Thursday, January 28, 2010

Elisa Friedrich's Reflections on her Artistic Project, The World Within

I can feel Laura dancing behind me, feel the attention of the audience on her as if the air just has got a little thicker. My heart is pounding, my fingers are sweaty. I listen to my thoughts spinning fast, I focus on breathing out, release all these nagging doubts that always seemed to get louder right before I walk on stage.

Laura arrives at her position next to me. I can hear her breathe. I pick up my violin, breathe out and go. The light changes into a warm orange glow, I turn around, finally facing the audience. The music seems to come out by itself. I am just listening, giving the trails of my emotions space in music, allowing silence and moments of rupture. The happiness and struggle, uncertainty and hopefulness of the last months seems to find a shape. Expressing my feelings in patterns, waves leaves me free and light. I can feel the audience traveling with me, can feel the connections of the hearts.

Preparing this show helped me to travel into my heart without disconnecting from the world. Sharing and learning from Laura enriched my life and my perception of the world within and around me tremendously. Seeing her dance, twirl and call out in movement and motion inspired my playing, helped me to let go of imitations that suffocated my creativity for so long. Thank you, dear!

Below are photos of The World Within (taken by Melissa Gawlowski, Lincoln Center Institute):

Elisa Friedrich and Laura Gutierrez

Elisa Friedrich

Elisa Friedrich

Elisa Friedrich and Laura Gutierrez

Elisa Friedrich and Emile Blondel

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kenan Artistic Projects a Rousing Success!

Thanks to everyone who came out to support the Kenan Fellows for their artistic projects. We were delighted to have full houses for the performances, and it was wonderful for us to get to see the Fellows' passion and hard work on display. The informal discussions following the evening performances had a terrific turnout, as well, and the conversation was rich and informative. We look forward to continuing this format in years to come.

In the coming days we'll be posting the Fellows' reflections on their artistic projects, as well as photos from the performances. Stay tuned!

--Posted by Melissa Gawlowski, Education Assistant

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mari Meade Montoya and Gregory Miles Hoffman: community : ratio

community : ratio features choreography by Mari Meade Montoya and composition by Gregory Miles Hoffman. Below, Mari and Greg describe their co-produced project:

community : ratio is a dance work, inspired by the social structure of ants, which explores the tension between an individual's obligation to the community and duty to oneself. It examines the notion of altruism within a super-organism, and asks where the primary responsibility lies when self-assertion is at odds with the interests of the group. What defines "self" in a society where the individuals themselves are replaceable or even expendable? Do hierarchical societies value new ideas from individuals who challenge the status quo? In an era when decisions with unprecedented impact on the well-being of us all are in the hands of the few with equally unprecedented power, these issues are more relevant than ever. How should we, as individuals, respond?

community : ratio will be performed on Saturday, January 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 24 at 3 p.m. To RSVP, please contact

There will be an informal conversation with the artists following the evening performance on Saturday. Light refreshments will be served.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Emile Blondel: Folk Roots Remixed

Emile Blondel describes his project, Folk Roots Remixed:

Folk Roots Remixed will feature solo piano music composed using folk melodies and rhythms of eastern Europe and South America as its source of inspiration. This program highlights the diverse textural possibilities which are unique to the modern piano. Works to be performed include: Three Folksongs from the Couny Csik and Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs by Bela Bartok; Alberto Ginastera's Piano Sonata No. 1; and a piano arrangement of the traditional Klezmer melody "Der Gasn Nigun".

Folk Roots Remixed will be performed on Saturday, January 23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, January 24 at 2 p.m. To RSVP, please contact

There will be an informal conversation with the artists following the evening performance on Saturday. Light refreshments will be served.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Elisa Friedrich and Laura Gutierrez: The World Within

The World Within features choreography by Laura Gutierrez and music by Elisa Friedrich, as well as the participation of Emile Blondel on piano. Below, Laura and Elisa describe their co-produced project:

The World Within is a collaborative project shared between Elisa Friedrich and Laura Gutierrez. In combining both music and dance, this work is influenced by the artists' experiences while traveling the world. In discovering new ways music and movement can affect each other, this journey is a deep exploration of the many means of travel through space, body, mind and sound.

The World Within will be performed on Friday, January 22 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, January 23 at 3 p.m.

There will be an informal conversation with the artists following the evening performance on Friday. Light refreshments will be served.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rachel Perkins: Postcards from Brazil

Rachel Perkins describes her project, Postcards from Brazil:

Postcards from Brazil is an exploration of early twentieth-century Brazilian music for violin and piano. The concert will feature Kenan Fellow Rachel Perkins on violin, and pianist Mikael Darmanie, a graduate student at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. The program includes works by Brazilian composers Heitor Villa-Lobos and M. Camargo Guarnieri, and looks at how European visitors heard Brazilian music and what they brought to it in their reinterpretations of the orginal idiom. The French composer Darius Milhaud’s work is featured in the program: he lived in Brazil from 1917 to 1918 and drew heavily from the traditional rhythms found in Brazilian song and dance in his work, as can be heard in his Saudades do Brasil.

Postcards from Brazil will be performed on Friday, January 22 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, January 23 at 2 p.m.

There will be an informal conversation with the artists following the evening performance on Friday. Light refreshments will be served.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Kenan Fellow Artistic Projects are on Jan. 22-24!

Next weekend, January 22 – 24, the Kenan Fellows will be presenting their artistic projects. These performances are free and open to the public. We've been seeing and hearing bits and pieces of rehearsal in our Samuels Studio, and we are so excited to see the projects in their entirety! It's going to be an amazing collection of work.

We'll be sharing descriptions of the Fellows' projects over the coming days. In the meantime, here is the performance schedule:

          Emile Blondel:
          Folk Roots Remixed
          Sat., January 23 at 7 p.m. and Sun., January 24 at 2 p.m.

