Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Year in Concerts: 2012-13

In a post I wrote last fall about how to raise a music-lover, I mentioned that we go to a lot of music performances.  Most are local -- we have much better musical offerings than you would expect for a small city.  Because I like lists, I thought it would be fun to keep track of all the live music we heard this year, N.'s third-grade year.  So, this is my list of every concert we attended with N. this academic year.  We heard a mix of symphony, opera, chamber music, classical, jazz, new music, non-Western music, students, professionals, local friends, and visiting superstars.  I feel very lucky to have experienced all this music with N. 
  • An Evening of Traditional Chinese Music and Opera with Artists from the NC-RTP Ensemble 9/15/12
  • "Poet of the Guitar" Maestro F. P. Soler 9/19/12
  • Wayne Shorter Quartet (Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade) 9/20/12
  • Winston-Salem Symphony: Leonore Overture by Beethoven; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, op. 47 by Sibelius (soloist Jennifer Koh); Symphony No. 3 by Copeland 9/23/12
  • Winston-Salem Symphony: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Zhou Tian; Concerto for Piano in G Minor op. 25, No. 1 by Mendelsshohn (soloist Antonio Pompa-Baldi); Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64 by Tchaikovsky 10/14/12
  • Forecast Music (contemporary music by local composers, plus John Cage's "4'33") 10/18/12
  • Carmen by Bizet. Piedmont Opera. 10/25/12
  • Children's "Discovery Series" Concert, Winston-Salem Symphony: Anderson, Goldilocks Overture; Menken/Troob, Aladdin Orchestral Suite; Grieg, In the Hall of the Mountain King; Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf; Wendel, Ride of the Headless Horseman. 11/11/12
  • Winston-Salem Symphony: Polovstian Dances No. 17 by Alexander Borodin; Doctor Atomic Symphony by John Adams; The Hour Has Come: A Choral Symphony by Srul Irving Glick. 11/18/12
  • "Emerging Artists" piano concert, UNCSA. 11/20/12
  • Carolina Winter Music Festival's "Swingle Bells" holiday concert. 12/4/12
  • Winston-Salem Symphony: Symphony in C by Igor Stravinsky; Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra in B-flat major K. 191 by Mozart (soloist Saxton Rose); Symphony 39 in E-flat major by Mozart 1/15/2013
  • The Venice Baroque Orchestra: Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Geminiani, Veracini 1/24/2013
  • La Rondine by Puccini. UNCSA. 2/1/2013
  • Winston-Salem Symphony: Symphony No. 2, op. 30 ("Romantic") by Howard Hanson; Daphnis Et Chloe by Ravel 2/10/2013
  • Bach Festival of Charleston: Membra Jesu Nostri by Buxtehude 3/1/2013
  • The Barber of Seville by Rossini. Piedmont Opera 3/15/2013
  • Strata: James Stern, violin/viola; Nathan Williams, clarinet; Audrey Andrist, piano. Bolcom, Bruch, Frazelle, Arutiunian.
  • Tango and More (Jacqui Carrasco, etc) 4/7/2013
  • A Night of Kuchipudi Dance and Music with Shantala Shivalingappa, Indian Classical Dancer. 4/19/2013
  • The National Philharmonic, Strathmore Hall, MD: Schiksalslied, Alto Rhapsody, Symphony No. 4 in E minor op. 98 by Johannes Brahms 5/4/2014
  • Winston-Salem Symphony: Hail the Coming Day by Dan Locklair; Symphony No. 2 ("Mysterious Mountain") bu Hovhaness; Liquid Interface by Mason Bates; Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky, arranged by Ravel. 5/12/2013 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Field Trip: Sheppard's Mill, Danbury NC

Recently N. and I read in our morning newspaper about an old grist- and saw-mill that was going to be sold by auction.  The mill was open to the public prior to the auction and since N. has been especially interested in water wheels lately (since learning about Burden's Wheel in Troy, NY) and long interested in mills more generally (thanks to David Macaulay's book Mill), we decided to drive north and check it out.  N. loved exploring every nook of the mill, puzzling over the functions of the mysterious, gorgeous wooden machines, tracing the chutes through floors and ceilings.

