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In Which Ryan Strives For Gratitude

January 2022 | 3:1


Let it be noted that there is also stadium blanket seating available on the couch.

What's Been Happening

One of my coping skills that I didn’t initially realize was a coping skill is reading biographies. Something about reading how other people have wandered through life and accomplished things I admire (at least on some level) gives me a comfortable tether back to humanity whether by giving me hope that even the most extraordinary of us can be deceptively normal (e.g., Albert Einstein) or even by giving some textbook-worthy examples of lifestyles I want to avoid regardless of the results they produce (e.g., Charles Mingus).

For Christmas, I got a book that was recommended by the late Bob Brookmeyer (The Shaping Forces in Music by Ernst Toch) which is not a biography in and of itself but includes a brief one of the author in the introduction. Even the basics are enlightening and inspiring; in addition to his obviously many musical accomplishments, he fought in the trenches of WWI before escaping the Nazis as an Austrian Jew and moving to California. He taught and worked as a film composer mainly to earn more money that he could use in efforts to extricate his friends and family from Nazi controlled Europe, but while it wasn’t initially his passion it led to this book that is still influential almost a hundred years later. He then had a life-threatening seizure, but when he recovered he ended up having one of his most productive creative periods including all of his symphonies. What struck me most though was the dedication for the book, written while living in a new country and unable to pursue his previous creative projects while he tried to save as many people as he could from afar:

“To the country which gave me shelter when shelter was taken from me I dedicate this book in gratitude… I wish I could convey that this dedication is not a mere gesture. Life and work were put back in my hands when they were doomed for me to cease. With this awareness, and with the awareness also that whatever I have created since then and may still create is rightfully this country’s, I presume to offer this dedication. May the book return in humble service and usefulness a fraction of what I have received.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but doing my best to avoid any obvious puns we can know that he wrote that in a moment where he was past a moment of great peril, but still in a time of great struggle and see how it may parallel our own recent past and present. I for one will strive to feel such gratitude for the opportunity.

May your masks smell pleasant and your packages arrive without incident,


Chart O' The Month

Auld Lang SyneBluecoats Alumni Jazz Ensemble
00:00 / 03:29

This month’s chart was one I did a little over a year ago for the BAJE holiday concert, and while I like all the charts I did for that session this is probably my favorite and it seemed appropriate to do this for the first newsletter of the new year. Musically it’s pretty straightforward and I stayed “on task” which might be what’s best about it, so rather than discussion about this specific chart I decided to do some research on the history of the original piece.

Like a lot of my plans, this one got derailed by a better one almost immediately. My wife got me started listening to a podcast by author John Green called The Anthropocene Reviewed where he does tongue in cheek yelp-style reviews of random things and ties them back to human existence. He has an old episode where he reviews “Auld Lang Syne”, so I decided to use it as a starting point and while the actual history of the song is probably the smallest component of the podcast I would urge you to check it out here if you have a spare 25 minutes. Without giving any spoilers, he somehow nailed everything I’d want to say about how this tune encapsulates where we were, are, and are going, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Epidendrum 'Pacific Sunset' x 'Pink Rabbit'.JPG

Look, Nature!

Johanna and I actually had some time to go hiking on Christmas Day while in DC visiting my family, which was extra nice because it was 70 degrees out for some reason. This is from Suitland Bog and is a picture of a pitcher plant that we also saw on a visit this September, but I mainly chose it because the two random spots on the sides make it look like a really happy catfish.

Education Notes

I recently heard a story that one of the Apollo space missions was only technically “on course” 2-3% of the flight and the rest of the time was course corrections. I could see the plausibility of that being true and it made for a nice metaphor for how I view lesson planning, but it also seemed like the kind of thing that needed to be fact checked. After a fair bit of research I’m still not sure I have a useful answer as to the veracity of the original story, but even the new questions raised by my search were useful to the original metaphor. Some basic things I took from everything I found:

Regardless of any specific facts relating to the Apollo missions, the basic idea is that you need a destination and a plan to get there but that once you’re in motion the destination is more important than the original plan.
The more technical intelligence someone has on a subject, the more willing they seem to be to argue about “a” point instead of “the” point.
What is considered “on course” is actually fairly subjective even with a super detailed plan.
Ignoring data to adhere to the plan or ignoring the plan because of a single data point both increase the risk of careening forever into the void.
Part of a good plan is building in moments where you will correct course, and the best plans make efficient use of those moments to test other necessary parts of the plan.

I’m not currently planning any missions into space and if you are I highly recommend consulting NASA instead of me. That said, I definitely found some value in those points as it relates to anything from large plans like conference logistics and DCI winter curricula to plans as small as a single lesson, and hopefully you can too.

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