Lounging at Lang’s Place & our (re)imagination...

Years ago, in an effort to keep the creative juices flowing and his idle mind in play, Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates) established an online show called Live From Daryl’s House (LFDH). Each show features collaborations, cocktails, and cuisine in an informal and spontaneous way. Developed by Daryl as an alternative to live touring, the show has hosted a WIDE variety of eclectic talents. Recent guests have run the gamut from Sammy Hagar to Ben Folds to Cee Lo Green. 

The concept is simple. Daryl brings in a fellow famous musicians for a weekend of fun, food, and music, after which they have a jam session. The guest artist plays a few of Daryl’s charts and then Daryl plays a few of the guest artists charts, with the goal being to make old songs new and new songs feel old through collaboration. I have included two of my favorite episodes below.

I think Daryl might be on to something here. I mean, other than the fact that he is TERRIBLE at naming things (Seriously! Hall & Oates? Live From Daryl’s House?), the idea of taking opposites and collaborating has some merit. Think about it:

  • What if John Mackey were to reimagine Holst’s First Suite in Eb?
  • How would Asphalt Cocktail be different if re-scored by Holst
  • What would a duet featuring Trombone Shorty and Joe Alessi sound like?
  • Would choir be different if they were required to march?
  • Would band be different if they were required to sing?
  • Would orchestra be different if they had to improv?
  • How would music publishing change if it were run by a music educator?
  • How would your band change if it were run by a businessperson?

The possibilities are endless and could present some unique collaborations as well as some entertaining television. 

Listen, like Mr. Hall, we ALL get in a rut. Teaching the same classes day after day, year in and year out, it is easy to get comfortable and complacent. The real challenge is doing the same thing day after day but doing it in a new way. I've been focusing on this lately myself, but like Daryl, I think I would benefit from a collaborator. To keep it in the style of LFDH (most people just know it by it’s acronym), I am looking for my opposite… You know: young, tall, and talented? 

Any takers? We just have to come up with a better name than Lounging at Lang’s Place!

Have a great week!

Teens, Adults and My Personal In-vest-ment!

This week I went in search of a vest. Yes, a vest!

You know, the three piece suit afterthought and staple clothing article for accountants.

Tired of polyester dress pants and ties, I went looking for a way to take something casual and comfortable into the realm of professional and polished. When I announced this to my fashion forward wife this is what she said...

“Honey, I'm not sure you're the type of guy that can pull off a vest." 

OUCH!

Listen, I am a Gen X'er and am WIDELY seen (at least by me) as incredibly hip and cool. Sure, I'm not living in my parents basement, growing an artisanal beard, and drinking craft beer, but I am still hip, aren't I? 

According to the students at last night’s workshop, the answer is a resounding, “NO!"

DOUBLE OUCH!

As educators, we live in a world dominated by a younger generation for whom classical wind band music is about as relevant to their lives as Engelbert Humperdinck. Our world is different than their world, and I believe that’s the point and any attempt to blend the two is likely to leave us both tragically embarrassed.

Kids don't want their teachers to be like them. And frankly, I don’t want to be like a teenager. Been there, done that, and it wasn’t that great. Sure, I lack the elasticity and energy I once had, but gone too is the angst that Jill Cederlof will laugh at me when I ask her to Prom and the wonderment of how I am to fill my tank of gas with my last forty-three cents. I like being an adult, just like they like being teenagers, so I am all in favor of letting the young people be young and I will handle the old part. They can have their Drake and Chance the Rapper; I will keep my Journey and Rush!

Teenage people don't want adults to participate in, or even understand, their world. That's what makes it their own. When adults try to fit in like me buying a vest, we actually become LESS relevant because we are not providing them with anything they don’t already have. Young people are surrounded with an abundance of youth and cool, so in order to become more relevant, we have to provide them with something that’s a scarcity to their lives: wisdom and experience. 

Teenagers know what they want, but have no clue what they need. They can take care of their wants, and we should be concerned with their needs. They can be teens, and we will be the adults. And the two need not meet in the middle.

But I’m still gonna wear my vest!

p.s. The picture above is the actual vest I bought. And yes, I look that good wearing it!

My Musical Matryoshka Doll

Matroshka doll.jpg

A matryoshka doll is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. More commonly known as nesting dolls, a set of matryoshkas typically consists of a wooden figure which separates, top from bottom, to reveal a smaller figure of the same sort inside, which has, in turn, another figure inside of it, and so on. 

