Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Intermediate Works for Violin, Cello, and Piano

Two new compositions by the composer Misha Kolesoski are available for purchase from The first is a three movement piano trio based off of Shakespeare's play Macbeth. The pieces are fun and playable, they are also brief and move quickly which makes them ideal for a student recital or other multi-musician event. The best part is that each of the three performers (violin, cello, and piano) have a chance to shine while playing. 

The second composition available is Seven Themes for Violin and Piano. These are more involved later-intermediate vignettes that focus on violin melody and piano accompaniment.  There are compositions in a wide range of moods and styles including a tango, a gigue, and meditation. This work would also be ideal for any pianist and violinist needing soft/elegant music for a recital or other musical performance. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Should American Musicians Study Indian Classical Music? Part 2: Ear Training

Don’t get me wrong, ear training is very much a component in western music pedagogy. What we are discussing in the section is the method of teaching the student to hear musical notes and identify melodic structure/contour.  In this respect, I believe the Indian aural system has a leg-up.

Consider the aural tradition in general, when melodies can’t be written down the pressure to memorize them immediately and quickly becomes a major priority. Of course, modern Indian musicians can easily notate their melodies, but the consensus seems to be that it loses something in the translation (or perhaps more appropriately, transcription). Therefore, the system of continuous “listen and repeat” until the melody is learned is a huge boon to the performing musician.

This can only be done with a very acute pair of ears, and training them to recognize patterns is an arduous and difficult task.  With perseverance, however; it can be accomplished to the point of mastery. North Indian music offers a system of “Alankar” and “Palta” which are essentially melodic patterns sung (and played) over a drone, they move from the hyper-simplistic to the extremely complex (and long).  The student is meant to master these both before and alongside their repertoire study.

From an anecdotal standpoint, I learned more ear-training in 6 months of doing palta-s than I did in my first two years at college.  This led me to consider a way to implement these methods in a more “western” context.  I now teach all of my students a hybridized version of Italian solfege patterns and traditional Hindustani Palta-s, and I am happy to report that the results have been wonderfully successful. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Open Response to "Want A Job? Don't Bother With These Degrees" by Jennifer Berry

Logging into my email I stumbled across the article: “Want a Job? Don’t Bother With These Degrees” by Jennifer Berry. It’s a recent trend in blogs and online writings that I am seeing more and more lately. It seems there is a slew of weekend authors turned guidance counselors who hold a major ambition to steer college students away from the fine arts. Citing high unemployment and the down economy, these fierce guardians of personal economic security are bent on warning parents and young scholars to avoid creative fields at all costs.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. The authors’ ignorance of history and total disregard for the long-term needs of our society leaves me with an irritation that I can hardly express in words. I can’t totally blame the authors though; it is symptomatic of the greater issues surrounding our culture, especially in relationship to the economy. When employment is scarce there are many who feel justified in their obsession with short-term gains and completely disregard what happens to the next generation, or the generation following. 

These articles (carelessly) advise students not to pursue degrees in arts, philosophy, or religion – all hallmarks of traditional higher learning. Instead (as Berry does) they recommend that young people look into more trade-oriented diplomas such as nursing and finance. This leads me to the main issue surrounding these ignorance-peddlers. There is a fundamental question facing our society regarding higher learning: does college exist to train the next generation of intellectuals, or is it simply there as vocational training? More and more people seem to be gravitating towards the latter.

If our research universities (now becoming dwarfed by the onslaught of “for profit” schools) currently exist simply to train young people to do a job, why fuss with a four year degree at all? Putting it bluntly, a nurse is not a better nurse for knowing classics, argumentative fallacies, or the history of the French revolution – therefore; if someone is earning an accounting degree, that should be all the student is squared to learn, why delve into any other subjects whatsoever? After all, it won’t boost their all-important earning potential. Wouldn't it be better to set up small, inexpensive vocational/technical schools where these positions could be filled?

So our destiny is to be cogs in the capitalist machine, we don’t need art, music, philosophy, ethics, historians, or advanced thinkers of any kind. All we need are human drones trudging off into the workforce to perpetuate a monetary cycle so that everyone can keep happily feeding the hyper-materialistic culture we have erected.

I wonder how long it will take society to realize that the power to change these ugly assumptions rests in all of us. We can make our colleges and universities a real place to advance human pursuits. We can embrace skepticism, music, art, and science which all feed into and support each other. Finally, we can reject the notion that intellectualism is something to be feared. The humanities are a pathway to a more enlightened civilization, which in our age of paranoia, selfishness, and celebrated self-centeredness is something we desperately need.