Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 1

It’s hard to imagine how someone could remotely teach an interactive music class like an orchestra or band, but given the current situation, with Seattle being the epicenter of the Coronavirus, this is now my new reality as an instrumental music instructor. This week starts our three-week (or until further notice) experience teaching and learning in a digital space. The concept of remote teaching isn’t new;  in fact, in music, students and instructors have been connecting digitally for decades and in real time. However, with less than a week’s notice, I had to think about, and then quickly become, a virtual orchestra and band instructor.

Fortunately, today marks the start of a new term and all that comes with starting over. Somethings are familiar, like the online portals for assignments and grades. Attendance is taken and I still have to manage the class the same way I would as if I were physically in the same room with students. I’m finding out that by already having set the expectations at the beginning of the year in my physical classroom, students are naturally carrying these over into the digital learning space.

Although there was a lot of prep to get this virtual teaching endeavor going, I think picking out the right tools and setting up both my physical space and digital environment will pay off. In the weeks to come I’ll try my best to document what tools worked for me and what tweaks I end up making along the way.

Day 1 down…more to come.

My Experience With Classical Music This December

As a trumpeter within the symphonic musical sphere, I don’t always get to look into the audience and notice the demographics of the patrons. A few years ago I started to take stock of the audiences I get the opportunity to perform in front of in December. I wrote about this in a post called Color and Classical Music In December and thought it was just the nature of where I live (the Pacific Northwest) and the genre of music I’m asked to play.

Little has changed in my pattern of performance. I still get to play chamber music with big and small ensembles and larger works with symphonic orchestras. For example, I had the opportunity to play selections from J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a mass by Palestrina, a few Tchaikovsky Nutcrackers, a brass quintet concert/sing-a-long, Christmas music for large brass ensemble and organ and of course a Messiah to boot.

Diversity is not as often in the audience as I would expect, however, we are coming out in support of these programs. The change for me is in the colleagues I get to perform with. I’m glad to see more Black, Latinx and Asian American soloists singing with the choirs I get to play with. I enjoy looking into the orchestras and chorus and making eye contact with other people of color and receiving a warm smile.

Having grown up on the east coast, I took for granted the diversity I saw at every rehearsal and in every classroom, I sat in.  Now in my 40’s, I’m glad to the changes where I now live.

Persistent Ear-Worm

Over the summer I find myself going between the dropping off my kid at summer camps, helping the family with home-related projects, working/ continuing to learn how to care for my house, writing/ arranging music and (of course) practicing my instrument. Summer is a convenient time to make significant progress on some of these things.

With that in mind, I took to expanding some of what I do on my trumpet. If you spend time practicing an instrument, typically one plays exercises in a pattern. In my case, scale patterns. In order to switch things up, I thought it would be a good idea to rehash some of the jazz improvisation patterns I did so long ago as a student.

After working on transcriptions of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Fats Navarro, and Clifford Brown, I started working on scale and arpeggio patterns related to Giant Steps by John Coltrane. As a classical guy, I tend to use chord changes in several ways.

First as a way of staying flexible through the different registers on the trumpet.

Second, it’s great for ear training because it reminds me that I need to hear the music before I play it.

Third, when breaking down some chord patterns, you can use them to practice alternate fingering. I often practice a small section and try to find natural lip slurs. Kind of like doing Clark #3 with mainly lip slurs like playing G major with a 1-3 fingering at the start.

However, Giant Steps is a different animal. First I can’t get the tune out of my head, and I can’t get Coltrane’s playing out of my ear as well. His navigation of those harmonies is mesmerizing. After listening to it for a period of time, I started to dream in these chord patterns. It’s an incredible piece of music and art.

 

 

NBA Playoffs and Trumpet

Once again, I find myself multitasking during the NBA playoffs and somehow settle on a practice routine while watching games. This year it’s been four books, the Max Schlossberg Daily Drills and Clarke Technical Studies, Charles Colin Advanced Lip Flexibilities and finally any variation of flow studies.

The first quarter involves mouthpiece buzzing of Schlossberg Long Tone exercises 1-3, then played on the trumpet. Numbers 8 and 9 on mouthpiece then on the trumpet and eventually numbers 31 and 32. All of these exercises played with a metronome running at 72 beats per minute.

The second quarter is when players off the bench start to contribute, this is Clarke Studies time. I like to either pick a key and play as many exercises in that key as possible, or I pick one of the studies and work through those exercises and end with the Etudes.

Half time is snack time and rest time.

The third quarter is for Lip Flexibilities. I’m a fan of Vol. 3 for this part of the game. Play and rest are key, these exercises can be taxing.

For the 4th quarter, flow studies like the Snedecor Lyrical Studies or Concone Lyrical Studies. 

Math and Music Conversations

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down with another teacher to talk about a seminar she is teaching about the intersection between Math and Music. We talked about music theory and how she sees patterns both in music and math. I found myself listening and becoming more inspired to explore Pythagorean ideas surrounding tuning and the Fibonacci sequence. 

Too many ideas to start looking into. I guess it makes sense to me…I like patterns and serialized music. Perhaps that’s another avenue to explore…

 

Don’t even let me get started on Johannes Keppler!

Remembering a brass quintet recording – Drei Stücke

I was going through some files recently and came across an old program for a concert I played with a brass quintet. There were two big pieces on the program and both were pieces were obscure to me. The one I ended up looking for online was a piece by Stefan Hakenberg named Drei Stücke. Which translated means “Three Pieces” in german.

I like this composer and I believe his music should reach more people. Below are recordings of Drei Stücke from a recording done in Seattle with me and Matthew Swihart on trumpets, David McBride on horn, Greg Powers on trombone and Mike Woolf on the tuba.

Things Students Say and Drizzical

After watching my colleague work herself silly conducting, planning and teaching the all-school musical, I came to a stark realization. The end of the school year can make us feel crazy like everything is closing up on all of us, students, teachers, and administrators. I’ve been especially loopy lately and so have my advisory students.

In a conversation with them today, we discussed some of our favorite musical genres and the artist we associated with those genres. For example, I mentioned classical music with Missy Mizzoli and Igor Stravinsky, jazz music with Charles Mingus, rap music with J Cole. At least those are the folks I’m listening to these days.

One of my students said they love broadway-musicals and they also love Drake. Another student took that and said, “I guess you’ll love it if Drake made a Broadway-musical….oh, oh it would be a Drizzical.”

And then we all laughed. But seriously…Drake, what’s up with that Drizzical?

Color and Classical Music In December

theatre-audience_3133209b-800x305Sometimes I look out into the audience when I perform music. I don’t mean to take an subconscious pole of the demographics of the audience, but it’s hard not to notice. The picture above isn’t what I usually see, in fact the picture below is more of the reality of I tend to notice. Often I am the only person of color in the room, and after 20 years of holiday performances I started to wonder about those numbers.

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I didn’t grow up going to classical music concerts, especially not during the holidays. So why and how I came to the place where I love classical music and am a performer of this music is a mystery to me. Either way this is the common ground under which the audience and I share community.