For Christmas, my in-laws gave me one of my favorite gifts:  An iTunes gift card!  Ever since buying my first iPod—which strangely enough was only two years ago—I’ve been consumed by finding interesting new music to listen to.

That’s the beauty of iTunes, I figure.  With about a bajillion songs to choose from—and with gadgets and gizmos that recommend new songs every time you make a purchase—you can spend hours browsing and buying.

(Don’t tell my wife, huh?!)

One of my favorite ways to find new songs is to ask groups of people that I know to make recommendations for dedicated playlists.  I’ve got an entire alternative collection—complete with bands like Atreyu, The Used and Four Year Strong—recommended by a niche group of eighth graders that look up to me.

I’ve got a playlist recommended by my middle school soccer team—which for some strange reason is loaded with hip-hop and Mexican rappers—and a playlist full of suggestions from this year’s language arts and social studies students.

What’s been fun—outside of listening to new music that I would have never found without the help of my iTunes Army—is the sense of community that each playlist has helped to develop.  In their simplest form, each song tells me a bit more about the individuals who recommended them.  I can see inside their minds, learning about their experiences and their attitudes.

What’s more, I can learn about the general trends in each of the networks that I’m a part of.  Do they like edgy music that challenges preconceived norms?  Are they interested in the world beyond the United States?  Did they grow up in the same generation as me?

Most importantly, though, each playlist gives me another shared experience with the individuals that I know.  Each time that I hear new songs, I smile and think about the source of the recommendation.  Inevitably, something they’ve said and/or shared with me comes to mind—and the next time we interact, I feel like I “know” them a bit better.

There’s something deeply personal about sharing song recommendations with others that resonates—particularly with my students.  Knowing that their songs are on my iPod really matters to the tweens and teens that I teach.  Each time they turn a list of suggestions to me—which, not surprisingly, they spend far more time on than their homework assignments!—they carefully explain which songs they think I’ll like the best, which songs they’re sure I’ll hate, and which songs mean the most to them.

And they’re usually lined up at my door early the next morning to find out what I thought of the music that they love!

That’s cool.

Given my commitment to using playlists to learn more about the people that I know, I figured it was high time to create a PLN playlist that included songs recommended by the people I learn from online each day.  After all, the relationships that I’ve formed here on the Radical, as a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, and in my Twitter Stream are some of the most important in my professional life.

So I sent out a Tweet yesterday morning:

All: I want to make a PLN Playlist with a $25 iTunes gift card I got. What ONE song—title and artist please—do you want me to add?

And here are the recommendations I’ve added to my playlist so far:

Linda704  A fave of mine: Cinema Paradiso by Chris Botti

jwindsor  2010 PLN playlist suggestion: “More Than A Feeling” by Boston

chrisludwig  Representing electronica for your playlist: Organ Donor by DJ Shadow

TNschatz  anything by Antigone Rising – like, She’s not Innocent.

mikepoluk  My all time favourite is I Was Made For Lovin’ You by KISS.

bivey  “Hands” – Jewel. Favourite line: “In the end, only kindness matters.” The SBS Rock Band which I teach once performed it, superbly.

RussGoerend  This song sums up my 2009 better than any other:

joelz  “War on War” by Wilco

PJVermont  Inside Job, by Pearl Jam

janesingh  Alive by Pearl Jam

wcarozza  Show The Way from David Wilcox.

artykel  I vote for ANY Sting songs.

msstewart  Bob Dylan Subterranean Homesick Blues

allonsdanser  PLN playlist. Grace Potter’s Big White Gate. Nice bluesey tune.

edtechsteve   hmmmmm. I’ll say eric hutchinson- rock and roll. @tgwynn intro’d him to me so I’ll pass it along…happy new year!

langwitches  from Argentina: Color Esperanza from Diego Torres

raventech  If you are still looking, “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson is a must!

jennyluca  Heard it through the grapevine – Creedence Clearwater Revival. Oldie, but goodie.

mrscienceteach: I’m a Dave Matthews guy.  Why I Am from Big Whiskey.

What I love the most about my 2010 PLN Playlist is that I only owned two of these songs before yesterday—and there are no fewer than 16 artists on this list that are brand new to me!  Until yesterday, I owned no Bob Dylan or Grace Potter at all.  I’d never heard of Antigone Rising or Diego Torres.  And I sure as mess didn’t have any Organ Donor on my iPod!

So not only do I have an interesting new collection of music to listen to, I’ve got an interesting and diverse collection of minds to learn more about!  I knew that my Twitter stream included people with an almost incredible range of backgrounds and experiences, but I would never have guessed that one list of tunes would be so eclectic—and different from the music that I already own!

Moral of the story:  Building relationships—with colleagues, with digital friends, with family, with students—depends on shared experiences.  Until we know more about what drives our friends and acquaintances, we can’t possibly maximize the power found in the human bonds that join us.  And because music is a deeply personal choice, sharing tunes is a great way to share oneself.

Customized playlists really can be a valuable networking tool!

Oh yeah:  And it’s just plain fun to listen to unique music every now and then!  I’ve got my ear buds in right now, rocking out to a collection of tunes by Danish bands recommended by a friend in Odense.  How many people can do that at 6 AM on a Saturday!

(PS:  If you’ve got a song that you think I should add to my iPod, leave the title and the author in the comm

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