Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ichi, Ni, and San

In August of 1986, as a senior at Indiana University of PA, I embarked on a journey that would forever change my life. The previous spring, a high school orchestra from Williamsport, PA and performed on our campus and were absolutely magnificent. I had never seen a school orchestra play at that type of high level and I knew then and there that I wanted to be part of that dynamic. I chased down the bus as they were leaving, made eye contact with the director, and said, “You don’t know me, but I am going to student teach with you!”

Somehow between that time and the beginning of my student teaching experience, I had convinced the music ed. folks at IUP that I needed to student teach in Williamsport and there was nowhere in the immediate area that could offer me the same program and experience. Williamsport is about a 3 hour drive from Indiana, PA and is really outside of the range for stucent teaching experiences. Somehow, through the efforts of some wonderful music ed instructors, I became the first student teacher from IUP to go to Williamsport and now I was getting ready to meet the high school orchestra director, Walt Straiton, for the first time since that day his orchestra performed on campus.

But this was no ordinary meeting. Walt had called me about a week earlier and said, “Hey – I am going to Madison Wisconsin for a workshop on strolling strings and you need to go with me.” No questions asked. No options. I was going to Madison and that was going to be part of my student teaching experience. Walt made it clear that if he was going to do something, I was going to do it, too. I knew right then that this semester was going to change my life. It did. Profoundly.

I could write a book about that trip and the wonderful experience that I had in Madison at the Red MacLeod/Marvin Rabin run Strolling Strings Workshop, learning about the concepts behind school strolling groups, or about the experience of being part of the beginning of the Williamsport Strolling Strings group that received national recognition in the coming years. But, this post is about relationships. That day, as Walt picked me up in his new t-top Camry at a parking lot in Dubois, PA and my Mom watched, clearly worried about who this guy was that was hauling her little boy to the Midwest, my life changed. On that day, I became linked up with Walt Straiton, both personally and professionally for the rest of my life. He burst into my life like a tornado that day - wheels spinning in the gravel parking lot as we took off down Interstate 80. And, from that moment on, he has challenged me over and over, in his unique way, to be the driven professional and pedagog that I am today.

Something that I didn’t know that day was, that to be connected to Walt, is to be connected to Ken Raessler. What a blessing. Ken Raessler, in those days, was the Supervisor of Music for Williamsport School District and the driving force behind what was and is arguably the finest public school comprehensive music program and Pennsylvania and beyond. He has conquered many areas in the music ed. field, including public school teaching, college music teacher development, public school arts administration, and collegiate administration. He is an author and speaker and a true leader in every respect. He mentored Walt while he was at Williamsport and facilitated much of the success that Walt enjoyed in that system. Ken understood that an Arts Supervisor had to have a plan, a model, and his was steeped in all of the right things: student achievement, opportunities for teachers, solid musicianship, impeccable teacher training, and a top to bottom comprehensive approach to music education. (His latest book is entitled Aspiring to Excel: Leadership Initiatives for Music Educators (GIA Publications) and I recommend it highly!!)

During the 5 months that I lived in Williamsport, these two teachers guided me, challenged me, taught me, inspired me, and most of all accepted me as one of their team. They made me part of their fraternity of driven professionals. At one point in the time I was there, Ken told me that we were like Ichi, Ni, and San. One, Two, Three. Three music educators that were living parallel professional lives, each in different stages of their career. He told me that I was like them and that I would enjoy the type of professional success that they enjoyed if I put my mind to it. I was only 21 and somehow, I couldn’t believe that Ken and Walt could possibly see themselves in me.

23 years have passed and we have all three moved in numerous directions.

Last night, I had dinner with Ichi and Ni – Ken and Walt. Now, Ken and I have been in fairly close touch in recent years. Ken was keynote speaker for the NCMEA Fall In-Service a few years ago and I was honored to introduce him at that event. He is always in attendance at my sessions when I speak at a conference he is attending. Unfortunately, I hadn’t spent any meaningful time with Walt for the past 10 years or so. And, the three of us hadn’t been together in a much longer time. But last night, we finally got together. It was like we were just in Williamsport yesterday. We are all a good bit older and have been through lots of experiences, but the things that are important are still the same. Ken listens intently to our stories of experiences and successes and offers wise advice, based on years of experience and his own success in the music education business. Walt inspires me with his take no prisoners approach and energy. He tells stories of wonderful experiences as a musician and businessman and is very willing to offer strong advice and friendly, caring support on a variety of topics. I have had my successes over the years and feel much more comfortable in the role of “san”. Ken’s prediction has come true in palpable ways. And he is happy to let me know that “he told me so.”

I could continue with details of how Walt and I reconnected with a comparable energy on current pedagogical thought, or how he nationally recognized now for his work with Yamaha, or how I think we convinced Ken to start a blog to share his thoughts on music ed and leadership with the world in a new way. But, really, none of that matters in this forum. These guys are my friends and mentors and I cannot express my thanks to them enough. They helped to shape me as a teacher and as a professional.

There are a million reasons to go to conferences as an educator. We go to sessions, learn new techniques, visit exhibits to see what is new, and have a great time. But, when it is all said and done, it is always about relationships. Last night, I had the priceless opportunity to renew two important relationships in my life. And, sure enough, we were still Ichi, Ni, and San. Just like in 1986.
Thanks, Walt. Thanks, Ken. I love you both.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Midwest Clinic Thoughts - Jacquelyn Dillon-Krass

Hi all.

I want to give you a little insight into a bit of the history of the field of string education today. On Tuesday late afternoon at the Midwest Clinic, there was a very special session entitled "A Conversation with Jacquelyn Dillon-Krass." Jacquelyn Dillon has had a profound influence on my career and teaching and it was really wonderful to witness this celebration of a career that has spanned over 50 years. She is professor of String Education at Wichita State University and has had tremendous success in public school teaching, university level teaching and teacher training, the music industry, and association leadership.

I first became aware of Jackie when my Secondary Methods of Music Education Professor, Dr. John Keuhn at Indiana University of PA, handed me a text book entitled "How to Design and Teach a Successful String and Orchestra Program," by Jacquelyn Dillon. I read the book with interest and gained so much direction from it. Shortly afterward, as a beginning teacher in 1988, I attended a session at the MENC Eastern Division Conference in Philadelphia where Jackie was presiding. Following the session, I stayed around for a few minutes hoping to have an opportunity to speak with her. When we met, I took the opportunity to ask her, "How does someone like me (a first year teacher) get to be someone like you? (a noted authority in her field)" Jackie thought for a few minutes and said, "Scott, it is really just one word - write. Take every opportunity to be published and share your ideas with the profession. There are folks out there that are interested." That one word - write - really changed my professional life. Within a few weeks I had submitted an article to be published in the PMEA Journal and have tried to share my ideas on strings, pedagogy, and music every day since then. Her one word made the difference for me.

I have had the opportunity on several occasions to thank her for that advise and Jackie Dillon has helped me in several other ways since that time. She is a caring teacher and a knowledgeable pedagogue. Moreover, she will share her ideas with you in hopes of making you, your students and younger teachers, better at what we do.

Jackie shared many of the concepts that she holds dear yesterday and I want to share a few of them with you. They are wonderful guides for any string teacher. But many of them are simply important guides for students and professionals in any field.

1. Write and share what you know. Don't keep it to yourself.

2. Everybody gets better. Just try. We learn from trial and error. Encourage others to try, too. They learn from trial and error, as well. (Referring to learning and teaching beginning strings - but applicable everywhere!)

3. There is no perfect method book. Great teachers make method books great. Not vice-versa.

4. Every great teacher needs a bag of tricks. You only get that bag filled up by watching and learning from others. Go to educational sessions. Go to conferences. Seek out mentors.  Learn from those that are willing to share!

5. Music MUST be expressive. Right notes and rhythms only mean something if the music is going somewhere.

6. Make your music you own. Don't just play what is on the page. Express beyond the markings.

7. EVERY student CAN play in tune. Don't settle for less. (Generally - every student can succeed. don't settle for less.)

8. The accomplishment that she is most proud of is her students. (Me, too.) She said - "You know, we need our students. My students are my best friends. There are times that we prop them up and help them. And, there are times that we need them to prop us us. They do and they will. Don't forget that."

9. How do you find good kids for the orchestra? Go find kids for the orchestra. Numbers matter. Get a bunch of kids and they WILL be good!

As I read back over these comments, I am even more struck by how universal these ideas are and can be. May be one of these ideas will strike you today. I hope so.

I have been blessed by my relationship with Jacquelyn Dillon-Krass and I hope that maybe in some small way, you will be, too.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Midwest Clinic Thoughts - Tuesday

Hi all.
Today, I am the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. It is one of the largest annual gatherings of music educators and music companies. If you are a music educator and have never been to this event, it is really worth the effort to get here at some point.

