The Teacher: A Musical

While I was in Nashville, wandering around the aquarium-like Gaylord Opryland, I picked up a flier for this show, which is called The Teacher: A New Musical by Ken Stonecipher. Apparently, Ken, who is a teacher, wrote a full-length musical around the act of teaching (!). I tried to find a web presence for the musical (which Ken says will soon be moving on to Broadway) but I came up empty.

In the flier, this is how Ken describes it:

“For those who love teaching, it is the most exciting career of all. Where else does one get to play the role of educator, creator, counselor, baby-sitter and prison guard all in one day? In what other profession does one have to balance the behavior of 165 hormone-raging adolescents with their need for quality education?”

Well said …

I guess Ken also presents pieces of his musical as a professional development tool. The flier calls the sessions “… a brutal yet honest look at the evolution of teaching … ” Now that would be different, wouldn’t it?

I love the idea of intersecting music, arts, writing and teaching all in one — although I can’t comment on the quality of his writing (the flier was a bit sketchy) or the production values (I didn’t see any of it).


MP3 Player as Personal Narrative

Stephen Levy, of Newsweek, writes:

“Surfing someone’s iPod is not merely a revelation of character but a means to a rich personal narrative, navigated by click wheel.” (Newsweek, October 23, 2006) — an excerpt from Levy’s book called The Perfect Thing.

I don’t have an iPod (I have a thing against Digital Rights Management locks) but I do have an MP3 player that has made long flights bearable and walks around the neighborhood enjoyable. So, what is playing in my mind? I click on my player and here are the first 20 or so songs that come up in shuffle mode:

  • James Hunter “Until Your Fool Comes Home”
  • The Subdudes “Save Me”
  • Dave Mathews “Ants Marching”
  • Jason Mraz “Mr. Curiosity”
  • John Mellencamp “Worn Out Nervous Condition”
  • Matthew Sweet “You Don’t Love Me”
  • Shelby Lynne “I’m Alive”
  • Brian Setzer “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache”
  • Tiny Town “Little Child”
  • The Cure “Boys Don’t Cry”
  • Rolling Stones “Happy”
  • Bruce Springsteen “Into the Fire”
  • Indigo Girls “Virginia Woolf”
  • Ben Harper “Where Could I Go”
  • GooGoo Dolls “Strange Love”
  • BoDeans “Say about Love”
  • Ryan Adams “Political Scientist”
  • Average White Band “Pick up the Pieces”
  • Marc Cohn “Walk on Water”
  • Beastie Boys “Ask for Janice”
  • Steve Earle “Copperhead Road”
  • Joan Osborne “One of Us”

One thing I notice: not too many female artists on that list and I realize that I don’t have too many on my player, although I have quite a few rocking women groups and solo artists in my collection.

NEATE Teaching Award

I just learned that I have been awarded the Exellence in Teaching Award from the New England Association of Teachers of English and I could not be happier. I have presented at a few NEATE conferences (blogging, digital claymation, etc) and written a few stories and articles for NEATE publications.

The letter I received gave me some kudos and for me, the award really supports the idea of an intergrated, creative/critical-thinking based writing program for sixth graders, and so I am deeply appreciative.

“Kevin, your teaching is a testament to your passion for innovation and engagement with your profession. Not only do you hold a highly professional ehtic but also you round your teaching to reach and affect students and colleagues alike. The breadth of your skill, knowledge and mastery of your profession is impressive.” — David O., NEATE Award Chairman, in his letter to me.

Wow! Those are very inspiring words to a teacher in the classroom and makes me all the more dedicated to my students and to others around me.


PS — This award falls on the heels of two NWP colleagues getting recognized for their work, too. Maria Angala of Washington DC won an award for her work for weblogging and Dave Boardman of Maine just won a co-technology teacher of the year award for the state of Maine. So I feel as if I am good company.

