In what I honestly believe are surely the last hours of both an incredible and humbling journey through the process of a Grammy™ nomination for my work in Music Education with CMAS, I wanted to share in a lot more detail just how important I feel my own teachers have been in all this. The truth is that I have never really considered myself a teacher as such - they all set the bar far too high for me to claim that moniker - it implies a selflessness and skill that I am not so sure I possess.
Frankly, I still cannot get my head around the notion that I was even a quarterfinalist, much less to have made it this far - I am just so out of my depth when you look at all the others up for the award - I am in awe of all of them. But setting aside the incredible honor it has been just to be nominated, my own teachers truly deserve to be recognized for their influence on me, for helping me to shape my own view of Music and Music Education, and what would ultimately become CMAS. Win or lose, they are all just so amazing, and, forgive the cliché, I want the world to know.
What follows are excerpts from the draft of a book I'm about halfway through writing, that I've been working on since before I was first contacted by the Grammy™ Foundation for what it's worth, about CMAS and how others can implement it into their own practice. What I do is not extraordinary. It is just unique. My hope is that that will begin to change now.
In any case, for reference I am also including the book's title page, table of contents, and the intro. Admittedly, it makes this post long, but I want my comments on my teachers to make sense in context. Honestly, they deserve so much more, but for now this will have to do...
I’ve Come To Kill Your Music Program Essays On A Journey To Align Music Education With The Music Industry
by Richard Maxwell
©2010, 2014, 2015 Richard Maxwell Any unauthorized duplication, distribution, or use is a violation of applicable laws
*all type-os and grammatical errors included at no extra charge
Everything In This Book Is Wrong
This Part Is Really Important But I Don’t Know Where To Put It So I’m Putting It Here
“Nice Title. What’s Wrong With You?”
Do We Really Need Another Book On Music Education?
Oh, One More Thing Before We Get Started
Some Very Early Musical Memories
My Own Teachers
What My Musical Past Has Meant For My Musical Future
CMAS And The 4th Path
Music Education In Today’s Economy
A Record Label That Gives All It's Music Away For Free
No Covers, Please
Pure Creative Process
Joy Versus Fun
Nothing Forced Endures
You Cannot Create From A Place of Anger (or Bias)
A Safe Place – The One Actual “Rule” Of CMAS
Special Needs And The Creative Process
There Are Only Two Kinds Of Music And They Aren’t “Good And Bad”
Arrogance Is The Enemy
Instrumental Technique: Virtuoso, Functional, Or Something Else
“But It’s Not ‘Serious’ Music.” Seriously?!?!
Eh. We Already Do A Marching Band Rock Show
Education Based On Kids Not Adults
Competition Is Neither Musical Or Educational
The Other Competition, The One That’s Even Worse: Competition For Students
Relevance Versus What Speaks To You
Students Don't Know More Than Adults About Technology
No Magic Buttons
We Are Not Changing The World, But We Could Be
Music Education That Leads Directly To A Career
Extraordinary? No, Unique. There’s A Difference
When You Think You’ve Got It Right It’s Time To Stop
Teacher As Artist Or Artist As Teacher Or Something Else?
Anyone Can Do This
You Are Not Alone But You Need To Be Able To Do It Yourself
Interns, Student Teachers, And Professional Development
Administration and Parents
Perfect Storms And Hybrids
Facilities And Resources
You Cannot Start With Experts
Nothing Required Or Obligated
No More Hijackings
I Don’t Get It
I Can't Make The Concert
Music Theory For Creating Music
The Three Elements: Content, Execution, Audience
It All Starts With The Groove
You Only Need One Chord
Learning Curves And Learning Outcomes
Attitude Always Trumps Ability
Everything Is A Workshop (And An Audition).
If I'm Working I'm Not Doing My Job Correctly
Students Rising Above Versus Falling Through
Artist, Producer, Mentor, Student
Growing A Music Program Is A Lot Like Breathing
Taking A Breath To Find Solutions
Don’t Be Afraid To Make Changes
Burnout, Balance, And “What Was I Thinking?”
Some Final Thoughts…For Now
That we live in a time when much of the music and musical techniques and practices studied in schools are not the same as those students encounter outside of school is not new. That we have an opportunity to change that, however, might be.
