For Jon Metzger, Learning Never Stops

By Patrick Larsen

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Left to right: Jon Metzger, Carey Bina, Kavian Bina and Andrew Trautmann in class

Carey Bina, a senior at Elon University, shows up to Jon Metzger’s jazz improvisation class. He is ten minutes early and is carrying a saxophone. He begins preparing for the class, running through a scale on his instrument over and over again, perfecting it. He uncovers a vibraphone and pulls it into the center of the room.

Not long after this, Jon walks in. Carey finishes his scale successfully.

“You did it!” says Jon.

What follows in the next few minutes is a sort of musical conversation with a few instructive and questioning words thrown in. Jon stands behind the vibraphone, showing Carey variations on the scale, prompting him to follow.

It is immediately evident that Jon is one of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure and good fortune of meeting, but he didn’t just stumble across this talent.

Jon’s experience with the vibraphone began when he was 15. His parents convinced his school to let him borrow their vibraphone for the summer. It was around the same time that his sister, Lise, granted him a life-changing experience.

Lise brought Jon to see legendary vibist Milt Jackson, an exposure to jazz vibraphone that profoundly affected Jon.

“As a 15-year-old, I couldn’t articulate what was going on in the room, but I knew I just had to have it,” said Jon. “Milt said, ‘Never stop playing.’ That was a lot of the impetus to do everything that I had to do.”

And it is very clear that this impetus was strong.

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Andrew, Kavian and Jon playing in class

Jon Metzger, Jazz Ambassador

Jazz ambassador.

It’s not a title that sounds exactly real. It sounds a little bit too good to be from this world.

In fact, the position of jazz ambassador is quite important. The program originated in 1968 as a sort of cultural bridge to make the United States seem more appealing in the midst of the Cold War. The program has continued for similar reasons to the present day.

Like any regular job, being a jazz ambassador requires an application. What’s more, you have to apply for each round as ambassador. Jon applied and got the job – after his first round, he was given a “highly recommended” rating to tour again. Jon felt confident and reapplied.

He was denied.

So, he asked why. As it turns out, they still really wanted him, but there were two sizable obstacles standing in his way.

Those obstacles were none other than jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton.

“I don’t know, I was probably around 27 or 28 at that time. I said ‘Yeah, okay. I’m not competing with them quite yet.’”

Jon looks back at the denial and is clearly amused. He has good reason to be – his chance came not long after that and he got to play with Gillespie and Hampton out of the connections he made with them there.

“It’s interesting, you never know who’s going to apply.”

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He certainly deserves the position. Jon’s résumé is probably among the most extensive at Elon University. According to the bio on his website, he has worked as bandleader on seven albums, lectured and conducted masterclasses at numerous institutions and has had praise heaped on him from all sides.

The way Jon talks, it’s easy to see how his value of hard work got him to where he is today.

“I’m still fascinated by the music, I’m still very eager to explore it. I still want to practice all the time. What I can learn or take way from any experience is really really meaningful to me.”

That’s Jon talking just a couple weeks before this article was first published. The drive has never left him.

Jon Metzger, Professor

For the rest of the class I sat in on, the atmosphere was truly remarkable.

Despite not being a member of the class or really knowing anything about music theory at all, I can confidently say there are few times that I have felt so invested in the classroom.

Jon’s ability to jump from big picture to one on one tutoring to personal story to everything in between escapes description. He is efficient – his fast pace does nothing to reduce the quality of his work.

There is no doubt that this efficiency is due in no small part to the respect his students have for him. I get the sense that they work diligently outside of class to learn their assigned work.

Thomas Erdmann, orchestra director and professor of music at Elon, shared his perspective on Jon’s relationship with his students.

“Jon has a unique ability to clearly and substantively share his knowledge of music, giving our students the theoretical and practical skills necessary in order to develop decidedly accomplished abilities,” said Erdmann.

Kavian Bina, a Junior in Jon’s jazz improv class, feels lucky to be learning from Jon.

