Friday, February 12, 2010

In the Pit

Hi all!
I hope that all of my East Coast friends are staying warm and digging out for the incredible snow ans cold that we have been experiencing. Here in Durham, NC, it continues to be unusually cold and they are calling for snow again this weekend. I know that I am certainly ready for some warmer weather!

This weekend, the NCSSM Drama Department is presenting 3 performances of the musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Our students are doing a wonderful job and I know the show will be lots of fun. If you are around the Triangle, I strongly encourage you to check it out.

For this show, I have had the opportunity to step off the podium for a while and simply play in the pit orchestra for the show. What a wonderful experience this has been.

First, it has been great to see our Drama Instructor, Adam Sampieri, in action on a nightly basis. What a pro! He is on top of every aspect of the production and is a wonderful leader. It is pleasure to watch his manner with the students. He has high expectations, leads by example, emits an incredible enthusiasm for every aspect of the show, and, all the while, treats every member of the cast, crew, pit, and staff with an incredible respect. He is truly about all of the right things. I have known this for years, but it is sure nice to witness night after night.

Second, and similarly, it has been so nice to play in the pit under the direction of my friend and colleague, Phillip Riggs. He, too is about all of the right things. He leads with a strong, yet gentle hand, has high expectations on a nightly basis, swings a great stick, and is truly understanding of the incredibly rigorous schedule of our students and the sacrifice that it takes for kids to commit to the pit orchestra. I know that each night after rehearsal, he heads home and re-arranges parts, figures out cuts, and works to clarify every aspect of the show for the pit. Again, this is not something that I didn't know. It is just cool to see it from a new perspective. I am honored to work with Phillip and to share these wonderful music students and experiences at NCSSM with him.

Finally, it has really been a pleasure to NOT be in charge for a while. I am just in the trenches with my Steinberger Bass in hand, laying down the foundation for the orchestra and singers. I am doing what I love: being a musician. It really provides a refreshing change for me to no be the conductor for a while. And, it gives me new perspective on the situation of the kids. When cuts or tempo changes are missed, suddenly, I really understand how that can happen. (I have missed more than a few this week!) I think that I will be more sensitive to the kids as I move forward as a result of this show.

The big lesson here is to never quit doing the craft that we are leading. For my students, many of you will become "managers" in the future. In a sense, that is what I do every day: manage musicians. It is really important to continue doing your craft. If you are leading a team of researchers: keep your hand in the science. If you become a professor: keep doing your art or science. If you become a CEO: don't stop participating in the process that your workforce is involved in.

For my music teacher friends: I encourage you to put down the baton once in a while. Play with your ensemble. You will be amazed how different everything sounds. You will also be amazed at the reaction of your students. Lead by example for a while. It is incredibly liberating. For the past few years, in my orchestra, I have tried to make Wednesday my playing day. I don't conduct on Wednesdays. I bring my violin or viola to class and sit in on the section. Sometimes I sit in the front and sometimes I sit in the back. Those are very different experiences as well! I do know that I find new perspectives on fingerings, bowings, intonation, ensemble, and others as a result.

For now, I am really looking forward to spending my weekend "in the pit."


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