Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Well, it took me two years, but I did it!

I made a promise to some audience members in 2012 that I'd put the presentation I did at the Nebraska ClarinetFest online, and I finally got it done. I'll be at ClarinetFest 2014 in Baton Rouge this week, and I wanted to make sure I'd kept my promise before I saw anyone. There's nothing like a deadline to help motivate you!
The title of the lecture was "The Signature Sound of Daniel Bonade and his Students: Its Evolution and Attainment," which fit right in with my doctoral treatise research from 1998 and the Daniel Bonade and Robert Marcellus theme of ClarinetFest 2012. I gave this talk a few times at different universities after the conference, but, for the most part, there's very little change in this online presentation from what I presented in Nebraska. I corrected a few errors, but there isn't any new research included.
Narrating all the slides and getting the sound levels to an acceptable level has proven to be quite a lot of work, and I learned a lot by going through the process. I'm glad I did it, but next time, I think I'd rather film myself doing a lecture in front of real people. This movie shows you the keynote slides better, but it's missing the presence of an audience.
I improved the sound quality of the videos of Robert Marcellus in a 1982 masterclass as much as I could. I actually don't know who filmed this or how I ended up with a copy, but I think they took place at Baylor University. 
Please let me know if you have any trouble viewing this or have any questions, corrections, or more information. This is an exciting topic for me! 

If you are interested in hearing more of Daniel Bonade's great playing, I'd recommend Larry Guy's CD Compilation of excerpts featuring Bonade on the Boston Records Label. Any recording by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell should feature Robert Marcellus on principal clarinet, so there's a lot of great stuff out there. I always do a szell cleveland search on iTunes or Amazon when I'm looking for a recording of an orchestra piece I'm about to play that I don't know. There's also a lot of great vintage recordings of clarinetists at Clarinet Central. Finally, you can listen to your heart's content to a big audio collection of clarinet master classes conducted by Robert Marcellus from 1977-1990 which is offered online by Northwestern University. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Some thoughts for those considering a music major...

This month, as I am meeting some prospective music majors, emailing and talking with them and their parents, and having first lessons with them, as well as continuing to teach the students in my studio, I want to share a few thoughts. 

Teaching at WCU is not an easy job, but it’s a rewarding one. For me, this is because I have a great collection of students and colleagues to work with. At the risk of sounding sappy, it’s easy to care for the clarinet students here, because they are a lovable bunch: an interesting, talented, and fun collection of human beings - who are all completely different from each other! 

My teaching is based in a comprehensive school of clarinet playing that emphasizes beauty of sound and efficient use of the body to play the clarinet with flexibility and ease. The clarinet is a complicated instrument, and so I make sure my students have good instruments and other equipment, and I show them how to diagnose and choose equipment. My students go through a systematic series of exercises to develop finger technique and the ability to read music in all keys, and we address individual playing issues with targeted exercises and activities which can range from simple exercises, body exercises, listening assignments, and reading. We often play duets in lessons, and we are able to play a lot of different literature from a large sheet music collection which includes my own library, that of my predecessor Maxie Beaver, and three large bins of music that my first clarinet teacher Stan George gave to me from his own music and that of his teacher, John Stehn. Ultimately, the goal of lessons throughout an undergraduate’s years with me is to develop more and more proficiency and independence, so that that student becomes a competent and versatile clarinetist/musician, who makes his or her own musical and technical decisions based on both knowledge and experience.

As a college clarinet teacher, my job is to help each student become a well rounded clarinetist and musician, and I endeavor to create and maintain a good working relationship with students based on individual needs and personality. That’s a lot of responsibility, and ultimately, it’s shared by both me and my student. Of course, the student will have to practice daily, or at least practice regularly enough to make the necessary progress. 

With all the responsibilities of classes and other college activities that music majors have, this can often be challenging. I don’t think Western is unique in that respect - music majors are busy people! The question a lot of prospective students and parents have when they see the demanding schedule of a music major is “can they do it?” The answer, assuming that the student is accepted to the university and passes his/her music audition with us, is “yes!” provided they:
  1. Are open to change and willing to try new things.
  2. Do the work assigned (or at least most of it).
  3. Reach out to and bond with other students.
  4. Be willing to face challenges (we ALL have them) and work on them.
Most of this is true for any college student, but majors like music that begin specialized classes first semester of freshman year, are particularly demanding. Time management and personal responsibility can be issues for new college students, particularly those who are used to relying heavily on others or come from a high school situation where tardiness and/or missed assignments were tolerated. Everybody struggles with adjusting to life as a new college student, and talking with friends who have been through it before can be a great way of learning how to cope with college life. Students that have been at Western for a few years have some of the best advice for first year students. 

The other question I get from students (and their parents especially) is “will I have a job when I graduate?” Great question: depends on the major and what job you are expecting. With the exception of a couple of dry years when the recession hit, there have been music teaching jobs in the public schools out there for our graduates. Good grades and experience teaching students and/or working at band camps can help you land a better job, but for a first job, don’t expect to land your dream job. Some of our students come in hoping that they will be able to be the band director at the high school that they graduated from. Obviously, that rarely occurs, especially as a first job. That said, we have a lot of alums who have become successful music educators both inside and outside the state. 

If you are looking at our commercial and electronic music or music industry degrees, those degrees lead into careers after graduation. Since there’s a lot of diversity within these degrees, it’s hard to generalize as to what types of jobs people end up with, but a lot of our graduates are working for music companies and recording studios. Most students in these degree programs do an internship in the business during their senior year or over the summer, and these internships can really help a student get the experience they need and/or make connections to land a job in the field.

