Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Interlochen 2016, ICO Concert #3

Today we are making our final preparations for the 2016 Intermediate Concert Orchestra's third concert of the summer season. It has been a wonderful week or so of rehearsals and ICO is really ready to give this performance. We have three pieces to perform on this concert and I know they are all going to be well received.

We will open the concert with Mendelssohn's Sinfonia # 7 in D Minor, Mvt 1. This is a wonderful String Symphony movement that will challenge any young string orchestra. It features wild dynamic swings, a contrapuntal texture at times as Mendelssohn is known to utilize, and requires independent counting from each section of the orchestra. I particularly love how the viola section is challenged in this piece. The ICO viola section in this session is certainly up to the task. This piece always requires a great deal of detailed rehearsal and the orchestra has risen to the task. My goal for the last two rehearsals is to really accentuate the rhythmic motion and variation in the peace and develop a little bit more of the dynamic nuance within each line of the work. This piece also provides ample opportunity for encouraging students to listen across the orchestra in an effort to solidify rhythmic stability.

Next, we will feature two of our esteemed cello faculty members, Dr. John Marshall and Dr. David Carter on the Vivaldi Double Cello Concerto in G Minor. It has been a wonderful experience to prepare the accompaniment for this work and I feel that providing the opportunity for these young musicians to accompany such fine soloists is rare, indeed. Again, this accompaniment provides ample opportunity for teaching young orchestral musicians to look past the notes and rhythms and to find the direction in a piece of music. I always tell students that their first job in playing Vivaldi is to make every note "sparkle." I am also pleased that my bassist in this ensemble, Jonathan, will be performing the continuo part along with a student harpsichordist. Again, this is a rare opportunity for such a young musician and he has truly risen to the task. The smile on his face during rehearsals has been truly gratifying for me.

We will finish our portion of the program with another great jazz string orchestra chart from my friend Tom Sharp. This one is called Mayfair Drive and is listed as Medium Difficult by Lucks Music. This chart features a cool solo bass line and some really cool string riffs and sounds. Since I had a harpsichord player around rehearsals for the Vivaldi, I asked Tom to give me something that a keyboard player could use in playing this piece.  He quickly send me the changes and a lead sheet for the pianist.  (It pays to know the composer!!) Then, one of our piano instructors, Alejandro Bernard-Papachryssanthou tweaked the part just a little bit more and we will be featuring our piano player, Isabella, with the orchestra on this piece. Like many of Sharp's charts for string orchestra, this requires no improvisation on the orchestra's part and allows for teaching the orchestra swing style and a variety of other idiomatically jazz concepts.

This concert will be live-streamed and broadcast live on the web on Wednesday, July 27 at 6:30 p.m. I hope that you can tune in and check out a great performance by the Interlochen 2016 Intermediate Concert Orchestra.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Reconnecting with Friends

