Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Tag: band

Music Ed Monday – Lighthouse Music (Part 1)

Fiery-sunset-at-lighthouse-pier

Source: miriadna.com

Hey team,

I love music – I really do. I think about it quite a lot, but when both my day and night jobs are music, sometimes I get so burned out that I can’t see the forest from the trees; or rather, the beauty in the sonic fabric from the succession of pitches in a unidirectional harmonic progression.

Sometimes, we play music; sometimes, we work music. When the grind of it starts to get to me, I often have this small voice in my mind that whispers: “I do love this, right? Right…?”

And I know that I do, but it’s almost like being lost at sea at times and I really need a lighthouse to bring me back. I call these songs/pieces/works lighthouse music because it helps bring my musical ear to shore. Here are a few of them:

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Morten Lauridsen – Lux Aeterna

I keep trying to write about this, but I just can’t. It speaks to me in a way that transcends line and harmony and craft. It’s one of the few pieces that I don’t analyze and I just let it wash over me (and I’ve studied/listened to a lot of Lauridsen). And this monstrously good performance sure doesn’t hurt either.

When I hear this, I sometimes tell myself: “This is what light sounds like.” It’s as though the light embraces me, it pulls me in and surrounds me. That’s how I feel when I hear Lux Aeterna.

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Lord of the Rings (Annie Lennox) – Into the West

I never know what to write about this, other than it moves me every time I hear it. I always want to be technical about it – you know, “the lyrics,” “the tone,” “the orchestration…” But I don’t know, I feel things when I hear it and I feel like that needs to be enough.

As someone who has read all of Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion, the Children of Húrin, the Unfinished Tales (you get the picture), the narrative runs pretty deep for me. There’s something about Into the West at that point in the story that speaks to me in a very authentic way–leaving friends behind, being unable to live in the world you used to, saying goodbye…

(And all the technical things too. It’s one heck of a performance).

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Final Symphony – Born with the Gift of Magic (Final Fantasy VI)

For anyone who’s into music from video games, Final Fantasy VI is core repertoire and there have been countless orchestrations of it (even when an orchestra is entirely unnecessary for the musical goal, but that’s a whole other can of worms). As someone who knows this score inside and out, I’ve always been waiting for someone to take the musical material and work the heck out of it, which is what Born with the Gift of Magic is; in fact, the entire Final Symphony concert/album does it.

The orchestration, structure, and performance is amazing, but the thematic layering is a grad-school level assembly of the musical material that mirrors the narrative. It’s not just a medley, it’s the central conflict of the game and it’s all framed in the series most iconic sequence (the opera, if you’re wondering, which is also the unifying structure of the game). It’s genius… out of this world…  Ah! The craft!

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Ingrid Michaelson – The Chain (Live from Webster Hall)

My wife and I listened to this album quite a lot when our son was first born, sometimes at 4am while bouncing on an exercise ball, counting the seconds until he’d fall asleep again. I must have heard this song a hundred times, but I still love it, maybe because it takes me back to that crazy period…

Also, dodie/orla/lauren’s is really great too. There’s this really beautiful purity in their voices, the kind that only comes from young people who love to sing.

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What are some of your lighthouse songs/pieces/works? Post in the comments or reach out on facebook/twitter! I’d love to hear from you.

Keep fighting the good fight.
-K

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Music Ed Monday – The Long Game

I’m writing this as my baby is fussing in the crib beside me — not crying or screaming, just kind of whining.

We’re in the midst of sleep training our seven-month old and there are many days where I feel like what we’re doing just isn’t working.  Even a week into this, there is still a lot of fussing and particularly around nap time.

It makes me think a lot of picking/rehearsing repertoire. As music educators, it’s one of the most important parts of our job: Picking the right rep for the right band. If I had a nickel for every time I said “I really like this piece, but it’s not right for this group…”

The strange thing is that sometimes I pick a piece of rep that I think is a great choice for my band and, despite my best efforts to pre-teach the concepts, it just doesn’t work; it may not even work for a few weeks.

If you’ve been there, you know the questions we ask ourselves: Did I misjudge the piece? Or my group? Why isn’t it working? And then the logical last question: Do I pull it?

