How We Look at Change

Hello.

Almost a year has passed since we’ve seen each other. And to make my post interesting to you, I have made it interactive. You will have the opportunity to participate. Can I have a thumbs-up?

(Now you give me a thumbs-up.)

(That’s how this works. Nice job.)

Even though Linus has been quiet in the blogosphere, a lot of change has been occurring outside of the closed laptop. How we each look at change is amazing. Both the change around us and the change inside ourselves. (Nod.)

On the night of our recent presidential election, I was watching the news coverage in a bar with friends. Each television had a different news channel: CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. We scanned our eyes across the screens as we drank our beer and ate our cheap pizza, talking about the drastic changes that would happen if HE won, or the even more drastic changes if, God forbid, HE won. In those few hours, I realized that I had never actually created a mental image of my life in the next few years. Would I be a victim of losing my healthcare? What job would I have? Where would I even live? Would either of these men on TV actually send any ripples my way? Not metaphorical ripples that I would see from afar, but ripples that I would physically feel. (Look ponderous.)

Change takes many forms. Sometimes the world doesn't change when we need it to, and that's when fires are lit. Taken from my trip to Valparaíso, Chile, 2011.

Students protesting high tuition costs. The world may not change when we want it to. Valparaíso, Chile, 2011.

Blanket statement: In recent months I have seen a lot of change. (Applaud.)

Examples:

  1. I moved out of my home city, Minneapolis.
  2. I slept on the couches of generous strangers.
  3. I lived in Spain and experienced life as a teacher.
  4. I came back and experienced life as a teacher in the States.
  5. I graduated from college.

This is when I started to reflect. Because, as you already know, we never know that something has changed until we reach into the past bag, pull out its contents, and lay them on the table: the present. My reflection told me that I was not feeling anything different. I actually desired to feel the same. Why? (Shrug. Because you don’t know.)

When I realized that the world kept spinning without me, I panicked and pushed against its rotation.

Plaque reads, "In memory of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals, who have been persecuted and repressed throughout history." When the world doesn't see the change the way its people do. Barcelona, Spain, 2012.

“In memory of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals that have been persecuted and repressed throughout history.” When the world doesn’t see the change the way its people do. Barcelona, Spain, 2012.

Note to self: pushing against the Earth’s rotation is actually impossible. (Shake head.)

Perhaps life outside of college is ferociously fast, something like a train. And leaving college was like jumping on. You don’t jump on a train by just jumping. You jump on after you’ve run a little first. Another impossible thing.

What’s funny is that I had been encouraging students to accept change and not be afraid of vulnerability. They even wrote songs about it. Be the change you want to see in the world! they belted, quoting Gandhi, standing as a choir with myself on the piano. With their passionate and pining voices, they praised peace and respect and acting out against violence.

In that moment I found what I needed, and what it took 100 fourth graders singing on choral risers to show me. (Cutsie face. Little kids.)

Our buildings can be an image of our own emotions toward change. Do we want it, or not? The Hague, Netherlands, 2011.

Our buildings can be an image of our own emotions toward change. Do we want it, or not? The Hague, Netherlands, 2011.

Stress due to change seems to come from reaction, not proaction. And a negative reaction, like stress, comes from resistance to the unknown. (Yikes, what is he talking about?) A person who does not make themselves vulnerable enough to accept those changes is essentially tensing their muscles every hour of the day. 

Do you consider yourself easily accepting of change? Or not? Why?

Do you think we need to be vulnerable? Or protective?

(Bye.)

(Wave.)

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St. Paddy’s Day: Six Songs about Drinking

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! Time to celebrate that good ol’ English saint who came to Ireland to spread the dominating religion of Christianity!

For some interesting misconceptions about this holiday, check this website out: http://paddynotpatty.com/.

Whether or not you are celebrating St. Paddy’s day as a reflective Catholic holiday, or crowded around your family and an Irish soda bread, or out with friends getting completely un-Irish, friendship and hospitality are valued by all of us. This are a few of my favorite songs about that people-connector, socializer, and friend-maker, the drink.

Note: These are not “drinking songs.” These are songs that sing about drinking, and the social life surrounding it. If you have any songs you would like to share, please do so in the comments!

