Art School Teacher: Composition Lesson First

When I give them each a pile of coins, 
some of the students immediately start arranging, 
others sit waiting for directions.  
I wish I could be more patient and just sit quietly, 
waiting to see what they will do.  
But I quickly grow uncomfortable 
with their discomfort of my discomfort 
and say, yes! arrange them.  

It is Twyla Tharp's suggestion in her book 
The Creative Habit on which the class is based.  
I chime the bell and we stand 
and walk, witnessing all the arrangements.  
I put a pile of stones by each paper 
and chime the bell again 
and we all sit in new places, repeating, 
with rubber bands, then pushpins.  

It is quiet, everyone focused on arranging.  
Afterward, some report arranging with a story in mind.  
Others used the objects to paint a picture or to make patterns.  
The girl in the red flapper hat 
who confessed to being a perfectionist 
says it made her feel like a kid again.  
Here we are all equals.  
All arrangements are non-perfect.
All arrangements are interesting.  

Could that be why kids are so thrilled playing in the sand?
Is there a human instinct more basic than the desire to arrange?  
What more is any art, than arrangement?


Memories of an Eclipse

that night we rode our bikes to the fox and laid out a blanket 
on crisp cotton tree leaves as the clouds parted to reveal the full moon

that morning, my husband squatted next to me on the porch 
where I was trying to play banjo and began to vigorously scrape the floor boards

so we scraped together, revealing these same old things about ourselves
and I found myself wondering again, how much scraping is too much, how much not enough?

the neighbors all came out to see the blood moon and among the crickets
and the wind chimes and the train we heard voices remarking on the sky


Tiny Songs Concert! 10/17/15

After a year of improvising over 100 tiny songs

And after another year of learning to play 28 of them:


tad neuhaus, ukelele
joanna dane, vocals, flute

Hope to see you there!


Music from Johanastan: I Should!

Listen to the latest pop hit from Johanastan:

I should I should I should I should
I should I should I should!

I should I should I should I should
I should I should I should!

I should I should I should I should
I should I should I should!

I should I should I should I should
I should! 

I should!

I should!

I should I should I should
I should I should! 

I should I should I should
I should I should I should!

I should!

I should!

I should!

I should!

I should I should I should
I should I should I should!

I should! 

I should I should I should I should
I should I should I should!

I should I should I should I should
I should I should!


Right Hand V. Left Hand: Hello

right hand


he said it's best not to do anything else
while listening

but what if
by drawing

or dancing
or singing

or washing
or painting

or dreaming
or scraping

we become more connected
to the music

what then?


left hand


Playing It Cool At The Stone

On Tad’s second ever trip to New York City (the first being earlier this year), he and Ellen planned to go to the Stone to hear Gyan Riley and Julian Lage play selections from "John Zorn's Bagatelles."

I thought there was no way they would get in, the show prominently featured in the latest New Yorker. 

They arrived an hour early and were the first ones in line so took front row seats.  A guy who they’d struck up conversation with invited them to meet John Zorn, owner of the Stone and legendary composer.  Tad said he looked a lot younger than he knew him to be, dressed in t-shirt and army pants.  “They came all the way from Wisconsin.”  Zorn was friendly, but did not pursue conversation. 

“I don’t think it meant as much to him as it did to me,” Tad assessed. 

The show was "mind-blowing" and Tad jumped to a standing ovation.  “Looked like Marc Ribot was getting up, so I went for it.”

Zorn was taken aback.  It was the Stone’s first ever standing ovation.  Zorn asked them to play an encore.  They had nothing else prepared, so they played one of the bagatelles again.


Traditional Music of Johanastan

Along the Pacific of Johanastan exists a musical tradition based on tuning to one's environment and mood rather than to a prescribed scale.

During the warm months, it is customary for Pacific peoples to play outdoors, integrating their music into the sounds of the neighborhood.

Listen to some traditional music from the Pacific region:


The Best Story

The best story I know,

I'm not allowed to tell,

so you will never know,

the best story never told.


Thoughts about Music: While Walking with Le Flaneur

Le Flaneur and I walk through the arboretum and talk about music.

I tell her how I learned music from a place of fear, fear of playing the wrong note, fear of being out of tune, fear of having the wrong opinion, fear of looking like a fool.  Music was a serious business, requiring years of practice to learn to do it right.  There was good music and there was bad music and it was important to know the difference.

