Thursday, June 24, 2010

Music in Science Class

Last night, I got to hang out with my totally awesome friend, Ania. We were supposed to be planning a west coast road trip for August, but of course we started talking about teaching. Ania is a Pilates teacher, and we often share our teaching adventures with each other.  Somehow our conversation segued into a trip down memory lane. Ania told me about her favorite teacher from high school, and I had to re-tell it here.

Ania's science teacher was an Olympic gold medalist runner who loved Jazz music. She remembers entering the classroom every single day greeted by the sounds of happy Jazz music, and the image of her teacher bopping and snapping his fingers to the music at the front of the room. She said that the science room felt unlike any room in the whole school. It felt happy and interesting, and it effected the rest of the class too. She said the classes were always fun and interesting, and she never forgot how he started each class with music.

I remember in my high school, there was a math teacher who had the reputation of also playing music in her class room. I had the privilege of sitting in her class just once, but I remember feeling like the music helped me somehow. I didn't understand why, I just knew that I felt more relaxed and open to learning.

That's it for today. No analysis on why it's nice to have music in the academic environment. Just a personal testament: it's really pretty great.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Confidence For Girls: Part 2

I think this is an important topic, so today I want to post another idea. It's so simple, but it needs to be said anyway. Girls need good role models in order to develop confidence. If you are trying to teach a girl music,  she needs to have some strong, inspiring role models. In my childhood, it was rare to see a girl playing an instrument on stage. Most of the girls in the music biz were singers, and few of them wrote their own songs. As a child, a few women changed that notion for me. Debbie Gibson was the first female singer-songwriter I remember. I had a picture on my wall of her from a teen magazine, and in the image, Debbie is sitting on her bed with her guitar and notebook paper spread out all over the covers. She has this big, accomplished smile on her face, and something about that image made me want to be like her.

The Bangles were another group of women who helped me to see that women were just as capable as men at making Rock and Roll Music. I loved watching Susannah Hoffs dance around the stage with her Rickenbacher electric guitar. They had that big 80's hair that all the metal bands had. It was awesome to see 4 Women doing the same thing. There were others who helped lead me into a life of music. The ones I remember from childhood are Heart, Mariah Carey (Don't knock her. She had/has some mad crazy vocal skills and the ability to write complex and catchy pop songs), Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper.

I want to start a list of role models for musical girls. Let's go.

1. Patti Smith. Daring, bold, powerful singing voice, isn't afraid to speak up.

2. Joan Jett. (See above description) Also plays the guitar.

3. Kathleen Hanna. Often getting penned as the "Leader of the Riot Grrl Movement," Kathleen Hanna was the leader singer of the early 90's post-punk band "Bikini Kill." She and a slew of other women were tired of the male run punk-rock movement, and so they all decided to start bands and sing about it.

4. Tori Amos. Growing up is hard to do. Sometimes you have to be a girl and spill your feelings even if the boys on the playground call you a baby. Tori took all those tortured emotions every young girl feels at some point in her life, and she turned them into beautiful, melodic prose.

5. Joni Mitchell. The ultimate flower-child, Joni Mitchell is one talented lady. She possesses the talents of communicating feelings through painting, poetry, guitar, piano, and singing. Joni painted the covers of many of her album covers, wrote all the songs, made us feel good with her calming voice, and made us think with her insightful and poetic lyrics.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Confidence For Girls

One thing I love about being a guitar teacher is seeing girls play the guitar. What I love even more is that the boys think it is perfectly natural to see a girl with a guitar. The truth is that the music industry has been pretty misogynistic since before the days of Bach.

Even in the old days, it doesn't seem like there were many women making music. Yes, I'm sure there were, but can you name any of them?  Hildegard von Bingen and Clara Schumann. I only know that because I'm a music teacher.

Hildegard was a Nun who wrote music for church worship, and Clara was just filling in for her husband, the guy who thought he could exercise his weakest finger by building his own finger bowflex.  He permanently handicapped his fingers, and Clara had to perform all of his compositions.

