Monday, July 30, 2012

The Soul of The London Olympic Opening Ceremony

Right now, not very far from here [London], a German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it. Nothing. Until one, tiny, damp little island says "no". 'No'. Not here. A mouse in front of a lion.. You're amazing, the lot of you. Dunno what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me. Off you go then... do what you've gotta do. Save the world.
- The Doctor (Who)
There is a sense of inevitability when we study history. Whether it’s the progress of Civil Rights in America or the defeat of the Axis in the World War II, sometimes there’s a feeling of “well, of course it happened, that was just the way things were headed.” Here’s the thing though, nothing great and important in history just happened. Individuals had to stand up and change the course of events deliberately, often at the cost of their own lives.

The opening ceremony of the 30th modern Olympic games in London last weekend was a joyous celebration of everything that is important and central to London and the United Kingdom and the values that the Allied forces fought so hard to preserve in WWII.

In a stark contrast to the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, London did not express militaristic might through a ceremony that reeked of insecurity and hubris. Instead they looked in the mirror and showcased what we all should be proud of as Americans and people who value freedom.

When the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children started performing “God Save The Queen,” I was kind of confused. Why wouldn’t you put forth a better musical presentation for the Olympic ceremony? But as I watched these children with special needs perform the anthem and felt tears welling up, it made completely sense.

Hitler categorized people with special needs as genetically inferior and placed them in concentration camps. It wasn’t uncommon in our culture in past generations to not allow family members with special needs to participate in important family events like weddings. So it is truly extraordinary that London put these amazing children in front of the world to perform one of the most important songs in their culture. There were other moments that spoke directly against Hitler’s distorted ideas of racial superiority like the love story featuring an interracial couple and Freddie Mercury’s image shown proudly during the playing of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The connection to history was powerful but didn’t overshadow the future. J.K. Rowling paid tribute to the great authors of children’s literature that made her success possible. The youth who lit the cauldron paid tribute to the past generations but ran the final length to light the fire representing future generations. The focus on pop music covered decades of songs that spoke to generations of young people.

The United Kingdom celebrated last weekend not only the Olympics but what it truly means to live in a democracy that values liberty and freedom. Many countries and many people across the world would scoff at children with special needs being on stage, and ending the ceremony singing "Hey Jude," a song written to comfort a child whose parents are going through a divorce. London didn’t try to placate any of these people and reminded all of us the amazing results of the freedoms that we all too often take for granted.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Student Teaching Part IV - The Feeling of 5th Place

This is the fourth entry of my student teaching journals (Part IPart II & Part III).

We didn’t do so good.

It was really cold but the students had a great 2 hour rehearsal. The kids’ focus was impressive, but it just didn’t carry through. Things were not lining up and working on the field. There were many issues and the thing is that it really makes the kids walk away with a bad taste in their mouths when they are in 5th place overall.

At Northwestern I don’t ever remember being done with a show and not feeling proud of what I did. The games and the service to the community was so central to the experience of the marching band. In high school one of my favorite moments was my last marching band game and the thing is that was such a big deal for me. In a way I feel like having that as the pivotal moment of the season helps the students feel more proud of what they do then having it be dependent on a ranking in a competition.

If what happened last year happens again and they get 2nd place, it is going to be a great way to end the season but what happens if the kids really do their best and they don’t win because another band had a better drill writer? So much of what is analyzed has nothing to do with the students efforts and that is really difficult for students to really connect with and feel proud of.

I would love to combine the best of both worlds and have students get good motivation from competitions but have the come from doing home games and truly loving every second of what they do. I think the games can be as big a deal but in a different way. Yes, it’s not a competition but competitions do not motivate all students equally. Part of me thinks that understanding the service part and working through that is a more valuable connection that will stay with the students.

Winning a competition teaches tons about who students are and what it means to win a competition, but life is not all about competitions. It’s about understanding the role of something bigger then yourself for benefits that sometimes are not as tangible as a trophy. Auditions and competitions make the intangible quantifiable and that is good because that is easier for younger students to understand. The thing is that the motivation and art of music is not tangible. There is something in the heart that makes music special.

