Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Letter From Rory

13 years into teaching and I still question a good deal of what I do pedagogically.  I question whether 17 more years of teaching is in even within my capacity.  This is a difficult job.

Often times, I look for strength in my students to keep me going and knock sense into me that teaching is indeed my calling.  I received the following letter from a student who exemplifies what any teacher would hope for in a student and father in a daughter.

This letter provides strength and resolve within me to carry forward.  Thank you Rory for the kind words.

Friday, June 7, 2013

From a Student

I received an email this morning from a senior in my Beginning Strings class. Thought I'd share.  

Hello Mr. Park

I thought you might enjoy this essay about a meaningful classroom experience I wrote for this program at Yale. As a side note, I could not be more thankful for the job you do as a teacher and the work you put into making every member of the beginning strings ensemble a stronger musician and team cooperator. Thank you Mr. Park, you are really nothing short of a miracle worker, and one of my biggest regrets is not taking orchestra earlier in my high school career.


Forced into taking a music course my senior year, and placed into the beginning strings ensemble, the only thing I knew about the violin was that it had two holes that looked like integrals. Beginning with a wildly unsuccessful foray into the Orchestra Expressions method book, followed by countless, futile appeals from my family to “shut the damn door!” and culminating with the thrice-interrupted Lullaby for Nicholas during the concert, the first semester of Beginning Strings taught me to not only acknowledge but also respect my inabilities. And, yes the slow melodic Lullaby for Nicholas was stopped three times during the winter beginning ensembles concert because, to quote our indefatigable instructor, Mr. Park “wading through such a beautiful piece just simply doesn’t do it justice.” For a person who has never “waded through” anything in their life, doing it for the first time on stage in front of two hundred people truly humbled my pompous teenage ego.

After months of diligent preparation, inculcation, and resuscitation, the concert ended in utter disappointment. Well, disappointment for me, but comedic onslaught for my parents, who had waited eighteen years for a moment in which they could publicly cackle at my failures. “It’s nice to know that he’s lousy at something,” quipped my ever charming, sardonic father. “The poor guy finally loves something, and it doesn’t even love him back.” That was my dysfunctional relationship with the instrument I for some reason decided to become infatuated with.A beautiful creation, crafted from the finest wood, hemmed meticulously into the perfectly curving, mildly sensuous pear shape that has mesmerized the likes of Mozart and Pearlman, the violin and I initially did not harmonize. Hacking at its tender fibers, scratching its spotless exterior, the instrument repaid my roughness with an equally dissonant and rhythm-less emanation from its strings. However, in my eyes, this well-worn, rented violin was a Stradivarius lost in the scroll of time. I, though, envisioned her seeing me through her f-holes as a scrawny and barely pubescent boy without the slightest idea of how to hold, caress, and bow a tender and elegant instrument such as her-self. How could this love story have a happy ending?

Well, certain relationships need a catalyst, and for us, it turned out that the concert failure set into motion a drastic change in our friendship. Listening to the atonal, cacophonous renditions NCP beginning strings performed inspired a fiery desire for improvement with in me and my 80 bassist, cellist, violist and violinist peers. I focused tremendously on the artistry of my bow stroke, listened attentively to the intonation of my finger placements, and realized that counting played just as an important part in orchestra as it did in calculus. To practice, I stumbled upon the on-sale with free one-day shipping Lord of the Rings Violin Solos for Beginners sheet music abusing my Amazon Prime monthly trial. Up until that point, we had nothing in common, no points of conversation, but once I opened that book and heard the tiniest vestige of the Riders of Rohan, I knew the violin and I were going steady, and until then, we have never looked back.

The music still doesn’t come naturally to me, and the shrieks of my family to please take pity on both them and the instrument still accompany the sounds that emanate from my violin, but at least now I can pick up and play without feeling bad about doing it. The spring concert exhibited marked improvement from our failures in the winter, and left my teenage ego entirely intact-even though the embarrassment of having to perform with the epithet of “beginner” jabs at all sense of pride. I can now successfully work through Concerning Hobbits and The Shire and although I cannot prove it I swear I saw a teary glimmer in my father’s eye during a particularly stirring bedroom practice session. With watery eyes he struggles through-dare I say-wades through, admitting that, “You are still lousy, but that damn music just gets to me!”

I decide to keep playing, slowly trudging along the green slopes of Middle Earth toward my circular-door Hobbit den, when an exhausted mother interrupts me with the now all-too-common “No more. It’s time to go to bed.”

“But mother,” I explain, “love, even of the orchestral variety, never sleeps.”

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Citizen Musician's Brigade

A couple of years ago Yo Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra launched a community service initiative entitled Citizen Musicians' Brigade.  The premise of the initiative is to...

How about I just let Yo Yo Ma share with you what the Citizen Musicians' Brigade is all about via the link below:

Yo Yo Ma Discusses Citizen Musicians' Brigade

At Northside Prep, members of the Tri M Honor Society must complete an individual service learning project and submit a blog entry detailing the experience.  Check out some of this year's projects via the link below:

Northside Prep Tri M Honor Society Service Learning Projects

Serving the community, both locally and globally, is what an upstanding citizen does.  Musicians and artists in general tend to be compassionate beings who are committed to doing their part to create a better world.  By creating and sharing art with others, a select group of student musicians at Northside Prep are beginning to do their part in caring for their communities.  My hope is they continue to dedicate their musical gifts to those who might benefit from their kindness and compassion.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Digital Audio Workstation - It's All in the Picture

I love this picture.  It's why I wrote a little something about the power of digital audio synthesis.

In most high school music programs if you don't play an instrument there is no place for you, sans a general music class or something akin to music appreciation.  Perhaps the most creative outlet for non-performance students is rooted in the use of a digital audio workstation; something that more and more high schools are investing in, but not enough.  Never has there been a time in the history of music technology where someone could make a full length album, ripe with just about every sound imaginable, in a bedroom or basement - without having to spend thousands of dollars.  Why can't this music making take place in a more formal setting - like a music classroom - where the music educator can teach the fundamentals of music production and creation.  

There is something very liberating about triggering the sound of just about any instrument ever known to man with the simple stroke of a finger.  Why not liberate our students from fear or indifference of music creation by providing these digital audio workstations for them to explore and play with?  After all, isn't learning most fun when play and exploration is at the fore of an experience?  

Food for thought.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

Quote of the Day

There are regions of the soul which can be illuminated only through music.

                                                                                                                    - Zoltan Kodaly

Thursday, May 30, 2013


I've been away for a bit.  Last Thursday Northside Prep's Music Department traveled to NYC with 74 students to master class at Montclair State University and compete in the Heritage Music Festivals.

5 of the 6 awards we won at this year's Heritage Music Festival in NYC

Here's the trip blog if you're interested in perusing through it:


Rehearsals today for Cadence 2013, the final performance of the school year.  Looking forward to Sophia Stein's performance of the 1st Movement of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

???, Ohio

First pit stop in ???, Ohio. With bellies full, we trek on. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Random Quote

Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate. 
                                   - Clark Terry

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Rostropovich: Genius of the Cello

While perusing the good ole world wide web for performance and interview footage of Seiji Ozawa, I stumbled upon a documentary on Mtislav Rostropovich, the great Russian cellist.  The full length documentary was aired on the BBC in 2011.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Smart Music on iPad -- Finally!!!

I just received word that the iPad application for Smart Music is now available for download.  The folks at Make Music first announced they'd be releasing the application months ago with Spring 2013 the target for release.  After waiting and waiting and waiting, the time has finally arrived.  There's plenty of time to tinker with the application in your music classroom before school lets out.

Download the app now!

Smart Music for iPad

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Teachers, Policy Makers, Philanthropists and Creative Thinkers Speak about the State of Education

This past Tuesday evening PBS aired an hour long special entitled TED Talks Education.  From Geoffrey Canada (Founder of the Harlem Children's Zone) to Sir Ken Robinson (Arts Education Advocate), speakers on the program's bill focused their delivery on one message: dedicating their lives to re-imagining a better educational future for all American youth.

If you are a teacher and care about the state of education in the United States then you MUST watch this.

TED Talks Education 


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CPS Band and Orchestra Contest - Scores and Live Adjudicator Commentary

Below is a link to adjudicator scores for the 2013, 2011, 2010, and 2009 CPS Band and Orchestra Contests.  We received Honors Superior Ratings 3 of the 4 years.  Our 2010 performance of Soon Hee Newbold's Perseus and Dmitri Shostakovich's Sinfonia for Strings garnered a Superior Rating and due to ACT Testing conflicts, we were unable to participate in the 2012 contest.

CPS Band and Orchestra Contest -- Adjudicator Scores and Comments

I've included below recordings of live adjudicator commentary from the 2009 and 2013 CPS Band and Orchestra Contests.

2013 CPS Band and Orchestra Contest -- Live Adjudicator Commentary

2010 CPS Band and Orchestra Contest -- Live Adjudicator Commentary

Some of the adjudicator comments made on the recordings include:

“The opening aesthetic of this is remarkable; it’s very well done.”

“Good intonation.”

“Bravo...very nice...very very talented musicians.”

"I apologize for not talking very much, I’m just really enjoying this performance.”

"I can tell orchestra members that you have all prepared yourselves well."

“So talented...doing things very well...I just need a little more contrast.”

"That is some difficult repertoire for those students, but it didn't sound difficult at all."

"Quite impressive."

"The C# minor chord there at the end was nicely in tune. Congratulations, it's a challenging piece."

"Cellos and basses, you're doing very nicely with the intonation on those lower parts. What makes the orchestra sound really well in tune is the fact that you're in tune."

"Nice bowing techniques...wrist motion, use of bow, direction...it's very uniform."

"Cellos left hands look beautiful...well taught...excellent technique."

"I like the fact that you're switching 1st and 2nd violinists around. That's really good. It gives everybody the opportunity to play both parts and develops the concept in students that both sections are equally important."

"I really enjoyed that performance thoroughly."

"Try to achieve a little more evenness in the articulation of sixteenth notes."

"You watch the conductor well...good sense of musical alignment."

"Greater dynamic contrast to give the music a little more excitement."

"Good balance in the violins and violas."

"Excellent music. Excellent ensemble."

"Excellent sense of pulse...good tempos."

"The ensemble plays with lots of accuracy."

"Good bowing style."

Concert Recordings of Northside Prep Chamber Strings

Here are a few pieces the Chamber Strings ensemble at Northside Prep performed at our Spring Concert on 4.30.13.

Csardas -- Michael McLean

Little Suite for Strings -- Praeludium and Intermezzo -- Carl Nielsen

Vanishing Pointe -- Richard Meyer

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Modifying Team Building Activities For The Music Classroom

After dozens and dozens of conversations pertaining to team building with my colleagues in the physical/adventure education department over the past 12 years, I have finally bitten the proverbial bullet and purchased what is considered the bible of trust building, team building, and problem solving activities/exercises.  Karl Rohnke's book, Silver Bullets: A Guide to Initiative Problems, Adventure Games and Trust Activities, is an abundantly fruitful compendium of games, exercises and activities for small and large groups.  It is just about guaranteed the physical education teacher in your school has one in possession.  Ask to borrow it to get an idea of how you can modify the myriad of activities Rohnke outlines for your music class.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

Brooklyn Rider

My first encounter with the musicians of Brooklyn Rider was in New York City's Avery Fisher Hall when I attended the debut performance of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble in 2002 - of which they are the "resident" string quartet.  I traveled from Chicago to participate in the first comprehensive educator workshop organized by the not for profit Silk Road Project.  Members of the Silk Road Ensemble, including Brooklyn Rider, engaged all of the educators in a series of workshops pertaining to the musical and cultural study of regions along the ancient Silk Road routes.

I can go on about The Silk Road Ensemble and The Silk Road Project, but this post is about
Brooklyn Rider - a quartet of consummate string musicians who have re-defined the traditional classical chamber music lexicon to include music deeply rooted in traditional cultures from around the world.

The other day Brooklyn Rider stopped by the studios of On Point with Tom Ashbrook.  Take a listen to this  segment of performances and interviews.

String Quartet - Brooklyn Rider

I think it was last year that Brooklyn Rider stopped by the NPR studios in Washington, D.C. to perform on the Tiny Desk Concert Series.  Here's a video of their performance.

I should probably also include Brooklyn Rider's official website.

Brooklyn Rider

This I Believe -- Music Education

Perhaps you are familiar with the This I Believe series launched by National Public Radio in 2005.  

Essentially, it is forum for Americans from all walks of life to “share the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives.”  

An assignment my graduate students at VanderCook are required to complete is based on this radio series.  

I’ve included below some bullet points from my own “This I Believe - Music Education” essay:

  • I believe that music education is critical to developing a well rounded individual.  
  • I believe the lessons experienced and learned in an ensemble rehearsal has resounding positive effects on the social, emotional, physical and educational character of a student.  
  • I believe a student who is given an opportunity to contribute positively to an ensemble experience walks away with a myriad of life lessons that will be paramount to their development into compassionate, noble, successful and well-balanced beings of society.  
  • I believe the ensemble director is a leader and facilitator whose primary objective is to impart upon his/her students a passion for creativity and imagination.  
  • I believe that the difference between a good rehearsal and great one is rooted in the collective creativity and imagination of the ensemble.  
  • I believe programming is critical to motivating students to be engaged in the learning process.  
  • I believe an ensemble that possesses the highest of technical facility but lacks creativity and imagination will never achieve the most heightened of musical experience.  
  • I believe music education is for all students.  
  • I believe school districts that do not value a robust fine arts education offered to every single student is short changing their students’ ability to live life to its fullest and closing a door to very fruitful career opportunities.  
  • I believe students who engage in the arts from a young age have a leg up in all aspects of life.  
  • I believe a music teacher - a teacher of the arts - has the capacity to inspire, motivate and positively impact his/her students in a manner that may potentially transform their lives for the better.  

Janos Starker -- Educator and Performer

I'm sure many of you heard that Janos Starker, one of the most respected cellists of our time, passed on Sunday, April 28th, 2013.  Here's a brief segment from NPR in remembrance of a man who believed teaching was his calling.

Remembering Janos Starker, The Cellist 'Born To Be A Teacher'

New York Times

Janos Starker, Master of the Cello, Dies at 88

The following is a short excerpt from the Medici TV Documentary Series - A Lesson In Music.

In my most humble opinion, Starker performed with so much more ease and technical fluidity than some of his contemporaries.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

TED X -- Chicago

Honored and excited to be 1 of 100 educators invited to take part in this year's TED X event at the Harris Theater for the Performing Arts in Chicago.

Ted x Midwest

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a not for profit institution founded in 1984 dedicated to the notion that ideas are worth spreading.


I'm sure you have seen a TED video or two.  If not, I've included a couple of my favorites below:

Gustavo Dudamel Leads El Sistema's Teresa Carreno Youth Orchestra

Jose Antonio Abreu -- Founder of El Sistema in Venezuala

Salman Khan -- Founder of Khan Academy

Sir Ken Robinson -- Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Jon Hunter -- Teaching with the World Peace Game

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Connecting Music and Gesture

Albert Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, demonstrates and discusses the role of the conductor:

Connecting Music and Gesture

The Maestro's Mojo

Interesting article in the New York Times on the art of conducting:

Maestro's Mojo

Monday, April 22, 2013

Northside Prep Chamber Strings

I just received an email with the following pics attached from one of the the yearbook photographers.  A funny bunch we are.



Saturday, April 20, 2013

Taylor Mali -- What Teachers Make

I'm sure many of you have seen this performance piece by Taylor Mali, poet and educator. It is a powerful work and speaks to what I consider to be one of the noblest professions one can dedicate their life to. 

Whenever I'm in need of rejuvenation, I watch this video:

Taylor Mali has published a book entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World.  It's a great read full of a myriad of anecdotes from his time as an elementary school teacher.

Matt Farmer - Lawyer and Parent of CPS Student

Matt Farmer has emerged as one of the staunchest advocates for fighting the powers that be in the Chicago Public Schools system.  As a parent of a CPS student, he is keenly aware of what's at stake for the children of Chicago that depend on public education.

Read this article from the Washington Post to learn more about what is going on right now in the Chicago Public Schools.

Better yet, watch this fiery speech Matt Farmer gave at a CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) rally in May of 2012, putting Penny Pritzker, CPS School Board Member, on the hot seat as he "cross examines" her and the CPS' board policies.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The War on Teachers

Noticed this blog post in draft form that I started in March of 2012.  For whatever reason, I never got to posting it; so here it is:

This is my first post unrelated to MUSIC in education, but education in general.  Public education is in a sad state of affairs; teachers are being demonized by the media and political establishments as the primary reason for failing schools.  I've had the great fortune in teaching for the last 11 years at the #1 high school in the state of Illinois; from my experiences I can tell you first hand that if a student CHOOSES not to learn, a teacher can only continue to encourage in hopes to inspire and motivate a student to care about and tend to his/her education.

Here's an article from the Washington Post:

The War on Teachers: Why the Public is Watching it Happen