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294247081_97c9b01d1c.jpgThis is my last post for this blog here at mystro2b.wordpress. I’ve settled on as my new home (still powered by WordPress…just a new domain)

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Photo: kenliu

Record an Album in 29 Days

Here is a great opportunity for your students:

Take the RPM Challenge and record an album in 29 days.

Here is a summary of the challenge and last year’s contest reported at Slashdot:

“The 2008 RPM Challenge — to write and record an original album in February, just because you can — is about to begin. Hundreds of musicians from around the world have already signed up. Last year, more than 850 albums were recorded as part of the challenge, a testament to what can be done by independent musicians without a label, without the RIAA, and often without a professional studio. The efforts ranged from an album made entirely on a Nintendo Game Boy to a Speed Racer rock opera, produced by both experienced bands and novice musicians, often in continent-spanning online collaborations. Last year’s challenge generated one of the largest free jukeboxes of original music available online, built to stream on-demand all 8500-plus original, artist-owned songs. Imagine if grassroots, independent systems like this foretold the future of recorded music and its distribution.”

Musicians in Google Earth

Musicians on Google Earth

Thanks to Jim Gate’s TipLine blog for this one:

The gearthblog is fantastic for learning about the great work being done in Google Earth. This article talks about a project that is working to plot the birthplaces of the world’s most famous musicians. It’s well under way and this should be one that music teachers around the world will want to watch.

Check out the article at Google Earth Blog.

State Mandated Music Assessments- HELP!

Here in the state of Washington, we are supposed to be implementing Classroom Based Performance Assessments in the Arts, including music.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but the process involves video taping students performing various “sets” and then scoring each child’s video according to a rubric that is supposed to be aligned to specific state Essential Academic Learning Requirements, or EALRS. (Click here for an overview of the music CBPA’s by grade level).

Since I am leading a training on this for teachers, I could use your insight on this touchy subject…

Initial reactions to this state mandated testing from teachers in my district have ranged from indifference to hostility-

“How can we test for music? Are they nuts?”

“We barely have time to teach our students as it is…and now they want us to test?”

“No one is going to care about these scores; what difference will it make?”

“I’m not doing it!”

“I think testing is a bad way to justify the arts….”

“What difference will this make?”

This really surprised me. My initial reaction to all this was, “Finally the legislature sees enough value in the arts to have them assessed for all students.”

I often joke with my colleagues that after the first round of dismal arts scores are made available, I envision a press conference where the Governor says: “Look at these test scores for the Arts; it’s obvious our students need more resources for arts education…I am proposing we pass a bill for increased spending in the arts for all WA State students.” End dream sequence.

I think testing for the arts fundamentally says that all the arts are essential for every student’s education. It says we no longer need to justify arts education based on how it supports other disciplines…Art for Arts Sake!

I am wrong about this?

What’s your take on assessment for music?

Does your state have a mandated arts assessment program?

I’d be grateful for your input. Please add to this conversation by commenting below.

From my Google Reader this morning

Guitar Games Push Digital Music Sales

Free tools for music educators

Check out the great free tools for music educators at PracticeSpot
(the Manuscript Genie is worth the price of admission alone….FREE!)

Here is a sample list and description of what you’ll find

Music Crosswords
PracticeSpot’s crossword collection – all dedicated to the subject musicians know best

Chord Wizard
Decode any chord, any time, anywhere in any key. Gb Minor Major 7th with added 13th? No problem.

Practice Spot’s Manuscript Genie
Infinite supply of free manuscript paper, in a variety of sizes.

Sight Reading Chef
Randomly generated sightreading sheets, so you never know what you’ll get

Scales Chef
How scales manuals should be – filled only with the scales you ask for

Rhythm Gym
Randomly generated sightreading sheets, so you never know what you’ll get

PracticeSpot’s Theory Sheet Center

The web’s largest collection of free printable theory sheets.

Why am I doing this again?


