Higher ed music programs have a problem. We, in general, do an awful job of training managers and leaders. We over value documents and degrees, and undervalue musicians. We place people in leadership roles who write obscure dissertations on little known composers. They write books about books about music. They know very little about what it actually takes to teach, perform, and create music. They have no sense of recruiting, development, personnel management etc..They live in a hypothetical world, sheltered from the actualities of the music industry they profess to teach. And they typically pontificate, with absolute certainly, about a field that they barely understand. And for the most part, these people (kind though they may be) have no idea what they are talking about, beyond their dissertation topic...They have never generated work for anyone, guided a student through a grad program and into a job, mentored a first year teacher struggling in the classroom, commissioned and championed a piece of music, etc... they spend 8 years in school, and get a job in a school. They teach whoever shows up to their class, blithely unaware of the work that goes in to bringing that student into the building, and arrogantly assuming they know what is best.... They are professional students. And they have little to no respect for those of us who actually bring students, patrons and donors into the building ( or into the zoom session), or work 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 CLearCheck 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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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....
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
stop telling me you are busy set your priorities - and get to work
just 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!
havig 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!
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 dont 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 ....
So....I am the new Artistic Director of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. This is not a small thing, for me professionally, or percussionists more broadly. Sewanee is an orchestral and chamber music festival - to have a percussionist in charge of artistic direction - well it is kind of wild actually.
I am honored, humbled, and really tired - but mostly just very excited to have this amazing opportunity.
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about time....how much there is, how to manage it,and how to make the most of the time you have. Of course,and millions of words and hundreds of books have been written on the subject already, so I do not expect to blaze any new trains here. However, one idea that has wrapped around my brain in recent weeks ( as I have been reading and exploring the topic of deep work, time management and priorities) is this - The best possible way for me to be successful, or for any musician to be successful, productive and happy, would be to try to follow one rule - do only that which is possible to be done by you, and you alone. Delegate everything else.
So - what does that mean, exactly. I'm still working through that myself, but I have been asking myself this question each time I approach a project, and it has been clarifying on many occasions. Certainly something I'll continue to ponder over the coming days as weeks, as my career takes another interesting step forward
I've been taking some time recently to catch up on my reading, both reading for pleasure and reading to help expand knowledge. I enjoy reading and quite honestly didn't give my self enough time last year to make this an option. One of the changes I've made for this year - space to read.
Another performing and teaching year has started, though I don't think I can really tell anymore when one ends and one begins. This summer, after a two week tour of Costa Rica, I left for one my favorite places in the world, Sewanee, TN and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. I write about SSMF frequently, and I look forward to sharing more about this great festival as the year goes on. During SSMF, I left briefly for the Music for All Summer Symposium - had a great time as always with everyone there!. Music for All has been a big part of my professional career, and I very much enjoy the chance to work with the dedicated folks who make that organization run!
Right after SSMF, I was off to Orlando to play to at the 2017 International Clarinet Convention to premiere a new work by Howard Buss with my good friend Kathy Mulcahy. We had a great time, and as always Kathy was terrific. It was an honor to share the stage with her.
Musicians have seasons to our lives - rather than make resolutions at the end of the year, I typically review my work/ideas/process in August, and again In January, during what is usually a (slightly) slower time in life. This year, I have resolved to read more ( so far, so good), write every day ( mostly going well) and update by blog regularly.
Let's see what happens!!!
Here in Sewanee now ( actually sitting at the Chattanooga airport flying off to music for all...but that is another story....) and finding a few moments to reflect on the two weeks I spent in Costa Rica with the inaugural International Teaching Scholars program.
This entirr project started with a conversation, and ended with 14 faculty, staff, donors, and administrators from George Mason University traveling to San Jose and the surrounding communities for performances, volunteer work and teaching opportunities.
The trip itself is too complex to explain in one post....so I'll start with some pictures..... The entire experience was transformative for all involved.
This week begins my 7th summer as percussion artist faculty at the Sewanee summer music festival. When I started, we had a small studio with limited instruments and even more limited abilities. I was clueless as to how a festival program should run, and totally insecure about my ability to do the job. On top of that, one of my biggest supporters and the primary reason the previous director hired me, Bruce Dinkins, passed away the day before the festival started. I was overwhelmed with grief and pretty lost all together. 2011 was a hard summer.
Fast forward a few years, we have a new director, awesome equipment provided every year by Yamaha, and outstanding students from across the world coming to study orchestral and chamber percussion.
I am enormously blessed, but also realizing that beyond luck or blessing or whatever else you believe in, you have to have a vision. You have to have a long term plan for your career, and the willingness to invest time, energy effort and money into that vision.
I could have walked away from this festival after that first summer..... But I knew that having a summer festival home would be enormously valuable to my professional development, and that if done correctly, would hold a special place in my life for many years.
So, I made it work, and I developed recruiting networks, and I worked my butt off, and now...well now we have a pretty sweet festival experience for advanced high school and college percussionists.
On the top of a mountain. In Tennessee.
See you this summer
This was back a few years ago - having a great time with the wonderful students of the cumberland orchestra at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival - enjoy! FYI the camera was really close to the perucssion....!!!
Welcome! I am a percussionist, conductor and artistic leader who drinks a lot of coffee.