The main thing I took away from that night was a questions of what competition really means to music. I’m not sure I’d put my students through competitions and have this be as central to their marching band experience. Thinking now, the pride in the band needs to come from a bigger pride in the community. That’s what I learned from marching band. It’s a great thing to serve a community. It makes the students part of something bigger then the band, bigger then the community and creates a feeling of pride that they will carry for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem

“And with this pen, I thee wed from my heart to your distress.”

The most important messages in my life are handwritten: the cards I’ve received from loved ones, the notes of devotion I write to Diana and the first letter I wrote to my niece Amelia.

Writing things by hand is a pain for me. I’m left handed so my hand often cramps up when I write for too long. My handwriting is naturally pretty messy so it takes a lot of effort for me to write in a way that is legible. Also, there’s the fact that I write much slower than I type and there’s the lack of ability to edit. But it’s worth it.

Everybody’s handwriting is like a fingerprint and through this expression we not only read the words but feel who they are. The title “Handwritten,” the new single from Gaslight Anthem takes this idea and delves deep into feelings of loss and the connections between us that save us in our darkest moments.

The first verse starts by describing a song that the protagonist has been crying to since a young age. The fact that this song is out there and expresses the pain he feels helps him know that he’s not alone. He believes that “they’re waiting to heal,” and through this faith’s “holding his breath,” hoping for something better.

The chorus begins with “sirens that never come,” help that never actually shows up. So they write by the moon, to “ease the loss of youth and how many years I’ve missed you.” The chorus touches upon that idea that through self-expression, whether its music or writing we can find salvation.

The second verse deepens this sense of connection. There’s the holding of hands and the acknowledgment that they have both been hurt in the same way. “There’s nothing like another soul that’s been cut up the same,” isn’t a “misery loves company” sentiment but an expression of relief like in the first verse knowing that someone isn’t alone in their feelings.

The bridge pushes all the pain aside and describes the feelings of love through the beauty of the night.
Here, in the dark,
I cherish the moonlight
I'm in love with the way you're in love with the night
And it travels from heart, to limb, to pen.
He loves her and appreciates what is central to what she loves: the moonlight. This is foreshadowed in the early choruses “And we only write by the moon."  It comes straight form his heart to the pen, the way that he expresses in more than any other way his love.

One of the things I love about The Gaslight Anthem is the way they play around with the verse chorus form. Often just when you think they are going to end a song or simply repeat a chorus in the a way you expect that they do it in a slightly different way mirroring the journey their characters go on in their music.

The bridge has a different texture without drums and a thinner instrumentation. This isn’t really unexpected, but what they do coming out of this sections is creative and powerful. Instead of simply going straight back into the chorus, they sing the first two lines of the chorus slower with a different melodic line. They don’t finish the chorus but instead they build up to the introductory guitar riff.  The song continues to build to one of the most beautiful lines I’ve heard in a rock song in recent memory: “And with this pen, I thee wed from my heart to your distress.”

The music video is a triumph as well.  It follows the creation of song into a record, which is then passed around. This video is subtle and powerful, with moments of deep emotion illustrating the different personal meanings one song can bring to many people. 

Next time you need to write someone a note, pick up a pen and write it by hand. It may or may not feel that different for the recipient but it will feel different for you.  These words will mean more to you and to those who read your words by capturing feelings and memories that the heart sometimes forgets but the soul yearns to remember.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How The Little Man Learned To Dance

When I was in high school, I was that guy during the school dances that awkwardly stood around the periphery. Now I wasn’t alone, I remember most of the guys during dances didn’t actually “dance.”

Why not?

There was the feeling of not knowing “how” to dance and wanting to be cool. High school is a time when young adults try so hard to fit in and deal with their insecurities. Taking a chance by going out on a dance floor isn’t something most high school boys in my school were willing to take.

