Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: music ed

Music Ed Mondays – The Music Lesson (Part 2)

So, how did your homework go? Could you see Music? What did he/she look like? How are you connected to him/her*?

This is one final essay and the student allowed me permission to use it.  It’s a long read, but I promise you, it’s worth it 🙂

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Music and I have a complex relationship.  There are times when we are inseparable, and times that we may fight.  Music is my best friend, my mother, and my shoulder to cry on when need it and always knows just what to say when I’m in a mood, because it sense my feelings and I also share my feelings with it.  It is a two-way street, just like every relationship, and it knows me better than I know myself.

I’ve had days where I really just miss my best friend, (name omitted), when we haven’t talked in a while and I miss her thoughts and the feeling of comfort that comes from an old friend.  I miss Music like I miss her.  On days where I’m too busy or just forget that to have a chat, I feel like there’s a person missing from my day.  My best friend, the one who wants to have a musical conversation with me about my angers and about things that make me smile, who will be my voice of reason and calm me down.  Music agrees with me and takes hold of my emotions; it goes past listening and creates with me.  I feel like Music knows me better than I know myself because there will be a day that we play and an emotion or feeling or thought will just come forward, and I was unaware of it before then.  Music makes me aware of all the things I’m feeling, always demanding that I open up and be myself with it.  But that doesn’t mean I always do.  Music and I have our fights, the days that I blame it as a cause of my frustrations and stresses.  The days that I practice music instead of play music and it tries to get me to open up and resist, and Music does not appreciate it.  It does not create beauty with me because I refuse to create beauty with it.  Those are the days that I have to walk away, instead of warring with it and causing more problems.  But somehow, we always work it out.  I realize that I can’t blame Music for being there for me and challenging my ideas and being my only escape from the world around me.  Because the world really does go away.  Music sends it to a place to be dealt with at a later date.  Time slows down for me while the world spins around us, so minutes turn into hours and worries evaporate into the air.  That is sometimes the reason why I blame Music for taking hours that I could have used to study, but our relationship is always stronger after those days because my mood is lighter from talking to my best friend.  And our connection is stronger and I realize that I needed those hours to sleep and, without it, I would be grumpy and unsettled for no apparent reason.  I shouldn’t resist it because it would be as silly as resisting sleep.  I try it sometimes, but it just leaves me in a bad state of mind.  Sometimes, that is why I feel like Music could be a motherly figure too.  It’s right a lot of the time, even when you don’t always want it to be.  It has a way of making you see things differently, as my mother always tells me to do.  It’s a warm hug when times are tough and I just need somebody to be there, telling me that it will all work out.  And I believe in Music because it believes in me.  It shows when I break through on something new that I felt I never would be able to do and, as I play, I feel my amazement and this sense of ease that says “I knew you could do it all along.”  It’s a confidence that Music gives me, not only in my musical studies, but in all other aspects of life.  The knowledge that I can do, create, and achieve when I simply apply myself and I don’t resist the improvement because it feels different, new or uncomfortable.  There should be no comfort zone in Music’s conversations.  No ‘too personal,’ ‘too different,’ or ‘too out of reach.’  There is only what you do when all limits and expectations go away and the pressures of life are gone.  Some of my best conversations are when the world feels like it’s about to crush me, and it takes me away.  I love it.  I always breath through and accomplish something in those moments, which is one of the reasons why it is unreasonable to blame Music because Music can only help me.  And that is why Music would be a mother or a best friend to me, really, it could be anybody who would love and support me and help me reach my full potential.  Father, teacher, sister… Music is them all.

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Isn’t that lovely? I just welled up when I read the awareness and thoughtfulness of this teen and their complex relationship to the art that they love.   I feel like Music knows me better than I know myself or I believe in Music because it believes in me.  Gush!

It’s amazing what kids will say if only you give them the opportunity to say it 🙂

Have a good week,
Kenley

*I feel badly in using “he/she” and “him/her” in a world of transgender awareness.  I know that sex isn’t totally binary, I just don’t know which pronouns or descriptors to use.  Help would be lovely, let me know!

