Career, music, Research, Uncategorized

Mozzarimba

Today’s assignment was to create a piece of music using a MIDI file, and I probably did everything the most difficult way it could possibly be done. Maybe I was excited. Maybe I thought things would snap together and shape itself into something beautiful, like a shiny magnetic sculpture.

Turns out it was quite messy, like an old Magna-Doodle.

I’m going to walk you through the process (at least the steps I remember), so you might perhaps not make the same mistakes I did. My goal was to try and create MIDI files to then import into something cohesive in Soundtrap.

I was so, so excited to try Groove Pizza. This is a super cool web app, where you can manipulate drum beats. I loved the “Bembe” pattern.

This pattern is divided into 12 subdivisions, so I thought perhaps a 12/8 feel?

All the drum sounds used were empty, conga-like sounds. I liked the idea of something soft since all of the drum kits I’ve explored in Soundtrap so far feel splashy to me.

Above is the Bembe pattern from the app. I figured that could serve as a fine foundation. Next, I thought, I’ll create a different pattern for a “B” section.

Here I had one sound subdivide in 3, one in 4, and one in 6.

And, since I was making beats, I thought I’d create a 2-measure fill to punctuate different sections.

Left is measure 1, and right is measure 2 with more notes that would lead to the next section.

I downloaded all 3 patterns as MIDI files. Next I went into the Song Maker app in Chrome Music Lab to create a melody. I thought I’d make something simple, so I stuck with something fairly pentatonic and slow.

I started with the lower line, downloaded that on its own, then added a higher harmony part.

I downloaded that as a MIDI. Yay, this is easy! Now just to import into Soundtrap…

Wait, my work laptop doesn’t support MIDI files??? Okay, how about my desktop.

Hmm….Something doesn’t look quite right…

I was fairly certain, when I downloaded the MIDI files, that they were either the same length or maybe one was twice as long. Like, even. Those don’t look even.

It took me a long time to figure out how to make the beatmaker conducive to triplet-feel patterns. I still don’t think I really did it. I figured out how to get it into 3/4, but the drum pattern really didn’t end up the way it sounded in Groove Pizza. I’m not sure putting it in 3/4 really did anything except adjust the length of the other loops I added.

Nevertheless, I just had to finish something. So in honor of Groove Pizza and my apparent affinity for the marimba sound, I give you Mozzarimba.

Maybe things not fitting together sounds good sometimes?
Uncategorized

Shark Bait – The Musical

Well well well, if it isn’t the random blog I established 5 years ago. Here I am again.

My co-teacher introduced me to the miracle that is Soundtrap a few months ago, and I’ve been having fun exploring music composition in that way. My hope is that, with my new position teaching 7th grade general music in a possibly remote or hybrid situation, my students can forge an outlet to explore loops, creating bass lines and beats, and so much more.

I wanted to create something with a jazzy feel, so in the loop library I clicked “Jazz,” and the loop “Marimba Cheesy Dance” caught my eye. It very much had a I-iv-V-type chord progression, which made finding a fitting bass line a challenge. I altered the notes of the “Montuno 2” loop to make sure it fit the chords. I added “Organ – Kingston 6” for texture in the beginning and throughout.

The “Bedroom Chill Lofi Guitar” loop added both some beachy guitar licks and a hollow-sounding drum beat. I used the Beat Generator to create and tweak contrasting drum patterns throughout.

Even though, in theory, I’d imagine some teachers advise starting with just drums or bass, or a foundation of one thing and adding more things later, I enjoy working in a more linear fashion. I say this because I added the SFX layers in the beginning, not sure of where they’d lead or how they’d come back. I think that’s part of the fun. I ended up reversing some of the SFX loops to create tension and release into new sections.

“Is this a legitimate form of musical creativity?” Of course it is. What is music for, anyway? Looking at these blocks of sound, it reminds me of looking at a score.

Loops are a great way to get students started with composition. The fact that the composer can alter notes in existing loops helps. Everything is customizable, but like jazz or anything else creative, working within a given limit (in this case, a pre-made loop) can produce amazing results.