Perhaps the best example of what’s at the core of this problem is that when most people use a phrase like, “let’s put on some music,” it generally refers to music that is current in some form or another, but when most people use a phrase like, “I’m studying music,” it generally refers to music that is from the past; usually decades, if not hundreds of years, in the past. Similarly, the phrases “I’m in a band,” and, “I’m in my school band,” tend to have two very different meanings.
It seems as though so much of Music Education is at odds with the current Music Industry. There are, of course, exceptions, and though Elementary level Music Education seems to do a far better job, generally, of creating real crossover connections between traditional skills and current trends than do High School and teacher training environments, overall this apparent conflict of goals seems to be the norm. While some of that disconnect is, perhaps, to be expected, it is not unavoidable. There are elements – core elements – that can be aligned; that, historically, in fact, were aligned.
The truth is that there are a lot of Musicians – Music Educators – who are trying to realign things. And there are even more who want to but are not sure how to put the elements in place to make it happen. Maybe this book can help. What follows is an exploration of one of those elements, and how it can be realigned: The Creative Process.
Everything In This Book Is Wrong
I know. I know.
That’s a bit of an odd way to start a book, but it got your attention.
And I think it’s important that I tell you up front that I don’t believe in absolutes.
Especially not when it comes to the Creative Process.
This book is an exploration of my take on that process as implemented in my Contemporary Music And Sound (CMAS) program. Of where I’ve been in the past with regard to CMAS, and where I think I’m headed.
If, along the way, I can help others to move their own process forward a bit, then that is even better.
And while most of this will be through the prism of my work with CMAS, I believe that it can apply to any Music Education endeavor. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.
For a number of years I’ve been quite lucky to conduct a kind of music education experiment – an experiment with the Creative Process.
One that seeks to, as the title of this book says, “Align Music Education with the Music Industry.”
But, as you will read, this is not about ending traditional programs, and it’s not really about creating more programs like mine that basically function as a full record label and production company.
It’s actually about getting back to what I feel is the true root of music – of all music: the desire to Create.
For some of us that desire even has a direct connection to our sense of a higher power.
But, for all of us, while the world we live in has taken music to both new and wonderful places, it has also, in some ways, lost something along the way.
My hope is to shine a light on a bit of that and also to offer some possible ways to regain what’s been lost.
The fact is that while style and genre have always mattered, these days there seems to so often be a kind of myopic view as to what is worthwhile – for listeners as much as performers as much as educators.
And that myopia knows no boundaries.
It’s as bad with contemporary music as it is for more traditional.
In all styles, at all levels of expertise – or not – we seem conditioned to get all caught up in any manner of things that are inherently not musical.
They’ve just mistakenly, I feel, been given musical credibility for so long that we, many times, just go along with them, and, what’s worse, so often are not even aware.
Which is why I personally don’t believe the problem actually has anything to do with the music itself.
This book is an attempt to explore, and maybe even resolve, some of that too.
In recent years, I have been told by many people I should embrace the notion that not only have I broken a lot of new ground, but that I am a “leader” in the field.
It’s a strange notion to me.
It’s not that I don’t want the credit – I am as ego driven as anyone – and it’s not that I don’t want to share – again, I am as keen to prattle on about my work and my views on Music and Music Education as much, if not more, than most – I am, after all, writing this book – haha!
But beyond all that I find it very tough to place myself in a room of experts and feel anything if not out of my depth.
Particularly as an educator.
This is not false modesty, though I realize it might come off that way.
I just tend to think, “How can I be an ‘expert’ when I clearly am still figuring so much of this out?” And, still, I have been just so incredibly fortunate to have had so many people ask me to elaborate on the details of what I do.
I guess, when I consider my own goals and musical past, it just seems so unlikely to me – so hard to get my personal sense of self around it all – flattering and wonderful as it is.
Plus, and I will get into more detail about this as we go, I don’t really think of myself as a educator as such.
It implies both a scale of knowledge and a selflessness that I do not feel I can call mine.
But, OK, yes, in truth, CMAS is a different take on Music Education, so here we are.
In a lot of ways this book is rather self-serving.
It’s about my view.
My sense of things.