Six Word Stories

Wired Magazine had a nice little feature in which it asked writers, filmakers and others to compose a Science Fiction Story in just six words. This is in the model of Hemmingway’s very famous story: “For Sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

Then I got to thinking, the technology liaisons in the National Writing Project are writers by nature and, although pressed for time, they might be able to pull together six words and create a short story.

So I launched a Wiki, sent out e-invites, added a video welcome, and began mapping (with CommunityWalk) where the writers live in the world. And I am urging them to record an audio version of their six word stories, either as an MP3 or through Vaestro. It’s been very interesting.

Here are a few responses:

I recorded and posted an audio version of my first story.

microphoneListen to my story


PS — here is our map:CommunityWalk Map – SixWordStories Mapping

Old Radio Shows

I was moving through some links provided by a friend, Glen B., from Oregon (who is developing some great online lessons around digital storytelling, podcasting and other Read/Write applications) and one of his links took me to a great site that archives some old radio programs from the Golden Days of Radio.

It reminded me of one of the very first vinyl records I ever received — a copy of a Flash Gordon radio show and I used to listen to the hiss of the show in the darkness of my room, transported to the planets which Flash is exploring.


What was wonderful is that it gave me an opportunity to have my young sons listen to the Abbott and Costello skit about Who’s On First — they had heard of it but never heard the actual bit.

Abbott and Costello and Who’s On First radio broadcast

Want to find all the old archives? Remember Buck Rogers? Flash Gordon? Well, I really don’t but I like to listen to some of the old voices.

Go to RadioLovers for all the info


Malcolm is at it again

One reading pleasure that I get is when I open up the New Yorker magazine and there, in the table of contents, I see the byline: Malcolm Gladwell. The author of Blink and Tipping Point (both of which were built from articles in the magazine, I believe) writes with such clarity and insight about a wide variety of issues, it becomes like a little journey of the mind to follow where he is leading you.

In last week’s New Yorker, Malcolm is on the trail of software that can be used to predict the success or failure of movies. It all has to do with indentifying attributes, categorizing them in certain ways and then letting the computer analyze the structure of movies. Some movie companies are now channeling movie scripts through the computer program and pressuring for changes before the actors are even hired. There is something sterile about that process, I think, but that is another post.

What I was interested in was almost an aside in the article: the use of software to help musicians and producers analyze music, using mathematical formulas based upon beat, harmony, pitch, chord progression and cadence. The software called “Platinum Blue” can pick “whether a song is likely to become a hit with eighty-percent accuracy,” according to Malcolm. The creator of the software is not interested in the songs, per se. “He cared only about a song’s underlying mathematical structure,” according to Malcolm.

This is all very interesting but then the creator of the software comments: “We think we’ve figured out how the brain works regarding musical taste.” I wonder how that can be? And if true, does this mean that we are moving towards some uniform musical taste analysis? Interesting.

The program did predict that the song Crazy by Gnarls Barkely would be a hit. I wonder if they have put Beck into their machine? (Which reminds me of a Sesame Street skit in which Bert creates a sound machine for the letter “P” and Ernie makes it explode by feeding to many letters into it — that’s what I think Beck would do to the software — cause it to implode.)

Comic Strips and Writing

As I was considering the writing of this post about comic strips (!), I realized that the site which I am going to talk about (called Darkgate Comic Slurper) may not be quite so legal and so I am in a bit of a quandry here. However, I am going to plow forward because I love comic strips and in the interests of thinking about the prospects of Web 2.0, this site is a good example of readers and writers can tailor content to fit their own needs.

First of all, I have always loved comics and it is interesting to watch my young sons now discover Calvin and Hobbes, and rush to the Boston Sunday Globe to read through the comic pull-out section (sample household dialogue from yesterday: Me Anything good today in the comics? Older SonNot much today. I wish they had funnier comics) This illustrated a point: There are hundreds of comics out there and we rely on the editors of the newspapers to make the choices about what we read, and their decisions are not fine-tuned to our sense of humor but to economics — how much do they have to pay the comic syndicate and how many readers will it keep?

