In 2008, I conducted a series of interviews with music educators, professionals, musicians, and advocates articulating the universal benefits of music education and participation. One of the most memorable of those discussions was with Dave Wish, founder and Executive Director of the non-profit, “Little Kids Rock.” LKR provides musical instruments and instruction to at-risk kids and teachers.
Great points made by Dave that should be staples of any music enthusiast’s/advocate’s discussions!
I recall watching Amy Winehouse perform during the GRAMMY awards in 2008, and I watched her get showered with awards and accolades shortly thereafter (5 GRAMMYS that evening). There were 2 things that were plainly obvious to those inside and outside of the recording industry that night: 1) This is an immensely talented performer with enormous upside potential 2) Winehouse was on a dangerous path and perhaps the tip of a downward spiral, given her problems with addiction and the underlying emotional issues that all too often derail the careers of emerging artists. I couldn’t help think that there was something terribly afoul and enabling with the idea of heaping praise on a woman in such peril after she declared in song, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, no, no, no.”
We speak of the power and merits of artistic expression in this forum a great deal, but the story of Amy Winehouse is a cautionary tale. Exposing children to music and the arts provides a valuable outlet for their emotions, and is a tool in teaching them to live productive and healthy lives – but it’s just a start. It’s important to realize and acknowledge its limitations as well. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that Winehouse’s underlying issues could not be resolved by a piano, guitar, or microphone.
I’ve spoken to music therapy experts, and they’ve echoed these sentiments as well. We must be realistic and practical in espousing the power and benefits of music and music education. Those who oversell its potential provide ammunition for the skeptics and sabotage the scientific advances made by the true practitioners of music and sound therapy, arts integration, and arts education in general.
Every year the NAMM Foundation identifies the best communities for music education. The 2011 list was released recently in conjunction with NAMM’s Wanna Play Music week.
This week my cover story for local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine’s New Orleans Jazz Fest issue: Interview/profile of legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
Thanks again to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment. Photo credits: Romney Photography
(From left to right: Ed Petersen (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Harold Battiste), Harold Battiste, Irvin Mayfield, Jr., Victor Atkins (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Ellis Marsalis, Jr.), and Ellis Marsalis, Jr.
Virtually every creativity expert concurs – all children are creative, yet we often lose our capacity for creativity as we get older and diminish our creative activities. That brings us to today’s music and arts education advocacy quote of the day:
“Creativity is like a muscle. It gets stronger with use, and withers with inactivity. If we cut music and arts education funding, where will our children exercise?”
- Craig M. Cortello
This article by Ronnie Sanders, a member of the fine arts faculty at Jefferson High School in San Antonio and an appointee to a sub-Committee of the Texas Commission on the Arts, echoes the sentiments we express here often on the benefits of music and arts education. My takeaways and key points included:
- “The arts do not exist simply to perform; the arts exist to transform.” (great line!)
- “We use music to make better students who are ready to use the skills they learn in fine arts classes in order make a significant contribution in a global economy of thinkers, creators and problem-solvers.”
- “Far from being superfluous, the arts are now regarded as a necessary component of a well-rounded quality education.”
- “Our children are not mere statistics or cold, calculated averages. At the core of every student is a heart with a desire to excel in life — and the arts are here to help them accomplish their dreams!”
Read the entire article at MySanAntonio.com
If those of you living outside of New Orleans want to know why natives like me love it here, one reason is the plethora of and accessibility to great artists. The artistic ability per square mile in this city is astounding. I wrote an article that will appear in local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine during New Orleans Jazz Fest in late April/Early May, and had a chance to interview legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
I never get tired of speaking to great musicians and artists, particularly about the creative process and the courageous nature of developing your artistic gift in the face of daunting challenges. Here’s an excerpt from my interview – a quote from Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of the GRAMMY Award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and of the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, regarding his esteemed predecessors in jazz and music education:
“Nobody starts to play basketball because they had a great coach. They play basketball because they saw Michael Jordan. As much as I have respect for all of the classroom time that these gentlemen (Marsalis and Battiste) have spent, I would never have been interested in them if they couldn’t play. We call these guys educators, but was Louis Armstrong any less of an educator? Was Cannonball Adderley any less of an educator? Was Miles Davis?”
- Irvin Mayfield
(Pictured left to right, Myself, Irvin Mayfield, and Ellis Marsalis)
Thanks to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment.
10 BUSINESS MEETING CREATIVITY IDEAS
by Craig M. Cortello (Article available for reprint with author and website acknowledgment)
Developing an innovative spirit in the workplace doesn’t require extraordinary measures. Managers can experiment with simple ideas that merely break routines, allowing your employees permission to drop the façade that we all don to some degree when we punch the clock. Here are a few ideas that will help you lighten things up for your staff and get their creative juices flowing, if you have the courage to take the leap:
1. Dart Board
Start every staff meeting by allowing everyone a shot at the dart board. Best shot gets to kick off the meeting, appoint the moderator, or tell what they did over the weekend. Starts things off on a playful note and gets your people out of their chairs. For safety purposes, stick with the magnetic or Velcro variety.
