Are you retiring soon? Thinking about “taking the plunge” and “Crossing the Rubicon” into your “second beginnings” or “next chapter” of senior life?
No matter how busy you are now, you need to “take five” from your work or personal to-do’s and review the following recommendations from past blog posts at this site. Consider this a personal toolbox for the retired and soon-to-retire professional… and assigned HOMEWORK!
It is agreed that a period of adjustment will occur during the first years of “interning” as a retiree, especially critical during the “pre-retirement” stage (believe-it-or-not, as many as six to ten years prior to “taking the big leap” to FREEDOM!). The solution to a smooth transition is to be prepared: communicate your intentions with your family members, and reflect on the vast considerations of the “who, what, when, where, how, and why” of retirement. This prep to your “golden years” is the perfect time for a little self-assessment and self-reinvention in finding new purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in your life.
2. Identify and take steps to alleviate the stress of leaving your job: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”
The phases of retirement are discussed in greater depth here, as well as different departure scenarios and the usual post-employment “cycles of emotions.” This piece is particularly good if you have ever felt pushed into early retirement or experienced being unappreciated, disrespected, uninspired, unsupported, or “burned out” in your career.
3. Are you really ready? “Signs it is time to retire… OR “Signs is NOT okay.”
This “countdown to retirement” article poses the essential question “Are you psychologically (or emotionally) prepared to retire?” and offers a “road map” of seven easy steps towards closure for prospective music teacher retirees.
This early blog post proposed several factors to consider for the choice of where you want to live in retirement… both geography and floor plans. Another good source to read on this topic is the book that was published two years later by the retirement guru and former PMEA session presenter Dave Hughes:The Quest for Retirement Utopia – How to Find the Retirement Spot That’s Right for You.
5. Maintain your professional associations: “Ask not what PMEA can do for you, but what you can do for PMEA!”
A retired educator is a valuable resource. If you care about the profession, there are many ways you can continue to contribute your experience and wisdom, albeit less stressful and time-consuming moments, but still assist your colleagues who continue to “fight the good fight” in the field.
6. Acquire a more carefree attitude: “It’s Not Your Sandbox”
It may be at times a challenge to surrender your urge to continue as “an agent of change” or, as E.A. Wynne has written in “The Moral Dimension of Teaching” (Teaching: Theory into Practice, 1995), habits of “moral professionalism.” Learn how chill out and NOT to stress out over someone else’s supposedly poorly run “sandbox” and limit the need to provide unsolicited advice or major problem-solving for other organizations.
7. Make music: “Dust off your chops” and 8. “Sing your heart out…”
What led you to select a career in (and the “calling” of) music education? Retirement is the perfect place and time to expand on your love and skills in creative self-expression. When a music educator retires, among the many joys and fruits of his/her career in the arts is a sudden life-style change – the glorious transformation of being set free from those things you no longer want nor need to do (routine day-to-day drudgery, paperwork, meetings, etc.), embarking on new journeys to explore and embrace revised personal goals – hopefully including a renewed refocus on making your own music!
9. Explore mind-stimulating engagements: “Have you fed your brain today?”
In the scheduling our free time in retirement, it is important to feel “needed” and find activities that foster “mattering” to promote a positive self-esteem, good mental health, and stable life balance. Are you making choices to contribute to the musical and personal success and welfare of others? For the realization of the mission of this blogger’s retirement pastime: “I refuse to sit idle, binge-watch movies on Netflix, or view hours of boring TV.” To quote the song’s lyrics, this “senior citizen” will never lament…
Life is so unnerving For a servant who’s not serving He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon Ah, those good old days when we were useful Suddenly those good old days are gone Ten days we’ve been rusting Needing so much more than dusting Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills Most days we just lay around the castle Flabby, fat, and lazy You walked in and oops-a-daisy!
This special feature reviews something all music teachers, performers, and consumers already know that’s in our DNA… the need for music to sustain our lives! Guest authored by Trishna Patnaik, this poignant message is essential during these challenging times of COVID-19 and in support of many school music/art programs currently under siege.
Can you envision a life without music?
A world where your favorite musician is a doctor or lawyer, or construction worker because music doesn’t exist?
A life where you can’t turn on your favorite workout playlist while going for a run? Or the pump-up song to boost your confidence right before your big presentation cannot happen?
If you can’t, you are definitely not alone.
Music tends to hit on us a deep level. Whether it is sad music that helps us feel relatable when we are going through hard times or joyful music that adds an extra bounce to your step, music is incredibly powerful!
But, then why is this case? Why does music impact your brain and mood so deeply?
Music is a Universal Language…
…but we don’t always pay enough attention to what it’s saying and how it’s being understood. We wanted to take an important first step toward solving the mystery of how music can evoke so many nuanced emotions. Music has a special ability to pump us up or calm us down.
Listening to music can be entertaining, and it might even make you healthier. Music can be a source of pleasure and contentment, but there are many other psychological benefits as well. Music can relax the mind, energize the body, and even help people better manage pain.
Brain regions involved in movement, attention, planning, and memory consistently showed activation when participants listened to music—these are structures that don’t have to do with auditory processing itself. This means that when we experience music, a lot of other things are going on beyond merely processing sound.
Knowing better how the brain is organized, how it functions, what chemical messengers are working, and how they’re working—that will allow us to formulate treatments for people with brain injury, or to combat diseases or disorders or even psychiatric problems.
The notion that music can influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors probably does not come as much of a surprise. If you’ve ever felt pumped up while listening to your favorite fast-paced rock anthem or been moved to tears by a tender live performance, then you easily understand the power of music to impact moods and even inspire action!
The psychological effects of music can be very powerful and wide-ranging. Music therapy is an intervention sometimes used to promote emotional health, help patients cope with stress, and boost psychological well-being. Your taste in music can provide insight into different aspects of your personality.
Why Do People Listen to Music?
Over the past several decades, showcase numerous functions that listening to music might fulfill. Different theoretical approaches, different methods, and different samples have left a heterogeneous picture regarding the number and nature of musical functions.
Principal component analysis suggested three distinct underlying dimensions. People listen to music to regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness. The first and second dimensions were judged to be much more important than the third—a result that contrasts with the idea that music has evolved primarily as a means for social cohesion and communication. The implications of these results are discussed in light of theories on the origin and the functionality of music listening and also for the application of musical stimuli in all areas of psychology and for research in music cognition.
The psychology of music seeks to interpret musical phenomena in terms of mental function; that is, it seeks to characterize the ways in which people perceive, remember, perform, create, and respond to music. While centred on the empirical findings and theoretical approaches of psychology, the field is highly interdisciplinary, with input from neuroscientists, linguists, geneticists, computational modellers, physicists, anthropologists, music theorists, music performers, and composers.
While the study of music has a long history, dating from the ancient Greeks, the psychology of music as an empirical science did not emerge as a full-fledged discipline until the second part of the 20th century. During the last few decades the field has advanced rapidly, and it interfaces strongly with other branches of psychology, such as the studies of perception, cognition, performance, human development, personality psychology, psycholinguistics, clinical neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology, ability testing, and artificial intelligence.
Musical activity combines perceptual, cognitive, and motor skills in real time and it can offer social and health benefits for diverse populations. While psychologists and neuroscientists probe musical activity for insights about the human mind and brain, music scholars examine its cultural, pedagogical, and theoretical aspects. Though these approaches can complement each other, scientific and humanistic studies of music are often disconnected.
This can result in experiments with flawed musical stimuli and musicological writings with problematic assumptions about human cognitive processes. The human brain contains neural mechanisms specific to music perception. It has identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds. It has been the subject of widespread speculation.