I discovered Comic Slurper through my Bloglines RSS reader and it dawned on me that I could now create my own daily comic page with strips that tickled my funny bone. Comic Slurper somehow grabs the RSS feeds from a long list of comics, and then you decide which comics you want to view daily, and set up your aggregator reader (such as Bloglines), and every morning, there are comics that I want to read. Meanwhile, I have stumbled across a whole field of new comics that are funny that I have never even heard of before.

For example:

  • Of course, Calvin and Hobbes reruns and Dilbert
  • Baby Blues — which is a look inside a family with three kids, just like me
  • Brewster Rockit: Space Guy — which is a bizarre Sci-Fi strip (I am a sucker for sci-fi)
  • InkPen — which I am still trying to figure out but I am having a good time doing it
  • PC n’ Pixel — which is a stab at the geek in all of us
  • Sherman’s Lagoon — which is set in a lagoon with a talking shark (I think) and turtle
  • Toyzville — which features kid toys doing strange things

I guess my point is that I am in control of the comic page that I want to set up through the benefits of an aggregator and RSS feeds and by doing this, I have some power over the content and I am not held captive to the interests of my local newspaper. That is something work celebrating!


Using Mixed Media to Tell a Story

I was driving to school the other day, listening to our local NPR affiliate (WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts), when this story came on about a production at a nearby arts installation studio (MassMOCA) that fuses music, spoken language and other media into one production that examines the Truth Commissions in South Africa.

From WFCR: … a new musical based on the findings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be performed. Johannesburg composer Philip Miller has created a cantata that incorporates musical composition for voice and instrument, with audio recordings taken directly from the Commission hearings — thousands of statements from men and women about the violence they experienced, witnessed, or conducted during apartheid.

The story is powerful as a story as a country coming to grips with abuse of power and socio-cultural and race relations, but the use of spoken voices from the actual commissions, combined with music, stunned me as I listened in the car and the snippets of performances reminded me of how hybrid this world can be.

Take a listen and see what you think.


Can a Robot Play Music?

Consider this a musical diversion for me. I found an interesting article through my Bloglines aggregator that looks at a new robot being created in a lab (where else?) at Georgia Tech that can play percussive music – by itself and along with others.

Here is a quote from the article:

By combining the ability to improvise algorithmically and having different physical limitations than a human, Haile can create a novel kind of human-machine musical interaction, leading to new music. Haile’s uniqueness lies in the robot’s ability to play acoustically with a vibrant sound while combining the computer capability of utilizing complex algorithms.

There are a few video links embedded in the article to watch. It’s an interesting concept and, as a musician, I am not sure how I feel about the idea of a piece of tin and wires being created to make music.

Is it music if there is no emotion attached to the invention of the sound?


Who is this Taylor Mali?

At a workshop on creating a student-centered Poetry Cafe during this past weekend’s Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing at Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a participant told me that I just had to “discover Taylor Mali” and so I went searching for him and found his home on the ‘Net.

Taylor Mali is a slam poet, a teacher, a fast-talking preacher of words that flow from inside the soul, an advocate for education, and intense dedication to the cause of language flowing off the tip of the tongue for the old and the young … (hmmm, slipped in some of my own flow there for ya) and his strange yet very admirable mission is to use poetry to recruit teachers into public schools. He has set a mark of 1,000 teachers (he’s at 145 and tries to keep track of them via a blog).

Mali has gained some fame with his poem “What Teachers Make” and on his site, he notes how many unauthorized versions are now scattered throughout the Web, with little or no reference to the author/poet.

Am I disappointed not to have received credit for writing this poem that has inspired so many? Used to be. But the truth will always come out in the end. And if I had to choose between inspiring teachers anonymously or not inspiring them at all and, I would choose anonymous inspiration every time.” Taylor Mali

So go to his site, listen to his voice on his podcasts, read his words and, if you are inspired, buy one of his What Teachers Make pens to support the cause of the conversion of poetry, language and teaching. And if his words inspire you to enter teaching, let him know so you can be counted, too.