Dogtrax Podcast: The Note Who Got Lost

This is a new direction for me — creating podcasts that will center on some of my own music and compositions. I am experimenting with OurMedia as the site for hosting the audio files and I finally worked out most of the kinks of the system.
This first edition features the musical play The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece production. The play was produced this summer by Multi-Arts of Amherst and the young performers did a magnificent job. (You can also read my reflection of the experience of watching my play on stage from an earlier post).

microphone Listen to the Dogtrax Podcast: The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece.

Thanks for listening.

Musical Metaphor

Last night, my wife and I went to see the band Los Lobos in concert at a small outdoor arena in our town of Northampton, Massachusetts. They were energetic, playful and brimming with great musical ideas.

What struck me is this — The opening band was The Mammals and they pulled up a few band members from another band called The Ducks on the stage to join them for a few songs (and playfully referred to themselves as The Platypus — get it? Duck-billed mammals?). Then, when Los Lobos hit the stage, they pulled up the violin player from The Mammals for the opening song. And this is common for many bands to do — grab an up and coming musician and give them the experience of a larger stage.

So, I was thinking, that as Susan B. and I work on our NWP Monograph Project about the site structure of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, one theme that keeps coming up is how one program leader will ask someone new to partner with them on a project, and then pass the baton to the new person, who them repeats the process. Just like Los Lobos and The Mammals did on stage last night.

The power of that system is that it works like an expert-apprentice relationship and creates strong bonds for someone new to experiment in a safe environment. Kind of cool to think of WMWP along the same lines as Los Lobos.

Rock on!

Making Movies

One of my own personal goals this year was to learn more about making documentary movies so that I could capture some of the work being done at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, where I am the techology liaison for our network of teachers.

Here are two movie projects that I have been working on:

We are in the midst of making a DVD documentary of our 2006 Summer Institute and I have been sharing the work with our participants through a web-based site. The movie will center on our three main strands: teacher writing; inquiry research; and workshop presentations.
You can head to the Summer Institute movies here.

Meanwhile, I have also been working on a documentary for a Weblog project called Making Connections, which connects middle school students through technology. This project is funded through the NWP Technology Seed Grant Initiative.

Head to the Making Connections movie.


DOPA Legislation

There is a loud and concerned outcry of opposition from writers of educational/technology Weblogs these days over the initial passage of legislation known as DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) in the House. The bill is now being considered by the Senate. DOPA seems aimed directly at the worries over such sites as MySpace and the very real fact that some young people are misusing the technology and are being harmed by online predators. Unfortunately, the bill would force schools to block all commercial websites that have any interactive elements.

It seems to me, as it does to most of the voices out there, that the role of educators should be to teach our students about these sites and how to best use them, and to be critical of them, too. The volume of ads alone provide an opportunity to discuss what the owners of the sites are really trying to accomplish. To merely put up a wall is to ignore the fact that our students are probably still accessing these sites at home or at a friend’s home, and they need to learn how best to use Weblogs, Wikis and other sites for creative expression, and they need the skills to protect themselves against any dangers out there. The classroom is one of the best places to learn such skills. The home, of course, is the other place but how many parents are that savvy? (Of course, how many teachers are that savvy, too? It’s a legitimate question).

Teachers and others who believe in the opportunities of the Read/Write Web are being urged to contact their senators and legislators and urge rejection of DOPA. Here is part of one letter:

As the Web becomes more and more a part of the way that kids communicate and socialize, I would submit that we need to focus on educating them in the most effective and safe ways to use these technologies. Banning them is a reactionary response, not a reasoned one. And it is a response whose ultimate motives are spurious at best. Why not, instead, focus our discussions on how best to prepare the millions of new teachers who will be entering the classroom in the next five years to deal with these issues, or on reaching out to parents to make sure they are well versed in overseeing their children’s use of the Internet? — from

I just emailed a letter to both Senator John Kerry and Senator Ted Kennedy asking that they find a better solution to protecting our young people and you can do the same, if you would like.


Mission Away from Berkeley


I made it home from California only to find a heat wave sweeping through New England this week. Phew, it sure is hot!it might reach 100 degrees today. I had to catch a red-eye flight on Sunday night because my rock and roll band, The Sofa Kings, were doing a live television performance that I just could not miss. I paid the price with a tired body but received a jolt of energy to my brain from the performance.