On the way home, we stopped in Danbury because we'd never been to this little village.  We admired the old courthouse, now serving as county Board of Education.  We looked at a 1923 jail that appeared to be at least partially abandoned.  And we read on a Civil War Trails plaque about the late 18th-century Moore's Tavern, which General Stoneman used as his headquarters during his 1865 raid in western North Carolina, and the nearby Moratock Iron Furnace, which Stoneman's troops wrecked in order to disrupt Confederate supply production.  The Civil War Trails markers were new to us, and we hope to seek more out in the future.  As N.'s history reading progresses through the Civil War, we're looking forward to making connections with some of the actual locations of war events great and small.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Learning by Chance

The turn-of-the-nineteenth-century novelist and educational theorist Maria Edgeworth co-wrote with her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth a manual for parents educating their children at home called Practical Education (1798).  Throughout this text, they advise parents to build on their children's chance encounters and impressions because these operate with more force on children's minds than irrelevant tasks or lectures.  The idea that children learn best when encountering an idea by chance (or seemingly by chance) is central to the Edgeworths' pedagogy and they advocate maximizing or even manipulating chance occurrences for educational ends.  In Practical Education, a father explains centrifugal motion after his children happen to see its effects; in Maria's novel Belinda (1801), when a group of children wonder whether their goldfish can hear, a learned family friend tells them the history of a scholarly dispute on this subject.  The title character in one of Maria's stories called "The Good French Governess" "knew how much of the art of instruction depends upon seizing the proper moments to introduce new ideas" (Moral Tales p. 305).

I was reminded of this aspect of the Edgeworths' pedagogy as I noticed a couple recent instances in our homeschool of Edgeworthian chance instructional moments.  A couple months ago I was reading aloud The Gammage Cup and its sequel The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall (which N. loved!) and the words "warp" and "weft" came up.  I told N. what they meant and reminded him we'd seen a weaver making rag rugs on a large old loom at the fair several years in a row.  Like Edgeworth's Good French Governess, who stocks her school room with miniature printing presses, basket-weaving kits, radish-seed kits, magnifying glasses, etc. to be ready for whatever chance instructional opportunities arise, I had purchased a little weaving kit years ago; I dug it out and N. set about making a small rug.  He was thrilled to see a pattern emerge as he wove the colored yarn through the loom.

In another instance, a few weeks ago, N. asked me if I knew what a mail-order bride was.  He had learned about nineteenth-century mail-order brides going West in A History of US, the American history textbook he and Tim have been reading together.  Aha!  Not only did I know what a mail-order bride was, but I handed N. that wonderful book about a mail-order bride, Sarah, Plain and Tall, which I'd bought at the local used bookstore long ago in hopes N. would someday enjoy it.  He began to read it immediately and was utterly absorbed; he read the whole book more quickly than usual and wanted to get the sequel.

I was glad in each of these moments to have something on hand that extended N.'s learning.  I am not sure that he would ever have picked up the weaving kit or Sarah, Plain and Tall had his interest not already been piqued and had not the loom and the book been available at the very moment of its piquing.  Just as the Edgeworths knew (Maria helped educate many of her 22 siblings and half-siblings!), chance connections are compelling.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What's Not on the Test

Will this be on the test? 
This week we are fulfilling one of our state's few homeschool requirements by administering a nationally normed standardized test of our choice.  We chose the Iowa Test of Basic Skills because it is diagnostic, meant to show areas where a student's skills might need additional attention in the coming year.  Last year, N.'s first time taking the test, we had no idea how he might do since he'd never taken a standardized test or filled in a bubble sheet.  And we aren't particularly familiar with what kids are "supposed" to be learning in second or third grades, so we wondered if the knowledge and skills we knew he had would register on the test.  For example, he spent a lot of time in second grade learning about early twentieth-century chemistry via the biography of Marie Curie and the autobiography of Oliver Sacks.  We figured it was pretty unlikely that that knowledge would be captured by the test. 

Standardized tests can only measure a very narrow kind of learning or skill and of course one of the major reasons we homeschool is to escape the dominant regime of testing and assessment in American education.  If N. had not scored high on the test last year, we would have been concerned, but also ultimately dismissive, reasoning that he knows all sorts of things and has all sorts of skills that are not measured by the test.  As it happened, however, he did exceptionally well, so we felt (somewhat hypocritically!) vindicated, even though his performance might simply be demonstrating yet again the common truism that standardized tests favor privileged upper-middle class males.

This year, we've been joking about all the things that N. studies that are not going to show up on the test, making long lists over breakfast: the history of trains in America, technical information about how trains work, technical information about mills and water wheels (thank you, David Macaulay!), Victorian and early 20-century architectural styles, other building-related facts, music theory, music composers, music history, Harry Potter, Tintin, Calvin & Hobbes, the history of our city, how to draw buildings, trains, and other vehicles, French vocabulary, ballet, detailed American history from the Revolution to the Civil War, how to make paper airplanes, sailing, art appreciation, old movies, the history of the piano.... etc., etc.  Any child could make a list of all the things they care about and are experts on that will never show up on the tests they take.

