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!