Category Archives: Music Education

Expanding on the Jazz vs. Classical Worlds

Duke Ellington

Ludwig von Beethoven


I hope the title above doesn’t sound contentious. I truly don’t believe that there is a battle between the jazz and classical worlds. However, I believe that many musicians do believe that one must make a choice between playing jazz or classical.

Let’s make it very clear here that playing jazz and classical well takes years of practice and devotion. One is not easier than the other and just because a musician can play jazz doesn’t mean they can also play classical and vice-verse. I have one foot firmly placed in the jazz world (I do have a Masters degree in Jazz Studies) and my other foot firmly placed in the classical world (I sub quite often in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) and I work hard maintaining a high playing level in both fields and I never take that for granted.

As I have been traveling down both paths, the more I realize how similar the paths are. When I think about how I want to play jazz, this is what I think about:

1. Playing with a good sound (ALWAYS!!)
2. Playing with good time
3. Playing stylistically correct
4. Playing with good technique
5. Playing with good and clear articulations
6. Playing with a studied knowledge of the music
7. Being a nice person to those around me (so I get hired again!)

The above list are the exact points I think about when I’m playing classical music! So, yes, there are differences between jazz and classical styles, but there are more similarities and those similarities are what I have been working on. And that work has paid off. I do several gigs a month with one of my various jazz groups (Standard(ish) Jazz Trio, Trombononymous, Elevator Up!) and I have won a bass trombone position with the Sinfonia da Camera orchestra in Urbana Illinois.

In future blogs, I will go into detail of what I am practicing for each classical, jazz, bass trombone and tenor trombone. These topics can be useful to musicians on any instrument that want to make themselves as marketable as possible to work as much as possible in these hard economic times.


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A New Chapter

The page has turned.

RBD and mda have both moved on from our untimely departure from our previous jobs (read our blog ‘Struggling Arts Hits Home’ directly after we lost our jobs). mda has found a great new home with the Percussive Arts Society or PAS, where he is now the Director of Marketing and Communications. Congrats to you mda!!

I, however, has gone a slightly different path. Instead of hitting the pavement and going out and looking for another job (hopefully within the arts industry), I decided that since I had enough gigs and money saved up to pay bills through the calendar year, I would invest my time into the bass trombone, tenor trombone, orchestral trombone and jazz trombone. My goal was (and still is) to become a solid player on both the bass trombone and tenor trombone in both the jazz and classical worlds. No small order to be sure.

I’ve always had one foot in the classical world and one foot in the jazz world. I work in both and have been successful in both. But I wanted to be the best all around player. I wanted to be able to go do a small group jazz gig on my tenor trombone, and turn around and win a bass trombone orchestral audition. Well, five months later, I’m getting closer and closer to my goal.

I recently won a position with the Sinfonia da Camera out of Urbana Illinois, conducted by Ian Hobson and I am also on contract with the Anderson Symphony Orchestra in Anderson Indiana conducted by Rick Sowers. These are two small orchestras with a grand total of 12 concerts I’ll play, but its a start and I’ll be blogging about each orchestra as the season unfurls. Each orchestra has a good brass section, clear and easy going conductors and are playing good repertoire so it should be a fun season of playing!

Later this week, I’ll be blogging about working within the Jazz and Classical world and expanding on how I am practicing for each genre!

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How to Succeed in the Arts Without Really Trying

How does one succeed in the arts world without really trying?

1. Have a trust fund that can support you until you die.
2. Pick another career path.

Frustrating huh? What I’m trying to say is that it is NOT easy to succeed in the Arts, but it IS possible.

Far too often, people come up to me and say:  “Man, you’re so lucky! You have so many gigs and  it seems like you’re working all the time! How do you do it?”

My response goes something like this: “Luck equals preparation meeting opportunity! I’m not lucky, I just work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to me.”

Then they leave me alone. (Job well done.)

Seriously though, luck has nothing to do with my success. And anyway, what is success?

You must define what success means to you.

Success is defined like this in the dictionary:
1.the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors
2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like
3. a successful performance or achievement
4. a person or thing that is successful

So what does success mean to you? How do you define success?

Do you want to play every night?
Do you want to travel?
Do you want to write/arrange?

Do you want to teach?
Do you want to simply play your instrument?
Do you want to work a day-job?
Do you NOT want to work a day-job?
Do you want to play in an orchestra?
Do you want to play in a big band?
Do you want to play the best music all the time no matter what the cost?

