Written by Amy Beth Horman
Published: December 18, 2014 at 3:22 PM [UTC]
I am writing this blog to detail what I think is the importance of special events in private studios. With a full studio of advanced students, most of whom are actively competing, it seems we could have an event every other week to keep everyone up and running. House recitals, church performances, master classes, or bigger events - they all add something to a student's education. Performance opportunities are key to teaching a student the art of performance and allow me to guide them through effective practice, stage etiquette, and performance anxiety.
About twice a year now, we engage in what I define as "Special Events" for our studio. For these events, we explore a new genre of music, or experience something new together. It is a departure from what we do week to week and the kids are given a rare opportunity where they are able to continue bonding as a peer group. We are almost a month past our Special Event with Symphony of the Potomac and the memories for all of us are still flowing.
Last Fall our studio met with Lady Gaga's violinist, Judy Kang and had a special event at Strathmore Hall where we learned how to follow our ears and improvise. We ended the class with an "Orpheus" styled performance of Saint Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. We transcribed the Saint Saens for our group to perform with her and had met in rehearsal for weeks going over our parts. The kids had fun picking popular tunes to improvise on in front of an audience. Our students were so excited to participate and the event sold out. The energy off of this event lasted months for many of them. Watching them after this performance, I knew I should keep my mind open to the next opportunity for my students to do something out of the box and inspirational.
This past Spring, when I saw the video of Arvo Part's Passacaglia for duo violin online, I posted it on our studio Facebook group jokingly stating "now all we need is a vibraphone!". In my artist's mind, we had the full sections of violins and siblings on lower strings plus soloists who would love the opportunity to perform with orchestra. It was a vision I could easily conjure up. Within minutes, a conductor who I have worked with for years responded " I can get you a vibraphone and would love to do this". My heart leapt. And just like that, a Special Event started taking shape in my mind. We were lucky to be sponsored by the Symphony of the Potomac and conductor Joel Lazar and have access to a beautiful space in our area to present such large works. I smile when I reflect back on the beginning of the planning stages because the artist side of me that fully embraces the "vision" is now paired with an administrator's job running an advanced studio. A vision of the final product is one thing... but the planning, developing, advertising, and coaching of such a thing is quite another. Still, I sit here today with absolutely no regrets. The effects of planning, preparing, and performing something like this are so long lasting and we benefit as a studio more than I can describe in words.
Something about learning big concerti most of my life has taught me to embrace the long haul so I slowly started planning, plugging in an hour or so a day. I worked with the Symphony of the Potomac on renting parts, hired extra musicians, and chose the students I knew would benefit the most from an experience like this one. I knew the second half would be with orchestra on works by Part plus one of our younger students performing Bartok with harp but I still needed a first half to lead us to it. So I formed a first half of lesser known works for violin and piano by composers like Ysaye, Sibelius, and Previn featuring our younger elementary and middle school students and the concertmaster chosen for our second half. These kids performing with piano on the first half would then sit and accompany their peers in the orchestra on the second half. I took a month to handpick the pieces for each student and then learned them side by side one lesson at a time. Some of the students loved the pieces right away and some were trusting and simply followed my lead. We bonded over editing them together. With the performance event in mid November, I sent them into a competition in October with these newer pieces to try them out. I made a point of calling them 'ambassadors" of music that doesnt get enough stage time. They surprised me and swept the competition with prizes and their excitement was palpable. They WERE ambassadors! We held a house recital to put some finishing touches on and the kids for the first half were smiling and ready to perform for a larger audience.
Next I received their parts for the Arvo Part pieces from overseas. I carefully formed an orchestra seating chart, edited each part, and sent them out for the kids to bring to lessons.
For three to four weeks, I took 15 minutes in their lessons to review their orchestra parts for the Part works. Our first half soloists would be accompanying their peers sitting in the orchestra together so they would be playing a lot that night. With multi meter pieces like these, many of our students had never seen or heard anything like it. They were eager but challenged. Special effects, playing on the fingerboard, senza vibrato and learning to blend in softer dynamics kept them engaged and busy. Meanwhile, I continued to train the soloists on their parts. I sent tempo markings and recordings to the conductor and got organized for our first rehearsal. I took a lot of happy deep breaths. Parents organized a reception, passed out flyers, and even donated their services in recording and videography. We notified the Estonian Embassy and watched with wide eyes as our event got listed on the Arvo Part Centre website alongside events at Carnegie Hall. I could honestly feel the kids gearing up in every lesson. They knew they were part of something big, special, and that they were going to bond and experience something completely new together.
At the first rehearsal, things came together easier than I could have expected. Despite the multi metered mayhem, it was thrilling even with lots of work left to do. The conductor was wonderful, generous, and sensitive to the age group. The adults and members of the Symphony were warm and supportive to our students, adding stability to allow them to experience the music without fear. I watched my students bright eyed and ready to open their ears to a kind of music they had never encountered before. It was spellbinding and gratifying for all of us.
The event itself was the most attended event we have had thus far. This was not your regular violin recital with music most had never heard before played by students ages 10-17. They were so proud of what they had created. They had involved their ears and technique in making art happen. This wasn't about playing faster or cleaner and their focus had to be more linear and specific. I was able to enjoy their performance as a musician and really relish it as their teacher, predicting its effects on their progress individually.
The weeks that have followed have been active and back to business as usual. We have all returned to our normal literature of lessons, competitions, and auditions. I even had a solo performance with orchestra last weekend. But the air in the studio is different. It is more inspired. The students' eyes light up when they see each other and they are more bonded than ever. And, of course, we are already thinking about next year.
I hope this inspires other educators to plan outside the box for their students. At this level of teaching, in private studios where we are not part of an institution that serves us, it is on us to provide inspiration, opportunities, and ear awakening projects. It goes without saying that it takes hours of effort, planning, and development but what you see afterwards is beyond worth it.
The following are links to the dress rehearsals for our performances of Fratres and Passacaglia by Arvo Part led by conductor, Joel Lazar.