Go to Theremin Animations Archive...

A Song for Then. A Song for Now.

From 1971 to 2020. Looks like what’s going on is about the same.


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Ebben! Ne andro lontana
from Catalani’s “La Wally”

So many beautiful arias sung about dire circumstances. In O Mio Babbino Caro, Lauretta sings that
if she isn’t allowed to marry the man she loves (as opposed to the one her dad wants her to get
hitched with) that she will throw herself off the Ponte Vecchio. And now we have Wally, beautiful
and wild-spirited, singing that she’ll leave home forever and wander the snowy mountains if her
father refuses to let her marry the man she loves! By the end of the opera, an avalanche has
put an end to her singing.


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O Mio Babbino Caro
from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi

From open mike night at 1867 Sanctuary, this aria was used to demonstrate the theremin’s ability to
approximate a human voice. For such an ethereal melody, it’s a pretty dire aria, with Lauretta
determined to drown herself if she is unable to marry the man she loves.


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A Romantic Anti-Pop Electro-Ballad

From the newest performance piece, “Scheduled Flights on a Theremin,” here’s the song,
“The Most Ancientest Language of Love,” by the alter-ego bizarro (and non-existent) anti-pop group,
SCREWEYE. Good beat and easy to dance to.


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The War of the Worlds:
The Wells Welles Etude!

This original piece was commissioned as the musical track used in a promo for the 2008 70th
Anniversary celebration of the infamous radio broadcast by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre.
The “Wells” (for H.G.) Welles (for Orson) Etude” features an “orchestra” of overdubbed theremins.


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Performance Excerpt from Event Horizon

Last April was the premier of “Scheduled Flights on the Theremin,” a new performance piece featuring
both new compositions and a few older compositions that never had a video component from “Lessons
from Vinegar Mother” and “Euphonic Verses.” Unlike previous performance pieces that usually combine
equal parts music and commentary, “Scheduled Flights on the Theremin” is 99% music, with emphasis on
the audience watching the newly created videos for each piece while I provide accompaniment.


Videographer Nick Mellis focused primarily on the videos I created, with an occasional dissolve to show
my playing. Due to the immense size of the venue, he could not capture both me performing and the video
in a single wide shot, so he opted to double expose much of the performance.


One final note: for some reason, one channel of the audio portion of this concert, which was recorded
in stereo, occasionally cuts out. There’s nothing wrong with your computer.

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Old Time Martian Music

Hard to believe this was so long ago. The Martian Radio Orchestra played only a few dates before it
slipped into a parallel dimension and is now viewable only to the inhabitants of Zeta Reticuli.


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THEREMIN Kartoonz!
Surreal Animated Nuggets of WTF?!

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!





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“Vincent,” Nine Years Later…

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.

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Nighty-Night, Everyone…
Sleepy Time Theremin with Fauré’s “Berceuse”

Here, from Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite is his “Berceuse” (lullaby). Accompanied by Tara Buzash on the
piano, the theremin hopes to lull you to sleep.


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“Sicilienne” by Gabriel Fauré

This was the composition that was played forty-five years ago at my wedding.


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The Aviary On Mars

A year ago, the notion of creating a short musical science fiction fantasy about Mars was just a seed.
Here’s the full flower, from the new performance piece, “Scheduled Flights on a Theremin.”.


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The New Film by Michael Jason Allen
(that I’m in!?)

Here’s the official trailer for Michael Jason Allen’s 7th feature film, “EMULATOR,” which premiers on
June 20 in Phoenix, AZ. It’s the second movie by this phenomenal independent film maker that I’ve
been in – the first being “An Idle Mind is the Devil’s Playground.”



For all the thereminists out there, “Idle Mind” is also the film that features my original theremin score.
Jason found me through Reverb Nation, and composing the film’s score was all I was originally
supposed to do. Somehow, it’s turned into acting work as well.

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Why is This Man Smiling?

