It’s important to ask for help in all areas of life. You’ve got nothing to lose - other than a bruised ego - by telling a student that you don’t know the answer to their question. After all, we can’t all be experts in everything, and seeking out those who have more information can enrich our own knowledge as well as that of our students.
It seems to me that this #MeToo conversation isn't happening because of a latent desire to get revenge or ruin lives. Only by having the conversation, revealing the experiences that people have had, will we progress, making future occurrences less and less frequent, and hopefully non-existent.
It’s not just the notes. It’s not just the rhythms. We educators need to stop allowing our desire to expose students to hard music trump what should be our ultimate goal in a musical education: promoting complete musical excellence at the highest level.
There will be no more working for the weekend. I will be just as involved in the most unproductive lesson as I will be in the most productive. It doesn’t matter what is coming up later in the evening or what happened this morning, all lessons matter and I will be planned and present for each.
More than a few times this school year, when faced with looming auditions or limited progress, I’ve had to make a decision about what is best for the student: should I teach them a way to play this thing that they are struggling with in the context of this piece, or should I teach them the technique required to accomplish this thing in all contexts, in all pieces?
When it comes to finding a private music teacher, remember: one year of study with an unqualified teacher will take qualified teacher two years to fix. Most of the time, you’ll see better results, faster, if you seek out the best, most qualified teacher for the student.
All this effort to keep things private is hard work. I have to run every comment and remark through my student-appropriate filter, and consider the potential ramifications of disclosing anything personal
Were I to make a decision today - seven years after beginning my DMA program, with all that I learned along the way, and with the realities of the post-DMA shining squarely in my face - I would not have pursued the degree, and I would have been okay. So will you. Don’t get a DMA.
New, contemporary classical music is a vehicle for the expressive nature of music. It allows us to take something that no person has heard before and make it our own, and then offer it to the listeners of the world. It is the most profound thing that we can do as musicians.
Making the transition from a life of professional practicing to a life of professional teaching was harder than I thought it would be. I believed, ignorantly, that my analytical practicing skills would transfer to the teaching studio. In fact, I was an awful teacher. Just terrible. When it comes to their cello lessons, I feel bad, a serious sense of empathy, for those Pennsylvania kids from my first year of teaching. The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing.
Jefferson is the model of the perfect music student: he absorbs any and all information presented to him and synthesizes that information in ways that inform and enhance his playing. He’s endlessly experimental and he accepted any and all music that I threw his way. Now a freshman at Columbus State University in Georgia, where he is a student of the incredible cellist, Wendy Warner, I asked Jefferson to reflect on his first few months as a full time music student and write down some thoughts. He dutifully agreed!
This part of summertime has always been an interesting time of year for me, as I tend to be moving around the world, in some form or another. Facebook, for all its joys and faults, has recently been reminding me of all of this: in 2014 at this time, I left Pennsylvania to move back to the Atlanta area, a move that would prove to be, simultaneously, the best and worst decision I'd ever made.
What is the difference between a good performance and a great performance? For that matter, what is the difference between a bad performance and a great performance? In the short time that I’ve been out “in the world,” I’ve noticed some things about youths of today and their expectations about music performance: they want to be praised; they don’t want to work very hard to receive that praise; criticism is met with a litany of excuses; and the end result - usually - is that they quit.
On August 1, 2015 I woke up with some pep in my step. I had slept well. I felt excited about all the things. It was Saturday and I had nothing to do. I spent it relaxing and it ended on a high note. Life was good in Buford, GA. On August 2, 2015, I woke up and took my car to get an oil change. Then I came home. Twenty minutes later, after a pile of pancakes and maybe some OJ, my life stopped.
A few months back, I was delighted to watch Red Land Little League, my hometown team, advance through the gauntlet that is the Little League World Series, eventually winning the United States championship (only to be crushed in the final by Japan). Though I was brimming with pride - I played (poorly) on those RL Little League fields, myself - I couldn’t help but compare Little League Baseball to cello playing.
