Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: growth

VGM Wednesday – “Demise of the Ritual” from Shadow of the Colossus

“Demise of the Ritual” from Shadow of the Colossus, by Ko Otani

Shadow of the Colossus is one of those games that I never, ever thought I would beat.  I don’t know why, but I had this fear of it, like I wasn’t very good or something.  I knew a ton of people who’d beaten it, but I never thought I’d be one of them…

… until one day I was.

I picked up the Ico/SOTC Remaster for PS3 and started playing it, getting to the third colossus and being unable to make the jump on the platform.  For those who’ve played, it’s this one:

3rdColossusJump

Ugh, so hard, except it’s not.  Once I learned the back jump control (R2 + looking back + triangle), it wasn’t hard at all.  I just didn’t understand the controls, which I needed to learn.  The game gave me a situation where I needed to figure it out so I could use it later on, which is just good game design.  Once I got it, I got it for the rest of the game.

Then I fought the colossus and fell into my old traps of thinking I couldn’t do it and that I wasn’t good enough to beat him.  How was I supposed to beat this game if I’m stuck on the third boss? There are thirteen more after this! So I kept running, falling off, and eventually dying.

But each time I died, I did a little better each time.  This is a concept that comes up in our classroom a lot: Failing better.  Every time I died, I was further along than I was before, and on the fourth round, I beat him and there was much rejoicing.  Then I fought the fourth one and beat it the first time, and the same with the fifth.  I was getting better.  I could do this.  As we say in the band room, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

I still died at times as the game progressed, but I was dying less and less and getting better at figuring the puzzle of beating each colossus.  The game got a lot more fun once I overcame my self-sabotage.  If I reframed my perception and my approach, the game (or, at least, the playing of it) was entirely different experience.  It was fun.  It was exhilarating.  There many times where Wander was literally holding on for dear life and I was right there with him.

Before I knew it, I was at the sixteenth and final colossus.  I had reached the end of a game I never thought I’d finish.

Malus-final-colossus

That’s where the music comes in.   Ko Otani’s score is absolutely gripping and I would finally hear “Demise of the Ritual” in the game environment.  A lot of the battle themes are moved around and reused, but not this one.  This one only happens during the last colossus and, in the spirit of honesty, I never thought I’d hear it while I was playing.

And hear it I did.  By the end of the nearly two-hour battle, I was humming all of the inside parts and singing some of the beautiful English Horn writing whenever it came up.  It’s a humbling experience to die five times on the final boss then win after hours of fighting, but I was failing better each time.  On my third attempt, I hadn’t even reached him yet and had no idea how to proceed.  It was one of those experiences where you just have no idea how you’ll ever succeed, where you collapse before you’re even close to the finish line.  And we’ve all been there, right? I’M SO TIRED AND IT’S ONLY TUESDAY!

But then you keep going.  You assess where you went wrong and what alternate solutions are.  You keep doing what you did right and changing what you did wrong.  If you don’t do something exactly correct, you practice until you get it, and that’s where video games shine:

If you can’t do it, you can’t move on.  There are no pity passes or half-marks, it’s pass/fail and that’s it*

In the end, I did it.  It was a gripping feeling to finally beat a game I didn’t think I could ever finish.  As weird as it sounds, sometimes I feel like a fraud or a phony for not beating games in the core repertoire.  Granted, there’s an argument that the need to finish games isn’t entirely necessary to experience them, but I try to finish things that I start.  I haven’t beaten Ocarina of Time yet, which is embarrassing, but I felt the same with it that I did with SOTC: I just can’t do it…

…except that I can, and taking down SOTC showed me that.  So  I guess I’d better get on that!

-K

PS: (I’m going to try to create some content again because that’s important)

* Mostly, not every single game has pass/fail, like that ridiculous option to skip parts you can’t beat in L.A. Noire, which is garbage.

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Music Ed Monday – The Big Leagues

When I walked into Complex Games that fateful Spring day of 2013, I saw 3D models of, what looked like, the nephews from DuckTales, but immediately put it aside.  I had a meeting with Noah Decter-Jackson (the CEO of the studio) because he wanted to talk to me about an upcoming project.

