Starting a new school year at a new school. I find myself thinking about all the lesson plans and units of study I put together over the past decade. Eventually, I get to a place in my thoughts where I think about “change” being the only thing that is constant in life. I think that is a quote or a thought attributed to Heraclius.
Other quotes that come to mind relate to the kind of teacher or musician I’d like to be…or at least the methods. Stravinsky chief among them has helped me with:
What gives the artist real prestige is his imitators.
The Bloomingdale School Of Music is the place where I took private trumpet lessons, started loving chamber music and starting learning about music composition. It was one of the most important paths set before me.
I had my first moments of personal success at this small neighborhood community music school. Perhaps this is the place that has given me my first opportunities to succeed and fail in a safe place.
My kid has anxiety, and I had anxiety as a kid until I started doing music. 4th and 5th Grade I was in Mr. Osborn’s boys choir. I took a few ass kicking those years. In the 6th grade I did my best (with a great deal of success) to not be seen at all. I was robbed a few times that year. During my 7th grade year I was transferred into a class that did music, then I joined the marching band. That’s when things started to change.
Most people who we recognize as important, carve their own path. Me, well… I’m just lucky the path set before me was the right path for me. If not for one thing in my life, I would be a totally different person. What is that thing you ask? Fear…yes fear has shaped me and molded me into the man you see today.
I’m not going to advocate living your life full of fear and hesitation, however my case it worked for me. Fear and safe places to practice being a person. Where ever I played music felt like a safe place.
“What gives the artist real prestige is his imitators.” Igor Stravinsky
I deal with insomnia often. When this happens I try to do something productive. I’m a teacher, so I try to use this time to think about teaching or projects for my students. But before I was a music teacher I was a freelance musician. As a freelance musician you tend to give yourself project to match your thirst for creativity. At one point I decided to arrange a few pieces of music for a brass quintet. I did this often because I happen to be a member of a few brass quintets and thought, I might get some good traction if this arrangement becomes part of our normal repertoire. However the piece I choose was not working out in the way that I wanted it to work. The version I wanted to use as a scaffold was written for a large ensemble and a vocalist. The piece is by Kenny Wheeler and it’s called “Gentle Piece”.
After several attempts, over a few days, I totally hit the wall. At the time, I was also working on a graduate degree and preparing for a recital. So I had a lot on my plate. However, these sounds which I thought would work so well for the brass quintet and didn’t, felt great coming out of my out of tune piano. In fact when I tried the improvised section of Kenny Wheeler’s piece, I stumbled on to the opening ideas to my piece for trumpet and piano call “Fractured Trance”.
The opening idea lead me to explore more ideas around rhythm and space within that movement. That idea lead to a two more movements and later this became my first piece for trumpet and piano. I followed the same process with the second piece I wrote for trumpet and piano, which were both recorded by a Brian Chin. Finally I used this same process to compose a piece for my middle school students.
Out of that experience I figured out that I can use another source for inspiration, with the full intent on trying to recreate an idea, a vibe or a feeling offer to us by another person. It’s okay to imitate. This kind of imitation can lead to personal breakthroughs.
It’s funny how one comes into contact with new music. I was recently listening to the New York Times Popcast titled “The Return of New York Rap” , which offered a unique discussion about the lack of rap music coming out of NYC the past decade. As I am a native New Yorker and still feel a certain connection to the music coming from there. So to listen to
Jon Caramanica and his guest talk about the artist coming out of there and the specific impact the New York radio stations play in getting music out to the masses was very enlightening. Not to mention, the Caribbean and island talk reminded me of home. When I hear topics likes these about my hometown, I feel comforted.
The podcast was so interesting to me that I wanted to read up on some of the artist mentioned in the talk directly from the NYT website. Well, somehow I meandered toward the bottom of the page and saw a trumpeter. His name is Ibrahim Maalouf and I am glad I got the chance to discover his music as well.
Funny, the twist and turns we make towards discovery. From Young M.A.’s “OOOUUU” and Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s “All The Way Up” to Ibrahim Maalouf Live in Beirut.
My breathing becomes labored, I don’t know what to do with my hands. By the time I get to my car, I’ve got several tears rolling down my face. Luckily it’s raining…so if anyone saw me they might think it was just the rain. It’s 9:30 in the morning on the first day of first grade for my kid and I can’t deal. The car do closes and I can’t hold my tears any more…
A few simple words sent me into this state. First I apologized to my kid for forgetting to give her, her medication. Then she said “It’s okay daddy, things happen. This will help me with my day, I’m really nervous”. We talked some more and by the end of the conversation she gave me a hug and a kiss, then went back to her new classroom and I walked back to my car.
The image of her walking towards her classroom stayed with me the rest of the day. If I had this moment back, I might have ask her for one more hug.
This week I spent time stretching before going out to do recess duty with middle school kids. Why do you ask, well that’s simple I tried playing “four square” with my students. Anyhow, it’s clear I don’t move like I used to…I’ve been limping since Tuesday.
Today I learned that Prince is no longer with us. Thanking him will be the job of everyone who loved…LOVE the music he created. So I will continue to admire him as an artist and continue to use his music as fodder for funk/pop/hip-hop music education. However, I found myself sitting with some students and I eventually ask them the question “Do you know who Prince is?” The reply was no…I think my parents do.
At that point I came to accept once and for all that I am an “old” person. But enough about me, lets talk about Prince and how I’ve used his music in the past in my classes.
One of the tools I use, which was a gift given to us by Prince is his song Musicology. Just the names he drops in this song gives my students a jumping off point for exploration into american popular music. Then there’s learning about him and all his accomplishments.