Friday, June 30, 2017

Heart of Fire Composer Visit

Today in Intermediate Concert Orchestra at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, we welcomed composer, Lauren Bernofsky to our rehearsal. She is the composer of Heart of Fire, a string orchestra work that we are currently preparing for a performance on July 5  at Interlochen Kresge Auditorium. This 2012 publication is a wonderful string orchestra piece and we were thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity to have the composer join us for a rehearsal today.

The rehearsal began with opening remarks from Dr. Bernofsky. She told us about her educational background, how she became a composer, and the motivation behind this piece. It was commissioned by the Bennett's Mill Middle School, under the direction of Patti Davis, in Fayetteville, GA. It is published by FJH Music Company and is listed as a Grade III work. The inspiration for the piece was the basic style of  a Vivaldi Allegro and we also learned that there was a call for a featured cello solo.

Following her opening remarks, the orchestra played the piece for Bernofsky. We then proceeded to rehearse the piece with her comments as the centerpiece of the work for the day. We worked on the overarching style, balance of the ensemble, dynamics and dynamic contrasts, and a number of other important musical issues embedded in the work.

We finished the rehearsal with a brief Q&A session with the composer. As part of the time together we learned about the background of the title, how composer royalties work, publishing and copyright, and a number of other issues related to the profession of music composition.

In all, it was a wonderful 90 minutes of rehearsal and conversation. I firmly believe that all of the students left rehearsal with a new perspective on music composition and this piece specifically. I wish to thank Lauren Bernofsky for taking the time to come to our rehearsal and to share her insights with the ensemble. What a valuable day of rehearsal and music making it was! We have so many opportunities here at Interlochen for these types of interactions. Today was truly memorable!

Tomorrow, I will joining her composition classes here at the camp and sharing some of my perspectives as a string educator. I look forward to returning this favor and to a wonderful morning tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

When Expectations are Exceeded

Isn't it a great feeling when you walk into a project expecting one thing and your expectations are completely exceeded?!

Well, this happened to me today. You see, today was the second day of rehearsals for the Intermediate Concert Orchestra at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. Yesterday, our first rehearsal was fine. I met the students and we sight-read two of the pieces that I selected for the first concert. The kids did great. I always like to start with music that isn't too difficult for students on this age: something that everyone can read or at least feel confident that they can prepare in the course of the week. Going too difficult too fast can be demoralizing for some students and I wanted to make sure that everyone knew that there was a place for them in this ensemble. They took in all of the information that was given and worked very hard through a two-hour morning rehearsal. I walked away from the rehearsal feeling very good about those two pieces, but I was a little concerned that another piece I selected would be too hard for them.

Today, for the first hour of rehearsal, I had the pleasure of welcoming my faculty colleagues that will be running sectional rehearsals into my my large group rehearsal. They are magnificent professionals from all around the United States, most of whom I have worked with on numerous occasions previously. When they come to this rehearsal early in camp, I simply have them sit in the first chair position of each section and play along with the ensemble, occasionally demonstrating or remarking on various parts in the repertoire. Today was no different. We started with the two pieces that we had worked on yesterday. I had assigned these pieces to the students to practice overnight. The kids did a great job and the run-through with the faculty went great. After these were done I decided to read the more difficult work. This is Mendelssohn's Sinfonia 2 in D Major. The Mendelssohn Sinfonias are wonderful works for string orchestra that Felix Mendelssohn composed during his teenage years. But, don't be fooled. They can be quite difficult to pull off in a student orchestral setting.
To my pleasant surprise, the first read-through of the first movement went very well. I decided next to simply run it a second time with the faculty members again leading each section. We did so and then, to end the first hour of rehearsal, I had the faculty members perform the first part of the first movement for the kids. I wanted the students to hear and see all of the best practices that these magnificent colleagues would demonstrate to end that portion of rehearsal. I couldn't help but to smile as they demonstrated such beautiful ensemble and individual musicianship. It was a great example for the kids.

We took our break, said goodbye to my faculty colleagues, and I decided that we would spend the next hour wood-shedding the Mendelssohn. As I often do, I spent the second hour of rehearsal with my instrument in hand, demonstrating parts and helping the students get an early feel for the style and technical demands of the work of the work.

The second hour of rehearsal flew by and by the time we finished, we had framed out the exposition and had begun the slow process of learning the development. Much was accomplished and the benefit of having my colleagues in the first hour of rehearsal was certainly palpable.
We finished out our final portion of rehearsal reviewing the two pieces that we had begun the day before. Everybody left with a huge smile on their face and I believe that the students felt proud of their accomplishments. I know I was very pleased. My expectations has certainly been exceeded. I really didn't think that the Mendelssohn would be within our reach after the first rehearsal. That said, the students dug in and really impressed me today. Now, I am considering doing more than just the first movement. I challenged the students to come back tomorrow with the first movement under their fingers. I told them that if they did so, I would consider starting the second movement as well. Wouldn't it be great if we could perform all three movements by the end of the three-week camp!

And so it goes. Sometimes our expectations are exceeded. It's the greatest feeling. Isn't it? And in many ways, that's what happens here in Interlochen. Students are challenged and they rise to the occasion.

What surprises will be in store for me tomorrow?  I wonder!



Monday, June 26, 2017

Getting Started

Today marks the first day of rehearsals for my 7th season as conductor of Interlochen's Intermediate Concert Orchestra and for all of the ensembles for the 2017 summer season. I am excited to get started with my group and woke up this morning with a great amount of energy and anticipation for the coming day. I know that this will prove to be a wonderful summer of music-making and learning. I can't wait to meet my students and begin to learn who they are and what they are about.

I began my morning with my (third) cup of coffee out at the dock on the lake in front of my cabin. I looked to the north and saw grey clouds with a little bit of sunshine peeking through. I look to the south and saw blue sky and white clouds. I couldn't help but to reflect on the beauty of this place and the wonderful life that I live as a musician , teacher, and artist . I'm feeling blessed this morning.

On Saturday we had our opening faculty meeting. It was a wonderful reunion of magnificent friends and colleagues. I always love this meeting because so many of us are coming back together after a year of successes, trials, and arts events . We get to catch up on all of this personal and professional experience and renew our deep and lasting friendships . There is also always a great anticipation of the work and fun ahead of us and the incredible art that is about to be created. This gathering is always a highlight for me.

This year, Interlochen has a new president, Trey Devey. He is truly just days into his tenure at Interlochen. We met him and heard his opening remarks. I feel confident that he will bring a deep respect for the institution and tradition along with new perspective, ideas, and energy to this special place. I feel certain that we are in good hands moving forward.

We also heard opening remarks from Ted Farraday, Interlochen's Vice President of Education Programs.  I always look forward to Ted's remarks at the beginning of Camp. I have actually written about them before in a previous post. He has an incredible ability to cut to the chase on our goals and motivations for teaching and promoting the arts . This year was no different.  I take notes on his remarks every year and this one was no different.  He reminded us the the best teaching occurs when we ask questions.  Not just "who, what and where."  The important questions are "why and how?" 

He also articulated this idea:

There are really only 2 kinds of questions:

The response to this is facts and information.  In this information age, this is readily accessed.  Important, but accessible.


So what?
Why do we care?  This cuts right to the human condition.  Thinking has to take place.
This question requires more time and consideration.

We know this as teachers, but it is always good to be reminded.  Our content is important. Notes, rhythm, technique, and history all matter.  But, the inspiration and thought that gives the content relevance to the human condition is where real arts learning and inspiration occurs.

Ted also encouraged us to be thoughtful when meeting folks for the first time.  Ask them, "What's happening?" "What's important right now?" "How can I support you?"

Wow. What a wonderful charge to start the summer. These are the questions I will be asking my students and colleagues.  See?  This is why I can't wait to get here and get started each summer.

To add to all of this anticipation, I am also digging into a thought provoking book that I will be writing about in coming days.  It is Beethoven: His Spiritual Development, by J.W.N Sullivan.  I was cleaning out some bookshelves at NCSSM before coming to Michigan and ran across this 1927 publication.  The title totally intrigued me and I had to stick it in my backpack and bring it with me.

This book looks at art, expression, interpretation, and, of course, Beethoven's life and works in interesting ways and will certainly provide a great deal of food for thought for me in the first week or so of camp.

Time to go to rehearsal.  More later!



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Interlochen 2017

Hi friends!

I arrived at Interlochen yesterday to begin my 7th season as conductor of Intermediate Concert Orchestra.  I am really looking forward to another great summer in Northern Michigan at this special site where the Arts are celebrated and experienced in such profound ways.  I am honored to play just a small role in the community here.

Throughout the summer I will be posting here.  I will discuss ideas, repertoire, and experiences that come up throughout the season.  This morning we had our first faculty gathering and students are beginning to arrive.  You can feel the excitement in the air.

So many students and faculty find their experience here to be life-changing.  I know that I have over the years in specific and broad ways.  I am sure that I will change this summer as well.  It will certainly be a fun ride!

I hope that you will take the journey with me.


Friday, June 2, 2017


Yesterday was the last official day of the Academic Year for faculty members at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. As part of the daily activities, the Humanities Department had our final meeting of the school year. Rather than a formal agenda for the meeting, we were simply given a forum to express our gratitude for each other and for events that had occurred during the course of the year. This was an incredible exercise for me and I believe for many of my colleagues on the last day of school. We heard stories of gratitude for colleagues, for help during times of ill-health and family crisis, for curricular inspiration, for facilitation of professional in-service and ideas, for lovely unexpected gestures, and many others. 

How rare for a group of colleagues to have an hour to simply sit in a circle and thank each other!  I am so appreciative for that opportunity and for the opportunity to hear the thoughts of gratitude expressed by my friends and colleagues.  It was a beautiful way to end the school year.

So, in this post, I would like to express gratitude for a number of opportunities that have come to me throughout the course of the past year.

First, I am thankful for my family.  My wife is so supportive and literally adjusts so many facets of her life to accommodate my busy work and performing schedule.  She understands my priorities and challenges.  I couldn't do it without her and I truly appreciate her guidance and support in my life.  I am also thankful for my kids.  I have three sons who make me proud on a daily basis.  They are growing to be fine human beings, exhibiting compassion, work ethic and sensitivity on a daily basis.  We live in a harsh world and I know my boys will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  I feel so fortunate to have a role in their lives.

I am thankful for the many conducting opportunities that have come my way this year.  I am so privileged to work with students all over the US and appreciate the opportunity to have a small part in shaping the musical understanding and passion of so many kids.  It is such a joy for me to travel and experience the excitement of orchestra events over and over.  I always knew that I wanted to do this and I am truly living my dreams.  If you had a part in providing me one of these opportunities, thanks!

Similarly, I am thankful for speaking and conference presentation opportunities.  These presentations keep me on my toes and fresh.  They give me the opportunity to articulate my pedagogical thoughts to other teachers and to gain constant feedback on my ideas.  In return, I gain motivation from their enthusiasm for my material.  Truly, I appreciate the opportunity to share my ideas with colleagues.

I am thankful for colleagues.  My colleagues at NCSSM support and inspire  me every day. We collaborate, discuss, share, laugh, and commiserate.  I couldn't ask for a better daily environment. 
My colleagues around North Carolina are an inspiration as well.  I look forward to our regional and all-state events, not only for the opportunities my students receive, but also to hang out with my friends!  We share laughter and common situations.  The string ed community in NC is strong and welcoming.  And, I am thankful for colleagues around the country.  It is so great to watch your accomplishments and lives via Facebook and other digital media.  And, of course, I love seeing you, hanging out, sharing meals, and touching base at conferences and other events throughout the year.  This community isn't that big and I am always reminded that this is our "tribe."   It is wonderful to be in this together.

I am thankful for NCSSM.  This institution has been so wonderful to me over the years.  The school's mission is a perfect fit for me.  The administration appreciates my talents and does all that they can to allow me to thrive and be my best at every turn. And, when I need a little latitude, they always provide me with what I need.

I am thankful for smiles from students.  There is no greater feeling than making eye contact with a student while conducting a piece and receiving that smile that says, "Thanks, Mr. Laird. This is awesome."  Similarly, it is great to just get that smile in the hallway or during a break in rehearsal.  Again, the community of string players and orchestral musicians is small.  It is so nice to be connected with young people by such a cool and meaningful pursuit.

I am thankful for the love and support that I have received from so many people in the past year.  It is truly awesome to have folks that care for us.  That has definitely been palpable in my life in recent months.  Thanks.

I am sure there is much more:  health, happiness, recreation, engagement, good fortune, and others.  I am certainly grateful today.  

Thanks to you for taking the time to read this.  Peace.