This week I turned 30 and decided it was time to reflect a bit on the past ten years of my musical life. I've grown immensely as a musician, educator, and composer. Here are some of my thoughts:
Hard Work Does Pay Off
Ten years ago, I was a sophomore in college at the forefront of spending many hours in a practice room...and in the music library (listening)...and working band camps...and studying like crazy...basically soaking up everything like a sponge. When I first stepped into the classroom, my hard work had paid off. I was able to quickly get my feet on the ground and have a successful band program. That being said, I did have to work insanely hard my first few years of becoming a teacher and professional. Now I've got a great band with a lot of students that achieve regularly. We get consistent superiors at festivals and I feel like all the years of working my butt off has definitely been worth it. Hard work and diligence really do pay off!
Listening is Paramount
As a band director, musician, composer, clinician, etc, my ear guides me. I was encouraged several years ago to listen to a lot of everything. One of my mentors, Jay Bocook, made sure that I was listening to a wide variety of music. The lesson was in context of me improving my arranging skills, but listening practically non-discriminately has totally shaped me as a musician. When I compose, my ear guides me (I can hear reverberations of Tchaikovsky and Bach, Stan Kenton and the Beatles). When I arrange, I have a lot of techniques and tricks to engage the listener. As an educator, I really know what a good band sounds like and shape my kids to sound the same. It's also important to listen to a variety of skill levels as well. Because of frequenting festivals (not just Midwest), I can hear intonation and timing issues, and can usually come up with a way to fix them!
And sometimes I just need to sit down and turn the lights off, put on some Beethoven, and just listen in sheer awe of the magnificence and beauty.
Write Down Your Ideas
Always write down your ideas. Or take a voice memo. Or email yourself. Or put it in your calendar for a later date. With the recent technology boom of iPhones and the Cloud and really online everything, there's no excuse. There's also nothing as frustrating as forgetting that awesome idea. For example, I had a reminder to write "10 Things I Learned in My Twenties," which resulted in this blog post. So write it down. Or send it up into the cloud. Whatever works.
Understand One's (My) Place
My few years out of college, I remember a stark contrast between the immersion of music school and the rest of the world. I've redirected a lot of who I am as a musician and educator over the past ten years, significantly increasing my advocacy efforts. I see so many of my friends and fellow musicians struggling because it seems that the average person doesn't prescribe a lot of value to classical oriented music. (Here's a whole post I wrote about this) I've certainly found my place as a musician and a lot of it is bringing the masses back to the concert hall. I do my best to create engaging concerts for my students and parents that will hopefully evoke a curiosity that will lead them to buy a ticket to the symphony, or a musical theatre, or even just a little chamber concert.
Being passionate will count for a lot. Friends will want to take part, students will buy in, and colleagues will respect you. For others to know and see your passion(s) is huge. My students know that I love music. They see it every time I pick up my trombone or really get into conducting a piece. They then have an understanding of what makes me tick and it truly helps me to bring out their greatness and to help them find their passions.
Professional Development is a Must
In my college years into my first few years of teaching, I read a lot of books. Specifically I read a lot of books that helped me grow as a leader and a teacher. A lot of the books written for business professionals apply well to teaching (band directing is very similar to running a business). A few of my favorites: Ron Clark's books were great for inspiration; How to Win Friends and Influence People taught me to effectively communicate with people; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is great info and helps to get organized and effective; and every GIA Publications book I could get my hands on.
Being a working professional doesn't mean you need to re-invent the wheel. I know so many "bullish" band directors who are avid about trying (and often failing) their way no matter what. My advice would be to look at the wealth of knowledge out there and learn from other people's mistakes. There's definitely something to making your own mistakes to learn and grow, but somebody has already walk the same path, so you might as well learn from them.
All that being said, I've learned to soak up everything. The best people in any field NEVER stop learning.
Enjoy What You Do
Some of the best advice I ever received was to stop being so serious. I came into this profession like a barreling train, totally bent on success. When I had that attitude, my frustrating days were quite rough. When I started to take a step back and really enjoy what I do, everything (and I do mean everything) got a lot better. I became more effective as an educator and my students were better as well. My style is not to be crazy serious all the time, but to be serious when necessary.
My twenties were good and I learned a lot about what it means to be a musician, composer, and educator. See you in 10 years for "Things I Learned in My Thirties."
Why is Classical Music Dying?
