- I like to listen to podcasts
- It is frustrating to not be able to respond to conversation or pick up the phone
- Vocal surgery makes one tired!
- I enjoy long walks
- I really do enjoy listening to others
- It is so easy to get lost in my phone
- I like to cook
- Anesthesia messes you up for a day or so
- I appreciate my family
- My wife is an angel and a saint
- One notices the world around when you can't speak
- I truly like my work and miss going to school
- My students are the best!
- It was so fun to watch the Steelers with my sons, without talking (or cheering)
Monday, September 13, 2021
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Back in 1992, I left my first job in Palmyra PA, to become the Orchestra Director at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD. As part of my move from Pennsylvania to Maryland, I had to do some professional development to keep my teaching certificate up to date. This included two summer classes. One was in reading and the other was in special education. My new position was at a science and technology magnet school teaching orchestra. At the time, I was having great difficulty finding the value in doing this professional development and was dreading the classes. My colleague, the band director at the school, encouraged me to go and find any positive in the work that was required of me. In her words, I should "seek out a really good spinach dip recipe" as a result of my time in the classes. Her point was that we can find positives in virtually any situation. I used that phrase for many years when I opened professional development sessions I was teaching. Professional development is not ever going to hit every participant in the sweet spot. Participants must be open to the little benefits of a day or more of professional development. Sometimes we making a new friend, gain a new perspective, or, find "a really good spinach dip recipe" shared among friends.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
I vividly remember my first violin and bow. My parents purchased that little quarter size instrument in 1971 from a local luthier in Clymer PA. I believe it was $35. The bow wasn't much more than a long skinny stick of wood with hair attached. But, it was mine and, at age 6, I was now a violinist. I don't recall much more about the bow. But, I do know it was a very precious possession. My parents drove home the importance of taking care of my bow. I learned to loosen the hair after each practice, not to touch the hair, and to rosin it regularly. (Which, I am pretty sure I didn't do.) I'm not sure I understood the reasoning behind any of that but it certainly served me well during those early years.
I remember my parents purchasing my first "quality" full-size violin when I was about 13 years old. We bought it from Kschier Brothers in Pittsburgh and it, too, became my prized possession. I actually still play that violin to this day. The bow cost $375 and I recall that it was a Brazilwood stick. Again, I don't remember much about the performance of the bow. I didn't understand the importance of those issues at the time. But, I do know it became an important part of my violin package, and I made sure I took very good care of it.
As a music education major in college, I purchased my first high-end bow around 1985. It was purchased from the William Moennig & Son Company in Philadelphia and was made by Joseph Richter. Boy, could I feel the difference! I felt like I was driving a Ferrari when I played. Everything worked the way I needed it to work. I could achieve a beautiful, consistent tone from frog to stick. I had control of advanced techniques, and I could play with sonic nuance that I had never been able to achieve before. I could feel the difference. This was the right bow for me. I now had the right tool to develop my artistry.
Fast forward to my early teaching years. Almost all of my students we're coming to me with rental instruments and the old standard fiberglass bows. I would frequently pick up a student instrument to either tune it or demonstrate something and always be disappointed in the response of the bow. They never felt right to me. They never sounded right to me. And, honestly, they just didn't work correctly for my students either. I never felt they produced a representative tone quality or allowed for appropriate beginning bow technique. They felt so clunky and really didn't appropriately meet the needs of my students. Honestly, I believe I grew to have low bowing expectations because of the limitations of those sticks. But, that was in the late 1980s.
In 2021, things have changed dramatically. There has been incredible advancement in the world of materials and construction when it comes to the bow. And, much of that advancement is a direct result of significant research done by my friends at Codabow International. In the old days, student bows were typically constructed from the throw-away wood that was unacceptable for "real" bow construction. If the piece of wood was faulty in some way, it would move to the student bow category. That simply isn't the case anymore. Through significant research, Codabow has ascertained there are really four primary variables that must be considered when creating a bow for any level of player from beginner to professional. And, with carbon-fiber construction, bows can be intentionally designed, and affordably manufactured and purchased, for students and players at every playing level.
The four variables at play are balance, weight, action, and stiffness. Balance impacts dynamics and is defined as the inertial center the player experiences while playing. In other words, the bow's resistance to changes in momentum. Weight is defined as the mass the player feels or senses when playing. Action is the nature of the string connection the player experiences. We sometimes think of this as touch. Finally, stiffness is the force required to flex the bow. Through their extensive research, Codabow has realized each of these factors plays a role in how the player connects the bow to the instrument. And, with different skill sets and expectations, the needs are unique for all players and levels of experience.
Imagine a beginning player who is using a bow that is designed specifically for maximum success based on their skill set, and not from a throwaway piece of wood. For instance, a beginner needs the balance to be tip favored, a little bit lighter, firmer action, and stiffer than a more advanced player. This allows for maximum control. The student gives up a little bit in the area of nuance or action. But, this doesn't matter. Nuance and action are not typically qualities that are important to a "twinkler." I am referring here to students who would be in Suzuki Books 1 or 2, for instance, or first and second year students in a school orchestra program.
As the student moves into intermediate repertoire, the optimum bow is more center balanced, a little bit heavier, has a moderate action, and has a more moderate stiffness. This will allow for a more lively and articulate bow technique and experience. This bow would allow for a more relaxed bow hold, beginning double stops, some beginning off the string technique, and the beginning of a more expressive palette of tonal options. Think Suzuki Books 5 and 6, or standard high school orchestra repertoire.
For the string student who is diving deeper into all of the possibilities of repertoire and technique, a bow with a more expressive and responsive feel becomes a true asset. The balance of the bow must be more frog favored, the weight will be heavier, the action should be more supple, and the student will desire a softer stiffness. These variables will be appreciated as the student works for more speed and agility in their bowing and a wider dynamic range. They will experience more power and beauty of tone when they're playing powerfully. This is the student who is learning the concerti and more advanced repertoire, playing in chamber ensembles, and participating in regional and all-state orchestra events. It also is ideal for the pre-music major or even an undergraduate music education or performance major.
For professionals, one can acquire a stick that caters to specific styles. If you are a rock or jazz player and want power and resonance from the lower strings and stunning projection from the top end, a specific set of variables will help you achieve this. For the professional orchestral player, chamber musician or soloist, exquisite handling and expressive sound once reserved only for the finest (and most expensive) master bows can be affordably achieved with intentional design.
Bow technology has come a long way in the past 30 years. I am so grateful for the many opportunities my parents provided me as a young music student and developing violinist. With that said, I am certain these technological advances would have significantly changed my performance experience at every level. Intentional design and the application of science to the art of bowed string performance is an incredible advancement.
One word of caution. Not all carbon fiber bows are created equal. The time and effort taken to define these variables and implement them into bow construction changes everything. In other words, the material itself is not anything magical. It's how the material is used to build the bow and manipulate these four important variables. Trust the science. You will experience it in the feel and artistry of your playing and that of your students at every level.
My Codabow experience now spans over 25 years and I can truly say that my playing has benefitted immeasurably from playing these bows. I play them exclusively on both my electric and acoustic violins and violas, and use them for every aspect of my musical life; playing contemporary styles, playing classical, indoor and outdoor gigs, teaching, demonstrating, and recording. I recommend them for students and seasoned professionals.
Saturday, July 24, 2021
Saturday, June 26, 2021
Friday, June 25, 2021
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Today is the last day of 2020. Obviously, it's been a challenging year for everyone. There have been huge health challenges for so many people across the world, income and economic challenges for workers, teaching challenges for folks in education, learning challenges for students across the world, social, racial, and political division and mistrust, and certainly emotional challenges that accompany all of these for folks in so many ways.
Our world is in desperate need of healing. And, individuals are in desperate need of direction, purpose, and peace. This has been the topic of many conversations for me in recent days and weeks. and I would like to share just a couple of thoughts as we move into 2021.
I will begin with a quick story about my college age son. He is currently a sophomore at the University of North Carolina and has experienced his own challenges with the pandemic and all the uncertainty which accompanies it. Last year, as a freshman, he made the decision to become a leader in the Young Life program. As a Young Life leader, he is tasked with leading Young Life activities and club meetings at a regional high school. In addition, he will forge relationships with the high school students who attend the meetings and endeavor to be a positive role model in their lives. The Young Life leaders at his high school were very good to him and he is giving back in a similar way. During his freshman year, when he was deciding if this was a good activity for him, we had quite several deep conversations. At one point, he told me that when you are a Young Life leader, you wake up every day asking yourself, "How can I care for someone else today?" I have thought about that quite a bit over the past year or so. I am not sure that I could have said that when I was 20 years old. That is a pretty cool daily mission for a college sophomore.
My wife has been listening to a the Spotify Daily Quote recently which encourages folks to consider a quote and then expands on that quote to some extent. Recently, the quote of the day was from reggae rapper, Bad Bunny. While the quote itself doesn't have strong application to my thoughts today, the insights that followed the quote precipitated some interesting thoughts for my wife. In the pandemic environment, we like so many others have been home constantly. So many of the daily tasks have become repetitive, mundane, and at times laborious. The one that is hit her hardest has been cooking for our high school senior son. He is an athlete and on a special high protein diet to build muscle and strength. In support of that diet, my wife finds herself making baked chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, and white rice every day. His diet involves five meals a day and the work to keep this specific food available to him is never ending. It could easily become a very negative chore on her list. She was explaining to me that it is so much more positive to view this to-do list as an opportunity, rather than a chore. She mentioned to me that the concept of chores was strong in her home growing up. And, it is so much more enjoyable to accomplish things, rather than simply complete chores. Her mission, in this task of cooking, is to support our son's athletic goals. Viewing those darn sweet potatoes as part of a mission is a much healthier way to approach the task.
I feel like I have been fairly successful in this pandemic environment. I have been able to maintain a positive attitude, starting each day with a sense of joy. The word I have used with regards to my work over the years is mission, which brings me to the point of this essay. For me, approaching each day with a mission mentality is an important key to happiness, fulfillment, and a general air of positivity in my daily life. When I approach my tasks as mission, there is a much greater purpose. Mission implies importance. Mission implies commitment. Mission speaks of doing something for the greater good which is much bigger than one's self. I believe that we can find mission in virtually every move we make during the day.
When I was a young man, I had an awesome job at a local jewelry store in Indiana, PA. My work at the store began as simply a way to make a little bit of extra money. I learned how to engrave jewelry, do basic bookkeeping, and greet the public on the floor of the store. But, after a period of time, the work at the store became more of a mission. I became much more committed to my close friend who managed the store, the ownership, and most importantly, to the mission of providing folks with friendly service, reliable quality, and a trusted voice in their purchases. I developed a true loyalty to the mission of the store and developed deep relationships with the folks that taught me about the business. I approached my job with a mission mentality.
As I finished up college and began my teaching career, my first teaching opportunity was in Palmyra Pennsylvania. I have written about it before, so I won't spend too much time on that work here. But, suffice it to say, that I approached that work with a mission mentality. The string program was quite small when I arrived at the school and I was challenged to develop the string program for the school district. I had a mission. It was clear. I committed to it fully and spent six years giving all of myself to that mission. (As a sidebar, I was having a conversation with my son about success in the workplace yesterday. I told him that I really believe that early in one's career, you must commit fully and be willing to put in long hours, hard work, and not be concerned about work-life balance so much. It's really not a popular stance in today's society, but in 1987 that was the way we did things. It was the era of the yuppie, long hours, and getting ahead quickly. I think this was seminal to my commitment to mission mentality.) My mission at Palmyra was successful and other opportunities came quickly. I had a similar experience at Eleanor Roosevelt high School and spent nine years there pursuing my mission before coming to the North Carolina School of Science and Math.
In the ensuing 20 years at NCSSM, my mission has changed from time to time. Most recently, I have been named Fine Arts Chair for the Durham and Morganton campuses. This is a new mission for me and I'm really excited about whatever the future holds. We are currently in the process of hiring administrators for the new school in Morganton and I am also happy to be guiding two new music faculty members through their transition into our school environment in Durham. I have a mission.
Obviously, the mission changed in March of 2020. Suddenly, the mission was to keep engaging students in Orchestra and music while caring for them as individuals through the two-dimensional Zoom environment. It is a tricky mission. And, throughout that time, to continue to support my other Fine Arts colleagues, advance the school’s mission, and navigate all of the stresses that go with working from home, family trials and tribulations throughout the pandemic environment, and personal emotional ups and downs. But, the great thing about having a mission is that one bad day doesn't change the mission. In fact, in some ways, it can galvanize one's resolve to do better in the future. That has certainly been the case for me. I have found that my failures of today become my challenges for tomorrow. This is the essence of mission mentality.
So, I challenge you today to consider what is your mission? What is your purpose? What do you hold in highest importance in your tasks throughout the day?
I believe there can be multiple answers to these questions. Some days, my mission is in family matters. I work to be a good example to my kids, a partner to my wife, and a helper wherever possible. Other days, my mission is in my art. I am practicing, writing new music, recording audio guides for my students, generating blog or video content, and other artistic endeavors. On the other days, I am a colleague, a teacher, a friend, a student, a son. Yet, in all these rolls, I can have a mission mentality. These roles and accompanying tasks are important to me. I approach them with purpose. And, I try to approach them with joy and good humor. As I often say in this blog, I am not perfect. I don't always achieve my goals. Sometimes, I lose sight of my sense of mission. Sometimes the tasks in front of me simply become chores. Those are my worst days. They are the days that I feel unfulfilled, unhappy, or downright depressed. So, I try to keep the days I lose sight of my mission to an absolute minimum.
Let me encourage you today to find your mission. It requires some deep thought. What do you hold as truly important - so important that you are willing to dedicate your time, your heart, and thoughts. What is your true purpose? Certainly there are multiple answers to these questions. You are likely doing many of these things already. But, are you committed to them as your mission? Perhaps 2021 is your opportunity to refocus or refine your sense of mission. Even the exercise of putting my thoughts in writing today has provided that opportunity for me. I wish all of you the very best as we move into 2021 and the continuation of the academic year. I know that so many of us are growing weary of distance learning and the pandemic environment. Hang in there! You have a mission. You can do this!