Tag Archives: 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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Filed under Music Education, New Music/Ideas, World Information

Struggling Arts Hits Home

"Did we blow something up?"

mda: As we all know, these economic times have been quite hard for the arts as orchestras declare bankruptcy, funding dries up and schools end arts education which is killing the future supporters.  Yes, this may become somewhat of a doom-and-gloom post, but we feel it is still important to discuss.  It may not be a new discussion out there, but RBD and I now have first-hand knowledge of how it is as we both find ourselves without employment at this time.  Now I know I can say this for both of us: we are not bitter about losing our positions.  It happens and we must move on and we will grow from it.  Plus, I know both of us are quite intelligent and we will find bigger and better opportunities very soon.  So let’s start a discussion here, why don’t I let RBD start it off.

RBD:Yes, there are lots of people out there that have lost their jobs and we join a rather large segment of the population who are looking for jobs. However, being in the arts, the jobs we are looking for you won’t find in the

Connections are important. Don't burn bridges...

paper, or job boards on the internet. Being in the arts gives us unique connections where we can begin looking for new employment. As this discussion takes shape, our journeys will differ as I have a foot in the ‘industry’ side of the arts and another foot in the ‘performance’ side. As we document our different (and yet similar) paths, we hope that other people can learn from our failures and our successes. (emphasis on SUCCESSES!) So, mda, what have you been doing to find new employment?

Mind your CV

mda:Well I must say the most important thing that has been beneficial is the connections I have made in the Indy arts scene over the past 6 years or so.  The most beneficial aspect has been talking with those connections and keeping my ear to the ground for any positions that may arise.  As RBD mentioned, my journey is a little

Have we mentioned that Connections are important? They are!!

different as I find myself more on the ‘industry’ side as my performing career is not as extensive as my compatriot.  So the most important thing I have found as my search continues is to create a well-written cover letter, know your material and be able to speak properly and knowledgeable.  Now that might sound like easy things to do or ‘no-brainers,’ but I do believe people don’t really pay attention to the details.  Details is what can separate you from the competition.  It’s true…deal with it the right way!  How about you, RBD?  What do you think about the connections you have made and how has that helped with the performance side?

RBD: Compatriot? Well, okay, I’ll accept that. Yes, mda, details and words matter and they are important. Don’t forget that. To answer your question about connections, I would have to say that, YES, connections are very, very important. When we were ‘let go’ from our illustrious record label positions, I immediately had a beer, then played a gig later that night. Soon there-after, I created a list of people I have played/worked for in the past and people I have gotten to know through the job I had just lost. My list ended up being around 45 people long. I called and/or emailed almost all of them in the first week and have heard some very positive responses. The one things I haven’t done yet is to create a couple versions of my resume and create a CV (kind of a long-form resume). I have a nice resume now for performance, but not the business/industry side of things. I think now is the perfect time to (for me at least) to set a goal, maybe even an outlandish goal, but really set up a clear and functional direction I want to take for the future. This is what I believe right now: I don’t want to take any job, just to take a job. I also don’t believe there is a ‘perfect job’, ‘out there’, ‘waiting for me’, like some golden goat waiting to be milked. This is the perfect opportunity to reset and figure out what will ultimately make me happy in the long run. Am I being too selfish? Is this even possible? What do you think mda?

mda: I think you are on to something there, my friend.  We are both “at that age” where it is nice to think of stability (whatever that really means) and not just settling on a ‘job’ certainly doesn’t allow for that stability.  It really is about happiness at the same time.  However, unfortunately it is also about paying the bills and paying for the outlandish gas prices right now.  There is that fine line one must walk to make sure they do not find themselves in trouble.  However, that being said, I do not believe either of us will fall in that.  The thing about resume/CV that I have found interesting throughout this process has been things I have done in the past that I either forgot about or did not look at it as ‘worthy to mention’ until my friends and colleagues looked at my material and showed me my mistakes.  So Rule Number ‘Whatever Number We Are On Right Now’: show your material to as many people as you can before you submit.  They almost always will see something differently than you and it will ultimately help you out.

