Personas for Rachel Barton Pine

Personas for Rachel Barton Pine

I am thrilled to announce the world premiere of Personas, my five-movement solo sonata commissioned by virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine. Rachel premieres Personas this week at the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music on November 13th. [Get your tickets here!] Rachel’s recital is a creatively-programmed evening of music inspired by Abrahamic traditions. The first half consists of Baroque works by Bach, Biber, and Corelli; the second half features modern works by Yale Strom, Mohammed Fairouz, and myself.

Still life of "Ruth," the third movement of "Personas."

Still life shot at my kitchen table in New York City on August 8, 2013 while composing “Ruth,” the central movement of “Personas.”

Writing Personas was truly a labor of love, with its compositional process spanning a full two years. I challenged myself to realize the full potential of Rachel’s phenomenal talents, musicianship, and stylistic range. I particularly relished the opportunity to draw from such diverse musical reservoirs as bluegrass, heavy metal, Hebrew prayer-modes and folk songs, bel canto cadenzas, Paganiniana, and baroque counterpoint. Rachel is among the few violinists who can navigate so many diverse styles and genres equally well.

In mid-October, I traveled to Chicago to meet with Rachel for an intensive 24-hour session of sharing, coaching, experimenting, and revising. Two days before my flight, I had felt a customary bout of “composers panic.” [“What if this piece is really awful? What if those chords don’t work? Was I thinking too much like a violist in this passage?”]. Silly me. In Rachel’s hands, every note surpassed my best hopes and expectations, and our work together refined Personas into its final form.

The Chicago skyline view from Rachel Barton Pine's music studio.

The Chicago skyline viewed from Rachel Barton Pine’s music studio.

I hope to see you at the premiere or to share a recording soon!  In the meanwhile, please enjoy a synopsis:


When Rachel Barton Pine asked me to write “something of you, for me,” she was unaware that I was already in the process of adapting Nahum: An Apocalyptic Prophesy (a heavy metal instrumental for six-string electric viola) for her unplugged, standard violin. After some excited discussion, we agreed that I would compose a five-movement sonata based upon Nahum and four other diverse and compelling Biblical personas.

The soloist’s task is to embody and convey the spirit of these characters, and in some cases, their actual messages or narratives. The work is composed in arch form: lighter, energetic outer movements flank dramatic, complex inner movements, which border an emotional, lyrical central movement. The work commences and concludes with ecstatic rejoicing; along the way, we encounter a prophesy of doom, a love story, and an intricate, suspenseful political thriller. Meet the personas:

Mary of Bethany:

Mary of Bethany is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus publicly raised from the dead. She is most remembered for sitting at Jesus’ feet listening instead of helping her sister prepare for a meal, as well as for anointing Jesus’ feet with her hair and priceless ointment just days before his crucifixion. The soloist projects the joy and reverie Mary finds in the presence of the divine and in knowing the power of resurrection.


Doc Wallace Rachel Barton Pine Chicago October 2015

Rachel Barton Pine and David Wallace after a successful 24 hours immersed in the score of “Personas.”

A few generations after Jonah, the Hebrew prophet Nahum delivers another message of impending doom to the people of Nineveh, capitol city of the ancient Assyrian empire. In beautiful language, but graphic and unsettling terms, Nahum foretells an end to the Lord’s patience with a violent, imperialistic nation. The prophet predicts a siege, a flood, and the bloody and fiery annihilation of the Ninevites. Unusually sonic in his imagery, Nahum’s oracle describes galloping warhorses, clattering chariots, clashing swords, ravening lions, wailing refugees, whirlwinds, storms, and widespread panic. The prophesy was fulfilled to the letter when Nineveh fell to the combined forces of the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians in 612 BC. The soloist channels the essence of Nahum’s prophesy through a four- string acoustic violin.


If the Book of Ruth conveyed only the courtship of Ruth (a young, expatriate widow), and Boaz, (a righteous, aging, wealthy, but solitary, childless man), its tenderness would still make it one of the great love stories of the ancient world. However, the book transcends two-dimensional romance. Some of the most moving and famous passages depict the deeply loving and faithful relationship between Ruth and her bereaved mother-in-law, Naomi. Without intervention, both face an impoverished and heirless existence.