Sofa Kings

The planning for our Monograph Book for the NWP at Work program went fantastic and the use of the web-based Writely as a tool for collaboration seems to be working great. My team members took to the program easily enough and it helped that I could show them the program in person and answer questions right on the spot. At the same time, WMWP Site Director Bruce Penniman was able to read through and offer suggestions to our writing from his cozy spot in Western Massachusetts. He could just have easily have been down the hallway. I really think Writely is the right tool for this stage of our project. Whether it will be the right tool as we move into the future remains to be seen but we all agreed that we could abandon Writely if it felt like it wasn’t working for us. (When I told our cohorts in Berkeley what we were doing with technology and collaborative writing, you can guess what NWP Associate Director Joye Alberts said: “You are going to write about this, right?

Meanwhile, Bruce and I are also using Writely to begin putting together our Tech Matters Minigrant Proposal. I just finished a draft of the application and now he will review it, offer suggestions and/or make changes via Writely.

This is my working summary:

If site leaders and teacher consultants are to utilize the possibilities of web-based applications for publishing, collaborating and communicating, then they need to have time and space to learn and understand the technology. This project offers three separate workshops for teachers in our site network, with an emphasis on project leaders, to create and use Weblogs, experiment with Wikis and begin creating and posting audio files. Another facet of the project is designed to strengthen our state network through a series of newsletter Weblogs as a way to disseminate information across the various sites. Finally, our site will use some of the grant money to establish our own content management system so that we can independently oversee an emerging Weblog network for teachers and project leaders.


Mission to Berkeley, Part Three

Our cohort of writers in Berkeley spent a good deal of time thinking about what we mean when we say continuity for our writing project sites. The book series we are working on is joined by a common thread of continuity and sustainability for various sites of the National Writing Project.

Here is what I wrote when asked about what continuity means for me:

At a very basic level, I see continuity as tapping into the energy of the Summer Institute for other levels of our site’s work. Teachers come out of the SI brimming with ideas, confidence and enthusiasm for implementation into their own classrooms – which is very important – but also with the sense that they are now part of something larger than their classroom and school. Many realize they can make a difference on a larger scale and this is where the seeds of leadership begin. That period of time following the SI seems to be most crucial for keeping people connected to the site. If too much time lapses, the energy begins to fade. Life impedes on the memories of the summer. If we can find connections that are relevant – and work on their new ideas and concepts and bring them to fruition – then we are more likely to have them emerge as leaders of the future. Continuity strengthens the site on so many different levels and outreach by the leadership team is important. For example, we tapped an SI graduate from last summer to be the editor of our online Weblog newsletter and I am now considering a replacement from this summer’s crop of teachers. There has to be a continual movement of people and challenges with support to keep people engaged. A site that ignores continuity runs the risk of fading away at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, the entire group brainstormed about continuity and came up with this list of ideas:

  • Capture energy of SI
  • Intellectual home – remodeled over time
  • Honor the mission of the site
  • Nourish and learn from NWP fellows
  • Leaders open to change and ideas
  • Having a place where people say ‘yes’ to ideas
  • Imagine the possibilities
  • Grassroots approach
  • Social aspect – friendship and professional level
  • Director gives out “keys to the office” – openness/access
  • Mentor for leadership
  • Challenges of diversity of teaching experiences/communities
  • Addressing tensions within site
  • “Never step into the same river twice”
  • Continuum of Continuity


Mission to Berkeley, Part Two

We had a lovely dinner last night with all of the folks who have descended upon Berkeley for the Monograph writing adventure. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Shirley Brown and our table had a long discussion about public relations and  the reliability of journalists I spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter so I had some inside info); the pros and cons of Charter Schools; how to mainstream autistic children; and many other interesting areas. Today, we head over the main offices of the NWP on the campus and get to work on some initial writing and discussions with our editors. Susan and I get to work with Tish, from the Vermont Writing Project, which is very neat since it wasn’t that long ago that I stole their idea for collaborating with the local newspaper to feature our teachers and students.
I realize now what a great variety of projects are being delved into here on the topic of continuity and sustainability at the writing project sites.

