One of the goals of good teaching is assisting students to develop into interesting, compelling and communicative artists. Of course, there are many influences that create artistic musicians and many of them can be discussed and demonstrated in lessons. However, one of the factors that I believe is extremely important is also one that cannot actually happen in a lesson. For it to get done, you must often rely on the parents of your students or, for collegiate students, the student themselves.
That factor is getting students to attend concerts to hear and watch professional and artistic musicians performing “live”.
Imagine the difference it would make to students who love sports if they could not see great athletes performing. It is relatively easy to see a basketball game, baseball game, tennis match, football game, gymnastic or swim meet, etc. All one has to do is turn on the TV! And yet, going to a sporting event makes a much bigger impression and is more fun that sitting on the couch at home, and certainly is a more dynamic experience than listening to a game on the radio. The same is true of music events. Listening to a recording or live radio concert of a great artist, orchestra or chamber ensemble has many rewarding benefits, but seeing it can be even better. In recent years, it has become possible to see some interesting performances on the internet through sites like You Tube. Especially interesting are the concert videos featuring legendary performers who have passed away. But, watching a video just is not the same experience as going to hear a live performance and being part of the audience. And unlike sporting events, concerts on television are relatively few and far between…..especially concerts of chamber music.
Artistry is often necessarily a part of studio teaching that is generally taught to more advanced players. There are so many issues that need to be covered in a lesson that artistry is frequently ignored or at least put on the back burner. However, there is a way to start teaching artistry to even beginning students….Concerts!….getting them to hear and see concerts! Much like a picture is worth a thousand words, so too is concert attendance. The more concerts a student can attend, the more they can learn. Orchestra concerts are fun, exciting and large scale. Many students play in youth symphonies and can benefit greatly by hearing a professional caliber orchestra concert. However, individual artistry is hard to observe and though there is often a soloist who is usually a great player and often a great artist, they most often have to be observed from afar.
On the other hand, chamber music concerts are almost always in more intimate spaces allowing students to observe up close just what artistic playing is all about. Tickets are usually far less expensive than orchestra concerts and some are even free. In addition, many chamber music concerts feature unreserved seating. This means that if you arrive a little bit early, you can get the best seats in the house and sit very close to the artists if you so choose, sometimes even right on the stage with them! You can literally feel the artistic intentions of the musicians and observe how they approach their instrument from a technical point of view. A motivated student can observe each player for many things such as the bow hold, vibrato, use of color in the sound, cueing, breathing and other communication techniques among the performers and sometimes even how they put markings in the music. A good chamber music concert not only has great music as a part of it, but also can cause audience members to feel a direct and personal connection to the artists on stage. There can even be a personal connection made through eye contact during moments of applause. As a bonus, many chamber music concerts also have post-concert receptions where audience members can not only have a delicious snack (a big draw for some younger students!), but also have an extended conversation with some or all of the musicians who just played. All of these things can have a significant and lasting impression on students and significantly affect how they grow artistically and what they strive to do when they perform.
The studio teacher can do many things to encourage concert attendance. Chamber music concerts should perhaps be included more often near the top of the list of concerts students should be encouraged to attend. Usually, it makes a bigger impact if specific recommendations are passed along. This can be done in many ways, and often the best strategy is to employ more than one. For instance, teachers can inform students and/or their parents of concerts via email and Face book, a prepared list printed out on a sheet of paper, flyers for concerts posted at the teaching studio itself and personal verbal reminders. Some teachers may want to consider requiring that their students attend a certain number of concerts each year. This sends a message that the teacher really does feel it is truly important to the development of their students.
To find out what chamber music concerts are going on, the “entertainment” section of newspapers, flyers in violin shops and at universities, magazines, and the web all are excellent sources of information. Most students and their families are very busy with day-to- day events and it is often hard for them to squeeze in yet another music activity. Some have parents who like to go to concerts, have the financial means to do so, and bring their kids along. Others are less into doing that, or simply can’t swing it logistically. For those students, carpools are an often-overlooked possibility. A small group of students can go to a concert together with only one parent as a “chaperone”. Another thing that can make a big impact is a concert “field trip” with the studio teacher. There may be a concert by a particular artist or chamber music ensemble that the teacher wants to attend. This can be a great opportunity to bring their students with them. With some advance planning, group tickets can be purchased if necessary, and students can attend without their parents. It can make a lasting impression on students, especially if the teacher can lead the group after the concert to meet the artists. Then, in subsequent lessons, that particular concert and traits that were observed can be referenced in helping the student to strive for artistic excellence.
