Friday, 30 December 2016

Reflections on the music of 2016

My daughter was laughing at me the other day.   She was asking when I was going to be putting up my annual blog about the music that I had liked over the last year.   Now that she herself is a discerning music critic – she takes great joy in puncturing my musical bubble and calling into question my musical resonance.  She accuses me of being ‘too mainstream’ in my choices.  Whilst I like to respond that there is nothing wrong with liking mainstream music – I like ‘good music’ and don’t necessarily care how many people agree or disagree with my choices.   It’s all good banter and it masks the reality that my daughter is deeply concerned that her musical taste is much too similar to that of her old dad.     And it is – but then she has grown up on a diet of Icelandic post-rock and Dublin-rock. 

I found it much harder this year to identify the music that has defined my year.  I feel that I have downloaded less.  I feel that I own less and feel less of a connection with my music than at any other time.  It is easier to listen to the music on Spotify and to reject the dodgy sounds and albums quicker.   I found myself listening to more ‘retro’ stuff.   Dusting out the old playlists from my younger days and reliving my early dabblings with Marillion, Dire Straits, Simple Minds etc.

That said, I am still listening to my album of 2015 a lot still – I love that Coldplay album  . . .

So what has made the Top 10 this year  . . . 

10  Resevoir by Peter J McCauley (from Liminals EP)
I have always been a big fan of Rams Pocket Radio and Pete McCauley has dropped the RPR moniker for the Liminals EP that was brought out earlier in the year.   I particularly enjoyed the track Resevoir for its mix of techno-pop and delicate piano-based melody.  Though, to be fair I could have actually included any of the tracks on this. 

9  Songs of experience by Richard Ashcroft (from These People)
I think I have an odd fixation with either the first or last song on albums.  I get strangely drawn to them and this is the last song on Richard Ashcroft’s most recent album.   There are a couple of good songs scattered through the album but to be fair – through most of the record Ashcroft sounds like a rather negative, dis-spirited man who is reflecting on his glory days.   The album as a whole feels like he is shaking a metaphorical fist at all these people who might have ruled him out in the past.   Maybe he is just chalking it up to experience  . . . .

8 I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful but so unaware of it by The 1975 (from I like it when you sleep . . .)
The 1975 were a bit of a revelation this year.   My daughter was into this band originally and she liked their first album (The 1975).   She awaited this launch with great anticipation and was not disappointed when it came out.   She also managed to talk me into taking her and one of her friends to their gig in Dublin around easter and this was for me, one of the gigs of the year.   Although there was no doubt that the teen girl market had well and truly managed to try and buy every ticket so that they could scream loudly and irrationaly at the band on stage – there still were enough musos who could appreciate a well-rounded musical experience when they saw one. 

7 No Shadow by David C Clements  (from The Longest day)
Track 4 from David’s first solo album is one of my favourite tunes of the year.   It’s a song of realism.   What’s to love without the pain?   Without the loss?  I just need someone on my side – I get so tired of the people in my life – I want my feet on solid ground – I’ll cling to you we’ll carry on  . . . . Its not optimistic .   Its not pessimistic.  Its David looking at the reality of life and realizing what grounds and what becomes important.   

6 Glass Eyes by Radiohead (on A Moon shaped Pool)
I have a love/hate relationship with Radiohead.   I used to love them – I loved Pablo Honey, the Bends and even OK Computer but like many others felt that they had lost their way with a lot of tat in recent years.   However, this most recent album – A moon shaped pool was a modern masterpiece and again one where I could easily have picked a number of tunes from to emphasis their melanchonic, reflective,  musical poetry.  Burn the Witch is the first song on the album and also stands out with its energetic violin and techno mix.  

5  Everything and Nothing by Hammock (on Everything and Nothing)
So this song is the title track from my album of the year.  I discovered Hammock by accident on Spoitify over the summer and this has quickly become my soundtrack to the year.   This is an alternative collection of music that can often be heard in my office at work.    It provides a light musical touch that resonates with my love for all things Sigur Ros.   It allows me to listen bu the think and to work at the same time.    Yet, its uplifting beat and musicality also don’t distract.   The album is a vibrant mix of styles and musical themes.  I also particularly like the track called Marathon boy.  

