Here we are. End of March, first of April. This is when universities release acceptance/rejection letters and scholarship offers. Over the past three Springs I have worked with one senior each year. Parents, students and I discuss recommended programs that will continue to challenge the student and help develop their artistry. We prepare audition material. I write recommendation letters and help record supplemental content for their applications.
In each of the three years these seniors took on these tasks with enthusiasm and energy. They did not let the additional work get in the way of their continued development. Preparing music and performing the auditions helped each of them become a stronger musician.
I learned this morning that Jody M., this year’s Senior, has been accepted into Berklee College of Music (my Alma Mater) and offered a four-year full tuition scholarship. He studies classical violin with an excellent teacher, and works with me on contemporary harmony and jazz improvisation. He was also accepted by UNC Greensboro and East Tennessee State University. Each of these schools has an outstanding contemporary music program as well.
Once we completed work on Jody’s application and audition material we took time to evaluate the past months’ work and think about new goals. It would have been easy for Jody to say, “I have worked hard and accomplished what I set out to do. Can I coast a few weeks and enjoy the end of my Senior year?” In fact, he did not consider that. Jody feels he needs to solidify his understanding of chord progressions, learn essential jazz tunes, and listen to historic jazz heroes between now and when he leaves for school.
We listed tunes that we will work on between now and mid-August. The plan is to listen to versions of the tunes recorded by jazz masters, learn the melodies by ear, analyze the chord progressions, and learn to improvise over the changes. I am sure Jody will transcribe improvised solos that catch his attention as well.
I have written that students often teach me. Jody’s hunger for learning and constant work toward his goals is an inspiration. We can all take a lesson from Jody, for sure.
For my students, it’s coming close to that time – time to take a close look at how far we have come over the school year. This year is a bit different. This is the first time that the majority of my students are not woodwind players. In addition to two saxophone/flute students, two play string instruments and one is a composer.
The two string players are learning improvisation and modern functional harmony. They are both excellent players and are able to grasp concepts and move forward very quickly. I wouldn’t hesitate to play on stage with either one of these young musicians. Top notch, for sure.
The young composer I work with is a solid instrumentalist on Trombone as well as on Saxophone. In fact, she qualified for All District Orchestra on Trombone this year. She has a great mind for the process and detail involved in creating a musical work from concept to final orchestration.
The two saxophone students each won first chair positions in All State bands this year. One in the Middle School Wind Ensemble, and the other in the High School Jazz Band. The High School Senior also auditioned for and was accepted into the Miles Davis Jazz Program at UNC – Greensboro.
In the next few lessons each student and I will take a critical look back through this school year, notice where we started and what the stated goals were at that time. We’ll look for evidence of progress toward these goals. We’ll celebrate the successes. We’ll also take note of where we have fallen short, dig into why, and form new plans for achieving these old goals (if these goals are still valid).
Perhaps the most important part of this review is the creation of new goals. It is a time for dreaming, for thinking big. We have a summer session coming that is typically interrupted with family vacations, summer camps, social activity. However, without the daily school commitment, there is lots of time for deep thought, practice and performance of art. I look forward to learning what each of these students dreams of doing, helping them form plans to make it happen, and celebrating their continued success.
I have always been blessed with excited, dedicated and bright music students. This year is no exception. There are three new students meeting with me weekly, and they are each launching into the year with high energy and creative spirit.
Thinking back on first lessons with teachers from my early years, they listened to something I had prepared, then asked me to sight-read a piece and maybe improvise a bit, then prescribed the next week’s work. I don’t remember ever discussing long-term goals – until my second year at Berklee when I started studying with Joe Viola. Before I played my first note he asked, “What do you want to do with this music stuff? Where do you want all this work to take you?”
WOW! That was an eye-opener. I did have goals, but had never thought to discuss them with a mentor. Considering goals led to a critical look at strengths and challenges, how time would be best used in each practice session, a list of people I should be familiar with, listen to and/or meet in person. It gave me a meaningful way to keep track of my progress.
Maybe the most important result of sharing my goals is that they became real. Just a nod of the head from Joe and what had been vague dreams instantly became tightly focused objectives.
It is always a joy to learn what motivates a student. Measuring progress against their passion helps propel their learning and deepen their artistry. One student has her eyes on district and state honors band contests. Another has college auditions on his mind. Another seeks fluency recognizing chord progressions and improvising confidently, eventually leading to a recording career. Recognizing, validating and supporting these goals is, to me, one of the greatest joys of teaching.