Are you willing to make sacrifices in your life to achieve these goals?

As soon as you can define what success means to you, you can begin achieving it.

Have a general idea of what your life will look like. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. It should be malleable, yet set firmly in reality. For example, I will not define success for me like this:

I want to be the best trombone player in the history and future of the entire world. I would also like an island, shaped like a trombone named after me.

Ain’t gonna happen. But my actual general idea of what I want my life to look like goes something like this:

I want to play great music.
I want to play great music with incredible musicians.
I want to play great music with incredible musicians and be able to pay bills and life comfortably.

If I can achieve 2 out the 3 above, I consider that a success.

So, set goals and work a little everyday to achieve them.

How do you do that?


“It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.”

-Who you know will get you in the door and what you know will keep you there!

Networking is now a 24/7 endeavor! Through Social Media, you have the potential to connect/interact with your fans and your potential fans at any time and they have access to YOU.

So, how does Social Media fit into all this?

A simple question with a simple yet very complicated answer:

Create and maintain an online presence

Social Media is a place to share your views and thoughts, not just for promotional use.

  • Engage with your audience/fans
  • Make sure you’re in a two-way conversation with people consistently
  • Leave comments, don’t just ‘Like’, interact
  • Drive web traffic to one place of your choosing based on your goals.

All the above is your new ‘day-job’.

But…”My music should speak for itself”. That’s just great and I’m happy for you and your music SHOULD represent you, but if no one is there to hear it, then the music is speaking only to itself and not potential paying fans.


–  Tell people WHEN and WHERE you are playing!
– Go out and meet fellow artists, get to know them
– Pass out business cards as you collect them. Email your new ‘acquaintances’, be polite
– Social Media doesn’t replace the ‘old’ marketing/networking, it enhances
– Shut up and LISTEN!
– Ask Questions
– Read blogs! Check these out:

Music Think Tank
One Working Musician
Indianapolis Social Media
Owl Studios Blog
The Jazz Artist Survival Guide
NPR: A Blog Supreme

In conclusion:

There is no fool-proof method to promotion. Don’t let the non-music activities interfere with the musical activities. Find a good balance, take chances. If something doesn’t work, stop doing it, but be patient. This is a slow developing business. Eventually, if you keep at it, with a consistent presence on-line, you will begin to see a nice Return On Investment (ROI) and you will meet or exceed your original goals!

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Filed under Marketing-Publicity-Getting the Word Out, Music Education, New Music/Ideas, Uncategorized

Children’s favorite classical

Symphony Orchestra

One thing that is important to the future of Western Art Music is getting the younger generation connected to the music.  Many orchestras and other organizations accomplish this with the typical instrument petting zoos and “kiddie concerts.”  An article from the Guardian in the UK discussed what are the most popular ‘classical’ works for children and you will notice that the pieces listed are 1. typical for ALL kiddie concerts 2. programmatic and 3. generally related to Disney.  RBD and I (mda) decided we would discuss this list and see if it really is good for an introduction to Western Art Music for children.  So let’s start this:

mda: Hello Rich, how are you this fine evening?

RBD: I’m doing rather well thank you very much. Looking forward to this blog.

mda: So you read the list.  Let me first start with an overall question of “what do you think of the list?”

RBD: Well, I couldn’t help but notice two things: 1. Every piece is connected to a character or story, and as you mentioned, generally via Disney. 2. I’m assuming that anything with an orchestra is considered ‘classical’ to today’s youth. I’m also curious    just how this survey was done. Did the kids get a list from which to choose? Overall, though, anytime a youngster is exposed to classical music, via cartoons, movies, commercials, that’s fine with me….er, well, as long as the kids understand to what they are listening!

An Instrument Petting Zoo!

mda: Yeah, unfortunately the article does not discuss how the list was created.  The programmatic aspect is something that strikes me quite a bit.  Obviously, it is easier to introduce a young child to a piece of music if there is a story to tell/describe/promote.  I am fine with that.  Much like you, any way to introduce a child to the wonderment of classical music is fine by me.  However, by doing this are we ultimately shrinking the amount of music to introduce to the children?  First thought…will this make children expect a story behind each piece?  What about Renaissance music (which I know you are not a fan), or Mozart, or Beethoven?

RBD: Good points. Let’s think about these pieces as ‘gateway’ pieces. As mentioned, these pieces have a story to tell, they depict something via music. Now, in classical ‘kiddie concerts’ why not do the same things with different pieces? Play something ‘sad’. Play something ‘happy’. Show the audience, the children, that music can do a lot more than tell a story! After demonstrating how music can portray different emotions, then the orchestra can ask the kids to make up a story/emotion about another piece that they play. …(and now the ‘idea wheel’ gets moving, but the ‘knowing how to implement it’ wheel is a tad rusty) Maybe even send to the classrooms a week or two ahead of time, a piece of music, or send the kids back to school with a different piece of music, and have THEM make up a story! What does that piece of music say to them? Turn it into a contest/game/fun!! All in the name of getting the youth involved!

mda: Good idea.  Do you think orchestras are doing this?  Obviously you have a little more knowledge with this than I as there isn’t much need for a classical saxophonist in an orchestra.  However, I still feel like it puts too much emphasis on the story in the live performance.  The kids are getting introduced to a non-programmatic work BUT they are listening to it as a recording

Sergei Prokofiev

and not a live performance.  Am I being too picky with this? Also…hang with me here my brain just left……would it be better to introduce the children to music before they witness a live performance?  i.e. they study Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet first to understand the music and then use the live performance to strengthen their thoughts and then throw in non-programmatic works to expand their brains?  Answer that and then let’s move on to another question.  If you had the ability to introduce young children to a piece of music…any piece…what would it be?

RBD: Introduce the music to the kids BEFORE they get to the concert? Well, I think that makes the most sense ON THE PLANET! For all of the ‘kiddie concerts’ I’ve done and all the ‘school gigs’ I’ve played, I keep thinking: ‘These kids are REALLY getting into this! They LOVE us!’ Then I think, ‘What if these kids had been exposed to some of this material a week or two ahead of time?’ Can you imagine playing a piece the kids have studied/heard before? They would LOVE it! Why do you think they love ‘pop’ music so much? Well, one reason is because they hear it all the time!!! Anytime you get kids listening to classical music and thinking about classical music, getting them invloved…something good has happened! Now to answer your question…What piece of music would I use to introduce classical music to kids? That’s a good question. I’m going to have to think about that for a few minutes…

(insert 5 minutes here)

…well, there are so many wonderful pieces out there. On one hand you want to present them with something beautiful, and I know we are trying to be idealistic here, but I’m going to try to be practical. Having a piece with a HUGE orchestra and choir are not cost effective. Having a smaller orchestra doesn’t expose the students to all the instruments. So, I’m going to go with…part of or the entire 1st movement of Shostakovitch 5th symphony! Hell to the Y-E-S!! What a great historical place Shostakovitch has in classical history, not to mention Russian history. There are hints of atonality in there, a march and the repression! The pain of creating music under those confines….WOW! So engaging, especially if they get to discuss it before they come to the concert hall. Now, ideally…? Mahler, anything, I’d say Mahler 2, or the fugue at the end of Beethoven 9th. How many lives can be changed with music that powerful? Hmmm….
So, what would you choose?

Ludwig von Beethoven

mda: Well I was going to say Bach B Minor Mass or Beethoven 9…how perfect is Beethoven 9.  You have a great story of the composer, the use of the choir, the ultimate story of Bernstein using it for the fall of the Berlin Wall.  But you bring up an interesting concept with being cost effective these days.  You know….maybe I would chose a Haydn symphony because they generally have a story of some sort hook to them.  How about the Surprise Symphony or the Farewell Symphony?  Now granted, it is pretty structured in the composition, but I think it could be a great introduction.  In perfect world?  I would have to chose Mahler or Bartok!  Bartok I think would be an interesting choice.  It is quite accessible, full of folk music and fun to listen to.  Thoughts?

One of our favorites! Bela Bartok

RBD: Bartok, yeah, I didn’t think about that, of course there are so many pieces from which to choose, anything can work and for a number of reasons. This has been fun my friend!

mda: Thanks for doing this with me.  And please NEVER wear sleeping/lounge pants with dogs on it when you go out in public.  I think I would stop talking to you if that happened.

RBD: Done and Done!

So, what piece of music to YOU think would be great to introduce to our youth? What piece of music would you have liked to have heard when you were young? Were you exposed to classical music as a child? If so, what pieces?

Thanks for reading and sharing


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