Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Tag: music ed monday

Music Ed Monday – Keep on Keepin’ On

In a really wonderful turn of events, I won a competition this past month! My very first one!

It was the 2015 Canadian Band Association Composition Competition (*whew!*) and my piece for concert band “The Meeting Place” took home the prize.  I really like that tune, and so do a lot of my students – more than many of my other ones, actually.

The funny thing about that particular piece is that I’ve had a really hard time finding a publisher, which freed it up to compete, but it made me feel self-conscious about the work.  Maybe it wasn’t as strong as I thought it was.  Maybe the structure or the voicing needs more work.  Maybe I need to rewrite some parts…

Then I thought back on it: I already rewrote the parts, actually.  The commissioner’s (Alexis Silver’s) band had some pretty beefy instrumentation, so I standardized the score and parts after the premiere; like condensing the six percussion parts into three, for example.  Then we recorded it and it works – it all works, so what was in the way?

If the piece is winning competitions, the reality is that nothing might be in the way. Maybe it just didn’t make the cut in that particular round of publishing submissions, but you’ve got to keep on keepin’ on.  I needed to keep resubmitting it and, finally, it’s getting picked up by a new publishing house in the US (which I can’t say too too much about yet!), but it might still be sitting on my desk had I not kept on.

The same is true with the CBA Competition: This is the third time I’ve entered it.  It would’ve been very easy to quit after the first try, but there are so many factors that go into getting work submitted and getting it accepted.  The first time I entered was after I wrote Filum Vitae and I didn’t win, though I later learned that it was between Filum and the eventual winner, Christiaan Venter’s Rocky Mountain Lullaby.  At the time, all I knew was that I didn’t win.  Not the end of the world, but still not a great feeling.

The second time I entered was with Prairie Wedding and it got an honourable mention, which was a nice feeling, but it still didn’t win.  That being said, it did get some pieces sold and I made some good connections, which rings true to what composer Eric Whitacre says about competitions: You should do them for a myriad of important reasons, but you probably won’t win, and he’s right.

There are so many lessons in losing something, far more than you’ll ever learn if you win.  I’ve thrown my hat in the ring for jobs I wasn’t qualified for or competitions with some pretty big players and it’s taught me one really important lesson: It’s not no, it’s not yet.

For example, I applied for the Composer in Residence job with our local symphony and, as you might have guessed, I didn’t get it.  I didn’t make it past the first round.  However, it got my music into their hands and now I get some smaller gigs with them like arranging or work with schools.  While that’s not a commission for writing a symphony, that’s a heck of a lot more than I was doing with them before.  Maybe with more orchestra work under my belt and, you know, a Master’s degree, maybe I can break into that scene in 5-10 years.

That is, unless I don’t apply for it again, because I didn’t get it once, so why would I get it later?

I’m being facetious, that’s a terrible argument, but a common one.  I ran into one of my former students who’s studying music in university, getting ready for an audition to get into the Performance program there.  She said “I’ll do my best, but if I don’t get in then I’ll probably quit, because it would be so demoralizing.” After two years of crazy practicing and wild success, she might quit if she doesn’t get into this one thing the first time.  To me, that is absolutely crazy, but it happens all the time and to all sorts of people.

Think about all of the people who write a story, send it to one publisher, get rejected, then never write again.  Think about that person who wants a job in finance, applies for the job, doesn’t get it, then works in a job beneath their qualifications and spirals downward thinking about what could’ve been.

It’s so common because rejection is hard, it really is, but it’s how you deal with it that’s important.  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected not once, not twice, but twelve times in a row.  Imagine a world if she gave up – I don’t want to!

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Even as Robert Galbrath, her Cuckoo’s Calling was still rejected by publishers.

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Yes, J. K. Rowling, go take a writing course…

The important thing is persistence, to keep on keepin’ on.  When you put yourself out there, there are a variety of factors that aren’t in your control, the only one in your control is whether or not you put yourself out there.  That doesn’t mean you’ll be 100% successful, but doing nothing guarantees you’ll be 100% unsuccessful.

The best way to not get into music school is to not even apply.  An audition doesn’t mean you’ll get in, but with some preparation, you just might.

The best way to not date that really awesome person you like is to never, ever speak to them.  You might try and they might not go for you, but they might just be surprised by how wonderful of a person you are.

The best way not to have a successful show is make sure you don’t tell anyone about it.  Or, consider telling people about the show and then being super happy that they came.

