Archive for the ‘Theremin Commentary’ Category

THEREMIN Kartoonz!
Surreal Animated Nuggets of WTF?!

Posted by

Long thought to be lost to the ether, a whole bunch of surreal animations from my former website
have surfaced. They were originally created in Flash. With the help of an expert, about 75% were
restored and now function. Some are only a few seconds long, some are looped action and others are,
well…..what on earth was I thinking? More fun than a barrel of monkey-howled sine waves!





“Vincent,” Nine Years Later…

Posted by

It’s hard to believe I recorded this nine years ago. Thanks always to Dan Burns and his marvelous
creation, the B3 Deluxe Theremin. This instrument’s tone and versatility helped capture the
heartbreaking beauty in Don McLean’s song. Two of Van Gogh’s starry nights in the windows.

While We Wait…

Posted by

Things are in a holding pattern for the duration of the time spent working on the new film,
(see below), so, in keeping with the last reprise, here are some theremin video reminders…




Coming Soon: Gabriel Fauré’s “Berceuse” and the original “Aviary on Mars.”

Trenton Computer Festival,
Here I Come!

Posted by


With new music, new performance pieces, and a good portion of mad scientist hysteria, I’ll be
presenting at the amazing Trenton Computer Festival. If you’re into computers, electronics, techno-
gadgets and the one of the best geekoid experiences on the planet and you’ve never been to this
huge event, be sure to keep Saturday, March 17 open. Here’s what I’ll be doing:


The theremin was one of the very first creations of the dawn of the technological age at the beginning
of the 20th century. As such, it presaged the coming of all subsequent electronic instruments as well
as working on principles of physics that resulted in the creation of all manner of marvels, from automatic
opening doors to what was arguably the most notorious spying device ever invented: the first passive
surveillance bug, invented by Leon Theremin himself. The unstoppable rising tide of technology permeates
every aspect of our lives, from recreational to military/industrial to medical. Through musical demon-
stration as well as stories that cover history, physics and a look at the neurological components of emotions
such as joy, wonder and happiness, “The Theremin and Technological Joy” humorously examines our human
fascination with creating and possessing technological gadgetry.


Saturday, March 17
11:20am to 12:15pm
Education Building
Room ED 207
The College of New Jersey
2000 Pennington Rd
Ewing, NJ 08628
GPS Coordinates at TCNJ Entry:
40° 16’ 16” N 74° 46’ 58” W


Visit the Trenton Computer Festival Web Site!

Back to School! Free Theremin Classes.

Posted by

For thereminists of all levels. The best theremin lessons are the ones that give you the results you want.
That’s why I advocate trying everything that’s out there. Of course, my lessons are among what’s out there,
and I’d love for you to try them – developed over the course of about ten years, they’ll challenge you
and I’m willing to bet you’ll surprise yourself with a lot of these techniques. They’re effective, they’re fun
and they’re FREE! Visit

“Idle Mind” – A Theremin in the Movies!

Posted by

Many of you know that late last year I was commissioned to write a theremin score for the new Michael
Jason Allen feature film, “An idle Mind is the Devil’s Playground.” Not only did I do that, but Jason, the
director, asked me to be in the film! So, out I went to Arizona and did the whole thing.
Now, the movie is out, available on DVD.
Idle Mind
I won’t give away the plot, but I will tell you that this is the first film whose lead character
is a theremin player! He spends his life shut away from the world, until one day, he has a dream that
puts him face-to-face with…
To see the trailer for the movie, CLICK HERE and then scroll down the page.
This is a film shot with a style, mood and storyline reminiscent of the best Twilight Zone episodes. In
fact, Spats White, a former film critic, and close friend (and collaborator) of Rod Serling for many years,
consented to view the film and write a review. Here are two excerpts:
“An Idle Mind Is The Devil’s Playground is an entertaining and well made film with solid performances,
a sharp screenplay, distinctively fine music, and award worthy cinematography. It is a unique film
and well worth the attention of any audience. Rod Serling, creator and dominant writer of The Twilight
Zone, was my friend, TV co-host, college writing professor and mentor. The film successfully reeks of
that era and style and, knowing him as well as I did, I think I can safely assume and assert here that
Mr. Serling would have totally appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed this motion picture”.
“…the music score and sound track credited to Mr. Allen the director, Mr. Ehron VonAllen and the
aforementioned Mr. Kip Rosser who performs the score on the theremin, that odd electronic instrument
famous for its spooky and wailing sounds so popular in horror movies and TV shows of the era. In the
hands of the composers, however, and (literally) the hands of Mr. Rosser, the often novelty-like sound
of the theremin is expertly elevated to a higher level of musicianship and tonal quality placing it
alongside the atmospheric sound track beauty usually only attainable from a full orchestra. It is a
truly unique, haunting and strangely memorable score.

