Guest blog at Connect 4 Education

I was fortunate enough recently to be allowed to write a guest blog at Connect 4 Education about navigating professional transition.

While the blog is an amended version of my "How to Play (and Win) the Transition Game" conference presentation and is designed for post-secondary educators, it can easily be read and adapted for any level of educator looking to make a transition.

Look for a new blog post detailing some of the more personal angles of this transition in this space soon.  But for now...enjoy the blog over at C4E!

Programming: New Music or Old Faithfuls?

Recently I've been reading a number of articles about the merits of programming (or not programming) new music, and how it can be programmed alongside standard works, instead of standard works, or not at all during a musical season.  It seems that most of the articles I've read come down on the side of programming standard works almost exclusively, with some newer works sprinkled in for variety.

Many of the same bloggers/authors/reporters that argue that pieces from the standard repertoire should be programmed first and foremost argue that the standards become the standards for a reason, and that the educational value of the music is greater for students.  They also argue that audiences would rather support performances of music that they know, as opposed to new music.

I disagree.  Firmly.  Perhaps I'm being brash, or am jaded by my love of new music for wind bands.  There are several reasons for my unequivocal support of new music.

But first, let me be clear:  I do NOT hate the standard repertoire of wind band music.  Quite the opposite.  I love it.  There are most definitely reasons that standard works by the likes of Dello Joio, Grundman, Schuman, Persichetti, MacBeth, Bennet and MANY others are so popular.  As educators we absolutely need to program these pieces for the musical education of our students.

My big disagreement is in the belief that we should only play standard works (whether for educational value or audience enjoyment) or at least a majority of standard works.  What is wrong with new music?  Nothing.  Who is to say that works premiered today won't become pieces of the standard repertoire 50 years from now?  No one.

I am (and will remain) a champion of new music.  This academic year, ensembles that I conduct performed the world premiere performances of six works, including one concert that was entirely made up of world premiere performances.  My students did not suffer for this.  Rather, they were allowed to learn new pieces with no preconceived notions, no recordings to study, no youtube videos to peruse.  

I would posit that this experience had MORE educational value, especially for my students that are working towards teacher certification and will go on to lead their own ensembles.  Interpretation, score study, and rehearsal technique are all influenced by the pieces that are programmed for performance, and they were part of the first rehearsals of pieces.  They were able to see, from day one, how I approach scores, rehearsal, and the process of preparation.  More than anything, they learned (I hope) that one does NOT have to have a recording to study (or copy), and can be informed musically by the pull of the ensemble and the musical ideas the composer wrote in the score.

I would also argue that audiences enjoyed these performances immensely.  Perhaps not MORE than a program made up of traditional standard pieces, but at least as much.  The music was fresh, invigorating, and new.  They didn't know what to expect.  They were able to discover new favorite sections in music (rather than waiting for the "part I love!"), allowed to form their own opinion (rather than thinking "I'm supposed to like this, because I'm a music lover"), and given the chance to celebrate new classical music.

Our season of firsts culminated in a premiere performance of "Poem of Many in One" by Robert Giracello, based on text by Walt Whitman, and written for combined wind ensemble and concert choir.  Because the piece was written for our music program, we were able to inform the composer about strengths and weaknesses, work together to find inspired text, and program for audience participation, which is something that works extremely well around these parts.

All of this is to say, don't shun new music just for being new.  When presented with the opportunity to perform new works that fit your ensemble and will provide for an opportunity for true music education, do it.  But don't program new works just to program new works, either.  The standards are standards for a reason, but there is nothing wrong helping to create new standards, one premiere at a time.

You Can't Ever Go Back...Except When You Do

Since I made the leap from undergraduate student to graduate student/professional, I've always felt as though one can never go back to their undergraduate years.  Those years are special and somehow innocent; something we wish to relive but never can.

And thats true.  One can never go back to their undergraduate years, no matter how hard we try.

But, we can savor those years later on and relive the memories while living in the present.  It all starts with picking the right undergraduate institution.  

As musicians, we are always focused on making sure that we go to the right institution for the ensembles, teachers, fellow students, etc.  And, of course, these are all incredibly important factors to think about when choosing a place to go to school.  We want to make sure we're pushed by our teachers, colleagues, and circumstances.  This sometimes leads prospective students to disregard one important factor: comfort.

Being comfortable in a place and situation is important.  An undergraduate location should feel like home.  You shouldn't feel comfortable with a place simply because it pushes you professionally, but because you are in a good place socially.  That social interaction will help you to grow as a musician and will allow you to make lifelong connections with professors and fellow students that will help you advance.

I recently had the great opportunity to return to my alma mater as a judge for a jazz festival.  I had been back on campus, but never when school was in session.  Returning with all of the musical creativity that occurs during a long semester was a treat.  The program is clearly progressing in a positive direction, and that is comforting.

More importantly, I was able to go back and have a good experience.  I never thought that would be the case.  It was a fantastic experience.  Some moments were eerie (having the ONLY practice room available be the same one I used for 4 years as an undergraduate student, for example), while others were bittersweet (talking with my old choral conductor and having him reaffirm that what I'm doing my current position is spot on), while others were sentimental (like eating at the "ho" and enjoying it!).

All of this is to say that students making their undergraduate choices should take into account more than the reputation of their potential school and teacher, and make sure that they are comfortable on campus.  Sometimes having a place that feels like home and that you can go back to is just as important!

First Post!

Well, I guess this begins my first post on my first ever blog.  I've nothing earth shattering to say.  My goal with this blog is to update about once a week to illuminate thoughts, experiences, or situations that have arisen and may be of help or interest to readers.  Mostly, I just want an archived place for my thoughts, since my brain can't keep track of them!

Check back soon for a REAL post!