A Glimpse of Life as a Full-Time Music Educator

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About nine months have passed since I accepted a full-time post as a music teacher. I currently teach mostly group piano/keyboard classes ranging from the 2nd to the 12th grade in varying skill levels ranging from beginners to advanced, some of them are at a virtuoso level. As the school where I’m currently assigned gives a rather considerable amount of workload, I barely have enough time for what is my primary musical medium and discipline: composition. Other than rare occasions where I can record little musical ideas here and there or film a piano improv every now and then, I have lost time for it to the point that I have no idea where to find time to finish the musical that I have been working on for the past two years. I do think, however, that having done this so far has been a blessing for me. I am very grateful to the Lord for having led me to the place where I am at for many reasons.

It is no accident that I am at this place. It is all part of God’s grand scheme of things, an opportunity for me to become a tool for young people to gain skill and knowledge in music. This in itself, I believe, will pave the way for the next generation to serve Him through music and lead others to Him through praise and worship. I pray that those who have received my instruction would eventually convince others of their need for a savior, given man’s wretched and sinful nature, and that it is only through the Lord Jesus Christ’s completed work at the cross that they will come into fellowship with God.

The process of teaching is intellectually and emotionally taxing. Each day at school, I have to pull out every intellectual and emotional resource available. Every real teacher gives out eveything in an effort to properly equip his or her students as much as he or she would do for her own children. No wonder teachers act kind of surrogate parents for their students in the classroom or in the teaching studio, the sort of effort that cannot be matched by any amount of financial remuneration. It all boils down to the love of serving and imprting knowledge that keeps us teachers going.

Having been holed up in my home studio prior to teaching full time, it has been a refreshing experience. Meeting and dealing with all sorts of personalities is a given. It can be so frustrating at times to the extent that sometimes I just want to run away and hole myself up again in my studio, writing and recording music by myself. However, doing so will only make me to revert to what I once was: a human analog of the Dead Sea. The bigger picture of things as an educator shows much more promise. Effecting changes in the lives of students through music is worth all the effort.

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Working with the particular department I am in is not without its perks. I can say that a teacher is the ultimate perpetual student. We have to learn more to be able to teach more. Each challenge we face allows us to learn new things. In a span of months, I have acquired skills that I only dreamt of having once. You can’t help but absorb some degree of knowledge, skill, and insights from colleagues who plan, work, and perform with you. As far as performing is concerned, the team I work with is a blessing from God: they are among the best musicians I have performed on stage with, bringing to life some of my arrangements of wonderful Christian songs in four school concerts. In the process, I even picked up learning how to play some woodwinds and brass instruments as well.

This point in time, I would say, is the eye of a storm that I would call student recitals. It’s a bit relaxed now compared to the preparations we had done for our students. In about two days, all of that is about to change as we start setting up the stage for the recital on the weekend, with the hope tht our students do well and give glory to God through music. Perhaps I would write more about my experiences as an educator in the days to come if time permits, but this is all what I can say for now.

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New Blues and Metal Guitar Courses on GuitarZoom

It’s been a while since I wrote anything that refers to GuitarZoom, the organization where I mainly work as a music transcriber, social media moderator, music theory and guitar answer guy, and now as a composer of background music. Anyway, GuitarZoom has a lot in store for this year, and this includes a couple of Blues and Metal courses.

For the serious intermediate metalhead guitarist, here’s a good course on Metal by Eric VanLandingham:

http://guitarzoom.com/ultimatemetalguitarconcepts/

(FYI, the music that you hear just before the lesson kicks in (the Djenty BGM you hear during the animation sequences) was written, performed, and recorded by yours truly.)

If you wish to be able to utilize pentatonic scales effectively, especially in a blues setting, you have to check out this upcoming course by Casey Smith’s called “Ultimate Power Pentatonics for Guitar”

(Again, intro animation music by yours truly.)

All of these courses come with my sheet music transcriptions in standard notation and TAB.

For more information regarding these courses as well as upcoming promos, go visit http://guitarzoom.com. For any questions regarding course content, music theory, guitar playing, or anything music in general, you can always email me at mark(at)guitarzoom.com. (FYI, I don’t handle customer service stuff and technical issues, but I’d be more than happy to talk about music with all of you.)

