Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Interview ...

Taking online classes is an intense experience.  For every student in this non-traditional setting, whatever or however much they put into it, that is what they will *get* ...

Below is a link to an interview that I took part in this past summer.  Even with a six months distance from that conversation, it holds true:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

95 Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege ...

What a privilege! Today Lindsay and I visited the Advanced Voice Class at Penfield High School in Penfield, New York.  As we begin the creation of a dramatic vocal work using Shakespeare's sonnets for Voices and Orchestra, we are taking time to listen and take note of the the talent that we are writing for.

Already at the fall concert last Wednesday night, we heard the Penfield High School Orchestra and were astounded by the depth of sound and playing ability.  From our visit today, we heard half of the students from the advanced voice class sing with skill--connecting the texts of their songs to the music.  We were thrilled by the natural and honest beauty of the voices that we heard. 

These are our tools as composers of this project:  inspiration from the sonnets, beautiful singing and an orchestra who plays with ability and skill.  When we combine these elements with our abilities as composers, we cannot help but be excited about the coming months. 

What excites us most is that TOGETHER with Penfield High School, we will become intimately acquainted with Shakespeare's words ... TOGETHER we will experience his genius.    TOGETHER we will have an opportunity to create something wonderful, not only for the Penfield High School community, but for our city of Rochester, New York.  How can we not help but "take heed ... of this large privilege", looking forward to the possibilities and the joy that awaits ALL OF US as we collaborate on a project that holds so much promise?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Returning to the Classroom

Often I am asked why I am in pursuit of a PhD in Psychology.  I suppose it does look very strange since my background is the Arts and I  have expertise in Music and Theater.  However, the driving factor is that I have always wanted a terminal degree; it was always in my plan, even when I was a little girl. As my life shifted and changed, however, it became apparent for me to step outside of music, education and theater and encapsulate my knowledge into something educationally meaningful and in a degree that could include all of my interests-- thus Educational Psychology with an emphasis in the Arts.

The Arts seem to embody the best of our humanity.  They document and express our creativity, and through their process help everyone lead happier and more fulfilled lives. The place of music, art, dance and theater in our education has been so diminished over the years that most people do not recognize the power they have to make our world a better place.  Yet within the Arts rests the potential to help our educational woes because the Arts develop cognitive abilities and promote emotional well-being.

With a PhD, coupled with my expertise in music, theater and education, I will  have a powerful voice to advocate for the Arts. With a PhD, I will be speaking with authority from a scientifically supported understanding as well as from my heart.

This morning I work on coursework for Advanced Inferential Statistics ... not the picture you have of a person who composes music and/or writes plays ... or even a teacher in a classroom ...  Yet, this is a necessary tool for my future research and I return to my classroom with a vengeance!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Methinks We Begin a New Journey

Earlier this afternoon, Linz and I had the opportunity to present a project to the rising class at Penfield High School in Rochester, New York.  The project we have proposed is a Shakespeare Sonnet composition project that will involve the advanced voice class, the orchestra and the theory class. 

Throughout the next school year, we will be examining the Shakespeare Sonnets with the voice class, translating 5 to 7 of them into modern English with the students' help, and then setting the original sonnet into a vocal composition with orchestrated arrangements.  In performance next June (2012),the class will present their translated versions paired with the original sonnets ... all set to music, which will be performed in a special concert.

When talking to the class today, it became apparent that Shakespeare is a mystery ... and yet everyone thinks and believes that to know Shakespeare is evidence of an educated person.  Based on their response, it is clear that learning Shakespeare is perceived to be a difficult task. 

With this project, our goal as composers/writers is to connect them with this heightened language in a way that makes Shakespeare's words personal to them, so that when they speak these words without the music, they will feel and know the power of great writing --writing that transcends time.

So ... we are off!  ... beginning a journey ... we hope it will be a fantastic one for all involved.  We certainly know we are looking forward to the experience.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Joy of What We Do

This past weekend, we (meaning my writing partner, Lindsay Baker, and I) had the extraordinary opportunity to attend the New York Musical Theater Festival's (NYMF) Bootcamp.  For two days, we sat together with other winners of this year's Next Link Project and the producers of shows for the 2011 festival, hearing and sharing information about what we are about to undertake--a New York City production of our show.

One of the most amazing moments of the entire weekend was when each of us (the writers) shared a song from our musical.  This is the musical in its purist form because these performances come straight from the heart of the people who created them.  What is so extraordinary about the experience is that here in a room full of strangers, we all share a common bond.  We all know the joy of what we do AND ... in this powerful moment, we have the opportunity to share this joy with others who understand completely what it means to write a musical.

