Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Felipe Tristan on Networking

I think that a crucial element of this Fellowship for further development of our career is networking. Networking can be viewed as a magic key to doors that can be opened even when you least expect it-- you never know. Furthermore, this implies a snowball effect, a positive one. When one door opens, that leads you to facing other doors that might be opened in the future, and so on. You get the analogy. In other more tangible words, I believe that we must remain always open and receptive when attending events, being introduced to different people, keep a positive attitude and always present ourselves at our very best.

In this Fellowship, we have been scheduled to meet with various constituents at Lincoln Center as well as several artists, educators and entrepreneurs of the artistic circles of New York City. These have been extraordinary opportunities to introduce ourselves, our points of view and most importantly our work. Additionally, our mentors have been incredible advocates of our exposure and introduction to the artistic circles in the city. In my case, Katie, my mentor, has done an excellent job in this area, for which I am very thankful. She has introduced me to several musicians, conductors and composers of all levels, ages and backgrounds. This is a key element for an emerging artist.

Economists and marketers often talk about demand-supply philosophies for success in a determinate situation. On this path, I believe that it is important first that we determine what it is exactly that we want to get out a particular meeting and what are we going to do to create a bridge between the two parts, or a win-win situation, and later a follow up. If you have a solid idea of who you are, what you do and how it is unique and important to the world, then it is just a matter of putting the “product” out to the market, especially when you know there is a need for it (demand).

We live in a world with now over 7 billion humans, but still it can be a very small world when it comes to networking. Finally, I would like to add that while networking is a skill to be acquired and practiced, as I mentioned before, also we must always remain genuine and natural. I am very satisfied with the work done thus far in this Fellowship in that regard, and I am now looking forward for more doors to be opened and, of course, to open my own door to others.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kiah Abendroth: Observations from the Classroom

In addition to working with my fabulous mentor Lynn, I’ve recently had the opportunity to observe one of LCI’s other great Teaching Artists, Katie [Felipe’s mentor]. She taught four classes of young teens about music, the blues specifically. I wanted to reflect a bit on that experience:

One of the first things I noticed was Katie’s continual use of questions. Intellectually, I know that this is one of the cornerstones of LCI’s teaching philosophy, but seeing it in the classroom brought a deeper level of understanding. I had limited LCI’s questioning to the more philosophical questions, such as: “What do you notice about this music?” What I hadn’t considered was the use of basic/informational questions.

Within the first-half of Katie’s lesson, she always discussed the historical context of the blues. Every time she got to this point, she would pause and ask: “Does anyone know when the blues started?” This was particularly memorable to me because it’s not what I would have done. I would have just informed the class. However, in doing this, I would have missed an opportunity to engage the students more deeply. Asking a question helps to spark curiosity. It draws the student’s attention to the gap in their understanding, cultivating a space for that information to go. This concept reminds me of the old Zen story about the “full cup” syndrome, and I think high school students may be especially susceptible to this. The story is as follows (quoted here from Bradford W. Swift’s Life on Purpose: Six Passages to an Inspired Life):
It appears a young seeker of wisdom traveled to the remote reaches of the world to learn enlightenment from the master. But before the master would even consider teaching him, he invited the young man to participate in the tea ceremony.

So, they retired to the tea garden where the master began the much venerated tea ceremony, preparing the water mindfully, adding the tea leaves just so, etc. The master began pouring the tea into the young seeker’s cup, talking politely as he did so. As the cup began to fill, the student-to-be grew nervous, yet the master continued to pour. The cup filled to the brim, then the tea began to pour over the rim.

“Master, master,” cried the young man. “You are over filling my cup.”

Finally, with a smile, the Zen master stopped pouring the tea. “Yes, and you are like the cup; so full there is no room for enlightenment.”

Listening as though you already know everything is listening with a “full cup.” When Katie asked the class the question regarding the historical origin of the blues, she helped to create space in their cups. I’m sure more kids in that class will remember where the blues came from thanks to this simple twist in approach.

Something else that was memorable for me was the amount of reassurance and encouragement Katie provided throughout the lesson. Here’s a some examples of ways in which she accomplished this:

1. Removing intimidation. I noticed the use of phrases such as, “Just take a stab at it,” encouraging the kids to not be intimidated by an activity.

2. Positive Feedback. “What I’ve seen so far looks really, really good.”

3. Student Examples. As soon as one of the students would finish an activity, Katie would walk up to them and make a comment to the class such as, “She’s totally done! See, no big deal.” Then she would ask the student if she could share what he/she had done. They always complied, and this helped to further reduce any intimidation of the task.

This type of encouragement seems vital. The kids are being asked to take a lot more “risks” than normal. They’re being confronted with situations where there’s no right answer. This is, in fact, supporting two different elements of the ten Capacities for Imaginative Learning: “Taking Action” and “Living with Ambiguity.” As I mentioned in my previous blog post, “LCI’s Teachings and the Imagination”, using these ten Capacities can be challenging at first! It takes practice and can feel like a big change, especially if you’ve become accustomed to learning in a different, more restrictive setting. Constantly providing encouragement seems to be an integral part of implementing the Capacities successfully.

In discussing the observation afterwards, another key concept was reinforced: the idea of learning as a personal journey. This has several implications. Firstly, the instructor must teach to their audience. Every age group and classroom is unique, and this should be taken into consideration when planning. This awareness must also continue as the lesson progresses, honoring that the students are learning and thus your audience is changing. Katie had a great analogy that likened this sensitivity to cooking (great cooks work with the food, watching it carefully as it progresses in order to get the best results).

My most important realization on the topic of “learning as a personal journey” was: you can’t make the learner have a meaningful experience, all you can do is present them with the space to do so. This is a compete shift in perspective for me. I see now that, in the past, my focus would have been more on the information than the student. My goal was the transfer of information. Now, my focus is on creating an environment that encourages exploration. It’s about the student engaging in activities that lead to growth, personal discovery, and inspiration.

It is my sincere hope that I can begin to implement all of these things the next time I’m in the classroom. Beyond that, I hope that I can remain an “empty cup” throughout my journey as an educator-- always ready to continue learning, growing, and changing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sara Barney: Recent Reflections

There are a few thoughts I have been circling around lately. I have been reflecting on the idea of living with ambiguity, attending performances, and becoming more comfortable with networking and communicating. After journalling and many conversations, I believe they have an interesting way of connecting to one another.

Living with Ambiguity
Living with ambiguity has never been super fun for me, though I’m not sure if it is something that comes easy to most. It’s growing on me. It has taken since June, but I can truly appreciate it for what it is and recognize it’s important while living in this city. Life here goes so fast. Opportunity flees just as fast as it comes rushing back. I see that now as a really exciting thing. I have hope for future aspirations. I can see how the constant turnover of opportunity can seem scary. The sense of stability sometimes seems a bit lacking, but I feel it is all in how you look at it. For me, right now, in my life, I look at it as endless possibilities. I see room for further discovery and opportunity to be exposed to numerous adventures. Without the fellowship’s guidance, I don’t think I would see myself willingly experimenting with ambiguity. I am so very grateful that the fellowship has allowed for me to discover this way of being.

I feel like I have been to a fairly wide spectrum of dance performances these past few months: some using additional mediums with movement, others using specific dance techniques. I have become aware of more and more things while being exposed to such a variety of shows. I am starting to build a sense of my true likings from a performance, maybe even details that I would like to use sometime. I recently have been drawn to the spaces that people choose for their work. I find it very interesting when a choreographer really uses the space they and/or their company performs in. I think it is because I feel more a part of the work when the space that I am sitting in is used in some fashion. I have experienced very intimate settings as well as quite grand spots. In both situations, if the space was used in some way other than a traditional sense, I was exceedingly engaged. I was drawn into the story; whether it was literal or abstract, I felt a greater sense of understanding. I believe details such as this allow for a certain depth in the work. When things are carefully constructed and thought out, I have a certain appreciation for it, whether I would like to perform it or not.