Simple. He has a new lease on life. It used to be a sentence of life in prison. Now it’s life on the outside.
Freedom, for the first time in 50 years. Now he’s rehabilitated. Now he’s helped hundreds of men like
himself to reform. Now he’s a role model – someone you’d look up to, someone you’d want to emulate.
But fifty years ago, he was a serial killer. Not someone you’d admire. Not someone you’d ever want
to run into. Not someone you’d ever want to emulate – unless…




…unless you’re the copycat killer in Michael Jason Allen’s new feature film, “EMULATOR,” premiering
June 20th at Super Saver Cinemas 8, 2710 W. Bell Rd., #1125 in Phoenix, Arizona . Watch for the trailier,
coming May 13th on facebook, Youtube and https://www.hesaidshesaidproductions.com/emulator.html.

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One for the Books in
Michael Jason Allen’s “EMULATOR”

It’s one for the books, all right. Dr. Charlie Sorland, reformed serial killer turned anti-violence activist
and author, is seen here posing with a few fans of his new DVD, Violence is Obsolete. After 50 years
in prison, Soreland has been paroled and is now on the book tour circuit. Trouble is, someone else has
picked up where Charlie left off 50 years ago. A copycat killer is on a rampage and the police are after
Charlie, the one person who might be able to help catch him.




EMULATOR, Michael Jason Allen’s 7th feature, film premiers on June 20th in Phoenix, Arizona.
Those of us eagerly awaiting the date (after playing the role of Charlie, eager is an understatement) can
soon catch the trailer that’s scheduled for release on May 13th.


For more info, visit www.hesaidshesaidproductions.com.
Or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/2311982422410757

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Ready for Takeoff at Event Horizon
with “Scheduled Flights on the Theremin”

Event Horizon, Philly’s renowned electronic music concert series is back at 8:ooPM on Saturday,
April 27th. I’ll be premiering a new batch of original compositions, “Scheduled Flights on the
Theremin – An Ambient Tour of Alternate Realities.”
Admission is FREE!




Event Horizon – Ambient, Electronic, Experimental and Space Music
The Rotunda
University of Pennsylvania Campus
4014 Walnut Street

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The New Film from Michael Jason Allen:
“EMULATOR” – Good News…and Bad News

The GOOD News is…


In writer/director/actor Michael Jason Allen’s seventh feature film, EMULATOR, after 50 years in prison,
Dr. Charles Sorland (depicted here with his attorney), is receiving the good news that he’s being granted
limited parole. A convicted serial killer at the age of 18, Sorland has turned his life around. With a degree in
psychology and education, he’s become model prisoner and an author/advocate at the leading edge of prisoner
reform methodology.


The BAD news is that a druggy goth weirdo has taken a liking to Charlie’s old M.O. and is killing people
exactly the way Charlie did 50 years ago. Now the cops are after Charlie – for his help.


For more information about all of Michael Jason Allen’s films, visit: www.hesaidshesaidproductions.com


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On the Trail of a Copycat

After fifty years in prison, psychologist Dr. Charlie Sorland (me?!) is released to help catch the Century City
Copycat Killer. EMULATOR, the new feature film by writer/Director Michael Jason Allen is coming soon.



This is my second time working with Jason (who is one of the best kept secrets of indie filmmaking).
As far as I’m concerned, the secret is out. A fascinating experience. I’m completely blown away by
his consummate professionalism, organizational skills and unerring vision. If you ever have the
opportunity to work with him, do not hesitate. Say, “yes!”

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While We Wait…

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.”

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Coming in May…

Michael Jason Allen’s New Feature Film



…and ME?! Yeah. Me. In 2016, I thought screenwriter and Director, Michael Jason Allen’s film,
“An Idle Mind is the Devil’s Playground,” was both my film debut and swan song.


