BIT Studio

April 30, 2015

PhD in Music

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 9:45 am

  The completion of a doctoral program typically involves a commitment of four or five years. The first two years, as a doctoral student, are comprised of taking graduate courses and doing preparatory work for dissertation subject submission and approval. The final two or three years, as a doctoral candidate, are spent researching and writing the dissertation paper and preparing for the ultimate oral defence of the thesis.

I have been accepted into the doctoral program at York University, beginning September 2015, for a PhD, Music.

The Music Department at York is well-known for its ethnomusicology focus as well as having a long and successful international presence in jazz education, composition and performance. The professorial support at York provides many possible areas of study that are simply not available anywhere else. In addition to having access to state-of-the-art musical expertise, the Schulich School of Business is also available for studying aspects of arts administration.

It is an honour and a privilege for me to become a part of the York team. I look forward to working with professors, fellow doctoral students, and undergrad students as a teaching assistant.



January 1, 2015


Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 11:52 am

Musicking, Science and Health

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Berger, Dorita S. 2015. Eurhythmics for Autism and Other Neurophysiologic Diagnoses: A Sensorimotor Music-Based Treatment Approach. pp. 177. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Campbell, Pat, and Higgins, Lee. 2015. Intersections between ethnomusicology, music education, and community music. Pettan, Svanibor, and Titon, Jeff Todd, (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology. New York, Oxford University Press, pp. 638-688.

Chan, Serena. 2001. Complex Adaptive Systems (PDF). Research Seminar in Engineering Systems. Accessed February 2, 2016.

Daykin, Norma. 2012. Developing Social Models for Research and Practice in Music, Arts, and Health: A Case Study of Research in a Mental Health Setting, Chapter 5. Music, Health, and Wellbeing. Oxford University Press.

Elliott, David James. 1995. Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education. New York: Oxford University Press.

Elliott, David James, and Silverman, Marissa. 2012. Why Music Matters: Philosophical and Cultural Foundations. Music, Health and Wellbeing. Oxford University Press.

Elliott, David James, and Silverman, Marissa. 2015. Music Matters: A Philosophy of Music Education. Oxford University Press, (Second edition).

Florida, Richard. (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class: And How its transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Perseus Book Group.

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Grant, Peter. 2011. The UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity: Cultural Policy and International Trade in Cultural Products, Chapter 21. The Handbook of Global Media and Communications Policy. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. (First Edition).

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December 1, 2014

iThink Funding

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 2:55 pm

  In a recent blog, Marissa Silvermann suggests that the proliferation of misleading claims in support of music education may do more damage than good, undermining the true value of the arts in education. Advocacy in the form of anecdotal and qualitative stories tend to limit the impact of more meaningful studies.

The importance of the arts in education, especially music, is enormous. The justification for music education programs must be objective and tangible leaving no doubt that society and business require the thought processes developed through music study as fundamental tools for building a better world.

Integrative Thinking (iThink) is the foundation of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (rated in the top ten business schools in the world) and is one of the first methodologies to tackle leadership and creativity in an academic business setting. Since its introduction in 2000, it has steadily gained credibility and is now promoted worldwide as a creative learning method under the iThink canopy.

Music education has implemented the basic concepts of the iThink method for over 40 years. It is no coincidence that musicians have gone on in their lives to become successful leaders and innovators. The big-picture approach to music (iThink: salience, causality, architecture) and its subjective nature (iThink: abductive reasoning) develop the leadership skills and creativity that are often missed in the study of sciences alone.

The infrastructure and curriculum for iThink-based music education programs are already in place and ready for expansion. Governments are constantly searching for ways to improve the urban landscape of their communities (e.g. the Creative Class, Richard Florida) as well as foster an environment of entrepreneurship and business innovation. Their most efficient path to success may be as simple as increasing investment and support for music education.

Integrative Thinking provides a tangible link between music education and government-friendly business initiatives.

November 5, 2014


Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 3:02 pm

  STEM is an acronym used in current education policy and curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – to address and stimulate a sector of education that is perceived to have been in decline for decades. Successive governments have lined up behind the technical focus and, as Wikipedia puts it, “It has implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy.”

In recent years, the exclusionary premise of STEM’s tech-only focus inspired the rise of a new acronym STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics – in an attempt to bring the study of the humanities (art, reading, writing, music, design, etc.) back into the educational spotlight. Websites such as STEM to STEAM ( provide links to resources, press releases and case studies (for example, Sesame Street + STREAM and RSID Foundation Studies) in support of the movement.

Vince Bertram, in a recent article in the Huffington Post (, argues that the energy spent on competing acronyms (i.e., changing STEM to STEAM, STREAM, or SEA) is misguided. “If that is the debate, we are clearly missing the point. It’s not about adding to the acronym, but instead adding to the relevancy of learning. It’s about showing students how technical concepts relate to real-world situations and providing them with hands-on projects and problems that help them apply concepts in a new context. It’s about nurturing students’ curiosity and helping them develop creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. STEM isn’t simply the subjects in the acronym. It’s an engaging and exciting way of teaching and learning.” He goes on to make a case for STEM subjects being fundamentally important for growth in the arts, and vice versa.

The Arts & Science core curriculum has been the backbone of educational institutions everywhere since the concept of higher learning evolved, and a well-rounded education requires study in both. It is not about choosing “arts or science” or “arts not science” or “science not art” and, although the STEM movement has provided a much-needed rallying cry for an improvement in educational standards, perhaps a more inclusionary title might have been better received.

Study of the arts brings the powerful variable of subjectivity to the table, and it is that component that opens the door to unlimited possibilities. Removing the burden of deductive logic (scientific method) from the initial analysis of any problem provides the seed for creativity to grow. The Integrative Thinking methodology inherent in artistic study provides an infrastructure that fosters the creative and analytical thought processes required in all aspects of life. Problem solving and critical thinking skills are developed and honed over time through the repeated application of creative structured thinking. This is how study in the arts improves the potential success of study in the sciences.

The STEM versus STEAM argument may just be an exercise in semantics. However, we need both Arts & Science, and evidence shows that STEAM is best for improving the creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills of our youth.


October 3, 2014

Sunday in the Park with iThink

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 4:15 pm

  Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, produced in 1984 to commemorate the 1884 centenary release of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, is an artist’s view into the creative process. Sondheim uses pointillism to illuminate the human condition on issues such as back-to-basics (primary colours only), perception (distance mixes primary colours), perspective (big-picture thinking) and individuality (varied and plentiful opinions).

It is the story of Georges Seurat at work on his famous painting, taking it from conception through production to marketing. The show begins with George standing centerstage in front of a white screen, which slowly reveals components of his work-in-progress.

“White. A blank page or canvas.
The challenge: bring order to the whole.
Through design.
And harmony.
So many possibilities.”

Integrative Thinking: The “blank page” symbolizes the simplicity and freedom of unrestricted options (iThink: abductive logic, generative reasoning). The show leads the audience through the landscape of “so many possibilities” (iThink: salience), enhancing some and eliminating others as relationships between the salient points are established and analysed (iThink: causality). “Bit by bit, putting it together,” George assembles the components into his painting while continuing to add new material and dispose of old material as required (iThink: architecture).

The final work (iThink: resolution) presents itself only after the ladder of salience, causality, architecture and resolution has been incrementally ascended and descended many, many times measuring and assessing the nuances of design, colour, position, scope, tension, plot, balance, light and harmony each step of the way. The challenge of bringing order to the whole is accomplished by maintaining the objective of a big-picture solution while processing a broad base of salient points.

George’s driven quest for the best solution (i.e. not a compromise of unwanted offerings, A or B) exhibits characteristics of the “opposable mind,” able to hold many possibilities in place while working toward a resolution.

Stephen Sondheim is one of America’s most creative and innovative artistic minds. It is not a leap of faith to assume that the creative process imposed on Georges Seurat is that of Sondheim himself. The brilliance of his work can only be a result his passion (iThink: stance), his talent (iThink: tools) and years of dedication (iThink:experience).

The show ends with a recap of the opening lines as a young George (Georges Seurat’s alleged grandson) and Dot (Georges Seurat’s alleged girlfriend, speaking through her diary) reflect on the landscape of today’s artistic world, i.e. the state of the art.

“White. A blank page or canvas.
His favourite.
So many possibilities…”

Integrative Thinking at work.

Georges Seurat - Sunday in the Park

September 16, 2014

Music & iThink

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 1:42 pm

  Bennett Reimer is a legend in music education circles. His book, A Philosophy of Music Education (1970), became a cornerstone in the industry and launched his career as a specialist in the curriculum development of comprehensive arts education programs everywhere. His music textbooks for early grades were some of the most widely used in the world for twenty years. He promoted the teaching of good quality music through a student’s experience in 1) performance, 2) analysis, utilizing the basic elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, tone colour, texture and form, and 3) critical listening.