In this movement, the soloist portrays the story’s emotional drama as related through Naomi and Ruth’s recurring conversations. We hear Naomi’s perspective in the more troubled, dissonant passages; Ruth melodiously speaks through the warmth and assurance of A flat major. Improvisatory cadenzas give voice to changing perspectives, potentialities, and realities.

Boaz does not speak directly; the majestic, penultimate, climactic section belongs to the narrator, who proclaims blessings, marriage, consummation, and then traces Boaz’s genealogy and the couple’s progeny through several generations to King David. The humble tale ends royally, but in this telling, Ruth gets the last word.


Esther Still Life April 18 2015R

Still-life shot immediately after composing the final episode and coda of “Esther,” the fugal fourth movement of “Personas.”

Esther, Jewish queen of the Persian king, Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), remains one of the most celebrated heroines in Judaism. With shrewd guidance from her cousin and adoptive father Mordecai, Esther uses her beauty, diplomacy, and rhetorical skills to save her people from a genocidal plot instigated by Haman, an arrogant, powerful noble.

The music begins with a modal, improvisatory invocation, which unveils important musical motives and introduces a three-voice fugue. One of the more programmatic movements of Personas, the soloist chronologically relates the entire drama from Esther’s soprano perspective, balanced by Mordecai’s tenor and bass.

Ever-changing harmonies and keys transform the fugue theme as the plot thickens. At times, the soloist becomes more omniscient or gives voice to the thoughts and plans of Haman and his wife, Zeresh. Intervening episodes freely develop fugue material, as well as melodies borrowed from the liturgy and folk songs of Purim1.

At the crux of the story, Esther reveals Haman’s treachery against Mordecai, who had previously foiled a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus. The king is outraged; Haman appeals for mercy, but instead, he is hung on the gallows he had been preparing for Mordecai. The Feast of Purim is decreed, and the triumphant celebration of Esther’s extraordinary heroism continues to this day. . .

John, Son of Zebedee:

John, Son of Zebedee; son of thunder; brother of James; fisherman; prophet; disciple whom Jesus loved; witness to the Transfiguration; author of one gospel, three epistles, and the apocalyptic Book of Revelation; Saint John. John’s writings and those about him reveal him to be strong, gentle, powerful, mystical, ambitious, self-effacing, personal, paternal, earthy, cosmic. Musical variations (inspired in part by decades of improvising on the popular Gospel standard, “I’ll Fly Away”) combine pyrotechnic Paganiniana with grassy southern fiddling in order to capture John’s visionary perspective, which encompasses the terrestrial, the celestial, the temporal, and the eternal. The soloist exults in musical realms that simultaneously span the natural and the supernatural.

David Wallace 19 August 2015  (Soli Deo Gloria)


1 Jewish holiday commemorating and celebrating the story of Esther.

Remembering Johnny Gimble

Remembering Johnny Gimble

Today during Berklee College of Music’s commencement ceremony, Matt Glaser nudged me and shared somber breaking news: “Johnny Gimble just died.” In a split second, the world became a little less swinging.

Johnny Gimble and David Wallace; Waco, TX, July, 1996

Johnny Gimble and David Wallace; Waco, TX; July, 1996. Note “Roly Poly” chord progression on the blackboard.

Johnny Gimble: legendary fiddler; consummate entertainer; deft bandleader; witty raconteur; kind, generous teacher; family man. Only last week, Matt and some of our string faculty were enjoying and analyzing Johnny’s extraordinary “Beaumont Rag” solo from his “Fiddlin’ Around” LP (Capitol 11301, 1974).

After the second hearing, Mimi Rabson shook her head in admiration: “What a sound! We should require every Berklee string player to learn that!” Matt agreed: “It’s the greatest improvised violin solo on record.” Though Johnny would have been tickled to see the joy his playing gave us, I’m positive that he would have shrugged off our urges to canonize it.

Johnny frequently summarized his approach to improvisation by relating a life-altering conversation he had with his elder brother following one of the Saturday night dances they had played as teenagers in rural Texas:

One night, as he was driving me home in his pickup, my brother said, “Johnny, I’m disappointed in you.” I said, “Why?! I thought I played well tonight!” He said, “Johnny, you played the same solo you played last Saturday.” From then on, I decided to never play it the same way once!

In the happy, lucky hours I spent listening to Johnny, learning from Johnny, jamming with Johnny, and even teaching by his side at Mark O’Connor’s San Diego String Conferences, Johnny ceaselessly amazed me with the freshness of his improvisations and musical ideas.

In reality, his fecundity was rooted in an encyclopedic knowledge of Texas swing. He could teach you classic riffs and solos that he had learned from many of his heroes and role models: Cliff Bruner, J.R. Chatwell, Jesse Ashlock and many others. He could make tricky licks simple and accessible by breaking them down. If you did want to learn a tune or a solo note-for-note, he would teach you.

Johnny constantly enriched and deepened other musicians’ knowledge. If you loved Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, he made sure that you also knew Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies. If you admired one particular “Beaumont Rag” solo, he made sure you knew about several others by multiple artists from different eras. Often, he would demonstrate them from memory.

When Johnny found out I also played viola, the first thing he asked me was “Have you heard Don Decker? He played viola in T. Tex Tyler’s band. There aren’t a whole lot of records, but he was really good.” Johnny should know; he was one of the first fiddlers to add a fifth string to his fiddle so that it could encompass the viola’s deeper range.

Throughout his career, Gimble also distinguished himself with his voice, singing in unison with his improvised violin lines, harmonizing, fronting his own bands with lead vocals. I can’t recall a concert, class, or jam that didn’t include a healthy dose of Johnny’s singing.

Johnny knew his music theory, but more than anything, his playing was rooted in his ears and in hours of listening, both on the bandstand and off. At his 1996 Texas Swing Camp, he taught an advanced group one of his formidable, double-stop augmented riffs. I asked, “How do you know when to use it?” He smiled and said, “Just keep your ears open. You’ll start to hear it.” He was right. Hear it for yourself at 2:36 in this video of Johnny playing his classic tune “Fiddlin’ Around.

We musicians could easily spend the rest of our days studying Johnny’s music, striving for his impeccable rhythmic drive, and seeking to embody his generous, gregarious stage presence and personality. However, in many ways, we would be missing the point.

Johnny Gimble strove to be creative, not merely imitative. His music was a gift that he shared in full measure for the joy and sake of others- not for his own gratification or glory. We should definitely transcribe his solos, teach his licks, and play his tunes, but more than anything, we should preserve his legacy as he exemplified it each day: jam, sing, laugh, share, teach, and never play it the same way once!

Thank you, Johnny!

Doc Wallace, May 9, 2015

UPDATE: iFiddle Magazine is making their June issue a Johnny Gimble commemorative edition.  I am honored that they asked me to make a video performing one of Johnny’s tunes [I chose Gardenia Waltz] and sharing a few memories.  Enjoy:


Enjoy a documentary on the life of Johnny Gimble:

And a vintage “Sweet Georgia Brown” video featuring yours truly. There’s certainly a lick or two from late night jams on this tune with Johnny at fiddle camps:


Life as Berklee’s New String Chair

Life as Berklee’s New String Chair

Berklee Red Square Logo JPEGIt hardly seems possible, but it’s been a full 2 1/2 months since I moved to Boston and started my new job as Chair of the String Department of Berklee College of Music. The past six months have been an incredible whirlwind of change, activity, and learning. Beyond all the adjustments and busyness, I feel a tremendous joy and excitement: I get to serve and lead what is arguably the most creative string department in higher education.

I have been looking forward to Mondays more than I have in years. I sense that my ear, technique, and rhythm improve each week as I work to stay one step ahead of my students and as I hear other teachers imparting wisdom through the walls. New opportunities surface each week as I learn of new job responsibilities, or find myself faced with unexpected opportunities. (The latter has ranged from needing to redesign Berklee’s summer string program to being called to play “Songs in the Key of Life” with Stevie Wonder. -More on that soon!)

I have much more to share, but for now, I’ll do it through a couple of media items. The December 2014 edition of Strings magazine includes a cover story about my transition from New York City to Berklee written by Rory Williams. It’s rare that something another person writes or says about me brings tears to my eyes, but this article really got the story right- including some particularly difficult parts of my musical journey.