The K-12 Education Upgrade in the Philippines: Is it a Solution to Poverty?

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I’m close to completing my M.A. in Music Education. All I need to do now is write my thesis, something that’s scheduled for June of this year. In my music education seminars with one of my favorite professors, the K-12 program is discussed a lot. Matter of fact is that one of my projects for “Current Trends in Music Education” is a syllabus and sample learning plans for grade 12 music track students. It’s called “Music Production, Composition, and Sound Design with Computers”, something that I hope will be offered in schools by the time the first batch of Filipino grade 12 students start their work. I have to say first that I am all for this education upgrade in the Philippines. It’s one step that perhaps the Philippines is going somewhere towards improvement. Some people (my professor included) would even boldly claim that the K-12 program is the solution to poverty in the Philippines. Thinking about this, I would like to look into it deeper and see if it’s true. Is K-12 implementation really the solution to poverty in the Philippines?

The intents and purposes of the K-12 program are good. In a nutshell, the K-12 program is designed to better prepare the students for employment and/or higher learning right after secondary school. It is assumed that the K-12 program will produce fresh high school graduates who are ready to enter the workforce immediately, allowing themselves to be contributors to society as seen in all first world nations. I see this as a very good thing, having been denied many times of employment opportunities when I was still at the college level. The K-12 program is meant to address that problem by churning out workforce-ready individuals. It is assumed that we no longer have to see job ads that require just college graduates or college-level students. Sounds good, right? On the surface, many would say yes. Reality is a different thing, however. There is some level of certainty that these future graduates of the K-12 program would have the skills and knowledge necessary for employment, but the question now is where will they get jobs?

The hard reality now hits us. Many college graduates in the Philippines have it hard getting employed. I’ve experienced this myself. I was trained as an occupational therapist and I passed the boards back in August 2004. The problem was that I could not get a job at hospitals. Now, why is that? Many hospitals (yes, even commercial ones) prefer volunteers just because they don’t have to be given even a small transportation allowance. It’s a cost-cutting measure while gaining the ability to offer professional-level rehab services. Seeing that the culture in Philippine hospitals is like this, it made no sense to me at the time, especially that I already had a family to support. Volunteering simply will not enable me to pay the bills. It’s a despicable practice! A person who works has to be paid the correct wages. The premise is that rehab professionals have to slug it out for a minimum of 3 years with no salary just to gain fillers for their resumes so they can go for jobs abroad.

Speaking of going abroad for employment, at this point in time it is the aspiration of many Filipinos because of the scarcity of good-paying jobs in the Philippines. Local employers only offer paltry sums for wretched, grueling hours of hard work. Let’s face it, folks. You can’t expect a call center agent earning a gross amount of Php 20,000 to provide a good standard of living for his/her family when 32% of that will go to taxes. How many years will such an employee have to spend in order to save enough to place a partial sum for a small house and lot in Cavite or Bulacan? Will such an employee be able to sustain paying off the mortgage for 10 years or more? The point is that there are only very few jobs in the Philippines that would allow for an acceptable standard of living. If such is the case of your call center agent nowadays, the situation would certainly look grim for future K-12 graduates simply because there is no assurance of them being able to get employed right after they graduate. College graduates have it hard nowadays, and it does look like it will be harder for them future K-12 graduates if things do not change. The only glimmer of hope for these K-12 as well as college grads would be to go where the grass is greener: abroad!

We always hear of the government giving praises for the OFWs they barely support. OFWs are rightfully called heroes since a big chunk of the Philippine economy is due to their contributions. OFWs have to go through all sorts of crap and hell in their host countries as they try to bring home the bacon. It’s sad that many Filipinos are forced to fly away from home and be torn away from their families for employment instead of doing such things by choice. Many enlightened Filipinos have the government to blame for this. It seems to me that the K-12 program is a platform for training more OFWs for the Philippine government to send elsewhere in the world and then simply milk them dry via taxes. It’s an open secret where most of those taxes go that I don’t really have to spell it out.

