Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A sense of incompleteness grips me as the semester and the academic year wind down, a feeling that it has been impossible to do justice to a multitude of tasks ever at hand. At times the academic schedule seems singularly artificial to me--an unnatural concentration of activity in a short span of time. It's feast or famine, a bipolar way of being, with half a dozen major projects to accomplish within a two-week period, followed by an abrupt end. We put ourselves into a manic state to burn the midnight oil in these final weeks. I, for one, would not object to a shorter summer break for the sake of a saner semester! Had I the time, I would take the time to deepen these explorations in improvisational writing, and to become a better juggler of multiple tasks.

But given the communal nature of the learning experience we have embarked upon in this class, we started together and we must end together. One could easily request an extension or "incomplete" on a conventional, individualistic project; but when the primary endeavor in the class is a collaborative process, then "completion" must occur in the context of participation in the group! We come to accept that in a process-oriented undertaking, our projects will always feel incomplete.

I do feel that the process of composing blogs and delving into others' offerings has opened my thinking to a world of issues. For every blog I have posted, there are a handful of potential essays I conceived but had not the time to bring to fruition. I would like to think that these seeds have not been sown in vain.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Shifting Perspectives: Newsblogging has finally become a reality! For some reason, it was a convoluted process for me to establish a newsblog, despite seemingly clear instructions. Now that I have at last succeeded, I realize that a newsblog is quite an astounding phenomenon with significant educational implications. The ever-changing way that it draws upon different but related sources gives it an organic, dynamic quality, almost as though it were a live oracle offering revelations on issues of interest. On the basis of what turns up, I will adjust the keywords by which I define these issues of interest.

Incidentally, the process of shifting between Feeddigest and various blog spots and templates has forced me to gain some facility in clipboard and window functions. While this may seem like an elementary lesson, it has been a useful exercise in technical skills that will facilitate my expression through this cyber-medium.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Performance as Journey: Response to an encounter with Lorin Hollander described in WyzardWays' posting of 2/22

As a music therapist, I was drawn to the Wyzard's account of a community brought together by Barbara Hesser--long-standing director of the NYU Music Therapy program and pioneer in the field--in a summer retreat which featured the concert pianist Lorin Hollander. Having trained in her program, I was struck by the apt description of Barbara as a "spiritual force" energizing others and catalyzing relationships through musical improvisation, meditation, and soul-searching discussion. I recognized with a thrill the potency of her uniting an interdisciplinary group of seekers through vocal and instrumental musical exchange which grew organically out of silent communion.

In my first year of music therapy training, 1997-98, I was fortunate enough to experience directly a performance by Lorin Hollander. In addition to the performance itself, I was impressed by the vibrant variety of the gathering which seemed to expand the bounds of our humble classroom space (Room 985 in the Education Building). I knew nothing of Hollander's biography at the time, but found that his music affected me uniquely--quite differently from that of many other performers whom I had heard in concert--in ways that I could not verbalize. It comes as both relief and revelation, all these years later, to read the Wyzard's impressions of Hollander which so resonate with my experience: of his performance as a journey, a channeling; not only a channeling of the composer's imagination nor of his own sensibilities as performer, but a "presencing of the human spirit," an evocation of multidimensional experience and response in his listeners. Rather than being unilaterally presented by performer to audience, Hollander's music served as a vehicle for our moving together from moment to moment along unpredictable channels.

Given the powerful impact of his music, I am not surprised to learn that Hollander had personally made the journey from child prodigy to visionary and searcher. Educators may draw much inspiration from this development, especially educators in a performance-oriented field. How seductive--but ultimately devastating--it can be to spotlight the technical skills and virtuosic achievements of the "prodigy." No wonder performance is ubiquitously associated with anxiety and inhuman competition toward narrowly defined, standardized goals. If we can instead envision performance as interactive--as a process of engagement with a medium, a community, and one's own multifaceted potential--then it can truly serve both educational and therapeutic purposes of advancing growth and development. Rather than imposing external, quantitative criteria, performance education can be a cultivating of students' inspiration; and a memorable performance event such as the sharings of Lorin Hollander may thus yield the "ecstasy of a fulfilled inspiration."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Writing as a Means of Hypothesis Testing: Improvising with Ideas

Whenever I balk at the thought of sitting down to write (especially "on demand"), I take comfort in recalling that a research instructor once encouraged me to embrace writing as an opportunity to test hypotheses, to experiment with ideas. What could be more consonant with my work as a music therapist and music educator, committed to the idea (and hopefully the practice!) of improvisation? I should willingly plunge time and again into adventures of trial and error, resisting undue fear of error.

One factor that mitigates this fear is the realization that I am not alone in undertaking such adventures. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that this interactive forum called blogging helps in this realization. It's been heartening to hear, for example, that I am not alone in grappling with identity issues related to disjuncture in cultural naming practices. This affirms my sense that such issues are not merely idiosyncratic but rather sociocultural. I think we all encounter significant questions of identity as educators working in a culturally diverse setting.

Another matter of identity that arises for me in response to the first of those three dreaded questions ("Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you do?") is that of age, and what it may be taken to imply about a person's level of development and experience. Again, this is an issue of both personal and professional significance to me. Especially as I begin a new doctoral program, I am hyper-conscious of the discrepancy between my chronological age and the "typical" or "socially expected" stage of life at which one goes through the experience of being a student. I cannot help feeling behind schedule, in a sense developmentally delayed, as I undergo again the conditions of studenthood more than a decade and a half after having completed my undergraduate education (half a decade post-Master's). Of course I realize that it is not unusual, especially at an urban American institution such as NYU, for people to be pursuing studies at various points in their careers and lifespans. Nevertheless, I feel particularly challenged in trying to "find my rhythm" as I combine work, studies, and all the rest. I suppose there is an important if humbling lesson here about respecting the varied developmental trajectories that our clients and students are on, and sensitizing ourselves to the conditions that might facilitate--or impede--individuals' openness to new experiences and insights at different stages in their lifelong development.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you do?

As I attempt to navigate this new way of presenting myself, I hear as a refrain in my mind these three questions that have followed me around in all my "incarnations"--as a young child in the '70's settling with my family in a new country, as an undergraduate in the '80's at an East Coast university clear across the country from my family's home state, as an explorer of different fields of work and advanced study in the '90's, and certainly as a committed music therapist and now a Doctoral student in music education in New York in the new millenium.

These three seemingly innocuous questions have always caused me to balk, and have made me at times downright phobic--that theme again!--of encounters in which they are likely to arise, whether introductions, reunions, or other professional, academic or social gatherings. Perhaps it's because I feel I have never digested adequately all that goes into those questions, and thus cannot produce a simple, efficient reply. I will now indulge in some ruminations in hopes of achieving some clarity.

"Who are you?"
Even stating my name is not a straightforward matter. Among Filipinos--and certain other ethnic groups--it is not uncommon for individuals to be called by a name other than that which appears on the birth certificate. More than simply a "nickname," the name I am called (Nina Guerrero) is my "real" name--the name with which I identify, and by which I identify myself to those with whom I have any significant relationship, whether personal or professional. In contrast, my "official" name (Maria Chiarina Guerrero) exists only on bureaucratic records, as a type of legal fiction. Unfortunately, it is by this alien name that I must be labeled in so many contexts in this society, lest there be administrative confusion with dire consequences: in doctors' offices, university offices, human resources /insurance/other financial institutions, airports or hotels, or even large classes in which instructors take attendance from an official registration printout. If I wish to break through the alienation of being called by a strange name, there is always the cost of having to explain.

Some of the families I've worked with have faced the same awkwardness. One boy had on his official records a name of religious significance which most males of his community are given at birth (incidentally, in my case "Maria" is similarly a name with religious significance given to many females in Filipino culture, which is heavily Catholic). In his family and community, he was called by a different name--his unique personal name. His teachers and therapists did not register this discrepancy for a long time, and went only by the bureaucratic records. No wonder he seemed to demonstrate receptive language delays by "not alerting to his name"!

Last names can be question-raising as well. I have actually been asked why I have a Spanish surname when I am clearly Asian in appearance; is it perhaps my name by marriage? Well...yes, but not my own marriage: rather, the intermarriage among Spanish colonizers, Chinese traders, and Philippine natives in centuries past! I always feel awkward about having to give a brief history lesson in response to such questions ("The Spaniards governed the Philippines for about 400 years..."); besides, I assume that some facts about the Philippines are still taught in American history, given the strategic political and military ties there have been...

I will delve into the second and third of my "big questions" in subsequent postings, lest I never get this off my desk, so to speak. I only want to add how refreshing it might be to create a panoply of identities (personas, "handles," etc.) in Cyberspace. For now, though, as a newcomer to this virtual realm, I am content to sign on simply as myself.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Finding a Rhythm:

In order to explore the potential of carrying out interactive discourse and creating a learning community through this on-line forum, each of us has been charged with the task of making regular contributions (i.e., postings). This task requires finding a workable, sustainable rhythm. It could seem, otherwise, like a daunting quantity of writing for me, with all of the attendant performance anxiety. I realize that what can make the qualitative difference between a hurdle to be gotten over and a stimulus for ongoing growth is to integrate the exercise into the flow of my daily life. Rather than dreading each posting as an occasion for judgement, I can perhaps focus on cultivating consistency in the overall process of "keeping in touch." In the same spirit, I have often counseled the parents of my private piano students that it is less the duration than the regularity of practice sessions that will foster steady development.

Any necessary task, in fact, can be fruitfully transformed by being brought into rhythm. This is perhaps one of the foundational principles of music therapy! Bringing into rhythm involves engagement and flow between oneself and the environment; as we find the pulse of various activities and interactions, we bring ourselves into rhythm. We begin to outgrow resistance to what we perceived as externally imposed obstacles, and instead identify necessary patterns of unfolding within ourselves.

A significant feature of the blogging process is the rhythm--or multiple rhythms--of dialog among members of the "virtual" community. Entering into such dialog will be a novel experience for me, which I anticipate with my characteristic mixture of excitement and trepidation. A friend remarked recently that she feels much more expressive of herself to others when communicating in writing via email, than when speaking on the phone. At the time, I thought of how difficult it is to gauge others' response through email, and of how much communication depends on reciprocal response. Now, I am beginning to consider the possibilities of interresponsiveness through on-line exchange. How will I "read" the web of connotations, implications, and resonances in the exchange of comments within our group? How will I come across?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Technology as an Extension of Ourselves:

Along with generalized performance anxiety, I have been chronically afflicted with varying degrees of technophobia. I have always felt irremediably behind the times with respect to technology, in every domain: communication (email, cell phones), information (the World Wide Web, Albert, Blackboard, online catalogs such as PsychLit), arts media (iPods, Net Flicks, digital video), academic presentation (PowerPoint), and all manner of practical daily applications... There is a certain sense of helplessness that is immediately activated when I attempt to navigate these systems.

And yet, I recognize that this helplessness is nothing more nor less than a reflection of self-imposed obstacles with which I grapple in all my dealings with the world--and my coming to terms with technologies will be linked with my gaining confidence and competence in various professional and personal undertakings. In a sense, technology can be viewed as the developmental threshold ("cutting edge") of human endeavor in different fields, certainly including music and education--analogous to what Vygotsky referred to as the "zone of proximal development" in which young children are maximally receptive and responsive to input and interaction that facilitates their growth and change.

Gilbert's Webmusicing blog presents ways in which technological advances have been manifested in musical creation, performance, and listening. Current technologies have also made their mark on the ways that psychological understanding is constructed and articulated. For example, in recent times we often study cognition via the computational-representational understanding of mind (which we are learning about in Rowe's Psychology of Music class). In the past, other technologies were invoked to describe the workings of the mind, such as plumbing (e.g., involving fluids or humors--bile, phlegm) or electricity.