Sunday, November 29, 2015

Reflections: Here's A Gift Now Wait While We Party

The title sounds weird I know but I can't think of a better one. This is my attempt to put in written words my thoughts about the experiences I had  with the two songs created by Simon Ensor's students. I decided to write about those experiences because I am finally able to decipher some of what was going on in my mind and I want to reflect on them with my #DigiWriMo friends, in particular those who collaborated on Etienne's two songs. For any other visitor, most probably, this won't make sense for now. May be later I can make it into a proper post - or not. :)

Road Trip

When Simon posted his first tweet about Etienne's song "Road Trip" I immediately jumped in. My intention was to capture the moment -- or jump in it -- to help Simon honor his students' expression. I read his request as "sing it WITH them" so I went and listened to it several times then created a couple of vocals to harmonize with theirs. But suddenly things changed, Alan and Kevin created their own versions/interpretations of the song then Ronald and Sarah read the whole thing like a poem, and Bryan created his country version. I loved what everybody was doing that when the Soundtrap collaboration started I felt really happy and honored to be invited to contribute to it, and the sense of excitement was heightened thinking about surprising Etienne and his friends with the final result. 

But throughout I had a nagging feeling or a question or something. Most of the time I didn't even know what it was. I only could understand it every time I went to my Soundcloud page and saw those vocals that I'd created to go with the voices of Etienne and his friends. Only then and for a brief moment that nagging thing became "oh what about them?" and "I wish we could do their song with them". The moment was short and got drowned by the excitement of the collaboration, the excitement of the anticipated surprise and all the other usual business of my on and offline life.

We finally had a finished song, wow, a collaborative song written in France and sung and arranged across countries and states. I think that was a taste of the elation that artists feel or that of a sports team winning an important match. Etienne's reaction -- at least in his tweets as I understood them -- added to the brilliance of the moment. I asked him if he would create a new one -- looks like others did too. I asked him because I wanted to encourage him but also because I genuinely thought that the song was beautiful and that he was talented and should continue. I thought "We can do this again and again and better every time".


When I saw Simon's tweet about Etienne's new song "Regrets" I smiled :) . I felt happy that he felt comfortable and inspired to create something for us, I was glad that he had us as audience, fans. Something was different though. This time I didn't jump to action.

I think the time between finishing the first song and receiving the second one allowed the sense of excitement to calm down and allow something else to come up. I can't say that I knew what it was or that I even noticed. All I know is that this time I couldn't jump in and do anything.

I watched the twitter chat. Someone started a new Soundtrap project for the new song, some people were invited to collaborate on it. Kevin tweeted about inviting me to add some vocals. Someone asked to be let in on  the project. I watched but still couldn't jump in. 

When Kevin invited me to contribute with some vocals to the project, the sense of excitement about a collaborative work kicked in again -- I love working collaboratively, especially with the right people. Whoa, the song sounded amazing. Kevin had mentioned what he had in mind for my part but I wasn't sure what it exactly meant until I heard his arrangement and all of a sudden it just came out. I finished my part, Bryan added some more and Ronald made some extra changes adding and editing then Kevin added a final touch. I couldn't believe how it all sounded. This song sounds so good that I would buy it :)  .  But

Suddenly, I don't want Etienne to hear the song. He shouldn't even know that we have finished it. Suddenly I know what was nagging me and I know that this time I cannot ignore it. One of the things that allowed me to get to this point is how I felt before I was invited to participate and then how I felt after I was invited after I experienced what we were able to achieve.

Before I was invited I couldn't jump in because this time I knew that the song was going to be a project. There were experts on using the Soundtrap and playing instruments. Once I was in I enjoyed it a lot. This made me think. Working on Road Trip individually then as a group to me felt like a celebration of Etienne's creativity. Our finished work was a gift to honor his talent and his teacher's intention. 

I thought that gift was like opening a door for Etienne -- not sure how to express a door to what, but may be to a new space where he sees his talent in a different way, a door to confidence is his art -- and I think writing a second one at our request was a step in that space. But then the second time around is not going to be a surprise, and to me it doesn't feel like we are honoring him anymore. yes I know that celebrating and honoring his talent may be our intention, but to me it feels like we asked him for a beautiful new thing to play with, then closed the door that we'd opened. He couldn't even  watch from the window as we had fun creating some magic with his song. We closed the door and let him wait while we had a party.

I think what we created is beautiful but we got carried away and forgot our original intention. I think that Etienne should be in on all the fun. Even lead it. If he doesn't know how to use the Soundtrap we can teach him what we know. We can always share our with him later or keep it for ourselves if it's more appropriate. I thin this time we should wait.

Ok this turned out to be longer than I intended but when I read it aloud it sounds very close to what I want to say. So it stays this way. At least for now :)

I would love for you to challenge me or question my assumptions or whatever if that's what you want. If you don't agree say so. And of course if you do agree also say so :)


  1. I understand your feelings.

    IMHO what's happened is what's happening all over the web. People copy, reverse engineer, remix, alter whatever they find on the web.
    Sometimes sources aren't even recognizable anymore.

    You could say this is a kind of theft, but it's what has happened in all ages since humans started to make art / artifacts.
    People look, admire, copy, remix etc.

    We tell stories that are thousands of years old in new versions. We sing songs of love over and over again. We paint and photographe the same things again and again.

    So in a way you could say we took Etienne's moment of brilliance and went our own way with it.
    Then again, it's Etienne's spark that made it start. It's our talent to spot the spark for its value and our effort that made it into what it became.

    Good stuff always has got many mothers and many fathers.
    As Newton said "I could see further because I could stand on the shoulders of giants"

    Nobody is completely original. We copy and remix every day of our life. And, yes, that's okay IMHO.

    1. First, I apologize again for the misspelling. It was very late and I was trying to finish it before going to sleep (bad decision).

      What I understand is that
      1- you think that my post is about ethics or even legality (may be?). You mentioned the word theft.
      2- you are defending the natural process of copying and remixing what we admire and like.

      1- Is my understanding correct?
      2- If yes, what did I say in the post that meant that to you?

      I agree with you that nobody is completely original and that we copy and remix all the time. I agree that it is natural and will even say that it is absolutely necessary for development, innovation even for survival. Whether that all copying and mixing is ethical or not is another discussion :) and a difficult question to resolve for many.

    2. Yep. I think you understood what I was trying to say.

      Unethical might be when someone says she/he invented it while knowing that's not true.
      Often though we copy others' ideas unknowingly. Unconscious plagiarism.

      Reusing others' materials while giving them credit for with they've done, is how science works. We constantly read works by others, cite them and build new research in their results.

      In art a similar process is active. Has always been that way. That's how genres form and new genres get invented by building upon old traditions.

    3. I am still not sure what I said in the post that gave you the impression that I was talking about ethics or legality. To make it easier, that is not what i was talking about at all for a very simple but important reason. I knew that we had their permission to use the song. The issue of unethical use was not even there . :)

  2. Hi Maha. I think I understand your feelings and I share them up to a point. I didn't have any expectations when I shared Etienne and Loic's song. When they wrote the second one they were very motivated and excited. And other students around them shared their excitement. I told them that I didn't want to share their new song - it was for Etienne and Loic to do so if they wanted. I have urged them to share their own feelings - so that it is their voices not those of intermediaries. Etienne does not yet have a microphone which he is happy with. Things have gone so quickly there is a lot of catching up to do. The door is open to them - I am not worried about that - they will decide how they want to take this on in the future. My short-term objectives have been reached:

    1) They realise that they have real talent.
    2) They realise that there are people out there who would love to do music or other stuff with them.
    3)They have provided a model for others to follow in their own way.
    4) Their songs have become part of a dynamic which I am working hard to nurture - self-directed - hybrid - connected learning.
    4)They have a meaningful means by which to develop their competences if they wish to.

    They will soon get fed up and want to do stuff in their own time with/for those they choose :-)

    They will do what they want.