The Benefits of Listening to Music
Brain Focus is Enhanced
Any music listener will agree that music can evoke emotions such as pride, elation, or relaxation. That music does more than that for humans: it stimulates various parts of the brain and bodily responses. How do different kinds of music affect the human body physiologically and psychologically? Is the unconscious experience elicited by the autonomic nervous system analogous to what is experienced consciously through emotions?
Background music, or music that is played while the listener is primarily focused on another activity, can improve performance on cognitive tasks in older adults. One study found that playing more upbeat music led to improvements in processing speed, while both upbeat and downbeat music led to benefits in memory.
So the next time you are working on a task, consider turning on a little music in the background if you are looking for a boost in your mental performance. Do consider choosing instrumental tracks rather than those with complex lyrics, which might end up being more distracting!
Music Can Reduce Stress
It has long been suggested that music can help reduce or even manage stress. Consider the trend centred on meditative music created to soothe the mind and inducing relaxation. Fortunately, this is one trend supported by research. Listening to music can be an effective way to cope with stress.
Listening to music had an impact on the human stress response, particularly the autonomic nervous system. Those who had listened to music tended to recover more quickly following a stressor.
Music Can Help You Eat Less
One of the most surprising psychological benefits of music is that it might be a helpful weight-loss tool. If you are trying to lose weight, listening to mellow music and dimming the lights might help you achieve your goals.
Music and lighting help create a more relaxed setting. Since you are more relaxed and comfortable, then you may consume food more slowly and be more aware of when you began to feel full.
You might try putting this into practice by playing soft music at home while you eat dinner. By creating a relaxing setting, you may be more likely to eat slowly and, therefore, feel fuller sooner!
Music Can Improve Your Memory
Some feel like listening to their favourite music improves memory, while others contend that it simply serves as a pleasant distraction.
It depends upon a variety of factors, including the type of music, the listener’s enjoyment of that music, and even how musically well-trained the listener may be. Musically naive students learned better when listening to positive music, possibly because these songs elicited more positive emotions without interfering with memory formation.
However, musically trained students tended to perform better on learning tests when they listened to neutral music, possibly because this type of music was less distracting and easier to ignore. If you tend to find yourself distracted by music, you may be better off learning in silence or with neutral tracks playing in the background.
Music Can Help Manage Pain
Music can be very helpful in the management of pain. The effects of music on pain management found that patients who listened to music before, during, or even after surgery experienced less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music.
While listening to music at any point in time was effective, noted that listening to music pre-surgery resulted in better outcomes. Music listeners require less medication to manage their pain. There was also a slightly greater, though not statistically significant, improvement in pain management results when patients were allowed to select their own music.
Music May Help You Sleep Better
Insomnia is a serious problem that affects people of all age groups. While there are many approaches to treating this problem, it has been demonstrated that listening to relaxing classical music can be a safe, effective, and an affordable remedy. Sleep quality is enhanced for those who listened to soothing music before going to sleep over a period of time without any intervention or breakages.
Music Can Improve Motivation
There is a good reason why you find it easier to exercise while you listen to music. Listening to fast-paced music motivates people to work out harder.
Speeding up the tracks resulted in increased performance in terms of distance covered, the speed of pedalling, and power exerted. Conversely, slowing down the music’s tempo led to decreases in all of these variables.
So if you are trying to stick to a workout routine, consider loading up a playlist filled with fast-paced tunes that will help boost your motivation and enjoyment of your exercise regimen!
Music Can Improve Mood
Another of the science-backed benefits of music is that it just might make you happier! People who listen to music knew an important role in relating arousal and mood. Participants rated music’s ability to help them achieve a better mood and become more self-aware as two of the most important functions of music.
Listening to music is not directed to become happier intentionally! However, if you do so by working to determine your own levels of happiness, you will show improvement in the moods and feeling happier.
Music May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Music therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of disorders, including depression. Music therapy was a safe, low-risk way to reduce depression and anxiety in patients suffering from neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
While music can certainly have an impact on mood, the type of music is also important. Classical and meditation music offer the greatest mood-boosting benefits, while heavy metal and techno music are ineffective and even detrimental.
Music Can Improve Endurance and Performance
Another important psychological benefit of music lies in its ability to boost performance. While people have a preferred step frequency when walking and running, scientists have discovered that the addition of a strong, rhythmic beat, such as fast-paced musical track, could inspire people to pick up the pace.
Runners are not only able to run faster while listening to music; they also feel more motivated to stick with it and display greater endurance. While research has found that synchronizing body movements to music can lead to better performance and increased stamina, the effect tends to be the most pronounced in cases of low to moderate intensity exercise. In other words, the average person is more likely to reap the rewards of listening to music more than a professional athlete might.
So why does music boost workout performance?
Listening to music while working out lowers a person’s perception of exertion. You’re working harder, but it doesn’t seem like you’re putting forth more effort. Because your attention is diverted by the music, you are less likely to notice the obvious signs of exertion such as increased respiration, sweating, and muscle soreness.
Music engages people with learning disabilities
There is evidence that music interventions can offer opportunities for creative, psychological, and social developments for individuals with mild to profound learning disabilities, addressing the disadvantages they face in respect of social outcomes.
Music can change the world
Do you ever listen to a song and find yourself moved so deeply you are almost in tears? Have you ever been to a live performance that turned your worst day into your best? Have you ever heard a song that inspired you? Music has the power to move us and to change us. Yet today’s music mostly does not seem to have the same earth-moving, society-shaping effects as that of the past.
With today’s technology, music has become even more of a part of our life experiences: we listen to it on our drive to work, when we go to parties, while we study, when we exercise, and in so many other settings. There are, however, still musicians who hope that their words will inspire change.
Music with a message
The combination of the right lyrics, rhythm and instruments can build a group identity, stir strong emotions, engage audiences and amass people to take action. This makes music the perfect partner for social change.
The effect of music on emotions
It is undeniable that music can stimulate our emotions, evoking different feelings like sadness, happiness, calmness, relaxing and nostalgic feelings. This emotional stimulation from music is because it activates areas in our brain that process sound features. It also activates the limbic brain areas associated with emotions and the prefrontal areas, which is connected to decision making!
One of the reasons music has a huge impact on our emotions is that our mirror neuron system is activated when music is being played. It may be due to the song’s pitch, volume, and timbre. Indeed, music plays a big part on our emotions. If we are broken hearted, we react accordingly when we hear music or songs that were connected to our failed relationships. We sometimes find ourselves in tears hearing a song that reminds us of these relational memories.
There are also points in our lives when we are feeling so low that listening to something inspirational can often alter our negative mood into a positive one.
The Effect of Music on Intellectual Capacity
Can music make people smarter?
Those who undergo musical training are said to be more cooperative and coordinated than their non-musically trained counterparts. This is probably because people who play an instrument or sing usually work with other people; hence, they learn how to interact and communicate with others, making them more open to social interaction.
People who are into music or those who have undergone musical training show an increase in brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is the innate ability of the brain to change shape and get bigger in response to learning or training.
There is a significant difference in terms of structures of auditory and motor cortices in the brain and other brain areas between musicians and non-musicians. They found out that musicians tend to have a bigger and structured brain areas compared to non-musicians. Musical training affects other domains such as verbal intelligence and executive functions, which often lead to better academic performance.
The Effect of Music on Attainment and Creativity
Music is said to enhance one’s creativity and attainment. There is a strong association between music and attainment of tasks! Music could also make us enter into a “wandering mode.” This wandering mode enables us to daydream or imagine things, which sometimes stimulate our creative side.
Music as a Therapy
Music can improve your mood, quality of life, and self-esteem, but it is also:
Music Boosts Our Moods
Can your favorite songs be a form of therapy?
It was discovered that music can release dopamine in two main places in the brain, the dorsal and ventral striatum. When you are having a pleasurable experience, such as listening to your favourite song, these areas of the brain light up.
