What I've been reading in January

Here is a sampling of articles I've been sharing over the past week. You can get an rss feed of all the articles I find here


While the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will analyse pieces of music to make them more accessible ahead of their performance, the Philharmonia ...
See all stories on this topic »

The Guardian

Buffalo News
Today, 8:38 AM
School districts already are talking about ending full-day kindergarten classes, shutting down programs like music education and scrubbing all ...
See all stories on this topic »  Read more…
Chicago Sun-Times
Today, 7:47 AM
Though he has since earned a master's degree in music education, Schmidt says he doesn't think of himself primarily as a band director. ...
See all stories on this topic »  Read more…
What kind of music makes us spend the most in restaurants? Photo credit. Extending research by North and Hargreaves (1998), this study investigated the effect of music on perceived atmosphere and purchase intentions in a restaurant. ...
Barking up the wrong tree - http://www.bakadesuyo.com/  Read more…
These kinds of questions would be easier to answer if scientists understood the neural circuitry involved, says Charles Limb, a surgeon and saxophonist who studies creativity and is research director of the Neuro Education initiative at Johns Hopkins ... Dr. Limb asked professional jazz musicians to play a keyboard in a brain imager so he could see what was different about their brain activity when they improvised compared to when they played music they had memorized. ...
Creativity at Work Blog - http://www.creativityatwork.com/blog/  Read more…
... conducted research for Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, and earned a Ph.D. in early childhood music education from The Union Institute ...
See all stories on this topic »  Read more…
There is a myriad of evidence that supports the fact that music education helps kids excel in all academic disciplines," he said. "As much as I support athletics, there comes a point where you can't play football anymore. You can sing in a choir or play in ...  Read more…
And then long-term the goal is to fully restore music education K through 8, which is where our mission is, throughout the state. That will take many, many years. But that's our end goal." That is a lot of instruments. While the foundation fully funded the ...  Read more…
(author unknown)
Yesterday, 10:05 PM
PHOENIXVILLE — Providing children with an opportunity to experience music education at an early age, two Phoenixville area organizations have teamed up to make that goal a reality. Through a $12,000 grant given by the Steel City Blues Society, the Give ...  Read more…
Lexington Herald Leader
Yesterday, 9:45 PM
The Louisville Orchestra, which filed for bankruptcy, will be granted emergency funding to pay salaries owed to its musicians. The orchestra said in a news ...
See all stories on this topic »  Read more…

How modern classical music can still succeed

Image Credit- Roger Bourland music blog.

Alex Ross on Modern Classical Music

I’ve been wanting to write about this article by Alex Ross, published in the UK Guardian in November 2010, for some time now. Ross introduces some of the ideas from his new book, Listen to This, which is sure to garner as much attention as his first wildly popular book, The Rest is Noise.

Articles on classical music’s troubles appear daily in various news publications, so why is this book such a breath of fresh air? Three reasons:

  • Ross is a master of historical detail regarding trends and attitudes toward art in the past few hundred years, imbuing his views with relevance.
  • He is a gifted writer with a knack for vivid and evocative descriptions of classical music, indicating his depth of understanding of the music itself.
  • He is not afraid to lay his considerable reputation on the line to say what few others have said, that the whole culture of classical music is deeply troubled.

I’d like to share a story from my own musical history, which relates to the views of Alex Ross.

Believe it or not, my first exposure to Brahms symphonic music was in High School. Although I had started clarinet at age 12, and had played a few simple solos from Brahms clarinet sonatas, I had not heard or played any of his symphonies.

Then, while attending the Interlochen Summer Music Camp, I was in an orchestra which played Brahms 4th symphony in E Minor, Op. 98. I was blown away by how “modern” Brahms sounded. I had enough musical experience and knowledge to compare his music to other more classical period works up through Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Liszt and some 20th century works such as Howard Hanson’s very romantic 2nd Symphony.

Brahms crams inventiveness into every measure, radically daring harmonies and rhythms tucked into an overall “sensible” romantic style. It seems almost too much to enjoy, at least for a casual, passive listening experience. His music was just challenging enough to my relatively shallow listening sensibilities at the time that he propelled me to seek more and more complex “challenges” of musical puzzles.

