Assistance in Teaching Skills to Build Teaching Skills (Pat Kuehn’s Internship with Professor Warren Senders)

In my internship I will be TAing Warren’s “Cross Cultural Alternatives” class. Having taken the class last fall (and loving it) I will be seeing and learning the structure behind this class as well as helping warren prepare for the class whether it be transporting materials, building instruments, helping him with demonstrations, etc. I will also be keeping a portfolio of the things I learn and do along the way. Very much looking forward to this!

Videos from MIE Pi Day!

Download the MIE Pi Day 3-14-2013 Poster and put it on your wall!

For those of you who were unable to attend our 2nd annual Music-in-Education Department Concert (this year held on Pi Day — March 14, 2013), please enjoy the following videos!

This year’s inquiry question:

How do numbers empower musical understanding? Celebrating the Role of Mathematics and Music in Education

And our Program Notes (PDF): MIE Pi Day Concert 3-14-13 Program Notes
Larry’s piece, ‘Phone Number Myelination Music’:
Devin’s piece, ‘Oobleck Serial’:
Nick Kitchen’s piece ’36, 45, 378 and 64: Bach’s St. Anne Fugue and the Ciaconna for Solo Violin’:
Henrique’s piece, ‘Madruga’:
Katarina’s piece, ‘Sierpinski Triangle in 43 steps’:
Rob’s piece, ‘Wondrous Numbers’:
Warren’s piece, ‘Thought Experiment’:

10/22/08 Folk Communities

We began this session by learning a few folk rounds. The first was a bluesy MoonDog tune that reads as follows:

Nero’s expedition up the Nile
Because the water hyacinths
Had clogged the river
Denying Nero’s vessel’s passage
Through the Sud of Nubia

(I found a transcription online if anyone is interested in joining along!)

The second was a curious tune that compared a frog to a strange form of bird. This piece reminded me of a showtune more than a folk melody. Its text read:

What a queer bird a frog are
When he sit he stand almost
When he jump he fly almost
When he sing he cry almost
And he ain’t got no tail
Hardly he ain’t got no tail
And he sit on what he ain’t got almost…
What a queer bird a frog are!

When we broke into canon (I believe at one point we were in 4 or 5 parts) I began to get so excited that I couldn’t help but sing at the top of my lungs and by the end I had definitly broken a sweat. At times I stopped (just briefly) in order to experience the composite harmonies and rhythms as they flew by. This is the music that shaped me into the man (and musician) that I am today. My mother sang folk songs from her youth to me when I was an infant (and in fact even before I was born). When I was older she bestowed unto me her collection of LPs that contained her favored renditions of these tunes (they are still in frequent rotation on my record player). There is a strange sense of community that is lost when these songs and their traditions are ignored and undermined.

Later that night, after our class, Joanna and I took a couple friends up onto a friend’s rooftop deck. We taught them the songs that we had learned, and while a number of intoxicated college students stumbled home on the streets below, we rounded off the roof above them. This type of community is profoundly valuable. The sense of sharing is so unique and there is such a strong energy of liberation from all things ego. It is as though the music soaks into your skin and you feel such ecstasy from its internal resonance. These moments are rare (and increasingly so). We speculated in class on what life might be like if the price of gas escalated to an unreasonable and unaffordable height. Luxury as we now know it would cease to be an option. Touring musicians and ensembles would become rare and would force our community into a tighter knit microcosm. I believe that our scope of perception would narrow and we would begin to look inwards for entertainment. It is likely that our culture would return to an orally driven tradition with a focus on sharing, trading, familial communities, and the immediate experience of being. It is possible to speculate that within our current global community these things become insignificant and tend to disappear.

I would also like the mention the great attention devoted within our current cultural machine to the standardized process of test taking. This continues a conversation we began in class that Jenny also spoke of in her previous blog. As Jenny mentioned, learning to take a test, such as the SAT, targets strengths that you might use when balancing a check book. The strategies you learn when training for these exams in no way helps one to develop into a better artist, writer, musician, or creative thinker. Much of the way that high school English classes are conducted reflects this. Conversations surrounding literature and higher art are more often than not guided towards a specific end result or “correct answer” as defined by a teacher’s handbook. These so called ‘guided conversations’ are not real conversations and do not express anything but a prescribed formula and its subsequently derived answer. It leaves little room for creative thinking and no room for a student to learn freely. In tighter knit societies, we want people to sing with, to talk to, to be part of a community with.

