Wibb Week – Worth the experience

This past week, I was afforded the opportunity to study in master class setting with William Bennett at the William Bennett Summer Flute Academy, affectionately known as “Wibb Week”. Run by Professor of Music, Flute Dr. Lisa Read Wolynec, the week long course focused on performance practice, phrasing, and style, with morning sessions having a pedagogical focus.

ABaker_with_Wibb

 

William Bennett is a force of pure musical, unique, energy. The wealth of knowledge that he brought to the works each of our cohort performed consistently reminded me why I had made the trip to Tennessee to participate in this class. The most memorable and exemplary moment for me of this when he, very animatedly, sprang over to the piano to play an accompaniment underneath a student playing the Sarabanda from the Bach Partita in a moll for Solo Flute. Using the implied harmonies of the line, he demonstrated in real time where the phrases began, and where implied dissonances, appoggiaturas, etc. lied. I already knew that harmonic understanding is important to interpret any work, but he bridged the gap for us by showing us how to apply that knowledge.

There were many ways to attend the course, and no age limit is specified. Because of this there were a variety of musicians at different stages of development, each on different professional paths. The support that each of us gave one other during Wibb Week was so inspiring. Those who know me professionally know how I feel about the impacts of a positive learning environment on students. Wibb Week was an illustrative example.

The majority of the requests Wibb made of me were not any different than what would be asked of a singer. Focusing on my posture and angle of my chin, we freed up tension in my throat by lifting my head, allowing immediate and noticeable difference in my sound and projection. As instrumentalists, I believe there is a tendency to become caught up in the search for a pure tone and other technical considerations to the neglect of the real singing of the instrument that really speaks to the listener. Music as language is not an unheard of concept. Instrumentalists do not have the benefit of words to assist us in the communication of our intent, unless it is a transcription of an opera or some other vocal work. Wibb likened the rhythmic structure of speech to musical phrasing:

Ibert - Stress

 

Discussions in Wibb’s sessions about sound, projection, and phrasing were reinforced  in informative, technical morning sessions with Dr. Wolynec. In morning warm ups, she covered specific technical aspects to playing that previously arose in sessions with Wibb such as tapers, vibrato production and control, articulation. Dr. Wolynec centered these sessions around how this information can be applied to students, which was very helpful to me as an educator.

Rhonda Cassano, Flautist and certified Body Mapping instructor, also supplemented the instruction during the week by offering private sessions and a group session open to all. Adaptive to my individual needs, we discussed techniques and exercises that can be applied to my specific mechanical, physiological tendencies while playing.

Other activities, included:

Masterclasses with pianist Megan Gale
Flute Choir – Directed by Josephine Bossenberger
Student Recital culminating the week
Peal and Altus flutes

What I would love to see more of next year are scheduled activities for collaboration among us. Our last morning session was spent with Karl Barton – who also gave a flutes of the world session earlier in the week – learning about jazz and jamming together. I would enjoy more exploratory activities like this. The experience was definitely worth the time and travel. Most artists can attest to competitiveness and its stifling of creativity and the innovation that comes from camaraderie. As artists, there is an obligation to convey through music what words alone cannot communicate. I have sometimes asked myself: if all a fellow musician can contribute are the impacts of competition and antagonism, why are they here? How can they sow the seeds of cathartic joy if they don’t live it in their daily lives? There, I found the level of support and team work very refreshing. All in all, I learned a lot of from Wibb and my fellow participants.

 

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The Evolving Worth of a Music Degree

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The Royal School of Music recently explored the value of a music degree through round table discussion. Topics included the cultural impacts and economic obstacles that surround the pursuit of a music degree. Now, I appreciated this article for a few reasons:

1) “The qualities one would aspire for in a work-force suitable to meet the challenges of today’s economy are all those found in a music graduate,” noted one commentator. “We need to disband this myth that musicians are self-perpetuating and just create more musicians,” added another – top city firms, accountancy organisations and computing companies as among those who favour music graduates as potential employees.

Woot woot. IT Professional by day, teacher and musician by night right here.

While it is a myth that musicians are self-perpetuating, I never understood why that myth exists. In cases where musicians have children who also become musicians, I don’t understand why its a bad thing. It was the same as someone saying “I come from a family of lawyers” or “I went into the family business”. My mother is a musician, and a teacher. My father was an IT Manager. I don’t see how self perpetuation is something to avoid in that they successfully passed along their occupational knowledge to me. I also like Sushi, Oysters, am becoming an avid and opinonated gamer, interests I cannot attribute to my parents. They believe raw food is gross and could care less about video games. Although we grew up a Toyota family, my first car was a Chevy. I made these choices. I don’t know if it’s a myth so much as its a stereotype. Like most steroypes, they’re wrong.

2) “Despite general consensus as to the inherent cultural-economic value of musical study, there was considerable discontent around the table about its accessibility. One speaker commented on the decreasing number of music students at top institutions coming from backgrounds other than “music specialist schools, private schools and a few enlightened ‘LEAs’.”

As mentioned in a previous post, becoming a successful musician, including even acceptance to a reputable school, increasingly requires resources not available to most.

What was also interesting, was the mentioning of music and its cultural value (to the UK):

3) “One speaker argued that the relationship between music education and cultural value was not necessarily a direct one. “Many of those who add cultural value to the country do so because there is value here already. Our cultural value is increased by a critical mass coming from all over the world that wants to be part of our scene. The role musical education plays in cultural value, or to put it crudely, what we are yielding in terms of the economy, is probably diminishing rather than increasing.”

This comment was contested by another member of the panel, who cited the increasing numbers of foreign students studying music at UK institutions, and anecdotal evidence from those who claimed that paying more to study in the UK was worth it for the extra value they gained from being educated there. Another pointed to the legally binding commitments made by the government to promote musical participation in 2011-12 and, more recently, the National Plan for Music.”

I would have loved to know exactly why the speakers believe the cultural value of music education is dimishing rather than increasing. Is it because orchestras are struggling? Funding for arts education programs are also diminishing? Are students staying the UK after they graduate? Sometimes beauracracy can be a roadblock just as much economics. In the US, international students must apply for an H1B visa after they graduate to stay in the country. It must be sponsored by the employer and tied to your degree’s field of study.

Ultimately, the conclusions with which they ended were those that could be acted upon and not abstract, which is promising:

“We need to reconnect music with the world of ideas… We can rein people into music through linking the ideas, science, film and literature that surround the context of musical creation. We must not regress into isolation, but rather communicate the obvious value of music.”

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