Archive for the ‘presenting’ Category

Reflections on RIME

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

As you might know, I am finishing my PhD in Music Education at the University of Toronto. So last week I attended the international conference known as RIME: Research in Music Education in the beautiful University of Exeter in England. This was the view from my bedroom window:








Besides the tremendous views, I also got a lot out of the conference itself. Now that I am back in Toronto, I find I am left both excited and troubled about the state of music education world-wide.

Excited because I saw many presentations that examined a wide array of music teaching and learning scenarios that wandered well beyond school-based choirs and bands: music education was constructed very broadly to include all ages, and many contexts, from underground rock music in Iran to music as a form of participatory culture to drama-oriented teaching strategies. And I also saw research about what I think of as traditional approaches to music education: school-based ensembles. And here too, I was excited to see how this research grappled with how to create culturally relevant pedagogies, and how to work with students more fully. In short, most of the research I saw considered music as embedded in, and constituted through, social relations rather than something that is separate from the politics of our daily lives.

I also walked away quite troubled. Music education around the globe appears to be diminishing: governments everywhere are simultaneously requiring post-secondary institutions to measure and quantify results, and demonstrate courses and programs in terms of market employability. Funding to music programs has been cut drastically. I’m not sure where I stand on this: I don’t want to suggest that music programs shouldn’t be accountable, or that we shouldn’t be thinking about what happens when students graduate, but the steady and constant erosion of music programs is alarmingly consistent and pervasive in many countries around the world. Add to that the erosion of stable faculty in post-secondary education, and it feels quite desperate indeed. I presented on a panel about the state of tenure in post-secondary music programs in Canada, and our research team painted yet another bleak picture for several reasons, not least of which being the shocking decline of tenure-track positions in Canada. Hiring freezes have been in place for…well, decades, in some situations, and tenure positions are disappearing.

Yet I am left feeling hopeful. Not about the state of music education in higher education, but about the capacity of music education scholars and practitioners to meet the challenge. These academics, from Norway, England, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, America, Poland, Canada, and so many other countries, are thoughtful, reflective, creative, and striving to make the world more just as best as we know how. Their passion ignites my own and I am newly excited to think and practice music.


confronting the rational with the embodied

Monday, June 24th, 2013

I just left the ph.d. defense for my capoeira teacher and friend, Lang. Her dissertation on capoeira focuses on how the Afro-Brazilian martial art form is both a powerful site of transformative learning and a challenge to strictly logical/cerebral learning indoctrinated in us in academic institutions. She began defending her thesis this morning by bringing in the whole group and playing in the roda at the beginnning.

The University of Toronto is really strict about these things: defenses are not open to the public and we were not allowed to be present during the actual defense. But we were allowed to provide a ‘demonstration’ prior to the defense. It was never so clear to me how challenging her work is to the institution as it was in that moment: the capoeiristas, in our whites, singing and clapping and kicking each other in the face playing and laughing, while the committee sat around a table watching. Lang had the courage to invite them to come stand in the circle—a few were eager but several were extremely resistant. We did our roda, then we capoeiristas left, and Lang is there now, defending her work and her choices. I don’t know how it’s going but I do know that I admire her commitment to embodying her very argument. And I felt not a little jealous that she invited this vibrant community to sing and dance and transform the very room in which she is defending her ideas. To not have to walk into that room alone.

I wonder if I can somehow make a similar choice when the time comes for me to defend. Given my dissertation focus is historical, I’m not sure how I can make exactly the same choice outside of trying to raise the dead, but it does open my eyes to the kinds of choices we are told we have and the kinds of choices we can make for ourselves and our work. Perhaps there is a way to integrate my singing practice, perhaps even just to warm up and sing in community prior to such a cerebral exercise/rite of passage might remind me that I have a body as well as a brain. That I love to think about music, but not as much as I love to make music.

I can’t speak for her committee, but Lang’s work has changed how I want to engage in academics.

Professora Lang in the roda in Brazil in the Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira


Phenomenon of Singing in Phenomenal Newfoundland

Thursday, July 14th, 2011
Deanna near Ocean

The Eastern-most woman in North America

Well, that was an incredible 4 days.

Up at 4:30 am on Sunday to catch a plane to St. John’s for the Phenomenon of Singing International Symposium VIII, At Memorial University Newfoundland, the academic part of a GI-NORMOUS choral festival called Festival 500.

Let me tell you, there really were no downsides to this journey. In fact, I’m not really sure what to say, or where to start.

Highlights from the Symposium:

  • Kate Munger, who began Threshold Choirs in California about 10 years ago–groups of women who singing to people who are dying. She was warm, thoughtful and best of all, taught us several songs in harmony. Singing at an academic conference is rarer than you’d expect (or want)
  • Louise Pascale (Lesley University) who volunteered in Afghanistan in the late 1960s through the peace corps, and creating a collection of children’s song with a local musician. In the intervening years, the Taliban had suppressed all music and culture, and about 7 years ago, she decided she’d try to get the songs back in case this was the only remaining record. The project has grown massively, producing one collection of songs, and another one in the works. Stories of people weeping as they heard these songs, not having heard them since they were children. Deeply moving. Check out the Afghan Children Song Book Project, and if you know of sources of funding pass that along.
  • Kiera Galway (my fellow Ph.D. student at University of Toronto) examined the tensions and joys of (re)presenting culture, land, and history based on her research with NL Youth Choir Shalloway.

I presented a paper too–thinking through the difference between being safe and being comfortable in community singing, thinking through how we as singers experience transformative kinds of learning when we feel safe to take risks and looking primarily at the work of critical pedagogue bell hooks and her idea of a love ethic.

But what really made the Symposium exceptional was that it was attached to this massive choral festival! Literally a 1000 choristers, either whole choirs or individuals coming to sing in the “Come Solo” Choir assembled through the week. Performances day and night, and some truly astounding presentations. The ones that blew me away: Lady Cove of St. John’s (conductor Kellie Walsh; Rajaton of Finland (and that’s pronounced Rye-a-ton. If you pronounce it like I did, you will feel decidedly uncool). And here’s a youtube clip of the insanely amazing Indonesian Youth Choir Cordana. Here’s just a tiny excerpt:

In the words of a colleague, I think I just had a choralgasm.

St. John's from Signal Hill

St. John's at dusk (view from Signal Hill)

But to be honest, nothing at the Symposium or the Festival could match the sheer awesomeness (in the biblical sense rather than the valley girl sense) of St. John’s. My first glimpse of Newfoundland and those rugged cliffs as the plane banked over the Atlantic brought surprising tears to my eyes, and I remained weepy for the rest of my days there. Cape Spear, Signal Hill, whales frolicking off the coast…unimaginable beauty.

That was my first journey to Newfoundland, but it won’t be my last.