The string education sessions began this morning with a nice breakfast gathering that was sponsored by the Kjos Publishing Company. It was a really nice event and I had the opportunity to reconnect with many friends from around the country. I was particularly pleased to reconnect with Marvin Rabin, one of the true pioneers in the string ed field. He paved the way for so many of us that are making our careers in public school string education and at age 93, is really getting around well. I had the chance to thank him for the impact he has had on my career. For those of you that are familiar with some of my web-teaching, he planted the seeds for many of the concepts that I teach using finger patterns. (major scales and upper positions) My students at NCSSM can see these concepts put to use on the NCSSM Orchestra page. Those of you elsewhere in the world can see these soon on the D'Addario site: I believe that they will be posted very soon.

I also had the opportunity to see Mark O'Connor present a session on his new O'Connor Violin Method. It is available exclusively through Shar Music. I think that he has hit on something really effective here and applaud his efforts to be innovative in the traditional world of string education. There were several performances by students that have studied with Mark in various capacities over the years and they were all fantastic. I am going to check this method out very closely and try it out with my own sons.

Tomorrow, I will be giving a session with Doris Gazda, Matt Turner, Sean O'Laughlin, and Larry Clark. This session is sponsored by Carl Fischer Music and, as always, D'Addario Strings is supporting me in this session. This session is called "Teaching the Nitty Gritty: Who Has Time for Anything More?" and will cover a variety of topics related to technique, literature and enrichment to traditional skills in the string classroom. I think that this will be a lively panel discussion and look forward to sharing this platform with my friends.

Meanwhile, I have just enjoyed a lunch in my room while jotting down this post. Time to head back over to the conference to get more new ideas! More later...


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

D'Addario on CNN

Hi Friends!
A few months back, I wrote about my experiences while visiting the D'Addario String manufacturing plant in Famingdale, NY. I mentioned how cool it is to be associated with a company that is committed to manufacturing in the United States and to their employees. Well, apparently others have noticed this as well. This past weekend, CNN featured D'Addario for their commitment to keeping jobs and manufacturing in the US. The clip details the Toyota Automation Strategy that I mentioned in my earlier post, commonly known as LEAN. It is a really interesting and enlightening clip.
Please follow this link to check out the video clip on the CNN Website. As always, I am so proud to be associated with D'Addario. They are a great company that makes a great product.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Inspiring the “Net Generation” Music Student with Instructional Technologies

Greetings to all!
This weekend, I am at the NC Music Educators Association Honors Orchestra Festival and Teacher In-service Conference. It is a busy weekend for me as I am chaperoning 7 students from NCSSM that are in the All State Honors Orchestra, presenting a session on Inspiring "Net Generation" Music Students with Instructional Technologies (with my friend and colleague, Phillip Riggs), accompanying the NC Honors Chorus on violin for a Telemann piece, giving a session on electric violin technology, and attending some of the conference as well.

Right now, I am sitting in the Stevens Center concert hall in Winston Salem, enjoying an evening rehearsal of the Honors Orchestra. I love this space and the kids sound wonderful. My friend, Dr. James Anderson from Appalachian State University is the conductor and he is getting the most out of the students. I love his work.

Today, Phillip Riggs and I presented our session on Net Gen Students. We encouraged our audience to think about their role as a teacher in a new way. We encouraged them to look for ways to more efficiently deliver content to their students through the use of instructional technologies. For instance, in my piano and guitar class, I am delivering guitar and piano lessons via my Moodle site on video. Students can access the lessons any time of day or night. The key to this being successful is the ultimate interaction with you, the instructor. Instructors must hold students accountable, provide assessment, tutoring, mentoring, facilitate good learning, help to motivate, and encourage just as we always have. We just need to think about how we might deliver the content of our courses in the most efficient manner possible.

For my orchestra, I provide video lessons on vibrato, upper positions, scale fingerings, bow hold, shifting, and a variety of other techniques. for my piano and guitar courses, I provide lessons on individual instruments, theory lessons, links to theory sites, and other content delivery tools. My class is no longer teacher-centric. It is student-centric. In my Music history class, I provide links to tremendous performances on Youtube, links to great biographies of composers, interactive quizzes, homework assignments, assessments, and more.

Today, if you are a teacher, I challenge you to consider what percentage of your class is spend delivering content - facts. That is the area that I believe we must be more efficient. Even this blog is an expression of the concept. this is where I lay out my more abstract thoughts for my students. I could take time in my class to explain this, but there is no need. Yes - even this blog, my thoughts, is/are content. So I choose to deliver it efficiently.

Consider how you might implement this, too. In small ways. No need to jump in headfirst. Just consider one way that you might deliver your content in a more efficient way. It just might save you some time and inspire one of your "Net Generation" students in a new way.


Monday, November 2, 2009

New Player for NCSSM Fine Arts Series

I think that this player will have all of the videos that are posted on the new NCSSM Fine Arts Series page on youtube. Bear with me while I get this completely figured out. Pretty cool!

Movement 2 of the Chadwick Serenade, NCSSM Orchestra

Here is the 2nd Movement of the Chadwick Serenade for Strings. This perfomance was October 31, 2009 at NCSSM. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Serenade in F for String Orchestra, Mvt. 1, Allegro Grazioso, George Whitefield Chadwick

This is the first movement of the Chadwick Serenade in F for String Orchestra as performed by the NCSSM Strings on October 31, 2009. More to come soon!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

NCSSM Fine Arts Series Kicks Off!

On Friday, October 23, 2009, the NCSSM Fine Arts Series kicked off for the current year. The evening was a great success. It started off with the opening of the Olivia Gatewood Art Exhibit in the NCSSM ETC. This exhibit is a magnificent collection of art by this North Carolina artist. She generously donated one of her images to serve as the "cover" for all 2009-2010 Fine Arts Series Events. We had a wonderful crowd for this and it was enjoyed by all. The exhibit will remain on display in the ETC through December 18. As part of the opening, the NCSSM Flute Quartet performed and they were magnificent.

This was also a great opprtunity for the public to see the wonderful exhibit of Optical Toys at NCSSM. You can learn more about this exhibit at the exhibit website.

Following the opening, the NCSSM Drama Board presented its first production of the year, Cyrano de Bergerac. The show was magnificent and the audience loved the production. Director Adam Sampieri had nothing but great things to say about the ensemble and their fabulous work in preparing for the show. Cyrano will run for 2 more shows. Tonight at 7:00 and Sunday, 10/25 at 3:00 PM.

The series could not have gotten off to a better start and we are so pleased that last nights events were so well attended. We hope to see one of you at future NCSSM Fine Arts Series Events!!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Play to Our Strengths

This morning I am mindful that we all have our strengths in our life and work and we should certainly attempt to utilize them in the best way possible.

For the past 5 days, my wife has been out of town. This has necessitated that I take on the role and responsibilities that two of us normally cover. For those of you that don't know me, I have 3 sons, ages 12, 9, and 7 who are all involved in school, sports, music, and a variety of other activities and I, obviously, have a very busy schedule at the NC School of Science and Math. So, this week has bee a good opportunity for me to experience the work that my wife does every day and has been a stark reminder of the lifestyle that so many single parents lead on a daily basis.

I definitely made it though this test without too many failures. I am pleased with the fact that my kids made to all of their practices, games, and activities. They had lunch every day. Their homework was completed and signed each evening. They were fed, dressed, and generally cared for and I, while exhausted, also survived. But, I must admit, I am really spent. I can't imagine having to carry on this pace for longer that the week or so that it has lasted.

So, here is the over-riding thought that lingers this morning. I got everything accomplished, but did I do any of the tasks to the best of my ability? I am not sure that I can make that claim. I am sure that my classes at NCSSM suffered to some extent. My planning and thought time was significantly reduced this week. I didn't have time for many of the important roles that I play for my students outside of class. I cut meetings short, ran from one commitment to another, and put off ideas and new concepts that have shaped my teaching and work over the years. I didn't throw a ball with my boys. I didn't even practice music with my kids in the evenings this week. These are generally my strengths. These are the things that make me good at teaching and parenting. I am generally very "present" in the work that I do. I am not sure that happened this week. I was too overwhelmed with the multitude of tasks that had to be accomplished to simply keep the wheels turning.

Isn't life better when we have the time to do the things that we are truly good at? And, when we identify those roles and strengths, we should work to keep them at the top of our priority list. And, we should certainly work to be truly "present" in all that we do. I sometimes joke that in my two previous teaching positions, I stayed until I just got so busy that I had to "run away" to simply find some space in my life. That is not really true, but it sometimes seems that way.

I teach and work within a community of people that want to achieve. We are all in the same boat - teachers and students. We work hard and passionately. We all have lofty and ambitious goals and we are willing to make large sacrifices to achieve those goals. It is the way our school is designed. So, today, I encourage you to think about the way you are spending your days. Are you playing to your strengths? Are you able to spend your time on your true mission and strengths? Or, are you spread too thin? I realize that we all have seasons in our lives, too. Sometimes we find ourselves in seasons of business. That is certainly unavoidable. But, it is so important to feel that we are doing our best at our various tasks.

