We’ve been here before. All four of us were members ten years ago when the Colorado Springs Symphony went bankrupt. On New Year’s Eve we played Strauss waltzes while the audience sipped champagne. The next day, the new year, we were out of work and out of benefits. Just like that. Maybe that’s why we were willing to do whatever we could this time around.
Our quartet had worked well for nearly 20 years. Just word of mouth. No advertising save for the very first season. By the time I joined the quartet we had 80+ in the audience two nights in a row. And the 3rd night was growing. It was a dream come true. Then came reality. Our numbers fell off, we exhausted our reserves and our board reached their saturation point. They gave us an ultimatum--go to one performance night or cease to exist. We found ourselves at the crossroads of “Fold” or “Make it Work”.
We decided to take matters into our own hands and start a new series. It was more work for us. Much more work. But it gave us ownership and a way to keep our quartet alive. After years of simply programming music, rehearsing and playing concerts we were now in charge of everything. Where would we play? What would we play? Who would come? We held planning meetings. We selected an informal board of supporters. In order to preserve our core audience we picked another name and organised a photo shoot for marketing.
Last August we launched City Strings at a beautiful space in a brewpub that was warm, inviting and very much at the center of city nightlife. It’s been a year now--our first anniversary concert is next week. We’ve had to learn advertising, marketing, promotion, production--just to name a few of the hats we currently don. It’s been a year of attempts and misfires. A year of celebrations and some defeats. And mostly a year of really hard work. Would we do it again? Absolutely!
As an arts group in the current economic climate you may find yourself in similar circumstances. To realize not only your creative outlet but your livelihood is threatened is devastating. When we first heard the dire outlook for our quartet we were paralyzed. It was nearly impossible to concentrate on what needed to be done. Little by little we absorbed the blow and were able to act. Here are the steps we took:
- Seek the counsel of an expert. After receiving our board’s final offer we talked to an individual with experience in our field. Their advice was--you don’t necessarily have to accept their decision. Prepare yourselves and make a counter-proposal.
- Enlist help. We rounded up every supporter on the board and sought out new supporters to help us with planning and executing the counter proposal. These angels also volunteered their time with meetings, marketing and even generous donations.
- Think outside the box. Just because the model had run successfully for 19 years didn’t mean it was working in the present. We made lists of alternate venues, alternate program styles and different audience segments. From these lists we selected one combination and focused our energy.
- Don’t be afraid to change. Our board didn’t want to lose or confuse our current subscribers so we picked a 2nd name and style to make a fresh start with our new concert series.
- Self examination. We took a good hard look at our strengths and our weaknesses. We picked our strongest element from the established series, then expanded and enhanced it for the new series.
Not unlike most of the classical ensembles I hear about, our biggest challenge continues to be finding audience. And we’ve all taken on more of the work load. But the benefit is we are learning what it takes to run an ensemble. We are completely invested in the outcome.
Will we make it? I’d love to give you a happy ending but it has yet to be written. Today was our first rehearsal together in 3 months. When I arrived the founding violinist came to my car to greet me. “I’m just so excited to play together again.” We are grateful for what we have. I’ve got a good feeling about the end of this story.
The iPad is much more than a gaming or reading device. With more than 200,000 apps available now and more added daily the iPad is a delightful recreation. I readily admit my attachment to the slim, sleek powerhouse. (I love catching up with my favorite blogs on Flipboard and I love to play Lego Harry Potter!) But what about productivity? Can the iPad also be a useful tool for the private studio? Search the broad category of music and you’ll find more than 12,000 apps. How to choose? I started with a couple of objectives--modernize my studio while putting technology to its most efficient use; and, adapt in order to streamline and simplify my process. By filtering the enormous field of choices my iPad functions as a music library, a recording studio, a home office and the perfect tool to share information with parents.
My favorite apps for the private studio are selected for:
Usefulness--do they make teaching and/or managing a studio easier and more effective? Do they enhance the parent/teacher/student dynamic?
Value--all of my picks come in under $5. Even though they’re a bargain it’s important to spend wisely. Look for apps that can serve more than one purpose. Keep in mind that the “lite” version is not always free. From the app store check the left sidebar of the app’s description for these words--“top in app purchases.” You may have to pay more for the features you really need.
And, Simplicity--are the apps quick and easy to use? Do they simplify a process or create extra work? Remember, there’s no time to learn how to use an app while you’re teaching a student.
I like to use a floor stand for my iPad in the studio to keep my resource close at hand. A floor stand also functions as a tripod for making video recordings. Shar Music has folding floor stands for iPad and iPad2 (and the new iPad) that come with a shoulder bag for travel. The only drawback is the Peak iPad stand’s desk covers the rear camera. I can work around this bug by switching to the forward facing camera. Unfortunately my attempted modification with a Dremel wasn’t successful.
Not included in this article are metronomes and tuners. If you’d like to add them to your iPad start your search with free versions and be sure to read reviews.
Before you get started with apps save time by setting up a couple of accounts on your computer. First, Dropbox. Dropbox is a free cloud storage service that lets you store documents, photos and video. This is especially handy because video files are very large files. Anything you upload to Dropbox can be accessed anywhere and shared between your computers, smartphone and iPad. In addition you can designate public folders to share your documents with students. Once you have uploaded a folder you’ll get access to a link you can share via email. Second, YouTube. If you’re interested in using the following video apps in your studio start out by setting up a YouTube channel for your studio. I recommend setting it up as a private channel for your website and studio performance videos. Once your channel is set you have the option to subscribe to other channels that you think would be good student resources for performances and examples. Third, SoundCloud. SoundCloud is a free sound-sharing app that allows easy sharing of sounds. Sounds are displayed in waveforms that allow users to post comments and memos. SoundCloud can be inserted into websites as a widget and then easily shared through social media. Just like YouTube, set this up so tracks of student’s performances stay private. You can also use SoundCloud to share your own performances with students.
Apps for Running Your Business.
Square Card Reader. Free. This credit card slider connects to the headphone jack of your mobile device. Funds are deposited into your account the next day. Sign up online and they’ll send the device free of charge. Each swipe costs 2.75%. Some information on credit cards from the merchantcouncil.org site:
However,...... In the very same documents VISA continues to state that, "You may, however, offer a discount for cash transactions, provided that the offer is clearly disclosed to customers and the cash price is presented as a discount from the standard price charged for all other forms of payment.
" MasterCard goes on to say that, "A merchant may provide a discount to its customers for cash payments. A merchant is permitted to charge a fee (such as a bona fide commission, postage, expedited service or convenience fees, and the like) if the fee is imposed on all like transactions regardless of the form of payment used.
Use iMovie or Videolicious to make promotional videos for business listings and promotional materials.
iMovie. $4.99. iMovie can be used for a few different purposes in your studio. Sophisticated editing tools allow you to create videos with camera roll pictures and video, music and titles. Make a movie to advertise your studio. Export to YouTube via camera roll. Share your video with your business listing on Bing and Google. This is a handy way to maintain a web presence without the expense of a website. Also, create a QR code from the YouTube url and print on business cards, flyers and brochures. Read more about QR codes here.
Videolicious. Free. There are no editing capabilities so it’s very simple to use. Choose a template where you will receive step-by-step instructions. Select photos from your camera roll and add music from your iTunes library. Next, you will be prompted to make a short video with the in-app video camera. The app creates a short photo/video montage with no editing required. And your video clip is automatically saved to your camera roll where you can easily export it to YouTube.
Genius Scan. Free. This is an iPhone app but I find it works fine for my purposes on the iPad. I use it for receipts for my studio--more specifically for taking photos of tuition checks and for copying music for unrealBook. Although this app is more than just another camera. Documents can be enhanced and sent as PDFs or JPEGs and shared to apps that are already installed on your iPad such as Dropbox or an email account. Genius Scan +. $2.99. I find I have all I need with the free version. Go ahead and upgrade if you’d like to send documents to Evernote, Google Docs or Expensify.
