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Balancing a Professional and Personal Life by Dana Hansen

The following post is by Dana Hansen.

Dana with her youngest daughter Madeline.

Dana with her youngest daughter Madeline.

When I got an email asking if I would consider writing this blog entry about balancing my professional life as a musician with my personal life, I had to laugh, because I hardly feel like I am maintaining either most of the time! I am married and have three daughters: Phoebe is 4 years old, Susanna is 18 months old, and Madeline is 5 months old. I also play in the viola section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I went back to work two weeks ago following a four month maternity leave, and it has been quite hectic trying to get back to my old schedule balancing with being home with my kids. However, while I certainly love my daughters, having young children can be exhausting and (dare I say) tedious at times. It is extremely fulfilling to step outside my role as a mother and practice my instrument, and play in the orchestra. Today, for example, the orchestra was rehearsing La Valse and the second suite from Daphnes and Chloe (both Ravel), as well as Messiaen’s Les Offrandes Oubliees, and Saint-Saen’s 5th piano concerto. While I have played Daphnes many many times, I honestly can’t think of a more beautiful way to pass the time than to play Ravel’s music.

When I first started playing professionally as an orchestra musician, I had no children and could practice pretty much whenever I wanted. Now that I have three little girls constantly vying for my attention, I have to work very hard to find time to practice. Two things help me make the time to practice. The first is knowing that I always feel better when I have practiced at some point in the day, and if it’s only for thirty minutes, that is okay because thirty minutes is exponentially better than zero minutes! The second thing that really helps me get my practicing done is a basic trick recommended to me by my colleague Chris Woehr from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, where I played before joining the LA Phil. When I first came to Saint Louis, I was straight out of school and used to practicing a lot on my own. It was very challenging for me to suddenly have to learn large quantities of new orchestra repertoire each week in addition to my usual routine. Chris recommended practicing my orchestra parts as if I were studying etudes. I think of him telling me this all the time, even now. For example, while practicing my Daphnes part this week, I worked on multiple bow strokes, and did some serious intonation work. While this is an extremely basic idea, with the insanity of my life with three small children, the most basic things are the things I fall back on, and that keep my life running (more or less) smoothly. All told, I sometimes miss the days of waking up after 6 a.m., and the freedom to practice whenever I want, but I wouldn’t trade my family life for anything. I also love playing the viola more than ever.


Preparing for Chamber Music Rehearsals

With the end of the school year only a few weeks away, and summer chamber music festivals rapidly approaching, we thought it would be helpful to take a look through a to-do list made by the artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – David Finckel and Wu Han – in order to prepare for chamber music rehearsals.

http://artistled.wordpress.com/2010/01/06/students/


Vicki Powell on Preparing Orchestral Excerpts

The following post is by Vicki Powell.

A few things to keep in mind while preparing orchestra excerpts:
1) Articulation is everything. (Hint: always start from the string)
2) Vibrate with the phrase
3) Listen to [entire] recordings (know the context)!!!
4) and play along with them too.
5) The metronome is your best friend. A few notes on using the metronome:
– Slow tempos are always helpful
– Speed up the metronome in increments
– Set the metronome to different subdivisions (i.e. 8ths, 16ths, triplets)
– Displace the metronome tick to land on different subdivisions of the beat
– play with musical intention even when using the metronome (something to keep in mind particularly during slow work)

6) Always be in control of the sound
– Never go beyond what your instrument can handle when approaching fortissimo (the sound should never be scratchy)
– Alternately, pianissimos and pianos should always retain a certain degree of concentration and clarity

7) Are you sure you’re in tune? Practice multiple ways:
– Against open strings
– Find a buddy to play a drone
– Be aware of how close your half steps are

8) Plan your bow!
– Work backwards in order to figure out where you need to be in the bow to successfully execute your desired articulation
– Figure out your phrasing, and assign your bow division accordingly
– Oftentimes it is not necessary to use the entire bow

9) Master your sautillé
10) Excerpts are music too!


The Unique Management Model of the LPO by Katie Carrington

The following post is by Katie Carrington.

It’s hard to stay optimistic about the present orchestral climate in the US. A cursory glance at the orchestras of Minnesota, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and now San Francisco shows management and musicians at bitter odds. Many editorials and articles have covered these disputes: what went wrong, who’s to blame, etc. It seems that when a traditionally run orchestra runs into difficulties, the only answer is bankruptcy. Is this just inevitable given the economic climate? Or is there something else that could be done? What managerial models will we have in the future? Is the current one broken or simply out of alignment? Is there a way to avoid pitting musician against management?

This past fall, my husband and I both joined the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s viola section. The LPO bills itself as “the only musician-owned-and-operated orchestra in the United States”. It was formed in 1991 by musicians from the defunct New Orleans Symphony. The musicians at that time set up the orchestra with no outside help and wrote their own bylaws. The LPO currently maintains a professional staff but still has very heavy musician involvement (the LPO Board has 11 musician trustees). In essence, it is as if the traditional management and musician relationship has been flipped. It is my belief that the LPO model could show a path to a more viable orchestra management model.

To gain more insight into the workings and history of the Orchestra, I spoke with Bruce Owen – a violist, Valborg Gross – another violist, Doug Renau – a trumpet player, Elizabeth Overweg – a violinist, and James Boyd – Interim Managing Director of the LPO. The questions I asked were designed to elicit thoughts on the differences they see between the LPO model and more traditional one, and what they feel could transfer to other orchestras.

When asked about the chief difference between the LPO model and a traditional one, the overwhelming answer was the level of communication between staff and musicians. Mr. Boyd, who has experience of the traditional model from his time at the Tucson Symphony, the Salem Chamber Orchestra, and Opera Western Reserve, remarked that the “normal” level of communication needed in a traditional management model was not even close to the amount needed with the LPO setup. Indeed, Mr. Boyd holds regular hours at a local coffee shop specifically to meet with musicians, which is where I interviewed him. Musicians and staff have open conversations about the orchestra and feel that the LPO management model is more conducive to free communication than its alternatives. He also notes that in the musician-run model, the CEO would be unable to maintain secrecy about the running of the orchestra. I believe it is a real credit to the LPO that it has maintained a direct line of communication between musicians and CEO, even as it has changed and added more staff.

Another point that was mentioned as unique to the LPO is the complete financial transparency. All Board meetings are open and any musician is permitted to meet with the Director of Finance and ask about where money is being spent. In fact, the financial meetings show up on the musicians’ schedules for any who want to attend. I feel that this is a huge boon to the orchestra, as many of the issues other orchestras are having seem to be in part because of financial secrecy.

I also asked which features of the LPO model might be able to transfer to other orchestras. Again, the financial transparency came up. Mr. Boyd mentioned that many orchestras have to wait until the 990’s come out to begin negotiations and planning. How much easier might things be if both parties were in frequent communications about finances? It seems that many musicians committees have been blind-sided by financial reports of which they had no warning. Another aspect that was mentioned was the willingness of the staff to share in salary cuts when they were deemed necessary. Much of the bitterness in the current labor disputes have to do with the discrepancy between musician salary cuts and staff salary cuts. All the musicians and Mr. Boyd agreed that the open communication that the LPO model fosters is something that would benefit all orchestras. It seems to me that the more staff and orchestra interact in open communication and not across a negotiating table, the more orchestras as whole can avoid labor disputes.

