Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Last Concert of the Summer

This will be my final entry of repertoire ideas and thoughts for the summer of 2013.  (I hope there are not too many groans out there!  I am sure there are a few.)  For our final concert of the 2013 season, the Interlochen Intermediate Concert Orchestra will be doing 4 selections:  The Speckled Hen Overture (William Hofeldt), Czardas (Monti/ arr. Percy Hall), Fantasia on a 17th Century Tune (Richard Stephan), and I Can Hear Ya Knockin’ (Thom Sharp).

I first became aware of the Speckled Hen Overture this spring at the National ASTA Conference.  This is a cool little overture that includes a slow opening in 3, a lovely, flowing 6/8 section, another slow, expressive section in 3, and finishes with a jumpy “hoe down.”  It is listed as a grade 3.5 and that is accurate in my opinion.  There are numerous opportunities for expressive, dynamic playing in the opening sections and my orchestra has focused a great deal on creating the contrasts that are apparent in the music.   The allegro final section is a bunch of fun and provides challenges for all sections of the ensemble.  The bass section has to hold its own as the celli often break into melodic or counter-melodic lines. 

I have a couple of hot shot fiddle players in this ensemble, so the classic, Monti Czardas, was a late addition.  I wanted to feature my 4 top violins and even added a little cadenza and bit of humor for my principal cellist.  I think this will be a show-stopper.  I want to thank the arranger, Percy Hall, for giving us permission to use this arrangement on very short notice.  He has been wonderful to work with and I was so pleased to know that his granddaughter is on staff at Interlochen this summer, managing the junior ensembles.  I had actually met her previously and didn’t make the family connection.  This is such a small world!

Richard Stephan’s Fantasia on a 17th Century Tune is one that I have done many times before.  Based on the hymn tune known best with the text, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” this haunting melody flows throughout the work.  The rich harmonies with many twists and turns in tempo and style make this an interesting and moving piece in any program.  It is very accessible, features the cello section,  and really compliments a young orchestra.

Finally, we will finish with Thom Sharp’s In Can Her Ya Knockin’, an up tempo swing tune in D minor.  This cool little tune calls for a solid bass section walking through nearly the entire work.  There is a difficult, but super cool, shout chorus toward the end of the tune.  Those of you that know me, know that I love Thom Sharp’s writing and arranging.  The jazz orchestra sounds that he creates are second to none.  This one has an open solo section in the middle.  We will be featuring the Interlochen Intermediate Jazz Instructor, David Kay, on tenor sax in this one and I will probably pull out the electric violin as well.  ;)  Lots of opportunities here to teach swing style eights, be-bop, a bit of improv, reading jazz figures, and counting, counting, counting!

I think our last concert is going to really rock.  Lots of variety and crowd pleasing music.



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Time to Head South!

I am wrapping up my last week at Interlochen for the 2013 summer season and we, overall, have had a great summer.  It has been filled with ups and downs for sure. 

Many of you know that my wife’s Mom passed away at the end of our first week in Michigan.  That made for some emotional goodbyes, lengthy trips back and forth to Pittsburgh, one missed concert for me and Joe, and some great teaching opportunities for me with my Intermediate Concert Orchestra here.  It was a tricky start to the summer and, for my wife, the transition was very different that we ever imagined.  We finally settled in to our summer around July 10.

My family has once again enjoyed our time in Northern Michigan.  We have made trips to Manistee, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, and many other beautiful spots.  We have enjoyed kayaking on rivers, swimming in beautiful lakes, rainbows, picnics, hiking, Frisbee golf, biking, fires by the lake, fires in the cabin fireplace, and many other activities.  We have seen performances of Shostakovich, Brahms, Kodaly, Bach, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Britten, Prokofiev, and many other great orchestral composers.  My kids have played in orchestras, taken private violin lessons, played violin, bass, and guitar, played ping pong in the Minnesota room, and fully enjoyed the Interlochen experience.  We have experienced extreme heat and really cold nights, rain and sun, late nights and early mornings, as well as early nights and late mornings.

