Monthly Archives: August 2012

An Interview with the Author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Conducting Music

Chase: “All right everybody, this is Chase March. I am talking to the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Conducting Music, Michael Miller. How’s it going, Michael?”

Michael: “I’m doing fine, Chase. Good to be with you.”

Chase: “You’ve written a good book. It’s something that a lot of music teachers could use, especially novice music teachers. I’m a musician and it’s simple enough to conduct a common beat time, 4/4 time, but I wanted to get your book to see a little bit more of what conductors have to do. You’ve divided the book up into five sections; behind the scenes, basic skills, interpretation and expression, different types of conducting, and finally you have some interviews with famous conductors.”

Michael: “Yeah, the interviews were the fun part of the book for me. I got to talk to conductors who conduct different types of things, whether that’s Broadway musicals, Hollywood soundtracks, choirs, or orchestras. The conducting job really changes a lot depending on who you’re conducting.”

Chase: “For sure, but it all starts from the same, basic principles. Your first part of the job is, ‘What makes a great conductor?’ Could you answer that question for us? I know it’s in the book, but briefly for everyone listening right now. What does a great conductor have to do?”

Michael: “You’ve got a couple different levels you have to operate on and those levels actually change depending on the type of performers you are conducting. At the most basic, the conductor has to set the tempo and keep the ensemble on the beat. The most basic stuff is the beat patterns. But beyond that, the conductor helps the musicians. So, if you are conducting an ensemble of younger players, let’s say a high school ensemble, they will need a lot more help than if you are conducting a professional symphonic orchestra.

The younger players will need help knowing when to come in, knowing their cures, tough rhythms, and that sort of thing. Wo, while you are keeping the beat, you’ve got to help these players do what they need to do. If you’re dealing with more experienced players, you probably need to do less of that because they know how to do it already.

In most types of music, the conductor can really help shape the performance, the end sound of the piece. This is done primarily in rehearsal. Your prep them to do that so when you get to the performance, they’re doing it. This is why when you listen to orchestra performances of a single piece of music, take New World Symphony or Beethoven’s 9th or whatever. You can listen to three different recordings from three different orchestras and they will sound different. They’ll have different energy levels, and dynamic levels, and tempos. All of that is set by the conductor. The conductor really does shape the overall sound and performance of the piece.”

Chase: “In the book, you talk about how we need a band in front of us to practise our craft. But you also suggest that we can do that by conducting as we are listening to a piece of music. You suggest on page 31, ‘Instead of listening to a single recording five times, listen to five recordings one time each. This approach also helps you get a feel for the various interpretations possible.’

Michael: “Definitely. Different conductors approach things different ways. You can get radically different or subtly different interpretations. These days there are a lot of orchestral and choir performances on YouTube, so you can see some classic conductors doing there thing and get a sense of how they are approaching it differently from others.”

Chase: “That’s another neat thing about your book, too, because there are certain points throughout the book that you direct us to your website to find out more.”

Michael: “Conducting is something you can talk about, and of course, I do, but a lot of it you have to see. Obviously, we have diagrams of the different beat patterns, but I also created a series of videos showing how you conduct the various beat patterns.”

Chase: “I just got a music job. I’m an elementary teacher so I’ve always done choirs, but for the first time this year, I am going to be doing Grade 7/8 band. That’s the first time the kids get their instruments. It’s brand new. So reading your book has been homework for me, to help me figure out what I am going to be doing this year because this it is a new experience.”

Michael: “So much of what a conductor does is not the conducting. The conducting during the performance is maybe 20% of the job. The majority of the job is prepping for that, primarily in rehearsals, especially in youth and student ensembles. You’ll have issues well beyond playing a piece of music.

If you are dealing with 7th and 8th Grade band, you’ve got intonation issues to deal with. A big part of the job is getting the clarinet section to sound like one section as opposed to ten folks all playing different notes. I’m not putting down the musicians at all. At that age, they are learning. And one of the things they are learning is how to play together as a group. That’s job number one for the conductor.

All of the conductors I interviewed in the book said, ‘No matter what level you are at, you’re a teacher.’ Even when you are dealing with professionals, you are teaching them the way you want it performed. When you are dealing with younger performers you are even teaching them the instrument and how it should be played. And that is one of the most rewarding things about being a conductor, as you are teaching when they ‘get it.’ That moment when it all comes together for the first time is one of the most rewarding things a conductor can do.”

Chase: “The Manny Laureano interview was pretty eye-opening for me. On page pg 136 of your book, he says,

‘assign homework every week. . . I told the kids, ‘You need to practice. You need to practice. You need to practice.’
Well, the problem was, and I didn’t see it until the end, that the piece is just so gigantic. You tell them to practise but they need
to know where, what, what do I do?”

Michael: “You really have to give them explicit directions, especially with younger musicians, but even if you are conducting a community choir, you have kind of the same issues. You’ll have people who don’t go home and practise three hours a day because they just don’t have the time for that. To me, that’s one of the fun parts of the book, and one of the most useful, is being able to interview guys like Manny.

