Back with My Music Peeps

June 5, 2014

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I am in the sixth month of an assignment as Interim Director of the Bloomingdale School of Music on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. This oasis of music teaching, learning and celebrating had lost its beloved long-time (22 years!) director to a brief illness in November.

It was love at first sight–a funky old brownstone alleged to have once been the home of “Nicky Arnstein, what beautiful, beautiful name!”–second husband of legendary Fanny Brice-THE FUNNY GIRL–on a breezy block between Broadway and Riverside Drive filled with the sound of music. There was even a baby grand piano in my director’s office studio that prompted my 87-year old Dad to call daily to say, “Have you practiced the piano. You don’t have an excuse since you have a piano in your office!”

The most personally meaningful aspect to this interesting phase of my professional career has been to reconnect to my musical roots and to reflect upon the role music has played in my life. It has also refueled my passion to advocate for providing access to high quality music education, performance opportunities and concerts to anyone who wants them regardless of their ability, income, race or gender. But, hey!–that is the mission of the Bloomingdale School of Music!




A Good Use for Used #2 Bubble Test Pencils!

October 27, 2010

Departing Chief State School Officer of Colorado Dwight Jones shared an interesting take on school accountability.  He shared his gallery of pencil sculptures made out of #2 pencils, which had been used on “bubble” standardized tests.  His comment was, “ We wanted to get some good out of those pencils.”

Now that’s the kind of school leadership I want to see.  I wish him well as he goes off to tackle transforming the Las Vegas/Clark County Public Schools in Nevada in December.

I ran into Jones in Denver at the fall forum of the Arts Education Partnership.  I had the privilege of working with him and his Colorado colleagues briefly during a National Endowment for the Arts sponsored Education Leadership Institute a few summers ago.  They were already on the way to thinking outside the test bubble about the role of arts education.  At the forum in Denver last week they shared their thinking about how K-12 arts education must be thought about in terms of nurturing future workers for Colorado’s creative industries—the fifth largest economic sector in that state.  Their survey of what was going on in Colorado schools supplied the underpinning for a transformation of the Colorado Arts Council to Creative Industries of Colorado.

Congratulations to the Arts Education Partnership on celebrating its 15th year of bringing together leaders and organizations involved in arts education to focus on a research agenda, share ideas, suggest public policy and advocate for the vital role of arts education for all our children. It was good to reconnect with colleagues and get inspired to keep working!

I hope we see more #2 pencil sculptures.  That’s the best use for that material.  And if you want to see some really amazing sculptures done with pencils, check out Jennifer Maestre’s Web site: #mce_temp_url#

By Hadley B., Denver Public Schools - The Pencil Tree

Art Education-It’s more than what you see!

August 17, 2010

It’s more than what we can see!

I know.  I haven’t been posting lately. . . well in over a year!  It’s time to get back on the blogging wagon.  I have been working to help American art teachers find their voice.  They tend to express themselves visually, but now they need to help the American public and education leaders know why what they give kids in art classes is so much more than what you see.

It’s true that  a 2005 Harris poll found that 93% of us feel it is important for kids to take arts classes in school, but many of that same 93% privately think art is expendable when tough budget choices need to be made.  We question how continuing to take arts classes through junior high and high school will impact the future employment and life styles of our children, much less help solve the toughest challenges facing our nation and the world.

We love the cute refrigerator art our small children make.  What we can’t see in those whimsical images are the unique skills the arts teach.  Things like solving problems, processing divergent information, appreciating nuance, exercising critical judgment, understanding multiple perspectives, working collaboratively, developing multiple literacies (hey, we live in a visual world!), enabling self-direction and realizing self-efficacy.  Whew!  That’s quite a list.

But don’t take my word for it.  Both education and brain research have proven that skills learned in arts classes enhance the way the brain functions and help connect the brain to our hands to turn ideas into images, tangible goods and innovative services.  That’s what our business leaders say we need to maintain our economic leadership and the style of living we so value in this country.

Innovation.  Creativity.  Thinking outside the box.

Think iPads, Avatar, green building technology, or the imagination playground in my lower Manhattan neighborhood.

See the Advocacy section of the National Art Education Association Web site that I worked with NAEA leaders and staff to revamp to help arm art education advocates with more information about how the arts contribute to our kids education.

And, above all, help keep the arts in our schools!