I have had great conversations and interactions with wonderful colleagues too many to mention here.  I have discussed the topic of subdivision, hall acoustics, movement in the orchestra, string pedagogy, and many others in great detail. 

Having said all of this, it is definitely time to head home.  The prospect of the upcoming academic year at NCSSM looms large and I have a great deal of work to do.  In-service activities begin next Tuesday and my inbox is filling up with e-mails from students and school administrators with important questions and information on the upcoming start of school.  NCSSM needs my attention now. 

I am very ready to be home to my leather couch, constant internet, my office, my home studio, kurig coffee maker, my own bed, ESPN when I want it, kitchen, my NCSSM Arts colleagues and closest friends (Riggs, Sampieri, and Stuntz), Blacknall Church, my road bike, and many more things.  My life at home is awesome.

Interlochen is such a special place.  It is a retreat for me and for my family.  It is a different pace here.  Interlochen is a place with different priorities.  I will return home refreshed and ready to attack life in Durham and NCSSM for another school year.  We have a little bit more to do here, though.  I have a concert on Saturday and Matt will play for Les Preludes on Sunday night.  By  Monday at 5:00 AM, we will be on the road.  It has been a good and productive summer.



Friday, July 26, 2013

In the Company of Angels, William Hofeldt

In the Company of Angels

On Friday, July 12, the Interlochen Intermediate Concert Orchestra gave their second concert of the summer season.  The repertoire for this concert included Overture to Don Quixote Suite (Telemann), Convergence (Nunez), and In the Company of Angels (William Hofeldt).  Now, my guess is that any music educators that are reading this have a pretty good feel for the Don Quixote Overture and possibly Convergence.  But you may be doing a double-take when you see the title In the Company of Angels.  So, I will focus most of my remarks today on the latter. 

Many of you know that over the past 4 or 5 years, I have been heavily involved in ASTA’s National Committee on School Orchestras and Strings (CSOS).  Each year we sponsor a pre-conference session on the Wednesday before the national ASTA conference.  During the two years that I chaired the committee, we hosted panel discussions, featuring noted string educators from each level of school teaching: elementary, middle, high, and higher ed.  In 2012 we had hoped to include my friend and mentor, Dorothy Straub, as the moderator of the panel. 

For those who don’t know Dorothy, she is former President of MENC and long-time leader in ASTA.  I first met Dorothy in 1988, when she was co-teaching a week long string pedagogy workshop at Central Connecticut State University with Marvin Rabin and Jim Kjelland. I attended that workshop and my life and teaching career were set on a new path as a result.  Dorothy was a big part of that.  I remember that she taught a string repertoire class that was very enlightening.  She also taught a class on traditional string pedagogy that I have applied to my teaching throughout my career.  But, most importantly, she encouraged me and gave me confidence that I was on the right track, that I had what it took to be a leader in my field, and that I was taking the right measures to eventually be successful and impact lives.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to me as a young educator.  Over the years, we have remained close.  I have conducted for her up in Fairfield Connecticut.  We have communicated following successes and surrounding big events.   She has been a steadfast friend and supporter.

Getting back to the story, sadly, Dorothy was not able to attend the 2012 conference because she was recovering from a recent illness.  Fast forward to 2013.  My friend, Chris Selby was now chair of the event and he invited our friend Bob Gillespie to be the primary presenter for the pre-conference session.  Bob decided to do a session on selecting great repertoire and invited William Hofeldt to participate.  As we discussed Dorothy and her inability to attend the previous year, Bob asked Bill if he could write something to dedicate to Dorothy for the immense influence she had on so many in our field.  Bill generously agreed and so we proceeded with the conference.  The resulting piece is called In the Company of Angels and a high school orchestra from Long Island that was serving as a demo orchestra for the session premiered it at the session.  Dorothy was in attendance and it was a magnificent afternoon. 

Following that session, I asked Bill Hofeldt if I might be able to give a public premier this summer at Interlochen and again, he generously agreed.  This is a beautiful work that is absolutely gorgeous.  It is unmistakably Hofeldt when you hear it. (Those of you that are familiar with his writing know exactly what I mean.) It is scored for string orchestra and harp.  The violin and viola lines all have significant divisi, providing for a very rich sound.  The top line of the first violins goes up to sixth position, but that is in octaves and the part could easily be done completely in third position and below.  The harp part is not difficult and can be mastered by a fairly inexperienced harpist.  The work begins in G minor and modulates to G major.  I would call it a technical grade 4, but a musical grade 5.  It will be published by Kjos in the coming months.  The score includes the dedication, “To Dorothy Straub, 2013.”

The piece begins with a plaintive, slow section in G minor.  I conducted this almost rubato in our performance.  It is in a slow “4” and features the cello section with arpeggiated melodic lines, in clear Hofeldt fashion.  Eventually the melody moves to the violins and the harmonies and lines get very lush, ending on a quiet dominant chord.  The piece then moves to G major and is in a calm, lyrical “3”.  The melody begins in the low resister for the violins and the celli are, again providing a lovely arpegiated accompaniment.  Eventually the melody moves to the upper register of the violins, providing a really nice direction for the piece.  The divisi violas have a beautiful counter melody.  The seconds are given ample melodic material and this section ends on a forte E Major chord.  There is a lovely quiet bridge section featuring the upper strings.  The low string return for the end of that section and then the piece moves into a brief coda that I conducted, again, quite rubato. 

I would encourage everyone to check this piece out when it is published.  I had so many folks asking me about it after our performance.  Several told me they were in tears during the performance.  My students absolutely loved it.  It is simply beautiful music.  I am so indebted to William Hofeldt for permitting me to do it this summer.  It was definitely the musical highlight of the summer for me. 

For those of you that don’t know Convergence, by Carold Nunez, it is definitely worth checking out.  I have done this piece several times over the years, but not very much in the last 10 years.  It features a beautiful chorale in the opening and then moves into a dancy section that features frequent shifts from 7/8 to 4/4.  In the end, the two sections “converge” and become one.  This is a powerful piece and is great for teaching rhythmic concepts and tone production. 

Of course, the Don Quixote Overture is a classic baroque overture, beginning with a largo subdivided section featuring double dotted eighth-notes, then moving into light and fun allegro section.  The piece ends with a return to the largo opening feel.  There is ample opportunity in this work to perfect terraced dynamics, rhythmic accuracy, interplay between sections, subdivision, and strong intonation. 

In all, I recommend all of these works and simply had a ball with this concert.  It is one that I will remember for years to come!



Thursday, July 25, 2013

Repertoire for ICO Concert Number 1

Many of you know that the first week of our summer here at Interlochen was quite trying as my wife’s mother was hospitalized the weekend that we arrived, and she went back to Pennsylvania to be with her.  Sadly, her Mom was gone within only a few days and I was not able to bring our first program to conclusion during the time we were tending to funeral arrangements and family needs.  I am quite thankful that my friend and colleague, Andy Moran, stepped in a conducted the first ICO concert of the season. The students really pulled together with a sense of community and care for me and performed like seasoned veterans.

Nonetheless, I had run most of the rehearsals for the first concert and would like to share some of my thoughts about the repertoire.  The program was February: Carnival (Tchaikovsky/ arr. Steven Brook), Mandoline (Faure/ arr. Thom Sharp) and The Brilliant Red Shandandan Flowers (Traditional Chinese Shanxi Folk Song/ arr Albert Wang).  Each of these fine pieces are actually orchestrations rather than arrangements and fully stand on their own merits as such.

February: Carnival (Tchaikovsky/ arr. Steven Brook) is taken from a set of piano works entitled The Seasons, Opus 37A, that Tchaikovsky wrote for a monthly music publication, Nouvellist, in 1876.  It is, obviously, the work from the month of February and included the following poetic epigraph:

                At the lively Mardi Gras
                Soon a large fest will overflow

There are many characteristic Tchaikovsky elements in the piece, including playful chromatic rhythmic passages in the A and A” sections and a beautiful lyrical “B” section that is unmistakably Tchaikovsky.  The piece, itself, is in D major, but offers plenty of opportunity to teach chromatics.  All sections of the string orchestra are challenged both technically and from an ensemble perspective.  I really recommend this work.  It is listed as a Grade IV and I feel like that is very accurate.

Next, Mandoline (Faure/ arr. Thom Sharp), has quickly become a favorite of mine.  I have actually had it in the ICO folders for the past 3 years and simply hadn’t gotten to it yet.  I decided that this year was the year.  Mandoline is actually a solo work for soprano and piano.  The text of the song, by French poet, Paul Verlaine is as follows:

The givers of serenades
And the lovely women who listen
Exchange insipid words
Under the singing branches.
There is Thyrsis and Amyntas
And there's the eternal Clytander,
And there's Damis who, for many a
Heartless woman, wrote many a tender verse.
Their short silk coats,
Their long dresses with trains,
Their elegance, their joy
And their soft blue shadows,
Whirl around in the ecstasy
Of a pink and grey moon,
And the mandolin prattles
Among the shivers from the breeze.

The piece accompaniment voices have a guitar-like quality and provide a rhythmic and tonal foundation for the beautiful melody that is passed between all voices.  The trick to this one, in my opinion, is for every part to know when they have the accompaniment, the melody, or the melodic obligato voice.  One each section truly knows their role in the ensemble, the piece really works. There are definitely some tricky tonalities in play here, like a brief switch from the melody in G major to a measure of F# major between “verses.”  There is also a brief G minor bridge section.  In all, this arrangement provides a great challenge for a young orchestra.  Many of you will recognize the arranger, Thom Sharp, from his many works in the jazz idiom for young orchestras.  I use them all the time and love his compositions.  This one, is not that!  It is all Faure and really well-done, but not easy.  I did have to do some work to make the bowings all make sense in this one. But, that didn’t take a great deal of time.

Finally, The Brilliant Red Shandandan Flowers (Traditional Chinese Shanxi Folk Song/ arr Albert Wang) was really a great change of pace on this program.  While it was the least technically challenging work on this program, it provides some many opportunities for the ensemble to really listen and work as a single unit. It opens with an adagietto section that provides ample opportunity for discussion and rehearsal on phrasing and the natural push/pull of ensemble playing.  It then moves into an allegro section that calls for a marked bow stroke, low in the bow, and a very articulate style from every player.  Celli get the melody in this section and can really shine here.  The piece returns to tempo I and finishes with a beautiful forte section that calls for lots of bow and sound.  While it is tough to define a key here, I guess I would define it as basically A Dorian throughout the work, but ending on a huge A major chord.  It is a great finisher for any concert.

I was so bummed to not conduct the performance of this program.  I really loved rehearsing all of these works.  I can’t wait to hear the recording of the performance.  I heard that it was fantastic and have no doubts that it was!!



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Repertoire for ICO Concert 3

Hi friends.  This post is primarily for my friends that are string educators or orchestra directors.  I am currently in my 5th week at Interlochen center for the arts this summer.  I conduct the Intermediate Concert Orchestra which is comprised of about 40 string players, ages 12-16, with a wide range of playing levels from 1st or 2nd year to some fairly advanced players.  The top kids in my orchestra play in positions and many are working on concerti like Accolay and Bruch, or comparable for cello and viola.  So, it is a bit of a programming challenge. 

I like to occasionally  discuss the repertoire that I have programmed and give some related thoughts in case you are interested.
For this concert, we have three selections:  Egmont Overture (Beethoven/ arr. McCashin),  Andante, from Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony (Mendelssohn/ arr. Malyneux), and Brook Green Suite, Mvts. I and III (Holst).  With the exception of the Holst, I am thinking that many of you may not be familiar with these, so I will give a little info.  I like them both a great deal.

The McCashin arrangement of Egmont is a real challenge.  Both violin parts and the viola part have significant divisi sections.  It includes the sostenuto ma non troppo introduction (in 6), the initial allegro (in one) with the hemiola introduction, and F major allegro con brio finale (in 4).  This is a super exciting arrangement and really challenges an orchestra of this level.  They key in this one is the independence of parts and really teaching and incorporating the proper style for a Beethoven work.  We have worked tirelessly on bow use and bow placement.  There has been a great deal of time spent on “inner rhythm”  coaching students to hear the eight or sixteenth note undercurrent throughout the piece.  The opening is in F minor, which certainly poses its challenges for a young orchestra. I must say that it has really come together in the last few rehearsals.  I feel like this group has been up to the rhythmic and technique challenge and will give a performance that is true to Beethoven style and intention.  The wind parts are all incorporated into the divisi string parts.  I recommend this arrangement if you have some time to live with it for an extended period of time.  Student musicians really have to internalize the ideas and get well past the “reading” phase of learning these parts.  I would call this a hard grade 4 or light grade 5.  The challenges are not so much in range, but in style and rhythm.  It is a pretty mature piece of music.  I always love Robert McCashin’s arrangements because they are very true to the original and maintain the integrity of intent of the composer.  It is an FJH publication.

The other unique arrangement that we are doing is Andante, from Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony (Mendelssohn/ arr.  Malyneux).  This one is not available commercially, but I would be happy to give you the contact information of the arranger.  I heard this done at an all-county event in Durham, NC a couple of months ago and just had to do it.  I contacted the arranger and he sent me the parts.  I have done some significant string edits to the parts (mostly bowings) and will send them to the arranger for possible incorporation into the parts.  This one is VERY true to the original.  The original is a beautiful violin I soli movement with only small wind interludes between “verses” of the song.  Malyneux has simply incorporated the wind interludes into the string parts and this is absolutely beautiful.  It is a great piece for teaching ensemble playing and the important push and pull of mastering a beautiful andante.  The first violins are certainly featured in this one, and are challenged with long beautiful phrased and many opportunities for expression.  The other sections have moments where they are featured while providing an overall undulating sixteenth note rhythmic bed for the firsts.  Just message me if you would like contact information for the arranger. 

Finally, we are doing the outer movements of the Brook Green Suite.  I am not going to give much commentary on this one, because I will bet that everyone who is interested in this sort of stuff has either performed or conducted this one, or both.  I am always hesitant to perform this sort of thing because every other conductor in the audience has “conducted the perfect interpretation and performance” of the work.  Everyone knows it, so the schmuck on stage doesn’t know what he is talking about!  That said, the first movement provides ample opportunities for counting rests, smooth ensemble entrances, and beautiful lyrical playing.  The third movement is a great test of compound meter and an exciting finale for any concert. 

We perform tonight at 6:30 and I can’t wait.  I have about 2 and half hours of final rehearsal this afternoon and I will use every minute of it!  Wish me luck!!  We are going to have a blast tonight.



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

One Life-Changing Evening in 1971

In 1971, I was in the first grade at East Pike Elementary School.  My teacher was Miss Rothera. My principal was Mr. Harry McFarland.  My Dad
was Director of Elementary Education for the Indiana Area (PA) School District and his office was in the same building.  I loved school and I loved the adults in my life for sure. 

One day, Miss Rothera told us that she had played the violin when she was in school.  That was it.  I would be a violinist, too.  I went home that night and announced the decision to my parents.  While I don’t remember the exact response, over the years, I have grown to remember it as, “No son of mine will play the violin.”  Now, I know my Dad better than that, and I am sure his response was much more gentle and understanding.  But the result was the same.  I would not be playing the violin.

A few nights later, our family was over at the McFarland’s house for dinner.  Remember, that Mr. McFarland was my principal, he and my dad were colleagues and friends, and we all attended the same church.  During the evening, his son, Dave, and I were kicking around in the basement and found an old fiddle.  We came tearing up the stairs to show our Dads and I was completely over the moon.  “Look at this old violin!!! I have to learn how to play it!”  I came to learn that Mr. McFarland had played the violin as a child as well.  (Pretty well, I am told!)  I the fiddle that we found had been his as a kid in the Westmoreland, PA area. 