A movie about a thereminist, a theremin musical score… what more could any of us theremin afficionados
possibly want? To order the film or the soundtrack, CLICK HERE and then scroll down the page.

2016 Just Begun — Me, a Theremin, and a New Movie

Posted by

The New Year is starting off in a way I could never have predicted. Award winning feature film maker, Michael Jason Allen
contacted me to ask if I would write the score for his upcoming film, An Idle Mind is the Devil’s Playground.

“Why me?” was my first reaction. Turns out, it’s perfectly logical; his lead character. Sid Kottler, is a theremin player.
It follows that a theremin would be part and parcel of the music for the film. Where there’s a theremin, there’s suspense,
and there’s the type of compelling music that made the theremin’s reputation in brilliant films like Billy Wilder’s The
Lost Weekend
, Hitchcock’s Spellbound and the original 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed
by Robert Wise. These films (all made before really cheesy SciFi turned the theremin’s sound into a cliché) featured music
by amazing composers like Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rosza. While I’m hardly in that class of composer, this is going to
be fun.

Filming in black and white, Allen is both writer and director. Rather than go the routes of horror or SciFi, he’s
written a suspenseful psychological drama reminiscent of masters like Hitchcock and Serling.

I encourage you to take a look at Allen’s extraordinary body of work. He’s just recently won the Great Lakes International
Film Festival for his film, The Coldest Kiss. It also received nominations for Best Actor, Best Director and Best
Feature at the Trail Dance Film Festival. You can see more at his web site, He Said She Said Productions:

During our preliminary talks it became clear that I’m working with an intensely creative and passionate man. Jason and I
connected very easily; it seems we’re on the same page from the start and I have to say I am in awe of his energy, his
enthusiasm and his incredible openness to the musical ideas I’ve proposed.

As with any independent filmmaking venture, finances are key. At the last tally, Jason still needed to $3,375 to complete
his budget. And you – yes, you, (picture me saying this in my best TV infomercial voiceover) can make a donation of any
amount to help this film see the light of day. Just go to the link below for all the details about the levels of funding:

To top it all off, after seeing me on youtube, Jason eventually asked if I would be interested in appearing in the film.
Took me a while to get my head around that – I was already busy writing the music and I had to “surface” from that mindset
to take in what he’d asked. After thinking it over for a day or two… I’m in. I’ll be out in Phoenix for filming at the
end of this month.

All I can say is: this is going to be fun.

More as things progress. For now, go take a look at Michael Jason Allen’s films!

Notes From the Street

Posted by

Part Two: It’s Music to Whose Ears?
The answer to that question isn’t always easy to figure out. Most of the time, people are rushing around,
on their ways to or from… they’re all in “get there” mode; the subway’s just the conduit, the way to
travel from here to there. I see determination in everyone’s eyes, a purpose that blinds them a little
to their surroundings. Most of them are even slightly deaf to their surroundings, too – walking around
with their smart phones, earbuds planted firmly in their ears.

Music in the subways is nothing new. When I moved to Manhattan in 1977, there were musicians in the
subways back then, too. They wandered through the train cars. Most of them were pretty awful. Many
were just singing a Capella and asking for change. Occasionally, a grubby guy with a guitar might pass
through and surprise everyone by being really talented.