Put yourself out there and if you don’t achieve your goal, figure out what you can do differently and try it again.  Rinse and repeat until you get it 🙂

Let’s have a great week.
-K

 

 

Music Ed Monday – The Year of No

If-Things-Arent-Adding-Up-In-Your-Life-Start-Subtracting

A few years ago, two of my very good friends made a New Year’s Resolution to say yes to anyone invited them out to something, hoping to embark on some new adventures and live a little more.

“Want to go out for drinks?” Yes.

“Want to go snowboarding next weekend?” Yes.

“Want to come to the beach in fifteen minutes?” Yes. Yes. Yes.

And so on, and they had many wonderful excursions and made a ton of great memories.  They were tired, but it was worth it.

For any of you who know me personally, you know that every year of my life has been a “Year of Yes.” It doesn’t take much to get to me to come out, take a job, help out, or anything like that.  It’s usually good, but it takes away something that I recently discovered that I really enjoy: Leisure time.

This winter break, I didn’t work as hard as I needed to.  I just couldn’t.  I still got to the piano most days, sent away drafts, proofread scores, and sent/responded to emails, but I started this break so tired.  Not the tired from a weekend of partying, but the tired that comes from pushing yourself for months without a respite, which I often (read: always) do to myself.

930c66aa87575148b8ad0d28586f1d89This is the last year of that.  I’m still absolutely going to finish what I’ve started, but if new work comes my way that I’m not 110% thrilled about, I’m just not going to take it.  Am I still going to keep writing and taking some new work? Absolutely, but not all of it.  Not because I don’t like the extra money (because I really, really do), but because I rediscovered how much I like going on dates with my wife, hanging at friends’ houses, watching movies, playing video games, doing puzzles, reading books, unwinding at my parents’ house, going for coffee with my dad, and/or getting up in the morning and feeling like a functional human being.

“Wow, I’m feeling shaky and it’s only my second cup of coffee.” YES.  THAT’S BECAUSE YOU RESTED AND THEN YOU SLEPT.

“Wow, I can’t believe it’s 10:30 and my eyes are still open.”  LIKE A NORMAL PERSON.

This is connected to a much larger complex relationship that I have with my own productivity, self-esteem, and personal value, but that’s for a different post.

This is the year that I stop caring so much about how much work I’ve done and focus more on doing the things I want to do.  Also, because I didn’t slave away quite as hard this break, I got some of my best composing done in a long time.  There’s a big difference between “hitting the piano to work” and “hitting the piano to write,” and I was saying the former a whole lot more than the latter this year.  This is the year that changes.

When I told my wife, she just smiled and said “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Me too, me too…

Music Ed Monday – …Because They’re Hard

The following is a story about how I finally did the thing that most people I grew up with did when they were twelve.

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In the past sixteen years, I have started The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time four times.  The first time, I only got to the Goron Village and then I had to return my friend’s Nintendo 64 because it was 1998, after all.  The second and third times, I got to the Jabu Jabu fish and then quit for some reason.  The fourth time was this past year and I only got to the Forest Temple then couldn’t beat the boss (Phantom Ganon in the paintings, if you remember).

I posted about the fourth time a few months ago, and instead of letting my failure get the better of me, I persisted and was eventually victorious.  Continuing on from that success, I kept on playing and, three days ago, I beat it.

If you aren’t familiar with the core repertoire of video games, Ocarina of Time is a game that’s more like a rite of passage – anyone who is remotely into games, video game music, or game history has beaten it many years ago.  It’s regarded by almost everybody as the best Zelda game and by some as the best video game ever made.  It always felt like a black mark on my credibility because it would always come up, usually like “…[it’s] kind of like in Ocarina, when [x would happen]” and I’d have to tell them, then they’d exclaim “YOU’VE NEVER BEATEN OCARINA OF TIME?!?!?!?!

It’s one of those weird things that always stuck with me.  I always felt like it was so hard.  The dungeons felt unintuitive to me, the puzzle solutions didn’t make sense, and the side quests were so out of left field that I didn’t know how anyone could have figured them out (especially in the late 90s, when the wild west of the internet was a different place).

The turning point was when A Link Between Worlds came out, which takes place in the same world as the only other Zelda game I’d played, A Link to the Past.  The puzzles and dungeons were hard, but not impossible.  It was just hard enough that I could figure out the strategies on my own and start to build patterns.  The experience of playing through it made me fall in love with the series again, and perhaps as important, reminded me why other people loved it too.  It felt like I was starting to get it.