RBD: Yeah, never underestimate the power and knowledge of your friends in and out of your professional area. It’s easy to get dark at a time like this and no potential employer wants to hire a dark/depressed person. We both have to be upbeat and positive and know that we are a valuable asset to any future place of employment. What do you see, mda, as a rule about what to put on a resume and how to word it? Let’s take for an example your occasional co-guest-hosting of my radio show ‘Have You Heard’? How do you make that sound as best as it can be?

mda:  Well, I talk to the actual host and see how he would like me to word everything.  But I remember when we were discussing this, it became more of a conversation and we mutually came up with the correct wording of how to describe the show.  One thing that came up that we didn’t remember beforehand was the fact that there are interviews with national and international musicians on the show.  This was and important fact that obviously may present the show in a different light than saying it is just a local radio show.  You know what I mean?  I remember while I was working on my resume/CV, another friend felt it might be better to display a certain committee work I have had in the past as a separate area than placing it in my ‘Additional Experience’ section.  I didn’t even think of that, but it certainly makes sense.  Again, it’s the finer details…

Aldi is Awesome!

RBD: Yes, it’s the finer details that matter. Details matter. Words matter. The correct definition of words matter and the correct speling of words matter too. My advice to myself, you and anybody out there looking for a job is this: Create a community of people in your field, don’t be ashamed to tell them of your predicament, have them review your resume/CV and never give up. Also, start shopping at Aldi‘s, get another roommate and find out when and where the beer/drink specials are. You can thank me later.

mda: Hey, buddy….check your spelling.

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Filed under Art, Marketing-Publicity-Getting the Word Out

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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Filed under Music Education

New maestros are younger.

Indianapolis Symphony OrchestraA few days ago, Oct 27th to be exact, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Barbara Jepson concerning the sudden move by many orchestras around the wold to younger, thirty-something conductors.  And these are large, world-class organizations like the Los Angeles Phil, NY Phil, Swedish Radio, La Verdi in Milan, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the London Philharmonic, to name a few.  I think this article presents what many consider a sudden shift to a younger generation of Orchestra members…hopefully this will also translate into a younger generation of symphony concert-goers as many of the above-mentioned organizations are hoping.  And thus stated in the article “relative youthfulness is an especially appealing quality at a time when symphony orchestras are desperately seeking ways to replenish their aging audiences.”

A couple notes of interest for me from the article:

– It seems the article is hinting that musical institutions overseas are more apt to hire a younger conductor/music director than institutions in the US.  Why?

I think one of the reasons may be the overall popularity of current classical music compared to that of the US.  As stated in the article: “Music by living composers is more typically a vital part of their repertoire.”  Dudamel, with the Los Angeles Symphony, is premiering nine new works this season alone.  The first was ‘City Noir’ by John Adams on Dudamel’s inaugural concert.  By the way, this was an awesome piece of music!  (Major props to saxophonist Timothy McAllister on playing a crazy-difficult saxophone part).
– Jesse Rosen, president of the League of American Orchestras, was interviewed for the article and stated “Orchestras today are defining their artistic roles more broadly than simply delivering concerts and rehearsals at a high level.”

This is great news!  More conductors are becoming more proactive with the educational arm of their institutions.  These young conductors “are more approachable and visible in the communities.” (from the article) What could be a better way to connect to the community than being present within the community when it is not expected? The article even notes Mr. Gilbert, 42 y.o. conductor of the NY Phil, greeted ticket buyers before the concert and addressed audiences from the stage.  PERFECT!

All of this is important to Indianapolis as it begins a search for their new conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  Would it not behoove the ISO higher-ups to take the WSJ article to heart and hire a younger conductor?  I feel it would be a breath of new life into the orchestra…you know, create a buzz to an organization that needs the buzz in these trying economic times.  The way this city is set up, I feel a younger conductor instituting new education initiatives, connecting with a larger fan-base around the city and its suburbs, and being the “face” of Indy Arts would become a major superstar and the ISO would see a rise in support for the organization.  Look at the frenzied craze that has started with Dudamel in Los Angeles.  It can happen in Indy too.  We just need the right person leading the orchestra for years to come.

What are your thoughts?


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Filed under New Music/Ideas