Sunday, May 25, 2008

Live Concerts

Some of the best gigs I've seen are those with teachers I know playing. My former jazz director plays sax in a jazz quintet; my current trombone teacher plays in a funk band along with other faculty. Once, I was at a swing dancing venue and the band playing there was being led by a legendary former teacher of the area. Many of the Concordia faculty play in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and it's always a pleasure to get to go see them.

The value of seeing live performances can not be understated or overlooked, no matter what level. There's a certain magic that happens between performer and audience that can not be captured in a recording and can not be reproduced no matter how many audiophiles approve of your stereo. And yet, there seem to be so many impediments in the way of getting students, especially young ones, to see live music.

At the most practical level, though, we are talking about the business end of music, and most venues don't cater to elementary students, one classroom at a time. Because of this, many jazz clubs are expensive, many serve alcohol and can't legally admit anyone under 21 years old, and many venues' shows start once many 5th-graders are in bed.

Here's what I have seen done to combat this :

First, our High School's winter jazz concert always invites the 8th-grade jazz band to come and play some and then listen to what's in store for them in the years to come. The High School bands aren't professional, but they're still impressive to the kids whose crowning achievement was to play an 8-bar solo on "Louie Louie." Also for this concert, our jazz director works the budget so that he can bring in a name artist from around the Twin Cities area to clinic with the bands and play a feature and some solos with the top two groups. This has often been a wonderful experience because although some times the guests talk above our level, they often can play at such a level that is completely wowing to even the best musician but also something that your average Joe can dig and get into.

Also, I've seen the Dakota Bar and Grill sometimes open up their stage to various student groups, the business incentive being that you get all the friends and family members in the club, looking at their ads and buying their food. I laud them for doing this because it gives some real gigging experience to a beginner group while forgoing the cover to a really prestigious venue that has seen a lot of great names play there.

The same jazz director as above has also often worked deals with the venues he's played at to reduce the cover or otherwise help get kids in and see good music well played. One especially cool night was when I got to see their quintet play to a packed house at Brilliant Corners, and packed not with students, but with serious jazz lovers; this really gave our director some credence with the students and parents who were there.

However, I know that I come from a really extraordinary program with some really extraordinary people. In my own teaching, I'd like to try and make as many of the opportunities I had available to me available to my students. However, this just opens up a host of questions : Would arranging group discounts make things feasible for low-income families? With the rising costs in transportation, how can I budget that in? Would my administration look kindly upon having parent volunteer drivers? What about the busier schedules that kids have these days? Could they find time to come? Would it be fair to tie students' grades (extra credit or otherwise) to something that they're not legally required to attend? (because I as a teacher can't make them attend things after school and make it count for a grade - isn't that the law as it stands?)

Still, there are so many good things that I've seen come of getting that kind of interactive experience that I find myself with no choice but to try and make ends meet. Ideally, what I'd like to see is this : in class the days before, we talk about what we're going to see; we also draft questions to ask the performers, learn a bit about their art and about the pieces on the program, and learn about concert etiquette for whichever venue we're going to. The day of, however we get there, we show up and hopefully will have arranged for some sort of pre-concert lecture or discussion; I've seen the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra do both of these things to great effect. Then, the concert starts, my students are perfect little angels (oh please oh please!), and the concert ends. Afterwards, we hopefully will have arranged for a post-concert talk, formal or informal, for which the students will have prepared questions so we don't waste the time with this person/people. They learn a lot, and we have a brief discussion the next day in class to recap and for me to get some feedback.

In a case where I'd really have some budget to blow, I'd love to bring in a musician from the group to do a clinic with the band and have some one-on-one time that way. Perhaps this could be part of a pre-concert talk if we're lucky enough to have the group come to our school so we can share a concert, have the clinic, and not have to pay for our own busing.

Also, there's nothing stopping me from teaming up with other local schools to help cut the cost by splitting it between two schools. I've already told several of my friends that I'm going to be calling upon them once we're all teaching to do this if we end up teaching close to each other. Heck, if I expanded to enough schools, I could turn it into a regular jazz festival.

Finally, I'd love to know how to get parents involved in this process. I know there must be a myriad of ways to do so, but which would be the best use of my time and energy? Perhaps, if there's really some problem about concert etiquette from the audience at concerts, I could use it as a way to show how people listen to non-rock concerts. Or perhaps I could parents as further cash leveraging, saying that I could double their numbers by bringing parents if they could give us more of a discount. Obviously, I'd need parent chaperons, but the more I can get, the fewer discipline problems I'd foresee.

I'd love to hear what the community has to think about this, and if you've got any ideas you wouldn't mind telling, please let me know. Before too long, I'll try and get a post about fund-raising this whole operation out there.

Happy weekend to you all,

Monday, May 12, 2008

Eductaion discussion on PBS

I just saw Randi Weingarten speaking on Charlie Rose on PBS. It was really quite interesting to hear someone speaking sanely about education and not blowing things out of proportion and making them seem cataclysmic. For example, many programs like NCLB, vouchers, teacher incentives, and the like are often talked about in a manner that makes it sounds like since something isn't working, nothing will ever work again! (there's a word for that, but I can't think of it now...) In fact, they played a clip from an earlier interview Rose did on education, and the man (whose name I didn't catch) was talking about, for lack of a better term at the moment, "lazy" teachers, and saying all the usual things about how impossible it is to be fired once they get tenure and how they destroy the system and all. Weingarten pointed out that the only difference between firing a new teacher and a tenured teacher is that the tenured teacher has to go through a hearing first (teachers out there : verification?) and that it's easier than people think to get bad teachers fired. However, she did seem to avoid the topic of whether the bad teachers really do get fired.

