Thursday, October 11, 2018

All of the Possibilities Sixteen

These are my notes and ideas from the introduction for:

Opening Reception for Vernon Pratt—All the Possibilities of Sixteen. Scott Laird, music director at NC School of Science and Math, introduces.
October 11 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm Free


 Trinity Pratt Findlay and John Pratt
Meth through Mother: Debbie Pratt
Thank Roger Manley and Zoe Starling
Acknowledge William Dodge - recently introduced me as “One of the two biggest Vernon Pratt Artwork Geeks in the world.”  (He is the other)

 My notes from this evening and some musical samples are posted on my blog, Thoughts of A String Educator.  I would encourage you to check it out when you get home tonight for a more in-depth understanding of the ideas presented here.

My History with Pratt family and Vernon Pratts artwork:

I am Fine Arts Coordinator and Music Instructor at NCSSM


  • John Morrison
  • Introduced me to Debbie
  • Trip to warehouse

2014 exhibit - Geometric

2015 Exhibit - Coltrane -fall curriculum

2016 - Gregg exhibit and my lecture on his work and my perception of its relationship to music

As part of the research for this lecture, I spoke with a number of friends and colleagues of Vernon.

Thrilled when Roger invited me to make some remarks tonight on my perception of All of the Possibilities of Filling in 16ths to Music

This work immediately reminded me of:

  • Steven Malinowski - Inventor Musician and Software engineer.  
  • Music Animation machine - - which produces animated graphical musical scores. That permit the listener to visualize music using a system of colored shapes, taking information from a MIDI file.
  • This is all over Youtube and I encourage you to look for it as a way to further understand music and form of music composition.
  • The Fugue
  • A Motive and Finding “All of the possibilities of counterpoint on that Motive”
  • a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (a musical theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition. A fugue usually has three main sections: an exposition, a development and a final entry that contains the return of the subject in the fugue's tonic key. 
  • Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578

2. Minimalism 

Defined: it is marked by a non-narrative, non-teleological, and non-representational conception of a work in progress, Prominent features of the technique include consonant harmony, steady pulse (if not immobile drones), stasis or gradual transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units such as figures, motifs, and cells. It may include features such as additive process and phase shifting which leads to what has been termed phase music. Minimal compositions that rely heavily on process techniques that follow strict rules are usually described using the term process music.

I was reminded of John Adams : rather than set up small engines of motivic materials and let them run free in a kind of random play of counterpoint, he used the fabric of continually repeating cells to forge large architectonic shapes, creating a web of activity that, even within the course of a single movement, was more detailed, more varied, and knew both light and dark, serenity and turbulence

John Adams Piano Concerto, Century Rolls

Slonimsky's Earbox, John Adams

Lollapaalooza, John Adams

No remarks about the relationship of Vernon Pratt’s Artwork to music would be complete without some reference to John Coltrane.  

I am by no means a John Coltrane Scholar.

So, I googled “Johns Coltrane” and “All of the Possibilities"

3. John Coltrane

 Sheets of Sound Technique: The term ‘Sheets of Sound‘ was coined by music critic Ira Gitler in the liner notes of the Coltrane album Soultrane (1958). He used it to describe the Coltrane’s improvisational style at the time.

the Sheets of Sound technique is a vertical improvisation technique; that is, it uses arpeggios, patterns, licks and scales that trace out each chord in a progression.

So let’s say one is playing a song, and we have the chord G7 for a full bar. Now, let’s just list a few scales and arpeggios that you could plausibly use to improvise over this chord:

  • G7 arpeggio
  • G13♭9 arpeggio (extension)
  • D♭7 arpeggio (tritone substitution)
  • D♭13♭9 arpeggio (tritone substitution with extension)
  • Am7 | D7 (II-V)
  • G Mixolydian (C Major)
  • G Wholetone
  • G H/W Diminished Scale
  • G Lydian Dominant (D melodic minor)
  • G Altered Scale (A♭ melodic minor)
  • G Blues Scale
  • G Major Pentatonic
  • We could keep going, but let’s stop there…

If you play all of these scales/arpeggios in their entirety over those 4 beats of G7, you are playing Sheets of Sound. Now, obviously, this is impossible so you just try squeeze in as much as you can.

It is, in fact, all of the vertical possibilities over G7

Blue Trane


What matters here, in my opinion, is the large impression. The Big Picture. Taking it all in. 

And that is the case the three musical forms that I referenced, the overall impression is what matters. 

With all these musical forms as with this piece, there is  microscopic precision and they are numerically complex. We can certainly marvel at the microscopic.  

But to truly appreciate it, we must really step back and drink in the big picture while appreciating the complexity of thought that went into the minutia.

Thank you so much and enjoy All of the Possibilities of Filling in 16!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

10 Songs I Can't Live Without

Sirius XM/Volume has a new series called 10 Songs I Can't Live Without.  In this series, musicians and celebrities chronicle their favorite all time songs.  They list them and explain the song's impact on their lives.  It is really fun to hear the lists and perspectives. So, I am starting a little series of lists here on Thoughts of A String Educator.   I will start with 10 Songs I Can't Live Without.  I would love to hear your reactions.

1. More Than A Feeling, Boston 
It was Christmas 1976. The first present that I opened that morning was a brand new stereo from my mother and father. I didn't own any records yet. I just had a feeling that this would be the sonic vessel for tons of music that was to come my way in the ensuing years. I had that stereo for nearly 10 years and it had a part in introducing me to so much music that shaped my life over the years. Later that Christmas morning, I opened my first record album. It was a gift from my sister. Boston's first album had been released earlier that year and was one of the biggest albums of 1976 and 1977. It went on to be one of the most enduring record albums in history. The first cut on the album, More Than A Feeling, still gives me chills every time I hear it. It represents much more than a song. It encompasses all of the possibilities of music.

"I looked out this morning and the sun was gone Turned on some music to start my day. I lost myself in a familiar song. I closed my eyes and I slipped away." 
It's more than a feeling (more than a feeling)
When I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling)  

I can't tell you how many times I have turned on some music to start my day and close my eyes and slipped away into that incredible place that this music took me as a 12 year old kid. Can't live without this one.

2. Carry On Wayward Son, Kansas
As a kid who played violin and loves rock music in the 1970s, the day I discovered Kansas was life changing. I couldn't believe the amazing energy that came from the violin on stage. Kansas was actually my first concert that I ever attended. My Dad took me to the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh to here to see them. I remember vividly that Cheap Trick was the warm-up act. But when Kansas came on I was transformed. It was 1979. I was 14 years old. And I knew right there that I had to be involved in music the rest of my life. That said, Carry On Wayward Son has become much more than just another song that Kansas wrote and performed. It has become in many ways my anthem and my theme song. Anytime that I feel a little bit down or defeated those words, "Carry On My Wayward Son,  there will be peace when you are done," resonate in my mind. I can't tell you how many times I have jumped in my car after a particularly challenging day or situation, turned on the radio, and there is that song. Ready to get me through to the next challenge, coaxing me on through the noise and confusion.

