Friday, December 31, 2010

Being Lost In Love

The greatest part of sharing your life with someone you love is also one of the hardest parts.

Whenever Diana has any great accomplishments like this experience she had recently being a volunteer tutor, I get to experience it with her. Diana also gets to share in my successes hearing from me about lessons that have gone well with my students.

The incredible thing about sharing our lives with each other is that I get to feel the payoff of Diana’s hard work without doing the work myself. I feel a rush of positive emotions from living life well through Diana doing without contributing directly to that success.

The challenging thing about sharing our lives is when we share the challenging times. When Diana or I have a hard day, the other person experiences those emotions.  And just like with sharing the good things in life often neither of us has any influence of made that day difficult; we just deal with the consequences.

Now getting something good that you didn’t work for is a nice surprise, a great feeling. However dealing with something negative in life that you had no input in is frustrating. Here’s the thing, there are times when I will have a bad day that is completely out of my control but there are also times that the reason that I am full of frustrated is because of choices I made and Diana has to deal with it. It’s like being a passenger in a car with no input on what the driver is doing as he makes bad choices and gets lost, and all you can do is sit there are go along for the ride.

It's a given that if you really love someone it’s not only about sharing the good times but also the bad. However that's a lot a lot easier said then done when you realize that sharing life is about accepting the consequences of our loved ones choices.

Letting going, and being able to accept all that it means to share someone’s life is hard but it’s important. Love is a lot of things and one of the most important things about love is letting go and trusting others to make choices.

You may be in the car with your partner and they may make a wrong turn in the road while they are driving and you may know exactly the right way to go and sometimes you get lost with them.

You may end up stuck in a place and it’s not your fault at all. That is frustrating, this is what you get for letting go. In these moments don't forget, having a partner, not being alone on this journey in life is worth getting lost occasionally, because you really are never lost when you are with someone you love.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Knock-Off Christmas Carolers

My favorite is "Silent Night," I mean "Jingle Bells."

I totally want to do this with my students for Holiday program next year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Smooth by Santana ft. Rob Thomas

Winter has come to Chicago and that means that it is cold. How cold? Well, this morning when I walked Buffy is was 18 degrees. It’s warmer in Moscow, Russia at 25 degrees. Seriously, it’s warmer in RUSSIA than in Chicago. And last week, it was warmer at the North Pole than it was in the Windy City.

After living in Chicago for 10 years I’ve  tried many different approaches to dealing with the cold weather. Some people think you need to “thicken your blood” and spend time outside without tons of layers to get used to it. Yeah, that doesn’t work. There’s eating winter foods like stews which I enjoy.  While that makes you feel better when you come inside you are still really cold when you are outside. My current strategy is to simply bundle up like crazy. Basically if the temperature goes below 30, I break out the snow pants, fleece, winter jacket, scarf, hat, gloves AND turn the car heater on full blast.

This other day sitting in my car praying it would warm up quicker I came up with a new idea: listen to the hottest song I could think of and the first song that came to mind was “Smooth.”

Satana’s Supernatural album, transformed him from the legendary guitarist who performed at the original Woodstock to a present and active musical force. This album full of duets with various artists reintroduced Santana into mainstream American culture. “Smooth” which featured Rob Thomas working off of Matchbox 20 fame exploded reminding us of the astonishing skill of Santana but how unbelievably powerful Latin inspired music could be.

“Smooth” is evidence of my thesis that no synthesized groove can feel as good as capturing live performers. The rhythm section combined with the bass line and horns create a relaxed, saucy and slightly sinful groove. The feel perfectly captures the feeling of a hot summer day, I’m not quite sure how but it’s undeniable.

Rob Thomas uses the dark edges of his voice to caress the lyrics. There is attitude, desperation and longing that is slathered throughout the vocals as Thomas describes an irresistible woman.

Then there’s Carlos Santana who really turns up the heat. As impressive as the fast notes he plays are it’s the way he sustains his notes that is awe-inspiring. The guitar is an instrument which has a tone that defined by an attack and a quick decay in the sound. Yeah, Satana’s long notes, don’t really do that. They magically melt away and then grow. Great guitar solos aren’t so much about what you play but how you play it and Carlos Santana could play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and I swear it would be the most amazing thing you had ever heard.

Did listening to “Smooth” make me feel warmer? Well it did get me to dance in my car on the way to work and for a couple minutes it didn't seem so cold.  Though that was probably due to the car heating up and the fact that I was still wearing all my winter gear. . .

Friday, December 24, 2010

What It Means To Give (and more importantly receive)

This year more than any other year I’ve been wrestling with my own gift giving philosophy. I enjoy giving gifts and of course I enjoy getting gifts but within the whirlwind of the Christmas holiday it become a lot more complicated.

There's multiple approaches to giving gifts.  First there's the idea of getting gifts off of people’s lists. This is much more pragmatic and allows people to get things that they actually want or need. However if two people are spending the same amount of money on each other, what’s really the difference between this and buying gifts for themselves (which an awful lot of people do doing the holiday season which is a whole different issue)?

Well, there is effort put into going out and shopping.  Being involved in buying something probably in a store that you would not normally go to yourself can mean a lot however personally would rather go off the list.

When you think about the gifts that really mean something to you, what do you think of? I don’t really remember the gifts I got off a list. I think of a picture frame my friend Morgan made for me with little construction paper cut-outs of Diana and I. I think of a little teddy bear my mom gave me on the last day she was helping me move into college my freshmen year and I think of a thank you card Diana randomly wrote telling me how thankful she was to have me in her life.

Does this mean that other gifts I’ve gotten are less valid, or less worthy? It appears that way but not really.

Not every present can deeply meaningful and that doesn't mean they aren't worth giving. Some of the gifts I bought for people this year are more pragmatic, things that I know they want. Other things are stuff that they wouldn’t think to buy for themselves and one thing I’m giving this year didn’t cost me any money whatsoever but took more hours than I can count to put together.

Who knows, maybe the most pragmatic gift will be the most meaningful.  You never know.  Like the love of a song, what’s meaningful isn't always logical.  You can’t control how people receive the gifts you give but you can control how meaningful the gifts you receive are to you.

My parents aren’t big on celebrating on specific holiday. They feel that you shouldn’t have to wait for specific days in the year to celebrate sharing life with people you love.  The same things applies to giving.

We give to each other time, care and love throughout the year.  That is the true expression of giving, not a couple gifts bought during the holiday season.  What makes gifts meaningful is not the gift itself but the spirit of the person giving it.

When you are sharing gifts with each other this weekend think about the person giving it as much as the gift itself. Think about all of the things that person has given you in the past year.  If you keep this in mind, I promise no matter what you receive it will mean the world to you.  And just maybe whenever you look at the gift it will remind you of how that person makes your world a little brighter every day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Glycerine by Bush

As grunge's most beautiful love song, "Glycerine" captures what is significant and meaningful about the music in this genre. It's dark, longing and sincere. It's a statement of defiance to the world and also a promise of commitment to the love of his life.

As you watch Gavin Rossdale defiantly performing against the forces of nature in the pouring rain "Glycerine" makes sense. There is something beautiful with his primal scream at the end of the song that reminds us not so much of who we want to be but who we are.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Daydream Believer by The Monkees

Hanging out with a couple friends last week the topic of Taylor Swift came up. One of my friends said that she didn’t like her because she was a corporate constructed pop singer. While this isn’t true at as Taylor is an independent artist from Big Machine Records a label that her family created before her because everyone else rejected her, the criticism of pop artists because they are created, molded and marketed is a common complaint.

I understand that some people are turned off from the business side of music. The idea of certain songs only being popular because of marketing can be frustrating and often the artists that certain companies construct are mediocre and can be quit annoying. I totally understand but that doesn’t mean all commercially created music lacks artistry, heart and soul.

Don’t forget The Beatles looked like a biker gang before Brian Epstein became their manager, made them get hair cuts to polish them into a more marketable look. Berry Gordy modeled Motown records after the assembly line that he used to work at to mold artists. Then there were the Monkees, a pop group created in response to the Beatles for a television show.

Inspired by The Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night, The Monkees television show followed the life of a rock ‘n’ roll group (ala The Jonas Brothers). Originally only allowed to provide vocals the Monkees eventually gained creative control of their music and while never reached the creative heights of The Beatles or The Beach Boys, they  influenced musicians with their pop music style and cultural impact.