After newly acquiring a Nintendo 3DS, I downloaded Link’s Awakening from the eStore and started playing it.  Like Ocarina, it was incredibly challenging, but A Link Between Worlds gave me the skill set to decipher the same patterns and look for the same physical prompts.  While relying on walkthroughs a little more than I should have, I eventually beat Link’s Awakening and really enjoyed it.

When I came back to Ocarina (on the N64, not the 3DS), I came at it with renewed vigour.  I was at the beginning of the Fire Temple now and I started to see what I had to do.  I saw patterns in dungeon design that I didn’t see before (and that I’d made it that far in the game without seeing them is a testament to my knack of fumbling toward victory 😛 ) and, while I screamed at the TV a lot, at least I knew what to do.  I was still terrible with Z targeting, shooting a bow, and jumping in a straight line, but at least I knew what to practice.

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How I walk with an analog stick.

[Brief aside: I think this happens in teaching often.  We teach kids the steps, we don’t teach them to see the patterns.  While I start teaching chord theory in Grade 10 Jazz, there was a moment we were doing cadences in my Grade 12 Fundamentals of Music class where a student perked up all of a sudden and said “I totally just understand all of Grade 10 Jazz now.”  It took Classical cadences for her to figure out ii-Vs in Jazz, she just didn’t see the pattern before, until one day where she did.]

It’s the notion that playing Ocarina didn’t make me better at it (at least, not at first), I needed to play other Zelda games to practice.  This is why so many other kids were better at it than me: I played A Link to the Past, and they played the original, Link’s AdventureA Link to the Past, and maybe Link’s Awakening.  They just had more practice at the genre than me.

[Further aside: The more pieces kids play in band, the better they become at current and later pieces.  I mean, of course, right?]

Water-TempleI just needed to catch up.  What I love about the Zelda games is that the
only way to get through them is to get through them.  There are almost no shortcuts, easy way outs, or cheats – if you haven’t mastered certain skills, you just can’t go on.  You can read the walkthrough and know what you need to do, but it doesn’t matter unless you can actually do it.

[Yet another aside: Just because a student knows that measure 79 is just an Ab run, that doesn’t matter if they can’t do it when it counts.]

Beating Ocarina of Time was really incredibly hard for me, but it wasn’t impossible.  We can all do things that are hard; in fact, the best things we’ve ever done are probably the hardest things we’ve ever done.  As John F. Kennedy once said (in one of my favourite quotes ever):

“We don’t go to the moon and do the other things because they’re easy, we do them because they’re hard.”

However, the hardest things require the most work, but perhaps more importantly, the most practice.  As we keep plugging away at things, we grow and see more patterns, which make the next difficult things that are similar less difficult.  After Ocarina, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword will be easier.

In Music…

  • the more rhythm you read, the easier it becomes.
  • the more you sightread, the easier sightreading becomes.
  • the more keys you read in, the easier key becomes.
  • the more high range you play in, the easier high range passages become.
  • the more low range you play in, the easier low range passages become.
  • the more you practice listening for pitch, the easier playing in tune becomes.

It’s not always that it’s hard, just that it requires more practice 🙂

-K

Music Ed Monday – The Quest for Beer at the Orchestra

Back in Summer of 2015, I was asked by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra if I could do an arrangement of a pop song for a divisional choir and the orchestra.  Every other year, the River East Transcona School Division hires out the orchestra to play with their choir.  This was an enormous opportunity, so of course I said yes, then got it done on time and on budget (which is a super important part of composing).

Several months passed until, finally, it premiered last week.  In fact, it came up so quickly that it almost slipped by me.  Everything at my school has been so crazy that it’s taken a lot of time and effort to just keep all the plates spinning.  Between teaching and writing, there’s been a lot going on.

That morning, I asked about tickets and it was decided there would be some comps at the door.  I left school at 5:00, grabbed a sub, then headed down to the concert hall, where there were gaggles of kids everywhere, but a noticeable absence of tickets at the box office.  Someone let me inside and apologized profusely (the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall staff is exceptionally kind all the time) and I just smiled and said “so long as there’s beer, everything will be just fine.”  The clerk laughed and said there’s always beer at the concert hall.

But there wasn’t this time.  The divisional concert was a school event, so obviously there would be no beer.  Not the end of the world, but beer at the concert hall is just the best.  Really.

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Going to the symphony is less fancy than it used to be, but it’s still fancy.  There’s a formality when going to the biggest hall in the province to see the very best musicians we have play that night.  Even though they played my piece Morgun last year, I’ve always felt like I was never at that level.  I studied with the now-principal trombone of the ensemble and I was terrible.  I really clawed my way to the finish line of my music degree, which had an extra year of lessons because I failed the first year of euphonium.  Failed, not “got a C,” which might as well be a failure for lessons.  I literally failed the playing portion of music school.  For various other reasons, my university failures were the best thing that ever happened to me, but the sense of inadequacy followed me for my entire professional music career (and still does, from time to time).

