17 October 2015

LOM on hiatus

In June 2015 I moved from Seattle to Europe to look for a job. When I have settled into a city I will continue with The Language Of Music conversation class there.

Until that time, "Rowing" by Soundgarden is my theme song (lyrics).

12 May 2015

6 May 2015 (Wednesday)

Today 7 students came to talk about songs about flowers (or Spring). 
[Some students remarked that I had made the theme for 2 weeks ago "Spring", which is true, but this week I really wanted to do "flowers" but thought that some people might find that topic too limiting so I expanded it to "Spring" again.]

Before talking about songs on the theme I asked a new student for an example of the music he likes. He choose "Latin Moon" (video, lyrics, song info) by Mia Martina (info).

Before proceeding I asked the students who had gone with me to the Kurt Cobain movie "Montage Of Heck" (trailer) if the had any new impression of the film in the days since we had seen it. One student said he felt the film did not highlight was a good lyricist Kurt Cobain was. An example of that, which fit the day's theme, is the song "In Bloom" (video, lyrics, song info). The student who chose this song likes the combination of the idea of people blossoming in youth and plants blossoming.

The next song chosen was a classic: "Here Comes The Sun" (video with lyrics, song info) by The Beatles (info). I mentioned that I often put this song at the end of a playlist of songs about frustration, especially if they are related to winter. I make lots of playlists of songs. This led me to asking the class who makes playlists of songs to themes, but surprisingly none of them do: at the most they just make playlists of "favorite songs".

The next "flower song" was a Chinese song -- picked by a student of Chinese, *not* a Chinese student! -- but I cannot find the song from my notes anymore :-((  I know is was uploaded by the Chinese Civilization Channel 2, but I can't find the exact song anymore. Apparently there is both a traditional version of the song and a reggae version. Sorry about not being able to find the video again!

Speaking of reggae and flowers, the next song was "A Flower" (video with lyrics) by Matzka (info), a Taiwanese band.

The last song of the day was "Haru Yo Koi" (video, lyrics) by Yumi Matsutoya (info). This is a very famous song about Spring in Japan.

I had to leave a little early today to attend a seminar so it was a short session and our time for the day was over.

Theme for next class: since I am moving the theme is "Songs to pack up your apartment to". One thing to think about this theme is all the memories in a place you are leaving as well as the physical things you are packing.

05 May 2015

29 April 2015 (Wednesday)

Today 8 students came to share songs on the subject of "Protest Songs" (inspired by May 1st at the end of the week and how each in Seattle there are "anti-capitalist" protests on May 1st).

Before getting into protest songs we followed up something from the previous weekend: Taiwanese band Magic Power (info) had played a free concert at the UW as part of a Taiwanese cultural festival. I had gone to see some of the show and it was a very interesting cultural experience for me. I asked one of the students who went to the concert which is her favorite song by Magic Power and she said "Who Am I" (video with lyrics). 

Also before starting class an announcement about a musical event, the Global Gala (info) at the UW on Saturday 9 May from 8pm - midnight was made. Here's the description of the event from the website: "Global Gala is the FIUTS Student Board's farewell party for all students leaving or graduating at the end of the academic year. It is a chance to come together and celebrate one more time with all the friends, facilitators and staff you've met at UW."

I suggested to the class that we go see the documentary about Kurt Cobain, "Montage Of Heck" (trailer) this coming weekend. We decided to go to the movie Sunday evening.

[Report after the movie: 5 students joined me to see the movie and it seems like everyone had a good time, especially seeing the documentary about this cultural icon in his hometown of Seattle. BTW, a very good documentary about the whole early Seattle music scene is "Hype!" (info, trailer).]

We had one more topic before protest songs: The previous day the lineup for this year's Bumbershoot Festival (5, 6, 7 September) was announced. The general consensus among the group, including me, is that it's a weak lineup this year. 

Ok, now we finally listened to our first protest song: "Radio-Activity (live in Japan 2012" (video, lyrics, song info) by Kraftwerk (info). You can see from the video how strongly the Japanese audience reacts to this song since Fukushima disaster. The student who picked this song had seen Kraftwerk perform it live and he said it was very powerful. It is notable that this song is not a typical "loud" protest song; it is quiet and that makes it more scary.

The next song was "Island's Sunrise" (video with lyrics, song info) by Fire Ex (info). This song is from Taiwan and was a protest about the Taiwanese government passing legislation to change business rules with mainland China in just 30 seconds, without a public debate. 