3. Fooling Yourself, Styx.

In 1977, my sister had a boyfriend who came around the house a fair amount. His name was Brett and I remember thinking he was a really cool guy. This was her first high school dating relationship and I just remember thinking how hip he was, how cool his clothes were, and what a good guy he was. I remember that he turned me on to this band called Styx. He told me about their new album, The Grand Illusion. So I went out and picked up a copy. That was the beginning of a decade-long obsession with Styx. I memorized all of their lyrics. I love their melodies. The concept albums really gave me lots of things to think about. I was just inspired by them at every level. There are many great songs on the Grand Illusion but none of them inspired me the way Fooling Yourself did. Tommy Shaw's voice was amazing on the song. And the song chronicled the story of a young man who was trying to find his way in the world. As a middle school student, the young man was me. Anytime I felt mad or angry or helpless, I would go to that one too that song. It got me through lots of middle school anxiety and insecurity.

You see the world through your cynical eyes
You're a troubled young man I can tell
You've got it all in the palm of your hand
But your hand's wet with sweat and your head needs a rest

And you're fooling yourself if you don't believe it
You're kidding yourself if you don't believe it
Why must you be such an angry young man
When your future looks quite bright to me
How can there be such a sinister plan
That could hide such a lamb, such a caring young man

You're fooling yourself if you don't believe it
You're kidding yourself if you don't believe it
Get up, get back on your feet
You're the one they can't beat and you know it

These words still lift me up to this day. I had the great pleasure a couple of years ago to go backstage after the Styx concert and meet the band. It meant so much to me to be able to say thank you to Tommy and JY. In many ways, Styx are the reason that I'm a musician today and I can honestly say Tommy Shaw is my favorite songwriter of all time.

In the summer of 1983 I had just graduated from high school. Synchronicity came out and my whole crowd of friends was highly anticipating this record. I already loved the Police and Sting. Roxanne had been a big hit and the band I played in  throughout high school did a ton of Police tunes from the Zenyatta Mondatta album including one of my all-time favorites, Driven to Tears. That tune just rocked. Synchronicity to me is a no-holds-barred anthem of energy and anticipation. Every time I hear those that opening riff I just want to get up and move. And, the lyrics. They just made me think.

With one breath, with one flow
You will know
A sleep trance, a dream dance,
A shared romance,
A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectable
Nothing is invincible 

If that doesn't speak to a 17 year old guy, I don't know what does. I can't live without this one.

This is the first one on the list that many of you won't know. Donnie Iris was a regional star in Western Pennsylvania with really only a couple of national hits. The big one is Ah Leah, which I still hear occasionally on classic rock radio and turn it up to 11 every time it comes on. This one though is from an album that was released in 1982 called The High and the Mighty. This Time It Must Be Love is a deep cut on that record and I don't believe it really got much, if any, air play. I loved it though. I can remember that I was coming off of a hard break up in 11th grade and every time I heard this song I hoped that I would feel that feeling again. This one expresses that joy and exuberance of the beginning of a new relationship. I loved that feeling back at when I was a kid and the thought that there was more to come kept me from getting too bummed out about my current situation. I knew that I would feel this way again. Now, after being married for 28 years, every time I hear this song it reminds me of how cool it is to feel this way every morning when I wake up. After 28 years, I'm pretty sure that this time it must be love.

The movie Purple Rain came out when I was in sophomore in college. I was already really into Prince. I thought he was a complete genius. The rumors of him writing and performing all of the parts on his records had certainly hit our little music department in Indiana Pennsylvania and I couldn't believe how talented he was. In many ways I wanted to be just like him. He was cool. He was mysterious. And, man, was he a great musician. When I first went to see the movie I was absolutely obsessed. Applolonia was absolutely beautiful. The musician got the girl. And the music was mesmerizing. I love every song on that soundtrack. It was so deep and it was so personal. I couldn't really relate to the story, but I could relate to the struggle of wanting to be a musician. And I definitely wanted to be in that band. I could have probably picked any song from this record. But Purple Rain is really the anthem. This really was solidified for me years later when Prince performed Purple Rain at the Super Bowl. When the rain started falling that evening I was on my feet crying. What an amazing performer. What an amazing anthem. He laid his heart out there on the stage and we were all better for having witnessed it. I really miss Prince. He is gone way too early.

If you're clicking on the links, check this one out. The Sweet Comfort Band is a fairly obscure reference. But this song means a great deal to me. This is the song that I proposed to Barbra with. When I first heard this song in 1981 or 1982, I actually had a feeling that it would be how I would propose to my future wife who I had not met yet. I just thought it was beautiful and expressed love in a simple and clear way that I understood. I desperately wanted to become a musician who was on the road, touring, and dreaming of home. These were the stories that I could really relate to as a kid. As it is turned out, many of these ideas have been part of my life. I wanted to meet someone who could understand my life and that these words would make sense to in the future. Thankfully I did. I still sing this song. Every time I sing it, I sing it for her. 

If you gave me an inch for every mile I've had you on my mind 
They would stretch on down the highway in an endless line 
If I had a dime for every time I've thought about us too 
I could buy myself a lifetime just to spend on you. 

I love you Barbie. I knew this was your song before I knew you.

All I want to do was a huge hit in 1993. Barbra and I were living in the Washington DC suburbs and were enjoying life as a couple pre-children. We loved to go down to Ocean City, MD and spend our weekends at the beach enjoying the waves, sun, and each other. This song became our beach trip theme song. It was on the radio constantly. I can remember driving back and forth to Ocean City from Bowie, MD in my black Jeep Wrangler, with the top down, and every time this song came on Barbra and I would crank it up and sing it at the top of our lungs. In many ways it represented all of the freedoms that we were enjoying. Sun, sand, the wind in our hair, and our best friend at our side. What an awesome tune. What great memories!

In the mid-1990s, a former student (and current friend), Mike Gray, introduced me to Dream Theater. That introduction changed my life. My recollection is that Mike gave me their first CD, Images and Words. He had a hunch I would like it. What an amazing band and what an amazing record. This is another record that I could pick almost any song and it could fit into this category. But Another Day is my favorite. It's a ballad. Has an amazing saxophone solo in the middle. But the musicianship is just amazing.  Every instrument is perfect. I love the production and performance on the record. This is just a great instrumental performance.

From 1983 until 1987 I was an undergraduate music education major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As a result of my work with the big bands at the school I became friends with a number of guys who were really into jazz fusion and smooth jazz. Groups like Spyro Gyra, Weather Report, the Chick Corea Elektric Band, Jeff Lorber, and others hit my radar for the first time. I seemed to gravitate particularly to the smooth jazz sound of the early 1980s and artists such as David Sanborn, Lee Rittenour, Dave Grusin, and others became my favorites quite quickly. Tom Grant is an artist who I sort of stumbled upon in a record store and bought the album. One of the tunes, Witchitai-to was on that record. This song has some lyrics, but really, it's more of  and instrumental conveying a general musical idea. The mood of the song grabbed me. This be game one of my go-to songs in the dorm rooms and in my first apartment when I wanted to just chill after a long day of work as a young professional. Give it a listen, it's super cool.

Bonus tracks:

To me, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters is the quintessential rock-star of our generation. His work with Nirvana is well-documented and the Foo Fighters are, in my opinion, the last great rock and roll band. I could have chosen a lot of other Foo Fighters songs as well. But Best of You rings as a great anthem in my mind. I love the passion. I love the urgency. I love the energy. I love the band. And most importantly I love what Dave Grohl stands for in rock history.

The last of my bonus selections is Come to Jesus by Chris Rice. It's beautiful. The words are beautiful. The idea is beautiful. This song speaks for itself. Give it a listen. #truth


Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Start of School and Hurricane Preparation

This morning, I am home while schools across North Carolina closed in preparation for the arrival of hurricane Florence. Here in the Triangle area, it looks like we will spared the damage of what was predicted to be a category 5 hurricane. Now like it will be more like a category 2 and will miss our area for the most part. That said, students at the North Carolina School of Science and Math will not have classes today and tomorrow. Many went home for the weekend and those who stayed at the school are hunkered down and ready for a wet, windy weekend. So, this seems like a good time to reflect on the first month of school and to start thinking about the upcoming fall season.

Orchestra at NCSSM is off to a great start. We would have had our annual Family Day on Saturday. It, of course, was cancelled due to the hurricane. Our plan was to play the classic string orchestra work, Folk Tune and Fiddle Dance, by Percy Fletcher. I was first introduced to this piece by my friend Dorothy Straub in 1988 at the Central Connecticut State University String Pedagogy Workshop It has been a staple of my repertoire sense that time and I was pleased to pull it out this fall. My new students at NCSSM have embraced this work and were clearly ready to perform it. At one time I heard that all music is either a love song or a pirate song. This two movement work definitely fits that description. The first movement, the Folk Tune has elements of both a love song and a swash-buckling pirate tune.  The second movement,  Fiddle Dance also swashbuckling pirate feel to begin and then finds its way to a love song in the middle "B" section. It is such a great work and there is so much one can teach an intermediate string orchestra contained within the work.  It was the perfect selection for early in the year with my kids.

The other string orchestra piece we have spent a good deal of time on is Howard Hanson's Variations on Two Ancient Hymns. This, too, has been a staple of my repertoire and is a really strong fit for my Orchestra this year. The work conjures up images of medieval cathedrals throughout.  The ending of the work is very large and features a huge ending with divisi celli. I have a huge cello section this year and truly the orchestra sounds like a plane taking off during this powerful ending of the work.

We have also begun putting together some full orchestra repertoire. I will be focusing on Brahms throughout the course of the year. So, how else would we begin the year but with Academic Festival Overture. My intention is to perform Brahms' Symphony No. 1 during the second term of the with my group. In addition the Brahms, we are preparing the beautiful piece entitled Wondrous by Karel Butz.  It is absolutely gorgeous and provides lots of opportunity for the mallet percussionists and keyboard players. I also have John Williams' Cowboy Overture and March to the Scaffold in the folders. I think that we may employ a large brass sections from our Wind Ensemble to participate in these pieces. Stay tuned for the final decisions for our fall concert in October!

Other highlights of the past month or so include a wonderful start to all three of the sections of my Classical Piano and Guitar course. I have students with a wide range of backgrounds and musical experience in the class. I find this class to be challenging on a daily basis in all the right ways. In addition, I have been hard at work with the board of the American String Teachers Association . We had our first Content Development Committee meeting this week and I was pleased with our strong start. Additionally, I have been performing a great deal around Durham. It has been wonderful to pull my looping technology for solo performances back out and get it in front of the public with a performance at the Iron Gate Winery in Mebane NC. We had a great crowd for a very hot Sunday afternoon! I'm looking forward to conducting All County events in Anderson South Carolina and Calvert County MD in coming weeks. Also, I will be making an appearance at Kennesaw State University in early November. So, there is a lot going on and a lot coming up. As we move through this wet and windy weekend in North Carolina, I wish all of you safety and protection from the crazy weather we are having. And, I wish you each inspiration and happiness as you move through the upcoming fall.



Saturday, August 18, 2018

Links and Resources for Charlotte Mecklenburg In-Service

Hello to my friends in Charlotte Mecklenburg!
I am looking forward to seeing you all on Monday.

I am honored to be representing Conn Music and Arts this week and to be invited to present to your string and orchestra community

As part of my sessions, I want to make a few resources available to you today.

Bringing STEM into the String and Orchestra Classroom
Handout with Links

Finding Fulfillment in Your Career in Music Education
Here is the link to the Pre-session  Survey
Here is a link to the full handout for my general session, "Finding and Maintaining Fulfillment in your Career in Music Education."

I can't wait to get started and see you all.

Best wishes for a wonderful 2018-2019 academic year!


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Links and Resources for Cobb County In-service

Hello to my friends from Cobb County, GA!
I am looking forward to meeting you all on Thursday.

I am honored to be representing Conn Selmer this week and to be invited to present to your string and orchestra community

As part of my sessions, I want to make a few resources available to you today.

Bringing STEM into the String and Orchestra Classroom
Handout with Links

Pedagogy from the Podium
Link to Finger Pattern Resources
Youtube Violin
Youtube  Cello
Youtube Bass

I can't wait to get started and meet you all.

All my best.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Perfectly tacky

This morning I was happy to have some time to head out to the mountain bike trails at Brumley Nature Preserve as I have been doing a great deal this summer. It is a warm morning and I was excited to get my ride in before it got too hot. I pulled into the parking lot and started getting my bike off the back of my car. A younger, female mountain bike rider came off the trails just about that time. She was fiddling around with her headphones and music in the parking lot and I went about my business. After a couple of minutes we made eye contact and I said, "How was your ride this morning"  A big smile came to her face and she replied, "It is a beautiful day today!  Perfectly tacky!"

After another minute she headed back onto the trails to continue her ride. I finished getting my equipment together and headed out as well. As I was enjoying the Solitude of the morning on the trails, I couldn't get that phrase out of my mind. Perfectly tacky. What a great way to approach a warm summer day. Within a mile or two, I had a good sweat going and I knew this was going to be a fun morning ride. I really didn't see another soul for the rest of the morning. I listened to the birds, did my best to avoid the scampering squirrels, and even saw a couple of deer. The forest is so beautiful in the morning.

I was really blessed this morning to be reminded  that it is  perfectly tacky. As you approach your day today, I hope that you, too, can see it as perfectly tacky. I will be heading into work today. I'm looking forward to meeting an artist from the Morganton area. He is coming to take a look at some of our Ceramics equipment that may be sent to the new Morganton Campus of NCSSM. Meanwhile, a morning on the trails is a great way to start the week.

Here's hoping that your day is perfectly tacky. Mine is already.



Friday, June 22, 2018

C. Growth Mindset, The Musician, The Teacher, and Career Fulfillment

In this, the third and final of my posts regarding career satisfaction, I want to say just a few words about the book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck.  This book has become an important professional development tool for educators across the US in recent years and has certainly influenced my thinking on the topic of career fulfillment.

Back in November, the counseling department at my school, the North Carolina School of Science and Math, presented a faculty in-service program that introduced this book and the concepts contained within to our faculty. As I listened to the presentation, I was compelled to purchase the book electronically (via Nook) and set it aside for future reading. This summer has provided the opportunity to dig into it and it has certainly helped to inform many of my thoughts about career fulfillment that I have been developing in recent weeks.

The in-service presentation was designed to give us a brief introduction the concept of growth mindset versus fixed mindset. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” writes Dweck. Alternatively, Dweck states, "In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb." As part of the in-service, we were encouraged to think about our own attitudes towards learning as well as those of our students. Are we as teachers promoting a growth mindset for our or are we settling for some sort of fixed mindset from both ourselves and our students?

So, this brings me back to the idea of career fulfillment, Maslow, and my life this summer.

First, I have to believe that all of the models of career fulfillment that I presented contain some sort of expectation of growth mindset.  Music educators who are most fulfilled believe that their abilities can be developed as can the abilities of their students.  We believe that through focused practice, students can get over hurdles and achieve great things.  The trick for us is to extend that idea and practice to ourselves!  We must continue to believe that we can get better.  We can become better teachers, better musicians, better scholars, better colleagues. Fulfilled educators believe that small failures are opportunities for greater achievement.  If a pedagogical technique doesn't work, try another tactic.  If we are feeling a bit static, find a way to become dynamic.  (I love the concept that, "A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest, stays at rest."  It is one of my great motivators in cycling and in life!) With a growth mindset, we can find dynamics and fulfillment year after year throughout a long and successful career.

Next, doesn't this fit well with the ideas that Maslow presented?!  At the highest level of the the hierarchy of human needs lies self actualization which includes achieving ones full potential, creative activities, spontaneity and problem solving.  A growth mindset would lead to all of these activities and attitudes.  If we truly have a love of learning and a desire to be "better" we will certainly be self-actualized human beings.  Alternatively, a fixed mindset would be in direct contrast to all of these.  I have to believe that Dweck has spent some significant time in the study of Maslow and his theories!

Finally, there is direct personal application here.  A person with a growth mindset wakes up every day with a plan.  They truly believe that brains and talent are just the beginning.  Our lives present an opportunity to develop ideas, theories, skills, and accomplishments.  For teachers, the summer provides both the opportunity to regroup and rest, as well as the opportunity to create, develop, and accomplish.  Our lives during the school year are so busy.  There is something absolutely refreshing about waking up, having a second cup of coffee, getting some exercise, and then  attacking some new idea, some task that has been put off, or that interesting book that one just hasn't had time to read.

Today is the day that all of my colleagues at Interlochen are converging on the camp for the beginning of the 6 week summer arts camp.  I have thought of Interlochen a great deal today.  The first day back at camp for the summer is always exciting.   It is so awesome to reconnect with old friends and anticipate the important work (and play) of the summer.  My work there has been the source of many of my goals, musical ideas and new scholarship over the past 7 years.  This summer is different for me.  This year, I am waking up every day with a different set of goals.  I am developing curriculum for NCSSM.  I am practicing my violin.  I am writing.  I am reading.  I am also exercising and taking care of household and family tasks that I have let slide a bit over the past 7 years. In the end, I am aspiring to grow and accomplish much.

I encourage each of you to set some goals for the summer.  Consider your mindset.  It is a growth or fixed mindset?  Do you feel like you are clicking at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs?  Are you fulfilled in your career?  If so, congratulations and keep up the good work!  If not, I truly hope that these posts have shed some light on your situation and perhaps have provided a framework for some changes that might get you a little bit closer to the goal of fulfillment.


Its All About People

Hi all!
I am pleased to let you know that I was recently featured with an interview on the Critical Pedagogy Electrified blog, also known as MusicEdLove.  This podcast is run by my friend, Angela Ammerman, professor of String Ed at the University of Tennessee at Martin.  I am on Episode 12 entitled, "It's All About People."

The interview mostly deals with my first year of teaching and the ups and downs of a first year string teacher.  It was fun to think about those early days in my career.  Although, I must admit, some of the details are a little bit fuzzy after 31 years!!   I hope you enjoy it.

I encourage you to check out the rest of her blog and podcasts as well.  They are fantastic!


Saturday, June 16, 2018

B. Maslow and a Conversation with My Dad

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my father over a cup of coffee at his place on the coast of North Carolina. I was telling him about the professional development session on Career Fulfillment I have been presenting lately and the positive audience response it has received. I feel in many ways that I have hit on a very important topic for music educators and teachers in general.  My Dad is a retired educator, having spent the majority of his career as a school superintendent  in western PA and enjoys a good conversation about education, educators, and the teacher's work environment. As he thought a little bit about my topic, he reminded me a little bit about his dissertation. My Dad earned his doctorate in the early 1970s from Penn State University. His dissertation was on Differences Between Parents' and Teachers' Perception of the Teacher's Role. He enthusiastically told me that during his review of the literature he encountered a great deal about Abraham Maslow and the "Hierarchy of Human Needs." He explained it to me briefly and I took a little bit of time to study some more on the topic. He told me that he felt it might have a little bit to do with my research and consideration of career fulfillment. I remembered studying a little bit about Maslow in my psychology courses back in the early 1980's, but really couldn't recall the details of the scholar or the models that he presented.  Of course, my Dad studied Maslow's theory as it relates to Labor Relations.  I am more interested in how it relates to career fulfillment for musicians and music educators.

Abraham Harold Maslow (1908 –1970) was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Maslow was a psychology professor at Alliant International University, Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people.  Maslow stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people are those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of.  The growth of self-actualization refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always 'becoming' and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them. (Wikipedia)

Sound like what we are touching on here?
Maslow also stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.

As I begin to superimpose the Maslow theories over the models that I had encountered regarding career fulfillment, it became clear that the two were very closely related. This notion of always becoming and never being static is, in my opinion, one of the great keys to career fulfillment. We, as teachers, must always be seeking out new challenges, new ideas, new motivations, and new strategies for delivering information and inspiring students. There have been several times already this summer that I have personally noted that it is important for me to "remain relevant" as I am not doing any hands-on conducting or teaching like I have for the past several years.  I don't want to be or become static!!  I feel like that relevance is strongly related to the notion of "becoming." If we are always becoming, we will remain a work-in-progress. We will remain relevant.  Sometimes artists refer to themselves as "creators."  Perhaps "creators" are always "becoming."

Maslow's hierarchy of human needs looks something like this:  At the most basic level, humans seek their physiological needs such as food and water.  After those needs are met, they move to safety needs like shelter and protection.  When those are met, they move to needs of belonging and love such as friendships and intimate relationships.  (Sidebar: I am fascinated by the show, Alone, on the History Channel.  10 participants see who can survive in the wilderness alone for the longest. After studying this theory, I can see that they work their way up the hierarchy of human needs.  First, they take care of food and water, then shelter and safety.   The need for belonging and love is often where  many of the participants in the show falter.  They are spending day after day alone in the wilderness and simply can't go on.  They desperately miss their family and their need for belonging and love causes them to "tap out.")  Next, humans move to esteem needs such as prestige and accomplishments.  When humans have met all of these needs, they  move to self fulfillment needs including creative activities and living to their full potential.  If we are truly self fulfilled, at the top of the needs hierarchy, humans will accept themselves and others for who they are, are free to recognize the needs and desires of others, and are capable of responding to the uniqueness of people and situations rather than responding to the demands of reality.

So, really, all of this career fulfillment talk for music educators is about the very highest level of human needs.  We are talking about how teachers (1) achieve and maintain their full potential and (2) remain active in creative activities.  Well, one of the areas is clear. Music Educators must pursue music-making activities throughout their career to continue to find fulfillment in the classroom.  The process of teaching music can be a creative activity, but I believe that pedagogy and teaching is more strategy-oriented.  Of course, we utilize all that we know about music when teaching, but I think we are obligated to keep creating music outside of the classroom.  Music creation is how musicians continue to become. We are still a musical work in progress. I know from personal experience that when I am pursuing my own music-making, I feel more fulfilled, both in and outside the classroom.

Pursuing and achieving one's full potential in and throughout a career in music education can be a bit more elusive.  How does that happen?  I think that there are several steps to this.  First, one must be self motivated to succeed at a high level.  We can't be happy with "good enough."  Young teachers can find this motivation for seeking their fullest potential by seeking out mentors that exemplify those ideals.  When strong, fulfilled mentors are are present for young teachers, they in turn become fulfilled experienced teachers.  Maintaining one's full potential for experienced teachers can be tough.  The "been there, done that" mentality can be tough to overcome.  This is where new professional development activities can be a motivator.  Experienced teachers must find new activities, strategies, goals, and methods that allow them to continue to work and teach at their full potential.  This is where self motivation is really important!  All of this is to say that reaching one's full potential is vital to a sense of fulfillment no matter the level of experience.  The trick is to stay in the race!!  We must always seek to be better!

In the end, I really appreciate my Dad reminding me about Maslow and his theories.  This is definitely all interrelated.  I hope this has added a layer to your thought process on the topic of career fulfillment as a music educator. 

Are you continuing to pursue creative activities?  This summer I am working on some recording projects and trying to enhance my improvisation skills with some new ideas and methodologies.  I am committed to practicing every day.  Are you committed to reaching your full potential?  My professional development at the Conn-Selmer Institute and a commitment to reading this summer will help me with this. (I will write about some of the books I am reading in a later post.)

Let me know your thoughts on this and I wish you all the best as you reach for your full potential and continue to pursue creative activities while you are at the top of the Hierarchy of Human Needs!!

And, Happy Fathers Day, Dad!  Thanks for all of the great conversations over the years.  Thanks for always encouraging me to think and reach for my best.  



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Conn Selmer Institute

Hello to my new friends at the Conn Selmer Institute!  Welcome to my blog!

This week has been such a wonderful experience and I am so pleased to meet so many new friends. I am honored that you took a minute to check out my blog.  You will find everything from pedagogical thoughts, to repertoire notes, to  family thoughts, and philosophical essays.

For those of you that are not here this week, the Conn Selmer Institute is a magnificent 4 day professional in-service conference held in South Bend, Indiana each year. This year represents the first year that there has been a dedicated string track at the Institute. It has been a true honor to participate in this event and I only anticipate that it will grow each year. Conn Selmer works tirelessly to provide the highest quality professional development experience for educators. As part of CSI, participants have been treated to a full schedule of educational sessions. Those of us in the string track have been particularly fortunate to be led by my dear friend Soo Han, the new Director of Orchestral Activities at Baldwin Wallace University. Soo has a stellar reputation in string education and has been a wonderful leader for those of us involved in the string track this week. We have been treated to several conducting sessions with renowned conductor Larry Livingston from the University of Southern California. Larry has really invested in the string teachers that are in attending and given a us great deal of himself. Larry was also the keynote speaker for the conference yesterday. In addition there have been wonderful sessions on scope and sequence, festival preparation, getting "inside the music," the basics of mariachi education, and others.

Moreover, the community that has developed among the folks involved in the string track has been absolutely wonderful. It has been so great to meet so many new friends, to learn together, and to socialize together after the work of the day is done. As I find so often, the warmth of the string orchestral education community is palpable and we all seem to sense that we are all in this together.
In addition to the educational sessions, we had the pleasure of touring the Conn Selmer manufacturing facility in Elkhart, Indiana. I was moved by the level of expertise of all the workers and the level of commitment by this company to exceptional quality at every step of the process. It really gave me hope for the future of our country.

To my new friends from CSI:
If there are topics you would like me to address here, just let me know. I will be posting more thoughts about CSI in the coming days.

Meanwhile, it has been my true pleasure and honor to hangout with and learn from you all this week.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A. Seasons and Finding Fulfillment

In recent weeks I have been thinking a great deal the various seasons that we experience in a career. It seems to me, as I complete my 31st year as a teacher, I have experienced 3 significantly different seasons in terms of how I relate to students and how students relate to me.

The initial phase is the first 5-10 years. For this article, I will call this “young teacher.”  The middle 15-20 years will be referred to as the “Advancing Professional.”  Finally, the 20 year plus teacher will be referred to as the “Seasoned Pro.” The transitions between seasons can be difficult and certainly have been for me to some extent.  I have realized that we must be mindful of the seasons and our role that we serve for our students and for our teaching community in each of these seasons.  If we are not mindful and reflective of these seasons, things can become difficult for us.

About 18 months ago I developed a conference session for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Southeast String Teachers Conference. The session was created at the request of my friend, Dr. Rebecca McLeod, and centered around the topic of finding career fulfillment as a string educator. I presented the session in January, 2017 and it was very well received by college students and seasoned professionals alike. The session presented 7 different models for looking at career fulfillment and encouraged colleagues to consider which model resonated with them in the most profound way. I found the various models in books on the topic, on social media, through light research, and even created a couple of the models myself based on my life and experience, coupled with conversations with colleagues.

In May 2018 I was invited to give a session at the Music and Arts Directors Clinics in Fredrick Maryland. I was asked to present to a mixed group of music educators including orchestra, band, choral, and general music teachers. After thinking about it for a while, I suggested the Career Fulfillment session as one that might resonate with my colleagues from a variety of disciplines. I spent a good deal of time revamping the session and updating it to match with my audience and current thinking. As part of the updating process, I began thinking about how we find our fulfillment in different ways as we move through different seasons of our career. This grew from the knowledge that the college students at UNCG responded equally enthusiastically to the content of the session as did teachers of 25 years or more. My guess was that the teachers at the Music and Arts Directors Clinics would be of a variety of ages.  This, coupled my own experience of the past few years and, frankly, struggling with some fulfillment issues, made the preparation process challenging and enlightening.  For a look at the session handout and the 7 models, click here.

One of the models which I developed is called “The Journey Begins.” In this model, I ask teachers to consider their sphere of influence as it relates to their students and their professional community (colleagues at work and beyond). I ask them to consider what their sphere of influence is or what they would like it to be during each of their career seasons.   In the weeks since giving the talk, it has become more and more apparent to me in my transition from “Advancing Professional” to “Seasoned Pro,” I have realized that I have not been reflective about differences in how students might relate to me how I need to be comfortable with my current sphere of influence and skill set.  This reflection is certainly an important facet of career fulfillment.  Here is an example of the potential discomfort and transition:  I am now the age of my student's parents or older.  Lets face it. Kids relate differently to their parents and their parents' peers than they do to younger adults.  My role is no  longer Mr. Laird the "cool (hopefully) young"  teacher.  I really do think that was once me.  But, that really can't be me any more.  Now I aspire to be the compassionate parental influence in my students' lives.  But, in my conversations with young teachers and advancing professionals, I may have the opportunity to share some of my experience and provide information, inspiration, or insights to their situation.  I have walked in their shoes and come out the other side.  My role and sphere of influence has changed and will continue to change.  We must be reflective to find peace in that transition.  (Otherwise we might even become dissatisfied or bitter.  Did you ever know a teacher in that situation?)

I have been privileged to spend the last 4 days with a small group (30 or so) of string educators from around the country at the Conn Selmer Institute.  Is part of our time together, I have had numerous conversations with pre-service teachers from many collegiate programs, young teachers, advancing professionals, and seasoned pro colleagues.  Many of those conversations centered around career, career advancement, time management, and overall fulfillment.  All of us, in one way or another, are chasing fulfillment though impact.  And all of us are in different seasons and phases of our careers and personal lives.  What a rich tapestry of conversation and ideas.

I encountered a pre-service teacher while at CSI who told me that he used to be an Environmental Science major and had changed recently to Music Education.  I asked how the change was going.  His response was that his life is now so much more fulfilling!  That  really moved me.  He, of course, had no idea who I was or that I was interested particularly in the concept of fulfillment. He was simply at the conference, soaking up all of the information he could from the expert faculty, and making connections with other folks that were interested in the same things ye was interested in.  He was seeking out the fulfillment that he was missing in his previous major.   I applaud him for chasing fulfillment and not reputation, money, or fame.  I assured him that with fulfillment in his sights as a goal, he couldn't go wrong!

What season are you in?  Have you been reflective about transitions from season to season?  Have you experienced any of the discomfort I describe?

My Dad spend over 25 yeas as a school superintendent and retired over 20 years ago.  I was telling my him about this line of thought a few weeks ago.  As part of the conversation he mentioned that it reminded him of some of the research he did on Maslow and Self Actualization as part of his dissertation in the early 1970's.  Come back to my blog in coming days part part 2 of this article where I take a look at Maslow's research and theories and attempt to superimpose them on this concept of career fulfillment.

Meanwhile, I wish you all fulfillment in your career and life as a music educator or in whatever you do!


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Critical Mass

Last weekend, the North Carolina School of Science and Math held its 37th commencement exercises on the lawn of the school.  All week long we were concerned about the possibility of rain on Saturday. But, in the end, the rain held off and we had a lovely ceremony. The class of 2018 commenced as scheduled. And school is officially closed for the next week or so while we prepare for the beginning of summer activities.


There were a number of wonderful speakers at the ceremony.  The primary speaker was Dr. Billy Pizer, '86, Susan B. King Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Programs at the Sanford School of Public Policy and Faculty Fellow at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, both at Duke University. Among his remarks was a bit of an introduction to the concept of "critical mass."  He explained that critical mass is key to a variety of unfolding reactions. He further explained that in any system there is typically some sort of order. But given enough critical mass, the order can be broken. If there's not enough critical mass to break the system, the previous order remains. I believe during his remarks used the metaphor of people standing in line. One person breaks in line, it probably isn't enough critical mass to cause chaos in the line. However, if 50 people break into the line, there's a likelihood that the critical mass of those 50 people will break the order of the line.  My recollection is that his explanation of the concept was in regard to his thoughts about climate change and his work in that important area.  He encouraged our graduates to be aware of the inertia that can be created by committed groups of people.  Critical mass can both stabilize and alter systems.

Interestingly, "critical mass" is a concept that I have thought about a great deal over the years as it relates to music education and my work as an orchestra director. So, today I will share some of those thoughts and models.

Critical Mass is defined as "the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture."  Think about this as it applies to your work in the music classroom both as ensemble director and as administrator of the program.  Have you ever started a venture as music instructor?  Have you started a program? A new ensemble? A new initiative? Even a new job?  Once in place, we all must maintain our programs. At it's core, critical mass involves a venture and we all certainly have experience with ventures and undertakings!  As music instructors we are program administrators as well as instructors.  So, I hope you can already see how this concept is in many ways central to a variety of aspects of our work.


I currently enjoy directing fairly large ensembles at my school. I typically have between 40 and 60 string players enrolled in my orchestra during any given term. (Our total student enrollment is ~680, so those are pretty good numbers!) I often think back to my early years at NCSSM when the numbers were much smaller. I believe in 2001, when I first arrived at NCSSM, there were about 12 string players enrolled in Orchestra. This creates a very different musical and social environment on a daily basis. First, when there are large numbers (critical mass) in the room, the group simply sounds better. Large string groups generally have a very appealing corporate sound. (I am often reminded by my wind ensemble directing friends that this isn't always the case in a band class.) When there are only 12 or 15 in the room, every voice counts to a much greater degree. One out of tune B-flat can really adversely impact the overall sound of the ensemble. There isn't that "critical mass" to keep the system from breaking down. We, as ensemble directors, really rely on critical mass to generate a great sound.  And, as a result, individual players can take musical risks that they might not otherwise embrace in a smaller ensemble.  A wrong note or fudged lick here or there won't really be "heard."  There is freedom  in numbers.  A friend once told me of an experience she had playing the Bach Double Concerto with about 3000 violinists at an international Suzuki gathering.  She told me that she thought it would be confining and restricting before the performance, but in the end , it was actually the opposite.  She said it was one of the most freeing and musical experiences of her life. Cool!


But, there is so much more to it than simply generating sound. There is a real social impact to critical mass in the ensemble as well. When we think about enticing students to take our class, critical mass is part of it.  It is much more appealing to join an ensemble that has lots of people, lots of interest, and lots of potential each the individual student. Without critical mass in the ensemble, students may fear that their mistakes will be heard more prominently, that their role in the small ensemble may be more than they can handle as a musician, or that it will be less of a positive, large ensemble experience. Critical mass can play a role in all of these social implications.


My orchestra gave its final performance of the 2017/2018 academic year just a few weekends ago. Within two weeks of the performance, I found out that my principal second violin would be attending a science competition across the country on the evening of the concert. I also found out that one of my top first violinists would be in Singapore at a math competition. Additionally, another important member of the second violin section was scheduled to get her wisdom teeth out that week and wouldn't be able to play in the concert. I could mention couple other similar situations that occurred in that time frame as well, but you get the point. Now, I know that all music directors struggle with these issues of schedule conflicts. Some of this is par for the course at our specialized school. Students are involved in a large variety of activities and events. We understand that music program simply one cog in a very complex wheel. So, I try not to lose sleep over these conflicts that seem to come up from time to time. However, this attitude and reaction is much easier to implement when we have a critical mass of players in the ensemble. In other words, those three students missing the performance would not break the order of the system that I have in place. I have plenty of violins and, while we really did miss each of those players, the system remained strong and the performance was magnificent. Critical mass was really important on that evening. If I had an ensemble of 12 or 15 players, the absences would have been catastrophic.


Another area in which I notice the impact of critical mass is teaching various technical and musical skills to the ensemble. Let's use player movement as an example. I am always encouraging ensemble to "breathe into entrances." I ask them to breathe for any entrance as if they are in a string quartet giving a preparation beat. I want them to lift their instrument and prepare for the entrance in a way that is called for by the musical style. This clearly is not natural for all young musicians. It requires concentration and an active mind to play with this sort of proactive physical performance technique. It requires leadership and strong understanding of the repertoire. That said, when an entire ensemble breathes into an entrance, the musical impact is stunning. When I first introduce this concept to an ensemble, typically only one or two players really get it at first. I have to keep working with and coaching a section or the entire ensemble until a critical mass of the players commit to the action. Finally, when we get over the hump of critical mass, those that are not fully invested in the physicality of the performance become the outliers and eventually realize the importance of the action. They would rather join the system than break the critical mass.

This concept of critical mass can be replicated in many other facets of the ensemble. I find this to be true with commitment to dynamics and phrasing, commitment to appropriate playing position and bow technique, and commitment to eye contact and musical interaction within the ensemble. I know that I find it much more satisfying to teach and to learn when there is a critical mass of students and interest in the room. This can be one of the most difficult hurdles for young teachers to overcome as they are thrust into a new classroom or teaching environment. It takes time to generate a critical mass of interest, trust, and commitment in a community or classroom. A music program is a "system" and systems with a low critical mass can be compromised easily. This can create a great deal of stress for teachers young and old!


How do you relate to the concept of "critical mass?" I was really thrilled to hear Dr. Pizer bring it up in his commencement remarks last weekend.  Clearly, he is thinking about it through the lens of his work and I through the lens of mine.  What have I missed here?  Do you relate to this concept in your work?  What systems are you developing?  How has that system been compromised in the past? Can a critical mass stop it from being compromised?

I would love to hear from you. These are just some of my thoughts as we begin the summer of 2018.  I am sure there will be more.  Until next time...


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

25 Bows for 25 Kids

Many of you know that I am honored to be affiliated with Coda Bow International.
As part of their 25th anniversary celebration, Coda is offering this wonderful opportunity for string students:


Music Teachers, do you have a hard-working, dedicated student who would benefit from a better bow? Nominate them to be one of the 25 recipients of a CodaBow Diamond NX with a custom name engraving!

Nominations accepted through October 1st, 2018.
Letters of nomination should be sent to  or to CodaBow International Attn: Rachael Ryan Dahlgren 876 East Third Street Winona, MN 55987
Nominations should outline the qualifications of the student including:

·         Student’s name, age, and instrument
·         Need for sponsorship
·         Example of student’s dedication and commitment
·         Example of student’s achievement and potential
·         How a CodaBow will positively impact the student’s musicianship
·         Teacher’s name, email, and school or music associations

Bow awards will be announced on, Facebook, and by email November 1st, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Coda Joule Carbon Fiber Bow

Today, I want to say a few words about the Coda Joule Bow.

I have been playing carbon fiber bows for the past 20 years or so. Initially, I was using them primarily with electric violins and had also used them exclusively with my acoustic violin for the past 10 years.  I have used them for a variety of styles including classical, rock, jazz, bluegrass, and others.

The Coda Joule has been my choice with my electrics for several years now and I am as happy with it today as I was the first time I played it. This bow is really unique.  It has all kinds of guts for the big stuff that I play and speaks with authority in the exact way that I need.  I have been using it a ton lately with my 5 string NS Design CR violin and with  D'Addario Octave Helicore Strings on my CR 4 string violin. I have used it extensively with my electric and acoustic instruments on a variety of performances and recordings and have been uniformly impressed with it. It gets a a huge tone and is totally consistent and resonant from frog to tip.  I have been in the studio lately doing some work on new Believer material and I am super happy with the response that the Joule provides for the heavy, crunchy style that I am going for.  For a quick listen, check out Return to Zero, toward the end of the tune. This one isn't so crunchy, but was recorded with the Joule. There is more to come later in the year.

Prior to picking up the Joule, I had been known to use a viola bow from time to time with my electrics and on rock and improv gigs. I just really liked the power and tone that it provided. And, actually Jean Luc Ponty recommended that to me back in the mid 1990's, before I was really doing much heavy playing and chopping.   Now that I have the Joule, the viola bow is totally off the table. The Joule meets that need completely.

I also use the Joule occasionally with my acoustic.  I really don't use it for classical playing.  Instead, I pull it out when I am looking to provide a prominent rhythmic vibe.  I also really like it when I need to cut through an acoustic band. 

The Joule is priced under $700.00 and is a must have for those of us that are working outside of the western classical tradition. Trust me, it plays a lot better than $700.00!

Bold and brilliant, the JOULE boasts a powerful resonance on the bottom strings and strong projection across all ranges. Unattainable with traditional materials, the innovative design of the shaft adds more mass to critical performance areas while preserving a balanced weight and comfortable flexibility. This unique design allows the bow to grab the string and speak effortlessly whether playing deep whole tones or percussive chops. Particularly well-suited to extended-range and electric instruments, the JOULE is the strong favorite for all high-octane performances.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In the woods

As we get ready to wrap up the 2017-2018 academic year, I am quickly turning my attention to the activities of the summer.  This one will be interesting for me as it is the first summer in over a decade that I haven't filled up with summer camps and a great deal of teaching.  This summer, instead, will be full of family activities and taking a bit more time for me.  I am looking forward to attending my son's baseball games, hanging out with my wife, and organizing a few family outings and trips.   In addition, I will have some time to do things that I haven't done in many years. One of those activities is mountain biking. I used to spend a lot of time on the trails (and on the roads), but in recent years I've gotten away from it a bit.  Life, work, and general busy schedules and taken over and cycling is one of the activities that took a hit.

This summer, I intend to get on my bike and out in the woods and as many days as possible. I was out for a ride last weekend couldn't help but think how my whole system changes when I am in the woods. I am fed by sounds of the forest in the morning, the various shades of light throughout the day, and the way my mind and body seem to relax when I am there.  I think that some of this is due to my childhood camping trips and great memories that I have of being in the woods, camping with my family.  I am reinvigorated by the woods. I am inspired by the woods. 