I am fortunate to be on the other side of "too busy" this morning. Oh yes, I have a busy day ahead, but it is all on the right stuff: orchestra rehearsal, advisee meetings, recording music for students to access on my course management site, music lessons, administering my program at NCSSM. Then, this evening, Barbra and I will focus on our kids. Together. The way it ought to be.

I hope you have the opportunity to do your best at the things that occupy your time today as well.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Just Solve the Equation Once

Hi all. Today, I want to share some thoughts about playing in an ensemble. Specifically, playing in an orchestra. I think that this also goes to the art of teaching students to play in an orchestra. I have been thinking a fair amount lately about my students and their approach to orchestra. Actually, I don't think that this is limited to my orchestra. In fact, I am pretty sure that this concept applies to most, if not all, student groups. I have noticed it at every level of high school player - from the average school orchestra, to the all-state level.

Yesterday, I was running an orchestra rehearsal and was giving fingerings to the violin section for a particularly challenging section. As we came to a similar section, I asked the kids if anyone had marked in their fingerings. Out of 19 first violinists, only 1 stand (2 players) had done this. And it compelled me to say that we should only have to figure out an equation 1 time. Once we have "figured out" the correct way to finger a passage, we don't want to have to figure it out again. We simply want to act - to play. Unfortunately, if a musician doesn't write specific notes in their part and they walk away for the piece for a day or more, they will have to figure out the passage again.

It is a lot like multiplication. When we are learning to multiply, we may have to figure out an equation. 6 * 5 = 30. We all know this now. But, when we first learn to do this equation, we probably have to do the addition: 6+6+6+6+6=30. After a while, though, we just know it. 6 * 5 = 30. Fingering on a string instrument is like this in many ways. When students first learn to play in 3rd position, they will probably have to put numerous fingerings and notes in their music. After a period of time, they learn the "language" of 3rd position and the notes are no longer necessary.

In more difficult literature, it is necessary to put well-placed fingerings and notes into a part when the music is too difficult to simply "read" each time it is played or practiced. For that reason, students are encouraged to have a pencil in class and to write in their parts. Oddly, though, this is not a natural thing for my students to do. They wait for me to tell them specifically what to write. This simply is not good enough. Musicians must be constantly solving the equations that are in the music and taking notes on their thoughts in order to be effective participants and members of the ensemble.

As a teacher, I have noticed that my students really want to gain the insights that I offer during class. They are fine musicians and extremely bright students. They are enthusiastic and receptive to my instruction virtually every minute of every class. I'll bet your students are similar. (I know that lots of teachers don't enjoy that same attention, but that is my experience at NCSSM.) So, what is the roadblock to effectively solving the equation just once? I think it is two-fold.

First, we need to encourage or even force our students to be musicians. They need to be scientists in science class. Be mathematicians in math class. Be writers in English class. You get the point. It is not enough to be a music student in an orchestra. You have to be a musician. You have to think like a musician, feel like a musician, listen like a musician, count like a musician, BE a musician. Too often, I think that we expect our students to be music students, not musicians. But, how do we get them to do this?

We have to teach them how a musician thinks. We have to teach them HOW a musician counts, how a musician listens, how a musician moves, how a musician feels. I think that too often, we get so caught up in the facts ("make that C sharp higher, hold your bow this way, etc.) that we forget to teach the thought process. Sometimes, we also (and I am guilty of this) we deal with the emotional aspect of the music much too early in the process of learning a piece. Ultimately, before we have effectively taught them how to think the piece. Really, I am concerned that it happens in many, if not all classes. This came up in rehearsal recently when we were doing a passage that called for triplets against a duple eighth note figure. I asked the kids what they should be thinking as they approach the passage. No one could answer. They kind of knew how to play it, but no one knew what to think. So, we spent some time on the thought process and the passage cleaned up really nicely. Following the discussion, I asked the kids what they had written in their part. No one had written anything. We had just broken down again. For once we moved away from that passage and came back to it, no one (or at least not many) would have retained that information. They would have to solve the "equation" of that passage again. That is not how an orchestral musician works. We only want to solve the problem one time.

I really wonder how much instructional time in the American education system is lost to re-solving equations. Or maybe the question could be more accurately asked, "How much time could we save in the American educational system if we taught students to solve equayions only once across all disciplines?"

I had an interesting conversation with my good friend and Drama Instructor at my school about this topic. He expressed a similar frustration with students that take minimal notes during the blocking of a scene. They have to re-solve the equation of blocking at the next rehearsal, and the next, and the next. Thus, never getting to the real business of acting. I have a hunch that every teacher could find a similar scenario.

So, my goal for this year is to teach my students how to THINK like a musician. I want them to only solve problems one time. Once it is solved, let's move on to the next problem. Or, better yet, lets solve the equations and move on to the business of moving people with music. The reality is that we have to solve the equations first. We just don't need to solve them over and over.

That is where my head is today. I am sure there will be more on this topic as we move forward.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Trip to D'Addario in Farmingdale

Hey everyone!
I am sorry it has been so long since my last post. I have been swamped with the organizational details of my Charity Bike Ride for the National MS Society, "Tour de Teacher" in Durham, NC. The event was a huge success and I will post more info about that event in the days to come.

Today, however, I want to tell you a bit about my recent trip to the D'Addario factory and headquarters in Farmingdale, NY. I headed up there with three goals for the trip: film a bunch of video content for the D'Addario website, take photos for a new set of classroom posters, and serve as guest speaker for the Nassau County Music Educators beginning of year dinner.

We definitely accomplished all of our goals while there. We managed to film a ton of educational videos on both bowed electric string instruments and effects processing and more traditional violin pedagogy that should be helpful to students and teachers, alike. We also got a great start of the photos for these posters. One will be focusing on bow hold and bowing terms and the other will be a fun look at the "Geometry of playing the violin." Finally, the dinner was a wonderful event and it was a pleasure to meet the good folks that are teaching music in Nassau County , Long Island. I was particularly please to meet Martha Boonshaft, wife of Hoffstra Music Professor, noted speaker in the field of Music Ed., and friend, Peter Boonshaft. I think my remarks were well-received and it was a real pleasure to be there.

All of that being said, the part of my trip that will probably remain with me the longest had nothing to do with any of my goals for going. My friend and host, Rob Polan, gave me an extensive tour of the facility and it was really enlightening. First of all, I was struck by the sheer number of employees at D'Addario. Sure, there were business offices like any office building. But it was the folks on the manufacturing line that really struck me. In a down economy, this group was moving fast. They were clearly happy and motivated, pleased to be working for a wonderful employer that cares about quality, efficiency, and the employees. I was struck by the level of artisanship of the ladies that were "silking" the violin strings. (Yes - it is done by hand, folks!) I was struck by the skill and speed of the people running the string winding machines, sometimes creating 3 strings simultaneously. The engineering and efficiency of the plant is simply stunning. (For my students that are considering engineering as a career, this should be a required tour. It was fantastic to see these machines that are made, right there in the plant, to suit the specific needs of the individual products. It was simply stunning from start to finish. I was struck by the number of people that were working, the volume of strings being produced, the high tech engineering that went into the production, and the general spirit of the workforce. Very cool. It made me totally proud to be associated with the D'Addario Company and I appreciate them in an entirely new way today. I have always been proud to be associated with the strings. Now, I am equally proud to be associated with the business model from top to bottom.

One thing that Rob pointed out during the tour is that D'Addario is always looking to be more efficient and has recently adopted a model called "Lean Manufacturing." The idea is that you carefully explore the efficiency of movement on the floor of the manufacturing facility and place workers and machines in the optimum environment for efficient work-flow. I couldn't help but to think that the education community has to do a bit of that, too. We really need to rethink the way that we are delivering information to our students. Are we really using our class-time efficiently? Is the old classroom model still the best classroom model for education as we move further into the 21st century. I truly believe that we must increase of efficiency of content delivery in our classroom. Which, brings me around to one of my original goals for the trip: video content for the web. D'Addario's goal is to provide video content on their website that will make string education more efficient. Students can go to the web to get solid string instruction and content. Then, when they go to school, the teacher can focus on the students individual needs. The teacher becomes the tutor, mentoring the students, rather than repeating content that can be efficiently delivered on the web. Will video content ever replace the teacher? Certainly not. But, when effectively used, teachers can focus on the true task at hand, the individual needs of the student, not repeated content delivery. For more information on this concept, I recommend that you check out an enlightening book about efficiency of content delivery in the 21st century entitled "Disrupting Class," by Clayton Christensen.

For now, thanks to all of the good folks at D'Addario for making me feel so at home for the past 2 days.

I am sure there will be much more to come on this topic.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Teaching the Nitty-Gritty: Who Has Time for Anything More?