          Elisa Friedrich and Laura Gutierrez:
          The World Within
          Fri., January 22 at 8 p.m. and Sat., January 23 at 3 p.m.

          Mari Meade Montoya and Gregory Miles Hoffman:
          Sat., January 23 at 8 p.m. and Sun., January 24 at 3 p.m.

          Rachel Perkins:
          Postcards from Brazil
          Fri., January 22 at 7 p.m. and Sat., January 23 at 2 p.m.

There will be an informal conversation with the artists following the evening performances on Friday and Saturday. Light refreshments will be served.

If you're in town, hope to see you there!

--Posted by Melissa Gawlowski, Education Assistant at LCI

Friday, January 15, 2010

Laura Gutierrez's Reflections on the Kenan Fellowship

As the Kenan Fellows ended their second phase of the Fellowship, they were asked to write a reflection of their experience, prompted by questions written by their mentors. Below, Laura answers the questions posed by her mentor, dancer/choreographer Monica Bill Barnes.

Can you articulate your understanding of Aesthetic Education based on your experience both at LCI's Summer Session and at the NYC school?

In thinking back to the first time I ever heard the word Aesthetic it was in my art history class. While in the process of applying for the Kenan Fellowship, when it came up again relating to education, I had very little knowledge of what the definition could be. In preparing for the interview, the definition that I concluded to was teaching normal academic classes through the arts: dance, music, theatre, and visual art.

Since experiencing summer session and working in a NYC school my ideas on Aesthetic Education have definitely shifted. Aesthetic Education to me at this point still can not be narrowly defined. I feel that AE is primarily about stretching one's imagination and creativity and allowing individuals to view art and the world through a wider lens and, as a result, stretching individuals' way of thinking and ultimately practicing to live with more awareness. Aesthetic Education teaches one to keep questioning constantly. I am not sure that AE can ever be defined to one specific definition. I feel that it is continuously evolving; and, through working with students of all ages, it is constantly being modified and tested.

Reflecting on your experience of creating your own unstructured time, what activities did you discover that inspired you to create your new work, expand your understanding of the art form and lead to deeper interactions with dance works that we experienced as an audience member?

In looking back over Phases 1 and 2, I without a doubt thought that creating my own unstructured time was going to be one of the easiest things for me to do.

Recalling the interview in March, I was asked how would I fill my time when I was not at LCI. I listed so many things that were obvious to me and my career; but, once I was in NYC, it was a different situation. Moving to a new city, having just graduated college and completed my school training, and adjusting to NYC, had a large impact on how I dealt with my time outside of LCI.

The move to New York City was a big inspiration in creating my new work. Having moved from North Carolina (and, prior to that, Texas) to NYC was a drastic shift for me. I was traveling a lot over the summer; obvious travels like New York City, North Carolina, Houston and Japan were all learning experiences, but I recognized how much I was traveling in the city: taking subways, taxis, trains, and walking a lot more. I began to notice the idea of travel, not only in its physical form, but also internally. I realized that simply being and recognizing the change that was taking place was a big journey that was unlike my physical travels, but still an equally valid state of travel. There were other activities that I did, such as going to museums, the park, learning about NYC, seeing live performances, that also helped in my new creation, but the main activities that I discovered were just simple everyday routines that I had to adapt to because of living in a new environment and my internal responses to a “new life” and all that was taking place amongst the change.

Since attending several dance performances I believe that my expectations of dance, as an art form, have definitely been challenged. In viewing professional companies perform, it has helped me in seeing how I want to execute movement as a dancer and how I want my ideas to be executed through choreography. Not only have my views been challenged with dance, but also with all art.

What were your expectations of this fellowship experience? How were these expectations upheld and how were they broken? What surprised you about the experience?

In thinking back to the application process, I think my main expectations were to learn about teaching and how to do so with the LCI AE philosophy and to learn what it means to be an artist in NYC. Although these were very broad expectations, I do not believe I had much more; I was very open and new. Regardless, I was going to learn much about dance, life, and myself. These particular expectations were upheld through the Summer Session training, going with my mentor to a NYC school, and witnessing firsthand the AE philosophy in a classroom. I was very open to what was going to take place, knowing that this was going to be a pivotal point in my career and life. The thing that surprised me the most about this experience was how challenging the transition from college to the “real world” was and continues to be. It's been a challenge adjusting to living in NYC and, at the same time, maintaing my goals and what I want to accomplish as a dancer. It is a learning experience that will continue on once my Fellowship experience is over.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gregory Hoffman's Reflections on the Kenan Fellowship

As the Kenan Fellows ended their second phase of the Fellowship, they were asked to write a reflection of their experience, prompted by questions written by their mentors. Below, Greg answers the questions posed by his mentor, saxophonist Lynn Ligammari.

Based on your observation of the Mountain Music unit of study at an LCI Partnership School, what are some new insights and/or understandings of AE practice that you have developed? Did anything stand out or spark your curiosity after observing and working with the students and seeing the unit unfold?

Watching the Mountain Music unit unfold was very interesting. It was great to see the kids respond so enthusiastically to the various activities and dive right in with gusto. I learned that third and fourth graders are far more sophisticated than I had given them credit for. I guess since I havenʼt mingled with third and fourth graders since third and fourth grade, I had forgotten what they were like. Theyʼre fun to be around and uninhibited in their responses. This means that participation is high, and they palpably enjoy what they are doing. If only the same could be said for most adults.

