Andrei Strizek

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My Messy Twitter Adolescence

Last month I wrote an article for Leading Notes about Twitter and its connective and professional development capabilities for music education. It turned into sort of a primer on Twitter: how to get started, ways to organize it, some followers to check out, etc. In the next few weeks I want to expand upon some things I wrote in that article.

One of the pieces of advice – or Twitter-quette – that I mentioned - and take to heart - was suggested by @ericasipes and @mitchthetenor: “Don’t be too serious.” Paraphrased, they said that it’s necessary to remember that, on Twitter, people are people. We don’t always tweet things related to professional development; we often tweet seemingly mundane things, but in actuality give more insight into the person behind the computer or smartphone, allowing followers to get a better idea of who you are – especially if you haven’t met IRL (in real life).

A recent article by Arianna Huffington made me think of that sentiment, in a roundabout manner. She wrote about how the Internet is growing up, leaving its “messy adolescence.” In many respects, that’s what has happened with my personal Twitter account (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).

When I think back to when I first joined Twitter, I was ignorant to a lot of its capabilities. I was unaware that people use it as a public chat forum. I didn’t know that I would be able to meet people of diverse areas and have conversations with them, regardless of actually knowing them IRL or not. What I did know was that celebrities used it, and – I’m partly ashamed to admit – so did Perez Hilton. So I followed them. Maybe not with the same vigor that other celebrity-watchers do, but I enjoyed the celebrity gossip.

Until I realized I never really cared about it that much. About the only thing I gained from following Perez Hilton and Ryan Seacrest, to name a few, was that I learned Ricky Martin came out before the mainstream media caught the news. Whoop whoop.

But as I was shifting away from that type of Twitter account – where I followed but didn’t contribute much, other than repeating what I was posting on Facebook – I started to find new tweeps with similar interests to mine, starting finding new and interesting Internet resources that I didn’t know were available, and starting turning my account into a form of two-way communication. I became more conscious of my use of Twitter. I became a participant rather than solely a consumer. (You can read some brief accounts in my Leading Notes article.)

We're now more thoughtful and deliberate about choosing our friends and how we spend our online time. Adulthood is a time when our lives become about curating, selecting, saying "no" more often than we say "yes," being forced to decide what we really value, realizing what's really important to us. Increasingly, that's exactly how people are using the Internet as well.

I’m not sure if everyone goes through this growth with their Twitter account, but I would be surprised if I were the only one. And, to be completely honest, I’m still not out of my adolescent phase with Twitter. While I gave up following a lot of celebrities long ago, I still follow famous people who interest me: mainly, composers, opera singers, pianists and musical theatre performers. (Yes, I also get excited when they tweet me.)

I still post mundane things and somewhat immature things. I complain about things. And, since it’s summer break, my Twitter account has gotten less educational, too (a little vacation is good for all of us). I try not to take my Twitter account too seriously, just like my real life. (As one of my old Twitter bios said, my tweets are only part of who I am.)

To be sure, the adolescent Internet will always be with us. But now there's a choice - not just for individuals, but for companies as well. One way forward is to continue down the path where noise and half-truths trump facts, where confusion and data overload overwhelm any possibility of balance and wisdom. The other way is to stake out a place in this new world of community, connections and collaboration.

As the Internet grows up, I think Twitter and its users, and my use of Twitter, will too. Twitter began in 2006, and that it’s still around five years later in this age of quick Internet start-ups and failures is testament to its power and versatility. As I wrote in my Leading Notes article, Twitter can be many things to many people: it is “a microblog. It’s a place to share your thoughts, a place to promote your interests, and has the potential to be a “total game-changer” in the field of arts and education (as one of my tweeps put it).”

It’s tricky to write about the future of something, because that future usually doesn’t come true. (Pick up any jazz book from the 1950s and see if what the authors predicted actually happened.) But, as with Arianna’s article, writing about the future can also delineate one’s hopes. We can use Twitter to "stake out" our place in the growing musical and educational community. It is my hope that educators and musicians can use Twitter and harness its many powers to continue developing and growing.

