Lost Notes, Memory Tricks and the Discomfort Factor


The other night, at practice with my band (Duke Rushmore), we did something unusual. We’ve been working on some new songs for the past few weeks and as such, have ignored some of the old ones that we have always played. It’s part of learning, I guess, that we focus our energies on the present. But at practice, we decided to go back to some old songs that we used to know by heart. As the drummer kicked off the beat to the first one, I realized in a panic that I didn’t know what my first note was or how the song even began.

It was incredibly uncomfortable to feel so lost in the music.

The interesting thing is that I was not alone that night. In just about all of the old “chestnuts” that we pulled out, someone in the band — or more than one of us — didn’t know this note, or that chord, or where the break happened, or how to make the transition, or the order of the solos. We kept looking around at each other, asking: how could we have forgotten? Someone please help!

And we laughed.

But as a teacher, it reminded me something important. We take it for granted that our students are accumulating knowledge and experience, and that at any moment, they should be able to tap into the past work for the present assignment. Except, that doesn’t always happen, and we teachers get frustrated. Didn’t we already cover this? we wonder. The reality, though, is that without exposure and reminders, things get lost.

It was a humbling experience, floundering in a setting where I can usually thrive. I didn’t like that feeling, even in the company of friends who were not judging me for my missed notes, or wrong notes. My brain was working harder at retrieving information than it usually does acquiring it. I made a mental note about that process, and then got back to work re-learning my saxophone solos.

I’m still learning.

Peace (in reflection),

The Shaping of a Song/ The Shaping of Connections

I write songs for my band, Duke Rushmore, every now and then. Some songs work for the band. Some don’t. Last Monday, I had about an hour to myself and pulled out the guitar, and wrote a new one. The next night, I was sharing it with the band, and last night, we worked on it for about 45 minutes (minus our lead singer.) It’s interesting how some songs come quick and work great, while others take forever to write and then fall apart. I’m not sure what leads a song to go one way or another (I suppose if I did, I’d be making my millions selling songs to Katy Perry).

Here’s where this particular song started out, with me doing a quick demo for the band before I forgot the melody. The words have been updated here and there over the last week as the song filters through my head.

And here is what we were doing last night (again, without a lead singer, so that’s me singing for now).

What is magical about this process is how an idea conceived alone, in a room with only a guitar (and sometimes a dog as an audience) becomes something else when you bring collaborators into the mix. Sure, the main ideas are still there. But the song is different now and one thing I have learned over the years is that you have to give up part of the song to make it work with a group. You have to be willing to let others take a piece of ownership. So, our discussions are very interesting, as someone suggests this different chord, or a stop/break here, or where to insert the solo sections, or what kind of melody line should run here.

I work hard to avoid saying, No, that’s now how I hear it. Instead, I try to hold true to the spirit of what I was writing and remain flexible with other parts.

This is just like collaborating with other teachers (see my point?) when we connect with others. We share the best of what we know and brainstorm with the best intent, and then we need to listen to what others are saying, think about how to find that balance between our own established opinions and those of others around us. Eventually, what I have found — in my band, in my writing, in my professional circles — is that the energy of the larger group often trumps the vision of the individual. Not always, but mostly. And we continue into this Connected Educator Month, that is something to hold on: we are in this together and I rely on you as much you may be learning from me.

Maybe we need to write a song about that …

Peace (in the connections),


Working on a Song

I mentioned yesterday that my goal this weekend is to write a song — a power pop song. Yesterday, I had the lyrics down and the chords down and began to work on a demo for my band – Duke Rushmore — with Garageband (the drum track was created in the App, which I then moved onto my computer). I took a Vine as I was working:

I have most of the demo done, except the voice, and my voice is not so great, so it may end up being … a rough demo. I realize now that the key is a little high for me, but would not be for the singer in our band. I’ll keep ya posted!