I agree with Mr. Ross below, that the entire culture of classical music must untangle itself from the tradition of “easy listening”:

What must fall away is the notion of classical music as a reliable conduit for consoling beauty – a kind of spa treatment for tired souls. Such an attitude undercuts not only 20th-century composers but also the classics it purports to cherish. Imagine Beethoven’s rage if he had been told that one day his music would be piped into railway stations to calm commuters and drive away delinquents. Listeners who become accustomed to Berg and Ligeti will find new dimensions in Mozart and Beethoven. So, too, will performers. For too long, we have placed the classical masters in a gilded cage. It is time to let them out.

Those are hard words to hear for a performing musician who has honed a career perfecting the dusty old classical symphonies. But they are perhaps even more painful words for those who manage orchestras. For they are the ones who must reinvent the business and marketing of orchestral music, selling it to a new audience without alienating the old too much.

Would you like to share practice ideas with other musicians? You could do so at the Practice Café.


 Read more…

Click here to view the embedded video.

American composer and electronic musician Milton Babbitt (May 10, 1916 – January 29, 2011) died today at the age of 94.

Babbitt is probably best known for his serial and electronic works, and for his controversial 50′s High Fidelity articleWho Cares If You Listen. In the article, Babbitt offers his perspective on the role of the modern composer:

The composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition.


via Paul Lanksy

 Read more…
(author unknown)
Yesterday, 6:54 AM
John Finney examines the child-centred progressive tradition to create a fresh way of evaluating ideas and practices that have evolved since 1950, ...
www.gowerpub.com/default.aspx?page...1...  Read more…
The SSO performs over 130 concerts to 200,000 people each year,” said Hage. “The SSO provides music and music education to more than 12,000 school children each year.” Past Oneida concerts have included the summer concert 2007, education concert in ...  Read more…
Expo Notes: Jammit lets you play with the pros Jammit aims to get people excited about learning music, especially kids.

   Read more…
Olivia Solon, Wired U.K.
Friday, 12:33 PM
Composer Alexis Kirke has created a duet between subatomic radioactive particles and a live violinist. To make the unusual music, radium is placed into a cloud chamber, a device used by physicists to observe particle trails.  Read more…
As part of the new year I plan on regular articles for all matters concerning music education and technology. Teachers in Australia are busily preparing coursework, lessons and materials for 2011 so I thought I would make available an interesting set of resources I used with my Year 7 & 8 students last year. Mussorgsky [...]  Read more…
iPad Creative
Monday, 7:46 AM
How about this then? Probably one of the most technically proficient iPad recorded songs we have ever featured, this Stairway to Heaven cover, played on the iPhone and recorded entirely on an iPad using Multitrack DAW, shows what can be done exclusively on iOS devices with some careful planning and probably quite a bit of musical talent.  Read more…
McPherson, G. E., Hendricks, K. S.
Dec 5, '10, 7:15 AM

As a part of a larger international mapping exercise to examine students’ motivation to study music as compared to other school subjects, this article draws upon data from a sample of 3037 students in the USA to observe perceptions of values, competence and interest in music study (in school versus outside of school) among music learners and non-music learners. Students were grouped into three grade levels: (a) 6, (b) 7—9, and (c) 10—12. Music learners in the USA had significantly higher motivational profiles for music and some other school subjects as compared to non-music learners. Music interest inside of school was ranked significantly lower than for any other subject, while music interest outside of school was ranked second highest for any subject in grades 6 and 7—9, and highest of all subjects in grades 10—12. This article addresses cultural and contextual issues in the USA to consider how music advocates might better demonstrate the importance and usefulness of music study as an academic course. Practical recommendations include encouraging a broader emphasis beyond performance and competition, and promoting opportunities for autonomous music learning within the school setting.