My girlfriend at the time was annoyed about this and she tried to teach me to dance. At the time, I found this annoying and I just didn’t feel at ease, moreover I didn’t want to dance. I do have one memory of going to a dance with a female friend (it was this girl) who managed to get me out on the dance floor because for a moment she was able to make me not care about being cool. Unfortunately this experience was fleeting and I spent high school at dances standing around.

Then my freshmen year at college, I encountered one of the most intimidating, charismatic, mysterious, and sometimes stunningly beautiful group of people I’ve ever met in my life: upperclassmen girls.

My social group was focused around marching band and many guys in my marching band were in the fraternity Phi Mu Alpha (which I later joined) and a lot of girls were in a fraternity for woman, Sigma Alpha Iota.

I got to know people in this group through marching band, eating together at the dining hall and during social events. One of these social events early in the year was a dance party at the Phi Mu Alpha house.

When I got to the party, I was shocked. This was totally different than high school dances. Everybody was dancing, boys and girl. However, this wasn’t enough to encourage me to get out there so I proceeded to stand against the wall awkwardly.

Then one of the upperclassmen girls, came over grabbed my hand and pulled me into the center of the room. In shock over the fact that this girl had just grabbed my hand, my mind pretty much exploded when I felt her hands on the side of my hips helping me move to the beat. Looking down, barely being able to comprehend what was happening, I heard her voice say to me, laughing to herself, “Hey, Little Man, I’m up here.”

When I looked up and our eyes met, suddenly I stopped worrying about being cool, or what other people were thinking. It wasn’t about doing a dance move or even moving to a beat, it was about loosing yourself in a song, in an experience with another person.

As I looked around the room, I noticed that a lot of people in the room weren’t so much “dancing” but just vaguely moving to the beat, doing silly motions and singing-along to the songs and everyone was smiling.

That was the first time I ever truly had fun dancing. There were other upperclassmen girls who helped pull me out of my shell and got me to loosen up on and off the dance floor. I am forever grateful for the interest they took in me.

That class as well as the upperclassmen girls who were around my sophomore year taught me how to dance. More than that, they taught me to not take my seriously and how to really have fun.

Guys, if you don't like to dance, get over yourself.  Find a female friend that you trust who enjoys dancing and try some things out.  Trust me, no one cares how stupid you look just as long as you're having fun.  Girls if you're trying to get a guy in your life to dance, be patient with them.  If you can make them feel at ease and comfortable by truly embracing their dancing, good or bad, and just enjoy the experience, you'll be surprised how much your man can move.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Student Teaching Part III - The Most Important Part Of Teaching

This is the third entry of my student teaching journals (Part I & Part II).

Today I got to talk to Mr. S about some issues with teaching. He thinks the most important thing a teacher has is that he or she cares about her kids. The second most important thing is that the teacher has a level of artistic integrity. These two are very close. It is interesting that the choir teacher and the orchestra teacher show different parts of that spectrum. I know that I care about the kids. I do not find that part difficult. What is interesting is that I feel I have a strong sense of artistic integrity for music however it is not solely centered on band music. Band literature is just one facet of music that interests me, not the central one.

When you explain things to people and you try to relate it to what they know, you validate their knowledge. That shows that you care about them and are willing to go the extra step to explain something. It is saying that you already know something and that all you are doing is reminding them of something that they already know. This is a powerful idea that I think helps people understand others. Kids appreciate someone who is willing to ask how you are doing and honestly cares and will spend only a little time to make a real connection. It doesn’t take a lot but I feel like that is the fastest and most effective way to get students to like you.

Can you change a kid when her parents aren't being good models of what you are trying to teach in four years? Yes you can, they can learn that their parents do not have all the right answers and that they do not need to be exactly like their parents.

Mr. S talked to April’s mom and she was as scatterbrained as April and he doesn't think the change in April is going to come from home. Mr. S told me that you can't give up and that you can show the students a better way. It's possible, it's hard but it's real.