The Internet of the future, the mature, grown-up Internet, has the potential to take what's best about the human experience -- our passion, our knowledge, our desire to connect -- and channel it into an online experience that truly resonates with how people live.

A Call to Action in Wisconsin

I have tried to keep this blog free of overt discussion of my personal political views, feeling - often rightfully - that politics are a hotbed that can stifle other discussions about music and education. I am changing that today by posting the following letter - with permission - from Dr Jerry Young. Dr Young is a Professor of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. You can read his bio here; this letter was not written lightly, and he has a long history in the field of education and music to back up his writing. (It is slightly edited to remove a few more personal items.)

Protests on Thursday at the Wisconsin Capitol, via the Huffington Post

The on-going political battle in Wisconsin is spreading to Ohio and other states, where governors are trying to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for state unions, using the guise of balancing the budget as a reason. This affects state workers, including teachers, university police officers, mental health employees, among many, many others.

The Wisconsin debate has a lot of nuances. Please take the time to read the following letter, and stay up to date on the debate. & are two good local news sources, but this has been publicized far-wide, in the New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, and on Al Jazeera English.

If you choose to comment, please keep the debate civil. The protesters - on both sides - have been lauded for the civility of this discussion. Any offensive comments will be removed immediately.

21 February 2011

My Dear Friends,

I’m writing to you today relative to the state of affairs in Wisconsin brought about by the budget repair bill submitted by Governor Scott Walker.     I’m sending this letter to just a few studio alums from the various generations of students over the past 28 years in hopes that it will be posted on Facebook accounts and spread in that fashion.  I just randomly selected names of folks who I think check e-mail from time to time.  No, I still don’t have a Facebook account because I’m still overwhelmed with e-mail and snail mail and all the other facets of my 60 to 70 hours weeks that I know many of you face, too.    I am establishing a new e-mail account specifically to deal with correspondence relative to activism on this matter.   I’m sure that those of you who are educators realize that we are not to use our school e-mail accounts for political activism.    I would prefer that you contact me at the new address for any discussions relative to this issue. 

First, I am devastated by the financial impact that this bill is going to have on most of you and your families who are teaching in Wisconsin.    Most of all I hope that some compromise can be reached.   I am sending correspondence, attending meetings, and participating in demonstrations to try to bring that result.    I hope that you are all doing the same.   It’s certainly frightening to look at a combined $9,000 hole in the budget at our house, but I can’t imagine how those of you who are in dual (or even single) public employee households are going to navigate that kind of loss.   Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that, but just hoping isn’t enough.   I am encouraging you to join me in contacting legislators and reminding them that we are the heart of the middle class tax-paying public, and that we expect the progressive tradition in Wisconsin to be upheld.    Further, although I know this can be uncomfortable in some instances, talk to your community friends and your immediate and extended families.    I’m discovering that so many people, even people who I have known for years, have no idea relative to how much money I make or the kind of hours that go into my job.   The same is probably true for those of you who are teachers.  Many people think that we’re on the gravy train with our salaries and even more so with our benefit packages.    When I have asked the question relative to how much my salary is, the typical response is $80,000 to $100,000.    When I tell them that my current take home pay is less than $45,000 per year and that my work week is generally between 60 and 70 hours (and that I’m unemployed in the summer with no paycheck), they’re in shock.    Any taxpayer can go to the Wisconsin Red Book and find out your salary anyway – it’s a matter of public record.    So don’t be shy about sharing your story with the numbers

Second, don’t forget that “the bottom line” on this entire controversy is NOT about the budget deficit.   It is about denying the right to collective bargaining, and the implications go far beyond our immediate circumstance.    At this point, the Governor is not even remotely denying his motive.    He doesn’t care if we all say, “okay, put a large hole in our family budgets and devastate the economy of Wisconsin – increase our contributions to our family health insurance and pensions.”   That offer has been put forward at least three times, and he refuses to come to the table and discuss it.    Tell your friends and family about the things that are negotiated in your contracts that directly affect your work load and time with your family, both things that require extra time for which you need to be compensated, as well as the things that have nothing to do with money.    They won’t know if we don’t tell them.

Third (and this is critically important for those of you who live in Wisconsin), know that the Eau Claire City Council and the Eau Claire County Board have passed resolutions condemning the legislation because they indeed want to preserve collective bargaining and because it works.    The Eau Claire School Board will, in all likelihood, pass a similar resolution this evening (Monday, February 21).   It is my understanding that other cities across the state feel similarly and plan to pass similar resolutions.    We need to encourage our cities, counties, and (maybe most important) school boards to band together with these resolutions and see to it that they get into the media.   Governor Walker says that he is meeting a mandate from the cities of Wisconsin with this legislation.    This is simply untrue, and he has to be called on this.    It is NOT something that he wants to hear, but he must be forced to listen.    We have several staunch Republicans on our City Council here in Eau Claire, and they were part of a unanimous vote to support the resolution.   At its root, this is not a partisan Democrat/Republican issue.     I know that political views in our studio family vary widely.    My circle of friends, both inside and outside of the music and music education professions, also represent many varied political views, but this issue is uniting them – even some folks who want us to pay more for our benefits.   

Fourth, don’t fear talking to your representatives about ideas and solutions for dealing with the budget deficit in the next biennium.     (Remembering that there was no budget deficit for the current biennium until last month.)    The legislature is looking for alternatives, so let’s provide them.    Anything ranging from a progressive tax program (which needs not be permanent) to further negotiated and temporary financial give backs from both public employees and institutions can be on the table.   And I’m sure that there are more ideas from you, as well as from people who know much more about the inner workings of government budgets than do you or I.    But I know first-hand how bright you people are!   Maybe a solution to this circumstance lies in your minds.

Thanks for considering these thoughts.    If you have ideas to share, please pass them on.    While I’m interested to hear about your ideas and to pass them on to folks here in Eau Claire, be sure to let your representatives know, and talk to them directly whenever possible.     If we don’t speak up now, we well may lose our voice in the future.   To those of you who are out-of-state, keep a close eye on developments in Wisconsin and on the situation in your own state.    It’s no secret that the nation is watching, and there are those in your state who have similar designs or who are in the process of developing them.    We must support each other.

Onwards and upwards….


Watson & The Arts

There have been a few big new items on people's minds, blogs, and Twitter feeds in the last week or so. Aside from protests in the Middle East (and my home state of Wisconsin), two that I was drawn to were the discussion about a column on HuffPost by the president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the debut of Watson, IBM's new computer, on Jeopardy!

via www.venturebeat.comIf you didn't watch the shows or read news clips, Watson won over the course of two episodes, against the two highest-scorers in Jeopardy!'s history. In some ways, and in some people's opinions, this is scary. If a computer can do this, how far away are we from artificial intelligence, from HAL? We're probably not as far away as some people may think.

But let's be honest: computers already rule our lives. Aside from the increasingly-rare species of Luddite, most people will check their email, Twitter feed, or Facebook at least once a day. Smart phones are becoming the norm instead of the exception they were only a few short years ago. Cars are now being produced that not only can locate you and assist you if you're in an accident, but can read your Facebook news feed aloud to you as your driving.

And then there's Michael Kaiser's article. The title says a lot, but unfortunately the column is light on substance: "What Is Wrong With the Arts?" I don't think anything Mr Kaiser wrote after that would have satisfied even a simple majority of the people. The answers to "what is wrong with the arts?" are diverse and often well thought-out, but it seems that there are many answers to the problem as there are people asking the question.

I've gotten involved in arts arguments. I've contributed my two cents about what needs to be done to "save" classical music, or the arts in general. I'm getting a little tired of it. Sometimes the pessimist in me feels that this is at least partially a manufactured crisis. But that's a topic for a different post.

What I want to propose here is a simple idea about how we can continue to develop the arts, how we can persuade Obama to avoid cutting funding for the NEA (and Republicans cutting funding for NPR and PBS), about how we can continue drawing audiences into our events, concert halls and museums: by reminding people that art is a human function. A concert is a chance to turn off your electronic devices and become absorbed in something created by humans, for humans, and performed by and for humans. A walk through an art museum offers us an escape from the world of email notifications and the din of the television set.

I'm not perfect. If you ask my partner or my parents, they'll readily tell you that I'm attached to my iPhone. I'm typing this on my MacBook, hoping to send this out into the World Wide Web. I'm a frequent Tweeter. Even a lot of today's art is made using computers, but it's still directed by a human.

But as I'm writing this I'm listening to Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden and I'm thinking back to seeing her conduct Bolería, Soléa Y Rumba at the UW-Eau Claire Jazz Festival, and how her passionate conducting and her beautiful music moved me to tears. Art has a human connection that, no matter how hard "he" would try, Watson cannot duplicate.

One of my favorite professors in undergrad defined art as

any human creation which contains an idea other than its utilitarian purpose.

I don't agree with this 100% anymore, but it's one of arts' greatest selling points. Art is human, and is unlike so many other human endeavors. We need to remind people of this fact, even more so in our increasingly electronic times.

We might not be able to stop the progression of technology, but we can balance it with art advocacy, education, and enjoyment.

Everything is a Remix

Everything is a Remix from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

via www.thepriatesdilemma.comKirby Ferguson is putting together a four-part series called "Everything Is a Remix." He has two episodes out so far. (The embed above is the first, dealing with music. The second, dealing with movies, is available here.)

Remixes are a part of our contemporary musical culture. Along with mash-ups, they're a great way for even the most amateur musician to have a creative outlet. All you really need is a way to edit the music. (You get bonus points if it's uploaded on YouTube and goes viral.)

The above video is very interesting and well-composed, and it touches on the notion that all music is based on something else. Impressions is based on So What. Coldplay is based on early Radiohead. Early Beethoven is based on Haydn. Everything comes from something else.

How can we use the idea of remixes to expand the classical music audience? How can we use them in music education? Is modern copyright law properly equipped to deal with the concept of the remix?

(Visit Everything Is a Remix, and follow him on Twitter.)

Music Theory "Multiplication Tables"

One thing I disliked about how I was taught music theory during piano lessons and in undergrad was that a lot of it seemed to be busy work. Unfortunately, I came to realize that some of it does need to be "busy work." Some topics need practice to learn and perfect. And to be an adept musician, you should be able to easily identify meter signatures, key signatures, and other basics of our standard notation.

It's with this mindset that I used PowerPoint key and meter signature quizzes in my music theory classes. In a way, these are similar to the timed multiplication tables that we did in grade school.

One PowerPoint was set up to include all 15 different key signatures (it works for major and minor keys); one had more key signatures, and an audible tonic chord, to differentiate between major and minor keys. Another was set up to include several different meter signatures.

The slides can be randomized, so they aren't in the same sequence each time you give a quiz. They can also be set on a timer, so students have 5, 10, etc., seconds to name the key or meter. When giving the meter quiz, I would often have the students write out if it was simple or compound meter, as well as if it were duple, triple or quadruple meter. (I usually allowed them time after the PowerPoint was finished to do this, especially if it were on a faster timing cycle.)

This doesn't mesh very well with many current theories of learning and teaching. Some people might say that it's rote learning, or overbearing, or that it doesn't take into account the student enough.

The truth is, though, that this works. And it's a necessity to identify these elements quickly and easily. As I'm sure you know, if you have to spend a minute figuring out the key and meter signatures to a piece, that's a minute of valuable time lost practicing, studying, etc.

Feel free to use these PowerPoints (but please contact me if you use them - I'd love to hear how they work out in your classes!). Please share other ideas about using PowerPoint in your music theory class, or other ways to increase student knowledge and awareness of these ideas!

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