“He is encouraging, patient and understanding when we are learning difficult things, and he is so gifted at teaching complex concepts in easy and digestible ways, which facilitates learning and creates a sense of accomplishment.”

Kavian cited Jon’s stories about his “heroes” – jazz musicians he grew up listening to and now uses them to teach his students. His personal ties to the music make for “infectious and enlightening” stories, according to Kavian.

His core philosophy on teaching is simple.

“I want to make sure they’re truly jazz musicians.”

He holds in high esteem a student’s ability to make the music their own – the ability to understand all the different ways they can improvise and to know what they feel they should do next.

Jon’s intimidating knowledge of jazz and music theory isn’t the only weapon in his arsenal, however.

“Jon’s experience navigating legal issues involved with a performing life – such as copyright and contracts for live and recorded work – allow him to share this knowledge with his students,” said Erdmann.

As Erdmann hints at, Jon’s understanding of the business side of the music industry is one of his greatest assets to the music department. Perhaps his most impressive achievement was working with Elon associate professor of entrepreneurship Barth Strempek.

“Barth Strempek took that improvisation II class, he’s a jazz pianist,” said Jon. “He did really really well. He stopped me after class because he had some new ideas about how he wanted his business students to gain this business acumen.”

They had the idea to produce a standards album performed by Jon and other professional jazz musicians as a business project for Strempek’s students and as a way for Jon to get his students to take an interest in business.

“Strempek got a $50,000 grant from the Coleman Foundation in Chicago and that was that first album – his business students won business plan awards in North Carolina.”

“The album, which was with my professional quartet at the time, sold more than 4,000 copies in North Carolina alone, which are good numbers for a jazz album nationally,” said Jon.

His eyes widen a little bit at this comment and he sounds a little in awe – he is still clearly very proud of what these students were able to accomplish.

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“That led to another project, the two projects together Strempek used to apply for a FIPSE grant, which is from the United States Department of Education, and it was a matching $385,000 grant that Strempek won. That was really the beginning of the Doherty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.”

Since then, Jon routinely speaks at the center and is proud to see his students still taking classes there.

For Jon, all this teaching seems to come pretty naturally.

“I see myself in my students. I do remember being 18 or 20 years old and that fire that burns in the belly, and the dreams that you have of being a professional musician.”

His instruction in class verifies this statement. His conversation with students is peppered with bits of advice and his own personal experience that backs him up.

“I know what I needed at the time.”

Jon Metzger, Still Learning

There was a magical moment early on in the class when the students were playing the assigned music for class and improvising on the melodic minor scale when Jon stepped up to the vibes and did a little playing of his own. The best word I can think of to describe his playing is arresting. It’s no wonder that his students obviously have so much respect for him – he fully embodies what any jazz instructor would ask their students to aspire to.

Like many professors, however, it’s not about his students looking up to him.

“I’m learning things from my students all the time, you saw them saying ‘Have you heard this,’ and I thought ‘No, let me check it out!’”

He’s referring to a funk band – Lettuce – that his students referred him to after class ended for the day.

“I think the minute we close our minds, our hearts and our souls to being open to something new like that, that’s not a good thing. I hope we never stop learning.”

At the end of the day’s work, Jon became serious for a moment. He told his students that they are the future of music, that in some time people will be learning from them as they are from him.

He means every bit of it.

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Xenia Rubinos Begins Her First Headlining Tour of 2017

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Xenia Rubinos

By Patrick Larsen

 

Xenia Rubinos is a Brooklyn-based musician who released her second album, Black Terry Cat, last year.  The album received overwhelmingly positive reviews, such as and 8.0/10 rating from respected music publication Pitchfork.

I was recently lucky enough to be able to sit down with her for an interview before her show on March 6 at Kings in Raleigh.

The interview started with a discussion about her new album, which was quite commonly revered as a political work about the struggles of minorities in the United States.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 5.03.10 PMRubinos disagrees.

“I am talking about my personal experience,” said Rubinos.  “I’m making some reflections on societal things; income inequality, the experience of being a person of color in America, being a woman, image issues.”

“I think that perhaps since there are maybe fewer people who look like me or have my background that are given a chance to tell their story then people call my story political.”

Rubinos later talked about the problems that arise with music’s need for definition.

“That’s intrinsic when talking about music,” said Rubinos.  “You’re going to be put into categories and boxes.”

“Our identities are more complex than one box that you can check off.  That’s why those categories are challenging.”

Rubinos said that she wanted to move in a more specific and personal direction with this album, a move that she thinks helped people connect with her music.

“The little things are the most exciting.”

The Profile and Feature Story

By Patrick Larsen

The news media would not be what it is today without profiles and features. As America’s Best points out, these stories were originally intended to increase circulation of newspapers.

They are in some ways both constant and changing styles of writing, with human interest turning from outlet to outlet on a regular basis but never straying too far from the fundamentals of an emotional human story. But change has undoubtedly rocked the foundations of profile and feature writing since its inception. The pure format itself is less popular than it was in the past, but pieces of it are adapted regularly in beat and even hard news reporting. For example, it has become commonplace to humanize politicians that formerly would have been quotes on a page.

There is certainly some merit to this approach, as the press should not only be a narrow understanding of political affairs, but also a way to make them informational and interesting. It helps to get the people informed.

 

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Cynthia Gorney – National Geographic

 

Dr. Seuss: Wild Orchestrator of Plausible Nonsense for Kids

 

 

By Cynthia Gorney

Gorney does well in this profile of the venerable author to characterize him as not only the creator of his brand of wit, but also someone who lives in it. She ensures that there is a Seuss-like curiosity that appears wherever his work takes him in the world. Just as importantly, she also is sure to convey his perfectionism and how that ties him to his father, which allows him to maintain his character while also making him distinctly relatable to the average American adult. He is fun-loving and hard-working, comedic and very serious. Even the title belies this balance: Wild is equated with Orchestrator and Plausible is equated with Nonsense.

Koch Grabs Big Apple and Shakes It

By Saul Pett

It’s no mystery after reading this story Ed Koch was a contentious mayor. Pett never lets an assertion go by without an anecdote featuring the mayor to back it up. What results is a mixed bag of a character, which is just what Pett wanted.

His Dreams Belong to the Next Generation/An Old Flame Still Burns After 50 Years

By Diana Griego Erwin

Erwin, in two relatively short pieces, makes the reader think that they are not reading the news. These stories are teeming with little details that slow them down and make them tick. This shows the value of persistent note taking while reporting in the field. It is necessary to write a compelling feature on a person. The reader sees themself in the details.

 

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For Lerro, Skyway Nightmare Never Ends

 

Finkel uses extensive setting description that goes hand in hand with the character of the story. For example, Lerro talks about living like an animal and Finkel backs it up with a dreary description of Lerro’s regular surroundings. Finkel also does well to describe the success of Lerro’s past and using that as not only an emotional device but also one that brings us into the present moment. Although it certainly is not a cheery story, it is very powerful.

Here are some current examples.

Mingus and poul fri among newest Tijuana residents

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Ten Tips for Feature Writing

By Matthew Suárez

This story is interesting because it ties three very different things together and makes it interesting and cohesive as a piece. Mingus and chicken act as themes that tie the ends of the story together. They provide an arc that the reader can follow and be interested in.

Geoff Toovey: ‘It’s very easy to pull club culture apart

By John Davidson

Davidson does well to use the background of sports to his advantage. Sports are structured around making stories, so the NRL offers good bones for his story about Toovey, a person.

In the Face of A.L.S., Simon Fitzmaurice Finds His Fire Inside

By Kathryn Shattock

Shattock has the advantage of a fascinating story here. Most people could never imagine someone with a disease as degenerative as ALS directing a film and Shattock likely realized that in choosing this story. Her interviews with Fitzmaurice about the day to day difficulties of directing with ALS and how he overcomes those difficulties are excellent bits of detail – they show us how he fights adversity, something we all relate to.

Journalist Vince Beiser Visits Elon Campus, Gives Advice to Students

By Patrick Larsen

Vince Beiser wants to tell you about sand.

He knows that it sounds like a non-story, like something you would scroll right past, but he has quite a lot to tell.

Beiser is a freelance journalist, which has helped him in the development of this story.

Throughout his discussion with a group of Elon journalism students on the morning of Monday, February 7, Beiser talked several times about pulling on the string of a story and finding much more than you thought you would.

“Sand is actually the most important solid substance in the world,” said Beiser, “it’s the literal foundation of modern civilization.”

For all that Beiser has to say about sand, there are lessons that journalism students can take home. When he talks at length about what is made of sand, we learn the importance of good beginning research. When he talks about the people who have died over sand, we learn the necessity of human stories. When he talks about the story’s ties to environmentalism, to technology and to business, we learn about connecting your story to many interests.

Beiser also took time after his presentation to address students’ questions about journalism directly.

“This goes for any journalist, you should always just be looking for stories everywhere all the time,” said Beiser, “but me in particular, I do a lot of international stuff. I like to travel and I’m interested in international issues so I just read a lot. I try to read a lot of off the beaten path publications and international press and I just stumbled across this story about the sand mafia in India.”

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Vince Beiser

“Know that it’s tough,” he said. “I’m sure you guys are really well aware that the whole industry is in tough times. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. It is not an easy way to make a living.”

“But it is great,” continued Beiser. “It is really fun when it’s going good. I mean, it’s the most fun, it’s the most excitement, it’s the most interesting job you can really have.”

Beiser was brought to the school though the Pulitzer Center.  You can find his articles on sand for Wired here and for The Guardian here.  He is currently working on a book continuing his findings for Penguin-Random House Books.

His website and contact information can be found here.

Peter Rogen Reads Poems of Rumi to Elon Community

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Peter Rogen

By Patrick Larsen

Peter Rogen, acclaimed Rumi interpreter, gave performative readings of 13th century mystic poet Rumi to an audience of students, faculty and staff on in LaRose Digital Theater Friday evening.

Rogen was joined by musicians Amir Vehab, Yvette Gogass and Gail Niziak.

According to Jane Ciabattari of BBC, Rumi is the bestselling poet in the U.S.  This level of popularity in contemporary book sales points to the poet’s universal appeal.

Elon got a slice of that universal appeal Friday night.

The evening consisted of Rogen performing poems, Vehab, Gogass and Niziak performing music and even a little dancing.

At one point, Rogen discussed the social relationships of mystics.

“We’d do this all night,” said Rogen.  “Singing, poetry, silence.”

“No one knows what they’re going to sing next or which poem verses they’re going to recite.”

Vehab taught the audience a little bit about the instruments used.

“What’s interesting about the instrument we chose tonight is that these are the authentic instruments,” said Vehab, “not only of the time that Rumi lived and existed and interacted with people…but also these are from that region.”

At the end of the evening, audience members were invited to come to the front of the Theater and dance to the music being performed, as mystics would do.

Follow E-Net for more information about events on campus.

Elon Comedian Maddy Gross Holding Benefit for ACLU

By Patrick Larsen

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Maddy Gross – Elon SUB

Maddy Gross is, in some ways, your average Elon student.  As a cinema student, she is regularly busy with class and extracurricular work, serving as head writer for the ETV sketch comedy show Elon Tonight.

Gross also spends her time working on and performing her stand-up comedy routine.  She has been doing stand up for eight months now and has worked her way into the local community.

Gross’s next comedy show is this Saturday, February 25 and it is a big one.  She has taken it upon herself to organize, host and perform in a show on Elon’s campus that will benefit the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I went to a benefit for Handicap International over fake break,” said Gross.  “It was in a community center room, like not a real stage, but they had really really talented comedians and they raised something over $1,000.  There weren’t even that many people because it was a small community center room and I was like ‘Okay, there’s people at Elon who have money, we can make this work!'”

“At first, I was thinking about doing it for Handicap International,” said Gross, “but then the Muslim ban happened and ever since that it was like ‘Alright, no question, here’s what we’re doing.'”

“I figured it’s one thing to support organizations that will speak out against it, but this is an organization, among other organizations too, that is doing something tangible,” said Gross.

“That’s the hardest thing to fight, I think, when you have the law on your side.”

Gross also mentioned that she like ACLU’s name recognition as a draw.

Gross paraphrased Martin Neimöller’s poem “First they came…” as another part of her inspiration and a reason why Elon students should attend.

“You definitely have to consider that,” said Gross.  “You don’t know when it’s gonna be some part of your identity that’s on the line.”

The Elon Stands Up ACLU Benefit will be held at 8 p.m. in McKinnon Hall.  Cover charge is $5.  The line-up is Hannah Benson, Mikey Gibley, Spencer Hodges, Ryan O’Rourke and Maddy Gross.

Business Reporting and Explanatory Journalism

Business reporting is important to people beyond just the world of business. It has a common importance in that it deals with normal people living out normal lives that are affected by the work that they do. It also has a common interest in this way – work is what many of us build our lives around, so it is interesting to us to hear the stories of other’s work. Oftentimes, those stories get at their humanity.

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William E. Blundell

The Life of a Cowboy: Drudgery and Danger

By William E. Blundell

Blundel’s study on the business cowboys is so interesting that the business is almost lost within the humanity of it. It is almost a full-blown profile of Jim Miller, one of this country’s last remaining cowbosses. Only occasionally does it get into the failing business side of the cattle industry and even then, the effect of that portion is most felt on the character of Miller. This connection is in many ways what drives the story to effectiveness, because it gives the audience a human prism to see the figures through.

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Peter Rinearson

Making it Fly: Designing the 757

By Peter Rinearson

An airplane is a thing that many of us fear. It is a thing that instills anxieties about freak accidents and heightens worries of bad weather. And for all the anxiety that airplanes cause, it is a wonder that more of us don’t research them more – that is, until you read Rinearson’s in-depth feature on them. At points, Rinearson’s writing sends your head spinning with the difficulties of compromise. At others, he turns the door of the Boeing 757 into a stubborn character or a simple cork. The end result is what feels like a thorough understanding of the complexities involved in crafting one of these machines, matched with a much more thorough understanding that it is too complex to ever comprehend. Perhaps Boeing is best left to their devices and our faith is best left in them.

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Michael Gartner

Property Tax Exemptions: Legal but Terribly Unfair

By Michael Gartner

As a rule, people don’t like talking about taxes. They are usually either terribly boring or something to dread. Gartner knows this, so he takes taxes and turns them into something worth rallying over. He appeals to another modern human emotion – resentment towards the big guy. The big guy in this case is just anyone getting away with the tax exemption described. He makes sure the readers understand how unfair it is by repeating and elaborating on his points several times.

Here are some current examples:

10EPA Workers Try to Block Pruitt in Show of Defiance

By Coral Davenport

Davenport does well to provide quotes from both sides of this issue. This gives the reader an in-depth analysis of the situation in a short amount of time. What’s more, because of the nature of this story, it is naturally interesting to give the two sides. The fact that they are so at odds really helps push this past the business side.

PewDiePie Dust-Up Shows Risks Brands Take to Tap Into Social Media

By Sapna Maheshwari

This is a good example of a business article because it is talking about a subject that normally resides within pop culture, but connects it to the business world. This is a story that catches the eye of potentially millions of millennial – just look at PewDiePie’s YouTube subscriber account. In this way, it’s almost clever deception. People who see this article and click on it out of interest might end up learning a thing or two about advertising principles.

Texans offer sanctuary to endangered African rhinos

By Jim Forsyth

Forsyth uses the emotional ties that people feel for animals, particularly endangered ones, to make this an article worth reading. By the end of it, the reader has a basic understanding of the issue. Forsyth also does well to set the scene of the habitat concerned with descriptive language and pictures.