It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…


Happy Birthday!

Happy Golden Anniversary, ISL  (photo by me)


Coetail Course 3, Week 4: Digital Storytelling

Assignment 4: How can digital storytelling be used in your classroom/subject area? Create a video and embed it in your blog.

It’s my birthday party, and I’ll cry if I want to!  Why?!  That’s because the song, “Happy Birthday” is copyrighted by Time Warner  What?!   Emotions usually run high for “artsy-fartsy” people like myself (We’re basically melancholic people apt to fall into extremes of raptures or pathos).   I have to admit that I don’t have the greatest attitude about copyright limitations in the areas of education and especially education in the Arts.  Yeah, I feel a bit bitter about the whole area.  Aaron @aaronreed and I have both discussed this and our feelings about it, mainly through his blog.  Copyright limits him as an art teacher.  It limits me in my work and teaching with music.   I usually  try to keep a lid on my emotions while online –but for this assignment, you’ll hear some ranting from me.

During the course of this assignment, I learned that “Happy Birthday” is owned by Time Warner.  So, the next time  kindergarten children spontaneously break out in strains of  “Happy Birthday” in your school, make sure you fling yourself across their paths crying, “Stop stop! You’re breaking copyright!”   I wonder how much in royalty-dues is owed them from my use of the song alone?  :0

Our  Coetail assignment this week is to create a video and to embed it in our blog and to obviously reflect about the process.  One of Jeff’s goals is to show us how much time our students need in order to properly make a video and the frustrations they’ll encounter.  It’s a good exercise as we really ask a lot of our students when they use technology to access their learning.  They are juggling two things:  the practical aspects of working technology and the learning they are supposed to do through it.

My forays in video-making started in early 2007 when I splurged and bought my first Mac laptop.  It was the white plastic one at that point.  It was an expensive purchase for me, considering how cheap Windows was but I was motivated by the fact that so many university students were buying Macs and finding them an incredible asset in their studies.   I opened up my new purchase and the laptop told me to smile at the camera and I smiled, and then it took my picture (you know the routine).  I was in love! and the rest is history…I’m an unapologetic  Mac fan-girl.  Google may be trendy and chic now, but I’ll never forget my roots and my roots are red and apple-shaped.

It was great how all these software applications were included with my Macbook.  Included was iMovie, of course. I would never think of buying software to make a movie.  However, it came with my Macbook, so why not?!  I tossed the laptop to my children (4 of them under the age of 10) and they pushed a few buttons (with my guidance) and they were well on their way to movie-making.  The iSight camera built into the laptop was an ingenius and revolutionary thing to me, and was the crucial difference between my kids making movies and not making movies.  With the camera there, it was simple, accessible, and easy for them to start making movies.  I still have their first movie burned onto a CD.  It was a play about their stuffed animals.  The toys were the actors in the movies.  The movie went for an excruciatingly long +45 minutes.  There was a lot of fighting and sword-fighting (pirate theme).  I tried to look keen, supportive, and interested as I watched.  I really did! 😀  By the third such movie, I gently hinted that maybe the movies could be a bit shorter?

Fast forward only a year or so later.  My 11+ year old daughter was making amazingly short, sharp and entertaining videos. Check out her stop-motion video using only her cheapy digital camera and a stuffed toy called Cinnamaroll.  The name of the video is “Midnight Madness” and it shows us the secret life of stuffed animals.  What do they do after the clock strikes midnight!?…

She did not use stop motion software, but uploaded a series of photos into the website through some sort of special web tool they offered.  The website converted the photos into a stop-motion video for her.  See the perseverance she had to film the entire movie by moving her stuffy around.  (We were jet-lagged, while she filmed this video, having just returned to Hong Kong from Canada.  Some of our best creative work is done while jet-lagging and being up in the dead of night 😉  It continues to be the case for our whole family.)

Wow, I just went to the video site that still hosts my daughter’s video and I haven’t been there for 5 years.  The video is still there and it’s received 17,000+ hits so far.  Not too bad for a video by a 11+ year old!  As you can hear during her video, she made her video much more focussed because she wrapped her story around a song.  From that moment on, all our family videos have been wrapped around a song or two. The song is often the catalyst for a digital story.  It also marks out the boundaries of the digital story (limits it to under 10 minutes).  We enjoy making videos (or digital stories) of our vacations and we use music to tie things all together.  Music is a big part of who I am, thus a big part of who the kids are now and is a main-staple of how we express ourselves in this world.  We also find a joy through music, unlike anything else.  They say that the effect of good music on the brain is like putting the brain on endorphin-like drugs.  That might help explain me a bit more to you now, 😉

We went to Sharm El Sheik, Egypt in Springbreak 2012.  Before we got there, I just KNEW what song I wanted my kids to listen to, and perhaps make a video around.  It would be the song, “Walk Like an Egyptian” which dates back to when I was a teenager.  It’s still a fun and funky song, after all of these years.  The kids loved the song.  Below is the digital story of our trip to Egypt, the Pyramids, the Spinx, the Red Sea etc (woven together with that song, and a few others) and most of the video was done by my daughter.  We went to Sharm El Sheik.  The video is called “Shake Ur Sharm!”.  You’ll see why, when you watch the video.



Well, I was a bit bitter and angry this week (not at Coetail but at the copyright laws) as I had to make a video for Coetail and knew I had to change strategies because I was limited to Creative Commons music.   Our education in course 2 means we can no longer claim ignorance when it comes to copyright.  The change is that  I can no longer make the song the catalyst, the focus, nor the defining boundaries of my digital stories.  I am skeptical that any song worthy of all that even exists in Creative Commons.    Now, we’ve looked quite extensively at Creative Commons images in Coetail Course 2.  I don’t recall too much around for Creative Commons music.  I’ve spent literally 3 weeks trying to figure out what I was going to do without my music.   Usually, inspiration strikes and I make a video.  (I’ve never had to make a video under compulsion before.)  Now, the cart and the horse were flipped around:  I had to make a video and I had to look for the inspiration in order to do it.  It made me sympathize with our students that may be handed a project and have to struggle to find inspiration to do a proper job.  Just because a project is “techy” and sounds fun, is no guarantee that every student will be inspired while doing it.

It seems that the copyright gods were listening to me moan and groan for the past few weeks.  I coincidentally came across this web article through my Zite app on my iPad; Youtube blogged about the fact they’ve come up with a new playlist of music free for downloading and all copyright free! The thing that made me excited was the fact that it was for downloading.  I knew that Youtube has some browser tools that will allow me to incorporate music into my videos.  I’ve even tried one of them.  For heavy-duty video making, I need to be able to import the music into iMovie so I can manipulate and edit the audio.  This happy coincidence seemed like an answer from heaven dropped into my lap.

Now, back to my birthday party.  I decided to tell the digital story of the International School of Lausanne’s Golden Anniversary Celebrations that took place in 2012.  This is my kids’ school in Switzerland and honestly, the “family” and the community that I exist in—as an expat in a foreign land.  Their Golden Anniversary was an amazing 3 day event! The staff and the parents pulled out all stops to make it an historical event for our community.  Indeed it was.  I felt like I was making history, just by being a participant in the celebrations.  I made a special effort to chronicle as much as I could of the celebrations by taking photos, knowing that one day that future generations may be viewing my photos and appreciating their history through them.   I took almost 700 photos.  I gave them to the school on a CD (or maybe even two).  It never occurred to me that I would one day make a digital story of the event.  Usually, I decide to make a video and then I plan my photos and videos accordingly.   Usually, I include anecdotal video clips and little interviews in with my videos.  Unfortunately, I have no video clips or recordings of interviews or conversations from that week.  I went with what I had and that was a huge slew of photos. All images in the video were taken by me.

I tried to think of something more personal to me that I could make a video about, but I couldn’t find anything inspiring nor any other subject-matter where I had a healthy archive of photos to use.  Perhaps this video will become a part of the schools’ archives now. That idea and the Coetail assignment motivated me to make it happen.

I am very grateful that Youtube came out with this playlist. I went and listened to several of the songs. They can be searched by genre, mood, instrument, or duration.  I was surprised at the large number of choices they offered.  The songs include some well-known classical pieces that would make an impact just because they are clichés.  Sometimes, I’m looking for a cliché on purpose (usually to inject some humour). Those songs will be useful to me, one day, I’m sure.

I downloaded anything that sounded interesting to me.  I created a playlist in my iTunes called “Copyright Free Music”.  I will be adding to this playlist as an on-going thing now so that the next time I make a video, I won’t have to go searching too far.

It was while searching for the song,”Happy Birthday” that I found out that it was copyrighted!  Ugh. What a way to literally kill “joy”!?   To me, music is for everyone and belongs to the common people for their joy and their pleasure and for their every expression.  It’s an inalienable right and it’s just plain wrong for people to slap a price tag on it, and to  “own” it.  Did the great hymn writers make big money off their songs of praise, worship, or their questions about God?  Did they put ownership onto their songs in order to corner profit off their songs?  How about the folksong writers?  They were transmitting their culture and their stories through their folksongs.  Were they looking to “own” them?  J.S. Bach wrote everything for the Glory of God.  His works have his name on them but I doubt he had in mind limits on the joy his music may bring and  profit when he penned them.  See a fuller discussion over Copyright and the Arts in this blogpost of mine.

Happily, someone has already addressed the problem of Happy Birthday being copyrighted. Geek-o-system  has written a blogpost about a song-writing contest where people were challenged to write a birthday song that would be Creative Commons.   There were several winners and all the entries are available now for copyright free use.  The first place winner song of Happy Birthday can be heard at the opening of my Coetail video for ISL’s anniversary.  Actually, I think I like the Creative Commons’ one more than the old standby that we always sing, now.

I wanted to mention that below my Coetail video will be a video I made prior to Coetail.  This video also chronicles a digital story from a school-setting.  I regretfully wave “goodbye” to the old days when I could rip any song I wanted to make a video.  😀 If you watch the second video, you will see how important the songs are to my story and how integral the words to the songs are to the images, the video, the story I’m telling—and ultimately, to the effectiveness of my digital storytelling.  Music isn’t just nice background “filler” in visual literacy.   It’s not elevator music.  It can be the heart of it, too.  Music activates the same right-side of our brain as visual images (with the added bonus of those dopamine chemicals that you don’t get with the images).  In fact, when music is at the heart of it, it makes things easier to remember and more enjoyable to experience. (Think how listening to music can energize you to finish a hard task, or to complete a hard section of a run.  Try music in the classroom sometime, to see its effect.)

I also spent a lot of time choosing the best Creative Commons music for my Coetail video.  I even included a few songs that come with iPhoto for background music to iPhoto slideshows.  You’ll probably recognize those song choices, immediately.  The choices are good.  I laboured over each transition between songs so they would be make a statement too.  It was a pretty good effort, but I know a lot of heart-felt emotions were watered-down and lost in the process.  I would have liked to have chosen songs like, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, Happy, Happy Anniversary…, Auld Lang Syne, We Will Rock You! (for the flash mob dance scene with Wolfie, the school mascot).  These would have been in addition to the traditional Happy Birthday song.

One day, the reservoir of Creative Commons music will be larger and hopefully of fantastic quality.  Then, the issue will be moot.  For now, I have grown in appreciation for the songs that were written without a profit-motive, in years gone past. I value the old for the fact they are not copyrighted, as well as the fact that they are amazing pieces of music.  I will spend time playing these songs and singing them more and recording them once in awhile.  Their worth has grown immeasurably in my eyes this past year; they’ll help me continue telling my digital stories as I want to, and not as I have to.

Et voìla! Last but not least—My Coetail Course 3 Final Project video:


Note:  There is a disproportionately large amount of references to Canada and pics of Chinese-Canadian kids (mine!) as I wasn’t expecting to turn the photos into a video for public viewing when I took them.  I went with the best photos I had and this is what turned out…


One of my “before Coetail” videos that I’m most proud of.  The music and the pics just meshed like magic for me:



Happy birthday to you, whenever it is! 😉


About Vivian

Vivian @ChezVivian is a Canadian-born Chinese, currently living in Switzerland. She has also lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia. She holds a M.S. (focus: Educational Technology Integration), B.Ed and a B.A. and graduate studies in Kodály and Orff music pedagogy. She is an elementary school classroom generalist, but has also taught as a music specialist, ESL/EAL and also in Learning Support. Most of her teaching career was in International Schools in Hong Kong. She is excited about the IBPYP and the possibilities of using technology to Inquire. Recently, she has been looking at the opportunities that computer programming gives to put #TECHXture back into the hands of children. In other words, technology need not be just about looking at screens. It can be about building things with our hands; and computer programming levels-up what children can do with the things they build---encouraging higher thinking skills. She is a Coetail Post-graduate Certificate grad ('13-'14), a former Coetail Coach and one of the co-founders of #CoetailChat. Her blog home curates her assignments for Coetail and her M.S. graduate studies about Educational Technology integration and anything else educationally-related that she feels inspired to write about. Her twitter tagline sums it up: "Mom to 4, Mentor, Educator, Musician (in that order)".
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6 Responses to It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…

  1. Hi Vivian,

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful videos. I understand exactly were you are coming from. I sometimes find that the songs I choose to narrate my videos are even more powerful than the images themselves. I’ve also struggled to find creative commons music that has the same effect. But I agree with you, maybe in the soon future there will be an expansive creative commons music library loaded with quality music.

  2. Vivian says:

    Thanks Juliana for your comment.

    It’s good to know I’m not alone in feeling so strongly this way. I can’t imagine asking teenagers, who are so plugged into their music, to suddenly accept “elevator” music in their projects. At the same time, I am thinking there must be some lee-way for educators to use music in their teaching and for students to use music in their projects. I know we’re allowed to use a portion of something for reasons of parody. I think “re-mixing” is often parody. Whatever little freedom we have, I hope to find out how much and to what extent we have. Also, I hope that eventually there is more freedom given to teachers and students.

  3. Hi Vivian,
    I would like to dido Juliana. Thank you for sharing the beautiful videos – along with your thorough insight of frustrations with copyright. It is hard to believe that Happy Birthday is “copyrighted” by Time Warner. I always have to giggle when I am in the states in a restaurant that has to sing some other version – and this is JUST the happy birthday song. It is a frustrating that creative commons does not have a lot to offer, but as you stated, hopefully the catalogs will expand with time and rules will be adjusted. (I certainly and strongly believe that credit should and needs to be given where credit is due, however sometimes it does seem a bit over the top – especially in the time we live in where everything is instant access – although having just typed that I realize that is probably why it is and needs to be that much stronger.)
    As always I enjoy reading your posts and your incredible insight. Thank you for sharing. (btw I hope you had a wonderful summer holiday.)

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Jennifer! @jzimbrick

      It’s great to hear from you after a so many months. I had a great summer holiday in Canada. The weather was mainly hot and very sunny. I used to take for granted the sun while living in Calgary (the sunniest spot in Canada) and in Asia (where’s there’s a bit too much sun!). I live in a wonderful part of the world now–beautiful Switzerland–but we’ve had a bad year of clouds and rain (except for the summer while I was in Canada! go figure!). We really relished the sun in Canada and got outside as much as we could. I hope you had a happy and restful summer too!

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments to my blogpost. I definitely believe that credit should be given for people’s works. Maybe I should have been more clear in my blogpost that I don’t believe we should “grab and take” whatever we want and violate copyright that way. We definitely need to give credit from where we got our sources. If the source is a famous song, then I don’t think we’re not acknowledging the original source by not writing a citation at the end of the work. To me, it’s a form of praise and flattery and spread of that original work (a form of advertising). I confess that I learn more about pop culture and famous pop stars from the re-mixes that our students and my children do. I look at their work and I say, “Where’d you get that?”. Then they tell me a little bit about it and I learn a new artist or a new name.

      I am hoping for the day that there is more freedom for people to take and use whole songs because the context and audience has been taken into consideration. If I am a teacher or a student, and I use an entire song (like “Happy Birthday”) in a video, a public event, a show—those should be “common sense exceptions” to copyright laws. The problem is that we have no common sense! As soon as we try to legislate “common sense”, we have lost it. Common sense by definition, is based on our reason and not on the letter of the law. The letter of the law doesn’t think. It’s cold and rigid and its application is like a bludgeon head.

      I think we got into this mess because people thought they could legislate common sense and force the masses to act with “common sense”.

      Anyway, I’m glad I’m not a law maker and the one to try and sort this all out. You can’t say that as teachers we will not be turning a blind-eye to some copyright violations our students may make (at least I will be). If not, we’d be spending all out time policing, enforcing, and punishing. Hopefully the copyright “bosses” in the sky will do the same with us.

      I leave you and my readers a link to a Youtube video where “Smosh” took Pokemon headquarters to task for taking down their original Pokemon Youtube Re-mix. The original was a fan piece. The second one is bitter and angry. It’s called a “Revenge Video” for a reason. You can see where the Pokemon corporation hurt and loss their fan-base by being over-the-top with their application of the law over the first video. What a pity.

      Pokemon Revenge Video

      Thank you again for your comment. It’s quite a journey we’ve all taken in Coetail, especially in our understanding of Digital Citizenship and Creative Commons.

      See you in Course 4!


  4. Heather R says:

    Thanks for your reference to the YouTube audio stuff. I agree completely with your comments that children won’t be too interested to use ‘elevator’ music for their own vids, and that we have to be careful on copyrights on what they do use. Looking at the YouTube selections, I think they fall very much into the ‘elevator’ category for older children, but I think there is a lot there that I can work with as a teacher. I was scrabbling around for music a few weeks ago when I was putting a video together for an assembly, and it really does take more time than getting images for a presentation, so the more choice available, the better.
    Thanks also for sparking an idea for my own video .. yes as always I am behind, and I have spent a week trying to develop a storyline, but was struggling at the first step of subject. Seeing your Happy Birthday video gave me the idea to look at our community projects. It will be difficult to get that done immediately since they are staggered over the year as they fit into the curriculum of the different year groups, but I think I can use images from last year as well as what I have taken this year. It maybe another week or so, but the seed is there and I am drinking plenty of water as I continue to read.

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Heather @heather

      I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I got overwhelmed for the whole of November & December and it’s taken me until today to try to play “catch-up”.

      Thanks for taking time to comment.

      I hope one day the rules will be more “common-sense” so they can allow people to do “one-off” things in an educational setting without being afraid of being sued. Twenty years ago, we were doing it and there wasn’t even the discussion. It was still illegal but I’m pretty sure no one was financially hurt when schools used pop music to accompany assemblies or shows. The issue has only come to such strong light since the proliferation of sharing because of the Internet. There are also different levels of stringency between different countries. I think the USA is particularly sensitive about lawsuits and protecting teachers. You have to look at the climate of what country you work in and what you’re doing with a piece of music and make your own decisions. I wouldn’t upload anything with copyrighted music but if it’s for a one-off live show—I’d do it ;). This is not what Coetail might say, but that’s what I think common-sense says.

      Did you do your video? How did it go?