For those who have never attempted to write one, it is important to know that for a composer/lyricist/playwright, "joy" is the most necessary ingredient in the writing process--at least it is for us.  Joy has to be the overarching presence because sometimes that is the only thing a composer/lyricist and playwright has.  It is the joy that sustains the writer through the bleak times and it is the joy that is replenished when a special opportunity like this one presents itself.

Our experience over the weekend was supportive, encouraging, and positive.  NYMF puts together people who love theater ... musical theater ... and they make it happen.  Because of the NYMF staff and what they accomplished this weekend, we believe that we will be able to produce our show.  Already they have given us access to tremendous resources and introduced us to fabulously talented people, people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make a show happen ... directors, designers, marketing people, and people who have created wonderful shows for them in the past.

As a result, we welcome our journey ahead.  From what we learned in bootcamp, we know that the next several months will be insane and that things will happen quickly.  Our hope, however,  is that when we open, we will still know that same joy--the joy of what we did!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Foundations: Building More than a Film Score

This spring I have had the extraordinary pleasure of working with young film maker, Rose Glaeser.  She is in the final throes of finishing her degree at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) and she contacted me to help her with a film score for her thesis. What is so interesting about her film is that it is a collage of images that build on the foundations of running.

In viewing the film for the first time, my mind instantly heard the sounds of drumming.  I thought that the sound of African drumming could serve as the foundation for her film and bring cohesion to the score.  The imagery of a ballet dancer evoked the sound of a piano; football the sounds of whistles; baseball the sound of the electric organ, and kung fu, the sounds of a flute and a metallophone.

When I shared my thoughts with Rose, she was open to the ideas.  I think this is what made the experience so much fun.  Rose was open to the ideas and understood the nature of collaboration--staying true to her vision of the film, but cognizant that when others contribute to her art, she could have a greater realization of her vision.

Her openness allowed me to bring together many elements and people.  For the foundational element, I contacted a fabulous woman, Colleen Hendrick, who is with Bush Mango Drum & Dance to provide the organic sounds of West African drumming.  I composed a flute piece called "Qi" for my daughter to play and she had the experience of being recorded in a sound booth.  In providing the piano music, I had the opportunity to write a new intermediate to advanced solo piano piece called "Valse gothique", which had been whirling and twirling around in my head since December ...

All of these elements will be combined in Rose's film --in a collage -- in collaboration.  And ... I am getting excited about her screening.  What excites me more, though, is the spirit of her work as an artist and the joy she gave others in allowing them to collaborate with her.  Rose ... Congratulations!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Working with Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and the Transgendered

As I continue to pursue my PhD in Educational Psychology, I am required to examine ethics within the profession. This week, we were asked to look at the current state of ethics guidelines when dealing with lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and the transgendered. Here are a few of my thoughts from the essay I submitted this morning ...

On Monday night, I was in New York City and saw a preview of the revival of “The Normal Heart”. It is a historical play, written by Larry Kramer in 1985 that addressed the issues surrounding the HIV-AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. Because the Broadway production is a revival, it highlights the fact that the problems currently existing within the gay community are the same problems that existed 30 years ago. It speaks to the political issues surrounding the gay population, as well as the continued need for ethical guidelines for professionals working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered populations today.

According to the American Psychological Association Task Force Report (2009), the concerns of transgender/gender variant populations revolve around social justice issues. Historically social justice issues (for every population) have always been important to the APA, so it is not surprising that the APA recognizes that stigmatization and discrimination occur in almost every aspect of a transgender/gender variant person’s life: threats to their physical safety, their psychological well-being, access to services and basic human rights.

Discrimination and prejudice often occur when a person’s sexual/gender orientation is known. Those who do not share the same sexual/gender orientation, or accept the sexual/gender orientation differences, pass moral judgments against them, so it is important to incorporate guidelines that extend to include this consideration.

Based on the two articles of Standard 3 of the APA guidelines, the role of the psychologist is to create a welcoming, friendly/educational environment that is free of sexual solicitation, physical advances or sexually suggestive verbal/nonverbal conduct. Shouldn’t this extend to all professions?  Also, ethical psychologists do not harass or demean a person who is seeking their help. While the Standard does not specify transgender/gay-lesbian or bi-sexual populations, the standard can act as the umbrella for all sexual/gender orientation issues until the APA can revise it to be more inclusive.

