Music Missions 2: Musical Interviews

This post is part of a series of posts for my school and one-on-one students.  My original post explaining this whole series can be found here.  If you have questions or comments about this mission, please leave a comment on this page and let’s talk about it!

Do you come from a musical family, or are you the only musician in your branch of the family tree?  This week’s activity will help you get to the bottom of that!

Interview as many of your relatives as you can – moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – and ask them if they’ve ever learned how to play an instrument.  On a sheet of paper, clearly write who you are interviewing, and their answers to your questions.  If you have the means, you may want to create a Word document on the computer with a space to write their name, their relation to you, and all of the questions.  That way you can easily add in their answers without having to do as much writing.

The first three questions are required!

Did you ever learn how to play an instrument?  Which instrument?
How old were you when you first learned that instrument?
What was your favorite thing about learning that instrument?

The following questions are optional, follow up questions.  Feel free to ask these questions as well, or to think up follow up questions of your own.

Who taught you how to play?
Did you want to take lessons or did  your parents just sign you up?
How long did you take lessons for?
Did you ever get to perform?
What was your favorite song to play?
Were you ever in a band?
Do you still have your instrument?
Can I hear you play a song?

You may learn some very interesting things about your family members!

Questions? Comments? Problems? Suggestions?  Please leave a comment!

Music Mission 1: Travel with your Ears

This post is part of a series of posts for my school and one-on-one students.  My original post explaining this whole series can be found here.  If you have questions or comments about this mission, please leave a comment on this page and let’s talk about it!

Travel with your ears!  It sounds like such a funny thing to say, but in fact, this is a pretty neat exercise and also a good way to calm and center yourself if you need some calm and centering.

Go to a place where you can sit down for about 5 – 10 minutes.  It can be a public place or your own home, or a vacation spot or a friend’s house, or wherever.  Bring some paper and a pen with you.  On the paper, write down where you are and for 5 – 10 minutes, write down everything you can hear.  Try and be as specific as possible.

When I do this exercise (and I do it pretty regularly), I scan my surroundings by distance.  First I listen for what is immediately around me, then I try to listen to sounds further and further away from me.

For example!

Here I am sitting at my laptop writing this blog entry, and here is what I hear:

Myself, typing on my laptop
My laptop fan running
My boyfriend playing on his phone and talking to me occasionally
The air conditioner running in my living room
One of my neighbors mowing their lawn – but not on my block.  The sound is very faint so it might be at least a block away

And that’s it!

Now, I know that if my windows were open, I would be able to hear the occasional car on the street and sometimes I can even hear trucks on Route 440 (it’s only about a half a mile from my house), and the sounds might be different if I did this exercise at different times.  If you want, especially if you are doing this from your own home, do this activity at two different times – perhaps at noon and then again at 6:00 pm.  Compare the different sounds you hear at the different times.

As a fun addendum, once you have written down your sounds, see if you can figure out how far away they are – if you can figure out an approximate place you can look them up on Google maps and have a parent help you figure out the distance (this is how I know 440 is half a mile from my house).  Or, if you can bring a parent with you, try to walk to those places to see just how far away you can hear.

YOU MAY DO THIS ACTIVITY MORE THAN ONCE AND RECEIVE CREDIT FOR EACH ASSIGNMENT.  To receive multiple extra credits, you must do it at different locations.  Start out small – do this once at your own home, then maybe again in a public park, then at the mall, then at a really aurally busy place like an amusement park or a festival.  Don’t just dive right into the big noisy places if you can help it!

Questions?  Comments?  Problems?  Suggestions?  Please, leave a comment!

Summer Extra Credit – Music Missions!

STUDENTS!

If you are visiting my website because I told you to come here for your summer extra credit activities, here’s what you need to know right now.

Activities will be posted either once or sometimes twice a week.  Check back often, and look for “Music Missions” in the title.  Remember that all activities and assignments will be due to me by the first music class of next school year, which will be approximately the second or third week of school (so even if you forget all summer you can work on assignments in September!).

