Monday, June 29, 2015

Interlochen 2015 Opening Thoughts

Today marked the first rehearsal of my 5th season at Interlochen with the Intermediate Concert Orchestra (ICO).  I love working this with group and always enjoy my time at Interlochen.  For me, it a wonderful period of music-making, concert attendance, time with colleagues from around the country, and personal rejuvenation that I have come to rely on and anticipate throughout the regular academic year. 

Today, I met a great bunch of kids that are ready to work together, learn and grow as musicians, learn and grow as people, and invest in ensemble and the magnificent world of orchestral music. I know we will make some amazing music this summer.

Each year, I have learned that there are some constants that I can look forward to at the start of camp; greeting old friends on the faculty at initial meetings, meeting new faculty members, greeting former students from past summers, marveling at the beautiful lakes and scenery in Northern Michigan and many others.   One of these constants is the inspiring opening remarks to the faculty from Ted Farraday, Vice President of Educational Programs at Interlochen, at our opening faculty meeting.  Ted is a 24/7 educator.  I have learned over the years that he is always thoughtful and prepared when placed in front of a microphone.  He is always teaching in a perfect way for the setting he is faced with.  At our opening faculty meeting, he has a way of setting a course for the summer. He provides a backdrop and in some ways, a mission for the summer.  I always look forward to these remarks and feel they provide a bit of direction for me as I am still trying to wind down from the previous academic year and get psyched up for the summer ahead.  

I should say here that my dear friend and former colleague, Dr. Gerald Boarman, had a way of doing the same thing.  He would always give some sort of charge at the beginning of the school year.  I would usually write down his words and reflect on them from time to time throughout the year.  Was I really meeting those ideals and expectations in my daily work?  It was really effective for me as a teacher and a professional. Direction is so important.  

This week, Ted encouraged us to reflect on the following model. When teaching the arts, we are dealing with issues of skill, intellect, emotion, and imagination.  He encouraged us to consider how we are nurturing each of these areas in our daily contact with students and in our teaching.

As I consider my role as a conductor and music instructor, both at Interlochen and at the NC School of Science and Math, I am reminded that each of these areas is absolutely integral to the process of teaching my subject.  And, upon further reflection, isn't that the goal in all disciplines?  So for now, I will simply reflect on how these will find their way into my work with ICO this summer. In doing so, I know that I will begin thinking about my upcoming work at NCSSM in the fall and beyond.


As a pedagogue, this one should be self-evident. But, perhaps folks don't always realize the role of a conductor in promoting skill in the plays he directs.  This is particularly important in an orchestra such as ICO.  Today, we dealt with a very specific tuning procedure, specific expectation for playing position, ways of approaching inner rhythm in the ensemble, the concept of direction of musical line (approach, arrive, depart), specific universal notations and markings that musicians place in a score and when to place them, when to make eye contact with the conductor, and a variety of other specific skills.  And today was the first day!!  Sure, by later in the concert cycle, we will be dealing more with emotion and imagination, but today was about the skills.


Have you ever noticed that bright kids often gravitate to musical pursuits?  I believe that one reason for this is that there is an unending opportunity for stretching the intellect in music.  You never really know it all.  My role this summer is to push the intellectual boundaries of notation, rhythm, pitch, fingering, communication, syncopation, feel, and historical context for each of these students from their current individual level in a context that they can understand and grasp. Today, I encouraged my students to mark their parts and take notes so sufficiently that they only have to solve each musical equation one time. Why re-solve a puzzle every time you encounter it?  This summer we will solve many musical equations.  What an opportunity! 


This one has Interlochen and the camp experience written all over it.  One of my great frustrations at NCSSM is the lack of concentrated, consistent rehearsal time for my ensemble in the midst of students' busy and varied schedules.  It is tough to invest emotionally when you are so stretched out.  But here at Interlochen, we have time to invest.  The students invest in each other, in their conductors, in the repertoire, in the expectation, in their own advancement, and it ultimately shows up in performance.  Emotional investment doesn't happen by accident.  It has to be promoted, demonstrated, and even required by the leader.  I am invested emotionally.  It is really easy to be emotionally invested here.  The place is beautiful and the people are beautiful.  The common theme of beauty and art is intoxicating and the investment is natural.  Sadly, I have learned over the years that not all musicians or performances are the product of emotional investment.  But here, that investment is a large part of the equation.


When we think of the Arts, we think of imagination.  Creating is built on imagination.  But for us classical musicians, that isn't always front and center.   After all, we are all about re-creating someone else's vision.  The great challenge for a conductor is to bring the element of imagination to every note in a piece.  We must breathe life into a work, well beyond the notation on the page.  I love this challenge and I truly desire to challenge my students to stretch their imagination in the ensemble as well.  Other areas of the arts do this a little more organically.  Writers work with a blank page, composers start with blank manuscript, artist have their canvas or clay.  

Today, a student mentioned that she was concerned that the repertoire that I had programmed was not challenging enough for her following the first rehearsal.  (I am never surprised by this remark and I certainly am not offended by it.)  It simply represents a misunderstanding of all that is involved in this process.  Learning and playing the correct notes and rhythms is only the first step in the process.  There are so many more steps to the ensemble goals that involve developing skill, intellect, emotion, and imagination.  My hope is that she will find all of these and more in the next few weeks while playing in my orchestra.  

So, there are some of my quick reflections on the opening remarks of my friend Ted Farraday. I certainly took note of his words and charge at the beginning of camp and will revisit them from time to time this summer and again as school begins in August at NCSSM.  As I think about NCSSM, I know that my colleagues in the Math, Science, and Humanities Departments all encourage these four areas as part of their daily work.  The culture of math modeling, for example, requires great imagination and NCSSM students have earned much international recognition for this very aspect of their approach to math.  One only need see a few of the research presentations of our science students to understand the depth of emotional investment that goes into that work, on top of the obvious skill and intellect involved.  I could go on and on here.

For now, I am ready to get going.  Today was a blast and I can't wait for rehearsal tomorrow.   It is going to be a great summer!!


1 comment:

  1. I talked to my daughter this evening and she told me how to find your blog and read about your first rehearsal. I love the photos on twitter, too.

    Personally I like having direction in anything I am doing. I also like the four areas you hope to focus on while teaching my daughter and the other student musicians.

    They are fortunate to have such a passionate teacher.

    It sounds like it'll be a great summer. Thank you.

    -Christine R., mother to camper Kira W. in the 1st violin section.