Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nobody But Me by The Human Beinz

I love The Office.

What a way to open the season.  "Nobody But Me" was originally written and recorded by The Isley Brothers.

The Human Beinz simplified the song down and changed it from a soul classic to a 1960s garage band anthem.  The actually name of the band was suppose to be The Human Beingz, but Capitol Records left the "g" out when they released "Nobody But Me" and they didn't want to correct it.

Here they are The Human Beinz performing their 1967 hit, a couple months ago!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Romeo and Juliet (The Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

Through Nov. 21 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier; Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes; Tickets: $44-$75 at 312-595-5600 or
 “If you can’t believe in Romeo and Juliet, what’s left of love?”

This is Chris Jones’s conclusion of his Chicago Tribune review of the production of Romeo & Juliet playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  He criticizes the production for being “the most cynical ‘Romeo and Juliet’ you’re ever likely to see. Love conquers nothing here. Love is nowhere near the theater.”

Mr. Jones, I believe you’re missing the point of the play. William Shakespeare classifies this play as a “tragedy” with other great works like Hamlet and King Lear. Yes, you are right there no love anywhere near this production, but there isn’t any love in the play itself. This powerful production that the Chicago Shakespeare Theater drives home the most interesting and powerful parts of the Shakespeare’s’ most famous work which have less to do with love but the tragedy of letting passion reign over reason.

Romeo falls for Juliet less than a day after Rosaline dumps him. If that’s not a rebound girl, I don’t know what is. Juliet responds to Romeo instantly falling in "love."  I don’t know if love at first sight exists but what I do know is that Juliet at the tender age of 14, Juliet has had little to no interaction with guys outside her family as her father describes. So it’s no big surprise that the first guy she meets she falls for projecting her love fantasies on Romeo. They follow their passion even though they know this isn’t a good idea and plan to marry,

Friar Lawrence isn’t much better. First he tells the two not to marry, gets the idea that maybe it would make peace between the two families.  He foreshadows his mistakes commenting that people “stumble who run too fast” and man does he stumble. Instead of helping the Capulets by consoling them with the truth he comes up with a convoluted plan involving a suspended animation and deceit

The director makes the insightful argument that if there is any one person to blame for the tragedy it's Capulet, Juliet’s father.  He is violent, impulsive, brash and irrational. When he tells Tybalt not to fight Romeo at his party it’s more than words. He slaps him, chokes him and shoves him the ground, threatening him as he stabs a sword through his hand. Even more scary is when he tells Juliet that she will marry Paris.  This results in one of the most intense portrayals of domestic violence I’ve ever seen against Lady Capulet, The Nurse and Juliet. With a patriarch like that is it no wonder other characters are so impulsive.

The production isn’t perfect. The costumes where inconsistent and the recorded incidental music was for the most part mediocre and unnecessary. Like a great old movie there are some things about Romeo And Juliet that don’t work with our modern sensibility. I mean was the death of Lady Montague in the end really necessary?

Those things were inconsequential. The director pulled all of the different characters to a central theme treating it more like an ensemble cast.  The complexities of the tragedy shine right through the Shakespearean dialog reminding me that these plays are truly at their most powerful live on stage.

If you want to a see a love story go watch “Noting Hill.” If you want to experience a true tragedy filled with pain, passion and violence go check out the Chicago Shakespeare’s production of Romeo And Juliet.

“If you can’t believe in Romeo and Juliet, what’s left of love?”  There is nothing left of love because believing in Romeo And Juliet is heading Shakespeare's warning of the darkness of our passions deep within out hearts.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week 2: A School Worth Saving?

Halfway through the week my first week of teaching, I got an answer to a question I forget to ask.

During a meeting in the middle of the week, one of the veteran teachers who was actually an alumni from the school came to give a history lesson on the school. He talked about how the school not only reflected a progressive educational philosophy but also the historical events of the past hundred years.

He mentioned that the school in some ways was always going through a crisis. Not a crisis in the sense that the building was literally falling apart but rather the idea of crises as transitions. He explained that, "It's the job of the board to save the school in times of crisis.  It's our [teacher's] job to make sure that there's a school worth saving."

I couldn't help but wonder, is this school really worth saving?

After one week of teaching I would say yes. There’s a couple reasons but there was one that really got to me this week: students in this school are everybody's students.

From day 1, I've been not only encouraged but expected to discuss any issues, problems and triumphs with the classroom teachers. As a music teacher I see them twice a week as opposed to every day, so I don't have as good perspective on the students as their classroom teachers. As I went around to talk to teachers about their students what I was surprised to find is that they were as interested in my observations about their students as I was about theirs.  This was a conversation between equal partners.

