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Fame, Money, Music, and Your Education

  
  
  
Plato

In this guest blog, SHAR customer Paul Dittus asks the question "Why should anyone study music and why is it important?" His answer is a suprising one: drawing on arguments from classical philosophy, Paul argues that at its best music can connect us to beauty and truth. While not ignoring the dire employment opportunities for musicians, Paul reminds us that music is more than employment: it is enduring beauty. Note: This guest article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of SHAR Music.  

Why should anyone care to study music? For a large income and a good job, right? In today’s economy you would probably be better off pursuing a degree to become a doctor or lawyer. If money is really what you prize, maybe you should consider pursuing something other than music. I would say getting a degree in music should help you get a job, but I do not believe it should be your ultimate goal and purpose for pursuing a music degree. What about fame? There are not many guarantees in this world, and fame is one that is not easily come by. Unless you are going to be the next “fiddler on the roof” and become a hit, you should probably not count your chickens before they hatch. This is not to say you shouldn’t dream big and set your goals high, it is more to make sure you are pursuing music for a solid reasons. If not for money or fame, why study music and why is it important? 

Why does some music have the ability to captivate, inspire, and uplift you? Why did the ancient philosophers give it such importance? Why does it have such a big role in society now and in the past? These and other similar questions must be asked and pondered upon. Do not these questions give us evidence for the importance of music?



Friendship and Love of Music: An Interview with Hayley Murks

  
  
  
Hayley Murks

Each year, Strings Magazine awards a $3,000 scholarship (plus $1,000 to spend at SHAR) to a deserving young musician. The Edith Eisler Scholarship is a much-needed and generous award, one named in memory of a dedicated musician and contributor to Strings Magazine. When I heard that this year's winner, Hayley Murks, was from Gulfport, Mississippi, I was excited to connect with a fellow Mississippian. I'm so grateful, however, that Hayley and I ended up talking about more than her home state; Hayley generously shared her story, what drives her to make music, and her passion for a Gulfport outreach program, the Magnolia Chamber Orchestra.   


Joe Chapman:
Tell me how you first started playing the viola. What drew you to the instrument? What has kept you going?

Hayley Murks:
Well, I always wanted to play the double bass, but I am only 5'1'' and I have the hand size of a five-year-old! I fell in love with the sound of the viola when I was in the fourth grade. I was a part of my public school's strings program from that point on.
            I had a really great strings teacher in middle school who was a very caring individual. At the time I was still participating in competition dance, and found it difficult to keep up in the class. He truly inspired me to stay passionate about viola and music.  
            My father's love for music has always given me a sense of direction too. He had a record room in our house. There must have been thousands of records in it! He was very supportive of me becoming a musician and thought that it was the coolest job on earth. He would always quietly listen to me practice outside my bedroom door in high school.  
            He became very ill my senior year of high school and passed away a few weeks before my first college jury. My memories of him give me the strength to continue on this journey.

JC:
That's such a moving and beautiful answer, Hayley. It's strange how the givens of our lives—your height, for instance!—direct our choices. And then there are the circumstances, like your father's death, that inspire us to continue. I guess I have two follow-up questions here. What do you love about the sound of the viola? And which records in your father's record room did you find yourself listening to?

HM: Having my double bass fantasy shattered in elementary school, I found comfort in the C string on my viola. I suppose I am naturally drawn to deep tones.
            The music of Bob Dylan fascinated my father to the point that he named his daughter Dylan—before my mother ruined it all by naming me Hayley. True story. And the music of the Beatles was like our family soundtrack.  

JC: Oh, Hayley is a good name! Although Dylan would have been pretty cool, too. (I can't say the same for Bob!) Tell our readers a little about Gulfport, Mississippi. What’s the town like? How long have you lived there?


