>> write // blaaaags and reflections // four degrees by thirty


Experiencing Academia
I am most fortunate to be able to make a living by learning and working in academic settings. I seem to take to all things academia in the same way that a duck takes to water, or a bird takes to air, or … (insert your favorite cliche here). This path might seem entirely logical for those who majored in the liberal arts during their undergraduate studies and for those who currently work in academia, but I ended up taking a more adventurous, circuitous route. Along the way, I learned a lot about myself and I discovered a love for intellectual exercise.

Liberal Arts as a Means of Lifelong Learning
After graduating from high school, I entered the Jazz Studies program at Capilano College. Robert Fripp, a musician whom I deeply respect for his views and philosophies, predicted at a young age that a path in music would make for an excellent education in the liberal arts. I concurred with Fripp’s assessment and I too embarked on a journey that would begin with formal music studies.

While I identify vocationally and professionally primarily as a musician and as a teacher, and while most of my post-secondary education seems to be related or allied in one way or another to the field of music, I wanted to expand my thinking and to broaden my horizons beyond the music stage, the music studio, and the music classroom. I suppose that I have taken to the idea that a path of academic pursuit including the liberal arts would make for an excellent life education. Period.

Perhaps, at two undergraduate degrees, two graduate degrees, a diploma, and a certificate later (and maybe more), the acquisition of “higher education” is the goal and that these degrees are merely social and paper indicators of some sort of achievement. Why on earth would I subject myself to untold amounts of reading books, writing papers, verbal exams, and synthesis projects? And, why would I continue to spend money on tuition when I may have sufficient “education” in order to do my work well? Did I already mention that I love to learn?

Acquiring multiple degrees might be uncommon in the secular world where education might be seen as a means toward an end. In other words, attaining a university degree should set someone up for a life of work and employment in a particular field. For my generation, it seems more likely that over the course of a lifetime, people will move from one field or discipline to another a number of times. To me, being flexible, adaptable, and ready for inevitable change means being conversant in a number of different fields and disciplines. I enjoy seeing the commonalities between these fields and making connections between between academic disciplines.

Humble Reminders
At each step of my pursuit of more education, the sheer thrill of learning, of meeting some very fascinating people, and of the opportunity to share my experiences with my peers reminded me of how blessed I was to have had access to education and to have been able to financially afford these opportunities. I realize that not all people are so lucky. I am also continually reminded of the support I have received from those who care for me and how these people have encouraged me to always strive forward. I hope that my accomplishments serve to bring honor to my family and friends, many of whom continue support me in countless ways in the present.

Caveat Lector
Before going any further, I hope that the reader does not see this written reflection as an exercise in self-indulgence or ego-inflation. As with all of my written reflections, the process of writing allows me to look more intentionally at my past choices to see how they have affected me in the present and how they might have bearing for the future.

I think this is all just the result of a process of trying to make meaning out of a life experience which often defies neat categories and structures. What you may find, as you read through, is a constant jumping and back and forth in time. I am sure that grammar mistakes have crept in along the way, and if you happen to find any, please let me know. The wonderful part of publishing in hypertext is that I can edit endlessly!

And, let me forewarn you, carissimi lectores, that the following text is quite verbose, in fact, probably unbearably and unnecessarily so. Though, if you can stomach a long and winding road with various roadside stops and hairpin turns to smell the air, see the sights, and hear the sounds, then hitch a ride and read along! There is a common theme present, and if you happen to find out what that thread is, let me know.

... top



Experiencing Academia
Liberal Arts as a Means of Lifelong Learning
Humble Reminders
Caveat Lector

Diploma in Jazz Studies
Unfriendly Competition
Teachers and Courses
Important Lessons
Creative Production Work

Certificate in Online Publishing

Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies
Sensing Jazz
Into Freelancing
New Possibilities

Bachelor of Education in Music Education
Teacher Education
A Sampling of Topics Covered in the Program
Practicum
Summer Classes

Master of Education in Music Education
Gangsta Rap, Alt-Rock, and Intellectual Curiosity
Meeting The MayDay Group
Money Matters
Shifting Interests: Diving Deep in Choral Music
Shifting Interests: Journal Editing
Shifting Interests: Academic Reorientations
Shifting Interests: One Last Try
Letting Go: So What? and Who Cares?
Letting Go: Not All Is Lost

Master of Theological Studies in Liturgical Studies
Why Study Theology?
A Rant About the Quality of Religious Education
Plainchant and Contemporary Christian Music
Making the Move and Taking a Risk
At a Noteworthy Period in United States History
Learning with/in Community
Practical Application of Studies in Music Ministry and Liturgical Music
Setting Psalms and Composing
Toward Lay Ecclesial Ministry
Back At One: Why Study Theology?

Master of Arts in Lasallian Studies
... the Story Continues


Diploma in Jazz Studies
(Capilano College: Fall 1997 - Spring 2000)

I was not really interested in jazz. But there were not any other available options, other than to attend Capilano College (colloquially known amongst students as Cap and now Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia), to study bass guitar in a systematic and academically legitimate way (other than through private lessons with individual teachers). I saw that learning jazz was a means toward learn something new and different and thereby could serve to expand my musical horizons. By immersing myself in jazz studies, I recognized a path to understanding other musics.

Unfriendly Competition
I met many wonderful and hard-working musicians in my first few days of study, most of whom decided to opt out of these practical courses to concentrate instead on private lessons and ensemble playing shortly after the first semester. The jazz studies department was a highly competitive environment: most of the musicians attending were either top musicians in their secondary school music program, or they came from secondary schools with renowned and respected music programs. As with any human organization, social hierarchies soon formed: players sorted one another out based on how competently one could manage Giant Steps at a blistering tempo and how proficiently one could blow through the changes when one’s turn to solo came up. While some chose to complete the academic requirements of the diploma, and, eventually the undergraduate degree, many of the players opted out completely and concentrated on practicing their instrument and playing sessions (jamming) as much as possible.