I do think that it is stupid to send out cows to the neighbor’s grassy plains when you have the capacity to plant some good grass yourself. Now, what do I mean by this? The Philippines can have the capacity to bring more foreign investors in to create more jobs for Filipinos if only the Government would take out protectionist economic policies as outlined in the 1987 constitution. Such policies only keep the oligarchs (who are unable to compete in an international scale) in power. Should such economic policies be lifted, highly competitive foreign investors would come in to offer better services and good-paying jobs, forcing local businesses to step up their game. It can be a win-win situation if you ask me. If such economic restrictions are lifted, we can have access to better services, technology, products, and great-paying job opportunities from both local companies (who should be forced to compete) and foreign (already competitive) businesses. Such third-world to first-world stories have been seen in the likes of Singapore and South Korea. It’s very possible for the Philippines to go such a route, which is possible only if radical changes are made in the government and in society itself!

Going back to the question, is the K-12 education upgrade in the Philippines a solution to poverty? I would have to say it is not a complete solution. If these future K-12 graduates find employment as OFWs, we can say that they will be able to improve their lives and contribute to society and the economy. I would have to admit that. However, with our current presidential system of government, protectionist economic policies, rampant corruption, and the Filipino culture of having too much freedom and a lack of discipline, I would have to say that the Philippines will remain to be the sick man of Asia despite the implementation of K-12. For things to improve, us Filipinos have to start opening up our eyes and minds to the idea of change.

Berocca Aluminum Tube Kazoo

It’s true: You can create musical instruments out of garbage. Being inspired by Frank Zappa as well as the Landfillharmonic, I decided to go create an improvised instrument and improvise some solo quasi-trumpet garbage jazz on it.

I’ve been taking Berocca (the fizzy vitamin tablets) for the past three weeks now as supplements. As a result, I have these leftover aluminum tubes. I thought that perhaps I can turn these tubes  into musical instruments so I made a kazoo with one of them. I cut out the other end of the tube, place some kind of wax paper membrane on the other end, secured it with a hair tie, and voila I got myself a kazoo. I wanted to know how it sounded like  so I filmed myself. It sounds okay to me and I think it would be useful in various musical creations. At the very least, I can grab the attention of my cats with it. It’s either the cats love it or it emits certain sound frequencies that they themselves can only hear so well that it’s annoying.

Old Stuff, New Stuff

It’s been so long since I last posted something here as I was very busy with graduate school activities and work as usual. I find it refreshing that I got some time now to write something. This past week, I completed a 10-minute piece which I submitted to my composition teacher, Dr. Kristina Benitez, and got some useful feedback from her. This coming trimester, my new task is to expand that piece into a multi-movement suite. Expanding it into a suite is very doable since that piece has a lot of ideas going on. The next question now is whether or not I can get it performed or at least be able to record a good mockup of it. Because of that, I started to explore the Sibelius 7  Sound Library.

These past few days, I was occupied with testing out the Sibelius 7  Sound Library on my MacBook Pro, and so I decided to dig up my musical history. I’m not very fond of listening to the old stuff I’ve written and recorded since it feels very much like reading your high school diary (the thought of which makes me cringe). However, in this case I wanted to hear what it would be like to try out my old compositions on a new sample library.

I use a number of sample libraries in my music production in various formats like NI Kontakt, Apple EXS24, etc. and I also used to have the old Sibelius 5 sound library. I was quite fond of it when it came out (even though it was far from perfect), and so it was very exciting for me to use that new library for the first time. Hearing my old, old works on new sounds gave it new life. It still sounds far from perfect of course but the Sibelius 7  Sounds are usable to create orchestral mockups. The percussion and piano sounds were excellent although the tremolo is still has that slight machine gun effect. The other samples like strings, woodwinds, and brass are okay. As with many sample libraries, I found the guitar samples to be less than satisfying. The classical guitar samples could have been good except that it can be oddly squeaky because of the default fret noise setting. Imagine hearing playing single scale notes with every note being accompanied by a fret squeak, and so it sounds so unnatural. The solution to that would be to dial down the fret noise knob. Steel string guitar sounds are okay. The distorted guitar sound is probably the most awful of the bunch. It’s a good thing that I’m a guitarist as well and so I wouldn’t need to use those guitar samples anyway.

