On the last day of California Summer Music I performed the entirety of the Schumann Piano Quintet and premiered two new student works, a quartet and a piece for solo violin. A year ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to volunteer for this feat, let alone pull it off. The day was full of music making, smiles and hugs, and of course bows. It was the product of weeks of hard work, expert coaching, and focus. The success of the day was not only a highlight of my summer, but a highlight of my career.
Most importantly, this triumph reinforces the value in the method of skill building I preach. Make a path, walk the path.
Below you will find a step by step analysis of the path made and walked to build the skill of new music musicianship.
Make the path.
- My music education to date didn’t prepare me for new music. As a Suzuki student since the age of four, I learned music by ear first and later learned to read. Though I read well, there is always a level of comfort that comes from listening to a piece before reading it. Furthermore, the Suzuki method is primarily built on the wonderful, clean architectural music of the Baroque and Classical eras. Though romantic music and stylistic playing is eventually taught, new music is not a part of the sequence.
- Opening my mind to new music was a process. My love for music history and musicology did not stop with medieval through romantic music, and so studying with compassion the music of the 20th century opened my mind and ears to new music. Guided primarily by Dr. Carson, I explored the sonic worlds of serialism, neo-classicism, neo-romanticism, minimalism, and post-romanticism. During this period of discovery, the Butler School of Music was visited by Fifth House Ensemble and Eighth Blackbird. I was inspired by the artistry and extended techniques required to performing new music convincingly. Needless to say, may interest was piqued, however I had still yet to study a composition beyond Copland’s songs.
- Fresh inc festival gave me the tools. I attended fresh inc festival primarily for the music entrepreneurial tools, but learned much more. In lessons with Charlene Kluegel, resident violinist of Fifth House Ensemble, we went through each line of the five new compositions I was assigned. She imparted fingerings, techniques, devices for score study and practice methods specific to the difficult nature of new music. Kluegel helped me move beyond the challenge of the notes themselves and instructed my leadership in the ensemble. She showed me how to develop impulse and cues without a recording to reference. One of the most valuable parts of fresh inc is that Fifth House Ensemble members play in the small chamber ensembles. I learned the rehearsal tools and language used to navigate complex passages.
Walk the path.
- I came away from fresh inc with a firm grasp on new music tools because I walked the path over an over again for 10 days on five new pieces! I focused only on building my new music toolbox, and therefore left a much more confident new music player.
- Because of this confidence I engaged with composers at California Summer Music right away. Confident that I could manage very difficult new music compositions, I began seeking out the music of composers at California Summer Music. I asked them about their processes, their inspiration, and their recorded music. I began collecting their music (via soundcloud or mp3s) not because I wanted to make a good impression, but because I genuinely wanted to hear their work on the leading edge of music making.
- Because I had formed relationships with the composers at CSM, I was asked to play on several of their compositions. Gladly I accepted the offer and got to work using the techniques I developed at fresh inc. I consulted the score first, looked for overarching themes and gestures, consulted the composers on their vision for the piece, and came well prepared to rehearsals. During rehearsal I used the language modeled by Fifth House Ensemble members to be effective and capture the composers’ aesthetic choices.
- With five premiers already under my belt, two premiers in performance felt accomplishable. I knew that the goal was not just a clean recording but a convincing interpretation of a new piece of music. I walked on the stage with gratitude to be involved in the new music making process, and I feel that infused the music with another level of meaning.
More opportunities to walk this path?
As a new semester approaches, I’m looking for more ways to continue my new music work. I hope to participate in the New Music Ensemble, premier a work for viola quintet, and prepare a piece of new music for my senior recital in the spring.
I have zoomed in on one advance skill developed in a (relatively) short amount of time. Remember anyone, child to professional, is capable of increasing their skill capacity. Set your sights on developing one new skill (learn Sibelius; keep a journal of student progress; modify your bow hold; use only “growth” language in lessons, etc.). Any skill is made possible through the conscious work of path making and path walking.