However useful standardized tests may or may not be, I am at least very pleased that we are able to give them in an utterly no-stakes environment.  No teacher will be fired as a consequence of N.'s test results!  No school funding is dependent on the test outcome!  Indeed, we are required to administer the test but not to submit the score to any state agency or body.  So we try to glean what information we can from the test about N.'s learning and his test-taking skills to guide us as we learn together in the coming year.  Happily, N. thinks the tests are really fun!  The other night he begged to do another section before bedtime and we wouldn't let him because we wanted to preserve some kind of uniformity of test-taking conditions.  "Please, please can I take another Iowa test???"       

Friday, May 3, 2013

Field Trip: Memphis, TN

Woodland Poppy
In April we took a road trip to visit old friends over a long weekend in Memphis, TN.  Neither Tim nor I had been to Memphis before.  Our friends sent us a big box of books in advance of our trip, so Tim and N. read a lot about the history of Memphis before we set out.  This was contrary to our usual practice when we travel, where the trip is the beginning of learning rather than the culmination, and this reading gave N. a great sense of context for the experiences he had on the trip itself.

And our visit was packed full of experiences!  N.'s favorite part was getting lots and lots of time to play with the children in the family we visited.  It is so fun to see like-minded, creative kids get to know each other.  It was rejuvenating for us to have meals and long talks with our friends (and friends of our friends!) -- and I got some much-appreciated tutoring in both knitting and chicken-keeping. 

We toured the Woodruff-Fontaine House in the "Victorian Village" area near downtown Memphis.  We spent hours at the Zoo.  We saw some of the excellent permanent collection and a special exhibit called "Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art" (review here) at the Brooks Museum of Art.  We took a gorgeous walk through the Old Forest in Overton Park where our friend introduced us to woodland poppies, may apples, trillium, and other beautiful wildflowers in bloom.  We went to a performance of As You Like It (N.'s second Shakespeare play!) at Rhodes College.  The adults (but not the kids) went to lecture on "Walt Whitman's Civil War" by Randall Fuller at Rhodes.  We drove through downtown and caught glimpses of the bizarre Pyramid Arena and tourist-thronged Beale Street from the car.  We spent a couple hours on the banks of the Mississippi, where the kids drew pictures and we watched barges churn by.  We drove across the river just to say we'd been to Arkansas.  We ate fried chicken (and lots of other good food). 

It was a stellar visit, rich with learning, socializing, and intellectual stimulation for all three of us.  We feel lucky to have such good people in our lives and to have had the chance to spend a few days with them on their home turf.   


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Screen-Free Week 2013: Using YouTube to Teach Musical Interpretation

This week is the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood's annual Screen-Free Week.  I'm writing a couple posts about how a restrictive approach has helped us maintain a mindful, engaged relationship with screen technology.  (I wrote about our viewing of old movies together here.) 

A significant element of N.'s work at the piano this year has been developing his interpretive skills.  Now that he has a very responsive piano to play, he's been learning to hear differences in interpretations and to achieve those differences in his own playing.  All year he's been working on his own (not in lessons, because the piece is really above him) on Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331, first the Rondo Alla Turca and more recently the first movement.  We have several recordings of different pianists playing this piece (including one featuring an early nineteenth-century piano with built-in tambourines for the "turkish" effect!), so we've talked a lot about differences in phrasing, pedal, and dynamics in the various recordings.  N. has experimented with trying to play like Pletnev or like Gould.

But most of the time N. plays student pieces, and we don't have CDs or records of those.  Here's where YouTube is a gold mine.  Tons of proud parents have uploaded videos of their kids playing the standard student repertoire, so after N. has worked on a piece for a while, Tim will often find some YouTube videos of it to help him hear some interpretive possibilities, or just to hear better what he is doing by contrast in his own playing.  These online videos give N. the opportunity to hear many competent students playing the pieces he plays, an experience he'd be unlikely to have in real life. 

I remember being shocked (and upset!) by the radically different interpretations of Bach's cello suites recorded by Yo-Yo Ma and Pablo Casals when I first heard the latter in high school.  I loved the Ma version so much that it seemed like Casals was ruining the suites.  I'm glad N. is learning early on to appreciate a range of interpretations and to experiment with his own.  Making music is not just playing the notes, but speaking through them.