One example of how the LPO model was able to deal with issues more efficiently than a traditional model occurred last spring when the leave policy was being changed (the new policy is more strict). Mr. Boyd notes that it was fascinating to see an orchestra change its own operating rules, as this is something that typically would be done by management, with the orchestra left to wonder what the ulterior motive might be. It’s something that could have been a bone of contention on the negotiating table, but instead was solved by the orchestra policing itself.

The LPO model doesn’t always work perfectly, but it shows a different way for staff and musicians to interact other than as adversaries. The widespread tumult in the orchestral landscape today shows that the old models and ways of running an orchestra are lacking. Perhaps the open communication and financial transparency that the LPO bylaws foster can be a start to a renaissance in artistic administration.

For more information on how orchestra bylaws can affect longevity, see http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0001371/Loomis_Anita_L_200612_MA.pdf


The Juilliard New Orleans Project 2013: Gifts Given/ Gifts Received By Charlotte Steiner and Stephanie Galipeau

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Introduction

The Juilliard New Orleans Project (NOLA) 2013 is a team of Juilliard students who spent their spring break volunteering in the city of New Orleans. We worked to empower local youth by providing free arts immersion and education projects at the Dryades YMCA and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), as well as provided free public performances that showcased a collaboration across the three divisions of The Juilliard School – dance, drama and music. We also traded in our violas and dancing shoes for hammers and hardhats at a construction site as we built homes for Habitat for Humanity.  Conceived in Fall 2006 by the Juilliard student group ARTreach, the New Orleans project is now in its seventh consecutive year of service, and we are looking to expand our impact. Over the years, the team has taught over 1200 students, renovated and built over 10 homes for New Orleans families, and presented over 30 free public performances.

So, how do we get all of that done in just one week?  Just picture a group of twenty-one college students and two staff leaders trying to roll out of their bunk beds at 6:30 AM, groggy and fighting for one of only two(!) bathrooms we had to share in order to get into the vans at 7:15.  Typically, we worked at Habitat for Humanity until about 3 PM with a lunch break for PB&J, then crammed our sweaty, sawdust-covered bodies into the vans to prepare for the massive energy-drain that is the YMCA.  You’d think that building houses would be more difficult than teaching, but it turns out that’s not the case.  Kids swarm around us, chaos sets in, and once we finally get the kids to our classrooms we teach them for about an hour before dropping them off at their buses.  Then it’s time to go home and relax—whoops, not really!  Each night a small team has to cook dinner on a tight budget for all twenty-three people.  Fortunately, the results were always delicious, despite the countless times the smoke detector went off!  After dinner we held team meetings to reflect on our action-packed day and plan for the days ahead – often, these meetings could stretch on to an hour and a half as every team member had an important positive or negative experience to share, or wanted to publicly commend a teammate for something they had accomplished.  Throughout the week, there was an equal amount of laughter and tears as we bonded over the eye-opening experiences we were having.  Once a team meeting was adjourned, we could get some much-needed sleep before repeating the process the next day.

As a diverse group of artists and educators, the 2013 NOLA team shared our love of the arts with the people of New Orleans, stimulating the city’s communal effort to move forward.  Our mission was to have our dedication, our willingness to share who we are, and our investment in one another encourage the New Orleans community and the team towards the fulfillment of their highest potential; we will continue to inspire, and be inspired.

 

ART INSPIRES.

From Stephanie Galipeau, a first-time NOLA participant:

What was the most challenging aspect of it for you?

One of the most challenging aspects of the trip for me was on the second day (first non-travel day) when we went to see the Lower 9th Ward, and the levy in that area. When seeing the beautiful houses that Brad Pitt built with his Make It Right Foundation it seemed really hopeful, but there were still so many empty lots that either had nothing left or just fragments of a foundation or front porch to signify the presence of a house prior to Hurricane Katrina. It was humbling, because there are so many things that I take for granted consistently and feel that I am entitled to, and to think that the people who lived in this area (and many other areas as well) literally had everything taken away from them in an instant is something that I still can’t even imagine fully. It really set things in perspective for the whole week, and allowed me to see the tiniest glimpse of the tragedy that hit New Orleans in 2005 that people are still recovering from.

What was the most rewarding part of participating in this project?

This trip was such an amazing experience for me that it’s hard to describe and convey the experience of this trip in words. To describe it as a life changing experience would not be an exaggeration. One of the most rewarding parts of participating in this project is how overall my perspective changed about my art and my motivations in doing it. Prior to NOLA, when people would ask me what I want to do after graduation, my answer would usually be along the lines of, “I really have no idea. I enjoy a lot of different things in music, but I know that whatever I end up doing, I want it to be meaningful for other people, not just myself.” I firmly believed that then, but it was on the NOLA trip that really I found out what those words mean and how passionate I am about their implications. I think this discovery was a gradual process throughout the week: through public performances, teaching at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and the Dryades YMCA, and working with Habitat for Humanity. But it really hit me on our last day as the team was performing at the Lusher Charter School for 1st through 3rd grade students where we performed our rendition of The Wizard of Oz. There was something about the way we all rehearsed in order to make sure the kids got the best experience, how the kids reacted, and how interested they were in our instruments and liked plucking my viola’s strings, where it all really just hit me – this is what it’s about. I don’t ever remember feeling as artistically satisfied as I did in that moment, and since then I have felt all this pressure come off of me, and I feel a renewed passion for music and the viola. I am no longer thinking about all the school and practice I am doing in the context of how it will make me better solely for my own satisfaction and success, I am thinking about it in the context of working towards excellence so I can more successfully share music and art with others. Even though it has only been a few weeks since the trip, I’m excited to see how this rewarding moment at the Lusher Charter School will continue to impact me throughout the rest of semester and my time here at Juilliard.

From Charlotte Steiner, a returning NOLA participant:

What made you want to return to New Orleans?