There is one final thing that can result from having students attend chamber music concerts. It can give them the desire to play in a chamber music group if they don’t already do so. For those that already do, it can be a tremendous way to learn how to improve their ensemble playing. For all it can help to develop opinions on what styles of playing they desire to emulate, and learn about repertoire they look forward to playing. One of the great benefits of playing a string instrument is having the opportunity to play the enormous and amazing repertoire of chamber music masterpieces. Teachers can really influence the type of ensemble playing they encourage their students to take part in. All are wonderful, but chamber music can push their musical and ensembles skills forward faster than most. Usually, the first step is getting students to the concerts…events that are truly worth a thousand words.
Dreaming of a warm sun
The Omer Quartet passes on lessons learned during their first year of residency at NEC.
Happy St. Paddy’s!!
Pre-concert gathering with Exec. Director and Concertmaster. Just before going on stage with the Atlanta Music Project!
All together now. Great to collaborate with these wonderful young musicians! #elsistema #music #education #AMP
I am delighted to share this video of my performance with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela in Caracas last November. This is a brand new Piano Concerto by Juan Pablo Contreras, a leading young Mexican composer. At the piano is the phenomenal Abdiel Vázquez - Pianist who was also a joy to work with! More music to come…
Muy contento de compartirles este video de mi presentación con la Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela en Caracas el pasado mes de Noviembre. Disfruten de un nuevo Concierto para Piano de Juan Pablo Contreras, uno de los más importantes compositores jóvenes de México. Como solista el fenomenal pianista Abdiel Vázquez con quien disfrute mucho compartir este concierto. Más música por venir…
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"I’ve been a big fan of Ethan Iverson for many years, not only because of his incredible playing with..."
- Ken Schaphorst, chair of NEC’s Jazz Studies department,
Monday morning after Daylight Savings
With tourism thriving and a rough history with drugs mostly in its past, each of the four cities I visited in Colombia were unique. I packed for weather ranging from 40—90 degrees as the changes in climate and landscape were as diverse as the Sistema-inspired programs I visited.
My trip started in Medellin, a very large city bustling with traffic, mountainous views, perfect temperatures, and stunning properties. The youth instrumental programs in Medellin are run by an organization called La Red, which serves students in over 30 neighborhoods and schools throughout the city. Funded by the city government, the program serves both affluent and underserved areas—a unique concept in Medellin, where lots of effort has been placed on equalizing the playing field between residents with a varied levels of income. I was introduced to two schools in La Red by two of my former Boston colleagues, Rebecca Levi (Sistema Fellow ’10) and Claudia Garcia. When visiting the programs, we witnessed a less intense, but more creative approach to music making. Each program showcases a different type of ensemble, caters to all ages, and also provides instruction in music literacy. For instance, In Claudia’s nucleo, a theatre teacher taught a class on how to use their body’s to communicate and build trust within an ensemble. When visiting the wind ensemble in another part of the city, the ages of the students ranged from 12—22.
After a quick vacation in the popular city of Cartagena, my next stop was Santa Marta, a warm, tropical, costal city on the Caribbean. Another former Boston colleague, Antonio Berdugo, hosted me as we spent our time hosting seminarios with students in Cajamag, a private organization that uses public funding to serve youth in the area. The music program is only a small branch of the organization, which leads to an insufficient quantity on resources, limiting their ability to grow artistically. This was a huge contrast to Venezuela’s national Sistema, which is able to offer more support and resources to their teachers, helping them improve the musical level of their program. The students in Santa Marta, of course, were fantastic to work with and displayed enthusiasm and hospitality that made rehearsals in the intense heat totally enjoyable.
The final leg of my trip was in Bogota, Colombia’s capital city situated at over 8,000ft, where the temperature stays in the 50’s year around. I had a wonderful time working with the musicians of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Batuta, the largest music for social change organization in the country. Given their flagship status, my first instinct was to compare their Metropolitan Youth Orchestra with the leading youth orchestras in Venezuela. However, given that the organization has branches in fewer cities, focuses more on fundamental musical training rather than orchestra training, and has been around for only just over 20 years, I realized that the leading “Sistema’s” in both countries are quite distinct. The lack of one governing organization throughout the country made it more difficult to achieve the standardized resources, which has led to so much artistic success in Venezuela. However, the more localized approach to building a Sistema in each city, rather than to form a national system has yielded some flexibility is allowing for each city to have numerous organizations create their own programs and customize their approach to each community.
The difference in infrastructures in Colombia and Venezuela was certainly unexpected at first. While Venezuela has clearly invested much of its resources into developing a national system of youth orchestras that serves as many youth as possible, Colombia had a feel much closer to that of the United States and Europe--separate organizations created localized programs without much outside leadership. The clear commonality between the two South American countries was the children, who were eager, passionate, and relentless in their pursuit of music education, which instilled the joy that will motivate me to plan my next trip to South America soon.
For a video containing photos, rehearsal footage, and student testimonies from my trip to Colombia, please see the video below!