I wasn't a babysitter who takes students from their teachers so they can have prep time.  I was an integral to their education.  These students really are not any one teachers sole responsibility but all of ours.

That is something special.

I can’t help but wonder was I doing anything in the flurry of my first week to make this a school worth saving?

I would say yes. Am I going to say that things went perfect? No, of course not and I doubt any of my students had any life-altering education moments that will lead them to discovering the cure for cancer, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t successful.

Success in education is about the little moments: It’s helping a students realize that a beat is speeding up.  It’s watching a student make their first sound on a trombone and watching them giggle in delight.  It’s sitting with a student at the end of class helping them understand that it’s ok to confused.   Those are moments I had this week and are definitely “worth saving.”

The question I forgot to ask was, "what is my job as a teacher?"  And no, it's not simply to create a school worth saving, but that's a good place to start.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Post #300!!!!! Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

From the first post I did on this blog I've kept a running list of songs to post about.  "Thunder Road" has been on that list since the very beginning.  I've had many false starts trying to put into words how much this songs means to me, how it changed my life and why every time I hear this song it becomes more powerful and meaningful to who I am. 

So I'll just let the song speak for itself. 

I could not think a better song to represent what this blog has been about, what I believe and what my life is all about:


Monday, September 20, 2010

Hey, Soul Sister by Train

This song doesn’t make any sense.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of pop songs don’t make sense on a literal of figurative level.  It’s like the way you suspend your belief in an action blockbuster to believe that someone can survive multiple gunshot wounds. You can put aside all logic and realism but there’s a point when they go too far and you are yanked out of the film thinking “really, the guy jumped off a motorcycle into a HELICOPTER?!?”

Train crosses that point with “Hey, Soul Sister.”

Now I’m not trying to hate here. That’s not my shtick but I have to point out a couple things about this song that just don’t work. The title of this song is “Hey Soul Sister,” which is an allusion to the song “Lady Maramlade,” originally recorded by Labelle, but more recently covered as part of the Moulin Rouge soundtrack featuring Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink, Lil’ Kim.

Cool, a tribute to great soul divas like Patti Labelle and Aretha Franklin and the first musical sound we hear is a . . . ukulele?!? Now I love the ukulele and when it’s used well.  It’s a really soulful instrument like in Iz’s version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World,” but it’s not an instruments that reflects Soul music.

Then there’s the chorus, “Hey soul sister, ain’t that 'Mr. Mister' on the radio, the stereo? the way you move aint’ far you know.” Do y’all know who Mr. Mister is? They are an American 1980s rock band most notable for their song “Kyrie” which misuses a text from the Latin translation of the Catholic Mass for a hook.

There is nothing soulful about Mr. Mister. Let’s say for a second he’s not talking about that mediocre band, then what is he talking about the chorus? Don’t get me started on the verse.

Here’s the thing, ever though this song doesn’t make sense (“like a virgin your Madonna”), the spirit of losing yourself in music comes across as clear as day. I watched a class of about sixty 6th graders last week at the end of a choir rehearsal rehearsal sing this entire song through not missing a beat or a word and not one of them was not engaged in this song.  After witnessing that you can't deny that there's something that really works about this song.  

When I hear “Hey, Soul Sister” my brain can’t help but get frustrated but my heart and soul tells my brain to simply shut up and enjoy it. When my brain finally does quiet down I gotta admit, this song feel pretty damn good.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week 1: The Biggest Geek In The School

I am proud to be a geek.

I define a geek as someone who loves something beyond a common level of passion.  This is a person who finds the minutia related to the subject fascinating beyond other people's comprehension and allows interest to become part of what defines them.  Often we have negative thoughts about "geeks" because these are people who love something so much that they have no regard about whether or not their passion is "cool" or "in."

For example, I’m a music geek. I love breaking apart a song  and reading about stories behind the music which even though I find fascinating, most people do not. My brother-in-law is a Northwestern football geek. He who knows the names the players on the Northwestern University football team as well as the complex rules to this game. My wife is kind of a Harry Potter geek and revels in the weaving plot lines and foreshadowing throughout the series.

My new principal is a geek about our school.

Addressing the entire staff at the end of a day of meetings I was eager to hear what our fearless leader had to say.  I wondered why there was a desk with file folder holder with about eight folders filled with papers set up next to the podium. I thought maybe he’s going to hand out some awards or something but that thought quickly left my mind as he began to speak.