Things were much more raw then. The car interiors were plastered with graffiti. Very few of them were air
conditioned in the summer. Most were equipped with fans that blew the sweltering, foul air around. The
windows in the cars could actually be opened, and when they were, it was better to close them. The air
in the tunnels was broiling, sooty and rank. Unlike now, the cars were much more active; people were always
coming in and out of the doors on each end. Some people even rode outside, between the cars. Coming home
late at night, with just a few people scattered around in the seats, it was ominous, put your senses on
high alert.

Just another summer afternoon in a scorching subway car, there I am, soaked to the skin on the way home
from work. Into the car comes a huge man wider than the opening in the door. His deep ebony skin is
glistening with sweat, his eyes are bright and his smile, well, his smile is a blissful. Hanging from
a strap around his massive neck is a beautifully hand-hammered Jamaican steel drum. His rich, sweet
voice cuts through the heat, soaring above the racket of the train as he says, “Ladies and gentlemen,
good afternoon to y’all, my name is William. I know it’s hot and y’all are on your way home, ya’ll have
busy lives. I want y’all to know y’all are now in the safest subway car in New York City. No one has
ever been mugged, robbed or molested in a subway car when I’m in it! So, please, just relax and enjoy.”
William begins to play that drum and the music pours out over the crowd. The man is fantastic. Soon,
we’re all smiling. When William’s done, almost everyone bursts into applause. “Thank y’all kindly,
ladies and gentlemen. And anything y’all can spare as I pass through to the next car will be most
appreciated. Thank y’all for listening. Get home safe.”

As William passes me, I hand him two dollars; it’s all I have on me, change from my lunch. I stand up and
shake his hand. “You are a pure joy, William.” I tell him. It catches him up short, I think. His
exuberant eyes soften and his crowd pleasing smile turns to one of quiet surprise. I can only guess that
while lots of people give him their change, no one has ever taken him by the hand and spoken to him before.

That day on the train – that’s when I knew: someday, I wanted to be able play music down in the subway.

“Are you insane?” my friends asked me when I told them what I was planning to do. “You don’t know who’s
going to come up to you. What if someone grabs your tips? What are you going to do when homeless people
hang around while you’re playing? You could get killed in the subway!”

Today, that’s exactly where I am.

About eight years ago, I auditioned for Music Under New York, made the cut, and I’ve been playing the
subways whenever I can.

Today is like most days down here. It’s noisy, it’s chaos. People rush around in waves as each subway
train arrives and departs. All of the motion has a visible rhythm – the flow speeds up as people hear
a train arriving one flight down, counterpointed by the slower, steady trudge of people exiting the
cars and plodding up the stairs. There are usually a few flurries, arpeggios of scurrying passengers
frantic to try to make it downstairs and into a train. I begin putting the instrument together, get
out my cables, connect the theremin and my iPod (it holds all the musical accompaniments that I play
along with) to the amplifier. I take the theremin carrying case and lay it wide open on the floor
about six feet in front of me, seed it with a few dollars. Everyone’s oblivious. Until the music starts.

Judging by the look on some of the faces, the question surfaces in my mind: “It’s music to whose ears?”
The theremin’s ethereal, ambient voice wafts out, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. The people
farthest from me hear the music but can’t pinpoint where it’s coming from. Others walking fairly close by
can spot me, see that there’s music emanating from my vicinity but they can’t connect what I’m doing to
what they’re hearing. The looks on their faces range from startled to bewildered to utterly spooked.
Every now and then someone will see me and shoot a hostile glance my way, but the majority of passersby
who are within about fifteen feet of me either slow down or stop to look. Some of the ones who stop come
closer to really watch.