A little background on Manny. He is the principle trumpet player here in the Minneapolis Orchestra, but he also is the conductor and leader of the Minneapolis Youth Symphony, so he gets to see conducting both from being a player and being a conductor. He’s played under some of the most famous conductors in the world, but on the next day, he goes and conducts the Youth Symphony. He gets to see it from both sides, so he knows what works and what doesn’t.”

Chase: “That’s very cool. I learned a lot from this book. I played the French Horn starting in middle school. I played it all the way through high school, and then in the army’s marching band. One thing I found interesting though is how not only you, but some of the conductors you interviewed, mention how you should mark up your own piece of music so you can remember certain things. I’ve never done that.”

Michael: “It really helps. Even if it’s just a matter of saying, here is something difficult, look up, here’s a key change, here’s a tempo change. Just as you would expect musicians to mark up their music for difficult passages, the conductor should do the same. Depending on the pieces you are conducting, there is a lot of homework involved in being a conductor. Some of the conductors say, if there are prepping a major piece for a professional choir or orchestra, they will do months of preparation in advance before they ever step in front of the orchestra. They learn the history of the piece, when it was written, and what the performance standards were then, to really get inside the mind of the composer so when they do step in front of the ensemble, they’ve got it all down, right from day one.”

Chase: “They do that, as you say in the book, using coloured pencils to mark different sections. For example, red for cueing, green for dynamics, and things like that. And if you use the same colour all the time, your brain gets used to it and it’s a lot easier for you to recognize, over time, what you have to do with each piece.”

Michael: “I think that’s a great tip because a conductor is doing so much. At the most basic level you are setting the tone and keeping the beat, like a human metronome. But beyond that, think about it. You’re dealing with dynamics, rhythm, solo passages, groups passages, tempo changes. You’re dealing with all these things. And in front of an orchestra, you are dealing with a hundred different people with a hundred instruments in front of you. You’ve got the most complex job of the whole group, trying to corral all this stuff, so the easier you can make it on yourself, the colour-coded marking up section being an example. the easier the whole ordeal will be.”

Chase: “That’s amazing. I didn’t realize there was so much prep work. I thought a lot of it might have been sight reading and learning a piece though multiple run-throughs. But a lot of it is the homework you do beforehand so you can be comfortable with a piece to know how it sounds and know when people need to come in.”

Michael: “Yeah, because they are relying on you. You’re the boss. You’re the leader. Especially with student ensembles and younger players. They’re really relying on you. You’ve got to know your stuff. You can’t rely on them. I guess if you are working with a professional symphony, any fool could stand up there and wave there arms because the musicians know what they are doing so well that they could probably play blind. But any other type of ensemble, they depend on you. You’re the leader.

In terms of the prep work, that does differ on the type of work you are doing. In one of the chapters toward the end of the book, I interviewed a couple of guys who conduct movie orchestras for movie soundtracks. One of the things that fascinated me there was how little prep work they have. They are on such a tight schedule. Making a movie is such a condensed thing, especially at the end. The music always comes at the end, after the movie has been cut.

You might have the composer compose the music one day, have it sent to an orchestrator the next day, then have it sent to a copyist the next day, and the fourth day you are in front of the orchestra recording. A lot of the guys I interviewed said they were lucky if they go the music the night before to look at. So, in a lot of these cases, the Hollywood conductors are sight reading along with the musicians to try and get it down on tape for what we see in the movie theatres.”

Chase: “I couldn’t believe that when I read it. There is so much time given to writing of the screenplay and casting it, so why do they just make the music come in the last thirty seconds as quickly as they can. That seems really strange to me. Music is such an integral piece of the whole thing.”

Michael: “It does come down to the very end. They’ve filmed the movie, they’ve edited it, they’ve cut it, everyone has been there and then they add the music. It literally is the last thing that goes on, and they’ve got a firm release date of when it goes on. That’s the way it works. A lot of times, you’re recording music which has only been copied the night before. If that.”

Chase: “That’s crazy. I can also appreciate the Tim Davies interview because he mentions the French Horns, in particular, a couple times there. I think that’s an instrument that is often over-looked. When I was at the interview for the job I just got, I asked them if they had a French Horn and they said, ‘No.’ It seems like, ‘We don’t need a French Horn.’ That’s crazy to me. It’s such a lovely instrument.”

Michael: “Well, as you know, it’s a difficult instrument to play, or to play well anyway. If you have a good French Horn player, it’s a wonderful sound. With a bunch of seventh graders, it can be horrible sometimes. It’s an instrument that is difficult to master, but when it’s mastered, it’s a great instrument.”

Chase: “I definitely agree.”

That concludes the first half of the interview I did with Michael Miller, author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Conducting Music. Please come back tomorrow to read the rest of the transcript. You can also download the entire show to listen to whenever you like, or stream it with the player below. Thanks for tuning in. See you tomorrow.

Read Part 2

Music Playlist at

Kelly Clarkson / The Fray in Toronto

I was really enjoying the Kelly Clarkson show at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto last night. I had gotten a free ticket and I managed to score a pretty good seat. I was right at centre stage but I was near the back of the seating section.

I tell ya, I sure picked a good seat. The lead singer of The Fray made his way through the crowd as he sang a song and he actually walked down my very aisle. He stood on the seats and walked right behind me. It was pretty cool.