As I was out of the woods on a recent ride, I couldn't help but think how Beethoven and Mahler we're both impacted by their time spent in the woods.  Both composers found inspiration in nature.   The Project Gutenberg EBook of Beethoven:the Man and the Artist, by Ludwig van Beethoven, Edited by Friedrich Kerst andHenry Edward Krehbiel, states,

"Beethoven was a true son of the Rhine in his love for nature. As a boy he had taken extended trips, sometimes occupying days, with his father “through the Rhenish localities ever-lastingly dear to me.” In his days of physical health Nature was his instructress in art; “I may not come without my banner,” he used to say when he set out upon his wanderings even in his latest years, and never without his notebooks. In the scenes of nature he found his marvelous motives and themes; brook, birds and tree sang to him. In a few special cases he has himself recorded the fact."

As I pulled out of the woods on a recent ride, I thought of this Beethoven quote: “How happy I am to be able to wander among bushes and herbs, under trees and over rocks; no man can love the country as I love it. Woods, trees and rocks send back the echo that man desires.”  I felt like in some way, he was affirming my need to be there on that day. 

In recent years, I have become more and more interested in the symphonies of Mahler and have learned that he, too, was highly impacted by nature.  Mahler would spend his summers on retreat away from the city, away from his usual conducting duties, composing his great symphonies.  In many ways, his time with nature reminded him of his childhood and brought him a similar calm and inspiration.  The sounds of nature were the sounds of a symphony orchestra.  He, as composer, was the conduit between nature and the audience.  “My music is always the voice of nature sounding in tone…” The phrase "Wie ein Naturlaut" was written over the first bars of his Symphony No 1. This can be translated "as if spoken by nature".  As one listens to the opening of the First Symphony, they can hear the sustained octaves representing the awakening of nature and the descending 4th sounding like birds calling as the forest wakes up.  The sounds are not those of man, but those of the world around us.

Our upstairs air condition went out of service a couple of weeks ago and we are waiting for a new one to be installed in a couple of weeks.  We are fortunate that is is not too hot yet in North Carolina, especially at night.  We have been sleeping with the windows open and fans running since the unit broke down.  One happy result of the broken AC unit (And trust me, there aren't many!) is the opportunity to hear the sounds of the night with the windows open. Our back yard is full of activity throughout the night and the sounds are spectacular.  There is so much activity.  If find the sounds to be calming when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Again, it reminds me of childhood camping trips and wonderful times spent in the woods and around nature.  We should all sleep with our windows open more!

I am really looking forward to experiencing "Wie ein Naturlaut" on a daily basis this summer while on my bike in the woods.  I find it inspiring.  I find it rejuvenating. I find it sustaining.  As Beethoven said, “Nature is a glorious school for the heart! It is well; I shall be a scholar in this school and bring an eager heart to her instruction."  

And you thought I was just going to be riding a bike!


Friday, May 11, 2018

Music and Arts Directors Clinic May 12, 2018

Hello to all who are attending my sessions at the Music and Arts Directors Clinics in Frederick, MD on May 12, 2018.
Here is the link to the Pre-session  Survey
Here is a link to the full handout for my general session, "Finding and Maintaining Fulfillment in your Career in Music Education."

All my best!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Developing a Personal Pedagogy

Many of you know that I enjoy thinking about pedagogy and how we teach. A friend and colleague who spends a good deal of time accompanying dancers shared the following blog post, "Developing a Personal Pedagogy," with me and I thought I would pass it along.  You may have seen my recent post about parallels between dance and music performance.  Here is another example of the parallels in pedagogy and pedagogical thought.

In this post, the author asks purposeful questions about your pedagogy and priorities in teaching and developing lessons.  I feel like these questions, in concert with some of my pedagogical thoughts in "The Anatomy of Effective Pedagogy"  can lead to some interesting discussions and/or trains of thought.

I hope you find this interesting as we move into what promises to be a beautiful spring weekend.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Stumbling Into Spring Break

Today is the last day of classes at NCSSM before spring break. This morning we had midterm recitals in my Piano and Guitar classes and this afternoon I will give a lecture in my Music History course on sonata-allegro form and the Viennese era. It has been a wonderful academic year so far and the beginning of third trimester has been eventful and pleasurable. My Orchestra has been preparing for our annual Concerto Concert on May 18 and we just hosted a wildly successful ECU Four Seasons Next Gen Chamber Music Festival at our school last weekend. My students had the wonderful opportunity of working with the ECU string faculty and performed a movement of the Tchaikovsky Serenade and Holst's Holberg Suite. Life is good at NCSSM and it has been a wonderful year.

Yet, with all of that being said, I am truly stumbling into spring break. My nerves are definitely frazzled. I find myself to be overly sensitive to student  actions and reactions. I have been coming to work the last few days with the simple goal of not making others mad and not getting mad at others. The fact is, I need a break. My students need a break. The academic rigors of NCSSM are definitely catching up with everyone and we all need to step away for a few days.

This doesn't always happen to me at spring break. Some years, frankly, I would rather continue classes. But, for whatever reason, this year is different.

It has been cold outside and we really are just beginning to sense the onset of spring in North Carolina. I have spent a number of recent evenings freezing on the risers of the baseball field at my sons' high school watching JV and varsity games. The sun really hasn't been out very much and I think that has had some impact on my overall disposition. I could use some warm weather.

Also, I have simply been really busy this winter. I've been on the road a great deal with conducting appearances, conferences, and performance opportunities. All of these opportunities do impact me when they come at such a close proximity.

Here is the good news! We will all come back refreshed in 10 days or so. It will be great to have a little break from each other and come back to finish out the year in wonderful form.

I'm really looking forward to all of the spring concerts and celebrating the magnificent accomplishments of the class of 2018. I have so many seniors who have given so much to the music program over the past two years. It will be great to celebrate their accomplishments with them as we move towards commencement. I also look forward to what lies ahead next year. Our junior class is extraordinary and I know we will have a magnificent ensemble next year with rock-solid student leadership. There is much to celebrate and much to look forward to.

But for now, I must admit I'm feeling a little bit guilty about my general disposition. That said, I'm willing to give myself a bit of grace and understand that this, too, is a natural part of the academic year and the seasons that we encounter with our students.

So, if you are a teacher and feeling this way, just know that you are not alone. It happens to all of us sometimes. It's happening to me this year. I am really looking forward to this time away. I'm looking forward to spending time with my wife and kids. And, frankly I'm looking forward to spending some time alone as well. I think folks like me who love to be around people need a break every once in awhile. Mine is coming at a perfect time. I need a bit of a reboot.

If you are approaching spring break and have a few days off in the coming week, I wish you all the best. I hope that you (and I) will come back rejuvenated and refreshed. I know that I will do my best to be ready to encounter my students with love, respect, and grace as we move towards the end of the school year. I wish the same for you.