I am happy to announce that I will be participating on a wonderful panel discussion at the 2009 Midwest Clinic in Chicago in December. My dear friend, composer and educator Doris Gazda, will be leading this discussion on the orchestra classroom and the prioritization of activities and techniques. I am honored to be part of this panel and am really looking forward to the discussion. If you are planning on being at the Midwest Clinic, I hope you will check this session out!!

For those of you that aren't in the Music Education field, The Midwest Clinic exists for educational purposes exclusively; to raise the standards of music education; to improve the methods employed in music education; to develop new teaching techniques; to disseminate to school music teachers, directors, supervisors, and others interested in music education information to assist in their professional work; to examine, analyze and appraise literature dealing with music; to hold clinics, lectures, and demonstrations for the betterment of music education; and in general, to assist teachers and others interested in music education in better pursuing their profession. It is one of the biggest gatherings of music educators nationally each year and always a blast!

Here are the details:

Clinician Name(s): Doris Gazda, Scott Laird, Sean O'Loughlin, Matt Turner, Larry Clark

Clinic Title: Teaching the Nitty-Gritty: Who Has Time for Anything More?

Clinic Synopsis:
What is the most important ground to cover in terms of technique and literature? What are the best ways to enrich traditional skills? How many alternative styles should you add to a program? At what level of instruction do we have time to make use of the numerous enrichment resources available? This session will answer these questions and provide an overview and evaluation of the many facets of teaching, offering various ways for teachers to place all opportunities in manageable perspective.

What is the target audience for this clinic? Instrumental teachers at all levels of instruction.

What will the audience take away from this clinic? A better sense of what should be essential in curriculum, tips for better time management, and the knowledge that good curriculum incorporates as many different styles of music as time will allow.

What is included in the handout?
A full outline of the clinic’s topics and discussions for reference, helpful classroom tips, and a list of suggested resources.

Is there anything else you would like attendees to know about this clinic?
Attendees will be afforded the unique experience of a panel discussion between respected teachers, editors, and composers from varied and prestigious backgrounds.

Biographical Information:
String educator/composer Doris Gazda, string educator/clinician Scott Laird, orchestral/band composer and conductor Sean O’Loughlin, improvisational cellist and jazz/composition educator Matt Turner, and educator/composer/Carl Fischer Music Vice President Editor-in-Chief Larry Clark join in a riveting panel discussion about the essentials of a dynamic music program.

Sponsor: Carl Fischer Music


Friday, August 28, 2009

What are YOU going to do?

The second week of school is almost over and it has certainly been a fantastic start to the school-year. My classes and students are wonderful and I am really pleased with the prospects for the academic year. My Classical Piano and guitar classes and full and the students are right into the swing of things. My Music History class is a bit smaller than usual (10 students), but they are really into it and are offering thoughtful preparation and responses to the music that is discussed. My orchestra is as big as it has ever been at NCSSM (55 strings) and is already producing a wonderful sound.

Early in the year, I like to really challenge the orchestra members to consider why they are participating in the ensemble and to reevaluate their commitment to their art and their instrument.

At NCSSM, many students are driven by grades. The students are high achievers and have spent a lifetime working to get A's in class. Orchestra is a little different animal. Of course, I have a very clear set of course expectations and grading policy which I outline for the students on the first day of class. Everyone understands the expectations and the vast majority of the students earn A's in Orchestra. I suspect that this is the case in most public school and university orchestras as well. The students want to be there, they want to receive an A, so they fulfill the requirements.

But, for an arts class, that seems a bit hollow to me. It has bothered me for years, to be honest. Don't we really want our arts students to be invested at a much deeper level that simply meeting the baseline expectations that are outlined in a grading policy?

This notion was driven home for me a few years ago while reading "The Art of Possibility" by Ben and Rosamund Zander. (If you haven't read it, I recommend it highly. I'll try to remember to write another post that covers more of the ideas in the book at a later time.) In one chapter, Zander outlines an exercise where he asks students to write him a letter detailing what they intend to do for their A, as well as what they intend to invest and hope to gain from the course. It is a marvelous and inspiring chapter and I decided to adopt a modified version of his idea in my class. I still have the course expectations, but ask the students to take it one step further and to write me a letter about their self-expectations for the course, explaining in more detail what they plan to invest, techniques they hope to develop, ideas they hope to gain, and experiences they hope to have.

This has turned out to be a wonderful activity in my class. Many students write deeply personal letters to me, detailing their reasons for playing their instrument, struggles they have had, anxieties that they ahve regarding orchestra, and unbelievable expectations that they have for themselves and their colleagues. I get to know my students in a much different way by doing this activity and it provides me incredible insight into the individuals in the ensemble. (Let me also be totally honest and say that not every students gets it. Some provide a very basic letter that doesn't really get into these details and seems more like an assignment than a heartfelt letter to me. But, this is the minority.)

I have been receiving and reading these letters this week and it has been and incredible experience. As you probably know, if you have been reading my blog, I believe in community first. Strong communities make strong orchestras. It has been clear to me in reading the letters this year, that my message is getting through to my students. I am hearing this in many ways from many of my students. I would like to share an excerpt of one such letter with you. It moved me tremendously and I don't believe that I could say it any better.

Dear Mr. Laird,

It’s hard for me to articulate exactly what my expectations are for orchestra at NCSSM this year. I could say that I expect dedicated classmates who care about our ensemble and our community, but I couldn’t really imagine a more committed and hard-working group of musicians than the ones we have at NCSSM. I realize that the orchestra as a whole will exceed any expectations I might have. So, as the year begins, I have found it more appropriate to address certain expectations I have for myself, in the hope that I may live up to the standards of musicianship and community set by both you and my fellow orchestra members.

1. I expect myself to love playing in the orchestra.
Though I am far from being an advanced player, I have been blessed with the opportunity to play in some amazing orchestras. More than anything, playing in the Eastern Regional Orchestra, my Youth Orchestra at home, and the NCSSM Orchestra has shown me what a joy it is to create music with good musicians. I have neither the talent nor the ambition to be a soloist, but I have found that there is nothing better than making beautiful music with a group of my peers and being a part of something so much bigger than myself. To truly love and appreciate this, though, a few things are required of me:

One, I have to practice. I remember realizing something so simple yet so profound last year: I enjoy orchestra rehearsal when I have practiced the music, and I hate it when I have not. To truly love playing in an ensemble, I have to feel like a contributing member. When I am stumbling through passages as a result of not practicing, I cannot take pleasure in rehearsing.

Two, I have to be focused and play musically. I must have good posture, pay attention to dynamics, and watch the conductor. I must actively count. I must listen to the ensemble as a whole. Simply playing notes will get boring all too quickly. To love playing, I have to be truly engaged in the music and in the sound being produced by the group.

2. I expect myself to love my fellow orchestra members. This year, I have the responsibility to help create the community that you were talking about on the first day of class. I expect myself to be an encourager, a listening ear, and a friend to the rest of the orchestra. I expect myself to love much and love well. I will have wasted my time in orchestra this year if I play every note correctly but fail to love the people around me.

I am looking forward to a great year in orchestra!

This is my hope for all of my students and yours!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

I have been thinking a great deal lately about how I want to frame the upcoming year in the NCSSM Orchestra. As you can see from my last post, in the 2008-2009 school year, I had a wonderful book and concept to work with and I referred back to it all year. I have been mulling this over a great deal lately and tonight I found my framework for the year. I am getting a bit tired tonight,so I will expand on this more tomorrow but, I will begin to set it up tonight.

Many of you know that I have been working my way through Daniel Barenboim's latest book, Music Quickens Time. It is heady read and I have really been taking my time with it. I have re-read most chapters before moving on to the next and have been trying to take some time to think about the concepts presented before just moving on to the next chapter. Tonight, I found my framework for the year in orchestra in Chapter 4 of this thought-provoking book.

Tonight, I will give you these three concepts: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. We will be looking at these ideas as they relate to the musical endeavors of the orchestra and as they relate to the community of the orchestra. I encourage you to think about these three ideas and their relationships. Can EQUALITY exist without LIBERTY? Can FRATERNITY exist without EQUALITY? How can music demonstrate this? How can an orchestral community find meaning in this? I spend a great deal of time thinking of the orchestra as a community and, really, isn't a community a fraternity. If so, can the community of the orchestra exist without Liberty and Equality? And don't liberty and equality ultimately lead to Fraternity or the community of the orchestra? How does all of this apply to the music... to the literature?

Liberty identifies the condition in which an individual (musical line) has the right to act according to his or her own will. Classical liberal conceptions of liberty relate to the freedom of the individual from outside compulsion or coercion.

Equality is a state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group (or musical lines and ideas) have the same status in a certain respect.

A fraternity (Latin frater : "brother") is a brotherhood, though the term usually connotes a distinct or formal organization. I often refer to the orchestra as a community. Fraternity works just as well.

I believe that there is much for use to explore here. More to come on this later.

These (and other ideas from the book) will become our framework for the year. Should be fun!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Better and Orchestra

The following is a reprint of my post from August 20, 2008. Since that time, the book, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande, was selected to be the summer reading for the NCSSM Community. For my students, this may be a good time to revisit some of my ideas and for the new members of the NCSSM Orchestra community, this will be an interesting way to get the year started. Enjoy!

Today was the first day of class for the 2008-2009 NCSSM Orchestra. It is a great group of students that all seem eager to get started. I love the first day. It is filled with anticipation of the work that is ahead of us and the great fun of meeting each other for the first time. One might think that I, as the conductor would talk about the literature that we are going to play, our rehearsal and seating procedures, and various other "orchestra" topics. But, no. Today, I went philosophical on them right from the beginning.

Back in February, I spoke to a group of orchestra teachers at a conference in Albuquerque. Following my session, one of the attendees came up and enthusiastically recommended that I read the book, Better, A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande. I read the book this summer and loved many of the concepts that were presented. Since I teach at the NC School of Science and Math and many of my students will find themselves in the medical field following graduation, I thought that starting the year in orchestra with a book by a surgeon about medicine might surprise inspire them.

At the end of the book, Gawande offers 5 suggestions for making a worthy difference. I decided to challenge my students with his suggestions. They are:
1. Ask an unscripted question
2. Don't complain
3. Count something
4. Write something
5. Change

Let me say a few words about each of these as they apply to my student and the NCSSM Orchestra.

1. Ask an unscripted question. Think about everything that you do in orchestra. Ask the question that others haven't thought of. Don't just sit back and let the information come to you. But, instead, be proactive in your thought Be unique in your thought. Be inquisitive in all that you do. Ask the unscripted questions every day.

2. Don't complain. Instead, work to make things better. Nobody wants to hear me complain. And, nobody wants to hear you complain. Instead, work to change the tide. Work to make things better.

3. Count something. Be a scientist in all that you do. Don't let opportunities to find trend pass you by. If today you missed 5 of the c naturals in a passage, tomorrow only miss 4. Count something.

4. Write something. Back in 1988, noted string educator Jacqueline Dillon told me that the way to have impact in the field of string education boiled down to one word. Write. Share your ideas. Write something that is creative. Start a blog? Just write something! Her advise to me has carried me in many ways to this point in my career. I really do believe she was right. Gawande must know the same thing. I want my students to know it, too.

5. Change. Be willing to try new things. Try new music, new styles, new practice methods. Just be willing to change. Be the first one to change, too. Don't be the skeptic. Be the front runner. if it doesn't work, it isn't the end of the world. Just be willing to change and look for opportunities to change.

So, there you go. That, in a nutshell, was the first day of class for the 2008-2009 NCSSM Orchestra. I think they get it. Do you?


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Orchestral Seating Arrangements

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from an old friend with a question about orchestral seating arrangements. I wrote a rather extensive response and thought that some of you may be interested in my thoughts. So, I have copied it below. I welcome your comments.

Hey Scott! I hope that you are enjoying your summer. I have a question and I thought that maybe you'd have some good input. Can you shed some light on the various orchestra string arrangements? I've been having long discussions about it and I would like some more input. What I mean by that is I see the following set ups and I would like your input.





I have actually tried all of these. I think they can all be effective in various settings.

The following is from the Wikipedia Entry on String Orchestra Seating:
The most common seating arrangement is with first violins, second violins, violas and cellos clockwise around the conductor, with basses behind the cellos on the right.[2] In the 19th century it was standard[3] to have the first and second violins on opposite sides (violin I, cello, viola, violin II), rendering obvious the crossing of their parts in, for example, the opening of the finale to Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony.

If space or numbers are limited, cellos and basses can be put in the middle, violins and violas on the left (thus facing the audience) and winds to the right; this is the usual arrangement in orchestra pits.[4] The seating may also be specified by the composer, as in Béla Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta which uses antiphonal string sections, one on each side of the stage.

I have reverted to the traditional 1st-2nd-Vla-Cello at this point in my conducting life - most because I have a set of gestures that seem to be most effective with that set up.

Having 2nds on the left outside seems to bring them into a more prominent role, but the downside is that they are sort-of set up for their sound to go backwards into the stage. It is good, however to get the fundamentals that are being played by cello/bass into the middle of the orchestra. Everyone seems to tune differently/better with them in there.

The other set up - with the violas on the outside/left grows from a string quartet set-up. Same deal though - the viola sounds tend to get swallowed up, in my opinion. It is hard enough to get their sound out there. I would only use this if I was doing string quartet literature with a string ensemble - like a Mozart Divertimento or something.

It is funny - because I was working at a camp this summer where another conductor was using the set up with the 2nds on the left and I felt the ensemble was really lacking between the 1sts and 2nds. Anyway, I sort of revisited the arrangement issue and, again, decided that the traditional arrangement works best for me.

I don't like switching around, especially when conducting difficult literature, because I throw cues to the wrong place. Also, if I used one of the other set-ups in my orchestra and then go to guest conduct with a traditional arrangement, it is easy to get confused and I just don't like that. I want my gestures to be accurate and predictable from the first rehearsal.

I hope this helps.
Take care!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

MS Bike Tour Event

Dear friends,

I am raising money again this year for the National MS Society. By now, most of you know that I have been doing this for several years and this will be the 5th year of sponsoring a team from NCSSM. Following last year's event, we had raised over $42,000 in the 4 years of team sponsorship at NCSSM. I am, obviously, very proud of that number. This cause is one that is near to my heart as my wife, Barbra, was diagnosed with MS in 1997, shortly after my oldest son, Matt was born. Since that time, her health has really been fantastic and we have been blessed with 2 more healthy boys. Barbra has truly been the beneficiary of the dollars that have been raised for MS research and has had great success with the medications that are available today as a result of that research.

This year, due to a schedule conflict between the MS Society rides in New Bern and Tanglewood and our NCSSM Family Day, I decided to organize and run our own MS bike Tour Event at NCSSM. It will be on September 19-20 and will involve a ride from NCSSM to Spruce Pine Lodge, in Bahama, NC. We will have bike routes of 25, 50, and 75 miles for our riders on Saturday, camp out overnight, and return to NCSSM on Sunday morning. Several local businesses are helping us out with supplies and funding. For example, I just had an exciting meeting with the folks at Whole Foods. They are excited about our event and really stepping up to help us out.

Please consider sponsoring me and making a donation to the National MS Society through me. It is really easy to do on-line.

For those of you around the Triangle, if you would like to volunteer that weekend or ride in the event, we have a spot for you, too. In addition, we will be sponsoring a bike safety course on the first morning of the the event. Families are welcoe to attend that as well. Just drop me a note and I'll give you more information.

I truly appreciate your friendship and support. So many of you have contributed to this cause over the years and it means so much to me. Thanks for all that you do and thanks for considering supporting me and the National MS Society again this year!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Professor Uses Math to Decode Beatles Tunes

This one is for my Math/Music friends. I have posted a link to this interesting article.

Professor Uses Math to Decode Beatles Tunes

Related handout/pdf


Friday, July 24, 2009

NCSSM Fine Arts Series Dates and Performances

Hi all! It is my pleasure to announce the 2009-2010 NCSSM Fine Arts Series Events. All performances are in the NCSSM Educational Technology Center located on Maryland Avenue in Durham, NC unless otherwise noted and, as always, are free of charge. We look forward to seeing you at one of our wonderful fine arts events!

NCSSM Fine Arts Series, 2009-2010

• Fall Drama Production, October 23-25,
7:00 pm shows on Friday and Saturday
3:00 pm show on Sunday,
featuring Art Exhibit Opening Friday, October 23, 6:00-8:00. Exhibit
runs from October 23-Nov 20

• Fall Orchestra Pops Concert, October 31, 3:00 PM

• Fall Wind Ensemble Concert, featuring Durham School of the Arts Music Department , November 1, 3:00

• Bach and Beyond: Redefining the Harpsichord, 3 Harpsichords, 2 Composers, 1 Unveiling , featuring Beverly Biggs, Elaine Funaro, and Rebecca Pechefsky, November 12, 7:30 pm

• Tejasvii Bharat: Indian Dance Masterclass and Recital with Nina Dash and NCSSM Dance Ensemble , December 5, 2009

• Winter Wind Ensemble Concert January 24, 2010, 3:00 PM

• Masterworks Concert, featuring NCSSM Orchestra and Chorale with Blacknall Church Choir
Featuring Missa Brevis in D major, Mozart K 194; Dona Nobis Pacem from the B Minor Mass, Bach; Tragic Overture, Brahms; and Iridium, Jack Stamp

February 6, NCSSM, 7:00 PM
February 7, 7:00 PM, Blacknall Church

• Winter Musical February 12-14, 2010
7:00 Show on Friday and Saturday
3:00 Show on Sunday

• Eastern Regional Orchestra, Feb 26-28, Concert: Feb 28, 3:00

• Spring Dance Recital, April 10, 2010, 3:00 pm

• NCSSM Jazz at Broad Street Café, April 10, 2010, 5:00 pm

• Pulsoptional – May 7-8

• Spring Choral/Vocal Department Mother's Day Recital, May 9, 3:00 PM
Featuring NCSSM Chorale and Voice Students

• Spring Drama Production: A Weekend of Shakespeare, May 14-16, 2010
7:00 Show on Friday and Saturday
3:00 Show on Sunday

• Art Exhibit Opening, Friday May 14, 6:00-8:00, ETC Lobby
Show runs – May 14-June 4

• NCSSM Annual Concerto Concert, May 16, 2010, 2:00

• Spring Wind Ensemble Concert, May 16, 2010, 4:30

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arlington Echo String Camp

This week, I am conducting at the Arlington Echo String Camp in Anne Arundel County, MD. It is a fantastic camp that is run by the Anne Arundel Co. Schools. The kids are string players that range in age from 6th grade through high school. There are so many cool things about this camp that I hardly know where to start.

Let's start here. One of the coolest features of the camp is that the string teachers from the AA schools are the primary teachers and counselors at the camp. They live with the kids all week. they stay in the cabins, eat with the kids, play with the kids, make music with the kids, and fully participate in the entire experience. What a wonderful mentoring opportunity it is for these students. I don't think I had any experienc e like that with my teachers as a kid. Here anther thing: they are all happy to be there. The teachers, that is. there is such a genuine enthusiasm for music, kids, and community that is demonstrated every day, by every teacher, counselor, and staff member.
You may ask yourself, "How does this happen?" The answer is simple. Community. The answer is also complex. Leadership, environment, attitude, love, caring, selflessness, support, commitment. Of course, I am forgetting many others.

I am out of time for now, but I am really enjoying myself and happy to be here. This is really a great camp and I am pleased to be part of it.

Rehearsals are going great and it will be a fantastic concert on Friday. It has been a great week.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Are You a Pilgrim or a Tourist?

It has been an interesting weekend for me. Two of of the events of the weekend have reached an interesting confluence and I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.

As I said in my post yesterday, I have been at the Festival for the Eno all weekend. I have seen a number of fine bands and had a really good time. One band that particularly struck me was the Chapel Hill indy rock band, Lost in the Trees. More on them in a minute.

This morning, I was sitting in church and the pastor encouraged the congregation to consider whether they are a tourist or a pilgrim. A pilgrim is invested in their journey. They are on a mission and are living every move they make. The pilgrim doesn't know exactly what tomorrow will bring, but is honest in their motives, accepting whatever tomorrow may bring. A tourist, on the other hand, uses a guide book, follows the map, and generally gleans what they can, but does so without significant risk or investment. They have specific expectations, but don't really take a significant risk.

As I sat and thought about this metaphor, my mind drifted back to Lost in Trees. This group of young adults are definitely pilgrims. As I watched them play their set at The Festival for the Eno, I could sense their investment. Each one of the members are fine musicians in their own right. The band includes 13 members: lead singer and acoustic guitarist Ari Picker, mandolin, bass, drums,4 piece brass section, and a 5 piece string section. Many in the group double on other instruments which include glockenspiel, accordion, percussion instruments, and others. This music is honest. The lyrics are honest, the songwriting is honest, the performance is honest. These folks are invested in their journey. I just love watching them play. Their friendship is evident on stage. Their investment and caring for each other and the integrity of the music is evident from the minute they walk on stage.

The word honest kept coming to my mind as I watched them. And, I must say, that is always my goal when I play. I want to be honest. I want my music to be an honest expression of my heart, my emotions, my soul. I might not be the most virtuosic player, but I can be the most honest. I can also be the most honest teacher. I feel like that investment, that honesty, is the key to expression and impact.

I don't want to be a tourist teacher or musician. We have all had tourist teachers. They use the guidebook. They go through the motions, give the facts, and maybe even effectively get the point across. The problem is, they aren't invested.

Think about the best teacher you have ever had. Were they honestly invested in the process, in the material, in you? Of course they were. They were a pilgrim. They had a mission. Now think of your favorite musician or band. Were they giving you and honest expression of their heart the last time you heard them play? Were they invested in the music, the communication, the performance? Of course they were. They are a pilgrim musician. That is why you were drawn to them. That is why I am drawn to Lost in the Trees. They are pilgrims.

Who are some other pilgrim musicians. Of course there are many that I could name. The two big ones that come to mind for me are jazz violinist, Christian Howes and virtuosic mandolinist, Mike Marshall. Both of these magnificent artists get right to the heart of the music. They get right to the heart of the humanity. They are honest. They are invested fully. They are pilgrims. In fact, many times over the years, when someone has asked me about Chris Howes or MIke Marshall, I have described both of them as totally honest musicians. It is about the highest compliment that I can give to a musician.

So, today, I encourage you to consider the following: are you a pilgrim or a tourist? Are you invested in your journey? Are you invested in your art? If you are a teacher, are you invested in your mission? I aspire to be a pilgrim. Not every turn will be the best, but I will endeavor to be invested fully. I wish the same for you.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Festival at the Eno

Hi all!

Happy 4th of July weekend!

This weekend, I am spending a great deal of time a the Festival for the Eno. It is an awesome gathering of musicians, artists, and conservationists coming together to enjoy a beautiful place and event together on a very hot weekend. It is always a blast and this weekend should prove to be the same.

This weekend, I am working with the folks at High Strung Music in Durham, a wonderful little string shop that specializes in bowed string instruments, acoustic guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, and other folk instruments, giving daily seminars on violin improv. High Strung really provides a wonderful service at the Festival. They have guitar repair services right on site at the Festival and daily seminars that include, in addition to mine, beatboxing, learn to play the ukelele, open jams, and others. High Strung is centrally located at the festival and really embody the spirit of the event.

My seminar is a very low key introduction to string improv for those that haven't ventured away from the page before, but if a more advanced improviser comes by, I will give them feedback on their playing and tips and tricks that may help them out. And, if folks prefer, my friend and guitarist Adam Sampieri, and I will just play a little bit and talk about the thought process that goes into generating an improvised solo. I am there to represent D'Addario Bowed Strings and Coda Bows, both of which High Strung carries.

One of the highlights of the day for me yesterday was getting to know the guys in the band, Fiddlefoxx. This is a cool little trio of fine musicians from the Boston area. They feature some fine fiddle playing, acoustic guitars and mandolins, and a really good beatboxer on percussion. Their music is influenced by a variety of styles, but reminds me of some of the early Bela Fleck and the Flecktones stuff. It is really cool and I encourage you to check them out. Also, they are available to work with school orchestra programs and I think they would be a super addition to any program. I know that I am going to try to have them in to the NC School of Science and Math at some point to work with my kids. The beatboxer from the band also gave a masterclass on his art and it was really cool. There were a bunch folks there to check it out and he is really a wizard at the mouth percussion!

My family and I also really enjoyed checking out all of the artists' displays and various booths around the festival. We bought some pottery, learned about the new Mountains to Shore trail, played games, ate a ton, and generally had a wonderful time.

The festival runs for 2 more days (July 4, and 5) and totally recommend that come out and check it out. I'll be giving my seminar at 3:00 each day and would love to see you there. I can't think of a better way to spend some time over the holiday weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Community Building at Summer String Camp

Today, I want to say a few words about community building. Anybody that knows me, knows that I love to use the words orchestra and community interchangeably. An orchestra is a community. The string world IS a community. And, the strength of the community around an orchestra, string faculty, or music department can be a direct predictor of its overall success. Community matters.

Over the past several years, I have been proud to be associated with two wonderful summer string camps. For the past two years, I have been on faculty of the Lamar String Camp in Raleigh, NC and on several occasions over the past several years have been the Musical Director of the Alaska String Camp. There are many fantastic aspects to both of these camps, like many summer string experiences around the country, but the sense of community building at both of these camps is simply extraordinary.

For the past two weeks, I have really enjoyed witnessing the work of the late high school and college aged "counselors" at the Lamar Stringfield Camp. This group of young adults are really instrumental to the success of the camp and work tirelessly as the real liaison between the instructors and the students. This group includes several students that are music majors in universities including East Carolina, Michigan, UNC, UNC Charlotte, and others. There are other students that are rising high school juniors and seniors. Most of the counselors have attended the camp as students and are now taking on leadership roles at this event that helped shape them as musicians and people.

They are on hand to set up rehearsal rooms, stuff folders, tutor students, sit in on rehearsals to "beef up" a section, play with the kids, monitor the cafeteria, and a variety of other jobs. They are there to help the kids out if they need a little extra love and support. They are there for the kids if the don't feel well or scrape their knee. They also get to make music together and participate in the leadership of the camp. Yesterday, I heard 8 of them play the Mendelssohn Octet. It was a wonderful performance and expression of love for music and strings that I won't soon forget.

