#weprovidepep

The following is the result when I asked myself and my students how we might change the school culture through music:

This Pep Band of the 2014-15 school year became the highlight of the Varsity football and basketball seasons. Our culminating performance was the halftime of the Bruce-Mahoney basketball game in January. The band got to have 3 minutes of playing time, center court, directly in front of about 300 cheering students.

What started out as a conversation with several of the Athletic department’s administrators turned into a group of guys that would ultimately rehearse and direct themselves for the entire school community. They practice on their own, order their own dinner and are some of the school’s most accomplished musicians. They simply have become bigger than anything I could have imagined.

It was only an idea with a heavy dose of encouragement, being there for everything at the beginning, communicating with the adults in the building, buying pizza, and setting an example about how to pour energy into a performance. I honestly feel like this maybe the first time I have truly felt successful as a teacher for a group of music students. It is the ever so delicate balance between teachers doing and allowing, particularly in the field of music education.

Give them a fish and you feed them for a day; teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

And again, it is the result of these key ingredients: change, creating, and Eddie Van Halen.

Letter to SI Chamber Singers, Fall 2014

In the spirit of “Dear People” the book by Joseph A. Mussulman that compiled letters Robert Shaw wrote to his choirs, I wanted to share some thoughts I had about this particular piece with the 2014-15 Chamber Singers in November 2014. At the end, there is a video of us performing the piece at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, CA on Friday, December 19, 2014.

Hello gang,

I sat in a soprano and alto sectional a few weeks back and was struck at the very simple question Ms Hollow, one of our vocal coaches, asked the gals, “what does Resmiranda mean?”. I came in towards the end of the sectional and it was obvious that they learned what the phrase meant (wonderful circumstance and/or happening).

I have been personally drawn to this piece and text for quite some time now. This recording we have is by a high school group my wife sang in when she was a senior in high school (Vintage High School Chamber Singers ’94). Her teacher eventually became my graduate school mentor – this is a great story in itself, but back to the story at hand.

There is No Rose is an English carol that dates back to the Middle Ages c.1420. The text is written in two languages: Middle English and Latin. Most fascinating to me are the marriage of musical elements with the rich allegories infused in the text. This idea of “little space” which is Mary’s womb, where heaven and earth meet, and how it interweaves the Latin of the Church with the English of the common people — as if interweaving spiritual and secular themes, symbolically, through the use of two languages. And finally, the phrase Transeamus or let us cross over is set to just about one of the most amazing clips of choral music around. Let us cross over. Where is it that we begin and where do we move to? Is the choral ensemble a bridge for all that is human and all that is divine?

Honestly, I truly believe this is music. It is a vehicle, a bridge, for all that is divine and all that is human in the hopes that in the center we catch a glimpse in either direction. There are pieces of music out there that are simply transcendent for me. Occasionally, an ensemble emerges through days of interviews, hours of auditions and of course time spent with one another that are capable of not only re-producing what’s on the page – musically and vocally) – but are open enough to peek into all that is possible from the page: You are this ensemble.

You all have the potential to unlock the mystery of this piece and share with your audience. Having said that, it does require note/rhythm accuracy, attention to phrasing and all the musicality that is required by any piece of music, but it also requires a vulnerability, a clear picture of how this piece sounds and feels when it is right in you. There is No Rose is one of those pieces that helped me confirm that this guitarist wanted to stand in front of choirs and make music with one another. Those stories my wife shared with me my first years teaching, and this particular recording helped me conceive what is possible by a group of people who are drawn to a) the collective effort b) those in the world that think and feel.

What it means to be American

Eddie-Van-Halen.2.12.15On Friday, February 13 Edward Van Halen was honored as part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History program “What it means to be American” that seeks to explore the American experience. I can honestly say that I would not have a career in music if it weren’t for the influence of Eddie Van Halen on me as a guitarist, musician and innovator. I’m glad to be alive and witness to his legacy that is being honored for what I’ve been saying for years now.

When I was eleven years old, one of the first albums I purchased was Van Halen’s 1984. I had heard songs Jump and Panama on the radio, but when I listened to the B side, I was drawn to the gems near the end of the record: Girl Gone Bad, House of Pain, etc. What I would later come to realize, but could not articulate at the time, this album would essentially encapsulate everything that Eddie had accomplished as a rock guitar icon and song writer to date: the clever pop hit Jump featuring his first instrument – the keyboard, the now infamous two-handed tapping technique in Hot for Teacher, sampled sounds such as his Harley Davidson as an intro on Hot for Teacher, or the Lamborghini engine revs in Panama, and finally a song writing that reflected his maturity coming into full bloom paving the way for the lyrical work yet to come in 5150.