Because much of my professional life is in the Arts, I often encounter gay/lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people. In knowing them, a theme keeps repeating:  No matter who a person is or what sexual/gender orientation a person has, everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated as a person. Everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated for who they are and what they do with their talents and abilities. And ... as far as I can see, projects and collaborative processes succeed when people concentrate on the goal of the collaborative process and not who the person is “sexually” or "culturally".

For an educational psychologist specializing in the arts and music, the most important guideline I can recommend is to educate others to focus on the abilities and talents of what people can “do” instead of how people express themselves sexually and culturally. In creating art or educating people in the arts, the focus should be “the art”. New respect and understanding for others is a natural by-product that results from the process of successful creation.

In my opinion, appreciation and respect for others will always be a natural by-product of collaboration because the act of creating transcends race, religious views and sexual/gender orientation. When people unite in a common goal and succeed together, they develop an arena that promotes appreciation and respect; it creates a place where love can emerge, and people develop an ability to “like” the people with whom they are working.  When we "like" each other, we create an environment where social change can occur and a society can become a just one.

For the psychology profession, it all comes back to the same three-word mantra adopted by the American Psychological Association: “Do no harm". If those in psychology (or anyone else for that matter) are diligent in their attempt to suspend the tendency to project a moral judgment on those with different sexual/gender orientation from their own, they will “do no harm”; they will expand their own world-view, make friends, develop new understanding ... and truly help them.

American Psychological Association (2010). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association, Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. (2009). Report of the Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. Washington, DC: Author.

The Normal Heart. (2011). Retrieved from

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Children Sing ...

When children sing, we need to listen. They are showing us a way to make our world a better place. When their voices join together in song, the sound creates joy and beauty in the world. Since sound is vibration, the children are creating harmony beyond the music itself, and therefore creating a happy vibe in collaboration!

People who attend a children’s choir performance probably only see children having fun and enjoy the experience of listening to them, but research and science prove that the act of singing does much more. When children sing, not only does it improve their musical skills set, but it also provides children with enhanced language-based instruction that simultaneously enhances their speech and reading skills (Moore, 2009).

Music, and particularly singing, stimulates the cerebellum and aids in auditory processing of words (Callan, Kawato, Parsons & Turner, 2007). Through Functional imaging, Callan et al. showed that children with language learning impairment who receive musical training improved their language skills and increased their auditory processing abilities. This discovery could have great implication for children with dyslexia because it has been argued that cerebellar deficits are factors in this language learning impairment. If these deficits can be improved through singing, then music is a door that opens the world to a population that struggles to learn how to read and write.

Even if a person dismisses that fact that singing and music is stimulating a child’s brain, there are other HUGE benefits. Well-crafted lyrics expose a child to a new subject or culture, or the lyrics invite the exploration of history. Songs teach vocabulary and when combined with the emotional expression from musical harmonies and melodies, children learn the deeper subtleties of meanings and how to use vocabulary correctly. The repetition of songs improves pronunciation, reinforces the innate understanding of inflection, language patterns and sentence formation. It is a heightened form of speech therapy that is enjoyable to the child … especially when the melodies, rhythms and harmonies are fun to sing.

As a composer who writes children’s songs, it is my responsibility and *joy* to create songs that attempt to enhance what children’s voices do best and to pick appropriate subject matters to sing about. The only way I know when I am successful is when an artistic or choral director chooses my work for their choir to sing.

This happened yesterday when I received an email from Gina Lupini, the director of Vivace! in Archbald, Pennsylvania, requesting permission to buy/license copies of “When I Go Fishin’” for her choir. It was a delightful exchange and in the process of our correspondence, I discovered an amazingly talented woman who is doing amazingly talented things with amazingly talented children.

What Ms. Lupini is doing is delivering first-class arts-based instruction that is fostering creativity and enhancing literacy instruction. Not only is she making great music, but she is transforming her rehearsals and performances into positive learning environments that help every child in her chorus gain academic, social and emotional skills for success in later life—the kind of success that Paquette and Reig (2008) describe in their recent article about literacy and music. Successful children’s choruses happen because a choral director creates an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between chorus members, the director and the accompanist.

