Alumni at Tanglewood

Alumni Alyssa Wills and Simon Barrad shared the stage in a production of Britten’s “Albert Herring” in Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. They also participated in the world premiere of David Lang’s Where you go for 12 solo voices.

Beth Peregrine Sings with Golden Bridge Consort

Alumnus Beth Peregrine will join the Golden Bridge Consort, under conductor Suzi Digby OBE, for the ensemble’s second concert, September 19th at 8PM. This years ensemble features 16 singers and will feature newly commissioned pieces from both Stephen Hartke and Bill Cunliffe (two time Grammy award winning jazz pianist and composer).

Jazz at the Beach in Inside CSULB

Jazz at the Beach is featured in August’s Inside CSULB. Author Rick Manly notes: “Professional recognition has been consistent including the program’s recent receipt of five Downbeat Magazine awards naming the Concert Jazz Orchestra for the second year as Best Large Jazz Ensemble in the Graduate College category. And Christine Guter has led the vocal jazz program to four consecutive Downbeat wins in the Graduate College Vocal Jazz Category.”

Leaav Sofer at Colburn

The Colburn School’s Facebook page shared this quote from alumnus Leeav Sofer: “Music…doesn’t see color; it doesn’t see race; it doesn’t see gender. Music is beyond that; it transcends that. Whether you have kids from schools that have never been able to sing before, or affluent kids that have been singing since their toddler age, you put them both in a room and give them a song to sing, and the joy in that room will just be completely astounding.

“It will bring them all together in this one place for this one cause that is bigger than them as individuals, and instead brings all of their individual voices together as one voice. And I think something like music, being able to do that, is something really important to remember and to keep these kids coming back for more.” – Leeav Sofer, #SummerEncounter15 voice faculty

Bob Cole at 47th International Horn Symposium

Several current and former students and faculty participated in the 47th International Horn Symposium held at the Colburn School: Brian Shetland and Gabi Mocilnikar performed Peaslee’s “The Devil’s Harold” for tuba, four horns, four wagner tuben, and percussion.

Melisandra Teteris gave a presentation on “Arvīds Klišāns and the Preservation of the Latvian Horn Tradition.” Sarah Krueger participated in a master class with Eli Epstein. The Quintessential Winds with alumni Ryan Murray, Maralynne Mann, Elizabeth Gutierrez, and Adrian Dunker also performed. Those participating and attending include: Katy Robinson, Christian Siquerios, Liam Lacey, Mark Ghiassi, Jenny Serda, and Brian Shetland, along with current and former faculty Jim Atkinson and Dylan Skye Hart.

In addition to performing in groups and masterclasses, attending recitals by some of the elite horn players, participants attended a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and played in a flash mob of hundreds of horn players in downtown LA.

Community Youth Orchestra of Southern California Celebrates 25th

The Community Youth Orchestra of Southern California is managed by alumna Chika Emori Wie (BM performance 2009). Over 140 students and teachers are include in the program including several of our students and alumni: Minna Im, cello; Melisandra Teteris, French Horn; Adrian Dunker, French Horn; Gabrielle Cross, French Horn; John Cross, Trumpet; and Andrew Rodman, Trumpet. They recently performed their 25th anniversary concert at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

David Ortega at Harvard University’s Launchpad

Alumnus David Ortega spoke at Harvard University’s Launchpad, sponsored by the Children’s Media Association. His talk entitle Audio Branding for Children’s Media, was an interactive discussion on how to envision, shape and direct audio. David wrote the score for the most successful mobile franchise in Disney’s history: “Where’s My Water?” and its spinoff “Where’s My Perry?”

Tyler Alessi to pursue Artist Diploma at CCM

Tyler AlessiAlumnus Tyler Alessi (BM, Vocal Performance) has completed the coursework for his DMA at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He’s singing with Wichita Opera this summer and will be returning to Cincinnati to pursue an Artist Diploma in Opera.