At the outset of the program, I also perceived biases against my chosen primary instrument, the bass guitar. Most of the large ensemble directors seemed to prefer the double bass rather than the bass guitar. And this was made apparent each semester the “chosen list” was posted on the department bulletin board. Of course, it could have simply been that I was not a well developed jazz player or that I did not have an impressive sound. As a young and impressionable young musician, however, I took being left off this list personally. This experience also made me more resilient: I vowed to stick with my bass guitar, to practice and play as much as possible, and to develop a sound that was representative of who I was becoming as a musician.

Teachers and Courses
I studied first with André Lachance and later with Chris Tarry, both of whom were instrumental (no pun intended!) in helping me to develop my sound. Many of my other teachers were also active freelance musicians, and they would often recall and share their stage and studio experiences in the classroom. Their practical experience made all of the theoretical learning that much more real. Also, their stories were just as valuable and entertaining as all of the theoretical knowledge that they shared freely with me.

Courses in ear training and transcription, in sight-reading, in traditional and jazz theory, in composition and arranging, in small ensembles, in private lessons, and in jazz improvisation allowed me to develop a practical musicianship that was readily applicable to a wide range of music genres. I also took additional lessons in voice and drum set. At the end of this course of study, I did not feel like I excelled in any of these areas, but I worked hard to achieve a basic competency in each.

Important Lessons
Surprisingly, all of the associated experiences outside of school that were concurrent to my studies (like gigging, traveling, meeting musicians, and forming projects) were, in many ways, just as important as the formal lessons I was receiving in the classroom. (It’s ironic, though, that I would end up devoting part of my career to teaching in a classroom!)

I remember receiving one such important “lesson” in the entrance foyer of the music department at Cap during my second year. I had just come from a demoralizing small ensemble class. I was no longer sure that the college music experience was suited me because I felt that I was an inferior player and I still felt no emotional attachment to jazz. My perception of the underlying negativity exhibited by fellow players (and even some teachers) through their snide remarks toward the bass guitar was starting to get to me. (In fairness, this was my own perception at that time.) A player that I had met during my first year, and one whom I deeply respected, gave me a pep talk. I explained my predicament.

Like most mature jazz players, he listened to what I had to say. He then supported me, as great jazz players do while they play, by saying: “Do what you want to do.” What he meant by this was for me to follow my passion and instinct for music and to be accountable to no one but myself. This verbal phrase was liberating for me and more freeing than any bebop phrase had done for me in the past. I regained a sense that I had made the right decision to study music and I decided to forge ahead.

Creative Production Work
Back during my first year, I co-formed the progressive pop-rock band Painted Blank along with guitarist Matt Rogers and drummer Shawn Killaly. Shawn had overheard Matt and I talking about King Crimson and Yes during a lull in our jazz history class. He was interested in jamming with us to see what could come of it. We also included Matt’s high school friend Sven Theunissen and fellow classmate and jazz voice major Dawn Pemberton to our mix. It was with this band where I was able to reconcile what I was learning at school with my previous interests in progressive rock.

I met singer and songwriter Mark Berube in a first year small ensemble class that I was playing drum set for during my second year of study. He showed me some of his original songs and I was impressed by his songwriting. After Sven quit Painted Blank, I invited Mark onboard and, in turn, I also agreed to be a part of his new trio which was dedicated to performing and recording his music. We ended up recording an entire disc of his material with the trio and I had the opportunity to co-produce the effort.

Later in our second year, Painted Blank was put on hiatus as we were all concentrating on various projects in addition to schoolwork. During this time, Matt and I connected with singer Amalia Townsend, an old high school acquaintance of mine. Having got our prog-rock on with Painted Blank, we wanted to write, produce, and play music that had more of a funk-jazz vibe thanks to a common interest in 1970s-era horn bands like Tower of Power and Earth, Wind, and Fire. It was also the style of music that would best reflect Amalia’s influences and that would best showcase her voice.

Both Mark and Amalia have since gone on to develop their music careers beyond these initial projects and today Matt enjoys a career as a successful producer and film composer. Dawn leads several groups in Vancouver and Sven, last I heard, was happily married with a child. Shawn continues to provide solid timekeeping in all of the various projects he is involved with. I was happy to have had the opportunity to learn from all of these artists. Painted Blank, meanwhile, may just resurface at some point.

During this fruitful time of music making and producing, I formed my record label, music publishing, and production companies called Iridium Records, Iridium Publishing, and Elemental MusicWorks to organize all of these musical activities and production projects. These companies remain active to this day whenever I am called upon to engage in freelance production work.


... top

Certificate in Online Publishing
(Capilano College: Fall 1999 - Spring 2002)

In order to promote my companies online, I needed a web presence. It was rather expensive to have someone else produce and maintain a website for me, so I used the money I had set aside for building this online presence to instead enrol in the Online Publishing program at Cap concurrent to my jazz studies program. Most of the courses for this certificate were delivered … online.

I developed a fascination with web technologies (pre-Web 2.0 at this point) and had gotten involved in an Internet startup that did not quite pan out but from which I gained some interesting business-related experience. This practical knowledge, mostly in the areas of web research and web marketing, complemented the theoretical knowledge I gained in the computer lab.

The skills I developed and the knowledge I gained in this program helped me later down the path as I was able to use what I had learned to serve the needs of the MayDay Group. As the saying goes, “Give someone a fish, they’ll eat for a day; teach someone to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime.”


... top

Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies
(Capilano College: Fall 2000 - Spring 2002)

After getting my diploma, I decided to formally tackle the requirements for the undergraduate degree. I had to complete twenty four credits of liberal arts requirements. This meant more time away from my instrument and more time in the library researching for papers and projects. This was when I began to see a wider world of academic scholarship and learning which I found increasingly intriguing.

In particular, a couple of courses in Critical Thinking and Philosophy with Mark Battersby gave me conceptual tools that I would later apply in my teaching career. These include the ability to analyze arguments, to make reasonable inferences, and to be charitable in argumentation. Courses in introductory sociology, social anthropology, and non-Western art gave me additional insights about humanity and society that I would not have otherwise gained from those music classes.

Back in the jazz studies department, among the more notable courses I took included two semesters of upper level jazz improvisation classes with Ihor Kururudza which gave me a lifetime of playing concepts and material to work with. Form and analysis and counterpoint classes with Grace McNab influenced my composing and arranging.