    Their example is one of many in the CLAVIER project -

    Teaching others to play music

    Teaching others to paraglide

    Sharing our contexts

    Sharing gifts

    Trainee teachers teaching students

    CLAVIER history

    Physical Visits.

    Sharing professional experiences.

    Thank you for helping us help others learn that there are generous, thoughtful, talented, compassionate, passionate people who may enrich our world if only we dare reach out towards them.

    1. I wonder what that point is. :) I wonder if you too understand my feelings to be about the ethics of using the song.

      In any case I would like to thank you because some of the information that you gave me here, added to what Kevin mentioned about having worked with them on Sountrap, makes me feel much better.

      Believe it or not, I read your reply so fast the first time that I didn't realize that the list of 5 points were short term objectives that you felt you achieved. I thought they were your reply to my concerns :) and I thought "oh wow, he does understand what I mean" . lol I hope this is not too confusing. In any case your short term objectives that you achieved ease my mind about half of the story.

      By the way, to me , working on the first song was also honoring you, their teacher who brought them in.

      Thank you for the list of the other students' contributions. I started watching them.

  3. Ah yes. He didn't create the song for you, he created it for his English class work. He is hoping for a good mark. Unlike some of us - making music is easier for him than other things which other students are doing. All the class are benefiting from Etienne and Loic's muisc - during the class!!

  4. I am so thankful for this post, Maha.
    I love that you question the nature of things, and while I feel sort of defensive about the whole venture (hey, I was the one who took the song in that direction and invited you in), I realize how narrow-sighted I can become when I get excited about a project like this. I know I worked from the heart -- that I was hoping to honor the words and music, but it didn't occur to me until I read your post that we might be trampling on their art by taking it and remaking it.
    Still, I hope that he sees it as honoring his writing, with global connections, in a collaborative atmosphere. He might just think we are a bunch of nuts that his teacher knows (maybe some truth there) but as I was working with his lyrics and chords (which he shared via Google Doc), it occurred to me that when I was starting to write songs, I had no one but me to listen. Maybe my cat, at times. I try to imagine that feeling of someone across the world taking a song I wrote at that age and taking it further.
    It's a strange, new world.
    As I mentioned in a tweet, he did put his original version of Regret into Soundtrap and invited me in, and I added bass and keyboards to it. It was pretty raw, and I felt the collaborative desire to tighten it up into a pop song. I had this vision of Simon sharing the final version, including Terry's Zeega, as a gift from across the world, from us to him and his classmates who sang on the video version. I still feel that way.
    I hope he does, too.
    But maybe you're right: maybe we should have had him in that mix with us, right from the start, so he could see and participate and maybe argue for or against choices we were making with his art.

    1. I really appreciate your reflection both in this comment and on your blog, kevin. It's very generous and kind of you to address some of what you think are my concerns by sharing your side of the story, even while you, directly or indirectly, disagree with me.

      I am going to respond here to both your comment and your blog post for now.

      This is what I understand and where I get my impressions from:
      You think that my concerns are related to who has rights over the song, who has the right to mix it, share it, decide how it is arranged etc.. concerns, again to do with ethics or more.

      This is some of what you said that gave me that impression

      From this comment you say
      " it didn't occur to me until I read your post that we might be trampling on their art by taking it and remaking it."
      "But maybe you're right: maybe we should have had him in that mix with us, right from the start, so he could see and participate and maybe argue for or against choices we were making with his art"

      From the blog post
      " The song is theirs, not ours"
      "This friend wondered if we had not taken away something special from the art itself by remixing it."
      " but I recognize my friend’s trepidation of determining where the line is between the writer and their audience."
      "It was not theft or misuse of ideas, in my opinion." (wow, it is scary what gets lost in translation. Just in case, I am not blaming any of you for losing anything :). I am just reflecting on how the meaning of my thoughts changed so much when I put them in a written form.)

      Do I understand you correctly? If I do then consider this
      What if I tell you that those are Not my concerns? What if I tell you who has the right to the song is not what I was talking about and that it never even came to my mind? Can you see any other meaning?