Wrong…here it is, 2019. Jason is at it again, and now, so am I – playing Dr. Charlie Sorland in EMULATOR.
According to the synopsis:


In 2003, 70 year-old Charlie Sorland is conditionally released from death row for good behavior and societal
contributions after serving 50 years for serial murders. With a news story on his release and his dedication to
deter others from violence, impressionable Jason Lutra sees the story and takes an unhealthy interest in Charlie.
As new murders begin to occur by way of Charlie’s old m.o., Detective Brent Lowe takes notice of the similarities
and employs Charlie’s help in getting into the mind of his own copycat killer with promises of a full pardon for
the catch. ​While Detective Lowe struggles to nail down a solid suspect, Charlie helps to confirm Jason as the
copycat killer per the undisputed evidence. Charlie’s redemption now depends on whether or not Jason can
divert Detective Lowe’s suspicions to avoid the rap.


As with all of Jason’s extraordinary films, this undertaking is a labor of sacrifice and love. You can help bring
this movie to the screen and receive some perks in the process by CLICKING HERE, then scrolling down to the
bottom of the page.


We’re in the midst of shooting right now! More to come…

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New Theremin Stuff Coming Soon!
Until Then, a Reprise…

There’s a new CD of original compositions being created right now, as well as three more music videos
in the works. Holidays may delay things, so, here’s an encore of one of the pieces used in live performance.


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September 29, 2018 – Save the Date
“A Theremin Smorgasbord” at
Cosmic Crossings Concert Series

It’s going to be an hour-long assortment of music and monologues, featuring three Lessons from
Vinegar Mother
, a little jazz, a tribute to early electronic music, Disney World, MRIs, what’s going on
in your brain, a classic pop tune with theremin and… swan therapy.

The second hour of the evening features electro-maestros Karl Fury, Juan Garces and David Berends,



It’s happening at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 268 Washington Crossing Pennington Rd.,
Titusville, NJ. Admission is $10.

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Trenton Computer Festival,
Here I Come!


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!

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A Sweet Little Halloween Video


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Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments”
Classic Jazz On the Theremin

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Karma Caught Up With Us All, Oh Yes.
What Went Around Came Around.

The theremin’s interpretation of the past tense of a time-honored maxim. Here’s a composition, with
Mike Victor playing Tenori-On and Choas Box, called “What Went Around Came Around.


To Listen, CLICK HERE.

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Time is on the Menu

A theremin’s sonic homage to the gastronomic fourth dimension, with Mike Victor playing Tenori-On
and Chaos Box. CLICK HERE TO HEAR…

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The Vegan Ice Cream Truck Rides Again!

With me on theremin and Mike Victor playing Tenori-On and CHaos Box, it’s THE MUSICAL
TREAT YOU’D NEVER EAT! Tofu Fudge! Gluten-Free Gummy Goo Grapefruit! Kale Koffee
Krunch! Chubby Choco-Chard! Super Soy Sundae! Blueberry Barley Bingo! Marmite Mocha!
All the flavors you never loved as a kid! CLICK HERE TO PLAY THE SONG!


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Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words”

The newest video, first one for 2017. It’s Felix Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words, Opus 19, No 1.
this sublimely evocative melody has fascinated me for many years. Now, finally, I’ve been able
to record it and create a short music video inspired by it.

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A Little Musical Meditation



As you ponder the image below, you may experience a fundamental shift in consciousness as your nasal
passages open like the petals of the lotus. From here, your ears are ready to receive what your nose
already knows. And so, the theremin music begins, with me and Mike Victor on Tenori-On and Chaos Box.

Clickety Click Right Here


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Back to School! Free Theremin Classes.

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 www.kiprosser.com

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The “Idle Mind” Suite


In late 2015, I began writing a theremin score for Michael Jason Allen’s, film An Idle Mind is the Devil’s
A significant amount of that music was either heard only in part, or, in some cases, not
included in the film. This is perfectly normal; the music (and how it’s used) is, ultimately, the province of
the director. However, I decided to create this “suite” of compositions in order to make more of the
theremin score available to anyone possessing interested ears. Several of the compositions have been remixed
and new orchestrations were composed and added to two of them.
Just click here to access the music.

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“Idle Mind” – A Theremin in the Movies!

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.

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The New CD: Lessons From Vinegar Mother

Available Now at CD Baby! CLICK HERE
Ambient Compositions for Theremin


You can listen to samples and download the FREE Vinegar Mother Booklet below.

“Ambient” music has undergone many incarnations since Brian Eno first coined the phrase in 1978.
Yet, it has its origins in composers like Debussy and, especially, Erik Satie, who referred to his
own works as “furniture music.” It is intended for the background, music that plays almost at the
edge of perception, blending in with the sounds of the immediate environment.

It’s in this tradition that Lessons From Vinegar Mother was created.

And who, or what, is the Vinegar Mother? From 4th century Norse culture comes the obscure and
nearly lost art of receiving lessons from the Vinegar Mother. Mother of Vinegar or Mycoderma aceti
(from the Greek μὑκης (fungus) plus δἐρμα (skin), and the Latin aceti (of the acid) is composed of
cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that forms in unpasteurized vinegar. Oxidation gives rise to this
gelatinous substance that can assume amorphous and even ethereal shapes.

It is these shapes that are “read” by a practitioner of the art. Bengta Stenlund is a tenth generation reader
or “Daughter” of the Vinegar Mother. All of the music on Lessons From Vinegar Mother was directly
inspired and composed using the text of ten lessons Ms. Stenlund imparted specifically for this project.

Put it on and let it flow. Soundscapes, familiar and unfamiliar. Meditative expanses evolve into
energetic passages that seethe with rhythms. Laughter, half-heard whisperings arise and hang in the
air. Melodies degrade into sonic textures and then reconstruct themselves. The ethereal voice of the
theremin, combined with the text in the Vinegar Mother Booklet, encourages the listener’s associations,
lending depth and personal resonance to the music…all in the background.


Lessons From Vinegar Mother was produced on a very limited budget. As a result, its
accompanying 16-page booklet proved too expensive to print. Experience all of the Lessons from
Vinegar Mother
as they were meant to be experienced.

The Vinegar Mother booklet contains the complete text of all ten lessons, original artwork, and
extra background information. You can download the booklet, FREE, even if you don’t purchase the
CD! To view the booklet, just click on the link below. To download it, right click on the link
below and save the PDF file called: VinegarBook.”


Available Now at CD Baby! CLICK HERE
(Click below for 60-second samples)
Lesson One
Lesson Two
Lesson Three
Lesson Four
Lesson Five
Lesson Six
Lesson Seven
Lesson Eight
Lesson Nine
Lesson Ten


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

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!

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Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 3

The final installment of the Satie Series.

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Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No.2

It is thought that the word, “Gnosienne” is a vague allusion to Gnossos (or Knossos), an ancient city
on the island of Crete where once stood the palace of King Minos and the Minotaur’s labyrinth. But
that is neither here nor there (nor under the table). To quote the composer completely out of context
“And then the door opens, opens, opens like an eye: a formless silent being comes closer and closer
and closer. Not a drop of sweat remains in my terrified body; and besides, I am very, very thirsty.
A voice comes out of the shadows, “Sir, I think I am clairvoyant.” That, as they say, just about says
it all, doesn’t it?.

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Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1

From the CD, Euphonic Verses (available on Amazon), and from one of the most eccentric composers
that has ever lived, here is Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1. Visuals loosely inspired by Picasso’s
costume designs for Satie’s ballet, Parade, as well as Dada, surrealism and yesterday’s vegan
tuna sandwich. This piece is offered (to quote the composer out of context) to “show all those
affected by incommensurable tedium, profound disgust with existence, or unending bitterness, an
infallible way to be promptly cheered up.” Several of the composer’s notations are included.

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Notes From the Street

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

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Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary

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.

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Video: Making the Case for Classical Music

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Video: Diggin’ on Disney, Part One

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Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary

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

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    Resolved: The Arts are Unnecessary

    Part Four – Paradigm Seeds and “The Big T”
    (See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
    (See Part Two, posted on July 18, 2013)
    (See Part Three, posted on August 11, 20130)

    In exploring the objective of creating and bringing about a paradigm shift in the arts as they relate to
    educational programming, it is impossible to go back to “square one.” What would that square be? The
    current educational system’s methodologies for the way arts programming is perceived, handled, funded and
    treated are too deeply entrenched. The bureaucracy is fixed in place and only over time, repeatedly
    offered programming that utilizes a paradigm shift and delivers quantifiable results will the status quo
    be rendered obsolete.

    The seeds of such a paradigm shift are, I firmly believe, planted right under our noses. The shift begins
    with a radical rethink of a concept that’s been around a long time; this is the concept of “transfer,”
    or more accurately, “transfer of learning.” The term has two general applications: first, it refers to
    the ability to take what is learned or practiced in one lesson and then carry it over to subsequent
    lessons. Secondly, transfer of learning can mean the ability to draw parallels and useful connections
    from one discipline and utilize it in across other disciplines. An easy example is how studying music
    has been shown to enhance students’ abilities in mathematics. After all, reading music, at its core, is
    very mathematical. Note values are fractions: whole note, half note, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and so
    on. Each measure, conforming to a particular time signature, is divided up into such fractions and each
    must total the correct number of beats in the measure. Music, like math, is analytical, it conforms to
    specific rules, etc. As a result, there is potentially a significant amount of “transfer” from one
    subject to another. With my own instrument, the theremin, there is significant transfer between music,
    the science of sound, physics, electronics and even history. However, the idea of transfer is nothing new.
    It has been around for a long time and the problem is that it has never been taken far enough.

    In his study, Arts Learning and Its Research: Implications of Learning in and Through the Arts,
    Dr. Robert Horowitz of Teachers College, Columbia University pointed out an astonishing number of
    difficulties related to the subject of transfer, not the least of which is its very definition as well as
    stating that “there is not one definition of arts learning on which our field can agree.”

    After wading through a miasma of difficulties, Horowitz and his colleagues threw out their entire first
    approach – to consider “looking at the transfer of higher order thinking skills directly from various
    kinds of arts learning into other disciplines, such as math or social studies.” This is completely in
    line with the predominant definition of transfer, yet he rejected it as too “challenging to define the
    learning in each subject, the transfer process, and the appropriate methods of measurement.” Instead, the
    point of departure was to examine broader cognitive proficiencies that they believed to be both endemic
    to arts learning and the learning of other subjects.

    Working with twenty-eight schools grades K-8, and over 2,000 students, the findings were that students
    with more exposure to arts learning scored better in all areas than those with less exposure. Horowitz
    identifies eight “cognitive outcomes.”

  • 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

  • In addition, Horowitz identified personal learning indicators resulting from arts learning:

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

  • Such findings reveal the true value of “transfer of learning.” The seeds of a paradigm shift are extant
    in all of the cognitive outcomes and learning indicators cited above because they go far beyond a
    single academic subject and beyond subject-to-subject transfer. Their value extends beyond the school
    and reaches into the daily life of every student. Such extended reach is what all teaching artists and
    every program they offer should strive to demonstrate; that the skills, information, and values of their
    arts programs have meaningful applications in the “real life” of each child.

    Coming Soon:
    Part Five – Real Life and the Necessary Arts

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    Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary

    Part Three – The Elephant in the Room
    (See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
    (See Part Two, posted on July 18, 2013)

    In our current predicament, we make the same arguments ad infinitum; solutions, viable and lasting solutions, are
    unlikely. We’re far too caught up in decrying the status quo – a status that’s been abominably quo for a long time.

    Two days ago, I inadvertently tuned in to the middle of an interview on NPR about arts programs and funding (or
    the lack thereof) in the New York school systems. There, condensed into the twenty minutes of driving, I heard
    the same litany of reasons why the arts are so important, the same sound bytes of politicians proclaiming
    that more money must be earmarked for the arts in our schools (and, of course, their actual record of taking any
    kind of action is usually revealed to be nil). As if it were planned to stuff every cliché into the program,
    one of the guests spoke of a new study that has just come out that shows once again that the arts are important
    in the development of well-rounded students. When the guests were asked point blank, based on the study and the
    sound bytes of politicians if any substantive measures would be forthcoming, both said it was unlikely. So,
    everything is stuck in same the rut it’s been for years.

