Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Holidays from the Kenan Fellows and LCI!

The Kenan Fellowship at LCI blog will be on holiday hiatus until after the New Year. We hope everyone has a lovely holiday season and safe travels, wherever you should go (or stay).

See you in 2010!

--Posted by Melissa Gawlowski, Education Assistant at LCI

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Elisa Friedrich: Winter Reflections

Since Thanksgiving the Christmas spirit seems to roam all over the city. Ordinary trees transformed in magical creatures, covered in thousands of tiny lights, overnight. Gigantic Christmas trees, pyramids of light in all colors of the rainbow, dazzle my eyes with all their blinking and sparkles. I know when I turn away from all the Saint Claus and Rudolf Reindeer figures, they start waving and winking, dancing to the funky Christmas tunes blasted from the speakers in malls, stores, plazas.

On my way to the city, the shortest way to the train is through the Newport Mall, a maze of shops and amusement venues. Music comes from all corners, blending into a confusing melange of beats and snippets of advertisment. Macy's has its Christmas decoration up since September, Mickey Mouse sporting a Wizard's hat flies over an ocean of jingle bells and a huge sign that says “BELIEVE.”

Believe. The depth of that word stuns me. Whatever happens in my reality, is shaped and created by my beliefs. To what degree am I aware of my beliefs? How can I release thinking patterns that keep me from living up to my highest potenial?

I don't think there are fixed answers for all these questions. They change with the days, the weather, and the seasons. The long nights of the holiday season invite me to reflect on the last year, meditate on how I applied my powers and ponder what areas in my life could need some healing and more balance.

I am tired of worrying about all the gifts being on time, having the fridge stuffed to the max, and me being in a celebritive spirit. This year I ask Mickey to take care of all of that and I just take my sweet time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mari Meade Montoya: Questioning in the Classroom

This week, in our meeting with Jose, Heidi, and Melissa, we talked a lot about our futures, and the future of the Fellowship. A variety of present seniors at UNCSA and recent UNCSA alumni have approached me with questions about the Fellowship, planning to apply next year. I thought this blog entry would be a great opportunity to describe some of the questioning that LCI’s Aesthetic Education encourages, and give a little insight to a very important aspect of the fellowship.

Last Monday I went with Lynn to our final lesson in the First Grade classroom of a partnering school. Among the activities we did, we took the class to the theatre, turned off the lights, gave the first grade glow sticks, and took overexposed pictures so that the trace the glow stick was leaving in the dark was caught on film. To do this we had two groups, one performing and one observing. Lynn led the groups through a rehearsal with the lights on, and then I had the opportunity to lead the “performance” and the following questioning. Some of the questions and responses were as follows:

Me: “What did you notice?”

Student: “People were moving.”

“How were they moving?”

“Like this (gets up and starts to dance).”

“And what is that like?”

“Fast, and a lot.”

“Can you remember one move someone did?”

“Joe* did this (does move).”

“Great! Can you hold that pose for us?”

(Holds pose.)

“Can anyone else show me something they see?”

“His arm is bent.”

“Great Elise*, How bent is it? Can you come up and trace the bend you see with your glowstick?”

“Really bent (comes up and traces arm).”

I notice that some of the others students are tracing what she is tracing in the air, so I ask all the students to participate in the tracing for the rest of my guiding the noticing:

“Can everyone trace the same shape in the air Elise is tracing on Joe? What shape does this make?”

“An angle.”

“Two straight lines.”

“What happens if we connect the two ends?”

“A triangle!”

“Great, thank you Elise, can someone else come up and trace another shape?”

I continued the questioning and noticing with another student, and then asked someone else to come up and make a shape. Most of the first grade said things at first like: “They moved a lot” and often used their bodies to describe what they saw: “He went like…(gets up and moves)”. I tried to capitalize on this and often described what they were doing or asked them to do it again, and then had other students describe it. I also tried to get them to be as descriptive as possible, often asking “How were they moving?” or “How bent was the line?”, or “How fast did he spin?”, “How thick is the line?”, etc.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to lead an exercise, and this was a really attentive class with a very involved and excited teacher. The process was fantastic, and in this case the product (the overexposed pictures with their glow stick traces) will also be exciting to see!

