Arts Education

Jazz apprenticeship of the divine nature

My one-year apprenticeship studying jazz piano with Jay Flippin ended in July. Jay and I went out with a bang with a joint, two-piano concert June 13 at Natasha’s Bistro in Lexington, Ky. One of my friends described the event as an apotheosis, a Greek word meaning “elevation to divine status.”  That night I certainly experienced a period of elation and excitement, possibly bordering on the divine, after a celebratory glass of wine when it was over.

Playing Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” with Jay on one piano and me on the other was as good as it gets. But this pinnacle celebration could not have taken place without an intense and arduous year of disciplined practice and hard work on my part, along with Jay’s generosity and willingness to share his treasure trove of piano experience and knowledge. So I think this combination of intense study and working toward a goal of playing jazz for an audience, and then actually doing it, was the fruition of a realized dream called an apotheosis. The Kentucky Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program allowed me the unparalleled opportunity to devote myself to this task.

I have always wanted to play jazz, and have been a piano jazz fan and dabbler for many years.  I started studying with Jay a year before my apprenticeship began, which was the year I retired from my job of many years teaching art. So I know a good teacher when I see one. Because there were no grades, no pressure except what I placed upon myself, and no deadlines except a faraway collaboration of some sort, Jay’s lessons were always inspiring.

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Jay is a fountain of knowledge about jazz theory, history, jazz players and traditions. Born in a small mountain town, Jay learned jazz the way traditional musicians almost always learn their art. He learned by watching and listening to artists he admired, practicing hours and hours, imitating what he heard and learned, and then taking a risk and going out and playing in public! Most of all, Jay is one of the best jazz piano players around, having won five Emmys for original composition. Not only does he know how to play, but he knows how to tell you exactly what he is playing in terms of jazz theory. That is indeed a rare combination.

I have played the piano almost all of my life. Now I play for contra and swing dances, belong to the Reel World String Band, and have done all kinds of ensemble and solo piano work over the years. All of my piano work is now informed and changed by what I have learned during this apprenticeship. Because I was a teacher for many years, I also know what it’s like to be a good student. Jay said he appreciated me because I actually would do what he told me to do. I would follow his instructions. I taped all my lessons, so I could work with these recordings when I got home. You can’t really cram for a piano performance, so what you do is a result of what you have done, but the practicing definitely got more intense closer to the end of the apprenticeship.

At the beginning of my study with Jay, I was sure I knew what jazz sounded like, but that I would never be able to play it.  Now I know what is involved. I still think that, as Jay and others have said, that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. I know that I am on my way. I have the tools to do it, and it is a matter of refining my skills through practice, interacting with other musicians, and performance.

What I have gained from the apprenticeship and from Jay is the confidence and the desire to share jazz music with other players and listeners. I learned that you don’t have to be perfect to get out there and play, you just have to do it. It is perfectly legitimate to learn from your mistakes, as anyone will tell you. Now when I play, I also have the desire and the ability to educate people about some facet of jazz based on my own experience of the medium. I did not have this knowledge and experience of jazz before the apprenticeship. I thank the Kentucky Arts Council for giving me this opportunity to be a successful student, for acknowledging that jazz is a traditional Kentucky art form, and for creating such a valuable program to connect and showcase master artists and their aspiring students.

Elise Melrood, pianist, Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program participant

Categories: Arts Education, Folk and Traditional Arts, Performing Arts | Tags: , , ,

Participate in national arts standards public review

National Coalition for Core Arts Standards logoInterested in the future of arts education in Kentucky and across the nation? You should be. You currently have the opportunity to give feedback on proposed changes and updates made to the national core arts standards.

The national standards are available — in draft form — online. The standards haven’t been updated since the 1990’s and public input is being sought. You can make comments through July 15 as part of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) public review.

The coalition of national arts and education organizations and media arts representatives developing the 2014 National Core Arts Standards recently released the PreK-8 standards.

The new, voluntary grade-by-grade web-based standards are intended to affirm the place of arts education in a balanced core curriculum, support the 21st-century needs of students and teachers, and help ensure that all students are college and career ready.

The Kentucky General Assembly, as part of Senate Bill 1 (2009), mandated new academic standards in all subjects including arts and humanities. The legislature directed the Kentucky Department of Education, in cooperation with the Council on Postsecondary Education, to consider standards that have been adopted by national content advisory groups and professional education consortia.

Anyone with an interest is welcome to participate in the public review of one or more of the discipline drafts in dance, media arts, music, theater and visual arts.

For instructions, visit the NCCAS website.

For more information about the project, visit, or the NCCAS Facebook page.

Don’t miss this opportunity to make your voice heard on this important subject, and consider sharing this information with others in the arts and education communities.

Emily B. Moses, communications director

Categories: Arts Advocacy, Arts Education, Literary Arts, Other, Performing Arts, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , ,

Autism awareness and Derby’s ‘defining spirit’

Four years ago,  the offices of the Governor and First Lady asked the Kentucky Arts Council to decorate picnic tables for the Governor’s Derby Celebration. We took the project to extreme measures by turning the tables into horses. We also wanted to include the entire Commonwealth, so we found a way to let school children of all ages participate. Every year at the beginning of April, we mail blank canvases to Kentucky schools that respond to our open call. They design their own “blankets,” which are draped over “horses” at the celebration.

We’ve written about this before. Last year, students from Knox County Middle School honored a classmate who died with a blanket featuring an enlarged version of his notebook doodle. “The Shane Design” inspired many to think about our identities as proud Kentuckians and how that connects us across counties.

