Friday, March 2, 2012

Mini-term Journal Entries 2012

The following are journal entries from my students on the various concerts and events that occurred as part of Mini-term 2012.
Our schedule was as follows:

Friday, Feb 24-Sunday, Feb 26
Eastern Regional Orchestra hosted by NCSSM. There were 17 student participants from NCSSM.

Today was a pretty tiring full day of rehearsal, 9am – 9pm with breaks for meals. We had seating auditions during sectionals. I ended up with 19th chair, but Connor and I made a deal that whoever got the higher chair would join the lower chair so we could be stand partners. My stand partner moved up to take his seat and we shared the 10th stand together. Dr. MacLeod made a point of discussing seating with us and told us that she didn’t care where we sat; we were still a part of the orchestra and playing the same music as everyone else in the section. She encouraged us to lead from the back, which is what Mr. Laird tells us to do all the time. Dr. MacLeod also made a comparison with math class: does it make sense for everyone to take a test and then put the people who scored the lowest in the back? I’ve always wondered if seating auditions are completely based on how well we play, or if they also take our grade level into account, since seniors won’t be able to go to Honors in the fall.

Monday, Feb 27
UNC Greensboro School of Music, 3 concert offerings
Voice recital, Viola Recital at 5:30, Saxophone recital at 7:30
What else can I say but “wow?” I thoroughly enjoyed both recitals more than I had expected to. The voice recital was very interesting because it included two African American students. I did not expect that at all! Often times, when I think of music majors I think of people similar to myself, but being at the recital made me realize that music is spread across every race, culture, and country out there. It makes me feel so happy to be a member of the music community. The saxophone recital left me speechless. The guy who performed seemed to be a bit shy, but he turned out to be the most fantastic saxophone player I have ever heard. His techniques were masterful and amazing, and it was an absolute joy to hear music from his home country of Turkey. I also really liked the first piece “Balafon” because of how interesting his playing was and how the clicking of his keys added an almost percussion-like feature to the piece. I could definitely tell he enjoyed performing and that he still has deep emotional ties to his birthplace. I was sitting next to who seemed to be his father, and it was great to see the connection he also shared with his son as the musician.


Tonight we drove to UNC Greensboro and listened to two concerts: Gisel Wichem on the viola and a saxophone recital. The recitals were both in the same hall in the music building. I thought the hall was nice and set up a good atmosphere but was aggravated how the pews creaked so much. Wichem played songs including four movements from Romeo and Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev. I thought some of the songs were good, but I just couldn’t connect to the music. I could see people all around me nodding off and being disinterested. The saxophonist played songs including Balafon by Christian Lauba and I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Pavel Friedman. Unlike Wichem’s these songs were mesmerizing and everyone was intrigued by the music. I was amazed by his technique in Balafon in the way how he used overtoning to hit the really high notes, something that I have only been able to do for one note, and how he hit the pads so hard it truly felt like the percussion. His use of circular breathing really impressed me with how long he was able to play. In the Turkish songs at the end, I was impressed by his super-fast tonguing and just how much he enjoyed himself up there. I came in expecting the viola was going to be better but was pleasantly surprised with how much better the saxophone was. I felt truly validated by this guy because people had been giving flack for not being a true orchestra player but he took down the viola one-on-one.

Tuesday, Feb 28
Duke Music Department “The Music of Bill Robinson”