Sensing Jazz
At this point, I had begun to really dig all the jazz that I had been exposed to for the past few years. I had a long drive between school and home each day and this allowed me plenty of time to do some serious listening. Before YouTube and MySpace, there was the Cap library. Thanks to this wonderful resource, I was able to listen to a wide range of jazz artists I would otherwise not have had access to. It seemed, at this point in my musical development, that I was able to better comprehend with more depth the intricacies and subtleties of the music. I also developed more emotional affinity for the music which was an aspect that had eluded me earlier. These aural revelations, combined with what I had learned and what I continued to learn in class, along with the results of my practicing, and the evolution of my own playing resulted in a synthesis: jazz started to make sense to me.

Into Freelancing
Also, it was during this time that I began my freelancing career in earnest when I was called to play with Ache Brasil and Marlin Ramazzini Orquesta. These were both gigs coming as a result of my contact with multi-instrumentalist Nick Apivor. Nick and I met on a pro bono gig where he was playing percussion and where I was playing keyboards. The gig itself was forgettable but making contact with Nick set me up to explore the worlds of Afro-Brasilian and Afro-Cuban musics.

Working and playing with Marlin Ramazzini led to playing on cruise ship bands. It was during my stints aboard ship where I found time to compose, to practice, and to see exotic parts of the world. Eventually, I got tired of the lifestyle of uncertainty, of monotony, and of constantly seeing the worst in both cruise passengers and crew members that I decided to think of a way of attaining a sense of permanence and stability.

New Possibilities
After dwelling on possibilities while sailing along the Caribbean Sea, I started to see the potential of a hybrid life as a creative musician and as a high school music teacher. I remembered the influential teachers that I had the privilege of learning from. For the first time, I considered the idea of sharing my knowledge and experience with young people. And, a life devoted to teaching would grant me the permanence and stability that I sought. It would also give me the opportunity to attend to my musical ambitions while not having to worry about rent checks and other money minutiae. So, shortly before completing my requirements for this undergraduate degree, I applied to enroll in a teacher education program, the culmination of which would provide me with an additional undergraduate degree and with a licence to teach.


... top

Bachelor of Education in Music Education
(University of British Columbia: Fall 2002 - Fall 2003)

Teacher Education
The teacher education program at the University of British Columbia was an intense twelve consecutive months in length. Equal parts theory, practice, reading, writing, work, and play, I found the experience both exhausting and exhilarating. I was exposed to theories and practices of teaching and learning. The program also gave me an opportunity to focus what I had learned as a musician and to apply it to the art and science of teaching music to young people in high school. While easily understood by musicians, student-musicians need music concepts that are broken down into manageable units. The process of preparing lessons for high school students allowed me to re-visit what I had learned during my time studying jazz, and I experimented with the application of these lessons during my practicum period.

A Sampling of Topics Covered in the Program
Here's a fairly exhaustive list of the myriad of topics we covered in the program:

Analysis of Education:
Equality of Educational Opportunities; Purposes of Schooling; Issues of Diversity, Race, Class, Sexual Identity, and Gender Socialization; Issues of Social Justice, Power, Oppression, Marginalization and How These Are Played Out in Schools; Reflections on Hegemony and Inherent Biases; Promotion of Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Education; Effects of Educational Claims and Evaluation of Educational Policies and Practices.

Principles of Teaching: Secondary:
Constructivist Theories of Teaching and Learning; Theories of Multiple Intelligence; Theories of Emotional Intelligence; Bloom's Taxonomy; Lifelong Learning; The Role of the Teacher; Characteristics of Effective Teachers; Formulating a Philosophical Rationale for Teaching; Issues of Classroom Management and Discipline; Issues Related to Music Pedagogy; Basic Planning, Teaching, and Assessment Strategies; Applying Educational Theories to Practice; Observation of Teachers in the Field.

Education During the Adolescent Years:
Adolescent Self-Image; Biological, Cognitive, and Developmental Foundations; Moral Decision Making; Cultural and Media Influences; Family and Peer Relationships; School and Work Influences.

Development and Exceptionality in the Regular Classroom:
The 'Inclusive' Movement; Strategies and Implications for Curriculum and Instruction; Introduction to Teaching Students with General Learning, Intellectual, and Communication Disabilities; Teaching Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; Teaching Students with Sensory Impairments.

Communication Skills in Teaching:
Introduction to Narrative Writing; 'Voice-Over' Exercises and Video Analysis of Communication; The 'Sandwich' Feedback Method; Use of 'I' Statements; Building Positive Relationships; Listening Skills; Setting Boundaries; Conflict Resolution; The Individual Style Survey.

The Philosophy of Education:
The Nature of Teaching; The Aims of Education; Philosophical Thoughts on Learning; Ethical Issues in Teaching; Epistemology Meets Ethics; Moral Education.

Language Across the Curriculum in Multilingual Classrooms: Secondary:
The Role of Language Discourse and Practice; Introduction to Narrative Writing; Constructivist Theories: Prior Knowledge, Metacognition, and Social Interaction; Language and Learning and Learning Through Language; The Structure of Language; Language Acquisition; Cooperative and Collaborative Learning Through Interactive Talk; Reading and Writing Across Content Areas; Issues of Language in Multicultural Classrooms.

School Organization in its Social Context:
Understanding the Organization and Administration of Schools; Issues Related to Governance and Finance; Introduction to Professional Education Organizations in British Columbia; The Role of Community and Professional Control and Influence on Education.

Learning, Measurement, and Teaching:
Basic Principles of Validity and Reliability; Norm-Referenced and Criterion-Referenced Standardized Assessments; Formative and Summative Assessments; Connecting Learning Outcomes to Assessment; Short Form Assessments; Multiple Choice Assessments; Observational Assessments; Portfolio Assessments; Planning Using Bloom's Taxonomies and Constructivist Theories; Development of Student Self-Concept; Student-Centered Conferences; Motivation and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Practicum
I had the fortune of working with and learning from two dynamic and knowledgeable music educators. From one, I learned about teaching band, about developing patience (both with students and myself), and about the importance of developing musicianship. From the other, I learned about the constant quest for excellence, about maintaining an intensity of approach, and about the importance of learning about life through the choral art. During this practicum, I blended what I had learned about the development of musicianship from my studies in jazz along with an emerging interest in choral singing and choral conducting.

Summer Classes
After the completion of the practicum, I returned for summer courses at the university. It was then that I began to use writing as a medium for reflecting upon my experiences. I am not sure if the number of reflective writing prompts across those summer courses were planned, but those courses sure highlighted the need for serious professional reflection for all teachers, if only to keep oneself honest about one’s practice.

The experience of the teacher education program at the University of British Columbia was mostly a joyful one. For an intensive twelve-months, I was focused. I was also neatly rewarded with the Don Wright Scholarship for Music Education. Shortly before the conclusion of the practicum period, I was offered my first teaching gig at Saint Thomas More Collegiate. My mission: to build a music program from the ground floor up.


... top

Master of Education in Music Education
(University of British Columbia: Summer 2005 - Fall 2009)

Gangsta Rap, Alt-Rock, and Intellectual Curiosity
The intellectual curiosities I developed while I was fulfilling the liberal arts requirements of my jazz studies degree had resurfaced during my time teaching. I wanted to better understand why young people gravitated toward particular styles of music and how this gravity influenced their day-to-day behavior in and out of school. This interest stemmed from my early experiences in high school having observed the formation of cliques of students whose music preference was either Hip Hop and R&B music or Alternative Rock and Grunge music with little bridging between the two. My peers, most of whom were not connected socioeconomically or even culturally to their music heroes, were adopting the clothing styles, the attitudes, and the cliquish close-minded behaviors of gangsta rappers or grunge skaters. These two groups would often be seen taunting one another during lunch hours, and I wondered, perhaps idealistically, why there was not sufficient civility, respect, or open mindedness? What role did their music listening preferences play in the adoption of these behaviors? Futhermore, how does a comprehensive high school music program attend to these issues? I applied to the UBC Graduate Studies program in order to begin work in tackling these issues.

My first graduate course explored the history and philosophy of music education in North America. Through the course, I was able to begin exploring potential answers to my questions. Beyond my intellectual curiosities, I sought to connect academic research and practice as a way of continual professional development. This, and other courses in the program, were often scheduled at a convenient time for educators and were after-school treats were a welcome salve to a long day of teaching high school.

Meeting The MayDay Group
That first summer of graduate school, I attended a colloquium held by the MayDay Group (MDG), a progressive collective of philosophers and sociologists of music education, cofounded by Thomas Regelski and Terry Gates, whose mission is “to apply critical theory and critical thinking to music education and to affirm the central importance of musical participation in human life, and thus, the value of music in the general education of all people.” [http://www.maydaygroup.org]

At this colloquium, I listened to a number of scholars and academics present papers on various issues related to the theme of “Discourses and Practices of Hegemony, Power, and Exclusion in Music Education.” The running thread between all of the presentations, and the MDG itself, was the philosophical and practical challenge of the status quo. In particular, the group sought to uncover taken-for-granted-assumptions in music education including the predominant philosophy of music education as aesthetic education (MEAE) in North America. MEAE was advanced by music education philosopher Bennett Reimer in the 1970s. Since then, music education as praxis has gained considerable respect in the field since it takes into account the cultural and social contexts of music making and musical action. David J Elliott, Wayne Bowman, and Thomas Regelski (among others) are three of the leading proponents of Praxial Music Education. Their ideas and theories helped to sharpen my research questions and my teaching pracice.

At the business meeting held at the conclusion of the colloquium, I suggested that an updated web design and re-conceptualization of the group website could improve group communication and could better serve to advance the mission of the MDG. I put my experience in web design and programming to use by volunteering to put the project in motion. Through the process of reorganizing the website files, I gained a considerable amount of knowledge about the history of the development of various philosophies of music education which complemented that first graduate course.

Money Matters
A graduate education is a fairly expensive endeavor and the only way I was able to afford one was to maintain my steady teaching gig. In the middle of my studies, I was awarded the Dean of Education Scholarship for my work which helped to alleviate some of the tuition costs. Finally, I had the opportunity to mentor a number of student-teachers entering the music education field, and the University of British Columbia rewarded my work with tuition certificates that allowed me to further fund a portion of my studies.

Shifting Interests: Diving Deep in Choral Music
At the conclusion of the overhaul of the website, something changed and my interests shifted significantly in a number of directions. When I started working at Saint Thomas More Collegiate (STMC), I continued my professional development by singing with a couple of community choirs: Jubilate! Chamber Choir under the direction of Dr J Scott Goble, and Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir under the leadership of Tony Araujo. From both mentors, I gained a fair amount of experience in rehearsal and conducting techniques which was immediately put to use in my teaching practice and with a fledgling chamber group that I formed at school called the Voices Utopia Chamber Choir.

Our work as the STMC Voices Utopia Chamber Choir was becoming recognized by some local choral musicians. Through our appearances at local festivals we garnered positive reviews from adjudicators and in some cases we were given various scholarships. In addition, our work was recognized nationally at the National Music Festival held in Moncton, New Brunswick in the David Ouchterlony Choral Class and we were awarded a Gold standing from MusicFest Canada which was held in Ottawa, Ontario in 2008.

I also formed a community chorus of my own in 2007 called Kaisahan Voice Ensemble. I had, for sometime, wanted to explore the roots of my ethnic heritage through choral music. The mission of the chorus was to create public awareness of the richness and vitality of Philippine history, culture, and society through music, to perform commissioned choral works inspired by the lived experiences of the Filipino people and the Filipino diaspora, and to provide outreach and educational opportunities for the group’s artists and singers. We were invited to perform for various local youth-oriented Filipino events and fundraisers and was also featured on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio special called Under the Radar: from Manila to Metro Vancouver on a show called Early Edition.

The depth of my interest in choral music making began to outweigh all of the intellectual meandering that I was doing. My work with my student-musicians became more important than my studies because as a group, we were on the cusp of achieving some wonderful heights as a choir. The affective connections being made between our music making, the community we were building, and the challenge of the repertoire we were attempting allowed us to understand the importance of working together towards achieving something greater than ourselves.

Shifting Interests: Journal Editing
Another associated experience I had during this very busy time was coediting the provincial journal for the British Columbia Music Educators Association alongside a mentor of mine, Dr Karen V Lee. I coedited a total of five issues over the course of two years. This also gave me a chance to write a regular column I called Notes from the Other Coeditor where I practiced the kind of reflective and creative writing I was encouraged to do during those CCFI courses.

Shifting Interests: Academic Reorientations
Academically, I also began to shift from exploring the Praxial Music Education theories of David J Elliott and Thomas Regelski and the Critical Pedagogies of Ira Shor and Paulo Freire (these theories were going to form the philosophical basis of my research) toward the Arts-Based Educational Research that Carl Leggo and Karen Meyer (among others) were conducting as faculty members attached to the Centre for Cross Faculty Inquiry (CCFI) in the School of Education.

CCFI is an innovative centre dedicated to “intellectual and social innovation through the nurturance of transdisciplinary scholarship in education.” [http://ccfi.educ.ubc.ca/index.php] It was while taking courses in the CCFI, such as Living Inquiry in Living Communities and Narrative Inquiry, where I was supported in my desire to use writing as a means of revelation and reflection on my professional life experience. My classmates included Metro Vancouver area educators and graduate students both within the Faculty of Education and from other disciplines at the University. This made for some incredibly rich dialogue both within class and online as some courses were delivered in a hybrid format. Getting a chance to explore ideas and issues from outside of my field enriched the overall graduate school experience for me.

My work in choral music and my interest in arts-based educational research put my initial research questions (which begged for a more systematic and methodical treatment anyway) in jeopardy. Furthermore, my sense was that arts-based educational research was incompatible with the MDG agenda owing to its relationship with the muddy philosophical categories of aesthetics.

In addition, I had come to learn that most of my students were actually quite open-minded with regard to their listening preferences which, in a sense, rendered my initial research question obsolete. The mass reach of social networking and the accessibility of a broad range of music styles and genres available over the Internet allowed young people to explore a range of music that was otherwise unavailable to my generation.

Shifting Interests: One Last Try
I tried another stab at shifting research projects. After reformatting the MDG website, I thought about applying what I had learned and to formalizing it into a project. Again, it was simply not meant to be. As a member of the MDG, I was in a precarious position to attempt to write a comprehensive history of an organization that was not without controversy. I felt ill-equipped to navigate the tricky road of accurately capturing the nuances of the stories of members of the MDG, some of whom have had very public feuds. I did not want to get in the way of this crossfire, and so I politely withdrew from this possible project.

Letting Go: So What? and Who Cares?
Back at STMC, my principal requested that in addition to my responsibilities teaching music, that I be assigned the task of teaching ninth grade religious studies. This assignment would eventually point me toward my next area of exploration: theology.

Thirty credits later, I never got around to completely answering my initial question on the connection between adolescent behavior and music preferences, but I did encounter more important existential questions that needed deeper answers: Who was I doing this for? To whom does this work really matter? And, the ultimate research questions: So what? and Who cares? I had met enough resistance during this time period that I opted to move forward with a new project. This time, however, this was one project that I deemed more important than and one that I felt deserved more attention than everything I have studied thus far.

Letting Go: Not All Is Lost
Given all of these concerns, I learned to acknowledge and trust that my original direction in study was not meant to be completed in the way that I had intended. All in all, and in hindsight, my time spent on this degree track was soul enriching and mind expanding. All of the wonderful theories I encountered about in the many books and articles I was required to read, the people I met and learned from, and the practical life experiences I have gained were all much more valuable than trying to answer that initial research question.

What I learned was that the questions I was seeking answers to were not as important as the journey I undertook to seek in the first place. And, it was all of the research nooks and crannies I discovered along the way that was infinitely more interesting. Finally, I sensed that I completed and succeeded in the task of building a music program at STMC: a new fine and performing arts building was ready to be built, student enrolment in music was healthy, the music department offered a variety of music courses, and the choral program held the respect of many in the choral community.

I also embraced the notion that life is about change and progress, and not remaining stuck in some “second gear.” I sensed that my time had come to let go and move on. By letting go, I was able to allow the future to present itself and to open myself to new opportunities. So, I cashed out my chips and filed my graduation forms having adequately completed the requirements for the graduate degree. For insurance, I asked for a year-long sabbatical from my teaching gig, just in case I needed to get back into second gear.


... top

Master of Theological Studies in Liturgical Studies
(Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University: Fall 2008 - Spring 2010)

Why Study Theology?
I suppose that, to the secular world, the study of theology may be just as arcane as studying alchemy or as contentious as studying cosmology. Theology and philosophy are related endeavors but the former stresses the use of reason and rational thought alongside faith. I needed to answer the call to fill the “God-shaped hole” that developed in my heart in a way that I knew how: through further intellectual inquiry and exercise. Indeed, one popular definition of theology as put forth by the great theologian Saint Anselm is “faith seeking understanding.”

A Rant About the Quality of Religious Education
As an interesting note, the Archdiocese of Vancouver does not require any particular special training in the form of advanced ministerial, religious education, or theological studies degrees for high school religious studies educators (aside, perhaps, from a basic doctrinal refresher course). I find that fact fascinating given that most other high school academic areas require some sort of specialized pedagogical and practical training as well as subject matter knowledge. By assuming that most high school religious studies educators are competent catechists by virtue of having been baptised in the faith, by being a practicing church-going Catholic, or having been the recipient of a Catholic education is dangerous. The problem is that these well-meaning educators with less than sufficient catechetical and theological training may contribute to the general disengagement with faith and religion that some young Catholics experience during or after their high school years. This is not to deny that there exists many committed and confident high school religious educators who have enormous zeal for their craft. If teaching any of the other disciplines in high school presume a level of education commensurate with the privilege of teaching, then should we not expect the same for the field of religious education?

My hunch is that, as a result, it is entirely possible that some Metro Vancouver Catholic high school students might have an understanding of God that is closer to a Santa Claus-like figure who bestows wishes and presents to those who are “good” as the result of petitionary prayer. Or, perhaps God is a Zeus-like figure in white pyjamas, with a long beard, and sandals sitting on a throne in the clouds throwing thunderbolts as divine punishment for some misdeed. Of course, these are cartoon-like caricatures that anthropomorphize God rather than present God as a benevolent and active presence in the world. This is also not to say that religious educators understand God in this way and are therefore imparting the same understanding, in effect, to teach as they were taught. It just may well be that there is a specialized knowledge required for teaching a faith tradition effectively. The result of poor Catholic religious education instruction is that some of these Catholic students may end up with a stunted understanding of their faith tradition. As a result, they may cease to meaningfully engage with or grow into a more mature understanding of their faith tradition, or, at worse, they may turn away from and reject that faith and tradition altogether after graduation. For what it is worth, I do think, however, that youth religious education at the parish level in the form of youth ministry, with youth masses, and through youth faith formation classes appear to be thriving because of the successful leadership, program implementation, and development at the archdiocesan level.

The lack of training that some high school religious education teachers receive, even if they have the best of intentions, does a disservice to students (and to the greater Church) who may have an initial keen interest in better understanding the Catholic Christian tradition. In any other field, this kind of disservice amounts to malpractice. During my time teaching religious studies at STMC, I knew that I was standing on top of and trying to teach a deep and long tradition, and at best, I, too, was flailing because of the inadequacy of my own knowledge and formation. Admittedly, this may be rather harsh criticism against my peers and perhaps I am painting a broad stroke of the current state of Catholic high school religious education and instruction in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. But if I, having gone through twelve years of Catholic school education (including several years as an altar server at a local parish and youth minister volunteer), was insufficiently prepared for the task of teaching religious studies and catechesis, could there also be others in the same situation?

There was not really an adequate school of divinity or seminary in Metro Vancouver for lay people that could effectively address in depth or breadth my need for adequate theological training and catechetical formation, so I had to go elsewhere in order to satisfy my thirst for this knowledge. I needed to appease my dissatisfaction with the state of high school religious education with more study. In addition, a change of scenery and embarking on a new adventure would undoubtedly help to further broaden my horizons. So, I moved to California to tackle this new adventure.

Plainchant and Contemporary Christian Music
While at STMC, and during my intense period of choral music interest, I was working on ameliorating my knowledge of conducting to complement the rehearsal techniques I had learned while singing with the Jubilate! Chamber Choir and the Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir. I took advantage of a professional development opportunity that saw me travel to the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, to study plainchant and chironomy, a method of conducting gestures associated with Gregorian Chant, with Maestro Scott Turkington, a preeminent chant scholar.

Upon my return for a new school year, my chant studies were immediately put to use. I began the year by teaching the unison melodies, in all its ancient, timeless, and refreshing yet relevant glory. There were many vocal benefits to studying chant: developing an understanding of phrasing and developing the breath support to sustain long phrases; learning about textual and syllabic emphasis; developing a unified ensemble vowel color pallet through unison singing in liturgical Latin; and, since chant has no meter, singing unmetered music while keeping rhythmic ensemble. The benefits immediately made an impact upon other repertoire we tackled that year most of which can be heard on the album we later recorded called Prayerful Places.

Going back to the days when I was fully ensconced in jazz studies, I was also serving as a music minister and young adult volunteer at Saint Paul Catholic Church in Richmond, BC. This LifeTeen Mass, as it was called, kept me interested in my faith after high school, and kept me in church during those jazz studies years. What attracted me to this particular mass was the sense of fellowship and community amongst young people, but it was also the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) that was used during liturgy and worship that had me keenly interested. CCM allowed the young people of the parish to claim the music as their own, as a way of prayer that uniquely belonged to them. There was not anything necessarily wrong with the post-Vatican II music found in the Catholic Book of Worship II, the popular Catholic hymnal in Canada, it is just that my experience suggested to me that young people could better identify and pray with CCM.

Making the Move and Taking a Risk
So, in the fall of 2007, in light of plenty of prayer, discernment, and consultation with trusted friends, I made the decision to apply for a sabbatical from my teaching job to undertake theological studies. I was granted my sabbatical leave and some assurance of some sort of teaching position should I have wished to return to STMC.

After a visit in early 2008 to the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JST), I sensed and felt that this was the right place to be and I was affirmed by several signs. I remember walking into a semi-famous Berkeley bookstore called Black Oak books to browse shortly after my visit to JST. At the cashier counter, I noticed a journal with an interesting inscription: “There is yet time to take a different path.” I bought the journal. I also took the opportunity to visit the Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey Bay. Along the way, I stopped to check out the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Upon leaving, a docent gave me a holy card of Blessed Junipero Serra, an eighteenth century Franciscan Friar who founded many of the mission churches in California. An interesting quotation attributed to Blessed Junipero Serra graced the flip side of the holy card: “Always go forward, never go back.”

As this was my first foray into a field that was quite foreign to anything I had studied before, I decided to focus my attention to liturgical studies, a discipline within theological studies, where I could delve into and bring together my interests in the philosophy, the pedagogy, and the problems of religious education, the history of Gregorian Chant, and the evolution of CCM and its application in mainstream Catholic worship and liturgy. I figured that a rich selection of courses in these and other areas would complement my previous studies in music and education.

Liturgy is also one of the single most influential forums (if one could call it that) where religious education takes place because Sunday mass is where one normally encounters the largest concentration of Catholics. It is (or, perhaps should be), as the Vatican II document on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium intimates, the source and the summit of Catholic Christian spiritual life. As such, the usually captive congregation is ready to hear from the words of scripture and a homily or sermon, both of which serve to educate Catholic church-goers on a consistent basis to the degree that the liturgy is done well, is engaging, and that fosters a sense of inclusion and participation.

Studying theology was also a way for me to engage with and to better understand some of the events that had taken place in my life in light of the religious tradition I was raised in. Since this was a sabbatical, I also took this unique opportunity to attend to my own formation as a person. I needed the time to decompress and reassess who I was, to find my purpose in life, and to consider my next steps after this period of study.