Here is a little of the bio she sent when I asked her if I could write something about her group:

"Vivace! is an auditioned treble choir of sixty-five seventh through twelfth grade students from the Valley View School District. Since 2004, the choir has attended the Music in the Parks and Music Showcase Festivals and has consistently achieved excellent and superior ratings. In May 2010, the group achieved Music Showcase Festival's most distinguished honor, Grand Champion. The award is given to the highest scoring ensemble from all of the festivals held at the location in which they attended. In recent years Vivace! has performed at the Lackawanna County Health Care Center, The Laurels Assisted Living Facility, the Gino Merli Veteran’s Center, PNC Stadium and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

In April 2010, Vivace! traveled to Pittsburgh to perform at the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s (PMEA) annual conference. PMEA’s mission is to advance music education by encouraging excellence in the study, teaching and making of music. Vivace! was one of 140 ensembles throughout the Commonwealth who applied to perform and are one of only thirty selected to perform at the three day convention.
In June 2011, the choir will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to participate in the Queen City Children's Choir Festival. In 2009, they participated in the same festival and were one of five choirs throughout the United States who worked directly with international composer Jim Papoulis and the American Choral Director's Association's National Chair of Children's Choirs and director of the Cincinnati Children's Choir, Robyn Reeves Lana.

The group released its first CD in April 2009 and their second CD (The Spirit of Christmas, recorded at St. Peter's Cathedral) is on sale now. Vivace! is under the direction of Gina Lupini and accompanied by Michael O'Malley."

When children sing, they are doing something important for themselves and for their world. They really are making a difference!

So … Sing, children! Sing!

Callan, D. E., Kawato, M., Parsons, L., & Turner, R. (2007). Speech and song: The role of the cerebellum. Cerebellum, 6(4), 321-327. doi:10.1080/14734220601187733

Moore, P. (2009). Singing Forges a Link Between Music and Language. Teaching Music, 17(2), 57. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Paquette, K., & Rieg, S. (2008). Using Music to Support the Literacy Development of Young English Language Learners. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(3), 227-232. doi:10.1007/s10643-008-0277-9

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Education: Is It Worth It?

Yesterday I wrote three essays to fulfill the requirements for a scholarship application from Capella University. The first essay topic asked me to describe how my studies will make an impact in my life and the lives of others around you. Since the question spoke of the future, I found I had to think of the question in terms of the present because my studies at Capella University have already made an impact in my life and the lives of others around me.

One of the major benefits of studying psychology is that it contributes to my creative work. My studies act as a catalyst, encouraging me to think new ideas, which ultimately change my world. The process of becoming an Educational Psychologist whose emphasis is the Arts and Music is allowing me to cross disciplines and encapsulate my work into a meaningful profession that helps others because it utilizes my experiences as a composer/playwright & artist educator in new and innovative ways.

This is evident in a project I have recently designed and submitted to the American Composers Forum's McKnight Visiting Composer Fellowship called "Learning to Lullaby". Through musical composition, performance and recording, this project is designed to assist first-time mothers (primarily pregnant teens who are at-risk and at-risk mothers) in developing responsive parenting techniques that will help their babies bond to them.

Through the composition of original lullabies, composition of Orff-inspired arrangements of traditional lullabies, as well as education of basic musical concepts, mothers will learn how to interact with their babies through music. This program could be implemented in prenatal care classes offered through Planned Parenthood, the March of Dimes, public schools, or hospitals. By combining my knowledge learned from Lifespan Development, Cognitive Psychology and Learning Theories together with my expertise as a composer/playwright & artist educator, I am able to design and eventually implement a program that could have positive impact on a population that needs help. Without my studies at Capella University, I may never have recognized the needs of this population or thought of a way to help them.

Another one of my ideas is to explore ways of incorporating the music teaching method of "Masterclass" into a format that will help novice teachers in general education classrooms. In classical music "Masterclass" is a common experience that publicly demonstrates master teaching in a highly theatrical way. Through observation, it promotes learning at a very high level and advances a teacher's knowledge about teaching. By translating the principles of this teaching medium into a general teaching format, it will provide novice teachers an opportunity to observe teaching knowledge in application so they understand and know how to perform well as teachers entering the workforce for the first time. Because of my education, I have an opportunity to research and write a dissertation, so my doctoral studies provide me with rich resources and the knowledge to do this.

These are only two of my ideas since I began my studies last August; I have many others. What's important for me is to put these ideas into action. Without action and application, knowledge means very little and is only valuable in and of itself. For me, the fun is drawing ideas together and making them live. The study of psychology is feeding this life purpose as it transforms my life. This makes my education "worth it" because it gives me a powerful voice and resources to accomplish my goals.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is Musical Theater Valuable?

In considering the whole picture of education, educational psychology, and observing the Arts’ place in an educational context, it appears our culture and the powers that be do not place value on the Arts. This is easily supported by the plethora of press surrounding the proposed budget cuts, the publication of proposed budgets, and the amount of commentary generated in the backlash of the announcements (Hale, J, 2011).