Those students who pursue a performance degree at Western (or anywhere else) should plan on earning both a masters and a doctorate in order to succeed as professional players and/or college teachers. And... choose your teachers and graduate programs well, because you need fine teachers who are also mentors to help you learn what you need and help you make connections. There are some places in the country where those with undergrad performance degrees can make an ok living teaching private lessons to band students, and I actually did this for a while when I lived in Austin. I only recommend the performance major to those who love, love, love the clarinet and music-making, have an excellent aptitude for it, are highly motivated to practice long hours, and can’t see themselves doing anything else in their lives. This is the route I took, and it has led to a really interesting vocation and life!  

Although I love classical music and continue to champion it, I doubt that we’ll have very many orchestras or even as many positions for full time college clarinet professors in the future. I believe there will always be room for performers and creators of music, including those who do their undergraduate work on a traditional instrument like clarinet, but it’s important to think beyond the initial undergraduate training and expand one’s skills and exposure beyond the traditional realm of classical music. If I was just starting my musical education now, I would definitely make room in my education for courses in music technology, sound production, and composition, as well as improvisation and jazz. Others should find their own way based on their interests and aptitude, but whatever you do, make sure you have a lot of skills! Whether you learn recording technology, how to teach music theory, or virtuoso harmonica, diversifying your skill set can only help you in the music business and academia.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beginning Again: Bach to the Clarinet

After a week of not practicing at all due to a bad virus, I'm back in the saddle again. Although I've got to perform a solo movement next Friday with the wind ensemble, I've decided to ease into my practicing as my ears, throat, and chest heal. Tonight I started into my usual routine with some scale studies for about twenty minutes. It actually felt healthy and joyous to play this stuff again, which surprised me. I sounded so bad doing duets with my students today and yesterday, I wasn't sure I would be able to play tonight. Actually, I have no idea how I sounded, since my ears are still pretty blocked.

Then, I went to the music that interests me the most: that of J.S. Bach. Don't ask me why someone who loves Bach's music ended up playing an instrument that he ignored. I suspect Bach made a smart choice not composing for the infant clarinet: it probably wasn't very pleasant to listen to, and it certainly wasn't versatile.

I love to read through the solo violin pieces and the cello suites. I usually reserve the cello suites for bass clarinet. In both cases, I read from the urtext parts and don't bother transposing. Of course, with the bass clarinet stuff, you must read bass clef, but that's part of the fun. I avoid the movements with many double stops, but I'm left with plenty of challenging and beautiful music to explore. Playing these pieces helps me to balance myself. The music keeps me challenged as I play through the phrases, and it begs to be played with the utmost delicacy and beauty. I always leave a practice session of Bach's music with a smile on my face, no matter where I am in the learning process.

When I come back to the clarinet after a break, I try to structure my practice routine so that it helps build up confidence and also helps to spark the passion that brought me to music in the first place. Not only does this mean staying away from heavy reeds and the altissimo music, but it also means giving myself a fresh new start.

Monday, January 21, 2013

This Time of the Year - Part 3

Seriously, I can't believe this is my third year in a row of having to deal with a crack problem in my clarinet. This time, there were TWO cracks to deal with!

Here's a photo of what I found at 10pm the night before I was to travel to Greensboro and Winston-Salem to play our British music recitals. What got me looking at my clarinet was that two "normal" reeds that I tried on my clarinet were registering 15-20 cents flat on the tuner. That seemed odd, so I checked to see if the crack we had superglued last month had opened up again. The superglued area was fine, but the crack had lengthened into the second tone hole, and a new crack had developed at the bottom of that same tone hole.

I'm lucky that Eldred Spell is a night owl and that my husband just happened to have a fairly new bottle of ultra thin superglue at home. This kind of superglue often dries up in the bottle before you need it a second time. Eldred did a lovely job of sealing the cracks and polishing the bore so that the superglue mostly disappeared from view, and I was able to start playing through my recital program by midnight.

Since it was raining like crazy that week, and the humidity in my house was decent, I am sure that this occurred because of the lack of humidity where I work: WCU's Coulter Building. I may have to start using my second best clarinet during students' lessons, if I want to save my clarinet from completely breaking apart!

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Tribe

This August, I had an amazing experience at ClarinetFest 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Because the focus of the conference was on Daniel Bonade and his student Robert Marcellus, this was the largest collection of people I had ever been with who were Marcellus students. There was also at least one student of Bonade, and many followers like me of the teachings of these two clarinet superstars. I met so many wonderful people who shared my love for the sound concepts of these artists the "Philadelphia School" or "American School" aesthetics. I truly felt like I had found my tribe!

The encouragement and enthusiasm from the audience at my presentation on Bonade and his students' sounds was a really special moment for me. It made me realize that clarinetists are really hungry to know more about our predecessors and what they can teach us, and that my research is something that is important to pursue more and share with others. Prompted by someone who urged me to put my presentation up on the internet, I promised the audience that I would try to do that. Afterwards, I realized that I should bring the presentation to other universities to share with the clarinet studios first, before I made it completely available on the internet. However, when I have the time (probably not until summer break), I plan to put portions of it up on the internet. Besides my own studio, I've presented it to the clarinetists at the University of Texas in Austin in October; and next week, I'll be presenting to the clarinet studio at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. I'm hoping to show it at more colleges this year when I can work this into my schedule. 

The Bonade reeds pictured above are from the stash of my first clarinet teacher, Stan George. He pulled them out for me to try out and photograph this summer. They look kind of duck-billed to me in shape. Can't say they are my favorites to play (pretty soft), but they worked pretty well on Stan's mouthpiece.