The Inception Podcast

Making Creativity Crackle... A Parent & Educator's Perspective

June 17, 2021 Andrew Frishman / Akira Nakano Season 1 Episode 4
The Inception Podcast
Making Creativity Crackle... A Parent & Educator's Perspective
Show Notes Transcript

Andrew Frishman, Co-Executive Director of Big Picture Learning, a nation-wide school system... and the father of two of our young composers, joins us to share his insights on the Inception Orchestra Young Composers Mentoring Program. 

He will talk how his children have positively taken to Inception and about the opportunity that every youngster should explore.

Los Angeles Inception Orchestra
Big Picture Learning
Fox Family Foundation
Project InSight

The Inception Podcast
Episode 4
Andrew Frishman 

Akira Nakano
Hello and welcome to The Inception Podcast. Join us weekly as we explore the Young Composers Mentoring Program of the Los Angeles Inception Orchestra. Today, we're going to speak with Andrew Frishman, the Co-Executive Director of Big PictureLearning… a nationwide school system which fosters learning spaces in which students can freely and with courage, pursue their passions and interests.

 He is also the parent of two of our composers, Jordan and Lundy. We'll also discuss the value he sees in our program. Why his kids enrolled and stay, and why every student should have a creative opportunity like Inception.

 Hello, Andrew. It's so great to speak to you tonight. Thanks for coming on the podcast. 

 

Andrew Frishman
Hello there, Akira, it’s such a pleasure to be speaking and listening to you. 

 

Akira
Well, thank you so much. You have two kids in our program, Jordan and Lundy, who are amazing. They are nine and eleven. Is that right? 

 

Andrew
Lundy is eight, but he will be nine in just a few months. And Jordan is eleven, and she would probably tell you eleven-and-a-half. 

 

Akira
They are terrific kids. And I'm so excited that you came on. It's great to get parent perspective. We really want to find out in this conversation: Why you put your kids in? What benefits you've seen? And how excited they are, and how excited you are around it? And how much, I don't want to tell you how much we love working with them.

 

Andrew
Well, thanks. I mean, I feel like, uh, if this were a court of law, you'd be leading the witness. Excited to share my enthusiasm and really voice their enthusiasm. They are the ones who have really driven this and have been most interested. And I think as a parent, a lot of what I, and we try to do with my wife partner, Leigh, is to help offer opportunities. So excited that the opportunity of Inception is out there and not only for our own kids, but for all of the other great young people that they've had a chance to connect with.


Akira
So let's talk about how we met. I have a day job at the Fox Family Foundation, which seeks to break the link between poverty and vision loss. Big Picture Learning, that you are the Co-Executive Director at, is one of our grantees for a project we call Project InSight. How did we first get connected? 

 

Andrew
I'm glad that we got to connect. Sometimes the day jobs and the night jobs, the day passions and the night passions, all intersect in really exciting ways. So at Big Picture Learning, as you mentioned, we are particularly interested in young people having the opportunity to pursue their interests and passions. We were launched about 25 years ago. Our Co-Founders, Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky, were looking at the American public education system and really recognized that, particularly if you ask high school kids, how do you feel about school? A lot of them come back and say it's boring. I'm not really known there. I don't get to do the things I'm most excited about. And the things that I do every day are not really related to my life outside of school. And I don't get to do the things I'm best at. I don't feel that school is connecting me to the future careers that I would want to explore.  And so Big Picture was launched as a way to try to address that. And so high schools were designed in ways that first got to know young people really well and ask them, who are you and where are you coming from? What's your family like? What have you been interested in? What do you care about in this world? What matters to you? What do you want to get better at? What are you already good at? Who do you want to connect and learn from and with? And so Elliot Washor, the Co-Founder of Big Picture was in touch with some folks in the Southern California area. And one of the career fields that young people sometimes don't always know to explore is all of the things related to eye health, vision loss, visual impairment. And so somehow Elliott and Lee Fox, one of the leaders at the Fox Family Foundation connected up and said, “Hey, wait a minute. I think we could put something together here. We're trying to inspire a next generation of young people to explore for the career field of eye health. And we got a whole, a lot of young people who are trying to figure out what they're interested in.” And sure enough, it turns out that all kinds of young people are connected to people who have experienced some form of vision loss or visual impairment. We connected up and Project InSight was born or came into focus. See what I did there? And that's been a really great collaboration where lots of young people, not only in Big Picture schools, but beyond, are learning more about the field of eye health and visual impairment and vision loss. And really getting to inspire them to become the next generation of not just optometrists and ophthalmologists, but also neuroscientists and laboratory technicians and researchers, and all kinds of excited, braille writers, all kinds of exciting things.

