What I really do for a living

west-side-storyThis spring I am lucky enough to be music directing West Side Story. If I were to take away the pillars of American Musical Theater from this book: Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and an apprenticing Stephen Sondheim (if one can even imagine that), you’d have just another book musical. But as you know, there’s really no way to do that. One has to acknowledge that West Side Story is simply one of those shows that is a cornerstone of American Musical Theater. Show Boat introduces to the world what a book musical could be, Oklahoma establishes that choreography is as compelling as the music and acting, and then there is West Side Story. The sun sets on this chapter of the history of the book musical as the curtain opens for West Side Story, which is considered by some a culmination of the highest artistic achievement from each structural component of a musical…

And this spring, I get to conduct the damn thing…

I want to share my thoughts and experiences during the journey of this behemoth of a project. One observation I can begin with is that for the book’s sheer artistry the music is astonishingly straightforward and indeed doable. I am sharing with you at the point in the production after our sitzprobe, which on most accounts was a success. This music to me seems to fit or locks in a way other shows I have conducted in the past have not accomplished.

One final thought: maybe the ideal examples of this art form are the most simple in their construction and presentation. Don’t get me wrong; this book is not for the faint of heart! There are passages in this score that will continue to elude me for quite some time. However, in its complexity, there is a simple beauty that the authors must have foreseen in those first days when choreographer, composer, lyricist and playwright came together and decided to create this masterpiece. I think most of us can say, we are all better for it because of their ideas and the creative spirit.

WSS Directors
Creative Team of West Side Story. The ‘giants’: Harold Prince, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents

Again – this is the beginning, sort of. I decided to start this chronology at the point in the journey when instrumentalists and singers/actors came together. Tonight’s rehearsal adds the choreography with the show, which for some IS the sheer genius of this work. A colleague told me once – think of a musical as a wheel. There are several cogs in the wheel that enable the wheel to turn. Music is just one cog…

The Choice is Yours

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EVERY Educator AND Administrator should attend a Professional Development conference at the beginning of their school year. I was offered such an opportunity as integratED SF 2013 by the Organization for Educational Technology and Curriculum came to town. As you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to acquire more tools of the trade to toss into my bag of techniques and strategies as a teacher energized by educational technology. The Keynote speaker this year was Alfie Kohn.

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Mr. Kohn was scheduled to to speak at the end of the first full day of the conference. Unfortunately, his plane was late from the East coast and the Keynote didn’t begin until well after 7p. Making the decision to wait it out after a day filled with discovery, rich conversation and fresh ideas, Alfie finally took the stage. After the first 5 minutes there was no doubt we were in store for a night of radical thinking that would challenge the very core beliefs of teachers – and administrators – about their assumptions of their craft and profession.

First statement/question: “What if we could actually generate, sustain and amplify kids desire to learn; an ongoing hunger to figure stuff out?”

Ok… you had me at ‘what if’. My brain had a few remaining cells for this next challenge and certainly my curiosity had shifted into a high gear as Kohn continued his ultra, critical assessment of our Education system in this country. Ready for some more?

The assault on the Educational establishment sent shock waves through the audience as an overtired and amped up crowd wandered aimlessly out into a warm, fall evening in San Francisco. Twitter traffic was a buzz throughout the keynote as #isf13 began to really trend in the blogosphere. Some went out to local eateries in small groups to disseminate what was just hurled at them and some, if not most, walked away alone to process what they had just experienced.

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One thing is for certain, rarely do we have the opportunity to witness, listen and experience another human being speak so passionately and with an overwhelming sense of conviction about educational constructs that a great majority generally accept as Truth. For a majority of attendees at the IntegratED Keynote session this fall of 2013, their once thought accepted notions about tests (all flavors and varieties), grades and homework we’re obliterated by someone brave enough and has dedicated his life to exposing these elements that have systemically plagued Education in a post industrialized world.

Is this kind of chatter out of your comfort zone? Have your belief structures been disrupted?
Good. Now go take a look at the work that’s currently being done in this brave new world and join us on the path to change.

