I just returned home from two magical weeks at CSU Summer Arts. This Summer Arts experience was particularly special as it was my first year as a course coordinator. Having attended Summer Arts back in 1993 and 1995 as a student and then returning in 2013 as a guest artist, I knew what I was in for. In 2013, I, in my usual dramatic way, did the whole “my life has come full circle” thing. It had, in a way. Until this year when I was offered a turn at running my own course. I was told that although Summer Arts has had students become guest artists over the years, I am the first student to become a course coordinator. Now my Summer Arts life had officially come full circle.
(I blogged about the 2013 course – which you can read here, as well as a preview blog for this years course – which you can read here).
So, what is it about Summer Arts that makes it so magical?
The golden opportunity to tuck yourself away in a place filled with other like minded young artists and master teachers, focus exclusively on your art for two weeks, and create yourself.
The gift of time to allow yourself to really process everything you’re taking in, in that moment.
The chance to learn from the some of the very best artists out there.
When tasked with creating my “dream flute course” I didn’t have to think too terribly long before coming up with the artists I wanted on board. I’m pleased to say The Complete 21st Century Flutist was a huge success! Many thanks to my friends Rachel Nardo and Joanne Sharp at Summer Arts who must’ve also had a feeling this course would be something special. I’m grateful to you and honored to be a part of the Summer Arts family.
We had a delightful time working with and getting to know 20 bright and talented flutists from around the US and Canada. Our team of artists was off the charts: flutists John Barcellona, Ian Clarke, Robert Dick, Ali Ryerson, Carol Wincenc, pianists Wendy Caldwell and Bryan Pezzone, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Akira Tana.
“It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about the art, the music, telling the story, the creative process, remaining open to taking in as much as you can, stepping outside your comfort zone, thinking outside the box, learning new and different ways to approach your art …”
This was expressed from day one, and again and again throughout our time together.
My colleagues and I discovered that we were often saying similar things to the students without necessarily meaning to, simply because we were on the same page. We weren’t sitting down for our daily afternoon planning session over tea and cookies saying “OK, I’m going to say this, and then you say the same thing at your class later on! Deal?” Although some of us had worked with each other, this full team had never worked together and yet, here we were, all speaking the same language. Amazing.
Honestly, I haven’t worked so hard, slept so little, and was so energized and inspired as I was these past weeks. I’m certain I said this in my 2013 blog about Summer Arts, but it’s true. It has to be a Summer Arts thing. I mean seriously, I was getting on the average 5 hours a night, sometimes far less, and yet I’d still leap out of bed at 5:35 am to ready myself for the early morning beach hike with my students and colleagues. Let me just say, I rarely leap out of bed for anything, and by rarely I mean never. Summer Arts.
Many late night pedagogical discussions turned into early morning pedagogical discussions. Just when we’d think it was time to call it a night, one of us would interject with “… and then when I was 12 …” We’d respond by easing back in our chairs, maybe turning the kettle on for another cup of tea, and settle in for the next chapter of one of our lives to share.
Some of our night classes would invariably go way overtime because everyone was digging the process and didn’t want to stop. One night, Carol Wincenc was leading a fabulous workshop on the Mozart Flute Concerti that she and her colleague Bryan Wagorn arranged for two flutes. The students broke into pairs at first, playing through each movement of each concerto, nearly every part of the orchestra represented as well as the solo flute part. We hadn’t yet finished the D Major concerto and were way out of time. Before I could finish my sentence asking for a show of hands of who wanted to keep going or call it a night, every student enthusiastically raised their hands to keep going to finish it. We went pretty late that night, but it was a huge shot in the arm. I’ll never forget the feeling in the room as 23 of us plowed through the D Major Concerto, Carol in the middle of our giant circle leading us along like the Pied Piper.
BTW, Thank you Carol and Bryan. You’ve given a tremendous gift to the flute community with these remarkable arrangements. Brava!
At our first class meeting, Ali Ryerson asked the students for a show of hands of who could improvise. One hand went up and another sort of went up after that. She said “I disagree. You all can improvise. You just did it as you went around the room, introducing yourselves.” She was right. By the end of the two weeks, everyone had developed the skills and confidence to take a solo in Ali’s Jazz Flute Big Band. It was an amazing thing to witness each of these players opening up, stepping outside their comfort zones, and trying something new – successfully.
John Barcelona is the technical clearing house for working out your … stuff … on the flute. This man has the ability to hear you play, tell you all the things you’re doing well, then tell you what needs work and show you how to fix it. John was my mentor teacher in grad school at CSULB. He did this exact thing for me nearly 25 years ago, which helped shape me into the flutist and teacher I am today. Having a teacher explain the what/why/when/how of flute playing to you is invaluable. Some can tell you what and when but not all can really communicate how and why. John can. Very well.
Robert Dick brought a ton of outside the box thinking to this course. Robert is a pioneer in the world of contemporary flute performance and composition. There are things this man can do on the bass flute that will blow your mind. Don’t believe me? Get his new CD, put on track one (stereo, not laptop) and you’ll see what I mean. Whether you are someone who performs contemporary works chocked full of extended techniques or not, there’s no denying this man is brilliant. His workshops on circular breathing, improvised cadenzas, and multi-phonics were invaluable.