You might also enjoy a fun video describing some of my job responsibilities that I posted to my YouTube channel. One of the major roles of my new job is to recruit students, and this particular video targets my high school audience (hence the more informal style):

Doc Wallace, 16 November, 2014

A Surreal Drugstore Encounter with Hank Williams & Charlie Parker

A Surreal Drugstore Encounter with Hank Williams & Charlie Parker

Every now and then, my inner-city radar picks up something that is not quite right. In these moments, my subconscious throttles my awareness because the atmosphere is wrong- something is about to happen; something peripheral is asserting itself. The circumstances do not match the circumstances; be ready to react!

I was picking up some odds and ends at a Rite Aid Pharmacy in Washington Heights right under the George Washington Bridge. I was comparing the price per ounce of various products and wondering if Rite-Aid’s version of Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser was truly as meritorious as its box proclaimed when my nervous system went into high alert. I was particularly startled because nobody was standing anywhere near me. A split second later, I realized why I had suddenly dropped a can of Ajax and looked up at the ceiling: it was the steel guitar.

Instead of hearing muzak, hip-hop, pop, salsa, or smooth jazz on the Rite Aid P.A. system, I was actually hearing a steel guitar. Not just any steel guitar, mind you- this was one of the most recognizable and beautifully recorded steel guitar licks of all time. My jaw dropped. Here, in a drugstore at West 179th Street and Broadway, Hank Williams Senior‘s original posthumous 1953 hit recording, Your Cheatin’ Heart, was filling the air.

At first, I didn’t quite know what to do; this wasn’t supposed to be happening. It’s not so unusual for me to dream musical incongruities, but I was certain I was perfectly awake. The music seemed slightly louder than usual for a drugstore; I glanced around to see if anyone else detected anything unusual. The women coming down my aisle browsed and conversed in Spanish as if they heard nothing but their own voices.  I stood still, listening, involuntarily and silently mouthing a word or two as Hank entered with his inimitable vocals:

Your cheatin’ heart 
Will make you weep
You’ll cry and cry
And try to sleep


I decided I’d better continue shopping before two security guards (looking my way) mistakenly decided I was the anomaly that demanded immediate attention.

I made some swift decisions about cleaning agents and moved to the next aisle.  A young Rite Aid stocker stacked Cheerios boxes and mumbled along, dropping syllables and consonants and phonetically rendering the instrumental breaks: “Slee’ won’ come. . . Bearw! Bearw! Bearw!. . .whole night through. . .Hmmm cheatin’ heart. . . . will tell on you!” Although this made the scene a little weirder, something about the nonchalance and absentmindedness of his singing encouraged my own mind to drift again.

When did I first hear this song, anyway? I don’t even know. It’s something that’s always been there like the sun or the moon or gravity. . . my father occasionally used to sing it and accompany himself on guitar; I used to spin a 45 RPM record of it that I either permanently borrowed from him or got from a garage sale. In Texas during the seventies, the song could still make an occasional appearance on the radio, at a pizza parlor, or on the country music shows that were a mainstay of primetime weekend television.

Brushing aside an impulse to ponder the song’s sudden reappearance for any omens or personal relevance, I envisioned the music filling a darkened bar or a diner in Harlem almost sixty years ago . . .

Legendary be-bop musician Charlie Parker was notorious for pumping Harlem jukeboxes full of nickels as he punched in requests for Hank Williams tunes. His friends ribbed him for it:

“Bird, how can you listen to that hillbilly music?!  It’s so corny!”

“Listen to the words, man; do you listen to the words?!”

Parker died only a few years after Williams, but I’m sure he spun this record many times. I’ve never quite managed to connect the chromatic complexity of a chart like Parker’s “Hot House” with the earthy directness of a three-chord Williams ballad, and once again I struggled to build an aesthetic link from one to the other.

But I couldn’t bridge that gap, nor could I imagine what Charlie Parker might have been thinking as he silently brooded over his beer and listened to Hank’s sad story unfold because I was becoming aware of some strange sounds emanating from deep within the stock room. Once again, I had the sense that something wasn’t right, but this time I couldn’t identify the sounds; I only knew that they were vaguely human.