When I was young, I can remember actually expressing distaste, even mockery, of this the classical genre. It was almost even taboo to like anything that wasn't driven by lyrics, guitars, and a drum set. So why the divide? Why don't average (non-musicians) listeners consistently fill their Spotify Stations or iPods with Beethoven, Bach, or Wagner? And why do many only pull out Mozart to study?
Here's what seems to have happened:
Back in music history class in college, we listened to lots and lots of musical examples as we wound our way through the years. I can remember listening to examples of 20th century piano music and all my non-music friends literally thought a child was banging on a piano. Now, in no way do I mean to devalue the composers by comparing great works of art to a child banging on a piano, but to the untrained listener, it doesn't make sense. Over time, as musicians performed these works in concert halls, I'm sure the general public was very confused and, honestly, just stopped going to concerts. Personally, even being a consummate student of music, I find it difficult to sit through a concert of atonal music. Now, as concert halls were being filled with these sometimes harsh and unpredictable sounds, pop culture music was on the rise.
The Rise of "Pop Culture" Music (Pop Culture Music referring to the most popular music of the time period)
Just as classical music reached its height of chromaticism (and other experimental things, see John Cage), we start to see pop culture music on the rise. For example, it's doubtful that many people know who John Cage was, but I bet most people knew Glenn Miller. Jazz being the pop music of the 1930s and 1940s.. and then Jazz morphed in the the popular forms of the Blues.. and then the Blues morphed into Rock and Roll.. and then combinations of various forms blended to where we have the Pop music of each decade like 80s Music, or 90s Music.. (please realize I know that that was a VERY abridged version of the progression of music)
Which brings me to today in 2015, where we've mashed Classical Music into a category next to say, Alternative. Or better yet, Dance! The sad part is that by doing that, we've put Philip Glass in the same category as Gustav Mahler. The two composers have about as much in common as Eminem and Taylor Swift. And now I'm brought to the absolute purpose to this post, and what I feel is my increasing charge as a composer and educator: bring people back to the concert hall.
Strategies for Bringing Classical Music Back
1) Music Teachers - Music teachers are training new musicians all the time. I encourage my students to go to performances and to see and hear professional musicians. As band, choir, and orchestra students get into music, they'll naturally migrate to performances simply because they have an understanding of what classical music is from their own training.
2) Musicians - I am so encouraged by seeing classical musicians "breaking the mold," not because classically oriented music should be inherently changed, but musicians creatively reaching new audiences. Here's a couple of examples:
These two examples are quite different, but would certainly evoke a curiosity in anybody who decided to click play. The first video has almost 9 million views, surely some of those views are from non-musicians who maybe now have somewhat of an appreciation for Beethoven.
3) Basic Understanding of Music - Here's what would be fantastic--if everyone (or most people) had a basic understanding of music. What if everybody knew how to construct a major scale? What if everybody knew the difference between a trumpet and a trombone (it's frustrating how many people don't..)? What if everybody could tell the difference between a violin and viola just by looking at it? Or based on how the orchestra was seated?
These questions take me back to my childhood. Once I had a basic understanding of the mechanics of music, classical music was no longer beyond my reach... and now it's what I do for a profession. My hope is that myself and the rest of us who've dedicated much of our lives to music (specifically classically oriented music) can bring audiences back into concert halls and venues. I hope that more people will give Beethoven or Bach or Mendelssohn or Schubert a chance! In this generation of mindless Tweeting and Facebook posts, I hope that we can get back to sitting for an hour or two and listen to some timeless works of art.
Longest post yet. By far the most important.
I'd like to start this post with a wonderful performance of "Libertango" for woodwind quintet by Astor Piazzolla....
Here's what I love about woodwind instrument:
1) Unique sounds and timbres (brass and strings tend to be much more homogenous--still love brass and strings, but boy do I love the tone colors of woodwinds)
2) Very expressive--the highs and lows (in pitch AND range) are flexible and fantastic
3) As a composer, I like the playable range of most woodwinds, and how you can use the different registers to your advantage
4) Really fast scales/arpeggios... this is kind of silly, but what a great effect to use--whether it be scales in all directions creating a really cool harmonic texture, or loud chromatic rips to create intensity, woodwinds are great
Now, in my world of exploring plug-ins for Logic Pro, I've noticed that it's difficult to find great woodwind plug-ins. The musician in me is thankful that this will hopefully keep woodwind players gainfully employed, but the composer and listener is worried because many composers have stopped writing for woodwinds. Now, please keep in mind I haven't carefully researched this notion, I'm just making an observation. As more and more composers look to DAWs to create their mock-ups (especially in the commercial/film world), we've seen much more brass and string heavy (the plug-ins sound WAY better) compositions. If you don't believe me, just listen to the two clips below:
Just listen to the difference in use of woodwinds... actually, in the Iron Man example, they're not even there (or at least you can't hear them). Now, this isn't a criticism at all. I love Brian Tyler's music. I'm just noticing a change in how things are written these days. I could have picked a lot of other film composers from the 80's like Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, etc. I could pick practically any popular film composer today. Whatever the reason for using woodwinds less, I think it is unfortunate and hope that as plug-ins get better, we see a return to lots of colorful writing for woodwinds!!