HM: Gulfport is on the coast of Mississippi. It’s a beautiful beach town, although Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill have certainly done their part to set us back. But we are coming back strong!
            I have been born and raised on the coast, and as I’m planning my move to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Longy School of Music, I realize just what a special place Gulfport is to me.
            I’m one of the founding members of the coast's Magnolia Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble specializing in early music performance under the fearless direction of Tomas Fajardo. Our concerts are a gift to our community; they’re free for all to attend, and through our performances we strive to impact the quality of life and the cultural diversity of the Mississippi coast.
            I feel privileged to be a part of Magnolia Chamber Orchestra and to have an opportunity to enrich the experience of the younger audiences on the Mississippi coast. I truly believe in the mission of the group: to inspire the youth, provoking the creativity in them and igniting a genuine interest for the arts through community outreach.  

JC: My younger brothers and parents lived in Jackson, Mississippi when Katrina hit. Folks from the gulf and from Louisiana stayed in Jackson for a bit while their homes and businesses were repaired. So, you were you in Gulfport for Katrina? And during the oil spill? How have those disasters impacted you, your family, and your town?


HM: I was fourteen when Hurricane Katrina hit, living about six blocks from the beach with my dad. We stayed through the storm, even though a tree crashed into our house, and our neighborhood flooded.
            I was so young, I'm afraid that I almost thought that the storm was fun. I have a sick appreciation for bad weather!
            My father did a rescue swim for our elderly neighbor and her cat. I don't think he shared my love for storms. He became pretty sick from swimming in the flood waters. Dysentery was rampant in Gulfport at the time. 
            I recall that two years after the storm we were still volunteering to do beach clean-up in parts of the coast. The fishing and tourism industry suffered greatly from the oil spill. I feel like people on the coast are mentally very strong and the towns are blooming again. 

JC: I don't think the seriousness of the storm really impacted my younger brothers at the time, either. (They were also around your age.) Their school hosted an influx of storm refugees, and I remember we saw the Sugar Bowl in a barely functional New Orleans soon after Katrina. That's amazing, though, that your father rescued a neighbor and the neighbor's cat: an act of heroism!
            I want to get back to your previous answer, though, and hear a little more about the Magnolia Chamber Orchestra—that sounds like an amazing group! Do you hope to inspire others to play string instruments, or just to get people excited about art in general? And are you good friends with most of your fellow orchestra members? Are most of your friends also string players?


HM: I definitely hope to inspire others, of all ages, to play any instrument and to get involved in the understanding of all arts.
            We just held an event in collaboration with the Ohr-O'keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi. Magnolia Chamber Orchestra had a rehearsal in one of the creative spaces provided by the museum, with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. Anyone under the age of eighteen was invited to paint to our music and to learn a little about the compositions we were preparing to perform at the concert later that evening—selections by Purcell and Telemann. All of us had such a blast playing for the kids and taking pictures with them and their little creations after the rehearsal!            
  Magnolia Chamber Orchestra is an ensemble created by friendship and love of music.I am friends with all of the members and I continue to make more as we expand our circle throughnew collaborations. I just had half of the orchestra stay at our modest living space for our annual Magnolia Chamber Orchestra SummerFest 2013, a creation of our artistic director, Mr. Fajardo. The rest of the group stayed in his studio apartment. As you can tell, we go to great lengths to create music together and to perform for our community!

JC: Wow! That's awesome. I have one last question for you, one I feel I have to ask. The Edith Eisler Scholarship includes $1,000 to use on purchases from SHAR. Do you know what you’re going to buy?

HM: Mr. Chapman, this is the hardest question of them all! Maybe I will start with getting some new strings for my viola.  Honestly, I have no idea. I have never won a shopping spree before! I feel like I'm going to have a panic attack. Anyways, I am so excited and grateful!








































"Colburn School Commencement Address" by Arnold Steinhardt

  
  
  
Guerneri CA (1)

The Guarneri String Quartet (photo by Erwin Fischer) and Charles Avsharian

The Importance of Music Education

  
  
  
Nerissa Nields

Since our blog's been on a hiatus over the winter, it's been some time since we've had a chance to post one of Nerissa Nields's blogs. How we've missed her! And this blog is especially welcome since it addreses a subject near and dear to many of us at SHAR: music education. Nerissa makes the case that music education not only soothes us as infants but it helps bring together classrooms and families. 

