Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: canada

Morgun – *WORLD PREMIERE!*

I am so excited to announce, in conjunction with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba the WORLD PREMIERE of my work for Symphony Orchestra, Morgun.

It premieres on October 31st, 2014 at 8:00pm at the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

photo (15)

(that’s not me, we just look weirdly alike)

“Morgun” is Icelandic for “morning” and, when I was approached to write a piece as part of the 125th anniversary of the Icelandic Festival, I knew that its heart would be morning.  Perhaps the first morning after the settlers arrived, perhaps “morning” as a metaphor for the start of something new.  At its heart, it was the start of something new.

Growing up in Gimli, MB (the home of the festival) and being Icelandic, the story of the settlers coming over from Iceland in the mid-1800s has always been a part of my being.  Both sets of grandparents spoke Icelandic fluently and I grew up hearing it.; at Christmas, there was never a shortage of pönnukökur or vinatarta, and we were always in town for the festival (but usually working for most of it, being a local and all).

When I was approached by Janice Arnason to compose a piece for the 125th, I was elated.  Janice was last year’s president of the festival as well as my elementary music teacher, piano teacher, and Grade 6 LA/SS teacher – this is how small towns work 🙂 Anyway, I feel immense gratitude that she would ask me to commit something so important and meaningful to the culture of our town.  Even though I’ve worked games for some pretty big franchises, I only have three things published for actual ensembles of live human beings, so I’m still a bit green to professional writing, if you look at it objectively.

But that’s part of growth: If you work really hard, do good work, and are an easy person to work with, people you respect will take risks on you.  This is how it works – someone needs to take a risk on you, and the beauty of a small town is that it’s easy to take a calculated risk because the people you respect have known you your entire life.

In short, I am grateful.  To some degree, I am also lucky, but working hard can help you load the dice.  Like measured risk, it’s measured luck, but I am always grateful when it actually works out 🙂

I’ll post more about the process later on!

Kenley

Music Ed Monday – Good News Calls

 But the most important lesson to be learned about calling parents at home to praise the achievements of their children is that those calls are actually more effective.  The student comes into class the next day with a lighter step, a brighter smile, and usually more of the same wonderfulness that prompted me to call home the night before.

– Taylor Mali
“What Teachers Make”

Taylor Mali is my favourite poet, not because he writes about teaching and I’m a teacher, but because his way with words really works the fine balance between economy, eloquence, and kicking your butt with very precise text.  I’ve been reading many of his books at the same time (The Last Time As We Are, What Learners Leave, and What Teachers Make), which may not be the best idea in terms of continuity, but I really do love his writing.

The interesting thing about What Teachers Make is that it’s mostly prose and not poetry.   The book discusses teaching in general and his relation to it (personal experience, anecdotal stories, etc.), but also deconstructs his poem of the same name.  You can hear him read it below…

There’s this line about “calling home around dinnertime” and he’s talking about the “good news” calls.  It’s when you call home for a good reason, usually to celebrate something that the student (the parents’ child) did in class that day.

But we’ve really stigmatized calling home, haven’t we?

When I think of calling home, it’s usually to discuss the negative things… and that’s what the parents think too.  It’s always nice to hear the shock in a parent’s reaction to hear how well their child is doing (especially if their kid gets called often for the negative reason).

After reading that passage in the book, I decided to make some good news calls of my own – sometimes I do, but not nearly enough.

It was so refreshing for both myself and the parent that I decided to do it again… and again… and again.

All of a sudden, you think yourself: “Wow, I’ve got some really great kids.”

And you do 🙂 Sometimes we spend so much time greasing the squeeky wheel that we don’t see that silent majority that are absolutely fabulous, especially those in the academic “middle.”  We really do spend a lot of time on the extremes of the spectrum, don’t we?

So, here’s your  homework: Make one good news phone call this week and share it in the comments.  You won’t regret it!

Have a great week,
Kenley

Music Ed Mondays – Life Includes Mistakes (Part 2)

Welcome back!

In the last post, we talked about how stigmatizing mistakes probably isn’t the best reinforcement of learning.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last week and it’s become more complex and paradoxical and moreso the more that I think about it.

I think that the caveat lies in the degree of the mistake: Not putting in an apostrophe isn’t going to crash the stock markets, but getting in a car accident while texting will probably ensure that you won’t have your phone behind the wheel anytime soon.

Some mistakes need to be made because that’s how we learn (but not the texting behind the wheel, avoid that one).  The crux lies where we have a stockpiling of minor mistakes that become overwhelming, like a key signature error while difficult rhythms are going on.  On its own, it’s not a big deal, but we don’t want it to happen on stage.

So, what are some options?

1) Establish an environment where mistakes are okay.  We rehearse in the Band Room and mistakes are bound to happen.  We reiterate that to our students all the time – “give it your all and if you make a mistake, then be aware of it and try to correct it next time around.” That’s a nice one-liner.

2) “Strong and Wrong.”  If a G-natural slips out instead of a G#, “make it with the most beautiful tone and in the most perfect rhythm imagineable.  Be aware of it and take care of it next time around.”

3) “Take 30 seconds and figure out that bar – Go.”  There’s safety in numbers and the practice need only be for a few seconds, but just let them figure out [whatever it is] and go on.  It will save you so much rehearsal time, seriously.

4) “It takes as long as it takes.”  If there are mistakes, teach them where they went off the path and then let them submit the assessment again.  Use the mistakes as teaching tools.  It may be using apostrophes incorrectly, playing one section out of time or messing up the coefficient in algebra.  Let them learn from the mistakes, but not under the banner of numerical, grade-based punishment.

5) Don’t test them until they’re ready.  “Finish your assessments up to x%, then do the test.”  This is a lot more work for the teacher (a lot, trust me), but it’s really worth it.  The understanding and the numerical score will both improve.  Let’s be honest, that should happen every time, but some kids don’t test well and some are fantastic BSers.  Let the grades reflect achievement.

In the back of your mind, you may or may not be thinking this: “that doesn’t sound like real life!” or another of my favourites, “then what are we teaching them?!”

Don’t worry, they’ll get those mistakes and learn from them.  They will be late for their job one time too many, or say something they didn’t mean and have to deal with the conversation’s fallout, they’ll break someone’s heart and have theirs broken as well.

Sometimes, the most important things that we teach don’t happen in our classes, it happens between them.

Let the classroom be a place for learning.  The self-esteem and risk-taking strategies (within reason) they’ll learn from not being afraid to make mistakes will enrich their lives, really and truly.

Because hey, let’s be honest, it’s not only about students – everyone worries about making mistakes, you and me included.

Imagine a world where mistakes are something to be managed, rather than avoided; accepted, rather than dwelled upon and encouraged via risk-taking and exploration, rather than punished.

Now go do it 🙂

Thanks for reading,
Kenley