Friday, November 15, 2019

South Carolina Region 2

Hi Friends.
Last weekend I conducted a wonderful Regional Orchestra event in South Carolina. (It was such an honor to work with your students in Region II.) As part of the event, I was asked to present a 1 hour professional development session for the participating teachers.  Initially, I planned to do my Pedagogy from the Podium session which I have presented many times over the years.  But, after my first evening of rehearsals, I decided it would be cool to share some of the broad ideas I was presenting to students as part of the rehearsal process.  I thought the teachers would enjoy hearing some background and context to my musical and ensemble priorities. 

All of these are designed to empower kids as independent musicians.

Pedagogy from the Podium Handout

Pedagogy from the Podium Presentation

I hope that some of this resonates with you and that perhaps your students will bring some of the concepts back to your local school orchestra.
Again, thanks for having me this weekend!!


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

WSFCS Professional Development Day - October 29, 2019

Hello to my friends from Winston Salem Forsyth County!

I am looking forward to sharing some of my ideas with you today!

Here are some resources for the day:

Finger Patterns:

Full Explanation and links


My Finger Pattern Documents (Sheet Music, Explanations, etc.)

Quick Link to Violin Finger Pattern Exercises on Youtube

NCSSM Finger Pattern Playlists: All Instruments and Major Scales

The Habit Loop

All Materials

I hope you find the professional development sessions useful today!

All my best.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Reliably Bad with the NCSSM Orchestra

Reliably Bad will be performing a free concert with the NCSSM String Orchestra at NCSSM on Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. in the ETC Auditorium. Reliably Bad is a Greensboro-based funk-pop 8-piece band who are making waves in the N.C. music scene with their original music. All graduates or current students of the UNC-Greensboro School of Music, each member brings a variety of influences and musical styles to the table. This will be their first time performing with an orchestra backing them up, and they have been hard at work creating orchestral arrangements for this show. (Bandmember Christopher Peebles is currently doing all of the string arrangements.) This high-energy concert is sure to be a great way to celebrate the end of first trimester classes! Check out their new single and this recent article.  This is a free concert and families with children are welcome!!

Here is their Bandcamp page with some more tunes:

I am really looking forward to doing this non-classical orchestra performance with our orchestra students and Reliably Bad. It will be a completely different experience from a traditional orchestra performance and everyone gains from it. The band is fantastic, and I feel like their boundless energy and musical expertise will certainly transfer to our orchestra musicians. Also, it will be great fun!  - Scott Laird

Friday, September 27, 2019

Mountain Biking and Orchestra

Many of you know that I am really motivated by sports analogies when it comes to music and ensemble musicianship. I have written in this blog about parallels I find between coaching and conducting as well as parallels between baseball hitting technique and violin technique. There have been lots of other posts in the past that touch on approach and purpose as it relates to both sports and music.

Today, however, I am thinking about the act of playing in an ensemble as it relates to the sport of mountain biking. I was out for a ride recently on a beautiful trail single track trail at Brumley Forest in the Durham, North Carolina area and couldn't help but begin to count all of the parallels between playing ensemble music and mountain biking.

First, my students hear me talk about having active minds all the time. In order to really be a fine ensemble player (or soloist), one must always be fully immersed in the moment of music making. That can entail not only thinking about what you are doing at any given moment, but also thinking ahead. One must be prepared for what comes next, and next, and next. When mountain biking, if you are reacting the obstacle you are right on top of, you are doing it too late. The mountain biker has to look ahead and plan their approach to rocks, roots, twist and turns and other obstacles that they might encounter. This involves a complete connection between the trail, the bike, and the rider. Similarly, the violinist must have a complete connection between the repertoire, the instrument, and their mind and spirit.

In fact, aren't both activities of mind, body, and spirit?  There is nothing passive about navigating a great single-track trail.  The mind must be singularly focused.  In fact, I would say that any time my mind wanders when on the trail, I am destined to crash.  Similarly, when playing in an ensemble, one's mind must be singularly focused on the task at hand.  The musician's mind must be ready for all of the "roots, rocks, and twists and turns" of the piece and the performance.  If the mind wanders, bad things can happen!  

The body is the next step in the process; isn't it?  On the trail, as approaching an obstacle of loose rocks, I have to mentally prepare to keep my cadence going through the obstacle.  But that is just the first step. The body must commit to the experience.  It must flow with the trail and the upcoming obstacles.  The body must fight fatigue and stay in control with the unexpected happens.  Isn't it the same in music?  Your brain can tell you to play technical passages all day long, but if the hand isn't up to it, it won't happen.  Similarly, in slow passages, I can't tell you the number of times that the plan for tone and phrasing in my mind has been thwarted by some insecurity or inability of my left or right hand technique.

I mentioned pedal cadence in the previous paragraph.  This is critical to the cyclist.  It is critical to continue pedaling through obstacles.  It is less about the overall speed of the bike, and more about the steady cadence of the pedals through the obstacle.   Similarly, I find that young musicians tend to want to increase the tempo (cadence) through many difficult or "fast" passages when in reality, they call for steady even cadence.  The strength of the rhythm is much more evident when the tempo or cadence is consistent.  Approaching an obstacle slowly and accurately with a steady cadence is always better than approaching an obstacle in a fast, haphazard and sloppy manner.  So it is with music!

Here is one that non-cyclists might not think of: In both disciplines, one must listening carefully to the things that are happening around you.  First, it just makes the experience richer for the cyclist. The sounds of the forest are magnificent at all times of year!!  And, it really helps to know when you are approaching other bikers or animals (large or small) on the trail.   

Here's another one: Riding a trail for the first time is a lot like sight reading a new piece.  The first time through is a totally difference experience than, say, the fifth.  The first time, you have to figure out what is going on.  Perhaps stay a bit cautious.  Then, after you figure out the trail or the piece, you can be a bit more aggressive.  You have had to time plan out your approach, practice the hard passages, and prepare for the various aspects of the test ahead of you.  Practice and repetition change the way you ride and play.

Some others:
  • Proper equipment makes a difference.  There is nothing like the feel of a great bike the first time you try one.  It feels different to ride: more reactive, lighter, faster, more controllable.  The same is true with an upgraded instrument or bow.  Better equipment is worth it!!
  • Find joy and challenge in the obstacle. Both of these activities should inspire joy and satisfaction.  Oddly, I even find satisfaction in an occasional crash; both in riding and in music!
  • Embrace the euphoria of the experience.  It is hard to put the mountain biking experience into words.  It is simply euphoric.  Those of us that play or conduct orchestras know that the music performance experience  is like a drug. We want more all the time.  There is simply nothing like it.  We are all chasing that euphoria!
  • Embrace the dynamic nature of a trail and music. We all love to find that rise and fall in a trail and in music. Some mountain bikers may call this the "flow" of the trail.  It is dynamic and captivating.  And so it is with music.  There is always more to discover and find in a score or performance.  It keeps us coming back time after time!!

So there you have it.  These are the musings of a guy who can't get enough of either of these activities and they are so similar.  I hope you found some interest in this comparison.  What do you find parallels your musical experience?  Another sport?  Another activity?  I would love to hear from you.  As always, thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts!



Florida Orchestra Directors - Friday Presentations

This post if for the folks that attended my sessions today at Florida Orchestra Directors Association.

First, thanks so much for coming to my session!  It was great to meet so many of you and really appreciate all of the interest and positive feedback!

I promised you a few resources.  So, here goes:


If you were in my Pedagogy from the Podium, I didn't get through all of the examples. If you are interested in more, here is link to the presentation

Here is the presentation from my Habits session

More on Finger Patterns as a vehicle to upper positions:

Link to Youtube Playlists

Link to Google Drive with written resources for Finger Patterns

Look over the materials on Youtube and in the Google Drive.  Handout on the Google Drive has more information. Also, be sure to read the text in the Finger Pattern Introduction Video.  It has even more information.  You will find backtracks for all of the Cycles of Finger Patterns in 3rd positions and Backtracks for 1 and 2 octave major scales. If you have more questions, just ask. My e-mail is

I hope this is all useful!
Again, thanks for your wonderful hospitality today.
Until next time,

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Value of Order

I have been thinking lately about how important it is to have order in our lives.  I believe that I am more productive, more settled, and happier when I feel like my life is orderly.  I enjoy my home more when it is neat and orderly.  Yesterday's clothes left on the floor doesn't feel as good to me as clothing on a hanger.  Knowing what I am going to eat for lunch as I leave for work feels better to me than figuring it out when I am hungry at 12:30 after a morning of classes.  Walking into school with strong lesson plans for the day is better than putting a plan together at the last minute or simply winging it.  I like to plan my daily and weekly schedule carefully.  Somehow all of this orderliness keeps me happy and settled. 

I believe that students need this as well.  For years, I have placed a strong priority on students walking in to an orderly, set up classroom.  I never hand out or collect music in class.  I prepare folders ahead of time, outside of class, and collect music the same way.  I think my students appreciate this.  I feel confident that they appreciate the effort that it takes to be orderly and efficient with class-time.  I also believe in strong classroom routines: introduction, warm up, content and related activity, closure.   These routines set up a safe and predictable learning environment.  

The new school year has begun at NCSSM and orchestra is off to a great start. I have truly enjoyed getting to know all of our new junior string players. Rehearsals have been vibrant and productive right out of the gate.  One thing that has stuck me again this year is the importance of seating in the orchestra and the order that seating facilitates.  Remember that my orchestra changes by just about 50% every year. We are a two-year school and when a class graduates, half of the orchestra departs.  Also, I really don't find out how many students will be in my orchestra or instrumentation until the first day of class. This year I am blessed with incredibly balanced sections: 24 violins, 10 violas, 15 celli, and 2 basses.  I hold auditions very early in the year for my students to introduce themselves to me musically, but for our first few rehearsals, I don't really have a seating order.  We sight-read music and students are permitted to sit anywhere they wish within their section.  This year we had three rehearsals before I could establish a seating chart and sections for the group. While those three rehearsals were fine, I must admit that they never really felt "good."  