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of holding a baby just 10 days old. It was mid afternoon, and I was guessing her poor mama hadn’t really slept since the birth. Elle and I took turns cuddling the baby, while my friend crept upstairs for a much needed nap. After a few minutes, the baby began fussing. I picked her up, walked around the room, sang our version of “Hush Little Baby.” Still gritchy. I switched to “All the Pretty Horsies” and did a gentle canter-y gait. More fussing. Then I started in on Ledbelly’s “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie.” The baby pulled her head off my shoulder (strong baby!) and stared at me as if in disbelief. She stopped crying and listened as I sang. When her mother came downstairs fifteen minutes later, I told her what had happened.

“No wonder,” said her mother. “We played that song and sang that song many times while shewas in the womb, and since birth."

I’d certainly heard of this happening–baby recognizing pre-womb music post-womb–and in fact, we wrote about this phenomenon in our book All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family. But I’d never witnessed it so directly. (Well, maybe I did. Maybe it happened with my own kids, but I was so sleep deprived then, I have no recollection.)

Today in Jay’s Suzuki class the teacher had the four-year-old pre-twinklers form a circle. She played “pass the Twinkle,” playing the first line of “Mississippi Stop Stop” to the child on her left, who in turn, wordlessly passed it on to the child on his left, and so on, around the circle. “Isn’t it amazing,” she said. “How you all knew what to do, and could do it without even saying any words. Music is a language we can all understand.”

Plans for SOS-SOA are looking up. Emails are circulating. I am making phone calls, juggling schedules, refining our focus. Meanwhile, doing a lot of thinking about the role of music in our children’s lives. Why fight to keep music in the schools?

- It’s a language we all share.
- It cuts through reason and goes right to the heart.
- When I look back on my own school memories, so many of them have to do with music class, performing, practicing an instrument. Maybe that’s just because I am a musician, but I can’t imagine growing up without all the music I had.
- It unites a group of disparate kids
- It’s the only academic discipline that is equally left-brained and right-brained

What about you? What do you remember about music education growing up?

For more about music education, visit the National Association for Music Education.





















An Invitation to O'Connor Method Alumni From the Ann Arbor Workshop

  
  
  
Val

Today's guest blog is from Val Jaskiewicz, the Vice President of Merchandising at SHAR Music. Val has been a tireless champion of alternative styles here at SHAR and was instrumental in bringing Mark O'Connor and Pam Wiley to Ann Arbor for a teacher training workshop in August. Below, Val expresses his heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated and invites the workshop participants to share questions, reactions, and ideas about the teacher training session in the comments section. 

Just one week has gone by since we all met at the Mark O'Connor workshop, and I have heard from so many of you about how much you learned and your eagerness to apply it. Thank you, Pam Wiley, for your masterful and enthusiastic presentation of Mark O'Connor's rapidly growing method, and for showing us how to teach concepts that are not familiar to most of us. Thanks, also, to the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts, who partnered with SHAR to bring this worthwhile event to Ann Arbor. And of course, we'll never forget Mark O'Connor and Melissa Tong's brilliant performance at the Ark Saturday, alongside the great Saline Fiddlers! It was indeed a memorable weekend. I highly recommend you read  James Engman's blog about the event. James was one of the teacher attendees, and is SHAR's newest apprentice. I believe he has brilliantly captured the essence of what Mark O'Connor is doing through his method.

The intent of this blog is to create an opportunity to connect with each other and share ideas about using the O'Connor Method in your studios and classrooms. Fifteen hours of classroom training in the method is a lot of training, but there are always things that come up that you wish you may have asked, usually right after leaving for home! There was definitely a lot of enthusiasm at the workshop and I want to be sure that we can keep the momentum going.