From this evidence, it is obvious that our society does not recognize the untapped power the Arts have to transform a failing education system. And while an “educated” America is the supreme goal of the United States, the irony is that test scores reveal the lowering of intellect.

Based on the earlier discussion of creativity, it would seem that the lowering of intellect (knowing and understanding)—what is “prized” by American society, is directly affected by the critical thinking levels to which students are being taught.

Since Sternberg (2009) states that intelligence is linked to culture, and knowing and understanding is the American standard, then this would suggest that students will never “go beyond” those levels. They will instead seek to rise to them, thus developing the mindset that they must memorize and only understand the knowledge.

What this means is that more and more knowing and comprehending will be accumulated, and those learners will only achieve a thinking level at the second level within Bloom’s Taxonomy. They will not know what to do with the knowledge, how to analyze a problem and apply the knowing, evaluate their application of knowledge or create new information or solutions. It makes the world of education and the picture of future learning look very bleak.

There is no doubt that knowing and comprehending are valuable, but these abilities become far more valuable when they are used in higher levels of thinking. The analogy of “not seeing the trees for the forest” is helpful to illustrate my point because knowing and understanding is analogous to knowing about one “tree”, not “trees”, and completely missing the “forest”. Knowing and comprehending break down the parts of the whole, and the education and curriculum that exists now does not provide opportunities for learners to experience the whole, unless there is arts-based instruction, or students experience one-on-one or group lesson experiences that are found in music, visual art, dance and acting.

Putting on a high school musical teaches the highest levels of critical thinking with a gestalt, hands-on learning experience. It teaches many lessons across many disciplines from many perspectives through its process. Just in the area of the Arts alone, a musical production will encompass music (the songs with lyrics and band parts), dance, and drama (the interpreted, spoken words). The creative teams will access knowledge of the visual arts through the design of sets, props, costumes. In larger auditoriums or facilities, the design of lights and sound access technology.

In creating the gestalt experience of a musical, students break down every note and every word of the musical. It is a necessary process because the musical only exists theoretically in a vocal/piano score and must be learned at a knowing and comprehending level in order to produce it. The participants must derive an interpretation from the creator’s words and music through analysis, and put all of the pieces together into a live production (application). In other words, all of the “parts, nuts and bolts” can be understood completely because the directions have been given to them in a script, which has been interpreted through the collaboration between the director and musical director and applied into a performance. This in itself is a valuable learning experience crossing all disciplines within the Arts because the learning happens through a community, and this community is guided by the wisdom of people, the director and the musical director who have had previous theater experiences.

When doing any musical, the story itself can be considered part of the gestalt learning experience too. Depending on the musical, the subjects can range from the stories about World War II, such as Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” (IBDB,2011) or “Cabaret” by Kander & Ebb (IBDB, 2011), to “Once on This Island” by Ahrens & Flaherty (IBDB, 2011), a Haitian folk tale that explores the clashes between class systems through a tragic love story. Because students are playing roles from different time periods and different countries, they are connecting physically to another time period and those cultures through their imaginations, language and music.

Use of mathematics is also important for the set designer and set crew, who must work with scaled models and floor plans to design and build set pieces from an artist’s renderings and build a believable world in which the play will live. Outside of the creative domains, Math must be used to figure out break even points, percentages of audience attendance in order to design a ticket price, advertise and market the show. Budgets become extremely important. Rights and royalties from the use of intellectual property are figured from specific industry formulas, which teach business practices and economic forces. Even the sciences can be involved in a musical production when there is a need to understand a natural phenomenon referenced within a score, or an unfamiliar object is mentioned, such as the “betel nuts” that the character, Bloody Mary, chewed in “South Pacific”.

These simplified summaries of a musical play in production demonstrate the completeness of higher levels of thinking because a musical show is broken down into its basic elements from its abstract and theoretical form, and assembled (if it is its premiere) or reassembled into a gestalt experience for an audience to see and hear.

What the musical does for a society is provide experiences in which their knowing and understanding can be applied. The act of putting on a show both motivates and builds a community of people who work together to achieve a common goal. When the show comes together in a live performance, the audience adds an additional element of a shared experience and an evaluation process begins as audiences judge the construction of the story/play, the performers and the experience. Their reaction to the experience creates another language which communicates a consensus of thoughts to the performers. This language is embodied in their laughter, applause, and silence or booing. The observers are exposed to a play’s topic, stimulated by the way the story is told, and they live an aesthetic experience through their own visual interpretation.