Photo courtesy of Dallas Padoven

Wearing a suit of knowledge while diving into a pool of instinct

It has become a tradition for me to post a beginning-of-semester advice piece. I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about how to manage your time and stay sane. This year, I am switching gears to a topic I feel strongly needs to be recognized and nurtured in academia: connecting the heart and the mind. A phrase I came up with recently is that the elite, educated artist is one who “wears a suit of knowledge while diving into a pool of instinct.”

I find great solace and rejuvenation in silence. As a composer, being in complete silence with no talking, few voices around me, everyone taking care to be kind in their movements, ears attuned to the natural sounds of the Earth — I’d like to write “rejuvenates,” but it is more than that — it rejiggers my relationship with sound.

In 2014 I sat my tenth residential silent retreat in the peaceful foothills north of San Francisco. I sat two sessions back-to-back, the first on “concentration” and the second on “insight.” For the first nine days, I silently recited a series of phrases for all of my waking hours. For the next nine days, I switched to a profound focus on the breath, letting thoughts arise and pass away.

The retreats are taught by a team of four, each taking a turn to present a talk in the evenings. One of the teachers, Joseph Goldstein, spoke about noticing our experiences through an intuitive awareness, that breathing is a process and that feeling is a process, and all of these have a tone: in his parlance, a “feeling tone.”

My deepest truths rumble up from knowing myself as an artist. Understanding beauty and suffering are intricately woven into the fabric of my work, growth, and practice as a composer and educator. My personal understanding of life is as a path, and I advocate viewing ones artistic life as a path to be fully explored.

The feeling tones I find at my inner core when I am open and silent for many days are those I want to bring with me into my daily life: eager curiosity, kindness, joy sympathetically received from others’ joy and success, and compassion. In my notes about that retreat I wrote, “com-passion means with passion. That is my path.”

All of that reminded me that life and art aren’t about the end of the path, they’re about where we are in the moment on the path, taking deliberate care that we make thoughtful, honest choices about which path we’re on and about staying on that path when it gets tough to do so.

Being a composer isn’t about having a catalog of works that gets you into history books, it is about how you’re living your life as a composer. Being a performer isn’t about the euphoric moment the concerto or aria is over, it is about the care you take every day of your life in rehearsal and the practice room. And being an elite, educated artist means having a holistic, all-encompassing relationship with your art form from how to create and how to teach, to the historical precedents that brought your art to where it is, and a deeply understood vocabulary which allows you to express how and why it works.

Every single thing you do contributes to that from an English class to a biology lab to an evening spent talking with friends. My point here is that one does not become an expert on an instrument or in voice by playing or singing alone. A whole artist needs depth, maturity, understanding, forgiveness, more forgiveness – especially for yourself – and a reminder that we have chosen a challenging path because we love it: not every aspect of every footfall, but we love entirety of the path.

Walk the whole path, and the crux here is that if you see the path ahead as the future and behind you as the past, be sure to walk its entire width right where you are, noticing every footstep worn into it by those who have traveled before you. You’ll see spots less worn where you can make your mark, places some have skipped and by doing so have missed something you now see, and places where others have remained stuck, unable or unwilling to move on. You might get stuck there, too, but it needn’t be for long and you can ask for help. Everyone around you has been stuck many times.

You may not see how the pieces fit together yet, but if you believe something is unimportant, chances are it is difficult for you and therefore it could be unimaginably helpful. If you can learn to meet boredom, anger, or frustration in a way which instills understanding rather than recursively stewing on it and unintentionally worsening it, then you have just made yourself a better musician. Think about that when you’re sitting in a science lab you believe has no relevance to your life. (Science is cool, BTW.)

All of us in the arts meet failure frequently, maybe daily, maybe hourly, maybe more often than that. (“Failure” is a poor word because of the negative connotations that come with it.) We also learn when we succeed, but the difference is that failure might be uncomfortable and send you up into your head to kvetch about it to yourself. Connect your heart and mind. Your heart understands without judgment that you are just experiencing the process. Give your heart a chance to forgive yourself for not playing a scale in tune so that you can play it again without any other motive than to practice well and explore it with kindness and joy.