I wished I had brought my camera. I stopped bringing it to shows because I just want to enjoy the moment. Plus, in this day and age, I can usually count on someone posting good photos or videos online for me to remember the show later on. Normally I am so far back that I don’t get good shots either.

With that photo-worthy moment gone, I wasn’t sure there’d be another. But there was.

Kelly Clarkson did the exact same thing. She didn’t make her way down the row of seats I was in, but she did stop at the section just ahead of me during her cover of “We Are Young” by Fun.

I looked for myself in this clip from a fellow concert goer. I swear I was just outside of the camera’s field of vision. But I was super-close.

After she finished the cover song, she stayed in that same spot to sing “Gone.” It’s a great song and a personal favourite of mine. It was so cool to have her sing those two songs so close to where I was standing and singing along.

Overall, it was a great concert. The Fray really impressed me. They put on an amazing show. I couldn’t find any YouTube videos to show you here so you’ll just have to take me word for it. But hopefully, someone will upload one soon. Maybe you’ll be able to see when Isaac walked right passed me.

Another highlight of the concert was when he came back during Kelly Clarkson’s set to perform the Jason Aldean part of the duet with her for the song “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” That’s my favourite track by her and they did a great job of it last night.

I’m so glad I was able to score free tickets from a friend of a friend. It was a great night and a great show.

Teaching Tip – First day Grids

Here is a great first day of school activity you can do with your class.

I mentioned this activity in the First Day Script, which is a very detailed lesson plan for the first day of school. I’ve used this plan, or variations of it, successfully for several years. It is very important to have the first day run smoothly and this is a great way to do it.

It’s always best to have too much planned than to have to try and stretch for time, especially for newer teachers. I like to have several activities photocopied and ready to go, just in case. This is a must for the first day of school, but also a good idea for every day thereafter. It never hurts to have a stack of photocopied worksheets ready to handout on the fly.

Download the PDF worksheet

Download the MS Word file

This worksheet is an easy one for the students to do. They simply have to think of an example for each category that starts with the letters along the left hand side of the page. There are several TV shows that start with F. I used “Flintstones” as an example but could just have easily used “Fairly Odd Parents” , “Friends” , or “Flash Forward.”

I like to give the students a certain amount of time to work independently on this task and then have them circulate around the room to share examples, and to help each other complete their grids. It helps any students who might get stuck filling in the entire grid. It also models cooperation, which is a big component of my classroom.

I hope this helps. If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please leave a comment below, or get at me on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you.

I wish you all a great first day of school!

Practice vs Practise

Here is a great quote from a legend in Canadian Hip-Hop. It’s from Maestro Fresh Wes and it’s about how you have to work at something to achieve success. Apart from this quote being inspirational, I’m highlighting this passage to illustrate the difference between the spelling of “practice” when used as a noun and “practise” when used as a verb.

“When I was starting out rhyming, I used to practise with my good friend and first DJ, Greg Nathaniel (DJ Greg). Like I mentioned earlier, I had a bad habit of rhyming faster than the track, and it frustrated Greg when I rapped out of sync with his 45s. Over and over, he’d tell me to stay ‘in the pocket’ with the beat. It took a lot of steady practice, but by the age of fifteen, I was getting really nice with the verbals, and because of that, I gained a lot of confidence.”

Wes “Maestro” Williams uses both forms of “practice” in this paragraph from his book Stick to Your Vision: How to Get Past the Hurdles and the Haters to Get Where You Want to Be.

The first time he uses the word, he is talking about the act of rapping itself.

I used to practise with my good friend

He is working at his craft by practising. This is a verb and as such, it should be spelled with an “s” just as it is in this passage.

The second mention of the word is in a different context.

It took a lot of steady practice

This time, the word is being used as a noun. Practice is the thing that helped him get better, to start using more intricate wordplay, to have a better flow, and to take his art to new heights. When practice is used as a noun, it is spelled with a “c.”

I find that the traditional way of spelling practice is falling by the wayside. I make sure I spell it correctly depending on whether I am using it as a verb or a noun. But many people try to correct me on it. For instance, your computer will often auto correct any mention of the word in your document to the “c” spelling of the word. The only way to get passed this is to make sure your language is set to English: Canadian.

This is something we should be teaching our students. It’s important to note that the spell check and grammar check on the computer can often be wrong. We shouldn’t just blindly follow the computer and change everything it wants us to.

Would you believe that I have had some students think they’ve spelled their name wrong simply because the computer doesn’t recognize it?

Maybe I am being a bit picky here but I think spelling is important and I want to hold on to our traditional spellings. Words like colour, centre, behaviour, and practise are words I want to see spelled correctly. Is that too much to ask?

There’s a Mouse in the House

I was woken up last night by a strange sound. It sounded as though metal was being scrunched, like someone was twisting an empty pop can. I listened very carefully for a few moments. The sound stopped. I lay still on my bed and looked at the clock. It was 2:30 a.m.

The noise started back up again. I tried to think about what it could be. I then remembered that I had left  a cookie sheet with a piece of tinfoil on top of the oven after dinner last night. I had cooked pork and pieces of the meat had stuck to the aluminum foil.

I got up, turned on the lights, and slowly made my way to the kitchen. I didn’t want to unexpectedly corner a wild animal.

When I got closer to the oven, I saw that that the tinfoil was crumpled up and parts of it were missing. I moved the oven and checked the cupboards. I didn’t see any other signs of creatures. I’m going to have to check more again today, but I am pretty sure that there are mice in the house.

I had a hard time getting back to sleep after that. I kept thinking about all the things a mouse could get into. My cereal is in plastic tubs so that should be okay. But I didn’t want to have to throw out the food in my cupboard because mice had gotten into it.

I managed to get back to sleep because at that point in the night, there was really nothing else I could do.

I went out to go buy some mouse traps today. I hate having to do that. But I also can’t be operating a mouse hotel.

I made the mistake of going to a large chain store. You know, the kind that sells everything. I walked by the toy department and saw a kid carrying this game.

I thought, sure but it real life, it’s not that fun.

My Screwdriver is Sonic!

I’ve wanted my own sonic screwdriver for some time now.

When I saw this kit in the comic book store, it really called out to me.

I could get three sonic screwdrivers for the price of one?

And I can mix and match them to get a completely customizable unit with a functioning light and sound effect?


As you can see, the kit comes with one light and sound unit (on the left side) and this fits into the handle of the screwdriver you choose. There are three emitters (screwdriver heads) , three control sections, three hand grips, and three pommels (bottom piece.) As such, there are 80 possible ways to build your very own sonic screwdriver.

I must admit that I really like this old school one.

I love how both the emitter and the control section light up. I also really like that there is a display so you can zap something and then hold it up to analyze what you have just scanned. It makes me feel like the tenth doctor. I keep walking around, pressing the button, hearing that familiar screech, and then holding up the unit and saying, “What?”

I know that this particular sonic screwdriver really looks nothing like Ten’s, but just humor me, okay? I’m having fun! It was thirty dollars well spent, in my humble opinion.


Teaching Tip – Professional Development

Welcome to Teaching Tip Tuesday!

Every week I share with you a tip that I hope you will find useful in your teaching.

You can visit the Teaching Tips Archive to see all of the tips in the order I have posted them over the years. Please check that page as I will continue to update it every week with the latest Teaching Tip.

This page is all about Professional Development and the ways we can help each other improve as teachers.

Please bookmark this page and come back often. I will update it with any new tip I publish that has to do with PD.

You might also want to check my Pinterest page for more great teaching ideas.

I hope you enjoy these Teaching Tips.

Be Enthusiastic!
Great Websites
Key Elements Great Teachers Possess
Two Month Goal: Know Your Students
What Teachers Actually Do

Shriner’s Woodlot / Mount Carmel Running Tour

I collect trails. I know that sounds weird but I don’t like running the same routes all the time. I want to find new trails to run, so whenever I find myself in a new city, if I have the time, I steal myself away for a trail run.

This weekend I was in Niagara Falls and I looked on a map and saw two trails fairly close together. Shriner’s Woodlot and Mount Carmel trail. It sounded delicious.

The trail started out promising enough.

Inside the forest there were several offshoots to the main trail.

The entire trail consisted of two large ovals. And while the trail was nice. It was only about a kilometer long. I like to run for at least five.

But as I drove to this spot, I passed Mount Carmel Park so I ran a block to see what the trail was like there.

It’s a nice neighbourhood park with a playground, baseball diamond, lots of green space, and a paved trail.

This bridge looked pretty cool but there wasn’t much more to the trail. I was hoping it would go back into the bush as well, but it didn’t.

So I made my way back to The Shriner’s Woodlot and ran the trail again. I looped around the oval trails in a figure eight section and took the side trails to neighbouring suburbs.

All in all, I still got my five kilometers in. It wasn’t the best trail for a five kilometer run but it’s a nice on for anyone who’d just like a walk.

Want to see more trails?

Classified Autograph

This concert was really good. Not only did I get to meet and hang out with one of the best rappers to ever come out of Canada, but I also got to interview him for the radio show and podcast.

Classified put on an amazing show. If you ever get a chance to see him in concert, you really must do yourself a favour and go.

I got him to autograph my concert ticket too.

I love collecting autographs. I have a lot more to share with you. In the meantime, check out these ones.

Chasing Content – August 2008

The console room from 2005–2010, first seen in...
The console room from 2005–2010, first seen in “Rose” and last seen in “The Doctor’s Wife”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s take a trip back in time. We don’t need any fancy equipment or even a TARDIS, all we need is the blog archive to explore what was happening here four years ago.

Are you ready?

Let’s go!

You can read all of the posts from August 2008

or just these Top 5!

Final Preparations – This is what I was doing to get my classroom ready for the first day of school four years ago. Funny how not too much changes. I’m already working on back to school plans for this year too.

What’s the Priority? – Here’s a pet peeve of mine.It has to do with automated telephone systems and their use of the phrase “priority sequence.” Am I wrong?

Vespers – I have fond memories of singing this little song at the end of every Scout meeting when I was a kid. For years, I’ve wanted to create something similar for the classroom. I’m not sure why I haven’t. I guess I’m not too sure that the same thing will work in the classroom. Too bad!

Dragons Can Be Defeated – This is one of my most popular posts. Not sure why everyone is searching for a way to slay dragons. I just loved this quote and had to add it to my commonplace book.

4 Things to Keep in Your Car – It always pays to be prepared. There are a few things I might add to this list now, such as plastic bags. They always come in handy, especially if any of your passengers happen to get sick along the way.

Thanks for Chasing Content with me!

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Teaching Tip – Supply Teaching

Welcome to Teaching Tip Tuesday!

Every week I share with you a tip that I hope you will find useful in your teaching.

You can visit the Teaching Tips Archive to see all of the tips in the order I have posted them over the years. Please check that page as I will continue to update it every week with the latest Teaching Tip.

This page is all about Supply Teaching, sometimes called Substitute Teaching or Occasional Teaching. It will include tips about to help you in your day-to-day teaching experiences.

Please bookmark this page and come back often. I will update it with any new tip I publish that has to do with supply teaching.

You might also want to check my Pinterest page for more great teaching ideas.

I hope you enjoy these Teaching Tips.

5 Ways To Get Supply Teaching Jobs
5 Minute Daily Language Activities
A Day in the Life of a Supply Teacher (guest post)
File Folder Seating Plans
Supply Plans
The Only Audio / Video Response Worksheet You’ll Ever Need
What Teachers expect from a Supply (guest post) 

Know Your History 28 – Hip-Hop United for a Cause (Podcast)

Music has always had the power to unite people. Whether it brings them together around a campfire, a radio, a church service, or a concert, it’s undeniable the draw and power that music can have on people. Of course, music is also a business. It generates a huge amount of money every single year for artists, labels, musicians, merchants, and dozens of other professions but it is also capable of using its power to raise money for a worthwhile cause.

In 1985, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie got together to write “We Are the World,” a song to raise awareness and money to help alleviate famine in Africa. They brought together dozens and dozens of respected musicians to record and release this charity single. The song was released on March 7th 1985 and went on to sell over 20 million copies, which was almost unprecedented. In fact, there are only about thirty singles in the history of recorded music to have ever sold over 10 million copies and that’s only half of what this single did.

This wasn’t the first super-group for charity and it certainly wasn’t the last. The idea gained a lot of momentum from “Do They Know It’s Christmas” one year earlier. This was the brainchild of Bob Geldof who not only released a very successful single but went on to throw huge concerts under the banner of Live Aid to raise money for the cause.
Right around this time of global awareness and charity building, rap music was just appearing on the radar of popular culture. It wouldn’t take long before rappers started to unite for a cause as well.
Welcome to Know Your History. I’m your host Chase March and for the next half hour, we will be exploring the supergroups within hip-hop that united for a cause to raise awareness and money for a variety of different issues.

You can download this podcast for free, stream it with the player, or continue reading this transcript.

Before we get started though, I’d just like to explain what Know Your History is all about for any of you new listeners out there. It’s a monthly hip-hop segment I’ve been producing for two years now for DOPEfm, an overnight hip-hop radio show that can be heard on 93.3 CMFU each and every Saturday night. Go to for more info on what we do and the different ways you can listen to the show. You can also hear me every week on The Word is Bond podcast. The Word is Bond dot com just relaunched the site to deliver you the best in underground hip-hop. I’m glad to deliver you great content every week on both platforms.
Let’s get started with today’s show. This is Know Your History Episode 28 – Hip-Hop United for a Cause. We need to go back to 1989, that was when Krs-One brought together over a dozen rappers to stop the violence. The track is called “Self Destruction” and features Boogie Down Productions, Stetsasonic, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, the late Heavy D, and Public Enemy.
“You don’t have to be soft to be for peace.” One of my favourite lines from “Self Destruction” by The Stop the Violence Movement. That lyric was by Just-Ice and he was only one of the MCs in that star-studded track that featured a who’s who of hip-hop talent for the time it was released in 1989. The song featured KRS-One, D-Nice, and Ms. Melodie of Boogie Down Productions, Delite, Daddy-O, Wise, and Frukwan of Stetsasonic, Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, and Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, and the late Heavy D.
The song was done, not just in response to the violence that was so prevalent within rap music at the time, especially gangsta rap, but to address the issue of black on black violence. That violence touched the founder of this movement personally. Boogie Down Productions originally started out as a duo, DJ Scott La Rock and Krs-One. When Scott La Rock was killed needlessly in a shooting, Krs-One continued to perform and release music to honour and respect his fallen friend. Unfortunately, violence even followed him on tour, In 1988, a fight broke out in the crowd at one of his concerts leaving a young fan dead.
Krs-One organized the Stop the Violence Movement and released the single, music video, and a behind the scenes videocassette of the project as well. All of the proceeds from the sales went to National Urban League, a civil rights organization based in New York that had been advocating for Black youth since 1910.
Krs-One gathered 55 artists together in 2008 to create an updated version of the song, this time calling it “Self Construction.” He also produced ‘Self Destruction 2009” to help bring his message to a younger generation who might not even have been aware of the original version some twenty years earlier.
Rap music often gets blamed for the violence in society and in poor black communities in particular. Of course, rap music often just reflects the harsh realities in these communities and a whole subgenre of this music was born out of the popularity of this theme in the music.
Gangta rap was quite popular in the late 1980s. We had solo artists like Ice T and groups like NWA making a lot of noise on the West Coast and while their music was often violent, these artists realized the power they had to the youth. Not to be outdone by the Stop The Violence Movement that Krs-One had organized on the East Coast, a group of like-minded artists formed the West Coast Rap All-Stars in 1990.
This song is “We’re All in the Same Gang” by the West Coast Rap All-Stars. This is Hip-hop United for a Cause, a special edition of Know Your History and we’ll be back to look at this song and much more.