Apps for Teaching
PaperDesk. $3.99. This is one of my favorite apps; I recommend buying it. It’s a feature-rich notebook for the iPad. Type, write and draw with a slew of fonts and colors and correct with a full set of editing option. You can even rest your wrists on the pad without interfering with drawing. Insert photos and PDFs. Record audio that can be synced with your notes in text mode. Everything can be shared with Dropbox in fact, notebooks can be set up to automatically sync to Dropbox. I keep a notebook for each student where I jot down reminders, take a photo of their assignment chart, take photos of anything from correct hand positions to the right way to put on a shoulder rest. During a lesson we can make a short recording of a specific practice technique and email it to their home for reference. If you’re not ready to buy try PaperDesk Lite for free.
iMovie. $4.99. I use iMovie to record short video tutorials for my website/blog on subjects such as how to tune the violin. Videos are uploaded to my private YouTube channel and then embedded in my blog.
Anytune. Free. This app has a selection of upgrades ranging from $1.99 to turn off the ads to $14.99 to upgrade to pro HQ. Select a track from your iTunes library. Anytune works like the Amazing Slow Downer to adjust the playback tempo without altering the pitch, for a fraction of the price. I use this for my young Suzuki students to play along with a slower version of the piano accompaniment. You can also create loops to help practice a passage many times. The ads are not appropriate for the studio (online dating sites) so I have paid for that upgrade.
GarageBand. $4.99. Great app for many uses and it is so much fun. One helpful use is to record myself playing my students’ newest pieces. It makes a great listening example for home study. Use the audio recorder and your iPad’s built-in microphone although you can also use an external USB mic with the iPad’s camera kit. Your track can be shared via iTunes or mail or even shared (privately) to YouTube or Soundcloud.
unrealBook. $4.99. Designed for gigging musicians by a gigging musician this app is a PDF reader with a lot of music editing features. Alphabetize and index your music so you can easily find the file you need. Make notes, add text and highlight. Use a stylus to add slurs and fingerings. The app also includes a metronome, pitch pipe and recorder. It’s an ideal app for a teacher who works at a remote studio or travels to students’ homes. Add music via file sharing in your desktop iTunes menu. An even easier work-around? Scan the music you need with Genius Scan and add it from your iPad. From the “documents” tab in Genius Scan tap the “share” icon, then the “other apps” icon, select a document size. You should see a list of exporting options. (Since I have installed Dropbox, unrealBook and PaperDesk on my iPad I can choose any of these applications.) Select unrealBook and you can take all your music with you. I originally selected this app because of its ability to play music from my iTunes library. A similar music reading app is forScore. $4.99.
Coach’s Eye. $4.99. I just heard about this app last week and bought it without blinking an eye. Designed for athletes, Coach’s Eye allows you to analyze a student’s video performance with a complete set of drawing tools and recorded comments. Take a video of your student, open the clip in this app and slow or stop the clip to analyze for ideal positions. Share your annotated clip via email, Dropbox and Evernote for review by students and/or parents.
Educreations. Free. Another new app to me. Start by signing up with educreations.com which hosts the video lessons created with this app. Teach whiteboard lessons with photos, markers and audio. Share the video lesson either publicly or privately on their site and share the link with students. The Educreations site is filled with shared lessons so see what others are teaching. It’s too new for me to have worked with it a lot but I imagine it would be perfect for very young or new students. Start with a photo of a fingerboard, add tapes and note names. Play the song while you point out the notes. This app could be a great between-lessons resource.
Here are a couple more that you might want to investigate on your own:
Skype. Free. Offer virtual lessons via Skype. I do offer Skype lessons. In addition to being convenient they are a good option for doing make-up lessons. An iPad on a stand that can move around the room is a distinct advantage over the camera on a fixed desktop or a laptop.
Dragon Dictation. Free. This is a popular voice-to-text app. It works a little better with an iPhone because you can speak directly into the microphone. Even though it’s used more for social media I can see it being useful for a parent taking notes during lessons. The more you use the app the better the system adapts to your voice. There is a 60-second limit to each press of the record button but you may record longer messages in sections.
Apps for Students In-Lesson Resources
GarageBand. $4.99. Create a percussion accompaniment as an alternative to scale practice with a metronome. The Smart Drums option is slick for making rhythms with a drum machine or drum kit. Employ a jazz trio of instruments to make a 12-bar blues loop for introducing improvisation. With the last update Smart Strings, a whole orchestra of instruments, was added to the list of instrument choices. Demonstrate scales, chords, etc with an orchestra. Before you incorporate this into your lessons make sure you have a set plan and time limit--this app is addictive.
Tenuto. $3.99. A series of musicianship exercises including note, interval, chord, key signature identification. The exercises are fully customizable by clef (even alto clef), note range, and more. There is a companion app for music theory from the same developer, Theory Lessons. $1.99. Included are 39 music theory lessons beginning with the basics-the staff and clefs-and ending with an analysis of The Moonlight Sonata. Both are adapted from lessons at Ricci Adams’ free site musictheory.net. Even though the website is a free resource I prefer spending a little lesson time supervising my students use the app.
iMovie. $4.99. This is also a great app for making movies of student performances. Video your performance class and edit with iMovie. Share with studio families via a private YouTube channel. If you don’t need to edit make a free movie with the camera and send directly to YouTube.
In addition, your iPad has access to the entire internet. Sometimes, you’ll need to search for resources--especially if you teach in a remote location. For example there’s not a good music dictionary app available now; use the internet instead. Try these two terrific sites: www.naxos.com/education/glossary.asp which also contains a comprehensive introduction to classical music and a guide for how to enjoy a concert, and www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/, a multi-media music dictionary complete with audio pronunciation and musical examples.
Apps for Parents Resources for Parent Reference and Feedback
PaperDesk. $3.99. The perfect tool for teacher note-taking is just as handy for parents. Parents who are still assisting young students can use this app for taking notes, recording parts of the lesson and taking photos of positions. As I mentioned earlier, every part of a notebook--recording, photos, notes--can be shared. An excellent option if parents of older students need additional teacher feedback.
Skitch. Free. Skitch is a great photo annotator. Add arrows and text to a photo. It’s ideal for capturing a perfect left hand position, adding a caption and sending it to parents for visual reinforcement. Send photos via email or share to Evernote. Skitch is available on iPad, iPhone, Mac and Android. In addition to music studio purposes, this Skitch works beautifully to capture computer screen shots. Really make your point by emailing an entire annotated screen shot; not just a link.
Fingering Strings. $2.99. This app is better suited to string classrooms but I think parents can learn a lot from it. This app is a fingering chart for all stringed instruments and treble, alto, bass and tenor clefs. Select an instrument and a note from the staff. In addition to sounding the note this app shows every place the note can be played on the fingerboard. Select a variety of viewing options such as a keyboard display, color-coded strings and a chart of each position on the fingerboard.
MSO Learn. Free. A virtual orchestra. See each instrument. Hear each instrument. Listen to the entire symphony or just one section. This interactive app from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra introduces instruments and the people who play them (even learn their favorite place to eat after a concert). It’s so much fun to learn about the orchestra in this engaging, personal way. They did a great job with this app!
Audio Recording. Sometimes, parents may want to make an audio recording of a lesson or a home practice session. Useful audio apps are hard to come by. Aside from PaperDesk it’s a challenge to find an app that is inexpensive and able to send a file longer than 3 minutes. GarageBand is my top choice for this use. Even though it’s not free this app has many different private studio applications with no restriction on file size.
Video Recording. If you or parents just need to observe a taped lesson or practice session the pre-installed camera is your best choice. If you need editing features use iMovie.
This list is a good starting place for private studio teachers. But there are more improvements and more apps on the way. Dig into the app store and find the products that suit your needs, your lifestyle, your studio. Read reviews. Test free versions until you’re ready to upgrade. Experiment during your practice sessions and share my picks with your studio parents. Most of all, try something new and have fun exploring.
Active listening. Josep Caballe’-Domenech delivered his dress rehearsal message Saturday afternoon insisting that actively listening to every single part of the music is our most important charge. No players buried in their music stands--he wanted awareness. And it’s not just the individual musicians who must actively listen, the conductor also listens and responds to feedback. Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic on conducting, “One of the ways to make your sound better is to make it really obvious that you’re really listening and that it really matters to you what it sounds like.” He goes on to say, “As soon as it’s apparent that your ears are open and that you’re interested and you’re following the contour of the sound, then that very contour is affected by that.” Caballe’-Domenech is a fiery conductor who demands our best. In spite of the hard work, playing for him is a most rewarding orchestral experience. To be tuned in to each note and every nuance is beyond compare. It’s electrifying. When playing in the zone your senses are heightened. Constantly receiving feedback, musicians react with split-second precision. And just like he said, the orchestra is not a stage full of individuals playing their part; it is one instrument responding as a single organism.
In this scenario, musicians get feedback from their stand partners, section leaders, concertmaster, and conductor. Rehearsals are full of verbal feedback; in performance feedback is exclusively non-verbal. Musicians use their specific training to listen and respond to a huge number of variables--pitch, dynamics, articulation, style. They take the notes of the page and along with the interpreter, the conductor, and the information practiced and retained from rehearsals they work together to create a spontaneous musical experience. At the end the audience delivers even more feedback by way of applause, cheering and maybe even standing to show appreciation. By the time the performance is done, I know where I stand.
What happens to a musician when they can’t rely on feedback? Or their traditional notion of feedback is turned upside down? I’m also a member of a new kind of orchestra-the Twtr Symphony. Made up of musicians across the world recording remotely, it’s a whole new concept. “...While we approach performance in a very different way than other symphony orchestras, it is our extensive use of social media as a tool for connection which sets us apart." ~ Composer Chip Michael. We met first through social media by tweeting our personal plans, projects and experiences. Our feedback began as a supportive forum, then one by one we auditioned and became an orchestra.
When I started I had more questions than confidence. Alone in my studio with a piece of music and a click track, where was the feedback I wanted? What I got instead was harsh. The click track was a stern taskmaster. The playback was cruel. Neither were willing to bend--or lie. I found myself delivering my finished recording with tentative words, “if you need me to re-record just let me know.” With no stand partner to smile and no audience to clap I was looking for some kind of positive feedback, reassurance or a little pat on the back, hoping that my playing was good enough. After I sent my recording I had even more questions. How do I fit in the group? What does the orchestra sound like?
Maybe I was getting the feedback I needed all along. What happens when conventions are altered? We adapt. True I wasn’t getting “normal” feedback. Instead of concentrating on what I wasn’t hearing I had to look and listen a little bit harder. What was I really hearing? Enthusiasm. Excitement. And lots and lots of support. The Twtr Symphony is an orchestra that supports the group and supports each other. Just like the conventional orchestra I mentioned above we are more than individuals recording separate parts--we are united through support, sharing and investment in the outcome. That’s the amazing thing about social media--it really does connect us. My questions were replaced with confidence and trust. And I’m glad to be part of the adventure.
Desks are on my mind these days. It started with a visit home. My sister-in-law just started working from home and set up a work space in the living room. Her desk features 3 computers and 3 monitors and an enormous leather wing chair. They laughingly call it "the command center." I call it idyllic--between calls she listens to the murmur of their chickens. Then last week I heard Science Friday’s Desktop Diaries for the first time. This show, centered around the amount of time we spend at our desks asks scientists to describe what’s on their desks and why. Now I’m noticing desktops everywhere! I’m more interested in creatives desktops like Lauren Bucquet’s that I stumbled upon yesterday. The head shoe and accessories designer for Rag & Bone has a space filled with pens and chalks, fabric and leather, buttons and vintage trinkets and plenty of photos that help complete her story. I’ve always loved Karen Michel’s photos of her art supplies--her tools become just as beautiful as the finished product. Musicians working spaces are music stands and studios piled with instruments and scores. The practice room is yet another kind of desk. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic offers a peek into the working space of 75 musicians. Dubbed “Musical Chairs” this fascinating opportunity invites donors to sit onstage next to musicians during a rehearsal. It’s a multi-dimensional experience not only to hear, see and feel the music, but to observe interactions between working conductor and musicians. Our wonderful supporters become part of our group’s “desk”, sitting next to their favorite section, asking questions, learning more about our work.My desk is a collection of metronomes, reading glasses assignment charts and scribbled ideas. A violin and viola hang on the wall at the ready. The rest of the space is filled with photos and mementos of my children and whimsical pieces that remind me to have fun. What about you? What’s on your desk? A work in progress? An idea just waiting to happen? Like a three dimensional mind map your desk is a crystal clear reflection of your work. Now it’s your turn. We want to see where your magic happens. Show me your desk. Hop on over to Beyond-Do Re Mi’s Facebook Page and post pics of your desk, studio or workspace. I can't wait to see!
My first memory of recording was singing along with my parents’ Mitch Miller LP. Sprawled on the floor, propped on our elbows, my brother and I sang into a compact cassette player while the record spun. Over and over we pressed clunky buttons on the recorder and shrieked while we sang, convulsing with reckless laugher and aching sides. Each replay was more hilarious than the last.
Fast forward to the serious side of recording--college audition tapes. Believe me, that's no laughing matter. I recorded at a studio owned by a family friend, Garman O. Kimmel, a man who knew something about recording. “For 30 years, Kimmell recorded, edited, and produced for radio the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra’s weekly performances, all at his own expense. He eventually did so on a state-of-the-art tape recorder machine that he and A. P. Van Meter designed and built.” from So much to give, the legacy of Garman Kimmel. Cut and dried and state-of-the-art, we got the job done.
As a freelancer I’ve done a variety of session work through the years--all in recording studios. That is, until recently. My last few gigs were home studio sessions. It's fascinating to see their workspaces--a converted garage, a niche in a bedroom and an entire basement repurposed as a recording studio. Home studios instill a relaxed atmosphere that makes the work more amiable. And it's a welcoming touch to be greeted by the family dog.
My son writes songs but evades the studio. His charts and mp3 files arrive first in a Dropbox folder. Then with laptop and microphone in tow, he travels to record one band member at a time. (I’m honored that he makes a 1,000 mile journey to include me in his music.) It's a joy to make music with him! For an entire afternoon my teaching studio is converted into a maze of cables, microphones and music stands, every square inch of floor papered with completed charts. I'm delighted to share a completed song from his August sessions:
And the newest recording studio? Well, there’s one in my home...and in 52 others spread out across the globe. We’re part of something new. So new in fact, that this very week our inboxes anticipate the first composition we’ll record together. We’re members of the Twtrsymphony, “an ensemble made of classical musicians who met on twitter and wish to share their love of music with the rest of the world.” Brainchild of composer, Chip Michael, we record each part individually and send the completed file to Chip for mixing with our far-flung colleagues. Amazing!
This project takes me back to the giddy days of my first recordings. When I couldn't wait to play. Honestly, this new adventure is magical--like Wonkavision. Not a giant chocolate bar but a digital score, broken into tiny bits and sent through the air to be recorded. Back it goes through the air to be reassembled into a living orchestra performance. A tasty morsel of music not longer than 140 beats per piece. It's a crazy mix of music and technology that is so refreshingly modern that I can't wait to get started!
Not long ago I ran into a former private student. On break from college she excitedly shared her music experiences. I listened proudly until I heard she was a music ed major. That's when my heart sank. I should be happy that she wants to share her passion. But it won't be long before she's looking for employment…and then what?
I live in a district that last year, eliminated all band and orchestra classes at the elementary level. Forty-six elementary schools in all--just imagine how many children are impacted. In early 2010 the district opened a community survey. This question about elementary instrumental programs was answered only by parents who had children participating in elementary music at that time: "If a fee of $100-150 to participate in an Instrumental Music Program that meets 2-3 times per week is implemented, would your child continue to participate?"