When the WSO played my piece the first time, I felt like such an imposter.  I was some schmuck who got commissioned to write something, like a one time shot.  They certainly didn’t make me feel that way – they were amazing to me, but I had this narrative spinning in my head.  It was all old baggage from university.  When they asked me again, I couldn’t even believe it, but I knew deep down that I needed to accept the job.

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Back to last week:

My piece closed the night and the conductor of the orchestra, Julian Pellicano, thanked the parents and staff of the division, as well as the symphony, and introduced the piece.  He described the piece, then ended by saying that it was arranged by local, yet world-renowned composer Kenley Kristofferson which, while not exactly true, was cool because I was the only arranger he mentioned the entire night.

The orchestra and the choir killed it during their performance.  The kids were into it, the audience dug it, and the performers really nailed the piece.  It was so inspiring that, at the end of it, I thought that the only thing that could’ve made the night better was a beer.

A voice in the back of my mind told me that maybe, just maybe, they’d have beer backstage, but the voice in my mind was clear: You aren’t good enough to go backstage at the symphony.  But the more I thought about it rationally, the more I realized that I wrote the last tune of the night, this is the second time I arranged for the ensemble, and I knew so many performers through university or band camps or whatever.  And hey, the worst that could happen is nothing, right?

So I descended the stairs and slipped through the backstage door and into the hallway, where I hugged and shook hands with some of the RETSD teachers I knew and talked shop for a few minutes.  Then the VP of Artistic Operations stopped me (with a beer in his hand) and smiled as he congratulated me on tonight’s piece.  We talked more shop for a while, then told me about some potential new work on the horizon.  I couldn’t even believe he remembered my name, let alone (maybe) offering me new work! And as he said the next few words, a smile stretched across my face: “Why don’t you come into the green room for a beer?”

And I did and it was packed with both WSO and RETSD folk.  I saw the backstage manager and she remembered me from last year and so did the production manager.  Then Julian came up and we high-fived and laughed throughout the night.  Clearly, the story in my head was not the same as the story that was playing out in front of me, and only one of them can be true.  And guess what, it’s the one in front of you all the time.

Eric Whitacre (one of my favourite composers) once said to music students that “nobody ever asked about his GPA after he graduated,” the important thing is that he got there.  The older I get, the more true that it’s becoming.  We don’t all take the same road to get there sometimes.  Some roads are smoother, some roads have more ups than downs, while others have more downs than ups.  Some people got to practice traversing the road before they actually had to start the adventure and that’s okay too.  We don’t all get to the end the same way, but the important thing is that we get there.

And sometimes at the end, there’s a free beer in the green room.

-K

Music Ed Monday – Fine-Thanks-And-You (Part 1)

(This is part one of a two-part post.  The first part will introduce the topic, while the second will address some of the skills associated with what it looks like in a classroom, at least at a rudimentary level).

The CBC (our public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a program this past year on its current events show about mindfulness in the classroom.  It portrayed various programs in Ontario who are adopting programs of self-awareness in students, but with a particular focus on emotional awareness.  The bit started with one of the show’s producers recounting his experience eating a square of chocolate with a Toronto-based mindfulness coach, framed around the idea of just “noticing” the chocolate.

– What does the wrapper look like?
– Is it shiny?
– How heavy is the chocolate?
– What does it smell like?
– What colour is it?
– (Notice and be aware of all of these things)

Then as he put it on his tongue, he received another set of questions/instructions:

– What is the first taste you notice?
– Is it melting? How is it melting?
– What are the first flavours you taste?

Then he bit down on the square:

– How much resistance is there against your teeth?
– Is it soft? Is it hard?
– Is it crunchy? Is it creamy?

And so forth.  This point may seem a bit laboured, but it’s relevant because I’ve eaten a lot (bold and italics) of chocolate in my life and my only question after the first square is usually “where is the next square,” followed by “what do you mean we’re out of chocolate?!” I would rarely notice anything about something I have a tremendous amount of experience with, which on the surface seems ridiculous, but I think that it happens everywhere and with the vast majority of people.

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The program aired during a week when my nephew was staying with me to attend basketball camp at the University of Manitoba.  When I came to pick him up, I’d ask how he was doing and he would always (5/5 times) answer with “Good, you?” That tells me that he’s mechanically responding with a socially acceptable “good” while being polite and asking me how I am as well (“you”).  Five out of five times; same tone, same vocal inflection.