Oh yeah, why’s it called Shark Bait? Well, whose life is worry free? Even a day at the beach isn’t free of possible danger.

Stay out of treble,

Stephanie

Career, health, shoulder

Grieving the Loss of My Old Normal

Hey friends!

WOW, it has been a long time since I was last on here. At least I’m posting now!

Today I’m going to write about something I had not seen addressed when I was looking into life after shoulder surgery. But first, I will update you on my life.

Going Back to Work…Kinda

On March 26th, I returned to work. My principals seemed surprised to see me even though I had e-mailed them. I learned later that HR had not distributed my return note…whoops.

It was a bizarre and intense experience to be back. I prepared all of the ukuleles for the third graders who would be meeting me for the first time (I would have started their lessons in January). I was so happy to deliver that first lesson to each group and excited to teach them the ukulele. All of my lessons went smoothly and wonderfully.

Band was a different story. At one of my schools, some very sweet children who weren’t even my students came in and asked if I needed any help setting up my classroom, so I directed them as they moved the chairs and stands into place for me. It was wonderful. At the other school, I had no help. I had to lift the cafeteria benches to move them into place, and they were HEAVY.

It was a shock to see how many students were still in my bands…not many at all. I’d left in December with over 140 total band students, and I think I only saw about 40 or 50 that week. It was the week before spring break, and maybe the kids didn’t know I was back, but it wasn’t something I expected. It happens over time, and I was seeing three months of attrition all at once.

There were a lot of things about work that I found physically overwhelming. The fact that I had to lug my laptop around to do any kind of digital work was hard. I went to my partner teacher’s classroom to work, carrying my laptop bag. Because I knew I would be there awhile, I also brought my lunch, water bottle, purse, and books. Because the school is gated and I had to walk through the office to get to the room, I walked about a quarter mile with all that heavy stuff.

Every school was like that. Every place I went, I had to carry a million things. Plus, there was stuff in front of my stuff that I had to move. NOT ideal for a shoulder healing from surgery. I was tired, very sore, and hungry because I kept forgetting to buy food to prepare lunch at home.

Mental Health Is Important Too

The straw that broke the camel’s back was on Wednesday, the 28th of March. I was originally going to help my friend lead the district honor jazz band, but here’s the thing…I was out late on Monday going with my other colleague’s band to festival, I was out late on Tuesday for regular band practice. On Wednesday, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and heartbroken that only three students had shown up to my last class of the day.

I could not even show my face to the honor jazz rehearsal. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I could not make it through one week of teaching.

The truth is that teaching music, band, or any kind of program where you build something throughout the school year is contingent on consistency. Leaving it for three months and then coming back is DIFFICULT because March and April are the pinnacle months of the school year.

And the truth is that I overlooked that. Because I wanted to be back so badly. I wanted to be normal again so badly. But I’m not normal yet.

My therapist (counselor) insisted on Friday (March 30th) that I ask for more time. I called my doctor’s office the following week (spring break) and got two more weeks.

And then, faced with trying to figure out what the remainder of the school year will look like, and feeling completely hopeless that my program for this year has essentially been ruined, she suggested last Thursday (April 12th) that I don’t go back.

It’s Okay to Feel Feelings

The normal that I used to be is gone and I am sad because of that. My situation is different from other kinds of situations, my work is different from other kinds of work, and my surgery was different from other kinds of surgeries.

Things that I used to do, tools such as exercise that I was using to manage my emotions and process my thoughts, are not available to me the way they had previously been. Other things that I do to help myself, physically and emotionally, take more time right now. I have to respect that.

I am nervous about asking my doctor to extend my leave through June. My therapist said that if he doesn’t write a note to take me out, she will.

The important thing to consider is, who am I helping by being overwhelmed? Is it healthful for me to work in that state? Is it safe for my shoulder? If my work allows me to stay out, I can start again in August with every system in place to be my very best self in my teaching practice. That’s what the students deserve.

In the mean time, I’m doing everything I can to just breathe. And making some damn good videos.

To start from the beginning of the shoulder saga, click here.

shoulder

Shoulder Status: Please Get Me Back to Work!

Hey!

How’s my shoulder now? It’s weird. It’s perpetually weird. You guys…will my shoulder ever be normal again?