All assignments will be tagged with “music missions” so to make sure you haven’t missed anything, look to the right hand side of this blog page and scroll down to list of tags – you can click on “music missions” there or from any individual blog post page.

Finally, posts will be linked from the “Students” page – which is where you should probably head to if you are lost anyway.

If you or your parents have any questions, feel free to email me at missannalawrence at gmail dot com (of course, use the symbols instead of the words).

PS to my PRIVATE STUDENTS – if you have a passport, don’t worry, almost all activities will earn you a sticker upon completion!

HAVE A MUSICAL SUMMER! (and stay in touch!)

A New Look and New Plans

Greetings from 2015!  I blow my own mind by making my first post of 2015 almost halfway through the year!  Life is busy when you have as many MissAdventures as I do.

But anyway, here we are!  I’ve redesigned my website to make it easier to navigate, but I am still doing a bit of work on it, so please be patient if you have a hard time with something (and if you do, please visit my “contact me” page and, well, contact me!).

If you are here because you are interested in my summer programs or registering for the fall, please visit the lessons page.

If you are here just to read, well, read on, and enjoy!

~Miss Anna~

Remembering Dean Drummond

It’s been a year, but I still have a hard time describing just how much Dean Drummond meant to me.  A year later, and his passing still touches me deeply.

Dean Drummond was just another one of my teachers in college.  I had taken classes with him, and I had been in his ensembles, and that may not sound like much.   But to me and to a good handful of students like me, he was so much more than just a teacher.

Dean was in charge of the Harry Partch instruments, and beginning in the fall of 1999 (just like me) Dean and his unique group of instruments came to Montclair State University.  Yes, we called them the Dr. Seuss instruments (go ahead and google the insane genius Harry Partch, I’ll wait), but those of us who got to know the instruments developed a strong love for both the instruments, the legend of Harry Partch and Dean himself.

When I tell you that Dean is the main reason why I remained at Montclair, it is not a lie or a stretch of the truth.  I could have studied music theory anywhere; there is only one college where a student could study on the Harry Partch instruments, and that’s at Montclair State University.  I didn’t go there with Partch in mind, but this is one happy accident that I am most thankful for.

Even after I left Montclair, I was still happy to hear about the program flourishing.   Dean once even assured me that the “Partch students continue to be the coolest students in the music school” (yes, that’s a direct quote from an email he once sent me).

To honor Dean’s memory, the university has so kindly decided to kick the instruments off campus.  Well, I guess I should be a little clearer.  It’s not like whomever makes these kinds of decisions sat down and said, “what’s the most insulting thing that we can do for a faculty member who has passed away?”  but that’s essentially what they have done, and I know I’m not the only one who is livid about this decision.

However.  I’m not going to dwell.  At least, I’m not going to dwell on the negative.  Instead, here is a roundup of articles written about Dean, leading off with my favorite.  The author, Elizabeth Brown, is a composer who wrote a few pieces for the Partch instruments.  It is my favorite of all the articles written in the last year because of her close ties with Dean.  They had a long and great working relationship, and the article is peppered with email correspondence between she and Dean.  I miss his humor.

You could, of course, read his obituary in the New York Times, or in the LA Times, or jump right to his wikipedia page. You could also have a listen to an episode of New Sounds that aired the Thursday after Dean passed last year.

One last thing I’m going to do, and I hope you will do as well, is visit this fundraiser on Indiegogo.  It’s not specifically for anything directly Dean related, but it’s for Partch, and Partch is what Dean devoted much of his musical career to.  There is a production of one of Partch’s bigger pieces, The Wayward, planned for Carnegie Hall, and they additionally are filming a documentary on the production as well.  It is my hope – and probably the hopes of many others – that this documentary will have a positive impact on the music education world, and the Partch instruments will find a new home where students can continue to learn about and explore the magical world of Partch.

It’s what Dean would have wanted.

Beware the fog

As the big MAMTG Competition has finally arrived, I have one last thing to say to my students.

Beware of the fog.

