Thursday, July 15, 2010

Colorado ASTA and Coloroado American Bandmasters Summer Convention

Greetings to my new friends at the Colorado ASTA and Colorado American Bandmasters Summer Convention in Denver. It is great to be speaking with you all today and tomorrow. I sincerely hope that I can give you some food for thought over the next two days and truly look forward to getting to know you all and hearing about the great things that are going on in the Colorado Music Ed community.

I am looking forward to my sessions and hope that you can attend one or more of them.
They are:
*Inspiring the Net Generation Music Student with Instructional Technologies
*Sound Innovations by Alfred
*Inspiring Students with New String Technology
*Science and Math in the Music Classroom

Please drop me a note if you get to my blog at some point and let me know you were here.
Best wishes for a successful conference!
I look forward to seeing you over the next few days.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Flight Delayed - Time for a Book

Hi all. This summer, I find myself doing a good deal of traveling and, as a result, I am pleased to be catching up on some long overdue reading while on flights. My reading list for the summer is pretty long and it includes a number of books that have been recommended to me over the past several months, as well as some new potential gems that I have discovered.

Last night, as I sat on a flight from RDU to JFK that lasted much longer than it should have, I cracked open the NY Times Bestseller, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Many friends that know of my reading habits and general thought life have recommended this one to me and I was long over-due to pick it up. I read his previous efforts, The Tipping Point and Blink, several years ago and knew that this would be one that I would enjoy and find several useful points within. As it turned out, I was able to go cover to cover as a result of crowded air traffic over NY City and a slow ground crew at JFK. Fortunately, I had a good book to occupy my time.

This book has been the topic of many a conversation in recent months and I am sure that many of you are familiar with two of the primary topics of the book. First, there is the 10,000 Hour Rule. This is the notion that in order to truly be an expert at anything, one must invest a minimum of 10,000 hours into the activity. Secondly, the Matthew Effect, which centers on the Canadian youth Hockey Leagues and the fact that the vast majority of kids that make it to the pros were born in Jan, Feb, or March! As an instructor at a school for academically talented kids and as a Dad, both of these concepts are fascinating and well worth the time spent reading the book. I had been in conversations with friends and colleagues on several occasions this year about both of these issues and must admit, I didn’t realize that they were from this book. I believe that these two concepts are certainly the two that resonate with the American public today and have driven the book’s popularity.

These topics, however, were not the primary points for me. There were two ideas in the book that really resonated with me. The first was a result of some studies on a community in Pennsylvania where the incidence of heart disease was exceedingly low. Researchers sought explanations for this health anomaly, seeking some explanation for the fact that this community was full of “outliers.” The best way to summarize the findings is to simply say that they were healthier due to their community. This was a place where three and four generations of family and friends lived together, in work and in play, in a nearly perfect world that they had created for themselves, in a “powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world.” Now, those of you that know me well, or read this blog regularly, know that I believe in the power of community. I believe that our best work gets done when we are happy in the social structure of our environment. We are absolutely at our best, most creative, and most productive when our community is strong. This study of a group of outliers seems to support this idea in a very strong way.

A later chapter of the book presented data on a variety of trends among Jewish immigrants and the garment industry in New York in the early 1900’s. It is quite involved and I won’t go into all of the details here. (You can read the book for that!) But, as part of that chapter, Gladwell notes three qualities that lead to satisfying work, and ultimately, success. They are autonomy, complexity, and a relationship between the effort and the reward. He goes on to make the point that money is not one of the three “drivers” of this concept, although many that find these three criteria as part of their work make a great deal of money. Work that fulfills these three criteria is meaningful.

Think about these three criteria. Autonomy: My son is 13 years old. He is mowing 4 lawns this summer for spending money. He gets to decide when he does his work. He can do it early in the morning, before it is too hot, he can go to soccer practice in the morning, rest in the afternoon, and do it later in the day if he wishes. He can do all four in one day or spread them out over a week’s time. He has autonomy. It sure beats being tied to a summer schedule that is rigid and inflexible. Trust me; the same is true for adults. I see it all the time. Complexity: Humans want to be challenged. Humans need to be challenged. We want to find careers that are interesting and engaging in a variety of ways. I think this is one of the reasons I love conducting orchestras. I never do the same thing twice. Every rehearsal is different and unique. I am continually challenged by the complexity of the activity. Relationship between effort and reward: Simply stated, the harder we work, the greater the reward. When we burn the midnight oil, we see a palpable result. Gladwell sums this all up nicely when he says, “if you work hard enough and assert yourself, use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.”

So, for those who are choosing careers right now, or coming to NCSSM in the fall, or in the midst of summer vacation, or just surfing the blogs, give this a little bit of thought. I highly recommend the book, Outliers. It is a quick read and provides some really interesting food for thought. I wonder what I will read on my flight back home.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Positions Available at EVS!

I received a phone call late last week from my friend, Blaise Kielar at the Electric Violin Shop in Durham, NC. He is getting the word out that he has at least one open position that he would like to fill. This would be a sales position, but he is interested in filling it with a string teacher that has lost their job recently due to budget cuts.

