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Thomas J. West Music

Live webcam private music lessons, music education articles, compositions, clinician services, reviews

Music Education

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  • Ben Cameron On The New Performing Arts R...
    by ★ Owner on September 10, 2010 at 9:46 PM
    2158 Views - 0 Comments

    Once again, another fantastic talk has become available from - this time, the speaker is Ben Cameron, Program Director, Arts, at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York, where he supervises a $13 million grants program aimed at the theatre, contemporary dance, jazz and presenting fields. In this video, Cameron discusses how the explosion in digital and internet technologies has threatened the performing arts industry and yet has set the stage for a new cultural revolution. Cameron compares today's arts revolution to the religious revolution of the 16th century. They share many points in common: the religious revolution was a product of a sudden increase in technology in the form of the printing press; the religious revolution made information available to the masses rather than controlled by an institution; the religious revolution did not result in the end of institutional religions, but their role had to change. In much the same way, we are experiencing a cultural revolution in the performing arts. Digital technology has made it possible for anyone to become an author, a music composer, a choreographer, a movie director. The internet has made it possible for anyone to distribute their artistic creations to an international audience. Cameron quoted others saying "The means of artistic production and distribution have been democratized for the first time in history... Who doesn't know a fourteen-year-old who is hard at work on her second or third movie?" Cameron states quite accurately, in my opinion, that our culture is shifting from being arts consumers to being arts participants. He mentioned a phrase I had not heard before - this cultural shift is bringing us "Pro-Am's" (Professional Amateurs). Cameron sees the traditional performing arts institutions in desperate need of making the shift to becoming what he calls hybrid artists: people or institutions who create art for civic change. "...making art together to bind a community of disparate citizens to social change." This, in my experience, is spot on. Music education is in the same boat - if we as a profession do not find ways to connect to the entire student body and provide ways for students to create and perform music they can relate to, we are performing ourselves right out of a job. Some other great quotes from this talk: "To conspire literally means to breathe together." "The arts invite us to look at our fellow human being with generosity and curiosity." "We are bound together by commmon cause, to promote a more thoughtful, substantive, empathic world order." Take about fifteen minutes to listen to this dynamic speaker.

  • Welcome to My PLE!
    by ★ Owner on June 5, 2010 at 12:52 PM
    2068 Views - 1 Comment

    A 7th grade student gives a tour of her personal learning environment. This project was conducted as part of dissertation research implementing the use of networked learning and construction of personal learning environments in a 7th grade life science class. Welcome to the future, folks! Who needs a backpack anymore?

  • Why Online Education Is Inevitable
    by ★ Owner on August 27, 2010 at 12:11 PM
    1940 Views - 0 Comments

    I teach in a unique hybrid arts program attached to a K-12 Cyber Charter school. I see the majority of my students in person twice a week, and they take the rest of their coursework at home online the other three days of the week. This is a growing trend that, from my personal experience with it, will eventually be going international. This video does a pretty good job of explaining why. I am very excited to be a part of the shift that is bringing education into the 21st century.

  • Retinking Education
    by ★ Owner on February 12, 2011 at 9:46 AM
    1743 Views - 0 Comments

    This video, entitled Rethinking Education, came acrosss my PLN today via Brian Wis at Teaching Music in the 21st Century. It is yet another great video showing quite plainly how professional educators need to wake up and start changing the way that they do business.

    Michael Welsh is an accociate professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Kansas. This video is the latest in a series of videos that take a very pro-active stance, calling educators of all levels, but espeically higher education, to do exactly as this video's title suggests, rethink the way that we teach students. You can see his other videos on his YouTube channel.

    Welsh provided very compelling information on cloud computing and the democratization of information, stating "We [our culture] are only starting to figure out the implications of this." At the end of the video, Welsh makes a statement that resonates well with me. He challenges teachers to "turn your careers just 5 degrees." This sounds very much like Dr. Joe Pisano's challenge to music educators to "spend just 10 minutes a day doing online professional development."

    In the current climate of economic recovery, budget cuts, and political initiative to reform education, the educational professionals themselves need to start doing things differently and show our culture that the mass media presentation of "teachers are the problem" is unfounded. If we don't begin to change, their profession is going to be changed for us.

    If the recent revolution in Egypt has taught us anything, it is that information is power and real change can come in a rapid fashion when people work together with a common goal.

  • Creating a Watermark on Your FINALE Musi...
    by ★ Owner on June 18, 2014 at 9:51 AM
    1594 Views - 0 Comments

    Watch in HD to see all the details on the software menus!

    Use an image editor such as Paint.NET to create a transparent watermark, then add it to your music scores in Finale. Watermarks are useful for branding your scores online or in print as draft copies to be used as samples for potential customers. This video uses Finale 2012c, but also works with other versions of Finale. Be sure to follow other helpful Music Education, Technology, and Composition videos on my YouTube channel.