Speaking of brilliant flutists/composers, Ian Clarke was a bright shining light on a cloudy day. Besides being a remarkable flutist, Ian’s works for flute are equally so, and were well represented at this course. Many of the students played his pieces – very well. What I love about Ian’s writing is that he has a diverse collection of works for flute and there is something for a variety of level of player. He is a masterclass master, with the ability to include everyone in a natural and sincere way, keeping them engaged the whole time, while still maintaining focus on the student with whom he is working. His workshop on 1000 Sounds in Silence was brilliant and looking around the room as he spoke, you could almost see the students minds opening up in front of your eyes.
The students were fortunate to work with two brilliant actors from the Steppenwolf course, Alexandra Billings and Kim Rubinstein. They introduced the flute students to The Viewpoints – 9 major viewpoints to apply as they move with one another through space and work together as an ensemble. They are, in no particular order: Kinesthetic Response, Spacial Relationship, Duration, Repetition, Shape, Architecture, Tempo, Topography and Gesture. These 9 viewpoints became a standard topic of discussion on our early morning walks with fellow teachers, guest artists, and students, as well as late night flute pedagogy discussions. As a Body Mapping instructor, this particularly resonated with me. Our flute students were getting regular Body Mapping classes at Summer Arts, and for me, this was the perfect accompaniment to that. Yet another illustration of how we all cross over, connect, create and inspire at Summer Arts.
Through it all, the common thread of tell the story kept resurfacing.
From the very first night at the stage combat presentation, the actors reminded us how vital it is to tell the story, especially important if you’re an actor swinging a rapier and dagger around at another actor. They also stressed the importance of slow, methodical work and repetition. Obviously applicable for us musicians.
Dave Goetsch from Big Bang Theory spoke at his presentation about the creative process in the writers room and telling the story. His list of tips for writers hit home for me and my students – especially the one about pitching the solution and not just a suggestion. How can we as teachers teach our students if we don’t offer them suggestions for how to fix what needs fixing?
Artist Barry Underwood showed us several stories with his beautiful and innovative photographs. His ability to combine something old with something new is pure genius. As a musician, this is the dance we do all the time – finding new works to add to our repertoire, developing new techniques on our instruments, all the while keeping hold of time honored tradition. Combining works on a program by JS Bach and Ian Clarke or Robert Dick, for example, is our version of combining the old with the new.
We as musicians must always tell the story, but it’s not always clear how to do that. Actors and writers seem to do this effortlessly, why can’t we? Why do we get so caught up inside our heads and forget about this deeper level of communication between performer and listener? We’re so consumed with the technical, the execution, and the most minute details. Of course, it’s that precise attention to detail that makes us good at what we do – but it can never ever be at the expense of telling the story.
So how did our 20 flutists tell their story? With creativity, beauty, poise, and artistry. I sat in the audience with my colleagues and witnessed each of these 20 musicians create something remarkable. From soloist to soloist, chamber group to Jazz Flute Big Band, each one of them took the stage like they owned it. Those who never imagined they could improvise, did. Each of them were 100% in the moment, inclusively aware, and digging the whole experience.
Another piece of advice I gave to them at the start of our journey together was to own their space. When they take the stage to perform whether in masterclass, ensemble rehearsal or performance, don’t come into the space as if it belongs to someone else and you are a guest. Own it. And, own it they did.
In the wake of the atrocities taking place all over the globe, it seemed a bit self indulgent to post this blog. Honestly, I’ve been hesitating to finish writing and post it. Why would anyone care about a two week flute course in Monterey Bay when so much anger, sadness, and pain are all around us. That’s exactly why this needs to be out there. We can’t stop these horrible acts from happening, but, we can keep living our lives, creating art, making music, inspiring one another, and living in the present moment. Yesterday afternoon, as I was writing this, I received an email from my friends at Summer Arts, informing me and all of the other course coordinators that all 27 art students and 4 teachers who are currently in Nice for a three week painting course with Summer Arts, were safe. I had no idea that the events in Nice had even taken place until that email arrived. About an hour later, my husband Steve and I made our way up to Hollywood for the LA Phil’s semi-staged production of Bernstein’s West Side Story. Hardly the thing I felt like doing – going to sit in a giant amphitheater with thousands of other people – but Steve was playing with the Philharmonic so off we went. I was sure the house would be light. Wrong. It was packed – if not sold out, damn near. The Hollywood Bowl seats 18,000 people. It was quite something watching this classic work after many years, realizing how relevant it is right now. Violence, fear, guns, power. Bernstein, Sondheim, and Laurents put pen to paper on this masterpiece more than 50 years ago. Many of us have seen Bernstein’s famous quote: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
In a time filled with fear, I choose love, music, art, and friendship.
Right here, right now, I’m filled with many emotions as I come down from the Summer Arts high, most of which are good, some melancholy. I miss my friends old and new, the 20 awesome flute students, and a handful of other outstanding young artists whose acquaintance I was lucky to make. Who knows if our paths will cross again – I hope they do and I hope it’s at our next Summer Arts flute course. (Cross your fingers for 2018, flutists!)
To my students, I propose this:
Get out of your head and find a place deep inside yourself to communicate the music to yourself and your audience.
Trust that your art and creativity are good and speaks for itself.
Become friends with the creative process. Focus less on the goal and more on the process. (Yes, I wrote a blog about this, too … click here, it’s a good one, I promise! )
Find the story. Sometimes it’s not super obvious, but it’s there, I promise you. Find it and tell it.
Meanwhile, I will recall with fondness our two weeks in Monterey Bay, in our sacred space at the Music Hall, telling our story and creating ourselves.
Last night together