However, the subject of relations between mainland China and Taiwan is very emotional for both sides and it was clear that some of the Chinese students did not agree with this song. I have learned from teaching this class to generally stay away from China-Taiwan political discussions because it often leads to arguments.

So we moved on to another protest song. This time it was "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (video, lyrics, song info) by U2 (info). Interestingly the student who choose this song about UK vs Ireland relations back in the 70's and 80's is from France. He had very interesting interpretations of the song, about how it mixes peaceful and militaristic actions/protests, including the militaristic drumbeat and carrying out a white flag while doing a militaristic march, without actually saying one is right and one is wrong.

Speaking of US protest history, I played a little bit of "Ohio" (video, lyrics, song info) by Neil Young (info). This song is about when 4 students at Kent State University were shot dead by the American National Guard while protesting against the Vietnam War. It is a deep scar in American society that this happened.

The next song was similar: "2 de Octubre" (video, lyrics) by Banda Bostik (info in Spanish) is about the Mexican government killing many students during a 1968 protest.

The next song was a very intelligent pick for protest songs: "Born In The USA" (video, lyrics, song info) by Bruce Springsteen (info). I have talked about this song often in class, but in short, most Americans only listen to the chorus "Born in the USA" and think of it as patriotic, but if you read the lyrics it's a protest song against how hard life can be for some people in the USA and how the guy in the song gets sent off to Vietnam just because he's not rich enough to get out of it, which mirrors the reality at that time: many men of fighting age during the Vietnam War did everything they could to avoid going there to fight and it was the poor ones who had less ways/opportunities to find ways to avoid service.

The last song of the day was not a protest song. I asked one of the new students to share a song she likes so we could get a sense of her taste in music. She chose "Cosa Siamo" (video with Italian lyrics in notes) by Tatiana Sporzon. This student said lyrics are very important to her when listening to music and she discovered this song by watching a video that had the lyrics translated into Chinese and she was touched by the lyrics. I like this song but can't find any more information about the artist or the song! :-(

With that class was over for the week. In English we say "April showers bring May flowers" so my suggested theme for next week's class is "flowers". But of course, any song the students want to share with the class are welcome!

28 April 2015

22 April 2015 (Wednesday)

Today 7 students (2 new) came to talk about their first song/cd they bought.

While I set up the equipment we watched a bit of a song by by Wagakki Band (info) which was a band YouTube suggested to me when I wrote last week's blog. I posted a question to the LOM Facebook group asking if any of the Japanese students know about this band, but it turns out that in my class only Chinese students know about this Japanese band, hahahaha! However, since the name of the song we watched was in Japanese, I can't find it again as I write this blog, sorry!

The first song chosen on the day's topic was "Koi No Maiahi" (video, lyrics, song info) by O-Zone (info). What's funny about this song is that to my ears it sounds like it's sung in Japanese, but it's actually sung in Romanian!

One of the Chinese students recognized this song so we watched the Chinese version of it (video), which is in Chinese, not Romanian! Since this is the karaoke version, sing along!

At this point I asked everyone in class about whether music was often played in their family home. Most students apparently didn't have a lot of music playing at home!

Next I asked one of the new students what kind of music she likes. She said her favorite band is Mayday (info). As an example of Mayday we watched "Your Legend" (video, lyrics + song info), which is not necessarily the student's favorite song, just a recent song by the band. We talked about how bands start independent then seem to lose connection to passionate songwriting as they become more successful.

The first song that got the student into Mayday was "Embrace" (video, lyrics), so we had to hear that one! :-)

The next "first song bought" was "No Dejes Que" (video, lyrics, song info) by Caifanes (info), a band our student from Mexico City has played for us before. He bought this song on cassette originally. Caifanes was his favorite band as a pre-teen and this song was the first one he ever learned to play on guitar.

Next up was "光と影の間" (video) by Atlantis Airport (website) which is pretty much the opposite of the first song the student bought -- it's a new band she likes. It sounds related to her recent interest in modern jazz music. Cool song!

The next song was "Nuncucks" (video with lyrics, song info) by Jay Chou (info). I was surprised that the student chose this song as the student usually likes more mellow songs. He said it is true that he normally likes mellower songs. So we listened to another, mellower song of Jay, "Common Orange Jasmin (video with lyrics and translation below video, song info). While this song was playing all the Chinese students in the class talked about how this song brings back childhood memories.

To end the day I asked the other new student what kind of music she likes. She had had time by this point to think about what the first song she ever bought was so we listened to it: "Sk8er Boi" (video, lyrics, song info) by Avril Lavigne (info). She said she used to listen to it on repeat in the car. I asked how long her parents put up with that, and she laughed.

