Friday, July 31, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Shooting Stars & Merce Cunningham

First off, the class song from Songwriting for Kids, Vol 2, "Shooting Stars" is now up and available to download. The kids did a great job making the melody of their bridge go someplace completely different!

And speaking of shooting stars...the legendary choreographer, Merce Cunningham, died this week at the age of ninety. I first learned about Merce Cunningham in college, when I was studying the experimental music of John Cage. I loved the way he brought elements of nature and moments of stillness into his movement, like in this clip from "Beach Birds for Camera" (I love toward the end of this clip where the feet are fluttering...):

Merce Cunningham was (and will continue to be) such a huge influence in the modern dance world. Even in this (my favorite from this week), there are moments of stillness, angles, and lines that seem to have his imprint:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I had such a great time in my summer workshops this year. My fiction and poetry students (grades 3-5) were so hard-working and so dedicated that their parents had a hard time dragging them out the door at the end of the day. They always wanted *just one more minute* to work on their poems and stories!

I don't know if it's all the rain we've been having here in Maine, but *both* my Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 songwriting classes (grades K-3) collaborated on lovely, slow songs. Usually, the classes want to do something peppy and goofy (see last year's song with the "polkadot, polkadot, polkadot underwear"). But my kids this year were profound.

Just listen to Volcano, the song collaboration from SFK Vol. 1. It's a plaintive, melancholy dream, complete with hot lava and suffering. And I have to say, I think they wrote one of the prettiest melodies in the history of Songwriting for Kids.

I haven't posted the lovely Vol. 2 class song, "Shooting Stars" yet, but I should have it up by the end of the week.

Congratulations to all my summer students. You guys worked hard, created some fabulous work, and I am SO proud of you! Seal pup arfs all around!

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Little Help, Please: What to Read, What to Read?

For the past two weeks, I've been immersed in songwriting, fiction, and poetry workshops with kids aged 5-10. So. Incredibly. Fun.

We have a rule in my classes: Good Collaborators Help Each Other. When you're stuck on your poem or song, you raise your hand and say, "A little help, please!" Then the rest of the class will chime in (often very loudly and excitedly) and try to help you find that rhyme for "Jupiter" or figure out what the secret portal to Mermaid World could be (a bathtub drain, it turns case you were wondering). You then have the option to use their ideas, or not. Often, just talking about it will spark a brand new idea you never would have come up with on your own.

It's a fun exercise, and it certainly reflects the way I work. When I'm stuck on a plot line in a story or a verse of a song, I'm not the kind to sit and wait it out. I take a walk with Kevin, call up my sister, email a writer friend, and talk it out.

So it's my turn, now: A Little Help, Please!

I'm taking a blog vacation in August to finish up a book I'm working on, go to my brother's wedding, and do some summery things like kayaking, gardening, and blackberry picking (if the sun will ever come out!) And of course, some pleasure reading!

What have you read this summer that I shouldn't miss? I'm taking all suggestions: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, young adult, middle grade, picture books. What's out there that I should pick up to make this summer complete?

(Flickr photo by gaspi *your guide)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oscar Brown Jr: But I Was Cool

For the past two weeks, I've been having a blast teaching songwriting, fiction, and poetry workshops to kids aged 5-11. Today, I'll be using Oscar Brown Jr.'s song Dat Dere to talk to kids about perspective and point-of-view. It should be a fun way to let them see how the writer's voice can change even mid-poem.

Oscar Brown Jr. was such a creative force of nature. He had that expressive voice and goofy sense of humor, mixed with a deadly serious belief that music and words should be used to enact social change. You can listen to a great interview with him on American Routes from 2002 (I love his musings on "soul" and "cool"...doesn't he remind you of the Rock Man?)

Since I can't find a full, free version of Dat Dere, here's a clip:

And here's another great Oscar Brown Jr. tune that makes me smile every time I hear it:

I always live by the golden rule
Whatever happens, don't blow your cool!
You gotta have nerves of steel
And never show folks how you honestly feel

I lived all my life this way, ha
For example, take yesterday:

I breeze home happy bringin' her my pay
Her note read long savvy, I have run away!
An' I threw myself down across our empty bed
An' this is what I said:

Ooo shhhhiiiii ooow ooow ooow
But I was cool!

So I "one for the roaded" at a all night bar
I wound up so loaded, I tore up my car
The judge threw the book at me,
An' when I read, the sentence there, I said:

Oow! Please oooow ooow
But I was cool!

So I said she's the only one, that I have to pay
And I found her an' pulled my gun, an' fired point blank
The shot whistled right past that woman's head
An' I killed my hound dog, dead!

Oooooow, ruff ruff, rrr, rrr, rrr, rur, rur, rur
As they carried me away
I was overheard to say,
"Be cool, be cool, stay cool, be cool!"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dorothy Parker: One Perfect Rose

Today begins the first day of my Poetry Writing for Kids workshop. I can't wait! The last time I taught poetry was as an MFA student. I taught an introductory poetry workshop to a group of undergraduates who were barely a year younger than me. On the first day, I was so nervous that I walked head-on into a television that was hung on the classroom wall, and I nearly fainted from the pain (or the nervousness). Somehow, I managed to regain my composure and soldier on, and the class turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I had in grad school.

