Dipping our toes into the Gulf

oil spill question
I started out Day One of the school year with a discussion around what my sixth graders know about the oil spill in the Gulf and what has been happening in the recovery and recapping efforts over the summer months (later that same day, I found out about the explosion of another platform). I shared with one of the interactive maps online that shows the spread of the oil from May to August.

I explained to them that throughout the course of the year, we will be doing inquiry projects and environmental-themed writing that centers around these issues as part of the Voices on the Gulf endeavor. My hope is to touch a wide range of issues as we move forward. I explained this to my principal the other day, and he was very excited about it, wondering how we could use Skype or videoconferencing to connect with other students, particularly those who are involved who live along the Gulf Coast region. I’m going to work on that, I told him.

But first, I asked my homeroom class: What questions do you have about the oil spill? I took their answers and created a Wordle of the responses, which is now posted up at the Voices on the Gulf.

You, and your students, are also invited to join us on this collaborative project. You can read more information about what is required (it all depends on you) and how to get started.

Peace (in the starting),
Kevin

PS — I’ll leave you with a song that I wrote during late August about my feelings around the Gulf’s recovery. I shared it at Voices on the Gulf, but I was on my blogging vacation back then.

Listen to Ocean Dreams

Writing and Singing Songs with Students

Listen to “I Fall Apart”

We’ve been working on songwriting this week in class. I usually do it right on the tail end of poetry, but I pushed it off and almost did not get to it this year until one particular student kept asking, and asking, and asking until I realized: he really wants to learn about writing songs! So, here we are, working on songwriting.

We analyzed some lyrics this week and listened to music, cranking it up on the whiteboard speakers. I chose Kris Allen’s Live Like We’re Dying and Goo Goo Dolls’ Better Days and Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which we also sang together with me on my acoustic guitar. These three songs speak well to developing a “theme” and follow a traditional “verse chorus” pattern. I tell my kids to listen closely to their favorite songs and notice the techniques of writing — structurally and also, as a piece of writing.

Yesterday, I shared with them a song that I wrote earlier this year in the aftermath of Haiti. The song — called “I Fall Apart” — is told from the view of a character whose love is trapped in the rubble, and the character is telling them that it will be all right, even as they fear the worst. I then handed out my lyrics, with notes on some ideas that I wanted to draw their attention to, from the writer standpoint. Then, I performed for them. (They mostly seemed appreciative)

We then moved into a song that I wrote a few years ago. This song — “Just Believe” — has a missing verse, and their job is to write it and then, next week, to sing it with me. I have my electric guitar, amps, PA system, and drum machine in the front of the room, and I use all of my cajoling skills to get everyone up there to sing into the microphone, even if they can’t sing. I tell them, this may be your only chance to play with an electric guitarist and sing words you wrote.

Yeah — I wish I had had a teacher who had done that.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Tinkering with Dropio with a Song of Mine

I know a lot of folks are touting Dropio as a way to share files, so I figured I would give it a try. I am working on recording some new songs and this one is almost complete (still needs some bass).

I am going to try to embed the Dropio for this mp3 file here. (Note: there is few seconds of silence at the start of the file).

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

Peace (in the sharing of songs),

Kevin

Composing on Multiple Tracks

Yesterday, I pulled out my acoustic guitar and began to fiddle around with some melodies and rhythms. I’ve been wanting to do a bit more on Audacity with layering guitar tracks. Usually, I do my demos with one guitar track and that’s about it (partially because of the limitations of my playing abilities).

But I was inspired to do a bit more and composed this song out of layered acoustic guitar.  I tried to add some effects here and there, and doubled up some tracks along with recording single notes. I was trying to explore sopme different ways of creating sounds. I also tried to use the stereo effect here and there.  I kind of like it, although it is a bit off in parts. Doh.

Listen to One Morning in May

Peace (on the tracks),
Kevin

Adding in Some Drums …

I’ve been working with a friend to record a song of mine and documenting the process with my Flip camera. A few weeks ago, I posted the first session and last weekend, I got together with my drummer friend and he helped lay down some drum tracks.
Now, I need to do some more with the keys (or sax) and record the vocals.