Yesterday there were two inappropriate comment one was about homosexuals and one was racial and I stopped and told the kids it was not ok. I told Mr. S and he said what I did was right. They are boys and good kids but they don't know the weight of what they say. I'm in an inbetween position as a teacher/student, so it was good and important for me to identify myself as a teacher in this situation and reprimand these students.

It's weird because it's about who I am.  It's forcing me to clean up the way I talk and the way I think and express myself. And if I'm asking students to be better in who they are I need to do that for myself. In a way teaching these students to be better people forces myself to be a better person as well. It's great that it forces me to grow . . . but it's hard.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) by Meat Loaf

Somewhere between Broadway show tunes, 1970s rock, and the melodrama of opera there is Meat Loaf.

I genuinely love Meat Loaf as a musician and actor. Sometimes articles about Meat Loaf and reviews look at him as a guilty pleasure, something that you know is not very good but you enjoy regardless.

The more I think about it, the more I dislike the idea of a guilty pleasure. It implies that you are ashamed of liking something. The only way that you can explain your love of a guilty pleasure is by admitting to people it isn’t very good so you aren’t embarrassed. But you should never feel embarrassed for enjoying a piece of art. And if someone makes fun of you for liking something they think is garbage, it’s there loss.

I’m here to say that Meat Loaf is a fantastic singer and his music, most of which was written by Jim Steinmen (who was also responsible for “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”) creates masterful, remarkable and powerful pop music. I don’t us the term “pop music” as a derogatory term but rather as a way approach this piece of art. Art needs to be analyzed for what it is, not what it’s not. The strength of a song is determined by uncovering the intention of an artist and then, figuring out how well they did that.

If someone is making a horror film and it’s really scary, it’s a great movie. If someone intends to make a romantic comedy and you analyze it as a horror movie, it’s not going to get very good reviews.

The reason why I’m starting my look at Meat Loaf with “I Would Do Anything For Love” is because this was my introduction to Meat Loaf and the world of Jim Steinmen. I agree that Bat Out Of Hell is a better album, but it was Bat Out Of Hell II and the lead single “I Would Do Anything For Love” that captured my imagination as an 11-year-old as one of the most influential albums in my life.

Let me get the obvious and over-discussed question out of the way. When Meat Loaf sings, “I would do anything for love but I won’t do that,” he is saying he would do anything to feel love and be loved except for cheat on his girlfriend and have an affair.  Meat Loaf played around with this during interviews of the time but it doesn’t really take much explication to figure out what this song is about.

The lyrics are very straightforward. In other songs like “Bat Out Of Hell,” Steinmen layers imagery and symbolism to create passionate melodrama.  In this song, it’s just one person stating his commitment to love and the lines he’s not willing to cross. In describing  there’s something he wouldn’t do for love, it defines what love truly is and the relationship that he holds sacred.

Yes, this is a long song. The trimmed down single version is about eight minutes and the album version is twelve minutes long. Is that too long? I find it interesting when people talk about how big a deal a song longer than five minutes is in pop music when movements in classical music often are at longer lengths. Yes, it can be reasonably argued that there are places that this song could be cut down, but if you put aside any expectations of length and let this song reveal itself, it really works at its longer length.

Meat Loaf is a powerful singer and a magnetic performer. Here is a performer who can’t possibly put more into every note he sings. His rich, intense, tortured voice is unlike anything in pop music. “I Would Do Anything For Love” is the perfect marriage of a song to a performer. There’s no one else who could really sell the melodrama of this song. When Meat Loaf sings “no one else can save me now but you,” it’s heartbreaking.

I’m convinced that often we stand in the way of letting ourselves enjoy art. We tell ourselves that things aren’t good, or that because something fits within a stereotype that we won’t like it. When we do this we make it so that we can’t enjoy something. If all you do in life is focus on the multitude of reason to not enjoy something, than that’s all you are left with.

