Friday, June 2, 2017


Yesterday was the last official day of the Academic Year for faculty members at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. As part of the daily activities, the Humanities Department had our final meeting of the school year. Rather than a formal agenda for the meeting, we were simply given a forum to express our gratitude for each other and for events that had occurred during the course of the year. This was an incredible exercise for me and I believe for many of my colleagues on the last day of school. We heard stories of gratitude for colleagues, for help during times of ill-health and family crisis, for curricular inspiration, for facilitation of professional in-service and ideas, for lovely unexpected gestures, and many others. 

How rare for a group of colleagues to have an hour to simply sit in a circle and thank each other!  I am so appreciative for that opportunity and for the opportunity to hear the thoughts of gratitude expressed by my friends and colleagues.  It was a beautiful way to end the school year.

So, in this post, I would like to express gratitude for a number of opportunities that have come to me throughout the course of the past year.

First, I am thankful for my family.  My wife is so supportive and literally adjusts so many facets of her life to accommodate my busy work and performing schedule.  She understands my priorities and challenges.  I couldn't do it without her and I truly appreciate her guidance and support in my life.  I am also thankful for my kids.  I have three sons who make me proud on a daily basis.  They are growing to be fine human beings, exhibiting compassion, work ethic and sensitivity on a daily basis.  We live in a harsh world and I know my boys will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  I feel so fortunate to have a role in their lives.

I am thankful for the many conducting opportunities that have come my way this year.  I am so privileged to work with students all over the US and appreciate the opportunity to have a small part in shaping the musical understanding and passion of so many kids.  It is such a joy for me to travel and experience the excitement of orchestra events over and over.  I always knew that I wanted to do this and I am truly living my dreams.  If you had a part in providing me one of these opportunities, thanks!

Similarly, I am thankful for speaking and conference presentation opportunities.  These presentations keep me on my toes and fresh.  They give me the opportunity to articulate my pedagogical thoughts to other teachers and to gain constant feedback on my ideas.  In return, I gain motivation from their enthusiasm for my material.  Truly, I appreciate the opportunity to share my ideas with colleagues.

I am thankful for colleagues.  My colleagues at NCSSM support and inspire  me every day. We collaborate, discuss, share, laugh, and commiserate.  I couldn't ask for a better daily environment. 
My colleagues around North Carolina are an inspiration as well.  I look forward to our regional and all-state events, not only for the opportunities my students receive, but also to hang out with my friends!  We share laughter and common situations.  The string ed community in NC is strong and welcoming.  And, I am thankful for colleagues around the country.  It is so great to watch your accomplishments and lives via Facebook and other digital media.  And, of course, I love seeing you, hanging out, sharing meals, and touching base at conferences and other events throughout the year.  This community isn't that big and I am always reminded that this is our "tribe."   It is wonderful to be in this together.

I am thankful for NCSSM.  This institution has been so wonderful to me over the years.  The school's mission is a perfect fit for me.  The administration appreciates my talents and does all that they can to allow me to thrive and be my best at every turn. And, when I need a little latitude, they always provide me with what I need.

I am thankful for smiles from students.  There is no greater feeling than making eye contact with a student while conducting a piece and receiving that smile that says, "Thanks, Mr. Laird. This is awesome."  Similarly, it is great to just get that smile in the hallway or during a break in rehearsal.  Again, the community of string players and orchestral musicians is small.  It is so nice to be connected with young people by such a cool and meaningful pursuit.

I am thankful for the love and support that I have received from so many people in the past year.  It is truly awesome to have folks that care for us.  That has definitely been palpable in my life in recent months.  Thanks.

I am sure there is much more:  health, happiness, recreation, engagement, good fortune, and others.  I am certainly grateful today.  

Thanks to you for taking the time to read this.  Peace.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Backbeats as a Vehicle to Steady Tempo (Groove)

Exactly where does the intersection of folk, rock, and jazz idioms and classical music lie?  To me, the answer to that question is "Everywhere."  Certainly, the experts in each of these genres can clearly articulate and perform their idiom's most important aspects.  But, how do we bring the best of each to the other.

I have been thinking about this a great deal lately, especially since my conversation with Chris Howes on his Creative Strings Podcast. 

Last week, my orchestra was in the middle of rehearsing the Double Clarinet Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn for our upcoming Concerto Concert. There are a couple of passages in the work that are very metronomically stable, but, somewhat rhythmically difficult to master. My string section was having trouble holding a steady beat without pushing the tempo. 

I decided to experiment a little bit with pulse and backbeats in an effort to provide context for my students to remain steady. This idea grew from the conversation that I had with Christian just  a few weeks ago.  Of course, I had done this before with student ensembles, but it has come to front and center in my thinking and it was time to get some data!  (Incidentally, I alwasy encourage my students to practice and rehearse like a scientist.  Limit variables and gain data with every pass though a section. )  

I decided to first have the students play the passage slowly without any oral or clapped pulse. Results: rushing and instability.  Then, I ran the passage, clapping on beats 1 and 3.  Results: about the same. Following the less than moderate success with that scheme, I decided to try backbeats. I clapped on two and four while the students were playing a very traditional classical piece. After running the passage 2 or 3 times the passage became beautiful and steady. The backbeats were the answer.  My friend Christian would be so proud!  He is definitely on to something here. 

I wanted to collect some more data, so I asked the kids about their reaction to the exercise. Here are some of the thoughts that they gave me:
  1. "Initially it's more difficult because it's unfamiliar."  
  2. "After getting over the initial shock and discomfort, it caused me to think more deeply about exactly what was happening."
  3. "It provided something that I could lock in to rhythmically and I had to take personal responsibility for the strong pulse."
  4. "It really helped to steady the tempo."
I am convinced that  there is something much deeper going on here, but am not sure how to articulate it yet.  I will need to do more study.  But, here is what I know anecdotally:  Providing backbeats helps to establish groove.  By the way, I am not talking about  swinging the pulse in any way.  We are simply providing backbeats or the "snare drum" in the pop/rock setting.  

Which brings me to my hypothesis.  Student musicians are used to hearing groove in dance music and there is always a backbeat provided there.  Conversely, in classical repertoire, the backbeat is rarely provided and students feel more compelled or premitted to "fudge" the pulse a bit.

More research is required here. but, I am interested in your experience with backbeats in classical repertoire.   Meanwhile, I will keep digging.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Perception is Reality and No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Recently, my school agreed to host a regional university wind ensemble for performance on a Sunday afternoon. We were asked to do this when another local high school had to back out of their commitment to host the performance. We did it as a favor to the other high school director who was an alum of that school and explained that Sunday afternoon performances, particular on beautiful spring days, were usually lightly attended and we had some difficulty generating audience for this type of performance. It also happened to be the day after my school's prom.  Students from our school would be there in all likelihood. The ensemble leaders understood the concern but were interested in getting one last dry run before a trip to New York City the next day. So, we agreed to host the performance as a gesture to the university wind ensemble.

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

Christian Howes Interview

Hi all -
I was recently interviewed by renown jazz violinist, Christian Howes for his podcast.

You can find the interview here:

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

Hall of Fame

Today I'm thinking about Hall of Fame careers.

Recently, Terrell Davis, former running back for the Denver Broncos, found out that he will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame this coming year. What a wonderful recognition of a great career, albeit a short one. A couple of days ago, I heard Mark Schlereth, former offensive lineman on the same team and current radio broadcaster, tell a great story about Terrell Davis. He said that Davis was on his Radio Show recently when Mark expressed a real sense of pride that his teammate was going into the Hall of Fame. He said, "It's almost like I am going into the Hall of Fame." Terrell Davis responded by telling Schlereth that he is, in fact, going into the Hall of Fame. He, in fact, owns a piece of that bust that will be put up and that yellow jacket. For, they were teammates. And nothing great ever can happen without a Hall of Fame team.

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.

16 years ago I found myself at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham North Carolina and knew that I had left and amazing, Hall of Fame team of colleagues in the music department at ERHS. Since that day I had been seeking to recreate the environment that I experienced at Eleanor Roosevelt. There was something exciting about every single day working with these amazing colleagues and knowing that something special was going to happen in the classroom and on the performance stage each time we got together. We at NCSSM certainly have that team in place now!  Currently, I am so aware that things are really clicking in the Fine Arts Department at the North Carolina School of Science and Math. I am so blessed to have these Hall of Fame colleagues to work with. My colleague in the music department is Phillip Riggs, 2016 Grammy Award winner for Music Education. I couldn't have a more caring, humble colleague. He is a fantastic musician and and magnificent advocate for our students and our institution. David Stuntz, our Choral Director has just the right mix of musical expertise, choral chops, and caring father figure. Adam Sampieri, Theater Instructor, brings a young energy, artistic experience, and impeccable pedagogical sense to the classroom and theater rehearsal every day. Cary Alter, the newest addition to our team, rounds out this Hall of Fame team, bringing a real air of deep thought, fresh energy, and artistic talent to our Visual Arts discipline.

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. 

I wish each of you the opportunity to be part of a Hall of Fame team. It starts with sacrifice. 


Friday, February 17, 2017

Ives and Autumn

Last night, I attended a wonderful lecture at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh North Carolina. Associate conductor of the North Carolina Symphony and Musical Director of the Durham NC Symphony, William Henry Curry, presented a wonderful lecture on the life and music of Charles Ives . He will be conducting Ives's 2nd Symphony next Friday night at Meymandi Hall with the North Carolina Symphony. Quail Ridge Books is a progressive retailer that frequently features speakers, musical performances, and authors. They have a magnificent facility and really provide a great scholarly environment for folks to experience these educational and artistic events.

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

TMEA 2017

Hello to all of my new friends at TMEA 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

  • Handout

  • Shared folder of resources

  • Backtracks and playlists

  • 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

    Please let me know if I can provide anything else for you. I am always happy to share ideas and materials!



    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

    Weekend reflections

    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.



    Monday, January 23, 2017

    Music to fill the air at IASD - - January 23, 2017

    Music to fill the air at IASD - - January 23, 2017

    I am very much looking forward to conducting at my alma mater this weekend!!
    This article appeared in the local newspaper, The Indiana Gazette.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2017

    Southeast String Conference 2017

    Hi all!
    This post is for all that are attending my session at the UNCG Southeast String Conference on Jan 21, 2017.
    Thanks for coming to my session!  I have some links that you will find to be helpful.

    Finding and Maintaining Fulfillment in your Career in String Education:

    Finger Patterns as a Vehicle to Major Scales and Upper Positions

    Monday, January 9, 2017

    Repetition of Rehearsal

    I love rehearsal.  I love everything about it. 

    As a conductor, I feel like my mind is in overdrive from the beginning to the end of every rehearsal.  There is so much to think about in every single minute: rhythm, melody, balance, phrasing, clarity, ensemble, voice, timbre, technique, articulation, and so much more!  Rehearsal is where the real work happens and where real ideas are shared.

    I sometimes find that I am a little bit apologetic for simply repeating passages.  I will sometimes say, "Let's do that again, simply to get the reps."  But the fact is, repetition in rehearsal is vital.

    The repetition of the rehearsal gives voice to the larger habits and truths of orchestral performance and participation.

    Without the repetition of rehearsal, we would miss so much.  There are so many habits of orchestral performance that arise as a result of the repetition of rehearsal.  For, it is only in rehearsal that we truly learn what the other voices in the ensemble are doing.  In rehearsal we learn the vision of the conductor and the gesticulations that he or she will utilize to remind us of that vision during performance.  Through the repetition, the music becomes more than just notes.  It becomes phrases, ideas, pictures.  The repetition of rehearsal is the rigor that leads ultimately to the more natural, fluid creation of art.  The repetition permits the musician to graduate from the micro-picture of notes and rhythms to the macro-picture of the composition.  The repetition of rehearsal liberates the individual musicians from their personal rigor and allows them to get closer to the communal utopia of true ensemble performance.

    My next rehearsal is Tuesday night. Can't wait.



    Sunday, January 8, 2017

    Theology of Scarcity

    I was having coffee with a friend recently and he introduced me to the concept and phrase "Theology of Scarcity." I had never heard this phrase before and ask him what it meant. As I understand it, it refers to limited resources. It reminds us that resources are limited, so we must hold on to that which we have. I did a quick Google search on the phrase and really didn't come up with a clear definition. It is clear that the concept grows from Biblical origins and is bounced around in church circles to some extent. I've been thinking a great deal about this phrase and related implications.

    As I think about this concept, it reminds me of some of the precepts that I have laid for my career and life. First, let me say that I try to think in the opposite terms of this phrase. Through some light research, this would be known as the "Theology of Abundance." I have always felt like abundance is a better way to approach life, work, family, and relationships. I guess it really comes down to glass half full vs. glass half empty.  In music education, there are so many areas that we find abundance. I'd like to outline a few of the ideas here and see if you agree with them.

    Just yesterday, I was we had a student recital in my piano and guitar class. We were talking about the concept of applause. I always remind my students that applause is free. Applause is essentially a thank you. It doesn't cost a thing to give and we can give it with abundance at no cost to ourselves. I feel like we live in a culture of tepid applause. One of my overarching goals in all of my classes is to encourage students to give applause freely and abundantly. This is a great example where the Theology of Scarcity has no place. Applause and gratitude must always be abundant. We can develop this as a habit in everything that we do in our work and personal life. We've all heard it said that thank you are free. And so it is with applause. It feels so great to receive the affirmation of applause and I will always encourage my students to give applause abundantly.

    Another area that the Theology of Scarcity has no place is in that of ideas and approaches to pedagogy. I think about this all the time. There are an infinite number of approaches to teaching concepts in string education and music education in general. That's the beauty of it. We can give away our ideas abundantly and without fear of them being stolen. The fact is, all of our ideas and approaches to pedagogy grow from some other approach. We tend to take that which has been used with us as students and modify or refine it in ways that we feel are effective for our students. As a result, I always try to give away my ideas freely and in abundance. I encourage you to do the same. Share your ideas.  Don't hold them in. Give them away and let others try them. The fact is, that your personality is an integral part of the effect of nature of your ideas. Ideas are not proprietary. Personality plus ideas is. No one can take that from you. And, your personality is not scarce. It's what you have.

    One thing that is in fact scarce, is time. I experience this everyday in my rehearsals, in my planning time, and in my family life. This is why I believe that efficient use of time is really important. And, if we can turn this idea on its ear just a bit, we see that efficiency is in fact abundant.   We can always be more efficient.  I am always pleased when someone asks me how I accomplish so much in a day or a week.  The fact is that I am an efficiency expert.  I have learned this at NCSSM for sure.  I have learned to be efficient in rehearsals due to short concert cycles and minimal rehearsal time in any given week.  I have learned that my students don't have time to waste.  We get in, get settled, and go hard for the allotted rehearsal time.  This has served me well in other conducting experiences.  I have to be efficient when conducting festivals, at camps, and in other environments.  Strong planning leads to efficient rehearsals.  Strong preparation leads to efficient rehearsals.  

    So, the Theology of Scarcity is a really interesting theory.  So is the Theology of Abundance.   I think I will choose the Theology of Abundance.   How do these apply to your life, work, and family?

    Let me suggest that in our lives, there should be no scarcity of

    As musicians, there should be no scarcity of
    Repertoire to practice, hear, and experience
    Emotions to express
    Enjoyment to experience
    Satisfaction in the joy of music-making, teaching, communicating, and appreciation

    Mark me down for the Theology of Abundance.  It is a better way to live.


    Tuesday, January 3, 2017

    21st Century Opportunities

    I sometimes find myself wishing that I could go back to my college music major days and take another crack at being a full time music student.  

    I graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in music education, concentrating on violin. I had a magnificent undergraduate experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I had a great private violin instructor, Delight Malitsky, who to this day is still the finest violinist and overall musician I've ever been around. My college orchestra conductor, Dr. Hugh  Johnson, was a magnificent mentor and role model for me and I still use many of the concepts and ideas that he taught me during my undergraduate years. Other instructors at IUP were absolutely fantastic. I had great private viola instruction with Dr. Larry Perkins. My research instructor, Dr. Carl Rahkonen was inspirational on many levels. I had great instruction in jazz Dr. Gary Bird and Dr. Dan DiCicco. Dr. John Kuehn changed my life by teaching and showing  me how to be a teacher. And, there were many others.

    That being said, I am so aware that music instruction and opportunities are really different today. There are so many opportunities for young musicians to advance and to get really good at their instrument and their discipline. My son is a sophomore music education major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I marvel at the instruction he is receiving and the opportunities that he has.  He has been home on break over the holidays and I have loved hearing him practice and have enjoyed many conversations about his work, school, musical opportunities and expectations.

    Let's begin with simple technological opportunities. Students have so many resources at the tip of their fingers that I had never imagined when I was a music student.  One can pull up multiple performances of any solo or orchestral piece that one is learning in order to listen, review, and exacerbate the process of learning a work. I had to go down to the local record store and buy an LP record or cassette tape. One can utilize metronomes that give a myriad of different feels and variations in order to enhance practice all located on a phone that we carry everywhere.  My metronome was huge, had to be placed on a level surface, and I rarely had it with me in the practice room.   One can practice scales and intonation with drones that are pulled up instantly on a phone or tablet.  I am note sure where I would have found this. Finally, one can practice his ear to hand skills by slowing excerpts down and playing them along with recordings using apps that make this easy and instant.  I would spend hours doing this at tempo, rarely succeeding. 

    For those that are interested in non classical performance, there are so many tools to learn improvisation available at the touch of a button. There are magnificent instructional videos on music theory and improvisation all over YouTube. One can find background tracks for jazz and rock practice that simply didn't exist back in the eighties.  I can recall how difficult it was to get together with a few other folks to simply practice jazz and blues licks. Now I can do it in every key, anytime I want, with a click on Band in a Box or Youtube.  An aspiring music student can also find examples of improvisers and virtuosic musicianship all over YouTube , Pandora, Spotify, and other outlets. No one can claim that they haven't been exposed to musicianship of the highest caliber.  Music students can transcribe the best performers' solos by slowing them down and really hearing every note and nuance.  What an incredible advantage!

    For music education students, there are magnificent examples pedagogical examples all over the web. Instruction in pedagogy has come so far over the past 30 years or so.  I sometimes marvel at how immensely prepared young teachers really are coming out of their undergraduate experience.

    The thing that hasn't changed, however, is the requirement of discipline. It seems to me that the thing that separated the best music students from the pack back in the eighties was discipline. And, it still is today.  No matter the year or the opportunities, students that are purposeful, disciplined, and hard working still outpace the pack.  I often say that moving with purpose and hustle are the true predictors of who is going to succeed.  And so it is today.  Nothing happens without hard work.  Virtuosity is not achieved without the time in the practice room and the discipline to practice the right way.

    Another thing that hasn't changed is that we need great mentors.  We all need hose people in our lives that inspire us, criticize us, assess our progress, and help us get to the next level.  Music student must seek out the finest instructor and those that truly inspire.  And, they are out there!   I marvel at the quality of studio string instruction that can be found right here in North Carolina and across the country. 

    The fact is that in 2017 the student with true discipline and drive has the opportunity to be so much better, more schooled, so much more knowledgeable than we were in the 1980's.  The standard has certainly risen in a few short years.  And this all can happen by utilizing simple tools that we all now take for granted.  I hope I never forget how wonderful all of this opportunity and technological advancement really is for my students.