“… No…” I thought to myself in disbelief.  “I must be mistaken.”

I guess I was trying not to get my hopes up.  Then I passed another monitor and they were tweaking some colour on Scrooge McDuck’s smoking jacket.  Could it be…?

Then I saw Noah and we smiled and shook hands.  He invited me into his office and we caught up for a while (I had been doing contract work for Complex Games for about seven years at this point, so we’ve got a great relationship).  Off the cuff, I said: “Wow, this new game looks a lot like DuckTales!” To which he smiled and said “it is DuckTales.  Have a seat.”

The moment of rising anxiety-mixed-with-excitement is what I’ve come to call the “big leagues” feeling.  That was the first time I ever really felt like I was in over my head.  I was playing in the big leagues.

He walked me through the level design and we determined what would need music and how much.  It was only six tunes and I knew that I could do it, but the quality had to be so, so, so, so high.  I make my stuff as high-quality as I can, but it’s rare that I’ll be lying awake at 11:30 worrying if I put too much mid in the bass EQ.

(That specific example is below.  Seriously, it’s the most iconic bass line in Disney, which will bring me to my next point:)

It’s important not only to want to do a good job, but the other side of that coin is the overbearing feeling of “don’t screw it up.”  And it really is a ton of work.  A metric ton.  Of work.  It’s a ton work that you want to be great, but also to not screw up.

It is so messed up, but I got it done and I grew for it.  I was better for it.  It leads up to something I’ve told my students quite often, best articulated by Courage Wolf:

courage-wolf-bite-off-more-than-you-can-chewThe feeling of being overwhelmed by contibuting something that you believe is beyond you is called a great opportunity for growth.  By going through those feelings of stress, of working so hard you don’t think you can keep going, of continual revision, of the pursuit of your personal best and a constant and consistent strive for excellence, you enable yourself to grow.

I still get those feelings.  I got them with my next contract, KRE-O: CityVille Invasion when I saw toys for the game I was making.  I’m currently working on Betty Boop Dance Card for iOS and I still get those feelings.  Last week, I was so stressed that all I could think about was throwing up and scotch.  But hey, guess what? I made it through without either throwing up or scotch.  When you play in the big leagues, the big league feelings never go away.

Growth is never easy and it rarely feels good until after it’s over.

In teaching, this is what the musical feels like.  It’s two weeks before the show, it’s 9pm on a Tuesday and I just want to go home.  But we aren’t done yet.  We’ve been working on these scenes for months because that’s how long it takes and it has to be good.  That’s one part; the other part (as the pitband director) is don’t screw it up because the singers/actors/dancers are depending on you.  And then the show happens and it’s amazing and we’re so proud of everyone.  At that point, we know that it’s worth it and everyone grew even though it was so much work because it was so much work.

That’s what growth looks like.  You don’t get to grow by doing things you can already do, you grow by doing things you can’t.  You grow by throwing yourself in, drowning for a bit, stressing, struggling, busting your butt, then eventually figuring things out, then working some more, then getting it, then tweaking, then perfecting, then feeling awesome.

So bite off more than you can chew… then chew it.
K

Music Ed Monday – Books, Covers, and Opportunity

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”

-Steve Jobs

That sounds like something he’d say, right? Except that he didn’t, the actor playing him said that.

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”

– Ashton Kutcher

Yes, Ashton Kutcher.

I went to see Jobs the other day (with my amazing wife) and I was a bit leary of Kutcher’s portrayal of one of the greatest thinkers and inventors of our time.  When I think of Ashton Kutcher, I think of That 70s ShowDude Where’s My Car? or Two and a Half Men.

But seriously, he knocked it out of the park and, while the movie was pretty good, I was totally transfixed by his performance.  The pursing of his lips, the hunched and flat-footed walk, the distant stare, the speech inflection… everything.

That show taught me two things:

1) Don’t go in with expectations (read as: don’t judge a book by its cover).  I think we do this a lot as teachers – we don’t mean to, but we do.  Concurrently, the students will also do a second-order judgement on themselves as you’re doing a first order judgement on them.  They are assessing themselves based on their judgement of your judgement on them.  It becomes a cyclical process of judgement.  Both parties need to stop doing this because it doesn’t help anyone.

Go in with a blank slate, both teacher and student.  Kids are so perceptive of minute actions that I think we really need to be mindful of what we’re sending out.  It might be a small stare, an exhalation of breath, a sinking of the eyes, a slouch, a quick turn away.

A particular former flute player of mine left Band in grade 10 and dove into choir, where she was crazy good.  I couldn’t remember her name when she was in my Jr. Symphonic Band in Grade 9.  I had completely forgotten about it, but she didn’t.  Even on one of the last days of her Grade 10 year, she reminded me that I could never remember her name.

Anyway, Ashton Kutcher was remarkable, even though I didn’t think he’d done anything that really blew me away until then.  But, what really got me, was a speech he made just last week at the Teen Choice Awards (yes, I know, but we’re not going in with expectations, remember?).

2) Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.  This one ties back to expectation too because there are so many opportunities that we get, but feel like we don’t deserve.   The most common one that I see is when students bring back that acceptance letter to Music School and tell me “but I’m not good enough to be there.”  Actually, you are, because you wouldn’t have gotten in if you weren’t.

But you wouldn’t have gotten in if you didn’t work the audition piece.  Sometimes, I feel like auditions are teaching toward the test.  You work a few pieces so hard that you master them, then you can’t get through something new.  But the lesson of hard work still applies because it got you in the door to the next opportunity (and you couldn’t have even unlocked the piece if you hadn’t worked your skills for years before you started practicing the audition music).

When I got the DuckTales contract, I immediately felt like I didn’t deserve it and that I wasn’t good enough to do it.  I was just punching above my weight class.

punchaboveyourweight

(from Urban Dictionary)

Except that I wasn’t – I could do everything that the creative leads, the producers, and the game and the music wanted me to do.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t obsess over it, or go to bed thinking about the viola part in the B section of the airship level, or if there was too much mid in the slap bass during the opening.   I even sent three or four entirely different (though incomplete) pieces away for the Cowboy level because it had to be right.   There was a healthy balance of “make it great” and “don’t screw it up,” and I suppose that both are important, to some degree.  A similar (but less crazy) feeling happened with KRE-O: CityVille Invasion.

But it’s not like these came out of nowhere.  The company, Complex Games, and I have been working together on and off for about seven years and I’m sure that they’ve had a similar experience in their growth too.  When I first started with them, we were working on a pirate game for Facebook and now we’re doing mobile games for Disney and Zynga.  And that’s growth.  That’s what growth looks like.  (And goodness, they do fabulous work and deserve all of the accolades that come to them).

The growth still comes from hours at a piano or in front of a sketchbook, like an artist in front of a canvas or a horn player in a practice room.  I really like that stuff.  I like leaning over the piano keys and sketching out ideas, then building that musical house one note at a time.

So, here’s my question: What makes you want to work hard? If you don’t know the answer that, then try this one: What do you love? Why not do more of that 🙂

I think a lot about this, about the nexus of hard work and opportunity.  Some people get lucky (and arguably, a degree of luck is still needed, even for the hardest workers) and some people cheat, but I think that’s the exception.   Yet, so many will pick that one time and try to emulate that… and fail.

“But so-and-so sightread the audition and got into honour band.”

“My friend so-and-so didn’t study for the History final and still got an 80.”

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  Tiny Fey explains it best in Bossypants, describing her show would succeed where all other shows about awesome 20-somethings would fail:

For years the networks have tried to re-create the success of Friends by making pilot after pilot about beautiful twenty-somethings living together in New York. Beautiful twenty-somethings living in Los Angeles. Beautiful twenty-somethings investigating sexy child murders in Miami. This template never works, because executives refuse to realize that Friends was the exception, not the rule. The stars of beloved shows like Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Newhart, and The Dick Van Dyke Show had normal human faces.

The best don’t start as the best, but they got better with hard work and time.  Put in the time, put in the work, and it works a lot better if it’s something you love.  If it’s something you don’t love (i.e. geometry), you’ll probably still be better off if you give it your best shot.  I hated learning ratios in math, but I use them everyday.  Seriously, every day.

Find something you love and work it.  If you do so honestly, you will deserve whatever comes your way.

Music Ed Monday – The Double Bind of Truth-Telling

So, I’m reading a book that’s blowing my mind.

It’s called The Curse of the Good Girl and it’s by Rachel Simmons.  I’ve had it on my book shelf for about three years – I bought it in the same shopping trip as The Purity Myth, which also blew my mind.  Clearly, this was a good day at the bookstore.

The Curse of the Good Girl is primarily about teaching adults about the internal struggle that girls, particularly teenage ones, face while trying to balance being “good” and being themselves.  From there, adults can better communicate with their daughters/co-workers/students with a context of how they’re actually doing internally.  In fairness, this is also true for guys, but in the spirit of the book, I’ll stick with girls.

curseI gave some excerpts to my Grade 12s and there was a strong censensus of “yep, that’s how it is,” which is difficult because we work really hard to teach living an authentic life in all of our Music classes.  In the excerpt, some of the girls in the book were asked make a list of what constitutes a “good girl” and some descriptors included: quiet, good grades, no opinions on things, follower, well rounded, tons of friends, generous, boyfriend, conservative, doesn’t show skin, people pleaser, has to do every right, doesn’t get mad, skinny, organized…

… and the list goes on.  First off, does that list strike anyone as even remotely possible? Yet, that’s the expectation.  Before you even try, culture has already shown young girls that they can’t win.  That’s the theme of this post: You can’t win.

(Also, it breaks my heart to see “no opinions on things” is considered a desirable quality… ugh)

After the girls from the book made that list, they made a list of what constitutes a “bad girl” and that looks like this: speaks her mind, loud, proud, rule breaker, doesn’t care about her body, doesn’t care what people think, parties, piercings, rebel, slut, center of attention… and the list goes on.

So, according to them, speaking your mind, not caring what people think, or being proud and loud are not socially-acceptable attributes.  Most adults get out of this (though I can certainly think of ones that haven’t), but kids are still stuck in this web.

When I showed this to the Grade 12 girls, some of them had grown out of this way of thinking, but they affirmed that that mindset was real when they were younger.  But worse than the acknowledgement of both sets of lists is that the adults in their lives are trying to tell them to do something else.  We’re telling them to be themselves, not to care what other people think, to speak their mind, to be well-rounded and others.  We’re really picking from both lists because the lists don’t exist to us.  However, they do exist to them.

Now the student has to be good to their peers while still trying to be good for the adults.  They are now caught in a double bind that they can’t win.

Do you remember that feeling?

This double bind is perfectly, but differently, depicted when it comes to Chapter 3 of the book, which is about the politics of female fighting.  Simmons writes: “Some girls told me that denial was the only safe alternative, because they felt punished by peers when they tried to be honest and when they tried to avoid confrontation altogether.  Rebekah, a junior, articulated a troubling double bind of truth-telling among girls:

“If you’re honest, you get the reputation of being a bitch, because you’re just, like, PMS-y all the time, so you don’t confront people, and [then] you’re a bitch because you’re hiding your feelings… So it’s just easier to, like, lie and completely forget about it.  Either way you’re going to be considered an angry bitch because you don’t about it or an angry bitch because you brought it up.”

Again, either way, you can’t win.  To be said another way, Simmons writes this:

“[Girls] sort of make it a battle instead of just, like, a conversation,” fourteen year old Sarah said.  “It’s, like, who can play their cards the best, instead of how can we figure this out together.”

doubndWhat’s interesting about fourteen-year-old-Sarah’s statement is that she demonstrates understanding of how it should be handled.  From that perspective, she has an interesting internal struggle between what she and everyone else is doing versus what she should be doing.  And in this position in that age, you guessed it, you can’t win.

Can you imagine anything more infuriating than playing a game for years and years that you can’t win? I’ll bet you can because you probably did.  I probably did too.  Maybe you grew up and stopped playing, or maybe you grew up and didn’t and are still playing the same games at work or with your family.

