These sore fingertips sting, typing text on touchscreen, keyboard, strands of words, pushing a lit imprint in tap and thump, in round and square, in black glowing space. Everyday those fingertips type—on laptop, on smart phone, on desktop, against the backs of my sons in hello and goodbye, against the full of my upper lip, against creative beginnings and failings, starts and stops, sentences. I tap thumb against index finger while listening to swinging cymbal, thinking, thinking about my next line.
“What is this place, someone’s house?” he asked. We walked up to the dark wooden door and walked in. We stood there for moment without saying a word. My seven-year-old looked around. It didn’t take long for him to figure out where we were. He walked over to me with a smile on his face. A long hug around my waist felt like two years in the making.
For two years he asked for a violin. I acknowledged his interest, but wanted to wait just a bit to see if it would change or wane. For two years a violin appeared on his Christmas list, or as a suggestion for us to consider for his birthday. My husband and I told him we would think about it.
A few months ago my seven-year-old and I went to see our local symphony orchestra. I asked him if he still wanted to play the violin. I whispered in his ear to watch the strings on stage, listen and think about what the instruments were saying with their sound. Afterwards, I inquired again about his interest in the violin, stressed that playing an instrument is a commitment. He nodded as if he understood and still professed his desire to play.
I knew I wanted to expose instrumental music to my sons, for them to play instruments of their own one day. I spent 18 years studying piano, flute, and music theory. I know what it’s like to play, to practice, to dedicate the time and space to learning an instrument. I’m happy to encourage and support that experience for any of my sons who express a desire to make music, but I also want my sons to want to play an instrument because their hearts tell them so, not because I do.
Today my husband and I got our son his first violin. The smile on his face was a song in itself.
Thanks to a few imaginative kids (who live in my house), everyday ordinary is interesting and inspiring, reminding me as a parent to take note and get out of the way of their learning and creativity. Here’s to a a few laughs, and a new year filled with imagination, smiles, and of course many more days of play!
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I’ve been engaged in myriad conversations over the past few weeks about creativity. This subject keeps coming up. Where does creativity come from? How can we encourage it in children, in ourselves as adults? Why is there a battle in education, in our homes, in the workplace between critical and creative thinking? Why do those spaces want to choose between the two—which is more rigorous, beneficial, salient? Why can’t we (as humans) young and older practice both in learning and in the wider part of our lives? Why does education (and often other aspects of our lives) strip us of our ability to see our creative selves, think creatively? I keep coming back to some of the same sensibilities. We have to undo what it is that blocks us from wonder, play: stress, excuses about time, space, money, fear.
I work with young people on how to “undo” some of that fear of creativity before they reach adulthood and can’t find that sense of wonder anymore. I work with adults (other educators/parents), to encourage, give “permission” to allow room in their lives, their student’s lives, their children’s lives to think creatively, to wonder. I watch my own children access their creative selves everyday. They remind me how it’s is done…
I typically use the funnel in the kitchen pouring liquid, grains, from one container into the next. But when my three-year-old gets a hold of the funnel he is much more imaginative. That sputtering sound I heard the other day was no trumpet but rather my three-year-old composing his best kid rendition of some unknown tune on his newly imagined funnel horn. And while I thought that horn might be the only trick he had up his sleeve that trumpet quickly became a birthday hat for his younger brother (not sure if the younger brother was thrilled about that). But you can’t have a birthday hat without birthday cake, so my three-year-old ran to the other room and brought back the small plastic containers I use to organize stuff around the house, for his pretend birthday cake, when the funnel had one more magical use, as the candle on top.
Now I will have to go back to using my funnels in that same old boring and practical way. But next time I use that funnel I’ll remember metaphor, and how even kitchen utensils have creatively secret and interesting lives of their own.
What toys? Kids find play in anything, everything.
What is my two-year-old doing? He was looking for music. He was attempting to listen to the tiny crevice he found in the tile surrounding the fireplace. I didn’t tell him there’s no music in the fireplace because I found it more interesting that he would look there in the first place. Maybe it’s because the crevice between the tiles was too tempting to pass up, the narrow end of those headphones seemed to fit perfectly in that crevice so he tried over and over to get the jack to fit. I wonder what (if anything) he heard. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied, “music.”
I watched him try for a while, those headphones, slightly too big for his tiny ears, slid to his shoulders, but he kept trying to fit that jack into the tile. His determined look seemed to suggest he believes music lives somewhere in that fireplace. The birds sometimes call their song from the top of the chimney, and I suppose he wondered if there are other noises he could find with his headphones plugged into the unknown world behind that tile. And even as I know there is no sound, no music on the other end of those headphones, I also know my son’s imagination was intent on listening, looking for rhythm in the most unlikely of places.
And even if he never finds the sound he’s looking for, the music that will make him dance and sing, I hope that won’t stop him from trying to listen again to something else random and ordinary in the house. Looking, listening for the sound around him, creating magic of the everyday.
The airwaves, television stations, “Facebook” timelines and “Twitter” feeds are ablaze, saturated with shock and disbelief, tributes, reflections, mourning, sadness in the news of the death of legendary, iconic artist Whitney Houston (may she rest in peace and may her family, loved ones, friends, and fans in mourning be covered with love and grace).
I don’t know that those in reflection and mourning are so surprised, shocked that death exists, but maybe are impacted by the instant reminder that death can be sudden, can surprise any of us, can come without warning, and part without fail. I think that death reminds us we are all vulnerable. I think back to the conversations I try to have with my seven-year-old about life and death, and a moment like this (my seven-year-old has no idea who Whitney Houston is and hasn’t been exposed to the news of her death) reminds me of why he innocently rejects death’s final say, and fears death’s unpredictability. It is this conflict, this vulnerability that is the human condition.