I'm anticipating a fun week full of surprises and fresh creativity (and I checked...there are no televisions in my classroom!) Here's a fabulous Dorothy Parker poem we'll be using today to learn about quatrains:

One Perfect Rose by Dorothy Parker

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet--
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
"My fragile leaves," it said, "his heart enclose."
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Photo by capsicina.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: The Aristocats

One of my music students is in a local theater production of The Aristocats this weekend, and I can't wait to see it! Growing up, this was one of my favorite Disney movies.

Let me elucidate...this is a story about a fancy-schmancy family of cats who get saved from kidnappers by a low-life alley cat and his jazzy cohorts. They all sing together and become friends. What's not to like?

Especially with great music like this (I can *still* sing every line by heart). Break a leg, Rowan!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cab Calloway: Minnie the Moocher

Today is my older sister Ali's 40th birthday! It's so funny growing up with five siblings because we're all so spread out in age that we end up having different memories of things, and something that the oldest remembers, the youngest wasn't around for and vice versa.

But we *all* have fond memories of Ali leading us in rousing renditions of Minnie the Moocher. Ali was always full of theatrics, purposely tripping herself to make me laugh, getting us all to dance and sing while doing chores around the house. I remember getting to read lines with her while she was practicing for her school plays (I felt *so* cool!), and watching her put makeup on before a performance (singing "I feel pretty, oh so pretty..." or "I feel sh**ty, oh so sh**ty" depending on how shocking she felt like being!)

Ali's version of Minnie the Moocher, with her gravelly Cab Calloway impression used to make us all laugh until we were out of breath and could hardly keep up with our "Hi di hi di hi di hi" parts. It still does. :)

Happy Birthday, Ali!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Doreen Cronin: Dooby Dooby Moo

Songwriting for Kids summer workshops start today! Since I'm rushing around trying to get everything ready, I thought I'd just give you a quick glimpse of one of the goofier books we'll be using during Seal Pup Time (reading and listening time):
Dooby, Dooby, Moo by Doreen Cronin. Enough said.

If you have not yet enjoyed the hilarious tales of barnyard hijinks by Ms. Cronin (Giggle, Giggle, Quack; Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type; Duck for President; etc.) please do yourself a favor and high-tail it down to your local library or bookstore. Post haste!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Get a Job (for 30 days)

This week, Kevin and I watched two great episodes of 30 Days that had to do with being on the job.

Working in a Coal Mine is an up-close look at the day-to-day life of a coal miner. I don't think it's possible to watch this episode and not think a little harder about energy consumption.

Outsourcing follows an American data programmer whose job has been outsourced to India. He hops on a plane and for 30 days, works at a call center in India. Absolutely fascinating.

I know I've said it before, but this show is brilliant. Could someone please tell me why there isn't going to be a season four?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Feist on Sesame Street

Last week, in my Feist/Wilco duet post, I linked to Feist's 2007 video of 1-2-3-4. In doing so, I came across this little gem. I love the adaptation of the lyrics "1-2-3-4, I really like to count to four." And the chickens coming from the shore? Hee!

Maybe it's because I'm gearing up for Songwriting for Kids workshops next week, but this really tickled my fancy:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Reading: Chapter Books

Ah, summertime! When we were kids, while my brother and sisters were off water skiing, swimming, riding bikes in the driveway, I could always be found in the hammock or under a tree or (gasp!) inside the house with a book. Summer to them meant go-karts and sunburns and outdoor voices. Summer to me meant uninterrupted, uninhibited hour after hour of reading. We all agreed: summer was heaven!

So I'm putting together a small box of summer reading for two of my nieces. I hope they run around and get some sunshine and fresh air in their bones this summer, but I also hope they find some time to get swept up in a good story, just for fun. Here are some of the chapter books I'm sending over.

If they were *your* nieces, what would you include?

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel: because my niece love-love-LOVES cats. And because it's hilarious. I love the note left in the bathroom: "Dear Family, I am going to give Kitty a bath. Do not cry for me. I have lived a long, happy life. Instead, remember me for my bravery and courage..."

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell: Magical rodents, a nanny mystery, and a potion that makes you fart when you lie? What's not to like?

Savvy by Ingrid Law: There's a reason this book got a Newbery Honor. It's stunning. My husband walked into the room when I was only about ten pages in and I shushed him. Seriously. It's that good.

Rules by Cynthia Lord: A funny, poignant, honest story from the point of view of a girl with an autistic younger brother. A must read. (My 2007 review)

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban: Still one of my favorite middle grade novels of the past few years. 10-year old Zoe would give anything to play piano in an elegant, glamorous recital hall. Instead, she gets lessons on a "wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ." Hilarious and sweet.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Northern Writes New Play Festival

My friends Jeremy Sony and Jaclyn Villano both wrote short plays ("Hard Stop" and "The First Time") that were accepted into the Northern Writes New Play Festival, a celebration of new theater work in development.

If you're in the Bangor, Maine area, you go see them TONIGHT! Tickets are only $5.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wilco & Feist: You & I

Wilco came out with Wilco (the album) yesterday. I haven't had a chance to listen to it all yet, but...

You can listen to the entire thing on NPR's Exclusive First Listen.

There's an interesting interview with Jeff Tweedy on Chicago Public Radio about making the album.

And here's an intermittently bouncy video of Wilco and special guest, Feist singing You and I, fresh off the new album: