Our Piano Department Chair, Bruce Brubaker and piano faculty member, Alexander Korsantia recently traveled to the Steinway factory in Hamburg to purchase a new piano for Jordan Hall.
“The American Steinway is growly and has a lively bass tone, where the German Steinway has a more bell-like upper register and a beautiful attack,” said Brubaker. “The first American Steinways were revolutionary in that they incorporated many aspects of piano design, which included English, French, Viennese, and American folk and roots music sounds.I am very excited about this new piano,” he continued. “The Steinway family has a piano designing history which runs parallel to and is representative of what New England Conservatory is now and has always been. We have both carried on traditions of classical music and ended up making something totally new. Innovation guides us and we tap into the creation of sounds and styles which were not previously attempted or accepted.“Here are some pics of our beautiful new piano arriving at M. Steinert & Sons Pianos, and at NEC.
To all NEC Faculty, Staff and Students and visitors:
On Thursday, January 14, NEC’s Public Safety Department, in conjunction with Guardian Security and Protection, will be hosting Active Shooter Training from 9am – 1 pm.
This new program, ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) has been adopted by both the Federal Government and numerous law enforcement agencies, and is designed for schools and other institutional settings.
THIS IS A TRAINING EXERCISE. THERE IS NO NEED TO TAKE ANY ACTION.
This is part of our campus-wide preparedness training curriculum, and will be held in the St. Botolph Building, Room SB313. Since this is a live drill, you may see/hear some activity in that area; please don’t be alarmed.
This isn’t new, but hearing John Heiss talk about Stravinsky is endlessly captivating.
David Bowie remembered by Blackstar musicians Donny McCaslin, Jason Lindner, Tim Lefebvre and Mark Guiliana
“I am so deeply saddened by today’s news. Working with David Bowie
on Blackstar was a life-changing experience for me and a gift beyond
measure David was fully present and engaged in the creative process from
the moment he entered the studio until he left. He was always gracious,
generous, and funny. I will always be inspired by him, am grateful to
have known him, and am holding his family and friends in my heart.” - Donny McCaslin (NEC Jazz faculty)
Very pleased to announce the announce that world-renowned cellist and educator Lluís Claretaret has been appointed to our faculty!
“New England Conservatory has a reputation as one of the world’s leading music schools; to be accepted as a member of this musical community is a dream come true for me,” said Claret. “My colleagues of the cello department are truly great people, performers and educators. It is a huge honor and also a very exciting challenge to join a team with such an awesome teaching capacity. What sets New England Conservatory’s cello department apart from other schools is the deep connection between its faculty teachers. I felt this wonderful feeling when I substituted for Paul Katz two years ago during his sabbatical; I came to understand that all of the cello students were part of the same big family.”
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!
In a typical private instrumental lesson, until a student has reached a fairly high technical level, much of the time in a lesson is spent on issues such as good hand positions, intonation, tone production, fingerings and bowings, and the development of technique in both hands through scales, etudes, etc. The choice of a solo piece or pieces is usually connected to these same issues. Musicianship is hopefully discussed, and hopefully in some detail. But, the fact remains that it is unlikely issues of musicianship will dominate the lesson time.
One of the great benefits of having students play chamber music is that it helps them become better musicians faster. A good, well matched chamber music group with a good coach will push forward the abilities a student has already developed and enable them to be able to play everything on the page. This includes the more empirical things that are in ink such as the notes, the rhythm and the basic dynamics. Then there more subjective elements such as crescendos and diminuendos, accellerandos and ritardandos, tempo changes, tone color instructions ( i.e. sul tasto, espressivo, sul ponticello), mood suggestions from the composer (i.e. tranquillo, con forza) and articulation suggestions through the use of symbols and words. Beyond that are the things not specifically instructed by the composer. These more intellectual and intuitive issues include how a phrase should be shaped, the pacing of an entire movement, how to convey the emotions in the music to the audience, how to lead and cue, and how to really listen.
A vast majority of students will do some ensemble work. They usually will play with others in a school orchestra, or a local regional youth symphony. These types of groups are great for many reasons. It can really help a student to be in a group with many others to help them realize that there is more to their instrumental training than the practice room and private lesson time. It also is hopefully fun and there is a lot of great music. In a good youth orchestra setting, many of the issues mentioned in the previous paragraph are touched on, and that is good. However, by the nature of an orchestra, these things can only be touched on. In string sections, it is rare for a student to be playing alone, and even more rare to be playing with only one member of each of the other string sections. In rehearsals, the conductor, or leader of a string sectional can usually only work on getting a group of players to generally do the same thing. I have observed many very good players who have played youth orchestra for numerous years come into a chamber music setting and still not really know how to do these things. Their listening skills and leading abilities are also only partially developed. This may be because in an orchestra it is easy to feel one is not personally responsible for the musical decisions, and one is supposed to blend into the group. In addition, it is just not practical for the conductor to listen to each individual player and spend significant time with them working on these skills.
A well-balanced and well-coached chamber music group is different. The students are personally required to take full musical responsibility. The students are personally required to play really in tune. The students are personally required to use the bow creatively and artistically. They are personally required to make the dynamics, tempo changes, issues of timbre, balance, etc. They are personally responsible for the shape of the phrasing. Unlike in a student orchestra where there are others to help and a conductor to make decisions, if they don’t do these things, they won’t happen! And, they each are constantly being carefully listened to by a coach and each other. There is also the possibility that members of a chamber ensemble will develop real friendships. Groups that stay together for a number of years often become best of friends, develop a group personality of their own, take on a name, and as they get older and more responsible, even put on their own concerts! Unfortunately, it is still a small minority of students who have a significant chamber music experience.
Here is just one example of how when working with a group, I will challenge the students to really think about the phrasing. I try to explain that just as in speaking, even though you may be using one general speaking level, there is still shape, changes in color and emphasis on a specific part of the sentence. A composer may only write one dynamic for a phrase, yet that doesn’t mean the notes should all be played the same. An interesting experiment is this: give each member of the group the same passage from a good book and ask them to read it as if they were an actor on a stage. Each of them will do it differently! Some will be very effective, while others might be less, or even expressionless. The point is that the author wrote the words, but leaves the delivery of the words up to the imagination of the reader, usually with little instruction other than simple tools such as italics or punctuation marks. Although it may be necessary to give the students some help in making the passage sound good, most have the natural ability to quickly assimilate ideas and have their voices recreate the ideas. Next, have them read it together and try to shape it the same way. They will see that there are often are many ways to make a phrase sound great…but rarely does it involve lack of shape or expression. Next, just as they did with reading from the book, now have them sing a passage from their music individually and then together. Often they will sing a phrase more naturally than they can play it on their instrument. (When you think about it, that is probably why teachers and conductors, many of whom have no real vocal training, will sing their phrasing or articulation ideas to their students or fellow musicians.) Finally, have the students try the same thing with their instrument and see how closely they can match. The coach can really help facilitate this process. More advanced groups can try several different ideas for shaping the same phrase.
Of course, there are also many other ways to help students bring a score to life. Usually, once they understand that they have been given this great responsibility, most really strive to greatly expand their musical skills and start paying much closer attention to the details that make a performance great.
I believe that studio teachers can really help their students develop more quickly by urging them to consider chamber music as an important part of their training, at least equally important as orchestra. And, just as it is true with the conductor of a student orchestra, the guidance of a skilled coach can make a big difference in the training students receive.
It’s Friday. Bask in it.