Then it hit me: somebody is yodeling.  Badly.

The sporadic muffled yodels unpredictably joined the song at various intervals. Either somebody in the stockroom was loving the music and having a great time exulting in it, or he was mercilessly mocking it and Williams’ tendency to pass fluidly and frequently between his head and chest voice in the great American passaggio tradition of artists like Jimmy Rogers.

-Or worse: maybe this whole scene was the brainchild of some sadistic manager who was using Hank Williams’ music for evil. I tried to stifle the image of a bound, blue-and-red-uniformed Rite-Aid employee being tortured and forced to yodel along to an endless-repeat cycle of “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” until he finally breaks into a chorus of “Please Release Me,” and is allowed to flee the building and drown his sorrows at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, where he can listen to an Upstarts! group perform a sophisticated, Charlie Parker retrospective set curated by Jazz@Lincoln Center after which there will be absolutely no Hank Williams tunes playing on the nonexistent jukebox.

Somebody even deeper within the bowels of Rite Aid laughed and bantered happily. The yodeling continued.

I realized this was not a yodel of duress. . . whether exulting or ridiculing or merely groaning because he had to endure somebody else’s favorite music, the employee in the back was definitely having a good time. Like it or not, great music of any kind refuses to be ignored.

No longer on alert, I savored the moment. In twenty-two years of living in New York City, I had never heard any Hank Williams music in any store, and it will likely never happen again, unless the guys in the Rite Aid stockroom have a deep and abiding love for timeless music or a penchant for quirky inside jokes that help to make tedious working circumstances considerably more tolerable. Bring it home, Hank!

When tears come down,
Like falling rain,
You’ll toss around,
And call my name,
You’ll walk the floor,
The way I do,
Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you… 

After the steel guitar tag faded away, a forgettable, more contemporary country song softly wafted through the P.A. system and was appropriately ignored by all, as the scene began to resemble any other chain drugstore in New York City.

-Some brilliant producer needs to bring back the steel guitar and the yodel.

Happy Labor Day weekend!

-Doc Wallace

Eavesdropping on Ear Shot at the New York Philharmonic

Eavesdropping on Ear Shot at the New York Philharmonic

Chris Rouse and Jesse Jones listening to "Innumerable stars, scattered in clusters" Photo credit: Chris Lee

Chris Rouse and Jesse Jones listening to “Innumerable stars, scattered in clusters” Photo credit: Chris Lee

One of the best perks of my job as a Senior Teaching Artist at the New York Philharmonic is the opportunity to give pre-concert talks.  Why?  I actually get paid to study great music, speak excitedly about it, and then hear it dazzlingly performed by one of the world’s greatest orchestras, often with marvelous soloists like Midori and Alisa Weilerstein (both featured this weekend)!

This year, my opportunity comes June 5-7, during the NY PHIL BIENNIAL: an eleven-day, twenty-one-concert, new music extravaganza, which included the premiere of my William Blake Rhapsody last weekend.

Currently, my studio is not only cluttered with pages from complex scores by Christopher Rouse, Elliott Carter, Matthias Pintscher, and Peter Eötvös, but it is also scattered with SIX amazing new scores that were read at this morning’s Ear Shot National Orchestral Composition Discovery Network readings in Avery Fisher Hall.

Of the six works, three will be selected by a top-secret committee for performance on each of this weekend’s concerts.  All six composers will receive feedback from New York Philharmonic musicians,  Music Director Alan Gilbert, Composer-in-Residence Christopher Rouse, and other composers.

Julia Adolph’s Dark Sand, Sifting Light automatically gets a strong nod from me because she features our Principal Violist Cynthia Phelps in a gorgeous solo.  The rest of her score is lyrical, colorful, well-balanced, and clear, with other engaging instrumental spotlights.

William Dougherty’s Into Focus gets a prize for most direct and instrumentally idiomatic application of the overtone series. . . as a meditation on how our consciousness tends to drift between different degrees of focus and clarity, it relies heavily on drones and has the orchestra resonating naturally in a way that truly does impact our consciousness and sense of time.

Max Grafe’s Bismuth: Variations for Orchestra aims to embody the structure of a pure Bismuth crystal.  (The chemists in my family would have me lobby for this one).  The structure is indeed clear, and it contains some of the loveliest oboe and bassoon writing of the six.

Can you imagine this Bismuth crystal as music?    Max Graf can!

Can you imagine this Bismuth crystal as music? Max Grafe can!

Jesse Jones’s Innumerable Stars, Scattered in Clusters sounds exactly like one would expect from the title: full of harmonics, bright mallet percussion, with all the composite sounds undulating, swirling, and sparkling.

Wang Lu’s Scenes from the Bosco Sacro musically depicts some of the fantastic monsters from Rome’s sacred grove of the same name.  It was by far the most grotesque and dissonant work of the day, but with a good dose of playfulness, quirkiness, and humor.

Andrew McManusStrobe rounded out the set, with a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of musical images he describes as “flashing lights, stop motion, faded, photographs, electronic dance music.”

You can learn much more about each piece and each composer at the American Composers Orchestra’s Sound Advice blog 

I must say, I’m glad I am not part of that secret committee because I enjoyed all six scores immensely, and in my book, each piece is a winner.  I look forward to hearing the results!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Julia Adolphe, Andrew McManus, and  Max Grafe, who have been selected to have their works performed respectively on June 5th, 6th, and 7th. -Gotta catch ’em all!


Doc Wallace, 3 June 2014


Come Hear My New York Philharmonic Premiere!!

Come Hear My New York Philharmonic Premiere!!

Dear Friends and Fans,

Lucy Shelton with Elliott Carter

Soprano Lucy Shelton with composer Elliott Carter

I am SO EXCITED that the New York Philharmonic is performing the world premiere of my orchestral song cycle William Blake Rhapsody as part of its 2014 BIENNIAL festival.  The great Lucy Shelton– who has premiered and recorded works of Elliott Carter, David Del Tredici, and countless other composers- will be singing; longtime New York Philharmonic conductor  Michael Adelson will be at the podium.

William Blake Rhapsody embodies the struggle to find enduring love, joy, and faith in a broken world fraught with suffering.  The work is entirely driven by Blake’s poetry, which the singer presents, personifies, deconstructs, amplifies, and reflects.

The musicians sometimes paint the imagery in the text: as literal depictions of birdsong or infants, as symbolic representations of Blake’s theology and worldview, or as malevolent or benevolent forces acting upon the soprano’s personal Heaven or Hell.  Whose the dedicatee?  Find out by reading the full program note and libretto!

For a sneak preview and fun behind-the-scenes secrets, please enjoy my “Making of the William Blake Rhapsody Video”:

William Blake Eternity Manuscript

Blake’s Manuscript for the Poem “Eternity”

The concert is at on Saturday, May 31st at 11:00AM in Merkin Concert Hall, one of the best acoustics in the city for strings, singers, and chamber ensembles.  -And it’s TOTALLY FREE!  No tickets required!  World class musicians in a world class hall- what more could you want?

Rehearsing "William Blake Rhapsody" (l to r) Michael Adelson, Lucy Shelton, David Wallace

Rehearsing “William Blake Rhapsody”
(l to r) Michael Adelson, Lucy Shelton, David Wallace

Okay, how about additional world premieres by rising stars Daniel Felsenfeld, Richard Carrick, and many of our teenage proteges?!  It’s going to be an awesome event; I hope to see you there!

Hear an NPR All Things Considered broadcast about the New York Philharmonic BIENNIAL



Transforming the Landscape of Music Education via the Web

Transforming the Landscape of Music Education via the Web

David Wallace Sharing Technical Secrets at Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp

David Wallace Sharing Technical Secrets at Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp

The digital age has profoundly changed the way people learn music. With twenty-four hour access to digital libraries of sheet music, recordings, and tutorials, people now study in the comfort of their homes without worrying about schedules or geographical access to a teacher.

As a violin and viola teacher, I am thrilled to join the digital pedagogy age with, which makes my teachings available to more students than ever before.

I am particularly happy to align myself with [my] Talent Forge because this site only features musicians who are established as outstanding performers, as well as teachers. Without the quality control of sites like [my] Talent Forge, the learner’s job of separating the wheat from the chaff becomes prohibitive.

