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.

Retrace your steps

I’m back at writers’ block. I think it should be good for me to just start writing and then send it out into the world, but I don’t think there much to mention. All I want to do is watch the NBA Playoffs and listen to music. So I’ll tell you about that. Perhaps if I retrace my thoughts, I can send out something worth mentioning.

For work, I’m listening to a lot of Percy Grainger. The is something truly satisfying about his orchestration for both band and orchestra. It’s been fun unpacking his music with my students. Between Grainger and Anderson Paak, I can’t decide who’s music I have spent more time listening to the past month.

Anderson Paak was a students’ suggestions and I’m so glad he reminded me of the incredible musician. Check out the Tiny Desk Concert if you think I’m kidding.

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?

Identity and Representation

Little over a month ago I ran into a former student at a performance. As we caught up with one another, he mentioned conversations or topics we had explored a few times years ago. We discussed the idea of what it feels like when you feel like you don’t really, fully, belong where you are. Certain interests, that make us unique, can make us stand out, and sometimes, feel alone.  These interests may authentically line up with who you are as a person in the present, but at the same time, the expectation of who you are or should be professionally, or as a representation of a gender, culture, or race, is in conflict with your authentic self.

The example of this mix match in identity for me is being a Dominican man from the Bronx, who plays the trumpet, and specifically specializes in classical music. When I’m in NYC, I’m Dominican. When I’m in the DR, I’m American. Everywhere else in America, I’m African American, or for short, black (I’m also bald :)). The good news is that I am okay with all of these labels. In fact, I hold them as badges of honor. I can be all of these things at once while being a musician, and more importantly, being myself. Of course, there are expectations and responsibilities that come with these labels. Being a musician, who looks like me, comes with its own set of assumptions; for example, I hear, “you must play jazz or meringue, or salsa music” or, “you have a Doctorate in music?”, or, “really, you went to Yale?  Oh, for music.”  I love jazz, blues, and Latin music, but lately, if you were to pull the Bose headphones off of my ears, you’d find me listening to South African house music, rap, and John Dowland.  Not quite what one typically would expect.  Okay, maybe the rap music.

My former student, now my friend and colleague, teaches in a place where few people look like him; I can relate. He doesn’t see many folks who have the same intense love for music that he does, but yet he continues to find ways of connecting people, and helping his community see past typical stereotypes. He’s young, so I hope he keeps a positive attitude and stays resilient.  More than ever, we need teachers like him to teach in places where the teacher stands out from the typical normal.  That’s how we learn.

Talking

This time of year has traditionally been a time of reflection on the year which had just passed. Sometimes I even look through some old journals just to see what I was on my mind previous years. Recently I had opportunity to participate, prepared and give a TEDx talk. The process of putting it all together offered a level of self-reflection which I was not really ready for. However by the end of this undertaking I felt the message in the talk represented some of my journey as an artist. The self-doubt, the persistence, the tension, and the development.

In the end, I would not have done this with out the help and encouragement of the TEDx coaches, my wife, my family, the other TEDx participants and ultimately the my friends.

Picking a high school in New York City

Many of my middle school students already know where they will be attending high school. When I was their age I had no ideas where I’d be spending the bulk of my teen age years.

There were only 3 real choices for me at the time. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, mainly because it’s one of 5 specialized public high school in New York City. LaGuardia was the only one of those schools who featured the performing arts as it’s identity. The others were all about science, engineering or math.

Stevenson High School was an obvious choice for me, hqdefaultpartly because a lot of the people that march in the drum and bugle corps I was a member of went there. I knew they had a marching band and that was a big factor in my appreciation of that school.

Finally my other choice was Julia Richman – Talent Unlimited High School. They have a great performing arts department and were competitive with LaGuardia. I also knew a few of the students from my drum and bugle corps went there as well

The main reason for picking any of these schools was because they had music programs and members of the New York Lancers went to those schools. I guess the arts and like minded people to attend school with was important to me. In many ways that is still true today.

fiorello-470x240I was accepted to LaGuardia and I was very relieved to be going to a specialized HS in NYC. The movie FAME was about that school, so I was secretly humming that tune to myself when I got the news.

I was not a very good student, but I devoted myself to all my music performance classes. Music history and theory seemed like math, science and humanities. Not a good fit for me at the time. I had trouble putting into context why they weren’t as stimulating at the time, they were more of a hurdle I had to jump to graduate.

Eventually I got my act together as a student, and now I’m a teacher!