With that our time for the week was over. In honor of 1 May, which always brings riots in downtown Seattle and on Capitol Hill, this week's theme is protest songs. Or songs about May Day from your country. Or any song you have been listening to lately.

21 April 2015

15 April 2015 (Wednesday)

Today only 4 students came to talk music. Maybe it was because people decided to stay outside and enjoy the sunny spring weather?

I had read an album review about a jazz piano album ("Trilogy" (music, info) by Chick Corea (info) that said it was wonderful so I started class by asking one of the students, who is learning piano, if he also likes jazz piano music, in addition to the classical piano he plays. He said he much prefers classical.

By the way, my favorite instrument in jazz is the drums.

Speaking of jazz, Sunday, 19 April, I saw a GREAT concert by a local "jazz" band called Tuatara (info). But calling their music "jazz" gets into the whole question of "what is jazz?" because what they play is very different from Miles Davis, Chick Corea or bohemianvoodoo, all of which are considered jazz. 

By the way, while the group is led by Barrett Martin, who was the drummer for Seattle grunge bands Screaming Trees and Mad Season, and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam is a guest artists on the album, it's definitely NOT rock. But it *is* very groovy and very creative. It's not rock music, but it rocks! Here's an example of what Tuatara's music is like (video).

Before we started talking about specific songs I asked the Japanese student in the class whether I should go see a performance of traditional Japanese "Gagaku". But once we watched a little clip of Gagaku I realized it's probably a bit too slow for me.

But it did remind me of how one of my very first Language Of Music students played Yoshida Brothers (info) "Rising" (video) for the class as an example of traditional + modern Japanese music. This song is really cool. And a few months later Yoshida Brothers played a concert in a small theater in Seattle and I went with the student to see the show. It was great -- I got to see a band I had never heard of before and she got to see a band that only plays big venues in Japan in a small Seattle theater!

[As I was writing this blog and looking for the Yoshida Brothers video YouTube presented me with an advertisement for a band that is doing the next progression of this modern + traditional concept: a band of all hot chicks and boys playing a whole host of traditional instruments overlaying frantic heavy metal (video). I'm kind of fascinated by this mix but I can't exactly say I like it.]

At this point in the class I started talking about some business ideas I have. I described the concepts to the class and asked them if they like the ideas. Let's just say I better hope I have a different target audience than my students.

The next song we played was "Ready Ready" (video, lyrics) by Los Dynamite (info). Unusually for Mexico, this band sings mostly in English.

We talked a bit about bands singing in English rather their mother tongue. This led to watching the video for "Real Thing Shakes" (video, lyrics, song info) by B'z (info). Apparently this band was very popular in Japan in the 1980's -- how have I never even heard of them?!?

In the 1980's the Japanese band all my friends liked was Loudness (info). Their most famous song in the US was "Crazy Nights" (video, lyrics, song info). But no one in the class liked this song.

The last song we listened to was by the band Perfume (info) from their performance at SXSW (video). Perfume is the most successful Japanese electronic bands currently. The presentation of the band isn't exactly musical, but it is creative and visually fascinating. I would file this more under "visual performance with music background" than "music". But it's all entertainment, right?

With that our time for the week was over. I'm still trying to decide what the theme for next week's class will be...

14 April 2015

8 April 2015 (Wednesday)

The first class of Spring Quarter! 7 students came, 2 of whom were new.

I started class by asking each student what they did during the Spring break. And I asked what music was the soundtrack to the break.

One student said she started listening to a lot of jazz during the break. An example as "Adria Blue" (video) by bohemianvoodoo (website). She said she likes the music to start the day because it's relaxing.

There are many "kinds" of jazz from traditional to relaxing to challenging. I've said it before and I'll say it again, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever recorded was Miles Davis's (info) "Kind Of Blue" (videos, album info). 

Another student discovered the band Silversun Pickups (info) over the break. He heard song "Panic Switch" (video, lyrics, song info) in a Starbucks in Portland, OR and Shazamed (website) it to find out which band it is. He said that so far he has only listened to the one Silversun Pickups album: he wants to become very familiar with it before moving to one of their other albums. Maybe he'll find a new favorite song later.

SZ note: the drummer in the "Panic Switch" video looks to me like Animal from the Muppets (video). I wonder if he does that on purpose?