These things happen because musical patterns affect our auditory cortex, which is a part of the neural reward system and other areas involved in memory and emotion.
Music has accompanied major social events throughout the history of mankind. Major gatherings such as weddings, graduations, or birthdays are usually recognized by a familiar tune! There is evidence that music plays a large role in emotional processes within the brain. An individual’s emotional state of mind can directly impact daily cognition and behaviour.
Studies have shown that music has the ability to regulate a wide range of both positive and negative emotions. Determining the degree of music’s influence on aggression using two extremes of genre such as: relaxing yoga music versus aggressive rap music! It is seen that those who listened to yoga music show lower aggression, while those who listened to rap music have higher aggression. Aggressive music can make listeners more aggressive emotionally compared to other types of music!
How Many Emotions Can Music Make You Feel?
The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.
So much is the power of music, the vibe of music is so propelling that you must enamour enormous benefits and experiential experiences of music time and again. So that you become as timeless as music itself! This is the very derivative of the psychology of music as poignant, proper and poised as music itself!
Trishna Patnaik is a self-taught visual artist, art therapist, workshop presenter, and full-time professional painter from Mumbai, India. She holds the degrees of BSc (Life Sciences) and MBA (Marketing). Trishna has been practicing art for over 14 years. After a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling was painting. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to everyday.” Trishna offers this inspiration for the advocacy of music and art at a time we all need to support continuation of school programs in the Fine and Performing Arts, so essential to the social and emotional learning of all students during the pandemic.
The corona-virus crisis has created a new stay-at-home environment for all of us. With the exception of healthcare appointments, grocery pick-ups, and mail deliveries (as well as a few other essential services), we have been banished to indoors for the most part, allowing only an occasional excursion to go get take-out or walk the dogs.
And, many of us feel a bit claustrophobic and worried about the future!
Do not underestimate the cognitive and emotional load that this pandemic brings, or the impact it will have on your productivity, at least in the short term. Difficulty concentrating, low motivation and a state of distraction are to be expected. Adaptation will take time. Go easy on yourself. As we settle into this new rhythm of remote work and isolation, we need to be realistic in the goals we set, both for ourselves and others in our charge.
The purpose of this blog is to reflect on the measures we can bolster our sense of well being, stimulate new directions of personal growth, and endure the unpredictable “ups and downs” of this period of mandatory confinement.
Self-Care and COVID-19
According to mental health providers and experts in wellness such as Geisinger Health, it is important to your overall health to make time for personal self-care.
From watching the news every hour to scrolling social media a little too much, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of what’s going on around us.
And you’re not alone in this.
If you’ve found yourself in an extended state of self-quarantine, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your mental health, in addition to your physical health.
If truth be told, as a writer and a musician, I personally don’t mind having all of this extra time to focus on creative self-expression.
Think about it…
What have you always wanted to explore… play… sing… compose… record… conduct… create?
When will you finish your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” prepare the parts, and eventually have it taught, performed, and/or recorded?
When are you going to publish your next song, article, book, warm-ups, instrumental method, essays on pedagogy, musical, drumline feature or halftime show… or write your personal memoirs?
Well, what’s stopping you from devoting yourself to it RIGHT NOW?
As retired music teachers, we have an advantage… avoiding most of the stress that our still-employed colleagues are experiencing, suddenly having to “catch-up” with the technology, search for online music learning tools and lessons for their classes, and facing even more mostly unanswered challenges:
How can I care for my music students and the school program from home?
What essential learning can/should I offer during the school/activity closures?
How can I rehearse my music ensembles?
How can we provide meaningful feedback? Should we assess their work?
How do I motivate my students to continue their practice or music enrichment?
How will I find the mental, emotional, and physical stamina to serve my students during this lock-down without becoming overwhelmed?
Costs and Risks Associated with All of This “Social Distancing”
Yes, we have ways to stay in touch electronically via text, email, videoconferencing, and social media, but it is not the same. In fact, many studies indicate that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy, less empathetic, and more envious we are.
The very act of meeting face-to-face, making eye-contact, and physically touching nourishes us but also exposes us to the coronavirus. We all know of the infant mortality research that shows babies deprived of physical touch experience development limitations. It is no different for adults. The Atlantic quotes Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, in describing the power of physical touch:
“…any pressure or movement on the skin helps increase the activity of the Vagus nerve, which connects to every major organ in the human body. Touch from another human slows down the heart. It goes to the GI tract and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system. That vagal activity can also lower a body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol is known to harm the ‘natural killer cells’ that can fight viral, bacterial, and cancer cells.”
Field concludes that as people are now especially stressed over the consequence of the virus, they have even greater need of these valuable effects of touch, now that they are afraid to hug or shake hands as usual.
Indeed, what I do miss most is the human interaction… the ability to share two-way verbal and musical communication in an ensemble. I long for sharing music with the players in my community orchestra – the South Hills Junior Orchestra – who before the outbreak, rehearsed every Saturday for two hours at my former employment placement, the Upper St. Clair High School. I have to settle for sending them more of my “how-to” music articles (Fox’s Firesides) and basically low-tech “distance learning opportunities” discussed in my last blog here.
Go-To-Meeting, Google Hangouts/Meeting, or Zoom.com
Zoom is not a great vehicle for a “free and easy” exchange of ideas or being able to “monitor and adjust” the learning of a group of students. We use it, and other choices like Go-To-Meeting and Google Hangouts, because we have to use them. It’s better than nothing. It’s important to at least “check in” with the members of your community, church, or school band, orchestra, or choral ensemble, and give them a chance to talk to one another, if only by allowing the use of the chat feature or unmuting all of their mikes at once. (But, get ready for a loud cacophony of sound!)
Zoom is offering a package that is free as long as you stay under 40 minutes for your virtual meetings of more than two people. The sound (delayed and designed for voice not music) is not great, and you will need to do a quick study of how to adjust the technology to fit your needs. Several websites offer some advice on adaptations for music educators:
Don’t Become a “Couch Potato!” Get Active and Stay Active!
What we don’t want to do during this emergency is to spend most of our time watching television. Besides being totally unhealthy, sitting in your easy chair like a lump and watching hours upon hours of generally, in my opinion, totally uninspiring programming, will drain the gray matter from your brain. I don’t know if I could stand watching another PBS broadcast rerun, National Geographic episode, or “Nature” program.
The bottom line: being solitary is not being alone. And even if you are left alone at a given moment, you should not be bored!
“Boredom isn’t good or bad,” said John Eastwood, who runs the Boredom Lab at York University in Canada and is co-author of Out of My Skull, a forthcoming book on boredom. “It’s what we do with that signal.”
That’s a confusing moment, especially amid the pandemic, with news outlets and social media publishing endless lists of things to do with all the newfound time, from the juiciest TV to downloading hours of podcasts — a digital bounty that Newton, thankfully, didn’t encounter.
“When you don’t have a lot going on, you might say, ‘Wow, I’m going to binge watch Netflix. This is perfect,’ ” Eastwood said. “That will get rid of the feeling in the short term. But treating yourself like an empty vessel to fill with a compelling experience makes you more ripe for boredom down the road.”
“Because what you’ve done,” Eastwood said, “is you’ve failed to become the author of your own life.”
So, here are my ten things-to-do when stranded at home during any period of forced inactivity or voluntary self-quarantine:
Use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. to “call” several loved ones, friends, coworkers, or neighbors in your life, and “check in” with them to see how they’re doing. They would appreciate hearing from you!
Feeling lonely or a little down yourself? Reach out to someone. Studies show that when we connect with someone, we release the hormone oxytocin, a chemical that can actually help repair your heart. Simply talking about our problems and sharing our emotions (positive and negative) with someone you trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress.
Practice.No matter your choice of instrumental or vocal self-direction, or exposure to the self-exploration of other art forms like painting, drawing, sculpture, sewing, woodworking, photography, or writing, now is the perfect time to develop greater levels of personal artistry, proficiency, and self-confidence… even to establish new goals/pursuits. I have found that mornings work best for me with anything that requires creativity. (Brainstorming for this blog occurred at 8:20 AM one morning, after sleeping in a little, watching the news, and having my breakfast and coffee).
Go outdoors and exercise. Get your body moving… a little every day! If you are lucky to have a furry pet or two, venture into the neighborhood with them… of course, maintaining “safe social distancing” (even the dogs have to stay 6 feet apart from the two-legged mammals) and adhere to the essential rules of pet walking etiquette and citizenship (mentioned here).
Return to those “old fashioned” leisure activities: listen to your favorite music or read a book. Revisit something from that Hornblower (C. S. Forester) or Tom Clancy series (my frequent “gems”). When I needed a break in college (100+ years ago?), I took the afternoon off, ordered myself a medium pizza (yes – I ate it all!), and then walked to the Oakland branch of Carnegie Library to sit in those wonderfully comfortable high-back leather chairs and pull out one of my “old friends” to read.
Puzzle doing or making can be a relaxing pastime. Some people like to create them (I drew mazes when I was in grade school), while others try to solve them. My wife can sit for hours completing crossword puzzles or assembling the pieces of a virtual jigsaw puzzle on her iPad. If you like making word games, look at websites like http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/ or https://www.puzzle-maker.com.
If you are in a “tidy mood,” now would be a great time to reorganize,de-clutter, or sort through your closets, cupboards, or drawers. Put aside unused or unneeded clothing for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Have you indexed your record/CD/DVD collection? One year I alphabetized (by author) and reordered the entire collection of sea books on the shelves in my library (100’s of fiction and nonfiction editions). Do librarians or data base managers get bored easily?
If you are lucky enough to be a pensioner and can rely on a somewhat safe monthly income coming in, you might be surprised that this might be a good opportunity to save money.My wife and I have suddenly stopped going out to our favorite restaurants, which was our usual practice 3-5 times a week. Cooking and eating at home, although raising our grocery budget, has brought down our overall food expenses. Put away a little green every month while eating those healthy greens! And, if you can tolerate the stock market doing it’s “roller coaster ride,” consider planning a few new long-term investments if/when you decide the prices are low or discounted enough during the economic crisis.
Finally, schedule a virtual field trip. During our careers and now retirement, my wife and I were never much into traveling around the country or the world. Professional responsibilities (string camp, music workshops, youth orchestra tours, and the extended marching band season) usually precluded taking cruises or long vacations. There are a lot of places on the planet to which we have not journeyed. One thing a lot of people have discovered during these shelter-in-place restrictions is the amazing number of FREE online resources that transport us to museums, galleries, architecture “wonders of the world,” online films of Met operas and Broadway musicals, etc. Plan to take a handful of these wonderful “Internet trips.” (Special thanks for the advance “legwork” of many of these destinations done by Andrea Romano at https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours).
What do SHJO, Gerardo Parra and the “Baby Shark” theme, and the concepts of collaboration and teamwork have in common?
[Artistic Director’s message spoken at the fall concert of the South Hills Junior Orchestra on November 10, 2019… appropriate to all performers, teachers, and parents.]
Have you had a reason to ask yourself recently, “What am I thankful for?”
Hopefully you can reflect on many things… Your family, friends, health, success, and happiness may instantly come to mind.
How about the privilege of membership in a “musical team” – valuable enrichment provided by both your school program (in which all of our pre-college students should participate) and community groups, like the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO).
One does not have to look far to confirm the benefits of music education and fulfillment of personal creative self-expression. Numerous articles and statistics point to the rewards of “making music” and regular collaboration in a performing ensemble:
I do feel thankful! I am grateful to have been granted this opportunity of conducting SHJO and interacting, teaching, and learning alongside our gifted and enthusiastic instrumentalists! These experiences and memories are “priceless” and “fragile,” just like a rare jewel or crystal. I complain for more members (we’re small and turnout has not always been good), but I am also reminded of a comment from my own inspirational school orchestra and string teacher, Mr. Eugene Reichenfeld, who was often heard to say: “Our orchestra may be small, but it is precious – just like a diamond!”
I say, we must cultivate the future of this special musical experience!
Don’t take it for granted! This unique “mosaic of members and music, where all musicians learn, grow, and lead” will only continue if YOU commit consistent time, focus, attendance, and practice. Success relies on your full engagement to SHJO. We need the players, booster officers, parents, and other adult volunteers to join forces!
The other day, I watched on CBS This Morning an interview of World Series Champion Washington National’s star outfielder Gerardo Parra (https://www.cbsnews.com/video/gerardo-parra-on-how-baby-shark-became-the-nationals-anthem/) who is credited for helping to turn things around for the team. Although he may be remembered more for giving the Nationals a new anthem, “Baby Shark,” (chosen by his baby daughter), Parra discussed why he was concerned that the other players on the team did not seem “engaged” and stay afterwards in the clubhouse (some paraphrased below):
Parra: “Wow, what a team we have,” and referring to the regular season, “But, even after we won, no one was there to celebrate in the clubhouse.”
Anthony Mason: “A lot of people credited you for turning around the team culture.”
Parra: “It’s more important for my team that we start in the clubhouse… we dance in the clubhouse.”
Gayle King: “But you started that hurrah. You said everybody used to leave and then you said no, everybody, let’s stay! One person came, then one person came, and another person came…”
Parra: “Everybody like family. We’re one team, not 25 men.”
When he joined the team in May, Washington was a team with a losing record of 33-38 and 8½ games out of first place in the National League East. Parra himself was mired in a 0-for-22 slump. That’s when he chose “Baby Shark” and got his team motivated! In their last 100 games, the Nationals won 75. Sure, they have amazingly gifted and hardworking players, but what was the cornerstone of their victory? Their teamwork, “power of collaboration,” empathy for each other, and unified sense of purpose! This is just what the doctor ordered for the 37th season of SHJO, and all similar youth or community groups. We need to develop more teamwork, collaboration, and engagement, too!
Thanks, kudos, and bravos go to all musical caregivers and participants for caring, giving, and sharing, and especially uniting together as a team. What really matters to me the most? As I told Sam in the interview, I truly cherish those “ah-ha” moments of realization we see in our musicians’ eyes when they “get it” and reach a new pinnacle of success or mastery of their artistry! I also love observing many peers-helping-peers, multi-generational teamwork, partnerships of musical leaders and followers in the ensemble, and numerous “random acts of kindness” every Saturday morning.
“My” SHJO remains the single most motivating and meaningful event of my week!
Let’s all celebrate a Happy Thanksgiving!
The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow players.
Over the years, I have been a strong advocate of equal-access to music and the arts as an essential part the education of all children. This blog will give me an opportunity to put a lot of my thoughts in one place. I am aware that there are many people “out there” who offer the premise that studying music makes you successful in other areas, and you will see that this assumption is well-supported. However, I am not a brain scientist. I cannot confirm research that seems to point to a direct correlation that “the music itself makes us smarter.” It could be that students who are attracted to and become proficient in the arts are somehow uniquely “wired,” have a greater work ethic, or are better intellectually “equipped” to become successful engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists – you name the career – and enjoy life-long happiness and self-realization. So many of those music-in-our-schools-month fliers say “music is basic,” “music is math,” “music is reading,” “music is science,” etc. and they are right! So, it’s not wrong to bring it up. But we should be fully aware that the primary goal of an education in the arts is for the development of creative self-expression.
In short: music for music’s sake.