(Small Back Note) My mother owns two ballet schools in Rhode Island and had performed professionally for many years. I was known as “Eva Marie’s daughter” for most of my childhood and teen years. I found this to be pretty fun. I was at every show and event she participated in. In doing this, I got to meet many people. She introduced me to everyone she worked with. At the time, this seemed simple. No “biggie.” When I got older and started to go to functions that didn’t involve her, I began to learn how to stand on my own two feet and present myself as Sara Barney. It was liberating. Though, as time went on, it became difficult to make those connections with artists I didn’t know. I began to think, “Who am I? I’m not that important. They don’t even know me. They’re accomplished and successful. I should probably not say anything.” It took some time to figure out that we are all human. Novel, isn’t it? People like to hear honest praise. People enjoy commonalities with others. What is the harm in telling someone you like their work? Living here in NYC, I am becoming more comfortable with communicating with fellow artists. I now believe that no matter how successful someone is, we can connect, at least on some level. You never know when you put yourself out there what may happen. It may be your next big break or a new friend or someone you run into in a few years. They may know someone that you should know. Worst case scenario, they end up being not very nice. When you know you are being genuine, that’s all that matters. If someone cannot accept that, remember that that’s not your problem. Well, that is what I am telling myself now. I feel a bit more empowered with the people I have met during the fellowship. It is happening slowly, but my community here in the city is growing.

For me, these three topics have been integral parts in my personal and artistic growth during my time in the fellowship. It hasn’t necessarily been easy or stress-free these past months, but life is like that, full of tough times to discover the great times to be had. I am more comfortable in my skin now than I was six months ago because of this fellowship and all its capacities (no pun intended).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ryan Layton: "NYC-- The Place for Me?"

Living in the city has been an invaluable experience as a young artist. It’s something I always hoped to do, and thanks to this fellowship, I had a perfect opportunity to make it happen. From the moment I unpacked my things in Washington Heights, I started trying to decide if a life in the city could be for me. It’s a hard decision to make and one that I had to make quickly. The fellowship wouldn’t last forever. If I planned to stick around, I would need plenty of time to search for another job and look for a more permanent place than the sublet I had at the time.

By the time we went on our summer hiatus, I had decided that the city was the place I needed to be at this point in my life, but that didn’t guarantee that I’d always enjoy myself or that things would be easy. That became apparent as soon as I started looking for jobs. The search was (and remains) unfruitful. Getting no response from my inquiries for positions as a waiter, telemarketer, guy who passes out flyers on the sidewalk, guitar store clerk, and a number of other odd jobs, I had to look deeper within and decide if staying in the city was really worth all of this struggle.

While back in North Carolina for Thanksgiving, I talked to a friend I graduated with who, just months after graduation, is doing very well as a guitar teacher in Charlotte. Although Charlotte’s art scene isn’t nearly as booming as NYC’s, it is incredible for a city of its size, and the people there are enthusiastic patrons. Plus the rent is low, and they have a Bojangles. Seeing how good my friend’s situation is made the South look very attractive all of the sudden. I always knew that I loved the South and wanted to go back there one day, but the belief that New York City was the place for serious artists kept me from ever entertaining the thought. After seeing what my friend has been able to do while I’m struggling to get the same thing started for myself, I realize that letting go of any fantasies I have about the city could open up a lot more for me.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. I think I still have a lot to prove to myself, and I won’t feel good about leaving until I’ve done what I intend to do. I want to know that I came up here and made something out of my time. While my goals are pretty straight-forward and can be accomplished no matter where I live, there is something about knowing that I can accomplish them here, in New York City, and knowing I’ll feel like a hack if I don’t. It’s a completely made-up notion, but sometimes I can’t ignore it.

I guess the bottom line is, I still have a lot of thinking to do. Fortunately, there is still a little bit of time left to think before I find myself in trouble. Whether I decide to call the city home for a little while longer or if I move back home or somewhere else, I’ll know that I gave everything my best effort and all of my decisions were very well thought-out. Until things come together, I’ll just keep working hard and trust that whatever happens will be for the best.