4  All my hope by Crowder (on American Prodigal) 
I could just as easily have listed My Victory here I have to admit.   This is a great album from David Crowder.   He has always been an artist I have admired as he can seamlessly cross genres from bluegrass to country to rock from one song to next with a splash of techno through in for good measure.   He also creates one of the most difficult riffs to copy as he usually plays the most obscure of chords so any chance of playing along is out the window!   This is a great album of songs. 

3 Bad Decisions by Two Door Cinema Club (from Gameshow) 
This album was very close to being my album of the year as I always enjoyed listening to this.  It is such an upbeat burst of energy.  I always like songs that start slow and then just kick in – this time with a pseudo-80s riff of epic proportions.   I love the energy and enthusiasm that two door provide.   Its like summer beach pop music but its music that cheers you up and makes you all the better for listening.  

2 She Burns  and Be like you belong  by Foy Vance (from The Wild Swan)
You know you have made it when you find the album on the itunes albums for less than £5.  I have followed Foy Vance for a number of years.   I’ve been to gigs where there was only a handful of other like-minded individuals.  I’ve seen him pre-moustache and dapper hat.  I’ve seen him when it was just him, a guitar and a loop pedal.   Hope is one of my all-time favourite albums.  The new promised album did not disappoint. 

There are on a few songs on this that I like.   Musically I love the way that She Burns sits in the middle of the album and captures your attention.   But, Be Like you belong is def one of my favourites of the year.   Its understated manner builds through the song as Foy reminds us of his previous attitudes towards Hope (resonating with his first album  . . .)
“I still have hope,
Though it failed me so,
And now I’m weak where I once was strong.
Time’s moved on
All that was gone
My stronghold is
I live to long   . . .”

1 My shot  and You’ll be Back (Original Broadway Cast Recording from Hamilton: An American Musical)
SO, this year my daughter was the first to get into this piece of musical theatre.   I later caught the bug too and both of us are BIG fans.   Hamilton is a very trendy production in New York written (and performed) by Lin-Manuel Miranda.   The production is very cleverly written as it meanders through the characters and history of the beginning of the United States.   The recurring themes are cleverly woven through the story up to the premature death of Alexander Hamilton.   A particularly good performance is also made by Jonathan Groff who plays King George III with the recurring theme  . . . you’ll be back.  It’s a theatrical phenomenon and one that both Erin and I would desperately love to see live! 

What nearly made it?  
My fixation with Coldplay continues and I nearly added two dance remixes onto the list – Hymn for the Weekend and Up&UP (Freedo mix).  I also got a nice Christmas album called These Christmas Lights from Matt Redman which had some nice tracks including O Little Town – though I have been deeply concerned about Matt’s pronunciation of the word ‘Angels’.   I also enjoyed the album Have it all (live) by Bethel and in particular the son Be enthroned. 

What disappointed? 
Campfire II:  Simplicity by Rend Collective.   Don’t get me wrong I do love Rend but I did feel that this album was quickly becoming money for old rope and I begrudged the £12 I paid for the priviledge of getting another different version of the same tunes.   Let there be light by Hillsong worship also disappointed a bit.  

So what does 2017 bring musically . . . who knows . . . . .  

You can also listen to my playlist on Spotify here 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Teacher Professional Development

I’m currently working on a presentation that I am giving at my school whole staff meeting on Monday afternoon but I have been keeping an eye on the twitter feed #FEILTE – which is the festival of education in Learning and Teaching Excellence – hosted by the Irish Teaching council.  They have had their education minister addressing the event and the Irish rugby coach amongst many other dignitaries.   They have their own app and the whole event is being livestreamed.   There has been a lot of investment in this – an attempt to make a teaching and learning conference that is as professional as possible. 

Having been involved in organizing a similar event in my own school a few months ago – I am feeling jealous.   I am very jealous of the obvious drive, support and money that seems to have been spent on the #FEILTE event.   It looks great.   There seems to be a real buzz.

I loved the #EduFestNI event that we were able to put on this year but it is just a drop in the bucket. 

There is little or no appropriate investment in CPD/ Teacher Professional Learning in Northern Ireland.   A nice shiny document called ‘Learning Leaders’ came out in March 2016.  But as yet there is no impact in schools.    In fact, the action plan for year one is focusing on some key areas of how to support high quality teaching but when you look at WHO is involved as the lead partner in the first instance  . . . . guess what no-one is actually talking to teachers or even the people who often lead the professional development within individual schools.   The lead partners are the GTCNI, DE, ETI and the EA – but when are you going to actually talk to the teachers?   What mechanism is there in place for this?  

