contributor.

(featured image ‘the way the wind blows’ by Thomas Hawk CC-BY-NC)

Meeting people: On all sorts of levels

I attended #OER17 with many different goals and hopes, but all were surpassed and I came away having learned a most valuable, topical, and poignant lesson about our world and how we interact. I met people. Meeting people is something that we do and teach, or at least teach about, in so many ways. In my Psychology of Learning and Teaching class I even teach about meeting people – the value of social interaction, social context, the self, how children develop, but this day was a landmark revelation for me. I was aware not of teaching through the rear-view mirror of McLuhan but of not realising we are riding bicycles while others are driving on the same road with us. It is challenging to verbalise. This is a personal reflection with pedagogical implications.

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Making music everywhere: Cello Weekend 2017

Music everywhere. Cellos everywhere. Smiles, laughter, learning, good work, new strings, new learning. It is difficult to sum up what a magnificent weekend has just happened with 25 amazing cellists: students, professionals, teachers, children, parents – so many walks of life. There was incredible generosity to support from so many different angles- from a private donor, to three string companies each supporting us with strings, one sponsoring one of the workshops, and then there were the parents and teachers. We had cello cake and cupcakes! Oh my goodness… and the teacher who sat with the youngest students throughout the whole weekend to make sure they didn’t get lost.

Have a little look into what we got up to:

The recordings are taken with my phone as rehearsals went on (you can even hear me counting in the background…) and the music over the last few photos was recorded at the concert – by me, with my phone, while conducting. It was at that moment I thought – oh drat! I could have made a good recording with the zoom recorder in my bag… the bag over there… It’s tricky to get all the planning right when you are planner, orchestrator, director, and deliverer, and if the recording was the only thing that slipped, well that’s pretty good for me.

This last piece was composed by the gal singing, and I had talked to her and said we had a cello orchestra, so why not write out a string accompaniment? She made it easy, and that was great. We did not, however, get to rehearsing it. So only a very few (the youngest members) had heard it before we performed it. The thing is, it is a lovely song – about ‘our perfect world’ and the lyrics say – I’m dreaming of our perfect world, and you’re there… come, take my hand… – It is 100% positive. When we played it, the orchestra could be relatively together and in tune, despite not having played it – and it was a lollipop at the concert, not the main works, so perfection wasn’t the aim for this one – it was about the experience. But, because it was easy, people had enough spare attention to enjoy, look around, and soak it in. I had no score, only the parts, so I was looking at the players the whole time, and something magic happened. One by one, they began to smile at me. It wasn’t everyone, but about 5 just grinned, and I thought,  This, this is why we make music, why we teach, what it really means to learn. 

Ok, I get sentimental, and I admit to being very optimistic and enthusiastic, and it is without apology. I was moved by those smiles, and by the support of people – parents, partners, babies (yes we really did have a 2 month old baby at the Cello Weekend), and unseen supporters (Thank you Charles!). Thank you to everyone who attended and who made this weekend possible. To the University for the use of the Chapel, to the string companies: D’Addario, Jargar, and Larsen, and to the players. You are truly amazing.

I very much look forward to next year’s event.

Save the date: 

Cello Weekend 2018

April 14-15

Community in four words

Sometimes in the midst of the storm there is calm. I felt that today for a brief moment. Oh there are many reasons to feel the storm today. I don’t want to go there – I sat still for a moment and read the very eloquent post by danah boyd (thanks to Bonnie for tweeting it) and thought, mmmm (that’s code for ‘yes’). I admit to skimming the post and then read carefully, backwards- starting at the end – and thought.

(that’s not an unfinished sentiment. It was my action: I thought.)

Community. Trust. Communication. Personal. Stories. Interest. Talking. Inquiry. Curiosity. Care. Friends. Time.

It made me think about how we transmit and value information about one another. Last night I on a video call with America and Australia and Brazil talking about a new archive of ethnomusicology materials, and I was struck by the story that people told through their research – living for decades with distant cultures and stressing the importance of context and having access to all the notes, audio, soundscapes of the places and people. One bit of information in isolation was nothing. To me, as someone who didn’t know, it was at best misleading, and at worst – well I cannot imagine – and that is the nature of ignorance.

When we do not know about something, there is a need to genuinely learn and to teach, and in today’s push-button world, people have sometimes lost the art of explanation, conversation, and (I dare say) an awareness of others. I don’t mean this in any base horrible way, but in simple things.

An everyday example: I was speaking to a lady in her 70’s the other day and she explained how she was using her phone more, but her family didn’t know how to explain to her. Her granddaughter said to just google it, but had not explained the three touches needed to raise the search engine page on the phone, and so it was a mystery without obvious instructions and she was frustrated. I would be too.

There is an art to teaching, and we are all called upon to be teachers, whether in a school or not. Partly that is because we are all learning. Learning, teaching, developing, growing – unless we stop that awareness of ourselves and those around us, and that sort of stopping is different to standing still (because there can be great reflection in that); that is a choice to decay.

News, fake news, community and trust, – from one end of the spectrum to the other. I was struck in danah’s post that she hints at calling upon people from across layers of society to realise and want to make a difference: that people having a choice, but she says “I’m not sure that we have the will, but I think that’s part of the problem.” She is so right. It is like someone who struggles with any addiction, be it food, money, power – it is part of what fuel’s you and it is not easy to choose to live differently than those shouting pretty loud. You can shut your eyes, but closing your ears, now that’s not easy. -but it is possible, and that’s where community comes into it. Each person can make a difference in the world. One kind word, one wave, one song. Whether you reach one or one thousand, what you do has an impact beyond what you can see.

Tomorrow there is a positive thing happening on Twitter. Bonnie Stewart has cast an invitation to share 4 word stories about what community means. It’s all part of the #Antigonish2 movement. I’ll be there. Hope you will join us too.

Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Phil Norton

Finding the words

It has been a month since I posted anything. A month. Sometimes finding the words to express joys, sorrows, and for me now – the digestion of thinking – it’s a translation issue. It is hard enough to go between words and music, let alone begin translating living into words. The past month has encompassed a lot of living and it is through the people we meet and the stories they tell that inspiration takes hold yet again.

I seem to listen best when the lure of routine is broken and there is the luxury of space. What do I mean? Every so often my job includes travel, and personally I crave connection and interaction with those beyond my immediate experience. When in a different setting, physically, culturally, environmentally, there is a necessity for either adaption or calcification, as a form of perseverance or protection I suppose. I would like to think I am open to experience. There are also times we (certainly I) am not always receptive to stories, life, to the water we swim in and the air we breathe, but over the past month, I was. Read more