Friday, October 06, 2006

And in cello class this week

Everyone has learned to play a one-octave dominant seenth arpeggio through the circle of fifths. well, some more than others, but each of my students is on his or her way to getting this down. In Tuesday's cello class, I taught them a one-octave blues scale, and to play a pizzicato "Bo Diddily" blues bass line, as David Darling taught it to me.

We all had a good time with it. It did sound like a bunch of white, middle-class, classical cellists trying to play the blues for the first time: we may be using the notes of the blues, but we weren't playing the blues.

Maybe I should be meaner to them. Then they could really play the cello blues.

In improv class this week

It's so hard to remember everything!

In today (Friday)'s improv class, the fourth session with this new seminar rotation (13 students), we did the following:
  • free drumming
  • individual students took turns leading the drum circle, making eye contact with each member of the circle, showing the beat in their bodies, shouting, "look at ME!,"and practicing cutting off the group (by shouting, "one, two, three, four, STOP!" and making a cutoff gesture) and restarting the group with a call of, "one, two, everybody play!"--all this modeled on Arthur Hull)
  • had groups of people take turns dancing--this was especially for those who seemd shy in the first exercise
  • while the group softly drummed, we all inhaled and sighed, than sang one-quality tones (a Music for People term)
  • then I got up in the centered and modeled the next activity: while moving my body to the beat, I sang a one-quality tone, let another follow, and sang a melody
  • then each student did the same
It's all about connecting with others and expressing yourself. I keep stressing to the group that much of what we do is designed to trigger the sorts of fear reactions that come up when we perfrom for people playing or singing classical music. And in our class, we have this wonderful sense of not just a safe place, but active support.

One of the students shared that when he sang, he didn't actually hear the drums but he felt them in his body. How perfect. For that's what we are working to acheive: feeling the support. Being physically and spiritually connected with one another.

I wish I had the time to write after each class what we did; it fades from my memory all too quickly. Yesterday we sang one quality tones and melodies, from our seats in the circle, again with drumming as a background support. And we had another discussion of why these students are musicians. For some, making music is their "bliss," as Joseph Campbell would have put it. The thing they love most and feel most alive and themselves doing. Others have had profound experiences of music making a difference in the lives of others and see it as a way of making a difference in the world. One spoke of the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people as a music teacher (he's planning to be a music education major, and what a great motivation to have as a music ed major).

Monday and Tuesday (we didn't have class Wednesday) we did improvised and also some African-inspired drumming, learning parts of a piece named "Jansa."

What's turning out differently this year, contrasted with years before, is that I'm feeling myself guided and able to lead us to very deep conversations, conversations about what music means to us, why we are musicians, and the difference we can make in the world with music.

The time off I had for my sabbatical was important. I wrestled with, and wrote about in my blog, about my inner conflicts about encouraging or even allowing many kids to be music majors, when "classical music" seems to be in so much trouble. I arrived at the conclusion, eventually, that we need a new definition of success, and new sense of mission. And that for me, success is making a difference in the world making music.

And I've realized more clearly than ever that being a musician is a calling. A gift from which one might try to run away, but one that is there regardless. You don't decide to be a musician, you discover or realize you are a musician. The classical music profession has always been a rough one. But that doens't mean there aren't a lot of young people who, like it or not themselves, are musicians, and who need and deserve training and education.

It is a great opportunity and privilege to not only introduce them to approaches inspired by Music for People, but to facilitate them discussing and remembering why they are musicians and why they are undergoing the rigors of their training. One needs a strong sense of purpose to survive music school. One needs a strong sense of purpose to remain a musician, and even to survive teaching in a music school.

It's a true vocation. Musicians and other artists are always needed, perhaps now more than ever. And it is through our creativity that we will not just survive but thrive, and find ways to make a living while making a difference creating music.

I'm so glad that by teaching this course I'm getting to take it.