No, not the actual kind of fog you see. The kind of fog you feel. The kind of fog that is all too often ever present, lurking just in the shadows, that only ever really seems to appear at the darkest of times.

Worry. Doubt. Fear. Nervousness. That fog.

Nervous – I don’t mind that one. Nervous means you care. Nervous means you really want to get it right. That one, I’m ok with.

It’s when nervous turns into worry that I start to get concerned. A little bit of nervous energy is great. A whole lot of cloudy worry can be terrible.

So tonight, tomorrow, Sunday, forever, don’t let the fog take you. Don’t let the fog cloud your inner vision. Don’t let the fog lead you astray.

Close your eyes and remember you know the way. You know what to do, what to sing, what to play, how to feel. You’ve got it all inside of you. Don’t let the fog keep you from seeing that.

Jelly Band Rocks!

It takes a really genius app to appeal to both adults and children, and Jelly Band, by Infinite Dreams accomplishes just that.

On its surface, Jelly Band is a music creation app.  Children and adults alike can use it to create one of two songs by layering different instrumental loops together.  The downside is that, if left to their own devices, you, the conductor, may get bored too quickly.

Or, you may be drawn in by the smooth graphics, the infinite possible combinations of musicians, the cute little jelly players, or the catchy tunes you create!

Jelly Band is one of those open ended kind of games, and yes, I suppose, some people need a little direction in their lives (if you are one of those people, be sure to stick around until the end of the post, and I will help you out with that), but the beauty of an open ended game like Jelly Band is that, yes, the possibilities are indeed endless.

Jelly Band!The play is simple.  First you pick one of the two stages (each stage features a different song) and you are then confronted with around 20 jelly musicians, ready to play their alien instruments (many of which children and adults will recognize as being guitars, pianos, percussion, or wind instruments.  or, on stage 2, a rubber duck.  each stage features a few singers as well).  You can then pick which jellies get to perform by tapping on them and sliding them to a spot on the stage.  The closer they are to the front, the louder their loop is heard; the further to the back, the quieter they are.  Stage 1 is pretty heavy on the guitars – there are six jellies who play various stringed instruments, mostly guitars, to only one keyboard player.  Stage 2 is more evenly matched, there are three guitarists and four keyboardists.  Both stages have a decent amount of percussion and wind instruments, plus a few crazy alien instruments thrown in for good measure (one looks like a car exhaust pipe, one looks like that “Simon” game that some of you adults may remember from the 80’s).

When you come up with a combination you really enjoy, you can record it within the app, which is a plus, but only for about two minutes, which may or may not be a plus, depending on your preferences.  Another downside (or a plus) is you can only record up to five songs at a time.  You can also tap the button with a picture of a die, this will put a random jelly player into the mix.

The one real downside of the app itself (I am trying to focus just on the app and not on a user’s possible lack of creativity, haha) is that the balance could use some tweaking.  Remember before when I mentioned that jellies in the back are softer while jellies in the front are louder?  The difference between the back row and the front row is only about ten decibels, yes I checked.  If you have multiple jellies playing, or if you are in a room with some environmental background noise, you may miss out on this subtle distinction.  The app has also recently added the ability (although I was playing this just a few weeks ago and this feature disappeared and reappeared again a few days later) to play along with the jellies on these green crystals in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.  The crystals each play a different note in the chord that the jellies are currently playing, so there’s never a chance of a wrong note.  Unfortunately, if you have a full stage of jelly players, you will just barely be able to hear yourself.  Truthfully, if you have the wrong combination of jelly players on the stage, you will not be able to distinguish what you’re doing from the rest of the bunch.  Hopefully the balance issue is something that can be worked out in future updates.   Something else that might be nice to see in a future update – a slow song.  I know that the music is apparently based on one of their other apps, a game called Jelly Defense), but having a slow song to counter the two very upbeat selections currently offered would be a nice addition.

For those of you who are bored after 30 seconds of play, or who want to help their children get more out of the app, here are a few suggestions.

