Passport Approved: My Summer Travel and Music Plans

Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.
Kurt Vonnegut

I am currently listening to the latest from Passport Approved, which credits itself as “an internationally syndicated tastemaker import radio show.”  That can only mean one thing: there is travel on my horizon.

I have noticed particular peculiar propensities that power up inside me when the travel bug bites.  The first is, as you might expect, an adjustment in the music that I listen to.  Normally, I sail down the street each day listening to my local Minneapolis radio station The Current (which I highly recommend), but there are some international feels that it does not satisfy.

My plan is to go to Austria in July and participate in Mid-Europe, an international wind band festival in Schladming, Austria.  After reading about this small town, I learned that it has hosted the World Championship for the International Ski Federation twice, which means pretty mountains live there.

I am going to teach my saxophone how to yodel.

I am going to teach my saxophone how to yodel.

Mid-Europe has an honor band call the World Youth Wind Orchestra Project that I have submitted an audition recording for, and now I simply lay in wait for the result.  I am not getting my hopes up; in fact, I am quite prepared for a rejection.

I wanted the most well-qualified recording that I could come up with, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a piano accompaniment.  Unfortunately, the microphone was a bit too close to the piano, and our recording process was very rushed so I did not have the wherewithal to do a sound check. (We were pressed in between the end of the school day when I finished teaching and when the pianist had to go pick up her daughter from school.  Safety Warning: No tempos were injured in the recording of our music.) Additionally, I have learned that because I play the saxophone, I must always be prepared for rejection.

Accepting that rejection is all right was actually an easy conversation to have with myself.  If I do not pass the audition, I will simply attend the conducting masterclasses as a passive participant and bask in the beautiful light of wind band knowledge.  Then again, nothing is stopping me from at least applying as an active participant and actually conducting (SCARY).

I will come clean, though.  This week-long conference is going to be couched in about a month or more of personal travel that, for all intents and purposes, will be #@$%ing amazing.  So whether or not I perform at Mid-Europe, I will still learn a great deal about wind bands, meet important figures in our shared field, and take time to explore new parts of the world.  Now would be a good time for you to set up a date for coffee with me in Prague.

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Can culture and politics be separated?

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.
Clay P. Bedford

I teach two classes of 8th grade band, and my colleague teaches a third.  We coordinate our lessons and the repertoire that the students are working on so that it comes together well for the concerts, and that they are learning the same concepts.  We recently passed out new music that we selected for the Spring concert, which we tried to make diverse and international.  Selections from movies, history, and other continents are going to piece together the program.

One of the pieces that we selected was a wonderful composition that is a tribute to Ugandan folk music.  We had rehearsed it for a few days when my colleague read about Uganda’s new law against homosexuals.  When the law was first proposed several years ago, it was going to declare the death sentence on anyone discovered to be homosexual.  The law that actually passed a few weeks ago changed the death penalty to life in prison.  Additionally, if a person is caught hiding their knowledge of a person who is homosexual, they will receive the same sentence.  We had a long discussion about whether or not we should play this piece due to the connotation and reception that it could possibly receive from the friends and families of our students (if they are staying up-to-date on the news).  Between the two of us, we were not able to come to a clean conclusion, so we went a different route.  We asked our students.

First, the issue was presented as bad things that the government in Uganda was doing, without specifics about the new law.  Then, we discussed whether or not the culture and music of a society could be thought of as separate from its politics.  Could we play the music as a celebration of their society?  Or was that impossible?  Then, we went into the details of the law.  We emphasized that we were not interested in each student’s opinion on homosexuality (the community that we teach in is fairly conservative), but hoped that they still do not agree that a government should commit an act of such aggression towards its people.

After our discussions, it was beginning to be clear that the students were not interested in playing the piece any longer.  One student eloquently stated that it would not possible to separate the politics from the culture, because all that we digest from our news is what we learn and perceive about the globe.  A mature, intelligent response.

I said that we were going to look for another piece from Africa.  A student responded, half-jokingly, that no matter what, we would still find something in the news that could warrant the same issues.  At first, I was not impressed by that comment.  However, I can now see some opportunity.  If this event made some students more sensitive to the current events that surround the music that they perform, then they have gone far in their maturity as musicians and people.  Even many professional musicians do not take such an interest in current events, probably because their concern is with an accurate and successful performance.   Students in school, on the other hand, seem to be wanting to find how the music they perform (or all the material that they learn in all subjects, for that matter) relate to and enhance their lives in some way.  I do not think that students are taught to be curious, but “come that way.”  Just as in my classroom, I do not believe that anyone lacks a sense of rhythm or a sense of pitch.