That was the West Coast Rap All-Stars and a track that came out in 1990 featuring; King Tee, Body & Soul, Def Jef, Michel’le, Tone Loc, Above the Law, Ice T, NWA, JJ Fad, Young MC, Digital Underground, Oaktown’s 357, and MC Hammer. The song was called “We’re All in the Same Gang” and really hearkens back to the “We are the World” track I mentioned at the start of the show. Both tracks have a great message of unity that seems to get lost nowadays.
Of course, having such a clear message can make listeners tune out. They don’t want to feel like they are being preached too. NWA seemed concerned about that with the lyrics in that song too. Dr. Dre and MC Ren rapped, “NWA never preachin / just teachin / the knowledge of the streets to each and / all that don’t understand, that’s why we came / To let you know that we’re all in the same gang.”
Two years after this track was released we had Kid Capri, Big Daddy Kane, Freddy Fox, LL Cool J, Harmony, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, KRS-One, Ms. Melodie, and Run-DMC coming together to heal. H.E.A.L. Human Education Against Lies is a not for profit corporation and its motto is, “Before you are a race, a religion, or an occupation you are a Human. HEAL YOURSELF!”
I love how that track tells us that we don’t need to believe everything we are told. It lets us know we can think for ourselves and use some common sense. That was “Heal Yourself” by Human Education Against Lies. A lot of knowledge being dropped on that track. Rappers using their voices to reach their fans in a positive light.
That was the lead single from the album “Civilization vs Technology” that was released in 1991. It was a star-studded album featuring 13 tracks with some unlikely pairings. For example, Krs-one got together with Michael Stipe of REM for a track. There are also two other large posse cuts on the album that feature Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Kool Moe Dee, Grand Daddy I.U., Ziggy Marley, Doug E. Fresh, and Red Alert, among others.
I remember buying this album on cassette tape back in the day. One of my favourite lines on the project is from Queen Latifah. She says, “Dana was never taught her life was worth something.” That’s such a shame that some of our youth don’t get that message that they are important. She then continues, “But when people don’t try to improve it makes me want to hurt something.”
Queen Latifah is such an inspiration. She has written some great books that I highly recommend young women to read. In fact, we can all learn something from her words whether from her albums or her books.
Music is all about entertaining people but that doesn’t mean that it can’t educate at the same time. I know that a lot of what we have talked about has centred around or featured Krs-One today. It’s no coincidence that he is known as “the teacher.” One of my favourite albums he ever put out was even called “Edutainment” to show how entertainment and education can come together.
This is Hip-Hop United for a Cause, a special edition of Know Your History and we’re just about out of time. It’s a shame that this program is only half an hour because I could easily fill up an hour. In fact, I think I might do just that. Next episode, I will continue with this theme so I can play all of the tracks I’d hoped I’d be able to squeeze into today’s show.
As a culture, hip-hop often addresses the problems we face in our daily lives in a real and honest way. Sometimes it is through story telling, sometimes it is just a quick reference to things we have seen or experienced. A lot of the times, the artists don’t beat you over the head with the message either.
I’m slowly running out of time here. I’d like to talk about “One Four Love” from the “Hip-Hop For Respect” project that addressed the problem of police brutality with an entire album on Rawkus Records where ever artist donated their time to the project. That came out in 1999. There were several songs and concerts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina including one from Warren G, Ice Cube, B-Real, and Snoop Dogg, a remix of “Get U Down” in 2005.
We also had K’naan bringing together Young Artists for Haiti for a special recreation of his song “Waving Flag.” I really love that version of the song and how so many voices from so many different genres of music come together  for relief efforts in the aftermath of that devastating earthquake. That version of the song even won a Juno for “Single of the Year” in 2011.  I wish I could play all three of these songs for you and discuss them in detail. They just go to show how rappers can come together musically to call attention to some very important issues while raising much needed money at the same time.
And of course, hip-hop is worldwide. I was planning on closing out today’s show with the track, the English translation of which is, “The Conspiracy for Peace.” The song features two dozen rap artists from Columbia and this supergroup is a “union of forces, minds, souls and hearts that revolve around music, letters, words, powers, and passions, to conspire around a common goal, a dream, a longing, a desire, a need, a right, for the PEACE.” I took that right off of their website, although I had to use Google translate to read it.
You might not understand the words of the song but you can hear how so many different rappers have come together in unity to create a message of peace. It really is beautiful what hip-hop can do. Unfortunately, we are out of time and I can’t play that song for you right now. I can highlight one of the lyrics, however.
“This is the conspiracy / Rappers united in one mission that is the conspiracy / The proposal of hip hop / Nationwide honesty and respect for peace in concrete / All rappers together on the street”
That’s what it is all about right there. Rappers coming together in a community to affect real change, whether it is financially through the use of charity singles and fundraising concerts, or through the power of the message in the music. Hip-Hop has power. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Hip-hop has the power to unite listeners, artists, and communities.
You’ve been listening to Know Your History on DOPEfm and The Word is Bond. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show. Go to, The Word is, and Chase and let us know what you think of our programming. I’ll see you next week here on the podcast and next month for Part 2 of “Hip-Hop United for a Cause.” This is Chase March signing off, saying, “You Better Know Your History.”