  • Creating Learning Communities — New York City WP
  • Presenting Collaborative Networks — Rhode Island WP
  • Visioning Retreats — Prairie Lands WP
  • Study Groups on Race and Homophobia — UCLA WP
  • Leadership Inquiry Seminars — Philadelphia WP
  • Strategic Planning — Western Pennsylvania WP
  • Site Structure and the Role of Tech Liaison – WMWP


Mission to Berkeley, Part One


Fresh from the cross-country trip to Chico, CA, just last week, I was airplane-bound once again today as I made my way to the bastion of liberal thought — Berkeley, CA,  (favorite sign so far: “Support Stem Cell Research — Grow Bush a Brain”) — for another adventure with the National Writing Project. A co-director at our site, Susan, and I are here to launch a Monograph Book about the way our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site re-organized itself a few years back. Some impetus for that change came as the site was relaunching its web site and the redesign of the web presence forced our leaders to re-imagine the structure of our entire WMWP organization.

I immediately noticed a difference between Chico and Berkeley — it was very cool here, and I completely underpacked. Apparently, I still had the 110 degree heat of Chico in mind. So, as I wandered through the streets of this very lively and fun place, I bought a sweatshirt to keep me somewhat warm for a few days. I wandered around town and the campus for a few hours today and sat under a grove of eucoplytus (I had to look up the spelling of that one!) and did nothing but think for a bit.

Tomorrow, Susan and I begin some writing in earnest and begin planning out this book project. I am suggesting that we use Writely as a collaborative site for writing and we’ll see how my partners feel about that.



The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece

Transforming Words on the Page to Characters on the Stage

By Kevin Hodgson

Note Play 2

There’s a moment in my play where the main character – a little, confused musical note — discovers an exact replica of himself in the musical manuscript through which he is traveling. The other note is exactly like him, except there is one major difference: the twin is happy. Giddy, even. Dancing around with a big smile on his face, the twin of B-Sharp ponders the question of why he is so happy.

“I am in the most perfect place in the most perfect composition by the most perfect composer ever. When I am played, the whole world shudders with joy because I am exactly in the right spot,” the twin states happily, to which the main character, B Sharp, replies: “I wish I could find my spot.”

The character of the twin was something I added in late to the story, and I did that only because another young actor joined the theatrical camp where the play was being produced had joined the cast and desperately wanted a speaking part. How could I turn down a request by this young man to get involved? I sat at the keyboard and thought. The director of the production suggested a few lines for the twin that B-Sharp stumbles upon after escaping the Meter Police, the treble notes, and the first and second endings.

“Maybe you could tell why the twin is happy,” the producer suggested, and that made sense to me, and so I went back to the script that I wrote three years earlier during a month-long Summer Institute for teachers as part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece originally came to form as a novella that I wrote chapter by chapter during that productive summer, and I fine-tuned it with the help of other teacher-writers. When one of my fellow writers said the story sounded like a play unfolded scene by scene (which I called “movements”), I experienced one of those blinding moments of inspiration. I went home to my acoustic guitar, wrote a few songs and then proceeded to convert the entire story into a piece for theater for young actors.

The script then sat around for three more years, always in the back of my mind – I really liked the story of a musical note who must find his place in a piece of music and feel important and special – yet never produced. Sure, I had toyed with the idea of doing it with the sixth graders I teach and even began producing fractured fairy tales with my classes two years ago with the idea of getting my feet wet as a producer of plays. But my musical was a big production, and one I was wary about taking on while still trying to teach what I knew I had to teach. There is such little room in the current educational environment for a long theatrical production and B Sharp was forced to sit off to the side of the darkened stage.

I was inspired to return to the play when I read about a writing contest being sponsored by the Mult-Arts organization in Amherst, which was searching for stories to produce with its youth summer theater camp, and lo and behold, somehow, I won the contest with my B Sharp play. I later learned there were about 30 play submissions from across the country.

When I was writing the story, I could see it all unfolding on stage, in my own mind, but I was as excited as the twin of B-Sharp to imagine that the story would come to life, with real actors, in a real production. Every request made of me as the writer – such as scaling back some of the musical theory – I agreed to in hopes of helping the young actors find meaning in their roles in the limited amount of time they had to rehearse and learn their lines. I added in the speaking part of the twin. I conceded that my songs, as I wrote them years ago, could be replaced by new compositions by the music director of the camp. I was open and willing for anything.

