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Auschwitz’s liberation, 75 years ago

2020 January 27
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by Mike Vial

NPR article: “75 years after Auschwitz’s liberation, survivors urge world to remember”: read here

* * *

My LA 9 students read this article, marking the anniversary: 75 years ago today, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz.

I asked my class why this 75th anniversary might mean more to them than the 100th anniversary, when they are my age.

Ben raised his hand: “In 25 years, all the survivors will have died. This anniversary, we as a generation can still speak to primary sources…”

Matt added, “It’s the three levels of history, Mr. Vial. This is the last chance for level one…”

My freshmen are finishing Wiesel’s memoir Night tonight. I read the memoir when I was their age. My DCHS copy, with a tattered cover, rests on my desk in my classroom. Urgently, I told my class that holding this book is a milestone in life, highlighting maturity and reflection. “We give it to you at this age, and we are saying you are old enough to carry this story in your hearts, and urge your hands to action in the future.”

I ponder, now, and consider this math–When I was born in (81), WWII’s end (45) was closer to me in time than my current age is from my birth…What is history?

Let’s pause and read these stories today, stories which might get lost in the blur of the news. The electric fence, the snow, the friendship of solidarity—they will be more memorable than the atrocious, immense numbers of genocide.

Let’s also pause and recognize concentration camps are happening on our Earth today; remembering is not enough.

Vocabulary/important words students selected from today’s reading: conviction, solidarity, accomplices, exempted, snow…

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A Gig Hiatus

2020 January 26
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by Mike Vial


It’s times like these where I must publicly thank my wife for putting both kids to bed so I can play a gig! Thanks Fauser family for snapping a photo of me at mash. My next mash gigs are Feb 22 & 29. And then, I’m taking a break from gigging, between March-June, to work on songwriting.

This is my third year in a row teaching at a new school. Each year has presented new curriculums, new classes, new names of staff…My head is full, and I need to clear some space to write.

My writing routine has suffered over the years. I’ve given most of my free time to lesson planning, thinking of ways: to make The Crucible exciting to 15-year-olds; to make Greek mythology relevant to seniors; to make the difference of phrases vs. independent clauses apparent to freshmen; to persuade juniors to care about the SAT (and more importantly, teach them the art of rhetoric)…

When I’m doing my best teaching, I’m requiring my students to be creative. Those activities also activate my antenna for writing ideas, but the only way I’m going to explore these potential song ideas is if I decline gigs for a while. (I’m privileged that I can afford to do so.)

However, Mike Gentry and I are planning projects for late fall/early winter. In 2021, I want to collaborate with musicians I’ve been unable to see once I got back in the classroom, artists like Carrie McFerrinJosh RoseAcoustic AshCory GloverSpencer Michaud…a trip back to Ontario to work with Michael Chambers…This list goes on…I miss you, #giglife warriors.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get asked to create the soundtrack to Trolls 3 with Justin Timberlake.

OK, I have 14 essays about MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech to read before first hour tomorrow. See you soon!

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Don’t Sing!

2020 January 10
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by Mike Vial

A one scene play called, Don’t Sing!

Setting: An American family’s home in Ann Arbor. The Frozen 2 soundtrack plays in the background.)

Alton: No! Trolls! Trolls’ songs!
Me: I just want to listen to Frozen, for one song.
Alton: No!
Me: [I start singing]: Into the unknown!
Ginny: Stop singing! Dada! Stop singing!
Me: Why can’t I sing?
Ginny: Stop!
Me: But Ginny, I’m actually a singer! I literally get paid to sing!
Ginny: Well, no one is paying you right now!
Alton: No sing! Trolls!

Lois, the dog, continues to sleep through the madness.

PS: I’ve lost my voice this week, and I had to cancel my mash gig tomorrow, Jan. 11.

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You Are the Colors That You Love

2019 October 12
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by Mike Vial

In June of 2019, Harrison High School closed, and a pink slip was delivered to my mailbox.

Other than my residency at mash, I played very little guitar during the summer. I was lost in the heat of anxiety, unemployment forms, job searches, resume revisions. I interviewed in five districts by late July, and I was solo parenting while my wife worked. No songs were written; I began to freak out in mid-August when no job offers came either.

The sun sets, the sun rises: Two weeks before the school year started, I had an interview in New Boston! And now, I write this update as the colors of the trees change to red, yellow, gold, and brown. I’m so happy Huron hired me!

I’m six weeks into my 11th year of teaching Language Arts in public schools, my 14th year of teaching total. I’m really happy at this new job. It’s a small district, similar to where I got my start in education in 2003.

During the summer, Mike Gentry warned me how time works for parents; once you give up a slice of hours, it’s really hard to get those hours back. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Now that life is settling into a routine again, I’m trying to make time for music again.

It’s difficult.

My kids are two and four; the anxiety of unemployment has faded into a  frantic sprint of lesson planning and essay reading. Still, I’m strategizing how to musically approach 2020.

This strategy starts by scheduling more time to play guitar, mandolin, piano. Today, once I got Ginny and Alton to sleep, I rehearsed a few songs I might record during winter break, and wonderfully the riffs and chords of a possible new song appeared in the key of E.

Then, my four-year-old daughter interrupted my demo recording to ask, “What are you playing, Dada?”

“Ginny, why are you not in bed?”

She paused and stared at my Taylor acoustic. “Your guitar sounded so beautiful, I had to come hear it close up.”

It’s hard to argue with a four-year-old at 9 PM. It’s also hard to force Muse to send song ideas when there are 57 essays about Greek mythology awaiting feedback.

Earlier today, my kids and I had music time after Al’s nap. Ginny wrote a song titled, “You Are the Colors That You Love.” (Isn’t that a beautiful title from a four-year-old? I hope it’s OK if I borrow it.)

Then, Alton played guitar for the first time. He used my mini-Strat tuned to open-G. Both of his hands plucked the stings, as if the guitar was a piano. He smiled at me, turning the tone knobs and tuners. He started singing a song of his own, some words we could decipher, like “car” and “sunshine,” others in gibberish.

We all got a little writing time in today.

Hopefully by 2020, I’ll have some new music to share with you, too. For now, it’s just this image of my family chasing a song.

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Saving Summer & Brighton Concert in August

2019 July 28
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by Mike Vial

My summer gig calendar is sparse, but I’m busy here in Dixboro! I’m job hunting for a new teaching position, and I’m chasing my kids around parks, library story times, and museums while my wife works on writing assignments.

I also have been saving weekends to spend time with friends and family during the summer break. During my 11 years of playing music professionally, I’ve often missed family reunions, friends’ hangouts, and concerts because I was always working on the weekends.

This summer, I vowed to open up my weekends for real vacations, ones without guitar cases in the trunk! My college friends and I celebrated 20 years of friendship with a hiking trip to the Rocky Mountains last week. My dad and I also went to see Junior Brown at the Ark.

In August, I have two gigs left this summer–my monthly residency at mash (8/24) and one concert in Brighton (8/17).

Tom from After Blue and I met at 20 Front Theater a few months ago, and he kindly asked me if I’d join their songwriter scramble in August 2019 at the new Brighton Coffeehouse & Theater.

The show, a Nashville style round, is on August 17. No cover at the door! (Acoustic Ash will be dominating the stage, and the rest of us will be sprinting to keep up with her.)

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