I am a huge fan of students asking about process - how do I practice, what do I need to do to plan my best practice session. Blocking time, and organizing your day around the work you need to do, is interesting to me. However, at some point, the planning has to stop, and the work has to start. Stop asking questions, stop "planning to plan" and actually just do. Put the music on the stand. Study it. Do it - do not wait. Do it right now.
It is that time again - people are dusting the sand off of their shoes, finding their grown up cloths, setting their alarms and heading back to school. For me, this is the start of my 11th year at Mason and my 3rd as Artistic Director of SSMF. I am also in the middle of a move ( in town...) and looking forward to a number of performances in Washington, as well as concerts in Boston, LA and Costa Rica. It is a busy and exciting time, for sure.
Time for everyone to get to work!
I've been on the road for the better part of the last month - working down in my office at Sewanee, visiting donors, performing Raise the Roof with Symphonicity in Virginia Beach, and conducting at the College Music Society Conference in Vancouver. I'm now home, and happy to just have the normal level of busy in my life. Being a musician can throw your life out of balance from time to time, but as long as you can pull back to center - it's worth it. I was talking to a friend today, a busy, successful musician who is out on the road right now, and as we were talking I asked him how he was - his response " man, I'm really tired". I agreed, and then said in a off handed way " at times, all we have to cling to is our gratitude for all of this..." It was more profound that I intended - But we are fortunate to make music - as conductors, performers, teachers, program directors. This is a pretty exciting way to make a living, and I couldn't be happier for the chance opportunities.
But I'm also glad, for the next couple of weeks, that I can wake up in the same place.
I've seen an interesting evolution in the last several years when it comes to students, college and majoring in music. I think ( though I have no long term study to back this us) that a certain percentage of students have always chosen to major in music because they enjoyed band or strings in HS, it was the thing that made them special, and they were "good" at it - at least in comparison to everyone else in their HS. Then, they get to college and realize that music is much more than class band/strings, and they decide to do something else. Hopefully they keep music in their life in some way, but they understand that majoring in music isn't being in band.
Now, however, a new subset has begun to emerge in the percussion world, and it is frightening to me as a musician and professor. Students who think they are majoring in some combination of Greek Orgs and marching percussion. Or, they truly believe that being a music major is just like performing in indoor drumline.....
Now - before i get hate mail, I have no problem with the "marching arts" as an activity. I understand their value in building community, creating work ethic and developing technique. I also think there should be a healthy debate about adding tracks or degree concentrations in marching percussion arranging/instruction/composition. There is no question that students who will teach at the HS level will need to have an understanding of this activity, and I think we need to look at developing a more serious curricular experience for this activity, in order to prepare students for the world they will encounter when they graduate.
However - Just like anything else - you need balance, and an understanding of how one activity fits into the overall college music experience. And you need to pass your classes, and prepare for your lessons, and be ready for ensemble rehearsals and performances. I also think we should be honest about the time and approach to teaching and technique we use in the marching activity VS. concert playing - it really is vastly different, and often at odds.
Your major is music - which includes music history, theory, aural skills, chamber ensembles, orchestra, band, music technology, professional development, and participation in program events. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you choose to major in MUSIC. If you want to play in band and be a economics major - go for it, there are plenty of college band programs that would love to have you. Want to do business and play tenors, fantastic, you'll find a place.
Want to major in music - understand what it means. All of it.
So - life has been, as usual quite full. Just returned from an excellent concerto performance with the wonderful Symphonicity. Bringing back Raise the Roof was really exciting, and I cannot wait to perform it again later this season. I'm headed off to Vancouver shorty to perform and present at the College Music Society National Conference.
Of course, plans are well under way for the 2019 Sewanee Summer Music Festival. We just released this terrific new promotional video, and will be announcing our season highlights, conductors and new programs very soon. Check out the video ( produced by the great four/ten media) and get started on your application!
Wonderful to be starting a new year at Mason, and planning the 2019 Sewanee Summer Music Festival! Thrilled to be returning to Sewanee as Artistic Director, and excited for a great year at Mason. Also have a fun year of performances in DC and across the country. Will be busy, but also planning to (try) and take ( a little) time to focus on things beyond work. Let's see how that goes....
I am all for getting my foot in the door - and taking opportunities for professional development. If you are early in your career, jump at opportunities, no question
However, chronic undervaluing of your work or your value as an artist will result in long term challenges
This is true both in your personal work, and in organizations you may be responsible for. Best piece of advise I’ve ever gotten from a colleague is this
“people know when you are desperate”
If you have a strong product, market it well and talk about it often. Value what you do, and advocate for yourself and your programs
I am regularly surprised when students tell me how busy they are.... yeah. right.
As I write this post, I’m sitting in the canteen of the Kennedy center in between rehearsals with the Washington Opera.