I just wanted B Sharp and the rest of my characters to find their place on the stage.

And so imagine the wonderment of the writer when I slipped into a dress rehearsal of the play and watched the characters I had nurtured begin to become alive on stage with the help of a group of talented young actors. Little B Sharp was this wisp of a girl but her face and body was all emotion, capturing perfectly the confusion and frustration felt by the lost note. The bass notes were two high school boys and as they talked to B Sharp down below in Bass Land, they towered over her and the effect was exactly what I was going for on the written page. And then the note who guards the first and second ending got increasingly angry at the repeat dot that follows her around everywhere and repeats half of what she has said, it was almost like watching Abbott and Costello trying out a new routine on stage. They nailed the humor just right.

The day of the first public performance, I was as nervous as the actors, I think. Some friends had arrived and I even saw some of my students from a few years ago when I began doing fractured fairy tales in my classroom. The curtains opened on the stage and the set design was perfect – the backdrop were all of a musical motif. Although I was videotaping the performance for posterity, I sat back and enjoyed the show from start to finish, even singing along in my head with some of the songs they used from my original ideas.

It made me feel good to listen to the applause at the end of the show and one member of the audience – another teacher, it turns out, who has taught music to younger students – shook my hand and said, “If only we had something like that when I was teaching … even I learned some new things about music today.”

I felt the warm glow of praise, as much for my writing as for my teaching, and silently thanked the young actors who encompassed my creations on the stage. Later, I actually did thank them and, even more, I thanked the producer of the show.

“I just hope we did justice to your vision,” he said.

That, he did.


Here is a scene from the first act of the play:

Meter Police: There’s been a bit of commotion in this sector of the score and we want it stopped right now. You chords have to know your place! I swear, sometimes I think you notes don’t even know the difference between the mad rush of Allegro and the slow drone of Adagio. What’s the problem here? Why all the fuss?

B-Sharp (stepping forward slowly): Uh, sir. I’d like to leave.

Meter Police: Leave? Leave? You can’t leave. You’re right where The Composer put you. Do you think you know better than The Composer what kind of chord is needed in this particular measure? Is this what you are saying? (glares at B-Sharp)

B-Sharp: No, sir. It’s just … I’m not wanted here. I’d like to leave.

Meter Police: That’s for The Composer to decide, young note, not us. You must remain where you are until The Composer decides otherwise, if he decides otherwise.

B-Sharp (in a pleading voice): Perhaps, I could just go to that rest over there for a little while? Until The Composer comes back?

Meter Police: Absolutely not. Now you stay in your spot or you’ll be one sorry tone. (and with that, the Meter Police buzzed off)

(B-Sharp sighs and seems depressed. Then he perks up, looks over to the four-beat rest one more time.)

B-Sharp (to himself): I’ve got to do it. I can’t stay here any longer. I’ve got to at least try to get to that rest, no matter what it takes. (pause). It will take courage, that’s for sure. (pause). OK. I can do it. I know I can. First, I just need to get away from this measure. (pause as he moves slowly). There. I did it. Now, on to the rest.

F Minor: Hey, what’s he doing. Look at B-Sharp – he’s moving. He’s not supposed to do that! What will The Composer think!

(The other notes begin to move about in excitement, pointing to B-Sharp, whispering among themselves about what B-Sharp is doing. Meanwhile, B-Sharp keeps moving when suddenly a Whole Note jumps in front of him.)

Whole Note (in a bulling tone of voice): Uh-uh, kid. End of the line. No note gets past me. You’re not going to make me the laughing stock of the symphony. Get yourself back to your chord like a good little tone. You heard me. Go on. Beat it!”

B-Sharp (looking frightened by the Whole Note but trying to remain brave): No! I won’t go back. And you can’t make me! I’m getting to that rest, one way or another. (And then the two notes begin to wrestle each other, slapstick comedy, with the Whole Note much stronger than B-Sharp. After a minute, B-Sharp falls to the ground, yelling out: Ahhhhhh!!! and the curtain closes as the lights black out.)