Learning Lessons From Frozen Songs

Disney’s Frozen is a fantastic movie about the power of true love.  It also has a series of amazing songs.  From the enthusiastic "First Time In Forever" to the touching "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" to the hilarious "Fixer Upper" and "Reindeers Are Better Than People", the songs never feel tacked on.  They are a part of the plot and advance the story as much as the non-sung dialog does.  They also can help teach some valuable lessons.

(Warning: I’m going to discuss some plot points in the movie.  I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, though.  If you haven’t seen the movie, go and see it now.)

"Let It Go"

Elsa has lived for years afraid that people would find out about her magic powers.  She’s repressed them and hidden them away.  However, once her powers were uncovered and she fled into a self-imposed exile, she found the experience freeing.

The lesson here is that fear can imprison us.  We can get so wrapped up in the fear of what other people will think of us that we put on an "other people friendly" mask to hide our true selves.  It can be very freeing to stop caring what other people think and just do what makes you happy.

I learned this lesson a long time ago.  There is a small group of people whose opinion I value.  Beyond that, I’m not going to stop doing something that I enjoy just because some stranger or acquaintance might think that I’m odd for liking that.

"In Summer"

Anna and Kristoff have just met Olaf.  He’s a nice fellow who likes warm hugs.  Of course, he’s no ordinary person.  He’s a snowman (brought to life thanks to Anna’s sister’s magic).  Olaf dreams of experiencing summer.  Despite his lack of experience with warm things (and they tend to do to snow), he holds on to his dream of one day experiencing summer.

Olaf teaches us to follow our dreams.  Other people might tell us that we’re crazy or that we’re destined to fail horribly.  Maybe they are right and maybe they aren’t.  If we don’t try, though, we will definitely fail.  So ignore the naysayers and keep pursuing your dreams.

If you haven’t already seen Frozen, go to the movies and see it as soon as possible.  It’s a wonderful movie, right up there with the Disney classics.  I’m also not surprised that Frozen is going to be a Broadway show.  This movie is destined to be a Disney classic.

NOTE: I’ve worked with Disney in the past, but I received no compensation for this post.  I just wanted to share some lessons that I saw within the songs in Frozen.

Setting Our Kids Up To Fail – ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ Parody

man_with_microphone_smallI usually don’t post on a Tuesday, but this idea was too good to hold onto.  Awhile back, I was listening to Pandora and the Pink Floyd song "Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2" came on.  As I listened, I realized this could be perfectly adapted to the current school situation.  After the recent events with Commissioner John King, it just made even more sense.  If you need a reminder of what the lyrics really are, check them out here or watch Pink Floyd sing the song.

One last thing.  I’d video myself singing this except: 1) I’m not the best singer around and 2) I’m currently battling something and am losing my voice.  Feel free to video yourself singing these lyrics and post them online.  Let me know if you do and I’ll link to them.

Without further ado, here is "Setting Our Kids Up To Fail", an "Another Brick In The Wall" parody:

We don’t need to test ad nauseam.
We don’t need no Common Core.
No high stakes testing in the classroom
Pearson leave our kids alone
Hey! Pearson! Leave our kids alone!
All in all it’s just setting our kids up to fail.
All in all you’re just setting our kids up to fail.

We don’t need only test teaching
We don’t need more Scantron forms
No death penalty for public schools
John King leave our kids alone
Hey! John King! Leave our kids alone!
All in all it’s just setting our kids up to fail.
All in all it’s just setting our kids up to fail.

"Wrong, You fail the test!"
"If you don’t take the test, we don’t know if you’re learning. How can we know if you’re learning if you don’t take the test?"
"You! Yes, you teacher. Stop teaching creatively!"

Here’s hoping Pearson, NYSED, and Commissioner John King leave our kids alone soon.

NOTE: The "man with microphone" image above is by laobc and is available from OpenClipArt.com.

Making Tablet Music

tablet-musicWhen we got the boys their tablets, we knew that our boys would love using them as gaming devices.  At the same time, we knew it would be used for far more than just games.  With the Kindle Reader, they boys can read books on their tablets.  There are also plenty of educational apps that they can use to learn.  What I didn’t expect, though, was for NHL to use his tablet to make music.

A couple of years ago, NHL began playing the drums and bells (xylophone).  He quickly displayed an aptitude for it.  Not only did he pick up how to play quickly, but he demonstrated the ability to translate his skills to other instruments.  Playing also is a point of pride to NHL.  Once he gets over the initial fear of not being able to play a piece, NHL becomes very happy when he masters a song and can’t wait to show someone (other than me who stands by his side all the time).

I began to wonder whether NHL would be able to compose his own music pieces.  To this end, I immediately thought of his tablet.  First of all, the boys have taken to the touch screen interface as if they had always been using it.  Secondly, the tablet tends to be always on while our laptops need to boot up and are much bulkier.  A quick search on the Google Play store turned up a few promising candidates.

Music Composition

Music Composition was the first app I tried.  I found the interface nice, if a bit clunky.  The features, however seemed really nice.  Not only could you position the notes to make a song, but you could have the song play as you composed it.  (Very handy to see if the note you just placed improves the flow of the song or hinders it.)  In addition, your creation can be exported to an image that could be printed.  In other words, your tablet creation can become sheet music.  (Useful since I wouldn’t recommend positioning the tablet near bells mallets which keep swinging at keys.)  Of course, the price was great: free.