The figures inside may be of either gender; the smallest, innermost doll, is typically a child turned from a single piece of wood. The dolls often follow a theme. The themes may vary, but they typically try and tell the story of a family or of a life.

Matryoshkas are used metaphorically as a design paradigm, known as the "matryoshka principle" or "nested doll principle". It denotes a recognizable relationship of "object-within-similar-object" that appears in both man-made objects as well as mother nature (Wikipedia).

Music education is akin to a matryoshka doll. We are programs within a profession: band, choir, orchestra, jazz, and general music. We have Suzuki, elementary, middle school, high school, collegiate, adult, and professional ensembles. We have teachers, performers, therapists, conductors, and yes, leadership trainers. Although we are all different sizes, shapes, and are decorated in different ways, we are part of the same matryoshka doll called music education.

Everyone wants to feel special and unique, myself included. And, if we're being honest, being a music teacher is not exactly hard on the ego. Every day we play to a large and captive audience that is usually willing and wanting to hang on our every word. Well, usually! But rather than celebrate our uniqueness, perhaps we would be better off as a profession if we celebrated our sameness, because, like the matryoshka, all of us have the same final core: a young child willing and wanting to make music.

Have a great week everyone!

The Gig Economy and My Lie!

I lied to you last week. Well, not so much lied, but I left out some pertinent information, which, if I were lecturing my boys, would be called a lie. What was the lie? It was the following sentence:

Since I am out of the country this week…

Okay, it wasn’t a huge lie, but a lie none the less. I WAS out of the country, but I left out some important information. I was on a cruise with my friends and family. Yep, that’s right, I was (poignant pause) ON VACATION!

If I were to come completely clean, I should also tell you that I have been playing loosey goosey with the truth for years.

Every time I write “unavailable” or “private workshop” on my calendar it's a lie. It is almost always a personal or family commitment. Don’t believe me? Just look at my calendar. It says that July 24th is a private workshop. In reality, it’s my sons' first day of school.

Why would I lie? Why didn’t I just write family commitment or today I will spend time with my kids instead of yours?

After reading last week’s e-zine on the ship, my wife looked at me and asked, “Do you think that implying you're working is more prestigious than saying that you're going on vacation?” My answer to her was an unequivocal YES!

How sad is that? What is wrong with me?

The “Gig Economy” is a recent economic term used to describe a labor market with an abundance of short term contracts and secondary work. Think Uber or FIVRR. To the rest of America, this is a new found phenomenon, but to musician educators, the term is as old as our profession. Why do you think they used the term “gig” in the phrase? Most of us have been doing extra gigs for most of our profession lives. You gig as a lesson teacher, adjudicator, drill writer, clinician, MEA officer, etc. Heck, sometimes it feels like we gig more than we work; however, if we, and this profession, are to survive, it needs to stop! I need to stop. My lies help perpetuate other lies. 

I need to be and will be more truthful.

So in service to honestly, let me say this: I didn’t work at all last week. And just so you know, I didn’t miss it one bit. As long as we are being honest, I also plan to be more “unavailable” in the future, starting with this weekend when I have my next gig coaching my son's football team. And as my final act of honesty, I will tell you that coaching is my favorite gig of all.

What’s your favorite gig? 

Have a great week!

Leader of the Band and more...

Several years back, as a part of a larger project called Leader of the Band, Tim Lautzenheiser and I teamed up to film a series of impromptu leadership videos. Designed to be accessible and informal, these videos take a look at the role of student leaders in school music programs.

Since I am out of the country this week, I thought I might provide these as an alternative to the insightful, pithy missives you have come accustomed to receiving. I hope you enjoy!

The Emperor, Stereograms and Music Education

Remember those 3D mosaic pictures that were big in the 90s? You know, the ones that used a thousand little pictures to make one big one? If you stared at them long enough, and in just the right way, a 3D image would jump out of the picture to create a completely different picture that would unify all of the little pictures?

The official name for these "works of art" is stereogram. I just called them bunk. Why? Because I could NEVER see the 3D picture. 

I’m not sure if I wasn’t doing it right, or what my problem was, but the 3D bonus pic eluded me EVERY time. To be honest, it felt a little bit like I was the Emperor without any clothes on. Everyone could see something I couldn’t and I felt a little embarrassed when I had to admit I saw NOTHING.

Honestly, I wonder if there was even a picture there to see. Maybe this was some kind of practical joke. Where's Ashton Kutcher? Am I being punked?