I’m a little over 3 months past my surgery now. I’m still going to PT twice per week.

Last week I told my therapist (the newest one) that I was struggling with pain. I went on a road trip that ended up being a day longer than I’d expected, meaning I missed two doses of the Relafen (anti-inflammatory). And I was torn about when I should return to work.

The PT said that if I was having a lot of pain when I missed one day’s worth of pain meds, it’s probably not time to go back yet. And it takes 3-4 months for anyone to go back who has this procedure. I’m still normal. I’m still doing okay.

I also had lost track of what the day was, and I thought spring break was next week, but it’s actually in two weeks. So the PT said, of course, “Just take next week off, then you’ll have the spring break week, and you can start fresh!”

But now I’m feeling like if I waited until the real spring break, two more weeks off and returning to work on April 9th…that might be a little too long. For my comfort as a music teacher whose goal is to maintain the program.

My dad called me as I was grappling with this. (He’s had rotator cuff repairs on both of his shoulders – not the same condition as mine, but similar.) He said yeah, it’s probably going to just be painful forever. Just go back to work and keep doing the exercises at home, and be careful at work in the meantime.

My PT said, “You would not want to injure yourself again.” It’s important to remember that my job is quite physical. I lift heavy items and open heavy doors and do awkward arm-related things.

So for now, the plan is to return next week, work for one week, then have spring break, and then business as usual. I haven’t had PT yet this week, so I suppose we’ll see how it goes.

How is my shoulder feeling now? I have a lot of tightness in the front part of my bicep, actually kind of close to one of my incisions. Stretching is hard because of this tightness but it’s supposed to be like that, I guess.

I asked to have some massage work done on my back behind the shoulder blade. It’s been kind of tingly-numb there. Because of my restrictions, I don’t really have any stretches to counter all the forward-type motion I’m doing. The massage work helped a ton, and the therapist also suggested self-massage by rolling a tennis ball on my back against the wall.

I’m doing a lot of strengthening exercises every day. I’m up to 80 wall push-ups and 80 of each rotator cuff band exercise. (I do the rotator cuff strengthening on my left side, too, just to keep it strong.) I also practice my range of motion in the mirror and use a homemade pulley to stretch those stubborn biceps.

I’d say I spend about 40-50 minutes per day doing PT exercises at home.

In the therapists’ office (?), I’m now pulling back 20 pounds in seated rows, 4 sets of 15. I’m also pulling down 20 pounds, a new one for me. I do range-of-motion exercises in the mirror and lying on my stomach, with 1 pound weights on my wrists. Those are hard. The goal is to get up to 4 sets of 20 on those, but they take a long time. Currently I do about 4 sets of 12.

How’s my range of motion looking?

20180319_154121
Looking good!

Something to know about these photos – even though I am pretty close with my reach here, it is a LOT of effort to bring my arm up this high! Even though I’m practicing bringing it up like this 60 times a day.

20180319_154144
Almost…there…!

I’d like to think my ideal would be to effortlessly be able to get my arm next to my ear. And now, for the most awkward photo to take:

20180319_154208
Excuse my reach…

This reach has improved, but I haven’t been stretching this way every day. I was told that it should come last after everything else is in place.

I have a confession to make: I have been playing trumpet or flugelhorn practically every day this month. And wow, I’m sounding good. And wow, that might have something to do with how weird my biceps are feeling. Maybe it’s bad for me to do that. But…but…but…it’s truly healing for my soul.

So that’s basically where I’m at right now, in terms of my shoulder. Work in 7 days…hmm…we’ll see.

Stephy

To find out how work went, click here.

Career, Lifestyle

Having the Courage to Start

This is fairly verbatim to a video I made today. Maybe with a few added points and fewer “and….” ‘s. But I’m pretty much going to just copy and paste my video script.

A few years ago one of my colleagues shared about a poster in her classroom. We are traveling music teachers, going between schools, and we all share spaces with other teachers.

The poster said, “It’s not the finish line that matters. It’s having the courage to start.”

And my coworkers had a field day with this. Because HOW could the finish line not matter?