When revising our Fine and Performing Arts mission and goals of music education for Middle States accreditation, the music and art teachers in my district centered on several primary goals. Probably the most important one was “to promote the skills of creative self-expression by using music, art, dance, and/or drama as vehicles for defining the students’ self-identity, learning concepts, communicating thoughts and feelings, and exploring mankind’s musical heritage in order to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective.” This statement was written many years ago… prior to the advent of Internet and social media, but perhaps it is even more relevant today!
However, there’s plenty of room here to provide you a wide spectrum of rationale and research from multiple vantage points.
It was my joy to be interviewed by host Sam D’Addieco, a junior percussion player in my South Hills Junior Orchestra. This link takes you to a 30-minute Vimeo recorded in the Peters Township Community Television studio on May 6, 2019. Although this was his assignment for a media class, it really prompted me to do some additional introspection about “what I think I think.” These were some of the issues we discussed… by no means verbatim, but, after all, this is my website. Now I can say what I really meant…
Initial Questions and Responses
Why did you choose to become a music educator? Music teaching is the greatest job in the world. Every day you deal with the inspirational subject matter of music, and then share it with students who want to be in your class! What could be any better? We guide students towards finding their personal identities, innate artistic and expressive potentials, and successes in making music.
What inspired you to become a music educator in the first place? Were you always going to be a music teacher? I was one of those “goobers” who wanted to “live” in the music room… if I could, participating in band and orchestra eight periods a day! But, up to my Freshman year, I was going to be a doctor or surgeon, thinking that the field of medicine, “saving people’s lives,” would be the most exalted career. That is until my Special Biology teacher gave each of us a needle, alcohol swipe, and blood type testing strip, and I found out I was too squeamish to poke myself. What did I really want to do with my life? Share my love of music!
How did you get started in music? Before grade school, my mother signed me up for piano lessons, and I practiced on our Howard baby grand (Baldwin brand) at home reveling in its big, beautiful tone. At school in California, I started out on the snare drum. My piano teacher also introduced me to the violin in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. After that, every new band director I had when I moved to different school districts in Western Pennsylvania switched me to a “what was needed for the band” instrument (baritone then tuba), and my private string teacher moved me to the viola, probably due to the length of my fingers, which eventually became my “major” in college.
Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way? I was blessed with many outstanding music educators, school directors, conductors of local community orchestras, and private instructors. Probably the one who had the greatest influence on my going into a career of music teaching was Eugene Reichenfeld, who I saw the last period of every day in Orchestra at Penn Hills HS, at least once a week in a private lesson and rehearsals of the Wilkinsburg Civic Symphony on Thursday nights, and over the three summers at the Kennerdell Music and Arts Festival in Venango County. What a role model! Partially blind and losing his hearing, Mr. Reichenfeld played violin, cello, and guitar, and taught uninterrupted until three weeks before he died at the ripe old age of 103!
Any regrets? Absolutely not! My classmates in college dubbed me “mister music ed.” But some of my well-meaning supporters saw other skills in me and tried to talk me into other pursuits. From my senior year in high school to four of five years enrolled in Carnegie-Mellon University, my string professor George Grossman prepared me for employment as a professional musician, even to consider auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I said, I want to teach students! My CMU music department chair Robert Page and Fine Arts Dean Akram Midani in 1977 urged me to look into enrolling in Harvard summer arts management courses. Again: I want to teach students! Believe-it-or-not, even my own dad encouraged me to rethink my plans. After attending my first Edgewood Elementary 4th grade musical production (1979), he marveled about how much time I devoted to making music… 6-7 days a week including evenings! He asked me what were my earnings. We compared my first-year salary of $8200 vs. his position as manager in the nuclear division of Westinghouse Company (move the decimal point to the right – nearly $82,000 annual compensation). He suggested a partnership. “Why don’t you join with me, form a company together, and become entrepreneurs, and with a little luck and your obvious work ethic, we could both make a million dollars in a few years.”
Did your father ever realize why you chose music? In December 1986, Dad came to my choral/orchestra department production of Scrooge, involving over 250 students at my second career assignment, Upper St. Clair High School. After the closing curtain, he came up to me and asked, “Did you do all of this yourself? I answered, “Well, I had a lot of help. I did prepare the students on the dialogue parts in the script, the leads’ solos, chorus harmonies, and orchestra accompaniment, but I needed a drama specialist for coaching the actors and a choreographer for the dances. And yes, I am also the show’s producer, responsible for the printing of the program and tickets, finding people to assist in sewing the costumes, building the sets, running the stage tech, and applying the make-up.” After a short pause, he said something I will never forget: “Wow! This was incredible! You really made a difference to so many of your students’ lives.” He was proud of me, and finally expressed it! (It was a good thing too… he died suddenly of a heart attack exactly two years later when I was in the middle of staging USCHS’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)
Statistics in Support of Music Education
What is the purpose of music in schools? Why is it important to take a creative arts elective throughout your middle to high school education?
Okay, we can start with the huge body of research published just about everywhere that indicates “music makes you smarter.” Here are just a few examples and sample supportive documentation. (Please take the time to peruse these links!)
Ever felt like you were a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? Now, lets dive into the concept that “music is a means to learning.”
Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change. In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. Also, more research has been applied to learning styles and preferences… all to promote better success in education.
“Many of us are familiar with three general categories in which people learn: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Beyond these three general categories, many theories of and approaches toward human potential have been developed.”
In 1983, the theory of “multiple intelligences” was formed by Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor Education at Harvard University, and widely read in his initial book offering Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Supported by Thomas Armstrong (books such as Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom), “the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited.” Instead, Dr. Gardner proposed nine different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults (the first one is my favorite):
Spatial (picture smart)
“Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”
Transforming the way schools should be run, the multiple intelligences theory suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. This approach truly “customizes the learning” and provides eight or more potential pathways to learning.
“If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning.”
“While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.”
The bottom line? We need music in the schools for a variety of reasons, not the least to systemically and intentionally provide avenues of learning for “music smart” kids as well as to share resources that all teachers across the disciplines may use to enrich their lessons, differentiate the instruction, and “reach” their students.
Ever Heard of the Four C’s?
How about defending the rationale that “music makes connections, within us and from the world around us?” Easy!
Released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2010), the best resource I found when this movement made the headlines was this P21 Arts Skills Map. It was developed to “illustrate the intersection between 21st Century Skills and the Arts. The maps will enable educators, administrators and policymakers to gain concrete examples of how 21st Century Skills can be integrated into core subjects.” With so much more detail, this document provides skill definitions, core subject interactions, outcomes and examples:
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Information, Communication, and Technology Literacy
Flexibility and Adaptability
Initiative and Self-Direction
Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
Productivity and Accountability
Leadership and Responsibility
“The music classroom is a perfect place to teach critical thinking and problem solving,” says MENC [now NAfME] member Donna Zawatski. Instead of giving students the answers, she asks questions that will clarify the process and lead to better solutions from the students. “Students will define the problem, come up with solutions based on their previous experience, create, and then reflect on what they’ve created,” she says.
— Donna Zawatski, “4C + 1C = 1TGMT,” Illinois Music Educator, Volume 71, No. 3.
Creativity is Number One!
One of my favorite educational gurus, probably an expert on creativity in the schools, is Sir Ken Robinson. His most viewed Ted-Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (18 million+) should be required of all pre-service teachers. A great story-teller with a wonderfully dry English sense of humor, Robinson tells a narrative about a child who was not “behaving” very well in school… “coloring outside the lines” and fidgeting in class. According to the primary teacher, she was distracting the other students, and was hard to “contain” and keep her sitting in her seat.
At the insistence of school staff, the parents took the little girl to a psychiatrist. He did a battery of tests on her to find out why she was so “antsy” and… The counselor’s analysis? He said to her parents: “Your child is not sick. She is a dancer. She likes to express herself in movement. Take her to a school that emphasizes dancing.”