Please jump in with your comments and experiences! This blog is open for all to see, but we'd like to invite the attendees of the August 24-26 workshop at the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts O'Connor to participate in this particular conversation. If you did not attend the teacher training session but still want to contribute, SHAR welcomes you to propose a guest blog, which you can send to our blog editor Joe Chapman at this address: joec@sharmusic.com.







Mark O’Connor Has a Dream for American Violinists

  
  
  
Mark O'Connor

We'd like to welcome our newest SHAR Apprentice James Engman to the SHAR Music Blog! James studied violin performance, physics, and math at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and he hopes to use his degrees to excel in instrument repair. What we love about James's first blog is that his enthusiasm is so catching: his experience at the Mark O'Connor Teacher Training Workshop clearly affected him a great deal, and you can sense the transfer of enthusiasm from Mark to James and then to yourself as a reader. And isn't that how most of us got into the arts anyways? We heard or saw or read something amazing by another artist, and we thought: "I want to do that too."

If you know just a little about Mark O’Connor, you might describe him as “the world’s greatest fiddle player.” And while that title is apt, I would go even further. As someone who has followed Mark O’Connor’s career closely, I would describe him as “America’s virtuoso musician.” And I'm not be using the term "virtuoso" in the modern sense of a highly technically skilled performer (even though that would also be accurate). Rather, I'm excavating an older use of the term. In J.S. Bach’s time, a virtuoso was a musician who explored all the realms of musicianship and was accomplished in performing, composing, arranging, teaching, and who also studied theory, history, and philosophy.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. When I heard Mark O'Connor speak this weekend at a teacher training workshop in Ann Arbor, I realized how genuine and deep an artist's dedication can be. He recalled being eight years old and, having seen Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw play “Diggy Liggy Lo” on The Johnny Cash Show, he begged his parents for three years to buy him a violin. It is that young, unbridled enthusiasm – a child's determination to play like Doug Kershaw – that drives Mark O’Connor and his followers. Likewise, his method nurtures this enthusiasm, and it produces well-rounded, creative string players who, above all, love making music. Being a virtuoso is all well and good, but this passion – and a drive to unlock this passion in others – is also an important part of Mark's method. 

It's true that this weekend I was certified in the Mark O’Connor Violin Method, which is a relatively new method for learning to play the violin (there are other, similar methods for viola, cello, or bass). But it's also true that I had low expectations when I arrived. I had been classically trained and had little fiddling experience and I knew Mark was primarily known as a fiddler. What I discovered, though, is that Mark’s method has a vast range of styles and is steeped with every aspect of American music. By the end of the weekend, I had been fully convinced by the passion behind the method and by the method itself. I’m unable to put my finger on any one reason that sold me on Mark’s vision: there are just too many. I can say that I see this method as a revolution in early string development, one that could produce fantastic violinists who can adapt to many styles and who possess the artistic creativity needed in today’s musical world.





My Invaluable Music Degree

  
  
  
Sarah

In May of this year, we shared an article with our email subscribers titled "The Value of Music Degree." The article argued that a music degree, while it may not lead directly to a job, is still worth earning because of how much it can enrich one's life. The response was overwhelming: many musicians disagreed with the article and felt that their degree sent them out into a tough economy with few practical skills; others could not imagine their lives without their music degree, or without music at the center of their lives, no matter how hard it is to make a living as a musician. Sarah Decker is the third reader who has responded with an engaging and generous guest blog. Sarah believes that the "dollars and cents" of her life as a musician don't matter; what matters is that by playing music – doing what she loves – she's staying true to herself and her talents. 

