The Ramblings of a Teacher

Surgeon’s General Warning:

Rant to follow, you have been forewarned.

:steps on soap box:

The internet is such a great resource for all your various needs, interests, or questions. On the flip side, though, there are quite a few websites that provide information that is…well, questionable.

When it comes to clarinet playing, the internet has always been my last resort to figuring things out. Those “clarinet” websites, frankly, make me nervous and have a lot of articles on techniques and methods that rarely produce the results the author thinks they do.

It’s not that I question the validity of those websites, okay maybe I am…just a little, it is more about the intention and purpose of the article that I question. I really wonder if many of these “clarinet” teachers have thoroughly thought about the things they’re preaching or publishing on the internet. Many articles are slap dash, written in haste, providing poor examples, with no reference to appropriate sources, et al. It’s as if their article was written as a means to give themselves some sense of validation as a teacher.

Students can read anything anywhere.

I have mostly kept my mouth shut about these issues, and have rarely said anything. But it’s gotten to the point where I can’t sit quietly anymore. As a teacher, I’m devoted to growth of my students education as musicians and clarinetist and feel really strongly about teachers that have no experience, or poor experience, teaching students. Teachers often times do far more damage than good, even though they have good intentions and good motives.

It was last week when all of this came to a head.  One of my students came in to the studio with some issues, as to be expected, related to the embouchure and squeaking. The parent told me that they searched online and found a website that helped diagnose the problems. They told me that the website said something about the embouchure being too tight and that was why he was squeaking or not getting a sound out. In effect, the student had undone all the embouchure development we focused on weeks before. And honestly, it’s not the parent or student’s fault, they had good intentions. But the advise this website gave was incorrect….wildly incorrect.

There are numerous symptoms and issues that you MUST take into account when diagnosing a problem. You just can’t make a rash diagnoses based on one symptom. The problem, in my students case was hand position. As a teacher, you can recognize the source of a problem by the type of squeak, e.g. hollow squeaks, that are lower in resonance, and resulting in a multi-phonic type sound is the result of either the 2nd or 3rd finger of the right hand not covering the tone hole.

I politely explained to the student, and parent, that if there are any issues throughout the week to contact me first. It’s frustrating, not only to me, but also to the student because we lost really valuable lesson time trying to fix the advice of a website.

I have spent years researching pedagogical methods, learning different schools of thought on technique and development. A lot of my time was spent reading every pedagogical book on the clarinet; I wrote articles, gave lectures and clinics and worked closely with band directors across the country. I devoted all this time because I wanted to be the best teacher possible. At that point in my career, I had student after student walking into my studio with some serious issues, issues that took years to fix. I didn’t do all this research and study for myself, it was for the benefit of my students, so that they could better play their instrument and enjoy the benefits of playing music.

Music educators are required to have some form of accreditation and certification to teach in a public school. Yet anyone that can play the clarinet can start a private studio with no accreditation, nothing. There’s really nothing I can do about this, I know that, but at least I can try to help educate current and future teachers in developing their own pedagogical skills.

Be a responsible teacher, know what you’re teaching! You owe it to your students and their future.

Yes I’m heated about this and likely throwing things out of proportion. I apologize if this offends some people, that’s not my intention. There has to be some sense of accountability for our actions, especially as a teacher.

-end rant-

Artistry of Delusion

In today’s society, pursuing a career in music is extremely difficult and often times disparaging. There are a lot, and by a lot I mean a majority, of musicians that have fostered quite a few delusions about being a musician. There is this glamour and enchantment that often surrounds the world of music. I have seen many good musicians change their life paths and pursue other endeavors.

Of course, these problems that plague the career of musicians, that sense of delusion, can be corrected or more importantly prevented.

How can it prevented, how can we insure amateur musicians of today that, while you cannot avoid some struggle as there is with any field, there is light at the end of the tunnel and we will find a sense of security.

The impetus behind this subject is the result of many years of seeing friends and colleagues who pursue degrees, often in higher ed, that – and I hate to say this – have no business doing so. Nothing frustrates me more than someone who pursues a doctoral degree in music with the intention of only winning an orchestra job. After letting my frustrating go from a boil to a simmer, I started looking at the situation and problems related to music as a whole. I have observed college student after college student graduate without the necessary skills to be successful.