Not necessarily the “correct” view or sense.
As you read these pages, that may be the most important point.
So I’ll write it again.
This is just my view.
My true goal is that you’ll read this and be able to explore and further develop your own.
And so, perhaps ironically, as much as this book is all about my view, it really only works if it’s also about yours.
Which means that this book cannot be an aforementioned absolute.
What has worked for me may not work for others.
More specifically as you’ll see, what’s worked for me in the past in some cases no longer works for me now.
And that is kind of the point.
This is a process.
One that is still on-going.
The idea is to explore the possibilities.
To get inside what it is we do when we seek to foster Creativity.
To me, what matters is not that you use my methods, but that you develop methods that truly work for you.
Hopefully, by exploring my take on the process it will help you to further your own.
And, so, this is all going to be in three categories.
The first is History.
In many ways it’s probably the least crucial part of the entire read, but I’ve included it for those who may want a bit more context for the rest.
The section covers my background, the essential elements of how I created – perhaps “fell in to creating” is better? – my CMAS music program, and some key occurrences over time since that have impacted things significantly. The second is Philosophy.
Again, these are my philosophies on Music and Music Education, and not necessarily to be taken as “truths.”
I figure if you can get through all the other stuff I at least owe you some manner of specifics on how to implement the concepts and ideas of what I am doing into your own music program.
Or perhaps just to expand on how CMAS works.
In any case, instead of as a textbook, or as a definitive “how to” guide, think of this book as more of a “one way to” example.
Think of it – hopefully, use it – as a catalyst for more discussion and exploration of the Creative Process.
Instead of declaring anything – something I think you can tell already I am loath to do – each essay closes with a series of questions.
The idea is not to look for correct answers – I’m not sure there are any – at least not within the context of being universal – but rather to spark more conversation.
Actually, as I begin to compile them, I am considering if giving my own answers to those questions might make for an interesting sequel to this book.
So take what you will from this read.
As far as I am concerned, if you are even reading this at all, we are moving things that much more forward.
And, if you happen to agree with anything…even better.
Anyway, let’s find out…
Some questions to help facilitate further discussion:
Does expertise require or imply fully formed ideas and concepts?
Does Music require expertise?
When is change good in Education?
Can there be multiple experts in a field, having contrary opinions, and both be correct?
My Own Teachers
I feel like it would be very wrong if I did not include some specifics about at least some of my own teachers and I could easily write an entire book just on them.
Their influence on me has been significant and certainly has played a large role in what CMAS has become, and I feel like I need to put it somewhere in all this, and this seems like as good a place as any.
And while this next bit may initially come across in places as a bit of self-loathing, I assure you that is not the case.
I simply believe that if I am going to be as open as I can about what I’ve created with CMAS, I need to also be open about what I have not always done well.
The work with my own teachers does tie a lot of things together – the good and the bad – and I feel the perspective is important to get a full picture of CMAS in the long run.
Additionally, as I am writing this part, I have recently been selected as a Finalist for the 2015 Grammy™ Music Educator award – an incredibly wonderful and humbling honor; a true ‘proof-of-concept’ for CMAS if there ever was one, and one that I am immeasurably grateful for – and so that also has motivated me to include a bit more about my own teachers.
Truly, you cannot be a Finalist for the Grammy™ Music Educator Award without amazing teachers of your own.
And the fact is that most of these incredible musicians will not ever get the kind of public recognition I have been so fortunate to receive.
Yet they truly deserve it far more than me, and if all I can do is shine a small light on them here, it is the very least I can do.
Though none of them gave me the concept for CMAS as such, without them CMAS would never have come to be.
And particularly my earliest teachers.
They, maybe more than most in a lot of ways, deserve some words here.
To that end, please don’t read anything into particular lengthy or shorter bits regarding any specific person.
In fact, in many cases, my inability to properly and fully articulate their importance is, perhaps ironically, a pretty true indicator of just how important they actually are in all this.
Blame it on my stream-of-conscious writing style, if you like.
And that does not even account for the folks that I will surely, though unintentionally, leave out.
I had an elementary Music teacher who was wonderful.
I cannot recall her name, but I do recall how I loved singing in her class. I have a particularly potent memory of really enjoying, on a very musically pure level, singing “Tomorrow” from Annie with all my classmates at the tops of our lungs.
Probably sounded horrendous, but it was joyous.
I can even now still feel those moments of real, pure Joy as I think of them.
And so many other wonderful songs and moments – recorders, xylophones, all kinds of fantastic things.
I can even still see the room and all the chairs, and the piano, and other instruments, and her desk, and the windows – all of it.
In retrospect, I think the class afforded me a chance to feel a kind of free within myself that I did not have in many other places.
My parents sprang for lessons on that giant yellow piano I mentioned earlier, but I quickly lost the self-discipline to practice – something of a long reaching trait I am afraid.
I was, in truth, always captivated far more by what I could create of my own.
Mom told me how at one point my piano teacher – sorry, again I cannot recall her name – was really impressed, not that I had written a “song,” but, rather, that when I played it for her, I played it exactly as I had written it on the manuscript paper.
A glimpse of things to come it would seem.
It’s hard for me to exactly nail down the importance of Peter Metzger, Jeff Bieler, and Jack Wagner – my Sycamore, Ohio, grade school and high school band teachers - at least in terms of how to express it.
There is just so much.
They were – still are – musical Titans to me.
They all worked with the elementary students, but Wagner was the elementary and middle school conductor I think I am most impressed with looking back on that early period of my musical development.
Later in life when I would take my own turn at running a middle school orchestra for a couple of years, it would become so clear to me just how much of a genius the man was.
To this day, I cannot understand how he did it.
He pulled sound out of us when we had no idea what anything meant.
He put the puzzle together for us when we did not even know there were pieces in the first place.
He was ‘in the trenches’ in a way I have never been able to even remotely approach.
Always supportive, always positive.
He started a pep band for us in Jr. High, and took us to games and took us through all of that process so many times.
Ever patient, ever encouraging. His were the many lessons that I only now am starting to see just how meaningful they were.
I recall when he retired, how much I did not really get what that would mean.
He was succeeded by Vince Ronfeldt, who was young, charismatic, and brilliant.
Wagner retired while I was in high school, so I never really worked too much with Vince, but I recall him being so well versed in so much music that it was kind of hard to take in all that he could share.
I don’t know that any of us in High School realized the resource he could have been to us at the time had we just been willing to take advantage.
In any case, the other thing about Wagner’s retirement that sticks with me is that I recall overhearing some folks saying how he had been torn for quite some time as to if he wanted to actually stop working or not.
But he wanted to spend more time with his family and so he set aside his baton.
Shorty after his wife passed away.
I do not know the details or the exact time line, but there was one element that I was told about it all that I remember to this day: when she passed all he wanted to do was come back to teaching music.
From what I understand it was the only thing that would balance the loss for him – the only thing that would allow him any kind of solace.
Looking back, it is a profound realization and one that has guided me, even if I did not know it, for some time.
Jeff Bieler was a kind of bridge.
He worked with us as middle school/Jr High students and also in the high school.
He was the youngest of the three and in many ways the most energetic and the most forward thinking.
I look back now and see that he was always looking to push things forward for us – always looking to push us forward.
He expanded a lot of the band program’s opportunities and, in many ways, brought it all forward in time with regard to then current trends.
I think he was far more musically progressive than I realized at the time.
Bieler has been endlessly consistent.
He’s an imposing figure of a man – like nearly 7 feet tall – but also a very gentle soul.
He had a kind of “you will make of this opportunity what you will – I cannot do it for you” attitude that I had no conscious sense of at the time, but it clearly influenced me on a massive scale later.
In fact that attitude of his is very much a cornerstone of the entire CMAS philosophy.
He’s also just a really good guy.
For years, my parents would go to the parades the band marched in.
Even well after I had graduated and they had no real reason to go other than to support the program and the community, but no matter what he’d would always come over to them on the route to say hello.
After my mom passed away, for so many years, my Dad would call me to tell me how he had just seen the parade and Mr. Beiler came by and chatted with him.
He didn’t have to do it.
Many times it was less than convenient.
But he still did it.
Every single time.
He knew it meant the world to my Dad.
Like I said, he’s just a really good person.
Peter Metzger has cast a very long shadow over me and my musical development.
He was quite close to one of my older brothers who was also his student and it seems like he kinda knew me before we even met due to that connection.
He was the first person that I was in a lot of contact with that I truly identified as a “real” musician.
He had a kind of credibility to me that I cannot exactly explain.
And it’s odd, because while he deserved that moniker as much as anyone, I am not so sure that our tastes in music were all that similar.
But it did not matter, he was just “the man.”
He was also unrelenting.
He was a former military band member and he did not suffer fools gladly.
But he loved music, and he loved standing in front of us – guiding us, as it were, to make music.
To be honest he was actually a pretty mellow guy, but he was cut from that more old-school band director cloth, so sometimes you did not see his true nature if you were not looking for it.
But he had no ego.
It was strange.
He was held in such high esteem by us all, yet I cannot ever recall him ever giving you the sense that he was there for any other purpose than to help us.
I know that is not uncommon. All of my teachers have been that way.
But Pete was the first I was aware of it with.
When I went off to study music in college, the truth is that more than anyone, it was Pete who I was hoping to impress.
And Metzger was always so kind.
To me whenever I would come back to visit – though I did not do it nearly as often as I should have – in fact that first visit back after going off to student music at Bradley University, he said the one thing I was so hoping to hear from him, “Maxi!
I’m proud of you!”
It’s not that I was surprised, I always knew on some level, but it was a kind of marker – a momentous one at that – in my musical development.
He was also very kind, much like Bieler, to my parents whenever he saw them.
It really is just very hard for me to fully put into words just how important he is.
He was simply truly the first authentic musical icon in my life.
Wes Fricke was a friend of Metzger’s.
He was my first drum teacher.
I actually started with him, because I wanted to finally play drums in the school band.
I could not play the rhythms back properly when I first auditioned in 5th
grade – it was all due to being left handed, but, be that as it may, they actually did me a favor.
Starting on trumpet, then moving to baritone horn, actually gave some additional musical background that I might have missed out on if I’d gone straight to drums.
In any case, Wes Fricke was a brilliant older man who had studied with one of John Philip Sousa’s snare drummers, so I was way out of my depth with him, from the moment I walked in the door.
We never really studied much other than strict rudimentary etudes.
It was brutal.
It was also, in retrospect, incredibly musically valuable.
Like so much, I had no appreciation at the time, but I still reference back to so much with Mr. Fricke now.
Simply, it was all about finesse.
Him having it and me clearly not.
He just killed me with it every lesson, though he was such a sweet and gentle man.
But I could never play anything as fast or clean or precise as him.
It was like I would bust my rear to reach to what I thought was my maximum – matching him - FINALLY – only to have him just kick things up just a notch and make it clear that I was not on his level.
Importantly, this was not ego on his part.
I never took it that way.
It was just his way of teaching me that no matter how much you work, there is still work to do.
No matter how good you are, there is always someone better.
No matter how smooth and in control you play, there is always someone with more finesse.
Even though I have always been far more into drum kit work, and we never really did much beyond a single, simple lesson on it – though he did go with me and parents to several places shopping for my first kit – he, hands down, still is the most masterful – the one with the most finesse – drummer I’ve ever known.
I need to close this part by coming clean with you that my awareness of other music programs during grade through high school is almost nonexistent.
I cannot really attribute this to anything specific – certainly not my teachers – but nonetheless it is the case.
Mostly, and I need to take full responsibility for the way this manifested, I think it created a very false sense within me that the music I was playing was the most important.
I think, had I been more musically aware back then, I’d have moved far further far faster, but who knows.
Mostly I just feel that I need to acknowledge it here, as the idea of all music being equally significant, important and relevant does play a big part in things later for me.
College begins my association with a number of incredibly gifted musical artists.
Though they each deserve their own extensive narrative, I hope they will forgive my more direct summaries here.
Bradley University in Peoria, Illinoi, was the greatest place for music on Earth for me.
Still is in many ways.
It was just magical.
Of course, as was and still is my way, I did not appreciate it nearly as much as I should have at the time, but nonetheless, it is the place where the doors to my musical future all were opened up.
I hold two distinctions at Bradley: One, I was the first Music Composition Major to graduate from the school – something I am keenly proud of.
