Friday, August 28, 2009

A Plugged in Culture

To set the stage for this edition of Singing in the Bathtub, please take a moment and watch this video that I recently saw on Facebook:

As an educator this video boils my blood! I do not dispute the claims and statistics that are starkly presented here. I acknowledge the power that technology has to teach and I agree that our educational system is sorely in need of reform. I just think the conclusions that are drawn are wildly off base. What this video says to me is "Let's spend money to put computers in our classrooms, but continue to pay teachers a pittance to compete with these digital influences."

My first experience with computers in the classroom was in my very first preschool class. A computer was donated to the LEAP school, and it made the rounds from room to room with several educational games for the students to play. In our class we made a turn-list and set a 5 minute time limit for each turn. Let me share two observations: 

1) I could tell those students who were accustomed to playing on the computer. They knew exactly what to do, where to insert the DVD's how to scroll through menus and directions and these were three year olds! The funny thing was, that these were the children who threw startling fits when they were forced to abdicate their turn. Our culture is just starting to recognize video game addiction as a serious problem. I shutter to think what these, now teenaged, video junkies will have to deal with in their life. 

2) In this classroom there was a boy who was on the mild end of the autistic spectrum. At three, he was still hanging in with most of his classmates, but by the end of the year it was clear that he would only fall farther and farther behind as they matured. One of the main goals that we worked towards was to facilitate social interaction for this boy. He would be content to live in his own world, but what he desperately need was to model social behavior. Watching this boy play the computer was staggering. For a child who needed constant support for even the simplest classroom tasks, he was a whiz on the computer. He clearly excelled beyond many of his classmates. This may sound like a victory, and using these tools in the appropriate way would be great, but the flip side is that he was completely isolated while playing video games. The room could have been on fire and this boy would have continued to match shapes and colors. What would happen to him in the future? Yes, perhaps he could find a job in programming or graphic design, but could he walk down the street and buy a carton of milk? The most important element of school for this boy was being with other kids. Let him shine on the computer when he's at home.

This year I have noticed a dramatic shift in my struggle to compete with technology. It is due in part to the fact that I was dealing with older, wealthier children this summer at Rock and Roll Camp. It was shocking to me to see how many 7 year olds showed up to camp with iPhones. They would stealthily appear in the middle of a class and I would find these tech-addled 'tweens unable pay attention for more than 10 minutes without playing with some gadget, surfing the web, or just stroking the phone like Gollum from Lord of The Rings (seriously!). It wasn't like I was trying to teach these kids linear algebra, we were learning, playing and making music. 

When I put my foot down and removed all iPhones from the classroom, it was an amazing shift. The kids were attentive, and enjoyed playing actual games as opposed to the virtual ones. That isn't to say that there wasn't a scary "withdrawal" period where I was vilified for expecting my students to pay attention to what was actually going on!

When I see the statistics that are touted in the video above, my first instinct isn't "Great! let's give these kids more opportunities to plug in!" I'd like to combat these statistics with some others:
  • A classroom with 30 students will have between 1 and 3 children with ADHD.
  • Boys are diagnosed with ADHD 3 times more often than girls.
  • Emotional development in children with ADHD is 30% slower than in their non-ADD peers. This means that a child that is 10 years old will have the emotional development of a 7 year old, a 20 year old will have the emotional maturity of a 14 year old.
There are also studies that show 70% of children in america are not getting enough vitamin D because they will spend on average 50% less time outdoors as my generation did  20 years ago. Between 1980 and 2006 the rate of childhood obesity has increased from 5% to 17%. One in three of these children will go on to develop type 2 diabetes in their life time.

In addition to the annoyance factor of having my young rockers constantly pulling out their iPhones, you'd be shocked to see some of the things they were surfing onto. Every song that they would ask to play had copious swearing, every video they would watch would be violent, sexually inappropriate, or include confusing mature content. Children see 20-25 acts of violence in "children's television" each hour. I've had to speak to parents about 3-4 year olds imitating sexually inappropriate behavior that they picked up watching High School Musical.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: I am in no way saying that I think technology and education are at odds with each other. I actually find it to be a very powerful tool in learning. I just think our society is obsessed with instant gratification and technology's ability to deliver this. I think a clear example is the difference between watching a kid play guitar hero and actually play guitar (which I see each day at the Live! School). Kids are much less likely to strive to get better at actually playing guitar these days because it's a challenge. Anyone who's learned to play an instrument and has overcome this challenge knows how much more rewarding it is than getting a high score on a video game. There is nothing creative about guitar hero, even though music is involved. It is a slippery slope once technology is introduced into a classroom. Children are much more tech savvy then their teachers, and when asked to compete with an internet browser the teacher will loose every time. Kids will find a way to bend the rules and access questionable material when they should be paying attention and respect to their teachers. Cyber-bullying, video game addiction, diminished attention span, and dwindling creativity are the result of a society that is too plugged in.

Cut the cord and send them outside before it is too late!