Having expertly curated lesson material is extremely important when you are learning a stringed instrument. For example, type in “vibrato tutorial” into Google. You get over 80,000 results. Some are laudable, but far more are bastions of horrible or even crippling advice uploaded by amateurs who have no business teaching anybody anything.

In contrast, [my] Talent Forge subscribers learn vibrato from my whole series of videos sharing the best exercises, information, and shortcuts I have gleaned over the past three decades from legendary string pedagogues.

Seriously, given a choice, would you rather get the best information straight from a Juilliard professor, or would you rather try your luck with YouTube’s 40,000+ offerings?

Some of my videos walk students directly through exercises that cause vast improvements when practiced on a regular basis. Here’s a lesson that teaches a phenomenal tone production and relaxation exercise I learned directly from Josef Gingold, Joshua Bell’s teacher:


Other videos share a few simple tips that can instantly improve technique:


And I’ve started a whole series of videos coaching subscribers on stage performance, performance anxiety, and peak performance.  Ever wonder how to conquer the problem of cold hands?  Here’s how!:

To date, I’ve created almost forty videos, and about forty pages of sheet music on topics including vibrato, tone production, comfort with the instrument and bow, stage presence, stage fright, left-hand short cuts, general musicianship, and revolutionary scale exercises. And there are more than 100 more lessons by other expert teachers on the site to further expand your musical prowess.

I’m constantly developing new content according to the needs and requests of the [my] Talent Forge community. It has been particularly exciting to respond to custom requests and questions of subscribers.  I hope you’ll join us!

Oh, and when you do, be sure to use the coupon code DavidWallace for added savings!

-Doc Wallace, January 18, 2014

Reaching Out with the U.S. Coast Guard Band

Reaching Out with the U.S. Coast Guard Band

Thankfully, the U.S. government is back in business, and I mean that from the bottom of my pocketbook. A week ago, the shutdown threatened to cancel today’s work with the U.S. Coast Guard Band, an ensemble I have coached on audience engagement for the past two years. Recently subject to budget cuts, layoffs, and government-imposed travel restrictions, the USCG Band and other military ensembles are increasingly required to perform in local schools and community venues to justify their existence beyond concert tours and ceremonies. (I like to fantasize about a future when professional ensembles are so inherently invested in schools and communities that they have to justify the occasional performance for bankrolling patrons or heads of state.)

From a purely selfish perspective, I enjoy working with the USCG Band because their live performances replace my everyday, string-centric reality with fresh sounds and musical perspectives. In that regard, I am no different from the fourth grader or senior citizen attending their community performances.

This morning, the band rehearsed an interactive concert designed for middle-school students. The program explores musical inspiration and reveals how musical compositions can emerge from almost anywhere. The far-ranging inspirations included historical figures (John Mackey’s Xerxes), the focused inner state of a dancer on stage (Warren Benson’s Solitary Dancer), a Saturday Night Live punchline (Scott McAllister’s More Cowbell) and several other contrasting sources.

While the audience-interactions are still being refined and tested, the middle-schoolers will be asked to sing themes, clap rhythms with the ensemble, provide improvisational input for USCG performers, and visualize their own solutions to compositional problems posed by composers. Each segment aims to give the young listeners entry points or “hooks” to focus their ears and minds on the musical materials.

In the afternoon, I led the USCG chamber ensembles through the process of designing activities for deepening listeners’ musical perceptions. Because I had already worked with most of the musicians before, I wanted to give them a challenging piece to think about sharing with new listeners. I settled on György Ligeti’s Ten Pieces for Woodwind Quintet III. Lento, a slow, intense, atonal movement. Here’s an excerpt:

Click here to purchase or download the full awesome Ligeti album!

At first, many musicians struggled with Ligeti’s contemporary material, which potentially could bore or confuse their typical audience members. By the end of the workshop, however, all five groups presented successful strategies and activities that would intrigue even a first-time listener. One group focused on the delicate, subtle shifts of color and developed an activity where an onstage color spectrum would provide a basis for interpreting the sound at any particular moment. Another group focused the audience’s ears on the organic blending and seamless shaping of the instruments’ pitches. Other groups helped listeners form their own subjective interpretations by encouraging personal narratives or making real-time artworks in response to musical details. Yet another group explored a movement activity that would simulate how Ligeti created diverse interactions among the instruments, even with limited material.