The Electric Violin shop is a small violin shop, run by musicians, that boasts the world's largest selection of electric bowed string instruments from nearly every manufacturer. These are great folks with a real passion for electric bowed strings and for education.

So, if you are finding yourself out of work due to budget cuts in education or know of someone that fits that description, contact The Electric Violin Shop today!


PS -
I just received this note from Blaise:
Career Opportunity at Electric Violin Shop
We have two full time openings for a musician with experience in retail, lutherie, or strings education. Join our team to serve our domestic and international customers through e-commerce, phone, and walk-in sales. Ours is a growing and exciting musical specialty, with job satisfaction and variety of duties not found in many professions.
In 1978, I answered a newspaper classified in Philadelphia for a ”Violin Maker with trade school experience.” The job description confused me, for there were only three places I knew of in the world that trained violin makers, and they were not what I considered a trade school. Bill Moennig invited me for an interview, and it became clear immediately that I was not suited for that position. However, he later offered me a place in the Bow Department. I was relieved to change careers from searching for a musicology teaching position (which was not going well!) to working with my hands. I learned my new skills (yes, it was after all a trade) and then, with a partner, opened the first violin shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
As times changed, I opened my own shop, and added electric violins, seemingly to satisfy my own selfish interests. The rest, as they say, is history! Electric Violin Shop has grown organically into one of the most interesting niche businesses in the world, by carefully answering each player's questions about how best to be heard in an amplified setting.
So if you, or anyone you know, might be interested in educating musicians about string amplification through superior customer service, please contact me. North Carolina is a beautiful place to live, with affordable housing still available!
And, thank you for placing your trust in EVS as your source for electric strings gear!
Blaise Kielar
Read the full job description, here.
PS - Duncan is moving to Galveston, where his wife landed a teaching position, and Mike is switching careers to his first love, choral music.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Music Instinct

A couple of nights ago, I was killing some time, flipping through the channels, looking for something to watch on TV. I ran across a PBS Special that was absolutely fascinating. The Music Instinct was premiering that evening and encompasses a number of areas that really interest me. Those of you that read my blog regularly, know that two books on music and the brain have really grabbed my attention in recent years: This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin; and Musicophelia, by Oliver Sacks.

Well, this special expands on both of these books and tackles a variety of related issues dealing with music, learning, and the operations of the human brain. This is a great primer for anyone that may be interested in these topics, but doesn't have the time to dig in to these interesting books. I would also encourage educators to check out the link to the show's website above. It contains several video clips, resources for teachers, a bunch of applicable links, and a variety of other resources.

Here is a excerpt from the PBS description of the show:

Researchers and scientists from a variety of fields are using groundbreaking techniques that reveal startling new connections between music and the human mind, the body and the universe. Together with an array of musicians from rock and rap to jazz and classical, they are putting music under the microscope.

“The brain is teaching us about music and music is teaching us about the brain,” says Levitin.” Music allows us to understand better how the brain organizes information in the world. There are a lot of different factors that go into our emotional appreciation of music [like] the memories we have of a particular song that we heard at a particular time in our lives.”

Internationally renowned performers Bobby McFerrin and cellist Yo-Yo Ma describe the way musical intervals are used or combined to create melody and harmony. McFerrin, together with the “World Singers,” sing a cappella to demonstrate that basic elements of music; pitch, tempo, rhythm and melody create specific reactions in our brains. Yo-Yo Ma plays two notes and then five more notes and then plays different combinations that demonstrate the way musical intervals are combined to create a melody or harmony.

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie encounters music in a unique way, as fundamentally a “physical phenomenon.” Profoundly deaf, Glennie “hears” music not through her ears, but by feeling vibrations through the floor and in her body: low frequencies through her legs and feet; high sounds in particular spots on her face, neck and chest.

Rock stars Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley were asked to participate in a new experiment to reveal the difference in the brain when two people perform music together – as opposed to solo. Neuroscientists wonder how two brains interact since music is fundamentally a social activity. Cocker was asked to enter a fMRI machine, while Hawley played his guitar in the room. When the Scan was analyzed it showed a measurable difference in brain activity when Cocker sang alone compared to when he sang with Hawley playing guitar. During the duet, Cocker’s brain was more active in areas for phrasing and coordinating music as well as cognitive and emotional interaction.

Research also shows that music has enormous potential to help explore the complexities of human brain function. For example, there’s a strong connection between the auditory and motor regions of the brain, and music seems to engage the motor system in a way that other modalities do not. People with motor disorders like Parkinson’s disease have improved their ability to walk while listening to a rhythm track, and stroke patients who have trouble with speech show signs of improvement when they receive music therapy. And there’s new evidence that music can actually change the physical structure of the brain – a fact that has critical implications for both education and medicine. One thing is clear, proven and agreed upon; music has a profound capacity to influence and alter the human experience.

I would encourage everyone to check this one out. It is appropriate for musicians, teachers, students, administrators, arts advocates, and anyone that has been impacted by music at some point in their life. I also happen to know that it is available for free if you are a member of Netflix.

Seek this one out. You will be gripped!