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Posts from the ‘Life & Learning’ Category

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!

It’s fire.

(in response to the #ccourses question Why do you teach?) 1 min read

This is me:photo-3

I have always been hungry – hungry to learn, hungry to know and connect to people, and hungry for homemade chocolate chip cookies (I completely blame my sugar-coated childhood for that one).

As for the question why? Why is one of those questions that applies to something – why this or why that, certainly begging an answer. ‘Teach’ is a loaded word that is in common, with, and, but, although, and despite its many connotations.

Liora Bresler spoke at the 40th SEMPRE conference and gave me a new way of thinking about it when she said that all research is really ‘ME’-search. That resonated, and made me think – that is what learning is about as well – a sort of ‘we’-search. Yes there are skills and facts too, but who does it? Not the teacher. The learner, the student, the me. So I don’t think of teaching or learning as a book, or a directive, and I don’t have a start or an end to it, but it is my fire: consuming, life-giving, and something that can radiate between people.

Back in the olden days… teachers often ‘taught’ in a very different way. I have an essay one of my relatives wrote in gradeschool in the 1950s, after being pulled up for talking. It starts like this:


and ends…



As you can see in my photo above, I couldn’t follow that advice. I’d rather sing out and reach someone, even if for a fleeting moment. I believe in people and in people believing in themselves. Self-efficacy is my bag really. Each of us has a voice and you never know who you might connect with next, where they will go, and how those connections will spread. If as a ‘teacher’ I give/show/foster/allow something that connects once with a single person… that just grows the fire.

The penny dropped…

(1 min read) It’s Monday, school run time, running late – and a bit of idle chit-chat with the teaching assistant just closing the waist-high iron gate behind us and said:


‘Our biggest boy starts college this week. Can you believe it? Full time and he is only there two days a week. Full time?!’

I had to say something – ‘Oh but there is a lot he needs to do – it is a big leap to that sort of independence.’

‘Yeah, he’s terrified actually.’

The penny really dropped.

There is a definite way of being a learning being that is all encompassing, and certainly goes beyond the hour or two in the classroom. Thank heavens I have always dreamed. Leaping from a textbook to the sky is not at all easy – and cannot be assumed to be something intuitive or even something that seems possible for some people.

Beyond what you can dream has always been a sort of mantra for me, and I hope through Connected Courses there can be steps taken to help those who are terrified, or who never thought of learning that way – so that when they are asked to GO! and they feel like someone is pushing them off a cliff, that they can realise they have already grown wings.

Photo credit: CC licensed


Please do not put me in that box.

Box photo credit: CC licensed

Please sir, do not put me in a box.



On the way to check out of my B&B accommodation this morning I found myself carrying rather a lot: overnight bag and the chunky wooly jumper in one hand, cello in the other, handbag slung across my body, and a backpack. With all of this, I opted for the lift instead of the stairs. I went in and just as the doors were closing in pops a tidily suited man dragging a rolling case. He gave me one up-and-down glance and said, ‘No point asking what you do, pretty self-evident,’ and added a slightly roll-eyes-ish half-smirk.


I held my tongue. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but honestly, if that was how I treated my students- ??? It is unthinkable.

I could rant, and there is definitely some steam rising above my head, but instead I just want to take it as a wake up call to remind me that it is a pleasure and a privilege to find out about the people I meet. I do not want to be out into a stereotypical box.

At 5’1″ with waist length hair in a plat, carrying a varsity-type jumper, and a cello I do get plenty of the ‘didn’t you want to play something your own size like the  flute’ type jokes.

photo 3


But honestly, I would hate to think that I was defined by that one second in the lift.

So I am off to give a workshop at UEA, where a room full of academics will learn about working together, communication, and laughter – all though the extremely inviting orchestral instruments I have driven the 200 miles to get here. I am certainly not going to judge them and wouldn’t dream of limiting my views of what they can accomplish.

And as for that man in he the lift, I can only hope that he is one of the people in that workshop so I can look on him with openness and find out who he is. It is worth asking. There is always a point.