After some warm opening remarks he began to describe one of his accomplishments over the summer: cleaning out the file cabinets administrative office. Twenty-four long filling cabinets filled one side of the wall of the office containing documents from throughout the school’s over one hundred year history and he went through it all.

Like a Star Wars fan watching the premiere of a new film or like me listening to a new Bruce Springsteen album for the first time, my principal dove through mountains of papers with excitement and shared many of these fascinating documents with the staff.

At first I was though “really . . . REALLY, you’re going to read through this stuff to all of us?” But then like listening to anyone who is passionate about a subject speak about it, I couldn’t help but get drawn in.  He shared a variety of materials including  documents about the school trying to integrate African-Americans in the school in the 1960s philosophy statements written in 1930s about the purpose of the school that still rang true today.

What I found most touching was when our principal shared with us a hand-written note his father had written to the school about involving more board members in educational meetings.  It was a touching connection that our principal could feel with his late father that displayed a personal connection to this school that crossed generations.

I love how my principal is a geek about our school, our history and education as a whole. I love how he unapologetically “geeked-out” in front of the whole school sharing his passion and his love with all of us.  And I love how his passion sets a tone as a school where where I can be open about my passion about music education with students, teachers and parents feeling free to pass on my geeky fascination with the world of music to them. 

A school should be a place where passions should be embraced, people should study what they love and love what they study.

It's awesome to have a principal that shows us the way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reflections Of My Life by Marmalade

A great 1960s gem.

The dude is a little down a life. Either he was continuously dumped by girlfriend after girlfriend or he's reflecting back on a life wasted looking up esoteric songs on and posting them on his blog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Problem WIth "Family Values"

"It has nothing to do with politics, it has everything to do with God, turning our face back to the values and principals that made us great.”
-Glenn Beck at the Restoring Honor rally (8/28/10)

During Glenn Beck’s speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, he reinforced an argument that has been in the political field since the time of Nixon. It’s the idea returning to core Christians values, “family values” as a way to improve our country.

Here's the thing: My parents aren’t Christian and they didn’t raise my brother with an affiliation to any organized religion. However, all of us are good citizens. We pay our taxes, work hard at our jobs, don’t disturb the peace (except for maybe a parking ticket) and we’ve all done the best we can to take care of the people we love and improve the world around us. We did this all without "Christian" values.

You may argue that my family does exhibit Christian values even though we are not Christian, but that’s implying that only in Christianity do you find the values of hard working, love and family. These wonderful ideas are found in almost every book of faith from religions around the world including the Koran, Torah and the teachings of Buddha.

Christian values directly contributed to some of the greatest things in our country including the public schools system and music education. However, these same "values" also were distorted to lead to institutional racism and the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans (If you think the term "ethnic cleansing" is too rough a term, read up on the Trail Of Tears).

I understand that it seems like there’s a lot people acting wickedly in society. People regularly cheat and steal from each other. Some people are motivated more by money than by good deeds while many of us ignore the plight of others who are most in need of our compassion. If doesn’t take a lot of effort to find examples of people who act sinfully.

Maybe an injection of “values” into all of us will remind us what it means to take care of each other and be a community. However it’s not a return to a Christian God that will get us there. It’s in acknowledging and embracing the best values that we share, religious or not that we can improve our communities.

The main reason I feel so strongly about embracing religious plurality is because it’s been such a positive aspect of my marriage. My wife is Catholic and I’m Buddhist. I’ve watched her cantor in her Catholic Church and she’s done Buddhist chants with me at my grandfather’s funeral. We had a beautiful interfaith wedding ceremony and while I would never claim that we have the greatest marriage ever, I’m proud of our relationship.

One of the reasons we make such great partners is because we share so many values. My parents and my in-laws are similar in the best ways and the instilled in us life-affirming ideas and a perspective in life that Diana and I share across religions.

By preaching a return to a Christian ideas and values it divides us alienating non-Christians.  Instead let's unite under the values we all share.  This requires us to have some tough discussion, to be more accepting and to put aside our instinctual to fear of what is different.  But if we can do this it will bring us together which is the only way that we can make a better America for generations to come.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Follow Through by Gavin DeGraw

One of the most magical moments is hearing a song for the first time. It is an experience that can never be replicated but every once in a while that feeling of discovery is captured in a song and we can come close to reliving that moment.

I was looking for one of my favorite Genesis songs “Follow You, Follow Me” on iTunes library and accidentally selected “Follow Through.” I was immediately transported to the sitting in my dorm room and hearing this song for the first time years ago in college.