If you don’t like this song. That’s fine, but make sure that you don’t like it for the right reasons.

People didn’t want to admit that they loved this song when it was out. I didn’t understand back then why people couldn’t celebrate their love of this song and I still don’t quite get it. Be proud. Music is not about being cool or going with the crowd. It’s about reveling in your own passion and through someone else’s expression, experiencing part of yourself.

I’m proud to say that Meat Loaf’s music continues to take me to that beautiful place where passion and love reigns supreme. There’s no social commentary and there’s no instruments or musical techniques that draw attention to themselves as musical innovations. It’s a fantasy world where all you need is love and the power of melodrama sweeps away cynicism and leaves you with the grandeur and magic of rock music.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Because I Have Crohn's Disease - Part 2 of 2

(click here for part I)

My mom is kind of like Forrest Gump’s mom except she’s not as nice.

Don’t get me wrong, my mom is one of the nicest people on the planet but when it comes to advice she’s tough and doesn’t let people be victims.

When I talked to her after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, I remember her being silent for a second and then instead of expressing sympathy she told me about her life.  My mom revealed to me that she has had to deal with allergies since she was a child, mostly in the form of hives. Only in recent years with new medicine and the availability of foods without preservative has she been able to get this under control.

My mom told me to deal with Crohn’s. She was strong enough to live life with hives, therefore I could live life with Crohn’s. It’s part of my life and I had to make it work. I couldn’t let this thing petrify me.

The problem was that it did.

After being diagnosed with Crohn’s things didn’t immediately get better.  Instead of being a relief, knowing that I had Crohn’s, the diagnosis meant that I couldn’t forget about it.

This all occured when I was doing job interviews. I remember packing toilet paper and an extra pair of pants whenever I went to an interview for fear of my stomach turning on me.  While I’m glad to say, I’ve never had an “accident,” I’ve had a lot of close calls especially during that period of time.

The fear of having an “accident,” is something that we all have felt at some point in our lives. It’s a horrible feeling.  There really is no reason to be embarrassed about this, but when it happens you feel alone and powerless. Like a soldier in battle, you start making deals with God if you can just make it to a bathroom in time.

Crohn’s was going to change my life, so I figured I could either let it scare me or I could take control and make those changes positive. I started going to a psychologist for biofeedback training and consoling. I started exercising. Most importantly I took a careful look at what I was eating and I made sure to never miss a of medicine.

Somehow the combination of all of those things worked.

At one point in my life I feared not being within eyesight of a bathroom. That same guy in the past six years has gone on a 20-hour long bus ride with a group of teenage band students, traveled through Europe, hiked through remote areas of this world, and survived, no more than that, triumphed in some of the most stressful situations in my life.

I’ve done all of these things and more with Crohn’s.

Crohn’s is still a challenge. I do have occasional flare ups and there are times when I need to cancel on social events at the last moment because of my Crohn’s. Most of the time I don’t tell people, because I am still irrationally embarrassed by it and I don’t want people to pity me.

If you have a medical problem that hinders your dreams and the life you want to live, face it, deal with it and make it better.  It's not going to get improve by ignoring it.  Chronic digestive issues lead to major, sometimes life-threatening problems later in life so please get yourself checked out.

Because I have Crohn’s Disease, I need a pill box to keep my medications in order.  Because I have Crohn’s Disease, I’ve now had two colonoscopies an experience that only people my parents’ age can relate to.  And because I have Crohn’s Disease, I’ve learned that if you take the bad things life, the parts that aren't fair and you embrace them as part of who you are, there's strength that is revealed that can take you to places that you never imagined. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Student Teaching Part II - Teachers & Parents

This is the second entry of my student teaching journals (click here for Part I).

 Staff development. Some teachers are SO not into this time. It seems like a lot of people feel it is a waste of time. i got into it because I'm new to this but I can understand why some teachers get annoyed. A lot of it is common sense and so much of what is going on is something teachers understand through maturity.

It reveals more about the teachers and their attitudes and gives and interesting view on the way they think and interact. I kept thinking that the way students act is a reflection of the way teachers act. How many of these problems and negative attitudes stem from teachers setting a bad example which can be solved by teachers not only pushing themselves as teachers but also as people?

There was an issue that Mr. S passed on to me about an issue he outlined the best way to deal with it. First, talk to administrators and ask for their advice. If they do this they buy in to what you are saying doing and the school district will legally back you up. TALK to administrators about controversial issues. That is important. Then talk to parents after your reasoning is clear and sound and is approved with administrator’s help and critiques. The thing administrators hate the most is being blindsided.

PARENTS: limit what they do. Give parents things to do and do not let them outside of that bubble. They are their to help the band not run the band.

MONEY=POWER. If parents raise money for something they feel they have more of a right to give input for what is going on. This is dangerous. It is crucial that things that should be paid for by the school are not paid through fundraising by parents.

First competition is on Saturday. It will be interesting to see what pulls together and what doesn’t. Did work with both of the drum majors this week and they are getting there musically along with the band.

"Don't looks to the left or right to see how good you can be."

Today was really interesting. Two parents of the kids who were having some of the biggest issues in the band came in and talked to Mr. S. Mr. S mentioned how if you are tough on students and push them then you are forced to make hard decisions. When this happens, parents get involved. Kids and parents are pushed outside of their comfort zones but it is a good thing.

Both of these parents respected Mr. S and understood that he had to do what he had to do. It was more that these mothers were trying to help their kids by giving Mr. S more information to help them out as a teacher. This was an amazing thing to witness. There really is nothing like a mother speaking out for her child.

You see it in movies and you hear stories but until you are in a room hearing a mother talk about her child how it breaks her heart to see them struggle . . . well . . . it's really something that makes you think. Well . . .today starts classes and school. I am worried that it will be hard to sit in a freshmen level class at college and be taught and well . . . it's really going to shade in comparison to what i do during the day. but hell, there's always tomorrow

I gave Katie a good talk about trusting parents and stuff. . . you really can make a difference . . . I hope. . . you just gotta try. .

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

Because I Have Crohn's Disease - Part 1 of 2

“Dude, is that a pill box? What are you . . . like 80 years old? Why do you need to take so many pills?”

“Because I have Crohn’s Disease.”
We all have quirks with our bodies. Some people have bad knees or get migraines; my thing is that I have Crohn’s. When I was born my stomach wasn’t full developed. Feeding me wasn’t an easy task for my mom and I didn’t have much of an appetite during my childhood.

As I entered my teenage years and got through my growth spurts, I started eating more like a regular teenager but my bowel movements (BMs) were often irregular. I did have a stool sample checked out when I was in high school but nothing came of it. I learned through trial and error that I couldn’t eat like other teenagers and that it seemed like a lot of different foods set my stomach off in a bad way.

In college my digestive system actually did pretty good. The schedule of college of classes with lots of break in-between meant there wasn’t a level of stress around going to the bathroom, which I later found out was a major factor in my Crohn’s.

I ate like other college students and did some partying. Even though I had some instances when my stomach wasn’t happy, for the most part, I didn’t think about my digestive system. Then in my second year of grad school I started student teaching and things got bad.

Working eight-hour days in a high stress environment resulted in stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation and other levels of digestive discomfort. It got worse in the Fall but I seemed to manage it but then when that Spring hit, I couldn’t take it any more.

Jamie Lee Curtis is right on those Activia commercials. Irregularities in your BM’s are not normal. If you have diarrhea for more than a week straight, you need to see a doctor. After suffering through months of discomfort, I finally went to see a gastroenterologist. This resulted in a colonoscopy (they basically sent a camera my butt) and a biopsy (taking a sample of tissue in my lower intestine).

After the procedure and some tests were done I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. In short, Crohn’s is a inflammatory autoimmune disease. This is a chronic condition in which certain factors, environmental, genetic and others effect the digestive system in an abnormal way. Diarrhea is a normal and necessary function when a person gets food poisoning. The difference is that a person with Crohn’s may get diarrhea for being stressed out or for no explainable reason.

I did not take the news well when I was told I had Crohn’s. I was really angry. First off, I was put on a lot of medicine to calm my digestive tract down and at the same time begin taking maintenance pills to keep my system calmed down.

At that time, I was taking ten pills a day.

This was ridiculous. This wasn’t fair. What did I do to deserve this? Why did I have to have a colonoscopy at a twenty-four year old and then find out that he has a chronic disease that will never leave him?

I had already spent way too much time worrying about whether I’d make it to bathroom in time, wondering what would happen if I ate something and thinking about my digestive system as opposed to my life.

What did having Crohn’s mean for my future?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Student Teaching Part I - The Beggining

Looking through some old computer files recently I found my student teaching journal.  I wrote in this document every day of my student teaching.  Below is the first of nine blog posts that are taken from this journal.  I've editing it down significantly (the journal was forty-five pages single spaced typed) but left the syntax the same to preserve the spirit of the entries. 
Mr. S told me something very important about teaching today.  If you show your students that you care about them then you can be stern and even angry with them.  Kids will take it and understand it if they get that what you are doing is coming out of care and love.

There are some sad stories with the students.  One kid has issues with her parents and has really been let down by adults in her life and therefore has issues taking on responsibilities.  It just seems like there is such real issues and problems that these students have.  Seeing the parents in action in some ways really relates how some of these students deal with these issues.

I talked to one horn player who’s parents never come to these band events.  I was surprised how open she was to talk about it and in some ways she probably just needed someone to talk to.  It’s these small moments that make what I am doing feel more significant.

This was the in-service day.  All of the teachers in the district crammed into one gym to hear the new superintendent give a speech along with all the other district heads.

The superintendent shared a story about how during one in-service day all the students’ names were placed around the walls of a big gym and teachers went up and put sticker dots on the names of kids they have made real connections with. The students who had the fewest dots had the most issues in school. I’m really trying to focus on making every conversation and interaction with the students count and not waste an opportunity to help out or make a positive difference in the lives of the students.

One thing that hit me today was how you have to trust your instincts sometimes. One girl I decided to pass on a playing test, even though she didn’t have it all together because I felt she had been working very hard and later I found that she had a learning disability. I’m glad I subconsciously caught that. I need to work on not being a nice guy and focusing on making the hard choices that will benefit the students.  I will get there with time.

It is interesting to see how things get planned out in teaching situation. With marching band there is the spectre of the weather to deal with and the constant crunch time that makes the marching band season so hectic.

Mr. S decided to take the band to U of I this year and the reasons came from a financial and ultimately educational standpoint.  It is amazing the power of competition over people in a band culture.  There is so much to gain but there is also so much that can be easily compromised. I find    competitive nature interesting and how worked up people get about playing times fighting for their students to have the best experience.

At ISU the band would not have been as competitive and would have ended the season on a down not but at U of I they have the possibility to win.  Here is the weird thing, someone is going to come in last place, some school is going to have a down turn for the end of the season and it sucks for that band.

Is it worth the glory and the rewards of the band that wins over the price of the bands that lose. It's a community philosophy and unfortunately it's as much or even more of a reflection of the programs and the teachers as opposed to the students. Is so many ways it's not even a competition of the bands but the directors. As the competition side of this is so new to me it will be interesting to see how the students react to competition and how it drives and motivates them towards success.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American Anthem by Norah Jones

On this Independence Day, the first thing that came to mind was Norah Jones. Let me explain:

The last couple years I’ve begun watching more documentaries. I love the American Experience series, which shares many writers and producers with the documentary work of Ken Burns.

One of the things that contribute to a great documentary is the use of music. Ken Burns clearly understanding this using period music in artful and deliberate ways, however sometimes he includes music that is not from the period to great effect.