But, there is so much more going on here for these young adults. They are learning. They are learning about leadership. About teaching. About giving. They are learning new ways to love children, their community, their art, themselves. Some of them are clearly picking up techniques for teaching that they never dreamed would part of their counselor experience. May are discussing pedagogical concepts. Others are discussing child development. Others are seeing new ways of appreciating their own experience as a kid at the camp several years ago.

It is absolutely wonderful to watch. I love watching kids turn into adults. It is magical. This all happens at the Alaska String Camp each summer as well. I think this is one of the reasons that I love both of these camps so much. They are not just developing the kids that attend the camp. These camps serve as community development. And, after all, the orchestra is a community.

Community matters. Lamar Stringfield String Camp is building communities. The counselors at Lamar are fantastic and I am honored to be working with them. Thanks for all of your efforts.

2 days to go. It has been great.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Phyllis Garris: Founder of the Lamar Stringfield String Camp

As I promised in my previous post, I want to give a bit more information about the wonderful string camp where I am working this summer. The Lamar Stringfield String Camp is celebrating it's 30th anniversary this year and is in full swing this week. The camp was founded by Meredith College Music Faculty member, Phyllis Garriss. Her vision for the camp was and continues to be to provide a meaningful string music experience for children of a variety of ages and playing levels in the context of a nurturing environment. Additionally, it is important that the camp supports the local public school string programs and teachers. Campers receive instruction on technique and music theory, a daily orchestra rehearsal and sectional rehearsal, and a daily concert by local professionals or advanced students. Students may also remain at the camp for a popular daily "extended day" experience that includes swimming and recreational fun with the camp counselor staff. All of these wonderful experiences would have never been possible without the vision of Phyllis Garriss. It is her love for teaching, children, and string music that paved the way for this wonderful legacy.

Phyllis Garriss is associate professor emeritus of string instruction at Meredith and is founding director of the Lamar Stringfield String Music Camp. She holds undergraduate degrees from Hastings College and an M.M. from Eastman School of Music. She has held teaching positions at DePauw University and Ball State University, in addition to Meredith. A former National Secretary of the American String Teachers Association, Professor Garriss is a member of the Music Educators National Conference, the Music Teachers National Association, the American String Teachers Association, Local 500 of the Musicians Association, and past-president of the Raleigh Music Club. She performs with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and the Capital String Ensemble.

It is my pleasure to let you know a bit more about Phyllis Garriss and the Lamar Stringfield String Camp. I know that there are many wonderful camps around the country that occupy similar places in their individual communities. I am so pleased to be art of this camp that serves the Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill communities.


Lamar Stringfield String Camp 2009

This week (and last) I am teaching at the Lamar Stringfield String Camp at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. This little string camp is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and is truly a gem in our world of string education.

The camp is 2 weeks long and students have the option of attending for 1 or both of the weeks of camp. It serves students from ages 6 through high school and all levels of playing. The camp features 3 orchestras, music theory lessons, sectional rehearsals, technique lessons, a daily concert, opportunities for swimming and other activities, and lots of fun and love. In addition to a staff of wonderful professionals from the world of string education, there is a team of "counselors" that are advanced string players from local high schools and colleges that serve an invaluable role for the camp as the liaison between the instructors and the students.

In the coming days I will post some various thoughts and remarks about the camp. There are so many positive things going on here and I really want to share them with you all.

For now, let me just say that I am having a great time and am so pleased to be part of this wonderful camp for the 2nd year. The camp was founded by Phyllis Garris, a long time string faculty member at Meredith College. The is wonderful loving woman who is truly interested in getting kids excited about string music. The camp directors are Margaret Garris, Phyllis' daughter and string educator, who is carrying on the tradition started by her Mom, and Virginia Hudson, cello instructor at Meredith. They are magnificent folks that truly keep the overall vision of the camp in focus as they prepare for each and every day of the experience.

Two of my sons are attending the camp this week (more about this later) and I couldn't feel more fortunate for them to have this opportunity.

If you are in the Raleigh area and teaching strings, check out the camp and send your students. They will have an experience of a lifetime.

More to come on this great camp.

For now, I have to head to Raleigh!


Friday, June 5, 2009

Let's be a Light

Hi all -
Commencement at NCSSM is tomorrow and I have been thinking a great deal about the seniors that will be leaving NCSSM and going on to college next year. We have had a wonderful 2 years of music-making and fun and I hope you all know that I will miss each and every one of you. I look forward to hearing about all of your future successes in your various fields and , of course, your musical endeavors. I hope that you will all stay in touch with me and visit from time to time.

I was considering writing a "Commencement Address" today, but, you will hear enough of those in the coming days. So, I will keep my thoughts brief today. I will simply provide one thought to leave with you.

Be a light. That is it. It is such a simple metaphor. Light and dark. But, you know, we can all get it. And, we can all do it. It really isn't that hard. Each day, when you get out of bed, think to yourself, "Today, I am going to be a light in this world." With that framework for your life, you can't really go wrong. For really, it is the one thing that we all have control of: our attitude and our approach. Other stuff might hit us hard. Circumstances are sometimes out of our control. Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we don't feel good. Sometimes people let us down. The one thing we can do, is endeavor to be a light in the world.

Where can you be a light? With your interactions with others? With your scholarly contributions? With your art? With your caring for others? With your service? Or maybe some or all of these. We all have our gifts. We all have our strengths. Use yours to be a light in the world. I'll try to do the same with mine.

Thanks for a great couple of years. Thanks for sharing so much of yourselves with me. Thanks for opening your hearts to the things that I have tried to contribute. I will miss you all.

Let your light shine!!


Monday, June 1, 2009

NCSSM Symphony Orchestra, Elgar Cello Concerto, Mvt 1, Adam Collins, cello

I am pleased to post the first video from the 2009 NCSSM Concerto Concert.
The concert was huge success. Congratulations to the soloists and orchestra. Keep watching this site for more video from the concert.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

2009 NCSSM Orchestra Concerto Concert

Tomorrow afternoon, Sunday, May 31, at 2:00 PM, the NCSSM Orchestra will present its 2nd annual Concerto Concert. This year our line up features a single movement of the following pieces:
Adam Collins, Cello Concerto, Mvt 1, Elgar
Audrey Chang, Piano Concerto No 2, Mvt 1, op 18, Rachmaninoff
Connie Zhu, Flute, Poem, Griffes
Darren Zhu, 2nd Piano Concerto, Chopin
Mindy Yuan, Piano Concerto in G, Ravel

I am so pleased that a concerto concert is now part of the NCSSM routine and tradition. These types of concerts are so important for an orchestra community for a variety of reasons.
1.They feature the excellent soloists in a community and provide them with what may be a "once in a lifetime" experience. Other soloists will use this as a stepping stone possibly to a career of soloing with orchestras.
2.They expose section players to literature that they would never otherwise encounter in a school-orchestra setting. (Trust me - the Griffes and Ravel that we are doing hadn't even hit my radar until they were programed on this concert!)
3. They provide excellent opportunities for lessons in expression, following a conductor(who is following a soloist), and interpretation that are invaluable to an orchestra.
4. They invariably feature literature from a variety of style-periods which also provides superior opportunities for teaching broad concepts to young musicians.
5. They are just downright fun! (Have you played the last 16 bars of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 2 lately? Trust me - it is just about as fun as any roller-coaster ride you could go on.) My students get so pumped to support excellent soloists and to be part of this wonderful format.

I am really looking forward to the performance. We have one last run-through tonight at 6:00 and then it is all over but the shouting. If you are around the Triangle, come on out tomorrow. It is sure to be a blast. If not, watch my blog for video posts over the next few weeks. I will try to feature some of the performances right here.


Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm Bored

It is a strange statement, isn't it? I'm bored. It is especially strange for me to hear this from my students at NCSSM. Our school is arguably one of the most academically rigorous in the United States and our students are perpetually busy. The students that are involved in the arts here have to really carve out time for it. Many students simply don't have enough hours in the day to get everything done and still maintain a healthy lifestyle. But, as soon as crunch time of exams or a term is over, I frequently hear those words: "I'm bored."

What is it about our culture that causes this. I am as guilty as the next guy. We are addicted to being busy. We run so hard day after day and never give ourselves a break. The weird thing is that we are busy, but often busy for busy's sake. We are busy, but do we really have purpose?

I really believe that true purpose leads us to fulfillment. What does busyness lead to? Exhaustion? Lethargy? Or worse - apathy and sloth?

My experience is that being perpetually busy just wears me out. (If you don't believe me, just look at my previous blog-post. I was there a few days ago.) It wears me out mentally and physically. I lose my sense of purpose. I actually get apathetic and lethargic. As I go, I believe that our society goes. We are all too busy and many getting apathetic.