Sometimes, the right decision is to pull it, right? How long as an ensemble do we decide to keep banging this square peg into a round hole? And no one is enjoying it at that point either (including us teachers) and we’re just dragging the band up the hill. Now we’re a month behind schedule and we have fill this gap left by this piece that we thought was going to be great.

This is how I feel about sleep training.  There are many days where I just bang my head against the wall and feel like a terrible parent, especially in the beginning.

On the other hand, there are times where my baby actually stops crying and falls asleep by himself and those are wonderful moments. They don’t happen every time, but they happen sometimes. Many parents tell me that’s normal and that I shouldn’t expect every nap to be a magical perfect experience…

… Just like a rehearsal, right? Some days, it’s two steps forward and one step back; and others, it’s one step forward and two steps back.  Those are the days we need to review.

And then the days get better. The baby needs to learn how to sleep and the band needs to learn how to work through pieces they can’t nail on the first read. In short, both the baby and the band need to work through things they can’t immediately do and that’s okay. It’s okay if it’s hard.

In my earlier years, I would give my senior big band a piece that was pretty above-level for them in September. To be sure, the band would usually listen to a recording of it and really like it, then barely get through four bars of it. I reassured them that it probably wouldn’t sound good until November, but that this was the next level and we needed to work on how to learn it. We needed to practice how to practice it.  I still think that there’s educational merit in it, but there’s a particular personal merit too.

As I’m writing this line, the baby is now sleeping. It took a few pick-ups and put-downs, a couple of head rubs, and a handful of shushes (and some screaming later on, on his part), but he did it.  It wasn’t a pretty hour of fussing–67 minutes, to be exact–but he got it.

Baby sleeping in crib

(not my baby, I found this one at hirerush.com)

To bring this back to my big band, they usually started putting the above-level piece together around late November. And let me tell you, when something technical falls into place, it is joy that we rarely experience as educators because there is genuine accomplishment and success in the band and they know it. They worked hard and could do something that they couldn’t do before, then we give them genuine praise for their sincere accomplishment.

There is value in playing the long game.

That brings us back to the question: Do I pull it? If we believe in the piece and believe in the band, are we willing to play the long game, especially when there isn’t as much gratification during the day-to-day? Truthfully, maybe we can structure in more short-term gratification with smart pedagogy and rehearsal strategies, but the long game is the long game, no matter how you slice it.

With baby, we’re in this sleep training business for the long haul. The baby rests better and longer, and also is in a deeper sleep. And hey, we adults have more time during the day to do what we need (like writing a blog post?) so everyone wins, but especially baby.

If it’s the right piece, the band can also be the one that wins, not only by performing the piece well, but actively working through material that’s difficult and challenging for them–I say again, there is educational value in that! It’s a gift in life we can give to our students. Not only can we can teach them how to persist through adversity, but we can do it while making music.

-K

P. S. …aaaaaaand they’re awake. A 20-minute nap? I thought they were supposed to sleep longer and better! Ugh, two steps forward…

Music Ed Monday – The Inspiration Board

We used to have this whiteboard at the front of our room, but then we got this incredible SMARTBoard.   It’s an enormous touchscreen monitor that’s rigged up to our iMac.  It’s like Star Trek, the future is now 🙂

… But then what were we going to do with this old whiteboard?

Well, we just put it off to the side on, really, the only wallspace that would fit.  We also didn’t have much to put on it either (because we did everything on the SMARTBoard), so it held rehearsal schedules or reminders for a while, but then it turned into something entirely different.

I love this thing.  It’s now the “Inspiration Board” and I can’t really take credit for any of it.  This is a brainchild of Michael Brandon, my collaborating teacher.  We each bring something different to the Music Room, but I’m sure glad that he brings this.

