Thursday, July 28, 2011
The concert went really well last night. I felt like my orchestra nailed all of the important point that we had worked on throughout our rehearsals. The visual contact with me was fantastic and the physicality of the ensemble was terrific. The piece with the percussion section and electric violin was an exciting finisher!
Congratulations to all of the musicians! This was a job well-done.
Today we begin work on a new program that will include works by Hindemith, Tchaikovsky, Reed, Haydn, Sharp, and Hofeldt.
Can't wait to get started!
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
If I am honest, the rehearsal in the hall didn't start out the way I had hoped. I thought that we would run the program, hit some spots, and run the program again. As it turned out, I think the ensemble was a bit overwhelmed by the room, the anxiety of the first performance, and 5 or 6 of their instructors out in the hall, watching the rehearsal, taking notes for me. All of those factors, put together with the general fatigue that they are starting to feel led to a sup-par start. The kids were missing entrances, phasing tempo, missing bowings, and generally freaking out. I have to admit, I was surprised and a bit upset. As a result, I scrapped the "run-through" and just rehearsed. This proved to be much more productive and we were able to "right the ship" and salvage the rehearsal.
For my string educator friends that read this, I want you to know what we are playing and the things that we are focusing on. This is a middle-school group with musicians whose experience and ability ranges from quite high (my concertmaster is working on the Lalo Concerto and many of the students are quite accomplished soloists) to students with very little experience in a serious ensemble with attention to watching, tempo changes, uniform bowing style, etc. I tried to program varied repertoire with lots of opportunities for expression and musicianship. We will start with the Latham Suite for String Orchestra, by Theron Kirk. In the March movement, we focus on "breathing" into beginning of phrases, short sixteenth notes on the hooked bowing, dynamic sustained notes, and energy in general. The Elegy 2nd movement is an opportunity to really emphasize the importance of watching the conductor and huge changes in style within a movement (ranging from very sustained and sad to "incalzando" or "with fire.") I really stretch and tug the tempo in this one. It takes a huge amount of maturity and patience from each player. The final movement, Finale, is a syncopated dance that requires attention to rhythm and articulation from start to finish. Our second piece is Vivaldi's Concerto in G Major, arranged by my friend, Tom LaJoie. The kids will perform this work without a conductor and the focus has been on terraced dynamics, intonation, and moving with the music, leading from any and every chair. Next, we will do Percy Fletcher's Folk Tune and Fiddle Dance. This old string orchestra standard is one of my favorites. The Folk Tune is an opportunity to teach tempo, key, and meter changes within a movement. We have worked on phrasing, dynamics, watching, and many other ensemble techniques in this one. The Fiddle Dance is reminiscent of Copland's Hoe Down and is simply a blast to perform. Dynamics and drive are paramount in this movement. We will finish with Nanigo, by my friend Tom Sharp. It is cool tune based on West African rhythms. We will be adding a 7-piece authentic African drum section for this one. I will also be joining the group on my 5-string NS Design CR violin, soloing over the last section of the piece. This work starts out "piano" and builds throughout, ending with a huge fortissimo. This is great for teaching a tricky 2 against 3 rhythmic pattern in the context of a really fun work.
We have a short rehearsal this afternoon and a warm-up on stage right before the performance. I am rally psyched for the entire day. I know that it will be great fun. I am so proud of this ensemble. I often say that an ensemble has to do the rigor first. But, when that is accomplished, they then can release any stress and simply play from the heart. This group has done the rigor. I hope that they can play today with joy and expression without losing their attention to detail. I believe that is the key for this group of young musicians today. I know that I will enjoy the ride today, with the knowledge that we have prepared well.
I'll let you know tomorrow how it went!
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Sunday was my day off here in Michigan. So, we loaded the family into the car and headed North, to the Upper Peninsula and the Mackinac Bridge and Island. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the spot, it is where the Upper Peninsula of Michigan meets the mainland, connected by a 5-mile suspension bridge. The nearby island is an isolated bit of land where there are no motorized vehicles, plenty of bikes and horse drawn carriages, a magnificent state park, lovely hotels, and a variety of great shops and attractions. One can only get to the island by ferry. We had a wonderful day that included a beautiful 2-hour drive up North from Interlochen, A wet ride on the ferry to the island, exploring Fort Mackinac, sampling fudge in at least 6 candy stores, some great food, and beautiful views of the lakes, the bridge, and the terrain. We were also pleased to be joined by my music librarian for the week, Jacey, a grad student from UNCG who is working here for the summer.
I have been reflecting a great deal the last few days about how nice it is to have so much unscheduled family time while we are here. We had the opportunity to sign our younger sons up for classes while here. It is very tempting. The instruction is world class and the opportunities are all over the place for magnificent arts education. (Our oldest son is a day-camper and is having a fantastic time and a marvelous learning experience.) We, however, resisted the temptation to sign up for classes for the younger guys, placing more of a priority on the opportunity for unscheduled family trips, experiences, music-making, etc. I feel like such a huge percentage of our life is scheduled. We, like nearly all families that I know, have school, sports, church events, music lessons, and a variety of other scheduled commitments that keep us very non-spontaneous throughout any typical week.
The time that we are spending here, has been unbelievably refreshing as a family. We have spontaneously gone swimming, attended concerts, had jam sessions, run out to eat, gone sight-seeing, gone for walks, etc. At first, we noticed that it was a little hard for the kids. They had a hard time just getting up and going to do something that was unplanned. As the past week has worn on, they have gained some comfort in the process.
On Monday, we took the concept even a bit further. I had a morning rehearsal and the rest of the day was unscheduled. We decided to take a trip up the Old Mission Peninsula. This was quite possibly our favorite area that we have found here in Northern Michigan. A thin strip of land, surrounded on both sides by the Traverse Bay, the area is full of cherry orchards, vineyards, wineries, unbelievable bay views, a magnificent lighthouse at the northern end, and lovely homes situated on the water or on majestic farmland. Our day included a variety of impromptu stops, including wading underneath the lighthouse and picnicking and swimming on the western side at a great little public beach. Interestingly, our kids most enjoyed a little community park near Bowers Harbor Winery on the east side of the peninsula. They played soccer and created an impromptu game of tag that they could have played literally all day. My wife and I sat and ate cherries that we bought at a road-side stand, talked, and enjoyed the oncoming evening, watching our three guys enjoy each other's company. Life is good.
Yes – I believe that the unscheduled family time will go down as my favorite part of this experience. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of other great memories being created. We have seen superior concerts, I am loving my work with my orchestra, my son is having a great experience as a camper, and there are many others. But, the luxury of unscheduled family time is truly a treasure. I hope you all get a chance to experience it in your lives at some point as well. It doesn't happen often!
Thursday, July 21, 2011
One of the great opportunities that come with my schedule the next few weeks, is the opportunity to get on my bike each day in the morning. Over the past several months, my cycling habit has been a bit diminished due to a busy work and family schedule. (However, I will admit that I have been pretty committed to the elliptical machine in the gym at NCSSM.) I brought my Fuji Cyclocross Pro bike with me and it is perfect for the terrain at camp and off campus. I have encountered many dirt roads and the cyclocross bike just begs to turn onto them. It is perfect for both paved and dirt road rides.
Today, I went out on a beautiful 21 mile road ride that took me through some great wooded areas and ended up at Lake Ann, in Alvira, MI. Along the way, I saw some beautiful homes, great forests, fields of huge ferns, and a bunch of interesting looking general stores, shops, and other businesses. I was disappointed that I didn't find a public lake access to stop and enjoy the view. I had to enjoy it from the road – looking through the yards of the lucky folks that have homes right on the lake. It was a wonderful ride. Yesterday was the exploration of the circumference of Lake Green, which borders one side of the Interlochen campus. That ride had a combination of paved and dirt roads and a variety of stunning lake views. I am happy to say that I didn't get lost either day. (I will eventually! That is what GPS Apps on the Blackberry were designed for.) The circumference of the lake is about 10 miles, so I did it twice!
I am reminded again how great it is to be on a bike. It is so awesome to feel the wind in your face, to have your lungs burn a little bit on an ascent, to get the machine going over 30 mph (sometimes over 40 mph) on a descent, and to see an area up-close and personal. It is a great relief to get away from engines and motors and just generate the energy for travel. There is nothing quite like the feeling of happy exhaustion after a good, solid ride. One really feels a sense of accomplishment and peace.
I can't wait to find more lakes, towns, and sights from the back of my bike over the next several weeks. It will definitely get my head right for the beginning of the upcoming school year. Life is certainly good.