I catch the eye of a striking young woman who, I’ve noticed, has been watching me from different
positions around the station. We smile at one another, and as I finish what I’m playing she approaches.
Her name is Georgia, she’s in investment counseling, but in college she studied religious philosophy.
She, too, has been watching the reactions of everyone. She’s as fascinated as I am; she associates
their behavior with what happens when people encounter magic. Georgia explains how people who encounter
something magical are likely to feel threatened. They witness something they have no frame of reference
for and confusion, insecurity and even fear can set in. But if they take the time to examine, as the
explanation emerges, their apprehension dissolves.

This is exactly what’s happening all afternoon. People who obviously don’t even know one another gather
in little knots and I can tell they’re tossing ideas back and forth – what’s he doing? – how is he
making that music? – what the hell is that bizarre box with the two antennas and how can a Beatles song
be coming from it? In what universe does Clair De Lune come from some nut who’s waving his hands around?
I’m forever motioning people to come closer and try the theremin for themselves. The more adventurous
among them will approach and, with a little coaxing, wiggle their fingers in the field generated by the
pitch rod – the vertical antenna.

The experience is transformational; everyone, regardless of age, sex, personality – each becomes as
fascinated as a child. Any barriers between us as humans fall away for just a few minutes and we’re all
happy, talking, exploring. This is why I’m here. I rarely, if ever, recoup in tips what it costs me to
park at the train station, purchase a round-trip ticket for Manhattan, and then pay for the subway rides
to and from the playing location. It’s never been about that. Eventually, each person goes his or her
own way again and in all likelihood, the barriers go back up quickly.

A young man, about six-three, walks directly up to face me. He’s wearing black sweats, immaculately
clean, tan work boots, a black hoody and opaque sunglasses. His hands hang down, clasped in front of his
crotch. His voice is resonant and confrontational. “I need two dollars. Can I have two dollars.” He’s,
not asking. There’s no rise in his tone where a question mark would be. He’s telling me to give
him two dollars, almost daring me to say no.

I stop playing. “Convince me.”

“What?” He sounds thrown, gathering anger.

“Convince me. What do you need two dollars for?”

“I need to get food.”

“All right. Now, take off the hood.”


“Take off the hood.”

He does.

“Now, take off the sunglasses and ask me if you can have two dollars. Man, if I’m going to give you two
dollars I want to see who I’m giving it to.”

He takes off the sunglasses and asks, still on edge, “Can I have two dollars?”

I smile and reach out to shake his hand. “What’s your name?”


“Hi, Maurice. I’m Kip. Go ahead and take your two dollars.”

He does not return my smile, but quickly reaches down, his eyes never leaving mine, grabs two dollars
and walks off looking calmer, but confused.

For a few seconds, Georgia just looks at me, speechless. Then, we continue talk together as if nothing
had happened.

The voices of my friends echo in the back of my head, “Are you insane?”

Maybe, just a little.

Coming Soon:
Part Three – How To Book A Gig In The Subway

Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary

Posted by

Part Six – Good Things Happen in 3s
(See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
(See Part Two, posted on July 18, 2013)
(See Part Three, posted on August 11, 2013)
(See Part Four, posted on August 29, 2013)
(See Part Five, posted on October 1, 2013)

Peter Russell, in his book, The Global Brain, uses the image of an exponential curve to represent both movement toward change, as well as the stress that is the catalyst for such change. Stress is that which threatens the orgamism’s survival and change takes place when things reach “critical mass” – very much an adapt-or-die scenario. Russell applies this curve to everything, from the simplest of one-celled organisms to humans, to social and political values. I am of the opinion that arts education is in dire need of change in order to survive, to command the respect it deserves, and to be incontrovertibly validated as necessary to both the academic lives and real-world lives of students.

The proverbial “collective consciousness” is always at work, it seems. Just as with inventors at the turn of the last century who were working in different countries on the same inventions at the same time (radio, television, the phonograph, moving images, etc.) innovative educators and artists appear to be moving toward a new, if hazily defined, paradigm. American journalist, editor, and author, Joanne Lipman’s observations are remakably aligned with those of Horowitz (see Parts 4 and 5). In her recent New York Times article, “Is Music the Key to Success?” Ms. Lipman pushes past the older, more accepted views of transfer of learning to much broader principles:

“The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously…many of them apply music’s lessons of focus and discipline into new ways of thinking and communicating — even problem solving.”