I had a brief conversation about this yesterday with a friend whom I really respect. He suggested to me that this is an especially large problem within academic communities. We value accomplishments. Hard work leads to great things. But does the academic community ever really discuss purpose? Not enough in my opinion. I'll say it again: PURPOSE leads to fulfillment. Busyness for busyness sake leads to apathy.

So, today as you contemplate this post, I encourage you to consider your purpose. Consider what you are placed on this earth to do. Who are you here to impact? As you find that purpose, every thing you do will have more meaning. Your work will have more meaning. Your play, study, friendships, relaxation, and socialization will all have more meaning. Please know that I write all of this as much for me as for you. I need to hear these words as much as anyone. As I reflected on my last blog post and considered all of this yesterday, I felt like this is exactly where I found myself. Somewhere close to apathy. And I know that is not me. I am the opposite of apathy. I really care about the purpose in my life. But, sometimes in the midst of extreme business, we can lose track of the purpose. Time for me to reset my mindset.

What is your purpose? Think about it today. And, try to incorporate it into EVERYTHING that you do. You won't ever be bored again!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

End of school year

Hi all -
I have to admit, I have been feeling pretty guilty lately about not posting much to the my blog. It's not that I don't want to post. Or that I don't think about it. Really, I just haven't had much to say. So, I have been thinking about it a fair amount and I have come to the conclusion that this is natural and I shouldn't fight it.

Let's look at the facts. We have been pushing hard all school-year. we have opened up school, met a whole new slew of students, put on a variety of performances, prepared a ton of music, dealt with the standard issues that come with every school year, seen budgets cut, seen a state employee furlough enacted, watched health care costs rise, sat on boards and task forces, and more. The fact is - teachers are all tired at this time of year. I, for the time being, am out of stuff. My philosophical edge is a little dull at this point of the year.

Realistically, I still have a little way to go. We still have a concerto concert to present on May 31 and my orchestra and soloists are nothing short of fantastic. The strings will be performing at our Annual Sr. Awards Ceremony in early June. And then, of course, there is commencement. We still have a ton of music to prepare and to perform. And we will. With joy and energy. After all, that is what we do.

But, if the blog is a little dull for the next few weeks, please be patient. I will get my mojo back. It just might take 2 or 3 weeks of summer, cycling, camping, family, and life outside of academia for me to get back into the philosophical groove. I am a little spent right now. Spent, but happy. It has been a great year. One that I will never forget. And, always, I am so psyched for the next one!!

Hang in there gang!!


Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Was Once a Violinist

The following is an essay that was written by a former student. He posted this on his Facebook page and I asked his permission to share it with you all. In it, he outlines so many of the hopes that I have for each of my students. Generally, his is a life that has been enriched by his participation in strings and orchestra. I am proud to have been both the "dancing conductor" and "Scott" to whom he refers! He got it. He received all that orchestra was intended to give. That is, a life enriched.

Tonight I walked alone into a concert hall in LaGrange, Ga. A friend from my Tuesday and Thursday night trivia team is also in the local symphony, and she got me free tickets.

I brought a book with me to keep the boredom away before the show started, during the intermission, and if they started to suck.

Mind you, since I left the stage for the last time in April of 2002 (the last time I was in an orchestra), I have played at different churches for worship choruses. I have played the violin for myself at very random and sporadic times in praising God, using an old red hymnal from my childhood church. I have even seen professional symphonies from coast to coast, whether in Jacksonville, Denver, LA, or DC. This was not the first time I had been to see music performed.

The first piece, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus was decent enough and kept my attention. The second was a rather challenging arrangement by Tchaikovsky (Var. Rococo Theme OP33), a solo for cello. I came quickly to find that this young man, while not notorious enough to brighten the halls of the Kennedy Center or other infamous venues, was more than enough to take my breath away.

I found myself sitting on the edge of my chair, leaning into the high notes of this prodigy’s tune, and melting into a puddle as the depths of his lower range shook the foundations of the building. I was enthralled. The ending came too soon.

I was delightfully surprised to find that the conductor then allowed this young man the stage alone. While the rest of the orchestra sat as part of the audience, this young man played a soul rendering Bach piece that was short, non-technical, but lyrical throughout.

Intermission came and went, as well as a chapter or two from my book. The lights went down, and memory lane commenced. Within seconds of the opening of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Russian Festival, I was lost in time.

Having played this piece numerous times, my mind wandered to yesteryear. Definitely not planned and definitely not organized, memories started to dislodge themselves from the recesses of my mind. With the quickening beat of the conductor’s baton, I sat back in amazement as I recalled…

…the smells of Eleanor Roosevelt high schools’ orchestra room, rosin filling my nose, while I ate there during lunch both junior and senior year.

…the stickiness of bow rosin if you wipe it off with your fingers.

…the crazy athleticism of my high school Orchestra director from the conductor’s stand and his never ending drives and swells to make the music come alive. In many ways, his dance became the rhythm that set the tone for the evening.

…various stand partners and all my crazy antics from all those years (5th grade thru the end of college.) Besides Josh Raskin, my only male stand partner, I spent countless hours vibing, laughing with, and fiddling around with Annette, Doris, Hannah, Maria, etc. For one Christmas, Doris gave me an Animal key chain (the drummer from the Muppets). She said it fit my personality. (Some things don’t change; all puns intended.)

…the sweat that lingered on my uniform after concerts until dry cleaned by my Mom.

…JB and all of our crazy escapades from Day One. Whether it was in wrestling practice, Bible Club, Prom, camping, overnights, “princesses,” or whatever we filled our time with, Scott and God were never far from our minds.

…from 6th grade through the end of my Senior year of ERHS, Allan Chui and I were friends from first sight. Through the wars of acne, youth orchestras and the Kennedy Center, the trials of junior high boys, the competition of awards, endless Friday afternoons at the movies, or the stage fright of “macking,” we always had our strings to keep us looking forwards and upwards.

…the hand lotion of my junior high orchestra director. There were times that I think I wished my violin would go out of tune, just so that she would have to come and retune it, filling my nose with her delightful smells once again. (Okay, yeah, I had a crush.)

Back to the present…Korsakov had to finish at some point. But just in case my trip was not over, Sir Edward Elgar’s (and now all the band and orchestra geeks are shaking their heads at me) Pomp and Circumstance March finished the program. If I had been alone when I walked in, the memories were coming full blast at me now, sitting down next to me, making me lose all sense of time and space.

Again, I was reminded of…

…tossing the tassel at my graduation from high school and college from right to left.

…my close friends, Jeffrey, Philip, and Rosemary Walters. To say that I was a part of their family growing up would be an understatement; I had dinner at their house weekly, if not monthly. Never having brothers, these men filled those roles, whether it was the older brother that I idolized, or the little brother that we ganged up against. “Mom,” to the great disapproval of my biological, was my first choral director, my churches’ organist (which was a coveted position in my life), my substitute teacher, and one of the most influential women of my musical and spiritual upbringing. We love you. We miss you.

…my angry organist-turned-orchestra-director from college. He really had no idea what he was doing up there; the orchestra from his tapes that were playing in his mind never reflected the sound that we cacophon-ized. I missed every other conductor I had sat under, every time.

…all the girls that I had crushes on. Whether it was redheads, blondes, or brunettes, whether in church or school, whether in practice and sweats or performance day and black skirts, I had the privilege to play with some gorgeous women. I still don’t think I would have the cahounas to ask most of them out, even today.

…the fact that I still carry my violin with me on the road. In 1992 or ’93, my mother bought me my own violin, which I still carry in its old, beat up, plastic case. Usually it sits in my closet, collecting dust.

Tonight, I was lost to the moment. I was no longer 29, but 13, 18, and 21 again. I thought about the cliques of my high school and longed to be a part of them. I sat there thinking of how proud I was for every time my sisters had crossed the stage, and how I am looking forward to all future stage crossings from them, myself, and our kids. I sat there wondering how I had gotten here, in Podunkville, GA, while dreaming about Beltsville, Hyattsville, Greenbelt, Baltimore, and Grove City.

Completely, wholly, I started to think back about all the things I had looked forward to, things that I had already accomplished. So many moments that had passed me by. So many times I had failed at taking the risks I had dreamed of, jumping off the ledge into. So many achievements that I never ever imagined I would have done by now, even in my wilder moments, that I look back on now with pride.

I sat there thinking “Am I where that kid dreamed I would be? If I could say something to that kid now, what would it be? If I am not where I want to be, from then or now, what is truly holding me back? Why am I not bold enough to dream, and then pursue, if the course of my life has not matched my fantasies?”

I sat there conducting the Orchestra myself, and as I tapped my feet, nodded my head, and even once or twice was so entranced that my hands were moving as well, I was lost in the music. And then it was finished.

And when I walked out, the sun was down.