In Ken Burn’s epic Civil War documentary, an original song “Ashokan Farewell,” accompanied the reading of a letter of Sullivan Ballou (which I discussed in this earlier post). This is one of those “if you don’t cry when you watch this, you must be a Cylon” moments.

Burns did a similar thing again using a Norah Jones song as part of his World War II documentary The War.

Burn’s juxtaposes Jones’ gentle and sincere voice against images from World War II. These are images of terror, bravery, triumph and tragedy. There’s American fighting in unimaginable situations pushing aside their survival instincts and logic to fight for the idea, the dream, and the hope that is America.

As Jones sings “I gave my best to you,” we see a soldier who was killed in battle half buried in sand. He gave more than his best, he gave his everything. Watching this video is a celebration and a tribute to people who fought for our freedom but it’s also a question to all of us whether we give our best to America.

Today we celebrate our independence and the creation of our country. These are two incredible gifts we’ve been given that most of us have done nothing to earn. Did I do any work to have the freedoms I enjoy? No.

There are still many Americans who fight in the military to preserve our freedoms but most people don’t. We go about our daily lives, sometimes thinking about what we can do for our country and other times thinking about what our country can do for us.  But honestly, most of the time we’re too wrapped up in our own lives to even think about our relationship to our country.

In addition to seeing fireworks, partying with our friends and family, let’s take this Independence Day to think about how we can give our best to America. It can be something as simple as committing to go to a city council meeting, or volunteering at a community event.

We can’t earn our blessings but if we take advantage of them in a positive way then we can make the spirits of the people who truly gave their best rest easy, knowing their sacrifices were not made in a vain.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson

I literally ran across a parking lot to Barnes & Noble to buy Kelly Clarkson's previous album because of how much I liked “My Life Would Suck Without You.” So what happened with “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”? . . . eh. . .

My first reaction to this song was to the title. It seemed really cliché to use that saying for the title of a song. So I ignored this song for months. Then it hit me recently: many pop songs, some of my favorites are settings of clichés, so what am I whining about? Then I realized that it wasn’t so much that the title was cliché it was the phrase that was being used.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” always came across to me as a type of euphemism. This phrase seems to be something people say to convince themselves that a bad experience in life has some worth. That spirit really isn’t such a bad thing, I mean, I’m an optimist so I’m down with that. But the reality is that many bad experiences that don’t kill you do not in fact make you stronger. Wounds sometimes never fully heal and sometimes there are scars that are left behind.

Not liking the lyrics in a song’s hook is a perfectly valid reason to not like it, but for Kelly Clarkson an artist that I enjoy so much that the first blog post I ever did was about “Since U Been Gone,” it didn’t feel right. So I decided to really see what this song was about.

“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” is a spiritual sequel to “Since U Been Gone.” In Clarkson’s first and most popular single, she is singing about a break-up and the immediate feelings that follow. It’s a song that’s a mix of anger “shut your mouth, I just can’t take it,” and liberation “I can breathe for the first time.” It captures the transition between the depression and self-blame and the spirit of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”

In “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” there’s no acknowledgement of that this break-up had any bad effects. The pain in “Since U Been Gone,” is diminished and the hint of liberation in that song is exploded in an anthem of self-empowerment.  The background harmony and instrumental texture has a dark shade to it. This sets up the anger and pain that Kelly is singing about getting over.

Clarkson has come a long way from “Since U Been Gone.” In early recordings she simply screamed through the high notes, now she belts them out with more strength and depth. While there is a characteristic strain to her singing there’s also a sense of ease watching her sing and a feeling that Clarkson is really enjoying herself.

After listening to this song, I think I better understand the "doesn't kill you make you stronger," sentiment.  I still don't love this statement and I think it's really really poor consolation to give someone who is going through hard times.  But hearing the strength and conviction the Clarkson sings with, it's beginning to make sense.    

Be careful, don't judge a song by its cliche, you never know what you may be missing out on.