Eureka! Starting an Organization

Well, Eureka certainly is starting with a bang.

I discussed this organization briefly with Larry and Randy, but I’ll recap a little:

Eureka! Orchestra – essentially a traveling act to different schools/groups of young people to get them excited about music by playing for them and having interactive games AND – here’s the kicker – allowing them to actually PLAY the instruments they just heard and are now so eager to try in the soon-to-follow instrument petting zoo!

We have our inaugural concert as an orchestra a week from this Saturday on May 16 at Saint John’s Church in Jamaica Plain at 2:00 pm.  We’re performing Mahler 4 with soloist Yelena Dudochkin and devilish violinist Léo Marillier as concertmaster.  Kristo Kondakci will be conducting.  Other works on the program include Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, featuring guitarist Robert Bekkers.

As described on the GoFundMe page:

The theme is Heroism and Transcendence, as each work explores these ideas through a different lens, from the most intimate and personal to the most grand.

The Beethoven depicts the struggle between an individual and the collective, where the individual is ultimately sacrificed at the hands of the collective.

The Rodrigo portrays the history of Spain in its glory as well as in its tragedy.

The Mahler is about tradition & innocence vs. the seductiveness of banality, culminating in a song about a child’s reaction to being in heaven.

Our GoFundMe page with more information can be found here:  http://www.gofundme.com/eurekaorch

If you or someone you know would like to donate, please pass the word along!  We can use all the help we can get!

But wait, it gets better.

We’ve also been invited to do a three-day seminar at the Girl Scouts camp in Northern Massachusetts later this May as part of the educational and artistic development of the troop.  We’re beyond excited as this is an amazing opportunity to get to work with young people, and in the beautiful rolling hills of the New Hampshire border of all places!

BUT WAIT!

On June 21, we’ll be playing at the Make Music Boston Festival in Ramsay Park, Roxbury in efforts to bring cultural enrichment to the area.  The performances will combine dance, music, art, and more!

Overall, the organization is getting off to a good start.  We have people interested from all communities, momentum is building, and summer has begun, so everyone is much happier in general!

Larry and I have had brief philosophical discussions throughout the semester, and these have helped shape the path of the organization.  We want to go beyond accessibility and into the realm of ART – where children can be their creative selves in a compassionate environment and discover the world at their pace.

After all, it’s that what everyone wants?

Come as you are, play what you want, join in the fun!  Eureka!

The Beginning: Freelance Teaching in Boston

To make things clear off the bat – this internship was originally going to take place at the EKS Music School in Quincy where I am faculty.   Because I have yet to teach any brass students at the school, I will be focusing on the teaching adventures with my own private students and the strange way that I acquired them:  TakeLessons.com.

Strange, because I never thought I would be the kind of person to “buy into” this kind of thing.  It seemed too convenient, too easy, yet after only two months of making a (minimal) online account, I acquired my first piano student.  Fast forward three months and many MIE 501 readings later, and I have acquired some very interesting and life-changing perspectives regarding music and music-in-education.  But that’s for later – for now, we must set the scene of the beginning of true freelance teaching in the Boston area.

I had freelanced my first year in Boston as a horn player and a collaborative pianist specializing in the Suzuki Method, but never had I had any students.  Late summer going into my second year of my master’s, my friend told me that he had acquired a piano student via this website.  Intrigued, I began an account and filled in all the appropriate information.  I had never really written down or contemplated my own unique, logical teaching philosophy before, and when I saw this requirement on the website, I simply wrote what I had always thought:

Through all these experiences, I can safely say that my theory of teaching and learning music is that it’s all about connections. To learn music is to learn a completely new way of looking at the world. It is an inward journey of strength and discovery as much as it is an outwards one, learning to successfully and compassionately communicate with fellow musicians and anyone else who might cross your path. I have collaborated with individuals in both the instrumental and vocal realms – trumpet, trombone, tuba, (French) horn, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, bass, sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, baritones, and have taught piano, horn, and beginning/intermediate wind instruments in both private and group settings. I love music, and even more, I love teaching music!

For areas that I taught, I put (using their categories) Accompaniment, Accordion, Audition Prep, Classical Piano, Ear Training, French Horn, Music Performance, Music Theory, and Piano.  Fair enough, I thought.  I had played accordion all through high school and undergrad, busking on the streets of my beloved college town, but never had I thought that I would teach the instrument (little did I know).