That was another interesting aspect to me - how Weingarten and Rose interacted. Rose obviously was trying to get certain answers out of her by steering the conversation and biasing the questions, but Weingarten dealt with it in two distinct ways - first, she turned the questions around to get across her own points, and second, she payed very special attention to the details about what Rose was saying so he couldn't back her into an answer, which, honestly, is a trap that she could have all to easily fallen into. However, she seemed like she was avoiding several questions simply because Rose was asking cut-and-dry questions, and she obviously was not willing to simplify the complex and multidimensional situations into a cut-and-dry answer for him.

I wish I could remember more of this now. Tomorrow, I'm going to look for a copy or rerun somewhere; there was a lot of good stuff in it.


P.S.: oh yeah, she gave a big plug for arts and music! Represent! Although, her "magic wand" list at the end of the program didn't mention the arts, she did mention getting, keeping, and working with good teachers and administration (one of several good points, but this was what stuck out because that's what Rose manipulated to be her main point at the end)

EDIT: so, I found the page where the video is eventually going to be, although I don't know how long that's going to take or how much video they're going to make available.

Also, I do now remember that they were talking about salaries, and Weingarten said something to the effect of using school-wide pay incentives to aid recruitment in certain core areas instead of just boosting pay in just the English or Math department, which is what Rose was trying to get at, I think. (I may have this a little muddled, but I'll find out for sure once the video is out) Now, I can see where Rose was coming with this, that in giving incentives to all teachers, you're rewarding those who aren't deserving of or needing incentives. But, look at it from the other way - what is it saying to the music or gym teacher who sees their core-subject co-workers not only getting more scheduling sway but also more pay? How demoralizing!

EDIT: The video has now been updated; you can use the link above. Enjoy!


Being in college, it's remarkably easy to seal yourself from the outside world. That's why it came as such a surprise to me when I finally was able to uncover my head from a load of books and saw that IAJE, the International Association for Jazz Education, declared bankruptcy!

Now, I don't know how old this news is, but it looks like MENC is stepping up to the plate to help fill the gap; good news?

Near as I can tell, yes and no. Naturally, it's good to have another national organization help promote jazz, but jazz is not the main focus of MENC and I have my doubts as to whether or not it can do IAJE's work nearly as well. On that note, though, the deficit was supposed to be more than $1 million. Simply blaming this on lower attendance at the last conference seems a little strange; if there were an extra 5,000 people, each paying $100 to attend, that only covers half of it. I'm just making up these numbers, though; can anyone else provide more realistic figures?

So, more importantly, what is to be done now? Should MENC risk over-reaching its boundaries like IAJE is said to have done? Personally, I hope to see some grassroots movement from the music-ed blogosphere - people writing articles, networking, and in the long term, trying to bring things back together, whether its scope is national or local.

Finally, after some quick digging, has at least some of the old IAJE journal articles stored in cache. Can a mirror be made of the old site? Copyright lawyer, anyone?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Phew! Finals are done! What a grueling race to the end this has been. My juries went fine, and I turned in all 11 of the papers (no joke) that were due in the last two weeks of school. Oy...

I want to explore for a minute one of the most basic concepts of music-making : listening. Obviously, every good musician does this, both with the horn on and off the face, but what I want to ask is how "interdisciplinary" a musician can effectively be with their listening choices? For example, you're not going to learn a lot about the ii/V/I progression listening to acid trance, but I feel that listening to and mimicking electronic music has given me a better ear in general because I have to be able to hear and process the differences in tones, what they mean, balance and blend, and a host of other things as I incorporate them into my own music.

However, I seem to get a twinge of embarrassment when I admit that I listen to and (nay) enjoy (!) electronic music; after all, it's associated with rave culture and the drug scene! We can't have our teachers knowing about that! Historically, though, formal music has lagged behind the popular or folk music; jazz music used to be a taboo, even, and now its theory and idioms are not only being studied as a subject, but studied as a pedagogy! How long may it be before hip-hop and punk rock go the same way?

So, why resist it? Why does academia tend to shy away from popular music as if there is no value in it? Is it because of contempt - that there must not be anything useful in "Classical Gas" because I can write a Schenkarian analysis on it? Why do teachers shy away from it - do they fear that the class may *gasp* know more then they do?? Or is it a simple matter of time, energy, and money? A full set of DJ equipment isn't cheap, and to learn how to effectively create and integrate, say, vocal trance into a curriculum would take a heck of a lot of time and effort. Perhaps more than it's worth, I will concede, if your ends are to make a better choral singer, using the vocal trance idea. But what about if your ends are to impart an enjoyment of music making? And if they aren't, why not?

Personally, I'd like to see more modern music explored in the classroom, or at least as an extracurricular. It may be expensive, and school budgets aren't a lot, but they're probably more than the allowance of your average 8th-grader. (teachers : am I correct in saying this?)

I see that I've diverged a bit; as far as rock goes, I really enjoy listening to Phish and Queen because they're so cerebral as far as the genre goes. They really take things outside of I, IV, and V and into the world of modulations, secondary-function chords, form, etc., but also because other aspects of musicality are so finely taken care of (intonation, rhythmic precision, etc).

Okay, I think I've raised enough questions for one post. Please, discuss...
Happy Monday!