  • Choose only jelly players from one instrument group.   Your choices include vocals, percussion, winds, strings, keyboards and miscellaneous (although most of the wacky instruments could be categorized into the other instrument families as well, and that on itself could spark some interesting debate with your youngster or your inner child).
  • Choose by color.  Each Stage has a different variety of colors.  Choosing only yellow jellies will not really be interesting no matter where you are (one stage only has one, the other has two), but you could create a nice small ensemble by going for only the blues, only the reds, only cool colors (blue green, purple) or only warm colors (red, orange yellow).
  • Choose by how many eyes the jellies have.  Many jelly players only have one eye.  One has as many as eight!
  • Choose by combining two of your favorite jellies with one of your least favorite.
  • Choose a small number of jelly players (no more than 5 or 6) and play around with the balance by putting only one or two in each row.
  • Choose up to 4 jellies and put them in the back row (making them as soft as the app allows).  Jam along on the crystals at the bottom of the screen.  I find this works best with a combination of percussion instruments.  Experiment with brushing your finger across all the crystals as quickly as you  can (as if you were strumming them), or with playing each individually.

All in all, this is a great app.  It allows for quite a range of creativity and open ended play, but does require a little guidance on your own part or on the part of a parent or teacher for your child.  If you are a regular teacher or specifically a music teacher, this could be a great app to use as a reward for good behavior or after a performance.  Or, if using this with a group of students, you can save a few songs by a few students each week and have the rest write reviews of them – not just critical reviews, but commentaries on their composition and the instruments featured.  This is a great app for anyone with kids… or who is still a child at heart.

Get the app here:

android-app-on-google-playAvailable_on_the_App_Store_black

In Honor of St. Patrick’s Day

The year was 2008, or maybe it was 2009, and I was at the annual Mid-Atlantic Music Teachers Guild’s Spring Festival – a weekend long event that prominently features competitions for music students of all ages from the NJ/NY/PA/CT (and beyond) area, among a few other interesting activities.  And by “interesting activities,” of course, I mean, “accordions.”

For reasons that will only detract from this absurd narrative, there is always a high concentration of accordions at this event, and I always strongly encourage my students to go check them out.  I mean, when is the next time you’re going to see an accordion, let alone this many all at one time?  I, too, check out the accordions when I get a chance, and that is exactly what happened in the Spring of 2008.. or maybe 2009.

Competitions take place on Friday night, all day on Saturday and on Sunday morning.  Late Friday evening and Saturday night are left for pure exhaustion (depending on how much time one may have spent at the competition that day) or a little bit of socializing with colleagues you only get one chance out of the year to see.  On this particular weekend, there was an accordion performance on Saturday night that featured both soloists and an accordion orchestra.  Please, let’s all just take a moment to appreciate the idea of an “accordion orchestra.”  It is kitschy.  It is glorious.

I had nothing else on the agenda that night, so after dinner, a coworker and I went to the concert, to see what was up.  What was up was too much nerdy musical awesomeness for one room.  I texted another of our coworkers, one of the guys that works in our store and repairs instruments.

“Do we have an accordions on consignment right now?” (sometimes, this is, in fact, a thing).

The answer came back.

“Are you drunk?”

“That’s irrelevant!  Do we have any accordions or not?”

“No, sorry.” (I think he still thought I was drunk)

This sounds like a sad ending to a weird tale, but I have to tell you.  This is not the end of the story.

The following Monday morning, I get a text.

“Were you serious about that accordion?”

“Of course, why?”

“Because a guy just came in and gave us one.  Didn’t even want any money for it, just wanted us to make sure it went to a good home.”

“IT’S MINE.”

By that Tuesday night, she was home in my apartment, and we have been terrorizing the poodles and confusing small children ever since.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how the one and only Holly Scandalli came into my life.  This is how ALL accordions should enter their players’ lives, in a slightly mysterious and absolutely zany fashion.

The one, the only, Miss Holly Scandalli.

The one, the only, Miss Holly Scandalli.