While there is plenty to suggest “sure, we’ve known this for years,” the questions are: 1) were those “new ways of thinking” actually part of what was being taught in the classroom? and 2) what is being done in the classroom? How is this knowledge being put to use, here and now, and imparted to students? In my opinion that subject matter is offered, but then, in most cases, it’s assumed that higher principles (if even considered at all) will probably take hold of their own accord.

What I am suggesting is that, in order to put a paradigm shift into practice at its most basic level, those of us who teach need to rethink our approaches, retool our lessons and methodology in order to present material that bridges the gap between the classroom and the larger world outside. None of us should accept the age-old cliché of a student asking either aloud or in her head, “When am I ever going to need this in real life?” We need to honestly provide her with the answer to that question before it gets asked. We should both impart a lesson and then draw the parallel for the student. This means multi-layered answers, answers that show myriad real-world parallels across many disciplines.

While it is far beyond the scope of these essays to present entire lessons plans for all arts disciplines, a basic approach can be outlined for three grade groupings (good things happen in 3s): grades K through 3, grades 4 through 8, and high school.

For grades K – 3, the arts are introduced by educators and the students are guided into them through a) free-form and experimentation; b) by gradually introducing traditional principles and methods; c) demonstration; and d) storytelling.

Young children in grades K – 3, when dealing with the arts, should always be allowed to discover the art and themselves in relation to it without dictates or constraints of any kind. Children are naturally creative, inquisitive, and self-validating (if educators can avoid critical comment or trying to regiment the child). This means providing the materials necessary, then watching what each child creates. It truly is as simple as that. One example will have to suffice; let’s use dance. Rather than having kids knuckle under – in the name of developing large motor skills – to the conformity of the age-old Hokey Pokey – (something I was required to do over fifty years ago and was still being used for first graders last week!) the teacher puts on music, possibly 60 seconds maximum. Everyone, including the teacher, then moves to the music. Allow each child to do anything and everything. The teacher changes the music to something that conveys another mood. Without any verbal instruction, the teacher would then move in a way he or she feels is conducive to the new mood. Many children will pick up on this and move differently as well. Never is the type of movement dictated or restricted. The teacher observes each child. The music is changed again, and, again the children are allowed to move in any way they see fit. The teacher observes at this point, offering only encouragement and praise, never criticizing or directing. Every child should be made to feel good about the dance he or she is doing. That is the extent of one early class. Only very gradually are parameters set, and then, put in place toward the end. Free form is always the beginning. Then at some point in the proceedings the teacher might say, “There are so many different kinds of music. Some music sounds really happy. Some can sound sad. Some can sound very mysterious.” The teacher plays different short selections and asks the children how the music sounds (its emotional content). The children will almost always universally agree how it sounds. “Happy!” “Spooky!” etc. “So,” the teacher asks, “if we have spooky music, how does that make us dance? Let’s see…”

The music is played and the children dance in whatever way they choose. There is never any right or wrong way. Later in the sessions, the teacher introduces the idea of simple movements or sequences of movement, such as stomping the right foot, turning around and clapping hands once. “Let’s see if we can do that to the music.” And yet another session, later still, might introduce the idea of students holding hands and performing a simple sequence together, or, dividing in to pairs, threes, etc. We, as teachers, need to remember how very young these children are; freed from our needless judgement or criticism and subjected only to encouragement, think of how motivated, how happy they will feel, and how the foundations of their self-esteem are being reinforced. With carefully planned class sessions, the children can be led gradually, day-by-day, week-by-week and so on, through grade 3, into traditional/classical movements and steps, the principals of choreography, etc.

As for demonstrations, videos of dancers of all types can be shown to children throughout these years.