I love the Monkees. I watched this show when it used to be re-run on Nickelodeon. A Monkees greatest hits CDs was one of the first albums my family owned and one of my favorite songs continues to be “Daydream Believer.”

To this day, I have no clue what this song is really about. I mean the first verse is simply about waking up in the morning and then there’s a chorus about depressed homecoming queen. The second verse is doesn’t really connect with the rest of the song but it works all the same.

If you turn off your cynicism or skepticism and let yourself enjoy this song, you find that even though the creation of the Monkees doesn’t line up with any romanticized idea of the way music should be created, it’s still great. The song builds through the each chorus with glee and warmth. “Daydream Believer” sound like a reassuring smile and that’s a beautiful thing.

Music is great or mediocre, sometimes because and sometimes despite the circumstances of its creation. If you don’t like a song that’s fine, there’s no apologizing for taste. But turning off your ears to an artist because it’s an independent artists or a corporate created pop star is like stereotyping people by their race. And when you make assumptions about a song or person based on their circumstances as opposed to their content you are the one who is missing out.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Week 14: Do Not Worry Alone

One of the first pieces of advice I got at this school was, “do not worry alone.” On the surface, this advice seemed a little odd. I’m starting at a new job and I was being advised to share my “worry” with other people and show them how incompetent I was at this job up front.

Sharing my stress and vulnerability with other people seemed to go against own goals at this school to establish myself as a professional who knew what he was doing. How could sharing with other people my own insecurities impart them with any confidence that I could effectively do my job?

As the months passed I encountered problems that made me worry and often I would ask for help and get great advice, which helped me avoid unnecessary stress. Were there things that I was worried about that I shared with others? Yes, but they were things that I had a handle on, things that I had solutions to already.  It wasn't so much a sign of weakness in this context but a sharing of my ability to handle things.

Last week was a little bit different. One of my grades was preparing to perform in a Holiday pageant and things weren’t going as planned. It should have been evident to me working with them in their separate classes that things were not going to come together in the way that I predicted. My failing become painfully clear in our first of only two rehearsals before the performance.

My students couldn’t get through the song and it was all my fault. I didn’t account for the way the instruments sounded different on the stage. Rushing through the previous classes, I didn’t present the parts in a way that the students felt comfortable with and now here I was two days before a performance and I was getting really worried. The difference this time was that I had no idea how to fix this.

After that embarrassing rehearsal I went back to my office and another one of the music teachers who was at the rehearsal asked me what I was thinking. I told her what I felt wasn’t working and how I was trying to figure out what to do. She asked me if I was worried and I told her I was very worried and didn't quite know what to do.

For the next half an hour I met with two of the other music teachers. We hashed out multiple solutions, different plans and a variety of approaches to make this performance work. During this process, I realized by sharing my worry wasn't just about me. 

I love helping people with problems. Maybe I do more of that than let other people in to help me out. I have a sense of wanting to prove to others that I know what I’m doing, but frankly, I there's no need for that. I have done more “firsts” in the four months than I’ve done in the past four years. If I wasn’t “worried” there would be something wrong with me.

Sharing worry is not showing a weakness but a strength. Being worried is an expression of wanting to make something better and caring about other people. There’s never a need to hide this. It is in letting other people know that you share in these feelings that we learn not only how to help others but also to help ourselves.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blasphemy by Robbie Williams

Bite your tongue, your torrid weapon
We could learn a useful lesson
What's so great about the great depression?
It’s not a blast for me,
It’s blasphemy.
With clever lyrics set to a beautiful melody, Williams breaks down his bravado to bring us closer to himself than ever before.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Buffy Being There For Me

Buffy is not the kind of dog that actively initiates physical contact.

Sometimes she does like when I get home from work, I’ll kneel down and she’ll run up and give me a lick on the face, but unlike other dogs I’ve met who will literally sit in your lap, Buffy waits for you to make the first move.

It’s not Buffy doesn’t like to be pet or snuggled. She is quite the cuddle bug.  When she's sleepy she is happy to have you sit close to her but when she's active it's a different story.  Buffy will make you chase her around the room for five minutes until you finally grab her fur and pull her towards you. Once you accomplish this, she will more often than not relax into your arms.  Whether standing or sitting unless you have a treat to offer her or a toy often she will to off if you reach to pet her.  This is a result of her favorite thing to do with other dogs which is to be chased by them.  

