Modern Music

At one point in my early musical life, I became a fan of modern classical music.  So much so that I remember not listening to anything that wasn’t written before 1952. I thought I knew something none of my high school friends were hip enough to know about.  It was my little secret.  When ever I gave the name of a composer to one of my teachers, they would in turn give me the name of another composer I should listen to.  I played this game for years with my library.  Some how I worked my way backwards to early music using this process.

Lately, when ever I play modern music I joke around with my colleagues that some modern music is essentially sound set to math.  Recently I played a concert with an orchestra which is devoted to performing modern music.  During one of the rehearsals I came the realization that math is beautiful….the figures and equations surrounding this music are beautiful.  In the same way that architecture is beautiful.  Working from pure concept, then putting it on paper, to finally producing a product for the public.

I suspect composers marvel in the space where math and music become art.

My Kid And Me

Parenting seemed like fun when I wasn’t a father. I have a 4 year old girl, and she is what we call “a spirited child”. Since I am a middle school teacher I knew I didn’t have any real answers to the question of parenting. I was also armed with the knowledge that I didn’t know jack-squat nor could control anything regarding her personality…I just figured we’d all be learning together.
So far as I can tell, my daughter has taught me that I have a temper and I am a slave to routines. I knew the thing about my temperament before having her in my life, however it’s magnified since she started preschool where I teach. I tell myself all the time “I don’t care what other people think”, but it turns out I do. When she has a tantrum in public, I care. When she has a day at school where her behavior disrupts the learning of other children, that matters to me as well.
Admittedly she’s better now at school and in public, but I think I catch the “we need to go” signals sooner. I also recognize that there has been a lot of growth in the past year…but I still have an itchy trigger finger on the “we need to go” button. These are just a few of the many things I’ve learned about myself as a father. I should go now, my favorite My Little Pony episode is on and we laugh a lot together during this show.

Miles Davis on my mind

While having a conversation with a students I said “I’m not the biggest Maynard Ferguson fan in the world, but I really like his recording of I Can’t Get Started With You.” The student gave the impression that there are not enough Maynard fans around here, and that we worship Miles Davis. I looked at him and smiled and said “Yeah, Miles…can’t say enough about him”. The students then went on to say that he thought Miles Davis was cool but “he was so bad at the trumpet”. I smiled again and went on to tell the student that there is a misconception about Miles Davis the trumpeter that is simply not true. Miles Davis is not a bad trumpeter.
In my opinion one of the greatest things about Miles Davis is his sound. As a young student I heard his recordings and thought to myself, I can sound like that. I did my best to mimic his playing on the Kind Of Blue recordings with a fair amount of success. After those tunes I didn’t try to play any more of his transcriptions, I thought I could move on to more technical solos…and I did. A few years later a trumpeter I was studying with assigned some Miles Davis transcriptions. I didn’t think anything of it; so l listened to the recording and started playing along and figured out that I couldn’t keep up with Miles. I found a written out transcription of the solo and started working on it.
The next week I went to my lesson a told my teacher of the trouble I had with playing these transcriptions. He basically said, “yeah…Miles Davis was a bad ass trumpeter and people don’t give him enough credit.” He could play in every register, and at any dynamic with the same clear tone. He was such a giant in the development of jazz that we overlook the way he played his instrument. I think this is a misconception we need to correct.

I am currently listening to this album while I write.

Miles Ahead

Schlossberg Routine

This is a routine Chris Gekker put together using exercises from Max Schlossberg’s  Daily Drills and Technical Studies.  The routine is broken into three sections (A,B and C) to help give players a variety of options.

Chris Gekker’s, “Schlossberg Routine”

Pick a routine a day

Routine “A”

  1. pg. 3, # 9 quarter note =40
  2. pg. 4, # 17 half note =60
  3. pg. 6, # 25 quarter note =96 to 120 (tongued)
  4. pg. 8, # 32 quarter note =60
  5. pg. 23, # 72 quarter note =80
  6. pg. 44, # 116 quarter note =96
  7. pg. 44, # 117 quarter note =96

Routine “B”

  1. pg. 3, # 10 quarter note =40
  2. pg. 5, # 18 quarter note =80
  3. pg. 8, # 30 quarter note =60
  4. pg. 19-20, # 63 eighth note =120 (tongued or slurred)
  5. pg. 24, # 76 quarter note =60
  6. pg. 31, # 93 quarter note =80 (tongued or slurred)
  7. pg. 44, # 118 quarter note =96

Routine “C”

  1. pg. 3, # 13 quarter note =40
  2. pg. 5, # 20 half note =60
  3. pg. 20, # 64 quarter note =60
  4. pg. 25, # 78 eighth note =96
  5. pg. 35, # 99 quarter note =80
  6. pg. 36, # 100 quarter note =80
  7. pg. 45, # 119 quarter note =96

Things I learned from my students

I was blown away by two statements made by middle school students I teach. The first made me wonder about the way independent thought is formed and the other is just an impressive thought I want to share.

  • “Footsteps and echoes of the environment demand to be heard through something.  That something is music.”
  • “Chapstick is just deodorant for your lips!”

I love both of these statements.