I’ve been a musician my whole life. There was really no option otherwise; music was always such an integral part of growing up that it’d be a miracle if I didn’t end up being a musician. My mom taught piano lessons until I was too big to stay out of trouble and directed church choirs my whole life. She made sure that I had access to wonderful music, whether it was Peter and the Wolf narrated by the great Leonard Bernstein (of course, I had no idea who he was until I was much older), The Nutcracker, The Beatles, or The Fiddler on the Roof

Growing up, I was always involved in band, choir, dance, theater, and the Black Hills Symphony. When it came time to go to college, I debated my major briefly but it seemed only natural that I major in music. There was nothing else that I had such a passion for. In time I learned that I didn’t have the passion to teach, but to perform and compose music, so I changed from majoring in Music Education to double majors in French Horn Performance and Music Composition & Theory. Before long, I realized that I’ve always had a love affair with movie scores and decided that I should compose them, so I found a new Master’s program in just that. I’m extremely proud of my accomplishments there and I’m slowly working on getting a small composition career going on my own while I perform with the Black Hills Symphony and Powder River Symphony.

Economically, I sort of shot myself in the foot there. Just as I was finishing my masters degree the economy tanked. The end of that degree included a 5-week internship that was supposed to turn into a job, but most of us had no such luck, and I couldn’t find any other jobs either because I was “overqualified but under-experienced” for anything I could realistically do, so I had to firmly tuck my tail and move home from LA to live with my parents again. I ran into that same line at home too. Being highly educated is definitely a double-edged sword; I posses skills and talents that many people can only dream of, but instead of using that as a testament to my abilities in new situations potential employers seemed intimidated and found reasons not to hire me. Well-meaning friends and family continue to ask whether I should “just teach,” but having been in the educational system as long as I was I knew it wasn’t something you do for the money. You have to have the passion for it and the willingness to sacrifice your evenings and weekends for minimal compensation, not to mention deal with administrators that continue to slash arts budgets left and right. That’s not me.

Would I have done things differently if I had known what would happen? Maybe. My studentloans are gigantic and there’s no way I can afford the monthly payments. But then, who can say they’ve pursued their dreams, even if they got slapped down a little? How many people can say that music they’ve composed has been recorded by Disney musicians at Capitol Records and attached to a real film? It was truly a surreal experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. So what if I’m not in Los Angeles anymore? Composers are a dime a dozen there. Being back at home means I can play with the BHS again like I did in high school, spend time with my aging parents and give my newborn daughter the chance I didn’t have to get close to her grandparents, help my fiancee record and master an album of his songs, and work on local film and TV projects. I’m the only person around here with the training and skills I have, so as soon as I find the right niche I can make a career out of this after all. As for my loan payments... I’m still working on how to bring in enough money to cover them, but for now we’re surviving. Right now, that’s all I can ask.

The value of my music can’t be quantified in dollars and cents. It is part of my core and my soul. I will always dance. I will always sing. Without Symphony, life is bland. It doesn’t pay enough to reimburse me for the gas it takes to get there, but I don’t care. What I do for a “day job” doesn’t matter, but I am trying to use my passions productively to help with that and maybe in time that will be all I need.

Above all, my mother surrounded me with mentors where the public school couldn’t provide them. Starting with ballet and gymnastics at age 3, private cello lessons starting in middle school and continuing through high school, private voice lessons in high school, and sending me to music camp for cello, voice, and French Horn all through middle and high school, I collected a team of teacher-mentor-friends that continue to help me to this day. This support net is truly invaluable, no matter what happens.

Now, at 30 years old and a new mother, I’m determined to do the same for my daughter. My teachers helped me become the person I am today and the vast majority of them are still a very present part of my life, or should I say, my constantly changing, insane, wonderful, musical life.













Suzuki Teacher Training at Stevens Point: Part 2

  
  
  
Lucy Lewis

We're grateful to have Lucy Lewis, a trained Suzuki teacher and doctoral student in musical arts at the University of Iowa, share a series of blogs about her experiences at American Suzuki Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Every summer, the Suzuki Institute hosts a teacher training session at Stevens Point, and this summer Ms. Lewis is one of the teachers-in-training.This entry is Ms. Lewis's second dispatch from Stevens Point and, though it's hard to believe, it's even richer than her first. In this entry, Ms. Lewis shares her admiration for two master teachers at Stevens Point and describes their successful approaches to instruction. It's truly amazing to observe a master teacher at work; what's even more amazing, however, is to observe a developing master teacher – Ms. Lewis – learn her craft.   