More often than not, it’s not realized until they’re knee deep in debt.

As I mentioned early, that sense of delusion can be avoid. How? It can be prevented at the very very beginning by showing our younger students the necessity of growth, the importance of being multifaceted, and that there are more jobs available other than playing in an Orchestra. There are music educators, private teachers, there are college positions…but what else? Pursuing a chamber career is not viable…or is it? Why yes, yes it is! And it’s easy to accomplish. You establish yourself, or group, as a nonprofit organization and you’ve just open the doors to millions and millions of dollars in grant funding.

What about starting a music school of your own? Again, work with a few people, establish nonprofit status, write some grants and you could potentially have more than 20k dollars in start-up funds.

It all revolves around this concept of being an entrepreneur. I wrote an article a long time ago about the evolution of the musician. The key points were that the musicians of yesterday are becoming more and more of a rare breed in this industry. There are only a small handful of successful soloists, a career that is only offered to the lucky few, the ones that are really and truly a virtuoso.

How many orchestras and symphonies in this country are fiscally stable? Not to mention that there are immense problems rooted in the business structure of orchestras across the country. Notably, orchestra musicians feel that they can be both performer and administrator. You can, but your orchestra will struggle in a lot of areas. The level of expertise and training that goes into marketing, PR, and advertising is stifling – and at this point, orchestras need the most well equipped and experienced marketing specialists to ensure survival. But that comes at an expense, because those upper level executives in marketing are getting paid big bucks at big companies.

I could go on and on regarding the issues revolving around all the orchestra debacles, I’ll save that for a later date.

Musicians of today and tomorrow are not only great instrumentalists, they are great writers, great teachers, critics, clinicians, and entrepreneurs.  Musicians know how to manage their own performing careers, how to recruit students, how to communicate with their community, and how to live.

If they don’t have all or some of these skills, then they will likely struggle to survive.

These are this skills WE should be teaching our students, these are the concepts we should be emphasizing. Not to mention that, as musicians and teachers, we should be STRONGLY encouraging our students to go out in the community and play…everywhere. It’s one things to have the skills to succeed, it’s another to not contribute to building and fostering the audience necessary to support your career.

There’s no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t change.

How many orchestral musicians do you know that are working with public schools? And I’m talking about the orchestra where musicians are full-time, not per service, and make enough to survive. I know only a few.

It’s time to change. 

Feel as Fine as a Frog’s Hair

Today was the day….after more than 60 hours of writing, editing, re-writing, and more editing…I submitted my curriculum vita and cover letter for a particular job at a certain college somewhere on the East Coast.

Yes, I’m still being secretive about it. I think that might be best until there is something absolutely concrete. It’s not really a big secret, I just happen to know how competitive this job market is and people get a little weird about things. Especially considering my entire experience with applying for this job.

I had four different professors from four different colleges contacted both the head of the department and the chair of the search committee. I had briefly written an email to the person that’s chairing the committee to thank that person. I have never gotten an email response so quick before.

I’m trying not to read into it too much, as I often have done in the past. Even when I try to dispute the positive signs, I still feel really good about it.

On to a less narcissistic topic… it’s sort of funny, but interesting, that after spend a considerable amount of time over the past few weeks constantly writing…that once I’ve completed my project, all I want to do is write. It’s like a drug.

Unfortunately, for me, my writing isn’t always that good…so it’s really like doing a hardcore drug that just screws up your life.

Remember, crack is whack.

ADHD, really need to get that under control.

The exciting part about wanting to write, and sort of having the time to do it, I can finally start EFFECTIVELY researching material to write about. Look, I know as well as the next person that vomit of the mouth is fun for a short time, but only gets you but so far. So I’m going to try and approach my writing in two different ways. Every night or day, I will write some haphazard blog about nothing, full of run-on sentences, and fragments ..and twice a week, I will submit two articles I’ve researched on….my eyes may be bigger than my stomach here….Yeah, I guess it’s okay to be ambitious.