We discussed in depth how much of what we learned as students was not what our teacher had been attempting to teach. For many of us, we learn in a variety of free-associative ways. We make connections and draw conclusions based upon previous experiences and our current understandings. It seems obvious, with this in mind, that our system of education can many times create a barrier for the minds of learners. In my view, education is something that cannot be prescribed. It is something that, when most effective, is coordinated with the specific needs and current situations of each student group (and in the most ideal situations, for each student individually). We have a long way to go in fulfilling the needs of our students, but I believe that in-depth speculation on the unique qualities of folk based communities will yield positive and provocative results.

October 8: Order and Chaos; A Study of Vibrations

In Wednesday’s class we began by pairing up and experimenting with long ropes in order to visualize the vibration of a string. One person stood holding their end in front of them while the opposite person swung the rope at different speeds. We attempted to create, at first, one broad swing of the rope (like you might see in a game of jump-rope). Then we doubled the speed so that the rope was divided into two equal parts, each rotating conversely (while one side swung upwards, the other rotated downwards). This increase in speed was continued until it wasn’t possible to divide the rope into any smaller sections (usually occuring around five divisions of the rope). Each dividing point between rotating sections is considered a ‘node’, or a place where the vibration is zero.

We then gathered into a circle in the classroom and used a monochord (an instrument consisting of a single string) to discover the specific ratios that create each interval above the tonic pitch. We began by splitting the chord in half (done by lightly touching in the center of the vibrating string) so that each section of the string was vibrating at twice its original speed. This is the same as what we had just experienced with the rope when we doubled our initial speed in order to create two vibrating sections. This time with the string of the monochord, an octave occured above the original pitch (shown by the ratio 2:1, where the higher pitch is vibrating two times for each one vibration in the lower note). We continued to use this same method to achieve the 5th (ratio of 3:2), the 4th (4:3), and so on through each of the twelve intervals. We discussed that frequency ratios always come in pairs that add up to an octave. For instance, the ratio 3:2 will be paired with the ratio 4:3 (a 5th plus a 4th equaling an octave).

The class reminded me of Stuart Isacoff’s book “Temperament” which addresses the history, problems, and evolution of tempering the Western scale. After the class, I went back and read the section concerning Pythagoras and his original discovery of the geometry of music. Pythagoras, who invented the monochord, stated that “music’s rules are simply the geometry governing things in motion: not only vibrating strings but also celestial bodies and the human soul.” Pythagoras believed that the most pleasing of harmonies arose from the simplest of proportions and that complexity would insight chaos. What is fascinating about this is that behind his discoveries of pure musical geometry there lies a forbidden and volatile darkness. He found that pure octaves and fifths, according to his ratios, are incommensurate (also referred to in Greek as ‘alogon’ meaning ‘the unutterable’). Fifths will never complete a perfect circle (as suggested by the widely accepted circle-of-fifths), but will reach toward infinity in an unending spiral. This essentially boils down to the fact that octaves are based upon multiples of 2 (2:1) while fifths are based upon multiples of 3 (3:2). In this case, no multiple of 2 will ever meet a multiple of 3. If one were to compare the pitch achieved by an octave and that achieved from the completion of a circle of fifths, they would be very similar yet “out of tune”. This spiraling phenomenon hints at a more complex mathematic sequence, that of the golden ratio. Even so, these simple ratios were believed to be an expression of the divine. It is easy to find similar ratios present within nature. Saint Augustine, in fact, believed that churches and cathedrals were to be more than just shrines, and instructed that proper proportions were to be used in their construction. Thus the heights, lengths, and depths of the structures formed the proportions of Pythagoras’s “celestial harmonies” (1:1, 2:1, 2:3, and 3:4).

So what difference does this make to us, as musicians and as people? What effect does this really have on our performance? I think it is crucial to understand the fundamentals of the creation of sound, of pitch, especially when such things are taken for granted everyday. I remember the feeling I had when I first discovered the ratios involved in music. Once I got past the initial migraine acquired from my first lecture on equal temperament, I began to look a bit into proportions. It made perfect sense (and also supplied an interesting and practical perspective to my high school math classes). This is the real foundation of what I do every day, of each note I play. It is a fundamental that comes before technique, before fingerings and musicality. In a sense it is the DNA of music (more specifically of pitch). Yet as crucial as these fundamentals are, an understanding of them is not essential for the enjoyment of music. Recently, Warren mentioned a workshop that he was conducting years ago. During the course of the class, he plucked two notes on a string, the second a fifth higher than the first. Soon after, a young boy came running into the room exclaiming “What was that beautiful music?!”. Like the young boy, a single, simple fifth can produce a level of joy bordering on ecstasy. Warren also noted that infants are particularly drawn to simple intervals. This has been quite a meal for my thoughts (even just thinking back to our class sends my head spinning!). Every time I try to find a solution to these musical systems I find that I develop more and more questions. It is truely amazing how much chaos lies within order!