Kid Quote of the Day: "I didn't get to sleep last night until really late! My sister woke up me, woke up my mom, woke up my dad. When she went to be, then I couldn't sleep. I couldn't fall asleep until I fell asleep!" ~Khami (age: 8)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Well Hath Run Dry

I like to imagine that there are a countless other children's artist who read this blog and they are all clamoring to send me their music. Sadly, I do go through spells where I run out of fun music to review. So here's another call to all those making music for "the smaller set" to send in your submissions to the Bathtub.

I have heard news coming down the pipe that two friends of the Bathtub (ShirLaLa and The Jimmies) are working to get new material out to their fans. I was invited to ShirLaLa's CD release in NYC on September 13th, but I am going to miss it by a week (I guess seeing U2 the week after instead isn't that bad). Her new album "Earth Worm Disco" is set to "drop" on the 7th of next month, so if you are having the back to school, Labor Day blues better get your copy.

As for the Jimmies, Ashley and crew have made the trek to sunny SoFLo to record their latest CD. I saw Ashley and her mother/our neighbor Arlyn strolling around the neighborhood, and the thought of new Jimmies music got me really excited. I know from personal experience that the recording process always takes longer than planned, but I'll keep all my faithful readers up to date on all the Jimmies news that is fit to print. 

With preschool out of session, I was getting down to the bottom of the barrel on my kid quotes. I was about to recycle some email forward, kids say the darndest things style quotes sent to me by my Mom-in-law Ginna, but I heard a real loo-loo today so hear goes:

Kid Quote of the Day: "So you can see that the middle C is on a line and the D is in a space," I said pointing to the sheet of music. "The D is in space? In outer space?" my young student asked with a broad smile. "No, not in space, in a space." I replied. ~Pablo (age: 6)

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Year in the Bathtub

After a weekend celebrating Tracey and my sixth wedding anniversary, I realized that another important anniversary has come and gone. It was just over a year ago, that I followed the inspiration of my Sister Alison and began Singing in the Bathtub.

It's been quite a year of blogging, and to look back over the various posts and subjects covered, I am proud of what I've accomplished. I've done 12 album reviews, and made many good friends in the Kids' Music industry, and have been introduced to a bunch of great music that I would not have otherwise heard.

As many of my readers know, I have a new album in the works, People, Places and Things. I had hoped to have it completed this summer, but, as is often the case, the final stages of production always take longer than expected. At this point I believe that I'll have it printed and pressed by mid-October. Step by step I am expanding my audience, achieving new goals and challenging myself to grow as an artist, an author and even an agent. It's moments like these when I look back over a year and say to myself, Nice work Nick! Thank you to all the readers who have followed me on this continuing journey through the world of Kid's Music.

Kid Quote of the Day: "When I hear this sound, I imagine a magical universe. It's a cookie universe, that you can only get to when you are sleeping. It's very magical."  ~Brian (age: 4)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Update: The Photo is In!

Here's a snapshot from my second playroom performance during the Radio Lollipop Birthday Celebration:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Radio Lollipop and Those Pesky 'Tweens!

I am writing today after last Thursday's performance at Miami Children's Hospital. I was hoping to write about my experiences at the Radio Lollipop 13th. Birthday Celebration while it was fresh in my mind, but after a weekend's reflection, and a lovely visit with the In-Laws in Miami's Bizarro-World, west-coast, opposite St. Petersburg, I think I am better prepared to put my thoughts on the screen.

This is only the second time that I have played a hospital event, and my previous performance at Joe DiMaggio Hospital was definitely one of the more difficult shows I've played. These events typically have a 4:1 adult to child ratio. So many grow-ups swarming around these young, sick children nervously hoping that they are having a good time makes for a difficult atmosphere in which to perform. To top it off, there were only three or four children in attendance and all were in that tricky 'tween phase, too old to enjoy my style of music and too young to fain politeness when I am unable to play T.I., Lil' Wayne or Miley Cyrus on an acoustic guitar.

Needless to say, I was a bit nervous going into the Radio Lollipop Party and that is a rare thing for me. My schedule for the evening included two "big" performances at the different playrooms and two series of bed-side visits for those children who were unable to leave their beds. I was to be escorted around by a volunteer who's job it was to keep me on schedule and guide my through the labyrinth of hospital wards. Radio Lollipop had gone all out, and the main organizer had a slew of performers, activities, costumed characters and caterers to oversee. My goal was to smile, play my best, and roll with whatever came my way. In the end this attitude served me well even though, at times, I felt alternatively lost and overwhelmed.

The main playroom at Miami Children's is a third floor, outdoor, screened-in "gym" of sorts. They had it decked out with cardboard cut-outs, food stations, streamers, and a make-shift stage for the performers and karaoke. As is typical for a children's hospital playroom, the walls were painted with cheery murals and there was a large play structure in the middle of the rubber floored room. I was scheduled to open the party with a 15 minute set. Before taking the stage I was introduced to my escort for the evening, one of the "Teen Counsel" volunteers. She was shy, but friendly and as it turned out, she was once a long-term patient in one of the wards we visited.