 Read more…

This study draws on an expectancy-value theoretical framework to examine the motivation (competence beliefs, values and task difficulty) of 24,143 students (11,909 females and 10,066 males, aged 9 to 21 years) from eight countries (Brazil n = 1848; China n = 3049; Finland n = 1654; Hong Kong n = 6179; Israel n = 2257; Korea n = 2671; Mexico n = 3613; USA n = 3072). Music was studied in comparison to five other school subjects (art, mother tongue, physical education, mathematics, science) across three school grade levels that included the key transition from elementary to secondary school. Results indicated that music as a school subject was valued less and received lower task difficulty ratings than other school subjects with the exception of art. Students reported higher competence beliefs for physical education and mother tongue compared to music and lower competence beliefs for mathematics and art. There was an overall decline in students’ competence beliefs and values across the school grade levels for all countries except Brazil. Females reported higher competence beliefs and values and lower task difficulty ratings for music, art and mother tongue than males. Males reported higher competence beliefs and lower task difficulty ratings for physical education and mathematics. There were no gender differences for values in mathematics. Music learners reported higher competence beliefs and values and lower task difficulty across school subjects than non-music learners. Secondary analyses were used to further explore differences within each of the eight countries. Findings suggest that once students have experienced learning to play an instrument or voice, they become more motivated towards other school subjects. Implications of the findings suggest that advocacy aimed at increasing the values that students attach to music as a school subject may encourage more students to become music learners across a wide range of countries.

Facebook Band Director PLC Crosses 1,000 Members In First Month

Star Fire Shower

The Right Fuel

A few months ago Facebook changed their "groups" implementation to facilitate a higher degree of interaction amongst members. There were three key changes that excited me:

  1. Member postings now show immediately in the personal newsfeeds of all members
  2. Members can easily add their colleagues
  3. Members can receive new postings as emails (think "listserv")

By making group interaction easy Facebook has finally become a viable platform for people who are not "friends" but share a common interest. This is a logical step for educators since most of us are already "there." We just needed a simple and effective way to connect.

The PLC Launch Pad

Shortly after the group enhancements were made I launched "I'm a band director" (http://facebook.com/groups/banddirector) with the intent of creating a thriving Professional Learning Community (PLC) for band directors. Within its first month the membership crossed the 1,000 mark and is now approaching 1,200. But more importantly people are conversing and sharing what they know. We are talking repertoire, rehearsal techniques, organization, philosophy, resources. In short, Facebook has become a professional development hub...perhaps the place to discuss the band directing profession. We finally have the right tools and the right conditions to bring actual practitioners together utilizing something that is already a part of (nearly) everyone's daily routine: Checking in with Facebook.

Everyone Is An Astronaut

One aspect of the Facebook PLC that I find particularly exciting is the concept of what it means to "be published." If I post a blog article that I've written or someone posts a teaching tip, the "like" button and comments in our PLC become an instant peer review system. And what is even more powerful is that the "peers" are truly just that: Actual school practitioners. The immediacy of this paradigm frankly blows my mind. No longer are teachers waiting for the next issue of a magazine in order to get new ideas. No longer are authors waiting to hear from a review panel comprised with (at times) reviewers who are out of touch with current practices. The Facebook PLC allows every member to publish their thoughts and instantly receive feedback, affirmation, and refinement of their ideas. And everyone benefits from this synergy on a daily basis.

Stop By And Say Hello

If you haven't taken the Professional Learning Community plunge, I would certainly suggest you give our PLC a try. Oh, and if you teach orchestra, check out "I teach orchestra" at http://facebook.com/groups/orchestrateacher as well...we just crossed the 200 mark.

A Conversation with Steven Schick

I very much enjoyed this ten-minute interview with percussionist and UCSD faculty member Steven Schick. His thoughts about the ways in which music and musicians are relevant certainly has implications for music educators. Consider starting your new year with some thought-provoking ideas.

One on One - Esperanza Spalding

This interview with Esperanza Spalding impressed me on a number of fronts. She is intelligent, humble, insightful, and mature beyond her years. If you haven't checked out her music you are missing out on being able to follow a music legend in the making. I highly recommend her latest work, Chamber Music.