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In any conversation about the guitar, particularly in rock music, one cannot have this discussion without including Eddie Van Halen’s innovation and technique as it relates to the evolution of the instrument. After Jimi Hendrix, Eddie’s concept and approach to the guitar transformed the way we play the electric guitar. In 1978 listeners had no concept or explanation of what they were hearing from that now iconic second track from their debut, self titled album Van Halen in the composition Eruption. Below is a complete video of the interview at his induction ceremony:

After watching this, I’m reminded of the fact that Edward Van Halen is by no means a perfect human being. There are his quite public personal struggles with alcoholism, a failed marriage to actress Valerie Bertinelli and other well documented personality clashes with the singers of Van Halen. However, I think the real miracle here is that this man is still alive and growing more and more comfortable with terms “living deity”, icon, and innovator. How many of these artists have come and gone before leaving this world far too early: Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, John Lennon, Curt Cobain, etc.?

My hope is – and this is simply in his DNA or not – that Eddie Van Halen will use this opportunity to demystify his persona, use this status and notoriety to share his story with more audiences. While it is true – Edward Van Halen will undoubtedly be included in conversations hundreds of years from now and his name in the history books as one of the geniuses of the art form. The real gift is in the form of this new founded generosity and humility of becoming comfortable in this role as a genius living among us in the present.

Listen: SI Chamber Singers on iTunes

I’m actually quite pleased with this project which is a culmination of some very special years with my students from the St. Ignatius College Preparatory Chamber Singers. The CD is a culmination of choirs that features songs recorded in venues from around the world! A majority of the tracks were recorded on the 2nd “In the Footsteps of St. Ignatius” European choir tour at the Iglesia Parroquial de Santa Maria in Tolosa, Spain.

St. Ignatius College Preparatory Chamber Singers

Preview songs from Listen by the St. Ignatius College Preparatory Chamber Singers on the iTunes Store

ISTE2014

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This MusicEd teacher is excited to be heading out to my first EdTech conference at ISTE2014 in Atlanta this weekend. One personal outcome of this experience: find common ground between the way 21st century students learn with the purpose and rationale in the way that we teach as music educators.

What I really do for a living

west-side-storyThis spring I am lucky enough to be music directing West Side Story. If I were to take away the pillars of American Musical Theater from this book: Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and an apprenticing Stephen Sondheim (if one can even imagine that), you’d have just another book musical. But as you know, there’s really no way to do that. One has to acknowledge that West Side Story is simply one of those shows that is a cornerstone of American Musical Theater. Show Boat introduces to the world what a book musical could be, Oklahoma establishes that choreography is as compelling as the music and acting, and then there is West Side Story. The sun sets on this chapter of the history of the book musical as the curtain opens for West Side Story, which is considered by some a culmination of the highest artistic achievement from each structural component of a musical…

And this spring, I get to conduct the damn thing…

I want to share my thoughts and experiences during the journey of this behemoth of a project. One observation I can begin with is that for the book’s sheer artistry the music is astonishingly straightforward and indeed doable. I am sharing with you at the point in the production after our sitzprobe, which on most accounts was a success. This music to me seems to fit or locks in a way other shows I have conducted in the past have not accomplished.

One final thought: maybe the ideal examples of this art form are the most simple in their construction and presentation. Don’t get me wrong; this book is not for the faint of heart! There are passages in this score that will continue to elude me for quite some time. However, in its complexity, there is a simple beauty that the authors must have foreseen in those first days when choreographer, composer, lyricist and playwright came together and decided to create this masterpiece. I think most of us can say, we are all better for it because of their ideas and the creative spirit.

WSS Directors
Creative Team of West Side Story. The ‘giants’: Harold Prince, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents

Again – this is the beginning, sort of. I decided to start this chronology at the point in the journey when instrumentalists and singers/actors came together. Tonight’s rehearsal adds the choreography with the show, which for some IS the sheer genius of this work. A colleague told me once – think of a musical as a wheel. There are several cogs in the wheel that enable the wheel to turn. Music is just one cog…