Does this mean results don’t matter in the end?

Does this mean you can do a crappy and half-assed job and as long as you do something in the meantime, you’re good?

Does this mean if you start something and then you quit immediately, the fact that you started is the only thing matters?

I think this third idea is what grabbed the attention of my coworkers. Because we are band teachers. Kids get very excited about band. They get their instruments, their books, learn about music, and some kids find out that music is hard. And they quit.

For those kids, my teammates were probably thinking, that’s the finish line. And the poster becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way – “It’s not the finish line that matters.” The fact that the kids started band, and quit band, and didn’t see it through to the end – that’s a dissonance that makes them want to disagree with the poster. Because it seems ludicrous.

But I’ve been thinking about that poster lately, because it happens to also have been hanging in one of my classrooms for the past two years. And I’ve been in this weird phase of life – on disability leave, not sure when would be the most appropriate time to return to work, thinking about starting this YouTube channel and wondering how much time and money I really want to invest in this.

I was thinking about what I should discuss this week because I wasn’t sure if I had any perfectly-formed thoughts about ANYTHING and would that even be worth posting about? I’ve been watching so many videos of these great YouTubers and their amazingly formed opinions and thoughts, and wondering what would be the best way to deliver MY expertise and feeling like a fraud because I’m not even currently working in my field.

I thought about a song I wrote once. A song about songwriting, that might perhaps be one of the most poignant and relevant songs in my life. It’s a song about taking an idea that came from your brain, developing it, holding on to it, and being proud that that came from your brain even years later. Even if it turns out later to be crappy or weird.

I feel like this song will always be relevant to me. The last lines?

Because what if I couldn’t sing at all? Who cares if the world isn’t ready for me to sing at all?

Today is the day I realized that I agree with the poster. “It’s not the finish line that matters. It’s having the courage to start.”

Please hear me out about this. If you are like me, maybe you are someone who seeks to work hard and do great things and make the world better. Maybe you want every piece of work that comes out of your brain to come out as a shiny golden masterpiece. Maybe there are a lot of circumstances stacked up against you and you’re just trying to be better, or there’s something you want to change in your life and it’s very different from anything you’ve ever seen anyone else do.

Maybe you are considering a big life change or even a small one. Maybe what you are thinking about could put a strain on your relationships or a strain on your ego.

My point is, starting something is friggen scary. Doing anything new can be terrifying. Especially when you are changing something about yourself or making yourself vulnerable.

Going to a yoga class for the first time? Scary – because most people in a yoga class have already experienced that. Starting a fitness regime, even in the comfort of your own home, is scary. Because what if you can’t do it? What if it hurts? What if you abandon it a week in?

Returning to something you’ve done before is also scary. Especially if it’s something you have been good at. You risk bruising your ego, and that sounds like the smallest thing in the big picture, but it’s a big deal and a big risk.

I’m freaking out about returning to teaching. Everything I’ve built in the beginning part of this year, everything I’ve trained my students to do, I just don’t know if they will still have that. I may have to start from scratch.

This is a big one – starting to be the change.

Having the courage to start to be the change.

I’m addressing this in light of the student walkout on Wednesday. I know my district was supportive of students who chose to walk out for their safety in schools. I know other districts may not have been so supportive. Students who chose to participate and speak out against gun violence in schools – They took a huge risk. That is scary. It takes courage.

It takes courage to model the change you want to see if it’s different from the norm. It would be much easier to just keep doing everything the same. But guess what? You have to take risks to grow. We, as a society, have to take risks to grow. There has been a lot of failure but that doesn’t mean it’s all over.

Because the truth is, there is no finish line. There’s no finish line until the sun engulfs the earth. Even after the last human dies, there is still a planet here. Even after we die, there will still be more humans whose lives are valuable and worth fighting for.

Even after my ego gets bruised from a day full of teaching mistakes, or from someone telling me my trumpet playing is full of clams or that I really need to check my privilege, there is my opportunity to START FIXING THINGS.

Have you recently been battling to find the courage to start something new or important? Have you recently taken a risk to change something in your life? Was it scary? I would love to hear about it. Please let me know in the comments!

Stephy