Now, you might wonder why I spend so much time talking about film music. Aside from the fact that I love it, it's important to note that film/commercial/video game music is what the OVERWHELMING majority of people listen to. People will hear film music long before they will listen to Beethoven or Mozart (or any classically oriented composer today). I'll elaborate on why I think "classical" film music is paramount to keeping the genre alive in another post.
I always enjoy talking and writing about great film music. Having grown up on the Spielberg/Williams collaborations, I certainly like when the score plays a central role in a film. (Side note: Spielberg always kept John Williams close when developing and creating movies, which I believe is why Williams creates such thematic and compelling scores)
I recently went and saw Jurassic World. It lived up to expectations, especially from the music end. I was very appreciative of how Michael Giacchino worked in the original themes, as well as created some new ones...it was very tastefully done. I really really liked when the piano quietly played the original theme while the kids were discovering the old visitor center--a very poignant moment. My second favorite part of the score was when the creepiness of the raptors was accompanied by a trombone (with straight mute I think) playing a dissonant melody...if you can call it a melody.
I recently heard a Giacchino interview on NPR that was enlightening as to how he developed his style of composition. He apparently used to take a cassette tape recorder into Spielberg movies and record the audio then listen to it over and over. I can certainly relate to this in the sheer amount that I listened the Lord of the Rings soundtrack a LOT when I was younger. It's safe to say that Howard Shore definitely influenced my composition. This incessant listening also explains why I always felt a familiarity in Giacchino's scores (especially in Super 8...great movie btw).
I'm also appreciative of the fact that Giacchino makes use of the woodwind section. These days that seems to be left out of many "summer blockbuster" scores...which sucks, because woodwind add such a rich color and are so flexible for melodic content (here's a reason why composers might be using them less).
I'm excited to see what else the summer holds for my symphonic and cinematic loving ears..
Today I'm discussing my frustrations with the fact that Apple computers no longer come with a program that natively and easily plays MIDI files. I remember when I first found out that Quicktime no longer plays MIDI files. This was a dark day for me as a composer/arranger.
Now, for those of us who don't know exactly what MIDI files are: Music Instrument Digital Interface. Surely that explains it...right? Basically, without getting too technical, it is digital language that can be created by electronic instruments (or software) and translated to a computer so you can hear the music/pitches/etc. The absolute best thing about MIDI files is that they are SMALL...TINY, compared to mp3's and other larger music files. Now, they transmit a different type of data than an mp3/wav/aiff does. This is why Quicktime no longer plays them... it no longer translates the data for immediate playback. You now have to use another program to open the MIDI file.
So... attention MAC users: you can open these with Garageband, the built in DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It may tell you at first that there's no program to open MIDI files, but all you have to do is right click (or control click) and select Garageband.
The thing I dislike about this, however, is that the instruments in Garageband are severely limited compared to what you might have in Finale or Sibelius. Garageband is largely set up for a more commercial sound, rather than a symphonic sound. And because MIDI files are small, they don't translate as much info as an XML file...because of this, there are something things lost in translation and the music ends up sounding quite wonky.
As I've read on many forums and blogs, Apple is known for killing technologies. The Macbook Pro I'm typing on has no cd drive...and Quicktime doesn't play MIDI files. Click here if you're interested to see what else has been killed over the years.
Now, in light of being an educator and not simply complaining about the fact that we Mac users can't simply click on the midi files and play them.. here's your options for playing midi files.
1) Garageband - as we already discussed.
2) Download a third party player. Google "MIDI Player" there's a bunch.
3) Find a copy of Quicktime 7 (the last version that played MIDIs)
The fact is you can still play the MIDI files, you may just have to do a little more than double click and expect it to work.
The musings of a composer that also band directs!! ... or maybe it's the other way around..