And two, while I was not nearly the most talented student they ever had, I am certain I was the most arrogant.
Regardless, my time at Bradley was so transformative, and everyone there was nothing other than totally supportive.
Dr. Vroman was the first significant musician, who I had not spent a great deal of my youth with, who believed in my being able to have a musical life, and, maybe more importantly, the first to reassure my parents that I could.
He’s a major musical talent, who managed to juggle so much – running not just Bradley’s Bands, but also the entire School of Music.
He’s also important in the Music Education program, and pretty much everything there– likely more than I will ever be aware of.
He can do it all and do it well. He’s both inspiring and wonderfully intimidating.
He also had the more advanced Bradley Wind Ensemble play, in rehearsal, my first attempt at an original piece with a fuller orchestration.
The piece was not at all very good, quite the opposite, but just by allowing me to truly hear what I had put on the page he gave me a gift that I can never repay.
Greg Sanders: Catalyst.
Dr. Sanders was my first real mentor – my first music theory and composition teacher.
He took me in.
Showed me a musical world I could not have even dared to dream of.
But more importantly, while I came to him so musically scattered, he was patient and encouraging.
Ultimately, it was like he was saying, “Ok, well now that you are finally here, stop dreaming about it and let’s really get to work!”
It changed me.
He also provided me my first experiences with music technology.
He took a few of us on a new kind of musical journey as he got us a computer and some bits of outboard gear.
There was not much, but the important take away – the thing I still hold dear in that work with him – was that the technology should never be a crutch.
It should never be a way out of being creative.
It should only be used as a way to illicit creativity.
His methodology on that one element alone is indescribably important to all I do and have become.
Dr. Heinemann took over my junior year from Dr. Sanders.
I totally did not allow him a chance at first.
Sanders, I felt, had been everything in my musical life at Bradley, and I could have cared less about his successor.
Dr. Sanders, once later, and rightfully so, scolded me a bit for this.
It was just my arrogant nature again getting the better of me.
Heinemann was more than just patient with me, he was a realist with me too.
I think he spent more time trying to help me stop getting in my own way than anything else.
He’s also very low key, but yet when he’s around you can tell just from his very presence that he has the most musically sharp mind of anyone in the room.
He just possesses a kind of musical awareness that is all too rare.
Dr. and Professor Kaizer: Real.
I probably should not lump this husband-wife piano duo together, but they are kind of inseparable to me –and likely everyone else too.
She taught the basics of the instrument to every music major at the school.
It was hard to appreciate her skills at the time because she had to spend most of it playing simple songs with us, but she is a monster talent.
Her husband is a master pianist.
He plays with a kind of rapture about it that is just infectious.
I was never even close enough to being skilled at the piano in a capacity that would let me study with him, but over the years since leaving Bradley I have been able to play drums with him on a several occasions and it is just so much fun.
Actually, as an aside, once, in my senior year, at near the height of my arrogance, I was asked to fill in on drums for the Bradley Faculty Jazz combo.
We did a couple of gigs.
The first actually at another college.
I was sure I was going to steal the show.
I am certain they all knew I felt as much – and how could they not? – like I said, my arrogance at the time was palpable.
Anyway, we get setup, and I’m all raring to go on my drum kit, and Dr. Kaizer starts off the first piece, “There Will Never Be Another You,” at something like 218bpm.
Then, just for fun, Dr. Heinemann – playing Soprano Sax – plays the entire head with the melody purposely displaced by an 1/8 note.
They then proceeded to have us play the song for, I know I am not exaggerating, something like 12 minutes. By the end, I had not played a single fill, or even much in the way of accents.
Just holding on for dear life, playing time.
I recall them gently egging me on to do more as the song progressed.
Smiling at me, not sarcastically, just knowingly.
And it was, in truth, pretty funny.
Looking back it was pretty wonderful in its way.
I had been musically beaten down in the best way possible.
I should also mention that later that year they all were very kind and played on my senior recital.
I had faculty members on my senior recital playing my music.
Such a gift.
The school actually allowed me to do a recital each year, even letting me create my own full ensembles as needed to play my music, so supportive were they of me and my goals.
They were all always so kind to me.
Prof. Slotter played piano for pretty much everyone at Bradley.