Peace (in the process),
Kevin

Shake Out Some Ink

Yesterday, I had this phrase bouncing around in my head — Shake out some ink — and I decided to try to use it as a frame to write a song about writing, about composing. There aren’t enough songs out there about the art of writing. I used a software called Super Duper Music Looper to generate the music, and then I used Audacity to record the voice.

This is the result:

Take a listen to Shake Out Some Ink

Shake Out Some Ink

Just watch me now — I’m gonna grab my pen
gonna shake out some ink — gonna write it down again
I can feel the flow going — it’s all inside of my head
where the words keep dancing — all around me instead

So, you say you got a story — well, I can relate,
‘cause my brain keeps working — though it’s always getting late
when the deadline looms like an alarm clock ticking
this story’s unfolding and I never stop thinking

of the time, I found a rhyme,
and the words flowed through me,
and I’m wasn’t even trying,
I’m a writer of stories
I compose all the time
I’ve got a novel in the making
here in my mind.

Sometimes, you need the quiet — just find a place to be alone
so you sit there the silence and let the stories unfold,
all the phrases, all the talking, all the people in the setting,
unravel out the action and never stop thinking

of the time, you found a rhyme,
and the words flowed through you,
and you’re not even trying,
You’re a writer of stories
You compose all the time
You’ve got a novel in the making
there in your mind.

So, you say you hit a wall — there’s a place where you stopped
and you thought you saw it all but now you’re ready to drop
the whole thing, let me tell ya, you need to keep going
if you wanna invent, then this is composing, so

find the time, mine the rhyme,
find the words flowing through you,
and I’m not even lying,
You’re a writer of stories
You compose all the time
You’ve got a novel in the making
buried there in your mind.

Peace (in the songs),
Kevin

Recording a Song, layer by layer

A few weeks ago, I shared out a new song that I was working on. It’s called Ease Your Mind.

Listen to demo

This weekend, I went over to my friend’s house, where he has set up his Mac and Garageband to try his hand at audio recording. Together, we started to record this song. I brought along my flip camera, as I am interested in capturing the creative process. We worked on the acoustic guitar, and then put on some bass and organ, and tried to find a decent synth horn sound, but failed miserably.

I also wanted to use my school Macbook for video editing, and so yesterday, I found some time to move the footage off the flip and into the Mac, and I worked for a spell with iMovie. It is pretty intuitive to use and the flip integrated quite nicely with the Mac. I liked that I could import not as HD but as a regular size video, but the audio quality was still pretty decent.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Avant-Garde Composing

When I was an undergraduate — majoring in English, minoring in music — I had a professor who seemed very much out of sync with our small state college surroundings. Dr. Peacock seemed to have come from the fabric of New York City’s avante-garde composition scene and what he was doing at our college was never quite clear.

But it was with Dr. Peacock that I first learned about how a composer could push the boundaries of the norm when it came to creating music. He taught me about using synthesizers (we had this old monster of a keyboard that you had to program to make work — it was like hacking into a computer); how to cut “tape” of musical recordings and re-fashion those pieces into something new (the forerunner of remixing); and how to create atonal pieces of music. Oh, yeah, and how to open up the top of a grand piano and tinker with the insides to create strange, beautiful sounds from the percussion elements of the Grand. (This did not go over well with his teaching colleagues and more than once, I watched him argue with another teacher about why his students had their hands in the strings of the Grand and why were placing objects along the percussive hammers.)

He was all about pushing the boundaries of music. And he was all about the “doing” as much as the theory behind what was being done. I felt like an explorer moving into unknown terrain most of the time, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I was reminded of him yesterday as I followed  a link from Larry Ferlazzo’s blog to a site by Jason Freeman called Piano Etudes, where Freeman has worked to create an interactive site in which the viewer can use fragments of his piano pieces to refashion them into something new. It’s a very visual experience, as Freeman has mapped out how the pieces of a composition might intersection, and you grab elements and pull them together. Then, you can add your piece to the gallery at his site, download the music as an MP3 file and/or get a PDF of the score (see the image above, which comes from the PDF).