Today I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a couple of friends from many years ago. While here at Interlochen during the summers, I often have the opportunity to see folks from around the country and rekindle old friendships. Occasionally, however, I have the opportunity to reconnect with friends from long ago in my life in ways that are completely unexpected. Today was one of those days.
First, this morning I had lunch with Mike, a student from the early 1990s at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Mike was a trumpet player in the Wind Ensemble and in my Orchestra. He was one of those students that  involved himself deeply in the lives of his teachers and allowed us to be deeply involved in his. I could always tell that we would be lifelong friends as he became an adult. Following his graduation from Eleanor Roosevelt High School, he remained in close touch with me and my colleague Sally Wagner. Mike had two very significant influences in my life during those years.
First, when my wife Barbra was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997, Mike came to me and asked if he could ride in her honor at an MS 150 Bike Tour event. Of course, I was honored that he would think to do this, and
upon not very much reflection, I asked him if he would mind if I rode with him. Mike and I rode in that event and the Eleanor Roosevelt High School Music Community really rallied around us. We raised over $5,000 between us for that Bike Tour event and it represented the beginning of many years of cycling events raising money for the MS Society for me. I believe that Mike and I rode in two or three MS Bike Tour events in those years.  We always had a blast.  I continued riding in them for many years after. Mike started it all for me. I continue to be a cycling enthusiasts today and all of that is due to Mike.
Secondly, many of you know that I love progressive rock music. Mike is responsible for turning me on to one of my all-time favorite progressive rock bands, Dream Theater. I will never forget the day he came into my office, handed me a Dream Theater CD, and told me to give it a listen. That CD was their early recording, Images and Words. I immediately loved it. It's still is one of my favorite recordings to this day. I think I own every Dream Theater record that has been made since. Mike had a good sense of my musical tastes and even as a young guy, he was confident enough to turn me on to this awesome band.
Mike and I had a great breakfast this morning. We swapped stories about our lives, families, work, and involvement in our respective churches. It was so comfortable to get together, drink some coffee, and catch up on 15 or 20 years of absence. What a wonderful way to spend my morning.
As I returned to Interlochen, I was exchanging text messages with a friend from my high-school days in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  She was dropping off her son at Interlochen for 3 weeks of intensive jazz bass study today. My friend, Jeanne, had called me several weeks ago to find out a little bit more about the camp when her son was encouraged to attend by a potential college professor who would be teaching here. As she researched the camp, she found out that I was on faculty here and reached out to me to get just a little more information. Today was their day to drop off their son. Jeanne and her husband Dan, another friend from high school, are just like I remember them from the early 1980s. I pulled into the parking lot just as they were saying goodbye to their son and we exchanged 15 or 20 minutes of wonderful conversation. We exchanged memories of classes, friendships, and musical activities. They told me a little bit about Scott's musical background and also of his sister's activities. They are such a lovely family. I know that their son is going to have a great time here at Interlochen. I am so excited that I can be a small connection to home while he is here. I am also thrilled that toward the end of camp we are going to be able to spend a little bit more time together catching up on the past 25 or 30 years.
It is so wonderful to rekindle old friendships. I really believe that our friendships and relationships make us who we are. Today, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. These folks we're a great reminder for me today. Thanks to all of you that are involved in my life and care for me. We all need each other; sometimes more than one could ever know.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Beneath the Irish Sky

Today, I have the pleasure of conducting a World Premiere Performance of a new piece of music by Peter Terry entitled, Beneath the Irish Sky. It is published by Carl Fischer Publications and is available for purchase at this time. This is a work for string orchestra and is a challenging grade 2.
I was absolutely thrilled last summer when Peter Terry approached me, here at Interlochen, regarding the possibility of collaborating on some new string orchestra music. I have been familiar with Peter's work for a number of years. The Intermediate Wind Symphony (Mary Land, conductor)  here at Interlochen frequently performs his works as part of their concert performances. He and I have known each other for several years but really became closer friends in the summer of 2015, when we meet several times for coffee and conversation. We talked about what might be appropriate for my ensemble here and Interlochen and other young string orchestras around the country.
In October of 2015, I received a note from Peter along with a PDF of the score for Beneath the Irish Sky. I read the work with my orchestra at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, we made a quick recording for Peter, and the rest is history. I loved the work from the first time we played it and I think it is very appropriate for young string orchestras in many respects.
The work starts with a lovely tune in a fast 3-4 time. It is reminiscent of broad landscapes, large skies, and features beautiful sounds with an Irish flavor. It is wistful, forward moving, and beautiful. As the opening section progresses, Terry introduces some rhythmic and sonic tension into the work which remind me of, perhaps, some dark clouds coming into the picture without a full-on storm developing in the Irish Sky.
Rather than continue down the line of a stormy, agitato "B" section, the metaphorical "Sky" clears up and a spontaneous Irish dance breaks out. This section is in 2/4 time and features a wonderful melody beginning in the first violins that eventually moves throughout the ensemble. It is rhythmically energetic and continually accelerates until the work ends with a rhythmically interesting and fantastically exciting presto.
Every section of the string orchestra is featured at some point in this work and there are particularly interesting parts for the second violin and viola sections. The work provides ample opportunities for instructors to develop an ensemble's skills in articulation, phrasing, and an intricate interplay between the voices and sections. All of the parts are very accessible and there are no significant technical challenges in the work that one wouldn't expect from a grade 3.5 piece.
The performance is at 7 p.m. this evening, Friday, July 15, 2016.
The performance will be live streamed at the following link: http://live.interlochen.org/corson-camera
A recording is also available on major music retailer websites and through the publisher, Carl Fischer. http://www.carlfischer.com/composer/terry-peter/
I encourage you to consider this work and hope that you enjoy the challenge and beauty of this fine writing.

5 Habits of Successful Musicians

Today is the penultimate day of rehearsals for my current group of musicians at Interlochen. Our concert is tomorrow and we are ready to give a great performance.

Yesterday, in rehearsal, I wanted to give the students something very concrete that they could take home  to their school orchestras and individual work as orchestral musicians. In response to some of our conversations this week, I decided to give them 5 concrete recommendations of habits that top level musicians should develop. Make no mistake about it, these habits will not make one a great musician. But, they are part of the expectations of any good musician and strong leader in all musical contexts. Thus, it is better to develop them early and have them in your lexicon as you continue to develop as a musician.  I often encourage my own children "move with purpose" These are my orchestral "move with purpose" encouragements. So, without further ado, here are the 5 vital habits of a successful orchestral musician that I offered to my students yesterday.

1. Always have a pencil at rehearsal. Now, I know that every orchestra director in the world requires their musicians to have a pencil. But, the number of students that I see scrambling during rehearsal to find a writing utensil is unbelievable to me. I told my students yesterday that not only should there be one pencil on every stand, but, there should be one pencil for every person in the room. Every player should have their instrument, music, and a pencil as they go into any practice or rehearsal setting. Passing one pencil between two stands is simply unacceptable. It wastes time and is distracting to the entire ensemble.

I find that writing in music is one of the most important skills that I have developed over the years, both as a violinist and as a conductor. I try in all my rehearsals to tell the students what a musician would write in any given circumstance. And I encourage students to always be thinking about what they might write in a part without my prompting. So, it is vital that each student get in the habit of picking up a pencil every time they pick up their instrument.

2. Arrive at every rehearsal a minimum of 10 minutes early. It is vital that young musicians get in the habit of arriving at rehearsals with plenty of time to settle into the rehearsal space before the downbeat of rehearsal. This allows for time to communicate with stand partners, effectively tune their instrument, warm up a little bit, and simply to mentally settle into the task that is at hand. So frequently, I see musicians running into rehearsal at the last minute and never fully settling into the mental space of the rehearsal. This is certainly not an efficient way to maximize the time that they are spending in rehearsal. And, at the very least, and early arrival shows great respect for colleagues and leaders in the rehearsal setting. I know that I notice it as a conductor and really appreciate and respect those who arrive early.

3. Look at the conductor when you don't really have to. I tell musicians all the time that there are numerous opportunities for making visual contact with a conductor in the context of a piece of music. Of course, one must make visual contact with the conductor during important changes in a piece of music. These include tempo changes, style changes, and important articulations. However, I think it is also important that young musicians understand that it is important to make visual contact with a conductor during the more static passages as well. I encourage students to be cognizant of opportunities such as whole notes, repeated notes, and rests. These are times when an ensemble musician can let the conductor know that they are fully engaged in and on the same page as the other musicians in the room. This visual affirmation also gives the conductor full confidence to maintain the highest expectations of musicianship and expression for the ensemble. Thus, developing the habit of visual contact during static passages, while sometimes overlooked, is of the utmost importance.

4. Actually listen to the tuning note.  So frequently, when I arrive in a new orchestral setting, a tuning note is sounded and musicians begin loudly tuning their own instrument without fully listening to the pitch of the tuning note. Years ago, I became aware of some research that indicates that there is a significantly higher rate of memorizing a pitch with a minimum of 5 seconds of listening time. I always encourage my young musicians to listen to a tuning note for 5 seconds before beginning their own tuning process. Additionally, it is so vital that the tuning be done at a piano (quiet) volume level. The vast majority of young students that I encounter tune significantly too loudly. It distorts the pitch of the strings and does not lead to an exceptional sounding ensemble.

5. Prepare your own part outside of rehearsal. I recently saw a post on Facebook that simply said "rehearsal is not for learning your own part, it's for learning everyone else's part." This really resonated with me. It is vital that musicians get in the habit of practicing their ensemble music in the practice room and understanding that rehearsal is for just that: rehearsing. The art of rehearsal and the art of practice are definitely mutually exclusive. All too often, students play in ensembles where the expectation is that they do both simultaneously. This is inefficient at least and rude at best. Nothing drives me more crazy than hearing a student workout a passage while I am in the middle of rehearsal. That is work for another time. Much of this, again, goes to the concept of respect for peers and for leadership. If a young musician really respects those around him for her, he will take the time necessary outside of rehearsal to prepare the passages for performance. I never expect things to be perfect from the beginning. But, I do expect that there is an understanding of the difference between the two activities. Practice involves slow thoughtful repetition. Rehearsal involves broader concepts and developing an understanding of all of the pieces of the puzzle. It is a much more "macro" activity. I simply think it's important that students grow to understand the distinction between practice and rehearsal.

These are my thoughts for today. I hope that you have found them to be interesting and applicable. If you feel that your students might benefit from these from this list, please feel free to share it. I know that I will keep working to develop these habits in my students. I hope that you will as well.

Best wishes for rehearsal rooms full of students with exceptional habits of orchestral musicians!



Getting Out of the Way

I had a wonderful experience yesterday in my rehearsal with the Intermediate Concert Orchestra at Interlochen that I would like to share with you today. Every Tuesday, the ICO string faculty attends my rehearsal and participates in a side-by-side experience with my students. The string faculty at Interlochen are fantastic players and teachers and it is a real honor to share in these collaborative rehearsal situations with them.

In these rehearsals, I try to use the faculty members to provide examples of style, bowing, and habits of orchestral playing for my young students to emulate. After we play a passage, I often ask the faculty members to give any thoughts or ideas to their section or the ensemble. These rehearsals are wonderfully positive and productive each time we have them.

Yesterday, we were working on the first movement of Haydn's Symphony Number 107, arranged by Robert McCashin. During the rehearsal, rhythmic accuracy was less than desirable and I felt like there were many moments where the individuals in the ensemble were sort of fighting against each other. I decided to stop conducting and simply get out of the way. What a magnificent change that created for the ensemble.

As soon as I stopped conducting, the entire ensemble began to watch and listen to the leadership that my colleagues were providing. Almost immediately, they became more unified in style and expression, not to mention rhythm and accuracy. As I watched my colleagues hear this change as well, it was fantastic to see the smiles on their faces. It became clear to all of us that the students were having one of those magical, impactful musical experiences that happen occasionally in rehearsals. This was one of them!

So, my thought today is a brief one, but important. Teachers, get out of the way of your orchestra. When they don't need you swinging the stick in front of them, don't swing the stick in front of them. The answer to unified ensembles is not always "watch the conductor." Sometimes it is "listen to each other." I think that we all need to be reminded of this from time to time. As teachers and conductors, we tend to be somewhat conductor centric. It's not always about the guy with the stick in his hand.  Sometimes it is about listening. Students must be encouraged to open their ears, listen to each other, and act and react to each other as thinking feeling expressive musicians.

These are my thoughts this morning as we move towards our performance on Friday. I wish you many magical moments in rehearsals and performances.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Things I Learned in Nashville

A few weeks ago, my son and I had a few days with no scheduled activities, (which happens very rarely in my home) so we decided to head to Nashville for a few days to check out some music and the general atmosphere.  Neither of us had  ever been there and it seemed like a great adventure to begin the summer.  As an added bonus, the Country Music Association, CMAfest was going on that week, so we were treated to a big week in the area.  Here are some things that I learned while there:
  • Nashville is fun. CMAFest is fun. I recommend that music lovers, and specifically country music lovers make it a point to get there at some time. CMAFest treated us to so much great music and a magnificent atmosphere throughout the week. I will make every effort to get back to CMAFest again in the future.
  • We are doing ok in Durham. My son and I really enjoyed going to Broadway in Nashville.  That said, so much of the live music that we enjoy in Durham (local and touring) holds up completely!  We have a great music scene right here!
  • It takes a lot to get noticed.  We saw some pretty great musicians that werre toiling away in small honkey-tonks.
  • It is the place to go to make it big.  The folks that do get noticed, really have a chance!
  • Money is there.  Wow!  Music row clearly isn't hurting for cash!!
  • Everyone wants to be a star.   The dreams are palpable!
  • Fans are silly.   I am not a fan.  I am an enthusiast and appreciator.  The folks that are just out to get a photo or an autograph seem silly to me.
  • Strumming chords and singing isn't enough.  You've gotta have a look, a certain cool, and real talent.  The honkey tonks are full of strummers.
  • You gotta have a good look.  Enough said.
  • Girls wear short denim shorts and boots.  If you aint wearin that, you aint cool.
  • I love checking out bands.  I learned this from my friend Jeff Tart from Infinity Road!
  • I am fortunate to make my living in music.  Everyone wants to.  Few are privileged to.   I am living the dream!
  • I want to keep getting better at my craft.  There is always more to learn and achieve.  I am not there yet.
  • You have to play to get noticed.  No one is going to get famous sitting in their living room.  You have to hone your craft on stage.  I know this.  I get better every time I play out.  When I don't play out, I get worse.
So, those are my thoughts.  I have to get back to work here at Interlochen.  I have rehearsal in 25 minutes.  My craft awaits!!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Interlochen 2016 - Getting Started!

Hello friends.

I am very excited to finally be situated in Interlochen, Michigan and ready to begin my work with the Intermediate Concert Orchestra at Interlochen Arts Camp for the 2016 season. This is my 6th season conducting this Orchestra and I have grown too love the process of turning these kids from all over the world into a high-level musical ensemble.  Many of you know that I had a little delay in arrival. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to request a substitute for the first concert of the 2016 season. I am very pleased that my dear friends Aaron and Wendy Tenney were able to fill in in my absence.  I made it to camp in time to see their performance and was truly pleased with what I witnessed. The performance was beautiful and I was particularly impressed with the beautiful strings sound of the ensemble. The sonority was absolutely stunning!  Congratulations to the Tenneys and all of the students for their magnificent performance.

Many of you know that I frequently write about the repertoire that I select for this ensemble. I intend to do that again this summer. My remarks on the repertoire for the first concert will be a little more brief than usual, simply because I haven't been immersed in that repertoire like I would have been had I conducted the program. The first concert included 4 selections:

  • Pendleton Suite, Mvrt 3, M.L.  Daniels
  • Of Glorious Plumage, Richard Meyer
  • Concerto in G Major, Vivaldi, Arr. LaJoie
  • Nanigo, Sharp

The third movement of the Pendleton Suite includes a driving rhythm creating an exciting concert opener. Tom Lajoie's arrangement of the Vivaldi is one of my favorites and the students performed it with a true musical energy and understanding. Of Glorious Plumage is a beautiful, epic work that highlights the ensemble's ability to play long, lush lines with beauty and grace. Finally, Nanigo is a West African folk tune and is always a great way to end the program.

As we move forward with this summer, I will continue to write about the repertoire that the Intermediate Concert Orchestra is preparing, concepts that come up as part of rehearsals, and other general themes that arise as part of camp and my time in Northern Michigan. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. If you are seeing my blog for the first time, I also would encourage you to find me on Twitter where I am "Orchestraguy."  I will post shorter thoughts about rehearsals and camp there as well as links to various videos and, of course, new blog posts.

I am looking forward to a great summer full of wonderful music-making, happiness, and new rich friendships.

Peace .