This is likely to be the first in a series where I sit in on the very highest performing educational environments on the Palouse. Characterized by students that perform at the highest levels the actual profession they come to the university for. The goal of my visits is to distill the common themes, and heuristics for developing high performance professionals ready to contribute to society.
I came to watch Dan Bukvich lead the UI jazz choir. Dan is a longtime friend from my younger days at the UI. Once as a junior, on a hunch, he invited me into his musical composition class to give demos on engineering education. I really suspect it was to teach me a lesson — partly that I had know idea what I was doing and was out of my league — which was true.
If you’ve ever attended a UI Jazz Choir performance (they open the Lionel Hampton Jazz Fest this year), Dancers Drummers Dreamers, or a UI jazz percussion performance, you’ve seen Dan’s work and know it is immediately self-evident of educational mastery. The challenge for me is to steal as much as I can and hope that by the time I’m 70 I get engineers to where Dan’s groups are performing. After all, I suppose it is called the performing arts for a reason…
Notes from Day 1
The first day of the semester I immediately noticed differences from engineering.
1) Class is held in a cavernous room. The arrangement is choral/systemic on the Spiral vMeme scale (damn that spiral v-Meme structure stuff really works, see diagrams I & G below, with a little bit of F, and the pic from the classroom). Everyone is standing, moving, and energetic. We’re totally missing this opportunity in engineering. Never seen the structure.
2) Dan says to me at the onset: “the worse thing I could do is hand out a syllabus and send everyone home. Or hand out new music.” (Reminds me of Chuck Pezeshki’s capstone class) This is the first day, everyone starts singing a Dan original composition “Pomello Monkey Fruit Banana” immediately within the first 2 minutes. A song the majority already know. 90% of the group returned from last semester. I can see new people in the backs looking around and trying to figure out what they need to do. Veterans offer quick pointers. A lot of the best helpers in here are not music majors, they can’t even read the music! Some have been coming to this for over 30 years. No auditions, everyone can come, but those not keeping up will be prompted later.
3) Then comes the warm-up. Dan says: “someone in your section will teach you this warm up.” And they begin, following his commands.
4) All of the songs are preordered and setup in their stands. This allows variance while maintaining repition of the basics. Everyone is still standing. Only pause between songs is to establish the beat, go go go. “next” and everyone moves to their new position. New music handed out mid song. All stands are shared.
6) Dan calls next song “percussionists sing if you don’t mind”. Off key, stops, starts conducting in 2s, sizzle your line. Starts counting, has them count their part and clap their transitions. Analogous to having someone switch tools but perform same procedure. Stomps on piano note that is required if people are off.
“Is it possible to learn this in 9 rehearsals, yes, will I force you? I don’t know yet. Look at 23, ask your friends to help you.”
“The worse mistake you could make is not wanting to make a mistake. You have to go for it.”
Slows beat down and controls progression through notes.
“You’ve got 1 minute to memorize the soulfish.” Go.
“Turn around” do it again they can’t see the music this way, they all start keeping their own count.
Switch to a song they know to end with momentum.
They are having fun.. so are the new people who are trying to figure out as much as possible.
“Please take a minute and talk through the moves with your section.” Goes around and asks everyone how their break was.
Dan says to me — ” I don’t even know the moves they are teaching each other right now, they are making it up.”
I have never whitnessed a university group engineer something that is reconfigurable enough to allow a high performance community to work with it like the Jazz Choir. Our workspace could be the first.
This was fun for everyone. Where is the fun in engineering? The key to the future is finding the fun in engineering, then not killing it. We have so, so far to go to realize a high performance community functioning at the I & G vMemes.