My ambitious list of things I’m planning on writing soon:

  • Approach to articulation (only because this professor somewhere recently wrote and article that I plan on disputing, point by point)
  • Higher Education and the Arts – The credibility crisis of the D.M.A. (Doctorate of Musical Arts)
  • Ready to start your own studio? The critical points everyone should know in developing a studio and effective methods of recruitment (just didn’t a lecture on this)
  • Fundamentals of the Embouchure; Taking the myth out of the mystery.

There are a bunch more, but my hand is starting to get tired from typing.

Remember: Live, Breathe, and Play.

A Rhythm of Rants

Well, I sort of almost made it to a post a day, only two hours behind.

You ever experience vertigo before? I experienced it for the first time today…it started around 4am and started to notice things move that weren’t moving. At first, and in all seriousness, I thought I had officially cracked…and went completely crazy.

I’m not even kidding, I started googling mental disorders associated with seeing things.

Well, it wasn’t until I stood up that it dawned on me….because I immediately fell over. I started laughing and just thought I was a clumsy ditz. Stood up again, walked a few feet….and NO lie ,fell again!!!

I felt like a salmon trying to swim up stream…but not a stream, more a dirty pathway…and not a salmon, more a beached whale.

Picture that…;-)

I had something fascinating to talk about regarding rhythm, but I’m tired.

Then I Found Ten Dollars…

I sat down tonight, planning to write a fantastical post on some amazing subject or another which would have spearheaded a mass movement across the country…Then I actually started writing…

What I thought I was writing…or what I was telling my fingers to type…was NOT what appeared on my computer screen. It was as though I had forgotten how to speak English…or form sentences…both of which are already difficult for me…sheesh.

It was as though some remote part of my brain, where clearly some neurons decided to take a vaca, wanted to write about really strange and odd things….nothing of which I intended to write about.

This was the progression of said post:

Start writing about some rather fantastic events today…turned into me talking about my ultimate powers of nesting…Which got me talking about the issues associated with collegiate recruitment and retention which, according to my craziness, are directly linked to the discourse of the academic cannon.

Then Mary Poppins stopped in; I wrote about how she looks like an amateur next to me – she has no skillz.

Frustration kicked in…WHY CAN’T I JUST FOCUS!

Then I went on a rant about double bacon cheeseburgers and finally writing something or another on social disorders….which I clearly am exhibiting signs of.

Which one though?? That’s the mystery question…

Eventually, I gave up and deleted the entire thing and decided to write about just how odd I am…

Enjoy?

At least I met my blog post challenge to day.

Blog No. 4

Brahms or Bust

It’s been a long day, my brain is running on empty and the radiator is about to overheat. I have now spent close to 7 plus hours staring at a computer screen with only intermittent breaks. When I look up from the computer, it takes at least 5 minutes for me to re-focus.

I’m over exaggerating really it’s more a second or two. Regardless, I could not and would not want to work in front of a computer 8 hours a day. I’m sure there are super powered monitors and displays for that, in order to avoid eye strain, and I’m sure they cost a considerable amount of money. Money that I don’t have, nor really want to spend, honestly.

And…I still hold the 1st place award for most non sequitors….ever.

To the subject of this blog: BRAHMS!

Part of my teaching responsibilities at CCM are coaching and teaching chamber music. Today, I started coaching a graduate chamber ensemble on the Brahms Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano.

If you don’t know it….rush over to youtube (I’d embed a link, but that would likely use what remaining brain power I have left) and search for it.

It’s really a magnificent piece of music. Brahms’ writing is so incredibly dense and thick but composed in such a way that you can audibly pin point each distinct layer. I’ve played this work countless times and performed it all over the country, and every time I find something new and discover some thematic or harmonic shift I never noticed before.

Today was sort of revolutionary. So many new and exciting things came to light as I was coaching the group today. I’ve coached and given masterclasses on the trio a few times, I know the score pretty well – but today, something just jumped out at me. I partially think it might have had something to do with the fact that the group is comprised of all graduate students and the space they were playing in extremely live so they had to be very sensitive and aware musically.

It was an amazing 2 hours for both me and the grad students. I squeezed out of them every ounce of musical juice as I could and they drained me of every brain cell I had. I’m NOT complaining. I generally only get that exhausted after playing a heavy orchestra concert or recital and it was kind of nice to know that they were keeping me on my toes. I really had to turn on the active listening skills to the max and make sure there was an even balance of talking, rehearsing, coaching, and playing. That’ll exhaust you!!!