The List of Things You Cannot Say

I’m a music teacher.  Did you know?  Of course you did, I’m just being silly.  One of the things that I have developed over the years, that almost all of my students have seen at one time or another, is the “List of Things You Cannot Say.”  It is, because I am on a roll with stating the obvious here, a list of things that you cannot say.  Why?  Because I hate free speech!  Because I said so!  Because because because because!  Actually, we all know that I am a big promoter of the first amendment and everyone’s right to say whatever they want, regardless of how offensive it may be.  So I suppose it is a little curious that I have, essentially, a list of banned words and phrases, and that not only do I possess and enforce this list, but I’m the one who came up with it.

I came up with this list not because I enjoy censoring my students but because these words aren’t so much Words as they are Little White Flags.  They are signals that the student has given up, or is about to.  While I do think that the situation may come up from time to time where it is good to just acknowledge that you’ve worked your hardest and to just move on from a project, students are often reach that point much sooner than an adult or teacher might.  Students need to be taught to persevere, to be dedicated, to face hardship and adversity.  And waving little white flags in the face of a difficult piece of music is no way to learn!

The number one offender on this list, of course, are the two dreaded words, “I CAN’T.” If a student sees The List, it is probably because they have uttered these two words.  These are probably my two least favorite words on the face of the planet.  “Can’t” is probably my least favorite four letter word on the planet (not to say that I have favorites, they’re all pretty deplorable).  When I hear a student say “I can’t,” it’s not coming after months of working on a particularly tricky passage, it’s coming after a week, maybe two.  It’s looking at something hard (“It’s hard” is also on the list) and making the decision that “I can’t” before we’ve even tried.  Often it’s giving up before we’ve even begun. And these are not the kind of thoughts I want my children to be burdened with.

I want my children to be strong, and adventurous.  I want my children to be curious and hopeful.  I want my children to be brave enough to test their limits, and also, smart enough to know when it is appropriate to think these thoughts.  Because sometimes, yes, it is hard.  Sometimes you’re not going to like the song.  Sometimes you’re just not going to get it (Yes, “I don’t like this song” and “I don’t get it” are there, too).

But please, say those things when you’ve given it every try, when you’ve attempted it every which way, upside down and backwards.  Give up after you’ve given it your all, and even then, give it one last try.

Second runner up for Most Popular Little White Flag is “I’ll fix it next time.”  Oh,  honey.  I learned a long time ago, as you are learning right now because I am telling you, that ‘next time’ never actually happens.  Next time is that mystical land that exists somewhere in the very near future that we never actually arrive at.  It is just beyond the horizon, it’s the gateway to ‘tomorrow’ where a lot of other procrastinators leave their to-do list.  Don’t fix it next time.  Stop what you are doing and fix it now.  Right this second.

If you live in the present and work in the present, you won’t “always make that mistake,” which is another entry to the list.  You are always making that mistake because you are practically giving yourself permission to do so!  Why give yourself permission to be less awesome?  Why say, “I’m bad at this,” when it’s practically like giving yourself the free pass to be as lazy and as average as possible?  Students just don’t know how much awesome they have bubbling up inside of them, and when they say things like “I always do that” or “I always make that mistake” or “I’m bad at this,” they are clamping the lid down tight on all that potential that they just don’t see.

Because I try to be an optimist (how can you be a teacher and a pessimist?), I subsequently also created the “List of Things You Can Say” which is basically a compilation of the “List of Things You Cannot Say,” turned inside out.  “I can’t” becomes “I can,” I’m bad at this” becomes “I’m good at this,” and on and on.  Because if I’m going to subtract vocabulary from my students’ lives, it would be irresponsible of me to not add anything back in.

The funny thing about this list, is that I actually catch myself saying things on this list from time to time, and I’m not talking about the Can Say list.  Yes, even I get frustrated and say “I can’t,” or I get lazy and say “I’ll fix it next time,” on the rare occasion.  I’m not perfect.  But I know I can set a better example for my students.  So I turn my can’ts into cans and I keep on going. 