When I went to graduate school, I had a certain goal in mind: find a glorious tenure track position from which to teach collegiate cello students and perform the music of my choosing wherever and whenever I could. I knew that I would have to complete a doctorate to make this goal a reality. Seven years later, I have an alphabet soup of degrees, including that doctorate, but instead of said glorious tenured existence, I have followed a different path, as a freelance recitalist/chamber musician and a private teacher. This was not my intention
Quite a few of my students are fans of the pop cover group, ThePianoGuys. The group became popular on YouTube with their acoustic-ish covers and mashups of famous pop music songs and they have since toured the country (and, I'm sure, the world). They have some entertainment value, to be sure, and there's no doubt in my mind that they make playing the piano and cello seem "cool" to young children, which should (in theory) increase the interest in classical instruments. But, when it comes to The Piano Guys, themselves, I have to tell you: I'm tired of them.
Without a doubt, one of the most influential figures in my musical life is the pianist Judith Gordon. We met in 2008 on the Brown Farm at Music from Salem where I began my experience with new music for cello. Judith is a brilliant, inspirational performer - who, each morning, wakes those Brown Farm residents lucky enough to be within earshot of her practice room with a bit of gorgeous Bach - but even more, she is an inspirational person.
Except That They Do. (But Aren’t a Reflection of Your Self-Worth.)
It’s audition season for many young students. A handful of students in my Pennsylvania and Georgia private studios have been auditioning for all-state ensembles, some quite successfully, some less so. With each audition report, each set of scores, each audition comment sheet that these students have received, I’ve had to take a different approach to present the same overall message, one that was not (EVER!) offered to me: Auditions. Do. Not. Matter.
I've had some wonderful teachers all along the road I've taken to cello "professionalism." Each of my primary teachers taught me something new about cello playing that was built upon by their successors. For example, David Diehl challenged me to create a sound that was more mature than I was; Kim Cook taught me how to make that sound beautiful (when necessary), always being conscious of the kinesthetic variables at play; Rhonda Rider taught me to develop that sound into a pallete of colors and textures, usable in all interpretations of works; and David Starkweather taught me to be analytical, questioning theses various sounds that I make in hopes of best representing my desired interpretation of a work.
In my young performing career I've had the distinct pleasure of playing (what some might say is) an inordinate amount of new or new-ish music. I have found great pleasure playing works written in the past twenty years and even greater delight in commissioning some wonderful composers to write works for me to premiere and play (often). Collaborations with composers have been my lifeblood since 2010, sustaining my musical curiosity through even the most (seemingly) hopeless situations. I've loved just about every minute of working on and performing these commissions and other fresh works.
You're a musician, just out of school, finding your way in this cold, dark world, when SUDDENLY: "Dear Musicianlytype - we, the Yourtown Philharmonic, would like to present you in concert next season. Are you available to perform for our chamber music series in March 2015?"
GREAT SUCCESS! A job! You've gotten the gig and are on your way! But what to do now? (other than practice!) At this point, your music school education will begin to fail you: though you've practiced thousands of hours, know the history of all the things, and can identify the structure and analyze any work by Dallapiccola that's thrown your way, you haven't the slightest idea how to negotiate or write a contract so that you'll be well paid for your services.
Concert audiences are a wonderful thing. We need them to come for a few reasons, not the least of which are ticket sales and someone to perform for! I strongly believe in audience engagement - before, during, and after a concert. Do you ever talk with audience members at your concerts? If the answer is, "Yes, absolutely!" then good on you! If your answer is, "Never, I'm far too busy to be bothered," or, "What the heck is this *audience interaction*?" then this little post is for you. Some things to think about before, during, and after your performance:
There is so much talk about how to practice, what to play, and how to think about classical music that performers rarely, if ever, discuss how to formulate an actual career as a performing musician. Things have changed in the past two to three decades and 10,000 hours of practice no longer gets you to Carnegie Hall. (it does, but there are other ways…) I'm going to spend some time over the next few weeks blogging about how I've gone about formulating my young career and how I think my students and other performers can set forth on the path toward a successful life as a performing musician.