While I think she is a great inspiration for young women interested in making it in the jazz world, her musicianship, positive outlook, and grounded view on the world is beneficial to all of us. Educators will especially appreciate her thoughts on teaching.

The Value Of Doing Many Things (Not-So-Well)

The band community in the U.S. is buzzing about the Midwest Clinic performance by the Seika High School Band. It was, by any standard, an amazing performance. I hope that it will serve as impetus for music educators in the U.S. ...and indeed our culture...to reflect upon our educational values. Not because the Japanese band system has it right or wrong, but because it is time for us to give some thought to our current commonplace value of children Doing Many Things, but in many cases doing none of them particularly well.

I've written on the topic of our penchant for "well-roundedness" a few times on the blog, most recently last January when some of the Japanese elementary band videos were making the rounds on YouTube (if you haven't done a YouTube search for these videos, you should). The main point of that article was to point out that the Japanese system is producing musicians who are accumulating 1,000 hours per year (or more) of focused, diligent practice. Many of those students will be winning major orchestral positions, there's just no way around that. But what about the vast majority of band students...not just in Japan, but here as well...who do not go on in music? What are they carrying with them when they put the instrument away for the last time? That is what I want to talk about now.

I believe that at the core of the Japanese system is the idea that excellence is the pursuit of perfection, and it is believed to be something every student must experience. Yes, Japanese students are therefore limited in the number of things they can pursue, but whatever they pursue will expose them to discovering what it means to be excellent at something. That is what they will carry onward: The knowledge of what it takes to be great, and I think the Japanese believe that it is something that can be replicated once a student has experienced it. The badge of honor is not how many activities a student can list, but rather the knowledge of what it takes and means to be excellent at something.

In U.S. education circles striving for perfection is an idea that is considered to be oppressive, stressful, and wrong for students. Contrast that with the thunderous applause given by music educators to the Seika band while those young "perfectionists" grinned from ear to ear. This is because there is a difference between being perfect (impossible) and striving to be perfect (excellence).

Excellence is foundational in the arts. In music, striving to do justice to the composer and his or her music is...simply must be... about excellence. Great musicians know they will never be able to perform perfectly, but they also know that their responsibility is to reach for it anyway, each and every time they enter the practice room, rehearsal hall, or stage. Learning and performing with a mindset of excellence is one of the most important life lessons that music education has to offer.

Now, for those of you who are in the "music is its own reward" camp, I am not taking issue with that belief, in fact our views are more aligned than you might think. I'm not saying that music serves purely as a means to learning about excellence, I'm saying they are inextricably linked. How so? It becomes clearer when we consider this question:

At what point is a person considered a musician?

Huh? Aren't students, by definition, musicians as demonstrated by the fact that they have an instrument and are enrolled in my class?

Well, let me ask you: Is a student who is enrolled in an autos class a mechanic? Is a high school student who takes AP Physics a scientist? While we can certainly debate the degree of expertise required for experiences to be meaningful, it seems to me that a musician reaps musical reward in concert with a certain level of expertise, and expertise implies excellence. I think there is therefore at least enough solid footing here to consider the idea that meaningful music requires excellence in its approach. In the absence of excellence, what are students truly learning about music, or really, about anything? You can read more about my thoughts on excellence in "25 Things About Music Teaching and Education" (article | ebook).

Now before the emails and comments start flying, please know that I do not believe being an excellent, self-suficient musician is a simple "you are or you aren't" issue. Becoming an excellent musician is a complex endeavor, and is more of a spectrum than a light switch to be sure. What I'm trying to get people to think about is this: Is excellence an intentional component of your teaching? Do you teach music through the lens of excellence? It's an important philosophical question to reflect upon, and if you have heard the Japanese bands you can't deny that they value excellence. So back to their approach...

