Encourage a hobby, inspire a passion

Students need teachers to help them develop their interests. Sometimes, what begins as merely a hobby can turn into a passion. The teacher is the one who fans the flames and turns that burning ember into a forest fire!

We can inspire students to pursue their interests with more gusto:

Tutor: Ask open-ended questions that help students to identify their interests.

Teacher: Assign work that helps students make connections between schoolwork and their extra-curricular activities.

Mentor: Give students an idea of the careers that are available in their field.

Coach: Challenge students to try for the next level of achievement, testing their commitment – and perhaps fueling a passion!


Riffin’ in the Infinitive

Learning to speak a new language has many parallels with playing a musical instrument.  When I played the cello, I had to constantly be aware of where I was going.  In fact, reading music, you always have to stay a few measures ahead!Image

When speaking a new language, you have to think: what verb works here?  Should I use the infinitive?  Does that noun need a feminine adjective?  How many people am I talking about anyway?!

Listening and repeating a sound verbatim is also a common element.  When I was studying music, we took a class called eurythmics, wherein we heard a melody or beat pattern and had to repeat it.  Over time, they became much more complex.  We learned how to store the pattern for a short time while we played it back.

For me, a little-recognized benefit of musical study in language learning is the “trading” that goes on in small group music making:  I play this phrase with force, and you answer it with timidity.  I shape the line with a flourish, and you answer with another.

This “trading” also happens in language, as we trade: “Hey, how are ya?” for “Doin’ fine!”  Most everyday language happens without much thought as we trade common phrases among our interlocutors, just as we trade musical phrases among our fellow musicians.

Real Life Opera

Real Life Opera

Having a hard time coming back from the long weekend?  This opera singer returned to the stage after receiving two lung transplants!

Lyrics and Literature

In the movie Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant’s character defends his pop star vocation, saying that rock musicians are “real poets.”  He tells Drew Barrymore’s character, a literature student, that nothing can make you feel happier, faster than, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day/ When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.”  Image

Music is just poetry set to music, so why not use lyrics to teach literature?  For example, Johnny Cash lyrics carry a deeper meaning without being overwhelming.  His most catchy tune, “I Walk the Line” is a good place to start:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

Why is Cash keeping a “close watch” and his “eyes wide open?”  What is this “tie that binds?”  But then, what is the line he is walking?  What makes this imagery so powerful?  Cash seems to be building a strong contrast between two viewpoints, perhaps to show his own conflicted nature – or to emphasize his devotion.  He clarifies in the next verses, before returning to the first verse at the end:

I find it very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fool for you
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

You’ve got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can’t hide
For you I know I’d even try to turn the tide
Because you’re mine, I walk the line

 Also interesting is the driving rhythm of the song, the sound of a freight train – also used in Folsom Prison Blues – for which Cash is so famous.  Does this beat support the message of the lyrics or contradict them, adding a new layer to the song? 

You could also find parallels to famous works of poetry.  For example “As sure as night is dark and day is light” sounds to me reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18 “As long as men shall breathe and eyes shall see.”  In general, the imagery of light, dark, day and night is rampant through literature.

Finally, how does this song fit into Cash’s work as a whole, and to his life story?  Does the metaphor of walking a line reflect well his struggles?  Maybe Cash makes references to his past songs in order to recast them in a new light as he was writing this song directly after his marriage to June Carter.


Music and Learning

I just saw the move The Music Never Stopped, and it makes some very interesting observations about learning.  It is about a man who suffers brain damage and is not able to make new memories.  However, a music therapist is able to reach him by playing the music he listened to as a teenager in the 1960s.  

By listening to the music, he is transformed from an almost comatose state back into the man his parents knew – a sensitive and thoughtful music lover.  As long as the music is playing, he can carry on conversations as if he had never been injured.  The only caveat to this is that he doesn’t realize how much time has passed.


While I’m sure some element of the movie has been fictionalized, there is quite a bit of truth to this story.  It brings into question the nature of learning.  At some level it seems like we learn in bits and pieces, picking up information and storing them as needed.  This man’s story shows that learning can occur around something that we really love.  In fact, our whole identity can be built around it.  

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