The adult equivalent of this is “fine, thanks, and you?” which often blurs together as fine-thanks-and-you.  This breaks down as:

Fine – I’m alright; not bad, not great, but good enough that you probably won’t ask anymore about it.
Thanks – I’m being polite, look at how polite I’m being.
And You – I’m going to further my politeness by asking how you are.  I’m not really that interested, I just need to give the impression that I am long enough to talk about something else.

Part of this response is to give the illusion of strength to someone not terribly connected to you, like Frank the Mail Guy or Jane from Accounting.  Not that either of these people aren’t important, they just don’t need to know much more than fine-thanks-and-you about you.

But I think that the inherent problem is where you start really believing fine-thanks-and-you and you don’t actually know what’s going on with your own feelings either.  When you wake up, you’re more tired than you’ve ever been.  You’re quicker to anger.  Your neck and shoulders are always tight.  You’re drinking more.  It takes you hours to fall asleep and you can’t seem to figure out why.

Now imagine that there is a person who is more sensitive than you, less experienced, more tired, busier, and works in a highly competitive and judgemental environment.  Now we’re describing teenager and it has never been harder to be one.

In terms of trying to live up to impossible physical standards in a world where your social media accounts all demonstrate your passion for social justice while featuring photoshopped professional photography, it’s all been said.  There is pressure coming from all sides to be not only be perfect (which is impossible, by the way), but to actively share it.  The only thing more important than keeping it all together is the impression of keeping it all together.

And don’t get me wrong, I don’t escape it either and (probably) neither do you.  This is the world we live in now, but for the adults reading it, at least we don’t have to grow up in it.  And this is where mindfulness comes in.

Remember the chocolate from above? And the noticing? Let’s pair that with why we can’t seem to fall asleep at night and how hard it is to keep up with the Joneses on social media.  It all boils down to a lack of emotional awareness – you don’t actually know how you’re feeling.  It’s okay, that’s the world you’ve been brought up into, but now imagine a scenario where you would learn to manage your emotions when they’re at their most volatile.

Imagine you learned to emotionally aware at sixteen.  Imagine a world where you grew up learning to gain a handle on your emotions.  That’s what we’re talking about here.

start-where-you-areThankfully, I get to team teach with someone who beat this trend by about ten years.  Educational culture is just getting on the wagon of teaching mindfulness and emotional awareness and my teaching partner has already been doing it for about ten years.*

Sometimes, he’ll lead them in guided meditation, but not terribly often.  He’ll usually just ask “how are you doing in there today?” as a start, followed by something like “just notice the sensations in your body and how they relate to how you’re feeling.”  Not exactly that, but something like it.   It doesn’t have to be a full-on Buddhist meditation or three-hour kumbaya, it’s as easy as asking them how they’re feeling today and genuinely caring about the answer.

When I overhear that, I might think “I feel a tightness in my chest” (which usually means I’m anxious) or “my traps and neck are really tight” (meaning that I’m stressed) or that I feel no sensation and I’m just feeling good.  The difference is that I’m actually taking a second to acknowledge what I’m actually feeling in real time.  Not at the end of the day where I reflect, but I reflect in that moment, which is an important part of it.

I want to delve into some of the more day-to-day of it next week and what it looks like in my classroom, but I want to give some homework for the next seven days (because I’m a teacher, you know).

– In a distraction-free environment, notice how you’re feeling in a given moment; that is, draw attention to the sensations happening in your body and how they connect to your emotions.  You don’t have to do anything about it, just acknowledge that it’s there and don’t run away from it.  Acknowledge it, then keep acknowledging it.

That’s the start.  Let’s have a great week.
-K

Photo cred: http://www.personalexcellenceprogramme.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/buddha-in-the-moment.jpg

Music Ed M… Tuesday: I BEAT THE FOREST TEMPLE (AND YOU CAN TOO!)

LegendofZeldaThe-OcarinaofTimeUV-40I have a confession to make: Despite being into games for my entire life, I have never beaten the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

I know.  How can you trust anything video-game-related that I have to say? I haven’t even been through the core literature of our genre!  It’s like loving science fiction without having seen Star Wars, or liking fantasy without having seen/read Lord of the Rings.

In truth, I’ve never been able to beat the Forest Temple… until today.

I’m not exaggerating here, but after dying against Phantom Ganondorf over fifty times, I had given up hope.  But it wasn’t like I died fifty times all in one go: I have start and quit Ocarina of Time at least four or five times.

