Monday, March 19, 2012

Duke Energy Helps Support Family Performance and School Matinees

More than 2,000 students and teachers attended the recent performance of The Magic School Bus – The Climate Challenge in Loeb Playhouse on the Purdue campus. The program helped students understand global concerns about climate change and how conservation, recycling and alternative energy can make a difference.

Duke Energy partnered with the Bay Area Children’s Theatre and Oregon Children’s Theatre in providing support for the national tour. Locally, Duke Energy partnered with Purdue Convocations to help make our local presentation of the performance possible. The energy firm saw the Magic School Bus program as an effective tool to teach energy-related concepts in a memorable way, District Manager Kevin Johnston, said.

“Duke Energy supports the use of a variety of teaching methods, including the arts, to help students learn important concepts about the safe and effective use of electricity,” Johnston said. “[We] are committed to the concept of sustainable energy use, which means using energy in ways that are good for people, the planet and profits. Children and adults should make every effort to learn how to use energy wisely and responsibly.”

In our state, Duke Energy is a participating utility in “Energizing Indiana,” a united effort by participating utilities, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, and consumer organizations to offer comprehensive energy efficiency programs that bring savings to communities across the state. These programs include K-12 education programs. Click on this link: Http:// for more information on these programs, or call 800-722-2231.

For a comprehensive look at Duke Energy’s position on climate change, click on this link: Duke Energy also maintains a website that encourages your participation in the ongoing conversation about global climate change, called Shedding a Light, at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Local Artists Utilize Storytelling in the Classroom

Stories can help students learn almost any subject. Local teaching artists Doyne Carson and Sheri Johnson are helping both students and teachers at Edgelea Elementary learn to use storytelling across the curriculum.

“The power of story helps children become active and better listeners who are able to recall the sequence of events, values, and historical or scientific information that was related in the story,” Doyne relates. “With story, listeners learn more efficiently. Their visualization and imagination skills are stimulated. When watching a storyteller, children learn to interpret various kinds of body and language communication; vocabularies grow and lessons come alive.”
Lafayette School Corporation and Purdue Convocations , as partners in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education program, work together to help teachers develop twenty-first century teaching techniques. The Kennedy Center encourages the use of local teaching artists who can be more available to coach and work with teachers.

Storytelling is one of the most flexible performing art forms. It can use almost any other type of performing art in its presentation or stand on its own. Helping teachers learn how to use storytelling techniques in the classroom can increase student interest in the topic being discussed. The teachers for each grade level K-4 at Edgelea Elementary chose a topic to explore through storytelling. Doyne and Sheri have developed a program of stories and created study materials to help teachers cover these topics.

Sheri Johnson taught fourth grade at Happy Hollow Elementary School in West Lafayette. Now retired, she is using all the skills she developed in the classroom to help other teachers understand how storytelling can spark a student’s imagination.

“Storytelling was a way for me to help students understand concepts in science, social studies and reading,” Sheri says. “Students began to see their own life as a story.”

On January 5th, Doyne Carson presented “Abe Lincoln’s Boyhood Friend” to the fourth grade. The hour-long performance told of Lincoln’s early years growing up in rural Kentucky and Indiana. It related some of the true incidences of his life and the many challenges of learning to be self-sufficient. The story pointed out many of the personality characteristics that helped Abraham Lincoln become a great man and a strong president. Teachers had study materials to follow up in the classroom including books, a crossword puzzle about facts presented in the performance, and a set of portraits and other artwork featuring Lincoln. Doyne works with many area schools helping students learn Indiana history through stories.

Grades K-2 teachers have chosen to concentrate on character tales, and Grade 3 has chosen tales relating to rocks, plants, and sound and light. Doyne and Sheri customize their tales to fit each grade level and Purdue Convocations is providing picture sets to correspond to the tales.

Laura Clavio, Assistant Director

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Doktor Kaboom Finds the Fun Side of Science

With a bright orange lab coat, biker gloves and goggles, Doktor Kaboom! is quick to engage his audience in his science lesson that focuses as much on fun as it does on learning. Scientist David Epley will be the first to admit that his alter ego is a bit cheesy and stereotypical, but all the more fun when he can use this to get the laughter going and engage families in exploring the fascinating world of science.

“After twenty years of [performing] interactive comedy, I knew that what I could bring to the table that would be different was a comic character that brings scientific concepts across in a funny, entertaining way,” Epley says. “My audiences are always an active part of the show. I think this interplay between Doktor K and his audiences makes for more exciting performances, more memorable performances and gets kids invested in the event right from the start of the show.”