Download Know Your History: Episode 28 – Hip-Hop United for a Cause

The Start of it All (Chasing Content)

I started blogging in March of 2007. My original goal was to use this blog to establish a platform for my writing career. I set a goal to become a published author within five years.

Well, the time is slowing running out on that original goal. I only have to the end of this year to make it happen within that time. Now I see that it isn’t all about timing.

My original goal was a healthy one. Blogging has taken me to some pretty great places. But it is always nice to look back. That is why today we are going to take a look at what was happening in my very first month here on Silent Cacophony.

You can read all of the posts from March 2007

or just these ones . . .

Five Year Mission – My very first blog post ever.

Meant to Be – Five years ago, it felt like I was truly doing what I was meant to be doing. I still feel that way and look forward to another great school year in just a few weeks. I love being a teacher.

Old Friends Become Characters – I was writing a novel and I named a character after someone I had a crush on back in high school. I then Googled her to see what she was up to. It almost makes me want to do it again, just to see if anything has changed. Maybe I shouldn’t though.

More to come . . . 

I’m still working on making these “Best of” posts for every single month I have blogged. You can look forward to regular entries at the start of every month. That is when we pause to look back at what was happening here on this blog in that same month the previous year.

Thanks for Chasing Content with me!

Batman 3 Didn’t Do It For Me

The latest Batman film really let me down. There were some really beautiful scenes and I appreciated a few of the special effects, but overall I wasn’t impressed with The Dark Knight Rises.

My first criticism is Bane. He is the villain of the film and quite frankly, he was portrayed so much better in the animated series. He didn’t scare me as much as he should have. I also didn’t like his voice. He talked through a mask that gave a weird electronic kind of echo. There were lines that were pretty much inaudible because of it.

The film dragged on too. It was slow. The pacing of it wasn’t great. There was a lady sitting two rows behind me who even yawned loudly, twice.

But my major concerns with this movie come down to the basic story (Spoiler Alert.)

In the comics, Bane breaks Batman’s back and I was expecting that to happen in this film as well. It did, but Bruce Wayne seemed to recover very quickly from this crippling injury and he goes back to battle Bane once again, this time successfully. It just didn’t feel right to me in this movie universe.

In the comic book Batman actually dies. I think he should have in this film. Batman doesn’t need a happy ending. He gets one in this film. It’s warm and fuzzy and seems completely out of character.

There was a battle for the cowl in the comic since the late Bruce Wayne would have wanted The Batman to carry on. In fact, in the movie he mentions several times that Batman was supposed to be a symbol. “He could have been anyone, and that’s the point,” he says to Commissioner Gordon.

And in the movie, someone figures out Batman’s true identity. He coaxes Batman out of his retirement and then heroically fights for justice as a beat cop. Commissioner Gordon even promotes him to Detective. I think this could be a nod to Detective Comics, where Batman first appeared in that comic book series. It shows that this cop is worthy of being a detective and definitely worthy of wearing the cape and cowl.

At the end of the film, this detective throws away his badge. Batman had already saved the day but I think it would have been so much better for Bruce Wayne to have remained broken, for him to have passed the mantle of the bat onto this deserving lad. He remained fearless throughout all of the tragedy in the film. He protected the city just as much, if not more, than Batman did. He would have been the perfect new Batman, but instead we get a joke at the end of the film that his actual name is Robin. Ha ha.

This film was supposed to be an epic last chapter to the Batman trilogy. It hit a few of the notes the story arc demanded but overall it was a let down. The film was too long. Catwoman was essentially a hero, Bane wasn’t scary, the story didn’t make a lot of sense, the ending was off and uncharacteristic of the Batman mythos that the series had been developing, and it was boring.

That being said, I wouldn’t mind seeing a fourth movie in the franchise. I liked the cop character and would love to see him take up the role of Batman in his own film, or better yet, a solo Robin film. Robin does have his own comic title. It wouldn’t be such a stretch.

Teaching Tip – Classroom Posters and Art

Welcome to Teaching Tip Tuesday!

Every week I share with you a tip that I hope you will find useful in your teaching.

You can visit the Teaching Tips Archive to see all of the tips in the order I have posted them over the years. Please check that page as I will continue to update it every week with the latest Teaching Tip.