I was specifically impressed with the way Aesthetic Education was able to gradually draw out observations from the students themselves. This is a sharp contrast to the usual lecture-centric pedagogy in which key elements are bludgeoned into vacant-eyed students. Also the emphasis on activities made the learning and discovery process active and engaging, rather than passive. The way the lessons built one upon another made each step of the process a non-threatening and achievable goal, meaning that after several lessons the students had progressed further in a relatively short period than one might have expected. Well-thought out lesson plans and skillful facilitation, as I was lucky to have witnessed, are the key to this achievement.

I am curious about a number of things. What are the challenges of teaching to various age groups? How is an Aesthetic Education unit adjusted for different grade levels? How do the teaching styles of facilitators vary? What are post-artwork-viewing lessons like? How would the process of designing activities be different with a different work of art? How does the approach to Aesthetic Education differ between disciplines? How flexible is the approach to Aesthetic Education? Under what circumstances would it be acceptable to deviate from the standard process? What would it be like to teach an entire unit? What would it be like to teach an entire class? What would it be like to teach an entire activity? What are planning sessions like at different schools? What are students like at different schools? What would it be like to teach the same artwork with different activities? With a different Line of Inquiry? How would my understanding of Aesthetic Education change with these experiences?

What I did experience was very inspiring. I was fascinated by how well it all seemed to work. Aesthetic Education is a unique approach to education that I hope to continue learning about.

Based on your experience in New York City thus far, what new strategies and resources to investigate have you discovered about networking? How do your new insights and discoveries compare to your prior knowledge and experience with networking?

My prior experience with networking was more or less limited to the faculty and student body at UNCSA, which is of course slightly less populated than New York City. It's easy to find out who you should talk to, and simple to track them down. Here in New York it's a little different, although in the specific sub-sector of my discipline, that is, contemporary music composition, it seems as though many prominent people and organizations are fairly accessible. In the last couple of months I have been so close to several well-known experimental composers that I could have given them my card, if I hadn't been out of them. So rule one is don't forget to reload. If you are going to aggressively network, it's important to always have your card.

Handing out your card, though, is easy and guarantees no returns. People want to know more about you. So it's also probably important to have a website, or at least a page on the social networking site du jour. I haven't done the former, and Iʼm not so interested in the later, although I'll probably eventually have to cave in, just like with the cell phone.

I guess one should think also about what happens if someone Googles you. What pops up? Is it something that presents you to the world the way you wish to be presented? If not, then you will probably have no choice but to build your own website as soon as possible, whether you want to or not, because you have lost control of your web presence, and the internet is pretty much the only place anyone finds out about anything.

I guess the next point would be that it is important to be proactive, and not assume that people are going to track you down. It would be important to have some sort of press kit, or at least a folio of information you could hand out to prospective collaborators. So the trick there is to learn how to express interest and availability without seeming desperate or annoying. This is an art I haven't mastered.

Finally, go to the places where the people you wish to meet will be, like their studio or one of their performances. This may sound obvious, because it is. Just remember to take your cards with you when you go.

Based on your experience as a Kenan Fellow, describe how you would sculpt out your own living as an artist in New York City? Consider how you would specifically piece your career together. For example, what kind of work would you look for, who would you contact, etc? What valuable skills or learned experiences will you take away with you after this Fellowship, even if you decide to relocate?

To build a career in New York would require patience and persistence. I would begin by networking with as many contemporary music ensembles as possible. Also I would contact any other organizations or artists that interest me: puppet troupes, visual artists, playwrights, filmmakers, performance artists, cabaret shows, circuses, magicians, jugglers, and thespians, to name a few. I would express interest in working with them and give them my card, and my folio of information, which would contain a statement, biography, a CD with excerpts of my music, and my contact information.

Secondly, I would enter composition contests, which, I hear, are usually exercises in futility, although placing in one can add luster to a resume. And it is important to keep actively composing for a variety of ensembles, which is necessary when writing for competitions.

I would also apply for residencies and fellowships, where appropriate. This experience has taught me how beneficial fellowships can be by immersing you in unfamiliar surroundings and introducing you to new and interesting people, some of whom may be able to connect you with someone useful to your career.

Finally I would look into artistic grants. These can be valuable sources of income, and I've been told that there is money to be had if you know where to look for it. I was introduced to grant-writing skills at UNCSA, which I have honed here by writing project proposals, which contain the same core of convincing and persuasive language.

Ideally I could find work in an arts-related field, such as being a teaching artist or securing a position in an arts organization. With a steady income that is sufficient to shelter me, feed me, and pay the bills, all that remains would really be a matter of persistence and luck. The former fluctuates with the phases of the moon, and the latter is often elusive.

To learn more about the Line of Inquiry and LCI's practice of Aesthetic Education, please visit the LCI website:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emile Blondel's Reflections on the Kenan Fellowship

As the Kenan Fellows ended their second phase of the Fellowship, they were asked to write a reflection of their experience, prompted by questions written by their mentors. Below, Emile answers the questions posed by his mentor, pianist Patrick McKearn.

What are three highlights or big impressions of your whole Kenan Fellowship experience? (Consider: epiphanous moments, general growth, new ideas, personal change from the summer until now.)

One of the many new concepts that were introduced to me during my experience at the Lincoln Center Institute is that of revisiting a work of art repeatedly, and through doing so, developing an ongoing relationship with the work. Rather than experiencing something once and then moving on to something unfamiliar, I now realize that there are many angles of study and observation possible that bring out the infinitely rich possibilities held in one specific work. This is an approach that I can relate to studying music, visual arts and other art forms, and even to everyday occurrences such as walking repeatedly on a particular route through the city.

During our meeting with Maxine Greene last week she mentioned how every day she noticed something different and amazing about a painting on her wall, which reminded me of the importance of this concept to the practice of LCI. I have also been thinking about this idea while rehearsing the Janacek Violin Sonata with Elisa (current Kenan Fellow). We have had the luxury of ample rehearsal time, more time than would be needed to simply put the piece together. Each time that we rehearse, ideas and connections emerge that seem obvious in the moment but were not there the last time that we played.

This leads me to my second observation, the importance of writing down thoughts and ideas as they come. Even if a thought seems to be concrete and easily accessible down the road, I have discovered that this is often not the case. Every moment has a different perspective, and if this perspective is recorded, it can easily be recreated and developed upon, but otherwise it is lost or distorted. While working with Patrick on my Klezmer arrangement, I began playing a rhythm in the left hand that I liked, and I quickly jotted it down. At home later that evening, I played what I thought to be the same rhythm without checking my notes, but was surprised to discover when I did check that it was completely different, and not as interesting as what I had come up with earlier. I have kept a journal for the duration of my Kenan Fellowship experience and I look forward to reviewing its contents for a long time to come.

Another revealing experience for me was interacting with young students while visiting an elementary school in NYC. While classrooms full of kids have usually intimidated me, I now feel better equipped to handle this situation. I discovered that with an organized, thought-out lesson plan and engaging activities the class can be very enthusiastic and focused. It is when the children become bored or distracted that the focus is lost, and I notice from my experience of observing a Teaching Artist in action that the level of student engagement has a lot to do with the manner in which the class is guided.

What have you learned about LCI’s practice through your experiences observing students at a NYC elementary school and college? What specific things did you notice your mentor doing to facilitate student learning and imaginative explorations?

I noticed that while guiding a class through a lesson the class leader must be able to think on their feet and improvise. Even while applying a thoroughly prepared lesson plan, each class is made up of individuals that will respond differently, requiring a substantial amount of flexibility. While guiding lessons, I noticed Patrick being sensitive to the reactions, the different personalities and the engagement levels of the students and adjusting details of the lesson accordingly from one class to the next. A line of inquiry may be brilliant on paper but need to be adjusted after trying out classroom activities. Another benefit of flexibility in the classroom is keeping the lesson exciting and from becoming a stale formula.

When entering a classroom for the first time, I noticed Patrick observing the students' work that was posted on the walls to get a feel for the personalities which made up each individual class. I also noticed that in all of the lessons, both in K-2 and in college-level classes, the beginning of any activity involved doing or saying something that was familiar, easy and comfortable. Only after warming up in this comfortable area were the students asked to step further out. For example, college students were asked to think of what the concept of home meant to them. This eventually led into breakout groups making up musical compositions, using the words that they had come up with as lyrics. At the elementary school, the first part of each class began with clapping along to a bluegrass recording, which had an effect of easing the mood and of focusing the attention in the room in preparation for more challenging activities. During this opening exercise Patrick was observing how the students reacted: if the clapping was easy for some students or if it was more of a struggle. Using this information he would adjust the lesson that was to follow.

From these school visits I was also made aware of how much of LCI's practice depends on the participation of each of the teachers at the partner schools. Their dedication and the ways in which they prepare their classes between the TA visits are extremely important and directly influence the way in which the TA will guide the lessons.

In what ways can you envision your LCI/Kenan experience affecting your artistic direction, your teaching, and your general outlook on life?

The Kenan Fellowship experience has helped me to develop skills in areas other than my conservatory training, such as budget making, grant writing and written documentation in general. These areas can only improve through practice and receiving critique, and it has been very helpful to receive constructive feedback from the staff of Lincoln Center Institute who have experience in these areas. It was also helpful to gain the experience of group planning and brainstorming through our meetings and lesson planning sessions. I feel that my teaching has evolved through these experiences. I am now more aware of the aspects unique to each student and to each different classroom, as well as to different grade levels, and how to reflect these differences in my teaching approach. As I stated earlier, I now feel better prepared for handling a classroom situation.

I continue to notice the relationship between teaching and performing and how they feed each other, and also how the learning process is ongoing. It was informative to see how a large organization such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts functions as a whole while being made up of individual components.

In conclusion, my experiences during the past six months have been enlightening and inspiring to me in continuing to develop my art form, both in performing and in teaching areas, and in making the most of what this city has to offer.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Elisa Friedrich's Reflections on the Kenan Fellowship

As the Kenan Fellows ended their second phase of the Fellowship, they were asked to write a reflection of their experience, prompted by questions written by their mentors. Below, Elisa answers the questions posed by her mentor, violist Jessica Meyer.

In what ways have your experiences as Kenan Fellow affected your artistic process as a performer?
 In what ways have your experiences in the school affected your thoughts about being an educator/arts advocate, and what specific teaching artist (TA) and teacher strategies did you witness/experience that you might incorporate into your own pedagogy as both a violin teacher and future TA?

What specific steps will you now take, while using your new knowledge as springboard, to create the artistic life you want (or think you want right now)?

Time has danced on quick feet since the beginning of September. Every day was rich with offerings to learn and grow; flexibility and expansion in my thinking was required every day. I formed a better understanding on how aesthetics foster imaginative learning. Observing the Lincoln Center Institute's approach to aesthetics has shown me new ways of educating in the arts.

The Capacities for Imaginative Learning, key elements of LCI's philosophical understanding of educational process, resonate deeply within the self and facilitate the learning process by providing sensual experiences, thus a tangible form to connect to the outside world. The teacher combines reflections, questions, and guidelines for playful exploration of textures and layers. The students have sensorial experiences while making art, listening, or embodying. This form of teaching nurtures our senses, innate tools that help us to conceive the world. It stimulates and cultivates these pathways of understanding by raising our awareness. Knowledge in all forms is imparted along the process by exploring contextual information regarding the art works.

