Thursday, January 6, 2011

Finding Inspiration in Unlikely Places

One never knows where or when inspiration will strike and when it does it's sometimes difficult to sustain or duplicate.  But if you keep your eyes, ears, mind, and heart open as you slog through every day life, you may just find inspiration in the most unusual of places.

I am a musician and teacher, not necessarily a 'sports guy' (though the woman in my life might argue that point). For years I was an avid talk-radio listener but I found myself so anxious and uneasy during one contentious election cycle that I simply turned the dial.  By chance I stopped at sports radio 1310 The Ticket in Dallas, TX

The shtick and stats were just the kind of mindless drivel my topsy-turvy stomach needed and I welcomed the break.  But what got me 'hooked' on the Ticket was the fervor that almost all of the hosts displayed about a wide array of topics, not just sports.  In particular, the passionate musings of one Norman "Norm"  Hitzges continue to be both entertaining and inspiring upon every listen.

Norm is known for his unbridled enthusiasm, knowledge of sports, sports trivia, and all the minutia that drives most non-sports fans (or girl-friends) completely crazy. But listen for more than a few minutes and you'll learn that Norm has many interests and can speak knowledgeably about a wide array of topics. 

Norm loves to travel and often shares stories about the exotic locales, interesting vistas, harrowing outings, and wonderful food he has experienced as a veteran globe-trotter.  His bio page at the Ticket website includes an amazing slide show with pictures of some of the incredible places he has visited. It's worth a look.  The tales he tells of his travels are expressed so eloquently that he might easily earn a spot on any National Geographic special.

His interviews, though mostly sports related, are often sprinkled with cultural topics and he is equally adept at discussing baseball as he is breeds of dogs, fine wine, art, the Guinness Book of World Records, and even music. He is an amazing linguist and has a terrific vocabulary. His colleagues have deemed him the 'poet laureate of Valley Ranch' for the weekly verse he writes about the woes of yet another failed Dallas Cowboy season.  One of my favorite 'Norm-bits' is his recap of interesting and unusual names of players coming through the annual NFL Draft - it's pure genius.

What I find most inspiring about Norm is that he has seemingly reached a level of symbioses between his personal life and his professional career.  He has been a long-time supporter of the Texans Can! Academy, an organization that provides at-risk youths with education and training. And each year he hosts the 'Norm-A-Thon' that raises funds to support the Austin Street Centre for the homeless.  It's an incredible 18 hour marathon broadcast filled with a wide variety of topics, interviews, and of course, 'shtick'.  In my humble opinion, for entertainment purposes alone, it frankly puts the Jerry Lewis telethon to shame. 

I've never met Mr. Hitzges, but if I ever get the chance, I will be sure to tell him that his daily example is like inspirational fuel for me.  I can only hope to achieve the same level of expertise, comfort, and humility in my life and chosen profession.

Thanks for showing us that it can be done Norm, and keep up the great work!

Norm Hitzges is also an author and member of the Radio Hall of Fame. He writes a sports blog and can be heard weekdays on the Ticket from 10 AM to Noon.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Look Back - A Look Ahead

There were huge changes at MusickEd in 2010, both behind the scenes and on the site.

Most apparent to our users is an entirely new design of the website from the main page to the interface within the software. There are so many levels and so much information available within each lesson that it became a challenge to create an intuitive, music learning experience for the end user...but we think we've  accomplished our goal!

We also moved from a download and install format to a subscription service.  This required a massive amount of tedious coding and detail work by our staff  - there are 3,960 secured links for each of the 39 instruments in the Kore Series!. Kudos to all of you for your patience, perseverance, and a job well done.

Finale Reader was added to our site this year as well.  It's a wonderful product that allows us to maintain the look and feel of the songs regardless of the browser choice of our users. And,oh by the way, Finale Reader is a FREE product!

We also added song titles to all finale pages through lesson 12.  The titles not only look great when printed, but they make it lots easier to keep things in order through the learning process.

In 2010 we moved from StoreFront (which typically services shopping cart transactions) to Pay Pal which could more easily manage our subscription service. PayPal was an obvious choice as it reliably handles over 150 million online accounts from all over the world.

In November we created and published an audio primer that helps users (and future users) better understand our product and how to best use the software to expedite the learning process.  We have had lots of positive feedback about this addition

We made a major push to make social media components a larger part of the  MusickEd  community and experience.  Our blogfacebook, twitter, and youtube pages can now be viewed by members and non-members alike.  And we made our entire community (including the forums and webinars) more easily accessible from any of the pages within our software.

We introduced school, private organization, and church pricing plans as we began to see an increased interest from these organizations during the course of 2010.  We will be making a concerted effort to attract these groups by attending a few conferences next year, beginning with TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) in San Antonio this February.

Video production of the lesson songs ramped up in 2010. Some of the videos completed include Kore Series songs for cello, soprano sax, soprano voice, baritone horn, and all 20 lessons of alto saxophone. We will begin a robust schedule of recording this January with a goal of completing all 20 lessons for all instruments by the end of 2011.

We've also begun to incorporate user videos within the software and we look forward to receiving many more entries this year.  Users can send their video performances of our songs (with the background only track) and we will add them onto the appropriate lesson and instrument page.  Several videos have already been published thanks to some of the students on campus at DSM.

The Jazz Series has also begun to take shape in 2010. Mr. Finkel has completed writing the original songs for all 20 lessons.  He has also recorded each song and the background tracks through lesson 14.  Noted Jazz Educator Dan Haerle has finished writing the text for 19 of the 20 lessons and has decided that lesson 20 will be dedicated to common chord progressions that occur in Jazz Standards. This will be an amazing series that bridges the gap between play along only material and practical jazz education. We're hoping to make some of the Jazz Series lessons available by June with the entire series expected to be completed by December.

Phew... there's no more time to waste, I've got to get to work. Happy New Year!