A “quick-from-the-hip” diagnosis might have resulted in prescribing drugs in order to “calm her down” and make her “fit in” better with the traditional school setting.
The rest of the story? The incident he was talking about described the childhood of the super-successful multi-millionaire English ballerina and choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the late Gillian Lynne.
Creativity is probably the single most essential learning skill… and I have devoted a whole section of my website on the subject, starting with “Creativity in Education” to numerous blogs here.
Flexible Thinking, Adaptability, and Problem Solving
In the interview, I asked the question, “What is 1 + 1 + 1?” What I meant to elicit was, “Besides the obvious response of 3, how many different answers can you find to solve this math problem?”
11 (in binary)
1 (draw it in the air, one vertical line and two horizontal lines making the Roman numeral I)
Living in the real world (as well as learning the arts), there are very few “one-right answers!” Unlike other subject areas and pursuits, music fosters abstract decision-making in situations where there are no standard answers, analysis of and response to nonverbal communication, and adaptations and respect of divergent styles and methods for personal expression and thinking.
The arts foster divergent thinking (the ability to consciously generate new ideas that branch out to many possible solutions for a given problem) as well as convergent thinking (the ability to correctly hone in to a single correct solution to a problem). According to Professor Curtis Bonk on his insightful “Best of Bob” – Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation” website, “In creativity, convergent thinking often requires taking a novel approach to the problem, seeing the problem from a different perspective, or making a unique association between parts of the problem.”
“Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.”
— Proverb quoted by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly
Are You of the “Right Mind?”
First, take the Left-Brain/Right-Brain test at the “Best of Bob” website above.
The 60s work of Nobel Peace Prize scientist Dr. Roger Sperry pointed to different sections of the brain being used for unique functions of the mind. Accordingly, the left brain is supposed to be more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations. In contrast, the right brain is purported to be more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.
However, portions of his research, especially about brain hemisphere dominance have been disputed.
“Magnetic resonance imaging of 1,000 people revealed that the human brain doesn’t actually favor one side over the other. The networks on one side aren’t generally stronger than the networks on the other side.”
“The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.”
“Whether you’re performing a logical or creative function, you’re receiving input from both sides of your brain. For example, the left brain is credited with language, but the right brain helps you understand context and tone. The left brain handles mathematical equations, but right brain helps out with comparisons and rough estimates.”
Here is what I believe. Parts of what we do in music, like interpretation, expressiveness, phrasing, aesthetic sensitivity, and perception of man’s creations around us, etc. involve imagination and intuition, and are more holistic, intuitive – I will call it “right” brained.
In his book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World,Daniel Pink, formerly a lawyer and the speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, forecast that most future careers throughout the world will involve the learning skills normally attributed to the right side of the brain – innovation, invention, ingenuity, adaptability, critical thinking and problem-solving, etc., not jobs that are dominated by predetermined or routine actions, instructions, scripting (e.g. tasks that can be done by robots, Legal Zoom for simple wills, or 1-800 tech help hotlines).
In conclusion, with so many memories swimming around in my mind, I was asked by Sam what I thought was the greatest achievement of my career (or perhaps he meant what single student did I “inspire” to greatness?). I replied that there were far too many to count, those blessed “AH HA” moments when a musician, singer, actor, or dancer goes for his dream and realizes his potential… “I made it!” Sometimes they don’t believe in themselves, are afraid to try, and the teacher has to nudge or encourage them. But, once it happens, you can see the sparkle in their eyes! And, even in retirement, they never let you forget their accomplishment(s) and the difference you made in their lives!
Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with the following statements regarding music’s role in everything from self-esteem development to building “symphonic” relationships and connections between seemingly unrelated or dissociated items or events – “putting the pieces of the puzzle together!”
“To be able to play a musical instrument (increasingly well), to be able to express oneself musically, to become friends with others making the same accomplishments, to reach musical goals and achievements — these things help people feel good about themselves. That has lasting value as it relates to nearly all other things in their lives, according to the music educators.”
Music also boosts creativity and the ability to see the relationships between seemingly unrelated things—enhancing all learning. Children who have studied music develop faster socially, mentally, and even physically.
Simply put, making music in school and life-long learning as adults are FUN! It nurtures our inner voice, feelings, and self-worth. We enjoy the social interactions of participation in an ensemble. Literally, we explore our artistic “souls” and embrace the beauty within and around us. A career of 40+ years of directing orchestras, both in formalized classes and community/youth groups, has been the most inspirational and life-satisfying of pursuits… something I hope I can do for many more years until I reach Moses’ age!
It’s been awhile since I have ventured back into searches for “creativity in education” with blogging on the philosophy and practice of creative learning and creative teaching, two of the most essential needs (and deficiencies) in public school education.
After being inspired by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson (especially from his TedTalks), Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan M. Brookhart, Susan Engel, Daniel Pink, Robert J. Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, Roger von Oechand, Peter Webster, and many others, I periodically try to fulfill my ongoing mission of spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression.
Here is the latest installment of newly found resources for your perusal.
Creativity at Work
Linda Naiman, the founder of Creativity at Work, an international consortium of creativity and innovation experts, design thinkers, and arts-based learning practitioners, offers “trainings and workshops to help leaders and their teams develop the creativity, innovation and leadership capabilities required to adapt to change, stay competitive, improve business performance, and make a positive difference in the world. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, educational institutions and government organizations.”
Play like a child: the secret to liberating your creativity
The Creativity Crisis
I don’t know how I missed this… Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote an education article, The Creativity Crisis, for Newsweek, posted on their website on July 10, 2010. Selected excerpts:
Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and ‘an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”
Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”
Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.
— Newsweek: Bo Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Not to be outdone by Newsweek, TIME published a compilation The Science of Creativity – a series of articles divided into four large chapters:
The Creative Animal
The Creative Mind
Creativity in Action
Creativity at Any Age
The essays, penned by a myriad of authors, are eclectic and intriguing, many of which have appeared in past issues of TIME magazine:
Introduction: Striving for the New
This Is Your Brain on Creativity
Learning from Leonardo
Under the Hood
Are Neurotics More Creative?
A Fine Madness
The Power of Sleep
Inside the Creative Space
Seven Secrets to Unleashing Creativity
Pushing Your Envelope
Does Screen Time Stunt Kids’ Creativity?
You’re Never Too Old
When Schools Get Creative
How Parents Can Excite and Inspire
The Last Word
Creativity is one of the most human of qualities. But what is creativity, and what makes us creative? The Science of Creativity takes a look at both the science and the art of this world-changing trait—how we define it, how we measure it and what encourages it. With insights from the editors of TIME, this new Special Edition features thought-provoking articles on the meaning of creativity, its part in human history and its role in our future.
— Amazon review of TIME special edition
Creativity in Orchestra
A recent NAfME article was written specifically for orchestral players and their music directors. Even after more than 43 years of conducting orchestras, I would have to admit that helping my instrumentalists to become more creative musicians has always been a challenge. In the Music Educators Journal, Volume 105, Number 3, March 2019, “Integrating Creative Practices into the Orchestra Classroom,” author Leon Park seeks to explore the realm of the “less traditional” in rationale, goals, and techniques to build the capacity of his students’ imagination, innovation, and creativity.
My primary objective as a high school orchestra educator is to help students develop and refine their perpetual and technical acuities as orchestra musicians – from understanding and applying proper instrument-playing technique in functional music theory as they relate to repertoire to reading and translating music notation with accuracy and confidence to interpreting musical compositions with an understanding of the composer’s intent and a sensitive sensitivity toward performing in an expressive manner.
The daily regime of helping my students of achieve these objectives is an extraordinarily enriching yet time-consuming endeavor. As such, I find that opportunities to engage students in experiences that reach beyond the purview of traditional orchestra musicianship – such as improvisation, songwriting, remixing, soundscape in, recording, and looping – are rare.