There was a point in my life where I had given up and, no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to beat this game.

I can count the number of times I’ve said that one hand, so I’m a pretty persistent guy, but there’s something gravely sad about not being able to do something that so many people have clearly done, which leads me to the point that some of you may be thinking:

BUT THE FOREST TEMPLE ISN’T EVEN THAT HARD!

JUST WAIT UNTIL THE WATER TEMPLE!

or

YOU THINK OCARINA IS HARD? TRY “DEMON’S SOULS” OR
“DARK SOULS” OR…

And some of you may not be, and that’s fine, but sometimes we have these benchmarks where we assume (wrongly, I think) that these are things the average person should do.  Well, it may be that there is no “average,” there are just people who are just trying to get through life and get a little better at it as they go along.

One of my former students posted this on her instagram and it was the catalyst to my return to the dreaded Forest Temple:

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I love how it compares these actions to Mount Everest because it correctly contextualizes the amount of effort it will take to surmount them.  It accurately responds to the three prompts from earlier:

But the Forest Temple isn’t even that hard! –  WELL, IT’S HARD FOR ME.

Just wait until the Water Temple! – I NEEDED TO DO THE FOREST TEMPLE FIRST.

or

You think Ocarina is hard? Just try… – I DO THINK OCARINA IS HARD AND NOW I’M GOING TO BEAT IT.

angry_blue_eyes_by_craft_lover-d37j2t0

Because that’s how it ends: We beat it.

I’ve had a really successful year and I’m grateful for everyone who’s helped and I’m pleased as punch that things are going so well, but none of those things have made me howl and scream like finally killing Phantom Ganondorf.  It was like I was ten years old and the house was filled with my cry of victory.  For a good 30 seconds, it was like the Winnipeg Jets winning the Stanley Cup in Game Seven with a goal in overtime.  Solid screaming.  It was that kind of elation.

And it wasn’t because I beat the level, it was that I conquered something that I had failed over and over again.  That was my Mount Everest.  Sure, it wasn’t the tallest mountain or the hardest game (or even the hardest dungeon), but there was something in my mind that told me I couldn’t do it, then I pressed on and succeeded.

And we’ve all been there.  We’ve all done something that we’d failed on time and time again.  The difference for most of us is that those experiences probably happened most often when we were kids and we were less scared of our feelings and the world.  It is easier to give up when you aren’t a child because, when you’re young, you have nothing to lose.

I had to remember that today because I started the temple dying over and over again as usual.  In fact, I thought to myself “why am I even trying? I’m never going to be able to do this,” but I also knew that this was my Everest, not anyone else’s.  As the boss rode out of the pictures and I kept dying, I finally started to systematize where I was going wrong; in this case, my bow technique was poor.  I started to look at each round with him as practice, instead of a life-or-death struggle and I started to tell myself that I would just restart back at the beginning if I died and that I really had nothing to lose.

As I mastered the horse-riding part of the boss, he took on his spiritual form and we played some Zelda tennis with his energy balls and I died again… and again… and again.  I needed to swing sooner.

And even though I figured out the way to beat him, it doesn’t mean that I could do it.  Just because I understood the problem cognitively didn’t mean that I could solve the problem physically.  It became the same as music: Just because I can read it doesn’t mean I can do it.

So I died over and over and over and over again… until the one time I didn’t.

45707-Higurashi-no-Naku-Koro-ni-Mion-Sonozaki-blush-chibi-happy-open-mouth

Let’s not try to climb the biggest mountain ever today, but let’s do what we can and try and do a little more each time.  We don’t arm curl 60s on first day at the gym, but maybe someday we’ll get there.  And we aren’t lesser people if we can’t curl 60s on our first day, we can only do what we can do.  We might start at 5s or 10s or 20s, and wherever you start is fine.  When that feels easy move up a little bit.

Musically, we would never start a 4-year old on their first day of piano with a Rachmaninoff concerto.  They might get there someday, and maybe there are four-year olds who can do it, but everyone’s fine with where they are.

And if you surpass whatever Everest you’re working on right now, allow yourself to feel good about it.  If you let thoughts like “now I can finally do the thing that everyone else can do” get in your head, you’ll never feel good about anything you accomplish.  Do what you can do and feel good about it.  If you’re feeling ambitious, try something else just outside your realm of ability and work to do that, and feel good about that when you surpass it.

It feels good to let yourself feel good about accomplishments, no matter how small.