“Follow Through” opens with a beautiful description of discovering a new love. With conversational lyrics reminiscent of Elton John and soulful singing reminding us of a young Billy Joel, “Follow Through,” takes these two influences into a gently unfolding celebration of love combined with a life-assuring plea to follow through.

The idea of asking for commitment this early in a relationship may seems a little extreme, “our love have just begun to blossom and everything is great, by the way I need you to commit to me.” However, the way that he asks her to for her heart is heartwarming and expresses a sense of vulnerability.

It’s almost as if our protagonist has had his heart broken before, “build through this destruction” and he is just coming out of his shell with the courage to love again. As he asks for commitment he expresses a simple but heartwarming sentiment, “all I really want is you, you to stick around.”

What makes this song so effective is that DeGraw is capturing a specific moment in a relationship. It’s this small window of time right at the beginning when all you see is possibilities. The realities of life have yet to set in and there is magic in the future. It’s not real life-long love, maybe it’s more infatuation, but that doesn’t mean that this emotions, this feeling are any less meaningful or unforgettable.

This moment is fleeting and for those of us who are lucky enough, this moment of discovery develops into a deeper feeling a love. While I wouldn’t trade the way I feel about Diana, my wife, after being with her for 8 years for anything sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of that time at the beginning of our relationships. It was a time all I thought about was her, all I talked about was her and all I wanted to do in my life was spend time with her.

On second thought, maybe I'm stuck in that moment.  I still think about my wife all the time, I talk about her constantly and all I really want is for Diana to stick around so that I can see her every day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Save My Love by Bruce Springsteen

On November 16th, Springsteen is releasing The Promise: Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story.  This set includes a DVD documentary, live concert footage, the original album and CD songs that didn't make the original album.  Below is one of these song.

Really Bruce, this song wasn't good enough to be included in "Darkness On The Edge Of Town"?!? Only with an albums as amazing as Darkness On The Edge Of Town would a song this great be rejected. 

Man it would be awesome if someone got this for me for for a early Thanksgiving present. . ..

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Cove & Why Through The Slaughter Of Dophins We Are Killing Ourselves

I love eating meat: beef, veal, lamb, chicken, fish, shellfish, duck, oh and of course pork! I have no reservations about having leather accessories or furs (except for the fact that it’s not really in fashion right now). I don’t really love animals all that much except for my dog and I don’t really think future generations will really mourn the loss of any species that become extinct in my lifetime. However I feel strongly that we desperately need to stop whaling.

Recently Animal Planet premiered the Academy Award Winning documentary The Cove. This film is about a filmmaker Louie Psihoyos’ journey in helping Ric O’Barry document the illegal slaughter of dolphin in Taiji, Japan.

The process of filming the slaughter has a secret ops feel which is exciting but what is really engaging is the story of Ric O’Barry. He takes responsibility for the popularity of bottle-nosed dolphins as the main trainer on the television show Flipper. After one of his whales dies in his arms, he decides to rectify what he has done and has spent the rest of his life trying to free whales. O’Barry is one of he most amazing inspiring examples of someone taking responsibility for their actions and trying to make the world a better place.

Animal Planet has been showing The Cove to lead in for their new show Blood Dolphins that continues to follow O’Barry’s battle in Taiji.

The argument of the intelligence and consciousness of dolphins didn’t effect me, what really got to me was how illogical and gratuitous were the actions of the fisherman. Dolphin meat has ridiculously high levels of mercury and the only way that it’s sold in Japan is if it’s mislabeled as whale meat, which isn’t even very popular in Japan anymore.

Look, I know that the chicken I ate for lunch was probably raised to be eaten and it’s death can only be considered “humane” by comparison to what we’ve done in the past, but we need to eat. Killing dolphins for meat is like collecting wild boar shooting them and trying to sell it as pork. The vast majority of the market would find the meat too gamy and anyways, there’s no need to kill those wild animals, we got plenty of farmed animals, why mess with the wild ones?

Yes, I think killing wild animals in general is crueler than killing farmed animals. Others of you may not make that distinction. What is important to consider is what we are doing to our souls when take life, any life.

If there’s a spider that you find on a table and you kill it when you could have just as slide it on to a piece of paper and let it go outside in the garden you are doing something to you soul and a little darkness creeps in. As a human race, we have so much darkness at the edges of our existence. Some of it is unavoidable but whatever is avoidable, we have to stop. We can’t afford any more blood on our hands.