Amid the fun is a message, Epley says, and that is that science is for everyone, not just the people who find it easy.

“I hope to teach kids that and remind their parents of it. They’ll all go home excited about doing some science together, and I will teach them some very cool things to do together.” Doktor Kaboom! explores scientific method and application with some hilarious antics like air cannons, banana catapults and the creation of “elephant toothpaste.”

A full blown science “geek” himself, Epley was spotted early for his abilities and attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a two-year residential high school for students gifted in science and math.
“We had to take the SAT as part of the application process,” David relates, “had our own electron microscope and a campus wide internet before the Internet. Heaven for us geeks, but it was also there that I discovered my love for performing.”

He then went to the University of North Carolina but had difficulty deciding whether to pursue chemistry or theatre. In the end theatre won, and he took his BFA in Acting and Directing. He spent twenty years working as an actor, first in children’s theatre performances in North Carolina and West Virginia, then as part of a three-man comedy team for Renaissance Fairs that performed ancient literature like Beowulf and Dante’s Inferno with a comedic twist. He decided to create his own one-man show and thought involving his great interest in science might offer some great possibilities. Doktor Kaboom! was the result.

David thinks that people do have some misconceptions about math and science.

“Most people in this country will say they hate math. This is because they find numbers confusing, and I get that,” he says, “but math is not about numbers, math is about patterns. Numbers are just how we describe those patterns; they are the alphabet for math.”

So, what are some practical ways to enjoy the wonders of scientific exploration?

“Science is like Shakespeare; it is not meant to be read, it is meant to be done,” David says. “Every parent should take their kid to a hands-on science museum and play with them. Then, go home and make a habit of doing science together. Parents will sometimes say, ‘I don’t know science. I can’t teach it to my kids.’ I say, you don’t have to. Learn it with them. It’s fun stuff, and it really is pretty straightforward stuff, as well.

Doktor Kaboom! will be performing in Loeb Playhouse, Stewart Center on the Purdue campus on Sunday, November 20th at 3 p.m. Come early! Beginning at 2:00 p.m. in the Stewart Center West Lobby Purdue’s Network for Earthquake Engineering and Simulation (NEES) will have activities and information relating to earthquakes and tsunamis. Patrons will get to see how engineering helps minimize damage from natural disaster through design and construction techniques. They will also have a Make Your Own Earthquake station where children will be able to jump on a board with a sensor that transmits the “shake” to a computer program seismograph.

“We will be able to personalize the seismographs, and the students will be able to take with them a printed copy of the earthquake they created,” says Pamela McClure, NEEScomm Instructional Designer for NEES.

For more information on Doktor Kaboom! please visit the Convocations website at

Laura Clavio, Assistant Director

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


There are two often ignored facts that the music of Genuine Negro Jig, the Grammy winning recording by the Carolina Chocolate Drops addresses. First, African-Americans had a string band music tradition, and, second, that tradition had roots in the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina. A forerunner of bluegrass and country music, the string band was instrumented by banjo, fiddle in the late 19th century. Guitar, snare drum, jug, kazoo and harmonica, bones, washboard and mandolin were added later. Most African-American bands played the old time music of the region, and the Choc Drops have revitalized many of the foot-stomping songs with a dash of their own modern flair. Additionally they dropped into their recording original compositions and even a cover or two.

The original band met in 2005 at The Black Banjo Gathering in North Carolina. All three were trained in Piedmont banjo and fiddle music by 90-year-old Joe Thompson, believed to be the last living performer from the Piedmont string band era. The group freely interchanges instruments, but a lion’s portion of the vocal work goes to classically trained vocalist Rhiannon Giddens as it is so beautifully demonstrated in here electrifying rendition of Reynadine.

This fourth album for the group was awarded a 2010 Grammy as best traditional folk album and begins with Peace Behind the Bridge, a song written by legendary Piedmont guitarist Etta Baker. Other selections include such traditional gems as Trouble in Your Mind, Snowden’s Jig and Cindy Gal. While honoring tradition, the band does not feel bound to it and handily mixes it with modern musical sensibilities and mountain instrument arrangements, even a version of Blu Cantrells’s Hit ‘em Up Style, an urban classic.

Since its release Justin Robinson has left the group. Banjo player, jug bassist, and Arizona native Dom Flemons remains with Giddens,and New York City musicians, beatboxer Adam Matta and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Hubby Jenkins have joined to now make a quartet. The band believes in pushing into new territory, honoring traitiona but not being bound by it. So, the music evolves from it roots with fresh perspectives, instrumentation and interpretation.

Laura Clavio, Purdue Convocations Assistant Director

Friday, September 9, 2011

ScrapArtsMusic Makes the Most Out of Trash

We have almost all heard the phrase “one man’s trash is another one’s treasure”. In the case of ScrapArtsMusic, one city’s industrial scraps, trash and throw away items have yielded a treasure trove of inventive, innovative and, yes, even beautiful, hand-crafted and to-be-treasured musical instruments. It just takes some ability as a welder, an eye for useable material and a wild imagination to envision just what a junk piece of aluminum scrap, an artillery shell or a piece of PVC pipe can become!

It has taken ScrapArtsMusic founder and percussion virtuoso Gregory Kozak and designer Justine Murdy – the heart and soul of the group- all the way to a performance at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, an opportunity that helped launch an amazing career expansion.

“It certainly raised our profile!” Greg and Justine commented. “It raised our confidence level, too. We got a lot more internet inquiries. People from all walks (of life) still talk to us about it. It was an incredible experience to see from behind-the-scenes…from costumes, to rehearsals, to pre-recording music, to staging on such a MASSIVE level with performers all being coordinated for a global telecast.

“Another highlight to the whole experience was that Canada had won the gold medal in men's hockey just hours before the Closing Ceremonies began, so there was an especial magic in the air that all Vancouverites -- and international visitors too -- were feeling high from. The weather had been so perfect... people were happy and high-5-ing complete strangers. It was such an unbelievable honor to be a part of something SO big. And we were the last group officially recognized during the Closing Ceremonies, so we felt pretty special to be part of that climax... the closing seconds of the biggest party Canada has hosted -- possibly ever!! Whoa! Sends shivers just remembering how cool it was!!!!!”

The duo established ScrapArtsMusic in July 1998. Greg Kozak is joined in performance by percussion artists Spencer Cole, Christa Mercey, Greg Samek, Malcolm Shoolbraid and Simon Thomsen. Their intricately choreographed routines with over one hundred forty-five instruments made from recycled materials makes them one of the “greenest” groups of performers out there, and one of the most electrifying to watch.

Kozak took a welding course to acquire the needed skills to make their unusual instruments. The instruments create visual art on the stage with their unique shapes and arrays. The performance is very physical and precision-driven, a percussion and movement mania that is both a visual and a sonic treat! They made scrap into art and art into music – thus the name!

Their music is a groove-based fusion of world music rhythmic traditions and twenty-first century pop demonstrating that there are potential musical instruments in many things heretofore unimagined. Some of the instruments include: Annoy-O-Phone, B-52 Drum, Humunga Drum, Junk-On-A-Stick, Sigh-Cordian, Ziggurat Drum and Whirlies, just to name a few.
Now, as they have become world travelers people will bring them scrap and challenge them to create an instrument.

“I’ve had springs from pilates machines, an F4 fuel baffle, a mini-submarine ballast tank casing, a giant cast metal marine propeller and so many other cool forms brought to me from people who "get" my sensibility,” Kozak relates. “ I love taking unexpected materials and re-contextualizing them by making cool-sounding instruments from them. They aren't so much a challenge as they are an inspiration!”

Greg began as a street performer busking around Vancouver and was “discovered” and invited to perform at an NBA half-time show. That led to performing at a high-profile music awards show, and soon the performance began to evolve as Greg worked to develop a precise choreography for the group. They now perform at large-scale professional sporting events, award shows, at performing arts centers, with orchestras and dance companies….the possibilities are endless and challenging.

We asked, “What will young people and families learn or gain from attending a performance?

“Our scrap materials are actually a manifestation of our ideas... so, before you throw away an idea or a scrap or whatever, we hope kids and families might give a second thought to how they might be able to re-use these in an even greater way than simple landfill,” Justine and Greg responded.

“Humanity could benefit from this big re-think! Hopefully we inspire people with a ‘Can Do’ attitude. For example, music making is not limited to patented instruments that can be bought at a store - why not design your own? And not all acceptable ways of performing have been figured out. Push the envelope. You might discover something amazing! Similarly, what one must do to live a good productive life has not all been charted out. You "can" create your own way! Our athletic choreography is a manifestation of our belief in the positivity of being physical on a regular basis, the benefits of eating natural whole foods, and the reward of working together for a common goal.”

Greg and Justine emphasized that it's never too late or too early to start studying any instrument. In order to have full expression with an instrument though, you have to develop technique and that comes only with putting in practice time.

“It's true for our invented instruments ,too,” Greg affirms. “Practice makes perfect.”

If you are coming to the ScrapArtsMusic performance which begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday October 2nd in Loeb Playhouse, Stewart Center, on the Purdue campus, come an hour early. Youngsters will have the opportunity to make their own free shaker egg from 2:00-2:45 p.m. in the West Lobby Stewart Center. Pick a colorful plastic egg; choose a “filling” that makes a cool sound, tape it shut and decorate with stickers it to your liking. Keep it handy during the performance! Members of the Convos Voice Network will assist patrons with their creations!
What is the most important thing to remember about percussion instruments and listening to a percussion performance?

“Every culture around the world has percussion instruments,” Greg says. “Percussion is a universal language.”

For more information on ScrapArtsMusic visit the Purdue Convocations website

Click here for a downloadable study guide with instrument photos and ideas for instruments:

--Laura Clavio, assistant director of Purdue Convocations

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kennedy Center Teaching Artist: Melanie Layne

On April 14th, twenty students sat in a circle on the floor of their classroom with teaching artist Melanie Layne as she began an in-class demonstration.

“Today we are going to look, think and talk about portraits,” she told the first graders as she created a gesture for each of the needed skills. She laid out dozens of portraits for the students to see. Soon they were engaged with their partner discussing all of the things that they could see in a portrait or a photograph of a person or a group of people. Their task was to talk about what was similar and what was different in the portraits they observed.

What could a first grader notice? You’d be amazed! Melanie wrote down all the things she heard in the sixty seconds allotted for discussion on the smart board. All these things were then discussed as a group, and Melanie taught the students the most important things to always look for in a portrait. Soon they were playing "Pass the Portrait" and quickly pointing out to their partner all the things they noticed. Students soon realized that there were many things they could learn about a person from learning to see the many pieces of information contained in visual art.

The in-class demonstration was part of residency instruction for teachers conducted by the visiting Kennedy Center teaching artist as part of Lafayette School Corporation/ Purdue Convocations’ participation in the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program. Over two days Melanie visited four classrooms twice so she could take the students further into the instruction which eventually connects to reading and writing.

Her work also included a three-hour long professional development workshop where teachers learned the theories and practices behind the demonstrated techniques. The method touched upon many parts of learning – visual and oral learning and exploration, attention to detail, interactive participation, and vocabulary to name a few. Teachers were able to see connections to many subject areas such as reading, writing social studies, music, art and biography as well as how this type of learning also naturally lead to assessment of students’ comprehension of the material.

Most participating teachers were from Edgelea Elementary where some curricular integration techniques are being adapted as a common format among their classrooms. The continuity of a common language used by teachers in discussing discipline and teamwork has helped create a larger sense of community within the school. Kennedy Center teaching artists help teachers explore methods of 21st Century learning techniques that lead to meeting multiple objectives in curricular instruction.

Laura Clavio, assistant director of Purdue Conovcations

Monday, April 11, 2011

Convocations Voice Network (CVN) Update

“You’re going to sit in our seats and like it” may seem like quite a flippant thing for an ushering club to say, but this line, found in the “About Me” section of the Facebook for CVN (The Ushering Club), is actually a pretty apt description of our main mission: To provide quality customer service to the patrons of Convocations. However, this is not our only goal. While many may only see the students showing them to their seats at shows such as Spamalot or Blue Man Group, there is much more going on behind the scenes.

Historically, CVN (which stands for Convocations Voice Network) was a club of students set out to publicize Convocations. This was, of course, before we had our lovely Convocations staff who have thankfully antiquated the need for our rather scary mascot, Artie the Culture Vulture. Presently, we still strive to raise awareness and exposure to the arts through other means such as assisting the Convocations staff in publicity events and making donations the Convocations educational outreach program. In addition to this we work to train new student leaders to work in teams, think on their feet, and act professionally. Finally, and most important of all, we do our best to make your Convocations experience a pleasurable one. We have a wonderful team of student volunteers, who are always glad to put on a smile, share their enthusiasm for the performing arts, and help you find your seat. So next time you hear “Can I help you find your seat today?” please, sit in our seats and like it.

Amy K. Tannahill, Convocations Voice Network