I am trying to explain why I play music the way I do.

Le Flaneur presses: Isn't there a way that isn't so antagonistic?

Was I being antagonistic?

We stop to watch the wild turkeys foraging in the leaves.

We walk again and I start back in with the years of being scared to play in front of other people, the way it felt so rigid even when it was supposed to be fluid, the regret that I wasn't learning a less girlie instrument.

Le Flaneur asks:  Can't you express it without sounding like you are flipping everyone off?

Was I flipping everyone off?

I try one more time to explain what I've been trying to explain to myself for years: That what I'm most interested in practicing is coming to music from a place of joy rather than fear.

Le Flaneur has fears about music too, though she's never revealed to me what they are.


Last Week of Summer Work: Tiny Songs Chapbook

For a long time I didn't know it was there.
For a long time I mourned that it would never be.
For a long time I didn't recognize what it was.
For a long time I imagined it without knowing how to make it.
And then I made it.
Though it is different from how I imagined it,
Here is how it turned out.


While at the Mosinee Farm

What can I say about carrying with me Langston Hughes' Selected Poems and Adam Fell's Dear Corporation,?

I can say that while at the farm I read from them more than I thought I might (if you'd have asked me before the trip), though I'm equally surprised at how much more there is to read from both and how having read a poem once does not mean that it is read.

I fall into each of their grooves.

I read from both aloud to Biffy, something I almost never do.

Both make us laugh.

Langston Hughes reminds me some of Shel Silverstein.  Both wrote songs.

I don't know if Adam Fell writes songs.

If he does, he doesn't mention it, or he does mention it but not in the poems I read, or he mentions it in the poems I read, but not in the parts I remember from the poems I read.

I like the look and feel of both books so spend as much time as I do reading them, fondling them and flipping through them, appreciating the type face (Hughes' set in ELECTRA), the line breaks (Fell's in narrow paragraphs), the white on black illustrations (E. McKnight Kauffer), the post cards (signed "A.", addressed "Dear Corporation,").

My husband took me to a poetry reading, something he almost never does, and there was Adam Fell. While browsing the library stacks for ekphrasis class, I pulled Selected Poems of Langston Hughes from the shelf.

I carry them around with me and wonder about how that changes things.  


From the Appleton Improvisation Underground Comes HOUDINI, an All Genre Rock Opera Biography about the World's Favorite Escape Artist

My father Rabbi Weiss
stood before the minion
his sarcastic glances glimmering

his confusing humor shimmering
he liked to laugh at pain

My father, Rabbi Weiss
stood before the minion
as they told him to move on

his German was too old fashioned
my father Rabbi Weiss
stood upon the bema

weeping under the vaulted ceilings
of that cold cold Temple Zion

goodbye Temple Zion
goodbye Appleton
goodbye Mr. Hanauer

it’s time for Rabbi Weiss to move on.

tad neuhaus: ukulele, organ guitar, steel drum
joanna dane: vocals
(other tracks with matt turner)

Thank you John Adams for curating Feather and Bone at this year's most fabulous Mile of Music

and thank you Ronald and Christoph Wahl of Wahl Organbuilders, current residents of Temple Zion

*HOUDINI now available at record stores near you


Apology On the Verge

I'm thinking that I need to write an apology, but then I realize that I also need to write a thank you.

In the former case, perhaps an apology is not quite warranted, though in the latter, a thank you is an absolute necessity.

Writing an apology would make me feel better even though it might make the friend I'm apologizing to feel uncomfortable, a specialty of mine she informed me this weekend, after I sang in the shower in the Radisson lobby.

And then I told her two different stories in which I made people very uncomfortable, making my friend uncomfortable too.

But I don't feel the need to apologize for that since my friend is a psychiatrist and finds things like that fascinating, just as she found the music festival full of intriguing monkey behavior.

What I do want to apologize for were the complications that arose as I was wrestling with my own monkey mind.

But sitting down to write an apology, I find the circumstances surrounding the apology much more interesting than the apology itself, so I write about that instead.

And in writing about that, I realize perhaps it isn't an apology I need to write, but a thank you.

Instead, I sit down and play some banjo.

(listen to some porch music)