Today, a couple of words about my first two days of rehearsal at Interlochen:
First, I have really enjoyed getting to know my students and starting up with rehearsals. My orchestra is filled with serious string students that come into rehearsal ready to work each day. We have already "dug in" to a great deal of the literature that I have programmed for the first concert next week and I am really pleased with the level of musicianship and dedication to excellence that is apparent in the rehearsals. I know that it will be a rewarding musical experience for both me and the students. I can feel the community developing before my eyes and ears in only two rehearsals. Very exciting!
With that being said, the big story here, and across the United States, has been the incredibly hot weather. Each day that that I have been here has been hotter than the previous. Today was in the high 90's and the heat index has been well above 100 degrees. While my rehearsal space is absolutely beautiful, with a full view of Green Lake, it is unbelievably hot. Sure, we have the fans going and the windows all open. But, ultimately, as Cramer said so eloquently on the Seinfeld show so many years ago, "It's like a sauna in there!"
For those of you that know me, I sweat. There. I said it so you didn't have to. I sweat a lot. I sweat when I work out. I sweat when I am at work. I sweat when I am at home. Simply put, I pretty much sweat all the time. Well, in those 3-hour rehearsals in 100 degree heat, I am a soaking mess. At the first rehearsal on Tuesday, I had sweat through my nice light-blue oxford shirt (part of the traditional Interlochen uniform) in about the first 10 minutes of rehearsal. The kids had to wonder if I was going to be OK! It was really embarrassing. I could have literally wrung out my shirt and filled a small drinking glass with sweat following the rehearsal. I was riding my bike home after rehearsal and another faculty member, who I did not know, asked me if I had been in the lake! That evening, my wife and I went out to sporting goods store to buy some of those "dry-fit" golf shirts that keep the moisture away from your body and don't show the moisture nearly as much. It took some searching, but we actually found the "Interlochen Blue" (Pretty close to Carolina Blue) on a clearance rack for about $14.00 per shirt. We quickly bought all three that were left in my size!
Today, rehearsal was just as hot, but I was certainly dressed more appropriately for the temps. Amazingly, the kids hung in there for the entire rehearsal and gave it all they had. I am really impressed with them! And, I wasn't quite as much of a conversation piece as I had been the previous day. Tomorrow is supposed to be similar to today and the heat seems to be sticking around for a few days. Possibly right through the weekend and into next week. No worries though. I am really happy. This place is really special. The heat doesn't really bother me that much. It is so great to be in this arts community and rubbing elbows with teachers and students that are soaking up the environment for all it is worth in every second of every day. A little bit of perspiration can't put a damper on that!
I wish you all some good feelings in the midst of a good sweat this summer. For my friends in DC and NC, it is coming your way!
On Tuesday, July 19, I attended a wonderful violin recital given by Jorja Fleezanis, accompanied by Karl Paulnack, at the Dendrinos Chapel and Recital Hall on the Interlochen Campus. Ms. Fleezanis is professor of music for the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and was formerly the concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1989-2009. Mr Paulnack is a sought-after accompanist and performer with a resume much too long to list here.
The program included the Dvorak Romance, Op. 11, The Fountain of Arethusa, Op 30, No 1, by Szymanowski, Bartok's Sonata No. 2 , and, most notably, Beethoven's Sonata in G Major, Op 96. The entire program was fantastic! Ms. Fleezanis performed each piece with passion, depth, and artistic understanding. The Szymanowski, for me, was really cool. It provided an emotional rollercoaster that told the story of Arethusa through music and the interpretation was fantastic. But, as she began her performance of the Beethoven, I knew we were in for something special. Something prompted me to re-read her bio at the beginning of the work and I saw that she had recorded the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas on Cypres Records with fortepianist, Cyril Huve, in 2003. It was simply magical. The depth of understanding and interpretation of this great work was palpable. She had such a clear vision of the work and its ups and downs, phrases, conversations, and direction. It was simply stunning and I was gripped from beginning to end of the work.
If you get a chance to see her in recital or pick up the recording of the Beethoven Sonatas, I high recommend that you do so! You will not be disappointed!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
It is Tuesday morning at Interlochen and I am really itching to get started with my orchestra. Our first rehearsal is this afternoon at 2:00 and I just can't wait to meet the kids and hear what I will be dealing with for the next three weeks! That being said, I have a few thoughts about my experiences on Sunday and Monday as I have now gone through my orientation here and have begun to settle in to the camp.
I have always believed that the music education and string education communities are really not all that big and that much of what we do as string educators is relational at every level. That concept has been confirmed over and over in the past two days for me. It seems that everyone that I meet either shares mutual friends with me or mutual teaching situations. From the moment that I arrived here, I have met people that I could have been friends and colleagues with for years. We all really do inhabit the same community.
On our first morning here, my wife and I were enjoying a cup of coffee on our front porch and met a lovely woman, Emily, who was living beside us for only one night. As we struck up a conversation, we found out that she had a background in Suzuki, had been involved in Interlochen for over 50 years, and lived in State College, PA. As we discussed our mutual experiences in PA, Suzuki Circles, and even trips to Scotland, we found that we had an incredible amount of common ground and struck up a quick friendship.
At a faculty reception later that day, the Intermediate Band Conductor came up to me and said, "Hi Scott!" After a minute of confusion due to "different place, different time syndrome ," I realized that he is Len Lavelle, Band director at North Hills High School in Pittsburgh, whose wife is Sarah Lavelle, from North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh. She is a trusted colleague and runs one of the really fine and largest orchestra programs in the Pittsburgh Area. North Allegheny happens to be my wife's alma mater as well. Len and I had a wonderful conversation and began to develop a new friendship on an entirely different level than before. We are clearly interested in the same things as music educators.
The list could go on and on. I have met many folks that know Chuck Eilber, a former Director of Interlochen Academy and the founding Director of NCSSM. I have met many folks that have worked with my friend and colleague from UNCG in String Education, Dr. Rebecca MacLeod. I have run into new colleagues that work with and know too many of my string education colleagues to begin to mention them all here.
I realize how fortunate I am to live and work in the field of music education and specifically string education. The relationships are so rich and the community is so loving and inclusive. I am also so aware of the responsibility of representing my fine string colleagues while I am here. In many ways, I, for these students, am the face of orchestral string music. I promise to represent you all with love, musicianship, and care. After all, this is a small community. We all seem to know each other in some interesting and important way. And, many of these students will be running into each other (and us!) for the rest of their lives. I want their memories of this experience to be rich – in the relationships, the music-making, the learning, and scholarship.
For now, we will endure another day of high-90's heat and work diligently to further the cause of classical orchestral music and the arts in general. Opportunities are everywhere!
In the coming weeks, I will be chronicling many of my experiences as a first-year faculty member at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Interlochen, Michigan. I am excited to be on the faculty this year and will be conducting the Intermediate Concert Orchestra during the second three-week session of the camp. I am also particularly pleased that my wife and sons could come with me. We are all staying in one of the cabins at the facility and my oldest son is attending the camp as a day-camper.
We arrived here yesterday after two days in the family van and an overnight with family in Pittsburgh, then a night in Ann Arbor, MI. As soon as we arrived at about 2:00 PM, we felt welcome and appreciated. We quickly received the keys to our cabin and obtained much of the information that we needed on our schedules, activities, and other details.
Today was spent getting our son situated with his camp details, scheduling his auditions, and setting up our home for the next several weeks. We even snuck in a swim in the beautiful lake that is beside the camp.
This evening, we were treated to a wonderful performance by the World Youth Symphony Orchestra in the famous Kresge Auditorium. The ensemble performed Eternal Vow from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Internet Symphony No 1, "Eroica," conducted by the composer of the works, Tan Dun. Then, they performed The Rite of Spring, by Igor Stravinsky. The performances were fantastic and a great way for us all to get into the spirit of Interlochen. My children particularly enjoyed the Internet Symphony! We also really enjoyed the performance of the Interlochen Theme (the theme from Hanson's Symphony No 2, "The Romantic"). Following the Interlochen Theme, the audience departs the hall without applause. Very cool!
All in all, we are thrilled to be here and looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Just a quick note to remind everyone how handy it is to travel with an NS Design CR Series Violin for practice in hotel spaces. I am on the road with my family - heading up to Interlochen, MI to conduct for a few weeks and my 14 year old son will be attending the camp. We spent a night in a hotel in Ann Arbor last night and he wanted to take a few minutes to run over his audition piece for orchestra and seating placement at the camp. We didn't want to disturb the other guests with his acoustic instrument, so I told him to plug his Ipod headphones into my CR violin. He practiced for about 45 minutes without bothering a soul and felt really good about his preparation.
It is easy to overlook this important feature of the CR series instruments. They sound fantastic in headphones and don't require any other hardware. All you need is a set of earbuds or headphones with a mini-plug and you are good to go!
I will be posted updates periodically from Interlochen over the next few weeks. So, look for more posts in the near future!