Reimer’s work helped us understand why we like the music that we tend to like. That is, if you enjoy a piece of music, deconstruct it, pull apart the basic elements, put it back together, then listen to it again with a higher level of knowledge. The analysis would sometimes deepen appreciation, often for reasons originally unconsidered, and at other times would reveal the work as unworthy.

It is the subjective nature inherent in music appreciation that creates such a wide range and blend of likes and dislikes. A “right or wrong,” “A or B,” or “this or that” answer is often elusive when dealing with personal opinions, favouring instead many neutral shades of grey. The Reimer method accepts the premise of individuality but grounds it in analysis and an appreciation for other possibilities.

Similarly, Roger Martin’s Integrative Thinking methodology takes the student through the initial assessment (subjectivity, abductive logic, generative reasoning, or “gut-feel”) and follows with a rigorous analysis up and down the chain of salience, causality, architecture and resolution, constantly examining and adjusting inputs and outcomes. The world of business rarely has the luxury of perfect information and good decisions are even less likely to be the sole result of deductive reasoning. Just like music education, the final assessment of the resolution returns to the state of abductive reasoning, but it is grounded in analysis and an even deeper appreciation for other possibilities. The Integrative Thinker learns and matures through this process realizing that individuality and informed choices are all that we really have.

Bennett Reimer passed away in 2013. His legacy is profound and some of his philosopher-followers have refined and expanded upon his foundation of performing, analysing and listening to include composing, improvising and conducting. Without exception, all of these improvements employ the methodology of Integrative Thinking.

The study of music continues to be one of the best methods for developing creativity and leadership skills.

Bennett Reimer

September 2, 2014

The Natural

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 11:58 am

  Steve Wallace is awesome – string bass virtuoso, blogger extraordinaire, humble humanist, wit galore. Today we examine his left hand. It wanders, and in a good way.

It strays from the bass fingerboard the way Roberto Luongo strays from the net. Or the way Jacoby Ellsbury strays from first base. Steve’s left hand likes to stray from the fingerboard to turn tuning pegs.

Depending on the piece, Steve will retune his strings 5 or 6 times per minute, deftly moving his hand from fingerboard to pegs in milliseconds. It is exciting to watch because his timing and taste are impeccable, and you almost want him to make a mistake, but he doesn’t. He never misses an entry – perfect notes, perfect rhythm, flawless performance.

So, why does he do it? My theory lies in physics. Not the conscious kind of physics requiring analysis and thought, but the kind of physics that thousands of hours and mountains of talent have transformed into something as natural as breathing.

Instruments tuned to equal temperament, such as the piano, can never be in tune with the natural harmonic series. By design, the intervals (5ths, 4ths, 3rds and 2nds) that lay between the tonics are arrived at mathematically to provide an equal distance between each semitone in the chromatic scale.



The above staff illustrates a natural harmonic series from low C (1st harmonic) through high C (16th harmonic). The plus/minus figures above each harmonic represent the pitch deviation between equal temperament and the natural harmonic series. For example, harmonic number 5, representing the interval of a major 3rd above the tonic, resonates 14 cents below the equal temperament major 3rd. That is, if a piano is tuned to A=440 Hz, the major third above A in equal temperament would be C#=554 Hz. However, that same major 3rd in the natural harmonic series would be C#=540 Hz representing a substantial 12% deviation in pitch.

Why does this matter? Let’s say that Steve is playing a jazz standard in the key of Bb (such as One Note Samba or My Foolish Heart or 12 Bar Blues) and he chooses to play his open D string. If the piano is playing a root Bb chord, Steve’s D (the major 3rd) is 14 cents sharper than it should be. If the piano is playing a three chord (a D minor or D major), the note is exactly in tune. If the piano is playing a six chord (a G minor or a G major), the note is 2 cents flatter. When appropriate and more so in ballads than bebop, Steve will twist the tuning peg to make the open-string pitch work within the chord.

The open strings on an upright bass are the notes E, A, D and G. It is a monstrously cerebral exercise to calculate how the pitch of each open string can be represented in every chord in any given key signature. As a tune moves forward through its chord progression, finding a pitch compromise on the fly and making each note fit in the context of its root and inversion is almost impossible. Yet the best of the best do this for us, albeit sometimes unconsciously, and it is these micro-adjustments and attention to detail that elevate our appreciation of music.

Art isn’t easy.

I know that if I was to ask Steve to confirm this roaming, flying-fingerboard, pitch theory he would say “What?” and with a confident smile shift the subject to the Toronto Blue Jays. Thank you, Steve Wallace, for doing what you do so very well.



