|Brillante Music Studio||
|Brillante Music Studio||
Practice Challenge Update Week #7 of 20
An abandoned, crumbling home stood shrouded in overgrown grass and weeds. The old summer home that once held laughter and music now sat, vandalized, with broken windows, sunken floors and a hole in the roof where a tree branch had crushed it. But in 2009, an Illinois couple, Vicki and Darrell Gatwood began to renovate the home. As they cleaned up the hundreds of crumpled papers strewn around the floors, one name kept popping out: Florence Price. An internet search uncovered that Florence Price was an American composer who had passed away in 1953. Price was the first Black female composer to have a symphony premiered by a major American orchestra. (Price's Symphony No.1 was featured by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933.) The abandoned home had once been Price's summer home and what the Gatwood's discovered was a treasure trove of music-unpublished compositions by a remarkable composer.
The question, "What will you uncover in yourself?" has been our guiding theme this year at Brillante. As we dove into the unknown waters of composing these past couple of weeks, the discoveries have yielded a lot of treasures! (I will be featuring some of these student compositions in next week's blog.) Composing can feel awkwardly personal and uncomfortable. But those who travel those vulnerable passages will ultimately reap the greatest rewards.
Florence Price started composing finger technique exercises for her students when she was a piano teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wanting to expand her musical life, Price applied to the Arkansas Music Teacher's Association, but was denied because of her race. In the meantime, racial violence was escalating in her community. After a public lynching of a Black man just a few blocks from her house, Price decided to move her family to Chicago. While in Chicago, she decided to boldly embrace the part of herself and her family that made many other people so uncomfortable-her heritage. She composed her first symphony, infusing it with both African-American and European traditions. The first movement glistens with Cathedral chimes and is followed by African drums that accompany a syncopated dance, a folk tradition that started in the country of Angola and moved with slaves to American plantations. Her unapologetic self-discovery was noticed and her music was celebrated. Her recovered symphonies went on to win awards in prestigious music circles and are included in the western music canon.
Florence Price's best music existed long before it was discovered. It's a reminder for us to keep digging-not only inwardly, but to excavate for the gold mines in other people and in unexpected places. The best surprises typically live just outside our comfort zones.
Practice Challenge Update Week #6 of 20
A stunning brunette wearing a black silk and lace dress sits cross-legged at a comparably beautiful piano. The perfectly executed lighting casts warmth on her alabaster skin and creates a magical twinkling effect from the diamonds that dangle from her ears. Her fingers rest delicately on the piano keys while her gentle, but intense gaze looks off camera, as if she is hearing music from beyond time and space.
As a middle schooler with only two years of piano lessons under my belt, an awkward wardrobe and very full bangs, I spent hours staring at this picture on a cassette tape cover my mom had randomly picked up at a church garage sale. It felt like a long shot, but still, I imagined myself as this woman-full of beauty, grace-and no doubt, undeniable talent! Beyond the beautifully curated cover, the true effect of this Victoria's Secret, Classics By Request, cassette tape was its content. The third piece on the playlist was Tchaikovsky's "'Love Theme'" from Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture". Though I had never been in love, I could feel Tchaikovsky's obsession and heartbreak in the simple, yet sweeping melody and I. was. hooked. The music of that playlist absolutely ignited my imagination. Those pieces became the soundtrack of my winter journey as an unflappable mountain climber. It enveloped me in a ravishing gown while I sparkled and laughed gaily while swirling in circles at glittering ballroom parties. It was my full orchestra under the stars as I sang bold and inspiring songs from stages in massive open air stadiums.
Each February, our culture celebrates relational love, but it's also a great time to revitalize the passions and ideals that light our fires. Nelson Mandela said, "There is no passion to be found playing small-in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." Our truest loves propel us forward. They anchor us in tumultuous and frustrating times. They reward us.
A decade after receiving that cassette tape, I manifested my vision of the "woman at the piano". When I was asked to play at a very fancy evening party in the big city, I put on my most sparkly earrings, piled my hair on top of my head and wore (a slightly less risque) black silk dress. As I sat at the piano bench and gazed out the floor to ceiling windows out at the city's skyline, those hours in piano lessons and playing scales over and over seemed worth it. My love for music had even improved my hairdo-at least for the evening.
Practice Challenge Update Week #5 of 20
The Artic blast cocooning Minnesota this week couldn't have come at a better time. The Practice Challengers have played and sang their way to Week #5, which means a pit stop for fingers and voices and time spent snuggling up with some fabulous cinematic treasures.
In one of the *greatest Office episodes, "The Coup", office manager Michael Scott reveals that the cure for the Monday blues is "'Varsity Blues!'" He interrupts the work day to gather his staff in the conference room where they watch episodes of "Entourage" and "Varsity Blues". When this weekly exercise is discovered by his boss, Jan, Michael defends his decision:
Jan: How would a movie increase productivity, Michael? How on earth would it do that?
Michael: People work faster after...
Michael (nervously): No...they have to...to make up for the time they lost watching the movie.
Michael Scott's productivity efforts are laughable, but there is actually research to back it up. In the book The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, author David Eagleman points out that we humans are relentless in our efforts to create familiarity and routine. However, as soon as we've established stability, we immediately try to break it! Patterns are both vitally important and predictably destructive. Neuroscience research shows that in order to grow our brain functions, we must consistently build new neurological "highways."
Movie Week is a rest stop on our 20-week practice challenge journey. We need to rest, relax and interact with music in a new and different way. Our movie list contains classics like "Hello, Dolly" as well as more recent shows like "Hamilton". While I wasn't overly inspired with the plot of Pixar's "Soul", I was still purchasing the sheet music for Jon Baptiste's fantastic version of "It's Alright" the moment I heard the first few notes playing during the credits.
"...while it may sound counterintuitive, if you want to improve your craft, here is my advice: Spend time elsewhere. Let your mind go somewhere else. Let your craft gestate quietly in the background. Trust that the inspiration can and will show up in unexpected ways." (Amy Tangerine, Craft a Life You Love)
*personal opinion and supported by the hubby
Practice Challenge Update Week #4 of 20
"This is listening as a martial art...contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do." ~Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference
Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert all celebrated birthdays in the last few months. This has resulted in me revisiting some of my favorite pieces and remembering why their music is so influential centuries later. While standing in the garage doesn't make me a car, regularly consuming great music will definitely create better musicians. For this reason, each week, I send out a studio-wide "Audio Treasure". These are current or classic songs and pieces that I hope will bring my students inspiration, deep thought and simple pure joy.
Week #4 of our practice challenge has brought out the challengers! There is a new palatable sense of energy and commitment and I am digging this journey with my students.
Here are the birthday boys and a few of my favorites:
Mozart | Symphony 40-Movement 1
From the very first notes, this angsty, unrelenting piece is one of the most captivating melodies of all time. Years later, both Beethoven and Schubert would use aspects from this movement in their fifth symphonies.
Beethoven | Fifth Symphony
Overcoming every obstacle, including loss of hearing (which can be a detriment to musicians, as it turns out), Beethoven continues to inspire with his world changing music. This Line Riders version makes for a fun visual as you listen to one of the most iconic pieces of all time.
Schubert | Serenade
Unlike the slow burn effect that many composers employ, this young Austrian composer has a knack for pulling his audience immediately into the depth of his music. Serenade/Standchen, a piece written for a desire for love, drops the listener directly into her feelings. The violin prowess of midwestern boy (with Minnesota ties!) Joshua Bell is the perfect musical partnership.