Have the best week,
-K

Images from:
http://thezeldarealm.blogspot.ca/2011/04/ocarina-of-time-temple-theories.html
http://craft-lover.deviantart.com/art/angry-blue-eyes-194045940
http://sweetrenn.blogspot.ca/

Music Ed Monday – The First Day

1schoolboy2-medTomorrow is the first day of school.  I can’t remember a time where the September Long Weekend didn’t mean “it’s time to get ready for school.”

As a kid, that meant schedules, timetables, and school supplies.  As a young adult, that meant paying tuition and buying textbooks.  As a grown-up (whatever that even means), that meant prepping the classroom and getting ready to head back to work.

But not this year.

My school division has been gracious enough to grant me a one-semester sabbatical to compose full-time and so I won’t be back in the classroom until February.  This is the first time I won’t have a “first day of school” since 1989.

Since I was five.

That’s hard for me to wrap my head around and it’s hard to let go, but that’s what new things feel like.  Change is hard, man, but that’s life.  The only constant in life is change – the only thing that stays the same is the idea that nothing ever stays the same.

And that’s okay.  Firstly, because I’m coming back; secondly, it’s helped me appreciate these past years of teaching; thirdly, this distance will most likely refuel my tank and make me a better teacher; and finally, some time away will give me some perspective into what I want to do academically with my students.

I’m coming back, so it’s all good.  I’m clearly not saying goodbye forever – I am not in the universe of ready for that.  It’s easy to go away if you know you’ll come back, like leaving home for summer camp.  At this point in my life, teaching is still way too much fun and super important in my sense of self and my ability to make a difference in my community.  I think about the world around me from a perspective of being an educator and I carry myself like a teacher.

And knowing that I’m not coming back until February has really made me look at the last few years in a different way.  I’ve met a lot of awesome human beings and I look forward to meeting more.  I’m in a position where I get share to discovery with people who are in the process of unravelling some of the things that changed my own life.  I really miss that about being a teenager: the sheer volume of Eureka! and Aha! moments that happen in such a short period of time.  How can I make those as interesting and exhilarating as they were (and still are) for me?

When you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to look at it objectively because you’re in entrenched inside it.  How many times in my life have I forgotten to bring materials, or messed up the order of introducing ideas, or had boring classes? The machine is so complicated and running so fast that it’s hard to keep everything as inspiring and interesting as you want… until you step away from it.  My wheels are already turning and I predict that second semester will be my best yet, which concurrently means that it should (hopefully) by my students’ best yet too.

It’s hard to gain perspective when you’re right inside it and I’ve got some great ideas for second semester.  Music History is going to be the best yet.  So will Jr. Symphonic.  So will Big Band.

I’m also really interested in the sensation of being inside composing for five months and I will be because there’s so much to do.  Here is the sabbatical to-do list:

– one lyrical band commission
– one exciting band commission
– one four-movement suite of Nordic folk songs
– one orchestra premiere
– one residency (hopefully, I’m still getting evaluated)
– one video game to score

There are other irons in the fire, but we’ll see how these shake down.  I’m optimistic that it’s going to be great and I hope that everyone’s school year begins with that establishment.  Set yourself up for success, think positively, do your best.

Let’s have a great year,
-K

 

 

Music Ed Monday (Tuesday) – Kindness Matters

When I was in third year university, a flautist and fellow student named Jessica was killed in a car accident.  I remember that winter being very traumatic at school, but one moment was particularly so.

While I wasn’t in the U of M Symphony Orchestra, my friends who were told me that the next rehearsal was cancelled, but practice would resume on its next regular class.  The following rehearsal was very quiet and had one noticeably empty 1st Flute chair.

That’s one image that always stuck with me: The quiet orchestra and the empty chair.  If we extrapolate that, there is an absence of that part when the music is played like the ensemble is waiting for a flute solo that will never be heard quite the same way again.

madisonLosing one of my students is my worst nightmare and, at the very beginning of summer, it happened to Karri Anderson in Olds, Alberta.  In fact, it would be more appropriate to say that it happened to everyone in the community.  To celebrate Madison’s life, the music program at the school has commissioned me to write a piece about her.

It’s difficult to look into the face of something you so dreadfully fear, but you need to because that’s life.  With that said, I’ve begun learning about her, starting with a piece in her local paper and obituary.  When you read about her life, her interests, and her personality, it’s hard not to believe the adage that the brightest flames burn quickest.

One thing stuck out more than others, though: Kindness matters.  It was her favourite saying and something that I live by as well.  I feel a strange kinship with this 16-year old that I’d never met and, sadly, never will.