We spent a lot of time pulling apart the various sections, looking at how Brahms bridges one section to the next, and how he uses melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic motives to connect everything. It’s really really fascinating.

One of the dangers with playing Brahms, and I find this in almost every performance I hear, is that performers feel the need to OVER romanticize everything. Rubato is something that should be used VERY judiciously when playing Brahms. Why? Well, Brahms wrote out specifically what he wanted. You may not always notice it in YOUR part at that particularly time, but look at the score and you’ll discover that he was building up that cadence and natural rubato for the past 16 bars.

Dynamics are another thing that gets people into trouble with Brahms, and a lot of other composers too. Reaching your peak volume too soon leaves the listener wanting more at later points or getting bored. When there are too many big dynamic moments throughout the work…it begins to lose its spontaneity. I can’t speak for everyone but it loses its spark. The trick is to maintain the energy and drive without climaxing too soon – that, I believe, is where you can start pushing it forward rhythmically, SLIGHTLY increasing the tempo. Really though, you’re just changing where you’re playing WITHIN the beat, in this case instead of playing on the back side of the beat, you move to the front, almost to the point where you’re early – but not really. It’s hard to explain and probably sounds like a bunch of garbage – but trust me, you gotta trust me on this! I’ve spent a lot of time, probably more time than one should, on identifying these sort of motivic nuances.

Actually…it’s much in the same manner in how an orchestra (or any large ensemble) reacts to the conductor and the ictus of the beat from the baton. The closer you are to front of the stage, the more you play at the back to center of the beat. The farther back you are in the ensemble, like the percussion or harp, etc. the more you have to play on the front side, almost anticipating too much. If you don’t make those subtle changes, you will never play together.

Which…actually is really quite fascinating when you think about it. Each section of the orchestra reacts differently to the conductor and concertmaster. That’d be an interesting paper to read….

More later…my brain has officially called it quits.

 

30 Day Challenge: Day 3

 

Curriculum Headache

I don’t know many people who get excited or gitty with joy when writing a CV /Resume/Cover letter.

I don’t necessarily enjoy it, though it’s not really difficult, just time-consuming. If a musician, let alone a clarinetist, writes a CV with the amount of detail and precision they put into their playing…well, you’d likely get a pristine and gorgeous end product.

Yes, I just stereotyped myself.

Lets get to the root of the issue, shall we? It’s not that I dislike doing anything, especially CVs and resumes, the issue is…:cough: I hate deadlines. I have this anxious nervousness about looming deadlines.

And I’m a procrastinator.

If I were a crisis manager or worked for FEMA, I’d be at the top of my game. I, for some reason, refuse to prepare – or mentally block myself – work or things with any sort of ample amount of lead time. Then, three or four days before, I freak-out and cram it all in. The quality of my work doesn’t suffer, in comparison to others, but I always know, in the back of my festering and sarcastic brain, that I could do better.

Next month…

30 Blog Challenge: Day 2

BOOYASHAKA!

Challenge This!

It’s been a while.

Okay, it’s been more than a while. But I’m back, never fear, I can’t stay away THAT long…maybe only 3 or 4 months.

Things have been pleasantly busy. Frankly, I don’t remember the last time I’ve been in such a great mood.

Just got back from a long performance tour which I called the “5 states, 5 days tour.” Performed at East Tennessee State University, Virginia Tech, and University of North Carolina Greensboro. It was part of the College Band Directors National Association conference. I had a blast.

Seriously.

Even though it does sort of sound like a big geek-fest – it was a wonderful experience. Especially for networking.

While at the conference, I had one of those rare moments where ALL of my major musical influences and mentors were in one place…at one time. My band directors from high school, undergrad, masters, and doctorate – SO rare! It was great! I smiled a lot and got to play catch-up with some whom I haven’t seen in over 10 years!

And I slept a lot too, oddly enough.

Some things are in the works…CVs are flying, cover letters are hot off the presses…and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Had a great introduction to someone that could potentially be a future colleague at a University somewhere. I’m going try to keep it quite as long as a can, even though I often fail at secrets.

