All posts by Anne Kilstofte

I am a composer and musician (the two are not exclusive, but sometimes the word composer puts people off). I have been a pianist for more decades than I am willing to admit and a composer for many of them and I have been teaching music in some manner for more decades than I'm willing to admit to. (Are we finding a common theme here?) I've taught music theory, ear training, music fundamentals, music history (including World Music, Jazz History, Rock History, and Survey of American Music), composition, orchestration, piano, copyright issues, and honors courses as well as web design and instructional design. I've been named a Senior Fulbright Sholar and taught, researched, and composed in Estonia for a year-long fellowship. I've received awards for my music including a Bush Artist Fellowship, Minnesota State Arts Board, Arizona Commission on the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, Arizona Humanities, and ASCAP. I have worked to incorporate higher standards for graduation for middle school and high school levels and have worked with high school honors students in composition. If you see me around campus you will probably find me going to CTLE but I primarily work in the Performing Arts Department - Music, teaching online courses in Music History. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and my Masters and Bachelors Degrees are from the University of Colorado. I have been named an Outstanding Adjunct (oh, yes, I work "part-time" at GCC), and a Master Teacher in the Maricopa County District.

Faking it

When was the last time you saw a film or television show where someone was supposed to play an instrument or sing well?  When that moment of reckoning occurs I always hold my breath and wait for the tell.  The tell is the point where it is clear that the actor is faking it.  That actor may be faking it successfully or poorly – or, of course, the actor may actually be a musician, as many are, and is not faking it at all.   But if faking does occur, an editor often gets involved to fake it further.  We see, we listen, we constantly assess.

When we assess students isn’t this ultimately what we are trying to determine? Are they faking it, or do they know and understand the material? As a musician, do they know how to play musically or are they simply playing the notes?

When we assess aren’t we also looking for those who fake it well?

One of the jokes among instructors of applied music (performing music) is when the teacher corrects the student and the student says, “Well, I just don’t understand. It sounded perfectly fine in the practice room.”

What that means is that most of the time (not all) the student can’t tell the difference and is, ultimately, faking it.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It?

I remember a student who was excellent at mimicry. I learned never to play a piece for her because she had too good an ear and could fake it. The problem was that she could not read music. She was a good pianist but when asked to play something that she misheard or ostensibly misread because it was incorrect she could not “replicate the results.”

I have tremendous respect for her because she had been playing for many years and had to face the fact that not only was she faking it but she had to face the degree of how much she was faking it. If she wanted to continue lessons she had to re-learn how to read music after many years of classical piano lessons, her chosen genre.

There is a part of me that thinks she always knew how much she was faking it but she had choices moving forward. She could have stayed at the level where she was because she could fool many. She could have gone on her merry way and continued to play the way she did. She could have walked away and given up. Music was not her major so that might have been the easiest choice. She chose instead to go back to the basics and learn how to read music. It was a daunting task and I commend her for her perseverance. It was a lesson in patience because, in this case, one does not fake it until you make it. She’d already been down that path.

Two Studies that May Surprise You

I love surprising students (not that you are students) so I leave you with two listenings of people who are not faking it – or are they? In the first example, Bence Peter’s Fibonacci series moves to a video image which allows him to re-sequence the series so that it can go backward, using digital editing. This video clip often offers my students a new “take” on music and they are surprised because they are hearing something different. If you are using speakers, turn them up. In the classroom, I usually turn off the lights.

The second video clip shows an interesting twist on talking and singing where he includes the spoken word. Is he having trouble or is he faking it? Here is Al Jarreau.


Inclusivity on campus, three lessons LEARNED

As someone who has been ever watchful of inclusivity for nearly twenty years, I see this topic as a hopeful step.  In the classroom, I am always mindful of those who march (or dance) to a different drummer and some of the lessons I’ve learned from it.  I like to think that I am respectful and try to champion everyone’s accomplishments.  One of the things I’ve learned more recently is to be quieter.  Championing is sometimes better when it is sotto voce.  Here are three lessons of the many I have learned over the years.

I had one individual who sat all by himself in the front row of my classroom of about fifty. He never took a note but listened as he kept his hands busy.  One afternoon, just as I was dismissing the class, I realized that on that day he had been working with a Rubic’s Cube.  What I didn’t catch until nearly everyone was gone was that he had perfectly aligned the cube by the end of the class period and was just sitting there waiting for me to notice.  I wanted to be able to announce this to everyone! How many of us have tried and failed at this?  But, I realize now, he may not have wanted this kind of attention.  Lesson learned.

I had a student in one of my Honors Classes who would not look me in the eye.  He would talk to me and answer questions and was paying attention.  But I had not learned enough about all of this yet.  Having been an advocate for all things spectrum I kept trying to catch his eye.  I finally caught it one day when he was leaving the classroom.  But it was not a moment of jubilation.  If anything, he just wanted it not to matter.  Lesson learned.

The one individual I have worked with the most is the one that has come the farthest.  I’m told he weighed less than one and one-half pounds at birth.  It’s amazing how babies have an innate sense of fighting for their lives. This young man worked on executive skills and impulse control, transitions and focus. He’s worked on the hope that he wouldn’t be bullied and stood up for himself when he was.  He has had fabulous medical and educational help to teach others what he needed at every step.  One physician stated that the college administration would never have any idea how far he’d come. They would only see what he is today.  If only they knew what he’s fought just to get to this moment.  Lesson learned.


The Stars!

I’ve always loved the stars, both metaphysically and metaphorically.

As a composer for over, well, let’s just say I started young, I have written a lot of music on the subject of stars. It started with an opera, and then a requiem, and smaller pieces for chamber ensembles, and it just snowballed until a great deal of my work has some connection with stars!

As many Arizonans know, stars have a special impact, especially in a dark sky.  And dark skies are important for us to remain connected with the stars.  I chose an elective my first summer in Boulder at the University of Colorado when the skies were still dark there, where we were close to the stars at over a mile above sea-level, and felt like we could reach out and touch them.  I became enamored of the stars by taking a chance on an elective called General Astronomy.

Astronomy, at C.U. is no light subject, and I entered it with much trepidation but my fears were soon allayed. My professor was so excited to teach about the stars we were excited to be able to learn about them from him. He showed us so much that summer, in the classroom, at the observatory, and at the Planetarium. There are things I learned from him that I will never forget, and they have nothing to do with my field and everything to do with how it was taught. He was enthusiastic, and I remember that energy the most. Everything was worth learning about and he shared that feeling with all of us. It also made me realize that if I’d been able to take this course while I was taking Geometry I would have understood Geometry better because now I understood why we were trying to find angles. It’s all about context, isn’t it?  For us musicians, we call that applied music.

So my inspiration came from excitement about teaching, learning about stars, and it all started with an elective I chose to take because I thought it might be interesting.

Electives are near and dear to my heart because I have been teaching elective courses here at GCC and at several universities for over twelve years at each institution. (Yes, add the numbers together.)

Most of my students apologize for taking my courses as electives, because they are required, but I can tell they are holding out hope that they, too, will be inspired by learning about a choice they made that just might be something they remember for years to come. And for me, being able to enthusiastically share music with them is a blessing.

One of my favorite texts about stars is actually found as two different poems by the poet below.  This is one version:

The Starlight Night

Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting Him out of it; and
Glow, glory in thunder;
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west;
Since, though He is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet the days I meet Him, and bless when I understand.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins

So, open your mind and your heart, and be inspiring.