  • Bobby McFerrin On Jazz Improvisation
    by ★ Owner on April 1, 2013 at 10:13 AM
    1421 Views - 0 Comments

    Bobby McFerrin is a musician I have always looked up to and admired. He embodies what I endeavor to be as a performer - someone who music just flows out of. In this video, which is a masterclass at the Aarhus Vocal Festival in 2011, Bobby explains how he was "changed molecularly" when he saw the Miles Davis quintet and how he began his process of learning to improvise. He describes how he progressed in the first six years of improvisational study from "just singing without stopping" to a fully-realized ability to improvise in his own style without imitating another vocalist. He also delivers a valuable lesson about how the audience is a part of the improvisation as a listener - fascinating.

    The principles Bobby discusses can certainly apply to an instrumentalist as well, but as any jazz player will tell you, the instrument is an additional barrier to creativity because you have to train your brain to operate the machinery in order to get your musical creativity to come forth on the instrument. Vocal improvisation is an important part of the development of any performer of jazz improvisation on any instrument. It is a foundational experience for musicians of all kinds, no matter what their area of concentration. The ability to improvise makes a musician more than just a regurgitator of other musician's ideas - it transforms them into a "composer in the moment", which leads to becoming a composer of the written score or the recording studio.

    Enjoy this 5-minute video with the master.

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  • Beardyman And The Ultimate Music Looping...
    by ★ Owner on August 3, 2013 at 9:05 AM
    1379 Views - 0 Comments

    I always enjoy catching a random TED Talk as they fly by my newsfeed. I have covered several of them on my blog in the past, most notably those by Ken Robinson on creativity and the education system.

    Today, a new TED Talk delivered by a beatboxer known as Beardyman crossed my path. If you follow any musical artists that are not mainstream, you have probably seen and heard looping artists such as Kimbra and Julia Easterlin by now. They use a looping station and an iPad, Ableton, or similar technology to record short loops of their voices, layering them into a beat, bass line, pad, background vocals, and finally singing the words to the lead on top of it all. POSTYR Project from Denmark accomplishes similar effects with a 5-voice vocal group. These artists are creating amazing pieces of music live on the spot. It's part improvisation, part composition, part performance art.

    Up until now, the nature of looping technology has made it such that the music created is extremely repetitive. Performers can turn on and off layers of sound and add effects to the loops to change their quality over time, but the music remains fairly simple in form, sharing much with the exploding genre of club/electronica music invading the laptops and tablets of America's youth, Beardyman, however, has taken live looping to the next level. His live performance rig, amusingly dubbed the Beardytron, combines looping gear and tablet controls with full 88-key midi controllers, making it not only possible for him to record and alter his voice in unpredictable ways, but also use his vocal sounds as a sound patch to perform any harmony imaginable on the keyboard.

    Gone are the limitations of looping with this new approach. Beardyman, in a very practiced and impressive fashion, seemlessly multi-tasks behind the controls as he records sounds into a headset mic while patching them in and performing sounds on the keyboard. The result is music that is part club mix, part ambient new age music, and definitely interesting. Here is Beardyman's TED Talk. Be sure to stick around for the last 3 minutes when he gets into the ambient sound demonstration.
    What Beardyman has done is basically set musical creativity into overdrive. It is now possible to take musical ideas straight from the mind and perform them in real time with only the limitations of the technology and the human's ability to process and execute the ideas holding them back. Beardyman is to live music composition what John Coltrane is to live jazz improvisation - reaching the limits of what the human brain is capable of in real time performance.

    In browsing Beardyman's website, his live show centers around the theme of "1 Album Per Hour" where he takes suggestions from the audience on topics and then creates original songs on the spot, including his own improvised rhymes. (Warning: much of his content is NSFW). He has an assitant off stage who is scouring the internet for images to throw up on a projector behind him, mixing the images with live feeds from several cameras. This is truly 21st century performance art in action.

    Performers such as these are pushing the boundaries of what we think of as music. It gives me pause to think about ways that we could possibly combine the best of the organic ensemble music-making of our heritage in choir, orchestra, and band performance with the digital capabilities of today's technology. I think that Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir is the closest thing we have so far to a blending of the very emotional and interpersonal qualities of a vocal choir and the capabilities of modern technology.

    There is so much depth and nuance to our traditional forms of music-making. Wind bands, orchestras, and choirs have a firm place in our educational system, and for good reason - those forms of expression lend themselves to music as a field of study intellectually. There is much to be gained by incorporating modern technology into this mix. After all, at one point in our history, the clarinet was a new invention. Being able to manipulate the organic sounds of a music ensemble with live looping technology, or producing an album of music composed with these capabilities in mind. Is this on anyone's radar?

    This article (c) 2013 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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  • I Can't Wait To Get Back To School - Sai...
    by ★ Owner on August 20, 2013 at 10:21 PM
    1273 Views - 0 Comments

    As the states scramble to get all of their programs in line with the Federal hoops to jump through to receive flexible benchmarks for the NCLB 100% proficiency cap of 2014, more and more teachers are just getting plain fed up with the profession. There's less time and less money to do their job with, and more and more emphasis placed on standardized testing that doesn't work.

    But, in all of these negatives, a bit of levity is always needed.

    A fellow band director posted this video on Facebook, and for those of us in the profession, it's just too good not to share. The title of this video is "...Said No Teacher Ever", so keep in mind that every statement made by these two gentlemen is the exact opposite of what teachers typically gripe about.

    Teachers, have a few laughs, then go right back to doing what we do best: doing what's right for our students no matter what anyone says.

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