Knowing all of this makes what happened the other night that much more special.

Nothing really bad happened that evening I was just in a bad mood. One of the things I do when I’m feeling frustrated with things outside of my power is clean. It usually makes me feel better to take control of something in my life.

As I put things away Buffy came up and nudged a toy into my leg. Not really being in the mood to play I ignored her and continued to organize the room.

After about ten minutes I noticed that Buffy had left the room. I called out to her and there was no response. Usually this means that she is hiding in one her caves: underneath the coffee table or under the overhanging sheets at the bottom of our bed.

I checked under the coffee table and didn’t see her there as I turned towards the bedroom I saw her sitting up in the middle of the bedroom floor looking at me intently. I walked over to her and knelt down in front of her expecting her to dart way. Instead, she stayed right there.

I leaned forward and hugged her around her neck. I was no longer surprised at the fact that she was sitting so still. I just felt the frustrating melt out of myself. As I leaned back, she climbed gently into my lap she settled quietly in my arms.

It’s a funny thing when dogs do things like this, when they have these moments of friendship. You speculate and think about what they were thinking but you can never know for sure.

All I know is that Buffy decided for one moment to not make me chase her to be close to her and it was exactly what I needed at that moment to feel better.  

Thanks Buffy

Friday, December 10, 2010

Week 13: What It Means To Be Progressive

To say that my new school is based on the philosophy of progressive education is an understatement. The school was founded on the philosophy of progressive education and acknowledges this approach not only as a philosophy but also as an active practice.

So what is progressive education? Well, it’s an approach to educations that is focused on the student’s experience with the material where teachers do not instruct but rather facilitate learning through creativity and discovery.

Now it’s not like this is a brand new approach to learning. Socrates’ discussion based learning set a similar tone but in American it was educators like Dewey who looked at the state of education and felt that things needed to change.

In the early 20th century learning in school was mostly an act of imitation and regurgitation as opposed a process of active thinking and creative problem solving. The progressive movement sought to change this and American education has felt the influence of this movement ever sense.

How does this translate to the music classroom?  Well instead of teaching a percussion part, I have students compose their own percussion parts and discuss the results.  Trust me, it’s a lot faster for me to teach a percussion part to a song rather than have the students "explore" and it would save me a lot of headaches. But it’s worth the extra time to provide an avenue for a more meaningful educational experience.

Now, there are some things students need to learn by rote and not taught through a progressive approach. However, when we are teaching in a more “traditional” way the child-centered perspective of the progressive approach reminds us to teach the students not the subject.

We live in a time when our schools are put under scrutiny from all sides, from how they are run, how we teach, to what is taught. In the midst of test scores, teachers accountability discussions, charter schools and college entrance numbers we need to ask ourselves what kind of educational experience do we want for our children?

Would you rather be lectured to or participate in a discussion? Would you rather be directed how to do something or have time to figure it out yourself? Would your rather spend a school day reciting information or truly interacting with it?  All of your answers are probably the latter which are all progressive approaches. 

Once we realize that a progressive philosophy of education is what we want for our children then we need to make sure everything that surrounds what goes on the classroom from test scores to report cards reflect a progressive approach. We need to work from the classroom out and not the other way around.   Progressive education reminds us not to focus on the destinations but to value the journey.

We all die, it's how we live that makes life meaningful.  It's the time we spend everyday with our children that teaches them how to make that life meaningful.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Buffy Vs. Markley




Monday, December 6, 2010

Somebody’s Crying by Chris Isaak

It’s always easier to talk about “somebody” than it is to talk about ourselves. We’ve all had moments when we tell a story about ourselves and use the ambiguous “somebody.”

“Somebody I know got a parking ticket in that same spot that you did.”
“Somebody I know once ate a whole package of Thin Mints in one sitting.”
“Somebody I know thought that Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus were two different people.”

One of the most often uses of the “somebody” is in love. It’s the whole “hey, I hear somebody’s into you.” Then you gauge their reaction and you can either continue talked about how it’s you or back up when the girl relates that she has a husband. This isn’t really a strategy I would endorse.  I believe that being up front is always the best policy but for adolescents this whole “somebody” tactic is a way to talk to people without exposing themselves up and being vulnerable.

