No. 20 • 2020-10-07

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Looking to Others

Next Tuesday (Oct. 13, 4-5pm) is our third Creative Conversation panel, the final scheduled event of our mini-series with Play On Philly. In past discussions, we’ve been joined by leaders of premier arts & education organizations who are actively exploring new ways of performing, learning, and sharing in the era of social distancing. Previous events have focused on artistic innovation and new forms of collaboration during the pandemic.

A common thread throughout these discussions is that there’s much to learn from the response to the pandemic from different sectors. Thus, the theme of our third Conversation is Looking to Others, moderated by Jessica Zweig, program director of Play on Philly.  It will feature another outstanding group of panelists whose efforts span a wide range of organizations and areas: 

Obviously, the pandemic has impacted all sectors, and each community encompasses a range of needs and desires. Some of those will be defined by the objectives of an affinity group, whether it’s the arts, civic engagement, racial and social justice, or combinations thereof. But all efforts are mediated by the traditions of that community (concerts, exhibits, rallies, advocacy campaigns, and protests) as well as the technologies of our time (the Internet, streaming, social media, etc.).

This fully aligns with our transdisciplinary approach to problem solving: that we develop better solutions by understanding and integrating the learnings and practices across different areas. It’s also in keeping with the founding principle of the ExCITe Center: that creativity stems from the re-mixing of ideas and activities from one domain to another. I’m very eager to hear what are panelists will have to say, and I hope you’ll join us for what is sure to be another great conversation!

RSVP here for the Creative Conversation on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 4pm

With the start of the academic year, it’s challenging to keep up with a weekly schedule. Starting now, I’ll publish every two weeks, so the next newsletter will be Wednesday, October 21.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Smile [William P. Ramsey] A beautiful rendition of this classic song by the Founder of the Voices of Soul Concert Chorale, submitted to the #SmileChallenge offered by the Matt Jones Orchestra.
  • Philly Music Teacher Gives Her Students a Voice Amid Virtual Learning [NBC10] Nice profile of Suzanne Spencer, Vocal Music Director at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush (School District of Philadelphia), on the opportunities and challenges of teaching music remotely.
  • To the Polls (2020) [Mural Arts] An exhibit featuring six large-scale temporary mural installations at LOVE Park by Philadelphia artists to excite the electorate and explore their reasons for voting.
  • Star Trek: The First Generation (deepfake) [Futuring Machine] An AI-powered mashup, placing the faces of the original Star Trek cast (Shatner, Nimoy, etc.) into scenes from the 2010-era reboot movies. Shows what’s now possible through deep learning/deep fakes, and its both amazing and terrifying.
  • Jump (1984) [Van Halen] With the sad news of Eddie Van Halen’s passing, I felt compelled to include this. Not the best example of Eddie’s talents, but it was such an impactful song in my childhood, and EVH’s solo still manages to steal the scene from David Lee Roth’s strutting. RIP.

What I’m creating

I’m a member of The Tonics, an a cappella group in the Philadelphia region. This year the group is celebrating 30 years of singing and performing together (I’ve been privileged to be a part of the last 8+ years).

Since we can’t sing together during the pandemic, we just created our first virtual a cappella video. We’re using this release to raise awareness and support for the West Philly Promise Neighborhood throughout October, so we hope you’ll take a look!

No. 19 • 2020-09-30

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Virtual Concert Halls & Classrooms

What do virtual music & arts collaborations have to do with education?  My experiences as a musical performer have greatly influenced my teaching, but I believe the relationship extends much further than individual training… there are deep similarities in objectives and methods:

  • In the performing arts, we try to craft an experience worthy of an audience’s time and attention.  It’s the same goal for class instructors.
  • Throughout history, artists have integrated new technologies and tools to inform, challenge, and yes, entertain. Again, the same could be said for teaching.
  • In the arts, we must connect with our audiences at some level… to get them to care. This is also crucial for learning.

I contend this alignment has always existed, certainly well before COVID, but now I’ll go even further: our explorations for virtual arts collaborations will not only influence, but inevitably shape the way we teach and learn in the future, both online and in person. 

Working remotely with musicians has brought into focus both the challenges and possibilities of virtual collaboration. While many want to participate in virtual ensembles, a significant number are hesitant due to both technical and artistic challenges. We’ve needed time to build some familiarity with new processes and eventually create new tools (like the Virtual Chorister app) to make participation easier and more accessible.

But through inspiring large-scale projects, like those of the Stay at Home Choir (pictured above), I am convinced that these kinds of collaborations will continue to have an impact, even in a post-COVID world (whenever that comes).

In the virtual classroom, I am teaching a seminar for first-year undergraduates (over 100 students in the class). In person, I would never be able to have each student introduce themselves individually (that would take weeks). Online, I asked my students to fill in a shared spreadsheet with their hometown, nickname, and what they find most inspiring about engineering. It was fascinating to watch responses appear in real-time, with some contributions building upon others. It turns out even Google has its limits, and having 100+ students edit the same document simultaneously was too much, and some students were locked out. Oh well, live and learn… we’ll have to build a better tool for that!

These explorations all start in unfamiliar territory, but offer opportunities to experiment and learn together. To me, the links between arts and education have never been stronger or more clear: Good instructors are artists. They are creators of media. They are developers. And they are the ones who will create the future of learning. Eventually, we will return to stages, auditoriums, and classrooms, but those artists and teachers who have been experimenting all along will have even greater insight into crafting worthy experiences, integrating new technologies, and getting audiences to care. 

Thanks to all who joined the second of our Creative Conversations yesterday! Register here for our the final event of our mini-series on October 13.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Lift Every Voice and Sing [105 Voices of History National HBCU Concert Choir] A stirring performance of Roland Carter’s arrangement by conductors and singers representing the nation’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities.
  • PHLConnectEd and the Digital Navigator Program [Technology Learning Collaborative] A webinar about current efforts in Philadelphia to address digital equity issues, part of National Digital Inclusion Week (Oct. 7).
  • Parallax Podcast: The latest episode features urbanist and Drexel colleague, Alan Greenberger, Distinguished Fellow at Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and Dept. Head of Architecture and Interior Design.
  • Air on a G String [The Swingles] Ward Swingle’s classic arrangement of J.S. Bach’s well-known work. Catch their full performance at the Live from London online festival of vocal music (available for streaming through Oct. 31)!

What I’m creating

My Virtual Chorister app is almost at 7000 downloads!

The most frequent by far, has been for an Android version. Today, I’m announcing that I am officially working on it…  I hope to have more news in the next few weeks!