August 13, 2014

Notre Dame

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 9:14 am

 My wife Michelle and I spent a few days in France on our honeymoon. One of the most intellectually exciting and musical moments came to us at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Construction of the church began in 1163 and Notre Dame played a role in the evolution of Gregorian Chant (10th Century) into Renaissance (14th Century) and eventually into music as we know it today. The high ceilings and cool stone architecture made it the acoustic gem of the era, appealing to the fundamentals of not only our deepest beliefs, but also the root of all sound.

It was a dark and relatively-clear night; no rain. The church was about to close and the crowd had dwindled to just a few stragglers. We decided to give the legendary acoustics a test run.

I was a tenor in my youth able to hit high A’s on a good day, but time relegated me to baritone. Michelle, a torch singer from years gone by, has a deep mezzo vocabulary. We decided that between us we had the makings of some serious fundamentals – all in the key of G.

I started with my best note, a G on the 2nd harmonic. It was low enough but it needed some work to meld itself into the nooks and crannies of the stone walls. After a minute, and several much-needed deep breaths, Michelle joined in with a D on the 3rd harmonic. We took our time to work on pitch and tone and after another minute or so we found each other. Then it happened!

From the ceiling came a hint of the major third (B), the 5th harmonic, but it disappeared quickly. We locked eyes and focused on the task at hand – pitch and tone, pitch and tone. Then it came back, this time with a taste of the 4th harmonic, the octave above my low G.

By now we were breathing together in slow drawn out phrases of about six seconds each, grabbing quick breaths and starting new notes before the old ones had a chance to dissipate. Our open-fifth drone began to feed upon itself and as the faux chorus-effect kicked in, the heavens erupted in a rainbow of new notes.

With the major third (5th harmonic) and tonic (4th harmonic) solidified, the D one octave above Michelle (6th harmonic) began to resonate. And then beyond belief, the minor seventh (F) appeared!

From the 12th century, the 7th harmonic became the basis for the next 500 years of western music evolution. The augmented 4th relationship between the third of the chord (B) and the minor seventh (F) creates the harmonic tension inherent in the cycle of fifths and all secondary-dominant chord progressions. Referred to by the Renaissance-era church as the “devil in music” (perhaps it lead to dancing?), the augmented 4th is the foundation of the tension-release forward motion found in the baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century, jazz and pop styles.

Pitch and tone, pitch and tone – it was hypnotic, spellbinding, thrilling. Passersby watched and seemed entertained but likely had no idea of the significance of the moment nor the history of what, almost 1000 years ago, would have been a truly religious experience. Pope Gregory would have been proud.

Yeah, just yanking your chain here. We would have loved to have enjoyed this acoustic adventure, but when we visited Notre Dame Cathedral we did not go inside. The line-up to get in stretched across the main square all the way to the next bridge, so we left. But it would have been a lot of fun!

Mofocal & Smartcar

Mofocal and Smartcar in Nice, France.

July 31, 2014

Aerobic Chops

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 11:10 am

  The practicing of a musician can be compared to the training of an athlete; both develop a specialized collection of muscles to do an exacting task. Competitive level sports and professional level music place very high demands upon the control and manipulation of specific muscles. Each instrument, like each sport, requires the development of a set of muscles unique to that particular instrument or activity.

Endurance training is a process by which the circulatory system becomes stronger and better able to distribute oxygen to the muscular system. This type of exercise is often called “aerobic training” and it has a profound effect on the circulatory system at the lung, heart, artery and muscle fibre levels.

Athletes have used endurance training as an integral part of their “cross-training” routines for many years. By developing muscles remote from those unique to their particular sport, they tend to see a general improvement in the sport-specific muscles as well. Musicians, in the pursuit of minute localized improvements, can be easily distracted from this big-picture approach.

The skeletal muscle system is composed of two main types of muscle fibres and each exhibits different contractile properties. They are referred to as slow twitch (type 1) and fast twitch (type 2). Slow twitch muscles are generally responsible for coordination, balance and maintaining an upright stance – the “anti-gravity” muscles.  Sports such as long distance running or cycling are predominantly slow-twitch muscle activities. Weight lifting, sprinting and most racquet sports tend to use the fast twitch muscles.

The distribution of slow and fast fibres is mixed throughout any single muscle and the ratio will vary by sport (that is, individuals showing success in sprinting, long distance running, shot putting, swimming, etc.) and muscle location (such as hand, arm, chest, leg, etc.). All studies so far indicate that for the most part, the mix of slow and fast fibre content is genetically determined and relatively fixed.