The channel to enter and immerse into imagination, a pool of infinite possibilities, is opened by a work of art. It speaks to all of our senses, challenges our intellect and moves the mind. Our sense of smell and taste allows a cupcake to be a delightful experience, not only our knowledge of the ingredients.

Since this approach mainly focuses on the creative exploration of art works, the goal of a class unit is to raise as many questions as possible while stirring the investigation. The more questions are asked, the more the act of playful thinking is nurtured. The ideal of an attentive class, fully participating, is tempting, but not always possible. LCI's form of aesthetic education offers peaceful ways of communication and fosters the social development within a class community. Reflections can only be fruitful if sharing happens in a non-judgmental environment that allows room for individual expression.

My exposure to this way of teaching has added new layers to my teaching style. It brought to my attention the importance of serene communication in classroom settings. For reflective activities to enhance the learning process, the participation of the class community is needed to raise further questions and continue the adventure of learning by sharing and listening. How can I provide an open-minded learning environment? How can I as a teacher promote a peaceful way of communicating? How do I word guidelines and requests in order to invite participation and encourage personal commitment?

My visits and observations in the classroom have affected my career plans tremendously. The idea of art as community service made me very curious on how an artist can contribute to a community in a meaningful way. How can sharing information and thoughts in music and other forms of artistic expression be a life-enhancing experience and still meet the needs of a community? How does one facilitate understanding and spark curiosity?

During the last three months I set up performances at hospitals in the New York City area. I am grateful for all the help and dedication from Rachel, Mari, Emile, and Greg (current Kenan Fellows) that made these events possible. To see how our performing lightened the routine of hospital life and brought some relaxing entertainment to patients was a deeply gratifying experience. I became curious how interactive presentations can elevate the experience of the audience. How can I talk about music and relate my love for it to the audience? How do I balance historical facts and anecdotes with personal reflections on the music?

Listening carefully to my mentor Jessica I learned a lot about life as an freelance artist in New York City. Working as a teaching artist offers one form of service, but is not the only way to contribute to communal life. Since the music market is saturated with highly educated musicians, I am looking for niches that welcome me to practice and share my artistry and also provide me with financial security.

At the moment I ponder how performing at hospitals, rest homes and shelters could support my living without asking for money from the facilities performed at. What kind of foundations and institutions would subsidize this idea? How can I provide performing opportunities for others and reimburse them for their services? Is money the only value that defines the quality of a service?

The last three months have taught me to embrace the power of questions. Rather than holding on to the restricting walls of beliefs about myself and the world I allow myself to walk new paths guided by inquiry to create and improve. As a performer I noticed that asking questions regarding the art work helps me to avoid the land of self-doubt and the funky routines of self destruction that usually come with it. Living with ambiguity makes me aware of the beauty of creation and its never-ending mysteries.

Note from the Blog Administrator: Lincoln Center Institute's Capacities for Imaginative Learning are a guiding system used by schools teaching with LCI's method across the curriculum. For a list and more information on the Capacities, please visit

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rachel Perkins' Reflections on the Kenan Fellowship

As the Kenan Fellows ended their second phase of the Fellowship, they were asked to write a reflection of their experience, prompted by questions written by their mentors. Below, Rachel answers the questions posed by her mentor, oboist Lisa Kozenko.

Describe your LCI classroom experience and journey. How has it resonated with you?

Prior to my time at LCI, I often found it difficult to defend the importance of the arts to individuals who feel there is no need for it in schools, or even society. I have always known that the arts were of great importance to me, and they have shaped my experiences in all aspects of my life, but how were the arts important to others, especially people in other fields? My experiences at LCI have validated my feelings about the importance of art for all people, and the work being done in classrooms clearly shows a connection between works of art and academics. I feel fortunate that I was able to work with Lisa in two different schools, and also that I was able to observe teaching artists in other disciplines. Teaching is such an individual experience, so I felt it was important to see how different TAs approached the LCI philosophy. I would like to share some of my immediate reactions that I wrote after my work with Lisa, and some further reflections that I have had after my observations of other TAs.

The teachers at a NY suburban school district wanted a finished product from the students at the end of the lessons-- something the students could perform for each other and that could be shown later at an event on film. Art-making was very important to both teachers, and the physics teacher seemed less concerned about making connections in his classroom. The lesson plan was experiential in a different way than the school I observed in Brooklyn, and the hands-on interaction with the instruments invited imagination from the students-- especially those who had never played an instrument before.

Originally, only the first lesson was going to be hands-on with the instruments, but because of time and an interest expressed by the students, we continued that exploration in the second lesson. This gave the students a chance to engage themselves in some of the Capacities for Imaginative Learning, including: reflection on what they had created, questioning some of the choices they had made in their first performance and perhaps make different choices the second time, noticing deeply the choices other students made in the first lesson, exhibiting empathy for their fellow performers as they realized the challenges they each faced, and to refine their work as they thought more about instrument choices, balance, texture, timbre, etc.

We introduced those ideas at the beginning of the first lesson as possible choices they might make in their explorations, but the students were not able to fully connect with those terms until after seeing and hearing each other perform at the end of the first lesson. They noticed that certain instruments overpowered other instruments, standing in a certain place changed the balance of sound, etc. As a result, they refined their work and each group was able to present again and be filmed in the second lesson.

In the classroom after our lesson, their teacher was able to show them some of their videos, and I think they were able to reflect even more on their creation. The students took a great deal of pride in the work they were doing, and they were clearly motivated to constantly improve on their work.

The final lesson, which used technology (iPods), really piqued the students' interests. They created playlists of songs that reflected their own struggles or how they dealt with struggle. I don't think it would have been as successful if they hadn't had the two lessons to explore the choices in music-making: instruments, balance, texture, etc. Some of the groups clearly thought about these choices when making their playlists, but all of them were relevant to the students, because it was music they cared about and were familiar with. The suburban schools I observed are in a very academic school district, and I think both the music-making and the playlist lessons allowed students to explore beyond the quest for a grade and discover their intrinsic motivation.

In some of my observations at other schools, I noticed how much more effective the classroom setting could be when the teacher was more actively involved. In my work with Lisa, we sometimes collaborated with teachers who were not fully present to the lesson or the work of art, and it made classroom management more challenging.

In my observations at some of LCI's Focus Schools, teachers were clearly motivated to find connections between LCI work and their classroom work. They also supported the TA when students were not yet comfortable sharing with the class-- the teachers know their students best, and they were able to draw out some insightful comments that might not have been shared without the encouragement of their classroom teacher. An overarching noticing I had was that every TA made a real effort to find ways that students could personally connect to the work of art: relating Mountain Music to Jewish culture, asking dancers for their insight on challenges in Suddenly Summer Somewhere, etc.

One of my favorite parts about the way I saw all the TAs present their lessons was their transparency and honesty with the students. A challenge in typical education settings is that the teacher is usually looking for the correct answer, and they don't tell the students what they are hoping to get out of the lesson. The TAs were very honest with the students, all answers were valid, and they sometimes shared aspects of their lesson plan or their collaboration with the classroom teacher. It was very refreshing, and I feel that people react better in these settings, because they aren't trying to read the mind of the TA and give him the answer they think he wants.

In what ways has your Aesthetic Education experience as a Kenan Fellow changed or affected your final presentation and your artistic perspective? How has it affected your violin practice? In what ways?

Our immersion in AE at LCI's Summer Session challenged me to think about how I might change my practice habits. We weren't yet visiting classrooms, but I was interested in seeing how the philosophy might apply to the way I practice violin. In my daily routine around the city, I challenged myself to notice more deeply, and it certainly enhanced my early experiences here. I began to use that noticing in my practice. Was I rushing through things too quickly? Could I pay more attention to the way I hold the bow, my posture? How could I use this opportunity to learn about other theories on violin? I begin to collect books from the Performing Arts library about different ways to hold the bow, exercises for strength and flexibility of the hands, and books written by some of the great teachers. I challenged myself to be open to the exercises and to question choices I had made in music I was working on-- what could I do differently?

Now that I have been working on the music for my artistic project for a couple months, I have continued to use those experiences to challenge myself in my practice. One challenge for me is to constantly find a good sounding point on my instrument. I have been taking lessons with a teacher at Purchase, and he has been working with me to improve my bow-arm. It is extremely difficult, because I have years of muscle memory working against me. I feel that I am better equipped to work on this problem now with some of the tools I've gained from my time at LCI. I used to struggle to focus on my right-arm while still playing a piece, but I've found I can separate the two more easily and focus on getting a good sound on the instrument. I think this is because of my constant challenge to myself to notice deeply, to take time to reflect on what is causing an undesirable sound.

I am also still learning how to create the mood associated with Latin music-- the singing sound, the feeling of longing, and of course accurate rhythms. I am working to find the differences in the music-- because there are so many similarities, I must work harder to differentiate them for the audience. What choices can I make with my vibrato, with my tone to create different moods? What makes Milhaud’s music sound Brazilian, even though he is a French composer? The experience of the artistic project has made me think more deeply about the music I am performing-- its history, their relationships to each other, and performance styles.

Revisit the following resources: Maxine Greene’s Variations on a Blue Guitar, John Dewey’s Art as Experience, and Eric Booth’s The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible. Choose some excerpts that are meaningful as you near the completion of your Fellowship at LCI.
“Another habit teaching artists need to build is documentation-- recording reflections in a way that enables them to stay there so you can come back to them later. Documentation supports self-assessment, and self-assessment is the natural way artists keep learning. Reflection, documentation, assessment-- certainly not the three most exciting words in the musical lexicon, but three extremely important, almost overlooked experience-deepening practices.”
                    -- Eric Booth, The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible, page 166

Booth’s quote about reflection resonated with me, because a great part of my learning experience at LCI has involved keeping a journal. It is a skill I lost during my time in high school and college, and I am grateful to have rediscovered it these past months. Its importance has been highlighted to me frequently throughout the Fellowship-- from day one of LCI's International Educator Workshop and the use of journal writing, reflections written on the walls by participants, and reflections written by the TAs to acknowledge the contributions of the participants. Even this past week, I observed a meeting between two TAs who were discussing a lesson they had taught, and the use of documentation as an important tool in the classroom. It validated the responses of the students, it allowed the students to see the varied contributions of their classmates, and it allowed them to reflect on their collective contributions at the end of activities. There is also a value for administrators who can use student reflection as a means for assessment-- something that is obviously of great importance in today’s educational environment.
“My point is that, if the painting or the dance performance or the play is to exist as an aesthetic object or event for you, it has to be attended to in a particular way. You have to be fully present to it-- to focus your attention on it and, again, to allow it to exist apart from your everydayness and your practical concerns. I do not mean that you, as a living person with your own biography, your own history, have to absent yourself. No, you have to be there in your personhood, encountering the work much in the way you encounter other persons.”
“We want to encounter them [works of art] and to realize, when doing so, that it is a free act. Only as a free act does an encounter have the possibility of becoming what we would call aesthetic.”
                    -- Maxine Greene, Variations on a Blue Guitar, page 54
“I have been speaking from the standpoint of the one who acts. But precisely similar considerations hold from the side of the perceiver. There must be indirect and collateral channels of response prepared in advance in the case of one who really sees the picture or hears the music. This motor preparation is a large part of esthetic education in any particular line. To know what to look for and how to see it is an affair of readiness on the part of motor equipment. A skilled surgeon is the one who appreciates the artistry of another surgeon’s performance; he follows it sympathetically, though not overtly, in his own body. The one who knows something about the relation of the movements of the piano-player to the production of music from the piano will hear something the mere layman does not perceive-- just as the expert performer “fingers” music while engaged in reading a score.”
                    -- John Dewey, Art as Experience, page 98

I love this quote by Dewey-- it is just so true. I enjoyed studying French in school, but I had no desire to study German. I found the language unattractive and did not really appreciate it. With the encouragement of my boyfriend, I took the class for a year during my graduate work. Now, I have a great interest in the language. It has a very logical, almost mathematical structure, and the experience of learning it felt like a constant puzzle-- how does it all fit together?