The account sat there for awhile, being added to with various pictures and videos, when all of sudden, I received a notification from TakeLessons saying that someone from Milton has signed up for piano lessons.  TakeLessons in a way is more reliable than the old-fashioned show-up-and-pay-as-you-go method.  People must pre-pay for lessons, specifically five to start out with, and then can only withdraw from lessons if they seriously dislike their teacher.  The teacher is paid either way, whether or not the student shows up, by direct deposit.  The only catch is (and I know you’ve been waiting) is that for the first fifteen lessons, trust must be established, and that trust comes in the form of 25% of your lesson going to the website that so conveniently hooked you up.  You set your own rate of pay, however, and after fifteen lessons, you can earn 90% of what you charge.  It’s just a switch of convenience – either have the student, that either you or a friend has recommended to you, hopefully pay you after the lesson has taken place (and not give you a check that bounces or not show up and you’re out that time unless you have a no-show plan), or have the money from the student who chose you amongst a list of individuals on a conveniently accessible website go straight into your bank account with a slight cut for the middle man.  Personally, I’m enjoying the latter option very much as it is very convenient and everything you could ever need to access regarding the financial state of these lessons is stored in an online account.

So, I had my new student.  Awesome!  How did that happen?  Why did she choose me?  I’ve honestly thought quite a bit about this, comparing myself to the other profiles of piano teachers in my zip code.  One thing I am sure sticks out, and this is not in any way facetious:  I’m a friendly looking, 20-something female who doesn’t have any particular instrument in the picture with her to alienate those who aren’t looking for that particular kind of lesson.  I would look up people who were listed as horn teachers, and when they had a trumpet in the photo with them, I would be taken aback and shake my head.  What are these people thinking?  You can’t claim to teach violin and have a harp in the picture.  Silly, silly.  So, common sense aside, what else set me apart?  For the piano side of things, I teach all piano, not just classical piano.  Most people (and I used to be one of them) seemed to be in the classical rut.  I wanted to teach only classical because that’s the best rep and you can collaborate and blah blah blah. . . Look, some people just want to play an awesome song they heard once, and to me, that’s so much more genuine than sticking to a canon because of archaic constraints of “classical music” and the days when ladies were “bred well” because of their literal “parlor tricks.”  Nah.  Done with that.  If that’s your thing, though, of course I’ll teach you the parlor tricks.  Hell, I’ll teach you ALL the tricks.  But if you just happen to really like that Yann Tiersen song or that one song by that techno band that for some reason decided to compose a beautiful piano piece, that desire is so beautifully genuine, and I will more than help you learn it.

It turns out that this student was one of the “Classical Piano” students, which is great, because that’s my forte (pun completely intended).  And, because she’s fourteen years old and her mother enrolled her in piano lessons, she is one of those modern incarnations of the well-bred individual.  In modern society, girls of the middle class are still taking music lessons not to be married off as acceptable stock, but ALL children are as a part of this new over-satiated-with-activities generation.  I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to be the multi-faceted artistic individual that I was throughout my childhood and young adulthood in a specialized sense.  I loved creative writing, I loved language, and I loved music.  Done.  Sports, nah.  Acting, not so much.  Visual arts, yeah maybe.  I took ballet.  I took vocal lessons.  I took violin lessons then switched over to viola because duh C-strings are awesome.  But these things were all eventually sloughed off of my extracurricular epidermis.  I wasn’t shoved into French club, Greek school, baseball practice, basketball practice, CCD class (aka “Catholic Church Detention” because we were clever) – my mother rode that line of respecting me and my right to choose as an individual while guiding me because I was not yet an adult, but when I decided on something, boy, did she crack down.  (We could open the whole can of worms on parenting and discipline, but the energy required into writing that would manifest in the form of an entire article – not now, but perhaps stay tuned!)

To elucidate, I am not one to belittle the act of taking music lessons, much less exploring the world around you; but exactly that, exploring the world around you, doesn’t always come in the structured form of a lesson.  Exploration and curiosity are things to be bred, for sure, but to satiate our kids so that they have no room to breathe, no room to feel like they can explore, no opportunities for them to discover how they learn, how they can explore, is more of a disservice than a leg-up on life.  Trying to reschedule with this particular student is a nightmare.  This time, inconveniently placed for the traveling music teacher at the peak of rush hour, is the only time she can receive lessons.  And to what end?  To show that she practices?  That there is that spark of intrinsic, volitional learning?  Why take music lessons at all if you’re not one to take time to develop a craft and through this craft realize these subtle truths?  of your nature?  of life internal and external?  of these connections that hang, suspended in this vast network of life, just out of reach until some sort of realization hoists you up, and at last you realize the awe-some depth of existence, and that everything connects to everything else, and at this same moment you paradoxically admit to knowing nothing?  (That escalated quickly. . .)  But in all seriousness, why continue skimming all these surfaces hoping to find hidden treasure just bobbing at the top?

One can probably tell by now that I am a teacher who lives in the fractal paradox (don’t worry, I don’t usually tell people that).  By that I mean the lesson is a constant ebbing and flowing of specialization, via technique, music theory, and broad application, playing through a piece to see where we are, discussing general musical ideas.  This in addition to personalized Socratic methodology, in which I guide the students to the answer based off what they know and their way of learning and discovering.  This has been a heavy-hitter for a first of three articles, so I shall divulge more information regarding my teaching methodology throughout the next couple of articles.