I was thrilled to have had our discussion, and to see that curiosity and musicality are alive and well, and are the two states of mind that will probably end up saving the world.

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Masked LGBT supporters at a protest against Uganda’s anti-gay law. Source.

See and Be Seen

Two people are speaking in this blog post. So keep up.

For almost a year now I have been an intern at a nearby K-8 fine arts magnet school. It has been nothing but a great experience for me in many ways as I help the students (and their teachers) integrate music into the general classroom. This year so far has consisted of individual testing on students’ basic music literacy, which means I spend the day pulling 2nd and 3rd graders out of their classes to play rhythms, sing pitches, and other things. Not too long ago, I was waiting for a class to return from recess so I could pull another student. Lines of kids would meander through the halls like ants in an anthill, led by teachers who continuously stopped every few meters to quiet them. As I waited, a specialist was having a particularly difficult time with this. Me and my extra height was of no help; one look and the kids’ focus was out the window. To make things easier, I walked off purposefully into a nearby stairwell and waiting for them to get quiet and finally pass through. In that stairwell, I leaned against the window and listened to the voice of the specialist struggling with the voices of the students for several minutes. That was when the thought occurred to me: do I really, really want to teach elementary school? How much have I enjoyed what I do thus far? When it was just me with one kid, nothing could make me frustrated. Students weren’t stubborn, and I found none who did not cooperate. A paraprofessional sat and watched as her autistic student sang correct pitches and quickly notated rhythms just by listening to them, and another student with severe brain trauma only interrupted by asking if I liked to watch wrestling. Not a problem.

But that, that commotion down the stairwell. It defeated me.

I experimented bringing different philosophies in with me each day, but my calm place was inevitably my iPod on the bus ride. Don’t get me wrong. This still falls under the category of a great experience. Wouldn’t you consider it great to know when something you do isn’t something you enjoy, and that you’ve just narrowed down the search for what you want to do for the rest of your life? Obviously, scratching elementary education off my list for the time being is not as drastic as realizing — oh, say — you want to be a priest. No, it merely means that in my current life position, I would prefer to teach a different age level.

And then there’s Laura. If you haven’t met Laura yet, you should make it a goal for yourself. At her school 500 miles away, she walked away from an auditorium where she moments before had an acting audition. In her head were only four words.

I feel cramped sometimes: in my room, my dorm, my school, this town. But if I let myself be cramped, throw on my sweats and stay in my room every night, I’m not seeing what little bit of world I have at my disposal. Even the smallest of interactions could make or break a day, and just passing someone walking to class and striking up a conversation counts as networking. When I wake up in the morning I realize I could throw on a sweatshirt and go to class, which I do some days. But most days I realize putting on the clothes I love, no matter if they fit in with today’s trends, are going to make me a lot happier than if I don’t. After going through a lot of rough times last fall, and letting too much of my mood be determined by other people, I realized what I need is to “see and be seen.”

Coming into this semester, I knew I wanted to do something different. I had always been the girl who knew what she wanted and went after it with vigor, and I had lost that part of me in recent months. When I read the script to our first play of this semester, I knew what role I wanted and I knew I was going to fight for it. At auditions, our director handed out readings for the quiet, unassuming, awkward lead (not my type at all) to all but five, myself included. I am not a nervous person by nature, but when he handed the rest of us the monologue for the crazy mother the nerves finally kicked in. I have hardly any confidence in my ability to play comedy, though if you hand me a dramatic piece I could perform it without a blink. Literally, as I walked up front I was still debating on whether to throw a Long Island-esque accent on this piece, and I decided basically as the first word came out of my mouth. The monologue went swimmingly and to see my director and every other person in the audition room rollicking with laughter made my semester. After callbacks got out I was so on cloud nine I didn’t even care if my name was on the cast list the next day, because I had done exactly what I wanted to in the audition—I was seen.

And I got the role.

“See and be seen.”

When I see that cast list tomorrow, she said during one of our latest weekly-ish phone conversations, and I see that I’m on it in the role that I want, I’ll be happy because will be seen. But if someone else gets the role, then I will at first be a little frustrated. But I’ll go see the show and see why that person got the role instead, and then I will see.

I think of it as a very concise way of looking at what you do in life. “Be seen” doesn’t simply mean drawing attention to yourself, though I think you already understood that. Likewise, “seeing” is not just silently observing without evaluating, pondering, learning. It makes the best of the best and the best of the worst when we try to be successful. And you know what else is fun about it? It’s a cycle! Every time you are seen, you help others to see. Whether or not that was your intention.