After a particularly difficult rehearsal with my choir the other day, I asked myself, my wife and anyone else who was unfortunate enough to hear me complain, “Why am I doing this again?” This was the short, sarcastic, remark to several fundamental questions I have often asked myself after a rehearsal where my students seemed uninvolved, uncommitted and uninspired by the music, and my direction.

These fundamental questions typically spiral into the following depression:

“Why am I doing this again? Do my students even care? Why should I try so hard when they don’t even care? Why do they even belong to this group when they don’t give their best? What’s my problem? Why can’t my choir sound like (insert name of respected colleague here) choir…?”

We’ve all had these days and thoughts at some time or another in our career. Typically after a refreshing beverage of choice, our perspective usually returns and we continue with our work. But lately, I have felt that my work as a choral conductor and music educator of children and adolescents is driving me to this sarcastic place more often than I remember.

Now before this post turns into an Oprah or Dr. Phil episode, and I start crying as I pour my heart out to the audience, I hope that you’ll consider with me the original question I asked; not in a sarcastic, ironic response to momentary feelings of inadequacy after a bad rehearsal, but as a real question to confirm some core beliefs about our work as choral conductors and music educators: “Why am I doing this again?” These core beliefs are usually not inline with what my young choristers are typically exposed to each day outside of my rehearsal. The influence of pop culture on our singers and audience can be the catalyst that makes our work seem unimportant or misunderstood by many.

I do believe there are some core values we share as music educators that can be expressed as a response to popular culture that influences our students and audiences in a negative way. Kenneth A. Myers, former producer and editor for Morning Edition and All Things Considered on National Public Radio, has a chart from his book All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, contrasting popular culture with traditional and high culture:


Focuses on the new Focuses on the timeless
Discourages reflection Encourages reflection
Pursued casually to “kill time” Pursued with deliberation
Gives us what we want, tells us what we already know Offers us what we could not have imagined
Relies on instant accessibility Encourages impatience
Requires training Encourages patience
Emphasizes information and trivia Emphasizes knowledge and wisdom
Encourages quantitative concerns Encourages qualitative concerns
Celebrates fame Celebrates ability
Appeals to sentimentality Appeals to appropriate, proportioned emotions
Content and form governed by requirements of the market Content and form governed by requirements of created order
Formulas are the substance Formulas are the tools
Relies on spectacle, tending to violence and prurience Relies on formal dynamics and the power of symbols (including language)
Aesthetic power in reminding of something else Aesthetic power in intrinsic attributes
Individualistic Communal
Leaves us where it found us Transforms sensibilities
Incapable of deep or sustained attention Capable of repeated, careful attention
Lacks ambiguity Allusive, suggests the transcendent
No discontinuity between life and art Relies on “Secondary World” conventions
Reflects the desires of the self Encourages understanding of others
Tends toward relativism Tends toward submission to standards
Used Received


I have found this chart to be invaluable when I ask the question “Why am I doing this again?” It forces me to remember that I hope I am teaching my choristers and students to love and appreciate music that is indicative of the characteristics listed in the right hand column. Some key thoughts on this from Myers below:

Asserting that traditional or high culture has a greater potential for establishing a sensibility that is beneficial and constructive is not to say that all aspects of traditional or high culture are superior to all aspects of popular culture… Our principal concern is with the sensibilities encouraged by popular culture versus those encouraged by high culture (as well as traditional culture). We aren’t prescribing a list of preferred cultural experiences for the sake of some crusade of cultural literacy. It is important rather that the advantage of high culture’s sensibility consists in its ability to provide some transcendent perspective, while popular culture’s liability consists in its tendency to encourage a self-centered perspective.

I believe pop-culture’s “tendency to encourage a self-centered perspective” is what I see in my young singers today. This causes me to say, “Why am I doing this again?” in a defeated way. Thankfully I’ve chosen a career for “its ability to provide some transcendent perspective” on life. This I must remember, so I can say, “That is why I am doing this…”

Excerpts from pp. 120-122 All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Kenneth A. Myers, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Ill. © 1989.