And what exactly is the GTCNI doing?  Their website has not changed in any substantive way in over 2 years.   They collect our money and what exactly is it doing with it?   How is the GTCNI supporting and developing teachers?   I welcome any development in the support of teachers but it seems that instead of putting a proper strategy together and proper support – including personnel and finances – it is still hard to see HOW this is going to move forward.  

Come on GTCNI.  Come on Department of Education – take a lead here and start INVESTING in your workforce and inspire the teachers of Northern Ireland so that they can be making a BIG difference in every classroom across our province.  

Monday, 5 September 2016

How to prepare your child for back to school . . . .

Back to school week is a struggle for everybody involved. 
I got extremely irritated when our local ASDA had the Back to School stock in store during the month of June.   We were back before we got off.  

Teachers find Back to school week hard as suddenly we are governed by ‘the bell” again.  We are slaves to its routine.   We respond to its chimes with a grimace as we know that we have usually not got enough done  . . .  Students respond as they know what might be coming next and that either fills them with anticipation or dread. 

Many parents think that ‘getting your children ready for the school year ends with new blazers, socks and pencils’.  I’m afraid that is only the start.   There is as much psychological preparation required as anything else.

It always annoys me when a child says that they hate school – because that is not often the reality.   They hate the concept of school – they hate the way that school has been built up for them by their parents and their siblings.   In order to make sure that children maximize their potential and get the best start possible at school – parents could  bear in mind the following 6 tips . . .

1.     Physical preparation: rest and bedtimes
Children need sleep to function.   Appropriate bed times are important for children of all ages. Parents need to be consistent with their approach to bed time and make sure that kids have a chance to wind down or maybe even to read from a book before the lights go out.  Its not enough to send to bed but to ‘take’ to bed and check that settling and lights out has happened . . . at a reasonable time!  

2.     Be positive about the school and the people involved
Its too easy for children to ‘hate’ teachers and ‘hate’ certain subjects at school.   Challenge this behaviour.   Don’t allow your children to develop a negative mentality as it just continues to fester and it only makes things worse.   Say things like – ‘I’m sure things will get better’.  Try not to personalize incidents if they do happen.   Teachers are human too and are just as likely to jump to conclusions and get things wrong as you are.  

3.     Don’t allow a Fixed Mindset
Sometimes children can get easily put off and they will quickly adopt a defensive posture and will tell themselves that they cannot do something and that they will never be able to do something.   Unfortunately, such a stance often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.   Don’t allow children to get into a cycle of negativity – encourage a growth mindset where they have a ‘can do’ attitude and where they will try and learn from mistakes rather than see them as personal failures. 

4.     Encourage your child to develop resilience
How people respond to challenges will tell us a lot about their capacity to learn and grow as individuals.   Today, children are increasingly lacking resilience.   They cannot respond to negativity or weakness and crumble at the first whiff of any resistance.   We need to build them up and develop their tools and attributes in being able to bounce back from negativity.   We need to encourage them to get back up when they get knocked down and to see ‘the big picture’ in life so that they will be determined – even when things look difficult.  

5.     Technology can be great when used responsibly
We can’t do much without technology these days – iWatches, IPads, Iphones, digital gaming platforms, tablets and computers all play a big part in our lives.   We spend copious amounts of time online.  Technology is great but we need to teach our kids responsibility.   How long should they spend online each day?   What should they be accessing?   Should they just have free reign or does a responsible adult make a regular check on what is going into your kids brain.   Parents need to take more responsibility here.   Limit the amount of device time.   Check what your kids are looking up online.   Check the age limits of the games they are playing.   If in doubt – turn the wifi off or get an app that monitors access.   If your child is starting to be more aggressive and violent – look at what they are playing online.   It does not have to be an inappropriate game – even the most passive child will suffer if they are allowed to play games that trigger the adrenaline for hours on end. 

6.     The greatest gift – boundaries

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The greatest gift that any parent can give their child is to set boundaries.  All too often I meet children who have not been given any boundaries by their parents and some of them are crying our for someone to tell them what is appropriate behaviour.  Unfortunately, some parents leave these sense of moral education to teachers and then wonder why school are struggling with their child.   Children want their parents to be the ones to be their role models and to be the ones who challenge any behviour or attitude which is abnormal.   They don’t need parents who are mates or best friends – they need their parents to be, well, parents.   To guide.  To challenge.  To encourage.   To support.   To correct, as required.