This page is all about the posters and artistic things we display in our classrooms. It might include banners, posters, and how-to posts.

Please bookmark this page and come back often. I will update it with any new tip I publish that has to do with classroom posters.

You might also want to check my Pinterest page and, specifically, my Classroom Posters Board for more great ideas.

I hope you enjoy these Teaching Tips.

Classroom Banners
How to Care for Students
Inspiring Students toWork

Ender in Exile (Recommended Read)

Ender’s Game is a science fiction classic and its sequel, which takes place some 3000 years later, is equally amazing.

The original books came out in the mid 1980s and sparked an entire series of novels. So far, there have been eight in total.

I found this hardcover of Ender in Exile in the discount section of the comic book store. I didn’t even know that there was a ninth book in the series, and one that takes place, chronologically, between the first and second books. I was so exited to see it.

Orson Scott Card is a very talented writer. I have read three books from the Enderverse, and two of his other original novels, as well as some of his work in the comics medium. In fact, the comics are currently telling an Ender’s Game prequel right now.

I absolutely love this series. I know that there are so many books out there vying for your attention and many of them are series as well. But I highly recommend this one.

Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead are two of the best books I’ve ever read. The latest novel, which bridges the two books together perfectly, is a nice edition to the saga. I really must get to work and start reading every book in the series. 5 more to go!

More Book Reviews

Music for Skaters (Clean Version)

I love the artistry of mixtapes. Choosing songs, blending them together, weaving a theme and mood throughout, and then sharing the mix. What could be better that that?

How about having a finished product that you can feel comfortable sharing with anyone and everyone?

That’s why I redid “Music for Skaters” as a clean album. I removed a few songs that had violent messages or overtly mature themes and language. I censored the remaining songs so that the swear words are inaudible. And I’ve made a mix that I can blast anywhere.

If you want the longer, uncensored version, you can download it for free.

Or you can Download “Music for Skaters (The Clean Version)

Both mixtapes are blended so that each song runs into the next. It’s perfect music to skate to, or to just enjoy in your rides, iPods, or home stereos this summer. Plus, you can skip through the tracks if  you so desire.

I hope you enjoy the mix. Feel free to share it with your friends or point them this way so they can download it themselves.

Bring on the music!

No Spam, Please!

I’ve been getting a lot of spam comments on my blog lately.

Fortunately, Google does a good job of catching these bogus comments before they get published to the site.

With the screen capture above, you can see that there were 66 spam comments posted just today. And this has been happening daily for over a month now. It’s starting to get really frustrating.

I used to love checking my email to discover that someone had made a comment on my blog. Now, it’s just a chore to keep up with these fake comments. As such, I had to turn off the email notification so I wasn’t bombarded with daily emails.

I really want people to be able to make comments easily, but at this point, I have decided to remove the Anonymous commenting feature. It is just taking up too much of my time. I have to go and delete these spam comments every single day, and occasionally a few even slip through the spam detection and get published.

I don’t want to turn on comment moderation either. I find that equally annoying. If I want to comment on a blog, I want to comment. I don’t want to have to wait for my comment to be approved. I also don’t like typing in strange distorted words. So, I won’t be turning on word verification or comment moderation.

Hopefully, removing the anon feature will help cut down on this spam. At least I know that my blog is important enough to spam. That’s a good thing, right?

Please leave a “real” comment. I love hearing from people and not just spam robots or commercials.


Best of August 2011 (Chasing Content)

It’s the first of the month! Time to go strolling through the archives to see what we were doing here last year at this time.

It’s time for Chasing Content.

Read all of the posts from last August . . .

or just these awesome ones!

Camping Adventure Part 1 – A true life story that I can look back on and laugh about now. At the time, it wasn’t so funny. It was just annoying and time consuming.

The 6 Things You Really Need for Back to School – I hate how the back to school season has become a commercial holiday something akin to Christmas. Advertisers try to convince us all that we are bad parents if we don’t spend, spend, spend. Kids don’t need all those things for school. These are the six essentials that every child should have though.

Motown Night was Electric (Literally) – I love the CNE and it is always great to interview the artists and musicians who are on hand. Last year, I interviewed The Manhattans and their performance was stellar. Too bad it was cut short by a thunderstorm.

Hip-Hop in Black and White – I recorded an episode of Know Your History based on the article I was approached to write for The Word is Bond. It was a very well-received article for the online hip-hop magazine and the podcast of it turned out equally amazing. This year, I’ve started a weekly podcast for the site as well. It all started from the humble beginnings of this essay.

We All Need Free TV – One year later and I must admit that I am not happy with digital TV. The analogue signal was much better because I could still tune in a weak station. With digital, if the signal is too weak, the screen goes black, With analague, the picture may have been fuzzy but it was at least watchable. Too bad analogue is no longer an option.

A Spotlight on MC Lyte – As part of our special International Women’s Day tribute show on DOPEfm last year, we did a special on MC Lyte and Queen Latifah. If you missed it, you can read the transcript, and download the podcasts for free. Enjoy!

Thanks for digging through the archives with me!

You can visit the Chasing Content Super-Page for a complete list of all the “Best Of The Month” blog posts.