FUN.: We Are Young

Mason Jennings: Drinking As Religion

What Made Milwaukee Famous: Cheap Wine

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight

Billy Joel: Piano Man

This last is my favorite. The recording by Liam Clancy is probably the most evocative and true to the lyrics of the song. Folks like Loreena McKennit and the Wailin’ Jennys have recorded beautiful, whispering renditions, but this is not the type of song that is meant to be sad. The character is content with himself and happy to be surrounded by friends, which I hope you yourself will be tonight. Slainte.

Liam Clancy: The Parting Glass

Does Band a Scandal Make?

A quick blog post today, while I’m waiting for my frozen pizza to cook.

I saw this article on NPR’s Twitter feed, titled Southern Miss Band Hurls ‘Where’s Your Green Card?’ Chant at Latino Player. It’s a short article, describing a recent event at the free-throw line during the first onslaughts of March Madness. According to the article, “Rob Cassidy, who covers Kansas State for Yahoo!, was in the stands and pinned the chants on the Southern Miss band.” If I were in the crowd, I would silently be seething while this chant was happening, but the article brings up another issue beyond the chant itself, and that is the portrayal of bands in media.

As I have typically seen it, bands are brought to the public’s attention when something bad has happened. Most of us will remember the attention drawn to Florida A&M’s marching band after the death of a hazing victim, which, I might say, is a horrific event to happen in any institution. What concerns me is the image of the band that this casts in front of the eyes of the public.

Often (at least what I have noticed), if an article comes out about a teacher who sexually harasses a student, the subject area that the teacher teaches is not revealed unless that subject is music. Are we taking our love for drama in Hollywood entertainment and associating it with our music students, only because of the correlation with the performing arts?

I do not want to sound as though I am in favor of sexual harassment, violent hazing, or any other such inhuman and incomprehensible cruelties with our students. What I am excited to see is that one day, our future media will ALSO promote instrumental classroom music as a positive and essential part of our American culture and a child’s social upbringing, just as highly as we loft beautiful friendships or dinner with family.

Imitation, Improvisation, and I


You know you're in a picture just like this one.

What could that cute-as-a-button baby have anything to do with this?

Notice the girl passing notes...

Or what does that cute-as-a-button baby have to do with this?

Did you know that babies will imitate facial expressions within hours of birth? (No one has proved that they do it immediately, since they’re usually busy crying and getting power-sprayed). What these activities have in common is imitation. Learning jazz involves extensive time not spent playing, but listening. Imitating other musicians that are admired is key until different elements from all those artists are chosen to create a unique sound. In the classroom, students are imitating more than we probably want them to. A their teacher’s attitude, their peers’ behavior, even speech patterns.

Humans, particularly children, learn naturally through imitation. It is one of the many traits cute-as-button babies get from ancestors. Darwin’s theory of natural selection at work: new generations are more capable of solving the problems that plagued those that came before. This is typical of basic tasks such as communication and movement.

The sciences of mind can provide a sounder conception of human nature, which ultimately underlies all educational policy. What is the mind of a child inherently good at? What is it bad at? ….An emerging view is that the human mind is impressively competent at problems that were recurring challenges to our evolutionary ancestors – seeing and moving, speaking and listening, reading emotions and intentions, making friends and influencing people. It is not so good at problems that are far simpler but which are posed only by a modern way of life: reading and writing, doing mathematical calculations, understanding the world of science or the mechanics of a complex society. We should not make false analogies that assume that children can learn to write as easily as they learn to speak, that learning math can be as fun as learning to run and throw, or that children in groups will learn to do science as readily as they learn to exchange gossip. On the other hand we can try to co-opt the mental faculties that work well (such as understanding how objects fall and roll) and get children to apply them to problems for which they lack natural competence. (source)

This information came at me while I have been learning how to improvise and play popular music on saxophone. I have only been, one might say, “classically trained.” Making music on the spot, without inhibitions, is a difficult procedure for me. A few days ago, I was given a new jazz chart in the university jazz band I play with, and it gave me a good startle. There was a solo. I stared at it. It stared back. Unabated. More frightening than the most complicated classical composition was the lack of any notes at all. Our relationship began there, and I let my eye contact fall to my baritone saxophone lying across my lap. No help came from that. All it was saying was, “I just do what you tell me to do.” The solo had won this round.

Learning to play jazz is a lot like picking up the speech patterns of your friends. I listen to other musicians that I want to emulate, and then listen to myself to see if it’s working. This usually involves playing my saxophone straight against a wall. I probably look like an imp.

“Who do you like to listen to?”
“A lot of Chris Potter.”
“Yeah, I can tell by your sound.”