The survey results? Yes: 1465. No: 1833. Underwhelming support by 44% of a small, select group. By the time our district eliminated the classes this group had already moved up to middle school.
Why do we need instrumental music? I have a better question: Why do we need high test scores in math and reading? Sadly, it's not about our kids; though they are the ones who suffer from lost opportunities. And in turn, our future will lack adults who can creatively problem-solve.
I read an article today "Trimming Music Ed in the Schools is a Mistake,"
by Mark George, president and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago, writing as a guest columnist in the Chicago Tribune. "The arts provide a depth of understanding and even the basis for understanding for some children on their long road to achievement. And perhaps most important, the arts provide a way for children to envision the possibilities of a world outside of their immediate circumstances."
I like to believe that loss creates space for growth, change and improvement. But my inner cynic sees little hope of ever bringing these lost classes back into the curriculum. Lost classes strike me as lost opportunities. I was introduced to the viola in an orchestra class in 4th grade so it's hard for me to imagine a different way. Or a better way. Luckily for my district there is a ray of hope. Thanks to the perseverance and creative thinking of one teacher whose job was eliminated there is an alternative for many of these students: fee-based before and after school band and orchestra classes. I think it's a great start.
The Improv Project has taken a side step for a couple of weeks. The students continue to incorporate dynamic elements into the daily warm-up scale which keeps one element of expressive control in their fingers. On Friday I asked them to play the scale at volume 7 with "happy" quarter notes just to make sure they had retained some of the original lessons. It's amazing to hear them--they know exactly how to create that effect.
The kids enjoy their march through the pages in Essential Elements so we've focused on covering ground. It's important for me to put this in perspective: students want to see their accomplishments in a method book. Checking off the numbered exercises is their goal. Introducing them to expression while they learn an instrument is my goal. I want to keep the lessons balanced.
Around the time we took a break from playing with sound I introduced them to 12-bar blues
. The bass player and cellist were given a simplified walking bass line. The upper strings are playing a simplified part as well--just the root for now. All I put on the board is the note names so they get to choose which D, G and A they play. Having a note option teaches them more about their instruments and about music. Yes, there really are A's all over your violin! We also work on rhythm by having one student tap 4 quarter notes on each bar.
After two weeks the chin fiddles are completely comfortable with their part. And the walking bass is coming along. They love playing this so much that we started adding dynamic expression. I asked the students to suggest volume levels and we added some finger snaps in addition to the tapper. A usually mild-mannered student asked to play volume 12. So far, ten has been our loudest volume. At the end of 12 bars he was still playing like a rock star sawing frantically on his violin. He was having a blast! Now that's priceless.
Near the end of our class period they almost always ask if we can play 12-bar blues. It's a great way to play for enjoyment. And this kind of music is definitely more fun with a group. I think it teaches them to work together. In future classes we'll try different rhythms, new notes and more of our expressive techniques. The possibilities are limitless!
Only a few minutes after I last posted I realized that my three fears came under the heading of "fear of losing control." Time has passed. No one but me seems to remember that my mom is gone. The night before her funeral service my dear childhood friend eased my terror. "What are you afraid of.....losing it?" Yes, that's it. "Don't worry," she said, "everyone expects you to lose it." Oh yeah, of course it's ok. Well, a month later, I felt afraid again. Until I remembered that it's ok to loosen my grip on control. I don't need that fear any more. And with that realization, the pain in my gut was gone.
It seems that the key to Being Gentle is "being." I felt the need to stick to my schedule. To keep going. Now I remind myself that I'm a human being instead of a human doing. For me gentleness can be expressed by calling friends for support, asking orchestra and studio parents for help and simply letting go of the extra tasks. All I have to do is remind folks that I need them.
I've also spent time the past few of days calling friends for advice. Mostly, they remind me to allow lots of time to heal. They helped put in perspective what things can be delegated, reassigned or even put on the shelf. One friend said, "Now is not the time to excel." Another shared these wise words: "Consider that by simply acknowledging the storm inside, you are being gentle with yourself. Being gentle doesn't have to mean being soft and delicate, it can mean simply understanding and accepting where you are at this moment, and recognizing that where you are is where you need to be."