I said a while ago that I’m not fond of listening to my old recordings but I did find something good about that little exercise. I was able to uncover musical ideas that I would call diamonds in the rough. Bits and pieces of melodic and rhythmic themes here and there would make good material to expand for a variety of compositions that I could craft in the near future. I just hope that I get the time and patience to further explore them.

So, going back to my  graduate school composition work, I plan to expand that into a suite. I should probably start once the weekday hits, or maybe I should talk to Dr. Benitez first to plan it all out. After scoring it in Sibelius, I will tweak the hell out of the MIDI to make it somewhat realistic and then practice all guitar, iPad, and piano parts before recording. That should enable me to submit a good recording by the end of the term. Afterwards, it will be time to work on my graduate thesis. Seems like I should savor these light-load days as I will be very busy in the next few months .

A Big Reason Why I Have a Career as a Music Transcriber

I was browsing through my Facebook page when I found this string of comments from a Steve Stine post:

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One of the guys who commented on the new GuitarZoom “Guitarists of the 80s” course said, “Hey buddy! Are you reading the music to these leads as you play??”

Steve replied, “Tom, just wrote them out in my head and played them…”

Most of the time (myself included), many musicians write out their music inside their heads and just go out to play them. Another thing is that most of these musicians don’t have the time (or patience!) to write them out on paper for themselves. Let’s face it. The fact still stands that music transcription requires time, effort, and heaps of patience. These musical geniuses (like my buddy Steve Stine) give folks like me some kind of employment, and I am very thankful for that. Such musicians provide one big reason why I have a career as a music transcriber.

Perhaps there will come a time that the compositions inside my head will bring me great financial reward to the extent that I’ll just hit “record”, start playing, and then I could never be bothered to write them out on paper for myself. That would be a time that I will probably hire someone just like me to write them all out.

Until then, I’m the one being hired to do that sort of documentation. I really got nothing to complain about.

Fourth Day at Grad School

As some of you may or may not know, I still have some knowledge gaps to fill hence my latest endeavor: going back to school. I attend school here:

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This is the exterior of the Philippine Women’s University where I attend classes at the School of Music (a department which has been declared by CHED as a center of excellence for music) with the hopes of earning an M.A. in music education. It’s in Manila, not a pretty city by any stretch of the imagination.

The school building is pretty old, but I could imagine that it was a glorious place when it was built. It has this center, open-air courtyard, which I think is a good idea:

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Anyway, enough talk about the school building. When I’m by my lonesome self, I tend to eat cheap, hence after my morning Intro to Grad. Studies and Ethnomusicology class I walked a few blocks to Pedro Gil St. and found myself at a street stall for my lunch which looked like this:

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Filipinos call this thing “kwek kwek” or “hepalog” (as I’d like to call it). It could take the form of balut (duck embryo with yolk and albumin) or penoy (fertilized duck egg) deep fried in orange batter. With what seemed to be like an unlimited supply of chopped shallots and cucumbers, I topped it off with some chili flakes and some mystery sauce (vinegar based). It certainly looks ugly but I’ve always found this stuff to be delicious. I had three of these plus some water and a soya drink from the nearby convenience store.

Since I still had two hours before my piano class, I practiced in one of the practice rooms at school. Let’s say that the piano I got to use was less than satisfactory:

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At the very least I am fortunate enough to be able to practice in one of these.

Anyway, 30 minutes before class, my piano teacher allowed me to practice at the school’s piano lab, which has an excellent upright piano. Too bad I was unable to take a picture of that. The thing that I am very grateful for in my piano class is that my teacher is very patient and I get to learn something new every meeting. I always receive tips on how to improve my technique and build precision. I still find the training to be difficult (having come from a background that relies heavily on improvisation), but I appreciate it very much. The kind of discipline you can get from classical piano training is something that I do think would help me take my skills to higher levels. I do think I am very much too old to become a concert pianist, but at the very least I know I can polish my technique as I attend these piano classes. It’s an effort to bring me closer to gaining the physical skills to bring my musical ideas to life in the best way possible.

Tomorrow is another day where I get to juggle homeschooling my son with schooling myself and working my ass off. I am very much grateful to The LORD for granting me such an opportunity.