Storytelling would take the form of age-appropriate stories of famous dancers from the past, as well as the wealth of children’s literature.

The Middle School Years

This is the time to reveal the “necessary” arts to students. The children themselves are exposed constantly to shows, music, and artwork of all types, but rarely is a connection made between them, the work they’re doing in the classroom, and how that work translates to the outside world.

Grades 4 through 8 – Continue free form arts endeavors, allow for maximum expression, without restraint or real world associations, the art for the arts’ sake. Introduce more techniques, history, traditions and principles with exercises and practice that conform to established forms/parameters. Free form and self-expression are encouraged in tandem so students can always apply and “marry” the regimentation with their own creative lives.

Simultaneously, expose students to as many prominent artists in the field through video and reading, bios of the artists’ lives and times that are grade-appropriate. Then relate them to the present day.

As the student matures, the teachers show students how a particular art form is used in many fields, all of which can help them earn a living while dedicating time to the purer form of their artistic goals. There are detractors of this method who would claim that the only way for an artist to gain prominence is total devotion to the art form to the exclusion of all else. But the truth is that talent in and of itself is often a cheap commodity – there are tens of thousands of extremely talented people. What is it that enables one to achieve far more than others? It is almost never the talent itself, but an unquantifiable combination of talent, luck, opportunity, “who you know,” networking and more that enables an artist (in any field) to prosper.

Students at this age must gradually be encouraged to “wake up” by adding a healthy dose of reality into the curriculum. Of all the thousands of talented and brilliant artists out there, only a comparative handful actually rise to prominence in their chosen field. Rather than this being a fatalistic and discouraging outlook, it is neither negative nor positive. It is just fact. However, if equipped with the right skill set, people can pursue their art and find satisfying ways to use their talents in “real life,” to support themselves. The clichéd and even romanticized image of a “starving artist” is a fallacy. There’s nothing at all attractive or satisfying about living in abject poverty. Surviving in today’s world requires being able to make a living.

For our examples, let’s look at the arts of painting and sculpture. The teacher introduces real-world professions that employ hundreds and hundreds of people. All of the professions can be looked at as “cousins.” Students will naturally gravitate toward one or a few, but should be exposed to all: graphic design, architecture, illustration, commercial arts, interior design, theater set design, institutional design (museum displays and gallery installations), trade show installation designs, signage, textile design, packaging, advertising design, furniture and product design and more. The overriding message is that “once you are out of school, you can pursue your art in its purest form. And you also have the option of transforming and using your skill to make a living.”

Finally, there are student contests in painting and sculpture, plus, grants and festivals in these and related fields sponsored by many foundations and companies that the teacher should research and implement in the classroom. Part of the curriculum then entails having all members of the class apply and enter according to their specific strengths and skills. The lesson is that you, as an artist, can receive other kinds of support but you’ll need to learn to express your goals on paper, go through exacting application processes, sometimes in many stages. By involving students in such real-world endeavors, they will soon see that there is always more to their art than just making the art. They will have to learn to focus, communicate, and justify their visions; they will learn endurance, patience, and how to handle ongoing rejection. They will learn that they are not the only ones struggling, but that there are thousands of others just as dedicated, just as passionate, and like them, hoping to succeed.

The High School Years

If a given student is inclined to pursue a professional career as an artist, be it a writer, painter, sculptor, singer, composer, etc., by the time he or she graduates from high school (or a specialized arts school), he or she needs far more than talent and desire. Of paramount importance is an understanding of the business side of the chosen art form. Too many aspiring artists fail or give up when confronted with the ferociously competitive and, quite frankly, uncaring world outside their little protected academic spheres. However, the intention is not to discourage the students by rudely awakening them, rather, it is to strengthen them, sharpen their resolve, give them the skills to navigate the world “arena” they are going to enter. The goal is to equip students with the many tools necessary for coping with the reality of their living a life dedicated to their chosen arts.*

