In Which Ryan Retitles A Folder On His Computer
October 2020 | 1:2
Goomba (pictured above) would like you to know that she is at least as photogenic as her brother. This is known lovingly as her "draw me like your French cats" pose, and yes this is an actual un-photoshopped picture of one of our actual cats.
What's Been Happening
As time is somewhat fluid right now, September feels like it can be described as “4:23pm when you wish you took that nap you considered at 2pm” and “The month that happens between Tuesday and Thursday.” While the current state of fervent stasis is as fatiguing to me as it is to anyone, I continue to be very fortunate and not least because it has provided both time and a desire to work on lots of new projects and ideas. Many of them are a combination of a welcome return to normalcy and a reminder that things are and will continue to be anything but normal. Making drum corps audition materials is fun for a pedagogy and document-layout nerd such as myself, but it also raises the obvious questions of what are we planning on doing, and how, and why? Others are more purely new and interesting, like writing and recording music designed to be created remotely, but no less frustrating in that it’s unexplored territory with the setbacks and pitfalls that entails.
I recently retitled one of the largest folders on my computer, changing it from “Cutting Room Floor” to “Compost Heap.” It has moved from computer to computer for around 20 years, and what it contains is all the bad ideas, dead ends, and generic failures of my time writing music. I’ve always kept these things partly because of natural predisposition, but also because whenever I need an idea for a piece or a solution to a problem in something I’m writing I can dig through the folder and inevitably find a spark or spare bit to suit my needs. The impetus for the name change was in hearing that one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaimen, does the same thing and calls his the “Compost Heap.” Pure homage would be enough of an excuse, but his reasoning is what made the decision for me; the compost heap is where scraps and waste break down and intermingle to become fertile soil for new growth. The “Cutting Room Floor” was descriptive and accurate, but the “Compost Heap” gives credit where credit was due, and assigns proper value by celebrating failure’s role in success.
For practicality my folder only contains music, but it could easily be six times the size if it included every draft article, or lesson plan, or job application. This could be (and sometimes is) depressing, much like it’s frustrating to know that a large percentage of what I’m doing right now will end up in that folder, in actuality or metaphorically. In talking with people throughout the month almost everyone has expressed a similar and familiar frustration, or regret, or despair at how their plans aren’t working, or they don’t have what they need to succeed. While I’m not here to be an inspirational quote generator, what I do offer is the fact that it helps me to know that every moment of frustration is the decay of old ideas into new ones, and every failed attempt creates better conditions for success. I’m not any less frustrated that some of my ideas will fail, but I’m also no less excited to see which ones will flourish. While it doesn’t require faith or hope to work, I hope it gives you some anyways.
May your masks smell pleasant and your packages arrive without incident,
Chart O' The Month
This month’s chart is my arrangement of “Hello Dear” by Chicago keyboardist Kevin Kozol. First of all, if you haven’t heard Kevin’s band Spare Parts before do yourself a favor and check them out; along with drummer Mike Bruno and bassist Colin Scott they are a wonderful fusion of improvised music and funky dance beats with the best of jazz, soul, rock, and hip hop strewn throughout. I first heard them when I was playing part of a rotating Wednesday slot at a quirky Chicago bar called aliveOne, and they had a Thursday night residency so we would catch each other’s shows. I liked all their music, but this tune in particular caught my ear right away so when after seven years or so of talking about it we finally put together a combined gig with them and the Medium Ensemble, I made sure this was included.
Kevin says there’s not much backstory to the tune itself other than that it’s one of his oldest tunes to stay in the book. It’s worth mentioning that when I brought this chart to rehearsal it turned out I had transcribed the first chord of the bridge wrong, but the Spare Parts cats being the beautiful humans they are thought my version sounded cool so we kept it. Those of you keeping track at home will notice that so far in the two “Chart(s) O’ The Month” I’ve tried to write an original and accidentally transcribed Chick Corea, then tried to transcribe Kevin’s song and gotten the bridge wrong. Music is tricky and hard.
The recording for this chart can be politely described as “authentic” since it’s from my mini recorder sitting on a table by the wall during our gig at the Jazz Showcase. As a teaser, be on the lookout for better sounding audio for this and other tunes from that project soon...
For anyone who doesn't know, my wife works at the Chicago Botanic Garden and thus I get to see fun and pretty pictures of plants and nature in general. In honor of Halloween coming up, this is a Dendrophylax lindenii more commonly known as a Ghost Orchid (oOooOoOoo). The parenthetical ghost noises are not officially part of the common name.
I'm not super clear on what is ghostly about it since I think it looks like a fairy wearing floppy skis or a regular flower that decided to disguise itself with a giant nose and moustache, but by now we've established that I don't get to name the flowers.
Thanks to everyone who reached out after last month, and I hope everyone in education is making it through “back to school” relatively unscathed! If anyone has specific requests for items or advice to appear in this section of the newsletter please don’t hesitate to suggest them, but for now here are some things I’ve either recently done or am currently working on. If any of them are of interest to you or someone you know simply reply to this e-mail and I’ll help out any way I can.
Simplified Home Recording: With most music education using at least some virtual component, making recordings at home is suddenly a fundamental element of many programs and one where most of the parties have little to no training. For several months I’ve been giving specific advice and video clinics on how to improve or make viable recordings without having to buy expensive equipment or spend hours editing.
Distance Learning Tools: Along with the above, I’ve been working with various new and old tools for distance learning from Smartmusic and Noteflight to browser-based DAWs. It’s worth mentioning that a lot of these include free options and information on COPPA compliance.
Evaluating Jazz Repertoire and Building a Library: I’m helping put together materials for a proposed clinic on how to choose repertoire for your jazz band.
Also, if any of you have thoughts or advice on these subjects that you’d be willing to share please do so! Education is a team sport with no defense or opponent, which makes it a weird sport and this not a great metaphor, but that’s no reason not to help out if you can.