Reflections: Feelin’ Groovy

Mr Andrew Pennay, Director of Creative Arts

If life is like a box of chocolates, then the history of Brisbane Girls Grammar School is certainly like a vinyl record. So, let’s warm up with a problem: How long is Side A of the original release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel? Email me your answers to for a chance to win! Yes, there are prizes.

In working through this problem, you may encounter some frustrations. In short, I haven’t made life easy. Is there a right answer? How much historical context is relevant, but missing? Which other aspects of the problem remain veiled? Do I expect you to answer in ‘minutes’ or in ‘metres’? Must you show your working? Why is there more than one prize? As we dig deeper: Should a linear measurement include the micro-oscillations? Do I want you to only measure ‘sounds’, or also the ‘sounds of silence’? Kids, your (grand)parents will explain this last queasy quip. Sit with the problem as a family, then email me.

Problem (re)solving

In the same way that the questions above cannot be answered neatly, learning experiences in our Creative Arts subjects centre around a largely tacit proposition: traditional takes on problem solving are insufficient in our current era. Instead, more creative problem resolving pushes us towards less systematic ways of thinking, less formulaic methods, and less standardised responses. In other words, arts learning can actually thrive when empiricism, quantification, mathematical proficiency and even assessment validity give way to subjective interpretation, intuition, ambiguity, expressiveness and artistry.

To further illustrate this problematisation of problems, let’s look inside Ms Eadie’s Visual Art classroom, just as she presents a class of learners with a new artistic problem. The girls are to represent themselves through a sculpture made entirely of cardboard. Soon enough, a single solution is found through the engineered structure, the scale, the texture, and the palette, but the slower resolution of this particular problem will likely linger across the year(s). ‘I just don’t know who I am!’, cries one girl … but she’s only just begun! Ms Eadie pushes on to curate the necessary collective introspection (and ensembled individualism) that these learners need, and they tackle the problem together/alone/in earnest.

Creative problems—both in schools, and the wider world—are therefore often resolved in teams, with (obviously) a whole bunch of creativity.

Beyond this, their resolution may take iterative, visual, physical, ephemeral, multiplicitous forms. Imagine that: real problems that cannot be solved by an individual in a two-hour handwritten test! How fantastic! In fact, how essential!

To acknowledge that life—full of collaboration, uncertainty, not-yets, design labs, and glorious problem resolution—is not always like school, is to reveal a disconnect: to be frank, all schools stigmatise non-standardisation. Although a life of resolution over solution naturally sits well with children, such a view of learning is provocative and counter-cultural in our neoliberal climate. Increasingly, when Arts teachers ask questions that genuinely have no set answer (or suggest that responses may be founded on physical expression or artistic interpretation), people make wild leaps to panic about 1) the economic utility of the subject, and 2) the subject’s suitability for standardised testing. Students also fall into a groove of consumption: Is there an exemplar? Will this be on the test? Internationally, there is a trend away from the groove of a broad, liberal education.

Interlude: A very short history of groove

In Medieval times, a groover in a groove was a miner in a mine. By the nineteenth century, a ‘groove’ had come to signify a routine, narrow ‘rut’, but phonographs and then jazz propagated more positive connotations for the term.[1] By Simon and Garfunkel’s time, records were well and truly (and literally) groovy, as physical manifestations of sound carved into vinyl channels to be interpreted by a needle, amplifier, speaker, then groovy listener.[2]

Slow down, you move too fast

We dropped the needle on the Brisbane Girls Grammar School record in 1875, just two years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. In perceiving our 149-year history as being somewhat akin to Side A of a long play vinyl record, some playful observations start to follow.

For the School, our singular groove (aka culture) has deepened to embrace a fuller understanding of what a life enriched by learning might entail. Through a variety of tracks, beyond the scope of this article, we have seen a continued evolution of our own culture through waxing and waning political and School-based imperatives. If nothing else, Side A of our School history—our groove—has played out as ‘relentless work’ in navigating classicism, pragmatism, utilitarianism, and liberalism.[3]

To spin the metaphor further, let’s explore the phenomenon of inner-groove distortion: the closer we get to the centre of a record, the more compressed things become, with the needle travelling an ever-shorter distance each revolution. In other words, the same amount of music is squashed to take up less space. This inner-groove distortion is a real issue in the music business, resulting in unwanted audio artefacts when music is too loud or bassy near the centre of the disc.

Such a physical constraint has led to a creative resolution in the world of vinyl pressing. To escape this potential acoustic warp, artists and labels often close each side of a vinyl record with a quiet ballad. Feelin’ Groovy, and the timeless/classic Wham!’s Careless Whisper, are obvious examples. Even Harry Styles finishes Side A of his self-titled vinyl release with the acoustic ballad Sweet Creature.

Beyond vinyl, though, the concept of inner-groove distortion provides the opportunity to reconsider the compression of time seen in schools in recent decades. Globally, school life proceeds with inadequate pause, rushed change, and dwindling engagement of the ‘listener’, time after time.[4] As such, Girls Grammar’s pending 150th anniversary provides an important opportunity for a slow dance, perhaps a quieter, less bassy moment in which to consider next moves.

Record breaking

Some records are worth breaking entirely, or at least flipping over.[5] In any case, in this closing ballad of our School’s Side A, we ask what the next 150 years of Brisbane Girls Grammar School might offer: The swift adoption of a broader range of perspectives? Ever-wider exposure to a life of joyful uncertainty? Collaboration as the very basis for senior assessment? (Shock!) An incessant drive for human-centric creativity in an age of artificial intelligence? The dwindling of a neoliberal push towards ever-more standardised senior assessment?

If any of these questions have ‘legs’, we need to pursue them at a national and state level. But, again, I’m getting ahead of myself. When Paul Simon wrote Feelin’ Groovy, he was clear about intentional brevity and the need to slow down. He summarised his position well in The New Yorker: ‘When you’ve made your impression, stop’.[6]

So, on that note, I look forward to your creative resolution by way of an emailed response: Again, how long is Side A of the original release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel? And, in fact, I’m offering bonus points: What do you think awaits us on the Girls Grammar Side B?

Mr Andrew Pennay
Director of Creative Arts


[1] Whatever you do, don’t consult The Oxford Dictionary of Music, unless you intend to discover—by its notable absence in the text—that the term ‘groove’ is not associated with ‘Music’! From this text and context, we might go further to infer that music is most esteemed when it lacks groove, and when it is composed by dead, white men to be consumed by tired couples in expensive concert halls.

[2] As you may now know, if you opted to listen with a stopwatch in hand, S&G’s gentle ditty The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) closes Side A of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Young learners are always keen to unpack this final/ultimate definition of ‘groove’!

[3] McWilliam, E. (2013). Educating girls. University of Queensland Press.

[4] Another Side A closing track, this time by Cyndi Lauper!

[5] For instance, here I am, a male author celebrating a male inventor, male performance duos, and (perhaps, in the eyes of our students) the most famous current male solo artist. Talk about falling victim to the old ‘rut’ of male perennialism in the arts!

[6] Stevenson, J. (1967, August 26). Simon & Garfunkel: The music duo discusses poetry, popularity, and pain. The New Yorker.