Music Ed Mondays – The Music Lesson (Part 1)

In our course, “The Fundamentals of Music,” we teach a novel called The Music Lesson by world-renowned bassist, Victor Wooten.

There  are two provocative parts to that opening:

1) Fundamentals of Music? Yes, they take place in both Grade 11 and 12, split into Fundamentals I and II.  While they started as a theory and performance course (as a buffer to the performing ensembles), we’ve geared it more towards musical philosophy, ear training, responding to music… and yes, theory and harmony.  It is, probably, the strongest course in our Music program because really teaches students how all of the spokes of the Music wheel go together  – not just theoretically and not just in regards to performance, but in the cognitive and emotional elements as well.  If you want to talk about it, contact me and I can send you everything we have to make it run – I’m happy to share the love 🙂

2) Yes, novel study in Music.  Every program builds literacy: If it’s translating a word problem in Math, studying maps and legends in Geography or connecting with text in Music, literacy needs to be built from every angle because words (and their power to change the world)  are never, ever going away.   That’s a whole post in itself.

Anyway, The Music Lesson is about Victor learning the bass as he is just starting out in Nashville, where a mysterious man enters his apartment and challenges his views on all things music.  Each chapter is set as a musical element (i.e. Tone, Space, Key, Dynamics, etc.) and focuses on one thing for the reader to think about.  The text is very accessible and challenges some of the thoughts that we, as musicians and life-long learners of music, think about each element, which makes a great critical thinking resource for students.

While Michael Brandon teaches the Grade 11 section (where the book is taught), we’ve been building and constantly re-imagining the course for three years.  The final assessment is a reading response to the work, but one of the prompts is this: “If you were to personify music, what would your relationship to he/she be? Explore and describe that.”

I’ll upload a sample from one of our Grade 11 students, but for this week, let’s think about what you would write.  What is your relationship to Music” Remember: Music is a person!

Explore and good luck!
Kenley

Music Ed Mondays – Placing the Focus

While I had a whole other idea for a post this week, the “Gov. Rick Perry forgetting which three agencies he wants to scrap” has really been occupying my mind – but not for the forgetting; but rather, what it is that he wants to scrap:

Commerce, Education and, uh…

Wait a sec… EDUCATION?!

What does that say about the state of the social state of education in his mind? Keeping in mind, the keyword is social.  Is he viewing education as so unimportant and frivolous that he wants to axe the whole department?! Why are people focusing on the notion that he can’t remember when he publicly says that he wants to cut Public Education in its entirety? Breaks my heart…

Thankfully, it also breaks the heart of another prominent individual (and one of the people who I really look up to): Astronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson:

“Odd that people focussed on Gov. Perry’s memory lapse and not that Education was a government agency that he wants cut because, that’s what America needs right now — less Education.”

– via Twitter

If that is the kind of “idealism” and “cost-saving” that governments are looking for, I think that there is an incredible cost to be paid for that – cost is the keyword there.  One former president of Harvard (though, I can’t for the life of me remember which one) once said…

“If you think the cost of education is high, try the cost of ignorance.”

… and that sentiment never, ever left me.  Education is not a cost; but rather, an investment and if you invest well, the returns are beautifully high for everyone involved.  Work ethic, patience, acceptance of others, literacy, critical thinking, leadership… these are not qualities that someone is born with, they are qualities that people are taught.  Education is not just about skills and concepts, it provides the framework to improve the moral and ethical fabric of society (through guidance by models who share the same philosophy, also known as “teachers”) while pushing students to self-awareness, rational thinking and emotional intelligence (while, at the same time, teaching skills and concepts to improve the lives of themselves and others).

But even beyond that, education is about being more than you are – it’s about bettering your life and your thinking.  If you live in a tough socio-economic climate, it’s the golden ticket out; if you’re plagued by demons and abuse in a downward spiral, it’s your silver bullet; if you’re someone who never knows when to quit and won’t stop until they can’t reach the top, it will keep raising the bar for you and pushing you farther than you ever thought possible.

Education is for everybody.  As a result of being for everyone, it isn’t the most efficient method of instruction all of the time – I’ll give you that.  However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here because it still works for the vast, VAST majority.

It’s like NASA – not the most efficient sometimes, but it’s so much more than just a program – it’s a dream.   It’s about going to places you never thought you could go, then exploring and walking around for a while.  It teaches us not to be okay with “just getting there,” it says, “okay, you’re there, now what? What’s next? How do you get further? And when you get further, what’s out there?”

NASA’s funding got hacked in October – big time.  It breaks my heart, because it’s not just the space program, it’s about the dream of going somewhere where generations of our ancestors never thought possible.  Let’s not do the same to Education.

Best,
Kenley

Music Ed Mondays – “Whatever Gets Repeated…”

“Whatever gets repeated, gets remembered.”

– Michael Brandon

This simple sentence blew my mind during my second year of teaching, which was the year that Michael Brandon came to our school. He and I teach the Instrumental and Academic areas of our Music Program – yes, it can be more than just Band, Choir and Drama, but more on that in another post.

While we don’t team teach very often, we try and connect about our classes as often as possible. The notable exception is during Period 4, where he has Senior Concert Band and I have my prep, so we can both be in the Band Room at the same time. The process of watching another teacher teach is one of the best professional development opportunities one can have and I get it every other day during Period 4.

During one of his first months at the school, he was working a concept and a student blurted out: “We already did that!” And while that was true, he replied with a gem that never left me: “Yes, whatever gets repeated, gets remembered.”

I get that it’s the foundation of review and that review reinforces the learning of prior skills and concepts, but it’s really so much more than that: It’s why children share similar views of their parents, it’s why so many kids give in to peer pressure around them (one of many reasons, actually) and it’s why we get caught up in our own echo chambers of thinking.

“Whatever gets repeated, gets remembered.”

In Music, but especially in Band, we’ll work a part, then say “yep, good, moving on,” but those kids have only done it correctly once as opposed to doing it many times incorrectly. A few classes later, we’ll go back to rehearse that section and that same mistake will creep up again, then we’ll get frustrated and say “didn’t we fix that a few classes ago?”

Well yeah, we did, but we only fixed it once.

My old euphonium teacher in my first year of university often said “you can’t break a habit, you just have to replace it with a stronger one.” I think that there’s a lot of truth in that and if we only fix something once, we aren’t replacing that habit of doing it incorrectly.

Lately, I’ve been identifying problem spots in the repertoire and getting kids to do it right four or five times, but it has to be correct every single time because we’re not “fixing” it, we’re replacing the habit. Then, we’ll come back to it the next class and check it again and if we have to keep drilling-the-skill, then that’s fine – whatever gets repeated, gets remembered.

Now, let’s move that into our behaviour on the podium (or in the classroom, it’s the same concept): Are we modelling leadership qualities to kids? Are we being the best moral human beings we can be? How are we dealing with our tough kids? Or our sports kids? Or our academically strong kids? Or our weaker ones? Our loud ones? Or quiet ones?

As teachers, we’re always on display and we carry an institutional gravitas that puts us in a position to inspire and them in one to subscribe to what we have to say. To be said another way, it’s not just how we interact with them verbally, it’s also the way that we communicate with them as other human beings.

Whether it’s what we say or how we say it, it really can’t be said enough – whatever gets repeated, gets remembered. Maya Angelou had a nice one-liner that said a similar thing…

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Isn’t that so true? Let’s communicate honestly, openly and authentically with kids so that they have both a person and an institution to look up to and let’s do it consistently.

Whatever gets repeated, gets remembered 🙂

Until next time,
Kenley

On the Band Room Quote Board Today…

In our Band Room, we have a whole whiteboard dedicated to quotes, musical ideas, leadership or generally inspirational thoughts and a student wrote this on the board today 🙂

Now, imagine a high school kid seeing that – it gets better, right?

Enjoy the day,
Kenley