What’s difficult about the commission is that it’s for people who not only knew her, but have had to endure her absence.  It can’t just be warm and bubbly because that’s not real – that’s not their experience.  The piece is as much for the band, the family, and the community as it is for her and it needs to give them solace too.

It needs to be deep and moving with a delicate balance of warmth and loss.  It can’t be entirely depressing, but it can’t be devoid of hurt and heartache.

I feel a lot of pressure to do an exceptional job, but I think that’s okay.  We’re not writing about a trip to the fair or an English field – this is about someone who was loved but taken too quickly.

While tragic, it reminds me that we don’t always have everyday to say what we’re feeling, so make sure you tell your loved ones that you love them today.

-K

Music Ed Monday – Transform and Make It So (Part 2)

Optimus%20Prime%20-3In Part One of this mini-series, I reviewed how the character of Jean-Luc Picard was influential to me in my adolescence.   But, when I was a lot younger, I had Optimus Prime.

Optimus Prime (from Generation One) was strong without being brutish.  He would fight, but only when necessary.  He would take responsibility of his actions and always, always protect the humans.  That was a big one: He would always fight the battles when needed and never frivolously, but he would do so to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves.  That is an amazing message for kids.

(Side note: Kids had amazing messages in 80s cartoons.  Seriously, Transformers, He-Man, Teddy Ruxpin… it was a good time to be a kid).

But now, for the details:

“Sometimes, even the wisest of men and machines can be in error.”
(Transformers G1: “SOS Dinobots” @21:40)

Everybody makes mistakes, so admit it, take responsibility, and learn from it.

“We must help Ironhide.”
(Transformers G1: “Autobot Run” @14:40)

You always help when you can.  Always, always, always.

“We must have courage, Huffer.  We can’t ignore the danger, we must conquer it.”
(Transformers G1: “More Than Meets the Eye, Part 2” @14:30)

Huffer precedes the line with “but we’re not fighters like they are.”  Meet the challenge head on.  It’s not about having fear, it’s about what you do in spite of it.

And so many others.  Wired wrote a post about this back in 2007 when the Transformers movie and they really hit the nail on the head:

…Prime practically step-parented the latchkey kids of the mid-’80s. He was our Allfather at a time when flesh-and-blood role models were increasingly few and far between….So when Prime declared, “One shall stand, one shall fall!” in that seismic, tear-down-this-wall timbre of his (or, more accurately, voice actor Peter Cullen), you believed him….

For two glorious years, Optimus Prime was America’s hero….Then in 1986, the original Prime did something that distinguished him from most other cartoon heroes. He died. He died for freedom, for righteousness, and for shelf space….For nearly two decades…the sons of Prime waited for Papa Bot…

With bated breath and shaken faith we await the return of our Almighty Rig. Because without Prime, we’re stuck with whiney Spider-Boys, metrosexual pirates, and koan-spouting kung-fu Christs in designer sunglasses and unisex clubwear. Because he died protecting us in ’86, and nothing’s ever been the same since. Because these days, the only real men left are giant robots…

Indeed, indeed.  The media with which our kids interact affects them greatly both positively and negatively.  When kids see Miley Cyrus at the VMAs and don’t react with disgust, that says something about the message.  The Canadian Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message” and that resonates with culture’s ever-changing online presence, but we also can’t forget that the media is the message too.

In an age where pop culture is so pervasive (and sometimes insidious), we have to be really mindful about both who the models are and which models the kids are following.  It’s fine to have Captain Picard or Optimus Prime on the air, but if no one’s watching, then who cares?

A worse problem is to insert any of these characters into a program that doesn’t match their integrity.  For example, I love(d) the Transformers franchise, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (the second movie) was one of the most sexist and racist movies I’d ever seen.  And in the midst of this terrifying cultural portrayal of women and minorities is Optimus Prime? Are you serious? Writers, do you even know who you’re writing about?

So who’s left to model for kids? Well, real life adolescents and adults.  Brothers, sisters, parents, teachers, law makers, politicians, et cetera.  We need to be the good that they so desperately crave and the leaders they so desperately deserve.  We need to model kindness, empathy, dialogue, patience, perseverence, and care-giving.  Kids need to know that we care about them and will continue to support them even after they leave.  I heard a speaker this morning say “they need to know that even when they leave the house, the door is always open and there will always be a light for when they come back” and I thought that was perfect.

HOMEWORK:

Be mindful of your words and actions this week.  Who’s watching you and what can you teach them? How can your actions model what you desire so deeply to see in others?

Have a great week,
Kenley

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.