We researched Bill Robinson, and I had already read his bio – but he a really interesting guy. He a physics professor at NCSU and has had serious arthritis which ended his violin and piano playing. I was expecting different, contemporary yet palatable music for this concert. We all noticed in our program that the tempos were almost a joke (with Allegro con brouhaha and Adagio con queso). The first piece was amazing. I loved the way the melodies played off of each other and it wasn’t based around the normal harmonic chord progression. It toyed with my ideas of tension and release, but they were definitely there. It was also such an interesting combination with a piano, cello and clarinet. Then Bill Robinson talked about his generic music getting a generic response, and that for the first 20 years of his composing career he wasn’t writing for the musicians. When he found musician friends like Eric Prichard and others, and wrote music specifically for them, it really came alive. I found this to be interesting, and I will remember it as I continue to compose because music is really a community. The second piece was great. Eric Prichard was absolutely amazing! I really loved the 2nd and 3rd movements of that piece; they showed off his skill and range. Then the clarinet sextet played which had great sound and communication between these top-notch performers. I thought it was interesting that they restarted the piece for the recording, but the second time, I could really tell that the melodies fit together better. I loved the colors in the 3rd movement of the piece and the 4th movement had great purpose, sound and dissonance.

Wednesday, Feb 29
Duke University, Edgar Meyer Bass Masterclass

The first piece I listened to today, which was written by Edgar Meyer himself, has been the most ear-pleasing music I have heard so far. It was a welcome break from the contemporary/musically foreign (to me) music that I have experienced in the last two days. Edgar Meyer was simply amazing. He has the same passion for playing that he had in 1988 during the bass solo that we watched in the morning. It was inspiring to see him play with fire and love for his instrument. I was amazed at the ease with which he seemed to play. His technical skill was clearly on display, and yet he made it seem very easy. As for the first piece itself, which consisted of a quintet with two violins, a cello, a viola, and a bass, my favorite part was a repeating line between the first and second violins. The second violin repeated the first, and the result was a melody that sounded like it would go on forever. The second piece, which was the “Trio in B-Flat” by Franz Schubert, was of a bit less quality, in my opinion. There was a violinist, a cellist, and a pianist. Although I loved the beauty of the piece and the tone quality of the violinist, the cellist seemed a bit nervous. There were several difficult shifts that he had trouble reaching. Compared to the first piece, the sheer musicality of the second seemed subpar to me.
This was the first master class I have ever attended, and I enjoyed it a lot. I wasn’t sure of the music that was going to be played, but I enjoyed both pieces and hearing Edgar Meyer give advice to the players. I believe this has been my favorite evening trip so far.


Today, we went to Edgar Meyer’s master class. I expected for one bass student to perform a piece, and then Edgar Meyer would stop the student and give him or her suggestions. However, instead of one student, there were several students, none of which played the bass. Typically when people are warming up, I don’t pay attention to the musicians. However, they got my attention as soon as they started playing, because the piece they were playing was so beautiful. At first I thought it was variations on some folk song, because folk songs are so pretty. But once I got the program, I saw that the piece of written by Edgar Meyer himself, and I immediately respected him even more. The best part about this evening was listening to the string quartet and Meyer play the piece without any stops. It was also really cool watching him play the bass, because I didn’t know it could do so many things! However, once he started to actually coach the players, it was more boring. It was hard to hear Meyer and the stopping and starting of the pieces lead to me losing interest. Despite losing interest after a while, I’m still glad I went and got to see one of the most amazing bassist in the world perform and coach.

Thursday, March 1
Wake Forest University “Imani Winds”

Due to the impressiveness of the youtube video that we watched in class, it was natural that I was extremely hyped for the Imani Winds concert. The pre-concert lecture was a great addition to the program because wind quintets are generally not typical groups and need to be introduced. The lecturer kept things interesting and gave a largely holistic presentation about the group. The pieces they played were Travesias Panamenas (Danilo Pérez), Wind Quintet, Op. 10 (Pavel Haas), Quintette en Forme de Choros (Heitor Villa-Lobos), Dance Mediterranea (Simon Shaheen), and Klezmer Dances (Traditional), as well as two original pieces (composed by members of the group) entitled Tzigane (Valerie Coleman) and Homage to Duke (Jeff Scott). I especially enjoyed the mid-concert explanations of all of the pieces. For instance, one that was commissioned for them, the Travesias Panamenas, had a rich history of the struggles of the Native Americans versus Europeans that related to the composer’s country, Panama, in a personal way. Music is all about a personal connection and communication, both which were booming in this concert. Musicians were exchanging glances all the time, even smiling at times; it was quite obvious that they enjoy what they do. A personal touch was added to the concert by including pieces composed by the group, and explaining the history of each piece also enhances this feeling. Overall, the concert was fantastic, well worth the $12 admission price, and a nice relief from modern music.


