- "Initially it's more difficult because it's unfamiliar."
- "After getting over the initial shock and discomfort, it caused me to think more deeply about exactly what was happening."
- "It provided something that I could lock in to rhythmically and I had to take personal responsibility for the strong pulse."
- "It really helped to steady the tempo."
Monday, April 3, 2017
Monday, March 27, 2017
The school that backed out of hosting the performance agreed to provide all of the publicity, send students, and to contact local alumni about the performance. They were essentially in charge of generating an audience. Sadly, the day of the performance came and went and the audience was very thin. Actually, extraordinarily thin. The performing ensemble certainly understood and really weren't concerned about it at all.
Here's where "perception is reality" steps in. About an hour after the performance, I received a scathing email from a local resident who heard about the performance, came to the concert, and was enraged that so few people were there. Their ire was directed at me for not generating an audience for the performance. You see, I am the face of our Fine Arts Series and I am the one that sends out publicity emails regarding upcoming events. Earlier in the week, I had sent out a quick email to numerous area list-serves that letting people know that the performance would be on Sunday afternoon at 3 o'clock. To make matters worse, there was a small typographical error in the email I had sent. The error was small (a typo in the information that I had received) and I don't believe that it would have kept anyone from attending the performance. This constituent's perception was that I hadn't done my job. I hadn't generated an audience. I had had not honored the group that was performing. I had not corrected the error in the email. And I had not advertised the concert appropriately . Here is the letter:
What an embarrassment!! The Symphony deserved a much larger audience!! When a member of my neighborhood association forwarded the March 23 email from you, we noticed the error immediately and sought clarification. Where might we have found a correction?? How was the news of the concert communicated to the public? Facebook page? Website? Who is responsible for communication of any and all events at your institution? Has anyone stepped up to take responsibility for this attendance fiasco, and please don't suggest you just printed what they sent!! As a taxpayer and lifelong resident of this community, my expectations are high but readily achievable if those in charge do their job!!
What a horrible way to end my Sunday evening. Clearly, this constituent didn't have all the facts. But, it didn't matter. Their perception was their reality. Obviously, we responded to the letter and gave them some more of the facts, but I believe the damage was done. Their perception of our institution and our programs had been , more than likely, altered irreparably.
Which brings me to the second part of my title: "no good deed goes unpunished." Clearly, we were looking to help out this university wind ensemble. We were also looking to help out this local area band director. In the end, we have probably been better off saying no. But, that is not how I want to operate. I always want to operate in a mode of saying yes. In this instance, it didn't pay off for at least one audience member. But, I do believe that the university wind ensemble was thrilled to have that opportunity. They worked for about an hour with a well-known composer who lives in our area and had a final dry run before they headed off to New York City for more performances. Saying yes, in the end, was the right thing to do.
Of course, we will continue saying yes and trying to be an optimistic force in the arts and music in our area. All that being said, it really stings to receive an email like the one I received. I wish that people would take the time to get all the facts before unleashing their sometimes ignorant rants.
As for those of us in the arts at my institution, we will continue to say yes.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
I was recently interviewed by renown jazz violinist, Christian Howes for his podcast.
You can find the interview here: https://soundcloud.com/christian-howes
I hope you enjoy it. We cover a lot of ground in the interview and I feel like it brings out some of my thoughts about ensemble, pedagogy, and teaching.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Schlereth then went on to tell Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, hosts of Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN radio, that he was really proud to have been on two Hall of Fame teams over the course of his career. The Denver Broncos, the team that Terrell Davis was being recognized for, and Mike and Mike in the Morning, the magnificent morning radio show that has been on ESPN's radio waves for the past 16 years. Schlereth went on to articulate how all Hall of Fame teams require sacrifice on the part of each individual. It's family. It's about taking care of each other and loving each other in many ways. Sacrifice is the central important concept.
I heard this story while I was driving in the car and it really moved me. I began reflecting on my career and the amazing Hall of Fame teams that I have been part of. I have made three stops in my professional career. First in Palmyra Pennsylvania where I was so fortunate to be mentored by magnificent music educators and others that cared for me as a young professional. They were, effectively Hall of Fame mentors and teachers for me. Three of those individuals are: Dan Hoover, an amazing elementary instrumental teacher who modeled excellence, stellar musicianship, and consistency every day; JB Yorty, a lively and unique individual who taught elementary classroom music, kept me in line, and challenged me to look and act like a pro during my time in Palmyra; and Fred Otto, a hilarious and totally effective middle school music instructor who inspired kids to keep playing and laughing every day at Palmyra Middle School for many years. These guys really shaped me during those formative years in my teaching career.
In 1991, I moved on to Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt Maryland where I became part of my 2nd Hall of Fame Team. When I landed at Roosevelt it became clear to me that I was working side-by-side with some of the best instructors and teachers that the music education business could possibly provide: Sally Wagner, Barbara Baker, and Judy Moore, along with principal Dr. Gerald Boarman. Sally Wagner was the band director at Eleanor Roosevelt High School for about 40 years and is the author of The Band Directors Guide: In the Pursuit of Excellence. Sally and I shared an office and many great musical and professional moments over the years. Dr. Barbara Baker, who was at ERHS for many years as well, is now retired and enjoys a vibrant career as guest conductor and speaker all over the world in the area of choral music. Barbra taught me more than I could ever express in one blog post. Judy Moore was our department chair and administrative department leader. She had a keen sense of how to keep our multi-tasking department moving in a common direction and all on the same page. Dr. Gerald Boarman, principal of ERHS at the time, went on to serve as Chancellor of the North Carolina School of Science and Math and is now the head of the Bullis School in Potomac Maryland. He is noted nationally as a progressive leader of specialized and innovative academic institutions.
Hall of Fame teams require sacrifice on the part of each individual. It's family. It's about taking care of each other and loving each other in many ways. Sacrifice is the central important concept. I have had this 3 times in my career. It is such a pleasure to go to work every day as part of a great team. Somehow, Mondays rarely bother me.
Friday, February 17, 2017
I found Curry's remarks to be insightful at every level . I took 16 students from the North Carolina School of Science and Math to the lecture as well. The kids were engaged throughout and the folks at Quail Ridge Books were very excited to see such a wonderful group of high school students at this lecture.
I learned a lot about Charles Ives last night and hearing it through the perspective of William Henry Curry was particularly interesting. He covered lots of the standard Ives details which include his commitment to dissonance as a reflection of the sounds he heard in nature and music around him, his love of patriotic music and folk songs and how he incorporated them into his classical music, and, some things that I didn't know before. One of my favorite aspects of Ives' composition is that he would depict sounds that happened accidentally around us - like folks singing out of tune, random sounds and noises, marching bands in 2 keys being heard on the street at the same time, etc. - and include them in his composition. In my 20th Century Music History courses, I admiringly refer to this uniquely Ivesian compositional technique as "Accidentalism." He talked a good deal about Ives' relationship with his father and how important that was to his development as a musician and composer . He also spoke a great deal about his wife, Harmony who supported him throughout his life and career. I also learned a fair amount about some of his insecurities which included his reaction to being called a sissy when he was a young boy because of his interest in classical music. Curry speculated that perhaps some of the dissonance and masculinity in Ives' music grows from that insecurity. This is something that many young classical musicians can probably relate to.
Curry also shared several audio excerpts for us to learn from . the most interesting was certainly a rare recording of Ives playing piano and singing a raucous politically charged Anthem that he wrote. The nearly unhinged tone of his voice and heavy-handed piano playing was incredibly telling. I enjoyed this very much.
One of the most interesting stories of the night really didn't involve Ives, but rather provided some insight into the life of a composer. Curry told a story of when he was Associate Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony and was assigned to be assistant to Aaron Copland while he was conducting the symphony for a week. Curry explained that he was afraid to speak to Copland for the entire week and never said a word to him until the last day when he found out that he had to drive him back to the hotel after rehearsal. Curry introduced himself to Copland as his assistant and asked if there was anything that he might need. Copland asked for a few minutes to simply sit and relax after the rehearsal, before the trip back to the hotel. Curry explained how physical the act of conducting is and likened it to claim an entire football game. (I could really relate to that because I am always sore after a day of conducting at an honors festival that lasts all day. I have developed a close relationship with ice bags on my shoulders in the evening!) While Curry and Copland sat for nearly 40 minutes after that rehearsal prior to going back to the hotel, Curry had the opportunity to speak with him on a very personal level. Upon getting to know him a bit , Curry allowed to Copland that he was interested in becoming a composer . Copland's response was to remind Curry that when you're conductor you are competing with all living conductors. But, when you are a composer you are competing with all living and dead composers . What an interesting thought! And, it would really give all aspiring composers pause. Just consider the folks that are programming for symphonies having the conversation, "What shall we program on this concert Beethoven or Curry "? Fortunately, William Henry Curry continued to compose and has contributed a great deal to the repertoire!
Which brings me to the final part of his talk . William Henry Curry will be premiering one of his original compositions on the same concert, entitled Autumn. He talked a bit about the piece and the title which is semi-programmatic. He explained that as a sixty-two-year-old man, he is facing his mortality on a daily basis. "Autumn" refers to his stage in life as well as a more symbolic thought about the season of autumn and the turning of leaves. He shared a good deal about his thought process and particularly some of the imagery associated with the season of autumn. He explained that when leaves turn and fall off a tree, they beautiful, yet are essentially dying. As they decompose on the ground, they provide nutrients and food for new life to thrive. These concepts are embedded in the music that he will be presenting at the upcoming concert.
I found the talk to be extraordinarily enlightening and inspiring. I've thought a great deal about many of the topics that William Henry Curry covered. I would encourage everyone to check out Quail Ridge Books and attend one of their lectures for musical performances. NC Symphony Musical Director, Grant Llewellyn will be giving a talk on The Music of World War I on April 3.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
I am honored to be here to share some of my pedagogical thoughts with you and hope that you gained some new ideas from my sessions. I am posting some documents and links here that you may find helpful!
Pedagogy from the Podium: Thursday 11:30
- For those interested in finger pattern resources
10 Practical Strategies: Thursday 2:30
Teaching Habits of Mind of the Orchestral Musician: Friday 1:00
Approach Arrive Depart: Friday 4:00 with Julie Post and the Bradley Middle School Orchestra
PS A really great Spinach dip Recipe :)
1 box (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, cooked, cooled and squeezed dry
1 container (16 oz.) sour cream*
1 cup Hellmann's® or Best Foods® Real Mayonnaise
1 package Knorr® Vegetable recipe mix
1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained and chopped (optional)
3 green onions, chopped (optional)
Combine all ingredients and chill about 2 hours. Serve with your favorite dippers to your favorite people.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
I am currently driving south on Route 501 towards my home of Durham, North Carolina. (I am dictating this post into my Samsung telephone on the Blogger app.) I am so glad that I have voice to text capabilities so that I can get a few of my thoughts on paper while I am driving by myself in the car.
As I drive home after a magnificent weekend of music-making with the PMEA District 2, 3, 5 Orchestra Festival in Indiana, Pennsylvania, I am reflecting on all of the complex systems that must come together in order to make a festival such as this so successful. Here are a few thoughts about the weekend.
First, I was thrilled to receive the invitation to conduct this Festival about 2 years ago. I grew up in Indiana, PA and graduated from Indiana High School in 1983. My older sister graduated in 1980 and eventually made her way back to our hometown to teach in the public schools and for the past several years has been the high school orchestra director in our hometown. She found out that she would be hosting this festival over 18 months ago and immediately asked me to serve as guest conductor. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and have been looking forward to this event for a couple of years.
Throughout the weekend, I was humbled to participate in this event in my hometown. It was so moving to be welcomed back by longtime friends, colleagues, former teachers, current administrators, and many others. Everyone really rolled out the red carpet for me. In return I truly wanted to give them as much as I possibly could and to serve the event in every way that I could. I was a member of PMEA for the first six years of my career. And, as many of you know, have been a active member of NAfME my entire career. I have served in leadership positions both while in PMEA and the Maryland Music Educators Association as well as the North Carolina Music Educators Association for last 16 years. These are all subdivisions of NAfME.
Throughout the weekend, itwas such a pleasure to meet all of my sister's colleagues from around Western Pennsylvania. They welcomed me into their community and generously made me feel like part of the gang. They brought their students to the event so well-prepared, ready to go to work, and ready make some great music together.
I have to say a few words about my sister, Julianne Laird at this point. In all of my years in music education and guest conducting, I have never been part of a more organized event. I am so proud of Julianne's work. She seemed to think of everything before the event. She solicited donations of food and products from businesses across Indiana County to support the event. She organized every aspect of the event to the smallest detail and had the most loving, energetic crew of volunteers that I have ever encountered at an event such as this. Her energy seems to be boundless. I know she was tired when the event drew to a close, but she can certainly rest easy knowing that it was a job well done. Everyone that was there to volunteer and help out remarked at how happy they were to participate in the event for Julianne. It was really nice to see her in action. I could not have been more impressed.
Now, a word about the students. Again, I could not have been more impressed. From the first down-beat of the first day, it was clear that the students were there to learn. We immediately developed a wonderful rapport and I could tell that they were going to be open to my ideas and suggestions throughout the weekend. It is not as if we didn't have a lot to do. The repertoire was extraordinarily challenging and we all knew that it would be a monumental task to prepare this music for our concert on Saturday morning. The repertoire for the weekend included the Finale of Dvorak's Symphony Number 8, In the Company of Angels by William Hofeldt, Star Wars Epic Suite #2 arranged by Robert W Smith, and the centerpiece of the repertoire was Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. Those of you that know the work, know that Romeo and Juliet is an extreme technical and musical challenge. And, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was a little concerned about programming the work. That said, throughout each hour of rehearsal the piece materialized and came together in wonderful ways.
On Saturday night, Julianne arranged for the Pittsburgh Rock Cello Trio, Cello Fury, to perform for the students and the public in the Indiana Junior High School Auditorium. They were fantastic. What an inspirational performance for this fine group of young musicians to witness! Also, I was stunned to see the number of folks who came out for the concert both to hear this great group and to support Julianne and the efforts of the local school district.
After the concert, we even had another hour of rehearsal to run the program before turning in on Friday night. I must admit, I was wondering how strong the attention of my ensemble would be for that last hour of the evening. It was magic!
A Saturday morning rolled around the energy among the students was really high. We had about an hour to run the program and I decided to only touch up a couple of musical areas and go over concert etiquette. This ensemble was ready to play!
The concert couldn't have gone more splendidly. We opened with Romeo and Juliet and literally hit all of our musical marks throughout the piece. I told the students before the concert that I had never conducted the perfect performance and wasn't probably going to do so today either. Of course, it wasn't a perfect performance. But it was a perfect performance for this ensemble. I couldn't believe the amount of active musical energy that was present on stage that day! Our next work was In the Company of Angels and many audience members shared with me that they shed tears throughout that performance. It is such a beautiful tribute peace and everyone, performers and audience alike, understood the significance. Next was Star Wars. I felt The ensemble relax just a little bit as we began this piece. They knew that the hardest part of the program was over and they could simply allow their musicianship to shine through. This popular piece of music was perfect for the group. They played it with passion, energy, and commitment. We finished with the Finale of Dvorak's 8th and it, too, couldn't have gone any better. As an impromptu encore, we're reprised the final movement of the Star Wars Suite, the main theme.
I want to thank my sister, Julianne Laird, the administration, school board, and staff of Indiana School District, all of the members of PMEA who brought students to this event, and all of the magnificent volunteers and sponsors of the PMEA District 2, 3, 5, Orchestra Festival. You all made my homecoming so wonderful.
I was reminded as I walked into the Indiana Jr High School Auditorium that I had not been on that stage since June, 1983, at my commencement from high school. That evening, I was one of the students that gave some remarks and I had the opportunity to perform a violin solo. I recently went back and looked at the text of the speech that I gave that evening. That speech was about the importance of community. Community building has been a cornerstone of my life and philosophy as a conductor, pedagog, and teacher for the last 31 years. The example that I witnessed throughout the past weekend as I was home in Indiana, reminded me of why that concept is so important to me. The Indiana School District community is a magnificent example of a successful community. The care that they put into all the day do is so very clear. Thanks to all that were involved. I can't wait till the next time that I get to come home and make music with the folks in Indiana.