No. 29 • 2021-02-19

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Virtual Music Education

Like everyone who participate in music ensembles regularly, I miss it terribly. There really is something magical about getting people together to make music. While some instrumental groups have managed to safely assemble in person, singing remains one of the most dangerous ways of spreading COVID (I don’t know of any groups that are singing together in person, only virtually).

Many experienced musicians are finding ways to cope and adapt, but for those still in the early stages of learning an instrument, singing, or playing in ensemble, the pandemic disruption could severely inhibit musical development. Given the challenges in reopening public schools, it’s not surprising that music lessons, orchestras, and choruses have been put on hold in many places. Others have shifted to virtual lessons, and while it’s not quite the same as being together, the back and forth interaction of lessons is a better fit for Zoom (it’s actually possible, as opposed to singing/playing together as a group, which is not). The most innovative educators are developing new forms of collaboration and performance, using technology to connect ensembles across schools and organizations.

The a cappella group I sing with, The Tonics, thought we might use the current limitations of our ensemble singing to raise awareness of the challenges in music education. Since we can’t sing together in person this season, we’re creating a series of virtual videos as fundraisers for local organizations. With the release of our latest video this month, we’re calling upon others to support the fantastic team at Play On Philly (POP), who provide musical instruction to K-12 students in our city. Throughout the pandemic, POP students have continued to participate in virtual instrument lessons and ensemble practice completely tuition-free. We hope you’ll join us in supporting this amazing organization!

And here’s to all music educators, especially those who are still providing lessons and rehearsals, safely, through the pandemic. Thank you for all you’re doing!

My publishing schedule has shifted to every other Friday. The next issue of Creating at a Distance will be posted in two weeks on March 5th.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Original iPhone Ringtones – A Cappella [MayTree] This may be the most a cappella-tech throwback mashup ever… Korean vocal group MayTree recreating the original iPhone ringtones. Also check out their renditions of Windows XP sounds and many other songs.
  • Trepak (Russian Dance) from The Nutcracker [Pennsylvania Ballet] This is a few weeks old, but here’s a lovely virtual holiday greeting from the PA Ballet dancers and orchestra (hard to imagine doing this with all the snow on the ground right now)!
  • Playing Music Together Online Is Not As Simple As It Seems [NPR’s Jazz Night in America] This video is from last summer, but it’s a nice explainer on the difficulties of live (real-time) music collaboration on the internet, with some jazz musicians who are making it work (within some constraints).
  • Creative Conversations for a Changing World, No. 1 [B.PHL Innovation Festival On-Demand] Last Fall, Jessica Zweig (Program Director at Play On Philly) and I co-hosted a 3-part series of discussions with innovators in the arts and non-profit sectors. The first of those events with David Devan (Opera Philadelphia), Valerie Gay (Barnes Foundation), and Melissa Talley-Palmer (Bartol Foundation) is now available for streaming.
  • Live From London Spring [VOCES8 & friends] The next installment of VOCES8’s online streaming festival of amazing vocal and chamber music has started, with premieres every week featuring some of the world’s finest ensembles (February 13 – April 22).

What I’m creating…

Made this for my wife on Valentine’s Day, and she granted permission to share it with everyone. One of my favorite ’80s early synth pop tunes that’s also become an a cappella classic. None of the groups I’ve sung with had this in the repertoire, so here’s my arrangement performed at my desk… with a few extra twists!

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!