Peace (in the songwriting),


Duke Rushmore Dons the Elvis Glasses

Duke Rushmore with Glasses

My band, Duke Rushmore, played at a pig roast over the weekend. It was a blast, and our lead singer brought along some Elvis sunglasses with him. We all decided to try them on (who can resist Elvis glasses?). Here is the collage I made of the band. (Our only regret is that we didn’t put the glasses on the pig.) You can always check out our Duke Rushmore home on the web, and if you live in Western Massachusetts, come out and see us play. You’ll have a great time, dancing the night away.

Peace (in the muse),

Duke Rushmore Video Mix Tape

I’m playing around with another video/music mixing tool called Dragontape. Here is my band, Duke Rushmore, in various YouTube videos:

We play at a Pig Roast today, in fact. So if you are in Western Massachusetts, come up to Liston’s Bar in Worthington. We’ll be rocking the roast from 1 p.m.to about 3:30 p.m.

Peace (in the muse),
PS — That’s me singing background vocals and playing the saxophone.

Duke Rushmore sings, But It’s Alright

Here is some video from a recent gig of my rock and roll band, Duke Rushmore. We had just learned this song and the singer just learned the riff on xylophone (as well as just learned the xylophone), so we pulled a woman from the audience (it was her birthday!) to hold it for him, and for someone to sing to. (I am the saxophone player). Right before the song started, she turned to me and whispered “I don’t want to do this!” but the drummer counted off the song and we were off. She ended up having a birthday to remember.

Peace (in the tunes),

Still Playing with Popcorn: The Duke Rushmore Talking Comic

As part of my explorations with the Teach the Web MOOC, I am trying to get a better handle on the Mozilla Popcorn Maker video tool. I’m still not convinced it is ready for prime time. Last week, I struggled with mixing multiple videos together for my introduction (told as a remix of some digital poetry videos), and then I tried to watch any number of other people’s Popcorn video intros, and sometimes the videos ran fine, sometimes it did not. There was no way to know if the darned things would load.

But I didn’t want to give up. I see that the tool has a lot of potential value, even if the reality of stability is not quite there yet for me. And then I thought: maybe I am using it wrong? Maybe I should try to use the Popcorn site for what it was first built for (if I understand it). So, I dropped an image of my band – Duke Rushmore – into the tool, and decided to make a snarky, funny, animated comic of sorts of what my bandmates and I are really thinking when we are on stage. (I got inspired by reading my son’s Mad Magazine, believe it or not).

The results were better than my earlier effort, but not without its frustrations, too. The “pop ups” — little texts that you can layer on top of videos and images — kept shifting on me, and when I finally had it down, when I looked at the published page, the texts had moved on me again. Ack. I went back and retrofitted the text bubbles, toggling between the editing screen and publishing screen to get things situated as best as I could.

I published, and the whole mess was right back again to square one. I sent out a tweet, asking for help, and left the computer. When I returned later, the published piece seemed to have fixed itself. So maybe it was a case of me being impatient with the rendering of the project.

(Added note: But now I see that the pop-ups in the embedded version (above) are off-kilter, and different from the live version. So, use the live version to see who is really talking).

As a result, I can’t see using this with students yet. If I was frustrated with Popcorn (and I do have a lot of patience with new tools and am willing to put up with a lot), my students would be nutty with it not doing what they want it to do. Which is too bad, because I like the layering of text idea, and can see some interesting ways to bring that into our discussions of media analysis and critique. I will return to Popcorn Maker at a later date, particularly as I start some planning of a summer course for high school students around digital literacies and hacking literacies (which is why I am in this MOOC project.)

For now, Popcorn holds potential, but it is not yet there yet.

Peace (in the pop),


Photo Collage: Duke Rushmore

Duke Rushmore VFW 2013 sax-centered
I am a little tired out today because my rock band, Duke Rushmore, played a gig last night to benefit the Relay for Life. A friend took some great images, and here is a collage of some of them. (Thanks, Tony). I am the saxophone player, and a singer, in the band.

Peace (in the muse),