I see music education as being something akin to a stereogram.

Think about it, our profession is made up of so many smaller vignettes: band, choir, orchestra, & general music. We’ve got elementary, secondary, collegiate, and professional ensembles performing in the idioms of marching, concert, and jazz. There are soloists, small ensembles and full symphony orchestras. We have local, state, and national constituent groups who are supported by manufacturers, publishers, and retail stores alike. Our musicians, ranging from 4-94 in age, are students, parents, and community members that represent every ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic group.Yes, our profession is most assuredly made up of a thousand little pictures.

But where's the stereogram? It has to be there, right? Without it, we're just a bunch of little people with no connection, working in isolation. There HAS to be a hidden image. There HAS to be a unifying theme and underlying value that ties us all together. Otherwise what are we doing this for?

For the better part of a quarter of a century, I have been looking at this picture, searching for the stereogram. There are moments when I think I see something, but it fades before I can recognize what it is. It is equal parts maddening and frustrating. I KNOW it's in there. I can feel it even if I can't see it.

I believe we are all are working to a bigger and better end. I believe that there is a sense of structure and purpose to it all that gives our work a greater meaning. I believe we are all collaborators and not competitors. But collaborators at what?

I’m just not sure... YET!

But then again, I can’t see hidden images. So, can do me a favor? Will you look at our sterogram and tell me what you see? I REALLY want to know if there’s something there, or I’m just the Emperor wearing no clothes.

And NOBODY wants to see a stereogram of that!

My son is in a gang.

My son is in a gang.

I’m not proud of this, but I can’t watch him 24/7. He uses the term “crew” but I'm pretty sure it's a gang.

Now, before you envision him hustling stolen auto parts, flashing his "signs" while wearing his colors, you should know that he’s in first grade. The gang? They call themselves "The Pug Crew." Sounds ominous doesn't it?

I asked my son, "How did you get in The Pug Crew? Do you have to love all things pug related?" Nope! Apparently, being in The Pug Crew has nothing to do with pugs at all and the only membership requisite is that you have to race every member in the crew. When you hear of other gangs “running” drugs, apparently The Pug Crew just takes the running part seriously. 

Evan and his pals do like pugs, but really, they just want to belong to something.

Even as a first grader, Maslow’s need for “love and belonging” has taken hold of my son. He wants and needs to be a part of something, and connected to someone else. He wants to share a bond, while differentiating himself from his peers. Name, gender, class, and teacher only go so far on the rough and tumble world that is the first grade playground. So there he is, running (literally) with his fellow Pugs, finding his place and setting himself apart. According to Maslow, he is developing self-esteem and on a pathway towards self-actualization. Heady stuff for a first grader, if you ask me. 

You and me, we’re not so different from Evan and his crew, and our rehearsal halls bear some resemblance to the first grade playground.

In music, we work towards one sound, created by many instruments. We work at fostering homogenous values in heterogeneous ways. We push students as individuals inside of a group setting. We create harmony by creating diversity (1st, 2nd, & 3rd parts). In music, in order to become one, we must first become many.

In this way, Maslow and music may have something in common.

To my way of thinking, it’s okay that the band is different than the choir and the choir is different from the orchestra. I believe the woodwinds need to be different from the brass and the violins need to be different than the violas. I believe that concert band needs marching band to keep kids engaged and that individuals playing solos make the ensemble better.

Maybe in order to be one in music we have to be willing to be many. Maybe the ONLY way to have a safe space for everyone is to have a DIFFERENT place for everyone. And maybe, just maybe, the reason music is so powerful is that, more than in any other space in school, we have learned that in order to put things together, we have to first break them apart.

We ALL want to be a part of something and connected to someone. We all want to believe that we are special or different in some way (myself included). Which is why I asked Evan if I could be a part of The Pug Crew. He said NO!

Apparently, I'm just not fast enough.

My search continues.

Warren Beatty, Tinder, and Music Education

Prior to starting, you should know that at the end of this newsletter there will be a salient, well thought out point, but I may force you to wander with me while I get to it. Think of this newsletter like shopping at IKEA... You're forced to pass by stuff you don't want to get to the stuff you do. Except, unlike IKEA, I have assembled this newsletter for you. You're welcome!

Warren Beatty, Tinder, and Music Education

Yesterday, I did a churn and burn.

Stop that! Get your mind out of the gutter. A churn and burn is when you fly there, speak, and fly home all in the same day.

For those of you having enough common sense to choose a profession not involving body scans and living out of a backpack, you might think a 20 hour marathon to be painful, whereas I call it delightful. A churn and burn means I can start AND end the day in the same bed. ANNNNDDDD, that bed is MINE. BOOOYAHHH!

Call Warren Beatty and tell him we have another WINNER and that winner is ME! (Come on, you knew an Oscar joke was coming, right?) 

Flying is like Tinder (no, I will not hyperlink that) except at 35,000 feet, and you can't swipe right! Seriously, my airline could be a dating service, except the American Airlines app never seems to take my "must-haves" into account and won't let me choose my seat mate by swiping right ot left.

Like a first date, a plane ride forces you to often spend hours in close proximity with someone you barely know, making small-talk, pretending to be interested, all the while just wondering, "How much longer am I going to have to endure this?"

On my outbound morning flight today, a young gentlemen sat next to me and the first thing out of his mouth was, "Can I tell you about an exciting opportunity for you to sell vitamins and home security systems?"

Ummmmm, SWIPE LEFT.

My late night return flight was a different story, however. A middle-aged bearded man dressed in hiking clothes and a down vest sat next to me and we struck up a conversation. He shared with me that he was venture capitalist. He was well spoken, thoughtful, and articulate.

SWIPE RIGHT

As we exchanged our views on world politics and the state of the economy, he mentioned that the industries that can adapt and change with the times are those that he prefers to fund. He called them "resilient economic development opportunities." I was fascinated not only by the concept but the context of the conversation. 

To my way of thinking, music education is a "resilient educational development opportunity" (TM). (You can't steal that, I just trademarked it!)

Music in our schools has stood the test of time for over fifty years and was one of the few non-curricular activities to survive NLCB, the 2008 economic meltdown, and the demanding world of high stakes testing and academic accountability. In recent years, student enrollment has grown and music was even recognized by our government as a core component of a well rounded education. For many music businesses, profits are up and unemployment in music education is down.

Listen, I'm not saying that all is perfect in our world, because it's NOT! But, keep in mind when it comes to MANY other school and non-school related activities, the kids and the community swiped left. But when it came time for music, they...

SWIPED RIGHT!

Now, if someone could explain to me why IKEA can't use bolts and screws like everyone else!

Have a great week everyone!

The Peltzman Effect and Music Education 

In the drafts folder of my email I keep a file called, "Things to Think About." This folder is filled with half baked thoughts, unanswered questions, and snippets of information that intrigue me. As a I come across an unresolved thought, unique concept or incomplete idea, I place it there to be visited later when I have the time or inclination to resolve it on a deeper level.

"Things to Think About." is where I go when I want to stretch my mind and challenge my critical thinking skills. It's a space to "day dream" and think during long and late night plane flights, which I guess not not really "day" dreaming. It's not a place for answers, but rather a place for questions. Granted, the "drafts" folder of my inbox is an odd place to keep such a thing, until you realize the things that I am keeping are quite odd itself.

Last night, as a diversion from the mundane work of preparing my business taxes, I opened up the folder and began to read the contents. In an effort to revisit them anew, I went to the oldest document in the file and there it was... The Peltzman Effect and Music Education. YEEEESSSSS! I have NO IDEA why I put this here, but whatever it is has to be WAY better than working on my taxes, so I read on...

The Peltzman Effect is the hypothesized tendency of people to react to a safety regulation by increasing other risky behavior, offsetting some or all of the benefit of the regulation.(source: Wikipedia) The Peltzman Effect theorizes about unintended and opposite consequences created through new safety regulations. For instance, the unintended effect of creating safer cars is that drivers feel less at risk and drive in more unsafe ways. In short, by making cars safer, we made drivers less safe.

As a part of my long ago and forgotten contemplation, I wondered about the Peltzman Effect and unintended consequences in music education.

For instance, is it possible that the unintended consequences of:

  • having easier access to tuning devices has made students play more out of tune because they rely on technology and not their ears?
  • higher the ratings at festival lead to greater dissatisfaction in teaching and student learning? In an effort to make sure the literature was attainable, teachers might choose less rigorous literature or rehearse it beyond the point where it is enjoyable for either the teacher or students.
  • advocacy efforts are actually endangering music education by making it seem more fragile than it is and seemingly less important to students and parents?
  • having a sizable staff as it minimizes student development by impeding the growth of the student leadership?
  • having better performing ensembles as it causes more students to quit due to increased rehearsal/performance/practice demands.