Do the fisherman and Taiji have the right to fish off their shores and fish whatever they want to? Yes, but the rest of world has the right to draw attention to this atrocity make the Japanese government so embarrassed that they agree to stop their gratuitous cruelty.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Purple Reaction-Year Three

The Purple reaction has been one of the greatest adventures I’ve embarked on.

When I first considered starting a blog in November 2008, it seems like a blogging was the most self-indulgent activity on the internet. Who I am to presume that my thoughts are SO important that people would actually care to read them?

I went ahead anyways, decided not to dwell on other’s perceptions of my blog as an ego exercise and jumped in. I wanted to create a look at music combining the academic analysis that is usually reserved to classical music to popular music. Most of all I wanted to create a source of positivity on the internet, a celebration of the art in our lives and the world we live in.

This blog has always been personal from describing being dumped in my first post (“Since U Been Gone”), to my mother (“The Best Day”) and of course my wife (“The Luckiest”). I did this for myself as a way to document my thoughts and feelings but also in an attempt to help all of you relate music to your own lives.

It hasn’t been all about music though. I couldn’t resist writing about my encouter with deep friend bacon as my first non-music blog post. There’s been other subjects like TV Shows (Jon & Kate Plus 8  and Teen Mom), politics (What It Means To Talk About Politics) and of course Buffy my dog. (which are regularly my most read posts).

I haven’t gotten to my original plan of turning this blog into a newspaper column and while this is something I’m interested in the future, I’ve love the freedom and the format of writing a blog. Some of it is simply my love of writing, but it’s also the connections I get to make with readers. Whether it’s in person, e-mails or comments.  I feel blessed to have readers and it blows my mind to think that there are people who actual enjoy what I’m doing.

That all being said, there are some changes coming to this blog. This Fall I’m starting a new job at a fantastic school and this blog will not be able to take up as large part of my life and it has for the past two years. Instead of three posts a week I will scale down to two posts on Monday and Friday. Instead of a full post on Wednesday I will post a clip of something for you to enjoy, a music video, interesting speech or a movie trailer.

I hope you will continue to join me as I continue to explore the wonder and beauty of this beautiful world we share. Thank you for reading my blog whether it’s every post or once a month.

It means the world to me to share what I love with all of you.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Week 0: Everything I Needed To Learn About My New Job I Learned in New Faculty And Staff Orientation.

Starting a new job is like freshmen year of college all over again. You don’t know how anything works, you don’t know who to go to for help and you don’t even know where the bathroom is.

I can confidently say that after two days of New Faculty And Staff Orientations that I still am not quite clear where the bathrooms are . . .

What did I expect from orientation? I predicted there would be a bunch of policy and procedural talk. Maybe someone would spend an hour teaching us how to check our e-mail which would digress into a rudimentary lesson on how to use an internet browser. Of course, you can’t forget the oh so fascinating human resources talk.

My expectations were of course tempered by my first new teacher orientation experience years ago which was a weeklong experience filled with lectures and presentations that I barely could stay awake through. At the end of the orientation, I had a folder full of information, which I stuck in my desk and did not look at again until I cleaned out my desk two years later when I left that job.

So how did the my recent orientation experience stack up? It felt like being in Prof. Barrett’s class at Northwestern when I was in grad school.

Prof. Barrett taught me curriculum, research and general music methods course. The content of what she taught was great but what was more powerful was the way that she taught. She demonstrated through her actions the teaching methods that she presented which was most powerful part of being her student.

The orientation didn’t through every single line of “A Guide For New Faculty and Staff,” “Faculty/Staff Manual” or the “Emergency Response Manual.” Instead, we spent time learning where to go for information, how to use technology to as a tool and who to go to for help. As teachers, our job is to facilitate learning, to give students the tools and skills to learn for themselves and it’s awesome to realize this isn’t something we preach about doing for children children, but it’s something we live.

Amongst the presentations were thoughts from veteran teachers and two pieces of advice stuck with me. The first was “ do not worry alone,” encouraging us as new staff members to share in all aspects of what they are going through. So much stress can be adverted simply by having a conversation, knowing that you’re not alone in your thoughts and that there are other people who can help you.

The second piece was that our school's “way” of doing business was not one specific way but a multiplicity of approaches. The idea that pluralism is strength is something I believe.  Embracing this idea speaks to a genuine focus on the idea of diversity and reflects a powerful approach to teaching embracing the differences between students as a way to enrich the educational experience. 

 . . . now if I can just find the bathrooms.  I mean I found the students ones but those toilets are so small and they usually frown on teachers using them. . .