Alive With Creativity

I’ve just recently given my first student-focused mini-workshop of the semester. Our topic was centered around the iMovie application and how its tools can be put to use in digital storytelling. It’s always a thrill for me to see the students take the short intro I give them and run with it. I encourage them to “play” with the tools and to put away any anxiety. Got an oops? No worries, here’s how you fix it. Shoulders visibly relax and a few smiles chase through the room. I field a few questions. Miscellaneous sound effects pop up here and there, along with the occasional laughter. One student has already taken the “Far Fay Away” title feature and crafted a re-write of the original Star Wars intro modeled on a burrito* theme. By the end of our hour together most of the students are focussing more on their computers than me, indicating, oddly enough, success. Students who have never used a video editing tool are fearlessly clicking away and trying things out—doing exactly as I’d hoped.

Not every student workshop is as rewarding, but a good percentage of them are. Even more rewarding are the return visits when I’m invited to see the results of their work. If you read my previous post you know that I was very moved by the music videos produced by the World Music Survey FYS class last semester. I also enjoyed presentations by other classes. One group of students created a podcast styled as a radio talk show, complete with show host and book author acted out by the students.  Another group modeled their video presentation on a television news show with panelists and visiting “expert” to offer topical commentary. Yet another group exercised their creativity by writing and performing their own rap song (see Latin Collaboration below) to share the highlights of their collective research. These are just a few examples. I have to offer a disclaimer here, though. Sometimes I get to attend presentations that aren’t related to any work I’ve done with the students. One such example is the “1889 World Exposition,” where students take on the personas of great artists such as Picasso, Seurat and Degas. You can see photos of the event on the CFE blog.

Regardless of the reason I am fortunate enough to be invited for the presentations, I enjoy the opportunity to see how the students demonstrate their creativity. At times, you can almost feel the sense of eager anticipation circling the room as each group waits their turn to unveil their project. In the case of the “Exposition” everything seems to be happening at once. It’s a carnival of characters expounding their views to all and any within their periphery. Their enthusiasm is nothing short of contagious. To borrow a phrase from Latin Collaboration, “It might be a wild ride, so tie up your laces!” I look forward to more creative possibilities this semester.

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The rap artists from the Fall Afro-Hispanic Music class have given permission to share their lyrics here. Before reading, turn on your inner radio and tune up a catchy syncopated beat!

Latin Collaboration

They boarded ships as slaves back in the day
Leaving Africa for a land far away
They were left with nothing except their musical songs
They arrived in the Caribbean where their music evolved
They picked up these sounds from a brand new place
Fusing their music using brand new traits
They immigrated to the melting pot of the west
Called New York City, better (better) than the rest.

All this crazy music that you’re hearing today, made a journey to the tropics from a land far away
The rhythms that you hear on your ipod and such are African derived with a Caribbean touch
The Santeria bell pattern is laying it down, in straight 6/8 while your ears go to town
West African born—made famous by slaves, it’s Yoruba in Cuba and they know how to play
Down in the Dominican, Merengue is born with a Tambora, Marimbula and a European form
Puerto Rican Bomba grooves and the Plena as well cause the slaves played drums and their kids played bells
The Dominican Salve, the Seis is Hispanic, religious chants and a cuatro make catchy music antics
Cinquillo, trescillo, son clave and gahu, rhythms from a transported culture stuck like glue.

The music, connection, styles are common
Afro-Hispanic roots “always be JAMMON”
The function of the music reflects vitality
The culture and the rhythm produce diversity.

New York City is their hometown
Where different musical collaborations are found
Whether hip hop, reggae, or latin son
New York is the spot where they all belong
If you walk down the street, each block is a new beat (I heard thatttt)
The different cultures make music unique and sweet
New York gives artists the freedom to grow
It is a lifestyle and experience most will never know
When it comes to New York, every culture is in your face
It allows musicians to give us a taste
Of what they got, of what they blend
Their rhythmic drives, melodic trends.

The music, connection, styles are common
Afro-Hispanic roots “always be JAMMON”
The function of the music reflects vitality
The culture and the rhythm produce diversity.

Latin Fusion, Latin Fusion
Never meant to be confusion
It’s a collaboration of places
It might be a wild ride, so tie up your laces
We got music from the Dominican, Puerto Roco and Cuba
Don’t be surprised if you hear a Tuba
They took music from Africa, Caribbean, New Youk
Brought it together all in a days work
Fused together by trial and error
These sounds break down that cultural barrier.

The music, connection, styles are common
Afro-Hispanic roots “always be JAMMON”
The function of the music reelects vitality
The culture and the rhythm produce diversity.

Music and words by Rachel Sidney, Greg Povlow, Kelsey Franklin, Aaron Donato, and Niya Wills.

* To protect the student’s intellectual property I’m not posting a re-write here. Given it’s laugh-out-loud nature, however, the student was strongly encouraged to continue her endeavor. I’m so hoping for a YouTube debut sometime in the near future.


The World Through Music

Recently I was invited to join Dr. Robin Armstrong’s World Music Survey FYS class as they gathered to view each other’s video presentations. Yes, you read that correctly. I visited a music class to watch their video presentations or, as it has been dubbed, the “First Annual World Music Survey Film Festival.” The goal of the project was to encourage each student to engage with a piece of music on a deeper level than they might otherwise experience. To that end the students were required to participate in a series of assignments, leading up to the video presentation.

The video project itself required that the students search out a song about a social issue by an artist or group outside of the United States. Having a measure of sympathy for the song’s cause and an appreciation for the style of the music would go a long way toward keeping the project interesting since the students would be spending a great deal of time getting to know everything about this song.

They would,

  • Research the country, artist and social issues of the song.
  • Describe the music of the song in great detail.
  • Create a storyboard for the video.
  • Shoot video and locate still shots and/or other video related to the song’s message.
  • Edit the visual media collected and sync it with the music.

Robin: I staged this project in small steps.  After submitting their choice as a small, low-stakes assignment, the students used this project as the focus of their FYS library introduction, after which they turned in an annotated bibliography. As we worked in class on listening skills and musical description through non-project related course content, they turned in a richly detailed description of the song in a time-line format.  The fit between non-project course content and project assignments was especially tight.

Flip Camcorder

To facilitate the technological aspects of the assignment, I met with the class in early October for an Intro to iMovie workshop. The students were not limited to using iMovie, but the workshop introduced the basic skills they would need to pull the project together regardless of the editing software they chose to use. The students also received Flip camcorders from the InTech loaner pool. With these tools, their storyboards and research in hand, the next required ingredient was their imagination. This would be the catalyst for blending all the parts together. Completed projects would then be uploaded to a private course on the McDaniel iTunes U site (see note below).

So what social issues did I see portrayed through their choice of songs? Nothing startlingly new, as you might imagine. But I did experience them from a fresh perspective. The music by itself carried its own message and mood since, to paraphrase Robin, it’s doing its job. Here though, the message was reshaped by the addition of the visual components. I saw footage of the twin towers, and was shocked all over again. I gazed with deep sadness at old images of the skeletal bodies of men liberated from Nazi concentration camps and new images of the skeletal bodies of children experiencing a world shaped by famine. How can I describe the awfulness of looking into the expressive face of a young man at the threshold of life, who is held back by a belt of explosives? And, yet, I was also buoyed by portrayals of hope, as well as, pleas for peace and tolerance embedded in the lyrics of Marley, Kidjo, Perret and others. I watched appreciatively the clever enactments staged by the students themselves.

I’m not ashamed to say that I teared up more than once. Is this evidence, then, that the the goal of the project, that of deeper student engagement, was met? Maybe not, but I can tell you that I was most definitely engaged while watching the videos. No (yawn) powerpoints here. Did I see imaginative thinking? Oh, yes. Was every video perfectly executed and expertly edited? No. The technological tools for the project were deliberately kept simple, because the technology itself was not the point. The point was to draw on a more holistic process in order to first take in the message of the song and then share that interpretation with the rest of the class.  Are the students more likely to remember their study of this piece of music, the shaping of ideas and the decision-making that went into how they elected to interpret their chosen song than if they had just done another paper or another powerpoint? I’d like to think so.

Robin: After the “First Annual World Music Survey Film Festival” I asked the students directly what they learned from this project and if they learned things from the vehicle of creating a film that they would not have from writing a report. To the first question, some mentioned different aspects of the staged research process and/or time management, and some discussed the topic of the song. To the latter question, all students answered yes, focusing on different parts of the learning process. Some mentioned musical depth, which was my initial goal.  Some mentioned an area that had never occurred to me: pictures.  Because they made films, they looked through many pictures as part of the creative process, and they learned much through these pictures that supplemented their text-oriented research.  Most agreed that searching through the pictures impacted them more strongly then text research alone would have.

When I asked the students if I should assign this project again next year, they all said yes.  When I asked them if they thought making the movie provided them with a more interesting learning experience than a written report would have, they all said yes.  Not coincidentally, several students who had turned in very little of the written assignments during the semester all turned films; I had a much higher on-time rate as well. The  highest grade among the films themselves  went to a student who’s midterm grade was well below the median.  While I am still assessing this vehicle for my original set of goals, what I learned in watching the films and discussing  it with my class is that this project benefited my students in ways that had not occurred to me; I love it when I learn at least as much as my students from their work.

The morning of the film festival was cold and blustery, with bouts of rain topping off the puddles dotted across every walkway on campus. I had a list of tasks to attend to and had almost convinced myself that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I missed the presentations. A niggling sense of duty won the argument and I have to say, I’m very glad it did.


Note: The final projects are not publicly available because of copyright considerations.