    As I researched more and more, perusing arguments, reading essays by teaching artists, I believe I finally hit on
    something. Regardless of what side we’re on, we’re incapable of devising solutions and potential new avenues of
    approach because the view beyond the status quo is obstructed by a big, fragrant elephant in the room that needs
    some serious shoveling up after. I have absolutely no doubt that all factions would abjectly declare: “Hey, that
    elephant’s not mine.”

    The elephant is attitude – unproductive and adversarial attitude. In her essay, Opinion Matters: The
    Handmaiden’s Tale
    , arts educator and Harvard graduate, Lauren Jacobs asserts, “the unhappy truth is that the
    TAs [teaching artists] may never be fully respected by the educational system and the system will likely never be
    fully respected by the TAs.” There it is, stated definitively: neither faction will ever respect the other.
    According to Jacobs, that’s just the way it is; what else can we do but accept it? Trouble is, being resigned to
    the certainty that “neither faction will ever respect the other” is a lousy point of departure for any sort of
    productive dialogue or action. Buying into this notion as immutable, casting ourselves in the roles of arts
    adversaries with a lack of respect for one another, each forever complaining about the other is patently
    unacceptable. Jacobs goes on to offer a solution: “Give the arts the full respect they deserve by hiring scores
    more teachers of all the arts (Theatre, Dance, Music, Visual Art, Crafts, Poetry, Film, Multimedia Technology,
    Culinary Arts) with full roles in the educational system.”

    The author’s heart is in the right place, but her solution – to demand the respect that’s lacking – is like the
    old joke: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” And the doctor replies, “Then, don’t do that.” The idea that the arts
    deserve respect is one that most people would probably agree with. So is the even more universal idea that people
    deserve respect. However, just saying that respect is deserved rarely makes it so. Saying, “give the arts the
    respect they deserve” and hire “scores more teachers” is a result, a final goal; it is not a course of
    action that can be implemented to bring about that result.

    The first real step toward a viable and realistic solution is to bring about a genuine paradigm shift. We also
    have to admit that nothing will ever be brought about by the mere act of saying “the real solution is to bring
    about a genuine paradigm shift.” Such a shift must be conceived of, planned, put into practice and then tested
    under real-world conditions.

    The good news is that the seeds of this shift are already planted – right under our noses.

    Coming Soon:
    Part Four – Paradigm Seeds and “The Big T”

    Posted by

    Notes From the Street

    Part One: Sounds of the City – Musicians, Watch Out!

    New York City is catching up with Philadelphia in its quest to severely limit (if not eliminate) street
    performing in the subways and parks. Rather, I should say, New York City seems to be on a track that
    will take it back to the days of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s total ban on street performing. Luckily, as
    a member of MUNY (Music Under New York) I’m still able to go through official channels and play music
    underground – at least for now.

    The momentum being gained by those who’d ban such activities altogether is worrisome. The logic behind
    the reasoning is absurd at a level that’s laughable. It started with amplified instruments being banned
    from all parks. The thinking is that there’s a tendency to play far too loudly, impinging upon those who
    prefer quiet and tranquility. I’m all for a peaceful park experience and I understand completely. Music
    never discriminates; it reaches the ears of everyone whether they want to hear it or not. In that sense,
    it’s admittedly invasive. Considerate musicians will always choose a somewhat isolated spot and play
    quietly; it tends to be a sort of invitation for anyone interested enough to come and listen.

    Oddly, musicians are still permitted to play acoustic instruments in the parks. It may bring to mind
    images of quiet guitar players, maybe a lone violinist. But I’ve witnessed first-hand, people playing
    “drums” made out of 5-gallon plastic buckets, bashing away as loudly or louder than instruments
    connnected to amplifiers. I’ve seen (and definitely heard) a duo comprised of a sax player and full
    kit-equipped drummer playing fantastic jazz that could be heard throughout Washington Square Park and a
    full five blocks away from the park itself.

