I’m so proud of my colleagues, who, with the help of the Oregon Community Foundation and others, are bringing in-depth music education to the David Douglas School District. Check out the recently released video below and prepare to smile!
Over the years, I’ve had a good many really fine – and some extraordinary – musical coaches, teachers, and mentors. As I was practicing today, one of their bits of sage advice popped into my brain, and I’ve interrupted my D major/minor scale and arpeggios practice to share it with you. This one comes courtesy of the great pianist and teacher and coach Leon Fleisher. I studied at the Peabody Conservatory, where he’s taught for over 50 years (he began teaching at the Peabody in 1959), for two years, but didn’t get the opportunity to play for him until I was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in the Berkshires of western Massachesetts. We were working on Brahms’ great g minor Piano Quartet, when he suddenly stopped us and demanded
“Are you making that choice out of convenience, or out of conviction?”
When the ensuing pregnant pause didn’t give birth to an answer, he said “that’s what I thought!”. It’s a question that I ask myself all the time. As an orchestral musician, where one is learning new repertoire virtually every week – often multiple programs – the answer is often one of convenience. It’s a shame, because when one makes musical decisions based upon personal conviction, the resulting musical product is ever so much more compelling.
This program for young musicians is simply incredible. This year’s session runs from July 14 – 19, 2014 at Marylhurst University, near Portland, Oregon. If you have a talented young musician (aged 10 – 18) in your life, encourage them to apply – the deadline is January 13th, 2014.
The workshop will give students the opportunity to play, study, and perform chamber music with other young musicians of a similar level. Students will receive instruction in a variety of aspects of ensemble music making, including practice and performance techniques, and other activities designed to enhance the art of ensemble playing. Each day includes chamber ensemble rehearsals, movement and rhythm classes, coachings, master classes with the outstanding Portland Summer Ensembles faculty and guest artists. The workshop will take place on the beautiful Marylhurst University campus, located 10 miles from downtown Portland, Oregon.
Information and applications available here.
Pioneer Place in downtown Portland. A place abuzz with all manner of people doing all manner of things. People hurrying to catch a movie, a bus, the last hours of a sale at a favorite store. Soccer moms talking on cell phones, businessmen tapping out emails on their Blackberries, a clutch of school girls cruising the mall after school, chattering raucously…
A man playing the cello with the grace and simplicity borne of utter mastery.
Small children on their parent’s lap, in wonder at the sounds and the vision of seeing this mysterious and beautiful instrument only a few feet away. A high school violist, sitting with her case, utterly absorbed by the great Bach suites for solo cello. Oregon Symphony members, relaxing and enjoying the music. Music lovers of all kinds, sitting closely together, huddled against the gale of noise that swirls about the atrium, seeking shelter in the music of JS Bach – speaking anew after over 300 years.
This was the magical atmosphere of Alban Gerhardt’s one-hour performance in a unique public venue – a busy mall in downtown Portland. It was part of his six day residency with the Oregon Symphony. As my wife (a cellist) and I watched from the level above, she turned to me and whispered “when I see the faces of the people listening, it makes me feel good about what we do”.
After this observation, I spent as much time looking at people as they entered the space as I did Alban when he played. Some people were drawn as though by a gravitational field – the power of the music was like a giant celestial body that they were powerless to ignore. Others looked on briefly, but their other concerns were greater than their curiosity, and so they passed on to wherever and whatever they were going to do next. Still others seemed to consciously look away in a gesture that seemed to say that they were almost overpowered by what was going on, and they couldn’t invest the emotional capital to get involved. But most often – I saw this especially among the teens that were going by – they were immediately intrigued by what they were seeing and hearing. They would text their friends, take a photo on their phone, or a short video, and take a minute or two just to absorb what was happening.
This reminded me of the basic truth about our young people that is often trivialized or ignored: they are voracious in their appetites for everything musical or novel (or most of all, both). They are also drawn in by quality, passion, and commitment. These things Alban Gerhardt has in spades, and so does the Oregon Symphony. I can’t help but think that we can pull these succeeding generations into a lifelong love of classical music if we aren’t afraid to talk to their level, or even challenge it a bit. We need to stop dumbing down and worry if they’ll ‘get it’. They will if what I’ve seen today is any indication.
In a cynical and baldly anti-arts and anti-schools editorial last week, the Oregonian’s editorial board recommended that voters repudiate the Creative Arts Network’s ballot issue. It it doubly ridiculous that the editorial board, (1) protests the ‘regressive’ nature of the assessment (which never seemed to bother them before), and (2) wants to deny a pretty painless assessment for all Portlanders that would benefit the Portland Public Schools at a time when the PPS needs all the help they can get. Plus, arts organizations and teachers don’t ‘deserve’ a tax just for them. Let’s see if that ‘logic’ holds the next time there is a ballot issue dealing with a major league baseball stadium or some other boondoggle that is necessary ‘for the public interest’.
What is missed in all of this anti-tax, Tea Party inspired rhetoric is that the fine arts are, in all of the most successful education systems in the leading industrialized countries, regarded as essential to the production of a intellectually advanced person who is ready to innovate in the workforce. Take Japan, which ranks #2 in science education, #4 in math, and #5 in reading, according to a 2009 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (In case you were wondering, the US scored #17 in science, #25 in math, and #14 in reading. A UNESCO draft report “The Present State of Arts Education in Japan” [pdf file] by Akiyama Takasu summarizes the governmental attitude towards the arts in the national educational system:
The Fundamental Law for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts … has stipulated the policies the Japanese nation ought to adopt for promoting culture and arts, such as the arrangement of education and research institutions concerned with culture and arts, and improving education related to culture and arts such as experiential learning concerned with culture and arts.
And that system dedicates the follow amount of time to each segment of the arts, both separately and in an integrated curriculum:
And the paper also stresses the benefits, within the framework of a complete education, of a well-rounded and persistant course of arts education:
The fundamental abilities do not refer only to knowledge and skills (e.g. reading and writing notation, skills to play musical instruments). In the Course of Study, the fundamental abilities also refer to the abilities of pupils and students to express their feelings, imagination, and thinking by such means as writing, drawing, performing, and making (expressive skills), and to the abilities of pupils and students to recognize positively strengths and aesthetic values. To cultivate the fundamental abilities, pupils and students’ creative activities are crucial, because such activities are the very basis of other activities. It is not too much to say that they can change pupils and students from being “successors to a culture” which includes Japanese, Eastern and Western traditions, to “creators of a future culture”.
Everyone likes cheap tickets, right? And most everyone also would like our children to have access to the arts and music education in all of the Portland Public Schools, too. You can realize both goals in one easy step by partnering with the Oregon Symphony in support of the Creative Advocacy Network‘s School and Arts Together ballot measure, which will be up for a vote on November 6, 2012. First, here’s what the ballot measure will do for students in the Portland Public Schools for a total of $35 per taxpayer, per year:
Arts and Music Teachers : Funds to hire arts and music teachers for kindergarten through 5th grade students at local public schools attended by Portland students. Equal distribution of funds based on school enrollment.
Arts Access : Remaining funds for grants to nonprofit arts organizations, other nonprofits and schools. Will fund grants to provide high-quality arts access for kindergarten through 12th grade students and to make arts, culture experiences available to underserved communities. Funds administered by Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC).
This one just made me smile: an 8 year old came up and tried his hand at conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the witches’ ride section of Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel and Gretel”. Cuteness ensues.