I'm in the last few days of Interlochen Arts Camp and then it's home and time for my second semester of graduate study. Watching what goes on here, surrounded by some of the best young artists, instructors, and conductors in the world, I can't help but notice things and how they relate to my undergraduate colleagues around the country. Hence, I compiled a few thoughts.
- Even if you are going to be conducting a band or working with elementary/middle school students, you should have a STRONG working knowledge of orchestral lit. I mean lit actually performed by an orchestra; not the band arrangement and certainly not whatever drum corps adapted it into a field show. This isn't to bash bands or drum corps. You just need to experience the piece as it was originally intended to be played. That way you understand how it's supposed to sound if you choose to program an adaptation down the road. Besides, listening to orchestral recordings likely means that you're hearing YOUR chosen instrument being played at a high level. More about that in a moment.
- You need to know (be aware of) a ton of solo lit for not only your instrument but a strong working knowledge of major works for other instruments. Your students need to listen to masters perform on their instrument. You need to tell, for example, a clarinetist about Marcellus performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra. Ask your classmates. Ask professors. What's been written?
- On that same vein, what's on YOUR playlist? You need to know every big time player on your instrument going back several decades. Moreover, you need to know at least 1-2 heavyweights on every instrument. Listen to masters on everything so you'll have a working knowledge of what GOOD is.
- (This is also not a bash against drum corps)- If you are a junior or senior in college and the majority of your listening is drum corps, you are doing yourself and your future students a disservice. I'm not saying don't listen. I'm saying Santa Clara Vanguard performing Scheherazade should prompt you to listen to, say, the Vienna Philharmonic performing the work. If you can name the show the Blue Devils played in 2013 but can't list ten major recordings on your instrument, you're simply doing it wrong.
- Your professors do know more than you. They might not be right 100% of the time but yes, they are trying to make you better and unless you are finishing a DMA and are a total virtuoso, they are likely much better than you at the instrument. You might disagree with what they say but try it out before you simply dismiss it.
- You sometimes have to do things which you find to be a waste of time. Welcome to life.
- Don't be afraid to say 'no'. You are there to improve and be a student. If professors/administrators are constantly hounding you to recruit, work events, or do things which are taking away from practice or study, 'no' is a perfectly acceptable answer. Be a team player but not to your own detriment.
- If you are a music ed major and say 'I don't have to get that good at my instrument. I'm just going to be a band director.' then you are doing it wrong. No, you don't have to reach anywhere near a virtuosic level on your instrument to teach others. You do, however, have to TRY. How can you understand your students' struggle unless you go through it? How can you expect your students to work when you refuse to? No, an hour a week before lessons isn't enough. You have to put in lots of work on your instrument. It helps your ear. It helps your theory skills. It helps your musicality. It's why you are there. Suck it up, buttercup.
Feel free to add your thoughts.