This is where our book from the last post, The Art of Possibility, begins.  Why play a game you can’t win? Then, it does something interesting: It presents you with a possibility that you may not have considered: you can stop playing, then it tells you how 🙂

I really recommend both The Curse of the Good Girl and The Art of Possibility, whether you’re a parent or a teacher or a kid.  Allow yourself to be challenged, don’t give up, and consciously think about the material.  Even if you don’t agree.  Especially if you don’t agree.

Homework:

Get reading 🙂

– Kenley

Music Ed Monday – The Gift is Ours

Around this time of the year, teachers often get cards and letters and usually for thanks.  It’s a nice gesture and I always look forward to it.

That sounds a  bit pretentious, but given that the nature of our job is to help other human beings further themselves and figure out the world around them, the notion that some of them may be grateful isn’t a strange one.

What said students don’t often realize is that the gift goes both ways – in many cases, we are better because you are here.

In the event that a student is reading this, you may realize that we have made several demands on you over the course of your time with us.  A great many of the times, you’ve probably met us every step of the way.  Fewer of you will exceed our expectations and even fewer will fail to meet them.

In all cases, the teacher learns from the students’ behaviour.

Whenever you react to us or our expectations, it prompts a question.  It’s not the same question every time, but it might look something like this:

Meets expectations: They did what I wanted them to do (in order to facilitate growth), now what’s the next step?

Exceeds expectations: They surpassed what I expected them to do, what could I have done differently?

Fails to meet expectations: They didn’t do what I expected they could, what did I miss?

In all cases, your reaction facilitates our growth just like our expectations facilitate yours.

The gift of growth goes both ways.

But it’s not only that.  There are many students who work hard for us and give us their best every time.

There are many students who light up our room with smiles and a great attitude.

There are many students who are a great friend to others.

There are many students who make the best of their time here by taking part in school sports, events and activities.

There are many students who let us get to know them as people.

They aren’t all the same students, but the result is always the same:

Investment = Growth.

As teachers, your investment in this building is the best gift you give us because it enables us to forge relationships that encourage your positive growth as a human being.

For example, when you give everything you’ve got on an English paper, the feedback and assessment become relevant because they can improve your ability to communicate.  But, behind that, the topic of that paper is probably something that you’ve never thought about.  Maybe a human rights issue, Romeo’s inability to get (or keep) what he wants (which, in almost all cases, is love), or an introspective project about discovering who you are.

When you give everything you have to that human rights issue by doing your research, carving your commentary to be razor sharp, or exploring ideas that have previously scared you, you may begin to challenge who you really are and (maybe what you really the topic.  Or, you may even unravel things that issues that you didn’t know existed and become motivated to be a part of the solution.

Growth 🙂

If it’s Romeo’s inability to maintain a relationship, what’s getting in the way? Are you like that? Is there a cock-eyed arrogance that drives men/women away? Is your over-emotional state sabotaging your ability to date someone past three dates? Do you always take the most complicated solution, even when a mind-numbingly easy one is presented? You may learn something about yourself…

Growth 🙂

Do you have to do a multi-genre essay about various aspects of your personality? Have you ever looked that deeply into yourself before? Were you scared of what you might find? And what happened when you did find it? And then how did you reflect it best in your work? Is your fear of commitment best shown as a collage or a poem? Is your love of family an expository essay or stream of consciousness poem?

Growth 🙂

We get really invested when you invest in our work because every assignment we give you is designed to facilitate growth.  Again, that growth often comes with a mutual trust between the teacher and the student and can turn into a dialogue, which often becomes conversation, which often becomes a relationship that encourages your positive development as a human being.

If you are a student reading this and you have given a lot to the school, then thank you.  Thank you for investing in yourself and, consequently, investing in us teachers too.

If you are a student reading this and you aren’t really into school, consider giving it a second chance.  You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, right?

If you were once a student and reading this, you probably made a difference in someone’s life while you were at school and you might not even know it, so thanks for that 🙂

Music Ed Monday is taking a break for the summer, so we’ll see everyone in the fall!
(though, stay tuned for VGM Wednesday and various blogs about musical adventures!)
Kenley