      I don't mean to make this sound like a quiz :) I am just curious.

      I know that you worked from the heart, I believe we all did. I still feel the collaboration was a celebration of their talent and sharing and a gift to honor it and I am sure they know that even if they don't use those same words :)
      I didn't know that you had done anything with them on Sountrap but I am really glad you did.
      For teachers to be inspired by students is powerful yes, it is also exciting and humbling. Also, it would be almost a compliment to be thought of as this kind of "nuts" by students. :)

  5. Good remarks by all of you.

    I just thought of a quote allegedly by Da Vinci "a piece of art is never finished. It's just abandoned at a certain moment."
    This moment of abandoning is where others may take it up to make more art out of what's there.

    Even Picasso copied from many others. He encouraged us to do so too in order to learn from others.

    Even Michael Jackson copied from others and made everlasting hits with these others' inspirational moments.

    We did tell from the beginning where the original lyrics and melody came from, so we acted properly on that account IMHO.

  6. I kept thinking about your post. And then I wrote this today:
    Thanks for getting me in a reflective mode ...

  7. I am commenting on my own blog before responding to explain what I am doing in my replies.
    I think I understand what you are all saying in general, but parts of the comments are very confusing to me or at least came as a surprise, which is ok :) so what I am trying to do is summarize what I understood from your comments and I will ask questions to clarify what I am not sure of.

  8. My post was never about copyright, intellectual property or anything related to that. My post was about inclusion and in the spirit of Connected Learning. All I wanted to do, as I said at the end of the post, was Wait. Not wait to take permission but wait until we asked the students to join us and be part of a collaborative experience. Their teacher brought them in, they took a step with him and I just wanted that we say “come in. why don't you join us? Let's learn and create together. How about you show us what you have in mind for your song and we will help you and work with you with contributions and opinion?”. I wanted them to have a collaborative connected learning experience where students and teachers learn together and from each other.

    I am writing this comment to my own post for anyone who happens to stumble on it. My intention is to finally say in a very clear way what my post was really about as well as, make a record of my reflections and some of what I learned from this experience, hopefully it can be of benefit to someone.

    It's been 6 days since I last responded to the comments. So much for thinking out loud and sharing thoughts! So much for trying to have a conversation! :/

    What I learned from this experience:
    1- One thing that I knew for which this serves as a case in point: Metaphors and allegories are tricky and imperfect, they can be interpreted in so many ways. When they are pointing to something that is potentially negative they can even be dangerous.
    2- If my thoughts are not about the great things that people have done, I should keep names out, which is something that I usually do and it's part of my culture. The idea is not to shame anyone but to point out something for improvement. The challenge in this case was that I didn't think of it as something to be ashamed of. I think we were all working from the heart and just forgot, in our excitement, to be more inclusive, as we usually do as educators.
    3- May be it is not such a good idea to think publicly in writing, especially when I am in a hurry or feel stressed in any way. Even if I write my thoughts, may be better to keep the post private until I am clear about what I want to say and how I need to say it. In hindsight, all I needed to say was "hey friends, how about we invite them to create one version with us before we give them the one we've already created?". Unfortunately at the time my mind hadn't yet formulated that sentence from all the thoughts and feelings that I had.

    There is more, but the rest I can right about separately and in general as they are related to a wider set of experiences.

    Lastly, as I am still unable to see how my words got interpreted to be an accusation of misuse, theft etc. (all related to intellectual property which never even crossed my mind because I trusted their teacher and because the student was already in on it), I decided to post a copy of this post somewhere else but without the names. I will then invite two of my trusted friends to review it without giving them any information about the reactions that I received or the resulting comments. I want them to interpret the post on their own. One is a native speaker of English while the other is not and they come from two different cultures.

    Why? Partly because I am still in shock at how the post was interpreted. But, beyond that, I am also curious at how others, who know me, would interpret it. Coming to think of it I may ask more than two to add to the variety of cultures. Lol I am turning a sad ending into a mini research. And yes I do think it is sad.