However, in the wake of this news, a conversation with my husband last night inspired my thinking, and guided my reflection in a different direction. I awoke today not so much in shock of death (though loss of any kind still has its sting) but on the immoral presence of art. This moment reminds me of how the arts and how artists impact the very nature of our lives. The arts can bring together people of all walks of life and communicate the human experience, the human condition like nothing else. The arts are a way that we can speak to each other, understand each other, and share our human stories.
Seeing the footage, hearing the audio clips of music I grew up with in the eighties stirs up memories that remind me of how artists impact our lives, raise us with their words, works, color, and movement. I am reminded that artists tell us stories and leave us with memorable tidbits, love, loss, joy, and pain. Artists document life in ways that capture subtleties only a brush of charcoal, pen or paint, a clear lens, a harmony, a lyric, a beat, a bend, a jump, or a turn can imitate.
So after the shock of the news and sadness, I’ve decided that today I will not dwell in only the loss. Though it is tragic we lose the physical presence of some of our great artists, my hope is that we will never lose sight of what art and artists contribute to our lives, what moments and magic they create, what memories they leave us, and most of all the love, justice, and understanding that sometimes only art can convey.
…the stealth vibration of rhythm balanced with the savory cry of angst, a conversation between steady thumping drum, wildly agile horn, and thoughtful pulsing bass. I clicked on my email the other morning and learned friend and fellow artist, Mark Lomax, along with Eddie Bayard, and Dean Hullett were included in a conversation on salon.com about the soundtrack to our neo movements, struggles, and calls for change and action in our sociopolitical realm. The premise of this article was to highlight jazz, but it also drew me to consider how the underground lyrics of hip hop and neo-soul were also not strangers, if not a preface to what we know as movements that include “Occupy”. These sounds have done more than accompany these movements. I would entertain that some of these sounds have led movements, charged voices with sounds that are of no one language, but of many.
I think of Lomax’s album, The State of Black America, and remember listening to its politically astute renditions far ahead of camping in parks and confrontations on foreclosed porches. The “call in response” the media likes to color as neo “Occupy” messaging really is more reminiscent of hip hop between DJ and MC, those roots and inspirations, along with jazz traditions are what Lomax, Bayard, and Hullett have carved into this album. Forward moving jazz is not always “easy” listening—not easy as in the kind of passive arrangement you might hear in an office lobby. Jazz can be complex, complicated, and just as thoughtfully tactical as the daily editorial columns accompanying this country’s most politically charged headlines. I’m glad that salon.com entertained that idea. I like the thought that our new movements might have a soundtrack. I’d like to entertain even further the idea that this neo movement built of vibrancy and variance, transcending myriad demographics is maybe not just accompanied but rather first penned in sound. I understand sometimes the words, the faces, the stoic stances don’t get heard—but it’s hard to ignore a roaring score.
It’s been ten long years since Sade swayed her lovely across a stage in my part of the country. However last night she did not only that but reminded me why her music is simply timeless, sexy, and cool. She was classy draped in modern black and strappy heels as she marched out to open the show with “Soldier of Love”. And with every subtle wardrobe change later, she sang us a storybook of memories. By the end of the show, she was barefoot (I told my husband she would be, but he didn’t believe me) and sparkled in a clinging long silvery gown. Her airy soothing voice was wrapped with a collage of horns, strings, keys, and rhythms, her all male band wore crisp tailored blacks and grays as the music from their mouths, hands, and fingers filled every crevice of the arena.
Up close, the lights and textured details were like a visual narrative, each image crisp and dimensional, each note soft and warm. I imagine Sade in concert is for holding hands (or gaze) in public, closing eyes and trusting the music, or for close hip sway. Pale confetti rained on stage as we knew our time was coming to an end. But the crowd clapped and screamed, and urged her encore out. She replied dressed in red, as she sang “No Ordinary Love” poached high above the sea of screams.
In a daze of exhaustion the morning after, I thought about Sade in concert as I dressed for work earlier today. Her music, the words remind me how many times you can explore love and still never capture its bounds. I’ve been humming her soul in my head all day.
This time crowded on the bed, the boys are at it again: listening to hip hop. Or shall I say Alfonso is schooling them once again on the somewhat old and the good (and always the clean version). He is super excited to hear the Outkast throwback, but by the captivated looks on the kids’ faces I think the two little guys are amazed at how fast the beat weaves in and out of the random layers of sounds. They listen, focused intently on trying to catch on to even one word as Big Boi and Andre’s rhymes are slippery and swift. Good thing, there are parts of that song I’d like to keep a mystery (for now).
“Bob your head…rag top…bob your head…rag top…”
“Power music electric revival…” (Rafael was chanting this familiar Outkast quote early this morning so we all joined in…)
For those of us who grew up in the enlightened years of hip hop, B.O.B. was certainly a party starter.
When hip hop grows up (Alfonso and I), we give it to our kids, pass it on like a golden gem wrapped in rhythm and lyrics those kids polish and shine every chance they get. I walked in on those guys huddled up in the corner in front of the computer, reciting rhymes, bobbing their heads back and forth.
Ahhh… (hold for two bars)…I’m bad… (insert old school beat)
“Nobody can rap quite like I can / I take a muscle bound man and put his face in the sand…” (Mason reciting old school LL Cool J lyrics with a swift finesse–dramatic hand gestures included)
From the Buddha Bar 10 Years compilation, this song is a favorite of Mason and Rafael. There are other versions of this mix but this is by far their favorite. The intro and build-up is quiet and unassuming, then seamlessly transitions into light percussion rhythms that are cool and hypnotic.
Those high octane boys are instantly transported into something strange and wonderful in the backseat of the car on our way to anywhere. I’ve learned that Bebel’s music can most times soothe my savage toddler, swaying him to complete calm and utter delight.