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Holiday Season

by Alyssa Banks, who helps produce "The Matt Townsend Show"


It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Here are a few things I’m grateful for with the holiday season now in full swing:

1. Family. They must be on the top of many people’s lists. They don’t have to be your best friends all the time. And many people argue holidays bring out the worst in family gatherings, but they’re still my favorite part of Thanksgiving and Christmas. None of the foods, traditions or gifts mean anything without people surrounding you.

2. The turkey bowl. Football found its way into our family as a tradition that will never be overlooked. It doesn’t matter the circumstances. Come sun or snow, we always play a little bit of football before the feast.

3. Thankful lists. This is the cliché idea many people delve deep into each holiday season. It’s always worth the time to slow down and think of all the exciting things that make you a happy person.

4. Decorations. The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without some holiday cheer eye candy.

5. Movies. I love curling up with a blanket, popcorn and my favorite movie. The holiday season is the perfect time to excuse yourself and embrace a couple hours of laziness.

6. Food. Don’t forget the food. Every year, Thanksgiving brings creamed onions, pretzel Jello and Cranberry Splash into my life. They never disappoint. What are some of your holiday favorites?

7. Good memories. From accidentally stepping in the apple pie to performing songs on kazoos, memories never cease to fill my mind with a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Happy holidays to all of you lovely readers. Make this year the most memorable and magical one yet!


8 Easy Ways to Spend Time with Your Children

by Alyssa Banks, who helps produce "The Matt Townsend Show"


“8 Easy Ways To Spend Time With Your Children”

1. Build a fort. I don’t know one person who looks back on their childhood regretting the blanket forts they made. Don’t let your children go without this.

2. Go to a play together. My family is more naturally interested in sports and competitive activities, but my parents made sure to take us to cultural events as well. This gave us experience in both sports and the arts.

3. Turn up the radio driving home from school, and rock out to your child’s favorite song with them. I loved when my parents got as excited as I did about the songs I loved.

4. Play hide-and-seek with them. Don’t go easy on them. They can tell when you do.

5. Play pretend. Everyone needs an escape from this world. Why not escape it with your own adorable minions?

6. Talk to them. Ask them about their day. Discover what makes them happy and sad. It’ll help the two of you bond, and maybe you’ll even learn something from them.

7. Read bedtime stories with them. This doesn’t have to be just for the little ones. As my siblings and I got older, my parents would read us “chapter books.” I remember the “American Girl Doll” books and “Harry Potter series the most vividly.

8. Say “I love you.” If there’s one thing a child needs, it’s the knowledge that they’re cared for and appreciated. Let your children know they matter to you.


With the Right Skills, Watching Movies Can Be Engaging and Educational

by Merritt Mecham, a film student at BYU who helps produce "The Matt Townsend Show" on BYU Radio


Everyone knows that watching movies will turn their brains to mush…right? 

Wrong! If people have the right skills, watching movies can be a very engaging and educational experience. In fact, because our world is so inundated with media, having knowledge about how media is created and what it is trying to tell you is vastly important. This knowledge—Media Literacy—is not yet widely taught. 

As parents, family movie night can be a great place to help your children learn these vital skills. Here you can set up a basic foundation of media smarts that can set your children up for success later on, and make family movie night a chance to actively learn and engage with each other.

The first thing you should know is the difference between Passive and Active viewing. Passive viewing means that you are watching the film, but you’re not present or engaged with it. Most of do this—how is your engagement level when you’re watching late night TV? When you are a passive viewer, the information from the film (the images, sounds, movement, music) all flies into your brain and gives it a big crash of stimulation. If you sit there and let your brain get crashed into enough, that’s when it turns into mush.

Active viewing is when you are present and critically engaged with the film. It means you are picking up hints, noticing patterns and differences, and identifying film techniques. To go along with our metaphor, when you’re an active viewer you create an airport for the information flying into your brain. Instead of letting it crash into you, you help it land and then categorize it for future thought. When you’re an active viewer your brain doesn’t turn into mush because you are learning as you watch.

In order to teach your children how to be Active Viewers, they need to learn about the film craft. Check out some basic “intro to film” textbooks from your local library, or use the concepts I’ve listed below. Before you sit down to watch the movie, tell your children to keep an eye out for these concepts. After you’ve watched the movie, lead a discussion with your children and see what they found.

Story, Character, and Theme. What are the character’s strengths and weaknesses? What do you think the film is trying to say? How does the story make you feel? 

Light vs. Dark. Which characters have light colored clothes? Which characters have dark colored clothes? Does that correspond with how good the characters are? When are the characters in places that have lots of light? When are the characters in shadows? What do you think that means?

Image Juxtaposition. Were happy images placed next to sad images? When the scenes transitioned, did the end of one and beginning of the other correspond? 

Distance. When were the shots close up to the character? When were they far away? Did this impact how you related to the characters?

Sound and Music. How did the sound make you feel? Were there moments when you recognized that specific songs went with specific characters? (I talked about film music in an earlier show, which you can listen to here)

Movement. When does the camera move? How does that relate to what’s happening in the story?

If you or your children aren’t used to looking for these things while you’re watching, go back to your favorite scenes and see what you can find. Discuss the different things you notice, and be open to different interpretations. Chances are, you and your family will love this “treasure-hunt” for these film concepts.

So, now that you’re set with how to watch the movie, what movie should your family watch? My advice: don’t underestimate your children. While you’ll most likely not what to show your children films with mature themes, show them quality films that are more technically complex than the TV shows they normally watch. This way you will enjoy the film more, and you’ll be teaching your children to enjoy more intelligent films. 

My suggestions:

Disney’s Fantasia (1940)

Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Chaplin’s City Lights (1931)

Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924) or The High Sign (1921)

Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – This is a bit scary, so it would be better for older kids

And there you go! Tonight, use family movie night as an educational opportunity. Not only is it better for your brain—it’s a lot of fun! 

The Power of Art in Performance

by Sam Payne, host of "The Apple Seed" on BYU Radio


Way back in my early, early days of being a band leader, I had a jazz quintet that got a gig at the beautiful OC Tanner Amphitheater, at the mouth of Zion National Park. It’s a lovely, lovely space with high cliffs all around. On a starry night, with the moon above those cliffs – I’m tellin’ ya. There’s nothing like it. My saxophone player in those days was a terrific guy named Denis Zwang. Denis was tall and thin and laid back, with glasses and a big moustache. And he was a heckuva sax player. 

The gig was on Friday, and I called him on Wednesday to make sure everything was squared away. His voice, always gentle and soft, was even more subdued than usual. His dear old father had passed away, just that morning. The funeral was to be on Friday. “Oh, gosh, Denis,” I said. “Don’t worry about the gig. We’ll get by. You be with your family.” Denis stopped me. “I appreciate your care for me, Sam” he said, “But I think I’d actually rather come and play.” Denis’ father, as it turns out, had been a musician. And, as it turns out, Denis wanted to honor his father by playing music with his friends.

Denis showed up for the gig in the dark suit he’d worn to the funeral, and kept to himself as we set up and sound-checked. But when the concert began, he was right with us, blowing his fat, mean horn on jazz standards like “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “All Blues.” It was a great night.

Denis danced around and grinned, deep in the groove; once, he played two saxophones at a time. The audience loved it. Denis’ dad would have loved it.

Somewhere in the second act, we played the terrific George Gershwin tune, “Our Love is Here to Stay.” It’s a really, really beautiful song—the last one Gershwin wrote. In fact, it was only half-finished when Gershwin died. It didn’t have lyrics. George’s brother and long-time collaborator, Ira, wrote the lyrics after George had passed on in 1937:


It’s very clear, our love is here to stay

Not for a year, but ever and a day

The radio and the telephone, and the movies that we know

May just be passing fancies, and in time may go

But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay


That night, in the middle of our performance of that song, Denis took a sax solo. He played that beautiful, mournful horn up and up through the canyons that surrounded us. And then, when his solo would normally have been over, he kept playing. The band fell back and let him go. On and on he played. His eyes were closed, and as we watched, big tears rolled down his cheeks. Chorus after chorus he played. And in his solo, we heard all the grief and love and honor and faith of a guy whose beloved father had just passed away.


But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay

Together we’re going a long, long way

In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble

They’re only made of clay

But our love is here to stay. 


The solo faded, and the song ended. Denis, the band, and the audience all sat in silence for a while. Then, the concert went on.  And the next day, by himself, Denis loaded his father’s casket into his old minivan, and drove it, by himself, four hours north to Salt Lake City for a quiet burial.

I’ll always remember Denis’ sax solo at the OC Tanner. I think about it often. And I share it with you because I want to tell you something I believe. Art crafted for performance on stage has real, heartbreaking power to comfort, instruct, gladden, and sustain human beings like almost nothing else can. I hope that makes you feel…well…reverent.

That’s how it makes me feel.

My First Full Day on the Job: “An Evening with the American Piano Quartet”

by Abbie Horlacher, a new Student Production Assistant for "Highway 89" on BYU Radio


As show producer Jackie Tateishi put it, as soon as I was hired I was “baptized by fire” by being thrown head-first into the world of live music radio production! Highway 89 was invited to visit the American Piano Quartet’s 30th anniversary concert at BYU’s De Jong concert hall to record it and broadcast as-though-live the following week. My assignment was to film the entirety of the rehearsal, performance and interviews to later compile the footage into a short promotional video.

I showed up at the theater the afternoon before the performance dressed in professional all-black, camera in hand, ready to go but not sure what I was getting myself into. I walked in and was confronted with two of the most beautiful instruments I’d ever seen, being played by some of the most talented fingers I’d ever heard. Sitting at Steinway and Fazioli grand pianos were BYU faculty Robin Hancock, Scott Holden, Jeffrey Shumway and Boise State professor Del Parkinson: The American Piano Quartet. A pianist myself, I know what good piano playing sounds like, and that wasn’t good piano playing—it was amazing piano-playing.

The next hour was spent setting up tripods, meeting House Managers, and running all over the theater to find prime camera positions. I was told that I’d have 15 minutes between when the quartet was dressed up and practicing on the pianos and when they’d leave and the house doors would open for the attendees. Just 15 minutes to have an open, un-obstructed view of the stage, the ability to get up-and-close to the performers, and no noisy audience! Before that happened though, we ran into some trouble!

Because the performers were going to be interviewed by the host Steven Kapp Perry in between piano numbers, we had set out some water for each of them next to the microphones. What we didn’t realize though is that all the water bottles had been left in a hot car and were now more suited for tea than for normal sipping! This resulted in emergency water-fountain runs with fancy glass cups.

Then, the piano tuner noticed a large problem: The Steinway piano, the one closest to the audience, the one that was most visible, had a large scratch, right along its side. Did you know that you can patch the finish on a grand piano with spray-paint? I didn’t! The piano tuner, his assistant and the House Manager brought out black spray-paint and buffing cloths and spray-painted the Steinway back into glossy black perfection. Despite these hiccups, the performers, House Manager, producer and host were all so un-ruffled and confident.

Finally, my 15 minutes arrived. I quickly filmed as much as I could! Fingers, pianos, smiles. The performers were so warm and welcoming and good-natured about posing and ignoring the camera in their faces. Then it was time for the house doors to open and the pianists left the stage to wait in the wings. I moved all my equipment off of the stage and sat up in the balcony, watching the audience trickling in and smiling because I knew what a glorious show they were in for.

During the performance I was constantly running. Running up to the balcony, running across the balcony with my tripod, running down to the main floor, running through the Harris Fine Arts Center to get to the other side of the theater without disturbing the audience, running back up the stairs to the balcony. All to a soundtrack of fantastic piano music! By the intermission, I had an SD card full of footage, a head full of music, and all of us Highway 89 people packed up to leave after a successful show.

Despite limited time windows, unforeseen hiccups and constant running, (so much running) I had a wonderful time during my first experience working for Highway 89. I got to do what I love while listening to what I love and working with talented people. And that was my evening with the American Piano Quartet.

Check out the finished promotional video:

 

Listen to the entire episode


King Scarer

By Sam Payne, host of "The Apple Seed" on BYU Radio


When I was a kid, my folks would sometimes get the older boy next door to babysit my little brother and me. My brother’s name was Joe, and we shared a bunk bed. The babysitter’s name was Gordon, and sometimes after we went to bed, Gordon would sneak out the front door and around the yard to our bedroom window. Then he’d pound on the window and scream like he was an axe murderer trying to get in. We’d yelp and pull the covers over our heads and be terrified. My mom would ask us the next morning how things went while they were gone. “Fine, Mom,” we’d say, even as our hands trembled while we shoveled breakfast cereal into our mouths.

Once, my mom asked me and my brother to run next door to Gordon’s house to deliver a message or borrow a cup of sugar or something. I can’t remember what the errand was. I’ve repressed it. Because just as we approached the door, all innocent and unsuspecting, we heard a scream from inside the house. Our blood froze. Long silence. We looked at each other, and what with one thing and another, we wound up opening the door and walking in to investigate. There was Gordon, lying on the kitchen floor with an enormous butcher knife in his hand. His chest was all covered in tomato ketchup, but we didn’t know that. We thought it was blood. And we ran screaming home. Somewhere between Gordon’s front door and ours, we realized that the blood we’d seen must be ketchup, and we just felt stupid. So when we got home, and ran into my dad, and he said “Everything okay, guys?” it was “Yeah, dad. Sure, dad” even as our teeth chattered and our knees knocked together.

Gordon was a lousy babysitter. But he sure was good at scaring kids. Which we totally admired. Gordon was the king.

Sooner or later, someone was bound to knock Gordon the babysitter off the throne as king scarer. When I was in High School, for one brief, shining moment, I thought it was going to be me. Russ McKell and I had asked these two girls to the Halloween dance at the school, and we thought it would be cool if we ate dinner before the dance in the Andersen place. The Andersen place hadn’t had any Andersens in it, except maybe ghosts, for fifty years or more. It was a little, old, terrifying wooden house in the middle of a field of yellow grass off 200 West in my hometown. We thought we could light some candles and really spook up the place and give our girls the shivers. The morning of the big dinner, we went to the old Andersen place and set everything up. We got a table and chairs and set them up in what must have been the dining room, and put candles on the table. It was going to be super spooky. We were kind of spooked out as we were setting up, especially because just off the dining room, an old mysterious door yawned wide into some dark room beyond. Man, it gave me the shivers. “Can we close that door?” I said. I knew he’d laugh at me. And he did. But he closed the door. I think he was a little creeped out, too.  But as he closed the door, I saw a little light bulb of an idea click on in his head. He turned to me. “Do you have any string?” He said. “And do you have a thumbtack?” Well, I didn’t have one ON me, but I lived close by, so we drove and got a spool of string and a thumbtack. Quick as a wink, we were back at the Andersen place. We cut a piece of string long enough that if you tacked the string to the bottom of the mysterious door, it would reach along the floor and end just under the chair I was going to sit in. We tried it out. You could pull gently on the string, and the door would silently swing open. We thought that if, by candlelight, in a pretty dark room, I pretended to lean down to tie my shoe, and while I was down there pulled on the string, the door would swing mysteriously open and the girls would scream and freak out and it would be awesome. We were all set.

At dusk, we went to pick up our dates. And we took them to the Andersen house, along with a couple of pizzas from Brick Oven Pizza. And we’d had a buddy of ours light all the candles in the dining room so they’d be burning when we got there. “Ooh! Spooky” the girls said when they saw it all. These girls were awesome. The pizza was awesome. Everything was awesome. And then it came down to it, that moment when I was to bend down to tie my shoe. And down I went, and I was the picture of nonchalance. Man, it was smooth. I grabbed the string, and pulled it gently. The mysterious door swung open to reveal the yawning blackness beyond it. And as it opened, there was a scream.

But it was Russ. It was Russ that screamed. He had forgotten about the awesome trick we were going to play, and when the door opened, he screamed for all he was worth.  And he grabbed me by the collar and yanked me right off my chair and he pulled me to him in a terrified, clutching bear hug and that made me scream. And there were Russ and I holding onto each other and screaming like little girls as our dates looked up from their slices of pizza. They had missed the whole thing.

Someday, Somewhere, Gordon the babysitter is going to get knocked off the throne as king scarer. But that night, I quit scaring people for keeps. It’s not, as it turns out, so good for my blood pressure.

Drowsy Friday

by Alyssa Banks, who helps produce “The Matt Townsend Show”


Today, I’m writing about my undeniable feeling of exhaustion. This shameful feeling of drowsiness that inevitably occurs from sleep deprivation. The lack of focus I’m feeling is unreal. It’s Halloween on a Friday, and I need to pull myself together and get work done, but all my brain reminds me of every few minutes (I don’t think that’s an exaggeration at this point) is how tired I am and how much I deserve to be home snuggling with my warm comforter and watching an episode of the “Mindy Project” before welcoming in a much needed relaxing weekend.

The problem is, I’m still here at my desk typing on my computer and listening to the chatter of the office around me. I don’t need sleep. I’m invincible. I am a list maker. I will not let my head hit the pillow until my daily list is completed. I can be up at all hours of the night and still arise refreshed the following morning. 

Is this a common issue people have? Are we assuming invincibility when vulnerability is actually the more accurate word to describe what sleep deprivation is doing to us?

The problem with sleep deprivation is that it acknowledges and encourages the issue many of us find ourselves tackling. And that is business. There’s a problem with filling our schedules with so many “things” to do that there is no time for quality work to be done.  

So, maybe the bottom line is that we are too busy, which convinces us we must stay up later to accomplish our daily goals.

We all need to take a breath and follow the advice, “cut your losses.” Go. To. Bed. Allow your physical body some proper relaxation and rest. We wouldn’t demand that another person stay up late making dessert for a party the next day or completing a child’s costume for Halloween. Why are we demanding it of ourselves?

We know the issues here. We aren’t sleeping enough nor are we allowing ourselves enough time away from the chaotic business. 

The solution then is to set reasonable deadlines for ourselves: “By 7:30 tonight I’m going to be done with everything I’m worried about for tomorrow.” While at first, you may find yourself working past this deadline, you’ll soon realize that by setting and strictly following your own cut off, you’ll begin to train yourself into completing your to-do’s. You’ll realize the cutoff time is coming and adjust by working more efficiently to enjoy your night and also get to bed at a more reasonable hour.

What’s your cut off time? It can be earlier or later than the example given, but I encourage you to be as strict with your relaxation habits as you are with your ambitious endeavors. 

Give yourself a break!


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