No. 18 • 2020-09-23

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Fall Forward

The Philly weather leaves no doubt: Fall is here, and with it comes a non-stop stream of events, festivals, classes, and more. Next week we continue our online mini-series with Play On PhillyCreative Conversations for a Changing World, focusing on how arts and education are innovating through the pandemic. We’re joined by leaders of premier organizations who are actively exploring new ways of performing, learning, and sharing in the era of social distancing. At our kickoff event last week, we had a great conversation with David Devan (Opera Philadelphia), Valerie Gay (Barnes Foundation), and Melissa Talley-Palmer (Bartol Foundation). Each is pursuing and supporting new forms, venues, and media for producing creative work.

Our next Conversation focuses on Collaboration, with another amazing group. Each panelist is both an innovative musician and educator:

  • Jay Fluellen is Philly-born musician and composer and is Choir Co-Director & Music Technology Specialist at Northeast High School. Collaboration has been a hallmark of his work as composer, musician and educator, having worked on large scale projects with many Philadelphia area arts organizations, including LiveConnections, The Mann Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, The Bucks County Choral Society, Art Sanctuary, and the Philly Pops, among others.
  • Paul Smith is an innovative and creative performer, conductor, composer, and educator and co-founder of the award-winning vocal group, VOCES8. This August, he launched Live from London, an online streaming festival with some of the world’s finest vocal ensembles: VOCES8, The Swingles, The Gesualdo Six, Apollo5, and Chanticleer (from San Francisco). Paul is also serves as CEO of the VOCES8 Foundation. Since its inception in 2007, the Foundation has worked with 400,000 young people.

I am really looking forward to this conversation, which touches upon “all the things” I love (well, many of the things): music, ensemble singing, collaboration, and technology. We’ll highlight some amazing virtual projects and some truly novel ways musicians at all levels are finding to keep making music together.

Register here for the next event on September 29 at 4pm and mark your calendars for our third Creative Conversation on October 13. We planned a mini-series of 3 events, but we could be convinced to change our minds if there’s demand! 😉

(Socially) Distant Creations

What I’m creating

This term, I am teaching ECE-101: Electrical & Computer Engineering in the Real World, a weekly seminar featuring distinguished guest speakers on applied topics related to our field, primarily for our 100+ first-year students. The first class is today (9/23 at 2pm… I’m the first speaker), and everyone is welcome to tune in.

Our next speaker (9/30 at 2pm) is Ophelia Wells (pictured), an engineer at Merck Research Laboratories in Device Development who’ll be speaking about Engineering Vaccines at Pandemic SpeedRegister here for next week’s class!

No. 14 • 2020-08-12

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Civil Dialog

During the pandemic, we have become even more reliant upon (addicted to?) social media for, well… socializing. It’s nice to still connect with friends & family and stories of interest, but we know it’s also a source of tremendous angst, frustration, and rage-induced thumb sprains. Let’s face it, the notion of a civil conversation online has become somewhat of an oxymoron. 

Twitter is sometimes called a “public square”, but what if your tweets were actually writ large, projected into the physical Public Square?  Might that facilitate more productive conversations about social issues and challenges, regional and national concerns, and current events? That’s the premise behind the new project, Civil Dialog, created by my friend and colleague Dr. Frank Lee, Director of the Entrepreneurial Game Studio at the ExCITe Center, which premieres this evening through the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

You may be familiar with Prof. Lee’s previous work in putting classic games Pong and Tetris on Philadelphia’s Cira Centre skyscraper, creating the world’s largest video game display. A follow-up effort, Skyscraper Games, partnered with local schoolteachers to teach coding to middle schoolers, premiering their new game creations on the Cira Centre. His work integrating creativity, technology, education, and civic engagement embodies everything we aspire to at ExCITe.

Civil Dialog will display tweets on select topics in an animated, large-scale projection for 4 consecutive nights (9-10:30pm) on the western side of Nesbitt Hall at 33th and Market Streets on Drexel’s campus. Dr. Lee’s team of students and technologists developed a custom system and visual presentation to highlight visibility and active discussion for nearby viewers and those watching online. The intention is to start a conversation where local residents and remote participants can develop empathetic views and become co-creators of public spaces both virtual and physical on Drexel’s campus.

Topics have been curated by students from our Pennoni Honors College, whose recent panel events have been facilitating community discussions on challenging issues facing our nation: sexism in politics, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, gentrification and systemic racism. The project team will present discussion prompts and surveys and moderate the ongoing Twitter thread.

Though it was conceived before the pandemic, I believe the project is another great example of Creating at a Distance. All are welcome to participate: Follow the @Civil_Dialog Twitter account and reply to prompts starting this evening (Wed 8/12 through Sat 8/15). If you can’t view the building projection directly, you can watch a video stream via Twitch and Periscope (by following on Twitter). I look forward to conversing with you (at a distance)!

Next week is my monthly break to focus on other projects, but look out for our ExCITe Center monthly mailing. Creating at a Distance will return in two weeks, August 26.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • A Killer Party: A Murder Mystery Musical [Music: Jason Howland, Lyrics: Nathan Tysen] A new digital musical experiment for the isolation era with a stellar cast of Broadway veterans. All 9 short episodes to be released this month ($12.99 for the full season).
  • Hamilton Mask-Up Parody Medley [The Holderness Family] I am not throwing away this… mask! Right up my alley, as I am passionate about Hamilton and mask wearing.
  • Christopher Jackson: Live From the West Side [Kimmel Center] Hamilton nod #2… An online benefit performance by the original George Washington (Sat. 8/15 at 8pm, donation required). Proceeds will benefit the Kimmel Cultural Campus Road to Reopening Relief Fund.
  • And So It Goes [Stay At Home Choir with The King’s Singers] Beautiful rendition of a Billy Joel classic. I signed up to join the next Stay at Home Choir project.
  • Parallax Podcast [featured in Issue No. 1 of this newsletter] has been killing it with recent guests James Johnson-Piett, Omar Woodard, Keira Smalls, and Shannon Morales. Worth checking out, if you’re not already a subscriber!

What I’m creating

I can’t really take credit for this one, but one of my former PhD students, David Rosen, recently had his dissertation research on creativity and music improvisation highlighted in this fantastic video produced by the National Science Foundation. Also check out the startup he’s founded, Secret Chord Laboratories, which includes some familiar faces from our research lab!