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.
My son, Mark, is planning to study voice at UNC School of the Arts in the fall. He has interest in singing countertenor. My exposure to countertenors was limited to Gene Puerling‘s work with the Hi-Lo’s and Singers Unlimited. I had heard no classical singers in this range.
Mark and I found great examples on YouTube of fantastic singers including David Daniels, James Bowman and several others. This recording of Phillipe Jaroussky stands out. I love his timbre and his facility with ornamentation. The chamber group is outstanding. Give this one a listen and let me know what you think!
Congratulations to Ben C., a Rising 8th Grader. He studies Contemporary Music Theory and Jazz Improvisation, playing Alto/Tenor Saxophones and Flute. He will be starting Clarinet studies very soon.
This past year, his accomplishments include 1st chair Tenor Saxophone in the All-County Symphonic Band, 1st Chair Alto Saxophone in the All-District Concert Band, and a spot in the top band, Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble. This is an ensemble of mostly High School musicians.
At his school he played Alto in the Concert and Jazz bands and Tenor in the Pep Band. He also established and rehearsed a Saxophone Quartet.
Some of his favorite Jazz artists include Paul Desmond and Sonny Rollins.
I look forward to seeing where his dedication and hard work with take him this coming year!
This is a short list of skills I encourage young students to target. Will this ensure success? Not entirely. Effective practice, performance experience and creative entrepreneurship will also be needed to be successful, but this is a great start.
Play in ensemble settings. Good section players are very valuable.
Sight Read accurately. Read new material as part of your everyday practice routine.
Improvise. You don’t have to be Coltrane (yet), but you should be able to improvise in key centers and follow basic chord changes.
Double at least one additional woodwind instrument proficiently. Pit orchestra work goes to players who can play multiple woodwind instruments. Saxophone/Flute – good combination. Saxophone/Clarinet – also good. Learning all three – even better. Once you have a good handle on these three, it is time for Oboe. I know a several Bari players who double on Bassoon.
Learn Piano or Guitar. In addition to performing, you can use these tools to help with arranging and composition.
Study as much Music Theory as your brain can hold. Knowing how this stuff works makes it much easier to learn and perform.
Listen. Hear excellent music. Listen with your ears and your heart wide open. Always seek the emotion in what you are hearing.
Feel deeply. Emote fearlessly. The audience will feel it. And that is what it is all about.
I taught one High School Senior as a private student this year. She worked hard and accomplished a lot, qualifying for all-district and state honors in Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band. She also won “Jazz Musician of the Year” at her high school.
She finished the year with a Senior Recital, shared with my son, Mark, who is a vocalist. They both will attend Universities in the fall; UNC School of the Arts for him, Stanford University (to study science) for her.
I wondered how it might feel, knowing that I would not be seeing her each week for lessons. I imagined it would be sad. Instead, I feel proud of her accomplishments. I am excited for what her future holds.
Congratulations Michaela. Your successes are well deserved. I can’t wait to learn what life will bring you next!
I came home from a quick trip out of town late this evening to find the house filled with young musicians. My son, Mark, was rehearsing a string quartet for his upcoming recital. He had transcribed a piano accompaniment of G. Caccini’s version of “Ave Maria”. Mark will be singing Countertenor on this selection.
Adding a bass, piano and classical guitar, they also sight-read a medley of songs from Les Miserables which included “I Dreamed a Dream” as an instrumental featuring my student Michaela on soprano saxophone and “Stars” with Mark singing Baritone.
First of all, this is no ordinary high school string quartet. The 1st Violinist and the Cellist both study at Peabody Conservatory. The sophomore Violist placed very well in the NC Honors Orchestra even as an underclassman. Awards and accolades abound for all these players. The ensemble was glorious.
Aside from the skill level of the musicians, it warms my heart to have people create art in my home, and I am privileged to be witness to it. Bravo, young artists. Bravo!