Reflection and Analysis of Recent Class Sessions

Learning through Oral History and Morphogenetic Family Fields

In one of our first classes, Warren taught us the first verse of a traditional Indian song. He began the class with a drone and had us repeat vocal warm-ups in order to acquaint ourselves with the intervals in the scale. These fragments were then, piece by piece, combined to form a small melody. At this point, he broke away from the melody to have us repeat 5 or 6 spoken syllables. He then sang the completed piece with the full text and had us sing along when we heard the syllables that we had just learned. Now we had a somewhat ‘fleshy’ skeleton of the piece that we were able to fill out with the missing syllables. After about 10 or 15 minutes the class had successfully learned the verse.)

In our session this week, three of us recollected the song to Krishna that we had learned a few weeks ago while the other five members tried to learn it. This time, though, it only took about 4 or 5 minutes for the class to be able to recite it (as opposed to the 10 or 15 minutes the time before).

This reminded me of Rupert Sheldrake’s studies with morphogenetic family fields. Stated in a question to anthropologist Terence McKenna, a morphogenetic field is “a non-material organizing collective memory field that affects all biological systems. The field can be envisioned as a hyper-spatial information reservoir that brims and spills over into a much larger region of influence when critical mass is reached – a point referred to as morphic resonance.” Basically, one can understand it as a collective memory bank where a species, through adaptation and evolution, stores knowledge that is passed on through future generations of that species. Sheldrake elaborates that

each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. For example, if rats of a particular breed learn a new trick in Harvard, then rats of that same breed should be able to learn the same trick faster all over the world, say in Edinburgh and Melbourne. There is already evidence from laboratory experiments that this actually happens.

In this case, knowledge is not limited to growth by future generations, but in fact is immediate.

This seems to be evident in our classroom. It took half the time for the class to learn the song when there were members present who had already learned it than it did when none of us knew it. In relation to this, Sheldrake determines that “animals inherit the successful habits of their species as instincts. We inherit bodily, emotional, mental and cultural habits, including the habits of our languages.” This could also go to explaining the pattern of oral history and tradition that makes our species unique. Warren mentioned in class that oral tradition was learning based upon the human love of imitation. I agree with this, but I also believe that, on a similar scale, oral tradition exists because of our innate capability of memory. Sheldrake in fact proposes that memory is inherent in nature. In this way I see oral learning and history as divided into these two factors; imitation and remembrance.

I watched a series of video clips this week on YouTube of Warren and his teacher, S. G. Devasthali, in a lesson ( The way in which he learned the ragas was similar to the way in which he taught pieces to our class. There was a call and response throughout the lesson, where his teacher would sing a fragment of the melody which Warren would repeat. The fragments were eventually compiled and through this repetition, he remembered them. This is the basis of oral tradition; imitation and memory. Repetition may also be listed as a component of oral tradition, perhaps as a subset of imitation.

It is interesting that, while he worked with our class, the song was essentially shattered in numerous fragments (phrases, pitches, syllables, physical expressions of the mouth, etc.) which we pieced together in a variety of different ways. I could almost envision a matrix of possible combinations, which after a number of these combinations had been tested, an image of the piece as a whole became more clear. It seems to me that this method is effective in that a deeper understanding of the material is achieved, where one not only learns the song front to back, but now knows its inner workings and could perhaps sing it back to front, or even from middle outwards. This also relates to a matrix, lets say in 12 tone music, where all possible combinations are visible at once (all of the inversions, retrogrades, and retrograde inversions for each transposition of the prime series).

Later in the class, we began to learn the second part of the Krishna lullaby. I was reminded of a piece by Milton Babbitt for soprano and piano (or tape) where, in addition to his systems of 12 tone and duration rows, he devised a system where each pitch was assigned a syllable. In this way, the text of the piece emerged from the music or from the system, rather than the music emerging from a set text. For me, this was similar in that learning this Indian song (where my knowledge of the language is next to none), each pitch or melodic fragment was assigned a syllable or, in a sense, a syllabic motif. It is interesting that in this case, in both pieces, there is a supreme unity to the sound. One piece (the one from class) the music emerged from the text, and the other (the Babbitt piece) the text emerged from the music. Either way, both utilizing a language unintelligible to my ears, both pieces felt solid and complete.