Imagine the student who wants to pursue any of these arts being taught, before college, about the hundreds of ways to align their talent both with what they want to pursue and other professions that can sustain them. Imagine: without writers, composers, and fine artists, what would happen to the world? There would be no scripts for movies, TV shows, commercials, no writing for corporate brochures, no technical manuals, no “how-to” books, no advertising, packaging (remember, it took a writer to think up the name “Cheerios!”). Commercials and movies would have no background musical scores. Books would have no illustrations, magazines would be stark white pages – no articles,no photos. Without graphic design, everything from packaging to the entire internet, to the label in your underwear would be blank! Think of it — to sell even a simple can of Coke requires a team of designers, a copywriter, a composer, a script writer, musicians, a film director and full crew, a film editor, possibly actors and dancers, a computer artist, website designer and coders, and more. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of products, services, and businesses that can only thrive if there are artists to create for them. What students, today, are being taught this?

Imagine, as well, students learning about unions and other organizations they will need to join and how to do so. Imagine classroom guests, pulled from the students’ own communities, who are pursuing careers in the arts telling their own stories. Imagine teaching units on networking and self promotion. Imagine continuing, as part of the everyday class work throughout high school, helping students to enter poetry contests, essay contests, playwriting competitions, composing contests; submitting writing to agents and publications.

Imagine creating an entire project as a class, combining everyone’s talents and culminating in an assembly or exhibit.

Now that the Surface is Scratched…

The arts are the lifeblood of our entire global culture. They shape the way we see our world – whether in a beautiful ballet, a building, a birdhouse in our backyard, a sign in a museum installation, a TV commercial, the logo on a sneaker, a ringtone on a phone, a pair of sunglasses frames, the jingle for a used car dealership, the picture on a postage stamp, the lid on a jar of pickles, the ambient music in a mall, the written text on a box of nails, even the shapes in Lucky Charms cereal! It took artists to create them all.

While these essays have barely “scratched the surface,” the hope is that our eyes are at least open to the potential for seriously examining arts curricula, teaching methods, and the way we, as teachers and artists, approach the “powers that be” when making our case for comprehensive arts education reform and funding. The time for taking action to rethink, revamp and renew everything about arts education begins right now. Changing things, as we know, is going to take tremendous effort and, of course, time – time to create the courses, time to unify approaches, to form our new vocabulary for stronger arguments in favor of what we seek to do, and a lot of time to wake up administrators, gain their trust and demonstrate that the benefits of school arts programs are of inestimable value. The administrators are reachable; every single one of them was a child who used to love to color and draw, dance and sing and put on shows for their parents. We’ve got to help them remember the freedom and joy they all felt – genuinely inspire them. Some of them even had the same dreams as students today. We have to gently help them wake up so that we can all, through powerful new arts education programs, bring students’ dreams into the real world.

*The only art form that has limited applications is dance. Dancers definitely are used in all forms of artistic endeavor, but the possibilities are limited for lateral application. Dance instructors, movement instructors, physical trainers, yoga instructors are about just about the extent of it. Moving into areas such as physical therapy, while certainly workable, is a radically different discipline requiring even more specialized schooling.

Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary

Posted by

Part Five – Real Life and the Necessary Arts
(See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
(See Part Two, posted on July 18, 2013)
(See Part Three, posted on August 11, 2013)
(See Part Four, posted on August 29, 2013)

The eight cognitive outcomes resulting from arts learning and the four personal learning indicators identified
by Horowitz bear repeating:

  • the expression of ideas and feelings
  • focused perception
  • the ability to make connections
  • the ability to layer relationships
  • improved construction and organization of meaning
  • the ability to take multiple or alternative viewpoints
  • the ability to imagine new possibilities
  • improved sensory learning

  • The personal learning indicators resulting from arts learning:

  • risk taking
  • a sense of competence
  • a sense of ownership of learning
  • task persistence

  • I’ve stated that the seeds of a paradigm shift are extant in all of the items above because they transcend the
    classroom and academic subjects; they are attributes that can have profound impact on the developmental “real
    life” of every student. If arts learning is capable of engendering character attributes this deep, then arts
    teaching – everything from basic subject matter to the teachers’ approaches, to the presentation of material
    needs to catch up. That is, having identified these attributes, it is incumbent upon teaching artists and teachers
    of the arts in general to make a conscious effort to ensure that what they teach has relevance and importance
    in the students’ lives outside the classroom. This means moving away from a purely subject-centered approach
    which, in my experience, is the norm.