Alfie Kohn and Progressive Education Reference Links

Hybrid High School

I came across Hybrid High School last spring and was reminded of it’s importance after reading an op-ed piece this evening on Chicago Public Schools called, “Not Just Heartbreaking, Actually Broken.”
Here are a group of individuals responding courageously to the needs of our time – Education. Second, there is a premiere, academic institution – on the West Coast – that will financially support and leverage its reputation in the belief that change and imagination are only a handful of ingredients for assisting our dilapidated educational system into the current century. Take a look:

Every 21st Century Teacher should be able to do THIS

I sure hope fresh, new teachers are coming into the workforce with at least these areas covered! Presented by Terry Heick and shared on Twitter by my colleague Eric Castro, we present 36 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Be Able To Do.

I think we are in the middle of a truly, transformational period in Education. I am finding this landscape of transformation is divided between the educators and leaders that embrace change and the ones that do not. My favorites on this list are #5, 28 and 29.

“Model the value of Questions over Answers (#29)” More than technological proficiencies are at stake here. This radical statement flies in the face of an outdated industrialized Education model, Standardized Testing and Presidential campaigns that promise hard-line accountability which purportedly leads to a better future for our students.

Could there be a critical mass of brave, Educational Leaders tenacious enough to stand up to the compliant masses of Educational Leaders currently in positions of authority?

Creativity, Building and Learning


I can remember sitting in front of our family’s first PC clone purchase assembled by the early 80’s computer company Leading Edge. I sat with the owner’s manual for hours trying to understand this new machine as I arrived at the DOS prompt after the boot disk loaded the OS into memory. Around the same time, there was the other language BASIC I had dabbled with on the middle school’s Apple IIe’s and wanted to spend more of my personal time programming at home on our new computer. Figuring out I could ‘get’ the computer to do things I had asked was earth shattering. Matched with the movies out at the time, i.e. Wargames – where a computer could communicate through the telephone lines and talk through a simulated voice box – I was on the pursuit to create something grand.

Away I went building a math program in BASIC. Lines upon lines of code to give the correct feedback to the user when they answered a simple arithmetic correctly or incorrectly. (I probably should include my fascination with the Choose your own Adventure books and their multiple solutions to one story line – how come I didn’t care for math or algebra then?). After a summer worth of programming, I submitted my math program into a Science Fair hosted at a museum in Balboa Park, San Diego. Not sure I won anything, but it was cool to stand there next to my poster boards explaining the motivation and a methodology to casual observers and curious adults wondering how the heck I pulled it off.

Some two decades later, I suppose I’m still creating things and displaying them for people to check out. I came across this video and wondered the same thing, “Why don’t students do this in schools?” As you can see from my C.V. I’m all about creativity, and as the mechanical engineer showed me, this is how I learn the best.

“Schools as we know them are Obsolete”


The initial reason to create my blog was after I had watched this TED talk featuring Sugata Mitra and his vision for schools in the Cloud. It is a good deal beyond innovation, and most certainly far beyond what many of us can conceptualize for current students and future leaders. Is there criticism of Sugata’s pursuits and ideas? Of course there are – as it should be. I do think, however, that he challenges us in a uniquely and creative way to think about and confront several areas of teaching and learning.

There isn’t anything uniquely new or different with how one learns. With the discoveries and rapid changes in technology, learning is just cooler and better! Waiving my iPhone I explain to colleagues that the summation of all human understanding and knowledge is now virtually at our fingertips. I can ask Siri when and where the Civil War took place. In a bind, I can pull up hundreds of charts explaining Bloom’s Taxonomy.

We can’t continue to teach students what is virtually available all around us. We can encourage – a synonym for teaching – them to learn and understand, pause and wonder about how this information is relevant in their lives and to derive meaning, which I believe is the road to enabling a generation of life long learners.

Good Friday Tre Ore Service

I was director of the Motet Choir at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, California during Holy Week in 2013. I had the opportunity to collaborate as music director in a Tre Ore Service on Good Friday that, in addition to a series of reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ, projected famous works of art which were paired with a musical response.

Here are the images and musical pairings from this poignant and powerful service I had the privilege to be a part of several years ago. The titles of the musical reflections and images are links:

  1. Click the musical selection first (which will open in a separate tab),
  2. Go back and click the image while listening to the track,
  3. or browse in a way that suites you the best.