My basic understanding of German has already enhanced my deep appreciation for opera. I used to favor Italian and French operas, but now I am finding great beauty in German works as well. The performance of Elektra at the Met this season would not have resonated as fully for me without my German studies. I think this is the point that Dewey is making-- one cannot fully understand the arts without developing an appreciation through first-hand experiences. Maxine Greene makes a similar point when she talks about being open to a work of art. I could not appreciate the beauty of the German language or German opera because I was not fully open to the experience. It is a challenge, because all people have their own prejudices and preconceptions that we must overcome in order to have lifelong aesthetic experiences.

Note from the Blog Administrator: Lincoln Center Institute's Capacities for Imaginative Learning are a guiding system used by schools teaching with LCI's method across the curriculum. For a list and more information on the Capacities, please visit

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mari Meade Montoya's Reflections on the Kenan Fellowship

As the Kenan Fellows ended their second phase of the Fellowship, they were asked to write a reflection of their experience, prompted by questions written by their mentors. Below, Mari answers the questions posed by her mentor, dancer/choreographer Lynn Brown.

How have your Kenan Fellowship experiences affected your identity as a creative artist?

Based upon your current understanding, what aspect of the Aesthetic Education practice of Lincoln Center Institute resonates most powerfully for you personally? What is your biggest question regarding the practice?

How would you characterize the impact of the Fellowship upon your experience as a viewer of performance? How do you view the relationship between viewer and creating artist as a result of your Fellowship?

The Kenan Fellowship at Lincoln Center Institute has affected me as an artist, viewer, and being. The Capacities of Imaginative Learning-- noticing deeply, questioning, exhibiting empathy, reflecting/assessing, taking action, creating meaning, making connections, identifying patterns, embodying, and living with ambiguity-- all contribute to improving my state of “wide-awakeness”.

The Kenan Fellowship has influenced my identity as a creative artist in a variety of ways. The Capacities immediately inspired my imagination and gave me a base to work from. As soon as I was introduced to them and learned about them, they began to appear everywhere in my artistic work. For example, I did not have a pre-conceived set ending for my artistic project. I had a variety of valid options from my contextual research, but when I began creating the piece with Greg  (Kenan Fellow and collaborator), I didn’t have a definite idea of where the piece would end up. The newly added capacity of “Living With Ambiguity” reaffirmed for me that it was okay, even good, not to know. Allowing the ending to be ambiguous as I worked on the beginning allowed the ending to be shaped by the dance and where the dance traveled. By the time I had choreographed through the middle up the piece, I felt the piece revealed its ending to me, and a section of text I learned years ago rematerialized and set itself at the end of my piece. I conferred with my collaborators and dancers, and they also felt the cohesiveness of this unexpected ending. I didn’t want to have to make the decision on the ending as a choreographer, and by letting it be ambiguous until the right time allowed the piece to make the decision instead of me, the dancers, or any outside influence. I also felt like this ambiguity allowed me to be more present in the actual part of the work I was creating.

Aesthetic education has also emphasized “wide-awakeness”. In my artistic work, I want to wake people up just a little more. I want the viewers or “experiencers” to leave my performances with a question about the work, or a question about themselves, or both-- anything that triggers their mind. I have an idea of what I’m aiming at triggering, but I think this message is less and less important as I become more involved with the piece and the intention. If the audience comes away questioning, why do I want them to be limited to my question? Ideally, the experiencers would formulate a question that relates to them as individuals, and this search would encourage more questioning and a few less answers.

“Wide-awakeness” lends itself to the exploration of another capacity that has greatly influenced my identity as an artist and my artistic work-- Questioning. My fascination with Lincoln Center Institute’s questioning began in the summer, when we were encouraged to ask so many questions and given so few answers. I soon discovered I learn as much, or more, purely from questioning as I do from receiving answers. Since the summer I have also been exploring asking questions for purposes other than receiving answers, or encouraging multiple answers, or letting the answer be unspoken, or having no answer at all. I think it’s natural for human to want and expect answers, and I’ve worked to shift my focus from the answer to the question. In my work, as well as feedback on works of art, I have come to long for questions.

For example, one of the Kenan Fellows (Greg) and I have been collaborating on Community : Ratio, our Artistic Project to be presented by the Kenan Fellowship at the Clark Studio Theatre at Lincoln Center Institute this month. Last Saturday myself and two of my dancers showed an excerpt from Community : Ratio at the Works in Progress showing at Dance New Amsterdam. Afterwards there was a short feedback session. In this feedback session it really hit me how much I have changed during the Fellowship. I wanted everyone to ask questions!

The moderator kept asking, “As a choreographer, what are your questions?” And then the choreographer would go on to state what the piece was about, and not ask any questions at all. This would lead the moderator to say “So your question is…”, and the choreographer had to reevaluate in order to come up with a question. However, by this time they had already told the audience and everyone giving feedback what they intended the piece to be about.