These days my comfort music, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue
is playing over and over and over. The first track is rainy, melancholy and seems to understand my sorrows, and the title "So What" sums it up for me. What about you? What works when you feel low? Have you thought about ways you can be more gentle with yourself? How can you Be Gentle when times are tough?
As we come near the end of another school year, I find myself thinking about all the connections I've made this season. As a teacher and as a performer I've met so many new students, parents, teachers, colleagues, supporters and friends. I've been touched by the youngest violinist playing an audition for the very first time. Only days ago I was moved to tears by my colleagues' performance in the exuberant Mendelssohn Octet. I'm grateful for all the new connections.
It's interesting to trace the effect music can have on personal connections. The desire to make music leads to instrument searches and lessons and practice and more practice. Then as we improve, we are all led to an entirely new place when we decide to step outside the practice room. It's a world where we can truly connect while we make music with others .
My personal "ah ha!" moment came while listening to an orchestra. The surprise was that the orchestra happened to be my elementary school's advanced strings playing a recruiting concert! To me, an impressionable 3rd grader, this was the most glorious music I'd ever heard. Those young musicians from a little elementary school in Oklahoma changed my life.
Recently I was contacted out of the blue by a successful professional violist who is the associate principal for a large metropolitan orchestra. We had played together nearly 25 years ago in our hometown youth orchestra. Through the wonder of the web he was able to connect with me. He wrote such a kind note thanking me for the inspiring impact I had on his musical life. The strange thing about it is I don't even remember him. Since he's a few years younger than me I'm sure I was focused on the older students and missed the connection entirely. Until now.
It hardly seems possible that I had made those connections so long ago without even realizing it. And yet, it is possible. It turns out my teacher was doing much more than molding students. He was the catalyst. He brought us all together; he helped us make connections through music. I wish I could thank him right now.
With your help, I can. As you wrap up your spring orchestra concerts and recitals and music classes think about the connections you've made. I know it's a relief that all the driving and the rehearsals and studying are finally coming to an end. But before you head out the door for the summer, take a brief moment and thank your parents and your stand partner and thank your teacher.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could show our kids how to comfort themselves in a positive way? If there is pain let's treat it rather than hide it. How about making a first aid kit of healthy comforts? With music we all have the best way to soothe our sorrow.
With my recent marriage and the stress of combining our households I found myself cooking a lot more comfort food. The change in routines had us all weary and on edge at the same time. The plans, the excitement, the anticipation gave way to deadlines and disruptions. I felt fussy and out of sorts. Let down and lost. Not sure what to do next I turned to mushy foods. Did I forget that I can comfort myself?
I think about the warm pulse of my newborn child against my skin. After the overwhelming emotions of childbirth he comforted me as I sang to him. My mother remembered my grandmother playing the piano in the evenings so long ago. She and her sister whirled around the living room, little girls awash in the music. A turntable and a pair of headphones eased the lonely childhood of my first husband. These comforting rituals all rely on the vibrations of music.
The vibrations of the world embrace us before we're born. We're all tuned to a living vibration. We respond to pulse, rhythm and breath because it's our life force. It's no mistake that the instruments we play correspond to our bodies--strings vibrate with living energy, winds are the breath of life and percussion is the beating of our hearts. What better way to comfort ourselves than with music?
A blues recording played again and again, a childhood lullaby or a plaintive melody you perform for yourself can all be a salve in heartsick times. As a teacher it's fascinating to me how many students respond to music written in a minor key. The sad music helps us reach the unspoken feelings that are deep inside. It can give a voice to our sorrows. And it can offer comfort.
I have fewer gloomy days now. My new husband and I are talking about the tough stuff instead of hiding it. I'm choosing more hot baths and lavender and less macaroni and cheese. And I'm turning to music. Alone in my studio I pick up my viola, play a simple melody and feel the soothing vibrations of the universe.