Freeman writes:

Inspired by the tradition of open-form musical scores, I composed each of these four piano etudes as a collection of short musical fragments with links to connect them. In performance, the pianist must use those links to jump from fragment to fragment, creating her own unique version of the composition. The pianist, though, should not have all the fun. So I also developed this web site, where you can create your own version of each etude, download it as an audio file or a printable score, and share it with others.

I plunged right in, and created a version of Freeman’s “Reading  Poem,” which I called “Writing a Poem by Starlight.” I downloaded the mp3 file, and then write a poem inspired by the music, which has a lot of space and open air to it. Then, I recorded the poem in Audacity, with the Freeman-derivative score as the background music.

Want to hear it?

Listen to Writing a Poem by Starlight

Here is the poem:

Writing poetry by starlight,
I touch the keys
so that I may coax
the darkness
to play a duet with light,
and shimmer until morning
comes …

Give it try. Write some music. Remix and create.

Peace (in the exploration),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Deep Blue Lines

Slice of Life(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

Sometimes, when I get an hour or so alone in the house, I pull out my guitar and try to write a song or least, work on a melody. Yesterday morning, I had this idea of writing a song about writing, but the song veered off in a different direction as I was writing, and I went with it just to see what might happen. This is one of those songs that may not get any farther than this, to be honest, because it sounds a bit too much like some of my other songs. I like it — I like the message of finding hope even the face of pessimism — but the song isn’t quite interesting enough at this point to move it on. That could change, of course.

Still, here it is: a demo song written and recorded yesterday morning, in an empty house, in about an hour.

Deep Blue Lines
(listen to the song)

I look at the paper and I see the deep blue lines
My heart is full but I’m feeling like I’m falling behind
You can take my words –Go on — take ’em – I don’t mind
Just leave me here in silence for a little while

I can hear the songs playing on the radio
The gospel queens are trying to save my soul
The DJ’s talking in a cadence – soft and low
Just leave me here in silence of the shadows

‘Cause everyone has a story
a story they can tell
about the world outside
and how it’s all gone to hell

But I have a vision
a vision I can see
How the world gets saved
by people like you and me

I hear the morning echo in the stars
You voice is like an angel from afar
as I wait down here in darkness with my guitar
just take my hand and lead me to where we are

Peace (in the light),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A New Song on the Mind

Slice of Life(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

I spent much of the morning yesterday writing a new song because late today, I am going to be getting together with some colleagues from school to jam and write songs and make music. That prospect always gets me fired up and this will be our first time together, for the most part (a few of us played at our recent benefit concert).

So, I figured I would challenge myself by writing a new song. I had the words and rhythms floating around my head all day and through the night, too, which is how I write. I get sort of obsessive about it. OK, not sort of. Very obsessive. The song becomes the inner soundtrack of my days.

I am always afraid that I will “lose” the song (which has happened more than once) and so, repetition is key, and also, that repetition (even in the comfortable silence of my own mind) allows me to try out new words and phrases.

For example, I later thought that “ease” should be “change,” as that would be a more powerful story — asking someone to change their mind about a relationship is much different than trying to ease their fears. The narrator here (it’s not me) would be a bit more desperate in their message if they knew they had to change their lover’s mind about the relationship. I’ve kept it as written, for now, but I thought a lot about how that one change would change the entire mood and meaning of the song.

Here is it:

Ease Your Mind
(listen to the demo)

You sound so lonely
I can hear it on the phone
Baby, if only
I were there to hold you
I’d take you in, so let’s begin
to ease your mind

We’re walking on the tightrope
and we might fall
I’m holding out for hope
Hope that we stand tall
inside this place where there’s some space
to ease your mind

Hold out your hand
and watch as the world slips away
We can talk about it later
While we’re living here today
and I need you here

I hear the distance
and silence of the days
I’m lost in the whispers
coming through the haze
I keep you close just like a ghost
and ease your mind

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin