September 11, 2015

Why Music?

As we move forward to advocate for music education, there is an interesting perspective to keep in mind. Most of us are aware of the benefits of studying music such as increased brain function, increased fine motor skills, self-discipline, pursuit of excellence and many other side-benefits.

It is really important to remember that the first and foremost argument for studying, playing and listening to music should always be because “it is music”. Music alone advocates for music. Its powerful transformative nature inspires us and gives us the greatest depths of pleasure. We visit many lands, cultures and lives through music. It is by far one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings. It is impossible to describe music adequately in words and that is its magic. Music transcends language and integrates its communication to us uniting our mind, body and spirit. It brings us into “flow” and gets us to the centre of our consciousness. If we remind people of this, we will awaken them to the most authentic reason for music.

July 2, 2015

William Deresiewicz recently published a book entitiled “Excellent Sheep”.  Besides outlining the failings of our educational approach in our elite systems, he focuses on “the meaningful life”.  I love his last quote of Thomas Hardy:

“The beggarly question of parentage-what is it, after all?  What does it matter, when you come to think about it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care.”

If we can treat every child with this fairness and equity-not to mention love, we can change the world!

which are “empty receptacles”. It’s an oppressive relationship: the teacher takes control and takes the role of an oppressor. The student is expected to be a passive follower.

Freire proposes a “problem posing” education structured to encourage thinking in students. The student and teacher enter into a partnership relationship of dialogue to jointly come to conclusions about problems. The teacher must not pre-determine solutions but these solutions must come together with the student through dialogue. The teacher and the student must learn from each other.

July 2, 2015

William Deresiewicz recently published a book entitiled “Excellent Sheep”.  Besides outlining the failings of our educational approach in our elite systems, he focuses on “the meaningful life”.  I love his last quote of Thomas Hardy:

“The beggarly question of parentage-what is it, after all?  What does it matter, when you come to think about it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care.”

If we can treat every child with this fairness and equity-not to mention love, we can change the world!

July 2, 2015

I recently wrote this article for El Sistema Toronto’s e-newsletter:

Building Self

El Sistema is both a social movement and an inspiring music education program. The social component is about community building and eliminating barriers to participation, but is that enough? The music education component is an enriched intensive experience for our participants, but are we just offering a conditioned traditional approach?

Education in its best form is a shared experience. It should be an atmosphere of discovery. Our students are not empty vessels needing to be filled. They are also our teachers. It’s not just our participants who can learn and grow as we teach young people, but also our teachers, administrators, volunteers, families and communities.

The positive psychology movement is casting a revolutionary framework we can use for the social/educational context of El Sistema. Seligman, one of the leaders of this movement has proposed five foundations of human needs which give us a comprehensive sense of well-being. They are: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. If we make this model the foundation of our social/education framework we can then create tools to nurture these five areas of personal and social development.

These tools and approaches will help us continue to develop our revolutionary programs and create more influence for better education approaches and social impact.

May 6, 2015

Norman Doidge in his book “The Brain That Changes Itself” has offered us an incredible gift.  It is the beginning of the instruction book for the human brain.  Although research into neuroplasticity is still in its infancy, Doidge stands at the gateway of ushering in a new era of understanding of both how the brain works and how we can change the way it works.  A couple of quotes I really enjoyed:

“So a neuroplstically informed view of culture and the brain implies a two-way street:  the brain and genetics produce culture, but culture also shapes the brain.  Sometimes these changes can be dramatic.”

“Studies by Taub and others of musicians who play stringed instruments have shown that the more these musicians practice, the larger the brain maps for their active left hands become, and the neurons and maps that respond to string timbres increase….Brain imaging shows that musicians have several areas of their brains-the motor cortex and the cerebellum, among other-that differ from those of non musicians.  Imaging also shows that musicians who begin playing before the age of seven have larger brain areas connecting the two hemispheres.”

April 22, 2015

This sums up my feelings and experiences with our current approach to teaching and learning from our Education Systems in Canada and much of the world.

Our Education System

April 21, 2015

I stumbled across a TED talk that got me thinking about how much we need to do in regards to learning and teaching opportunities.  I had considered Steiner/Waldorf models of outdoor gardens and outdoor teaching, but hadn’t given thought to the shape, size and design of schools.  This kindergarden school in Japan bursts the four-wall model we have all become familiar with.  It nurtures activity, fitness, community, nature, play and fun!  A circular environment brings children back to learning and follows their “play activities” running in circles.  Tree climbing and exploration are also natural to children and can be found throughout this amazing facility.  The designer makes the case for children taking risks, falling down and hurting themselves as a natural and good phenomenon!
http://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen

March 28, 2015

Last weekend, The Aeolian and The Ontario Registered Music Teachers Assocation ran a weekend of concerts and pedagogy presentations.  André Laplante and Sara Davis Buechner gave stunning performances with a vast array of repertoire.  The presentations focused on bringing back an “authentic” focus for music making in a community context.  André spoke about his early studies and the horrors of his early experiences with teachers trying to live vicariously through him.  I gave a presentation on Emotional Intelligence and building a conscious focus of teaching “EQ” to our students.  D&S Pianos presented the latest technology of “hybrid pianos” which are transforming the ability to practise creatively and do so in apartments and condos.  Joel Faflak from the “Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities” from Western University talked about fear, failure and making space for the creative process.  He asked the question “Are we too busy doing and not taking enough time to waste time and get ready to create?”.  Sara gave practical presentation on piano technique where she focused on methods from the past.  We concluded with a stunning presentation by David Visentin from El Sistema Toronto.  He asked the question “Are we living up to the promise of social outcomes in our teaching?”.

Although there were thematic links to many of the presentations, there were also contridictory ideas.  I was happy with this!  It is in this tension of contradictions that we become creative!

March 16, 2015

We are now beginning to connect with higher purpose, looking for “happiness” or “wellbeing”. Seligman defines wellbeing as embracing the following five footprints:

  1. Positive Emotions
  2. Engagement with life
  3. Relationships; positive ones
  4. Meaning; a sense of purpose or beliefs
  5. Accomplishment: we feel good when we accomplish something

With this new emerging awareness of “who” we are, the types of jobs and education systems we have had don’t make sense. They aren’t valid or relevant anymore. Perhaps one could say that their validity is fading away. There are still some jobs which require “widget making” or clerical “pencil pushing”, but these are diminishing. Along with these diminishing jobs are their false sense of security and predictability. After all, there has never been anything secure in life except the knowledge that there is going to be an exit point!

March 10, 2013

“I won’t come if you have cabaret-style seating”.  How many times have I hear this from professors and others entrenched in the formalities of the classical music culture.  At Aeolian Hall, we’ve tried to make changes in how people engage with classical music.  Cabaret-style seating, food and drinks at your seat and more interaction with the performers throughout the program are offered to give a less “formalized” atmosphere.  Socialization is encouraged at intermission and after the concert to discuss the performance or whatever else brings joy to meeting in community.   We’ve even run a “Classical-Jazz” series where classical music is paired with jazz-not fused. These changes are met by enthusiam by most, but there is still a group of people who cling to tradition.  In my opinion, these are the same people who are preventing new audiences from engaging in classical music.  Many of these people believe that we must keep a “wall” up between classical music and other forms.  They fear that classical music will get “contaminated” if we don’t keep this wall up.  The greatest musicians I have met believe otherwise.