The kids at the YMCA.  I learned so much from the kids I taught and couldn’t get them out of my heart even months after last year’s New Orleans trip, so I knew I had to go back to see them again.  Even though Hurricane Katrina was seven years ago, these kids are still living through the aftereffects of it every day.  I was blown away that one minute they could confide in us about a relative they lost or how they had to move to Texas for a while, and then the next minute they were grinning and getting excited about whatever activity we were doing.  There was one girl in particular who ran up and grabbed my hand with a shy smile on our first day at the YMCA last year who I was sad to say goodbye to on our final teaching day.  She was in my class again this year, and I was so proud of how much she had opened up and begun to engage with everyone around her (and she told me she was “too old” to hold my hand this year now that she is eleven!).  The way we teach at the YMCA is unique – we work in teaching teams of a musician, an actor, and a dancer, and get to co-lead the class in arts-based activities.  Really, what we are doing is teaching creativity, confidence, respect, and communication.  I had never had such a meaningful teaching experience, and going back again this year actually exceeded my expectations.  My teammates were amazing, and the way we led the class drew on our collective strengths to give the kids the best learning experience possible.  My team had fourth graders, and one day we instructed them to draw or write what they want to be when they grow up.  The answers were so touching: “I want to be a cop,” “I want to be a lawyer,” “I want to help people.”   When we asked if anyone wanted to go to college, everyone raised their hand and offered up comments about how they knew they needed to do well in school and keep following their goals, regardless of anything to the contrary people around them might say.  It’s easy for us to forget how privileged we have been to have the support systems necessary to attend college, so it was humbling to sit in a circle with kids who are going to have to overcome so many more obstacles to achieve their dreams yet were adamant about how they were going to work toward their goals.  For our final performance at the end of the week, when every teaching team’s class performs  something for their peers, our kids made up their own rap about achieving their dreams and poured their hearts into rehearsing and performing it.  I couldn’t stop smiling as our kids stood onstage and belted out, “I can be who I want to be, no matter what you say to me/You can’t stop me, you can’t tell me nothin’ cuz I’m livin’ my dream!”  The rap our fourth graders created reminded me that even though we were the teachers, we were learning just as much from them as they were from us.  Returning to the YMCA in New Orleans renewed my belief in the arts as the ultimate tool for communicating and creating a strong, respectful community.

Were there unexpected experiences/dimensions in returning to this project?

Something new to this year’s trip was the day we spent at an elementary school doing two performances for assemblies of first through third graders.  We hadn’t planned for the performances in any of our team meetings since it was sort of a last-minute opportunity, but the results of our time-crunch were astonishing.  About thirty minutes before the first performance, our student team leaders announced that we were going to do performances based on the Wizard of Oz with the theme “Music Tells a Story.”  All of the musicians, actors, and dancers drew from the pieces we had performed in more organized settings in order to create an arts-filled rendition of Dorothy and her friends going down the yellow brick road.  You would think that trying to quickly put together a forty-minute performance with twenty-one diverse artists would be complicated, but it was one of the most seamless, creative experiences I’ve ever had.  Once again, I was amazed by the talent and cooperation of every team member, and the way we threw out new ideas and improvised was unbelievably seamless.  During our second performance of this new show, I couldn’t stop thinking that THIS is why we do what we do.  We were at our best in this element – collaborating across artistic disciplines, relying on the support of each other and mining the experience of all of our training to bring smiles to elementary schoolers’ faces.  It might sound funny, but being the musical representation of the Tin Man is now on my list of most-fulfilling performances.  I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with everyone on the New Orleans team, and the teamwork and creative thinking we excelled at during the project has given me the confidence to commit to stretching myself both artistically and inter-personally.

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Michael Casimir on Preparing for and Winning the Hudson Valley Philharmonic Competition

An interview with Michael Casimir on his experience preparing for and winning the Hudson Valley Philharmonic Competition.

What initially attracted you to entering a competition?

Money! Not actually, but as a college student, money is always a necessity. In competitions there is a certain level of execution and perfection required to succeed. I found this type of focus was lacking in my playing, and I felt that forcing myself into a competition would steer me in the right direction.

Why did you choose to enter the Hudson Valley Philharmonic String Competition in particular?

Prof. Castleman gave me a brochure and just told me to “do it”, so I complied.

Do you enjoy competing?  What do you enjoy most about playing the viola?

I enjoy playing and making great music more so than competing. However, I do understand that competitions can be a great way to open doors and get your name out there. I love playing the viola because it feels so natural. I think of the viola as the most ‘human’ string instrument. For me I think of the cello as the earth, deep and grounded, and the violin as the sky, high and ethereal. The viola walks the path between the two, never quite reaching the extremes of either, yet striving to make a voice of its own.

What repertoire did you have to prepare for this competition?  When did you begin learning each of the pieces?

I had to play the C major Bach Suite (Sarabande and gigue), Schubert Arpeggione (1st mvt), Brahms E flat Sonata (all mvts), and the Bloch Suite 1919 (all mvts). All but the Brahms had to be played by memory. I’ve played the Bach and the Schubert before, but I started learning the Brahms and the Bloch in January.

Tell us about your practicing in the week or weeks immediately preceding the competition?What were your major goals during this time?  In the week(s) before the competition, how did you divide your practice time in terms of isolating technical problems, practicing performing, mental practice, general skill maintenance?

I just tried to scramble and get everything under my fingers and play it with piano. The last 2 weeks I brought in the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th mvts of Bloch, and the 2nd & 3rd mvts of Brahms. I figured as long as I had an idea of what I needed work on I could try to do things on my own with my recordings of The Great Tabea Zimmerman. My biggest issue was memorizing the Bloch because I have never played/ heard it before. I spent about 30 min a day doing score study with the piano part, my part, and a recording. That whole week prior I listened to the recording on my iPod everywhere I went, everyday. When I got on the train to Poughkeepsie, NY, I would try to sing & play (finger the notes on my right forearm) it by memory while listening to the recording.

What attitudes do you feel were most important in your success?

  1. Approaching every aspect of the competition one thing at a time.

  2. Staying in the moment of the piece that you are currently playing.

  3. Convincing yourself you can do it.

  4. Taking plenty of mental breaks: listen to other music, watch a movie, talk to friends, go out, get away from it from time to time. Doing this, I think, kept my mind fresh.

Once you were at the competition, were there any surprises?

None of the judges played viola, and only one of them had heard of the piece before.

What was the largest “gift” you received from the experience of preparing for the competition (apart from winning!!!).

Confidence in my playing, and knowing that I can always push myself to a higher level than I thought was possible. In addition, the ability to fully memorize a piece in a very short time period. (I didn’t memorize the 2nd and last movement until 1am the night before the finals… lots of coffee)

 


Juilliard and the J.S.Q. welcome a new violist: An Interview with Roger Tapping

Last week we published comments from Sam Rhodes on his upcoming retirement from the Juilliard Quartet after 44 stellar years. Recently Heidi Castleman had the opportunity to interview Sam’s most esteemed successor, her long-time friend and colleague, Roger Tapping, and to welcome him to the Juilliard family. Having amassed a world of musical experience and expertise with lengthy sojourns in England (Allegri Quartet), Boulder, Colorado (Takács Quartet), and Boston (New England Conservatory), Roger’s responses are both penetrating and insightful, portending a very happy marriage in his new environs.

HC: When you departed from the Takács Quartet, did you ever contemplate returning to a quartet?

RT: I really didn’t.  I felt that probably it was the end of my quartet playing.  Over the last seven-and-a-half years, since I left the Takács Quartet, I must admit to allowing myself the odd moment of fantasy of how it might be in a few years time if some established quartet came along before I was too old to think of such things.  “Yes”, I admit to the fantasy.  However I didn’t think it would happen. I was very surprised when it did, very astonished.

HC: You are probably one of the few people who will have played in three ongoing quartets.  Could you talk about what the process of joining an existing quartet is like, and how you might guide a young violist embarking on a similar journey?

RT: I have done this twice before. I enjoy the process because you come in consciously knowing you are joining something you already like, having established your compatibility in the audition process.  You come in trusting the thing is working, and get a feel over a period of months, if not years, of how to really fit in.