I don’t want to count all my eggs in one basket JUST yet.

Associate Professor of Clarinet does have an awful nice ring to it.

Professor Butalewicz ….

Oye, no…it will definitely have to be Professor B, or Dr. B. I’ve had enough early child hood trauma. Trust me, anything you think of…I’ve heard. Well, there was this one girl who came up with something…but it’s not really appropriate to repeat in a public forum.

Regardless…this is my 30 day CHALLENGE BLOG.  My goal, or as some would call it soon to be failed hopes and dreams (but in the nicest and most sarcastic way possible), is to write a blog everyday, for 30 days.30 day challenge

Not matter how short, inconsequential, stupid, or ridiculous that blog may be…I’m going to write it.

My writing, as you can see from the latter paragraphs, has suffered tremendously. I’ve noticed a sharp decline in my ability to wordsmith beautiful and lyrical prose, even though I was never really good at it in the first place. I’m finding it more difficult to construct even the simplest emails, memos, agendas, and…in some extreme cases…random drunk text messages?!?

Don’t ask.challenge accepted

So…I’ve allotted 10 minutes (really more like 5 minutes since I’m always running late to something or another) to speed blog writing. Topics I intend to cover…likely something trivial or boring.

i catch a grenadeStay with me though…I’m hoping that by the end of my 30 days of forced blogging, I will magically blossom into a blog writing savant, writing beautiful posts about social and political events, musical misnomers, experimenting in various tenses and experimenting with my satirical and scholarly styles and voice….etc. etc.

Who am I kidding?

Blog post 1 of 30 – COMPLETE!

Dulcet Two Hour Tones

I just lost two hours practicing long tones. Okay, I didn’t LOSE two hours…more I gained two hours of invaluable practice working on fundamentals.

Sheesh…I’m usually much better at keeping track of time while practicing. I will definitely NOT say that it was a waste of time, actually the transverse. I really focused on just beautiful and solid playing…liquid fingers, fast and consistent air, free motion.

My hands feel great – like after you’ve stretched before going on a run. I’m relaxed.

I take notes throughout my practice session, particularly when working on one set of exercises and notice something else that I need to work on…e.g. C#/G# and intervals in keys with more than 4 sharps. Regardless, that two hours I just spent on long tones brought a lot of other issues to the surface…consistent starts/stops of sound, legato, consistency of air.

The list goes into more detail that I refuse to write out again because it makes me realize I should have started my practice session at 6am instead of 8am.

On to articulation studies….

Sale of The Year

Went and visited my old professor from undergrad today, Dr. Charles West. I still refer to him as Dr. West even though I’m technically a doctor. He is helping me sell my back-up A clarinet; I really don’t see much need for holding on to it and need the money more than I need the back-up. It’s a Festival, plays beautifully, just needs a little work. Unfortunately it just doesn’t fit my needs as far as tone and sound anymore – I can’t project in a big hall or cut through an orchestra. I had some wonderful years with that instrument, won many competitions on it, performed around the world on it – but it’s time. The R-13’s have always been the right fit for me…and boy can I wail in a concert hall if I wanted too!!! We settled on an asking price of around $1,200…which I think is pretty fair. comes with two barrels and I’m throwing in a $500.00 BAM case as well. It does need an overhaul, otherwise I’d sell it for a lot more…I just don’t have the time or funds to send it off right now.

I will, however, hold on to my B-flat…it needs some serious work and I’ll likely take it to Jacobi and drop a $1,000 bucks…but I’m more concerned about having a sold backup B-flat than an A.

But back to my visit.

It was soo great talking clarinet shop again…mouthpieces, players, pedagogy! I forget just how lucky I was to be one of his pupils…I learned a great deal from him: how to network, research, how to teach, rep, and really how to be a total musician. Something I find very few professors teaching their students these days.

He insisted I come and do a masterclass at the University…and I was utterly flattered. That was the ultimate compliment, knowing that he respects both my playing and teaching as a professional clarinetist to invite me as an artist. I’ve given masterclasses all over the US and throughout Europe…those were great opportunities…but something about this invitation seems all more special. Coming back to my roots, no longer as a student, but as a professional clarinetist.

Life is good. Now if I can just figure out how to play this instrument…it would be much better.