Apparently, I was a little tough to live with after that because the violin was all that I could talk about.  After what I am sure was days of pestering, finally my Dad gave in to my enthusiasm.  (And probably my Mom’s urging.) They sought out an instrument and lessons for me. 

The next several chapters of this story include lessons with Heidi Peterson in her Mom’s beauty parlor down the hill from our house, years of lessons with Gloria Johnson, and a magnificent experience in undergraduate and graduate school, studying with Delight Malitsky.  I will have to cover some of those years in a later post.  Needless to say, that night at Mr. McFarland’s house changed the course of my life (and everyone else in my family) forever. 

Fast-forward to January 28, 2013. 

I came home from a long, but good day of work, ready to take my son, Cael, to basketball practice.  I noticed a large box in the foyer of our home and walked right past it.  I ate dinner, took Cael to practice and came home.  When I noticed the box, it clicked with me that it was my birthday and went ahead and opened it.  Imagine my surprise when there was an old violin case and upon closer inspection, the violin that had changed my life nearly 42 years earlier. 

I simply couldn't believe it.  There it was.  The 42 years simply melted away and I was holding that instrument that captured my imagination back when I was a little boy.  Nothing had changed.  I still loved it, wanted to play it.  Images of concerts, curtain calls, virtuosity, accolades, and expression filled my head again.

Of course, I called Mr. McFarland and we had a great conversation, catching up on many details of the violin, and his long-time plans to give it to me.  I was so pleased to be able to thank him and tell him how many times I had told the story over the years and thought of that pivotal night at his home.  Of course, he has followed my career and path over the years and had a good idea of the many places the violin and music had taken me.  The violin and orchestral music have really come to define so much about me in my life.  I play and teach every day. My sisters both play and teach.  All three of my sons play.  Matt is thinking about a career in music.  My sister’s daughters play.  And, here I sit, in the Interlochen Library as I enjoy my third summer on the conducting faculty here in this beautiful retreat for musicians of all ages.  I live a blessed life. Thanks, Mr. McFarland!

The instrument currently sits on the mantle of the fireplace in my home.  It will be more suitably displayed in the coming months and will be a conversation piece in my home for many years to come. 



Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Power of Habit

Hi friends.
I thought I should give you a quick update on my journey of losing some weight this summer.  Like much that I endeavor, this has provided some great food for thought and new ideas on string education and my work conducting orchestras.

First, some of the nitty gritty on the weight.  I have been keeping in close contact with both my high school fiend and my brother-in-law on our respective progress.  So far, my Memorial Day weight of 217 has diminished to 202 lbs. as of yesterday.  I have really done a good job of changing many of my eating habits.  Bottom line: I am being mindful of what I put in my mouth.

As a related sidebar to the weight issue, I picked up a book recently called "The Power of Habit," by Charles Duhigg.  It has numerous applications to this weigh-loss issue and really has helped me understand my habits (eating and others) in a profound way.

Many of you know that I have been thinking about the habits of mind of orchestral musicians in recent months and have read my articles or attended my conference sessions on the topic.  This book has shed new light on my work as a conductor and educator and will find its way  into my "Habits of Mind" session in the future and my teaching in profound ways.  I strongly recommend this book to all music educators and anyone that wants to modify your habits for a better life.

I have become acutely aware that the process of teaching music and conducting honors orchestras is to identify student habits, help student musicians buy into the fact that they have habits that are detrimental to the ensemble, and then work to develop good ensemble habits with the folks that in in front of me.  It is actually very simple and and very complex at the same time.  Habits are tough to break.  We have to WANT to change our habits.  It is clear to me that not all musicians that are in an ensemble want to change their habits.  That is where my job of convincing them comes in.  For that to occur, the musician has to see that there will be a payoff, or reward in the end.  (sounds a little Pavlovian, doesn't it!)

Anyway, this is the brief update.  There will certainly be more to come.  Meanwhile, pick up The Power of Habit.  It is a good one.