It is the fast-twitch muscles that are associated with a musician’s performance technique. There are two types – 2a and 2b. Fast-twitch type 2a is unique in that it offers a fast contraction time but it is relatively resistant to fatigue.  In physiological terms, it has the same high activity of myosin ATPase (needed for speed) but with a slightly less intense glycolytic enzyme system (consumption rate). Also, the greater mitochondrial activity gives it a much higher oxidative potential. This means that fast-twitch type 2a fibres combine a fast contraction time with a fast recovery time.

Why is this important to musicians? Although the ratio of fast to slow twitch muscles may be fixed, the subclasses within the fast-twitch family CAN be altered through endurance training. Tests have shown that the aerobic potential of fast-twitch muscles can be increased by not only improving the endurance of existing type 2a muscles, but also by converting inefficient type 2b muscles to type 2a.

Endurance training (jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, etc.) provides an excellent environment for overall muscle fibre improvement. Creating and maintaining an aerobic system through this type of activity raises the performance level and density of fast-twitch type 2a muscle fibres. This improves muscular response and endurance capability, which for the musician translates directly into improved control, reaction time and stamina.

Simply put, your chops need endurance training. They do not need a lot, but they need enough to initiate a sequence of events that will support and promote aerobic activity at the muscle fibre level. Endurance training will never replace practicing and hard work, but it will establish a solid foundation upon which to build a successful performance.

Photo © Heather Perry

July 3, 2014

Breathe Deep

Filed under: MUSIC — webmaster @ 11:24 am

 Michael Phelps, swim legend, was rumoured to have a lung capacity of 12.0 litres. Peter Reed, a British Olympic rower, was able to inhale 9.38 litres of air. Usain Bolt and Lance Armstrong have approximately 7.0 litres. Some wind instrument players have recorded a lung capacity of up to 7.0 litres but most singers and instrumentalists are equipped with 4.0 to 6.0 litres. The average person may carry well under 4.0 liters and this is quite normal and adequate for day-to-day activity.

In the world of musical performance, the art of breathing is less about volume than it is about efficient utilization and control. Just as muscle fibres can be adapted through endurance training (improved quality and quantity of fast twitch type 2a fibres), the ins and outs of breathing can be improved dramatically through simple activities such as jogging, swimming, cycling or walking.

The diaphragm is the principle muscle of inspiration. To inhale, the abdominal muscles relax, the abdomen protrudes, the thoracic cavity (chest) volume increases and the lungs expand. In a normal breath, the diaphragm vertically drops about one and a half centimetres. During deep breathing, the diaphragm may drop ten centimeters.  The ability to breathe deeply is not only a matter of chest expansion but also one of the ability to pull the diaphragm downward.

The diaphragm’s natural contraction is during inhalation, relying on the elasticity of the system to expire the air. While exercising, the circulatory system strives to maintain an aerobic environment by stimulating the muscles involved in breathing to become more active. As demand for oxygen is increased, the muscles involved in inspiration increase in activity, which then initiates activity in the muscles involved in expiration, reducing the dependence on elasticity. Both become involved in controlling the rate with which the other contracts.

With prolonged work, the two types are stimulated into more and more action until they reach a state of equilibrium where one plays off of the other. Breathing becomes less a function of elasticity as it does of muscular control. Because the diaphragm is the main muscle involved in inspiration, it too becomes the main muscle involved in expiration. With exercise, the diaphragm builds its endurance as well as its power to control changes in the air column.

But breath control is not just about size and muscles. To maintain an aerobic state, it is just as important to fully expire used air as it is to inspire new air. Shallow breathing fails to eliminate the used air from deep alveoli pockets. The unexpired air will continue to service the blood supply but the oxygen content of this air will continue to fall. Shallow breathing increases the likelihood of lactic acid creation and anaerobic activity.

Likewise, rapid and/or unnecessary lung activity reduces efficiency. Not only does rapid breathing lower the likelihood of deep breaths, but the increased muscle activity wastes energy and again increases the likelihood of an anaerobic state.

Breathing deeply is important in BOTH inspiration and expiration.

Realistically, it is difficult to maintain a constant state of optimized “aerobic” breathing. But by being aware of the benefits of breath control (aerobic stimulation, efficiency, relaxation) and by practicing deep breathing while endurance training (slow and steady with full expiration), it becomes the natural tendency in daily activity as well as performance.

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