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.
My dear friend (and female doppelgänger) Jennifer Bewerse and I met in Boston in 2008 as graduate students at The Boston Conservatory. I immediately grew fond of her thoughtful approach to performing music new and old. At that point in my education, I had yet to dive in to new music and Jen had already developed an incredibly mature approach to the music of our time. Since our days in Boston, I've looked to Jen as a model of the modern cellist: she is a brilliant performer of the music of the classical and contemporary eras; she balances a love of performing with solid education philosophies; and she is an out-of-the-box thinker in all aspects of life.
A few weeks ago I spent some time in State College, PA reliving my old college days. I was having coffee with a friend and discussing new music, eclectic duo instrumentation, and all the other things. On my drive back to Harrisburg I began to think about the process of commissioning music, why we do it, and, probably more importantly, why so many people DON’T do it!
I first met Scott Kluksdahl on the Brown Farm at Music from Salem about three years back. I was in the midst of my first Queering the Pitch concert tour, unsure of my future paths, and was lucky enough to talk with Scott about so many musical topics. His is a brilliant mind, so incredibly insightful. A few months later, I visited University of South Florida, where Scott is Professor of Music in Cello and Chamber Music, to perform my QtP concert, teach, and give a brief lecture for School of Music students. My time there - like all experiences I've had with Scott - was thought provoking and incredibly educational.
One of my favorite things - in the whole world - is talking with my former teacher and (always) mentor Rhonda Rider about all things music. Rhonda was my teacher at The Boston Conservatory, where she is the Chair of Chamber Music and on the cello faculty. The few years I spent studying with Rhonda were some of the most informative of my life. My study with her laid the groundwork for what I now preach to my own students, how I think in the practice room, and how I approach performance and all music. She was also the first person to encourage my fresh interest in new(er) music.
Last time we met, I spent some time talking about playing in ensembles, both large and small. To recap, in ensemble playing, it’s always about blend, considering how one should sound in the group. The blend and the desired sound in chamber music, and especially string quartets, is a bit different than the blend in orchestral playing. But that’s a blog for another day, specifically, last week! Go back and check it out for all my thoughts on ensemble playing. Today though, let’s talk about being a soloist!