    On one occasion I performed above ground on a sidewalk two blocks north of the Metropolitan Museum of
    Art. I played at a volume level just loud enough for me to hear above the buses but soft enough that it
    was virtually inaudible from just half a block away. I played for three hours and people had a great time.
    A week later, during a crackdown, I was playing in the same spot and was confronted by an officer who
    claimed that I was standing on museum property and that amplified music was not allowed. I was kicked off
    the spot. Strangely, taking place at the same time two blocks down, right at the bottom of the front
    steps of the museum, there was a huge crowd of cheering spectators enjoying troupe of break-dancers
    (extremely talented, by the way) who were performing to ear-shattering plastic container drumming.

    The double standard of the loudness argument is ridiculous, even moreso when you move below ground into
    the incredibly noisy environment of the subway trains, with their screeching wheels, blasting horns and
    all-around thunderous presence. And the additional argument that loud music potentially obscures announcements
    that come over the PA system? As anyone who’s been within earshot of such announcements can tell you,
    they’re almost always unintelligible (for a perfect depiction of this, watch the train platform scene from
    the 1951 Jacques Tati film, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday). The truth is that underground, no one’s
    expecting peace and quiet; we put up with the noise and a lot more.

    When an actual melody reaches my ears from amidst the horrendous cacophony , it makes standing down there
    on the platform a little more bearable as I wince at the huge rat I’ve just spotted scampering along the
    filthy tracks.

    Coming Soon:
    Notes from the Street
    Part Two: It’s Music to Whose Ears?

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    Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary

    Part Two – Lip Service and Art Class
    (See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)

    All the lip service devoted to how the arts are important is clichéd. Michelle Obama’s words on the last Oscars
    notwithstanding, the arts are continually “branded” as if they’re something outside the norm. Why? It’s due in
    large part to the fact that during students’ formative years, educators look at art as something exclusive to
    those who are talented. Art classes (the basic painting/drawing classes and music/band classes) do involve
    everyone but teachers gravitate toward those they perceive to have talent. It’s just a perceived “given” that
    most are average, and therefore either passed over or routinely accepted, but only those with promise are
    encouraged. What other fields foster that kind of attitude? In classes like Science, Math, History and language
    skills, yes, it’s understood that some possess more skill or greater potential than others, but all students are
    expected to measure up, regardless. At the core of such expectation is standardized testing. Our perception
    that these other subjects absolutely demand a certain level of comprehension and ability simply do not apply to the
    arts. This mentality relegates the arts to something for those that are interested in them or who demonstrate, if not
    an above-average ability, a strong desire on the part of the student.

    It’s obvious, regardless of subject, that there are some students who possess abilities that surpass their peers.
    Some love and excel at the sciences. Others at math. For some, these disciplines will engender lifelong career
    pursuits. This understanding, that some students gravitate toward specific subjects is, for the most part, nurtured
    in every area of endeavor except the arts. The prevailing parental attitude toward students who decide to pursue a
    career in the arts is that it’s more a flight of fancy than a valid career goal; the hope is that they’ll grow out of
    it. And most do.

    While the predominant perception of the arts in general, we’ve seen, is that they’re something extra, something
    outside the norm, the predominant media message is that the arts (and our school boards, public figures, politicians
    and celebrities say it with conviction) are still very important, “vital,” in fact. They’re so important that the
    minute a school district’s budget is shrinking – poof – like magic, the art class or music class disappears. As a
    teaching artist, I have been brought to schools in which my brief workshop, for a single class, was the only music
    program that existed in the entire school.

    One solution has been to make the arts an extracurricular activity, an after-school program. Students are neither
    required to participate, neither are they graded. Another solution is to bring in teaching artists occasionally and
    expose students to all the arts periodically throughout the year.

    But there’s a big, fragrant elephant in the room that needs some shoveling up after.