I hope you will, too.

Who I’m Thankful For

There are many things I am thankful for, both personally and musically.  I have spent a lot of waking hours so far this year, thinking about who I am thankful for, musically, and today, on Thanksgiving 2013, I want to tell you about a really awesome person in my life, who unfortunately, is never going to know the impact he has had on me.

I started college in the fall of 1999 at Montclair State University.  I was a music therapy major at the time (something that lasted only about a year).  Our freshman class was split into two sections for Theory I and Aural Skills I.  I just so happened to get the class with Dean Drummond, who was also new to Montclair State University that semester.  If me-from-now told me-from-then that this guy would become the most influential person in my college career, I probably would have laughed at you.  At the time, I think I wasn’t even sure if he was going to give me a passing grade in those two classes.

On a whim, I decided to try out the ensemble he ran, on the instruments invented by himself and by Harry Partch (another story, for another time).  The students in the music department mostly referred to them as the Dr. Seuss instruments.  Of course I was interested.

Over time, the instruments, and Dean, became the true constant of my college career.  Through deaths in my family, through a personal health scare, through FOUR changes of major (one of which Dean personally helped to make possible), there was always Partch ensemble.  It wasn’t just an ensemble for me (and for many of the students who participated over the years), it was my main form of socialization (Partch kids became some of my closest friends), it was a place for me to hang out, it was a place for, sometimes, hiding from the world.  Through the Partch ensemble, I got to premiere a few awesome works of music, and I got to perform off-campus (which was, and is, still a big deal for any ensemble).   I got to learn about a teeny, yet infinitely awesome niche in American music history.   The kind of thing where some people say, “You play the Cloud Chamber what?” and other people say, “OHMIGOSHYOUPLAYTHECLOUDCHAMBERBOWLS!?”

Dean wasn’t just a musician who also happened to be a teacher, he was the kind of person from whom you  could learn something every time he opened his mouth or just did.. anything. I have been thinking a lot this year about him.  From my dedication to practicing, to the way I run rehearsals with my students, I have learned a lot, musically, from Dean.

I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from Dean, too.  I’ve learned it’s never too late to learn something new.  I’ve learned that you just don’t have to iron your shirts if you don’t want to.  I’ve learned that if you truly love what you’re doing, you will never dread going to work a day in your life.  I’ve learned to keep a great sense of humor about everything and all things.  How did I learn these things?

Because one afternoon, Dean asked me to show him how to do a pirouette (also, he was just getting into karate).  Because Dean Drummond plays a kithara, and in his mind that means he doesn’t have to iron his shirts if he doesn’t feel like it, and I play kithara so I’m not ironing my shirts, either.  I witnessed the fact that Dean Drummond had dedicated his life to pursuing new music, and exploring all the possibilities of sounds to create, and I saw how that took him all over the world, and to my little corner of it, and how, no matter what the university threw at him (and anyone from MSU can tell you that Montclair can throw it’s fair share of curve balls and put up road blocks), he was living a life to be proud of, to be satisfied with, to be happy with.  I’ve also witnessed Dean leap like a frog across the room, attempt to walk through walls.  I’ve seen him wear ridiculous hats and make silly faces, all in the name of music.

I’ve been thinking about Dean a lot because Dean had been sick, and Dean finally succumbed to his illness in April of this year.  I, like many students, was actually pretty devastated.  I think I still am.  With the tears welling up in my eyes as I type this right now, I think I was under the impression that Dean was going to live forever.  I mean, hey, he could walk through walls, so it was absolutely possible.  Until, of course, it wasn’t.

But I am thankful that my life’s path crossed with that of Dean Drummond.  I won’t get too existential about it, but the only reason I came to Montclair was for a major I completely lost interest in, and in many ways, if it weren’t for Dean, I may not even have eventually become a musician.  If he hadn’t ended up at Montclair, I don’t know where I would have ended up.  So for that, and for so much more, Mean Dean the Theory Machine, I say thank you so very much, wherever you are.