By the 2nd week of classes, I had been able to review video auditions and begin to establish some sense of "who is in the room" in my mind.  I created a seating order and assigned violin students into violin I and II sections.  (I should say that I do my best to create "even" sections and rely heavily on assigning some of my top players to leadership positions in the 2nd violin violin section.  I also provide opportunities for some of my less experienced players to test themselves with the sometimes more challenging violin I parts.  And, I always have some students that are simply not ready for the upper positions presented in violin I parts.)   But here is the interesting fact:  once students received their section assignment, seating placement, and stand partner, the ensemble seemed to transform quickly. In fact, immediately. Things were more settled.  Students quickly became comfortable and began to dig into the task at hand in a different way.  It is hard for me to clearly articulate the transformation, but I would simply say that it felt more comfortable.  Every rehearsal since that time has had the same feel.  All I can attribute this to is the confidence that comes with order.  Everyone now knows where they will sit, what part they will play, who their stand partner is, and they are beginning to develop a sense of their role as part of the larger group.

This has been a good reminder for me.  Sometimes I forget the importance of routine and order.  Of course, alternately, sometimes it is good to shake up a routine and order. But, order has to, in fact, be established before it can be "shook up." We crave order as humans.  We respond well to predictability and comfort.  This has been a great reminder for me as we begin the new school year.

I wish you all the best as you begin to establish the order in your classroom and rehearsals to start the new year.


NCDPI ArtsR4Life Conference

Yesterday, I had the pleasure and honor of speaking at the 5th Annual ArtsR4Life Conference on behalf of the NC Chapter of ASTA and came home inspired and renewed.  So, just a few words today about the event.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction partnered with Meredith College, the NC Arts Education Leadership Coalition, and the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources hosted the fifth annual “ARTS R4 Life” professional development conference for NC K-12 Arts Educators in Dance, Music, Theater Arts, and Visual Arts.

This was an opportunity for arts educators to develop personalized learning experiences and have cross-sector learning and collaboration around the 4R’s:

  • Rekindle your artistic spirit by participating in hands’-on arts experiences
  • Reflect on the profession through deepening your understanding of the standards to support student learning and growth
  • Reconnect with colleagues and professional organizations
  • Renew your body and mind through expressive, contemplative, and rejuvenating experiences designed to promote your well-being

The conference took place on Saturday, September 8, 2018, and was be preceded by Arts Education Think Tank, Arts Education Coordinators, and Arts Education Leadership Coalition meetings on Friday, September 7th, 2018.  Educators had a menu of options and selected a personalized learning plan for their time at the conference.

I gave my session, "Finding and Maintaining Fulfillment in your Career in Arts Education" during the morning.  In this session, participants consider their level of fulfillment with their work and career in arts education and related factors. I provide a variety of focus areas for consideration and models for identifying and assessing career fulfillment.  Attendees are asked to consider (and perhaps share) their roles as  artists/educators, motivations for embarking on a career in arts education, sense of mission in the school and community, complexity of their work, perspective on workload, busy schedules, and a balanced life. Participants (hopefully) walk away with strategies to find fulfillment in their careers while balancing their personal and professional life.

I gave the session during two different time slots and was thrilled to have over 30 attendees between the two sessions.  Feedback was excellent and I feel my message was well-received.  Some other highlights of the day, for me included connecting with friends, new and old; the Keynote interview with Lauren Kennedy Brady, Producing Artistic Director for Theater Raleigh; A fun kinesthetic opening exercise led by Shannon Gravelle, Director of Choral Activities and Music Education Coordinator for Meredith College; and an inspiring dance performance by the Rainbow Dance Company to open the day.  In addition, it was great to spend some time with my friend and NC ASTA colleague, Bill Slechta, who has been instrumental in establishing NC ASTA's involvement in this conference for the past 5 years.  I was also happy to spend some time with my friend and colleague, Pat Hall from NCMEA offices.

In all, this was a great event and I am so happy that I was able to attend and participate at such a deep level and represent NC ASTA.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Creative Habit

I recently read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. This was a great book with lots of applications to my life both as a teacher and as a musician. A model for transforming ideas into creativity is presented at one point in the book which I have thought about the great deal. I'd like to share that model and some of my thoughts about how it applies to my life as a teacher, conductor, and as a performing musician. I feel like this model points to the way many of my ideas have become something more. Of course, I didn't know this model until recently. But, when I think about the process I go through, this certainly clarifies the important steps.

From the book, page 94:
"Harvard psychologist Stephen Kosslyn says that ideas can be acted upon in fourways. First, you must generate the idea, usually from memory or experience or activity. Then you have to retain it—that is, hold it steady in your mind and keep it from disappearing. Then you have to inspect it—study it and make inferences about it. Finally, you have to be able to transform it—alter it in some way to suit your higher purposes."

Let's take a look at each of these four important steps: Idea, Retention, Inspection, and Transformation. Then, I will try to give some examples of their application in my creative process and in the specific areas of creativity in my professional life: music-making, pedagogy, and the rehearsal process. Perhaps you will find some similarities in yours.


I feel like we all have ideas. Some of them are good. Some of them are great. And some are better left undeveloped. The real trick is to retain them and ultimately transformed in into real creativity. This takes a great deal of mental effort and as well as physical effort.  But, I believe that we all have good ideas. String Pedagogue Jacqueline Dillon once told me that we all have ideas others are interested in.  The important next step is willingness to share them.  She suggested writing them down.  I took her words to heart and began a pattern of writing.  (This blog is an extension of that advice.) You have great ideas.  We all simply must commit to developing and sharing them.  The first step is to believe in the idea and the next is to retain it.

  • Pedagogy: "I should create a system for teaching upper positions."
  • Music Making: "I am going to write a song for looped guitar and electric violin."
  • Rehearsal Process: "I feel like this passage should be slower than the previous section to create anticipation."

I can't tell you how many times I have had a good idea while driving or engaged in some other activity and never came back to it.  How many great ideas in history have been left on the chopping block as a result of simply not following through.  I strongly believe in writing things down.  My e-mail inbox is littered with one-line notes to myself.  These include lists, ideas, and recommendations from others.  I have also become a fan of the voice notes apps for smartphone.  It is so easy to leave myself a voice note and come back to the idea later. 

I have shared this before, but it is worth mentioning again. The publication Goal Setting:  A Motivational Technique that Works, from the Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC explains a great model for getting goals and ideas to completion:

  1. Setting Goal - 6-8%  likelihood of completion (have the idea)
  2. Setting a Goal (idea) and Writing It Down - 25-30% likelihood of completion.
  3. Setting a Goal (idea), Writing It Down, and Verbally Sharing It with Others - 55-60% likelihood of completion.
  4. Setting a Goal, Writing It Down, Verbally Sharing It with Others, and  an ask a friend to hold you accountable - 85+% likelihood of completion.

We all have good ideas.  But, we must follow though and retain the idea.

  • Pedagogy: Start a lesson plan with a piece of paper and leave it front and center on your desk
  • Music Making: Tell a friend about your idea for a song and ask them if they will listen when it is finished.
  • Rehearsal Process: Mark the section in your score to come back to later


This is another tricky aspect of the process.  We must always inspect our ideas and determine if they are valid and worth developing.  This is where the research comes in.  Is the idea really unique to you?  Is it a version of someone else's idea?  What do others have to say about the topic?  I once saw an interesting model of leadership that I have adapted to this topic.

  • Ordinary ideas relate a traditional story as effectively as possible.  This is probably ~50% of ideas.  This could be a nice pop with traditional chord changes or a rock solid lesson plan for a class.  Traditional stuff presented effectively.
  • Innovative ideas bring a fresh twist to a story that has been latent in the population.  (~10%of ideas) This could be a new and unique musical composition using a traditional orchestral instrumentation or a new and unique approach to teaching as playing technique such as  the Bornoff Cyclic Method.
  • Visionary ideas create a new story (~2% of ideas) This might be the invention of the synthesizer or Schoenberg's rules of Serialism.
In the end, we must inspect our ideas and determine if they are worth pursuing.

  • Pedagogy: Learn all you can about the various systems and pedagogy for teaching upper positions.  Ask questions. Is my idea valid?  Is it efficient?  Is it sequential?  Am I providing context? 
  • Music Making: Learn the chord structure songs that are similar that the one you want to write.  Listen to favorite artists and analyze their work.  Do you have the appropriate gear and experience?
  • Rehearsal Process: Listen to multiple recordings of the work.  Can you  justify the tempo change?  Does your vision work from a historical perspective?


Once we have retained the idea and inspected it, we can then transform it into something concrete.  This is where our imagination meets our content knowledge, goals, background, and intuition.  We are compelled to take the fully inspected idea and let it become all that it can be. This requires thought and some dedicated quiet time.  I often find my quite and transformation time in the car with the radio off. Interestingly, I also find it in the early morning with a cup of coffee in the quiet and relative calm of the coming day.  In the end, however, this is where the idea develops into something I can ultimately use.

  • Pedagogy: Create your system and try it with students.  Is ti effective?  Make some changes or additions and try again.  This is a never-ending process.
  • Music Making: Go to work.  Create a melody.  Put some chord changes together. Do you have a bass line or riff?  Do you still like it?  Try again.  
  • Rehearsal Process: Give the idea a try and see how it lands for your players.  Does it create the desired effect?  Try is a little more or less subtle.  Is this better.  Again, this process is ongoing.  but, the idea has survived and has begun to take life!

Even this blog post went through this very process.  I read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.  I made a note of the Kosslyn quote on page 94 right when I first read it.  In my case, I made the note in my blog app and figured I  would come back to it later.  In fact, I made that note almost 1 year ago.  But, in that year, the idea didn't go away.  It was written down for me to stumble upon later. And, that certainly happened.  Next, I inspected it. I ran across the quote in my notes a couple of weeks ago and began to ponder the idea.  I made a few notes, put it away, and came back to it several times. I decided it was worth pursuing as a result of some of the teaching I have done this summer and began the task of transformation.  As I began to transform the idea, I decided to work with my three primary creative areas: pedagogy, conducting and rehearsals, and music-making.  These made sense to me and gave me a frame from which to build this post.  And, here we are.  My original idea for a blog entry has turned into creativity by using this very model.  By the way, I would classify this as an "Ordinary" idea.  It is (hopefully) simply an effective way to relate a traditional story.  The framework of this idea is not my own.  It is Kosslyn's.  I simply tell the story in my own words to my own audience from my perspective.

I am wondering if this resonates with any of you?  Have you ever with taking an idea from the earliest stages to completion?  Perhaps some of these thoughts will help you with the process.  I welcome your reaction and thoughts.


By the way, I do recommend The Creative Habit.  I picked up a great deal from the book.  I mostly found it to be affirming of the way I have approached creativity for many years.  In the end, it provides a sequential system with great nomenclature and certainly a harmonic underpinning.  (For those of you that know my work, you will recognize this.  If not, check out this post.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Remembering Dr. Klement Hambourg

Dr. Klement Hambourg
(Photo from used with permission of Tanya Hambourg and Corinne Visscher)

Today I am reflecting on my over 30-year relationship with my friend and colleague, Dr. Klement Hambourg. I was so sad to hear of his passing last October and want to take some time to reflect on the impact he had on me both personally and professionally. I first met Dr. Hambourg when I arrived in Palmyra, PA, to begin my first teaching job in the winter of 1987. At that time, Dr. Hambourg was a Violin Professor at Lebanon Valley College in the neighboring community of Anneville, PA, and conductor of the LVC Orchestra. When he heard there was a new string teacher in the area, he invited me to participate in the violin section of the orchestra as a community member. I was thrilled at this invitation and immediately accepted. I remember Dr. Hambourg as a wonderful musician, committed music educator, and a gentle leader. I have strong memories of him demonstrating parts on his violin and of admiring his masterful, elegant playing. His manner with the orchestra was always formal, demanding, and firm; yet always polite. I recall learning a great deal of French repertoire under Dr. Hambourg's baton, as well as being immersed in many interesting composers that were new to me at that time, such as the music of Malcolm Arnold. It occurred to me that his perspective on repertoire was different than any I had encountered before in my limited experience in Western PA. I was sure I was gaining perspective and knowledge that I would use for years to come. Truth be told, it took a little while for our personalities to gel. Dr. Hambourg was quiet, polite, and somewhat "old school." I was used to a less formal approach to orchestra rehearsals and enjoyed a great deal of laughter and musical banter in previous college orchestra experiences. After a few rehearsals, I recall sitting down to chat with Dr. Hambourg and realized we were each working hard to understand the other's perspective and approach in those early days of our friendship. It wasn't long, however, until we began to really appreciate all that the other had to offer in terms of musicianship, perspective, and musical opportunities. I continued to play in the LVC Orchestra for my entire tenure in the area and served as concertmaster beginning my second year in town. We often played gigs together at LVC, at other area colleges, and for private events. Dr. Hambourg hosted an honors orchestra at the college every year, and I sent many students to participate between the years of 1987 and 1992. I actually remember hearing him conduct the Latham Suite for String Orchestra, by Theron Kirk at that event and have programmed it many times over the years. I have used the 1st movement, "March," as a processional for the NCSSM Convocation ceremonies every year for the past 18 years. I think of Dr. Hambourg every time we play it! I also recall one of his students performing Vaughn Williams “The Lark Ascending” with the orchestra the first year I participated. I absolutely fell in love with the piece and ended up performing it as part of my Master's Recital at IUP in 1990. To this day, it remains one of my favorite pieces and a beautiful reminder of my friend, Klement Hambourg. Dr. Hambourg was a longtime faculty member of the Allegheny Summer Music Festival at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. In the summer of 1990 or 1991, (I am struggling to find documentation of the exact year!) Dr. Hambourg asked me to be a last minute replacement for his daughter, Corinne, also a professional violinist, who had a last-minute performing opportunity elsewhere. I was honored to be asked and enthusiastically accepted the invitation. I knew I had huge shoes to fill and was excited and very nervous to be given this early opportunity in my career. As part of my position, I taught lessons and performed with a number of ensembles, including sitting assistant principal 2nd violin in the student/faculty orchestra. I learned so much that summer! I met so many wonderful professional musicians from PA, New York, Cleveland, and elsewhere. I had the opportunity to play violin 2 on the Brahms Piano Quintet with Dr. Hambourg on violin 1 and his other daughter, Tanya, also a professional musician, on viola. What an experience! Throughout that summer, I honed my teaching skills, played more hours per day than I ever had before or since, and truly matured as a musician in profound ways. I do know, more than anything, I wanted to make Klement Hambourg proud that week. He had expressed a great deal of faith in me, my teaching, and my playing, and I desperately wanted to live up to his expectations. I wish I could remember all of the other great musicians I became friends with that summer! My stand partner in the orchestra was Peter VanDewater from New York City. The cellist in the Brahms was from the Cleveland Orchestra. I became friends with pianist Brian Preston, and I have great memories of turning pages for him, and feeling stressed in various chamber performances, which included ridiculously hard piano scores. He also trusted me for reasons I could not name back then! I met composer Erwin Chandler from Central PA that week and have conducted his "Music for a Festive Occasion" several times since first playing it at that event. Sadly, I don't have any photos or programs from that summer: just many great memories! Another great memory was the two of us performing the Vivaldi Double Violin Concerto with the Modern Mandolin Quartet backing us up at LVC in the spring of 1992 to culminate the MMQ 2-week residency sponsored through the Palmyra Authors and Artists Series. As part of that residency, MMQ performed both with the kids and alone. It was a magnificent event. I know that Dr. Hambourg enjoyed the energy of the kids, the professionalism of MMQ, seeing the students thrive and learn, and certainly the Vivaldi performance! After I moved to Maryland in 1991, we stayed in touch. In fact, one time he called me, told me he would be visiting the DC area, would like to see my school, and meet my students. He came, spent the day, met my wonderful colleagues, and spoke with the students. He gave great advice to them all, from the most advanced to the least experienced, all in his gentle, caring way. Over the years and following my move to North Carolina in 2001 and his subsequent moves to Victoria B.C. and then Toronto, we had lost touch with each other... until 2012 when he reached out to me following an In-Service presentation that I gave back in PA. Tanya had seen a press release about my presentation and forwarded it to her father. He reached out, and I was simply thrilled to hear from him. It gave me the opportunity to tell him of a small portion of his impact on me: "I want you to know how much your note means to me. I have such fond memories of those important formative years in my career. I call on many of the ideas that you shared with me as conductor of the LVC Orchestra and experiences that I had while in Palmyra on a regular basis. I love my work in string education and am so aware that you and my other mentors have had a strong hand in my development as a teacher, musician, and professional. Thank you. I also have such fond memories of our summer at Allegheny College. I still think of our performance of the Brahms Quintet as a highlight." I wanted to make sure that he knew how much I appreciated him. We fell out of touch again for a few years and rekindled our email relationship at the end of 2015. We both were about to face some challenges, and I think there was great comfort in sharing our trials with a longtime, trusted friend. We corresponded several times during 2016 and 2017, sharing memories and stories about our families, interests, and life's work. He always supported and encouraged me. My last note from Dr. Hambourg was one of congratulations and continued support in July 2017, just about exactly 2 years ago: "My copy of the American String Teacher arrived recently, and I was delighted to read your news. Congratulations! I cannot think of a more deserving recipient for the Elizabeth A.H. Green Award. Debra Myers' excellent article describes your career and your teaching philosophy extremely well. You have always been on the cutting edge--looking for innovative ways to capture the interest of young string players, and this has paid dividends. For example, your fascination with electric instruments and the interpolation of jazz within the string curriculum. String education is still too hidebound by tradition, and while the classical repertoire will always have its fundamental place, there is lots of room for expansion. You have been one of the leaders in the string world to get this message across, and will continue to do so. You might want to consider Victoria, B.C. for a seminar at some point--they have several excellent string teachers and a thriving youth orchestra which recently made a concert tour of the Yukon." His acknowledgement of my impact on students and the profession meant and means so much to me. I still wanted to make him proud. He had taken a chance on me as a young teacher and colleague back in the '80's, allowed me to mature and grow, and I continued to feel a real responsibility to fulfill his expectations. That note made me feel as if I had done ok. I also love that he wanted to give me a little nudge at the end of the note toward another bit of work. As I looked for themes in our correspondence, he usually did: always the mentor, always nudging and encouraging in the best of ways. I am pleased to say that Corinne, Tanya , and I have remained in touch through social media for the past few years, and I am certain that our friendship will last a lifetime. Their Dad had such a profound impact on who I am as a teacher, colleague, husband, and father. I can't begin to imagine the loss that they feel as they continue to re-imagine life following their Dad's passing. He was so very proud of his daughters. In his correspondence, he always included updates on their work, families, and successes, as well as wonderful updates on Leonie (his wonderful wife) and his activities. I have reflected on this wonderful friendship daily since October and will continue to do so in the coming days and years. Dr. Klement Hambourg will be missed in so many ways, but his legacy of musicianship, teaching, love, and encouragement will be carried on for many for years to come. For further biographical information, some very cool information on the Hambourg Conservatory of Music, a family legacy of music education, and further insights on Klement Hambourg's legacy and impact, click here. ~Special thanks to the Hambourg family for helping me with details and affirming this post.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

SMU The Art of Teaching Orchestra

Hello to my new friends at SMU's The Art of Teaching Orchestra. What a fantatic couple of days we had! Thanks for all of your hospitality and especially to Deb Perkins for inviting me to participate and teach.

I have a number of files and links that you may need or be interested in having as the workshop progresses.

First:  Here is a link to a shared folder where I will place files for you t access.

Again, it was a pleasure to meet you all!

All my best.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sharing Our Secrets: Phrasing and Expression, ASTA 2019

I am really pleased to have the opportunity to present today at ASTA 2019 with my dear friends Dr. Rebecca Macleod and Jim Palmer.  We will be in the Sandia/Santa Ana Room at 1:00 PM on Thursday, March 7. In our session, Sharing Our Secrets: Phrasing and Expression, we will share tips and secrets that promote musical expression and nuance with your school orchestra. Topics will include a variety of approaches to identifying phrase structure, playing with different tone colors, grouping notes with speech patterns, executing rubato, and engaging students in functional listening.  Exercises that promote musical sensitivity and student independence will be demonstrated. Attendees are certain to enjoy and gain from the panel interaction with students and each other.  We are pleased to be working with Rebecca Simons and the La Cueva High School Camerata from Albuquerque, New Mexico as our demo group.  There is nothing like working with kids to demonstrate the skills of working with kids!

As for my part of the session, I will be utilizing the string orchestra arrangement of Slane (Be Thou My Vision), arranged by Percy Hall.  It is not a super-difficult arrangement, but there are many opportunities for interesting phrasing and expression embedded within the piece.  I will be focusing some of the best tips and strategies for phrasing and expression that I have developed over the years.

These will include:

Approach Arrive Depart

Note Grouping and Speech Patterns

The Importance of a Unified Downbeat

Pick up your instrument and play

Standing rehearsal

Concepts growing from the word "Dynamic"

The Roller Coaster

Finding Your Unique Voice and Perspective as a Director: Push/Pull


The Chorale and Breathing

and others

I will expand on these more in coming days. For now, I look forward to seeing you this afternoon!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Awakening, Todd Goodman

I am really excited to be conducting the world premier of a new work for orchestra this week.  It is The Awakening, by Todd Goodman.  This week I will be working with the top orchestra students in Western Pennsylvania as conductor of the PMEA Western Regional Orchestra.  I am particularly looking forward to this one because my sister, Stephanie Everett (Hollidaysburg High School) is co-hosting along with Kelly Detwiler (Altoona High School), and my other sister, Julianne Laird (Indiana (PA) High School), has students participating and will be there as well.  It is always a pleasure and honor to work with PMEA groups, but the family connection and the world premier makes it even more meaningful. 

I liked this work from the first time I set eyes on the score and heard the (albeit synthetic) recording straight from the the notation software.  There are magnificent sounds throughout and much for the orchestra (and conductor) to consider in preparing the piece.  Based on a 3-chord progression that eventually morphs in to a 4-note motif, the piece provides ample material for every section and is sure to be an audience favorite.  It follows an A-B-A'-B' form and features an unexpected ending.  It is always so exciting to program new music and discover my unique take on a work before anyone else has the opportunity.  I so look forward to sharing that sense of discovery with the students this weekend.  I have quickly become a fan of Todd Goodman's and I am pleased that he will be at the event this weekend to speak with the students and that I will have a chance to interact with the composer.

Goodman is no stranger to writing for this group.  The same event in 2018 featured another commission composed by Goodman entitled "The Precipice."

Other works programmed for this weekend include: 
The Cowboys Overture, John Williams
March to the Scaffold, Berlioz
Sinfonia No 2 in D Major,  Mvt I, Mendelssohn
Matinees Musicales: Second Suite of Five Movements from Rossini, Benjamin Britten

The liner notes are as follows:

"The Awakening is an orchestral tone poem commissioned by Kelly Detwiler and Stephanie Everett, hosts of the 2019 Western Region Orchestra of the Pennsylvania Music Educators’ Association.

When we set out to solve a difficult problem, we often go through a process of trial and error, which yields numerous moments of doubt. Although these moments can be quiet difficult, they can produce some of our most creative and productive work. As we work through our numerous solutions and
filter out the bad ideas, a wonderful moment happens in the process— when we realize that what we have created actually works. This piece is about that journey.

The Awakening is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 3 percussionists, harp, piano, and strings."

This work lasts approximately five minutes.
For information about the composer and his other works,
please visit

2 flutes
2 oboes
2 clarinets in bi
2 bassoons
4 horns in f
3 trumpets
3 trombones
percussion 1
glockenspiel, claves, marimba, H/L toms
percussion 2
vibraphone, suspended cymbal
percussion 3
tamborine, bass drum
violin 1
violin 2

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Culture of Grace

A couple of days ago, a longtime friend reached out to me and asked if there would be an opportunity for us to talk about my experience in arts administration.  He is a retired Arts Supervisor in PA and is now teaching arts admin classes at a couple of different institutions.  Later that morning, we connected by phone and had a great conversation.

I was happy to share some of my story of serving as Fine Arts Coordinator at NCSSM for much of my 18 year tenure here.  The Coordinator position is a unique one, because I really serve as a peer-advocate for my colleagues in the arts at a variety of levels.  I am not their supervisor, but I do have the opportunity to lead our discipline in many ways.  I promote our programs, provide feedback on events and activities, allocate foundation funding, provide feedback, lead interview and hiring efforts, and generally set philosophy and tone for the arts at our school.  All of this is in addition to my role as Music Instructor and Orchestra Conductor at the school.

During our conversation, I had the opportunity to articulate many of the core philosophies that have driven our success over the past 15 years or so.  I brought the seeds of many of these ideas to NCSSM in 2001, but others have been developed or refined as a result of my unique experiences here at this unique school.  I have been privileged to teach in a variety of circumstances over the years and certainly bring expectations and models from each to NCSSM.  I was reminded in the conversation of the stellar organizational structure that I witnessed during my student teaching at Williamsport School District in PA.  I also worked with and modeled much of my teaching after one of the most dynamic teachers I have encountered in my career, Walter Straiton.  Walt was always quick to remind me to develop my own style and to be ever mindful of my style/substance ratio.  One without the other is significantly less effective.  I was also reminded of the wonderful teachers and mentors I encountered in my first position in Palmyra PA.  The music instructors at the elementary, middle, and high schools were all top quality teachers and incredible mentors to me.  The community embraced me completely and my colleagues cared for me as I navigated the difficult early years of a career in music education.  They let me make my mistakes and always encouraged me to find my voice.  As I moved on to Eleanor Roosevelt High School, I encountered colleagues and leadership that expected excellence at every turn.  They were truly "world class" educators, musicians, and directors.  They provided models of stellar leadership and musical outreach that positioned me to significantly expand my sphere of influence, not to mention my confidence as a pedagogue and conductor.  All of these experiences came with me to NCSSM.  But, I had no idea how my perspectives would change as I got to know this new and unusual residential learning environment.

After a few years of introduction to NCSSM, it became clear that the traditional K-12 music program philosophies were not going to be sufficient at this place.  Students come here as basically math and science "majors."  They are here for this unique academic residential program - not exclusively (or primarily) for the orchestra.  The academic workload is heavy.  The expectations are high in every class and department.  The residential experience can be exhausting.  Student and parent goals and expectations are different than even the science and technology magnet school I had worked in for the previous decade.  I had to come up with some revised guiding principles if I was going to survive here and if the music and arts program was going to thrive in years to come.  I must admit, I thought about leaving more than a couple of times.  It would be much easier at a wealthy suburban high school.  I knew that scene.  I could kill it there.  But, there was something about NCSSM.  I knew I had a mission here.

During our conversation, my friend asked me to describe the arts culture at NCSSM today.  After thinking about it for a few minutes, I responded that I believe we have a "culture of grace."  I heard him typing.  He had never heard of that before.  I told him that many years earlier I had read a book called Love Works, by Joel Manby  The booked helped to shape some of the ways we look at student involvement and participation and faculty leadership in the arts now at NCSSM.  I also believe that in our arts hiring over the past several years, we have looked for folks that understand the complexity of life at NCSSM and embrace the challenges (and sometimes frustrations) that go with teaching in the arts here.  We have built and incredible team who all embrace the concept of "grace."   It is also important to note that for grace to occur, there must be a great deal of trust.  We have to trust colleagues (within and outside our discipline), administration, and students. Students have to trust us and the school.  As a residential school, our students' parents must have an incredible amount of trust in us as mentors and guides for their kids in order to send them here for the last two years of high school. And, our administration must trust us to make good calls at every turn.  Yes - trust and grace go hand in hand.

Last Saturday, my orchestra performed Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor. The students did a wonderful job and I could not have been more proud of their performance.  One of my cellists was at the state swimming championships earlier that day and made the finals.  She had not expected to go that far and fully expected to be back in time for the concert.  She e-mailed me about the situation and I encouraged her to swim and miss the concert.  Grace.  I dropped her a quick note after the concert to see how she did.  I received this note in response:

"I actually did really well! I hate that I couldn’t be there and my mom was planning on coming to see the concert and then I realized that we were going to make finals and I was honestly crushed and stuck between two very hard decisions. I ended choosing finals because I knew my team was counting on me to be in our two women’s relays and I didn’t want to let them down. Thank you for understanding and I am looking forward to Trimester 3 :)"

I can't tell you how happy this note made me. She trusted me.  I trusted her.  Love works and a "culture of grace" works.

There are other guiding principles and philosophies that I haven't touched on here.  We try to consider the individual before the ensemble.  I try to always find a way to say "yes." We believe in mastery based learning.  I believe the concepts of "essence" and "functional musicianship" are key to great ensemble success - musical and otherwise.  I could go on.

But for now, I am so appreciative of that conversation.  It inspired me to reflect on how the heck I got to this point.  There are many new hurdles to clear in coming months and years at NCSSM.  My close colleague and friend, Phillip Riggs recently retired and I am trying to re-imagine what life and work here will look like without him here with me on a regular basis.  Another long-time colleague and musical collaborator is looking at retirement in the very near future. We are opening a new campus in Morganton, NC and there are many decisions to be made regarding curriculum, staffing, etc.   Technology keeps marching on.  We have to keep up!  New students, programs, and opportunities continue to show up in Durham and we will work to stay in front of all of it.  But, I am certain that I will continue to believe in and promote a "culture of grace."  This we need.  This, we ALL need.