Becoming an independent middle school music teacher

At some point after graduating with a yet another music performance degree, I found myself looking for a solution to the question of employment. Looking for a job becomes your job when you are unemployed, self-employed or underemployed. However, when you cast your net as wide as some of us do, you end up sending your information to anyone who will listen. This was the situation I was in when I was asked to substitute teach at an independent private school.

Until that point I was a substitute teacher for public schools, a sales person at a music store, a painter for a painting company and a freelance musician. In one way or another all of these job have helped me at my current job. Like most people, you learn to take advantage of your strengths and hide your shortcomings while you work to improve both. I knew that what I lacked in music education credentials I could make-up with creativity and hard work. Even if you can pull one over on the people hiring you, you can’t do the same with kids. The kids don’t care about degrees or life experience, they don’t care about your belief in the potential of every learner or that you have their best interest in mind. The last thing they’re thinking about is that this is a job for you and you really want to do well at your job. What they see is another person telling what to do.

When I was a kid I heard a phrase that made sense to me, “you fake it till you make it”. I did this right until the first concert the following January. The little jazz ensemble I taught most mornings played their first tune, “In The Mood”. I picked it because I figured it was easy and still challenging for my students. Between counting the tune off and the first note, my whole attitude changed. My students hit their first notes and I felt like I had learned something new, my eyes were opened when I realized what I was allowed to do with these students. The freedom to create my curriculum according to what I thought was good for these particular kids. The option to let a lesson steer itself into any direction student learning lead it. Suddenly this environment which was just a job till that point, became the kinetic jump for creativity, inspiration and hope. All at once, the high of watching my students perform with confidence and excitement, gave way to pride. I was proud to be a teacher again, I was proud to be part of a community. I was proud to help these students become leaders within our school. I guess the root of all the different thing I felt that night stemmed from the pride I felt because I was working at this little independent school.

I have been a teacher at Soundview School for 6 years….and counting.

Dr. Ed Castro

Why I teach

In the seventh grade, I was all about playing the drums. I would carry my sticks with me everywhere I went, tapping out beats on my notebook and/or playing along with one of my favorite songs on my Walkman. On the day of our first band class of the year, my buddy came to me upset, specifically because he had left his drumsticks at home. He too, was “all about the drums”.  In fact, most ALL of my friends were all about the drums as well. Yet, as we walked into our music class, I handed over my sticks to my buddy.  I then walked over to the shelf in the room and picked up a trumpet.  It was as simple as that.  I now played the trumpet.  Seeing and reading the Harry Potter movies/books over the last decade, where Harry chooses, yet at the same time is chosen by, the hat from the House of Griffindor, sometimes has made me wonder if we choose the instrument, or if the instrument chooses us…

I attended the performing arts high school in New York City.  There I met a teacher who changed my life.  He was my jazz band teacher. “Time, time, time is fine…” is something he would shout out above the rhythm section, clapping along, swaying back and forth.  One of the most valuable lessons I learned from him, has stayed with me as a student, a teacher, and a musician: According to Justin DiCioccio , if we wanted to succeed as professional musicians, it wasn’t enough to simply, solely, play our instruments; each of us needed to become a four-leaf clover musician. This meant becoming a master of our craft in four major areas:

1. Performing on an instrument
2. Teaching
3. Composing
4. Arranging

Throughout the remainder of my time as a student of the trumpet, I always heard the familiar voice of, and message from, Justin DiCioccio in my head.  His lesson and direction has shaped me profoundly into the trumpeter, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher and overall musician that I am today.

I describe this at such length because this has become my teaching and my own philosophy when approaching music.  I currently make a living by teaching 5-8th grade band and music at an independent school, combined with regular performances in local brass quintets, in addition to working as a freelance trumpeter.  The kids at my school are all required to take an instrument, but it doesn’t start and end there. The instrument they use is really just a pathway to exploring the world of music.  My lesson plans focus on the basics of rhythm, pitches, style, meter, etc., but they also tie into something bigger; I do have an advantage of teaching at an IB school, where I am able to integrate my lesson plans with what is going on month per month in the other classrooms and subject areas, let alone with what is going on in today’s world.  Music history comes in to play, often as the school works on various periods of history, as well as current events, in that we examine what role music has in our society, media and everyday lives. I enjoy arranging and producing specific charts for my band, often writing in parts to feature students that I know are ready to take on a solo or the next challenge within their range. I conduct and produce several concerts and competitions with my band, and I also teach private lessons.

In addition to my teaching at an independent school, I teach private trumpet lessons to students who are just starting out to students at the university level.  I appreciate this as a teacher because I get to really dive in further with trumpet and brass techniques and help them discover their overall musical potential and interests.  I value the commitment in working with students one-on-one.  Private students are encouraged to become their own four-leaf clover musician.   I tell them about my own personal experiences of teaching, composing, arranging, and playing the trumpet, and that with all of these experiences and skills utilized, I am making a living in the field of music.  I want to set the example that while it is a great thing to be an instrumentalist, it is an even greater thing, in my opinion, to be an educated, well rounded, musical individual who is capable of expressing themselves through an instrument, through a song they’ve written or sung, a chart they’ve arranged, or through a choir that they have just conducted.

My ultimate goal as a musician and educator is to finely “round out my clover”; finding the pristine balance through music, juggling all of the aspects that I have described above. My agenda is to contribute to the overall musical education of people who would be challenged by the world of music.