Since the last time I wrote I have completed the Suzuki teacher training for Violin Book 8 with Carol Dallinger (Oramay Cluthe Eades Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Evansville and founder of the University of Evansville Suzuki Program), and I am currently in the midst of doing the training for Violin Book 5 with Nancy Lokken (Director of the Augsburg College Suzuki Program). Both of these ladies are incredible people and masterful teachers, and it has been a privilege to train with them. However, before I detail some of the things I have learned, I would like to share with you some thoughts of wisdom that were passed on to all the teacher trainees in our orientation meeting.

On the eve of starting our first week of teacher training, Pat D’Ercole (Director of the Aber Suzuki Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) held a meeting which all the teacher trainees were required to attend. In this meeting she discussed the benefits of doing Suzuki teacher training and encouraged us all to approach our classes and observations with an open mind, no matter our background or current mindset about teaching. She acknowledged that we might see some things that would challenge our beliefs, but cautioned us to be willing to try things before making a judgment call. Evidently, John Kendall once told Waltraud Suzuki (the wife of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki), that he was not sure whether American mothers would be willing to do all that this method required and she replied to him in a heavy German accent – “Why don’t you try it first and then say something!” I for one, am grateful that he took her advice.



A New School Year Full of Opportunity, Not Frustration

  
  
  
paula photo

Paula Leshkevich has been a member of SHAR’s Educational Sales Department for over four years. Having taught in both private and public schools, she understands many of the challenges facing instrumental music teachers today and works to help teachers spend more time teaching and less time with common frustrations. In her free time, Paula enjoys writing, travelling, and kayaking.This is her first blog entry for the SHAR site.

The first strains of “Twinkle”. A prize-winning bow grip. Ear-to-ear smiles on the first note. The anticipation of a concert. A new class of beginners picking up string instruments for the very first time.

As a new school year approaches, teachers have so many exciting moments to look forward to. Enthusiasm for helping students unlock their musical potential is strong and anticipation of the coming class sessions is mounting. The promise of a fresh start with a new school year is one of the joys that both teachers and students look forward to across the country.

Students file into the room. The bell rings. Bows are tightened. Music is put out on stands. Pencils are ready. Students hold their instruments patiently as you go around the room checking for tuning accuracy. Molly’s pegs keep slipping. Zach’s fine tuner snapped off. Sarah’s bridge is crooked. David’s strings are too high to press down.

Teachers often tell us that much of their teaching time is taken up fixing problems of V.S.O.s (Violin Shaped Objects). Unfortunately, the problems that come up with inferior instruments or problematic set-ups frustrate not only the teacher, but the students who deserve high-quality, functioning instruments to properly learn the basics of string playing. Many teachers can attest that students who experience frequent or serious instruments problems are far less likely to continue in orchestra.

We invite you to share your experiences with V.S.O.s in the classroom.











Are You a Creative String Player?

  
  
  
Christian Howes

We're very pleased at SHAR to share our first guest blog from the talented violinist and educator Christian Howes. Although a classically-trained musician, Mr. Howes made a name for himself in the New York jazz scene in the '90s, playing with renowned musicians such as trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist D.D. Jackson, Bill Evans’ Soulgrass, crossover pioneers Spyro Gyra and the legendary guitarist-inventor Les Paul. In addition, Mr. Howes is a former associate professor at the Berklee College of Music and was the founder of the Creative Strings Workshop in 2003. It's fair to say that all these passions – classical music, jazz and rock, and teaching – show up in Mr. Howes's fascinating blog article. The article asks an essential and important question for music today: Is it possible to bridge the cultures of rock and jazz with the culture of classical music education? And if so, how can classical musicians harness the creative energies of rock and jazz?   

We tend to ascribe values to ourselves which don't necessarily coincide with how we spend our time. For example, even if I really wanted to, I couldn't call myself "athletic" if I only exercised once every other week. It wouldn't matter how much I think, deep down inside, that I'm athletic.

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