Later that same day I went to substitute teach Aerobic Dance at a public school for 26 6th-8th graders. This school is not connected to LCI, but I still applied some of the techniques that I have been learning from Lynn. However, this school was really difficult. Besides only having myself instead of three teachers and three helpers like the other school, there were a lot more students in a lot less space. Their attention span was extremely short, and I was constantly trying new things to try to get them involved. The main questioning in this circumstance was with myself. Through my direction, I asked, “What is the best formation for them?” Lines worked relatively well, a circle was too distracting, if we broke in half one half just talked, and if we went across the floor only the three people dancing paid attention. After trying them all, I generally stuck with lines, and switched front to back so that different people would be in front. I had the same questioning with exercises, “What motivates these students?” The most successful part was when I incorporated complicated rhythms. I did one exercise with 1,2,3, HOLD 4; 1,2, HOLD 3, 4; 1,HOLD 2, 3, 4; HOLD 1,2,3,4. This seemed to stimulate them, so I repeated this pattern with shoulder rolls, degages, and even crunches. Each exercise I felt like I was asking a question, and I adapted the exercises from my original plan to get to know the students so I could better teach them. Some of the questions and subsequent responses from them (not orally, just from their attention and effort responses) were:

“Is this combination too long?” No, long combinations actually worked well.

“Is this pattern too complicated (basic rhythm from ballet class)?” No, actually pretty easy.

“Does the pattern become too complicated when I layer arms?” Yes, it was so complicated that I lost their attention plan.

“Is it easier for everyone to engage when we do familiar moves (crunches, jumping jacks, push-ups)?” While it may be a little easier because the students generally know what they are doing, they don’t prefer this kind of movement to dancing.

“Should I always dance with the class?” For now, yes, at the very least I need to mark so they can watch someone.

“Should I use music the whole time?” Yes, music engages the students more, lets me rest my voice, and creates a deeper silence when the music is off.

“What kind of music should I use?” Out of what I brought, anything with a beat was the best, so they could easily count it out during the combination. Next time I’m going to try bringing a wider variety, including more recognizable music.

I have a lot more unanswered questions about this class that I have been thinking about all week, and I’m really looking forward to tackling this challenge again. I will now be teaching this class once a week, and I’m coming in with a revised version of my class on Monday so I can best reach the students. I’m sure I will continue to learn a lot from them, and hopefully I can teach them a lot, too. By the end of the course, my goal is for them to have a basic understanding of modern dance, and begin to question themselves in the exercises, particularly the structured improvs, that we will practice weekly.

Overall noticing deeply and questioning things has affected so many areas of my life beyond the classroom, but these were two prime examples within one day. Keep questioning. Keep noticing. Then question deeper to notice deeper, to question deeper, to notice deeper, to question deeper, to….

*Names of students have been changed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gregory Hoffman: Exploring the Arts in NYC

Performa 09, the biennial arts performance festival, recently concluded. I attended many events over the course of its three week run. Since one of the goals of the Kenan Fellowship is to experience the cultural milieu of New York so that we may, hopefully, grow as artists, it was a wonderful opportunity to see a variety of experimental performances. According to the program, some of the themes explored in this yearʼs show were food, lust, noise, architecture and magic. The overarching theme seemed to be a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the start of Futurism, the primarily Italian manifesto-loving artistic movement that was obsessed with... drumroll... the future. There were lectures about Futurism, screenings of period Futurist films (oxymoron? paradox? would the Futurists have approved of a retrospective of Futurism?), and concerts on Intonarumori, or noise intoners, researched and recreated by the affable and interesting composer and scholar of Futurism, Luciano Chessa.

These plywood boxes, with large megaphone like protrusions, are cranked by the musician (noisemaker?) to produce various rasping, grinding, whining, whirring sounds. Different shaped instruments produce different sounds. There was a concert with 16 of these noisemakers, and while those unfamiliar with experimental music would not classify the resulting auditory experience as music, per se, it was a fascinating concert for those of us with a taste for the unusual. These wonderful boxes made me think about how the line between noise and music can be as fuzzy or as sharp as you want it to be. As a composer, I am interested in unexpected and unusual sounds, the way a chef seeks out new flavors in obscure food. A whole array of contemporary composers were invited to write pieces involving the noisemakers, and it was fun to hear what they came up with.

