Character Traits of Great Clarinet Students…and Musings On Ego

Clarinet, Clarinet Tips, Clarinet Wholistic, Classical clarinetists-female, Classical clarinetists-male, Practicing, Teaching, Uncategorized

One of the greatest teachers of young clarinetists today, and someone I greatly admire, Eva Wasserman-Margolis,  recently wrote a profound statement: ‘The quality of music is of utmost importance …. but it is really about the human being behind the music that is most important to me’. I have maintained that in teaching, the heart of a student is more important than their playing ability. In a very real sense we educate hearts in lessons, instilling compassion for music, for others, and for ourselves.

After reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, I decided to create a document for college and high school students. My ‘Characteristics of A Great Musician’ is given to all of my students. You will find the document at the end of this post or it may be downloaded from my website here.

I asked several students to expand upon my ‘Character Traits’ definitions. It will come as no surprise that they gave terrific answers. What you read in the document below, then, is a list of character traits developed from my own experience, from information online, and partly defined by students.

Note: Students are most curious about humbleness as it applies to music. I find humility is often thought of as a negative concept. Students think it means lack of ego, self-deprecation, shaming self or others, low self-esteem….or worse, that it means allowing others to abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like to use this quote to define humbleness: ‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.’

Indeed, that quote might lead to a fun discussion. What is ego, and is ego good, bad, or neither? What part does ego play in performing?  Is it possible to play in humbleness? What might that look like? How might humility help or hurt performance? Hmmmm…….

Enjoy!

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Teaching Philosophy Statement Is Up On My Website

Clarinet, Classical clarinetists-female, Classical clarinetists-male, Orchestra, Teaching, Uncategorized

‘Done is better than perfect.’ This is my motto for Clarinet Divas, my website and life. Flylady gets the credit for this great motto. This motto especially applies to the writing of a Teaching Philosophy Statement!

It took me a few weeks, but my Teaching Philosophy Statement is now up on my website HERE.

It is also copied and pasted below. Enjoy!

My goal is to discover, nurture, strengthen and encourage the creative talent within each clarinetist while always making artistry the highest objective. My teaching endeavors to guide students towards becoming the best musical version of themselves by developing all aspects of playing — musicianship, tone, technique and performance skills — in order to reach their highest potential, whatever their goals.

My experience as a professional performer, educator, soloist, and chamber musician informs my teaching practice and philosophy.

I employ a pedagogical approach that is rooted in a deep understanding of clarinet fundamentals and musicianship helping students to gain the skills necessary to succeed. Students study standard and contemporary works at their level. Discussion of phrasing and style in the manner of D. Stanley Hasty and Mitchell Lurie is ongoing. Joe Allard’s attention to releasing excess tension was the foundation for my study of the body. Because tightness can affect the ease of performance, I address tension issues and quickly find solutions. Students receive a thorough foundation for becoming outstanding clarinetists and exceptional musicians. This includes learning how to read pop and jazz charts, working on opera music, preparing for any type of audition, and reviewing strategies for starting teaching studios in urban centers.

When recruiting, I look for students who not only are superb musicians with keen rhythm, excellent tonguing and facile technique, but those who are patient with themselves, creative, kind, eager and engaged in the process of learning.

In addition, my studio is:

Results-oriented

The ultimate objective is to prepare students musically and technically for future aspirations, whatever they may be. Mastery of the clarinet will be accomplished by the study of etudes, methods, excerpts and repertoire, appropriate for each level.

Customized

Lessons are adapted to the individual’s needs and abilities. I am not interested in clarinet clones, but rather am passionate about guiding students to be the best versions of themselves as musicians. In short, I will strive to help students find their own unique ‘clarinet voice’.

Supportive in problem-solving

Issues and challenges of playing will be identified and solutions introduced in music being studied. If necessary, exercises specific to the problem will be given.

Thorough in studying best practice techniques

Intelligent practice is an art that must be learned in order to excel. In high school and college I largely sight-read music because no one showed me how to practice. My effective practice strategies only came about by playing weekly orchestra concerts, where large amounts of music must be learned quickly and thoroughly. This was trial by fire and nerve-wracking. Therefore strategies I have learned for efficient, intelligent practice will be shared in lessons. Based on years of teaching and performing, these methods are effective.

In closing:

The real challenge of the clarinet is as much about creativity, good phrasing, color in the sound and style as it is about brilliant technique. I believe that performing is not about our egos or how many notes we can play; it is truly about singing through the clarinet, serving the composer, and connecting with our audience.

 

 

Book List For Advanced High School Clarinetists (and two videos)

Clarinet, Clarinet Books and Articles, Classical clarinetists-female, Classical clarinetists-male, Recordings, Teaching, Uncategorized

I’ve never seen a classical music book list for high school clarinet students. Rather than waste time looking through the bottomless Google pit, I decided to ask my book-reading, fun-loving music friends what they might suggest for eager young students. My buddies did not disappoint! Below find a wide-ranging selection from colleagues in orchestras, at universities, who have private teaching studios and from several conservatory students. I will add any books that look interesting and appropriate for high school readers, so feel free to present your ideas in the comments.

Note to teachers: vet these books carefully! I have not read everything on this list. If you notice a book that is inappropriate with foul language or other issues, let me know ASAP.

BOOKS

“Marsalis On Music” by Wynton Marsalis

“Lessons From A Street-Wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn At Most Music Schools” by Ramon Ricker *

“The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle

“Women Composers: The Lost Tradition Found” by Diane Peacock Jezic

“Joys and Sorrows” by Pablo Casals

“The Time of Our Singing” by Richard Powers

“Gentlemen, More Dolce Please!: An Irreverent Memoir of Thirty Years in the Boston Symphony Orchestra” by Harry Ellis Dickson

“Women In Music: Source Readings From the Middle Ages to the Present” by Carol Neuls-Bates

“The Rest Is Noise” by Alex Ross *

“My Young Years” by Arthur Rubenstein *

“Moving To Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life” by Wynton Marsalis

“The Mastery of Music” by Barry Green *

“Benny Goodman and the Swing Era” by James Lincoln Collier

“For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet” by Rebecca Rischin *

“With Louis and the Duke: The Autobiography of a Jazz Clarinetist” by Barney Bigard

“The Soloist” by Steve Lopez *

“Jacqueline du Pré: A Biography” by Carol Easton *

“Famous Female Clarinetists Throughout History” – a blog article by Jenny Maclay —many women are missing from this list, but it is a beginning. Click here:  Jenny Maclay, Clarinet

“A Soprano On Her Head” by Eloise Ristad *

“The Inner Game of Music” by Barry Greene *

“Art of the Possibility” by Ben Zander

“Gentle Genius: Story of Felix Mendelssohn” by George Richard Marek

“What To Listen For In Music” by Aaron Copland *

“The Music Lesson” by Victor Wooten

“Indivisible By Four” by Arnold Steinhardt *

“Afternoon of a Faun: How Debussy Created a New Music for the Modern World”    by Harvey Lee Snyder

BONUS — VIDEOS

“American Masters: Itzhak” — full-length feature film about Itzhak Perlman. Find more information here:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/itzhak-full-film/10786

Victor Borge —with the recorder phenomenon Michala Petri. Listeners should be aware that Borge did not share his antics with performers until the performance. His improv skills were unmatched. This made for many moments of genuine laughter. Watch as Petri tries valiantly to hold it together as ‘the straight man’ while Borge, who obviously has great admiration for her, clowns around. Amazing!

 

 

PRACTICE TIME IN PERCENTAGES FORMAT

Clarinet, Classical clarinetists-female, Practicing, Teaching, Uncategorized

In practicing, students usually fall into one of two groups. Using highly technical terms (not), I call these groups:

1) those who get lost in details (detail-ers)

2) those who run through material without much attention (runners)

‘Detailers’ enjoy the process and can get lost in musical minutiae, forgetting that time exists. An hour later they may have completed work on two measures.

‘Runners enjoy playing music from start to finish without stopping. They rarely listen well or fix issues. Then they go walk their dog or text their friends.b

Truth is, we need a balance between being a Detailer and a Runner in our daily practice.

Below is a formula for practicing that includes time for detail work and time for performance. I’ve put everything in percentages that can easily be changed into number of minutes. Use a timer. Note: there is no magic in this formula. As I always say, make my ideas work for YOU. I have shown two options only as a starting point. Be creative!

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The Most Important Aspect of Playing In An Orchestra

Classical clarinetists-female, Orchestra, Teaching

I work with some of the finest colleagues anywhere. St. Louis Symphony musicians are known for graciousness towards visiting conductors, a high level of passion and musicality, and friendliness.

I thought it might be fun to ask some of these wonderful musicians what they think is the most important part of playing in an orchestra. I’ve divided responses by number of years of service but have left answers anonymous. Some remarks are quite elegant; some poignant and others humorous. I may add a second list later on, as musicians love to share what they know. Enjoy!

String– over 40 years of service in the SLSO

  • Teamwork; must be a good ensemble player. Must submerge a bit of your personality to create a unified sound for the section and the orchestra.
  • Actually, the answer to that question has changed over time for me. Early on I wanted to be a part of the social life of the orchestra. Then I WAS part of the social life. At the end of my career I feel separated again. It used to be that musicians wanted to be accepted by the older players, but this is no longer the case.
  • Another important thing is to realize that we are part of an institution that has a long and rich past.

String – less than 20 years of service in the SLSO

  • Equal parts of self-awareness and collaboration are needed. In order to collaborate you have to be aware of yourself and others around you.

Brass – less than 20 years of service in the SLSO

  • Being sensitive to people around you, both musically and personally.

Woodwind – less than 20 years of service in the SLSO

  • Refuse to gossip and criticize a colleague. Realize that when you do this, you are tearing down a valued person and our great institution. Eventually it might affect our music-making. Also, it will come back to bite you.
  • Especially avoid gossip with management, something that sadly goes on here too much.
  • Wear deodorant. Under no circumstances, take garlic pills.

String – over 40 years of service in the SLSO

  • Take a shower!
  • Flexibility – ability to collaborate with colleagues onstage

Woodwind – less than 20 years of service in the SLSO

  • Intonation: never think you are right. Work together and keep the insecurity and ego out of tuning. There is no ‘right’, there is only compromise and working together.

Brass – less than 20 years of service in the SLSO

  • Keep the music alive. Pass on what you know and keep classical music relevant to future generations.

String – over 40 years of service in the SLSO

  • Listen to the orchestra as much, or more than, watching the conductor.
  • Learn from experienced players by asking them questions and working with them.

Percussion – over 20 years of service in the SLSO

  • Learn when to lead and when to submit.

Woodwind – under 20 years of service

  • Be passionate when playing, even small pieces (pops, for example). Make it meaningful.
  • Be supportive of your colleagues. Stop tearing down colleagues!

String – over 40 years of service in the SLSO

  • Going home. 🙂