— Leo Park
After providing a list of hardware, devices, web apps, software, and iOS apps, Park proposes a series of exercises and other creative practices:
Melodizing over Chords
He also shares a video playlist of creative approaches, primarily string players engaging in creative music-making.
If you currently teach instrumental music, I recommend you read this piece. (You must be a member of the National Association of Music Education for access to its periodical Music Educators Journal.)
Creativity should be at the heart of all the affective areas of the curriculum. Its context is imagination, origination, and invention; but it goes beyond that to include interpretation and personalized imitation. Characteristically it calls upon preference and decision to a greater extent than other modes of thought. It is especially important as “a way of coming to know” through independent, innovative responses to ideas into means of expression.
— John Paynter in Sound and Structure
Educational Commission of the States
In a more recent release of EdNote (July 2018), How School Leaders Can Inspire Daily Creativity makes a good case that, “As building-level leaders, school principals play a key role in ensuring every student has access to high-quality and equitable arts learning as part of a well-rounded education,” citing numerous supportive sources:
The article concluded with the following salient statements:
From identifying the arts in a school’s budget to supporting student performances and gallery displays, principals can engage parents and the school community in the school’s educational goals.
While our [administrators’] daily routines may feel less inspired than other activities, it is through innovative ideas and acts of self-expression that shape everyday life as we know it. The arts can provide students with these same opportunities, setting them up for success in school, work and life.
Hopefully, readers/followers of this website will send in their own “gems” on creativity. Please feel free to comment and share your own references… so we can collaborate on and re-energize this dialogue.
If you have not had the opportunity to read my past blog-posts on creativity, please take a moment and examine these:
Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.
If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.
Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.
In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.
In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.
Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?
As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.
Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.
To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:
When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
What are your outside activities?
What have you done as community service?
How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?
Good luck! PKF Revised 3/18/19
The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.
“When the history of music education is written many years from now, there will be mention made of the time period represented by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium as a critical point in the profession’s history. It will be noted that practical, theoretical, and research-based writings focused attention on both product and process in the teaching and learning of music. Rather than just product (largely music performance), the processes involved in the creation of music are becoming import as well. In addition to the nurturing of fine solo and ensemble performances, a more comprehensive approach to music education is emerging which embraces the study of composition, improvisation, music listening, cultural context, and relationships to other arts. In the United States, this trend began in the sixties with the Comprehensive Musicianship Project and the Manhattanville curriculum project and continued by the Yale, Tanglewood, and Ann Arbor symposia in following years. In more recent times, the National Voluntary Standards in the Arts have come to mark a more comprehensive approach. In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, attention to music composition as a curricula focus has been long established. It is clearly the case that no longer can a music teacher expect to be successful by only teaching children how to perform the music of others in a dictatorial fashion, paying little attention to the development of aesthetic decision-making and musical independence of students.”
— “Creativity Thinking and Music Education: Encouraging Students to Make Aesthetic Decisions” by Peter R. Webster
According to the above study by Peter Webster, Scholar-in-Residence at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California in Los Angeles, “good music teaching” involves the practice and observation of three types of musical behaviors:
Listening (most common)
Composition (perhaps the least common)
Performance: reproduction of music written by others (common) and the creation of music “in the moment” (improvisation)
Several basic tenants are proposed and reviewed in his work:
“Music teachers design environments that help learners construct their personal understanding of music.”
“Teachers must teach for independent thought” and “…our students can make aesthetic decisions about music… and to develop a sense of musical independence.”
“Student decision-making is predicted on the ability to hear musical possibilities without the presence of the sound… think in sound.”
Peter Webster’s definition of “creativity in music” is succinct: “the engagement of the mind in the active, structured process of thinking in sound for the purpose of producing some product that is new for the creator.” Furthermore, this is a thought process and “we are challenged, as educators, to better understand how the mind works in such matters — hence the term creative thinking.” (Webster, 1987)
Creative thinking in literature reveals five common elements:
A problem solving context
Convergent and divergent thinking skills
Stages in the thinking process
Some aspect of novelty
Usefulness of the resulting product
Webster states, “Studies in many disciplines have revealed that creative thinking generally progresses through stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.”
In 1992, Webster reviewed literature on creative thinking in music education and cited nearly 200 writings. He organized the studies into three major categories:
Theoretical (works based on philosophical or psychological arguments)
Practical (writings designed to inform praxis but not based on empirical evidence)
Empirical (studies of product and process across composition, performance/improvisation and listening, and studies that examined cause and effect and relationship
More recently, he has augmented his research with a bibliography of more than twice that size, including the following references with new trends:
A heighten interest in the young child and invented music notation and their discussion of it as a window to understanding the child’s knowledge (Barrett, Gromko, MacGregor)
New approaches to assessment, including 1. consensual techniques (Hickey), 2. peer assessment (Freed-Garrod), and 3. novice evaluation (Mellor)
Attention to the role of collaboration (Kashub, Wiggins, MacDonald/Miell
New speculation and experimentation on the role of music technology (Hickey, Stauffer, Ellis)
Emergent thinking on the pedagogy of composition teaching (Odam)
New work on cause/effect and relationship (Auh, Hagen, Fung)
Compositional strategies (Auh, Folkestad)
Thought processes while composing (Younker/Smith, Kennedy)
New studies on how various musical behaviors (composition/improvisation/listening) relate to one another (Swanwick/Franca, Savage/Challis, Burnard)
Developmental patterns of creative thinking (Marsh, Barrett, Younker, Swanwick)
Creative performance (Dalgarno)
New work on improvisation: 1. empirical (McMillan) and 2. conceptual (Elliott, Kratus, Booth)
A few of Webster’s thoughts for future considerations
We need more work on social context, particularly the role of popular music to frame compositional and improvisational work. Clearly certain popular idioms that are easy to grasp play a dominant role as entry points for compositional and improvisational thinking, but what is less clear is the path toward more sophisticated skills.
We need to study the revision process and how it functions in the teaching context. We need to earn how to go beyond the primitive gesturals to encourage kids to think in sound at a more sophisticated level.
Related to this are the issues of teacher control: when do we step in to change something or suggest a new path.
Experimentation with open-ended vs. more closed-ended tasks for creative teaching and research deserves more study.
Experimental validity is an issue. How can we make the actual collection of data more realistic and deal more directly with the time constraints and contexts of “school” vs. out of school.
When do children start composing music with “meaning.” After age 9, or long before? What does it mean to compose with “meaning?”
When we ask children to compose or improvise or listen or perform “in school,” is the result different than if these behaviors were done out of school?
When children compose, are they working from a holistic perspective or are then working locally without a plan?
Is it fair or correct to evaluate the quality of children’s creative work with the eyes of adults?
Are there stages of creative development in children?
Is it really possible to study and define creative listening?
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention . New York: Harper Collins.
Finke, R., Ward, T., & Smith, S. (1996). Creative cognition: Theory, research, and applications.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1997). Extraordinary minds: Portraits of exceptional individuals and an examination of our extraordinariness. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind : What all students should understand. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Guilford, J. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist. 5, 444-454.
Guilford, J. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M. (Eds.). (1996). Constructionism in pracice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Mark, M. (1996). Contemporary music education, (3rd ed.) New York: Schirmer Books.
Mayer, R. (1999). Fifty years of creativity research. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 449-460.
National Standards for Arts Education. (1994) Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.
Sternberg, R. (1999). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R. & Lubart, T. (1999) The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 3-15.
Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Webster, P. (1990). Creativity as creative thinking. Music Educators Journal, 76 (9), 22-28.
Webster, P. (1987). Conceptual bases for creative thinking in music. In Peery, J., Peery, I. & Draper, T. (Eds). Music and child development, (pp. 158-174). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Webster, P. (1992). Research on creative thinking in music: The assessment literature. in R. Colwell (ed.), Handbook of research on music teaching and learning, 266-279. New York, Schirmer Books.