Experimental vocalist and composer Joan La Barbara had a conversation with the various machines by producing a low croaking sound through a megaphone, tentatively approaching each of several boxes in turn. I had a chance to hear another of her original compositions (sans noisemakers) at another Performa event, a two-day retrospective of experimental music. This was a piece she wrote in the late 1970s that consisted of taped samples of her voice played through a loudspeaker, while she performed vocalizations and harmonies overtop. It was really quite beautiful.

I happened to be volunteering at the merchandise table that night, and I was able to meet Ms. La Barbara herself when she dropped off some CDs to sell. I had run out of business cards several weeks before when I handed them all out in a frenzy to a bunch of puppeteers, so I scrawled my name and email address on a program, and told her I liked her music. I received an email from her several days later, telling me about another recital she would be performing in, which I thought was really very nice of her. I went to that concert as well.

For an established composer to jot a quick note is such an easy thing to do, but so rarely done. Personalized contact from an admired artist provides a type of subtle encouragement to up-and-coming artists by the simple act of acknowledging that this well-known person remembered meeting them, and that they have something in common. Itʼs a kind of validation for the aspiring artist. And it works in the best interest of the established artist, because it creates a narrative that the emerging artist will remember and repeat, probably for a long while: a mobile commercial unleashed; a fan made fervent. So I learned a lesson there about simple graciousness. If Iʼm ever held in any esteem, I hope I remember it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rachel Perkins on Life as a Teaching Artist

As we begin to focus more on our personal artistic projects, our time in the schools is winding down. The past few weeks, I have been reflecting on some of my experiences in various schools and what role teaching artistry might play in my future life as an artist. Recently, my mentor Lisa encouraged me to read the book, The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible by Eric Booth. It includes elements of Lincoln Center Institute philosophy towards education, and it also discusses some of the realities and challenges facing teaching artists in today’s schools.

The chapter that has resonated most with me this week is "Balancing the Two Economies of Today’s Musician". He identifies these economies as the market economy (selling tickets for a performance) and the gift economy (individual interaction with students or audiences). Booth discusses various artists he has met over the years, and how the most fulfilled musicians tend to be the ones who successfully balance the two economies and engage actively with their audiences and the community: "We continue to receive the gift of art only when we pass it on as often, and in as many ways, as we can."

This Fellowship has been a fulfilling experience for me because it has challenged me to explore how I can continue to work as a musician in the future and balance my work in both economies. I have found teaching artistry to be a major investment – significant time and creativity are required to create an encouraging and safe lesson for students to fully explore a work of art. I think the pay-offs are certainly worth this investment, and I am certain that teaching artistry will be part of my balancing act as a musician.

Below, Rachel talks about observing an instructional session in the classroom:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Emile Blondel: Observations from the Classroom

As a Kenan Fellow at Lincoln Center Institute I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit some local classrooms while my teaching artist mentor, Patrick, led a teaching unit. At one school I sat in with a Kindergarten, a 1st grade and a 2nd grade class, and at another school a graduate-level class of aspiring teachers. The range of ages that was represented in these groups made this experience very interesting to me. I noticed that the Kindergarteners were not at all self-conscious when it came to singing, clapping, playing home-made banjos and sharing ideas with each other. They were also quick to adapt and evolve their games: for example, adding extra strings (rubber-bands) to the banjos and plucking other parts of the resonator boxes. As the ages rose up to the 2nd grade I already noticed new, distracting elements entering the picture— self-consciousness, the desire for approval and showing off to their classmates. These students were still full of creativity, but less eager to just let things flow. When we got to the college-level courses, the initial reaction to the task of creating sounds with voices or with simple musical instruments was apprehension and disclaimers of not being musicians or being rhythmically deficient. After this initial reaction everyone seemed to enjoy the exercise quite a bit, and they came up with some great ideas, but this made me wonder how common it may be that people deny themselves creative exploration for fear of not being good at something. This concept seemed to be lacking in the younger students who saw a strange-looking contraption, recognized it as an instrument of some type and could not keep themselves from figuring out what they could do with it.