To my knowledge, there are no other professions or learning environments that can accomplish as much as the dramatic arts do ... and musical theater has the greatest potential of all.


Hale, J. (2011). Arts & cultural council calls for state budget parity. Retrieved from

IBDB. (2011). Cabaret. Retrieved from

IBDB. (2011). Once upon this island. Retrieved from

IBDB. (2011). South pacific. Retrieved from

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495506294.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsically motivated people engage in an activity simply because they like it. They are, in my opinion, “life-long learners” or understand joy in doing. They learn or do a task because the reward *is* the task, or the process of the task itself. Extrinsic rewards diminish the joy. According to Schunk (2008), intrinsic motivation can be undermined by an extrinsic reward because it thwarts the enjoyment of pursuing the intrinsically interesting activity (p. 502).

A good example might be when a volunteer is handed a paycheck. For an illustration, consider a story about a person who wants to be kind and proceeds to cut the front lawn of a neighbor who cannot. The person who cannot “insists” on paying the person for the service. For the person who has cut the grass, taking the money somehow "insults" the original intent (the joy of being kind and thoughtful), and this will most likely decrease that person's desire to repeat the action. It makes it awkward between the neighbors.

From college instructors’ perspectives, Lei (2010) examined both the benefits and drawbacks of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. In his paper, he created a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of each. When comparing the two types, it is obvious that intrinsic motivation would be a preferred type of motivation for a student to have in a college environment because it relates positively to learning and achievement.

Students who are intrinsically motivated do not depend on tangible rewards; they enjoy learning and exhibit high levels of competence and self-efficacy. Some of the more salient characteristics of intrinsically motivated students show that they are seldom anxious or depressed, and that they are not negatively stressed or frustrated in their studies. Usually they are cognitively engaged in their learning tasks, desire to truly understand the subject, and genuinely experience pleasure in their learning.

The drawbacks of intrinsic motivation seem a bit convoluted, when applied to college learning situations. Course deadlines and social demands would circumvent many of them, such as not having enough time to enjoy other favorite activities, or working with no completion deadline. People who are intrinsically motivated sometimes lose track of times and space when working on a task and can completely ignore authorities, but these drawback seem inconsequential when weighed against the benefits.

Extrinsically motivated students are inversely related to intrinsically motivated students. In other words the cons overwhelm the pros. However, extrinsic motivation is not all “bad”. While they focuses on tangible rewards, a few of the major benefits of extrinsic motivation include the social reasons to learn and high performance goals that can be set and achieved, or even a tangible reward such as an honor or an award. I know I won't mind when I receive my Tony Award.

However, the drawbacks of extrinsic rewards in motivation far outweigh the benefits because extrinsically motivated students will exert only minimal effort to complete a task, may stop an activity without the reinforcement and may see learning for the grade as more important than learning for the knowledge. As a result, they often have low self-esteem, low self-actualization, and show signs of high anxiety and depression as well as high stress and frustration with their learning.

When I examine my own use of motivation and motivational tools, I seem to take from both sides. For example, often I motivate myself as a composer by using composition or playwriting competitions (Opportunities, 2011) as incentives—not because my goal is to win the competition (although I do enjoy winning), but because it will give me a composition project I will enjoy completing.

What this means is that the competition (the extrinsic motivation) combines with my desire to compose a work (intrinsic motivation) and gives me a deadline to complete the composition or play . Once I am in the process of composing the music, I get into the “flow” of the creativity, lose track of time, and enjoy myself as I create a musical work. When I win a composition or playwriting competition, I recognize the value of this too, because I know that honors and awards in my profession serve to develop my reputation as a composer and a playwright. This is motivating and often opens new opportunities for me within my profession. What this all means to me is that there can be a healthy balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and to have that balance optimizes the possibility for joyful learning or work experiences.


Lei, S. A. (2010). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Evaluating benefits and drawbacks from college instructors' perspectives. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 37(2), 153-160. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Schunk, D. H. (2008). Learning theories: An educational perspective (5th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN: 9780132435659.

Opportunities. (2011). American Composers Forum. Retrieved from

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is Reasoning?

Reasoning has been defined as process where a person draws conclusions based on evidence or principles (Sternberg, 2009). Seen as opposing processes, there are two types: deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning starts with generalizations; its conclusions are reached as new knowledge is produced by applying knowledge directly to what is already known. Inductive reason relies on the ability to gradually build up an understanding of how something works.