Even in our Modern Era, women are sadly missing from music history. It's been 13 years since the first "Lilith Fair," yet I still don't think the guys at the Guitar Center believe I really play. It was really pretty common, when I was growing up, to only see guys with guitars. All of that is changing now.  I see girls playing guitar all over the place. No one would ever dream of calling a girl unusual for playing the guitar these days. (Thank you Kathleen Hanna, Joan Jett, and Ani Difranco, just to name a few.)  However. Every 10 -15 years, it seems to become noticeable to the pioneers that their work is being taken for granted.

All the baby boomer feminists teaching my college classes just couldn't understand how we could take our freedoms for granted the way we do.  I see younger girl musicians now, and I also start to pick out the things that they are doing wrong. One thing bothers me more than anything is advertising musical mistakes. When I see a new female musician on stage, it is almost guaranteed that at some point in the performance she will giggle and apologize for forgetting a chord, when really, no one in the room noticed. This is the fastest way to look like an amateur. Don't do it. Take control of that instrument and believe in yourself.

Confidence is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL for a girl musician.  When I see a girl make a mistake on stage and laugh at her silly self, I just cringe inside. I cringe for all those times I sat on a stage and tried to ignore the heckler in the back of the room and just play it tough like I didn't care. I feel embarrassed for the time that jerky clarinet player sitting next to me in Music History class told me that guys just understand music better than girls. For the time my teacher revealed the most sacred of all performance secrets: "Just keep going and never let on that you messed up. They don't know if you don't tell them!"

Teachers, show your girls how to play with confidence, even if they have to fake it at first. Girls, don't be afraid to take some chances. We have a lot of work to do, and no time to wait for someone's approval.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How Has Music Changed Your Life?

Throughout the course of this project, I have told many people about this blog. Everyone has reacted with enthusiasm, and not a single person has shut me down. In fact, almost everyone I have spoken with has shared with me their own personal feelings about music. Everyone I have met has told me in one way or another that music has in fact changed their life.

For some, listening to music provided an outlet, as well as a source of identity for them during their teenage years, and they still consider that music to be number one. For others, playing an instrument or singing has helped sort out, or release, personal feelings. Please share with us your thoughts on music here. I've rambled a lot about what I think. Now it's your turn!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Healing Power of Music

Yesterday, my mom, my husband, and in-laws all drove to the airport to see my brother-in-law, Nick, leave for Iraq. It was sad to see him go. The peace activist in me felt a little angry that Nick, who is in the Coast Guard, has to go off to be a part of this stupid and pointless war, But, as the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, I am 100% behind him. I'm proud of Nick for his willingness to fight for his country, despite my personal politics.

As you can imagine, his family was very, very sad and worried to see him leave.  Last night when we were all sitting around outside, they asked me to play some music. I have been working on some children's music that is lighthearted and humorous, so that's what I played. By the end of the performance, everyone was laughing and smiling, and I was too. Music helped us all to feel a little relief despite the circumstances.

Music has always be a refuge for me, and probably for you too. Here in Jacksonville, FL, the radio station seems to constantly play an old song that goes like this: "Give me the beat boys and free my soul. I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away. Thanks for the joy that you've given me. I want you to know I believe in your song. Rhythm and rhyme and harmony. I'm counting on you to see me through..."

What a perfect message. I am so grateful for music. I hope Nick and his friends all get to hear some music over there.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pete Seeger Talks About His Peace Anthem "Turn, Turn, Turn"

In my last post, I talked about Pete Seeger. As you can tell, his work definitely fits the definition of "Musical Community Service." He has devoted his entire musical career to peace music, and "Turn, Turn, Turn" is one of the most timeless classics of the genre.

If Pete Seeger intrigues you, check out the other video below, "What Did You Learn in School Today?"
I heard this song for the first time yesterday. I think it's time to bring it out of the archives! I'm practicing it myself right now. I'll post a recording of my own version when it's done. Stay tuned!