    Since it is probably safe to say that the arts, in any form, will never be included in standardized testing,
    arts educators are not, theoretically speaking, bound by the same constraints (either aesthetic or administrative)
    as their standardized counterparts. However, more often than not we see classroom regimentation (“today, class,
    everyone is going to sketch a sneaker”). Students are often subjected to a lacklustre and unoriginal approach.
    My own son’s fifth grade art teacher simply “taught” by rote, using Betty Edwards’s wonderful book, Drawing on
    the Right Side of the Brain
    . I witnessed first-hand how the exercises were rendered dry and boring when
    filtered through this particular educator’s “academic” sensibilities.

    Arts education ought to be a bastion of expression, of passions, of emotional exploration through each
    individual medium with students given free reign to experiment. There is nothing whatsoever at risk by making
    it so, nothing threatening to bring controversy or shame down on the schools.

    The new paradigm of a life-centered approach to the arts will, by its very nature, demonstrate just how necessary
    they are. This means change.

    The title of this essay, Resolved: The Arts Are Unecessary, was conceived to be intentionally disturbing and,
    yes, even to provoke some healthy indignation. Arts educators are crying out for change, but innovative ideas
    are a) in short supply; or b) brought to light and subsequently quashed by an uncomprehending administration; or
    c) a rehash or compromised idea that yields a convoluted version of the status quo — which is then used to
    null-and-void the idea of change, declaring it untenable. Change is demanded, yet, our own human nature is to
    undermine it; in every arena I’ve worked in, from the corporate sector, to marketing (which included both
    graphic arts and copywriting), to not-for-profit arts. When even a small change is seen coming around the corner,
    everyone clings either to what worked in the past, or worse, they cling possessively to what didn’t work (the
    very things that prompted the urgent demand for change in the first place!) out of fear of the unknown.

    The wounded collective arts ego, weakened by years of cut-backs, continually defunded and demoralized, has
    adopted a defensive posture, with each discipline proclaiming its own specialness, each fighting over the same
    scraps. This results in a) setting the various disciplines at odds, (very effective, enabling the “powers that be” to
    divide and conquer); b)each discipline closing itself off to the point where productive communication becomes difficult;
    c) repetition of the same ineffective patterns; d) a very prevalent, condescending stance, i.e., that our administrators,
    our audiences, our public officials, the public in general “need to be educated about the arts” in order to appreciate
    their importance. For over forty years, since I was in high school, I have heard that phrase spoken countless times by
    teachers, artistic directors, and arts programmers in virtually every field.

    This has brought arts education to the point where, in many ways, it has become woefully arts-centric. The
    teaching method is, to a great extent, teaching the discipline for the discipline’s sake. Many years ago, there
    I was in algebra class; I had the presence of mind to ask “when will I ever need this in real life?” So it is with
    students today. “Yeah, I heard Mozart in music class, but what’s he got to do with me? I’m into Sage the Gemini
    and I’m going to be a rap star!”

    The truth is, the arts are necessary. In fact, they are essential to just about every conceivable field of endeavor.
    Furthermore, without them, many businesses, industries and much of the global economy, would grind to a halt.

    In my opinion, students never learn this. Arts educators, at least in my experience, while ready at the drop
    of a hat to extoll the importance of the arts, seem barely aware of how to demonstrate, even at a basic level,
    how profoundly the arts permeate every facet our lives every day.

    So, the time for disturbing essay titles is over. Let’s lay out a basic framework for a paradigm shift.

    Coming Soon:
    Part Six – Good Things Happen in 3s