When I think of deductive reasoning, it is the removal of extraneous, inconsequential knowledge and application of new facts and figures to understand something. It seems to be the observation of the consequences instead of the inner workings of a problem. Inductive reasoning seems to be the building of a case and moves from facts into something that can be generalized. It works through the problem and arrives at a conclusion based on the inner workings of the problem.

When trying to understand the distinction between the two methods, provides examples that draw distinctions between the two types, but also admits that the differences in these types of reasoning are not always clear. However, my daughter tells me that deductive reasoning "aims at certainty, and inductive reasoning aims at probability." Of all the references, hers seems to be the most succinct.

One of the best experiences of inductive reasoning I ever experienced occurred during my Master’s degree when I was asked. “Why are there only 15 (Bach) two-part inventions?” My teacher, Cary Lewis, took me through the process of inductive reasoning by helping me gather information through the observations of music history (i.e. when these pieces were written, why, etc.) In the course of gathering the information, the assimilation enabled me to derive an answer.

Bach was only able to write 15 two-part inventions because well-tempered tuning of musical instruments had not come into existence at the time he composed them. Prior to well-tempered tuning, only 15 major and minor keys existed in Western harmony due to the tuning system of the 18th century. After well-tempered tuning developed, the key signatures expanded to 24, and Bach wrote two books of preludes and fugues called the "Well-Tempered Clavier" to demonstrate the versatility of this new tuning system. The answer to the question was induced through the examination of the history, and could be inferred when carefully considering the information and putting it all together into a probability.

When thinking of deductive reasoning, I think of Sherlock Holmes and his ability to derive answers from his application of knowledge to a problem. This type of reasoning always seems to take the form of “If …. then … but … then that means ….” For example, the other morning, I found a chocolate chip cookie on top of the stove. My daughter had baked cookies the night before and left four of them on the counter to cool so she could take them to school the next day. When I cut the light on in the kitchen, it seemed odd that one of the four cookies were not in the same place. Next, I asked my daughter if she had left a cookie on top of the stove, she replied “No.”, so I could determine that if she had not put it there, then that would mean that something else had. I was able to reason that I had a mouse under the stove and when I removed the drawer, I found evidence of a mouse.

Deductive reasoning arrives at an answer by starting from the top and working its way down to the answer. It seeks to be “certain”. (I am certain I need to get a mousetrap.)

When reading (Sternberg, 2009) the section on alternative reasoning, it appears that there is an alternative kind of reasoning, which is a complementary system that combines association and rules-based systems to determine an outcome. The two systems are conceptualized “within a connectionist framework” (p. 522) and referred to as a connectionist model of reasoning. When trying to find concrete examples of this type of reasoning, the text gravitated to concepts from neuroscience to explain it. (This was horrendously difficult to understand.) However, I think this model is only another name for “creativity”, because when placed in this context, creativity can be described as a type of reasoning that involves both association and rules.

An example might be how I derived an advertising strategy for a yoga program at a local church where I work. Working within the rules and knowledge of Tibetan prayer flags and connecting this imagery with the mission of the program (association), I was able to arrive at a solution that would solve the problem (Jacobs, 2011).

Reasoning, in my opinion, is one of the more difficult topics to disucss because it is a process that a human being constantly navigates. We deduce, we induce, and we draw associations. We can be right or we can be wrong—no matter how we think—because right and wrong is relative to a person’s perception. What I think is more important is that a person maintains and cultivates the ability to reason and never loses the ability to think an independent thought.


Cary Lewis. (n.d.) The Lanier Trio. Retrieved from

Deductive versus inductive reasoning. (n.d.) Retrieved

Jacobs, A. (2011). Signs of the Spirit. @ peace with yoga blogspot. Retrieved from

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495506294.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thinking at a Higher Level

Science has proved and continues to prove that arts-based instruction requires the highest level of cognitive ability. Using Bloom's Taxonomy as a reference, our education system today only asks students to achieve lower to mid- levels of thinking by requiring students to think at comprehensive or analysis levels. It then assesses learning through standardized tests, which can only test to mid-levels of cognitive ability.

Arts-based instruction, not only requires knowledge, and comprehension levels, but analysis, application, evaluation and then the ability to create--all six levels of cognitive ability. The ability to create is the highest form of cognitive thought.

One of the problems in education today is that scientists do not know how to study creativity because science has no way to measure it. They cannot measure it because there are no theories to create a test--although cognitive load theory is making headway--Instead, education systems get stuck with how much a student comprehends and can analyze --which results in a society that promotes lesser cognitive ability.