I am constantly moving, putting work in where I can, while all the time staying on top of whatever is in front of me. Shedding, administering, teaching, leading,conducting
that's the gig
I don’t know ANY successful musician - ANYONE
who isn’t busy. But busy isn’t really anything.... it’s really all about how you set your priorities and how you spend your time
stop telling me you are busy set your priorities - and get to work
just returned from a wonderful weekend serving as an evaluator for the Music for All National Festival. I’ve enjoyed a long relations with MFA, dating back to 2003, when I first took an ensemble to perform at the Percussion Festival.
MFA Is a wonderful organization, and their mission is an inspiration. I would highly recommend their programs to
any educator working with middle and high school musicians.
I look forward to MFA 2019 and hope to see many of you there!
havig moved into running a music festival, I’m increasingly been pulled away from percussion and more into the world of wind and string chamber music.
It isn’t a bad world to live in, at all - Mozart, Schumann, Dvorak. It is the core of our art form, and represents some of the high points in western civilization
increasingly, percussion music is finding its own masterpieces - and performance groups are out there like never before performing, teaching and pushing into the literature music that is as important and valuable as anything else that has been written
however, I still struggle with our pedagogical literature - what we use to teach young musicians how to learn percussion chamber music. We still have major gaps in
our rep, and I honestly wish more performers and ensembles of note would seek out not just the next great masterpiece, but high quality works written by real composers for younger musicians
I dare you!
I have been traveling a lot lately, going to my offices in Sewanee to plan the festival, giving clinics and classes at schools and university programs, guest conducting etc...
and it makes me think - how you spend your time on the road is really critical
we dont often talk to our students about this aspect of the job - flights, hotels, late dinners at ruby Tuesday’s ( where I am currently sitting).
We don’t tell them much about working early mornings in hotel rooms to get rehearsal schedules out, or updating your blog from a bar..
quite a a bit goes into the wacky music career - often things we don’t even think about at the time. But so much of what we do as musicians is about being out there, in the business, doing things. But then, you have to balance the doing with being home - practicing and working in your own city. I think a lot about how I use my time and try hard to manage the trips so that they make sense, professionally.
I’m excited to head off to music for all later this week, which no doubt will offer it’s own challenges and opportunities. The groups will be great and trying to give them feedback will be exciting. Looking forward to hanging with good friends and sharing great ideas ( and having a least a couple of good meals in Indy!)
so get out there - but think about what you are doing and ask yourself - is this relevant?? Is this moving me forward ?
If it is, go for it - if it isn’t. Go home and practice, hang with your significant other - it’s not worth being away just to be away ....
So....I am the new Artistic Director of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. This is not a small thing, for me professionally, or percussionists more broadly. Sewanee is an orchestral and chamber music festival - to have a percussionist in charge of artistic direction - well it is kind of wild actually.
I am honored, humbled, and really tired - but mostly just very excited to have this amazing opportunity.
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about time....how much there is, how to manage it,and how to make the most of the time you have. Of course,and millions of words and hundreds of books have been written on the subject already, so I do not expect to blaze any new trains here. However, one idea that has wrapped around my brain in recent weeks ( as I have been reading and exploring the topic of deep work, time management and priorities) is this - The best possible way for me to be successful, or for any musician to be successful, productive and happy, would be to try to follow one rule - do only that which is possible to be done by you, and you alone. Delegate everything else.
So - what does that mean, exactly. I'm still working through that myself, but I have been asking myself this question each time I approach a project, and it has been clarifying on many occasions. Certainly something I'll continue to ponder over the coming days as weeks, as my career takes another interesting step forward
I've been taking some time recently to catch up on my reading, both reading for pleasure and reading to help expand knowledge. I enjoy reading and quite honestly didn't give my self enough time last year to make this an option. One of the changes I've made for this year - space to read.
Another performing and teaching year has started, though I don't think I can really tell anymore when one ends and one begins. This summer, after a two week tour of Costa Rica, I left for one my favorite places in the world, Sewanee, TN and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. I write about SSMF frequently, and I look forward to sharing more about this great festival as the year goes on. During SSMF, I left briefly for the Music for All Summer Symposium - had a great time as always with everyone there!. Music for All has been a big part of my professional career, and I very much enjoy the chance to work with the dedicated folks who make that organization run!
Right after SSMF, I was off to Orlando to play to at the 2017 International Clarinet Convention to premiere a new work by Howard Buss with my good friend Kathy Mulcahy. We had a great time, and as always Kathy was terrific. It was an honor to share the stage with her.
Musicians have seasons to our lives - rather than make resolutions at the end of the year, I typically review my work/ideas/process in August, and again In January, during what is usually a (slightly) slower time in life. This year, I have resolved to read more ( so far, so good), write every day ( mostly going well) and update by blog regularly.
Let's see what happens!!!
Here in Sewanee now ( actually sitting at the Chattanooga airport flying off to music for all...but that is another story....) and finding a few moments to reflect on the two weeks I spent in Costa Rica with the inaugural International Teaching Scholars program.
This entirr project started with a conversation, and ended with 14 faculty, staff, donors, and administrators from George Mason University traveling to San Jose and the surrounding communities for performances, volunteer work and teaching opportunities.
The trip itself is too complex to explain in one post....so I'll start with some pictures..... The entire experience was transformative for all involved.
This week begins my 7th summer as percussion artist faculty at the Sewanee summer music festival. When I started, we had a small studio with limited instruments and even more limited abilities. I was clueless as to how a festival program should run, and totally insecure about my ability to do the job. On top of that, one of my biggest supporters and the primary reason the previous director hired me, Bruce Dinkins, passed away the day before the festival started. I was overwhelmed with grief and pretty lost all together. 2011 was a hard summer.
Fast forward a few years, we have a new director, awesome equipment provided every year by Yamaha, and outstanding students from across the world coming to study orchestral and chamber percussion.
I am enormously blessed, but also realizing that beyond luck or blessing or whatever else you believe in, you have to have a vision. You have to have a long term plan for your career, and the willingness to invest time, energy effort and money into that vision.
I could have walked away from this festival after that first summer..... But I knew that having a summer festival home would be enormously valuable to my professional development, and that if done correctly, would hold a special place in my life for many years.
So, I made it work, and I developed recruiting networks, and I worked my butt off, and now...well now we have a pretty sweet festival experience for advanced high school and college percussionists.
On the top of a mountain. In Tennessee.
See you this summer
This was back a few years ago - having a great time with the wonderful students of the cumberland orchestra at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival - enjoy! FYI the camera was really close to the perucssion....!!!
I find this time of year can become a period of reflection for me as a performer and teacher. After months of being very busy running a program, traveling for concerts, clinics, conducting etc...I am able to sit back for a couple of weeks, and just be "busy". Just the normal everyday running of a career and a life, not quite the breakneck pace of January-March.
There are a few periods in the schedule that open a bit - usually August, sometime between Christmas and New years, and of course this slight relaxing of the schedule before the busy summer season.
I try to think and reflect a little during this time about what I can do better, how I can improve my life, my career and overall just become more efficient, thoughtful and productive. I also think it's time for me to go back to the gym...
One of the ideas/concepts that I continue to ponder is the challenge of the music business. Not that what I do, or any of us do, is "hard". Curing cancer is hard - dealing with childhood poverty or climate change, this is difficult. Music, on the grand scheme of life, really isn't challenging in the same way.
However - there is no question that the business of music is tricky. There are more people who want to be musicians than we have room for in the business. Stability, vacation, and retirement can me harder to realize. It certainly requires a high degree of creativity and "outside the box" thinking.
I also think, to be candid, it requires people who are mentally tough. Regardless of your chosen path in music, if you are teaching college, running a chamber group, taking auditions or playing in an orchestra, you need to be mentally strong. Regular rejection, judgement by your peers, and long hours alone in a room are all hallmarks of a career in music. Traveling, touring, recording....challenging and draining both mentally and physically.
Dealing with prospective students and parents, administrators, grant managers, all require someone who is mentally agile and willing to be creative.
Beyond all of this, you are often alone - writing, practicing, studying. You need to be the kind of person who can build personal networks so that, from time to time, you can walk away from the work and go play a round of golf......you have to recharge before you get back to work.
So - in all of your practicing and studying, add one more thing to the mix. Mental toughness, a thick skin, and the ability to balance competing priorities. You'll need all of it to be successful in this business
one of the best pieces of advise I've ever given a student was " don't do what I am doing, do what hasn't been done yet". Often in the arts we are taking to students about careers of the future, and imagining what is out there to do. Telling students they need to craft their own career. And often that's where we stop, and the student is left sitting there going " ok cool so WHAT DO I DO"
here are a few things to consider when thinking about your career:
What is NOT happening in your art form that you want to see happening. " Where is there "Blue Ocean"
Are you the right person to do the "thing" that hasn't been done yet?
Have you considered why it hasn't been done?
what other interests have a stake in your idea? Can you partner with them? Is there a collaborative opportunity that you are unaware of that could lead to another, even greater project.
For example, early in my career I was teaching at a summer band camp....and I was kinda, well... bored. I wasn't enjoying the experience anymore and was frustrated with the opportunities I had. At the same time, I looked around and didn't see any local/regional program that was designed specifically for high school percussionists who wanted to major in music, or for kids who just loved playing. There were band camps, drumline camps, but nothing for concert band kids beyond middle school camps that were mostly glorified daycare. Or they had to travel half way across the country.....in short, I identified a need ( something for kids to do with drums) and aligned it with the needs of a program ( get high school kids on campus) and so....long story short, I put a program together, pitched a proposal, and the University of Maryland summer percussion academy was born.
Im leaving out a lot of work, and a lot of details, but in general, that is how it happened, and even though I had no idea how to run a camp, I did my homework, worked really hard, and created a program that gave me an opportunity beyond what I was doing and helped me build connections and create relationships that are valuable to this day.
Many great ideas start with nessessity....("I don't want to do this anymore" ) or perhaps with the need for a change. Sometimes, projects are created because people discover the opportunities available don't interest them, or fit into how they view their career. Whatever it is, think carefully about what you want, and pay close attention to the "scene". If you find an opportunity, take it, and make its happen.
This is a fairly common question from students.....particularly those approaching the end of a milestone period in their training, such as the end of a degree. How do I know I'm ready to start in the real world? Other professions have easier ways to determine the answer to this question - internships, entry level positions etc... And while we have these in some aspects of what we do, the truth is, becoming a professional musician and the timing of this event can be harder to determine.
So, I figured I would share some thoughts,.
You our are a professional when.....wait for it......
When you start acting like one.
When showing up on time isn't an option
When you are done with school and don't wanna go back to school and want to start testing all of your theories as an artist.
When you have something to say as a musician.
When you have to courage to persue your passion and the skills to get someone to pay you.
There may be a degree, or you may meet all (or some) of these criteria before you get a degree. I was getting paid to play drums well before I was out of school, but there were things I couldn't do and didn't know....I was an apprentice pro...for lack of a better term.
So, You are a professional when you decide to act like one, to grow up and be mature. To speak plainly and directly to people, to remain calm and focus on the goal. To think about your actions, plan your career and enjoy the ride.
That is when you are a professional. Enjoy
Since the start of 2017, I've been traveling - a lot. Here are a few things I've been fortunate to do
one week in Costa Rica - master classes
Performed on the Mason Bates, Kennedy Center Juke Box chamber music series
NYU and University of Michigan Residency's. Clinics, master classes and recital ( at the U of Michigan)
More Kennedy Center Juke Box
Conducted the Marshall University a Honor Band
Outreach concert at the Sitar Center in DC
Concerts with Michael Burritt
Music for all National Festival
Mason Symphonic band concert
Played a faculty recital
Conducted the music for Robert Battle's Mass for the School of Music Dance Gala
Hosted Jonathan Haas at Mason
Did a couple of clinics at the University of Tennessee
Performed a duo recital at the National Gallery of Art in DC
And here we are - in April - with a major tour of Costa Rica coming up, a summer series at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival and a performance at the clarinet festival in Orlando
Fun to be busy!!!
Pleased to share the first of many video's from our 2016 Mason Percussion performance at PASIC. Franco Donatoni, Darkness
So - after you vote...what are you doing? Hopefully going to PASIC! If you are, check out a couple of performances by Mason Percussion
11AM - Focus Day performance- Franco Donatoni, DARKNESS
4PM - New Literature Showcase Concert
I've attached the program for our 4PM concert below. Excited to bring this much new music to PASIC
Recently, I was re-reading a short interview from the Juilliard Journal with Dan Druckman. Dan was
(and still is) chair of the percussion department and director of the percussion ensemble at "the yard" and is just simply one of the finest musicians I ever had the chance to work with. I was lucky to play in his group and have the chance to take a handful of lessons with him during my college years.
In the article, Dan said that he wants his students to do whatever is necessary to be prepared on stage
Somehow, reading this now, where I am in my own career, really resonated with me.
This sense of doing what is necessary, with the underlying subtext being ( no matter what) is often missing from today's teaching.
I can assure you, I did not always feel like I was in "a safe place" in Dan's rehearsals, or in Jonathan's rehearsals, or in Abel's lessons - but those experiences sure did drive me to do what was necessary to be prepared. I would practice when I was tired, or it was late, or I was hungry, or whatever....I did what was necessary.
As students, you aren't always going to feel good about what you are doing - hell you may even really dislike your teacher or ensemble director for a period. I certainly had negative thoughts about my teachers/conductors.
At the risk of sounding like the old man yelling at kids on his lawn - the job of a teacher isn't always to make you feel good (!!!!). I do think about my students well-being ( often more then my own teachers did) but at the end of the day my job is to prepare you for a VERY challenging profession. playing in an orchestra, working as a chamber musician, teaching at the college level - these are difficult and rewarding professions - you have to be ready to make it happen.
I didn't always do what was necessary, but when I did, each time it produced a performance that I still remember to this day.
Students - if you are serious about this - Do what is necessary. Practice at night, in the early AM, when you are sick, when you are "sad". Study scores, go to concerts, network - do, what is necessary.