2. Colored Markers for the Flip Chart
Sounds simple, but we are programmed from an early age to correlate the amalgamation of colors with the awakening of our imaginations. If you need further evidence of this phenomenon, observe a classroom full of first graders the next time a teacher instructs them to put away their math books and take out their crayons. And experts agree that the key to creativity lies in the ability to awaken the child inside each of us.
3. Music Creativity
Ask each team member to write a 4-line verse to a song that relates to their job duties, hobbies, business ideas, etc. Go around the room and ask them to sing, rap, or simply recite (military cadence perhaps) their verse. Print the compilation in the next company newsletter to get a little PR for your department or office (others in the organization might want to transfer in when they realize that you’ve given your staff permission to have fun).
4. Music Creativity II
Ask your staff to bring in a CD with a song that describes their personality, work attitude, or how their weekend went. Play excerpts before the meeting for a laugh.
5. To Serve Mankind
Ask your staff to convey what they did over the weekend that was a service to another person, charitable organization, or noble cause. Vote to determine whose action was most heroic and award a gift certificate to the winner, let them leave work early on Friday, or take a longer than usual lunch break. This will encourage your staff to think of new ways to develop a sense of community. It will also help your people feel good about their co-workers, get to know them better, and give them a sense of pride in the organization.
6. Vocabulary Expansion
Ask your team to bring a rarely used or obscure word to the next meeting. Have them use it in a context that is applicable to your business.
7. Memory Exercise
Read a list of 10 or 15 things, preferably something related to your business, your industry, or to a customer and give an award to the person who can commit the most items to memory. This exercise can help your staff become more familiar with your organization and with your customers. Memory development is also a key to developing new customer relationships that will help your business prosper.
8. “If I Ran This Place…”
Ask your staff what they would consider the ideal job, the ideal workplace, and the ideal location. You can’t transform your place into utopia, but you might gain some insight into feasible, marginal changes that will improve things. Now that you have them thinking without barriers, ask them what they would do first or different if they ran the company, office, or department. This one takes some courage and is not without risk, but you’ll be surprised by the answers.
9. Show and Tell
Have your staff bring something that they’ve created, that they are proud of, or from their childhood that the group would find interesting or funny. Demonstrate an interesting or unusual talent, perhaps. We loved this game when we were in kindergarten, and for some reason they made us stop playing as we got older.
10. Top 10 Lists
Until David Letterman decides to pursue intellectual property infringement, go ahead and try this one. Give a topic at your staff meeting, and ask for the answers the following week. Remember to keep it clean and non-offensive. Have your staff rank the answers and use a point system to determine the winner.
We would never ask our employees for quality without offering the resources, direction, systems, and commitment to develop procedures that ensure improvement in that area. Yet we ask employees for creativity or to “think outside the box” all of the time without giving another thought as to how to initiate the creative process. Take the first step and give your staff permission to shake things up a bit at your office. You’re likely to see some changes – for the better!
Kevin Spacey recently gave a speech on Arts Advocacy at the Kennedy Center. A brief interview the following day with Chris Matthews of the show Hardball is making the rounds among arts advocates on Twitter. Spacey researched historical testimonials from well-known public figures, and he shared this gem during the speech – Matthews was so struck by it that he asked Spacey to repeat it to his audience:
“When Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and he was told that there were going to be major cuts in arts and culture because of the mounting costs of World War II, he responded with a simple reply, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”
As a lifelong musician, music advocate, and music writer, I weighed the importance of avoiding the temptation to be an overbearing parent with the desire that my only child would follow suit and take up an instrument. A small piano, another keyboard, an assortment of guitars, and a willing mentor in the house provided a nurturing environment. When he finally came to me at the age of 9 or 10 and expressed an interest in trumpet or drums, we drove to a nearby music store. A few licks on the drums brought a smile to his face, and we were off and running.
The first 6 months he seemed enthusiastic. The ensuing 6 months required frequent reminders that practice was necessary, and the final 6 months were torture – for both of us. Lectures about the importance of commitment, the cost of drums and lessons, etc., etc., etc.
I came to the realization that perhaps his arts education journey would be different from mine. I told him that I would support whatever he wanted to pursue, and that we could take a music hiatus for the summer while he played baseball and also pursued his newfound joy – photography. At the end of the summer, we wanted a decision before continuing.
When the summer was over, he came to us and said that he had decided that photography was really what he enjoyed. We committed to him that we would match whatever amount of money he saved on his own to put toward a nice camera. And for the last couple of years, it’s clear that he has the photography (or shutter) bug.
Some parents are more demanding than others, and the recent buzz about “Tiger Moms” has rekindled the discussion about how strong a hand parents should rule with. Of course, there’s still no blueprint to parenthood. It’s still an art more than a science, in my estimation.
Lesson: One of my concerns with standardized testing and the pressure that kids face at such an early age is that childhood should be a time of exploration, not of narrowing their focus. Expose your kids to a world of possibilities and they will choose to narrow their path when it’s appropriate – and they’ll have the benefit of making an informed decision.
There are obviously many challenges still ahead for these parents of one. But if my pride in my 13 year-old son’s work is any indication of the job I’ve done as a parent, then I guess things will turn out okay. Here’s a sample of work from Michael Cortello, aspiring New Orleans Photographer: