Monday, March 29, 2010

A Few Notes

I’m still plugging away at the annotated bibliography of resources for children—I think some of my pages are coming close to being finished, although I am constantly finding new books to add to the list. Stay tuned…

If you have been reading this blog for a while, thank you! If you haven’t become a “follower”, would you consider doing so? I don’t have an extremely large audience right now, but I’d love to know who’s out there. You can also subscribe to posts—there are gadgets in the sidebar where you can do either (or both).

Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art: The Effects of Education in the Visual and Performing Arts on the Achievements and Values of Young Adults (Volume 1)I just heard (thank you, Jane!) about a really interesting-sounding book that came out last year, Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art: The Effects of Education in the Visual and Performing Arts on the Achievements and Values of Young Adults, by James S. Catterall, Professor and Chair of the Faculty at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. He’s spent twelve years studying how intensive involvement in the arts during middle and high school has affected students into adulthood, asking “Is it engagement in the arts that matters? Or is engagement per se a crucial factor in the success of our students?” This is an in-depth study, comparing the results of involvement in the arts to involvement in sports (both matter, but in different ways), and looking especially at how low-income students are affected (especially well).  Now none of this really surprises me, but I’m so glad to hear about the study—I have to ask again, are the arts really extra? Here’s more information about the book.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Little Early for National Poetry Month, But Who Cares?

Just wanted to share a poem that’s been on my mind all week:

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

                         --Emily Dickinson

Friday, March 26, 2010

Children's Concert

I played three children’s concerts yesterday with a community orchestra in a neighboring city (if you can call 90 miles one way of rural driving "neighboring"). I had a proud moment seeing my own kids in the audience and waving at them from the stage before the concert started, just like my parents did with me. It was fun to see how the concertgoers reacted to the same things during the instrument demonstrations at all three concerts—the size of the tuba, the harp playing “When I Wish Upon a Star”, the cello that started with "The Swan" and broke into a little bit of Hendrix-inspired headbanging (that was MY husband, forever promoting the awesomeness of his chosen instrument).

One of the works we performed was “Animal Ditties V for Orchestra” by Anthony Plog. It featured seven poems by Ogden Nash, “The Porpoise”, “The Dog”, “The Ant”, “The Centipede”, “The Chipmunk”, “The Mule” and “The Rhinoceros”, read by a narrator and set to music. I thought the music highlighted the poems nicely—clever, jazzy, colorful, miniature but not precious. Animal pictures were projected on either side of the stage to accompany the words and music, and here, too the audience had strong reactions to the same things. The dog (“Awwww!”) and the centipede (“Eeewww!”) were not too surprising. But the ant also got a strong reaction, and the favorite was a surprise to me—the rhinoceros.  Apparently they're just plain cool.

Here's a link to the poem

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do, Re, Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d'Arezzo

Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido D'ArezzoDo, Re, Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d'Arezzo by Susan L. Roth in association with Angelo Mafucci, Houghton Mifflin Books, 2006

“If you want to write, write a story. If you want to read, read a book. If you want to sing, sing the way you were taught. Leave us alone, Guido. Maybe it’s time for you to go home.” It never occurred to me that the invention of written music would be such a contentious thing, but apparently it was. Guido d’Arezzo was born in 990 when music was learned entirely by rote—every idea, every sound had to be committed to memory in order to survive. But Guido had a flash of inspiration when he was very young. What if you could write down the sounds of music, so that you could read the sounds the same way you read language? He spent many years puzzling out how this could be done, and eventually came up with a system that worked. He met a lot of resistance to his ideas, though, because people liked doing things the way they had always been done, and they were afraid of making a change.

Guido d’Arezzo met with a lot of difficulty, but he also had supporters. His friend, Michel (Michael in this book), encouraged and listened to him through the years, helping him to persevere when he was discouraged. The bishop of Arezzo, too, listened to Guido, supported his work, and allowed him to teach the children’s choir he conducted to read music.

The art paper-collage illustrations in this book are beautiful—they have a childlike quality but are also rich and expressive. The empty staff that runs underneath most of the text is especially touching, as Guido struggles to figure out a way to write down music. The book covers ideas, innovation, friendship and struggle, but author Susan L. Roth keeps both the language and the storyline simple. Excellent “dreamer” material, don’t you think?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Without Hurry, Without Rest"

I have to remind myself of this a lot—for my children, my students, myself. There’s so much to learn, so much growing to do, and the days seem impossibly short. Patience and perseverance are necessary, but these are hard things to come by.

In a section titled, “Without hurry, without rest” in his book Nurtured by Love, Shinichi Suzuki writes:

To make a resolution and act accordingly is to live with hope. Confronted with a high mountain, you cannot reach the summit in one stride, but must climb step by step to approach your goal. There may be difficulties and hardships, but not disappointment or despair if you follow the path steadily. Do not hurry. This is a fundamental rule. If you hurry and collapse or tumble down, nothing is achieved. Do not rest in your efforts; this is another fundamental rule. Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking a step at a time forward will surely get you there.

One of the most important things I learned through violin lessons was how to work. Learning to play violin is more complex than anything else I learned in school, and by the time I finished grad school I had been taking lessons for more than 21 years. I grew up in a musical family, but without the work I would not have learned to play—it simply isn’t something that just “happens” or that a person is born knowing how to do.

I learned how to break something into pieces and put it back together—to work step by step, a little at a time, just like climbing that high mountain Suzuki wrote about. You can’t sprint up a mountain. And the top is often higher than it looks when you start out. But you learn to pace yourself and you don’t quit, because you know the view is going to be amazing.

Does it matter, when a child starts music lessons, if you know whether or not that child will someday be a professional musician? Does it matter, when you decide to climb a mountain, if that will be what you do for the rest of your life? I don’t think a mountain is ever just a mountain. The climb and the summit stay with you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue W /CDGershwin's Rhapsody in Blue by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel, Charlesbridge, 2006

When George Gershwin read in the newspaper in January 1924 that he was working on a concerto for a special concert of American music scheduled for February 12, he was shocked. He had spoken to the organizer, Paul Whiteman, about the possibility, but he didn’t know it was a done deal. Apparently it was, though; the concerto he hadn’t even started to write was going to be the featured work.

I’ve had nightmares that started in a similar way. Gershwin had only a few weeks to come up with the highlight of a concert that was to be “attended by the world’s musical elite.” My bad dreams, however, don’t usually end as well as Gershwin’s real-life story. Author Anna Harwell Celenza describes how Gershwin went from not knowing what he was going to write to finding inspiration for his piece in the rhythms of a train ride, the music that surrounded him, and his love for New York City. “Rhapsody in Blue” brought together jazz, blues, klezmer, ragtime, and foxtrot within a traditional form—a piano concerto—to create a new and entirely American piece of music. This book comes with a CD of the piece so you can really hear how everything works together. Gershwin did an amazing job of taking an old form and making it new, but in a very accessible way.

The author knows her stuff; she has a Ph.D. in musicology, and has written several other children’s books about how particular compositions came to be: The Farewell Symphony, Pictures at an Exhibition, The Heroic Symphony, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations. There are so many interesting stories out there—I hope more books follow soon.
The Farewell Symphony
Pictures at an ExhibitionThe Heroic Symphony
Bach's Goldberg Variations

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Symphony

My grandfather gave my grandmother a copy of this quote not long before her death because he thought it described her well. I never knew her—she died before my father was grown, but I have always hoped I carried part of her with me through life. I am told she held these ideals closely, and even though this is a pretty well-known quote I thought I’d pass it along. They are good words to aspire to:

To live content with small means, to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds—to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasion, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.
William Henry Channing

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Top 100 Classic Poems Poll--My Picks

I’ve finally picked my ten favorite poems in the public domain for Semicolon’s  Top 100 Classic Poems Project. The thing is, I'm supposed to rank them, and I hate ranking things. Hate it! I could probably pick out my favorite, but ordering them from least to most favorite? I could agonize over that for years and still not have a satisfactory order. So for now, my list is still in no particular order—they’re all favorites:

Sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”, William Shakespeare
"Pied Beauty", Gerard Manley Hopkins
“He ate and drank the precious words”, Emily Dickinson
"The Tyger", William Blake
"Delight in Disorder", Robert Herrick
"The Lake Isle of Innisfree", William Butler Yeats
Sonnet 22, “When our two souls stand up erect and strong” Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Nothing Gold Can Stay", Robert Frost
"God’s Grandeur", Gerard Manley Hopkins
Sonnet 64, “When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced”, William Shakespeare

How about you?  Any favorites you want to share?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Music for the End of Time

Music For The End Of TimeMusic For The End Of Time by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Beth Peck, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2005

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the arts—musical, visual, literary—and their status as “extra”—some sort of bonus in education, in life, in how we spend our time and money. Obviously in the list of priorities it can’t come before things like food, shelter, and health. And as far as an education goes, literacy and math skills are fundamental; when the money gets tight what are you going to cut, reading programs or music programs?

But really—are the arts extra? Or are they a basic part of who we are as human beings? When the French composer Olivier Messiaen was captured by the German army and imprisoned at Stalag 8A, he brought his compositional sketches with him. In the midst of deprivation he wrote music, inspired by the nightingales that sang just beyond the barbed wire fences surrounding the camp and the words of Revelation 10:1-2, 5-7:

“And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire…and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth…And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever…that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished…”.

A young German officer became Messiaen’s patron of sorts, providing a place for him to write every day and helping him find instruments and other musicians. On January 15, 1941, the “Quator pour la fin du temps”, “Quartet for the End of Time” had its premiere in Stalag 8A in front of around 400 POWs and prison guards. In a place where the basics were severely lacking, Messiaen said later that “Never have I been heard with such attention and understanding.” (Author’s note at the end of the book).

What does this say about who we are and what is really important?  What if, in our own lives and in the education of our children, we treated the arts in one form or another as basic to our existence?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Resources for Children: Ballet

I’m positive this isn’t a complete list, but there’s still a lot here. There’s no doubt that ballet is a beautiful art form. Add in all the great music and fairy tales (Sleeping Beauty, Firebird, Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Coppelia, etc.) and you’ve got perfect material for dreamers. Let me know what I’ve left out—I appreciate the feedback.

Alvin AileyAlvin Ailey by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Backstage Robert Maiorano and Rachel Isadora

Ballet BunniesBallet Bunnies by Joan Elizabeth Goodman

Ballet of the ElephantsBallet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

Ballet SchoolBallet School by Naia Bray-Moffat and David Handley

The Barefoot Book of Ballet StoriesThe Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay

Dance of the Swan: The Story About Anna Pavlova (A Creative Minds Biography)Dance of the Swan: A Story about Anna Pavlova (Creative Minds Biographies), by Barbara Allman, illustrated by Shelly O. Haas

FirebirdThe Firebird by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin

Firebird adapted by Rachel Isadora

The Harlem NutcrackerThe Harlem Nutcracker based on the ballet by Donald Byrd, text and photography by Susan Kurklin

I Dreamed I Was a BallerinaI Dreamed I was a Ballerina by Anna Pavlova

Isadora Dances (Picture Puffins)Isadora Dances Rachel Isadora

Jake the Ballet DogJake the Ballet Dog by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by Marcin Barnaski

Lili at Ballet (Paperstar Book)Lili at Ballet by Rachel Isadora

Lili on StageLili on Stage by Rachel Isadora

Lili Backstage (Picture Puffins)Lili Backstage by Rachel Isadora

Max (Reading Rainbow Book)Max Rachel Isadora

My Ballet ClassMy Ballet Class by Rachel Isadora

My Ballet Diary by Rachel Isadora

Not Just TutusNot Just Tutus Rachel Isadora

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

Nutcracker BalletThe Nutcracker Ballet by Vladimir Vagin

On Your Toes: A Ballet ABCOn Your Toes: A Ballet ABC Rachel Isadora

Opening Night by Rachel Isadora

The Random House Book of Stories from the Ballet (Random House Book of...)The Random House Book of Stories from the Ballet retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Angela Barrett

Swan Lake (Paperstar)Swan Lake: A Ballet Story adapted & illustrated by Rachel Isadora

A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz