Covid was awful, but we did get to record some really cool projects during the pandemic. This particular configuration of students really meant ( and continue to mean) a lot to me. We got through a horrible time, together, making music all the way though. This was recorded during the 2021-2022 season at Mason. Bravo gents.
New Job, New Town, New Career
I am pleased and proud to be the new Executive Director of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. I have also taken a more significant role in Sewanee, serving now as the new Director of the Sewanee Music Center, overseeing the Artistic Mission of both the University Performing Arts Series and the Summer Music Festival.
updates on the way
website updates coming -
Remember the world they are entering
One of the great problems/challenges/opportunities when you teach at the college level is staying focused on the future. The college world can too often become internal, inwardly focused. "I did this so they have to do this".... It is a frustrating mentality. Music professors, particularly those who teach students who are planning to perform or teach, really should stay focused on the business the students are GOING to, not the one they came from... To put it more bluntly, I've never once, in my entire professional life as a performer and teacher in multiple cities, NEVER used figured bass. AN ENORMOUS amount of time is spent Renaissance and Baroque music...music very few actual performing or teaching musicians encounter.
One of the reasons summer festivals, seminars, workshops, websites, blogs and podcasts thrive among classical musician students is simple - THEY DO NOT GET WHAT THEY NEED FROM THEIR COLLEGE MUSIC PROGRAM :) Let's start to think about what students ACTUALLY need to know, and give them what they need to be professional musicians. And for the sake of all that is good, stop teaching dead music.
Dr. Angela Ammerman - enjoyed this conversation about music education, Sewanee String Academy, and international work with the great and talented Angela Ammerman
Video series - We have continued the SSMF@Home Series of interviews and discussions with Sewanee Faculty and guests. Here is the latest with Joshua Simonds, Executive Director of the Percussive Arts Society
Selecting a school
Right now, students are looking at college programs, and trying to decide if they should study music ( is this a real career??) and if they should, can they find the right school. Plenty of content out there on selecting a college.
This note isn't for students. It isn't for parents. It is for admins of college music programs.
Too much emphasis is placed on recruiting. Too much time is spent talking OUT at students and parents, and not enough time is spent building the program internally. If your house is a mess, you cannot have people over. Make sure your faculty have resources they need, put the right people in front of ensembles, support your applied teachers
(you know, the ones who bring the students in to the school in the first place) and make sure your external messaging actually reflects what you are doing in the building.
Program up to the students you want - articulate a vision. Have a clear sense of the kind of student that will thrive in your program.
Do not try to be everything to everyone - you can't. People will see through you quickly, and realize you have no message, no vision. They will see you as desperate and treat you at best as a backup....
Program up and have a vision for your institution, and articulate it clearly, over and over again.
If you are a student looking for a school, make sure they have a clear vision and can explain that vision to you. Look past empty words and slogans. Find out what they actually do.
Theory Vs. Reality
Musicians and musical leaders, should live in a reality based world. Do yourself a favor if you want to teach musicians, and tell musicians what they need, have spent a few years in the business. :)
In politics it is often said that you analyze the current campaign based on the last campaign. We look back instead of forward.
I'm said before, anyone living in this COVID-19 world who thinks that a vaccine will bring us back to the before times is living a fantasy. As if somehow we will stop using zoom, stop living on our phones or step away from digital technology. Yes, live performances will return, in person conferences will happen again. However, the anyone in a leadership position that isn't planning, at the minimum, a digital OPTION for their program (online subscriptions, paywalls for concerts, a behind the scenes interview series on FB live etc...) is failing themselves, and their program. Every single educational experience will change, every college music program needs to react, and every summer festival has to be thinking about how young musicians ( and patrons) will consume their product.
Sitting around and waiting for a vaccine ( or an election) is foolish. But I hope all of my competition does just that. Wait.
We had a great time with this amazingly important work for percussion. Recorded in the spring of 2019 at Mason.
The MET just announced the remainder of their season is canceled. Drum companies large and small are laying off staff, cutting projects. Music for All has canceled their marching band season, and the 2021 National Festival. These are trying times for musicians. The idea of just "looking to something else" or "staying positive" feels empty.
This isn't just a normal economic downturn, where weaker businesses are killed off and the market shifts. Otherwise healthy arts orgs are in danger of closing forever.
So, what do we do? As teachers, performers, educators - what is the answer. Truthfully, it is a very personal decision. I have never blamed anyone for changing careers from artist to...whatever. It has always made sense. Highly trained musicians are generally smart and hard working, it can be easier to thrive in another field. No one should feel ashamed for making a change.
What am I doing? Trying to learn, trying to think about what the field will look like after COVID. Trying to react to the current state of our country, and think about what is coming next. Even with the bad news, there are many reasons to be hopeful. Some University programs (like Mason) are able to function during covid. I'm teaching in person. The University of the South (host institution for SSMF) is handling COVID VERY well. We are building an online WinterFest, and planning for various options during the summer of 2021.
Mostly, I'm trying to prepare, personally, and prepare my students and programs, for what is coming next. Many think the world will go back to normal after COVID. I find that hard to believe. After 9/11, there were those who thought we would never fly again. Of course, we did. I always believed we would, and was on one of the first flights our of Reagan post 9/11, on a tour with the National Symphony. However, the WAY we fly is totally different. From TSA to water bottles to precheck and Pre-Screening, the flying experience is totally different now.
People will always make music, and young musicians will always want to study music. Cities and states will value their arts ORGs...if those ORGs are engaged in the community....However, the WAY we consume music, as audience members and educators, will be vastly different. I we are not preparing our students and ORGs for this, now, we are failing them.
Came to my website to update a few things, and saw my last post which happened to be created pre-pandemic. Talking all about how excited I was to travel to China in March, perform at the Kennedy Center, and of course an exciting 2020 season in Sewanee.... and of course none of that happened. Like the rest of the world, I've been home, meeting on zoom, teaching on zoom, playing poker on zoom.....zoom. However, I'm lucky, I am fortunate to work for two wonderful institutions - George Mason University and the University of the South, host institution for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. So far, we are ok, my family is healthy and I am still employed. I miss performing with others, coaching chamber music and being connected with people... But - I'm lucky. I have great friends, family, and two solid, stable jobs.
So, since I have some time, I'll be updating my website and blog more regularly and sharing some of of the projects I've been working on... More soon - stay tuned.
New Year, New Things
2020 looks to be a busy and exciting year for me personally and professionally. I'll be leading a three city tour of China with Mason Percussion, heading off for clinics in Texas and New York, including a return to the great percussion students at NYU, and enjoying some performance opportunities in Arizona and of course, here in Washington with the Washington Concert Opera and the Kennedy Center Ballet.
Of course, plans are well underway for the 2020 Sewanee Summer Music Festival, where I will once again return as Executive and Artistic Director. This summer is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, with an exciting array of guest artists, our acclaimed faculty and terrific guest conductors.
I'll have some other summer news soon, but for now, I need to get ready for the start of the semester. And find some time to work out
But wait, what do I do
I am a huge fan of students asking about process - how do I practice, what do I need to do to plan my best practice session. Blocking time, and organizing your day around the work you need to do, is interesting to me. However, at some point, the planning has to stop, and the work has to start. Stop asking questions, stop "planning to plan" and actually just do. Put the music on the stand. Study it. Do it - do not wait. Do it right now.
Avoid Just Being Busy - an update
I've been thinking quite a bit about schedules, balance and "free time" This summer, after my second summer as Artistic Director of SSMF, I went on a vacation. It was the first time all year I took any serious time off, and it was amazing. I am trying to remember that so in the future, I'll TAKE SOME TIME OFF.
It is that time again - people are dusting the sand off of their shoes, finding their grown up cloths, setting their alarms and heading back to school. For me, this is the start of my 11th year at Mason and my 3rd as Artistic Director of SSMF. I am also in the middle of a move ( in town...) and looking forward to a number of performances in Washington, as well as concerts in Boston, LA and Costa Rica. It is a busy and exciting time, for sure.
Time for everyone to get to work!
I've been on the road for the better part of the last month - working down in my office at Sewanee, visiting donors, performing Raise the Roof with Symphonicity in Virginia Beach, and conducting at the College Music Society Conference in Vancouver. I'm now home, and happy to just have the normal level of busy in my life. Being a musician can throw your life out of balance from time to time, but as long as you can pull back to center - it's worth it. I was talking to a friend today, a busy, successful musician who is out on the road right now, and as we were talking I asked him how he was - his response " man, I'm really tired". I agreed, and then said in a off handed way " at times, all we have to cling to is our gratitude for all of this..." It was more profound that I intended - But we are fortunate to make music - as conductors, performers, teachers, program directors. This is a pretty exciting way to make a living, and I couldn't be happier for the chance opportunities.
But I'm also glad, for the next couple of weeks, that I can wake up in the same place.
I've seen an interesting evolution in the last several years when it comes to students, college and majoring in music. I think ( though I have no long term study to back this us) that a certain percentage of students have always chosen to major in music because they enjoyed band or strings in HS, it was the thing that made them special, and they were "good" at it - at least in comparison to everyone else in their HS. Then, they get to college and realize that music is much more than class band/strings, and they decide to do something else. Hopefully they keep music in their life in some way, but they understand that majoring in music isn't being in band.
Now, however, a new subset has begun to emerge in the percussion world, and it is frightening to me as a musician and professor. Students who think they are majoring in some combination of Greek Orgs and marching percussion. Or, they truly believe that being a music major is just like performing in indoor drumline.....
Now - before i get hate mail, I have no problem with the "marching arts" as an activity. I understand their value in building community, creating work ethic and developing technique. I also think there should be a healthy debate about adding tracks or degree concentrations in marching percussion arranging/instruction/composition. There is no question that students who will teach at the HS level will need to have an understanding of this activity, and I think we need to look at developing a more serious curricular experience for this activity, in order to prepare students for the world they will encounter when they graduate.
However - Just like anything else - you need balance, and an understanding of how one activity fits into the overall college music experience. And you need to pass your classes, and prepare for your lessons, and be ready for ensemble rehearsals and performances. I also think we should be honest about the time and approach to teaching and technique we use in the marching activity VS. concert playing - it really is vastly different, and often at odds.
Your major is music - which includes music history, theory, aural skills, chamber ensembles, orchestra, band, music technology, professional development, and participation in program events. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you choose to major in MUSIC. If you want to play in band and be a economics major - go for it, there are plenty of college band programs that would love to have you. Want to do business and play tenors, fantastic, you'll find a place.
Want to major in music - understand what it means. All of it.
The Sewanee Summer Music Festival
So - life has been, as usual quite full. Just returned from an excellent concerto performance with the wonderful Symphonicity. Bringing back Raise the Roof was really exciting, and I cannot wait to perform it again later this season. I'm headed off to Vancouver shorty to perform and present at the College Music Society National Conference.
Of course, plans are well under way for the 2019 Sewanee Summer Music Festival. We just released this terrific new promotional video, and will be announcing our season highlights, conductors and new programs very soon. Check out the video ( produced by the great four/ten media) and get started on your application!
Welcome back - again!
Wonderful to be starting a new year at Mason, and planning the 2019 Sewanee Summer Music Festival! Thrilled to be returning to Sewanee as Artistic Director, and excited for a great year at Mason. Also have a fun year of performances in DC and across the country. Will be busy, but also planning to (try) and take ( a little) time to focus on things beyond work. Let's see how that goes....
Value yourself, and your work
I am all for getting my foot in the door - and taking opportunities for professional development. If you are early in your career, jump at opportunities, no question
However, chronic undervaluing of your work or your value as an artist will result in long term challenges. This is true both in your personal work, and in organizations you may be responsible for. Best piece of advise I’ve ever gotten from a colleague is this
“people know when you are desperate”
If you have a strong product, market it well and talk about it often. Value what you do, and advocate for yourself and your programs
I am regularly surprised when students tell me how busy they are.... yeah. right.
As I write this post, I’m sitting in the canteen of the Kennedy center in between rehearsals with the Washington Opera. I am constantly moving, putting work in where I can, while all the time staying on top of whatever is in front of me. Shedding, administering, teaching, leading, conducting...
that's the gig. I don’t know ANY successful musician - ANYONE
who isn’t busy. But busy isn’t really anything.... it’s really all about how you set your priorities and how you spend your time, nothing more. Stop telling me you are busy set your priorities - and get to work
Music for All National Festival
jJust returned from a wonderful weekend serving as an evaluator for the Music for All National Festival. I’ve enjoyed a long relations with MFA, dating back to 2003, when I first took an ensemble to perform at the Percussion Festival.
MFA Is a wonderful organization, and their mission is an inspiration. I would highly recommend their programs to any educator working with middle and high school musicians. I look forward to MFA 2019 and hope to see many of you there!
Having moved into running a music festival, I’m increasingly been pulled away from percussion and more into the world of wind and string chamber music.
It isn’t a bad world to live in, at all - Mozart, Schumann, Dvorak. It is the core of our art form, and represents some of the high points in western civilization
Increasingly, percussion music is finding its own masterpieces - and performance groups are out there like never before performing, teaching and pushing into the literature music that is as important and valuable as anything else that has been written.
However, I still struggle with our pedagogical literature - what we use to teach young musicians how to learn percussion chamber music. We still have major gaps in our rep, and I honestly wish more performers and ensembles of note would seek out not just the next great masterpiece, but high quality works written by real composers for younger musicians
I dare you!
On the road again
I have been traveling a lot lately, going to my offices in Sewanee to plan the festival, giving clinics and classes at schools and university programs, guest conducting etc...
And it makes me think - how you spend your time on the road is really critical
We do not often talk to our students about this aspect of the job - flights, hotels, late dinners at ruby Tuesday’s ( where I am currently sitting).
We don’t tell them much about working early mornings in hotel rooms to get rehearsal schedules out, or updating your blog from a bar..
Quite a a bit goes into the wacky music career - often things we don’t even think about at the time. But so much of what we do as musicians is about being out there, in the business, doing things. But then, you have to balance the doing with being home - practicing and working in your own city. I think a lot about how I use my time and try hard to manage the trips so that they make sense, professionally.
I’m excited to head off to Music for All later this week, which no doubt will offer it’s own challenges and opportunities. The groups will be great and trying to give them feedback will be exciting. Looking forward to hanging with good friends and sharing great ideas ( and having a least a couple of good meals in Indy!)
So get out there - but think about what you are doing and ask yourself - is this relevant?? Is this moving me forward ?
If it is, go for it - if it isn’t. Go home and practice, hang with your significant other - it’s not worth being away just to be away ....
Welcome! I am a percussionist, conductor and artistic leader who drinks a lot of coffee.