But, it’s encouraging to read the above quote and think that my hours spent trying to imitate are bridging the gap between inherent abilities (imitating, listening) and complex problems (improvising over a Giant Steps progression. Not on your life, by the way).

I find Indian music very funky. I mean it’s very soulful, with their own kind of blues. But it’s the only other school on the planet that develops improvisation to the high degree that you find in jazz music. So we have a lot of common ground.

John McLaughlin

On the other hand, learning a new language is a lot like listening to jazz musicians. (See what I did there?) Last week, a former Spanish professor asked if I would be willing to record my voice reading a few paragraphs in Spanish. She is researching the depth of accents that both native and non-native speakers have when speaking Spanish, especially those who have spent time in Spanish-speaking countries. Her questions inquired about how much time I had been learning, where I had traveled to, for how long, etc.

“Where did you go?”
“I was in Chile.”
Nods. “I can tell by your accent.”

I am interested to learn about more of her findings over time. Am I some kind of anomaly, picking up an accent after only 7 weeks, while other American students who were with me clearly did not?  Or am I just a musician? Is it all just improv?

Learning through imitation is not cultural, it’s biological. As animals, we’re geared up to learn from day one, literally. Our environment and our genes is what does the teaching.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

Just as a thank-you for reading, I present you with some Balkan-flavored improvisation. Enjoy!

Creativity: A Ghost Story

I read many a ghost story as a youngster. In my elementary school’s library, I migrated towards the supernatural and scoured through the haunted. They would end with just a touch of mystery; story lines that never found closure.

To this day, no one enters the old house… All he heard was the faint scratching fade down the street… The figures are still said to be seen on the property…

And, on I read. Each story ended as though the final sentence on the last page was incomplete. The voices were never silenced in the hallways, and so the nail marks will reappear on the door, but if the white lady is left wandering the beach, then the black dog continues to bay, and eventually the dancing child will find his playmate, though not if the servant hides… while the door can never stop… an innocent traveler can still hear… she will always be screaming… when the moon is out, they… but until he returns… and… to this day… while… still… yet…

They pulled and pulled and pulled me along. Would I find out if the man in the suit found happiness? Let’s read on, and maybe the next story will offer some satisfaction. But the family hasn’t made peace with the gnome in the attic. Could they still? We can’t stop now. The sound of the ghost train is still heard. Could I, one day, hear it for myself?

Leading up to writing this post, I was reading through a few lists of documented mysteries and unsolved crimes on Listverse; a pastime of mine when I have such wonderful nights of no work or school the next morning. As I read, I found myself reflecting on these childhood fascinations by an old and familiar feeling: a fuzzy sensitivity on the back of my neck, a slowing and shallowing of my breath, a heightened listening. This was accompanied by occasional head-twitches—you might call them “fearful glances”—to the corners of my apartment that lay behind me. Was I, at my age, becoming…becoming…spooked?

Just to make sure that this couldn’t have been happening, that it was in no way possible for my neck hairs to be rising, I left the website and pursued Facebook and listening to music. There, I thought. I’m not scared. It’s not even crossing my mind. Not one iota. No big deal. I’ll just turn my music up. But it’s because I like it. I like my music. I want it louder. It’s an Argentinian band.

La Parca estuvo cerca,
Me miraba con cariño,
Asomó por la ventana y sonrió.

“The Grim Reaper was close,
She was looking at me caringly,
She leaned in the window and smiled.”

Damn you, neck hairs.

For most of my life, “to this very day,” I attribute this sensitivity to an active imagination, and this imagination to my creativity. It came from the focused energy that I put into my personal protection from the wolf in my closet (yes, that’s what was in my closet. And a man in a top hat was outside the front door. And a black cat was on top of my parent’s dresser.). If my own memories and work have taught me anything about kids, it is that they have the capacities for energetic, unmitigated imaginations that could send the kettle whistling.

I believe that we adults find it difficult to be as freely creative as a child. We find something—anything—to inhibit the flow of ideas that electrifies us from mind to fingertips. Barriers are set in place to try and reroute the flow which are euphemized with words like “logic,” “realism,” and “discipline.”

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.