Ensemble Composer

Ensemble Composer was the second app, I experimented with.  I actually liked this one more.  It seemed to have all of the features of Music Composition, but the interface was much slicker.  The only drawback was that many major features, such as exporting to a sheet music image, were locked away unless you bought the Pro version for $12.99.  Luckily, the musical creation can be saved in MusicXML format.  I can then send that file to Google Drive, open it on my laptop within a free, open source program called MuseScore and export the song to PDF for printing.

Right now, NHL is just occasionally playing with the apps.  His song creations seem to be less music and more "throw every note in and see how it sounds."  With some practice, though, it should be interesting to see what he can create.

Have you or your children ever used a music creation app?

Glee-Coulton Copyright Commotion

It isn’t news that people seem to think that “on the Internet” equals “free for us to use in any way we see fit.”  It happened with NickMom.  It happened to Kristine and photos of her baby Cora who passed away from congenital heart disease.  It has even happened to both B and to myself with scrapers taking our content for their own uses.  This instance, however, is a bit bigger.

In 2006, a former computer programmer turned musician, Jonathan Coulton, wrote a cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”  He made some major alterations including turning it into a light acoustic, almost folksy, song, including duck quacks where curse words might be, and changing a “Mix-A-Lot” reference to “Johnny C.”

Everything seemed to be fine until a fan of Coulton’s spotted his song on iTunes.  Not under his name, mind you, but as a song for an upcoming episode of Glee.  Furthermore, he didn’t appear to be credited.  Many people figured that there was some kind of mistake, but then the song played exactly the same on the episode itself.  And I mean, exactly the same.  It had the same melody, the same duck quacks (barely heard like someone tried to “scrub them out” but failed), and even the changed “Johnny C” lyrics.  Furthermore, Glee is selling “their version” on iTunes without crediting or publicly acknowledging Coulton in any way.

Sound Cloud even put up a comparison.  You can put on some headphones and listen to the two together.  I did and couldn’t tell them apart.

Coulton tried to get in touch with them and was told that he should be thankful for the “exposure.”  You know, that massive exposure that one gets when a big television show on a major network steals one’s work and doesn’t credit one in any way, shape, or form.  They claimed that they were within their legal rights to do what they did.

The kicker:  They might just be.  It turns out that, thanks to the complicated twists and turns of copyright law, If Artist A makes a song, Artist B makes a derivative work of that song, and Big TV Show C uses Artist B’s version, they just have to pay Artist A.  Jonathan Coulton’s only possible legal avenue centers around the possibility that Glee took his exact audio tracks and used those instead of recreating them.

You see, at one point, Jonathan released his source tracks for a Creative Commons fundraiser.  Some people believe that Glee took these tracks and used them for their own version.  The problem here is that the license they were released under was Non-commercial.  This means that I could take them and release a version of me singing to the song, but I can’t sell that version or use it in a commercial work.

You know, like a television show.

This situation is still developing and it isn’t clear whether Jonathan Coulton will get any credit or payment from Glee.  Since Coulton’s song was copied, many other artists have come forward (or have had their previous claims publicized more) about Glee ripping them off as well.

A television show about underdogs whose only recourse is their singing skills stealing from other artists and using their mega-corporation’s legal might to make sure that they can get away with it?  I’m not sure if that’s irony, but it is extremely repugnant.  It almost makes me want to start watching Glee just so I can quit watching in protest.  (Almost, but not quite.)

Instead, I think I’ll buy a song or two from Jonathan Coulton’s shop.  In fact, if I buy his newly released cover of Glee’s cover of his cover of Baby Got Back (that is to say, his original version), he’ll donate the proceeds to charity.  A very classy move by Jonathan Coulton in response to Glee’s much-less-than-classy move.

The bottom line here is the same as pretty much every case that I detailed in the beginning of this post.  Had Glee offered to pay Jonathan Coulton for permission to use his arrangement, he likely would have agreed.  Had they asked politely, not offering payment but only credit, he still might have agreed.  However, to take the arrangement, give no payment or credit, and try to claim that this gives the artist exposure is flat out wrong.  When it comes to copyright, the rule of thumb is “Ask permission first”, not “Seek forgiveness, not permission.”

The Ringtone Hunt

SmartphoneWay back in the day, the sound that a cellphone made when it rang was set by the manufacturer.  You had the option of listening to it or turning it off.  Then, someone got the bright idea that cellphones should play bits of music when they rang. 

Fast forward to the present day and your average smart phone can play any MP3 file you throw at it as a ringtone.  This means your favorite song can announce that your spouse is calling you or Darth Vader’s theme song can declare that your in-laws are on the line.  (Not that I’d do that, of course!)

I’ve bounced from ringtone to ringtone over the years.  From Star Wars to the Muppets, each of them reflected some aspect of my geekiness.  My latest declared my love of Doctor Who.  In fact, it was the Doctor Who theme song.

Unfortunately, while the Doctor Who theme makes for a great song, it can be a bit grating as a ringtone.  Especially to B’s ears.  So I’m on the hunt for a new ringtone.  One that will express my geekiness but without causing B auditory discomfort.

I’ve already gone through the TARDIS sound (also annoying), a Dalek (B said that she’d EXTERMINATE me if I used it), and the sonic screwdriver (worse than the theme song).  For now, I’ve settled on "I Am The Doctor" which is the song that plays in some Doctor Who episodes as the peril comes to a head and The Doctor heads into the fray.  We’ll see if I keep this one or if it winds up replaced with something else.

What do you have set as your ringtone?  What geeky ringtone would you recommend?

Note: The "smartphone" image above is by zorro and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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