Sound Games — About

 

I don't always write in-depth in this platform about what I do at work as an elementary school music teacher. I think some of that has to do with a sort of self-imposed partition that I have put up in my mind between my work teaching young students "general" music and my "professional" life as an artist making very "not general" music. 

More and more, by my own design, I have been working to blur the lines of the two worlds of composition and music education to an end of my own development as a teaching artists,  but to the benefit of my own pedagogy and curricular design. I need to add a disclaimer here that I am lucky to teaching both in a district and specifically school in which I am given an immense amount of freedom as an educator as long as I can prove that I am connecting my lessons to very very broad national and state standards.

One of the most exciting parts of my school is that we do something called "Discovery Day" in which every teaching is invited to  present 4-week long sessions on any subject they would like! It is not even mandated that I do music. I have done: drum circles, rock drumming, guest artist presentations, composition, karaoke, choir, boomwhacker band, bucket back, etc. One of them this year kind of snuck up on me and I had a last minute  motivation to try something completely new (Discovery to me as well, which I think is part of the point of this system) - what I ended up calling "Sound Games". The name was kind of difficult to come up with, but essentially drawing from the rich tradition of composers and makers of music who use games as systems to generate music or performance in different forms. I actually have made quite a few works as a composer that I could categorize as a "sound game". For example, my piece in the middle of my undergrad at NAU called Chess Piece. Anyways, I knew that I would start by selecting appropriate  scores from the Fluxus Workbook. Now, in case you don't know the Workbook, when I say appropriate I am not just talking about "educational" or scores that
I think could "work". One score, for example, by the composer _________ called __________ has the simple instruction to "Kill Yourself". Philosophical and existential quandaries aside, this Workbook is one of the most amazing open source resources and archival documents of an entire movement of art-making in the 20th century and should be explored by as many people as possible. I highly recommend the works of Yoko Ono and Lee Heflin! I am just about to complete my 4th and final week of this Discovery Unit, but I can report some amazing findings and realizations: 

1. MOST kids at any age (and I will extend this to MOST humans at any age) will be open and engaged with most activities you throw at them if you frame 
it in a thoughtful way that is respectful and sensitive to both where they are and the true intention of what you want them to get out of it. 
2. I love that kids are super honest and real with you when something is not working (this is boring, can we do something else now?), but also using that 
feedback as an opportunity for changing or re-framing your activity. I also have found great joy, creative maneuvering, and discovery from totally changing
lessons away from something the students find boring. 
3. These sound games at the end of the day bring out so many elements of human nature. There are moments when I wonder where the game ends and the sound 
and true listening begins or vice versa? There is "play", of course, but sometimes the play becomes the center focus and the sound gets lost. This is cool!
This is also totally about performance and "doing". There are some games that have inherent power relations and concepts built in like fairness otherwise
the game falls apart or at least becomes boring. If I try to regulate or expose these elements, the game can become to rigid or boring because it's 
actually regulated by the teacher.   

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