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Making It: My Life as a Working Musician

  
  
  
Susan

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 tough it is to make a living as a musician. One of our readers, Susan Speicer, agreed to share her experience as a recent grad of Washington State University's School of Music. Even though Susan hasn't landed a symphony job (yet!), she's doing fine: she teaches and works at violin shop; she serves as an administrator for a youth symphony; she coaches and makes violin jewelry; and she writes a music blog. What we love about Susan, besides her obvious dedication to music, is her willingness to try out the different niches of a career in music, whether that's teaching, business, administration, or playing.   

Response to "The Value of a Music Degree"

  
  
  
Guest Blogger: Dee

Guest Blogger Dee Braxton-Pellegrino owns a horse farm in NC and works as a professional musician. She’s sharing a blog in response to Alberta’s post "The Value of a Music Degree".

Notes from a Suzuki Mom: Alignment Enlightenment

  
  
  
Nerissa Nields

I'm in awe of Nerissa Nields's latest post for our music blog. It's perhaps a cliche these days among teachers and parents to say – however true it may be – something like "My students (or daughter) actually teaches me." Nerissa certainly borrows that approach, but her entry doesn't stop there. She goes on to talk about music, yoga, and her daughter's violin lessons as practices where chasing perfection only distracts the practitioner. In the end, Nerissa's approach is both terrifying and peaceful: it suggests that if there is a goal to our dearest pursuits, it's not conventional success but the humility that comes from struggle.   

Each week, our violin teacher gives us a practice plan, a sheet with a grid on it with the days
of the week horizontally across the top and various items listed vertically on the left hand side of the page.


At the top of every sheet, as you can see, is something Suzuki teachers call Main Focus. One week the focus might be on the bow hold; another week it could be getting the hand and wrist aligned. Recently we were focusing on intonation (getting the notes in tune, which is no small feat when there are no frets, sez this guitar player–and made me realize how like singing violin playing is since one needs to rely on one’s ear for pitch.) This week the Practice Point is about getting the fingers to stand up, so that the tips touch the string and are not flat like pancakes.

We practice to make it easy, says our teacher Emily Greene. And we make it easy by doing alittle every day, not forcing perfection (which is the enemy of the people, as the great Anne Lamott is fond of saying) but nodding at improvement. OK, wildly applauding improvement. With a six-year-old, it’s pretty stunning how quickly the brain absorbs the teaching, and how, when guided gently, the playing grows and improves. On the other hand, a phrase learned with a wrong bowing and not corrected is fairly difficult to unlearn. We tend to have the same “sticky” passages everyone else has, but if we learn them right the first time and go slowly to learn them, we pass by these obstacles with ease. If I let her play them over and over, knowing vaguely there’s something wrong but not having the energy to get off my seat and check the video (yes, I video the teacher playing the piece correctly during the lesson), then Lila will have to do many repetitions later on to get it right.

The O'Connor Method: Joy, Creativity and Cool Cabbage!

  
  
  
Ashley Liberty

Our guest blogger Ashley Liberty teaches violin at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Miami, Florida in addition to maintaining an impressive performance career in which she's been Concertmaster for the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra and performed alongside Bruce Hornsby, Andrea Bocelli, Bernadette Peters, Steve Miller, and Ricky Scaggs. Ashley makes a convincing case for using the O'Connor method: she firmly believes that the benefits of teaching American music with lyrics and a rich historical context outweigh any of its challenges.

I began my journey with the O’Connor Method after attending the O’Connor String Camp as a professional classical violinist looking to develop my abilities in other styles. I was introduced to the method there, and I decided to pursue training. Early on, I became a believer with an urgent desire to completely devote myself to teaching the O'Connor Violin Method to my beginning students, especially after attending the certification class with the method’s inspiring editor, Pamela Wiley. Since adopting the method as my curriculum with my 250 school violinists, and with all of my beginning to intermediate-level private students, I have been very satisfied with the results, and often completely surprised.

Shinichi Suzuki – The Man and the Violin Method

  
  
  

The Value of a Music Degree

  
  
  
Happy Graduation

It is graduation season! Many high school musicians are now preparing to move on to college to study music and many music majors are now entering the workforce. To all of these new grads: CONGRATULATIONS! And, to ask the question that many people are probably asking you, “What are you going to do with a music degree?”

SHAR's 3rd Annual String Quartet Competition

  
  
  
SHAR Quartet Competition

SHAR Music is proud to announce the winners of its third annual Quartet Competition!

The Ice Cream Pedagogue

  
  
  
Student violinists

As a SHAR Apprentice I have the great pleasure of being able to perform at local schools as part of the Apprentice Ensemble’s outreach program. This past week, two colleagues and I were privileged to perform back-to-back mini-concerts for six classes of some of Detroit’s fifth- and sixth-graders. The three of us from SHAR certainly had fun playing together, but our high string trio arrangements of the Star Wars theme or parts of Carmen were not what made this snowy day so delightful.  Rather, we found ourselves choking back laughter as these kids responded to our performances with the spontaneity and unpredictability that has ceased to color most adult interactions. And, as restless and noisy as these classes were, not a single bright eye seemed any less interested in the music for all of the chaos.

The Miranda July Generation

  
  
  
Joseph Chapman

Music and arts education programs matter because they engage the bizarre and beautiful creativity of Generation Y.

So, I've been thinking about education recently. Entries on the joys and trials of being a Suzuki Mom have flooded my inbox (send more!), and my colleague Alberta, a fine violinist and writer here at SHAR, just posted an entry last week on the sacrifices and payoffs of studying and playing the violin.

The entries on this blog, however, aren't reflective of the dominant opinion on most school boards. No surprise there. Arts education can't really compete with the sciences, and I'm not sure if they've ever been able to compete. Certainly these days most of the rhetoric from President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has centered on the sciences. When Obama and Duncan talk about our test scores dropping behind Scandanavian countries or China, it's usually in the sciences. Administrators value reading, but not reading as a way to make art: more so, they care about reading skills because the savvy use of language is necessary to get ahead.

For Parents: Why Music?

  
  
  
Money

Playing a string instrument is a tremendous investment for both the student and the teacher. Money, time, energy ... so is it worth it? Based on my own experience, I believe that this sacrifice is one that reaps endless rewards.

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