    Coming Soon:
    Part Three – The Elephant in the Room

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    Video: Vinegar Mother Live at Cornelia Street

    Lesson 9 of “Lessons from Vinegar Mother.” This version features new original video as intended for the
    performance piece. The spoken material is also clearer than the Asheville footage. The Cornelia Street
    Café is a much more intimate setting (with a much smaller stage) and it certainly captures the immediacy
    of the experience. Thanks to friend and owner, Robin, as well as curator Angelo for a fantastic evening.

    Posted by

    Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary

    Part One – How to Upset Anyone Involved in the Arts

    Just say, “the arts are unnecessary.” We’re loath to say it. We’re defensive if the notion surfaces. However,
    somewhere along the line, despite the hype, despite the political-speak, the educator-speak and the
    arts-organization-speak, it’s staring us in the face. The arts have been rendered irrelevant. Unnecessary.
    (Are you getting upset yet?) Excluding movies and huge rock concerts, from a statistical standpoint, only
    about 5% of the population of a given region attend any live arts events. Of that 5%, only a fraction will
    attend a dance event, a classical music concert or go to see a play.

    Ask your neighbors; do they or their kids think about or use the arts in their daily lives? Do the people
    on your street come together for singing or dancing? It shows everywhere – people now believe the arts are
    for schools. They believe that artists are a special (and weird) breed, not everyday people. Ask your
    neighbors: what’s more important for a student – learn about math and science or learn how to play the piano?

    Ask any parent what type of profession they’d like to see their children go into. It’s a good bet that not
    a single art form will be mentioned.

    Virtually every major art form was originally central to the cultural life of the community, from a small
    tribe in the amazon jungle, to Native Americans, to the all early civilizations like the Chinese, Greeks and
    Romans. The arts were inseparable from the culture – dancing and singing were part of ritual and celebration,
    paintings and carvings adorned utilitarian objects (clothing, pottery, tools, etc.), and cave paintings were
    arguably the earliest form of documentary. In America, every artisanal craft from clothing to bowls to toys to
    religious objects is now factory-mass-produced. In China. True craftspeople are out there, but predominantly
    relegated to specialty shops and small venues, seen or experienced by a relative few.

    And the arts? Now? They are “electives” in schools; but they have absolutely no part in the all-important
    standardized testing. They’re the last programs to be considered and the first to go when budgets are cut. The
    litany of outraged complaints about how the arts are viewed and treated is too long to go into, and besides,
    arts educators and teaching artists already know.

    Even though those of us who care speak out, we’ve actually bought into it. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be in such
    trouble. Years of struggle have made us buy into the bleak reality as much as those we look to for support –
    support that goes far beyond the financial type. And all those funders, everyone from endowments to the big
    corporations looking to keep up their images as supporters of the arts, everyone is tired of hearing the same
    endless evidence that the arts matter and they’re weary of the same old pleas for help.

    Coming Soon:
    Resolved: The Arts Are Unnecessary
    Part Two – Lip Service and Art Class

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    Video: Il Vecchio Castello

    Thanks to Greg and Hong Waltzer, who captured a brief segment from the premier of this new
    performance piece. Kivoldny Prossar, Russian Thereminist and Ardeth Bey fanatic (that’s why he’s
    dressed the way he is) ia playing “Il Vecchio Castello” from Pictures At An Exhibition.

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    Treat Your Ears To The Noise Beneath the Apple

    Over three years in the making, I’ve been privileged to be included in the new book, The Noise Beneath the Apple,
    published by the organization of the same name. The Noise Beneath the Apple bring the experience of street
    performing, or, “busking,” featuring and tracking Manhattan’s street performers. The book itself (a huge
    coffee table volume) is now available in a very limited edition of 250 copies. Beautifully designed, written
    by music journalist, Heather Jacks, with photography by Bryan Close, The Noise Beneath the Apple showcases
    thirty-five street/subway musicians, myself included. It comes in a custom slipcase, accompanied by a 12-inch
    red, black and white splatter patterned vinyl disc containing the work of eleven musicians (myself included).
    Check out the book and the entire Manhattan street performing culture at http://www.TNBTA.com

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    Video: Lovely Rita

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