There is no question that the Japanese take a very narrow approach to pursuing interests. I believe this is because they feel that the "10,000 hour theory" has merit. In their view, you really haven't learned to be a self-suficient musician (or athlete, dancer, etc.) until and unless you have pursued perfection within the domain, and that takes time. Time of course is a finite resource. In the U.S. we generally value exposure over mastery. I think most of us have a sense that, to some degree, this is a good thing because it allows us to identify pursuits that we might truly enjoy, and we believe that spending your adult life in a fulfilling career is part of the American Dream. But the question remains: If we spend too much time sampling and identifying what we might be good at, we may never truly become excellent at anything. Is it not true that many people spend their lives in careers that are not fulfilling, and can this not be traced to being less than great at it? No, not always, but there is surely some truth there.

We have to be careful in valuing Doing Many Things over the value of learning to do something truly well.

I feel that the music program at my high school has a place for everyone, with ensembles to accommodate varying levels of time commitment.  I tell students who are not in a "top" group that I don't mind if music is not their "one thing" in which they will pursue perfection. But I very much do mind if nothing is. There is no career that values doing lots of things poorly. I believe that all teachers have a responsibility to help students (and parents) understand this reality.

There is much we can learn from the Japanese system, even though we will never have four hours of rehearsal per day. If nothing else teachers can be inspired to be more effective and productive with the contact time we do have. It's imperative that we don't fall into the trap of "oh sure I could do that too if I had _______." We already do enough of that within our own counties and districts! Music educators in the U.S. are uniquely positioned to help our school systems understand the importance of excellence in education. It starts by looking in the mirror and making sure we are doing everything we can to teach with excellence and offering our students opportunities to reach for a higher level of musicianship every day.

The Midwest performance meant many things to many people, but for me the ultimate lesson from the young ladies at Seika is the value of doing something very, very well. Brava!



1. Thomas West has also written some thoughts on Seika and the Japanese band system. Check out his blog at http://thomasjwestmusic.com

2. Extra credit if you know why I included Jack Palance's character "Curly" from City Slickers

The Sing Off Season Two: Let's Stand On Some Shoulders

I can't tell you how pleased I am to see the changed approach to season two of The Sing Off. Hats off to Deke Sharon for his hard work and to NBC for taking a solid step towards the one-on-a-part format. Not surprisingly, when people hear the likes of Committed and Groove For Thought they appreciate the rich harmonies, blend, and style. Hearing the amazed reactions from the fans warms the heart if you have been a fan of this music for many years.

So what next? I hope The Sing Off will strive to bring awareness to the recording groups who have paved the way in this genre. With millions of fans watching, why not feature one of these groups at the end of each show, and/or have them coach the groups? There's a whole new generation of consumers out there who are falling in love with vocal music, how about we increase awareness of the artists who brought us here! Who am I talking about?

Take 6

New York Voices

The Real Group

The Idea Of North


And many others. As wonderful as a few of the groups on The Sing Off are this year, it's a shame that most fans don't realize there are major recording artists out there who have worked for decades to bring this genre to this point. Wouldn't it be great for those groups to see an influx of new fans? Let's get on their shoulders, not just their coat tails. Frankly, they've earned this moment in time.

ImproVox iOS App Is Great Fun

There was alot of buzz surrounding the "I am T Pain" autotune app last year, and meanwhile an even cooler app has slipped under the radar. ImproVox not only autotunes, but also adds harmonization in real time. There are different settings for voicings, major/minor, and effects. Best of all, you can record yourself and email your songs to friends. I've included a little holiday snippet from yours truly. Although you can use the mic that is built into the iPhone headset, I got better results using regular headphones and the built in mic mic that is used by the phone. If you have an iPad, you can use higher quality third party mics via the bluetooth connection kit.

In future versions I would like to see the ability to share the snippet directly to Facebook/Twitter, and Dropbox/Soundcloud integration.


Either-Ors, Politics, And The Arts

One thing this election cycle reveals: We are (as John Dewey said) an "Either-Or" society. Pick your side, and the other side is wrong, unethical, incompetent. That's why nothing ever gets done. Of the many things the arts teach, perhaps the most important is that meaning in life is found beyond the "Either-Or."