Something that occurred during many of these classes, and also during the planning session that was held with the classroom teachers and the LCI teaching artist to develop the lesson plan that was to be used, was that the discussion would begin to veer off subject amidst the excitement and the brainstorming. It was informative for me to observe how Patrick brought these moments back towards the core areas of exploration. When a young child volunteered that her birthday was the next week, he replied, "That's great. We're talking about patterns though. What can you tell me about patterns?" When an in-depth discussion emerged about whether or not there is a difference between Old Time and Bluegrass music, something that had little relevance to creating a lesson plan but is still interesting, he quickly and concisely cleared up the difference and moved on to other areas of discussion. In both cases, he did not stifle the questioner or make them feel awkward for participating but managed to direct the conversation quickly towards more relevant subjects. When time is in short supply, as it is in any classroom, this is an important skill to develop.

Below, Emile talks about observing the planning session at one of his school sites.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Elisa Friedrich on LCI's Practice of Imaginative Learning

The dictionary defines imagination as “a faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” An invisible pool of infinite possibilities, a mental exploration of the unknown, a place where limits are set by how much you can make believe.

All of us carry this gift within us, tap into its abundance in unexpected moments. What happens if you start refining this mental tool?

An important part of LCI's aesthetic education work is the cultivation of imagination. The Capacities for Imaginative Learning, used to explore works of art, highlight ten different forms of imagination, such as making connections or creating meaning. Each of them stimulate different sensory qualities, such as careful observation or embodying sounds and movement. Since the act of imagining is a fluid process, all of the Capacities flow into one another.

To guide a noticing process, the observation of a work of art is facilitated by a question or a focus in mind. This helps to enter the creative spectrum of the art work. It makes you curious to have a closer look and see for yourself. As soon as you allow a question to guide you, you imagine.

The activity of creating your own art allows another imaginative quality to come forth, the joyful act of playing. Materials, textures, sounds, movements invite you to explore and originate with all your senses. Again, a guiding question helps to engage in the moment. You experience your imagination as a tool to rethink and craft your own expression.

Another prominent detail of this approach to imaginitve learning is reflection. Formulating thoughts and sharing them within a group helps to integrate new and unexpected details of the work of art. To learn about individual view points adds to your personal experience. Reflection also improves the ability to communicate (self-expression through language), strengthens listening skills, and enhances compassionate understanding.

All these various aspect enable the learner to expand and grow, mentally as well as emotionally. They nurture individual improvement by empowering the students to think for themselves. Since this way of learning encourages peaceful self-expression and welcomes sharing, it also fosters mindful social thinking.

Imagination can be experienced infinitely. You limit its abundance by defining its boundaries. So the question is: How many question marks can you handle?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Laura Gutierrez: Observations from the Classroom

Having been a part of the Lincoln Center Institute's summer National Educator Workshop was a treat. It was a lot to take in, being new to the process, but as the days passed and I became more comfortable with what I was doing, the Aesthetic Education Philosophy became more clear! The majority of the participants were all school teachers or teaching artists, so even though we were all students in the workshop, everyone was able to grasp the philosophy and participate in the workshops fully!

It has just been in the past couple of weeks that I have had the pleasure of going to the elementary schools with my mentor and seeing the LCI philosophy in "real" practice on the young students! In establishing a relationship with my mentor it has been great observing her in action. Watching how she speaks and handles the kids has been inspiring. I have noticed how important vocabulary is in teaching and how she introduces dance terminology to the class very smoothly. I feel like I have a better idea of how to teach just by watching her teach the lesson on the work of art and also by watching the kids and seeing how they respond to her.

Being in an elementary classroom setting takes me back; the most enjoyable thing so far is watching each young student participate. Listening to what they all have to say about the work of art and/or the lesson teaches me something new in each class I visit. I am reminded in every class I go to how fresh and imaginative younger kids are. It is so natural for children to work in a creative mindset; this makes me more eager to keep that alive beyond an individual’s early years.

It is an absolute joy and it is quite magical to finally see first-hand what the students respond to and to see LCI's AE philosophy in practice. It brings a new meaning to my experience here as a Kenan Fellow!