I want to step back and note that you define your own path, and how it the begins and ends are of less, or perhaps no importance. I make the assumption that college is an important part of your path because you’re here. Graduation represents what will be for most of you, the end of working regularly with teachers. After that, you’re on your own. Be present and aware for everything you can while you’re here. How did someone explain something the first time when you didn’t quite comprehend it and how did they explain it again so that it made sense? Were you completely focused the first time, or not until the second time? Did you understand it better when it was explained in multiple ways? You’re learning about yourself. All of this has a fundamental relationship to creating, teaching, and interpreting art.

What does it mean “to understand” something. My favorite answer is that you know it so well it becomes instinctive. I’ve told many a composition student over the years that there is a part of the composition process which comes from instinct and a part you think about. With practice, what you once thought about becomes so well known, it comes out in the instinctive portion and your cognitive mind moves on to something more sophisticated. Repeat this with diligence and continuity and you will become more of the composer you wanted to be, expect that you won’t, because your mind is so much more expansive, it includes that which you hadn’t even dreamed of when you started.

Instinct and Intellect. Heart and Mind. They’re in tandem. There is much more, though. How you talk to yourself and others about what you do and about your art form will change how you think about it. Your motivations play a part. I suggest kindness and gentle understanding in everything. It works wonders.

Do you live a life consistent with your values? If you’re aiming to be a pro, it takes a prodigious commitment. Lead a life which is open and full of curiosity. You need to take care of yourself and your family, use practice time efficiently, listen to tons of music, listen to others and learn from them… it is a long list. If you have a spiritual practice, try not to leave it behind during the semester.

Mental energy is the force behind effort. Mental energy needs a rested, healthy body. Stoke the fuels for self-discipline, honesty, and kindness. Effort does not begin when you think about having written or performed a great piece. It begins when you’re rested and then sit down to compose, practice, or study and stabilize your mind for concentration.

Attention is the heart of artistic practice. Awareness is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. We naturally interpret everything around us and put it in context with our past thoughts and experiences. This happens half-consciously or even subconsciously. Bringing it into awareness takes practice. What a musician strives for is clear perception of what they hear, feel, create, and interpret. Not being aware can carry us away on dreams, painful desires, and comparisons. It is not that dreaming is bad, but it can steal a lot of your time and energy before you notice it. Time is a precious commodity. Use it wisely.

All of this is a tall order, one which requires shifting some prevalent modes of thought about yourself: “Judgment” becomes “curiosity,” “why?” becomes “what is here?,” “outcome” shifts to the “moment” and “trajectory,” and significantly, “like/don’t like” is set aside in favor of “works/doesn’t work.”

One of my teachers, Gil Fronsdal, said, “the means of practice should reflect the goal….  If you want kindness, be kind.  If you want compassion, be compassionate.  If you want joy, be joyful…. The practice should reflect that.” For the artist these statements might be rewritten as: If you want support, be supportive. If you want to be a musician, be musical (in the practice room and in rehearsals, and especially while listening). If you want to bring everything about yourself to bare in your music, be aware of all that you are.

Gil also said, “One of the ways we can relate to practice is that we can be content with the small steps of what we can do.” The path of the musician is frequently marked in steps so small they are difficult to discern.  Gil again: “The really important part of any practice that you do is self-reflection in which you become aware of the attitude that you have about how you are practicing.” He’s talking about checking in with the heart as you work with the mind.

Be gentle with yourself. Take care of yourself. Pace yourself so you have time to rest and do your work. Slipping back into time management advice: when you get your syllabi, write all of your concerts, homework, tests, and papers in your calendar. Then immediately block off time in the preceding [several] days for studying and writing so you don’t resort to inefficient and soul-sucking all-nighters. Next, block off one or two days each month that are OFF. You will not study, practice, work, or feel guilty about taking time for yourself. They can be pajama days, or road trips, or long hikes alone or with friends. Sit down on the path and rest. You will have clear sight when you take a break. We know audiences need intermissions; so do you.