February 24, 2016

Utopia - Wednesday with Words

I am still working through Paradise Lost, but now its time to begin Utopia with my AO forum friends!  (This book is used in AO's year 8.)  There has been much chatter about it in the introduction threads, perhaps because the word "utopia" is commonly known but very few of us have read the book to understand *why* it became a common word.

It was written by Sir Thomas More, who was politically active and (perhaps) overly vocal.  He stood on his principles, had leaning towards priesthood before marriage came along, and eventually made an enemy of a king.  I think I'll add him to the mental list of people I want to meet in heaven. :)

Utopia (the book) was so potentially aggravating to the English that it wasn't printed in that country until after More's death; however, it was printed in several other countries and became quite popular.

I've only just begun Book 1 (of 2), and here are some catchy lines you might enjoy.

The fictitious Mr. More has just met Raphael and is impressed with his wise discourse on the governments in the lands he has seen.  (Emphasis mine.)
We asked him many questions concerning all these things, to which he answered very willingly; only we made no inquiries after monsters, than which nothing is more common; for everywhere one may hear of ravenous dogs and waves, and cruel men-eaters; but it is not so easy to find states that are well and wisely governed.
And just one page further on:
For most princes apply themselves more to affairs of war than to the useful arts of peace...they are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, right or wrong, than on governing well those they possess.
Hmmm.  It seems that humans and politicians don't really change over the ages, regardless of how far we think we have come as a species.

February 9, 2016

Looking for a piano teacher? Hoffman Academy

*This is a requested guest post for the Hoffman Academy.  We have used this website off and on for several years, and the updated videos are wonderful.  We are heading into lesson 61 this week. :)

Are you looking for a piano teacher? Meet Mr. Hoffman!  

Joseph Hoffman has always wanted one thing, for more people to be able to learn music and to love it while they're learning. He spent years developing his own comprehensive piano method based on research in early childhood education and great music teaching methods like Suzuki and Kodaly. After receiving his master's degree in music and founding a very successful music academy in Portland, Oregon, he wanted to find a way to teach music to children whose families might not be able to afford private music lessons, or who might live far away from a piano teacher.

Five years ago, Joseph and his wife Kelly came up with the idea to create piano video lessons and post them online, for free, so that anyone in the world could learn piano with the Hoffman Method. To support their project, they sold downloadable lesson materials, like sheet music and audio files, to accompany the video lessons. Mr. Hoffman's video lessons now have over 5 million views, with thousands of students watching lessons every day. But he's not done yet.

Right now, Mr. Hoffman has 120 piano video lessons online. He wants to double that number in the next 16 months, then continue to make more. His ultimate goal is to make Hoffman Academy a complete piano learning program, so that a student who completes all the lessons would be ready to major in music at any university and become a professional musician. 

The Hoffman Academy team is also working on building a new, interactive, subscription-based website that will include music learning games and online progress tracking. Video lessons alone can't give personalized feedback, but the new Hoffman Academy will be able to guide students through developing their skills in rhythm, staff reading, music theory, and ear training, and make learning the piano even more fun and engaging.

In order to fund these projects, Mr. Hoffman is running a Kickstarter campaign through the month of February. Campaign backers can try out the new Hoffman Academy premium subscription for themselves at a great discount. Or, you can contribute to our campaign and fund a Hoffman Academy premium subscription scholarship for a child in need. Come on over and check it out!

Do you believe in music education for everyone? Contribute to our Kickstarter and help make it happen. Visit our Kickstarter page to learn more.

February 5, 2016

Middlemarch (Book Review)

I read Middlemarch for a couple of reasons - its been on my to-be-read list for a long while, and I'm participating in the Back to Challenge for 2016.  First, I had it under a classic by a woman author, but moved it to the category "classic with a place in the title" because Bleak House was too intimidating.

Middlemarch was written by George Eliot, and is also a small, fictitious English town in the middle of the country. Wikipedia says it was "first published in eight installments (volumes) during 1871–2... it comprises several distinct (though intersecting) stories and a large cast of characters. Significant themes include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education."  It is set in the mid-1800s, and full of horses, post chaises, walking about and calling on neighbors - all quite charming.

I really enjoyed this classic novel.  I was told it was about marriage, and that is indeed a large part of the suspense.  Because of that preconception, the amount of politics and woman's rights surprised me.  I rooted for Dorothea throughout the book, and I feel like we watched her mature through the trials in her life.  Her sister Celia was amusing but didn't seem to grow up in the same way; this is also true of several other more minor characters.

There was new life and death.  There were religious and educational issues.  There was a struggle against sin by many of the characters, and an underlying acceptance of the Christian faith while showing how hypocritical one can be.  Rich and poor did not determine whether someone was virtuous or not, and neither did parentage.

I felt like I really got to know many of the characters as real people.  The writing was masterful in that each character had a different and believable voice and manner of speaking.  While I was involved in their lives, it wasn't a tear-jerker or artificially manipulative of my feelings.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys books set in this time period, or who  likes to peek into the mind of many others.