The arts don't fit neatly into a dichotomy. There are countless ways to approach, interpret, behold, and create art.  A composition can't be reduced to "this way or that way." We know the senselessness of saying one type of music is "right" and all others "wrong." It's expedient to pass judgement and label, but artists know that thinking in such absolutes leaves us unfulfilled, incomplete, and avoids true meaning. Perhaps that is why the arts are so misunderstood in these Either-Or times... they're complex, and that's rather well, inconvenient. We've got "things to do." Yet what is "getting done?"

Even though artistic thinking is complex, I find it a lot easier to understand the arts than politics. But maybe that's just me and "my side."

Music: It Takes A Department

One thing I notice as I speak with other music teachers is an overall lack of departmental collaboration and cooperation. Music teachers tend to work in isolation and hold on tightly to what they have built. But in the long haul this approach is unhealthy and limits what you can accomplish for the sake of all the students in the department. I'm the first to admit I didn't always think this way, but after adopting a departmental approach I will never go back.

Here are a few things I've learned over the years:

-Give at least one all-department performance each year.

-Instead of making tee shirts for your ensemble, consider creating music spirit wear for the whole department.

-Expand your parent-booster organization to include parents from band, orchestra, and choir. Band directors, I'm talking to you.

-If you and your colleague(s) don't have a similar philosophy of music education, you need to work harder to understand one another. That, or someone needs to go (maybe it's you).

-The level of excellence in your particular area will be limited until all areas are flourishing. You may not believe that, but it's true. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Working together as a true department isn't easy. But it's better for the students, the community, and ultimately for you personally, trust me. Reach out, take the first step, think different, and be patient. The dividends will come, you'll see.

1:1 Initiatives in Education? Talk To A Music Teacher

Tropical Christmas carolsThis week Apple released a video highlighting Chris Lehmann's school and their 1:1 initiative. Congratulations to Chris and the students at the Science Leadership Academy who are clearly engaged and excited about their educational journey. Their story got me thinking about why 1:1 initiatives succeed or fail. There's a lot at stake here, both financially and otherwise, so I think ongoing discussion is essential.

As I follow this trend there is something often missing in the dialogue, and that is the educational philosophy. The lack of a clear philosophy tends to leave 1:1 proponents with a fixation problem. The technology is seen as the ends rather than the means. When you watch Chris talk about his schools' 1:1 initiative, it's obvious that the decision to take that step was an outgrowth of a clear, focused educational philosophy where laptops happened to be a fundamental necessity. He didn't buy 500 laptops and then try to build a philosophy around them after the fact.

As an ensemble music teacher who will likely never have a (regular) need for laptops in my classroom, why am I interested in this movement? In short, music teachers have a lot in common with the 1:1 approach. We understand the concept of using tools to bring learning to fruition. So what can educators and administrators learn from their music teaching colleagues?

Let me start by stating something that should be painfully obvious about making music: Teaching ensemble music without instruments would be an exercise in futility. In short, you can't do it. You can teach "about" music without performing it, and in fact that is one absolutely valid aspect of music. But one cannot experience the "how" of music without doing (making) it, and as we have seen for many years, ensembles are a great educational fit for schools. Bands, choirs and orchestras provide a one-of-a-kind way to express and know more about ourselves and the world. In this era of cooperative learning, problem solving, and utilizing powerful tools, music teachers have to smile: We've been doing this for the better part of 100 years! In many ways we are the original 1:1 initiative.

So what do music teachers know, what's the point? It's one that is so painfully obvious as to be missed. Music teachers do not fixate on the tools. We don't say "OK we have these horns, what should we do with them?" We don't think, "let's buy a cello for every student and see what happens." Using an instrument is a given in learning to be an ensemble musician. The instruments, whether the voice, strings, brass, etc. are the means to a specific educational end: Learning how to be an ensemble musician. Instruments are the necessary tools. At the same time, these tools don't teach the students, and having one does not automatically make the student a competent musician (sound familiar?).

So here is my musical metaphor for teachers and administrators who are thinking about 1:1 programs: Rather than focusing on the instruments, what should your musicians be able to know and do, and what is the best ensemble experience to get them there?

Once you have answered that philosophical question, you will know whether or not a 1:1 initiative should be a given in your school.