The 2013 blankets have arrived, and they are brilliant. As we laid them out to be photographed on our conference room table, one from Jacob Elementary School in Louisville immediately caught my eye. I admit that less than 10 years ago, the design wouldn’t evoke the emotional response in me that it does today. However, the primary-colored puzzle pieces are becoming  more common, and people are associating them with an important movement. The symbol encourages variation and evokes pride, much like each jockey’s farm-specific silk. This symbol is emblazoned proudly on everything from license plates to human skin. People with autism, and those who love them, are sharing their lives with the world through a simple-to-recognize design that alludes to the complex idea of solving a puzzle.

The letter attached to this blanket from teacher Angie Palmer reads:

Please accept and use this “blanket” as a piece of the positive youth spirit alive and thriving in our community. In a world where there are many questions and moments of despair, please allow my students to brighten the day of a person they touch. My students each have their own unique challenges, but be assured these challenges do not prevent them from living and enjoying their lives! We work daily to tackle their different abilities and create a life that is amazing!

This blanket signifies the uniqueness of my classroom, the breadth of the challenges we face, and the work we continue daily to help these children succeed. Four of the seven students in my classroom have autism. We decided to highlight the work we do every day to tackle the uniqueness of this special gift. This blanket uses the puzzle pieces to signify autism awareness., and the uniqueness of fitting the pieces together for the children that work every second of their days to combat the difficulties that autism presents.

The horses in the center of the blanket are each child’s own footprint, leaving their own unique mark for the festivities.  The manes of the horse that the children with autism created have the autism awareness colors to honor their fight daily. Their classmates, join together with their own footprints, fight their own struggles with their own challenges. The horses are all painted to the center of the blanket, signifying our unified work towards success. Their silhouettes represent their defining spirit and their specific gifts to this world we live in.

As we enter the day, we fill our hearts and minds with the “can do” statements for the day and push forward, As our blanket states “Autism…the race is on!”

I would like to underline Angie’s statement describing the students’ “defining spirit and their specific gifts to this world.” Therapists, scientists, doctors and social scientists are beginning to scratch the surface about this so-called disability. The puzzle  pieces are a fitting symbol for the awareness movement, as we can learn from people with autism (who daily assemble the pieces) how to find solutions to the problems we can no longer see, because we are predisposed to ignore and overlook them. Through the eyes of people with autism we may find evidence that it is actually our created environment which is disabled—not people.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Categories: Arts Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ekphrastic Poetry: Inspired by Art and Structured According to W. C. Williams

For the past six years, I have been conducting ekphrastic poetry workshops in classrooms throughout western Kentucky, guiding students in grades 3 – 12 to write original poems inspired by works of art that are recorded and broadcast on our public radio station, WKMS-FM, every weekday in April to celebrate National Poetry Month. Response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, not only as stimulus to writing and listening to poetry, but also as motivation to appreciate public radio and its role in the cultural life of the region.

Typically, one class period is all the time available for the workshops. Because of time limitations, I use short poems by William Carlos Williams as structural models, and images from “Picturing America,” a program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, to inspire the writers. In 2011-12, we used images from the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program, “Journey Stories.”

Williams’ short works (most notably “the red wheelbarrow” and “this is just to say“) offer permission to break some rules and focus on economy of language without sacrificing meaning. Especially with younger students in grades 3 – 6, the short poems are useful to review common core poetry concepts regarding stanzas, line breaks, word choices, imagery, etc. Between the images and the model poems, students of all levels are able to complete the assignment: to write a minimum of one poem before the end of the class.

A simple organizer guides writers in the number of stanzas and words per line of the poem. Students are urged to write, not to ponder too long over any aspect of their poems. Once they have a draft, it is easier for them to see where adjustments are needed. We dive right in and work fast, but there is always time allotted for students to read their poems aloud, with emphasis on reading loud and clear. Feedback focuses on specific strong points in each poem. (There is always something positive to say, now isn’t there?)

Some sophisticated concepts that are readily discussed in relation to the work include things like word choice, imagery, near rhyme, rhythm, line breaks, stanza breaks, point of view and parallel structure. Grammatical concepts sometimes arise — verb tense, subject-verb agreement, active voice — and, all are discussed within context. Kids beg to write more, and even after the bell has rung, they clamor to share their work.

Here are a couple of my favorites from this year’s batch:

Constance Alexander, faculty scholar, college of education, Murray State University,

Categories: Arts Education, Literary Arts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tempt Your Senses: Feel

With over 200 exhibitors working in wood, paint, silver, wool, chocolate, clay, silk and much more, Kentucky Crafted: The Market is a sense explosion. That’s why we chose “tempt your senses” as this year’s theme. We dare you to come to the Lexington Convention Center on March 2 – 3 and be tempted by all of the music, textures, smells, sights and tastes offered by Kentucky’s best artists and crafts people.  It will be impossible to walk away empty handed.

A complete arts experience includes an opportunity to be actively involved in the creative process. The Kentucky Arts Council has invited two of the Commonwealth’s finest education-driven arts institutions to design activities for families, kids, adults and anyone who wants to get hands on some art.

Living Arts and Science Center

Two events for two days of hands-on fun at The Market. On Saturday, repurpose T-shirts into beaded market bags to aid you in your shopping extravaganza. On Sunday, create one-of-a-kind artworks through the fun and tactile process of wet-felting. Activities are noon – 3 p.m. both days. Visitors on either day also have the opportunity to view—and touch—the center’s engaging, hands-on exhibit, Evolving Traditions.
Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.


Explorium of Lexington

Come take a swing on our cool paint pendulum to create art and learn about the laws of physics. Demonstrate energy conservation and make a masterpiece in minutes with tempera paint and paper. When science meets art, it can only result in fun and discovery.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Are your sense tempted, yet? For more peeks and previews, check out our titillating Pinterest board.


Categories: Arts Education, Other | Tags: , , , , , ,

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