At a Noteworthy Period in United States History
I moved to Northern California at a noteworthy point in ongoing US history. The United States was beginning to experience the deterioration of its economy owing to the failures of major trusted corporations. The election of the first black president in history took place. I was also learning of the polarizing and marginalizing force of religion in United States culture and politics. The role of religion in the public sphere has never been a comfortable subject of discussion owing perhaps to the enshrinement of the separation of church and state in the first amendment of the United States constitution. Twitter, Facebook, and Google social media technologies along with a twenty-four seven soundbit media driven culture have a hard time adequately expressing the depth of tradition, the breadth of culture, and the diversity of opinion that exists within Catholicism. There are many degrees of subtlety and nuance to all things Catholic that simply take more time to work through and to digest. This is something that a 140 character tweet, a status update, or a cursory search entry cannot accurately convey. Not only was I diving into the deep end of an academic discipline, but I was also doing so in the midst of noteworthy societal and economic change.


... top

Learning with/in Community
And, who better to learn from than the Jesuits who are, by and large, progressive thinkers and theologians with commitments to “the intellectual tradition of the Society of Jesus, and a reverent and critical service of the faith that does justice.”

During my time at JST, I had the fortune of studying with liturgical and sacramental theologian Thomas Scirghi, SJ, whose engaging teaching style was filled with a depth of knowledge sprinkled with timely humour and humanity. Tom taught me the value of what I call critical centrism, a way of impartial analysis that seeks results through balanced reasoning without succumbing to hasty conclusions or other logical fallacies. He also had a very pastoral approach to guidance and advising and he had a gift for knowing how to provide feedback for affirmation and for improvement. After my first year at JST, Tom was recalled to the New York Jesuit province to teach at Fordham University where I am sure he continues to positively engage his students in the way that he engaged me.

My synthesis project director was the late Alex Garcia-Rivera who oversaw my project as he was battling cancer. Alex was a true polymath with an initial academic background in the physical sciences, formative experiences in various social ministries, subsequent studies in Lutheran theology, and a research program that attempted to answer some deep fundamental existential questions. Alex had diverse interests: the theological aesthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce, and the spirituality of Saint Martin de Porres. Alex passed away on December 16, 2010 seemingly content that his life had been well spent. Students of Alex generally agree, however, that he left a legacy of work that we we are responsible to carry forward in our own way, and that will benefit generations of theologians and lay people to come.

As a teacher, I appreciated the teaching styles of Tom, Alex, and my other JST professors. I imagine that their abilities to teach well were probably honed during the process of their formation. Most Jesuits teach for a couple of years in one of the many Jesuit learning institutions in North America. After five years of music room and classroom teaching, I was ready to sit in a desk with pen in hand, with paper on table, and with ears wide open. I delved into the reading and writing assignments and I attended the lectures and the seminars with the same kind of fervor and focus that I had for any of the other endeavors I had been involved in.

I also learned immensely from the vast community of the beautiful, as Alex would say, that made up the JST and the broader Graduate Theological Union (GTU). My classmates and professors were theologians and seminarians who came from all walks of life from all over the world who were answering a call to study. In addition to born and bred theologians, I studied alongside philosophers and psychologists, painters and musicians, business people and marketing professionals, actors and poets, and of course, seminarians of different religious orientations and faith traditions heading toward ordination. The diversity of backgrounds made for some incredibly rich conversation and company, an important element of graduate education that I remembered from my days in CCFI.

For the first time, I felt truly part of an educational community. The time I spent in studies at my previous institutions did not have the same sense of community that I experienced at JST and the GTU. It could very well be that this was partially because I was wholly devoted full time to my studies, but I believe it was also because of the many enlightened and warm-hearted people who comprised learning communities.

Part of my education in liturgical studies also involved exploring and experiencing the many Eucharistic liturgies that took place around the Bay Area on Sundays. I took note of the high quality and attention to detail in the preparation of homilies, of music, and of the liturgy! There was an intentionality to the way the liturgical environment was setup, the lectoring of the readings was well-paced and clear, and liturgical actions of the faithful in attendance were expressive. The liturgical standards in this region were much higher than what I had experienced back in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. I attribute this to the theological work of the local seminaries (like JST) and the practical influence of this work in the parish life of the surrounding dioceses, and also to the number of professional paid personnel who are tasked with the responsibility of upholding those ideals. It was evident that the lay and clerical leadership at the chanceries of the surrounding dioceses was committed to a dynamic parish liturgical life that balanced both vertical and horizontal dimensions of spirituality.

Practical Application of Studies in Music Ministry and Liturgical Music
In addition to my studies, I was working as Coordinator of Liturgical Music for Tuesday evening community liturgies at JST and in a local parish called Saint Albert the Great Catholic Church in neighbouring Alameda. It was an opportunity to bring together my work in choral music, some of the compositional training I received during my studies in jazz, and the academic work I was in the process of undertaking and, not to mention the opportunity to earn a little cash along the way.

In choosing music for each of these communities, I learned to temper my own preference for chant and CCM as these two genres were often times most inappropriate for these congregations. I learned this the hard way when all I programmed for my first mass at JST was CCM. The Dean of Students politely pulled me aside after mass and asked me to become more familiar with the songs of the community. I quickly learned that not all CCM were composed to suit the specific liturgical and ritual actions taking place in the mass. Finally, I learned that the theological orientation of some CCM (broadly conceived, as the music is written by different composers with varying experiences coming from various Christian traditions) did not always coincide with mainstream Catholic doctrine. So, if I were to program CCM for these communities, I would have to do so carefully, considerately, and with good reason.

I chalked up the criticism to my own ignorance and preconceptions, but I also took the opportunity to become acquainted with much of the so-called “standard repertoire” of post-Vatican II Catholic music, such as the music of David Haas, the Saint Louis Jesuits, and Lutheran composer Marty Haugen, much of which can be found in the US Catholic hymnal called Gather. In the process, I also learned the music of several preeminent Contemporary Catholic Liturgical Music composers who grew up or resided in the Bay Area (some of whom also studied at the GTU) including Janet Sullivan Whitaker, who, incidentally was also studying at the JST. I had the privilege of working with and learning from Janet as we planned and rehearsed for various JST special event liturgies including the visit of the Superior General of the Jesuits Adolfo Nicolas, SJ, and for the various academic convocations and engagements that arose during the year.