I had the urge to moderate and pull a plethora of only questions out of everyone. I wanted to create an environment similar to the one at LCI’s International Educator Workshop (InEW), open enough that the artists didn’t feel like they had to get defensive about their work and the questions asked. This open inquiry-based environment is indicative of LCI’s Aesthetic Education work. It encourages questions like: What did you notice? What are some questions you have about the piece? Did the piece bring to light any questions about one? Did you identify any patterns? Did you draw any personal connections? What movement/moment stood out? Can you specifically describe that movement/moment?

When my turn came to ask questions about my piece, I didn’t give any opinions, but just asked questions. Then the first feedback I got was a question. To me, this reiterated that an open and questioning environment encourages more openness and questioning! However, the audience member who asked the question wanted an answer from me. I reluctantly gave an “answer”, and then said, “But I would rather just go back and work with your question.” Also, after I had received my feedback, I gave them a little contextual research about the inspiration of the piece, the social structure of ants. I felt while this was sharing more information, it hopefully left them with even more questions.

Asking questions has also changed my experience as a “viewer” or “experiencer” of a work of art. Just last week, I was rereading a book, and instead of just reading it, I thought, “She could have written this sentence differently, maybe this way.” I’ve always enjoyed this book; it is well-written; but my new discovery was that it could easily have been written another way. This was a mini-revelation; I often recognize good writing or bad writing, but rarely drop the judgment and imagine the possibilities of how it could be written. Often the ideas in books will challenge me and encourage me to draw my own conclusion based on what is said, but the value of this idea was rewriting exploring a new possibility; again, not necessarily better or worse, but different. This experience reminded me of a quote that Maxine Greene, LCI’s Philosopher-in-Residence, said when we spoke with her last Friday; as I remember it: “Imagination is just having the willingness to look at something differently.”

When I think back to my experience as a viewer, I think about the beginning of the fall, when I went to all of the Fall for Dance shows at City Center, mostly with my mentor, Lynn Brown. Fall for Dance presented five shows of four twenty-minute pieces by four different companies each night, so I got to see twenty different companies in two weeks. I look back to the experience and remember noticing what people talked about at intermission, and noting that the viewers were not necessarily talking about the pieces that were aesthetically pleasing.

In one specific instance there were two pieces before intermission, one ballet piece which everyone agreed was pretty and well-executed, and one piece that no one was completely satisfied with. We spent the entire intermission creating meaning for the latter piece, questioning it, reevaluating, identifying patterns-- in short, practicing the Capacities with this work of art. The first piece, which everyone agreed was “better”, was not questioned any further.

This example showed me that I get from pieces what I invest in them, and practicing the Capacities is a way to invest more deeply in the work of art. I’ve also found that, as a viewer, it is important to me to notice and experience the piece, but it’s also important to take a step back and notice what I am noticing, and identify those patterns, and begin to question my identity and habits as a viewer. It’s interesting now to go back and note what I remember from all of those performances experiences with Lynn this fall and summer. What would I remember if mentioned? Is it more important to enjoy or remember?

At LCI I had the opportunity to see a few works of art multiple times, another experience that has proved valuable to me as a viewer. I started to be aware of digging deeper, and noticed the different facets I was discovering with each showing. I also began to note how much of the interpretation came from the viewer. When I saw a work of art more than once, I intentionally changed where I was sitting, and I was aware of the different moods and emotions I was already entering the space with, and how these aspects of myself affected my experience with the piece.

Many of the aspects that resonate for me as an artist also powerfully affect me as a person. The Capacities are important to me, and I often find them relating to my daily life. In the transition to the city, living with ambiguity has been very important. I didn’t know where I was going to take class, how I was going to motivate myself, what kinds of artists I wanted to surround myself with, or really anything about this new and exciting city. Instead of stressing and forcing things to happen, I learned to accept the ambiguity as a learning opportunity and flow with the opportunities this newness presented. As earlier stated, questioning has also been very important in my artistic career, but it has also become an integral part of my daily life. From questioning statements made in conversation and art to going a different route on the subway, questioning has led me to appreciate and live more presently. Another capacity that has helped me be present in daily life is noticing deeply. Noticing deeply gently forces me to be in the moment that I am noticing, the present.

All of the Capacities lead to another aspect of Aesthetic Education that has affected me personally, “wide-awakeness”. I think “wide-awakeness” is the goal of many artists, religions, morals, philosophies and ways of life. Being wide awake also doesn’t mean having a better imagination, or being more creative than the next person, but simply being open to seeing, and open to seeing things differently. This resonates with everything from human rights to artwork to collaboration to creation. I truly believe being open and authentic are two of the most important qualities to any being, qualities that are only possible when we are aware and awake. The Capacities are all ways to practice being wide awake in your artistic and daily life.

As I end this phase of the Fellowship, I continue to have more questions, and I would like to continue my experience and relationship with Aesthetic Education. One of my biggest questions for myself is something Maxine Greene mentioned in her talk with us, the title of Aesthetic Education. Why is it called Aesthetic Education? I see why it’s not art appreciation, among of variety of other things, but I started to think about why it IS Aesthetic Education. In the dictionary, all definitions of aesthetic have to do with beauty. In a traditional sense I find many works of art compelling that are not “beautiful”. Or is the work of art beautiful if it is compelling, even if it’s not beautiful in the traditional sense? What is beauty? Is it awareness education? Awakeness education? How does awareness inform our imagination? Is the “education” a sense of what is aesthetic without qualifying or quantifying it?

As I end the second phase at Lincoln Center Institute, I realize how much I have learned and how much more there is to learn. I will continue to apply the Capacities to my life as an artist, experiencer/viewer, and being. I’m excited to see what the next phase will bring.

Note from the Blog Administrator: Lincoln Center Institute's Capacities for Imaginative Learning are a guiding system used by schools teaching with LCI's method across the curriculum. For a list and more information on the Capacities, please visit