Music Outreach at Susan Bailis

One of the activities that has given me the greatest satisfaction in this busy few months are the weekly classes and sing-alongs at Susan Bailis Assisted Living.  I am working with them as part of my Schweitzer Fellowship, which has spanned the last academic year. I entered the project a bit blind, having had to find a new site and reconfigure my project after the initial site fell through. I had not had experience working with seniors before and I was a little nervous about it. I soon realized that my original project plan– chorus work and individual music lessons– weren’t a good fit for the population. The choral singing was difficult because of the wide disparity in musical ability and training–people who could read music got bored, people who could barely match pitch were frustrated.  Music lessons were difficult to organize because the few interested individuals tended to cancel or forget. I came up with another plan to offer more passive activities including a weekly music appreciation discussion and a weekly “sing along.” Once a week I bring in a CD or music with some kind of theme; for example, we did a month of opera history and each week focused on one or two composers or a certain style. As a group we listen and discuss interesting characteristics of the music including form and style. On another day I bring in old songs ranging from the 20’s to the 60’s and peck away at the piano while participants read from song sheets. Some sing, some just listen, but it usually ends up to be a fun and relaxed hour.

After some setbacks I feel we finally settled into a routine with these two activities around mid-February. The same clients tend to come to each respective activity and I feel I have developed a rapport with several of them. I think one big lesson I have learned so far, and this may seem obvious, is the value of just showing up. I admit I was discouraged at one point when the project wasn’t going as planned, but I’m glad I continued to try new activities until we found something that was good for the residents. I also am constantly reminded of the value of preparation and organization. In discussions that have not gone as well I always feel that I could have prepared more thoroughly beforehand. Finally, I think I’ve realized how much I can learn as a musician in any kind of educational setting. I’ve been able to explore musical works more in depth this semester as a result of offering these classes, and in the discussions themselves clients often have an unexpected question or insight that I can learn from.

In my next post I will share some video and anecdotes about the residents with whom I’ve worked and some thoughts about my experience with the Schweitzer Fellowship.

Time Pressure: The Challenges of Composing

Greetings MIE community! Much progressed has occurred since my first blog post. One month ago, the Music-In-Education department hosted our first ever concert, which featured my composition, Lucena Position for Six Musicians and Two Chess Players. The name is a bit of a misnomer, actually—we only had one chess player, playing both sides of the board for this performance. Still, the piece was a tremendous success!

Everyone who participated in it ended up learning about the Lucena Position, an important type of rook-and-pawn endgame that every great chess player needs to know about. By crafting the piece around this “textbook endgame study,” anyone who learned the piece had to first absorb the key concepts of the Lucena position: how to build a bridge with the rook to block a barrage of enemy checks and allow an otherwise blocked pawn to promote. Then, after the rooks are traded off, the pawn promotes to a queen and the remainder of the game is a classic king-and-queen checkmating pattern.

Moreover, the audience got a new experience with the game, and hopefully learned something too! By adding a sonic element, audience members who might not know the rules of chess got a better picture of when something interesting happened—e.g. a check, a piece being threatened, or a queen promoting. Still, my “artist persona” was only partially satisfied: the music still seems a bit heavy-handed, perhaps programmatic. This came to light more prominently when, just a few days ago, I was informed that I would not be asked to perform a second version of the piece on Jordan Hall stage for the “Beckett Play” concert.

Part of that was my bad planning (I didn’t get a rehearsal together so the curator of the show could see the idea in time), but there’s a more deeply rooted issue: Sam Beckett would not agree with the core musical structure! As a playwright, Beckett spent much of his career attempting to destroy narrative, to systematically remove conventional plot devices from his works and achieve a new aesthetic. My current system is inherently programmatic and narrative, which makes it a poor fit for the Beckett concert.

Consequently, my attention now turns to preparing for my recital. I have effectively “doubled down” with this project: not only does it require success as a teacher and chess player in order to pull off each concert, but additionally it requires that I compose a great piece of music! As I write this I have just three weeks to put the last piece together for my recital. I will have to drastically reduce the scale of my compositional ambitions in order to accommodate the realities of my timeline: I want a piece on my recital that sounds good, in addition to the educational content and lesson plans that go into making the piece happen.