Williams, D., & Webster, P. (1999). Experiencing music technology. (2nd ed.). New York: Schirmer Books.
Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “CD cover” by kellepics, (picture of Peter Webster from his website), “sculpture” by Couleur, “brain” by PublicDomainPictures, “brain” by ElisaRiva, “violin” by DekoArt-Gallery, “banner” by geralt, “treble-clef” by deidi, “cranium” by GDJ, “music” by ahkeemhopkins, and “piano” by allyartist.
In the continuation of this “calling” — my life’s mission on spreading the importance of fostering creativity in education, and finding research (and hands-on) material on the related subjects of innovation, inventiveness, curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, artistry, and self-expression — here is a library of more resources.
The lists below by no means serve as an inclusive or comprehensive bibliography! Some of these articles and authors have been cited before in my past blog-posts. Speaking of which, if you have not read them, take a moment and examine these:
So, what are you waiting for? Click and go! Get out there and peruse this “content” to your heart’s “content!”
What Started it All…
When I began this blog on creative teaching and learning four years ago, I was initially inspired by the February 2013 issue of ASCD Educational Leadership. I am amazed to find that today many of these articles remain “unlocked” and available via the Internet, although I do not know how long they will remain “free” to nonmembers. (See links below.) Anyone who is interested in further study of imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting and effective (“teaching creatively”) and strategies of teaching that are intended to develop students’ creative thinking or behavior (“teaching for creativity”) should purchase the entire journal or become a subscriber/member of ASCD: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/toc.aspx.
Connecting Creativity to Understanding by Lois Hetland (locked)
Creativity in Music Education from NAfME
Just when I thought I have seen everything, the March 2017 issue of MEJ (Music Educators Journal) arrived in my mailbox. What a joy! The articles on creativity and music education are listed below. Become a member of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) to receive full access to this journal.
The best introduction and summary to this series is provided by Katherine Strand (first reference below). She poses the challenge, “Ask yourself how you and your students can be more creative in both the classroom and your own lives.”
MEJ March 2017: Introduction – Looking Forward to a Creative Future by Katherine Strand
MEJ March 2017: Learning to Be Creatively Expressive Performers by Katherine Strand and Brenda Brenner
MEJ March 2017: The Neuroscience of Improvisation by Andrew T. Landau and Charles T. Limb
MEJ March 2017: Music Listening is Creative by John Kratis Brenner
MEJ March 2017: Developing Musical Creativity Reflective and Collaborative Practices by Lisa M. Gruenhagen Brenner
MEJ March 2017: Developing Musical Creativity through Improvisation in the Large Performance Classroom by Martin Norgaar
“In the hubbub of everyday teaching, we sometimes forget that each time we look at a child, we are actually looking at the child in the moment as well as the future young adult, the middle-aged working professional, the parent, the grandparent, and the retiree. But that is our job – to see the child as he or she is and also consider what this young person could be and what possible future awaits him or her…
“But what should we pin our hopes on, and what are the positive choices that those who graduate from our schools may have when they leave our music programs? As British author Kenneth Robinson, an international advisor on education in the arts, stated in a 2006 TED talk, we cannot know what futures our students will face, but we do know that they may find a variety of professions and many livelihoods. We hope some of our students will become professional musicians, but realistically, only a small percentage will follow this path. Given that fact, we need to consider how our impact on our students can be broadened – how we may help them reach the best possible futures for themselves.”
— Katherine Strand, Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Education Department in the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington
Other Contributions from Educational Journals
Finally, I wanted to include a few of these older releases, still very relevant and thought-provoking.
Kappan November 2013 Visual Thinking Strategies = Critical and Creative Thinking by Mary Moeller, Kay Cutler, Dave Fiedler, and Lisa Weier
Kappan September 2012 Flunking Innovation and Creativity by Yong Zhao
Kappan October 2010 Learning to Be Creative
Kappan June 2002 Test Scores, Creativity, and Global Competitiveness by Gerald W. Bracey
MEJ May 1990: Creative Thinking in Music by Peter Webster (2 articles)
MEJ May 1990: What is Creativity? What is it Not? by Alfred Balkin
MEJ May 1990: Structuring the Music Curriculum for Creative Learning by John Kratis
MEJ May 1990: Strategies for Fostering Creative Thinking by Janet L. S. Moore
MEJ May 1990: Crosscultural Perspectives of Musical Creativity by Patricia Shehan Campbell
MEJ May 1990: Tools and Environments for Musical Creativity by Lyle Davidson
Do you have any “favorite” articles about the pursuit of creativity in the schools? Please feel free to share your recommendations by writing a comment to this blog. Thanks!
It can’t get any better than this! Probably the most comprehensive one-stop vault of articles and “friends of NRN” sources for further study, the NCN provides an extensive collection of creativity tools: news stories (still current as of the week of April 7, 2017), quotes, webinars, blog-posts, past competitions like the USA Creative Business Cup, and a Board of Directors from across North America including many “giants in the field” like one of my heroes Sir Ken Robinson (California), along with George Tzougros (Wisconsin), Margaret Collins (North Carolina), Steve Dahlberg (Connecticut), Carrie Fitzsimmons (Massachusetts), Peter Gamwell (Ottawa, Canada), Jean Hendrickson (Oklahoma), Wendy Liscow (New Jersey), Susan McCalmont (Oklahoma), Robert Morrison, Scott Noppe Brandon, David O’Fallon (Minnesota), Andrew Ranson, Susan Sclafani (Washington D.C.), and Haley Simons (Alberta, Canada).
According to their website, Dennis Cheekis the Executive Director of the National Creativity Network (right).
The following is reprinted directly from the National Creativity Network website, and should be used as a model or “food for thought” towards the infusion and prioritizing creativity in education and business settings. Bon appétit! PKF
National Creativity Network
A vibrant and flourishing North America where imagination, creativity, and innovation are routinely valued, skillfully applied, and continuously expanded.
The National Creativity Network engages, connects, informs, promotes, and counsels cross-sector stakeholders who skillfully use imagination, creativity and innovation to foster vibrant and flourishing individuals, institutions and communities across North America.
OUR CORE BELIEFS:
Imagination is the bedrock of human creativity and remains an underdeveloped and under-utilized resource.
Creativity is present in every human being and can be further nurtured and developed.
Innovation entrepreneurially figures out how to make creative ideas function well in the real world at a scale that matters.
A desirable future for institutions, communities, and societies depends upon continuously finding imaginative, creative, and innovative solutions to profound and complex challenges.
Supportive environments are essential to the unleashing of imagination, expression of creativity, and realization of innovation.
NCN’s EXISTS TO:
Spark local, regional, state and provincial, and national movements to create environments—in homes, schools, workplaces, communities and public offices—where every person is inspired to grow creatively.
Develop grassroots networks of organizations and regions to facilitate the exchange of ideas, models and “best questions” as well as providing support and processes for those who want to take part.
Serve as a national and international thought leader and influential policy voice for matters related to imagination, creativity, and innovation.
Seek new national and global partners whom we can engage, connect, understand, and promote.
Provide high quality, synthesized, and timely information across geographies, sectors, problems, activities, and needs.
Facilitate cross-sectoral (education, commerce, culture, and government) and cross-regional work that tackles difficult and perennial obstacles to progress in North America.
We accept the following working definitions for our work, adapted with permission from the book imagination first: Unlocking the Power of Possibility by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon (Jossey-Bass, 2009):
Imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not yet present or manifest.
Creativity is imagination applied (“imagination at work”) to do or make something that flows from the prior capacity to conceive of the new.
Innovation consists of further creative actions that advance the form, depth, reach, and richness of that which has been brought into being.