It is a cliché, but in England when I joined the Allegri Quartet, whose members had been playing together for decades and were much older than me, it honestly felt like sinking into a wonderful old piece of furniture.  They were people with years of great listening experience, and they were so curious about their new member; the listening was extraordinarily good and very mutual. Joining the Takács Quartet also felt very organic and natural even though the playing was different in many ways.

In a full-time quartet you have the luxury of a lot of time to rehearse, so you can take things slowly.  Also in a full-time quartet that is established you can have some control of your repertoire, so you try not to take on too much at once.  It’s a pleasurable process, fitting in with people who listen well, and gradually feeling what to contribute. It is not an intellectual process, rather one that you need to feel; listening is key in both directions. Don’t go in thinking “I want to play things this way” and “I want to change this and that.”  You join something that is flowing already, and the new unit emerges gradually.

HC: Do you find your playing changes a lot based on the personality of the group?

RT: You have to be open and know that your playing is going to change in various ways. In chamber music, the process involves constantly sculpting your playing to interact with the other players, and playing slightly differently with each colleague in your quartet. As an example, when I joined the Takács Quartet, I had to find more projection and clarity. Playing a lot in bigger halls with them, I think it intensified my playing in a certain way.  It is exciting for me at this stage to be open to the priorities of my new colleagues.

It’s a fascinating process. When I joined both Allegri and Takács, we soon were feeling we could do really good concerts together.  However, there is a more profound underneath sense that you don’t quite know exactly who your colleagues are for even two or three years in some ways. There is such a gradual, and to the outside world imperceptible, adjustment going on.  Are your colleagues changing to accommodate you, or are you changing to accommodate them?  You gradually find this equilibrium; it is a subtle thing and not really noticeable to the outside observer.  It’s not a question of the quality of the concerts you are producing, but rather finding really what each other’s limits are, comfort levels, what you can say to each other, and what’s useful and what isn’t.

HC:  Can you talk about your teachers and what impact they had on you?

RT: I had a rather unorthodox education. I had one main viola teacher, a wonderful woman, Margaret Major. She played in a very well-established string quartet, The Aeolian Quartet, and was a student of Frederick Riddle, the violist who recorded the Walton Concerto for the first time.  Margaret Major was a great enthusiast, and I loved hearing her play in quartet. I also had an invaluable year of lessons in Berlin with Bruno Giuranna, who taught me many technical exercises that I still find useful. However, my love of quartet came first under my father’s guidance, buying a record of Death and the Maiden at age 10.  An important influence also was listening to my father’s extremely amateur quartet playing every Thursday night –  I absorbed a lot of music that way.

As a student at the University of Cambridge, although I was supposed to arrange lessons for myself with Margaret Major in London as often as possible, I did not go as often as I should have. Instead I did a lot of playing with my friends and colleagues in the University, putting on recitals and just getting on with it, having some lessons, but never weekly ones.  I didn’t have a lot of chamber music coachings, one memorable exception being a week with the Amadeus Quartet, one of my musical heroes. Mainly I just played and played and played.

Since I never went through that educational process, but rather picked things up “on the job”, I find it somewhat paradoxical that, both while in the Takács and in the last seven-and-a-half years, I have done so much chamber music coaching and feel very devoted to it.  When I was 22 or 23 I was lucky enough to be invited to join a very good string sextet in London, the Raphael Ensemble.  It was a strange and unusual situation in which our first, or sometimes second performance, would often be a BBC live national broadcast. We worked like crazy because we were always nervous!  That was a tremendously forging experience, especially because my colleagues were a bit older than I.  It was the first really high-quality chamber music I had done, and I learned more from it than I learned from teachers.  Always try to get into groups with people better than yourself!

HC: You have had an active life on both sides of the Atlantic. Would you comment on what you see as musical and/or instrumental differences in style, or if you think there are any?

RT:  I resist generalizations. There are different accents in different countries, and, as seen from Europe, styles vary enormously among all the different European countries and it is much more nuanced than being a transatlantic thing.

HC: Earlier you mentioned the effect playing in larger halls with Takács had on your projection.  Does playing in larger halls influence a quartet’s sound aesthetic?  

National style is influenced a little bit by the halls in which one tends to play.  If you want to generalize, there are more opportunities to play in fantastically beautiful, resonant, wood-paneled, mirror-gilded buildings in Europe than there are in the United States, (although there are some wonderful exceptions to that in the States).  If you spend more of your time playing in auditoriums that are meant for general use (sometimes music, sometimes speech), it can be tempting to go for too much clarity and penetration in your sound.  If you hark back to “how would this sound in the splendor of the Esterhazy Palace?”, if you hang onto that a little bit, it can give you more of a sense of resonance.  I think that was a semi-conscious thing in the Takács; it was something we talked about. If you have an opportunity to play a lot in those beautiful halls, it gives you high ideals of how mellow, rich, dark and resonant you want the sound to be.

HC: If you were the architect of the musical education of your children, would you like it to be similar to your own education, or would you like it to be different?

RT: There were two really strong things in my musical education. First was the easy availability of peripatetic and free instrumental teachers in the schools, giving a lot of us our first taste of playing something. The second was the provision of wonderful youth orchestras, bringing like-minded people with similar standards together, at the county, regional, national or European levels, not only exposing me to the symphonic repertoire which I loved, but also giving me the opportunity to find people who wanted to play chamber music with me.  Working a lot with Claudio Abbado in the European Union Youth Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (of which I was a founder member) was tremendously inspiring. The way he made the orchestra listen to each other, his insistence on total emotional engagement in the music all the time, and his risk-taking with dynamics and with tempi – all this was very magical; there was no compromising!

The problem in designing musical education for schools is hard because those who are already interested in music and participating in outside programs (pre-college or other) generally already know a lot; keeping them interested is challenging.  What is needed in schools is a development of good musical appreciation and some opportunity to play instruments.  It is the passion, enthusiasm, and skill of the individual teacher that will inspire people to listen to great music.  I remember a wonderful teacher who played an orchestral recording of a sweeping melody from a Rachmaninov Symphony I did not know as our dictation; he clearly loved the piece, and by the end of that half hour, so did I.

HC: You have done a lot of “ad hoc” chamber music as well as quartet playing.  Would you comment on the differences and what you find as the “pluses” of each?

RT: I have thought about this a lot. Playing in “ad hoc” ensembles these last seven-and-a-half years has been very enjoyable, although admittedly I found my first such experience after the Takács Quartet a little scary; everyone was being so polite and nice to each other!! We were also nice to each other too, but in a quartet, if you play an “f#” out of tune, you know it because they tell you. When you have played in an ensemble and people respect you for that, in an “ad hoc” setting they don’t tell you these things so fast. You are swimming on your own a little more, and it is a little scary knowing that people aren’t being quite as frank.

Sometimes you get thrown together with people at festivals and societies and find it is really nice to play with them for several days, admiring their speed, great skill and musicianship, even though you might not want to play with them year in and year out. In this situation, the voices you come with are the ones you use.  In a quartet you do reckon to influence each other’s general sounds and techniques over the years. You take advice. Of course, in an ad hoc situation, you wouldn’t do that with colleagues working only over a period of a few days.

