Chamber Music Professional Development: IWCMF


Imani Winds Bassoonist Monica Ellis coaching Coleman’s Afro-Cuban Wind Concerto

A typical day started at 9:30am and quitting time was often around bedtime. The morning workshop that started the day was always with the Imani Winds after which we would follow our schedules toward a rigorous day of masterclasses, coaching, and professional development seminars. There was no time to be shy with our chamber groups; we got cozy and comfortable with each other pretty fast to coordinate rehearsal times between mandatory festival events.


Jason Moran with the Imani Winds

Each chamber group had been notified of their assignment before setting foot on campus, and had also been assigned an Emerging Composition fellow (ECP) . In addition to rehearsing the standard repertoire we would be coached on, we would also be working with our assigned ECP fellow on a piece to be played in concert at the culmination of the festival. telller, composed by my group’s fellow, Sequoia Sellinger, told the story of 5 artists who had all been at one time romantically involved. Demanding extended technique aside, the most grabbing part of the performance was the stage acting the piece called for, including on stage bickering that featured me snatching the oboist’s reed in protest of his intonation! I can now add Comedic Silent Actor to my resume.

The importance of building a network of artistic and personal support, or one’s “Tribe” as Valerie Coleman called it, was a central point of the festival. Professional development seminars covered skills such as networking, building a brand, and the elevator pitch. As an introvert, these workshops were invaluable to me. Returning to Boston, I was so inspired as to join Castle of our Skins where my primary responsibility is to be public facing and to talk to people all the time. A large part of my motivation this past year has been my passion for the work that I do, that we all do, as an artist. However the true catalysts, I must say, are the inspiring people and experiences I had with my Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival (IWCMF) cohort.

Though we were only together for a week, our cohort had a lasting impact on me that I carried into the following year. IWCMF seeks, in a week, to give fellows a comprehensive, educational experience. Touching on all of the tools that comprise an artist’s skill
set in one week is definitely as demanding as it sounds. And yet, I can say that last year was a rigorous experience, but also one of the professional highlights of my summer and I am excited to be returning this year.

Community Resources: Entrepreneurship Course at RCC

Last week, I completed the Create Your Own Job Seminar. Offered at Roxbury Community College, the course introduces topics from crafting a business plan to deciding when and how to incorporate your business. The course culminated with a one on one 15 minute, pro bono Q&A with one of the lawyers of Latham & Watkins, LLP.

I really appreciated Alexa and Priya of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice for their availability and willingness as mentors. They wanted to know our individual goals and presented topics to us with this in mind. Each week a different guest speaker presented on topics such as personal finances, business planning, and marketing. It definitely benefited us that the speaker each week was different and a specialist in their field. Not only were we hearing from a specialist, but we were hearing different perspectives, which helped to reinforce what I was learning.

Travis Grillo of Grillo’s Pickles, came to speak as an example of the program’s success. His business, self described as “starting with a pickle and a dream“, started with a niche product that grew over time because of demand, rather than the planned profit potential of a typical startup. One of the more laid back presentations, we brainstormed out loud ways in which the markets of the class participants overlap and how, just with the ideas in the room, we can help each other.

That is not to say that a person should not take the course if they have not yet determined what their product or niche market is. I attended the course as a musician looking for the skills to create opportunities for myself. I literally wrote that on my attendance intake form the first day. It so happens that, during the stretch of the course, some ideas formulated for me, but the knowledge I gained in the class was useful all the same.

Anyone who knows me has heard me lament about the lack of business training that artists receive from higher educational institutions. Did you know that when the CIA runs security clearances for job applicants, they check your credit history? Nowhere in Quantum of Solace does M remind 007 that he should be keeping his receipts. If spies have to find time between learning advanced driving skills, espionage, languages, and marksmanship to be financially responsible, why shouldn’t we? (Granted, rubbing elbows with the 1 percent, while impeccably dressed and digging for information, you would probably hear some insider information drop, but you see where I’m going with this.)

