Hacking a karaoke club for a New Year’s Jam

Who doesn’t love karaoke? During my latest visit to a karaoke club in Tokyo the TV was off, the microphones were left in their holders, and the disco ball did not spin.

Instead, a group of friends who all play American 0ld-time music met up for a New Year’s jam. The karaoke club was a solution to a common Tokyo challenge: finding space where your noise won’t bother neighbors.

I had previously heard about karaoke rooms being used for business meetings (WSJ story here), but I hadn’t heard about karaoke rooms essentially serving as practice rooms or clubs. That said, while we were there, I also heard a jazz combo with trumpet in another room. And the daytime rates are quite reasonable (my share for a six-hour jam was equivalent to US$10).

The irony and delight in filling a karaoke room with old-time acoustic music was too much not to share here. After six hours of fiddle tunes it was dark out and I had just enough time to catch the bullet train home.

That said, we probably should have turned on the disco ball…

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Japanese preschool art show

The drawings and paintings of students are a window into preschool life in Japan. These, from a local art show, are drawn from several schools. Marching band, trips to the ocean and the zoo, farming sweet potatoes or bamboo, collecting beetles, and viewing the local giant buddha statue are all part of life, beautifully depicted.

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Japanese participatory music: Ukulele sing-along

Singing and playing together is common in Japan, and the ukulele has become quite popular here. For the third year in a row, I took part in the Ukulele Welcome Party in Toyama, Japan. It takes time to learn the music any given community knows and loves, and this year we included some Japanese songs and lyrics along with well-loved American tunes. We also included the Okinawan sanshin, another instrument strongly associated with participatory music.

For those interested in the basic approach, here are a few photos and some video. The underlying participatory approach, making music with others instead of performing for others, is featured in several posts on this blog and also in an article in Music Educators Journal.

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Anatomy of an origami frog


Yesterday, during a visit to an elementary school, a presenter from the city’s education bureau made a point about the complexity behind the simple act of making an origami frog. Showing the frog, he then opened up a piece of paper upon which were traced all the folds that are present in the completed frog.

The origami frog is beautiful. The patterns inside the frog are also beautiful. The care that went into depicting those patterns is beautiful. And the idea that parents and students are encouraged to make, celebrate, and understand art as a core component to human development is beautiful. Origami, painting, singing, calligraphy—along with caring for animals and paying attention to nature—are equally important with typical math/reading/history subjects here in Japan.

My experiences of Japanese education suggest that the development of the body and mind are not seen as separate. Instead, the physical and mental are unified through origami, kendo, and long recess periods on equipment that challenge students (including ubiquitous unicycles). Our family is glad to be learning here, glad to be singing songs, folding paper, climbing trees, digging up sweet potatoes, and growing tomatoes along with what we would be learning in school in America.

With permission, here’s a photo of the frog and the digram, a small part of the larger web of relations as people work together to pass on these traditions, fold by fold.



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Participatory music in Japan: Preschool marching band

Sports day, or undōkai (運動会), is a very important for participation and group cohesion. In Japan they exist at every school, and each neighborhood also has one in which people of every age participate together. The event typically weaves together music, dance, and sports (the sports are often collaborative, such as a relay race). Preparation is a focus for several months, and the senior students (age 5) present a marching band show that is a highlight. Here are a few moments:

Further reading on Japanese bands and preschools:

Hebert, D. G. (2012). Wind bands and cultural identity in Japanese schools. Dordrecht; New York: Springer.
Rohlen, T. P., & LeTendre, G. K. (1996). Teaching and learning in Japan. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Walsh, D. J. (2004). Frog Boy and the American Monkey: the Body in Japanese Early Schooling. In L. Bresler (Ed.), Knowing Bodies, Moving Minds (pp. 97–109). Springer Netherlands.
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Sound studies and Suzuki at NAfME Atlanta 2016

Sound Recording at the Heart of Pedagogy: Suzuki’s Method in America
Thursday, March 17, 8:30 a.m. (Augusta Room 3)

Suzuki cassetteThis historical study examines the mediated pedagogic techniques of the Suzuki Method. I explore the role of mothers as pedagogic and technological innovators, the development of approaches to learning through listening, Suzuki’s notion of  a recording as teacher, and the pedagogic extension of the method through the adoption of the compact cassette tape format. Finally, the resonance between the Method and Japanese educational ideas is contrasted with the American resistance to recordings.

For those curious to think about what it means to connect musical development and instrumental learning to sound recording technologies, those who are interested in sound studies and media, and fans of Suzuki’s “Twinkle Variations”—you are invited! There will be time for discussion and questions.

While in Atlanta I will also be presenting to the Philosophy SRIG Pre-conference, attending the Philosophy SRIG session, and attending sessions for BCRME, for SRIG Chairs, and a social event for the University of Florida. NAfME Atanta Suzuki 2016 look forward to seeing many friends and making new ones.

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Mursell and the psychology of music education (1940s edition)

For those interested in the history of music education and psychology, here’s a real treasure from 70 years ago: the syllabus for ED 289I, “Psychological Foundations of Music Education” as taught by James Mursell at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Here’s the syllabus for the class in its entirety.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Mursell has a Wikipedia page, and a special issue of Visions of Research in Music Education covers the legacy of Dewey and Mursell. Scott Goble’s What’s So Important About Music Education also has a section on Mursell.

I came across this syllabus while doing archival work at the University of Southern Illinois Edwardsville campus, and have been able to narrow it to between 1943–6. Here are a few choice questions from the “study guide”:

Continue reading

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Participatory Music in Music Educators Journal


American old-time jam in Kyoto, Japan

“Music Education for All through Participatory Ensembles,”  [Open access version at UF Repository here] appears in the December 2015 issue of Music Educators Journal. The article presents ideas from my immersion in participatory music—in particular from a chance to learn alongside Tom Turino as I helped him teach a class for music education graduate students for two summers (he was also my clawhammer banjo teacher). The article helps to pass on some of what I learned through reading, teaching, and doing participatory music out in the world.

Making participatory music, adopting participatory values, and bonding with others through music changes one, and I hope that many educators find time to explore the values, pedagogy, and repertoire of participatory music with their students.

Here are some resources to explore:

Dana Montiero’s Harlem Samba: http://www.harlemsamba.com/#about
Continue reading

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Singing along in Japan

Singing together is an important part of life in Japan, and it is a delight to where participation is rich and frequent. Here’s a short performance I recently gave at a preschool festival. Without a rehearsal, we aimed for music that was accessible for participation: songs the children knew from school, American old-time tunes, and popular tunes from Disney and Japanese anime. You can see how children clap and dance along, and that adults also join in. For the finale they danced the theme from Yo-Kai Watch, a popular anime/game, and nearly every child knew or followed along with the group dance.

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Participatory music in Japan: Homebrew ukulele edition

There is a depth of community and participatory events in Japanese schooling and society, the origins of which are hinted at in T. M. Luhrmann’s Op-Ed in the Times, “Why are Some Cultures More Individualistic Than Others?”

My adventures in Japan have included many deeply fulfilling events, and those interested in participatory music might enjoy my article in the upcoming December issue of Music Educators Journal (or read this talk now). Here’s a recent sing-along at the Uku-Par welcome party in Toyama, Japan. I displayed chord forms and invited everyone to sing and strum along. My approach is uncommon in Japan, but the abilities of the players and willingness of singers connected everyone together for a delightful set. Of course, it never hurts to have a pint-sized translator/backup dancer in the mix.

Photos by  Takumi Sugaki.

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