Sunday, March 28, 2021

We are all nerds.

 

My father was an early adopter long before the designation was in common parlance. He started writing on a manual typewriter, moved through an electric model and a primitive word processor, and ended up with an iMac in his eighties.

 

At one point he brought home a very early computer, an odd machine that he rigged up to our tiny black and white television. I remember being able to play the infant version of Pong on it, the green elements against the dark background, and typing some words on the screen.

 

My father loved gadgets, but he was by no means a computer nerd, as we have come to honor that term. He was a nerd in the respect that he loved to read and was very intelligent and not very athletic. He wasn’t very good at fixing things, and he sometimes got impatient reading directions, a task that would get passed on to me. He didn’t care much how these machines worked, but he was fascinated by their potential. I carry these same nerd traits.

 

At this point in history, most of us have become nerds of various sorts. We had little choice if we were going to continue to teach without the benefit of in-person lessons. With not much warning, we were searching YouTube videos and figuring out how to access Zoom, Facetime, and Google Duo and Meet, for starters. Then it was off to Amazon to wait in line for tech implements like USB mikes and tripods for our phones. Remember when we couldn’t get them?

 

I’m taking a quick inventory of the gear I had before going fully online and what I added. Looks like this:

 

What I had:

            • A laptop computer.

            • An adjustable portable computer stand that was easy to set up by my piano.

            • Inexpensive Logitech speakers to amplify the sound from my computer. 

            • An adjustable tripod.         

            • An iPhone for videos as needed.                   

            • A studio with full-spectrum overhead fluorescent lights that didn’t cast                             shadows on my face.                     

           • Same studio that is in a separate building but picks up good wi-fi from the                     router in the house. No photo-bombing or toilet flushing in the                                     background.

 • Teaching manipulatives that I could show students via my computer camera.

 

What I purchased:

            • A phone grip attachment for my tripod.

            • A Blue Snowball USB mike.

            • A gooseneck phone grip.

            • A portable mike that works under a mask.

  • A turntable cushion for revolving from facing the piano to facing the 

        computer.                  

  • A set of plastic stacking trays to organize the basic method books I use 

        all the time and keep on a storage cube by the piano.

 •  Extra copies of method books so I can follow along instead of relying 

        on my memory, good as it is (or was?)

 

When I started purchasing accessories for online teaching, I focused on what would have future use. Because I give live presentations – and hope to do so again – having a portable mike fit in that category. Because I’ve given several Zoom presentations, having the USB mike will have future use. Because I create short videos for FaceBook, having the tripod phone grip has come in handy.

 

The revolving cushion and the plastic tray set may or may not have much use in the future. The cushion could work for students when they come back to the studio. The plastic tray set was an impulse purchase that arrived recently. Value yet to be determined, but it does hold all of my technique and lesson books in separate slots.

 

I have to admit that I look at other online teachers with boom stands and multiple cameras and access to all kinds of online resources and wonder if I have enough gear. They are the true nerds, the ones that seem to know how things work, or so I think. Maybe they are just better at reading directions.

 

Our professional exchanges have gone from discussing methods to discussing gear and platforms. What happens when Zoom creates feedback? How do you get students to set up their devices so you can see and hear? And, recitals?????

 

The tech transformation is complete. We are all nerds.

 

 

 


Monday, February 1, 2021

Good, Better, Best

 

What are you binge watching this winter?  I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of offerings, including the series “Pretend It’s a City,” featuring author, humorist, and NYC’s top curmudgeon, Fran Lebowitz.  Maybe that is because I remember her writings from decades past, and I’m curious to see if she’s changed much. She hasn’t.

 

I did find the second episode to be uplifting, despite her deadpan delivery. She talked about music, her long friendship with Charlie Mingus, and how important music is to people. She told the story of her early experiences as a cello student. She said that she knew if she practiced more, she’d get better, but she’d never get good.

 

That jumped out at me, and I’ve been ruminating about it since. How do we define good? More importantly, how do our students define good? In English grammar, good is the weakest of the comparative descriptors, and best is, well, the best. But not for Fran, and maybe not for our students.

 

Good means getting the music to a high level of performance, a level that deserves admiration from those in the lower levels of ability. Good means you’re an achiever with skill, talent or whatever you want to call it – that mysterious something that causes you to stand apart.

 

Does good also mean you have no appreciation for getting better? In some cases, I notice that with students. These students often are very self-critical, a trait that Fran admits to having. They want more than getting better. They want perfection, their personal definition of good.

 

The way to find out is by asking. If they play something that they consider good, what does that mean? Ask. When you learn the answer, you will know how best to use the word good. And that could be for the better.