An Introduction to ‘Cross-Cultural Approaches to MIE’

NewsBlog Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce to you Chris Watford, a new CMIE Guided Intern working as Documentation Specialist for Warren Senders’s Cross-Cultural Approaches to Music-In-Education course this Fall. For more blog entries regarding this semester’s run of the course, and previous years’ runs, please click here. 

Hello NewsBlog readers! I am doing a guided internship this semester as a Documentation Specialist for Warren Sender’s course Cross-Cultural Approaches to MIE. My goals are to examine the roles of both teacher and student within a classroom setting and to collect evidence of the way in which both parties learn from each other. I am also interested in observing and documenting various strategies for effective teaching, and inversely, for effective learning.

What’s This Course About?

The course examines, through immediate experience, how people throughout the world intrinsically learn from one another. It also opens the doors to understanding how cultural structures in education shape the way in which we learn and, eventually, how we will teach. We also focus on understanding how to take what a student already knows and use that as a building block for further learning.

In the course of each two hour class, various activities are performed that demonstrate a number of different aspects embedded within the learning process. The class learns traditional Indian songs, builds instruments, practices the teaching of activities to the class, and participates in group discussions that center on our collective observations from previous activities and experiences. After each class, the students are expected to compose a written reflection on their experience and how it relates to what they are doing outside, whether it be performing, practicing, teaching, or just aspects of general living. The idea is that, by the end of the semester, they will have compiled an in-depth ‘syllabus’ that outlines specifically what they have achieved and observed throughout the term (that also makes it possible to read simultaneous reflections from the same class in order to compare our collective learning).

My Guided Internship Plan

Having already participated in and completed this course, I have an understanding of the end product. My plan is to observe the process again from a new perspective and to gather visual, audio, and textual information throughout the term. This will be compiled into a final presentation that focuses on the dynamic between learner and teacher, and stems from the hypothesis that they are both equal and similar parts of the same system, rather than opposing ends. In addition, I will also be exploring aspects of oral tradition along with different ‘cultural’ and scientific approaches to learning (genetic, morphogenetic family fields, etc.).

Warren and I will be collaborating extensively throughout the term in order to produce a multi-media project to encompass the collective learning of the class and to highlight various aspect of effecting teaching/learning. I will keep you up to date with new information and media as each class approaches, so please check back frequently for new posts! I am looking forward to an exciting year!

Guided Internship Report: Project Step (#5)

NewsBlog Editor’s Note: This post is the fifth of a series written by CMIE Guided Intern Hermann Hudde, as part of the documentation for Hudde’s CMIE Guided Internship. See other posts in this series here.

Project STEP was created in 1982 in answer to the need for including minorities or other cultural communities that do not have access to the classical music world. According to its home page history, ” Project STEP (String Training and Educational Program) identifies musically talented Black and Latino students and provides them with a comprehensive music training program, the primary goal of which is to prepare them to compete and succeed in the challenging, rewarding world of classical music. The program was spearheaded 25 years ago by the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a means of addressing the under-representation of Blacks and Latinos in orchestras. The founders’ idea was to identify and train minority students who did not have ready access to the best available training. Today the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New England Conservatory, and the Boston University School of Music support Project STEP with cash contributions and in-kind donations of space and services, and as advisors on our Board of Directors.”

The program provides music instructions by very talented teachers to African-American and Latin-American children and youth in order to generate diversity among the orchestra’s members. The program has several different levels:

  • Focus: This beginning level is divided into Sections I and II. During the first section children start having recorder lessons and receive instructions in the fundamental’s of music. During Section II, the children begins learning violin, viola, cello and bass.
  • Pre-Training Division: In this level the children continue receiving instrumental lessons, but at the same time instruction in chamber music and orchestra is added. At the same time they are required to participate in community concerts, attend concerts, write reports, and take part in clinics and master classes. Academic excellence at school is also required.
  • Training Division: Continuation of the former division.
  • Pre-College Division: At this final level, the students are required to play exams to finish the program.

According to the information on the PS homepage, the students participate in the following suggested music education program:

    • Weekly private lessons
    • Weekly class instruction in music theory and solfege
    • For advanced students, piano lessons may substitute for theory classes
    • Two master classes each season taught by established artists
    • Chamber music coaching
    • Student recitals
    • Orchestral music coaching
    • Opportunity to attend numerous performances each year by established artists and ensembles
    • Summer music study
    • Parent Council with monthly meetings
    • Continuing guidance into the conservatory / university level and beyond
    • Low-interest loans available for the purchase of musical instruments after graduation.