One technique I intend to explore further as I extend this interdisciplinary teaching concept after graduation (not sure how or where yet, but I’ll find a way) is the idea of group composition through guided inquiry. By asking students (in this case, members of the NEC Chess Club) to explore core concepts in chess, I can make use of the bi-literacy and start asking questions. For example: “what is the effect of capturing a piece during a game? How might that be represented musically?” This format of question can be reused for each and every lesson plan: piece movement, the squares of the board, pawn promotion, check, checkmate, castling, elementary checkmates (Q+R vs. K, K + Q vs. K, K + R vs. K, etc.), opening theory, elementary tactics (forks, pins, skewers, discovered attacks, etc.), endgame studies like the Lucena Position, and so on.

The real challenge for me as an artist is sufficiently limiting the scope of each composition! Chess is nearly as rich and imaginative of an art form as music, so any attempt to map concepts from its domain into the world of sound will have inherent limitations. As a composer and fellow student helpfully suggested, “be careful not to put too much heart into each piece… remember you can always write another. Cut excess like a samurai.”

Performance and volunteer opportunities available for the MIE concert

Editor’s Note:  This is the 3nd post in a long series with an inside view of the planning and production for our department’s first-ever intra-departmental MIE Concert!

Hello,

Tomorrow, March 5th from 6-8 we will be rehearsing in SB 300 for the MIE concert. Specifically, we will be looking at Larry’s piece based on the power-song, Pachelbel’s Canon. Please bring your instruments and your voices. We need singers and different instrumentalists, prepared for fun and the unexpected. Please reply and let me know if you are able to make it. Feel free to invite other voices to class as well.

Also, we need ushers! We have a really cool seating plan, but we need two volunteers to do this. Please let me know if this is something that you would like to do. You may be both a performer and an usher at the concert – That is totally okay! We just need someone to stand up and take this important responsibility in order to assure its success.

Thanks!

Making the Right Move: NEC Gets a Chess Club

Over the past two years, I have worked in numerous ways and settings to help bridge the NEC communities, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes deliberately. For this internship, I found a unique way to serve the NEC student population: start a chess club!

What makes this different from other clubs? My chess club has ulterior motives. I’m interested in interdisciplinary connections, drawing inspiration for musical events from other structures. Specifically, I’m setting out to compose music inspired by and informed by the game of chess. As a composer, I want musicians to understand the game, in order to enrich their experience playing the music.

Moreover, having an “army of chess-playing musicians” gives me the ability to write new music that draws its compositional structure directly out of the game: I can use the board as a kind of improvised graphic score! Thus, by teaching musicians the game of chess, I am simultaneously preparing them to play my music.

Over the semester, I hope to put on three performances. The first will be on the Music-In-Education Department Concert (which I am curating), to take place on March 7th. This will be a “small piece,” examining just a small microcosm of the chess universe. The second performance will (hopefully, curator permitting) be on Jordan Hall stage on April 9th, as part of the “Beckett Play” concert (put on by the Contemporary Improvisation Dept.). That piece would be a little bit bigger, and also relate to the writing of Samuel Beckett (especially “Endgame”). Finally, I hope to stage the largest version of the piece—the full-blown game of chess—on my recital: April 28th, in Brown Hall. This would require thirty-two musicians, all of whom play chess relatively well, so I hope people show up to the club!

Right now the club is in “stage one”: building critical mass. So far there’s been a steady crowd of musicians each week, and the cast usually has a mixture of rotating players and steady regulars. On our first day, there were thirteen people! The challenge each week is to find ways to teach each person on an individual basis, while simultaneously introducing concepts that will be relevant in my compositions.

Starting in the next couple weeks or so, I plan to introduce my first piece in the club, teaching about that.

The MIE Concert: From ‘Power Song’ to ‘Power Program”

Editor’s Note:  This is the 2nd post in a long series with an inside view of the planning and production for our department’s first-ever intra-departmental MIE Concert!

Planning for the MIE Concert continues. Devin Ulibarri, our MIE Graduate Assistant and also faculty at NEC MusicLaunch, shares the following:

Purpose

To showcase MIE teaching artists in the context of MIE philosophies. Allows MIE
students to connect with an audience in the context of their rationale for MIE- one
can experiment in creating a concert that communicates music to an audience in a
unique way.

I also understand the need for MIE concentration students and the department as a
whole to express themselves through performance. I also hope that the department
can gain more exposure through performances, however it is imperative that this is
within the context of the MIE concepts and values.

Possibilities

  • MIE concentration students could collaborate – solo, chamber within their
    discipline, or chamber cross-disciplinary (CI+classical –personally, I think this
    is great, because MIE is the one place where all different backgrounds can come
    together and learn from one another so the process of collaboration itself would be
    a learning process)
  • MIE projects performed – A kick-ass version of a cups exercise, Pachelbel’s canon
    etc.
  • MIE students perform (with or without teachers) – Students display what they
    have learned from internship
  • Between pieces and within the program, MIE students can detail their philosophies
    and their rationale for MIE
  • Experiments in audience contributions
  • MIE concentration composers may write pieces for event that reflect their
    rationale for MIE