Retrospective 2021: My Life as a Student

This year my inner student has been doing much more traveling and socializing than last year. As a result, I've taken fewer formal courses and workshops. It is amazing how a vaccination can change one's life!


My main learning themes were:

  • Irish music

  • Documentary filmmaking

  • Film scores

  • Photography

  • Spanish

At the start of the year, I continued studying the low penny whistle through the Online Academy of Irish Music. Later in the year, picked up penny whistle again. In December, I found an online, live class with an Irish performer, Conor Lamb. He runs Whistle Workshops out of Belfast when he is not touring with his two bands Réalta and Music In The Glen. The class has about 6 students. We get to play together and individually. After having taken only recorded lessons through OAIM, it’s wonderful to get real time feedback and see how other students around the world are doing. Conor went on tour over the holidays, but will start online lessons later in January. (Conor plays the Uilleann pipes in this video.)


Learning documentary filmmaking is something I have been working on ever since I made my first documentary— Metamorphosis: The Transformation of the Bournemouth Symphony. I enjoyed that project. It took 6 years and was a labor of love. After I finished, I thought it might be a good thing to actually learn how documentaries are supposed to be made. Several years ago, I enrolled in the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS), Duke University, Continuing Studies program.


Prior to the pandemic, I spent a few weeks in Durham taking intensive workshops. In 2021, CDS went all online, so I signed up for everything I could. I’ve now taken enough to get my certificate in documentary studies EXCEPT I need a final project. That project must be supervised by a CDS instructor. Although I’ve been working on a project, CDS has yet to find that instructor to supervise. Between the upheaval caused by the pandemic and some administrative changes, I am not hopeful they will ever find that instructor for me. In any case, I completed these virtual courses:

  • Documentary and the Three-Act Structure, Josh Dasal (8 hours)

  • Lyric Essay, Perrin Kerns (16 hours)

  • Documentary Script Writing, Josh Dasal (8 hours)

  • Everything But the Film, Sara Nodjoumi (20 hours)

Before the pandemic, I pursued three options for my final project, two of which were about people in other countries. The third project, involved a woman in LA. The pandemic put a damper on all options, leaving only the third option a possibility. My collaborator (producer) for the LA project lives in London, which posed a bit of a challenge. We went forward anyway, starting in September 2020 with interviews via Zoom and continuing well into 2021. For specifics, see It's Time to Draw the Double-Bar Line. That project could have manifested as either a video project or written memoir. Exploring the memoir option led me to attend the Biographer’s Conference in May, a virtual event from which I learned a lot. I followed up later with some individual coaching from an established biographer, Cathy Curtis. I learned a lot from speaking to Cathy and also reading one of her books. I am now a member of Biographers International.


When 2021 began, I continued to study Spanish through Pimsleur. I completed all five levels. I am ready to travel to South America or Spain! But are they ready for me? Perhaps in 2023 I’ll feel that the pandemic is under control enough to travel to those locations.


Throughout the year, I spent a lot of time doing photography and working on my post processing skills. I’ve read many articles and watched YouTube videos when I’ve needed to learn something specific. It's what I call "just-in-time" learning. I am in a Photographic Society of America Digital Dialogue group for monochrome images. It is a small group of photographers who critique each other’s work. I’ve learned a lot from them. I took one formally organized course—Photography & the Art of Storytelling by John Paul Caponigro.


What will 2022 bring? Certainly more penny whistle. Given that the pandemic has not yet gone away, I'm sure to find more things to learn.




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