No. 38 • 2021-07-09

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3…2…1… Launching Podcast!

I’m pleased to announce the official launch of So Where Do We Go From Here?, my new podcast with Melinda Steffy! In this series, we talk to members of Philly’s creative community about what they’ve learned during the pandemic and what changes are informing their efforts moving forward. By sharing experiences and ideas for the future, we hope to highlight pathways and opportunities to find creative solutions for the many challenges we still face, individually and collectively.

In our inaugural episode, we speak to the amazing Dr. Natalie Nixon about the year that’s been and how creativity is critical for where we go from here. Natalie is a creativity strategist, global keynote speaker, and author of the award winning The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work, and her work has been featured in Forbes and in Fast Company. As president of Figure 8 Thinking, LLC she advises leaders on transformation—by applying wonder and rigor to amplify growth and business value. A hybrid thinker, Natalie consistently applies her background in cultural anthropology and fashion. She began her career in education and as a hat designer. Dr. Nixon was a professor for 16 years and is an early-stage investor at two social impact ventures. She’s valued for her ability to work at the intersection of commercial value and stakeholder equity.

We also posted a bonus episode, our “rehearsal” session with renowned theater director and producer David Bradley. The audio for this episode is a bit uneven (my apologies to David… we were still experimenting and learning the best ways to record the podcast). But it’s another thoughtful conversation about the performing arts during the pandemic and where we go, on stage, from here.

To listen and subscribe to our show, follow the link for your preferred podcast player or visit our podcast home page:

We’re thrilled to share these conversations with our Philly community and beyond, and we hope that others also find them as interesting, informative, and inspiring as we do. Later this month, we’ll be speaking to hip hop artist and educator, Steve Tyson (a.k.a. ELLECT) and Michele Sipics of Accenture Technology Innovation. Look for new episodes every two weeks, and follow us on Twitter or Instagram for updates!

If you have suggestions for potential guests for the show, please drop me a line.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Ten Times Virtual Choirs Stole the Show [Stay At Home Choir] A compilation of fantastic virtual choral  performances. Virtual choirs started well before the pandemic, and I fully agree such projects will continue to be impactful in the future, even after constraints on in-person singing are lifted.
  • Tech As Art: Supporting Artists Who Use Technology as a Creative Medium [National Endowment for the Arts] Last issue, I linked to the launch event for this report. Now here’s the full report, along with 10 companion essays from art practitioners. Recommended reading for everyone in the art-technology intersection.
  • Calculus Green [Prof. Robert Ghrist] I’m a big fan of these well-produced and visually stunning video textbooks for U. Penn’s calculus courses.This latest series is for those with some basic calculus who want to go deeper. Speaking from experience, I know these take an insane amount of work to produce!
  • Live from London – Summer 2021 [VOCES8 & Friends] Last summer’s virtual festival was a much-needed infusion of beautiful live vocal music from some of the world’s leading vocal groups. It’s back this summer with even more concerts and ensembles! (Streaming through August, via season pass or purchase individual performances.)
  • Minecraft Theme, a cappella [Maytree] The Korean singing group, known for lending voice to technology, drops another popular video game soundtrack. This one is particularly timely for me (see below).

What I’m creating…

We’ve already completed three weeks of our Young Dragons Summer STEAM camp. Here are some highlight videos from the first two weeks:

What I’m creating… (bonus)

The Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) 2021 Festival of Learning is next week! This free weeklong virtual conference is hosted by teachers, for teachers.

Many sessions are open to all, including Beyond Virtual Ensembles, my workshop with fellow ADE Ellen Fishman on Wednesday, July 14 at 10am (Eastern):

Over the past year, music educators pursued projects using virtual ensembles to continue instruction and performance. These projects combine individual recorded performances into a group video performance. Though we are all excited to return to in-person music making, we believe there are many lasting benefits to virtual music ensembles, including more individualized instruction and feedback, collaboration with other schools and organizations, and the potential for very large scale works. Virtual projects introduce new opportunities for creativity, beyond live performance, introducing new media skills that may benefit students in their pursuits beyond music.

The process of producing virtual performances, however, remains challenging. We will share our experiences and offer a tutorial of best practices developed over the past year to get your virtual projects to the finish line.

No prior music experience is required. To join us for the session, click here to register. Hope to see you then!

No. 16 • 2020-09-02

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Back to School

How is it September already? Many of us are scrambling to get ready for another most unusual school year. For me, that will involve teaching online (again). I do miss teaching in the classroom, much like I miss singing together with other people. I’ve also seen many professors, teachers, and students struggle with online classes, particularly last spring when there was little time to prepare. It’s actually quite similar to musicians attempting online collaboration for the first time. But we all get better at it, and as with virtual music ensembles, I’ve also witnessed enormous creativity in methods of teaching and engaging students online, towards a different, but not lesser, learning experience.

I firmly believe remote learning offers unique opportunities for creative instruction and learning. The first mistake many made, especially in the quick transition last spring, was to try to simply replicate the in-person experience. Online learning is different, fundamentally, just like a TV show is different from a performance staged in a theater. We must embrace those differences and adapt to incorporate the best features of the medium (see local efforts by Opera Philadelphia, the Wilma Theater, and others to produce new digital content).

I find it helpful to lean into the differences between in-person and remote instruction to identify the elements that that can be enhanced through online instruction. Here are some thoughts:

  • Different kinds of student engagement: Some aren’t comfortable speaking in class, but are happy to engage in text questions / conversations. We can also use messaging to keep conversations going outside of the class period.
  • Authoring new media: Rethinking textbooks and slides is long overdue. Experiment with new learning media, like U. Penn Prof. Robert Ghrist’s video textbook for calculus (above image).
  • Alternate modes of sharing and communicating: Online, we can easily share writing, documents, media, sketches, and code. These are the tools of the modern workplace, and we should embrace them for our students.
  • Special guest presenters: Speakers I couldn’t normally bring to campus (distance, cost, etc.), I can invite for remote presentations.

Ultimately, I believe remote teaching (and learning) makes us better instructors and students, whether in person or online. Most are past the angst. Let’s focus on the opportunities to make our classes this year into truly engaging and creative learning experiences. 

Visit Prof. Ghrist’s website for his amazing Calculus Blue project materials. More on the philosophy behind this work in this Twitter thread.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • 2020 Grand Finale Concert [Vox Virtual Online A Cappella Festival] A fantastic virtual concert featuring 10 international ensembles!
  • Philadelphia Fringe Festival 2020 [Fringe Arts] Fringe is going all virtual this year (Sept. 10-Oct. 4).   It’s an incredible lineup of events, exhibits, and more!
  • #RedAlertRestart [WeMakeEvents] I still miss live events. This is an advocacy campaign led by We Make Events to support relief for the live events sector, which lit up venues in red on Sept. 1. See also Save Our Stages.
  • B.PHL 2020 Innovation Festival [B.PHL] The second B.PHL Festival is all virtual with some amazing speakers and registration is absolutely free! (Sept. 15-17, more below.)

What I’m creating

Creative Conversations for a Changing World
Save the date: Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 4pm
Jessica Zweig (Play On Philly) and I are co-moderating a virtual panel discussion with David Devan (Opera Philadelphia), Valerie Gay (Barnes Foundation), and Melissa Talley-Palmer (Bartol Foundation) on innovating in arts and education through the pandemic. Registration is free!