Chris Isaak in his 1995, hit “Somebody’s Crying” takes this idea as a way of telling a girl how much she has hurt him.

He opens singing about how “somebody” has been hurt and is crying. He’s trying to express his pain but cannot and like someone unable to look another straight in their eyes the only way he can talk about himself in through “somebody.”

At the chorus, Isaak let’s loose and cannot keep this ruse up. He asks directly for her love back. However at the end of the chorus he regains his composure stating “somebody’s lying” remembering the wrong she has done.

Isaak balances the different layers of emotion within a break-up effortlessly as his Elvis Presley-like voice draws us in. I can’t really speak to the sensual nature of his voice that people often discuss (he doesn’t really do that for me). What I can comment on is the range he sings with from a whisper to a flying falsetto and a deeper tenor.

There’s a very deliberate switch between the colors of his voice that work together seamlessly. Isaak carefully colors the conflicting emotions with different tones of his voice to create something that is intimate and immediate.

Somebody I know has been at the crossroads after a break-up and know exactly what Chris Isaak is expressing.

Somebody I know wishes that he could sing like Chris Isaak and thinks that it would instantly make him more appealing to woman.

Somebody I know when he was a teenager wished he could recreate Isaak's "Wicked Games" music video with a supermodel but on further consideration would rather not.  I mean the sand would get everywhere and it was probably really could and I wouldn't . . . I mean that um. . . somebody I know really wouldn't enjoy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Week 12: My Way

Over the summer as a I began to prepare myself for my first year at this school my general plan was to stick as close as I could to what the previous teacher did. The teacher before me was a veteran who had spent most of his career at this school and was respected by the students and the teaching community.

As a music teacher in a school that is steeped in tradition, much of what I do involves performances. Many of these have musical components that have been done a certain way according to tradition so following the plans set out by the processor made perfect sense.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Now that I’m nearing winter break, I’m been reflecting on what has been most successful in my teaching. What I found is that the things that I did in the way that the previous teacher has done have worked but haven’t been nearly as successful as the projects that I’ve re-imagined and done “my way.”

Everyone has been comfortable with me referring to the notes and material of my predecessor for guidance. Other teachers understand that I don’t really know the overall context of what I’m doing. What I’m finding is that what people really want to hear is what I think.  There’s an excitement that I feel when I begin taking what has been given to me and put my own spin on it.

I wasn’t hired to do the exact same thing as the teacher before me.  Even if that is what people wanted out of me, I couldn't do it.  The bottom line is that no matter how hard I try I can’t do what my predecessor did before me did and be successful because I’m not him. So for me to be successful, I simply have to be me.

What would you rather do? Be mediocre through following someone else’s plan or be spectacular following your own path? Of course we want to be spectacular but doing that means taking chances. With every chance comes the possibility of failure and maybe in the big performances in front of huge crowds I don’t take those chances. I wait until living through it once before making it my own. However with others things, well, there’s no reason not to make it my own right now.

It’s hard to know what people expect out of you when you’re new at a job. While I spend time worrying about how what I’m doing is perceived in the eyes of the people around me, I remind myself that all I can be in me. I can’t pretend to be anything else.  I would rather fail when being the teacher that I genuinely am, than succeed trying to be someone else.

I got a lot more of the year coming up and a lot of thing laid out for me by the previous teacher.  I'll work through it and keep the traditions going but I got to do it my way because that's the only way I know how.

They hired Kingsley Tang and that’s exactly who they are going to get.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Grow Old With Me by John Lennon

 Yoko included this song on her "John Lennon Playlist" recent issue of Rolling Stone
He [John Lennon] was saying it to me, but also to a whole generation: "Let's grow old together." After his passing, all I had was a cassette of it.  I had it in my handbag.  When i went to sleep, I had some bells on my door so if anyone came in, I'd hear it.  I didn't want people to take it from me. 

"Grow Old With Me" became an unfulfilled dream with the passing of John and through this hopeful song we feel Yoko's pain.  While we all have dreams for the future we never know what we have left so we can never take for granted the time we have in the present to share life with the ones we love.