Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Tag: music ed mondays

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…

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Music Ed Monday – Kick Your A– Then Bake A Cake

sailormoonThe original Sailor Moon cartoon came out in Canada when I was 12 years old and it changed my life – more as an adult than a child.

I didn’t realize how revolutionary Sailor Moon was at the time when it aired.  I got into anime through finding this channel on our satellite dish (which was probably not really for kids, let’s be honest) and it showed me that animation could be something more than just cartoons.  It was the start of a life-long relationship with anime.

I didn’t tell many kids that I watched Sailor Moon when I was that age because it was still viewed as “a show for girls” and, while I understood that it was a show of female protagonists, I didn’t really understand why it was only for girls because… well, because I watched it too.  And what did that mean for me?

It was one of the first times I can remember having an identity crisis.  However, I wasn’t old enough to understand that it wasn’t really an identity crisis at all: I knew exactly who I was, it was whether or not I had the courage to believe it in spite of what others were saying.  At the end of the day, I still taped every episode at 8:30am, right after Batman.

Then I forgot about it for almost twenty years and, just last year, I did something out of the ordinary: I watched them all again.

While a little bit juvenile at times, there are some really big messages in that show.  It wasn’t that I was too young to get them, but I was really too immature to appreciate them and I wasn’t strong enough to fight for them.  The point of the show wasn’t that girls were fighting evil monsters, it was that girls are interesting and unique people who are also strong enough to fight for themselves.

When I was a kid, I loved Tuxedo Mask.  All of my invented heroes were in tuxedos – I even made a Lego Tuxedo Mask.  But when I watched him as an adult, I realized that he doesn’t even do anything.  As a former student of mine perfectly explained:

dothething

OR

23t46ea

He’s not even a hero and that’s the whole point.  The paradigm of the female foil character that helps the uber-male-action-hero save the day is entirely turned on its head.  I especially got that in the original Japanese when I discovered scenes that were significantly watered down in the English version:

SM-sexualdiscrimination

I’d seen that meme before, but I didn’t know that it was from an actual episode, which is below:

As a kid, I didn’t realize how forward-thinking this show was, especially in the 90s.  This anime not only trailblazed the magical girl genre of anime, but also taught girls that they could be the hero of their own story and that they didn’t need any man to save them.  As a boy, this also subversively taught me that it wasn’t my responsibility to save anyone and not every girl needed saving.  Of course they don’t and I know this as an adult, but as a heroes-and-villains-oriented kid, that was a big one.  I wish I had the perspective for it to be less of a big deal, actually.

*                    *                    *

We got the internet shortly after Sailor Moon came out and I quickly learned that Japan was ahead of us in the show.  There were more than five scouts! And one was older! And one was a kid! And two of them were lesbians.

Thankfully, I had enough perspective to think this wasn’t a big deal.  I mean, the network did and I later learned that they would be very-close-cousins in the North American version, but them being lovers was just fine to twelve-year-old me.   Almost anyone who’s watched anime in the last 20 years knows that Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are lesbians, yet they were the first homosexual superheroes that I’d ever experienced. But they weren’t the gay stereotypes that were flying around in the 90s as culture was discovering something that had been there the whole time, the scouts/senshi were interesting and unique people who were in love and cared about each other (and were super strong and kicked some a–).

The video above talks about that, but there’s an even better example out there right now.

Sailor Moon Crystal has given the series a facelift and rebooted it closer to the manga and, I’ve got to tell you, it’s really good.  It’s fast, it cut all the filler, it’s more serious and it’s way more feminist-oriented (and by that, I mean that it doesn’t pull any punches about an all-female lead cast who needs no help from anyone but each other).  It presents its story and apologizes for nothing.

The episode at the beginning of September introduced Makoto (Sailor Jupiter) and it showed a traditional side of women that the show often downplayed, particularly how she likes to cook and has a lost love.  But none of that is in spite of her being tough, but instead she demonstrates the ability to be both feminine and strong; both traditional and tenacious, or to put it my favourite way:

kickyourass

Having one does not negate the other.  And this happens with guys too (though, to a far less degree): You can be strong and emotional, you can like sports and be artistic, you can be smart and still be interesting.  Just be whoever you are.

Makoto never apologizes for who she is and that is one of the clearest strengths of Sailor Moon Crystal.  Ami doesn’t apologize for being smart or Rei for being spiritual.  Usagi is learning that she can be clutzy and still be a leader and that a leader doesn’t always lead with strength, but with heart.

It’s a good lesson.  Imagine if more kids led with heart than strength 🙂

-K

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