Keep in mind, in all of Peltzman's research, he never stated that the bad outweighed the good, just that simple and obvious well intentioned acts might have unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Me? I am a walking Peltzman experiment. My ability to achieve unintended consequences or unexpected results is UNCANNY! You have no idea how often I say the wrong thing in an attempt to do what it right. Or how many times I have made the wrong decision, even when I have the right information. Truly, my initial instincts are so consistently wrong that I truly have grown accustomed to listening to my gut, and then doing the exact opposite.

I would elaborate, but the Peltzman Effect would suggest that the more I write, the less you read. So what do you say we forget this e-zine ever existed and we stick this one back in my "drafts" folder for a while longer while I think about it?

After all, Petzman might agree that absence makes the heart grow fonder...

So go back to what you were doing, pretend I was never here, and have a HORRIBLE week! (I totally Peltzered that!)

Iron Chef vs. Swedish Chef and "cooking" up leaders!

My son Evan and I LOVE to watch cooking shows. Whenever he is sick or just needing a little "daddy time," we gather our snacks and hunker down for a Food Network marathon. To be specific, Chopped Junior is our drug of choice. Heck, how hard can a red-wine reduction sauce be when a 12 year old can make it? These shows make everything in the kitchen seem creative and exciting, and I am NOTHING if not creative and exciting!

To be honest, I am a disaster as a cook. My ignorance goes well beyond that of the average male who spent thirty-five years as a bachelor. Truly, I am a total waste of human space in the kitchen. In my head, I see myself as the Iron Chef, but in reality, I am more like the Swedish Chef.... MORK, MORK, MORK!

My wife (who taught a high school culinary class) has tried to teach me, but I quickly become bored with the mundane stuff (chopping, slicing, and measuring) and want to move on the part when I get to light stuff on fire and use the blender. YES! Power tools for the kitchen! Men love to work with power tools, even if they are wearing an apron at the time.

Recently, my cooking training wheels were removed as I was tasked with making cookies. I scoffed at the simplicity of it all and saw this as beneath me. How hard could this be? Puuuullleeeeaaassseeee, I GOT THIS!

With my seven year old Evan by my side, I dumped all of the ingredients into the blender, which is appearently different than a mixer, adding eggs, milk, and butter. (Note: juggling eggs is NOT recommended, especially when you don't know how to juggle.) I then surveyed the assortment of mixing speeds from which to choose. Man alive, how could there be so many options for mixing? Stir, puree, whip, blend, crush – as far as I’m concerned, they should have just put fast, faster, fasterer, and fastererest! Fast is is good, but fastererest is better and quicker, so Evan and I decided on that!

After cleaning cookie batter off Evan, myself, and the ceiling, we continued on, but now had as my wife puts it, "proper supervision."

Next problem... Ingredients and measurements. I viewed the ingredient list more as a guideline than a requisite list. Baking soda versus baking powder, WHO CARES?! Tomato, tomahto! The details bore me! I want to approach the baking of cookies with the same reckless abandonment I use in cooking.

It turns out that you can’t do this. My patient wife explained to me that baking is a science and unlike my freewheeling approach to cooking, is an exercise in following step by step directions (something that has been proven not to be my strong point) before you can be creative. In the chemical reaction that is baking, failing to meet the necessary conditions or alteration of the size and scope of the ingredients in any way, might yield the undesirable results.

In a cooking, an extra pinch of salt, a touch more flour and five additional minutes can be genius, in baking it can be disasterous.

Me? As a teacher and a leader, I am more of a cooker, than a baker. I understand the need for structure and oversight, but I prefer to solve problems in a unique and personal way. To my way of thinking, no two students are exactly the same; so therefore, no two situations involving people can be the same.

There is a need for "bakers" in our profession and our world – people who understand, appreciate and follow precise and specific directions. I would not want a doctor, fighter pilot, computer coder, or pharmacist to be a "chef." Yes, their jobs require creativity, but only AFTER they have followed the prescribed formula for success. As I said, there is a distinct and ever-growing need for these people – I just know that I need not apply.

As a teacher and a leader, are you a baker or a chef? When choosing your student leaders, do you consider their skill sets and personality types? Is your librarian a baker and your drum major a chef? Do you match their job to their personality or the other way around? There is no right or wrong person; there are just right and wrong people for the jobs.

Either way, be sure to cover everything up before turning on the blender – I should know, I am still cleaning cookie dough off of our kitchen ceiling.