Artists operate in a nebulous area between non-profit and for profit. We are typically funded by grants, fellowships, and donations, but these projects also pay our salaries. This was not lost on the presenters when I asked specific pointed questions for my use case. I also appreciated that if the presenters did not know the answer, they would try to point me in the direction of a resource where I could find the answer for myself. I would highly recommend this class to anyone who wants take the helm of their own creative destiny and is looking for a place to start.

Examples of Experiential Education: Habanera and Tango

I recently had the opportunity to teach a music class to my mother’s students at Claymont Elementary School in Claymont, Delaware. What a wonderful welcoming group they were! I decided that I wanted to teach them the historical and musical practice of Tango and its development out of Habanera. It was suprising that I could not easily find any lesson plans or tips online for experientially teaching syncopation and rhythm. I began to ponder the best way to fit this into 40 minutes.

By the end of the lesson, I wanted the students to be able to demonstrate and understand Habanera and Tango rhythms:


Habanera Notation


Tango Notation

In order to demonstrate the subdivisions of Habanera and Tango and how they differ, I decided to ask the students to count the eighth notes to feel the groupings that make up Habanera

Habanera 3-1-2-2

Habanera Subdivision

I would then explain that Tango takes the middle groupings (3-1-2-2) and puts them together. The result is a grouping that is 3-3-2:

Tango 3-3-2 derived from Habanera 3-(1+2)-2

Tango Subdivision

The students told my mother that they wanted to drum with me on the African drums they had in class. My lesson was almost begging to write itself! When students are engaged in a preferred activity as part of the learning process, it makes classroom management and engagement even easier. The students could use the African drums to learn and perform the Tango and Habanera rhythms.


Teacher Takeaways: If I had more time, I would have made the lesson more relevant by talking about how artists from different parts of the world influence music in other countries. My last leading question to encourage thought would have been: Who are some of your favorite and influential (musically, culturally or any type of impact) popular artists are not American (Justin Bieber, Rhianna, PSY)?

If you’d like to hear Tango rather than read about how to teach it (or to use in the lesson below), my Tango/Milogna/Habanera Spotify Playlist is below for your listening pleasure:

Classroom Lesson on Tango and Habanera

Grade Level: 5th grade
Knowledge students already bring: some understanding of off-beat rhythms, music notation (understanding of quarter, eighth notes, etc)
Time: 40 minutes
Materials needed: percussion instruments for students, a Habanera and Tango song to perform or play to demonstrate the dance rhythms

1. Introduction

  • Habanera – History of the Cuban Contradonza and relation to other cultures and popularity in France

2. Experience

  • Divide students into two groups, group A and group B.
  • Have group A drum the Habanera rhythm (3-1-2-2). Have group B drum steady half notes (4-4).
  • Switch sides

Leading question: what are some elements that make up music? (melody, rhythm, harmony)

3. Demonstrate

  • Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838 – 1975) transcribed for flute and piano
  • I asked the pianist to play the left hand of the score, which provides the rhythm of the habanera and asked them to listen for this throughout the performance

Leading Question: What do you all know about tango?

4. Introduction to Tango and development out of habanera and exposure to other cultures as result of colonization

Leading Question: does anyone know what the Creole Language is?

  • explain French/Spanish Creole influence

5. Experience

  • Group A drums Tango rhythm (3-3-2). Group B drums steady half notes (4-4)

Leading Question: what was different about drumming the Habanera and the Tango? (if needed, drum both dances again to allow comparison)

Students should be able to tell that, with Tango, there is a moment at which one group feels separated from the other but then joins them again.

6. Define

  • syncopation

7. Demonstrate

  • Tango Etude No. 2 by Astor Piazolla (1921 – 1992)


Thank you to Claymont Elementary Music Teacher Ms. Rash for allowing me to use her classroom and spend time with these wonderful, musical students!

The Evolving Worth of a Music Degree


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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