NAEA Mentor of the Month

February 1, 2010

The National Art Education Association has asked me to be their February 2010 Mentor of the Month.  My mission is INSPIRATION.  I hope to get the readers to make an even greater commitment to making sure every child has access to the arts.  Here’s my first post:

New Atoms in my Garden

July 20, 2009

They say deaths come in threes.  This week’s trifecta included Walter Cronkite, Frank McCourt and Siegfried Baumgartner.  I knew them all.  Well, everyone knew Walter Cronkite.  But I did feel somewhat closer to him having student taught under his sister in St. Joseph, Missouri when I was 22 years old. He defined television news for my generation. He epitomized a time when the news was the news as opposed to todays’ 24-7 edutainment cycle. I met Frank McCourt the first week on my job at the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.  He was a featured speaker at our big Kennedy Center 75th Anniversary gala having won the Pulitzer Prize for his poignant memoir Angela’s Ashes. We bonded over the fact that his brother Malachy’s wife Diane had done the carpentry work in our old Waterside apartment.  Malachy and Diane had been close to my sister-in-law in their fights for the rights of the mentally retarded in New York. I remember the twinkle in his eye and his Irish brogue when he addressed the gifted young writers in the audience, “Ye’re lucky. Ye found yere voices ere-ly.” I loved that he had been a beloved creative writing teacher at Stuyvesant High School and that like my own father, he had been able to attend college on the GI Bill. Siegi Baumgartner was a handsome Austrian married to the lovely Liliane from France.  His mother Vera had arranged home-stays for the group of high school students I took from suburban Kansas City to Europe in the summer of 1976, my first trip across the pond. She did this out of gratitude to the Americans who brought food and hope right after World War II.  They were among the first Europeans I actually came to know as friends. We exchanged Christmas cards and letters before the days of email.  I returned to Austria several times to visit them. We spent a magical evening at the Vienna Opera hearing Teo Adam in Meistersinger von Nuremberg.  It included a two hour break for dinner and the most transporting finale I have ever witnessed. After losing touch with Siegi and Lili I found them again through the Internet.  We had hoped to meet in France this summer to compare life notes.

I am moved by the passing of these three pieces of the puzzle of my life’s journey. I celebrate their lives. I am thankful for their gifts to me. As I look at my garden on a beautiful July day, I have the feeling that some of their newly released atoms may be floating around– the bud coming from the lotus in the water lily pond, or the tiny yellow flower on the heirloom tomato plant or, further away, possibly even in the birth cries some newborn somewhere who will in turn touch many lives in a positive way.

A Global Fourth

July 9, 2009


It was an interesting Fourth of July. There are only three holidays that are part of my DNA—Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July. Having branched quite far away from my roots, these are the three days that pull me back toward that Midwestern soil and pyche. The Christmas decorations and food and my turkey collection assure that I am beamed in a time machine right back to Southeast Missouri of the 50’s and 60’s. But this Fourth of July hinted that maybe I am finally undergoing a personal transformation. Though I did sort through a plastic bin full of summer clothes in mothballs in the basement to find my American flag in the shape of a heart t-shirt, the shirt did not seem to fit this year. Maybe it was the smell of camphor I emitted all day. There were no red-white-and blue flower arrangements, tiny American flags in vases or the de rigueur barbecue with sizzling hamburgers or hotdogs followed by my traditional white sheet cake decorated with white butter cream frosting with strawberries and blueberries forming the Stars and Stripes and little sparkler candles spitting sparks. The town fireworks on the beach were cancelled again this year to protect the nesting of the piping plovers with only loud booms coming from the direction of Montauk and Sag Harbor. In deference to our visiting Indian Hindu friends I served a vegan meal of carmelized onion and eggplant bow tie pasta, cracked wheat salad and cucumbers and onions in yogurt and wine vinegar followed by lemon bars and coffee ice cream. No one mentioned the holiday amid lively discussions of politics and economics and family dynamics. I noticed that I did occasionally remember past Fourth of Julys—catfish fries in Central Missouri with my maternal grandparents, sparklers and Roman candles and lobsters flown in from Maine with my siblings in the backyard in Missouri and barbecues on the beach with my sons when they were young. I did look for the reprint of the Declaration of Independence in the NY Times. But I did not feel nostalgia or longing for the past. I looked around the table at my Indian guests, my son’s Russian immigrant girlfriend, my globetrotting son, and my husband who finds the world and all its contents endlessly fascinating. In that moment I realized that I had achieved my aspiration of becoming a “citizen of the world.”

Half a Skyscraper?

April 3, 2009

Half a SkyscraperIs less really more?  We may find out in my neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.  The emerging Frank Gehry Beekman Tower is going up right outside my bedroom window.  After enduring the pounding of steel rods for months and then the diesel fuel fumes and noise from the cement trucks the building suddenly halted going skyward at 38 floors.  Rumors of the impact of the downturn in the economy flooded the blogosphere and a “real’ news report was issued on March 18 when the building’s department issued a building permit for a 38-floor roof.  The developer only says they are “studying” the situation.

Meanwhile the stainless steel cladding is beginning to be installed to give the building the appearance of being fabric that shimmers in the light.  It looks GREAT.  I loved the random act of creativity that appeared on our building’s community bulletin board shortly after the rumors began about the half a skyscaper.  Someone carefully tore the top half of an image of the proposed building in half and pushpinned it on the side.

I look forward to when the school in the bottom five floors opens and I can volunteer!