— Carl Jung

We as adults have the gift of reason, in that we understand when an idea is impossible due to such things as the laws of gravity and mechanical motion. What we consider to be our “logic” should not hinder the creative process, but be the cardinal advantage to seeing it through. We should not only be free enough to welcome the idea, but wise enough to bring it to creation.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

— Pablo Picasso

Now, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how I unabashedly equate this same idea to the failure of argumentative governments and beloved religions. Perhaps they ought to freely and uninhibitedly welcome ideas, welcome friends, welcome enemies, welcome peace, welcome questions, welcome answers. If not, then perhaps their neck hairs ought to be standing.

I leave you with a fragment of my imaginative 6-year-old self. This is a song I listened to from the narrow bench seat in the back of an old blue Ford truck, a recording by Caryl P. Weiss. Hopefully it won’t give you the spooks…unless…

Chile Rising

I follow Estudiantes Informados (Informed Students) on Facebook, and earlier today they posted this video, created by Fault Lines, an English language news source from the Middle East. It beautifully describes the education conflict in Chile that I experienced, synthesizing facts, the history of Chile’s politics since the coup d’etat on September 11th, 1973, and interviews with leaders in both arenas.

The video opens with marchers playing a simple rhythm on metal fencing, an infectious pattern that became familiar while walking through Valparaíso in the middle of the day.

A group of parents and adults banging pots and pans in front of each red light.

Students, teachers, taxpayers; in small huddles or large masses; all would chant and cheer and this rhythm was the heartbeat of their collective energy.

Outside of the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso.

Lemons - to reduce the effects of tear gas.

At the end of the video, you hear the song “Shock” by singer Ana Tijoux. I’ve posted and translated the lyrics at the end of this post. The song is centered around the idea of the Shock Doctrine, a term coined by author and journalist Naomi Klein in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

A “Shock Doctrine” is the employment of economist Milton Friedman’s free market economic plan during times of great turmoil and upheaval. This is what was referred to in the Fault Lines video when the Chicago Boys were sent from Chile to study economics with Friedman in the 1970s, and employ his Regean-era policies in the fresh dictatorship.

(Haz clic acá para leer las letras en español.)

Chorus:
Your monologues are poison,
Your discussions colorless,
You don’t see that we’re not alone.
Thousands pole to pole!

At the sound of one choir,
We will march to the tune,
To the conviction, “stop the robbery!”

Your state of control,
Your rotten throne of gold,
Your politics and your wealth,
And your treasure, no.

The hour sounded, the hour sounded.
We won’t permit any more, any more of your Shock Doctrine.

The hour sounded, the hour sounded. (x4)

Verse:
No countries, only corporations
That have more, more action,
Fat slices, powerful decisions by the few.

Pinochetist constitution,
Opus dei rights, Fascist books.
Coup supporter dressed by an elitist pardon.
Drop the drops, drop the purse,
The takeover takes the broken machine.
The street won’t quiet, the street is scratched,
The street isn’t quiet, debate that explodes.

Everything leaves, everything’s sold,
Everything profits life and death,
Everything’s business, like you,
Seeds, Pascuala, methods, and choirs.

(Chorus)

Coup to coup, kiss to kiss.
With desire and breath,
With ashes, with fire,
From the present with remembrance,
With certainty and with bleeding,
With a clear objective,
With memory and with history,
The future is now!

This whole test tube,
This whole laboratory every day,
All of this failure, all of this economic model
Doomed like the dinosaur.

Everything’s criminalized,
Everything’s justified in the news,
Everything leaves, everything’s trampled,
Everything’s filed and classified.

But… your politics and tactics,
Your typical laugh and ethnicity,
Your manipulated communication,
How many were those that were silenced?

Cops, water tanks, and nightsticks,
Cops, water tanks, and tuna,
Cops, water tanks don’t add up.
How many were those that robbed the fortunes?

Chorus


The runaway returns.

Oh, it’s you.

Um, hello.

It’s been a while, you see.

I can’t make any promises to you right at this moment, but… well, hear me out.

(Merry Christmas, by the way.)

There have been a few changes between us. No, it’s not you, it’s me. The changes I see in you have only been for the better. You’re great, you’re wonderful. I would love to have kept up with you these past few months, watching these changes take place and applauding each one of them.

But that is one large reason why we have spent some time apart. I’ve been trying to acquaint and reacquaint myself with the people around me in exactly the same…

(Happy New Year, too.)

…in exactly the same way.

So, if I may, we can reacquaint ourselves to each other and see if what we’ve both experienced in these past few months have taught us anything. It’ll be good. I promise.

Cheers,

Linus