One of the new students is from Italy so a student asked to hear a typical Italian singer/song. The song chosen was "I Belong To You" (video, lyrics, song info) by Eros Ramazzoti (info) with Anastacia (info). Interestingly, Anastacia is American but nobody in America knows about her while she is a huge star in Europe.

The next song was an other Italian group: Il Volo (info) singing "El Triste" (video, lyrics, song info). 

Two students from class were going to see a concert tonight: Stone Temple Pilots (info). I asked one of the students to pick one of his favorite STP songs. He chose "Sour Girl" (video, lyrics, song info). Which is a nice song! But I think of the band as being more loud than that song: I think of them more like their first single, "Sex Type Thing" (video, lyrics, song info).

Now we asked the other new student to choose a song he likes. He chose "You Raise Me Up" (video, lyrics, song info) by Westlife (info). There can hardly be a bigger difference between Westlife and Stone Temple Pilots, but that's one reason I love hosting this conversation group!

The next song chosen was "Put The Gun Down" (video, lyrics) by ZZ Ward (info). The student who chose this song heard it first on the TV show The Voice (info). I have to admit, I kind of like The Voice.  Here's the version of "Put The Gun Down" from The Voice that the student originally heard; she prefers this version to ZZ Ward's original.

Speaking of The Voice, there's a contestant originally from Seattle in the current season: Kimberly Nicole (info). "The House Of The Rising Son" (video).

The rhythm of "Put The Gun Down" reminded me of the song "Black Horse And The Cherry Tree" (video, lyrics, song info) by KT Tunstall (info). My favorite version of that song is the one where she plays it live on a TV show in France and builds the parts of the song up piece-by-piece using a sampler on stage, see link above. I could never keep track of all those parts!

The last song of the day was "Hostiles (live)" (video, lyrics, song info) by Damon Albarn (info).

With that, the first class of the quarter ended. Next week's class will be in the same room, HUB 307. Theme for next class will be "Songs About Springtime".

07 April 2015

11 March 2015 (Wednesday)

Today was the last class of Winter Quarter -- this quarter flew by! Only 6 students showed up, I guess attendance was low because people were studying for finals.

The theme today was music which students listen to while studying.

The first song we listened to was "Salut d'Amour" (video) by Edward Elgar (info), which is the song one of the regular students who plays piano is practicing.

The first "study" song chosen was "Get Lucky" (video with lyrics, song info) by Daft Punk (info). The student who chose this song likes the melody and the lyrics, especially "we've come to far to give up", as it relates to studying.

I mentioned to the class that this song reminds me a lot of the song from the 70's "Le Freak" (video, lyrics, song info) by Chic (info). Man, I *loved* this song when I was in middle school! It's probably not a coincidence that the guitarist for Chic plays on "Get Lucky". 

Bands/songs often wear their influences on their sleeves but this week the landmark decision was made in US court that the song "Blurred Lines" (video, lyrics, song info) by Robin Thicke (info) and Pharrell (info, also on "Get Lucky") had copied "Got To Give It Up" (video, lyrics, song info) by Marvin Gaye (info). We talked a little about whether this court decision is fair.

The next "studying" song was "Swastika Eyes" (video, lyrics, song info) by Primal Scream (info). The student who chose this songs likes fast, loud music when he is studying. I can't imagine studying to this racket, but he got into one of the best universities in Japan, so it must work for him!

The next song chosen was "Azul" (video, lyrics) by the band Little Jesus (band Facebook page). The student who chose this song says it puts him in a happy mood.

That student mentioned that this weekend the Vive Latino Festival (info), the best music festival in Mexico each year was taking place.

One band playing the festival is Nortec Collective (info). We checked out their song "Tijuana Sound Machine" (video).

This made me think of the band Gotan Project (info). Their mix of modern and traditional tango style music is interesting to me. As an example of their music I played "La Gloria" (video, song info).

Someone mentioned that Clean Bandit (info), who has that sweet song "Rather Be" (video, lyrics, song info) is playing at the Showbox (website) on 21 April.

The next studying songs chosen were "Arabesques" (video, song info) by Debussy (info) and Kaleidoscope (video) by DJ Okawari (website).

At this point I learned that two of the students in today's class will be leaving Seattle at the end of this quarter!  I asked them if they have any songs which mean "Seattle" for them.  

One chose "All Of Me" (video, lyrics, song info) by John Legend (info).

The other chose "Treasure" (video, lyrics, song info) by Bruno Mars (info) because this quarter she was in Seattle is a treasured good memory.

With that our time for the day -- and the quarter -- were over. We will continue again on 8 April.