More Thoughts About Music Inspired By Conversations With Matt Turner and Tad Neuhaus

How we have been taught is how we tend to teach, so it's no surprise that it's a slow process, changing how we teach.  What we learn, we tend to defend, so it's also no surprise that we are offended at the implication that something needs to change.

Here's a question:  Why when it comes to teaching music are we so fixated on imitation rather than innovation?

Some would argue that you must "know the basics" before you can innovate.  But wouldn't it be more natural to learn to keep innovating from the very beginning before we've become bound by accomplishment?

A baby is delighted by the sound of the rattle in her hand.  It's absurd to suggest that we scold her for playing off beat and put sheet music in front of her to teach her 4/4 time.  At what point does our attitude change?

Why is a toddler exploring the sounds a piano can make a delight, but a twelve-year-old doing the same, a nuisance? Why do we equate music making with strict rules of conduct?  Why are we shown on our first music lesson the grand staff, immediately taking the origins of music making out of the body and onto the page?

Why not encourage children to keep exploring sound the way they naturally do, by experimentation? Why can't we see this as a way to enhance our musical traditions rather than a threat?

There are music teachers who use improvisation and composition as the basis of their teaching.  Tell them thank you and encourage them to not give up.


An Open Letter to Lynda Barry

Periodically, I bring your books to class to show the students what you do.  (Yesterday it was One Hundred Demons.)  Your books (and I love Cruddy by the way), and a couple of words you advised me to say to a man who suggested I hadn't found my voice yet (*&^$#% you!), and a little obsession with Saul Steinberg (the guy used to throw parties where he and his friends would wear paper bag masks and pose for formal portraits!), all helped free me from a tight little corner I had written myself into.

I am getting an ink stone, ink stick, and Asian brushes for my birthday. (April 1st.  Yes, I know.) Can't wait to try it out!

Thank you for the suggestion!

Two women who used to hang out with Saul Steinberg.


Gray Day Note to Self

Remember that the product is always elusive, that no matter how many songs you compose in a night,
no matter how many drawings completed in a morning, no matter how many sentences written,
you always feel like you haven't done enough. 

Remember that it has been a very long cold winter.

Enjoy this last day of being curled up by the fire, before all the new life clammers forth and rings.


My Dad Really Liked My Last Couple of Blog Posts

I'm not sure why and these things don't always make sense but my dad left a very sweet message, as has been his habit lately, telling me how beautiful he thought those drawings were and the poems hit the mark too, and that he's glad to see I'm back on track.

I didn't know I was off track.  In fact, I had been feeling like I was on a real roll there, up until the last couple of posts which I found average.  Who's to say what people are going to like and how to predict when they will like it?  That is a complete mystery to me.  All I know is that it's much easier to like something when many others like it, and harder to like something that no one seems to like.


Lost Oar

I ask the students to write about their visions of the future. 
They groan.
Do all teachers ask this of them?
No, they groan because their visions of their own futures are so grim.
One girl wonders why everyone insists she has to go to college.
Another bemoans it's not worth the debt. 
They are bored and can only see more boredom before them.

What's going on?
Typical teenage angst and tedium or something else?
Yet another result of a society trapped in the ills of over-abundance?

I suggest they try, just to see what happens,
telling themselves a new story about their lives.  
That instead of envisioning a future of boredom and debt,
Envision a future abundantly interesting and rich.

They have a lot of reasons why that won't work.

Why not try and see?



The snow is beautiful,
even though we are tired of it.

The sounds are beautiful,
even though they are strange.

The mind the beautiful,
even when it's in a bad mood.

The dream is beautiful,
even though it is disturbing.

You are beautiful
even when you feel you're not.

The universe is beautiful
even when it's haunting.

The worm is beautiful
even though it's slimy.


Thoughts on Self - The Women's Liberation Movement - Belly Breathing - Ahoo

Sometimes I wonder what I would be like, born into a different era or culture.  Would I fight for women's rights?  It's tempting to say yes of course.  But would I be brave enough to go first?  Could I have stood among the strong women whose sacrifice is so soon forgotten?  I am a 43 year old college educated American woman and I don't know any of their names.  It's a shame to admit. How can it be true? What person would I be if I knew the names of the heroes of the suffragist movement?  What kind of country would ours be if we spent as much time on the great social movements as the presidents?

Honestly, I don't think I could withstand the pressure. I cry too easily. I am a pleaser by nature. I wish to get along with everyone. I'd rather listen than argue. Certainly, there is a lot we can all agree on.

Expand the belly on the inhale, contract on the exhale.

Years ago, at the Chippewa Falls library, I checked out an Iranian movie that looked interesting.  The title I had long forgotten, but I remembered it was in three parts.  Visions of the second I've often recalled, a young woman in a bicycling club on an Iranian island being chased by her husband on horseback who threatens to divorce her if she doesn't stop.  When Ahoo won't turn back, the husband leaves and returns with a cleric who divorces them as they ride and then more men on horseback arrive, all to stop a woman from riding a bike.

While looking up the names of the women who led the Women's Liberation movement (Jo Freeman? Shulamith Firestone?), I got distracted by thoughts of this movie and searched iranian movie woman bicycles horses and re-found The Day I Became a Woman, directed by Marzieh Meshkini. Maybe I wouldn't be brave enough to storm the stage at the National Conference for New Politics and demand to speak, but join the Iranian women's bicycling club even when it is against the law, that I could do.


Why I Like The Shaggs

I like the Shaggs because everyone knows how it's supposed to sound. And the Shaggs don't sound like that.

The Shaggs make you wonder:  What music would you have played, if you had been pulled from high school by your father, along with your two sisters and told to make a rock and roll album?

Chances are, nothing you would have made would be as inventive as Philosophy of the World, 32 minutes and 25 seconds of listening that makes you hear music in a brand new way, an album people are still talking about, nearly a half century after The Shaggs recorded it.

tad neuhaus, organ
joanna dane, vocals


Basic Law of Human Nature #1

If you want people to be open to your work, be open to theirs.

If you want people to appreciate how you spend your time, appreciate how they spend theirs.

If you want people to encourage you, encourage them.

If you want people to celebrate your attempts, celebrate theirs.

If you want people to understand you, understand them.


The Shape of A Face

In writing lab, the students never ask questions except, "May I use the restroom?"

They shift and whisper and futz with their phones.  Some put earbuds in, others stare out the window.

Once, I looked up from my own writing and noticed that everyone's pen was moving, spilling words, as Ellen Kort puts it.

Why do we all have this need to express ourselves, to tell the same stories with our own words?

How many times do I hear people tell me they can't draw or write or sing or do whatever creative thing it is they want to do?  Why are we so competitive and critical when it comes to self expression? Shouldn't we approach it the way we do breathing, as something to notice, to appreciate, to practice, to share? What if we thought of each person's art as a manifestation, as inevitable and varied and interesting as the shape of a face?


Bird Dream

I get worried that the kids aren't practicing their instruments regularly enough, and then I get worried that they are eating too much salt.  The worry translates into criticism, which I swore off last summer. No surprise, the kids react with disdain and anger.  

Of course there are much better ways to go about making people do what you want them to do.  Star charts, for example, are always a good suggestion, but their implementation is beyond me.

So are following through on firm schedules and hard set rules.

I don't believe I've always been this way.

I've changed.

My husband and certain members of his family have thrown into doubt the worthiness of any authority figure.

Some hardworking friends often quote a study that reports, given a safe environment with basic needs being met, kids turn out to be who they are going to be regardless of what their parents do or don't do. The same friends are very strict about their kids doing their homework because they blame their lackadaisical childhood home environments on their lazy tendencies and don't want their kids to fall to the same fate.

Is it better to let the kids be free, or to put pressure on them to succeed?  Is it best to be consistent or willing to bend?  Is there such a thing as the right way, or only the way that is?

I drew this bird a long time ago, on the back of a paper I found in the scrap pile.  I scanned it and have opened it many times, writing a few lines and then erasing them.  


On How To Ruin A First Draft

Even though I had my first qigong class last night, and woke this morning and practiced allowing energy to freely flow through me, I was rigid, picking up paper and pen with the intention of finishing the story I'd started yesterday.  Instead, I edited, cutting it down to half its size only to decide that what remained wasn't so great either.

The story derived from an overheard conversation, jokes being made about how much better we'd get on with our spouses if we never had to see them.  While writing it, I got it into my head that it was going to be a great story and win a prize and get read on the radio, etc., which of course ruined it.