Because of the large size of the room, and my desire not to repeat the "naked" feeling that I had at the Joe DiMaggio event, I brought along a small, suitcase sized P.A. so I could have my backing tracks and microphone. It's a bit of a Rock and Roll cliché, but no one wants to be the opener in festival show for this very reason... I played my set for the caterers and a few of the volunteers. Eventually, a mother and her wheelchair-bound daughter arrived and they got a personal performance. They were demonstratively grateful, and I always enjoy a well-received serenade. At the tail-end of my final song I got the "wrist watch" sign from my escort, so I quickly packed up my things for the next adventure. Sadly, this was the last time I would need all this equipment and the rest of the evening it served as a giant burden that I had to maneuver around doorways, through narrow hallways, and past I.V. stands!

The next stop on our tour was the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). On our way, I was becoming increasingly less confident in my escort. "I'm not really sure where we're going," she exclaimed as she lead me out of the main party area. There were moments of wandering the halls punctuated by uncomfortable elevator rides, eventually we found our destination and after a sheepish, self-conscious introduction by my teenaged escort I began my first in-ward performance.

To set the stage, I was in an intensive care unit, which meant a scene similar to something out of an E.R. episode. There was a big open wing with several beds, many busy nurses and doctors, large, noisy pieces of equipment, and several patients and families in need of ongoing, intensive care while I performed. These poor children were in visible pain or in various states of consciousness, and to my shock, were all, on average about 13! There I stood with my acoustic guitar and my guitar-patterned aloha shirt thinking to myself Oh, No! I can't very well play "The Dinosaur Song" to these kids!

To break the ice I attempted to meet some of the kids on the ward. I'm comfortable interacting face to face with kids of any age, but I quickly realized how much of our small talk revolves around health. "Hi, I'm Nick, how are you?" (cringe!) "What's your name?" (did I just really ask that to a girl with a trachea tube? Double cringe!). I hadn't prepared any "grown-up" music and had to think on my feet. I did every Beatles tune I could pull off the top of my head, all the while getting the distinct impression that my music and false cheer only aggravated my audience. This was the longest 45 minutes of my life in recent memory. I watched the patients being poked and proded uncomfortably, being swarmed by nurses. I watched them struggle in fitful states of sleep. By the end, I had to force back tears, and nervously said, "Thanks for listening" as I was lead out of the PICU wing.

For those of you who are still reading, thanks for hanging in there! It got a lot better from then on. I do admit that I was ready to head for the door after this experience, but I am so glad I did not. The rest of the night was an inspiring and fulfilling experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I went on to play for the patients in the neurological ward, the infant ward, and a separate, smaller playroom.

We were joined by a much more self-assured and ebullient member of the Radio Lollipop team as well as Cookie Monster and Elmo, and this rag-tag bunch helped me find my ideal audience. I was able to play all my prepared music to great reception and as the evening stretched on I was regaining my composure and energy and my false cheerfulness gave way to a true smile that went from ear to ear. I was thrown aback by having to perform in a hospital mask in one room. This was new to me, and it was tough to both sing and keep it around my nose at the same time. I did also wind up in one room with four generations of a Cuban family where the grandfather kept shouting spanish requests at me that I had to politely decline, but all in all, I left feeling inspired and honored to be a part of this event.

Kid Quote of The Day: "After you I said," ushering my young student up the stairs to the music studio. "Well, I guess since it's just us boys here, and there are no ladies here. I guess it's alright for me to go first." ~Paul (age: 4)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Facebook, (it isn't just something you get as Freshman in college)

Happy Friday. As many of you know, I have been working at a wonderful music school called Live! School of Modern Music for the past few months. This summer they've been hosting a Rock and Roll Camp for kids 7-17 years old. I just got back from a great performance that was held at the Cisneros Foundation in Dowtown Miami.

This is the second time that I have had young bands that I lead perform at Cifo (as it is called). Today the attendance was high, the crowd was excited and the performances were strong. I've been performing on stage since I was these kids' age and I tend to forget how much the nervous energy can effect you. When it's me in the spotlight, I'm pretty calm. I worry more about finding parking and setting up then about the show itself. However, watching the 7-8 year old rockers who I've been working with for the past two weeks take the stage to play was a nail-biter! I think they got some great footage, and I'll keep all my bathtub singers posted once the videos go up. 

(here's the performance from a few months back with my "teen" band "Winter Suns")

On an unrelated note. I have recently started a Facebook page for In The Nick of Time. We've had a strong Myspace presence for a while now, but I can tell the tide has turned and Facebook is the social media site du jour (I still refuse to Twitter). I recommend becoming a fan if you are interested since that is the easiest way for me to update folks on my upcoming events. Websites, Blogs, Facebook oh my. I'm definitely feeling a bit overwhelmed by keeping up with all of these promotional tools, but it's worth it when I see the web traffic that it brings. One of these days I'll have a press agent who is in charge of all of this!

Kid quote of the day: "You did a great job Jane!" I said with an enthusiastic smile. "Yeah, I have been singing this song like most of my life; three or four years." ~ Jane (age 7)