Monday, July 31, 2017
First, we are preparing Highlights from An American in Paris, by George Gershwin, arranged by Jerry Brubaker. This is a Belwin publication and is listed as a Grade IV. I first heard this arrangement at a new music reading session that was sponsored by JW Pepper at an American String Teachers Association conference. I have never done anything by arranger Jerry Brubaker before. But, I really like this medley from An American in Paris. I will certainly keep my eyes open for more of his arrangements in the future. This is scored for string orchestra with percussion. I think the percussion will add a really nice touch to this piece. It includes bicycle horns. I spent a couple of hours today, shopping for bike horns at two different pitches!! The students will be exposed to George Gershwin's interesting harmonies and magnificent melodies. The piece features 4 distinct sections that all provide wonderful opportunities for each voice. The arrangement is also very clearly edited with fingerings and good bowings, saving a great deal of rehearsal time for me. The students really like this arrangement and I think it will be a wonderful addition to our concert.
Next we are doing Smooth Sailing by Tom Sharp . This is listed as a Grade Three and is published by Ludwig Masters Music. It features opportunities for melody in all of the voices of the orchestra and a simple and lovely melody that is passed between all of the sections throughout the piece. It is full of beauty and grace and contains an abundance of lush romantic quality to please the most discriminating ear. I always love Thom Sharp's stuff and this is no exception.
Next, we have been spending a great deal of time preparing Mars from the Planets by Gustav Holst, arranged by Robert McCashin. This is a Tempo Press publication and is listed as a grade IV. This one is tough! We have spent a great deal of time on the 5-4 time signature and the intricate interplay between 5/2 and 5/2 feel. There are many divisi parts in this arrangement and a few 16th note passages that are really tough. The group has worked hard on this piece. And they love it. I'm not a hundred percent sure that we will perform it for our concert but I have challenged the students to prepare it well enough that it will be easy to make the decision. This one is a real challenge!
Finally, my dear friend Alejandro Bernard Papachrysanthou has written a brand new piece for intermediate concert Orchestra to perform this session. It is entitled Sunset Colors and is a magnificent piece that we will premiere on Saturday. Please see the separate post about this composition.
It has been another great summer at Interlochen and I'm sad to see it winding down. That said, I am ready to get home and begin my work at NCSSM. I'm also very ready to see my family. Thanks to all who have been reading these posts throughout the summer. I hope that you will stick with me as we move into the fall and the new academic year. Thanks to all of my friends here at Interlochen who have supported me this summer. Let's do it again next year!
Last summer I became friends with Alejandro Bernard-Papachryssanthou over lunch down at the waterfront. We were both eating alone and struck up a conversation. We hit it off as friends right away and it was truly my pleasure to feature him on the last piece of the summer in of 2016, Bossa Rojo, by Bert Ligon, as a keyboard soloist with ICO. This summer, we met up again and following the first ICO concert, he asked me if I might be willing to play a piece that he was interested in composing. He has been working on Sunset Colors throughout the summer and it is our pleasure to perform it this week.
He came to class today and spent about an hour with the orchestra, discussing the motivation behind the piece and several specific performance practices. It was a thrill for us to have him at the rehearsal and a great deal of work was done.
He began by explaining the motivation for the piece. It is intended to conjure up the image of the beautiful sunsets that we experience here in Northern Michigan, particularly those that are seen over a lake where mountains do not encumber the view. The sunsets in this region are absolutely beautiful and it is a perfect inspirational vehicle for a piece of orchestral music.
Sunset Colors begins with a quiet Andate section. It is in a major but really travels between a number of keys throughout the work. The opening features the viola section right out of the gate. There is a beautiful melody and tight, jazz inspired harmonies throughout the work. The opening eventually gives way to a beautiful piu mosso so that features moving 16th notes in the first and second violins and a syncopated rhythmic pattern in the viola, cello, and bass. This section certainly presents the image of the brightest, most glorious sunset. This moving passage eventually gives way to a heroic section which culminates on a beautiful, sustained C sharp major chord. We spent a good deal of time in rehearsal today dialing in that chord and even discussed what color it sounds like. We had some students say orange, others felt it was pink, and I felt like it was a deep purple. (All were correct!!) Following a grand pause, it returns to the "A" section and winds down to a beautiful ending which conjures up the image of the last little bit of color in the sky as the sun finally goes down for the night.
This work is a perfect challenge for the Intermediate Concert Orchestra. I would say that it is probably a Grade 4. There is a little something for everyone and every section must be rhythmically and tonally independent. The kids are really committed to this work and have rehearse with great maturity. Their work today was admirable. Mondays are always tricky for ICO because Monday afternoon is usually "beach day" for the kids. They were certainly ready to look ahead to the fun of the afternoon during rehearsal today. Instead, they gave their full attention and had a wonderful rehearsal.
We are really excited to give the world premiere of this piece and I look forward to performing it many more times both here at Interlochen and in my various travels around the United States. I'm pretty sure that I will program it at NCSSM this fall!
We hope to see you at the concert on Saturday afternoon. I believe it will be live streamed as well.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Monday, July 24, 2017
One of the pieces that will be on our program Wednesday, July 24th at 6:30 p.m. is a wonderful Latin piece by Thom Sharp entitled Samba Me This! For this performance, we will be featuring Interlochen Faculty members, David Kay on soprano saxophone, Alejandro Bernard on keyboard, and Aaron Tenney on bass, along with Intermediate camper, Daqi on drums.
Samba Me This! by Thom Sharp is a wonderful original tune for String Orchestra and Drum kit that features dancy Latin rhythms and a wonderful chord progression. The piece is listed as a grade 3.5. It is definitely a hard 3.5. Audiences will need to hold on to their hats for a fast ride on the samba machine! This piece is rhythmically challenging and chromatic but has a singable main theme. All sections are featured and everyone in the orchestra has shifting challenges in their part. It is published by Latham Music.
Today was our first opportunity to put this piece together with our guests. It was a pleasure to welcome them to our Monday rehearsal and start really putting things together. The first concept that we really focused on was maintaining tempo throughout the piece. I had a wonderful opportunity to discuss the similarities between this piece and the Haydn Allegro that we are preparing. The concept of "inner rhythm" and keeping the subdivision going through audiation (inside your head) throughout the piece is a common theme with both works.
We also had a wonderful discussion about improvisation and how we go about adding the improvised saxophone and keyboard parts to the string orchestra framework. The students got a chance to hear both David Kay and Alejandro Bernard improvising over the fantastic string sounds that Tom Sharp has created. It is always a pleasure to do Thom's compositions as they have such a representative string/jazz orchestra sound.
The students also got to participate in and witness the kind of interaction that happens between music professionals within the context of rehearsal. We discussed the arrangement, the "roadmap," opportunities for improvisation, dynamic nuances, rhythmic nuances, and other musical factors in the piece. I find that it is a great learning opportunity for students to simply be part of those discussions along with the professionals that are in the room.
Finally, when there are guests in the room , there is always a sense of urgency and a need to be efficient with the time that we are given. The students of Intermediate Concert Orchestra certainly succeeded with that today. It was a wonderful, successful rehearsal. I am sure that the audience will love this piece when it is performed on Wednesday.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to my colleagues David Kay, Alejandro Bernard, and Aaron Tenney for giving ICO this great opportunity!
That's it for now. It is a beautiful Monday afternoon at Interlochen. I am looking forward to welcoming some friends from North Carolina to the area today and giving them a grand tour of our campus.
We hope to see you on Wednesday through the live stream.
Sunday, July 23, 2017
One of the great privileges of working in Interlochen in the summer is rubbing elbows with wonderful musicians from many different areas of the music world. One of those privileges is preparing and performing new music that our composition faculty has created for ensembles here at Interlochen. Over the last couple of years I've developed a deep friendship with Dr. Peter Terry, a wonderful composer and musician who teaches Electronic Music Composition here. This summer, the Intermediate Concert Orchestra is privileged to perform the world premiere of his new work for string orchestra, Ancient Light. Dr. Terry came to our rehearsal yesterday to give us some insights into the work after we had spent a number of days framing the piece and getting ready for his input.
We began our time with Dr. Terry by asking him to respond to an incredibly light question that I had asked all the students earlier in the rehearsal. What exactly is your favorite dessert and why? I have found over the years that simple conversations like this are often wonderful ice breakers and yesterday was no different. I think the question threw him for a little bit of a curve-ball and he took a moment to consider the answer. After a few moments of thought, he let us know that tiramisu is his favorite and that it was because his family had a number of traditions around this dessert. This provided a wonderful segue into our work for the day on his composition. Immediately, he had a connection with kids and they were now ready to hear what he had to say about the new work.
I then asked him to tell us just a little bit about the title and the ideas behind the work. He explained that Ancient Light refers to the to a common interest that he and his father shared in astronomy and looking at the night sky. He was always aware when engaged in this activity that the lights that he was seeing in the stars were generated millions of years ago. The things that we see in the night sky may not even exist anymore. The magnitude of that idea is reflected in this piece. He also explained that the piece is inspired by thoughts and feelings related to family (especially his father) and the depth of that relationship and related experiences like the time they spent studying the stars.
We continued by playing the piece for him and asking for his input. The composition features 4 sections and is in A-B-A-B form. It floats between E minor and G Major and I would call it about a Grade IV.
The A section is a bold Allegro in 3 with a driving rhythmic underpinning. He explained that the rhythmic underpinning must have a heroic feel. It is actually a "bravura" section and he wanted the students to give it an almost march-like, military drive. This resonated with the kids and they immediately made the adjustment. Additionally, there is a rhythmic, syncopated , marked melodic figure in the other voices. He asked for very short releases at the end of these short phrases and it provided a greater sense of urgency in this rhythmic passage. I always find that having a new voice in a rehearsal yields great results and this was certainly the case. The way Dr. Terry made his points resonated with the kids and they seemed to internalize the idea behind these passages.
Next, we dug a little deeper into the primary melodies of the piece and the way they interact with each other. He noted that each time the primary motive enters in a new voice, it should be somewhat intrusive to the other voices. Again, that word intrusive really resonated with the kids. They were able to execute this almost immediately and it transformed the impact of the piece in those places .
Next we spent some time in the more lyrical B sections of the piece. Each of these sections is very chorale-like and requires a totally different approach. We looked at the greater dynamic scheme of each of these sections and noted that they grow continuously through two statements of the entire chorale. They reach an apex on the final stanza which is then followed by a hushed, brief reprise. As we looked closely at this dynamics scheme, the musical line of this section became so much more perceptible.
As we moved through the rehearsal, you could feel the energy grow and the excitement for the piece intensify. By the end of the rehearsal there was incredible life in the work and the students were quite engaged and committed. The rehearsal ended with Dr. Terry giving a wonderful charge to the students regarding the privilege of performing a world premiere. He sent them into our last few rehearsals with an inspired challenge to truly own the work and to realize that there is only ever one World Premiere of a work. Intermediate Concert Orchestra gets to experience that and no one else will ever have that experience. What a wonderful challenge! I have no doubt that this will be one of the most meaningful musical experiences of these young musicians' lives.
I want to extend my deepest thanks to Peter. I value our friendship so much and truly enjoy out all of our musical collaboration. This is the third world premiere that I have conducted for one of his compositions. (Blindsighted and Beneath the Irish Sky, Carl Fischer Publications) I consider it one of the great honors of my musical life and my work at Interlochen.
This concert will take place on Wednesday, July 26th at 6:30 p.m. in Corson Auditorium on the Interlochen campus. It will be available via live stream as well.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Thursday, July 20, 2017
So, as I have been reading the book, it has been easy to reflect on my education and subsequent opportunities in the world of music and music education. I did not come from a conservatory background. My parents were not professional musicians or even significantly music educated. Nor, was I ever sent to private schools, arts magnet schools, or elite summer music opportunities. In fact, some of this is quite ironic, because, as I write this, I am on the faculty at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, one of the nation's most highly regarded summer arts training facilities. I teach during the Academic Year at NCSSM, one of our nation's most elite STEM high schools. And, I frequently guest conduct elite high school honors orchestras throughout the United States. So, I thought that many of my readers would enjoy hearing about my educational background and musical experience, as well as my path to my current place in professional life.
I'm the son of educators. My father began his career as an elementary teacher and eventually worked his way to principal and, finally, superintendent of schools in my hometown of Indiana, PA. My mom was an English teacher for her entire career in a small rural community outside the college town I was raised in. My parents had a HiFi stereo in the living room and I can remember listening to records that ranged from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Glen Miller to classical recordings. I can remember being particularly interested in a recording of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance, primarily because of the picture on the cover of the record album. I remember that it was a pirate with a sword and it inspired my imagination. I actually remember pulling a stick from a tree outside the front of our home and pretending I was a conductor. I have early memories of attending orchestra concerts at the local high school and university. At the age of six I expressed interest in learning to play the violin . And after a great deal of pestering and prodding, my father reluctantly agreed to buy a small violin for me and find a private teacher. I was fortunate to have a neighbor who lived a short distance from our home who was a graduate violin student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Formerly Heidi Peterson, now Heidi Trevor Itashiki) and she was a fantastic violinist.
I began taking private violin lessons and excelled quickly. My sisters both followed suit and begin studying violin and cello within a short period of the time that I began. By the time I was eight years old I had begun taking piano lessons (in which I never invested too much thought or time) and music became a priority in our home. Soon after, when my teacher finished her degree, I moved on to another teacher in my town, Gloria Johnson, who taught most of the top violin students. Her husband, Hugh Johnson, happened to be the conductor of the IUP Orchestra. I studied with her throughout the rest of my junior high and high school years. I played in school orchestra every year. I took private violin lessons. I played in numerous recitals in my town each year. I participated in performances for service organizations, church, and other community organizations throughout elementary middle and high school. I (with my parents support and guidance), invested in the music community of my hometown and they invested in me. Somewhere around age 12, I picked up the electric bass and started playing in rock bands in my community as well. Music was becoming a huge part of my life .
I attended summer music camp every year. Interlochen was not within my family's budget, so I attended music camp at Edinboro State University. I played under the baton of noted conductor, Walter Hendle and developed a lifelong friendship with Camp Director and Edinboro University Orchestra Conductor, Cliff Cox. He became, in many ways, my model for what an orchestra conductor/pedagogue should look and act like on the podium. I had experiences as concertmaster and as principal second violin in orchestra on various summers, played chamber music, played in pit orchestras for operas, had fun and learned so much while at camp. I also attended Music Art and Drama Camp at Westminster Highlands each summer, a Presbyterian Church Camp in North Western PA, where we would create multi-art performances from scratch. These camp experiences were incredibly formative in my music and leadership education.
I played in District, Regional, All-State, and even All Eastern Division Orchestras. When I was 16, I was invited to become a member of the IUP Orchestra and was thrilled to be part of a college performing ensemble at such a young age. I also began taking music theory lessons with another local music student who was doing graduate studies at the University of Michigan. I remember learning about the circle of fifths and playing chords on the piano. This completely changed my life. I began writing music and found that I could move people with my art. I was becoming a solid well-rounded functional musician. I was also a top academic student. I was in all of the advanced classes in my high school, had a very high GPA, and graduated among the top students in my class. I was class president, had a wonderful social life, and enjoyed a fantastic high school education. I participated in clubs, music theater, weight-lifting, raquetball, and many other activities. My senior year of high school was filled with music classes because I had finished most of the other academic offerings at my high school and I knew that I wanted to pursue music as a career.
When it came time for college, I had options. I was accepted to a private school in New York, a state university in Ohio, and my local state university, Indiana University of Pennsylvania . I initially made a decision to attend a school outside of my hometown. I was fortunate that the Music Department Chair from IUP knew me and my parents well and took some time to come to our home, sit in our kitchen, and explain to me that IUP had everything that the other schools could offer and more. I was convinced. Why drive 7 hours to college when I can simply go across town? I decided to attend IUP and would pursue a degree in music education even though at that time I really wanted to be a songwriter. (Actually I had no idea what I wanted to be! I just knew that I was good at music.)
IUP afforded me incredible opportunities. My violin instructor, Delight Malitsky, a former concertmaster of the Honolulu Symphony, was a world-class violinist and pianist. She nurtured me unconditionally through my four years of undergraduate education. She truly provided me with conservatory-class private instruction. I played in an orchestra that regularly prepared and performed the masterworks. I learned to love Beethoven Symphonies, Aaron Copland's orchestral works, Stravinsky, and many others. We performed classic repertoire as well as new music regularly. I had numerous solo opportunities in college and performed both a junior and senior solo violin recital. My recitals included solo repertoire of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Kreisler, Bolling, Lalo, Sarsate and many others. I played bass in the university big band, loved touring, and developed wonderful relationships with many of the jazz students. I excelled in music theory and the many other academic opportunities in the music department at IUP. I also loved my general education courses and I'm fairly certain that I had A's in all of my non-music courses.
One music education professor, Dr. John Kuehn, took a particular interest in my education and invited me to participate in the University Lab School music program even when I wasn't registered for his class. I jumped at the opportunity and quickly became interested in teaching and all that he could offer me in terms of training. By my junior year, he offered me an opportunity to teach the strings class (under his guidance) at the school. This was an unprecedented opportunity for an undergraduate at IUP and I jumped at the chance. By the time I student-taught a year later, I had already managed my own classroom for a full year in an elementary setting. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and that I could be good at it. I graduated Summa Cum Laude.
I student-taught at Williamsport Area School District in North Central Pennsylvania with well-known string educator and conductor, Walter Straiton. Walt was a wonderful mentor to me and continues to be to this day. I was given so many opportunities while at Williamsport. They seemed to sense that I had what it take took to be a master teacher down the road. I was green, but I was enthusiastic, and I had the training and tools to develop into a fine teacher.
I landed my first job at Palmyra School District near Hershey, Pennsylvania. I taught there for 6 years and had a wonderful experience learning to become a teacher in the elementary, middle and high schools. During my time at Palmyra, I pursued summer pedagogical workshops and was particularly enriched by a workshop at Central Connecticut State University which was taught by Dorothy Straub, Marvin Rabin, and Jim Kjelland. That workshop changed my life and gave me real tools to use in the classroom. I also knew that I wanted to continue to deepen my violin skills with Delight Malitsky, my collegiate violin instructor. So I went back to IUP and finished a master's degree in violin performance. While at Palmyra, I played in the Lebanon Valley College Orchestra under the baton of Klement Hambourg, played numerous solo recitals, and took gigs at all of the local colleges and universities.
Soon, other teaching opportunities began to materialize. I moved to the Washington DC suburbs and began teaching at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, a Science and Technology Magnet School in Prince George's County and an MENC School of Distinction with a huge music program and lofty orchestral reputation. While there, I began to pursue post-masters studies at the University of Maryland. Most notably, I studied conducting with Professor William Hudson. I always took my conducting seriously and worked very hard to develop that art. I never finished that degree, primarily because my first son was born and life simply took over. I also was beginning to receive numerous conducting opportunities outside of my school and began developing my reputation as a pedagogue, teacher trainer, and conductor of honors orchestras. The opportunities became plentiful very quickly.
Obviously, that's not the end of my education. Everyday is a learning experience. Other educational highlights include my National Board Certification and subsequent re-certification, numerous conferences and summer workshops, hundreds of books and articles, and probably most importantly, my broad experience. But, that was the end of my formal education in a collegiate setting. None of it was at a conservatory. None of it was at a private school. None of the schools I attended were considered "elite." But all of them afforded me amazing opportunities, wonderful instruction, and met me where I was as a musician and a student.
So, how does someone experience such a blue collar music education and end up teaching at Interlochen and NCSSM? For me I think it comes down to a couple of factors. First, I believe in "active learning." I honestly believe that in every course I've ever taken, every lesson, every rehearsal, every gig, and every book I've read, I have been actively learning. I try not to be passive about anything when it comes to learning. I try to engage my brain, think through process, and find connections in everything that I read, do, and experience. I'm reminded of my experience while playing second violin Annapolis Symphony Orchestra back in the 1990's under the Baton of Gisele Ben-Dor , thinking that every rehearsal was a conducting lesson. She was a master. I learned so much playing second violin in that orchestra simply by watching her, taking mental notes, and incorporating many of her techniques into my own school orchestra conducting. Another key, in my mind, is quite similar. It is to always "move with a purpose." My 3 sons get tired of hearing me say this on a regular basis. But, I believe it. In everything we do, it never hurts to hustle. The more we move with purpose, the more the people around us understand that we are serious about our tasks. I believe this has been an integral part of my development as a musician and as a professional. Opportunities don't just fall out of the sky. Someone has to think that you're worth the investment. Hustle and purpose is free and goes an awful long way! Finally, I believe that my passionate pursuit of excellence has served me well. I have never been interested in being second-best. I have always been interested in being the best that I can possibly be. And, I believe that I have a palpable passion for the work that I do. Again, this can be a little bit abstract. But, when one is passionate about their goals and activities, combined with intellect and hard work, anything can be accomplished.
So, in wrapping up, I've been so fortunate. In attending public universities and schools, I have received some of the finest instruction that a music student could desire. I have never felt like my music education was lacking because I didn't attend an elite institution. I certainly received all of the necessary tools for musical and professional success as part of my education. I believe strongly that it is what you do with those tools that determine future success. I will continue to try to be a good steward of that education. I truly desire to pass all that I received through my education on to my students on a daily basis.
That is my goal today and every day.
(And, by the way, my oldest son is pursuing a degree in Music Education at UNC Greensboro, an absolutely amazing public institution. He is getting a world-class music education! Full circle.)
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017
- Lacrymosa from Requiem in D Minor, Mozart, arranged Loreta Fin
- Allegro con Brio from Symphony Number 8, First Movement, Dvorak, arranged Robert McCashin
- Praelude and Gavotte from the Holberg Suite for String Orchestra, Grieg
- Reels and Reverie, Alan Lee Silva
Thursday, July 13, 2017
- Mendelssohn's Sinfonia Number 2 in D Major, Mvt. 1
- Water Reflections by Yukiko Nishimura.
- Heart of Fire by Lauren Bernofsky
Today I want to take some time to recognize our amazing Intermediate Concert Orchestra staff.
For those of you that are teachers in public schools or of school orchestra programs, you know that we spend a great deal of time buying, organizing, and filing music, organizing our music library, setting up chairs, creating programs, and doing all kinds of other administrative work. Here at Interlochen, one of the great joys of conducting an orchestra is working with a wonderful staff of young professionals who are charged with doing all of the administrative and set up work for my orchestra.
Truly, I feel like a king each day when I am asked, "What else do you need, Mr. Laird?" These wonderful staff members truly desire to serve the orchestra and my needs as the conductor and I appreciate all of their hard work and dedication. I have three staff members each summer. This year I have been blessed with wonderful folks every year that I've been at Interlochen. This year is certainly no exception and my staff truly stands out as exceptional.
They include Saralyn Klepaczyk, Orchestra Manager; Annie Swigart, Librarian; and Makenzie Wade, Stage Services. Each one of these young professionals serves an integral role in our orchestra's mission on a daily basis.
Saralyn, our Orchestra manager, is wonderful. She is responsible for all of the daily details of the Ensemble. She takes attendance, makes daily announcements, deals with students who need extra attention, rounds the kids up after breaks in rehearsal, and serves as a liaison between the music department and the Student Life division of the camp. Sarah essentially handles all of the nitty-gritty details of the day-to-day work of the orchestra so that I don't have to. If we need to contact a student's counselor, she takes care of it. Just this week we have been trying to find a percussionist for one of our pieces and it has been her job to take care of that. I couldn't ask for a more dedicated, sensitive and caring person to fill this role. I have quickly learned that I can count on Saralyn to be sensitive to student needs, articulate in every way, and interested in real conversation when it comes to what is best for both students and for the ensemble.
Our librarian, Annie, is responsible for everything related to the printed music that the students are using every day. She organized all of the repertoire before camp began. She makes sure that the parts are bowed and accurate. She distributes the music at the beginning of the concert cycle and collects the music immediately following each concert. She also handles any small details regarding the music such as providing extra pages to avoid page turns and other details. Annie also is on hand and available for just about any need throughout each rehearsal. One day last week we had a sick student and I needed her to walk with them to the camp medical office. It is so great to have her on hand during every rehearsal. And, the printed music is always exactly as it should be!
Makenzie is a member of our Stage Services division and has been assigned to our primary rehearsal space, Grunow Hall. So, she has quickly become an integral part of the Intermediate Concert Orchestra staff. Makenzie is wonderful! She has such a wonderful disposition and is a pleasure to interact with every day. She is responsible for making sure that the ensemble chairs and stands are set up properly for each rehearsal. She's also responsible for any auxiliary instruments that we may be using including piano, percussion, or other instruments. Orchestra setup may seem like a small thing, but it is so wonderful to walk into the room each day with the right number of chairs and stands all placed beautifully in the right position. I frequently joke that 75% the orchestra directors job is moving furniture. At Interlochen, that 75% falls on Makenzie's shoulders! Makenzie is incredibly dedicated and makes sure that everything is ready to go.
These three wonderful young professionals make my job easy everyday. As a result of their work, I can truly focus on the task of teaching the students in the orchestra and making music each day. Thanks to each of these three and to Interlochen for providing such wonderful staff members for me and all of the conductors at this amazing place!
Friday, July 7, 2017
This will give you some insights into the folks that are working with our students this summer. They are a wonderful group and we certainly have some magnificent teaching going on here. I want to personally thank each of these folks for their investment in the Intermediate Concert Orchestra.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Many times in the repertoire there will be very fast passages of 16th notes, difficult fingerings or shifts or, perhaps, very high notes that are technically challenging. I can always tell from the podium when there are students who are struggling to keep up with the ensemble. It is at this point that I invite the ensemble to step back, listen to the passage, think about the passage, and ascertain the essence of the passage. Sometimes when we are simply seeing a difficult fast passage or technical requirements that are above our level, it's easy to get lost in the forest and missed the trees. Many times in a sixteenth note passage the essence is the first note of the 16th . Or, perhaps if the passage is very high and require shifting on the part of the string player, simply taking note of the name of the note can be an enlightening activity. I always say that correct pitches are way more important than high notes. A pitch that is difficult to find up high on the fingerboard is better off being played an octave lower in a position that is accessible to a less-experienced string player.
In addition to finding these essence passages when left hand is in focus, I will also look for rhythmic essence at times. If an ensemble is struggling with a rhythmic passage, I try to look for the fundamental rhythms and break the difficulties down into manageable pieces. Sometimes this means adding sixteenth notes to a tricky eighth note passage that may be rushing or slowing down. Sometimes it means just finding the accented notes in a fast passage. Other times, it means clarifying who is providing the rhythmic information in the passage. Really, it is the same process: find the technically difficult passage and break it down into manageable parts that still fit into the greater work. After a while, musicians get quite good at doing this!
Please bear in mind that these are my values as a conductor and ensemble leader. My thinking might be different if I was working as a private instructor on solo repertoire. As a conductor, my ultimate goal is an accurate and moving performance.
Once I have established exactly what the essence of a passage includes, we go to work on using it meaningfully.
- We play the essence passage by itself.
- We add the rest of the ensemble playing the actual part while the section in question is playing the essence.
- Sometimes I will have the outside player play the written part and the inside player do the essence.
- I will then reverse that.
- Sometimes I will have the front three stands play the written part and the rest of the section play the essence.
So, this is a brief description of my thoughts on finding Essence in Ensemble repertoire. Sometimes it is absolutely imperative that this be defined and that students know that they can use it as a purposeful tool as part of the rehearsal process and perhaps even part of the performance . I welcome your comments and thoughts on the subject.
Until next time.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Response: I can see Passion and Emotion in the performance.
The response that I received from my students was primarily that they can see and hear passion in a great performance and that they could see and hear emotion in a great performance. This interested me a great deal because neither of these words have anything to do with the difficulty of the repertoire being performed or the technical prowess or capabilities of the players. My students (and all music consumers) want to be moved by a performance. The want the performers to feel something and they want to in turn feel something.
How do we show or achieve passion in performance?
The larger question, of course, is what do we need to do to give that same experience to our audience. When I asked that question, the answer was significantly less clear. The students know what they want to see and here, but were certainly not sure how to get to the point of giving that to their audiences. They definitely knew that the first step was to play the right notes. They also had a good sense of the importance of finding the inner dynamic motion of a piece of music. So, I knew that I had begun to do my job as their conductor. These, of course, are the first steps in developing a fine ensemble. Students must know and demonstrate correct notes and rhythms, they must play with the appropriate technique, and the must know and demonstrate the shaping of phrases and dynamic contrasts . This, however, is still not the end of the process. There is so much more that an ensemble can achieve in order to truly demonstrate passion and emotion inner performance.
I have been reflecting on these same questions throughout the week. I want to be able to articulate a model to my students which they can fall back on in their process of preparing music . They are all at various stages of working towards a goal of artistry and greater proficiency on their instrument . But, if they don't have a sense of the path to giving passionate, emotional performances , it is possible that they will be less than purposeful in their practice and rehearsals. So, I have come up with a simple model that can begin to tell the story of this process.
I believe that an artistic, moving performance requires the following:
Next, I would include all of the aspects of artistry. This includes shaping phrases, adjustments and variations of tone quality, dynamic contrast , fluency, and many more. This is where the young musician begins to find a voice as a an artist. Their music begins to take on a personality and the process of true communication with the audience begins.
Now we get into the nitty-gritty . I list purpose next. Purpose, from an ensemble perspective, is having a clear understanding of the role of each instrument at every given time in the context of the piece. Everyone must know when they have the melody or a supporting role. They must know the purpose of each line , motive, and passage in the repertoire. Sometimes their voice must be the lead. Sometimes their voice is a response to a question. Sometimes their voice provides rhythmic underpinning. Sometimes a voice provides harmonic underpinning. Sometimes they are plaing the role of another instrument. They must know when the tempo stretches and when it pushes. And, they must know how to demonstrate these variations within the piece.These larger questions in the preparation of ensemble and solo repertoire are vital. If a musician performs an ensemble piece in a vacuum, without regard to their role and the role of others, they really can't be part of a moving performance which requires that they interact with the other voices.
I would consider perspective to be a greater understanding of the history of a composition, the artistic possibilities of the composition, and a desire to emote all of the possible responses to the listener in both a sonic and physical way. I believe that listeners of live music take cues not only from the aural information that they are receiving, but also from the physiological information that they are receiving. We must look the part in order to convey the message. We must know the message before we can look the part. This, of course is not a fully objective task. This is where a great deal of subjective concepts and decisions come into play. It gets a little abstract. And, thus, can be a roadblock for a young artist.I was talking with a friend last night who was a jazz musician. He was telling me that in order for a jazz musician to perform a great ballad well, they must know the lyrics to the song. This, is perspective. In order to perform an instrumental piece as a soloist, or as an ensemble, everyone must have a unified perspective on exactly what they are saying.
Almost 10 years ago, I gave a session to the American String Teachers Association and many other state organizations entitled "The Art of Developing Passionate Ensembles." For that presentation, I developed the following model. It stated that in order to develop a passionate ensemble, the teacher/director had to provide and model the following criteria:
- The importance of the experience and the relationships between the members of the ensemble
- A safe artistic chemistry and environment in the rehearsal
- A clear understanding of the importance and value of the experience
- A clear demonstration of the human value and overall humanity of the process.
- The importance of the investment of self in the process
Monday, July 3, 2017
On Monday, the Intermediate Concert Orchestra had their first rehearsal in Kresge Auditorium. This is always one of my favorite rehearsals of the first week or so of camp. We started rehearsal by simply reflecting on the history of that stage. I had the kids consider all of the great artists that have graced that stage over the years. We mentioned many by name and considered the responsibility that we have as artists on that stage as well. Next, we turned and looked out the large picture windows on the back of the stage. We looked at the beauty of the lake, the sky, and the trees across the lake. We considered the birds, fish, nature, the boats, and the stunning view. It is such a beautiful scene. It is actually surreal for me every time I walk on that stage. Finally, we considered the wonderful quote that that reminds us every time we walk on that stage why we are doing what we do. "Dedicated to the promotion of world friendship through the promotion of the Arts." It is a wonderful charge for each and every artist that sets foot on the stage. And, it is a wonderful reminder for all of the students in the Intermediate Concert Orchestra. Suddenly, a wrong note isn't as much of a concern and the big picture becomes clear.
We then went on to have a wonderful rehearsal. We worked a great deal on getting used to the auditorium and the sounds that we were hearing there as opposed to in Grunow Hall. It has become apparent that our largest challenges for our last two rehearsals will be maintaining a steady tempo, expressively and appropriately shaping phrases, and listening for the pertinent material from other sections of the orchestra. (It is funny how listening is one of the most difficult things for young musicians to do in an ensemble setting. There is so much for them to think about regarding their own part, that sometimes they forget to listen.) This group is well on its way to becoming a listening ensemble.
It was a great rehearsal and we have plenty to do today and tomorrow. I am truly looking forward to our performance on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Kresge Hall.
PS: Happy 4th of July! I have been enjoying fireworks every night over Duck Lake. Tonight I will go to a ball game, then fireworks.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
So, you must be wondering what I mean by "Moving Day." No, we are not moving to a new rehearsal space. No, I am not moving to a different orchestra. And, no, we are not going to rehearse while walking around campus. While all of these sound interesting and fun, moving day has a completely different meaning for me and this ensemble. Moving Day actually has three meanings.
First, Saturday always feels like a bonus rehearsal day to me. We have put in a full week and Saturday seems like it ought to be part of the weekend. While that is the case in many places, it is not the case at Interlochen. Saturday is a regular rehearsal and class day, so I always feel like this 2 hour 50 minute rehearsal is bonus. It is an opportunity to make a significant move in our preparation for our upcoming concert. And, I always feel like we make strides that are over and above my expectations. Thus, Saturday at Interlochen is always "moving day" in my mind.
Second, I always try to focus on physical movement during Saturday's rehearsal . We will work on visual and physical cues within sections and throughout the orchestra. We will work on showing a physical representation of pulse and beat preparation, especially for, but not limited to, entrances. We will work for each member of the ensemble to play with a physicality that expresses the character of the music and offers a richer ensemble experience for each member of the orchestra and the audience.
Third, Moving Day represents a focus on movement of lines or the direction of melodic material in the repertoire. We will work hard to find the inner dynamic direction of every phrase in our repertoire. Students will be encouraged to see how lines that are ascending frequently need to grow in dynamic level and descending lines often dissipate in dynamic level. Those of you that know my teaching, know that I often refer to lines with the designation approach, arrive, or depart. That concept will be a big part of today's rehearsal.
And so, today is "Moving Day." I look forward to seeing the kids and celebrating the end of Week 1 of camp. It has been a good week!
(PS: Earlier this week, I asked the students to consider what inspires them when they hear a great orchestra. And, how do we achieve that same effect. I haven't really had time to follow up on that discussion. It will certainly be part of today's rehearsal as well. I will let you know what I learn!)