I really sort of had low expectations for this concert because I thought to myself “How in the world can they fill hours of interesting music with just 5 instruments?” The reason I was so skeptical was because I wasn’t really envisioning the different colors each instrument could produce, much less the overall color when those colors were combined. I absolutely loved the concert, and talking with them afterwards was just a blast. This is what Mini-term should be: a chance to do something you couldn’t normally do. Meeting a world-class wind ensemble was just that, and talking to them was just so wonderful.

Imani Winds at Wake Forest

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing the Imani Winds play at Wake Forest University. This was part of the Wake Forest “Secrest” Artist Series at the University. What a night of music! The fantastic woodwind quintet emanated musicianship, scholarship, and purpose from the first note to the last. I took 14 students from NCSSM to this performance and can genuinely say that each one of them was thrilled with the performance.

We also attended the pre-concert lecture given by Wake Forest Music Instructor, Eileen Young. She outlined the woodwind quintet instrumentation, history, ranges, etc. and then gave a brief history of the Imani Winds with a few recorded selections as well. The two hour drive was SO worth it.

Having said that, my greatest pleasure of the evening was opening the program and seeing that the ensemble was performing a work by Danilo Perez, entitled Travesias Panamenas, which was written specifically for the Imani Winds. Danilo, you see, is an old friend of mine from our undergraduate years at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Danilo came to IUP from Panama in 1984 and was my friend and musical collaborator as part of the independent jazz group, Jazztet, during those years. He is now among the most influential and dynamic musicians and composers of our time.

Back in the ‘80’s, I remember Danilo to be a fun-loving, sort of naïve guy who could just play the heck out of the piano. He could tear it up on both classical and jazz music and had the most incredible “ears” that I had ever encountered. (By the way, that ensemble had some pretty fantastic mucians in it that have gone on to real jazz greatness, including saxophonist Rich DiMuzio, guitarist Bob Ramsey, and, sadly, I can’t remember the name of our drummer who was equally fantastic. I was clearly the weak link in that band, laying down bass-lines as best as I possibly could.)

Danilo was a good guy from the start. He was so nice to me and everyone that he encountered. I remember one night he was trying to teach me how to play a samba bassline, in broken English, and I just couldn’t get that emphasis on “4” that is required along with the syncopated Latin feel of the style. He never got mad, although I am certain he was frustrated by this violinist that couldn’t get the line on the bass.

I also have really fond memories of ther first time I was exposed to music notation software and real-time entry by playing a midi keyboard. We sat Danilo down at the keyboard and he blasted out what seemed like millions of notes, up and down the keyboard, and we then printed it out. All the while, the 5 or 6 of us in the room were simply mystified by both the technology and the technical prowess of Danilo. Amazing.

Travesias Panamenas certainly did not disappoint last night. It is a musical history of Panama that includes i. The Arrival, ii. Jungle Expedition, iii. The Chase, iv. The Funeral, and v. The Sacrifice. Imani just simply knocked it out of the park. I could picture my old friend though each and every note. It was so familiar and so perfect. It was really a thrill. I was also really happy to see that Interlochen Center for the Arts had a hand in the original commissioning of this work. I am proud to be associated with Interlochen as a conductor for their Summer Arts Camps and equally thrilled that they have supported Danilo Perez and the Imani Winds.

Our Mini-term session comes to a close today. In coming days, I will be sharing some of the journal entries that our students will submit to me as they reflect on their week of performance and concert attendance. It sure has been a great week. Teachers – be sure to take your students to great concerts. I have been so enriched by the discussions that these events have generated among my students and I know that their lives have been enriched as well.