Ad hoc performances are put together much faster, whereas in quartet you start weeks or even months ahead and put things together much more slowly.  After a while, you can lose your skill for speed, so it’s been fun getting back to that.  It’s a different rhythm.  It’s a very different experience. Sometimes you are astonished at how good things can be after three or four days, making you wonder “What was I doing in my quartet working on something for weeks and months at a time?”  “Is there really a perceptible difference for the audience?”  Sometimes, perhaps not, but you might have a particular ideal in your head of how you would like something to go, and in an “ad hoc” setting, you just don’t have time to plumb that, you don’t have that luxury.

It’s been very stimulating to learn a surprising amount of repertoire I haven’t had a chance to play before, including some great violin/viola duos, piano quartets and piano quintets, and even some quartets I had not played before. In my own situation, I started as a professional chamber musician in my early 20’s and also went straight into some chamber orchestras; I was just working and working. I never spent any time playing sonatas and concertos, so I made a conscious effort upon leaving the Takács to get to know the solo repertoire. Learning the repertoire for recitals and concerto engagements has been good both for my playing and for my teaching.

HC: Clearly your students enjoy studying with you.  Can you tell me what you particularly enjoy about teaching viola?  

RT: I do enjoy teaching.  It takes a little while to hone your own priorities and to find quick and effective ways of saying things.  The joy is when, over time, people start getting better.  Sometimes you think you are repeating things every week, and then one day they really get it, and that is so nice! Or, in studio class, you will hear students saying to each other what you have been saying to them, and you realize they have absorbed some of your priorities.

The other thing I enjoy is finding the key to what’s going to open somebody’s playing. Teaching is such a mixture of the technical, musical, and inspirational, but when you can get someone to make a direct connection between their imagination and what actually comes out, i.e., to get to the moment when you can bypass worrying about how you do it, that is always a lovely moment to see.  I have a student now – all you have to do is mention the word imagination, her eyes light up, and she plays five times better. That’s always fun!

HC: Can you tell me how the transition from Boston to New York will work?  

RT: I’ll begin with a commuting arrangement which will be structured around the Juilliard Quartet’s normal rehearsal schedule, but allow my family to finish up endeavors already in progress. The Acela train will become an extremely good friend, with me typically staying in New York for a couple days, rehearsing and teaching, coming home for dinner, and repeating!

HC: Will you be accepting individual viola students at Juilliard already next year?

RT: Yes, I will!

HC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

RT: How lucky and excited I am in my early 50’s once again to have the opportunity to play quartets.  Also, I love that in the Alice Tully Juilliard String Quartet February 26th concert, Sam Rhodes has organized the joining of the old and the new in the performance of two viola quintets: his own String Quintet, a very imaginative, modern sounding and complex work, and Mozart’s late Viola Quintet in D major, K. 593.


The Passing of the Alto Clef in the J.S.Q.: An Interview with Samuel Rhodes

After 44 years as distinguished violist of the Juilliard Quartet, Sam Rhodes retires this year, while fortunately continuing as Viola Chair and with his teaching responsibilities.  His last appearance as J.S.Q. violist takes place in Ravinia on July 10th, 2013 with a program of Beethoven op. 135, a quintet of his own composition, and the Mozart D major quartet K. 593.  We think it appropriate for this pedagogy blog to recognize Sam for his many contributions to the viola world, and have asked Heidi Castleman to comment on her years with Sam as a colleague, and on her recent interview with him. A forthcoming blog will include an interview with Sam’s esteemed successor,  Roger Tapping.

Heidi Castleman: Sam Rhodes is a great artist, an intellect, a real “Mensch,” and as Chair of The Juilliard School’s Viola Department, a treasured colleague. Forever the diplomat, Sam is fair-minded to a fault, never lacking a definite opinion, which renders him the quintessential musician-artist and colleague. While on tour last week he kindly took a few moments to answer some of this violist’s questions. His responses, as always, are most illuminating.

HC: If you were to describe the role of the viola in the string quartet, is there a particular personality and/or function that comes to mind?

SR: The viola in the traditional string quartet has several functions. One of the most important is to provide a unique voice that none of the other string instruments has. The viola has a special quality that suggests something very internal. It is very often used in the harmonic structure to provide a note on which the whole harmony turns. Passages like that, especially passages suggesting great depth of feeling or something below the surface, but felt on the inside of the music. That’s one of its most important roles. I think composers exploit that side of it, and also the slightly melancholy tinge in the sound.

As an example, in Mozart’s K575, second movement, there is a passage right after the first phrase, almost as in one of his operas, there is a dialogue among the four voices: the first violin and cello are very happy and contented in the normal tonic and dominant, the second violin turns it just a little bit into a question that something might be wrong, and the viola replies extremely sadly and brings the music into a different direction towards the minor. Then it is up to the first violin and cello to resolve it once again. So, it is that kind of character for which composers have traditionally used the viola. A violist who gets into string quartet seriously has to understand that; it is one of the things we take charge of and enjoy very much.

HC: As a violist and teacher, you both play and encourage your students to study a broad spectrum of the repertoire.  What are some of the pieces you wish were more often played and heard?

SR: The general take on the viola repertoire is that it is very limited. In a way that is true. In another way it isn’t true. Students tend to play the same things over and over again. Along with that, they play arrangements of pieces for other instruments and don’t explore the wonderful repertoire the viola has, and as you know, I have advocated that the Juilliard jury and audition requirements encourage exploration of this wonderful repertoire.

There are other concertos than the Bartok, Walton and Der Schwanendreher! Hindemith himself has two others, very challenging and wonderful works that students should be encouraged to study.

There are more sonatas than the two of Brahms which technically aren’t even for the viola, although they work wonderfully on the viola. They should be learned, but there are other pieces that deserve to be played as well. The Rebecca Clarke Sonata is another work played almost as much as the Brahms Sonatas. However, there are also all kinds of other British works written in the early and middle 20th century; many of these works were commissioned by Tertis and later by Primrose, and inspired by their wonderful playing. I would like to see these works performed as well, allowing us to appreciate Rebecca Clarke within a broader context.

As to transcriptions: as wonderful as arrangements may be, (and in some cases they are indispensable for us, as with the Bach Suites and Brahms Sonatas), there are any number of wonderful pieces written for viola and conceived with the peculiar qualities of the instrument in mind.

[Mr. Rhodes’ response to a viola debut program without one original work for viola reflects his commitment to the viola repertoire: “It would be unheard of for any other instrumentalist to present such a program. Can you imagine a violinist, cellist or clarinetist doing so?!”]

HC: Could you list additional pieces you would like to hear violists play more frequently?

SR:

Piston Concerto

Penderecki Concerto

Penderecki Cadenza


More Romantic:
Reger Suites No.2 and No. 3 Joachim Hebrew Melodies Joachim Variations

Vieuxtemps Sonata (unfinished)

Vieuxtemps Capricieux

Vieuxtemps Elegy
Wieniawski Legende

 

English Works by: York Bowen

Arthur Benjamin Arnold Bax

Frank Bridge

More contemporary – useful for mastering this style:
Milton Babbitt Composition for Viola and Piano (late 40’s)
Milton Babbitt Play it Again Sam (written for Samuel Rhodes)
Elliot Carter  Figment (written for Samuel Rhodes)

Donald Martino Three Sad Songs (written for Samuel Rhodes)

HC:  Are there particular qualities you hope to find in the students with whom you work?

SR: It’s hard to say.  They are all very different, and I love that.  The main thing I want to have is someone who really loves music and has a tremendous curiosity to find out all they can about the music, in whatever area interests them.  It is also important that the student loves the viola, the sound that it makes, the function it has in music, and that she or he wants to learn how to accomplish that function in the best possible way.  Of course, there are all sorts of personalities which can have these qualities, and most of the time I have been fortunate to have students like that.

HC:  After 44 years of teaching, how have teacher demands changed for you, and for others in the field?

SR: The basic ideals are the same. It’s hard to say because you adapt differently with each student, how you interact with the personality you are involved with at the moment. Of course there are things that are required, that one has to do, but the way you emphasize different things is important. For example, I had a student who was a misfit in the department and people didn’t take him seriously, but I saw he was tremendously talented, and although he broke all the rules, didn’t fit within the box, and did things the way he wanted to do them, not necessarily the way you wanted him to do them. But I saw the tremendous talent he had and tried to encourage him in that direction, and did try to get him to fulfill his requirements, but did encourage his creativity. Now he has a tremendous career and an unusual one as a composer and as a violist with his own band, they do his own music which is based on Russian-Jewish folk music and other more popular genres. He also has a serious classical side as well, has been extremely successful, and I’m very glad he came out that way. So one has to avoid being rigid in the way one teaches, and one has to allow for particular talents to blossom while keeping them within certain bounds.

HC: Has current technology had an influence on the chamber music world, and if so, has it been beneficial or detrimental?

SR: Interesting question. I don’t know how much effect it has on the chamber music world. One way it may have an effect in the future is the idea Nicholas Kitchen of the Borromeo Quartet has wherein everyone in the quartet will play from the score on the computer. Maybe that’s the way it will be for the next generation where everyone will play from the score, and you won’t have to worry about page turns anymore. I imagine halls will be equipped with that kind of technology. I don’t know if I want to try it myself. That’s for the younger generation, the computer generation. Other than that, I can’t think of too much that affects chamber music. Most of the time, unless you are a group like the Kronos Quartet, you don’t need amplification and all the technology that goes with it. We played at one point, quite a few years ago, a commissioned work by Morton Subotnik, which had electronically-transformed sounds. When we made a recording of the work and I listened to it, it was hard for me to hear that a string quartet was playing. I don’t know if I like that. I don’t know about technology in that sense.

Our instruments are very primitive, and the only way that technology has affected our instruments very much is that the quality of strings and the materials used in making strings are very different, a lot more reliable, more powerful and more adaptable than ever before, and that is a big plus.

HC: In your Juilliard Journal article, you mention two future projects:

  1. A contribution to the technical literature for viola, and
  2. An arrangement of a work that would have the possibility of becoming a useful addition to the viola classical and teaching repertoire.

Could you elaborate on what you have in mind?

SR: I want to write out my scale system and have a preface that explains it. Over the years I have found it very useful in practicing it myself and recommend it to every student. It goes over the fundamental qualities of playing the instrument and gets to all the keys, from slow to fast; yet it does this in a way that is not obsessive. If you do it persistently (every day), it does not take a tremendous amount of time, but it sets you up for playing. If you have to do a lot of playing, if you start out with this, I think you will have a lot less physical problems with your arms.

The other project is inspired by the fact that, although there are many classical concerti written for viola, we don’t have anything classical other than Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante that is of the quality of someone like Mozart. Stamitz is ok, the Hoffmeister is maybe not ok, and the work I prefer from this group, the Rolla Concerto in E-flat, which is wonderful in its way, but of course it’s not Mozart. After talking out against arrangements, nevertheless I’d like to take a particular work (which I won’t identify yet!), and use it more as a teaching tool, to have the technical demands of the Classical period and the precision of intonation and moving around the instrument, something musically really worthwhile.

HC: Might the future find you returning to composition beyond these projects?

It’s certainly possible. I haven’t really tried it for a long time. Although this one work, in my humble opinion, is a very good work,he Quintet, which I wrote as an MM student at Princeton. When I look at it more objectively, because so much time has passed, I see an awful lot there, it encourages me to consider starting again. It’s hard to say, because composition, at least for me, takes all of your time and energy. I feel all the great composers looking over my shoulder, and I get very self-conscious about myself. I know I was self-conscious when I wrote the Quintet, and now when I look at it, I realize I had nothing to be self-conscious about. With that confidence, maybe I can break through that barrier.

HC: In a household of active musicians, how will your family responsibilities change, now that your professional schedule will have you more at home?

At the moment my two children are grown up, so I have grandchildren. It is just my wife and I in the house. I will be spending more time with her and with my family, and also taking care of more domestic things to do with the house. We will try to sell the house and move into a smaller, more manageable place. Hopefully I will have a little more time to think about that type of thing. Right now, I can’t with the quartet schedule and the teaching schedule combined; so those are the ways that will impact me and my family.

HC: My last question, of what achievements of the last 44 years are you most proud?

SR: It is hard to point to any one of them. You’ll hear one of them on the February 26 concert, my String Quintet; whatever else anyone might think of it, I think as a work of chamber music, most people would agree it is planned very well. Every instrument has interesting things to do; the dialogues in it are set up in a way, traditional in the sense that you can follow the progress of the music, and each instrument makes a specific contribution, and at times, especially in the third movement, you can hear the different characters of the instruments exploited.

Also with the quartet, there are so many highlights, hard to pick out any one, but always the Beethoven cycles, one of the pinnacles of the quartet repertoire, which we’ve played many places, but especially the one we played in Carnegie Hall and one in Tokyo in honor of Robert Mann’s impending retirement where I was asked to comment on the pieces before each program (which I did part of in Japanese!). A cycle in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, and in many places. Our European career, playing in Berlin, playing in Frankfurt, Paris, London, places in Italy, as well as in Japan, Taiwan, China and a little bit in Korea.  I particularly am proud of the many world premieres of important works such as the Third Quartet and the Clarinet Quintet of Elliott Carter, the Fourth Quartet and the Clarinet Quintet of Milton Babbitt, the Third Quartet of Alberto Ginastera with Benita Valente, soprano, three quartets of Richard Wernick including one with Benita Valente, soprano, the Fourth Quartet of Donald Martino.

I’m also very proud of leaving at a time when I can pass the Quartet and its traditions on to the next person in its most healthy state. That was very important; I didn’t want to leave until that was set and really secured. As much as humanly possible I believe that it is now, and I can feel good about stepping back feeling good about the future of the quartet and think about my own future. I’ve loved it,I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m going to miss it terribly, but this is the time to do it, and I’m passing it on its most healthy, wonderful state, and it will go on, hopefully forever, at least to its 75th anniversary, and I hope to be at that! Not so far away, maybe another 8-10 years.

For further information about Mr. Rhodes plans, please see “Regret and Anticipation” an article by him about his thoughts and perspectives as he approaches the Juilliard String Quartet’s Feburary 26 Alice Tully Hall concert heralding his farewell and Roger Tapping’s welcome. (http://www.juilliard.edu/journal/2012-2013/1302/articles/jsq.php)

 


Teaching at the Third Winter Academy of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music by Kim Mai Nguyen

The following post is by Kim Mai Nguyen.

First, a quote from the February 1st, 2013 edition of the New York Times:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Every night, Mohsen, a slight, awkward 13-year-old boy, goes home from school to an orphanage here and does something that would probably have been impossible a dozen years ago: he practices his violin before going to bed.

The instrument, he said, has become his closest friend. “It has a sad voice,” he said.

All such voices, happy or sad, were banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, when they imposed their extremist vision of Islam on Afghanistan, a country with a long and rich musical tradition. Musicians were beaten, instruments destroyed, cassette tapes smashed.

But since 2010, an Afghan music scholar trained in Australia, aided by a Juilliard-educated violinist and with government backing, has kept a small music school going in Kabul, putting musical instruments into the hands of street kids and striving to make space for girls in a country where education is often denied them.

The very existence of the school, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, is a significant achievement. Now it is sending a group of youngsters, ages 9 to 21, to the United States for a 13-day tour. They arrive on Sunday, with performances scheduled for the Kennedy Center in Washington (on Thursday) and Carnegie Hall (on Feb. 12),

Introduction:

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When I received the invitation by Dr Ahmad Sarmast, founder and Director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music to participate in their Third Winter Academy I was thrilled! Well, to be totally honest, it was combined with excitement and fear to go to Kabul. However, the thought of being able to interact with and teach the students of ANIM, and after reading more about this incredible institution, I simply could not refuse this invitation.  To be more specific, I was invited to teach, lead musical activities and perform in solo and chamber music.

Among the ANIM students, about half of the children are disadvantaged children like orphans, street vendors, and young girls that, before, did not have access to general education. At the school, they have the opportunity to study either Afghan Traditional or Western Classical Music.

Part I: Arriving in Kabul

My trip to Kabul was very long! After 14 hours on a plane, with a stop in Zurich, I had a layover of 7 hours in Dubai. Exhausted, I decided to go directly to the terminal in which my last plane to Kabul was going to leave. Unfortunately, it was a very small terminal and I experienced a lot of stares by the diverse men and covered women that were also waiting in the airport. After this long wait, I was very nervous to take my last plane especially when at least 6 or 7 persons asked me if I was sure that I wanted to actually go to Kabul! On the bus that brought the passengers to the plane, I encountered a very nice afghan military that just came back from a long training period in China. At that time, I was very skeptical about his kindness and was very scared to answer to all his questions! He wanted to know my name, where I was from, what I was doing in Kabul, how long I would stay, etc.  I couldn’t tell what his real intentions were, but at the end, I was glad that I got to know him because he helped me to find my way in the Kabul airport! My last plane was epic in its own way!  The last flight was supposed to last roughly 3 hours but ended up lasting another 7 hours! When the pilot tried to land in Kabul, it was impossible because of a snowstorm. After stopping in Karachi, Pakistan, to get some fuel, we were informed that we were headed back to Dubai to wait until it was possible to land in Kabul. I was horrified at that point! I was stuck in a plane full of men that definitely noticed me even though I put my scarf around my head. We were probably a maximum of five women in this plane! The thought of going back to Dubai and wait in this tiny airport made me want to just go back home! Thankfully, the weather in Afghanistan let us land in Kabul instead of returning to Dubai!

As soon as we landed in Kabul, I was impressed by the view of the beautiful mountain range covered in snow! After passing all the security checks, I was glad to find Avery Waite, the cello and bass teacher of ANIM waiting for me. My first impression of Kabul while driving to the German Guesthouse was mixed. I kept admiring the beautiful landscape of the mountains that surround the city, but the sight of poor streets and busted roads was also heartbreaking. It was very cold in Kabul and even though I was wearing three layers of clothes plus my winter coat, I was still freezing! I was instantly struck by the smell of Kabul, a mix of dust and something else that I could not determine! On a side note, there was an article in the New York Times a few days ago explaining the issue of Kabul’s pollution. The smell and pollution of Kabul was the result of the dust, the open sewers and burning dung used when people want to heat their houses with bukharies. Unfortunately, in this article, they concluded that “Kabul’s atmosphere is more than twice as big a killer of civilians as the war.”

I was so happy to be able to have a day to adjust to the new time and to rest to get ready for the upcoming week! The guesthouse I was staying in was a little house nearby the Ministry of Higher Education. To access to the guesthouse, I had to go through a security fence with armed guards and walk to the back of the compound. I would then access the guesthouse that was also secured with another fence with a guard. Once settled in my room, I could not wait to go for a little walk around the guesthouse. The landscape was stunning! It was peaceful and quiet and the view of the snow covering mountains, roads, cars was just magical!  The place I stayed in was very nice and comfortable. Luckily, I had access to hot water for approximately 10 minutes every day and the electricity was pretty much continuous! Even though the people that were working in the guesthouse were very kind, I was not totally free inside the house. I was asked all the time what I was doing and where I was going. They did not allow any guest to visit me, in particular men. If I would stay alone in my room with someone, they would constantly come knocked on the door to check on what we were doing. Even on the last day, they did not allow Avery Waite to come help me to carry my suitcase! The funny thing is that I probably encounter more of the religious rules in my guesthouse than in the street of Kabul!

 

Part II: Life in Kabul

One question that many people asked me was to describe my “life” in Kabul. Of course I had to cover my head with a scarf and was very careful to not wear anything that could be provocative for their culture. At some point, I tried to wear a dress with some boots, but in the morning, the women working at the guesthouse gave me a weird look and went to change into other clothes immediately. However, once I was at the school, I felt free to uncover my head. I did not get a chance to walk too much in the street except for my last day when I went shopping in Chicken Street. It was very secure and did not feel frightened or anything. We did encounter some kids in the street trying to sell us maps, or little gifts. They were very friendly, and probably because it was cold, there were only a few of them. Having this little interaction with them made me hope that one day they will maybe part of ANIM. The streets were very slippery and muddy especially after the snowstorm.

Driving through Kabul was also quite an adventure and I am surprised I did not get into an accident! It was such a challenge to avoid the holes in the streets plus avoid the cars coming in the opposite direction trying to do the same. Many times we would be in the main road driving in the opposite lane!

All the places in Kabul are very secured, like the guesthouse or various restaurants, by multiple security checkpoints. After a few days, I got used to the routine of waiting for a car and going through many inspections throughout the day. Even if I was aware that something can happen at any moment, I got accustomed to be careful without worrying too much about it. The only moments during my trip I was anxious was on my way to Kabul and when I was leaving Kabul. That was the only moment I was by myself without being able to communicate with ANIM’s teachers.

Part III: ANIM

Whenever people ask me how my trip was, it is hard to sum up my experience in a few words or even a few minutes. I was so fortunate to have shared so many amazing and unique moments with the kids, the faculty and with the other guest artists! I feel so lucky to have had such a great time and am grateful that trip was uneventful and safe.

I have been privileged to have been able to see another side of the Afghan culture, something different from what is heard on the daily news. First of all, I was surprised by the good condition of the school. It is a pretty nice building and each teacher has an assigned room. I could hardly hear people practicing or playing in the room next to the studio I was teaching in. The first impression when you come in the morning is a little bit chaotic and full of life until the first ring of the bell announcing the first period. Over the time I was at ANIM, I taught private lessons, led musical activities, coached some chamber music groups and small ensemble and help the orchestra get ready for their exciting tour to the US. I am very excited to listen to them and see them again at their Carnegie Hall concert on February 12th, 2013!

All the students I encountered at ANIM were very nice and were very excited to come to their lessons. I tried to help them as much as I could with their basic technique and giving them some guide them to reach another level in their violin or viola playing. It was very nice to have William Harvey, the violin and viola teacher at ANIM, who gave me some goals for his students to reach at the end of the Winter Academy. Most of the older students could speak or understand English which was very helpful. With them, I was working mostly on adjusting their basic position and helping them with the process of making musical decisions. For the younger students, even though we could not communicate fully because of the lack of a common language, I succeeded to get my ideas across by singing, showing and demonstrating. I have to admit that my capacity of learning a new language is not the best and I was not able to remember a lot of words in Dari. However, I quickly understood that I needed to know at least four words that became very helpful in my teaching: Yak, Du, Sei, Char (one, two, three, four in Dari). I had a lot of fun teaching them and it also was very interesting. One of the most difficult things that came across during my teaching was to help them with their rhythm. I realized that following a regular pulse is not something they are used too. In fact, all of their songs and tunes that they grew up with are in 5/8 or 7/8.

All the students were very friendly and I was glad that I could interact with them. After a few days, I was amused to see that the students were trying to trick me into having an extra lesson and stealing someone else’s lesson. It was very cute! I was happy to give them as much lessons as my time allowed me and also how could you say no to someone so enthusiastic about having a lesson? Another thing that I would never forget is the way they addressed the teachers. I can still hear the students’ voices yelling:  “Oh Teacher! Teacher! Thank you Teacher!” I was delighted to see that some of the kids had a real drive to learn and a willingness to take advantage of all the information they could gather from the guest artists. Another little anecdote during one of the lesson I taught was when I tried to adjust the bow grip of one of the violin students and trying to get him to be aware of where his bow was on the strings. For some reasons, something was not working. He then told me that he actually learned the violin at first in the Indian traditional way. I asked him to demonstrate how he would play in an Indian music style and then he started to improvise for a few minutes. I was amazed at how beautiful it was! I was wondering why he wanted to learn classical music when he could play this kind of music so easily! I am still unsure why, but listening to him definitely helped me understand where he was coming from in terms of violin playing.

One of the main musical highlights was listening to the student concert. It was so nice to see how all the students were supporting each others. The student performance included traditional instruments from Afghanistan and western instruments. It was such a touching thing to be able to see that the musical and cultural revival is definitely happening in this country. Even their orchestra includes all the instruments that are taught at ANIM: Strings, woodwinds, brass instruments, percussion, tabla, sitar, ghichak, etc. They played either traditional music or classical pieces that have been arranged for the kids with some traditional music influence. The first traditional song that I heard was sang by a little boy with a beautiful voice. The song was “Madar-e Man” which means my mother in English. I was so overwhelmed by it and could not prevent a few tears! It is hard to imagine what the children have been through before being at ANIM and also what and where this school will be going but I have hope for them to have a better future. They are under the guidance of great teachers and I deeply respect the work they have been doing. It is already a hard thing to live in a place like Kabul with so many restrictions and tensions but the amount of effort and the full commitment that the teachers are putting into this school is truly inspiring.

I definitely made some incredible connections with diverse musicians during my stay in Kabul. Among the other guest artists that were present during the time I was in Kabul were an Indian couple playing the Sitar; Murchana and Abhishek Adhikary and Umar Temor a ghichak player from Tajikistan. I had the unique opportunity to play some fusion pieces with them as well as the other western teachers and guest artists. I will always cherish the moments with them rehearsing their compositions and their songs. They were really patient and so kind to show me a bit of their musical culture. I have to admit that it was quite a challenge to learn their music, but we practiced hard and people loved it! It was such a memorable moment playing a piece that unites different musical cultures and also that unites eight different nationalities! We performed three concerts; the first one was for the students of the school which was a lot of fun. The second one was more formal and was attended mostly for the people working for embassies and NGOs. The third one was at the AFCECO orphanage. Before playing, they cooked us a delicious traditional Afghan meal. We were definitely spoiled!

 

Final Thoughts:

Again, I am so thankful to have had this incredible opportunity to go to Kabul for the ANIM Winter Music Academy. My only regret was to not have stayed longer! I was happy to see that with ANIM, the girls could also be part of this school. ANIM is probably one of the rare institutions in Afghanistan that is opened to girls and considers them as equals to boys. Many of those girls are very tough and have a very strong character. I have to confess that at many moments during my stay in Afghanistan I found myself thinking about the future of these children. I am hopeful for their future after seeing what is happening with ANIM but also I can’t help but being afraid for them when all the military troops will leave the country in 2014. No matter what their future will be, I am glad that for now, they have a place they can be “normal” children, enjoy a place where they can be safe, have some education, be part of this musical community and hope for a better life.


Growing Up in a Large Family of Musicians by Will Bender

The following post is by Will Bender.

As far as we know, I am the first of my family to pursue music professionally.  Aside from two or three great-grandparents, there really aren’t many musicians in my ancestry.  But starting with my immediate family, that has changed drastically.  I am the oldest of (soon to be) twelve children.  Nine of us play string instruments.
When I was four years old, my mom saw a young, Suzuki-trained student play at our church.  My parents mail-ordered a violin “kit” to get me started and our house has never been quiet since.  Of course, as soon as I started playing, my next sister decided she wanted to play too, and as the years went by, every one of us picked up a string instrument.  Now, we have two violists, two violinists, and five cellists (one doubling double-bass).
It’s really great being a part of so much music-making.  There is ALWAYS music in our house, with pieces spanning from Saint-Saens Cello Concerto to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  I think I can say with confidence that this type of environment was (and is) definitely beneficial to my musical development.  Hearing so many different types of music being practiced at so many different levels helped me to learn to evaluate certain fundamental aspects of my own playing every day.
Another benefit of this musical household (although it’s often a bit irritating), is the frankness with which comments are made.  There is usually zero formality when speaking with a sibling. Although this might feel biting, in the end, it has proved very useful. Without a doubt, playing in a string trio with my sisters has honed my skills of mediation.  I think I’ve said enough on that topic…
I also know that my parents’ motto of “practice only on the days you eat,” helped me to acquire a custom of daily practice.  I am thankful every day that they “forced” (so it felt at the time) me to practice; I shiver to think of what I might be doing now, had they not…is Lego designing a major?
Yes, I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t trade my musical “at-home” years for anything in the world.