Snow Day in NYC

March 3, 2009
Snow Day in New York

Snow Day in New York

What do F. Scott Fizgerald, a lucky peach, Brad Pitt, a wall of graffiti and a barb-b-que pork sandwich have in common?  A SNOW DAY in New York!  The Weather Channel had dubbed it the Megastorm Monday. And though it was only a moderate nor-easter at best, it provided a window of opportunity to get out of our “box.”  My husband Bob closed his dental office for the day and we decided to explore some new places in the City.

Momofuku Ssam Bar was only one express subway ride and several snowy blocks away.  Our foodie friend Roger kept telling us we just had to try it.  This seemed like a good day to venture out.  The little, sleek Second Avenue incarnation of the Momofuku restaurant dynasty was just getting started and we quickly found a sunny corner table near the Second Avenue entrance.  We worked our way through several interesting brews including a “French style” DuPage from Illinois that went well with our steamed pork buns, raw wild striped bass, barb-b-que pork sandwich, frizzled Brussels sprouts and spicy rice cake with sausage.  The combination of great ingredients and creative preparation doesn’t get much better than this. We finished it off with a shared blondie pie and a bottle of Anchor Steam.

Fully sated, we set out to explore Second Avenue and quickly came across Village East Cinema who had conveniently arranged a 3:30 pm nearly private screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the Hollywood adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald 1921 short story.  The movie start time allowed us a half-hour stroll on Second Avenue where we mourned the closing of Love Saves the Day where I had once found a remarkable beaded dress for $15 and my kids aquired much of their Star Wars collection. I found my initials made out of tin cans at Anthropologie to hand in my home studio.  Then back to the movie.  I marveled at  the brilliant transition of the setting from Baltimore to New Orleans with the ties to Hurricane Katrina.  The cast was brilliant. It was a beautiful movie in every aspect.

Amazing what the snowglobe of New York can produce when it is turned upside down.

Volunteering Fuels Creativity!

January 28, 2009


Kelly's Concert

She appeared at my door on a cold night in January and greeted me with, “Hi, I’m Kelly, I’m here for the reception!” To which I responded, “Welcome, but the reception is tomorrow night!” I insisted that she come in, warm up and share a drink and promise to attend the reception for the recipients of the 2008 European American Musical Alliance (EAMA) Composition Prize the following evening. And that’s the reason I ended up at a heavenly concert of French chamber music on January 26  at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church performed by the incomparable Kelly Hall-Tompkins (violin) and her colleagues Terrence Wilson (piano) and Briget Kibbey (harp) on an equally cold night.

I agreed to serve on the EAMA board last year because I knew that I could help the organization connect to New York City high school students who aspired to music composition. I knew it would take some time but I never realized how it would enrich my own life by reconnecting me with some of our nation’s most talented artists, composers and music educators. Philip Lasser, American composer and Juilliard faculty member and his wife Pamela founded and administer the EAMA program, which provides emerging composers with an intensive composition studio experience each summer in Paris. And last year EAMA began the EAMA Prize program to encourage and recognize new classical works. See their Web site at and the EAMA Prize site at

The night Kelly Hall-Tompkins came to my house a night early, I was rewarded with a new personal relationship with a gifted artist and passionate crusader for classical music and a new CD, Kelly’s second (In My Own Voice). See Kelly’s Web site for future performances or her innovative organization that was created to bring chamber music performances to homeless shelters in NYC

I’m sure glad I volunteered to help EAMA!!!

We’re not ADD, we’re just not listening.

November 19, 2008

I ran across an image of a t-shirt on the Web that said,

“I’m not ADD, I’m just not listening.”

I had been researching how kids uses of new technologies have been impacting how they learn. And all of a sudden, it hit me. Maybe the reason that so many kids are being diagnosed with learning disabilities, mental illnesses, and other “disorders” is that we need a reason to explain why so many of them aren’t thriving in school. After we explain their failure by labeling it as some kind of disorder or disease, we medicate them in an attempt to make the problem go away. And then we shove them back into the same 19th century learning environments. But what if it’s not a problem within the child, but rather with the culture and structure of most schools?

I don’t deny that learning disabilities and mental illness are real. I have a child with bipolar disorder. But I am more and more convinced that the rise in the diagnosis and treatment of various learning disabilities and mental illnesses, combined with the growing dropout rates call for serious discussion not only about how kids learn but also about the design and delivery of public education.

The science and technology education advocacy group Project Tomorrow has done a revealing annual poll since 2003 that has tracked technology use among youth, as well as attitudes about the role of technology in school and out from the youth and their teachers. (Check out Their Speak Out poll has painted a vivid picture of the growing digital divide between kids, who have been dubbed “digital natives” by Marc Prensky (, and most of their teachers, parents and administrators who are “digital immigrants.” One of the most striking findings is that despite the growing availability of technology in schools, students complain that the rules imposed on the use of these technologies is depriving them of not only the tools they use outside of school to network and acquire information but also is depriving them of developing the skills that they know they will need to be successful in their professional and personal lives.

Let’s get some of these digital natives to help us immigrants understand how schools should be structured to enable them to become the leaders, entrepreneurs and engaged citizens of the future.