Intuitive Improvisation And Some News…

American Music Teacher Magazine CoverI am delighted to announce that my latest article on intuitive improvisation has been published in the December/January issue of American Music Teacher, along with a number of other great articles on improvisation. I chose to focus on games and exercises for teachers who may not have ever improvised themselves. I give practical approaches that will enable them to not only encourage their students to improvise, but to also enjoy the process alongside them. I based it on successful experiments with many of my own students over the years. It was a fun article to write.

I apologize for not having blogged in a while — I am in charge of a pilot program in Kodály musicianship for Kindergarden through second grade students, and conducting two middle-school choirs — teaching three hundred children per week. It has been extremely absorbing and energy-consuming. The program is going well, and we hope, with the help of the Ojai Music Festival Education Committee, to expand the Kodály program to all schools in the local district.

Young children are wonderfully responsive and enthusiastic. It has been amazing to see how rapidly they are progressing. I am excited at the prospect of so many young children receiving a solid foundation in musicianship and enjoying music making so much. My intention in the coming semester is to regain more balance in my life, so that I can once again have time to blog, make music, write articles, and actually have a social life as well!


Miraculous Music-Making

OK, I guess I blew it. I was in London during the Proms a couple of weeks ago and I missed Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra from Venezuela. There has been such a buzz around this orchestra and “El Sistema”, the miraculous music organization that has literally saved so many poverty-stricken children from a life of drugs and crime by offering them the chance to learn a musical instrument. They then become part of an amazing national network of after-school instruction which is producing thousands of wonderful musicians. Dudamel himself, who at 26 has just been appointed principal conductor of the LA Phil, is a product of El Sistema, and by all accounts an incredibly talented and inspiring musician.

Here’s Dudamel being interviewed by the BBC during the interval of the Prom

And here’s a clip from the performance in question.

Astounding musicianship, relaxed confidence, utter joy and playfulness. How did a performance this miraculous take place? I’m honestly not sure. What fascinated me about the interview is Dudamel’s emphasis on the importance of humility, and also the sense in which he feels himself to be very much part of the orchestra, rather than a ‘maestro’. But there’s so much more going on …

Food for thought as I work with the choir I’ve just taken on.


Ten happenings

Ten happenings:

I’m on vacation in England with Robert.

I’ve remembered just how much I love being here.

I met up with a friend I haven’t seen in 17 years, although we’ve been friends for 37 years! Since we last met, she got married and had two girls who are now 11 and 13. We still get along like a house on fire.

I saw close friends I haven’t seen since I moved to the States five years ago.We still click.

It’s been raining for the last nine days and neither of us minds.

We’ve seen fabulous art and centuries-old palaces. I appreciate them more than ever, having been living in California.

I haven’t been keeping up with blogs (mine or others), because so much has been happening in real life. I remembered how cool real life is.

I’ve reconnected with a part of myself I’d lost touch with. A part I really like.

I’m appreciating each part of each day.

I’m now Choral Director of Matilija Junior High School, starting next Monday. As well as teaching Kodaly, starting on Tuesday. It’s going to be a busy week.

P.S. For travelog and photos, click here.


A Key to Great Musicianship

I’ll be taking on a new enterprise this fall besides my coaching clients– teaching the Kodály Method to 5-8 year olds in a local school. I’m being employed to train teachers alongside kids in the method, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Two of my best years of musicianship training took place in London starting about twelve years ago. I’ve always been able to do aural exercises extremely easily, as I have perfect pitch, but had never found a great way to assist others in learning dictation, sight-singing, being able to hear music inwardly, etc. Now, with the help of the great teachers David Vinden and his wife Yuko (who both trained in Hungary, the birthplace of the Kodály Method), I learned all of this and more, using the Kodály technique. And the best part about this training was that I could feel my own aural abilities being stretched to the full– being asked to play a single line of a Bach melody as a three part-canon on the piano, attempting to tap an ostinato whilst sight-singing using the alto clef and sol-fa syllables (do, re, mi, etc.)…. and having tremendous fun in the process, thanks to my wonderful teachers.

Of course, I’ll be starting much more simply with my Kindergarteners. The idea is to start with two notes only (soh and mi) and introduce new notes and concepts gradually. I’m hoping I have as much fun with the kids as I did in my own studies. And I’m hoping to give them the very best start as musicians. Of course, five years old is the best time to start, but it’s never too late. If you’d like to know more, one great place to start is http://www.oake.org/ .


One Small Step


I’m reading a wonderful book at the moment, which is really giving me pause for thought. “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” by Dr. Robert Maurer puts forward the idea, based on the ancient Japanese principle of kaizen, that we can achieve much more by taking tiny incremental steps than by waking up one morning and deciding to make huge changes. Maurer explains that when we decide to make a huge change in our life we often become afraid, which can trigger the “fight or flight” response in the amygdala, and then this slows down or even stops rational or creative thinking.
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Plunging in with enthusiasm

Placido Domingo has invited Woody Allen to direct his first opera in ’08– Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” for Los Angeles Opera. Yesterday, Allen was quoted on NPR as saying:

” I have no idea what I’m doing, but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.”

N.B. Don’t try this in your next audition/interview.


Three ways to lessen suffering the pain of auditions

The other day I saw a marvelous television program in which Bill Moyers interviewed Pema Chödrön, an elderly American lady, now Buddhist nun, who has become famous for her wisdom mixed with common sense.

One of the subjects she dealt with that struck me with great force was the difference between pain and suffering. The interpretation she chose to differentiate between those words was powerful. She described pain as being for example, an unwelcome event, an injury, a disappointment, and so on. And suffering is what we then do inside ourselves in response to that event.
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The courage to grow

I’ve been finding Michelle Bennett’s recent posts on her blog very thought-provoking. She’s been extremely courageous in revealing her inner challenges as a student and a professional singer, and how these have led her to psychotherapy and inner work alongside her musical life. So often musicians, like any professionals, are extremely hesitant to reveal anything less than perfection. Yet, the reality is that we are all dealing with inner challenges every day. And, as Michelle says:

“There is no doubt that the process of facing one?s self is hugely difficult, especially if, like many artists, you have been hurt badly or are very sensitive. I would wager that most people will never do it because of the enormous effort required and pain of the task. It is an odyssey.”

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Hike in the Sespe

Having had some health challenges lately, I haven’t been able to hike much, but recently managed a short walk in the Sespe with Robert and Barry. As usual, I was taken aback by the subtle and fresh beauty of the chaparral, so different from the countryside in my native England. Its grey-greens and golds, the brush, multi-layered rocks, pines (often blackened by fire), lizards and brightly colored birds are exotic to me. Yet again, I was struck by how essential it is to me to be out in nature. How absurd it is of me to think that I am in any way separate.
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