But then another amazing thing happened: The kids started writing on it too.  Take a look at this gem here:

Then just last week, Michael posed a question on the white board: “It’s your turn! What have you learned?” And just look how they responded…

Some of my favourites include…
– “Everyone leads from their own seat” (we can thank one of our clarinetists for that one)
– “No one cares what you can do without trying.”
– “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

It’s amazing what they’ll tell you if only you give them the opportunity 🙂

Have a great week!
Kenley

Music Ed Mondays – Listen Harder Than You Play

This is one of my favourite one-liners.  It just says so much in so little (the mark of a good one-liner, I say!):

– It tells the musicians to ramp their awareness.
– It encourages them to focus their attention on something.
– It reinforces them to take a greater responsibility for the whole…

And more!

As musicians, it’s so easy to get lost in our part, especially if it’s technical.  But if you’re playing an ensemble and aren’t the soloist, it doesn’t matter how well you can play your part if it’s not going to coalesce with the rest of the ensemble.  I know that I’m not really saying anything new, but the harder I try and solve the problem, the less I realize that it’s probably an easy solution that’s solved by not by the band playing harder, but listening harder.

Even when I’m playing in an ensemble, I constantly have to remind myself to listen to the people around me, and I bet the kids in the ensemble need it too.

We’ve been working on articulation like crazy in my Jr. Symphonic band.  Okay, that’s a half truth – we’ve been practicing “reading the whole notation,” not just reading rhythms, then dynamics, then articulation, but drawing awareness to all of those parts of the notes… but the lynchpin is always articulation.  It always got better when we would isolate sections and all I’d say is “listen for the articulation,” then it was fixed.

It wasn’t about fixing, but about awareness.   Now pull the awareness to other aspects that you’re working on in your performance: Pitch, tempo, shape, etc.

Maybe it’s not about more rehearsal, maybe just more awareness… and more listening.

Anyway, I don’t pretend to be the master, but this is something I’ve been thinking about!

Your homework: Try and it for a week or two and see what your class does.   How do they respond? Do the elements that you’re working on improve or stay the same?

Let me know!
Kenley

PS: I have the BEST VGM Wednesday this week! I’m SO excited!

Music Ed Mondays – Educating the Heart

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”

– Aristotle

It goes without saying, but sometimes we (not only as teachers, but as a culture) really get caught up in our day-to-day, be it curriculum, routine, meetings, or whatever.  It’s not necessarily our fault because that’s just the pace of our world, but when we get reminded about the why of what we do (again, whatever that may be), it becomes our fault if we choose to ignore that reminder.

I don’t mean that negatively or critically, but let’s not forget about what got us into this job in the first place.

For me as a teacher, I got in it to teach kids, aid them in a positive development of their sense of self and improve the world by having more globally- and socially-minded human beings.  Now, does teaching F major or running rhythm worksheets assist in that? Directly, no; indirectly, yes without question.

Skill development always needs to be taught with the end in mind.  It’s SO easy to get caught up in scale tests, prep for the provincial or state exam, or the big essay coming up, but sometimes we have to pull ourselves from our routine and ask “now, why am I doing this again?”

If you don’t have an answer, it may be time to shift your thinking.

I justify F major to myself as having facility in a key better allows the student access to a piece of music that may move them, or at the very least, deliver an idea.  If the student keeps playing Eb instead of E-natural, the integrity of the idea and cohesion of the music is compromised.

The same argument can be made for spelling and punctuation in English: If integrity is lost through misplaced commas, apostrophes or wrong spelling, the very idea that you’re trying to communicate is compromised.  Or, to be transferred to literacy: If the student cannot translate the vocabulary or read the words, the ideas taken from literature that change the world are lost – odds are that you won’t take messages of social justice, innocence, equality and integrity from To Kill a Mockingbird if you’re inhibited by the level of the text.  It’s a round peg in a square hole; a shiny key for the wrong lock.

So, will F major change the world? On its own: No.  BUT, in the context of a piece evoking beauty to students who feel like the Music Room is the only place where they feel safe, confident and can express themselves freely without persecution? Absolutely.  So, why are we doing this again? Oh yeah, that’s right.

It must always be with the end in mind, which (for me) is to make a positive change in the student’s life and for them to take that change out into the world and improve it themselves.

For them, it will not be “will I make a difference?” But rather, “what difference will I make?” 🙂

Thanks for reading!
Kenley