Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Those who can..."

I grew up in a family of educators. My Dad was a teacher, Principal, and eventually Superintendent of Schools in my hometown. My Mom was a well-respected English teacher in a neighboring school district. The home I grew up in encouraged me and my two sisters to be academically curious and engaged in our school work on a daily basis. We were expected to get good grades. We were encouraged to learn how to play musical instruments. We were encouraged to participate in leadership activities. We were encouraged to join school clubs and student government. We were active in our church. There were high expectations in our home and each of us succeeded in our classes and in our activities.  We were also expected to be of the highest character and we took it seriously.  So did most of my friends.

When it was time to select a college major, I considered many different avenues. I had a feeling that music would be a good choice, but I wasn't sure what I should do.  In the end, it was clear to me that my parents felt that it would be a noble choice to choose education. They knew the life of a teacher and encouraged me to follow that path. They made sure that I knew that teaching was not a life oriented towards getting rich or owning a large home. It was a life built on scholarship, service to others, character, and true engagement in a community. While I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a teacher, education seemed like a smart initial choice for a college major.  It also offered the most clear path to an actual job following graduation for me.

While in college, I succeeded again. I was a top musician at my university, graduated Summa Cum Laude, and did my best to be a leader in the music community and broader community at my university. I still remember the day my professor told me, "You don't know it yet, Scott, but you are a teacher." I student-taught with distinction and graduated with a strong knowledge base, a high level of musicianship, and a real passion for teaching that was a result of contact with mentors who truly cared for me and helped me find my path. I left college ready to impact some community with my talents,  knowledge, and passion for music and string education.

It wasn't long after I graduated that I first heard the phrase: "those who can't do, teach." That phrase caught me completely off-guard. I couldn't believe it. I had spent my entire life going to school, enjoying school, and really investing my heart and soul into the process of learning. I respected my teachers. Yes, I even loved my teachers. My parents, whom I respected at every level, had invested their passion and intellect in public school education. Suddenly I was finding out that people disrespected the teaching profession. Truly, it caught me completely off-guard. 

As I continued pursuing the teaching career I couldn't have been more impressed with my colleagues I was around people every day who loved their jobs, loved their students and work, and completely committed to scholarship at the highest level. This has been the case nearly every day since I started teaching over 30 years ago.  My experience has been that the vast majority of teachers are very similar to me: committed, ethical, intellectually curious, and caring.

Of course everyone has some experience with "that teacher." The teacher who doesn't work so hard and isn't as committed to the highest levels of scholarship as all of the other teachers. But, that person is the exception to the rule. The vast majority of teachers that I have encountered over the years are true academics,  hard workers, and unbelievably committed to working for students and excellence at every level.

I recently opened my Facebook to read a scathing article about the incompetence of young people today and ultimately misguided teachers and public education.  The article asserted that young people are coming out of public schools with low knowledge and high sensitivity.  The article asserted that students from private schools and wealthy homes may be an exception, but that public education is producing a society of misinformed, low character, college graduates.  I read it as a complete attack on public education and teachers in general.  I can't believe that group of people who work so hard for the public good would be the brunt of this kind of misinformation. So, please hear me.  The vast majority of public school teachers I have encountered in my 30 year career are exceptional scholars. They are folks that are selflessly committed to the public good. They are people who are academically curious and of the highest character. They are people who love their students. They love their subjects. And they honor and respect people of all colors, races, sexualities, genders and backgrounds.

Now I know that you can find almost anything on social media nowadays.  Folks have all sorts of agendas and political leanings.  And, I certainly can't give that one article too much of my time and attention.  It is certainly representative of one groups misguided opinion.  As for me, I am proud to have chosen teaching as my profession and passion.  And I am pleased that teaching has chosen me. For all you teachers out there, these kids need us.  They need our  scholarship, our guidance, our care, and our encouragement.  Keep fighting the good fight. And remember: those who can, teach!

Fluency and Music

Music performance, at its best, must be fluent.  Listeners expect to hear uninterrupted lines that include clear communicative information.  Listeners desire accuracy and true competency from performers. From the simplest tunes to the most virtuosic concerti, the test of a fine performance is demonstrated fluency.

In recent weeks, I have been using a model/metaphor of fluency and music a great deal in my classes. Many of you know that my early music training is Suzuki violin instruction and the fluency model seems natural to me as a result of that instruction. I would like to take a little bit of time today to outline some of these thoughts.

Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression. Fluency provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. When fluent readers read silently, they recognize words automatically. They group words quickly to help them gain meaning from what they read. Fluent readers read aloud effortlessly and with expression. Their reading sounds natural, as if they are speaking. Readers who have not yet developed fluency read slowly, word by word. Their oral reading is choppy. Fluent readers demonstrate accuracy, expression, pace punctuation, and comprehension.

So, in music it is very similar. Fluency in music would be explained as the ability to read and perform a score accurately, quickly and with expression. I often tell my students that there is a difference between  "comprehension level" music learning and "performance level" music learning. A fluent musician would demonstrate accuracy, expression, pace, punctuation, phrasing and comprehension within the context of the performance.

I am using the fluency model particularly frequently in my Classical Piano and Guitar course at the North Carolina School of Science and Math. This is a course designed for all levels of instruction. I teach beginning piano and guitar as part of the class and also work with more intermediate or advanced students who have some or extensive experience on their instrument. Many of these students come to me with a blank slate of experience and others come with varying levels of competency in music and music reading. In order to get all students moving in a similar fashion, I ask them all to consider their work in music using the fluency model.

The model is as follows:
Everybody learns to speak by learning individual words. As we learn a word we use it over and over. A great example would be the word "hot." A small child learns the word "hot" and then uses it in repetition until it becomes an active part of their vocabulary. The same is true for the repertoire my students are learning. They learn a musical concept, technique, or song, repeat that technique or song many times and it eventually becomes part of their active musical vocabulary.

We can also add the act of music reading into this model. Initially, small children read one letter at a time, then one word at a time, and eventually read full phrases and sentences with ease. The same is true for music. We can tell when students are reading isolated individual notes, then phrases, and eventually entire pieces.

For my beginning students, I explain to them that by learning repertoire and maintaining that repertoire, they are developing a vocabulary.  They must continuously use that vocabulary of musical techniques to become fluent. Thus, if a student continues to play a basic song over and over, the song eventually becomes fluent and flowing. The student can play the piece much like we speak, without overly thinking the individual aspects of the piece. Thus, they are operating in a fluency model.
My beginning piano and guitar students typically learn between 10 and 15 songs in a trimester. By the end of one term, they are fluent in each of those pieces and have a repertoire or "vocabulary" to build on.

Often times it is more difficult to convince my more intermediate students of this concept. So many students with some experience come to me thinking that they are much more fluent than they actually can demonstrate. Fluency involves a true understanding of all aspects of the vocabulary. In other words, one must know how to identify individual letters of words, define each word in a sentence, put the sentence together, and say and read it with inflection. That requires a great deal of skill! It is the same with music. The fluent musician must understand each individual note, its rhythm, its place in the musical phrase, how to read and perform that phrase accurately, and how to inflect that phrase accurately and fluently. So many students have spent all of their time working on simply notes and rhythms or just imitating their teacher or recordings. It is rare for students to arrive in my class fully fluent in every aspect of the repertoire they are used to learning. This sometimes causes problems because I want them to be able to demonstrate fluency in all aspects of their performance. Many of them have to revert to simpler repertoire to actually achieve this goal.

I find that the fluency model is also effective in my orchestra rehearsals. Early in the rehearsal cycle, we are reading. We are sounding out "words," finding connections and cues in the written score, and operating on a more remedial, functional level. As the students begin to learn a work more extensively, they can perform more fluently. The work is less about the minutiae and more about the larger ideas. Some students never get past the point of the remedial reading phase. Others get to the fluency phase much earlier.

One strong difference between an ensemble performance and my piano and guitar class is the fact that everybody needs to be fluent for the orchestra to perform with fluency. Even a small number of players that haven't achieved that fluent level can bring the ensemble performance down.  Right now, my orchestra is preparing for a performance of a Mozart Symphony and it is so imperative that every player is fluent in their part.  Even small inconsistencies can yield negative results.

I also find the fluency model to be applicable to the world of improvisation.  When we are speaking extemporaneously, we are effectively "improvising" with words.  In other words, we are calling on phrases and ideas that we have learned and prepared ahead of time that fit into the context of the conversation at hand.  This is improvisation at its best.  In order to improvise, we call on our experience with and preparation in concepts surrounding key, mode, rhythm, time, melody, and expression (to name only a few). 

Additionally, fluency in conversation requires listening.   So, this model provides a great vehicle for discussing the importance of listening in solo and ensemble music performance. In order to respond appropriately to a phrase or idea, one must be willing to listen to the information that precedes.  

I recently had a wonderful conversation on this topic with a student who is bilingual. English is his second language.  He learned English as a teenager and did so by putting labels with the names of objects all over house.  He had labels on the table, chair, desk, book, shirt, etc.   He told me that now he sees labels in his mind all the time.  And, in fact, now both languages require thought. For him, music does not have any labels.  It never did.  So, now music is his most fluent language.

In closing, I asked my students to articulate their understanding of fluency as it relates to both language and music.  One said, "Fluency is getting past small picture to big picture.  Another shared, "Fluency is not having to think specifically about the technical. It is simply expression."  Finally, a third remarked, "Fluency is like liquid: free and expressive."

I encourage to give this model a try with your students.  It has really resonated with my students and I feel like they have a more accurate picture of the true goals of rehearsal and performance.

I wish you all and your students many fluent performances!


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nanigo, Thom Sharp

This is a video of a recent performance.  It is me soloing with the NCSSM Orchestra for the kickoff of the NCSSM Alumni weekend.  The piece is Nanigo, by Thom Sharp.  My part is improvised.  It is a good example of my idea of functional musicianship where I add another part to an existing string orchestra arrangement.  Enjoy!!


Monday, October 16, 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ensemble Musician's Taxonomy of Musical Mental Habits

Over the past several years, I have noticed that student musicians can fall into a static mental mode while in various stages of the rehearsal process.  If they have mastered their individual part (notes and rhythms) they simply check out mentally and wait for the next basic challenge. I have a number of theories as to why this happens. But, for now I will stay away from my theories about why and simply discuss the issues as I see them and possible solutions.

Let me describe the problem that I see. I find that students are interested in playing correctly. I also find that they are used to being told specifically what to do in rehearsal. What I find missing, are appropriate habits of mind or habits of what to be thinking about throughout the rehearsal process. For instance, if a student has mastered the notes and rhythms of a particular passage and the conductor continues to review that passage, my feeling is that students don't understand what they can be thinking about individually while the repetition is occurring. So, with that in mind, I felt it would be important to discuss this concept with my Orchestra. As we began to develop a list of things to think about while in rehearsal, it became apparent to me that there is a hierarchy of these concepts  that one might consider while in rehearsal. Obviously, early in the rehearsal process, basic ideas such as right notes, right rhythms, key signature, time signature, etc. are the things that one should focus on. However, as the rehearsal process progresses, each individual should be able to move on to higher order skills in the ensemble rehearsal process.

For instance, after a student has mastered the notes and rhythms, they may then move their thought process to the written dynamic scheme of the piece. Or, they may be compelled to think about bow direction and or bow placement. Or, they may to turn their attention to other parts in the orchestra, focusing on what's happening outside their own part both around and with them. This, to me, begins to look like a taxonomy. That is, a sort of hierarchy of priorities and mental habits within the ensemble rehearsal process.

Here is the list that we came up with in class.  I have been keeping it posted on the white board at the front of the room. Then, if a students needs some ideas on what to think about, they can refer to it quickly.  
  • Accurate Rhythm and Time
Obviously, these are the first steps in learning a piece of music.  Right notes played out of time are wrong notes.  So, I place a great deal of emphasis on rhythm early in the rehearsal process.
  • Accurate Notes and Key 
Very close behind rhythm is tonal center and correct notes.  Obviously.  The thing is that many teachers never get past this spot in the taxonomy.  This is understandable.  If the students are out of tune, this must be corrected.
  • Playing Technique
I try to give all of my students individual technique goals. These can be left or right hand position, bow hold, set up, right had fluidity, vibrato, etc.  Then, they can focus on this when they have learned the basics of their part.
  • Written Dynamics
This is the next obvious step in preparing a part.  It is written on the page, for goodness sake.  I encourage my students not to  think about dynamics as some fixed value, but rather to consider them in the context of the overall piece.
  • Fingering/Shifting
This is one of the first big shifts in thinking that I find I can affect.  So many kids think that they only need to shift when the part gets high.  I try to change that way of thinking to looking at fingering from a perspective of ease of passage, tone color, and string crossing.
  • Bow Direction and Use
In a perfect world,  this would be higher in the taxonomy.  I feel like this is incorporated into every moment of every rehearsal.  I don't usually over-bow string parts for my orchestra.  I want them to be thinking critically about direction as it pertains to style, dynamics, and articulation.  Bow direction is so subjective.  I usually have very clear priorities, but I love to articulate them in the context of a great discussion about bow direction.
  • Articulation
This is strongly related to bow direction.  I find that students often come to me with a very limited palette of articulation options.  I try to get them thinking about the initiation of sound throughout the rehearsal process.
  • Vibrato/Tone Production
Vibrato  and tone production are often the difference between an average overall sound and a mature sound.  But, where do changes occur and how can these be varied?  These are important questions for each musician to be constantly asking themselves.
  • Artistry/Direction of line
This is where real musicianship develops and emerges.  When we can get a student to think about this independently, they are truly on the way.
  • Tempo/ Push-Pull
This is typically dictated by the conductor, but the students that are intuitive with this can help the group along!
  • Section and Individual Balance
Where do I fit in the dynamic balance of the orchestra? Where does my section fit in the dynamic balance of the orchestra?
  • Section and Individual Role
What is my role in this passage?  What is my section's role in this passage?  Melody? Harmony? Off Melody? Bass line?  Engine?  Rhythmic Underpinning?  Sustain/Pads?  Teacher? Student?  What else?
  • Perspective and Emotion/ Performance
How might I move during this passage?  Who should I look at?  What is the overarching emotion of the passage?  

So, what have I missed?
Is this something that you may be able to use with your classes?

I  truly believe there is something here for everyone.  We have all had that precocious kid that thinks their work is done before they have even scratched the surface.  Maybe this can work for them.  Or, maybe your whole group would be open to thinking about this.  I certainly hope there is something here that you can use in your ensemble.  


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sectional Rehearsals

Sectional rehearsals are an integral component of any orchestral concert cycle.  Today was my first opportunity to hold sectionals with my new group of students at NCSSM.  Rather than to simply throw them into the sectional rehearsal experience, I thought that it would be beneficial to discuss the goals, important techniques, and values of the sectional rehearsal process.  We had a great discussion before they broke into sections and then we discussed the results at  the end of class.  Here are some of the thoughts and concepts that emerged in class today.

Goals of the Sectional Rehearsal:

  • Details
    • Fingerings
    • Bowings
    • Intonation
    • Rhythm
These are the nuts and bolts of the section's work.  Most everyone recognized that these are the primary goals of the sectional rehearsal and following today's rehearsal, it was clear that these were the primary topics of discussion.  
  • Tone/Sound
I would argue that this may be part of a sectional rehearsal later in a concert cycle.  Earlier sectionals with student musicians may never get to this point.
  • Phrasing/Expression
Much of this work will be done in the larger group rehearsal and it is even possible that work in this area in a sectional rehearsal may occasionally run contrary to the conductor's vision for a piece.
  • Ensemble
This is where the section may hear inconsistencies in style, articulation, and and rhythm; as well as see inconsistencies in bow placement, use, and distribution.
  • Communication
One student noted that this is a perfect opportunity for student leadership and for students articulate original thoughts regarding the repertoire at hand.
  • Corporate Gain
It is vital that every musician walk away with a sense that the time was well spent for the individual, the section, and the greater ensemble.

Vehicles that help reach the goals:

  • Collaborate
Everyone must be willing to work together.
  • Communicate
The sectional is more effective when folks communicate freely: ask questions, offer suggestions, and engage in the group goals.
  • Active Participation: Invest!
One can not simply "go through the motions" in a sectional rehearsal.  The activity requires active engagement from all parties involved.  This is really tough in today's academic setting.  If find it more difficult each year to elicit active mental rigor from every member of my ensembles.  I will not give up the fight!!
  • Listen
I feel that listening skills are not addressed enough in the orchestra rehearsal. We discuss what the player should "do."  Sectionals are a great vehicle for individuals to exercise listening skills.
  • Assess
This is another great opportunity for musicians in sectionals.  They are, by nature, less conductor-centric than rehearsal.  In a rehearsal, the conductor is constantly assessing and the musician is adapting to the conductor's instruction.  Sectionals provide the opportunity for the individual musician to assess their work and that of those around them.
  • Think like a scientist: Identify problems, develop a hypothesis, limit variables, address issues
At my school, this makes lots of sense!  I love to draw the comparison of a person practicing to that of a researcher.  It is an easy comparison to make.
  • Slow Down
No - really - slow down!  Like - half tempo.  Or less!  Zoom into the microscopic level of rhythm and intonation.  Take time to really hear intervals.  So often in rehearsal, some members of an ensemble are "left in the dust."  It is part of the process of rehearsal.  So, seize the opportunity in sectionals to slow things down and meaningfully listen to the inner levels of the parts assigned to the section. 

Don'ts  (Things that make for a bad sectional rehearsal):

  • Just run through passages
What a waste of time.  We can do that any time.
  • Clam up
We have to communicate.  Take a chance.  If you are thinking it, someone else is too!  We all must lead and that comes in a variety of communication packages.
  • Weak Leadership
Enough said.  Someone has to drive the train. My students all agree that a sectional where no one is willing to lead can be futile.


  • Citizen
  • Artist
  • Scholar
  • Teacher
Many of you have read my previous posts on this acronym.  I believe deeply that after each rehearsal, any student should be able to look at this acronym and identify the areas that have been addressed. Have they enhanced their citizenship of the ensemble? Has their artistry been engaged?  Have they expressed or enhanced their scholarship?  Have they taken advantage of opportunities to lead and help, as well as learn from, colleagues.

As a result of this work, I intend to create a template for a good sectional rehearsal to use with my students in coming months and years.  This would provide a model and outline for the anatomy of a productive sectional rehearsal for student reference.

How does all of this hit you?  What have we missed?  What did we get right?  I would love to hear from you as I continue to develop the template for a great sectional rehearsal.   I will share it here in coming days and weeks.

Until next time.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Don't Miss The Forest For The Trees

Today was the first official day for instructors at NCSSM.  It was a great day of meeting our new colleagues, renewing friendships with others, and catching up on each others' adventures from the summer.  The first day back at school can be very inspiring as we prepare for the upcoming academic year.


it can be totally overwhelming.

There is a huge amount of information to process.  We have received mountains of e-mails and correspondence. We received calendar information. We received information on updates to the school  facility and summer programs. We received details today outlining professional development obligations, academic advisor training, details on class schedules, details on student schedule conflicts,  budget details, details on planning for the new NCSSM Morganton campus, training videos, getting our teaching schedule into Google Calendar, and much more.  There is just so much.

Sadly, even those of us who can't wait to get back to our work and start the year can get overwhelmed by all of  these details.  

On top of all of this, the music wing at NCSSM just had new flooring installed and my colleague and I have to move all of the equipment, music, and others stuff from our offices and classrooms back from storage. It  is a huge job looming in front of us!

So, today I made a resolution.  I decided to only do what I can.  I am not going to get so overwhelmed by all of the administrative details of life at NCSSM that I miss the joy of teaching music.  I am going to enjoy greeting all of the returning seniors as they return to campus.  I am going to enjoy meeting the new juniors.  I will think creatively about my curriculum.  I will embrace the opportunity to facilitate student learning at every level.  I will seek to be a positive force in the lives of my students and colleagues.  I will strive to inspire and support my students every day and every class period.  

We are so privileged to teach.  We are privileged to participate in the lives and development of our students.  And, for goodness sake, I make my living as a musician!  I am living the dream.

So, while I respect the administrative necessities of life at NCSSM, I can't let them overwhelm me.  We have much bigger responsibilities.  We have lives to change.  Humans to support.  People to inspire.

Don't miss the forest for the tress this year as you begin the school year.  Our work is too important.  


Friday, August 4, 2017

An Accounting of Ideas

As we get ready to wrap up the 2nd session of Intermediate Concert Orchestra at Interlochen for 2017, I thought it would be cool to take and accounting of the ideas or perspectives that I shared with students over the course of the summer.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will give you a quick idea of my thoughts while in front of an ensemble for an extended period of time.

  • My tuning procedure
  • Concepts in orchestral playing position
  • Moving with the phrase
  • The concept of inner rhythm
  • Listening for "the engine"
  • Elements of a moving performance: Technical,  Artistic,  Purpose, Perspective 
  • Breathing into entrances and phrases
  • "Bumping" the pulse
  • Look at conductor during static passages
  • Teacher/student: what is your role at any time?
  • Harmonic Underpinning
  • Deeper dynamic meaning, role, and contrast
  • Shifting for color and ease of fingering, not high pitch
  • "Chocolate Milk"
  • Finding all that is embedded in the music: phrase, push/pull
  • The concept of Dynamic vs. Static
  • Meeting 3 composers of performed works
  • 2 world premiers (Ancient Light, by Peter Terry and Sunset Colors, Alejandro Bernard-Papachryssanthou)
  • Lead from any chair
  • Extended visual communication
  • The conductor's role in a variety of situations
  • Good = good, Hard does not necessarily = good
  • No 3rd or higher positions does not = easy repertoire
  • Artistic performances can move audiences.  Bad performances of hard repertoire doesn't move audiences

Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive.  But, it will give you an idea of the things that I am trying to teach and communicate during rehearsal. There are previous posts on many of these ideas, so I encourage you to check out the blog for my extended thoughts on these concepts.

It has been a great summer!  Thanks to all who have supported me and ICO this summer.  I appreciate you all so much!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Harmonic Underpinning

Those of you that know me and my pedagogy, are aware that I'm a firm believer in utilizing harmonic underpinning while teaching melodic instruments and concepts. That is, providing some context for melodic line when teaching parts in the orchestra or in private lessons. I really believe that everything makes more sense when there is a chord progression behind or underneath the melodic line.

This week in Interlochen's Intermediate Concert Orchestra, we do not have the privilege of having a student bass player.  We will have a faculty and staff bassist for the concert, but not until the dress rehearsal.  So, we are working with an incomplete voicing in the orchestra and I have noticed that there has been a great deal of difficulty in truly tuning from bottom to top in all of our repertoire. So, today I asked my stage services staff member to set up a piano in the front of the orchestra. Throughout today's rehearsal I played bass lines and chord progressions as best I could, accompanying all of the pieces that we are working on.

Wow! What a transformation in the orchestra. I was reminded yet again that harmonic underpinning is so important for true musical understanding and learning. Quickly, everyone in the orchestra was tuning in a much more meaningful, informed manner. I had to step back and asked myself, "Would we be better off having this harmonic reference right from the beginning of the rehearsal process?" I am sure that many orchestras use an accompanist throughout a concert cycle to help with this very issue. That is not something that I typically do, but today I am really convinced that it paid huge dividends in this orchestra.

This can be done either by realizing chord progressions on the piano or on another chord playing instrument like guitar, mandolin, and others. I realize that this isn't rocket science. But, it is always good to be reminded. I'm reminded of when my children were younger and studying violin repertoire. I would frequently play piano or pick up my guitar and play along with them. Or, other days I would pick up the bass and create a bass line while they were playing the melodies of the pieces . I have particularly fond memories of performing the Monti Czardas with my oldest son, Matt. I played guitar and he played violin. We did something similar with both of the Vivaldi A minor Concerto movements that are found in the Suzuki Book 4.

All of this goes to encouraging the student to hear the function of every note of a melody. Is the note a chord tone? Is the note a passing tone? Is the cord a tonic? Is it a dominant? Or is it something else? When a student hears a secondary dominant progression on the guitar or piano common, suddenly those accidentals make a lot more sense.

I know this is a quick one but I just had to get this off my chest tonight. It was a great rehearsal and I can't wait for tomorrow!



Monday, July 31, 2017

Intermediate Concert Orchestra Repertoire: 2017 Concert #4

We are winding down the summer here at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp and the Intermediate Concert Orchestra is deep in preparation for their final performance of the season. We have a wonderful program planned for this concert. As is my tradition, I will give you some information all on all of the works that we are doing.

First, we are preparing Highlights from An American in Paris, by George Gershwin, arranged by Jerry Brubaker. This is a Belwin publication and is listed as a Grade IV. I first heard this arrangement at a new music reading session that was sponsored by JW Pepper at an American String Teachers Association conference. I have never done anything by arranger Jerry Brubaker before. But, I really like this medley from An American in Paris. I will certainly keep my eyes open for more of his arrangements in the future. This is scored for string orchestra with percussion. I think the percussion will add a really nice touch to this piece.  It includes bicycle horns.  I spent a couple of hours today, shopping for bike horns at two different pitches!! The students will be exposed to George Gershwin's interesting harmonies and magnificent melodies. The piece features 4 distinct sections that all provide wonderful opportunities for each voice. The arrangement is also very clearly edited with fingerings and good bowings, saving a great deal of rehearsal time for me. The students really like this arrangement and I think it will be a wonderful addition to our concert.

Next we are doing Smooth Sailing by Tom Sharp . This is listed as a Grade Three and is published by Ludwig Masters Music. It features opportunities for melody in all of the voices of the orchestra and a simple and lovely melody that is passed between all of the sections throughout the piece.  It is full of beauty and grace and contains an abundance of lush romantic quality to please the most discriminating ear.  I always love Thom Sharp's stuff and this is no exception.

Next, we have been spending a great deal of time preparing Mars from the Planets by Gustav Holst, arranged by Robert McCashin. This is a Tempo Press publication and is listed as a grade IV. This one is tough! We have spent a great deal of time on the 5-4 time signature and the intricate interplay between 5/2 and 5/2 feel. There are many divisi parts in this arrangement and a few 16th note passages that are really tough. The group has worked hard on this piece. And they love it. I'm not a hundred percent sure that we will perform it for our concert but I have challenged the students to prepare it well enough that it will be easy to make the decision. This one is a real challenge!

Finally, my dear friend Alejandro Bernard Papachrysanthou has written a brand new piece for intermediate concert Orchestra to perform this session.  It is entitled Sunset Colors and is a magnificent piece that we will premiere on Saturday. Please see the separate post about this composition.

It has been another great summer at Interlochen and I'm sad to see it winding down. That said, I am ready to get home and begin my work at NCSSM. I'm also very ready to see my family. Thanks to all who have been reading these posts throughout the summer. I hope that you will stick with me as we move into the fall and the new academic year. Thanks to all of my friends here at Interlochen who have supported me this summer. Let's do it again next year!



Sunset Colors, by Alejandro Bernard-Papachryssanthou

This summer, the Interlochen Intermediate Concert Orchestra has had several unbelievable opportunities to meet composers and perform their works. It has been a particularly strong learning experience for students to hear the words of the composers themselves and to learn the motivation behind the works which they are performing. This is one of the great benefits of coming to and  performing at Interlochen. We have such a wonderful community of musicians that do so many things. And, for one group to be involved in two world premieres in the same 3-week session is simply unheard of. But, that is what is happening this session. The Intermediate Concert Orchestra will be performing another world premiere at our Saturday concert in Kresge Auditorium, 4 p.m.

Last summer I became friends with Alejandro Bernard-Papachryssanthou over lunch down at the waterfront.  We were both eating alone and struck up a conversation. We hit it off as friends right away and it was truly my pleasure to feature him on the last piece of the summer in of 2016, Bossa Rojo, by Bert Ligon, as a keyboard soloist with ICO. This summer, we met up again and following the first ICO concert, he asked me if I might be willing to play a piece that he was interested in composing. He has been working on Sunset Colors throughout the summer and it is our pleasure to perform it this week.

He came to class today and spent about an hour with the orchestra, discussing the motivation behind the piece and several specific performance practices. It was a thrill for us to have him at the rehearsal and a great deal of work was done.

He began by explaining the motivation for the piece. It is intended to conjure up the image of the beautiful sunsets that we experience here in Northern Michigan, particularly those that are seen over a lake where mountains do not encumber the view. The sunsets in this region are absolutely beautiful and it is a perfect inspirational vehicle for a piece of orchestral music.

Sunset Colors begins with a quiet Andate section. It is in a major but really travels between a number of keys throughout the work. The opening features the viola section right out of the gate. There is a beautiful melody and tight, jazz inspired harmonies throughout the work. The opening eventually gives way to a beautiful piu mosso so that features moving 16th notes in the first and second violins and a syncopated rhythmic pattern in the viola, cello, and bass. This section certainly presents the image of the brightest, most glorious sunset. This moving passage eventually gives way to a heroic section which culminates on a beautiful, sustained C sharp major chord. We spent a good deal of time in rehearsal today dialing in that chord and even discussed what color it sounds like. We had some students say orange, others felt it was pink, and I felt like it was a deep purple.  (All were correct!!) Following a grand pause, it returns to the "A" section and winds down to a beautiful ending which conjures up the image of the last little bit of color in the sky as the sun finally goes down for the night.

This  work is a perfect challenge for the Intermediate Concert Orchestra. I would say that it is probably a Grade 4. There is a little something for everyone and every section must be rhythmically and tonally independent. The kids are really committed to this work and have rehearse with great maturity. Their work today was admirable. Mondays are always tricky for ICO because Monday afternoon is usually "beach day" for the kids. They were certainly ready to look ahead to the fun of the afternoon during rehearsal today. Instead, they gave their full attention and had a wonderful rehearsal.

We are really excited to give the world premiere of this piece and I look forward to performing it many more times both here at Interlochen and in my various travels around the United States. I'm pretty sure that I will program it at NCSSM this fall!

We hope to see you at the concert on Saturday afternoon. I believe it will be live streamed as well.



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Intermediate Concert Orchestra Repertoire: 2017 Concert #3

Last night, the Intermediate Concert Orchestra performed its first program of the second session for the summer of 2017. They gave a wonderful performance and all three ensembles on the program were exceptional. As is usually the case, the program order began with Intermediate Concert Orchestra, followed by Intermediate Wind Symphony, directed by  Dr Mary Land, and finished up with the Intermediate Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Oriol Sans .

ICO's program was:

Symphony No 104 "London" First Movement, Haydn, Arr. McCashin
Impromptu for String Orchestra, Sibelius
Ancient Light, Peter Terry (World Premier)
Samba Me This! Thom Sharp

I have already written extensively about Ancient Light and Samba Me This. So, I will focus these brief remarks on the Haydn and Sibelius works that were performed.

Symphony No 104 "London" First Movement, Haydn, Arr. McCashin is a challenging adaptation of Haydn's original symphony movement for full Orchestra. This piece, published by the FJH Music Company, is listed as a grade 4.5. I believe that grading is accurate. This piece provides numerous opportunities for teaching a variety of techniques. The opening is best done in a subdivided four and is a great way to introduce subdivision to students. It is all so wonderful for teaching accurate double dotted 8th notes/ 32nd notes. Moving into the Allegro, there are numerous techniques that must be covered. I worked with my ensemble a great deal on listening for the inner rhythm or the "engine" that drives the piece This engine is provided by 8th notes which move from section to section. This movement also requires broad dynamic swings and the students must be focused on dynamics throughout. This is also a wonderful opportunity to teach spiccato bowing and to encourage your students to play in the lower half of the bow. This is a wonderful teaching peace and when performed appropriately, comes off very well.

The Sibelius Impromptu No. 5 for String Orchestra is a beautiful work which begins with a lovely con sord Andantino in E minor. There is ample opportunity for lush string playing and technique in this work. Students must adapt to the push-pull of the tempo and follow each other and the conductor. I particularly worked with my students to breathe on beat 4 and to never rush to the downbeat. The middle section is a brisk Andantino in 6/4. It begins in E Major, eventually moving to E minor. This section features the Violin I and Viola sections with a beautiful melody supported by the the Violin II and celli providing the rhythmic and harmonic underpinning. The piece ends with a reprise to the A section that is absolutely beautiful. There are opportunities in this work for teaching phrasing, bow distribution, tone color, and as always, watching the conductor.

On to a new concert cycle! Rehearsal today at 2:00 will include lots of sight-reading.



Monday, July 24, 2017

Samba Me This! by Thom Sharp

One of the pieces that will be on our program Wednesday, July 24th at 6:30 p.m. is a wonderful Latin piece by Thom Sharp entitled Samba Me This! For this performance, we will be featuring Interlochen Faculty members, David Kay on soprano saxophone, Alejandro Bernard on keyboard,  and Aaron Tenney on bass, along with Intermediate camper, Daqi on drums.

Samba Me This! by Thom Sharp is a wonderful original tune for String Orchestra and Drum kit that features dancy Latin rhythms and a wonderful chord progression.  The piece is listed as a grade 3.5. It is definitely a hard 3.5.  Audiences will need to hold on to their hats for a fast ride on the samba machine! This piece is rhythmically challenging and chromatic but has a singable main theme. All sections are featured and everyone in the orchestra has shifting challenges in their part.  It is published by Latham Music.

Today was our first opportunity to put this piece together with our guests. It was a pleasure to welcome them to our Monday rehearsal and start really putting things together. The first concept that we really focused on was maintaining tempo throughout the piece. I had a wonderful opportunity to discuss the similarities between this piece and the Haydn Allegro that we are preparing. The concept of "inner rhythm" and keeping the subdivision going through audiation (inside your head) throughout the piece is a common theme with both works.

We also had a wonderful discussion about improvisation and how we go about adding the improvised saxophone and keyboard parts to the string orchestra framework. The students got a chance to hear both David Kay and Alejandro Bernard improvising over the fantastic string sounds that Tom Sharp has created. It is always a pleasure to do Thom's compositions as they have such a representative string/jazz orchestra sound.

The students also got to participate in and witness the kind of interaction that happens between music professionals within the context of rehearsal. We discussed the arrangement, the "roadmap," opportunities for improvisation, dynamic nuances, rhythmic nuances, and other musical factors in the piece. I find that it is a great learning opportunity for students to simply be part of those discussions along with the professionals that are in the room.

Finally, when there are guests in the room , there is always a sense of urgency and a need to be efficient with the time that we are given. The students of Intermediate Concert Orchestra certainly succeeded with that today. It was a wonderful, successful rehearsal. I am sure that the audience will love this piece when it is performed on Wednesday.

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to my colleagues David Kay, Alejandro Bernard, and Aaron Tenney for giving ICO this great opportunity!

That's it for now. It is a beautiful Monday afternoon at Interlochen. I am looking forward to welcoming some friends from North Carolina to the area today and giving them a grand tour of our campus.

We hope to see you on Wednesday through the live stream.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ancient Light

One of the great privileges of working in Interlochen in the summer is rubbing elbows with wonderful musicians from many different areas of the music world. One of those privileges is preparing and performing new music that our composition faculty has created for ensembles here at Interlochen. Over the last couple of years I've developed a deep friendship with Dr. Peter Terry, a wonderful composer and musician who teaches Electronic Music Composition here.  This summer, the Intermediate Concert Orchestra is privileged to perform the world premiere of his new work for string orchestra, Ancient Light. Dr. Terry came to our rehearsal yesterday to give us some insights into the work after we had spent a number of days framing the piece and getting ready for his input.

We began our time with Dr. Terry by asking him to respond to an incredibly light question that I had asked all the students earlier in the rehearsal. What exactly is your favorite dessert and why?  I have found over the years that simple conversations like this are often wonderful ice breakers and yesterday was no different. I think the question threw him for a little bit of a curve-ball and he took a moment to consider the answer. After a few moments of thought, he let us know that tiramisu is his favorite and that it was because his family had a number of traditions around this dessert. This provided a wonderful segue into our work for the day on his composition.  Immediately, he had a connection with kids and they were now ready to hear what he had to say about the new work.

I then asked him to tell us just a little bit about the title and the ideas behind the work. He explained that Ancient Light refers to the to a common interest that he and his father shared in astronomy and looking at the night sky. He was always aware when engaged in this activity that the lights that he was seeing in the stars were generated millions of years ago. The things that we see in the night sky may not even exist anymore. The magnitude of that idea is reflected in this piece. He also explained that the piece is inspired by thoughts and feelings related to family (especially his father)  and the depth of that relationship and related experiences like the time they spent studying the stars.

We continued by playing the piece for him and asking for his input. The composition features 4 sections and is in A-B-A-B form.  It floats between E minor and G Major and I would call it about a Grade IV.

The A section is a bold Allegro in 3 with a driving rhythmic underpinning. He explained that the rhythmic underpinning must have a heroic feel. It is actually a "bravura" section and he wanted the students to give it an almost march-like, military drive. This resonated with the kids and they immediately made the adjustment. Additionally, there is a rhythmic, syncopated , marked melodic figure in the other voices. He asked for very short releases at the end of these short phrases and it provided a greater sense of urgency in this rhythmic passage. I always find that having a new voice in a rehearsal yields great results and this was certainly the case. The way Dr. Terry made his points resonated with the kids and they seemed to internalize the idea behind these passages.

Next, we dug a little deeper into the primary melodies of the piece and the way they interact with each other. He noted that each time the primary motive enters in a new voice, it should be somewhat intrusive to the other voices. Again, that word intrusive really resonated with the kids. They were able to execute this almost immediately and it transformed the impact of the piece in those places .

Next we spent some time in the more lyrical B sections of the piece. Each of these sections is very chorale-like and requires a totally different approach. We looked at the greater dynamic scheme of each of these sections and noted that they grow continuously through two statements of the entire chorale. They reach an apex on the final stanza which is then followed by a hushed, brief reprise. As we looked closely at this dynamics scheme, the musical line of this section became so much more perceptible.

As we moved through the rehearsal, you could feel the energy grow and the excitement for the piece intensify. By the end of the rehearsal there was incredible life in the work and the students were quite engaged and committed. The rehearsal ended with Dr. Terry giving a wonderful charge to the students regarding the privilege of performing a world premiere. He sent them into our last few rehearsals with an inspired challenge to truly own the work and to realize that there is only ever one World Premiere of a work. Intermediate Concert Orchestra gets to experience that and no one else will ever have that experience. What a wonderful challenge! I have no doubt that this will be one of the most meaningful musical experiences of these young musicians' lives.

I want to extend my deepest thanks to Peter. I value our friendship so much and truly enjoy out all of our musical collaboration. This is the third world premiere that I have conducted for one of his compositions.  (Blindsighted and Beneath the Irish Sky, Carl Fischer Publications) I consider it one of the great honors of my musical life and my work at Interlochen.

This concert will take place on Wednesday, July 26th at 6:30 p.m. in Corson Auditorium on the Interlochen campus. It will be available via live stream as well.

Peace .


Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday in ICO

We had a super-productive rehearsal to in Intermediate Concert Orchestra.  The students had sectional rehearsals today after my rehearsal.  So, my goal was to cover as much of our repertoire as possible and challenge the kids to articulate which sections needed work in sectionals and why.  I had my ensemble manager take notes and when they left for sectionals, we gave the principal players the list to take to their faculty section leader.   We got though almost everything and had a very productive rehearsal today!

Cello Section

Viola Section

2nd Violin Section

First Violin Section

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday ICO Conversation

Today in Intermediate Concert Orchestra we welcomed our faculty section leaders for a second time. I decided that today would be a good day to have a group conversation about ensemble playing and the role of the individual within the ensemble. I asked my faculty colleagues to join in on the conversation. I have found over the years that sometimes faculty interaction with and in front of students is a wonderful learning vehicle. So, today, that was the beginning of our class conversation.

I started the class by asking the students to talk a little bit about what they love to see and hear when they go to a great orchestra performance. I received responses that included: bows moving in unison, physically invested performers, great repertoire, a look of purpose, and others.  I was quite impressed with the student responses right out of the gate.

Next, I asked my colleagues to talk a little bit about what they need to do to create the  performances that the students were discussing. What did they need to do to generate a performance that was exciting to watch and hear ? What is the role of the performer?

Size of Group
Equal Importance

One faculty member expanded on the importance of listening and watching from the first rehearsal to the last. Listening for the style and intonation of the other people in their section and the sections around them. Watching for technique consistency, bow placement, and other subtleties as the repertoire developed from sight-read to performance.  Another spoke of the importance of uniformity from throughout the rehearsal process until a performance. They mentioned the need for working for this uniformity from beginning to end.  Still another mentioned the equal importance of knowing the role of each voice in the ensemble. They mentioned that in rehearsals, they are always trying to figure out the role of their voice and how it fits in with the others. Finally, another mentioned the importance of a passionate pursuit of musical excellence from the first rehearsal to the end of any performance.

Self Challenge

We then discuss what they bring to the table musically in each of these goals. One mentioned that simply allowing his personality to be part of the rehearsal process enhanced the process a great deal for him. This could be as subtle as offering smiles or salutations to his colleagues as he arrived at rehearsal. Those friendly offerings lead to wonderful musical relationships. This is a great way to approach rehearsal and the rehearsal process. Another mentioned the concept of understanding their role in the orchestra at all times. Sometimes their voice is a melody. Sometimes their voice is harmony. Other times it is a rhythmic underpinning. Knowing the role is vital. Another mentioned that it is important to be prepared for active listening and reacting throughout a rehearsal process. One never really knows what is going to happen. The brain must be turned on and ready to act and react at a moment's notice.  Still another mentioned that subtleties in rehearsal can be quite extemporaneous. Things can be different every single time a piece is played. There can be subtle changes in tempo,  phrasing, dynamics , and musical interaction at any given moment. The performer must be in tune with them at all times.  Also, a section player must be willing to challenge themselves on many of these issues.  They are not always visible to the conductor, but are integral to the success of the ensemble. Finally, another colleague emphasized the importance of emulating those around them. Looking to the section leader or other sections for bow placement, style, articulation, and other technical aspects of her performance and emulating them in order to provide a uniform product.

This was a wonderful conversation and certainly timely today. As we are now three rehearsals into this concert cycle, I thought it was important that students had a good handle on their role in the orchestra. I wanted them to know that sometimes they had to be they have to be self-motivated in terms of what the next step is. There was mention of the fact that in any rehearsal process one must move from focusing on the technical -  to the artistic - to process and, finally - to perspective. If you are interested in knowing more about my thoughts on this, please refer to my recent article, "What and How?"

Tomorrow we have sectional rehearsals!  Onward.



Blue Collar Education

Those of you that see my Twitter or Facebook feed on a regular basis know that I've been posting quotes from a book I am reading this summer,  Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, by Frank Bruni. This book is required reading for all incoming and current students at the North Carolina School of Science and Math where I teach during the regular academic school year. I have truly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for parents and students alike. This book is full of stories and data that suggest there are many public and small, lesser known institutions across the United States which provide deep, challenging, meaningful opportunities for undergraduate education.  I know from experience teaching at NCSSM, an academically elite high school, that many of our students aspire primarily to Ivy League and other elite schools. I also see the incredible hit to their ego and feeling of self-worth when some are rejected from these institutions. The book makes the point that application numbers are elevated and rejection rates are at an all-time high from schools like Ivies, MIT, Sanford, Duke and many others.

So, as I have been reading the book, it has been easy to reflect on my education and subsequent opportunities in the world of music and music education. I did not come from a conservatory background. My parents were not professional musicians or even significantly music educated. Nor, was I ever sent to private schools, arts magnet schools, or elite summer music opportunities.  In fact, some of this is quite ironic, because, as I write this, I am on the faculty at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, one of the nation's most highly regarded summer arts training facilities. I teach during the Academic Year at NCSSM, one of our nation's most elite STEM high schools. And, I frequently guest conduct elite high school honors orchestras throughout the United States. So, I thought that many of my readers would enjoy hearing about my educational background and musical experience, as well as my path to my current place in professional life.

I'm the son of educators. My father began his career as an elementary teacher and eventually worked his way to principal and, finally, superintendent of schools in my hometown of Indiana, PA. My mom was an English teacher for her entire career in a small rural community outside the college town I was raised in.  My parents had a HiFi stereo in the living room and I can remember listening to records that ranged from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Glen Miller to classical recordings. I can remember being particularly interested in a recording of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance, primarily because of the picture on the cover of the record album. I remember that it was a pirate with a sword and it inspired my imagination. I actually remember pulling a stick from a tree outside the front of our home and pretending I was a conductor.  I have early memories of attending orchestra concerts at the local high school and university.   At the age of six I expressed interest in learning to play the violin . And after a great deal of pestering and prodding, my father reluctantly agreed to buy a small violin for me and find a private teacher. I was fortunate to have a neighbor who lived a short distance from our home who was a graduate violin student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Formerly Heidi Peterson, now Heidi Trevor Itashiki) and she was a fantastic violinist.

I began taking private violin lessons and excelled quickly. My sisters both followed suit and begin studying violin and cello within a short period of the time that I began. By the time I was eight years old I had begun taking piano lessons (in which I never invested too much thought or time) and music became a priority in our home.  Soon after, when my teacher finished her degree, I moved on to another teacher in my town, Gloria Johnson, who taught most of the top violin students. Her husband, Hugh Johnson, happened to be the conductor of the IUP Orchestra.  I studied with her throughout the rest of my junior high and high school years.  I played in school orchestra every year. I took private violin lessons. I played in numerous recitals in my town each year. I participated in performances for service organizations, church, and other community organizations throughout elementary middle and high school. I (with my parents support and guidance), invested in the music community of my hometown and they invested in me. Somewhere around age 12, I picked up the electric bass and started playing in rock bands in my community as well. Music was becoming a huge part of my life .

I attended summer music camp every year.  Interlochen was not within my family's budget, so I attended music camp at Edinboro State University.  I played under the baton of noted conductor, Walter Hendle and developed a lifelong friendship with Camp Director and Edinboro University Orchestra Conductor, Cliff Cox.  He became, in many ways, my model for what an orchestra conductor/pedagogue should look and act like on the podium.  I had experiences as concertmaster and as principal second violin in orchestra on various summers, played chamber music, played in pit orchestras for operas, had fun and learned so much while at camp.  I also attended Music Art and Drama Camp at Westminster Highlands each summer, a Presbyterian Church Camp in North Western PA, where we would create multi-art performances from scratch.  These camp experiences were incredibly formative in my music and leadership education.

I played in District, Regional, All-State, and even All Eastern Division Orchestras. When I was 16, I was invited to become a member of the IUP Orchestra and was thrilled to be part of a college performing ensemble at such a young age.  I also began taking music theory lessons with another local music student who was doing graduate studies at the University of Michigan. I remember learning about the circle of fifths and playing chords on the piano. This completely changed my life. I began writing music and found that I could move people with my art.  I was becoming a solid well-rounded functional musician.  I was also a top academic student. I was in all of the advanced classes in my high school, had a very high GPA, and graduated among the top students in my class. I was class president, had a wonderful social life, and enjoyed a fantastic high school education. I participated in clubs, music theater, weight-lifting, raquetball, and many other activities.  My senior year of high school was filled with music classes because I had finished most of the other academic offerings at my high school and I knew that I wanted to pursue music as a career.

When it came time for college, I had options. I was accepted to a private school in New York, a state university in Ohio, and my local state university, Indiana University of Pennsylvania . I initially made a decision to attend a school outside of my hometown. I was fortunate that the Music Department Chair from IUP knew me and my parents well and took some time to come to our home, sit in our kitchen, and explain to me that IUP had everything that the other schools could offer and more. I was convinced. Why drive 7 hours to college when I can simply go across town? I decided to attend IUP and would pursue a degree in music education even though at that time I really wanted to be a songwriter. (Actually I had no idea what I wanted to be! I just knew that I was good at music.)

IUP afforded me incredible opportunities. My violin instructor, Delight Malitsky, a former concertmaster of the Honolulu Symphony, was a world-class violinist and pianist. She nurtured me unconditionally through my four years of undergraduate education.  She truly provided me with conservatory-class private instruction.  I played in an orchestra that regularly prepared and performed the masterworks. I learned to love Beethoven Symphonies, Aaron Copland's orchestral works, Stravinsky, and many others. We performed classic repertoire as well as new music regularly. I had numerous solo opportunities in college and performed both a junior and senior solo violin recital.  My recitals included solo repertoire of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Kreisler, Bolling, Lalo, Sarsate and many others.  I played bass in the university big band, loved touring, and developed wonderful relationships with many of the jazz students. I excelled in music theory and the many other academic opportunities in the music department at IUP. I also loved my general education courses and I'm fairly certain that I had A's in all of my non-music courses.

One music education professor, Dr. John Kuehn, took a particular interest in my education and invited me to participate in the University Lab School music program even when I wasn't registered for his class. I jumped at the opportunity and quickly became interested in teaching and all that he could offer me in terms of training. By my junior year, he offered me an opportunity to teach the strings class (under his guidance) at the school. This was an unprecedented opportunity for an undergraduate at IUP and I jumped at the chance. By the time I student-taught a year later, I had already managed my own classroom for a full year in an elementary setting.  I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and that I could be good at it. I graduated Summa Cum Laude.

I student-taught at Williamsport Area School District in North Central Pennsylvania with well-known string educator and conductor, Walter Straiton. Walt was a wonderful mentor to me and continues to be to this day. I was given so many opportunities while at Williamsport. They seemed to sense that I had what it take took to be a master teacher down the road. I was green, but I was enthusiastic, and I had the training and tools to develop into a fine teacher.

I landed my first job at Palmyra School District near Hershey, Pennsylvania. I taught there for 6 years and had a wonderful experience learning to become a teacher in the elementary, middle and high schools. During my time at Palmyra, I pursued summer pedagogical workshops and was particularly enriched by a workshop at Central Connecticut State University which was taught by Dorothy Straub, Marvin Rabin, and Jim Kjelland. That workshop changed my life and gave me real tools to use in the classroom. I also knew that I wanted to continue to deepen my violin skills with Delight Malitsky, my collegiate violin instructor. So I went back to IUP and finished a master's degree in violin performance.  While at Palmyra, I played in the Lebanon Valley College Orchestra under the baton of Klement Hambourg, played numerous solo recitals, and took gigs at all of the local colleges and universities.

Soon, other teaching opportunities began to materialize. I moved to the Washington DC suburbs and began teaching at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, a Science and Technology Magnet School in Prince George's County and an MENC School of Distinction with a huge music program and lofty orchestral reputation. While there, I began to pursue post-masters studies at the University of Maryland. Most notably, I studied conducting with Professor William Hudson. I always took my conducting seriously and worked very hard to develop that art.  I never finished that degree, primarily because my first son was born and life simply took over. I also was beginning to receive numerous conducting opportunities outside of my school and began developing my reputation as a pedagogue, teacher trainer, and conductor of honors orchestras. The opportunities became plentiful very quickly.

Obviously, that's not the end of my education. Everyday is a learning experience. Other educational highlights include my National Board Certification and subsequent re-certification, numerous conferences and summer workshops, hundreds of books and articles, and probably most importantly, my broad experience.  But, that was the end of my formal education in a collegiate setting. None of it was at a conservatory. None of it was at a private school. None of the schools I attended were considered "elite." But all of them afforded me amazing opportunities, wonderful instruction, and met me where I was as a musician and a student.

So, how does someone experience such a blue collar music education and end up teaching at Interlochen and NCSSM? For me I think it comes down to a couple of factors. First, I believe in "active learning." I honestly believe that in every course I've ever taken, every lesson, every rehearsal, every gig, and every book I've read, I have been actively learning.  I try not to be passive about anything when it comes to learning. I try to engage my brain, think through process, and find connections in everything that I read, do, and experience.  I'm reminded of my experience while playing second violin Annapolis Symphony Orchestra back in the 1990's under the Baton of Gisele Ben-Dor , thinking that every rehearsal was a conducting lesson. She was a master. I learned so much playing second violin in that orchestra simply by watching her, taking mental notes, and incorporating many of her techniques into my own school orchestra conducting.  Another key, in my mind, is quite similar. It is to always "move with a purpose." My 3 sons get tired of hearing me say this on a regular basis. But, I believe it. In everything we do, it never hurts to hustle. The more we move with purpose, the more the people around us understand that we are serious about our tasks. I believe this has been an integral part of my development as a musician and as a professional. Opportunities don't just fall out of the sky. Someone has to think that you're worth the investment. Hustle and purpose is free and goes an awful long way!  Finally, I believe that my passionate pursuit of excellence has served me well. I have never been interested in being second-best. I have always been interested in being the best that I can possibly be. And, I believe that I have a palpable passion for the work that I do. Again, this can be a little bit abstract. But, when one is passionate about their goals and activities, combined with intellect and hard work, anything can be accomplished.

So, in wrapping up, I've been so fortunate. In attending public universities and schools, I have received some of the finest instruction that a music student could desire. I have never felt like my music education was lacking because I didn't attend an elite institution. I certainly received all of the necessary tools for musical and professional success as part of my education. I believe strongly that it is what you do with those tools that determine future success. I will continue to try to be a good steward of that education. I truly desire to pass all that I received through my education on to my students on a daily basis.

That is my goal today and every day.



(And, by the way, my oldest son is pursuing a degree in Music Education at UNC Greensboro, an absolutely amazing public institution.  He is getting a world-class music education!  Full circle.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Interlochen ICO, First Day of 2nd Session

Today, Tuesday, July 18th, 2017, marked the first day of the second session of Interlochen Intermediate Concert Orchestra.  I was pleased for have a few days off following our concert on Friday and was very ready to get back to work  today!  It was a great pleasure to meet all of my new students today and we had a wonderful rehearsal. We rehearse most days in Grunow Hall which is located along the shores of Green Lake at Interlochen Arts Camp. Today was a warm day. While there are fans in the room, they blow our music all over the place. So, most days we go without major ventilation in the room other than open windows.  So, it can get a bit steamy in there.  But, what is a day of camp without a little discomfort, right? (We did keep the windows open today.)

We started today's rehearsal by introducing ourselves to the people on both sides of us and then got right to work. The first hour of rehearsal included faculty section leaders sitting at the front of the section, while everyone sight-read the new repertoire. I will post extensively on the repertoire that we prepare over the next three weeks in coming days. Today, during the first hour, we actually got through just about all of the repertoire that I have planned for the first program. This includes a Robert McCashin arrangement of Haydn's Symphony 104, Movement 1, a Sibelius Impromptu, a brand new piece by Peter Terry, entitled Ancient Light, for which we will perform the world premiere next Wednesday, and a wonderful Latin tune called Samba Me This by Tom Sharpe, which will feature Interlochen faculty members David Kay on sax and Alejandro Bernard on piano.

To begin the second hour, I had students get to know their stand partner a little better. I had each member of the orchestra introduce their stand partner, tell us where they are from, and tell us something interesting about them other than the instrument that they play. This is a great way to break the ice with a group of young musicians and is always great fun. Today we learned that we have athletes, scholars, bakers, readers, and folks who love to sleep. We also learned that we have a large contingent from New York City, Chicago, Indiana, and numerous other places within and outside of the United States.

We then began our work on the Haydn Symphony and Ancient Light. I feel like we have a good start on both pieces and asked the kids to spend a bit of time in the practice room tomorrow on each of them. We will hit the ground running tomorrow and look forward to our first performance next Wednesday. It is a great group of new students. There were lots of smiles today. I know the next 3 weeks will be a blast - full of great music-making, learning, and fun!


Friday, July 14, 2017

Intermediate Concert Orchestra Repertoire: 2017 Concert #2

Today I would like to take a few minutes to outline the repertoire that the Intermediate Concert Orchestra at Interlochen will be performing on our second concert , Friday, July 14th , at 7 p.m. in Corson Auditorium on the Interlochen campus.  We have selected four pieces for this program and it is a total of just about 20 minutes of music. The pieces include the following:
  • Lacrymosa from Requiem in D Minor, Mozart, arranged Loreta Fin
  • Allegro con Brio from Symphony Number 8, First Movement, Dvorak, arranged Robert McCashin
  • Praelude and Gavotte from the Holberg Suite for String Orchestra, Grieg 
  • Reels and Reverie, Alan Lee Silva
We will open the program with Lacrymosa from Requiem in D Minor, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arranged by Loreta Fin. This work is published by Wilfin Music. It is listed as a grade 3.5 and I think it will be a very interesting, if not unusual concert opener. It is an instrumental arrangement of the famous movement from Mozart's Requiem. It is in 12/8 time and provides an excellent opportunity to teach compound time to these fine young musicians. The primary pedagogical goals of this piece are include ensemble subdivision, dynamic contrast, and appropriate bow placement and style for the work. We have spent a great deal of time working on subdivision by 3 for the 12/8 time signature and maintaining the musical movement of the work. The tendency here is for young students to slow it down. A great deal of responsibility is laid on the string bass section. They have to be subdividing in their mind the entire time in order to drive the ensemble.  We have given a great deal of attention to the need for an exceptionally light and "wispy" bow stroke on the piano (quiet) sections. Students have been encouraged to consider the length and style of every notation in their part. The piece will have maximum impact if the dynamic contrasts are huge. This piece only lasts about 3 minutes . But, I think it'll be a wonderful and surprising opener for our program.

Next, we will brighten the mood with Robert McCashin's arrangement of Allegro con Brio from Symphony Number 8, first movement, by Antonin Dvorak. I frequently program arrangements by Robert McCashin because of his tendency to toward keeping much of the integrity and spirit of the original work. This one is certainly no exception. This is listed as a grade 4 and is published by the FJH Music Company. This arrangement starts with the beautiful cello section feature that is found in the original. It moves quickly to a section that features solo violin playing the famous flute solo from the original. The arrangement features wonderful and exciting allegro passages and most of the primary themes of the work. Some of the pedagogical challenges in this piece include phrasing, hooked bowing , maintaining dotted 8th/16th rhythmic integrity, and changes in tempo throughout the work. I have found that it was much easier to teach the style after having the entire ensemble listen to the original work. There are a number of bowings in the arrangement that I have changed. I have found that a hooked bow on many of the dotted 8th/16th passages works better than some of the editors choices.  This was a great opportunity to drive home the notion that these passages may not become triplets! In the end, this is a very exciting adaptation of Dvorak's original work and I think it will bring the house down this evening.

I originally planned to only program the Gavotte from the Holberg Suite for this ensemble. We put that movement together and I felt like it would be appropriate to challenge my students with an opportunity to perform another movement. I offered them a challenge to learn the Prelude and they rose to that challenge. So, I am pleased to do both of these movements. I won't spend a lot of time talking about the pedagogical challenges of Grieg's work , primarily because it is so well-known. The Gavotte offers many of opportunities to deal with antecedent/consequent melodic relationships, stark dynamic contrasts, and the Gavotte/Musette form (Minuet/Trio). This movement features each section of the orchestra and works very well for my current ensemble. The Prelude, of course, has many technical challenges and our students have worked hard to overcome all of them. Among those challenges , I would include the difficult viola passage following repeat,  the rhythmic underpinning of the entire work, and maintaining tempo. It is been a pleasure to watch these students rise to the occasion of this important staple of string orchestra repertoire.

We will finish our program with Reels and Reverie by Alan Lee Silva. This work is a grade 3.5 and is published by Carl Fischer. This is another work that features 12/8 time, albeit in a completely different style than the Mozart. This has an Irish feel to it and is a wonderful up-tempo, spirited closer for the program. There are two lyrical sections in the in the middle of the piece, giving it an A-B-A-C-A form . This is one of those works that just feels good to play. String players sense the inherent string-centric style and gravitate toward the fast moving, marked, rhythmic ideas. The two choral sections in the middle are lovely and the piece finishes syncopated ending that is reminiscent of Riverdance. This, like many of Alan Lee Silva's original compositions, is sure to be favorite of performers and audience alike.

So, this will give you a good feel for the program that we will be presenting this evening. I would recommend any in all of these works for other conductors and ensembles. It's been a pleasure to put them all together. You can watch our program this evening at 7 on the Interlochen live stream