Most people cannot think beyond an analysis level; most people do not know how to create. This is evident in the comments posted on the internet and in reaction to proposed budget cuts for the Arts ... they haven't learned to think at a higher level where they can recognize the value of what arts-based instruction does for education in developing higher levels of cognitive ability.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What is Creativity?

Creativity can be loosely defined “as the process of producing something … original and worthwhile” (Sternberg, p. 468). However, I think creativity begins long before the process of “producing something” because the production of something is the by-product and physical manifestation of human thought processes. The creativity/production of something is often inspired by a problem or a need, so the creativity/production of something is often the answer to a problem, a resolution of a conflict, or it fulfills a person’s need to express a thought, a feeling or to make something known to others.

A creative person is someone who takes his or her knowledge and manipulates it. It is a person’s possession of knowledge and the manipulation of it that feeds the creator, so there is also a symbiotic relationship or process involved. Creators have dialogs within themselves, and these internal dialogs fuel the creative process. Also, creativity is collaborative. In my opinion, there is nothing “original”. Every creative endeavor is empirically built on previous creativity and creators use rational thought to create more.

One of the most important aspects of creativity is its beginning. For me, it begins with the ability to watch my thoughts (metacognition). When I watch what I am thinking, I am aware of my inspiration. Usually, inspiration comes from a divergent thought. If I judge the divergent thought to be worthwhile, I will become passionate about it and act upon it--applying my knowledge to bring the thought into three-dimensional reality. In essence, inspiration is the first step that begins a process of creativity.

According to Sternberg (2009), creative individuals are highly motivated, non-conforming, deeply believe in the value of their work, take risks, possess extensive knowledge about their subject, have profound commitment to their projects, take care in what they will focus their creative attention upon, and use both insight and divergent thinking in the process of creating. From my experience, this is a “bull’s eye” description and can be documented in a ten-year journey that resulted in a major work called “Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDCIE, A Musical” (Baker & Jacobs, 2010).

The creation of this musical theater piece was inspired by the thought of adapting Jane Austen’s novel by the same name. Collaborating with my writing partner, we were highly motivated to create a musical that we wanted to see. Our goal was to inspire others to pick up a Jane Austen novel and read it. Through the process of writing this musical, we became Jane Austen scholars and now possess extensive knowledge about her life and works. We were profoundly committed to the project and took great care in our focus upon it. Through its Broadway option, the work transformed from a 3 ½ hour operetta to a 2 ½ hour Broadway show. This transformation was only possible by the great risks we took.

For me, the connection between creativity and emotions if that creative endeavors are the by-product of journeys inward. What this means is that as an artist, I examine myself as I create. These emotional reactions are what spark and fuel the energy needed to create the by-product or that "something original and worthwhile".

What I believe is that everyone has the capacity to create great things. A person only needs to be aware of what he or she thinks, be inspired by that thought, and then passionate about it because the passion is what fuels the action to make the creativity a reality. Creativity is a human process and everyone has that capacity.


Baker, L. W. & Jacobs, A. (2010). Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, A Musical. Retrieved from

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495506294.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This Is My Country

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to hear a truly wonderful concert in Eastman Theater in Rochester, New York. It was a "Prism" concert featuring 28 choirs in the Rochester area who performed throughout the great Kodak Hall. In the audience, there were almost 3,000 people, listening to the different sounds and styles of wonderful singing groups.

At the end of the concert, all of us were invited to sing "This Is My Country". For me, this was the most moving part of the experience of being there, and thrilling to rehearse this refrain:

This is my country! Land of my birth!
This is my country! Grandest on Earth!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country! To have and to hold.

Composed in the 1940s, the song and lyrics were written by Al Jacobs and Don Raye. Even 50 years after they were penned, they have the power to move me and 3,000 people in Kodak Hall. What an extraordinary experience!!! To feel myself unite and connect with that many people with my voice!!!

What would our world be like if we could unite like this throughout the world to bring peace, joy, love and hope to everyone? It is a powerful thought ... and can be envisioned when voices unite in a love for their nation and each other.

Here are the complete lyrics ...

What diff'rence if I hail from North or South
Or from the East or West?
My heart is filled with love for all of these.
I only know I swell with pride and deep within my breast
I thrill to see Old Glory paint the breeze.

With hand upon heart I thank the Lord For this my native land,
For all I love is here within her gates.
My sould is rooted deeply in the soil on which I stand,
For these are mine own United States.

This is my country! Land of my choice!
This is my country! Hear my proud voice!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country! To have and to hold.