I had a tough time convincing these two communities that chant was still a viable option for liturgical music. In fact, Sacrosanctum Concilium, advocates for a noble simplicity within the liturgy. This is something that chant is well suited to accomplishing because of its direct connection to the ritual action and because the music is sung plainly and without any necessary virtuosity. According to the same document, chant held a pride of place, all other music being equal. Yet, along with the significant changes in the form of the liturgy after Vatican II, much of it was abandoned.

I was wondering whether I could instill the critical centrism that Tom indirectly taught me with these communities regarding liturgical music through the selections I made for each week. I always solicited the opinion and perspective of my colleagues who were kind of enough to also suggest alternatives when they felt it was necessary. I aimed for balance in programming music from Gather, the indigenous music of each community (for comfort), and I also programmed bits of chant (particularly during the liturgical season of Lent) and CCM (to challenge) when the opportunity allowed, and when it was liturgically appropriate. Recently written music for liturgy can have a prophetic role if introduced properly and played or sung well. In other words, liturgical music recently written by contemporary composers allows the liturgy to speak to and for today's people. As I had learned in my studies, the liturgy should also challenge us toward justice and peace, and I would contend, the music should also aim to do the same.

Setting Psalms and Composing
In programming music for those Tuesday evening liturgies at JST there were times when Gather did not have a setting of the responsorial psalm for the day. And, while it would have been entirely appropriate to use settings of seasonal psalms, I took the harder road of setting music to the readings myself. It was a chance to get back to composing.

Spurred on by early encouragement from my colleagues about my work, I went about writing introits, or, entrance antiphons for the Lenten season which opened the liturgy in a more solemn and introspective way. I also set a number of texts that were influential in the spiritual lives of many Jesuits including the Anima Christi, the prayer located at the begininng of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and popularly attributed to Pope John XXII; the Suscipe (Receive, O Lord), a prayer found at the conclusion of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises; the Prayer for Generosity, a popular prayer attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits; and a litany called Presente (We Remember) commemorating the Martyrs of El Salvador. The learning experience of composing for the JST community allowed me an opportunity to pray and to reflect with these texts in a way that was beneficial to my emerging spiritual life. Some of this music, too, found their way into various Tuesday evening liturgies.


... top

Toward Lay Ecclesial Ministry
Midway through my studies, I travelled back to British Columbia to let my principal know in person that I would not be returning to STMC. Acknowledging that my previous task of building a music program was complete and that capable colleagues were in place to sustain that program, I travelled back to the Bay Area and opened myself to new opportunities. While helping out a friend at a parish mission in San Jose, CA, I received a call from a local principal asking me to visit their school to discuss religious education and adolescent spiritual development.

As was the case during my preliminary studies in music education, I was blessed to get a job before the conclusion of my program. My tasks at Saint Mary’s College High School included invigorating the campus ministry program, fostering a sense of Catholic identity within a diverse ethnic, socioeconomic and religiously pluralistic learning community, and walking alongside students who were on their spiritual journeys.

Program development and administration was something I was familiar with, but this was a challenge unlike anything I had faced before. I mean, how can one be responsible for the spiritual well-being of an entire community? It was as if God was calling in God’s investment in me for all of the blessings and graces I had received. And, God was doing this by providing me with a job opportunity to serve God’s people. I also sensed that God was calling upon a very unlikely person to fulfill this ministry. This ministry would stretch me beyond my comfort zone, and I felt inadequate on a number of levels for this new role, but I continued to trust in providence.

Most lay people studying for this particular kind of ministry usually enrol in a Master of Divinity program, a three year program focusing on preparation for lay ecclesial ministry, the formation of a broad theological foundation, and regular communal and theological reflection with a formation director. My particular program specialized in the narrower field of liturgical studies within the broader academic discipline of theological studies, but nonetheless I was looking forward to the challenge of using everything I have learned to that point and I needed to muster up enough courage to bring that knowledge to bear in my new role.

So, while working part time and studying full time, I completed my synthesis project over the course of one week over spring break. It was an intense time of working sixteen hour days, and going to bed at 4 AM and waking at 10 AM, for seven days straight. The California climate and the quiet working conditions gave birth to the project which bears the hefty title: Toward Theological Foundations and Frameworks for Liturgical Music and Music Ministry in the Catholic Church. It brought to bear my recent experiences in liturgical music and music ministry. While it only addressed religious education in a very brief way, I had felt that undertaking this project best represented the culmination of my two years at JST.

Back At One: Why Study Theology?
Returning back to the earlier question, why study theology? As with my studies in jazz, my studies in liturgy and theology was not so that I would become an expert in these fields. The answer seems to have been: I was called to work as a campus minister in order to humbly and charitably serve others in ministry.

Knowledge is never a means in itself, only a means to an end. The knowledge, skills, and experiences I have gained as a result of all of these studies is meant solely for the building of a more peaceful and just world and not merely for the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake. I truly believe this can be realized if people are encouraged, accompanied, and empowered and are free to act upon and to pursue their own calling. When people recognize their true vocation in life and can be agents to enact that vocation, the true pursuit of happiness can begin. And, a happy world with happy people, are more willing to work for justice and peace particularly for those who are the last, the lost, and who have the least in our societies.


Postscript
Master of Arts in Lasallian Studies
(Saint Mary’s College of California: 2011 - 2013?)

As I complete this written reflection, I am embarking on another adventure that ties together some of the earlier questions and concerns that I had about high school religious education. Over the course of the next three summers, I will be participating in the Buttimer Institute of Lasallian Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California where I hope to learn more about the charism, spirituality, and pedagogical philosophies of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, who was declared the patron saint of teachers in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Saint Mary’s College High School and Saint Mary’s College of California are conducted by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the institute that De La Salle founded in seventeenth century France.

... the story continues.


... top


write
home | contact info | lean back