More than her musical skills though, the thing I remember most about her was that she always had a smile.
She never had an unkind word.
I played several shows with her in various capacities during my time at Bradley and she had this kind of abundance of positive energy about everything she did, that honestly, if you could only learn that skill from her – I clearly did not, at least not at the time – you were well ahead of the game.
Dr. Jost ran both the Choral and Orchestra ensembles at Bradley, but he was important to me because he was my first conducting teacher.
At the time, though I recall all the lessons now, I was mostly just going through the motions.
To be fair, I did that a lot with a lot of people.
But even that in mind, even I could tell how much care he took with every single musical line.
I did not remotely understand its significance at the time, but even then it was all to clear that he felt a kind of deep and personal responsibly for every single moment of music that he was conducting.
This would be something that later would become very critical to me.
He felt a considerable weight with regard to the notion that it was fully on him to ensure that his ensembles were doing everything they possibly could to stay true to the composer’s original intentions.
He was very soft-spoken, yet a truly powerful musical force.
Despite all the urging from everyone, I had no real plan when I finished at Bradley for how I’d live my life and pay the bills.
Yet, in a lot of ways I had gotten to be a bit of a larger fish in a small pond at Bradley, and so when I found myself at Youngstown State University I was at the absolute high of my arrogance.
On a lot of levels.
My point is simply that I was not in a place within myself to really take advantage of the opportunities that both Dr. Rollin and Dr. Largent attempted to afford me.
Looking back, even if I had been different in my approach, I do not think we would have seen much similarly in terms of music theory and its role in the creative process.
I do think, if I could do it now, it would feel far less confrontational, and more conversational.
There was a chance to explore some things, that in the end I still might have not wanted to adopt into my own practice, but at least I could have had the conversations more openly.
Explored things more unbiasedly.
It was a wasted opportunity for sure.
Hindsight is 20/20.
Dr. Gage was a light in the darkness for me during my time at YSU. He was a brilliant percussionist, but it was his conducting that was captivating to me.
He has a kind of energy about him that is both hard to describe and hard to miss.
It’s like he is forever trying to put himself inside the music.
He runs to the podium when he conducts.
Like he’s unable – or more likely, unwilling – to wait to make it all happen.
I was not really writing music at the time in a way that was true to myself – largely I think because I did not understand how to be – but Dr. Gage allowed me another avenue.
He encouraged me to channel my energy into conducting.
He knew that YSU was not the place for me to really open myself up.
Not because YSU was lacking, but because I was.
And yet he still took me in and musically moved me forward, even when it seemed like I was doing everything I could to sabotage myself at YSU.
He sent me on my way to Arizona.
And though it took a long time, it was there that I would finally, maybe – even now I don’t want to jinx things – find my truer musical self.
In a lot of ways, more than anything, I think I escaped to the University of Arizona.
I came in with a false sense of my musical self, but it would be where I would finally take some real steps forward.
I have an section later, “Joy Versus Fun,” that will explain Dr. Billups ‘ impact, but I do want to mention here as well just how much I cherish my time working with him.
Everything about him just exudes music.
Nancy Ferguson: Reformer.
Dr. Ferguson was part of the Music Ed department at UofA – an area of Music I had never considered a part of my future musical life.
I was rather lost while at UofA in a lot of ways.
Trying to regain my sense of self from my time at Bradley, when the truth was that it was a pointless task.
Music wants to move forward.
I was locked into my past wondering why the Music wasn’t there with me.
But Dr. Ferguson saw something that I did not.
And she got me to start working with a local High School Orchestra.
The conductor at Ricon-University High School, the amazing Fran Mockly had this massive program – like 300 string players – and she gave me so many opportunities – not that I took them all (foolishly not) – and I began to see another way to have that musical life that I still so desperately wanted.
Over these years at both YSU and UofA I really only wrote one real piece of music – a work for Orchestra called “Last Dance” that turned out to be a preemptive soundtrack to my mother’s final moments after a long battle with brain cancer.
She got to hear it.
She got to see the video of me conducting the UofA Orchestra in performance.
It’s precious to me in a way I cannot express, but, in truth, I have not done much in terms of composition in that medium since, despite all my conducting, though I hope to again in the future.