 

Akira
Well, that's super great. Um, that was almost as bad as some of the kids' music jokes. 

 

Andrew
They're not even dads either. So I claimed the dad joke title.

 

Akira
So many great things with Big Picture Learning that you guys do. But I love this fact that you guys take high school kids and pair them with mentors in the field. What was really great about when we formed Inception, without even knowing it, we had looked at our curriculum and we realized we were very similar. We have these group classes. And then we private mentored everybody one-on-one throughout the course of the week, which gives more focused attention to each student of course.

 

Andrew
Absolutely. And that's, I think, one of the things that drew me first as a parent. I think anytime when you see one of your children get excited about something, you just see where the energy is, and you say, “God, there's, there's a lot of excitement and fire and passion. What can I do to help give my child, you know, more opportunities to explore that?” And so both of my kids had had a little bit of guitar and piano lessons. Each of them in their own ways had shown that music was something that they enjoyed creating. And I think we tried out and, and they, they both have just great piano and guitar teachers, and we're learning a quite a bit, but it wasn't necessarily activating their really most creative instincts I would say. And so I think to go back to Big Picture for a moment, there are two words that are really important to us and they are “want” and “with”. The “want” is really important. It's what is it that gets young people fired up and excited? Their interests, their passion, the thing that they just, even if you don't tell them to do it, they're going to do it. Even if you tell them not to do it, they might go do it anyway. It's sort of what do young people do when nobody tells them what to do? That's how you figure out what their real interests are and what their “want” is. And then the next one is “with”. It's very, very rare that really anyone learns anything entirely alone. Learning is truly in some way a communal act. It's something that's done together with others. Even if you're sitting alone working through a piece by Haydn or Chopin or Beethoven. Well Haydn or Chopin or Beethoven wrote that thing a long time ago. You're communing with them over a couple of centuries ago. We really were excited about when I, and when we, saw some of what was going on with the Inception Orchestra was it was about that relational connection. And so whether it's the mentors, whether it's the other young people in these individual tutorials, and then also coming together as a group… to be together with a bunch of other people, uh, varying ability levels from rank beginner, all the way up to extremely successful professional, the passion and the energy that crackles, even across these zoom rooms, is just palpable. And that's what we were so excited about and continue to be. 

 

Akira
We love Jordan and Lundy. I think it’s their enthusiasm, even with… They have just started. I think when we first met, right away, you had just gotten a cello that your school had provided. And you sent me this video of Jordan trying out the cello. It was like the cutest thing. And who knew that's what turned into two of our favorite students. 

 

Andrew
Yeah, no, it's been exciting. And I think each of our children in their own way, demonstrate a lot of love and excitement for music. And I would just say, if you're thinking about having your child join Inception Orchestra, that's sort of a prerequisite, right? It can't be something that you, as the parent want to do. It's got to be something that your child has expressed a real strong interest in doing. But then the second thing was that again, I mentioned the piano and guitar lessons were great for very specifically learning kind of the technical skills of each of those instruments. But we found that each of our children would occasionally sit down at those instruments and kind of noodle around on it a little bit, but they weren't really learning how to create some of their own music. They were imitation is an incredibly important element, I think. And you can learn a lot from mimicking others expertise. But the idea to sit down and out of thin air or out of some wood and some metal, uh, to be able to create new sounds and songs is just a miraculous thing. And I'll always remember the moment that Lundy had worked with another mentor and had put together his very first, it was only, you know, four or five measures on Sibelius and then printed it out. And I remember him holding this piece of paper and just practically glowing, just like bursting out of his skin. He just ran over to show it to myself and to Leigh and said, “This is my song.  I wrote this.” And that for an eight year old to sort of self-identify as a composer, you know, I think that's part of what also is so special about Inception Orchestra is that right from the beginning, the way in which young people reframe their identity is just immeasurably powerful. 

 

Akira
I was really excited when I actually got mentor sent me the copy. I was like, “My gosh, this is so cool!” And I love also, because I work with Jordan… so Karen and I switch off with Jordan a lot, your daughter, and she had come up with a piece. It was so surprising the first time I heard it because I was not expecting this. And she just sat down at her piano and started to play it. And I was like, are you kidding me? This is so great. And what I really loved about it was that she had another piece and she was able to fuse those two together to create one. And she was so open-minded about it and willing and just excited to do it and really worked at it. And that's what we love. 

 

Andrew
Thank you for mentioning that, because the next thing I was going to really say is that… in so many schools and so many school-based activities, young people are given a worksheet or a set of math problems or even a particular project. And they work on that over the course of maybe five minutes, maybe a day, maybe even a week, maybe even a month, but then it's done and it's sort of shelved and it's put away. And the work might've been done, usually it's done basically for the teacher. I think what I've seen in, in Inception Orchestra is Jordan and Lundy had participated is that if they're creating something in combination for themselves, And also ultimately for an external audience, a very real authentic piece. And so the work that they're doing that it's not sort of “Oh, I finished it. It's done!” I've watched Jordan, as you mentioned, go through an initial free form exploration of some possible melody and melodic lines. And then through working with Karen, through working with you, in this iterative process, it's gotten progressively more complex.  That's what's been so fascinating is that neither myself nor my wife are certainly not professional musicians. And really most of our experience in playing our own music was back when we were much younger in middle and up through high school. And so she's very quickly outstripped all of our own abilities and knowledge, but it's starting to teach us things. And I guess I'd add one other piece as well, which is that our children every morning, that's our alarm clock. So they wake up and at 7:15. They sit down, and each of them play piano and guitar in succession. And as delightful as it is to hear them get incrementally better at the same songs each day, one of the things that we've noted is that we would hear Jordan sit down and play “Don't Get Around Much Anymore” by Duke Ellington; and we would hear her play the “CanCan”, and we would hear her play some Mozart “Sonatina”… and then we would hear her play her piece. And the entire feel shifted. It didn't feel like she was going through the motions. It felt like she was every day, improving it a little bit, experimenting a little bit, playing it faster, playing it softer, adding in some repetitive chords, adding in a repeat, trying to blend it from one song into another, playing it louder, playing it very softly. And so even in the spaces in between each weekly mentoring session, we could hear it getting more and more complex and more and more interesting, which is just a fascinating process to observe and to get to wake up to every day.

 

Music: Untitled Piano Piece by Jordan Frishman [12:39]

 

Akira [13:15]
I think the great thing about being with someone who is so young at this age, what's exciting and what I love about working with Jordan and Lundy is that they're so open-minded, which is great because… I have a piece that I've showed the kids that I wrote when I was eleven. It's interesting. It's cute. But that trajectory of getting to knowing that I did my first full film score at nineteen in front of musicians and orchestra, and I was conducting, you can get there. And I think that's what's really exciting about kids who are young and open to notes and open to adjustments and exploration. 

 

Andrew
The other piece that I should mention is that our children attend a bilingual immersion school. And one of the things that we have experienced as parents is the way in which their language acquisition has worked. And so I speak some Spanish. I'm pretty darn close to fluent. My wife speaks a bit, but the two of them live in a mostly English world other than the six hours a day that they're at school, which is 80 to 90% in Spanish. And one of the things that we've observed is that it's much easier for the brain at age five to fifteen to pick up a second or foreign language than it is for the brain 45 to 60, right? Because the brain is so much more plastic and adaptable at that stage. And I feel the same way about the music process. I sort of tried to stay with Jordan and Lundy for the first few weeks and even month or two as they were in Inception Orchestra. And there just so quickly, dad, come on, that's a minor seventh. Like what are you doing? They've been very quickly outstripping my musical knowledge. Which has been really exciting. And I think there must be some parallels to the way in which people learn language and learn music. And we've been observing that.

 

Akira
Yeah. You were the one who actually told us at the beginning, because I was a little bit worried truthfully because our cohort that had been going on for so long. So I think initially we'd had some talks about, well, maybe waiting until our new cohort begins, but at that point we didn't really know what it would start. So I said, just jump in. And you were the one who said after a week or two. It's like language, immersion. It's just, they come in and they get what they get. And we love that. And we love that about those kids and your attitude around it. You and your wife are so supportive of this. So it's great. 

 

Andrew
We feel particularly lucky every Saturday and you know, every day that our children have a one-on-one tutorial as well. It's a really unique thing. I think we feel really grateful that we stumbled across it, especially when it's 3000 miles away from where we live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

 

Akira
I know. So where are you going to book some airfare? For when we go back live? We'll be expecting your kids to fly in every week. 

 

Andrew
I'm sure they wouldn't complain. We’ll have to figure that out. 

 

Akira
Yeah. We actually do have to figure out the hybrid format when we come back and which will be pretty exciting because now that we did expand nationally… Like you said you were in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I'm sitting here in LA. We have to figure out what we're going to do to mix virtual and being in person, because I know some of our kids who are in person miss it tremendously.

 

Andrew
Well one piece that I didn't fully mention about our work at Big Picture Learning… You know, I mentioned the “want” and the “with”, but that “with” we feel is vitally important. And so I do think that there's something profoundly unique and different that happens when a group of people walk into a music recording studio, or step onto a stage to perform or even physically meet together. It's not just the video digital interfaces can't always mesh lots of different voices and instrumentation. There really is something different that happens when people are physically in the same room. And that's something we really believe at Big Picture. And when our students are off interning, that idea of situated learning, that the learning happens in the authentic location… It allows you to go so far beyond what happens in a classroom. That's not to diminish... I've been shocked and amazed quite frankly, by what is able to be experienced over the course of a few hours zoom session on a Saturday. But it's still, I absolutely hear and agree with you, that trying to figure out how to get young people back in person, especially now that you have this diaspora of participants is going to be an interesting challenge to work out.

 

Akira
So I think that we are thinking about really vetting local mentors for at least here and there for like your kids to meet with. So that has always been in our thought. We've had this thing about thinking about local franchises. So do we have local musicians who teach some of the curriculum. And then when we can't find like, let's suppose we're doing particular instruments…. If we can't find the local guy, then people turn into our zoom that we're kicking out on the same instrument. That's one thought. The other thought, how do we really switch these things around? We are looking at a studio. We're thinking about how do we put in cameras so we can have a multiple camera viewpoint of it so that we can switch it almost like a live TV show so that you're not just staring at a face in a zoom being there. You're right. This is so experiential and so important. Our studio engineer, Claire, who used to be with us live all the time… She came in early on and did a great, amazing presentation about being in studio and studio etiquette. And it was fantastic. And our Board Chair, who was sitting on the call, Michael Sushel goes, “That went over everybody's head who's never walked into a studio.” And he was right. 

 

Andrew
Yeah, well, it's, it's going to be an interesting and exciting experimental journey. How, what and how you can post.

 

Akira
We are putting a focus on recruitment, but Andrew, anybody that you come across or anyone within your school system who might benefit from our program, we're a hundred percent there for them.

 

Andrew
One of the things that I'm excited about. With the production of this podcast. And also as you have an additional set of information on the website and not just the podcast, but partnerships with amazing folks that you're working with, I think it'd be exciting to open it up and see if there are other students across the Big Picture Network who would be interested in participating.

 

Akira
That'd be fabulous. And certainly, while we are looking at a tuition base perhaps in the fall, it is open to everybody. I think one of our couple of our Board members, including me, feel that this originally was created so that whomever did not have access has access. So that's a super important piece of the puzzle. And as our program has grown the access to these amazing musicians that Jordan and Lundy have come face-to-face with, that I at their age would never have even imagined I would get to work with or be in the presence of, or get notes from… to learn from these talented, talented people. It's just incredible.

 

Andrew
Really incredible. But one piece that we might not have shared right. At the outset in terms of part of the way that we connected and came together was that you mentioned that through your quote, unquote, day job. Although the last time I checked Akira, you seem to be, to never stop the joyful work that you're doing whether it's night or day it's, night and day, somewhere as the way I see it. But the way, you know, we connected through that. And I think in passing, I learned from you and or Elliot Washor that you are involved in and launched this thing called LA Inception Orchestra. And so I checked it out and even before I thought it might be a possibility for my own kids. I said, whoa, I looked a little bit at the website. I saw some video clips and I said, “That thing! That thing! That's getting young people opportunities to participate and engage in something that they might never have even imagined. And look at this incredible, incredible talent that's just getting unleashed and unlocked and is really unbounded.” And so I made a modest donation and then through that said, oh, like, be exciting to see if my kids could participate in, try it out a little bit. And after just a couple of sessions, I was like, whoa, wait a minute. This is amazing. And I feel like I want to donate again. That's a great habit, actually, that I've gotten into now to make not only donations myself, which I encourage, not only all participants and parents and participants to do, but also, you know, put it out in general on the web to say, this is a worthy and important, really a cause. There's so many young people out there across not only this country, but really around the world. I just think we'd be so much the better if they had an opportunity to participate in these kinds of music composition experiences that are uniquely offered through something like the LA Inception Orchestra. 

 

Akira
That is so amazing. Andrew. And it was interesting because I know we were on a day job call, and we talked about Inception just very, very briefly. And you said, oh, send some information. And the next thing I knew, this PayPal thing comes across. I'm like, what is going on? That was so great. But much more beneficial from that is that we had your kids. A humbling and such a great endorsement that someone who literally is the Co-Executive Director of a national school curriculum, puts their own kids in the program and says, “We endorsed this.” How great is that for us? 

 

Andrew
Thank you, Akira. I appreciate that a ton. And I have to beg to differ with you on one piece, which is, I think this is an important note for any young person and parents who are considering, which is… You said “who put their kids in it.” And I just want to be really clear. I introduced the idea and the possibility for my kids, but I really made sure that it was them who put themselves in it. And what I mean by that is, I did reach out to you and say, “Do you think it would work for my kids to sit in on one session? Would that even be possible? Just so they can see what it is?” And then they sat in on one session and I think that, you know, they, they were like, yeah, that was kind of cool. But I said, all right, would you want to check it out once or twice more? And I checked with you and yeah. And they were there once or twice more and then said, okay, let's find out. And I know that you sent to me a list of sort of, these are the expectations. If you're going to be in, here's what this is going to mean. And we all sat down on a Sunday morning. This was the day after the full Saturday. And said, okay how was yesterday? What are all the things that you liked about it? What did you love about it? Do you want to do more of this? Well, let's talk about what else that would mean because you're putting in, especially on the east coast, a big chunk of Saturday afternoons, are you okay doing that? And we went through and talked about, well, this is going to mean being there every week. This is going to mean practicing in between. This is going to mean getting on for an hour for tutorials in the middle of the week. This is going to mean, you think about you're playing in a bunch of different ways. It might mean a whole bunch of other things as well. And really said to them, “Do you want to do this?” Again that word “want”.  And really said to them, “If you don't want to, that's okay. There's lots of other things that we can do.” And each of them thought about it for awhile. We actually asked them to consider it separately so they wouldn't influence each other. And they both came back and said, “Yes, this is what I want to do” And here's why, and here's the set of things that I'm going to commit to. And, you know, some people might think, oh no eight-year-old or eleven-year-old can do that, but I really fundamentally believe, you know, since then we have not had to go practice this, or, oh, we got to like, there's no foot dragging about going in to do it. They're fired up and excited about it. And I think that's because they had a level of voice and choice, and it was something that they selected. You know, there are other kids who are probably going to lacrosse camp or equestrian or hip hop dance, or they could be doing almost anything. And that's fantastic. That's equally as great. But helping young people to find this kind of opportunity, I think is just what makes it work. 

 

Akira
You are such an incredible parent in that way, you and your wife… parents.. because I love the fact that you did really sit down with your kids and gave them the choice to do it. I think that's what makes this work in fact. You can tell the kids you want to be here. And I think that part of it is great because you know that they are going to grow, however long they're here. I mean, I hope they're here for a long, long time. I think they'll be super excited when we go into the studio and record their pieces. But I love the fact that it was their choice. And you can tell they're engaged. They're fun. They're truly excited when they learn something new. 

 

Andrew
Getting a little choked up here when you think about it. I think, you know, as a parent, that's what you want to hear about your kids is that they've found something that they love and care about, that they're working on getting better at it, and that people with such prodigious talent and experience and expertise see something in your kids. [00:25:08] So it's just. That's exciting to hear. Thank you. Thank you, Akira. It's a, it's a real gift. 

 

Akira
No, thank you. We talked about a lot of stuff here. I think there's, there's a good deal of stuff. So is there anything else that you wanted to talk about or mention before we sign off?

 

Andrew
You know, I think one piece that I wanted to add in, because we were talking a bit about making sure that young people who are going to participate really, really want to enter fired up and excited about it. Part of what I love about what my children have experienced in LA Inception Orchestra is that there is a really interesting and eclectic mix of young people who are participating, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. And I think that's so vitally important. I really feel on the one hand that yes, there should be some kind of self-selection for young people. But I also want to make really, really clear that I think every young person around this planet would benefit from LA Inception Orchestra or something similar. I think there's something unique that happens through the process of creating music, through the process of composing music, through the process of working with another group of young people and experts to do this. So, you know, I'll say two contradictory things. On the one hand, I think every young person should check out LA Inception Orchestra and figure out if it's right for you. And then I also would say at the same time, I think that it's very important for that young person to really have a particular interest in passion and want to go pursue it.

 

Akira
That is true. Yeah. It's one thing that your colleague, Andrea Purcell at Project InSight has talked about. This thing with virtual has really given us the ability to create cohorts that are from everywhere, out of different schools. It creates different conversations. And this is something that truly, I think virtual is such a benefit of. We get kids from across the country of different socioeconomic backgrounds who are collaborating to make music here. Which I love. And this is one thing that I hope everybody who's doing hybrid really remembers that this is so important. We're not just based at a single school we're based nationally. 

 

Andrew
That's something that was a particular interest and importance for us as a family, we've made a very deliberate decision to have our own children enrolled in a public school, uh, and also in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is one of the most diverse school districts in this country, if not the world. And so for us, it's not only what the content is, but who are you learning it with and from. And so we, we greatly value that diversity on, on every kind of measure and something that we've seen in LA Inception Orchestra up to this point. So I would just continue to encourage that wherever you are and wherever you're coming from and whoever you are, whatever ways you think about your own identity and family identity, it would be so, so exciting to have you a part of the LA Inception Orchestra. 

 

Akira
For anybody new who comes in, they really now have the opportunity to walk through every instrument of the orchestra. Again, this is something we did last year and we're resetting it. Compose for these particular instruments and have them record it. So, I mean, it's such an exciting opportunity that's coming up. Andrew. I want to thank you so much for being on the podcast tonight. This has been super exciting conversation, and we look forward to hearing more music from Lundy and Jordan. August 7th, their pieces are debuting. So that'll be exciting. 

 

Andrew
Thank you so much, Akira. And thanks to all of the mentors and participants and supporters of LA Inception Orchestra, it's been a pleasure and delight to see our children get to participate. And we look forward to hearing not only the compositions on August 7th, but all the music that everyone will be making in the world thereafter.

 

Akira
If you're interested in composing, our cohort resets itself in September. Thank you for listening to today's podcast, the Inception Orchestra, Young Composers Mentoring Program, in partnership with the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC) is funded by grants from organizations such as the Los Angeles Central City Optimist Foundation, and generous donations from friends, families, and listeners like you. Please check us out on www.Inceptionorchestra.org, where you can find lots of videos, an application form if you'd like to join us in September, and the spot to donate to help us continue our mission. Thanks everybody.