So I was just lost.
Unsure if I was to really be a composer.
Dr. Ferguson, afforded me a new path.
I don’t know why I followed her advise when I clearly had no interest in following anyone else’s, but I did, and I am so grateful.
Had I not, there would be no CMAS.
Not a chance.
When she passed a couple of years after I graduated, I remember it hitting me a lot harder than I expected.
I had not been all that close to her, yet her impact had clearly mattered and knowing she was gone mattered as well.
I don’t know how else to explain him.
Professor Hanson is a conductor by profession, but he’s really more than that.
He is so musically self aware, so able to move within the musical stream.
His technique is honestly so precise that it somehow wraps back around to being completely intuitive and fluid.
It’s astounding to witness, and something that I still, despite all my comfort now on the podium, out of practice as I may be these days, have never managed to recreate.
He broke me down and rebuilt me, then knowing that I could not take even a single further step with him – or really anyone else – he forced me out, finally, to take real steps on my own.
I think he honestly signed off on my degree not so much because I had earned it, but because he knew it was the only way I was going to get on with things.
Terrified as I was – not that I’d admit it - he got me to stop waiting for something to happen, and go make things happen for myself.
Like I said, Yoda.
I know I have inadvertently left out some that should certainly be mentioned here, but there are just so very many.
I hope they can forgive my oversight.
Whether mentioned here or not, I owe so much of my musical identity to all of these wonderful people – all these incredible musicians.
Some questions to help facilitate further discussion:
Who have you studied with that you still feel their influence on your practice?
What past experiences do you look back on now with a different perspective in terms of effectiveness or purpose than you did at the time?
What My Musical Past Has Meant For My Musical Future
I want to try to bring my early musical experiences, and the influence of my own teachers, full circle in all this before moving on.
True, none of them had a CMAS-like concept in mind, but then again, even if they had, it would not have been remotely possible to bring it to fruition.
The cost alone in the 1980’s and 1990’s – man, am I old! – would have made it impossible.
What CMAS can do now for under $30 per year per student would have cost several million dollars then.
The technology simply was not there.
But when I look back at all the time I spent working with them there is a unifying thread to much of it.
And, no, it is not my tendency to lack an appreciation at the time of what I was being afforded, though I have tried to be as upfront as I can regarding that – actually it’s been quite cathartic to do so – it is the idea of having a musical life.
I know. I know.
We’re getting a bit long here on philosophy, but what I am talking about is actually quite simple:
if you want a musical life, go and have one.
It sounds so simple to say, yet we all know that so many don’t actually do it.
For one reason or another they allow it to allude them.
My suspicion is that it’s because we preemptively define what that life has to be, and then when confronted with variables that might change that, we shut down.
I certainly did.
But, as you’ve now read, I got incredibly lucky.
Along the way, no matter where or when on my journey, somehow there was always someone there not letting me just walk away.
Yeah, within me I still wanted it, but that interaction with others also pulling for me made the difference.
It kept me going.
And there was a price to it all as well.
A price beyond financial, I mean.
All those times that I had a lack of willingness to be focused on the moment and what was most important at that moment meant that it took me far longer to get to a place to make CMAS happen.
It meant I was, let’s call it, inefficient.
It meant that I never actually had the guts to really “take my shot.”
I never went to LA, or Europe, or wherever, as it were, to try and “make it.”
Despite lots of posturing, I did not truly believe.
Mostly, I did not have the ability to fail and move on.
I had fear.
CMAS is in a lot of ways about removing that fear.
Yes, it came from my need to find a way to balance my sense of the work I’d
done in school with the music I was listening to and making outside of school, but what it really is about, what from my own teaches I learned, is the real value of trusting the Creative Process.
Of treating it as a kind of sacred act.
Of not being afraid of it.
Of being open to everything.
Of not being afraid to fail.
I am, for better or worse, self-taught with regard to so much of what I do.
And though it took me a terribly long time, that self-reliance, that need to always cultivate new ideas and experiences, the things that are at the true heart of CMAS, are all, in some ways, also from my teachers and those first musical experiences.
Yes, CMAS is mine, but it is also theirs.
Some questions to help facilitate further discussion:
Can they sometimes be the same thing?