Assuming there isn’t another budget sequester or shutdown, I’ll return in February to coach USCG chamber ensembles on their own original programs. In the meanwhile, the USCG musicians have given me some great ideas for introducing middle school students to Krzysztof Penderecki’s dissonant, modern Concerto Grosso at the New York Philharmonic this Thursday.

Peace & Prosperity!

-Doc Wallace, 22 October 2013

PS Enjoy a playlist of some of my interactive concert presentations!

Reflections on the Zorn at 60 All-Star Orchestra Concert

Reflections on the Zorn at 60 All-Star Orchestra Concert

Composer John Zorn

Composer John Zorn

My mind and body still resonate from last night’s opening concert of Miller Theatre’s Zorn at 60 festival. In mid-August, I had received an invitation from conductor David Fulmer to join a “mega-orchestra to include all the most distinguished contemporary ensembles, quartets, and chamber formations here in New York City” to perform an evening of John Zorn’s new or rarely played orchestral compositions.

David wasn’t exaggerating; the all-star roster of eighty-eight musicians represented a staggering array of ensembles and renowned soloists. To name contemporary string quartets alone, we had representatives or founders from Kronos, Flux, JACK, Ethel, Mivos, and Momenta, to say nothing of mixed ensembles like Tashi, Decoda, Ensemble ACJW, International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea Ensemble, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, countless downtown ensembles, and musicians with rare pedigrees like Avery Fisher Career Grants and Juilliard doctorates.

From the first rehearsal to the final concert, everyone’s total commitment and enthusiasm drove the ensemble to deeper aesthetic extremes and fuller realizations of the scores. While people frequently evoke words like “anarchy” or “chaos” to describe Zorn’s music, an incredible amount of structure and detail underlies a seemingly frenzied exterior.  When performers fully realize every nuance and instruction, Zorn’s complex rhythmic juxtapositions, colorful orchestrations, and larger structures emerge as intricate, expressive, adventurous and oftentimes humorous tapestries, not the jumbled, sonic messes that too often result whenever new music receives too little rehearsal or exceeds the limitations of its players. Believe me, John was pushing the ensemble to its absolute limits, and each second of rehearsal counted.

While Fulmer and the ensemble did their utmost to prepare the music, Zorn guided the process by making sure every last actual sound matched his imagination, whether it meant experimenting to find just the right dynamics for the trumpets’ muted “murmurings” or making sure that the percussionists had heavy “1950’s vintage garden shears” not “cheap 1990’s hedge clippers” for the perfect chop to punctuate a phrase.

As always, Zorn embodied the perennially youthful, joyful, downtown “bad boy,” dropping double entendres, cajoling players by name, and sporting his signature camouflage pants and black t-shirts commemorating past seasons of his East Village new music venue The Stone.  I’m happy to report that our concert was recorded and you will be able to hear it in its entirety on a forthcoming album from Zorn’s record label Tzadik, which has selflessly furthered the careers of so many creative, non-mainstream artists.

Miller Theatre features additional concerts this week of Zorn’s chamber music and game pieces. All year long, venues and festivals around the world will continue to celebrate his vast and contrasting legacy.  If you don’t know his music, check out one of the many documentaries on YouTube and have a listen to some of his scores.

For a taste of the wonderfully creative and eclectic New York City downtown music scene Zorn has fostered, enjoy the opening improvisation from my band KNOT’s debut concert at The Stone:

Click here to view the full  John Zorn at 60 Orchestra Roster– arguably one of the greatest large-scale new music orchestras ever assembled!  Read Steve Smith’s rave New York Times Concert review.   Click here to read 60 tributes for Zorn at 60. Or listen to an in-depth NPR Radio interview with Zorn.


Doc Wallace

26 September 2013

Doc Wallace Trio to Record New Live Album

Doc Wallace Trio to Record New Live Album

Yes, it’s true! The Doc Wallace Trio is recording a long-overdue sequel to our sold-out Live at the Living Room album.  In keeping with our debut CD’s spirit, we will record one hot live set at Cornelia Street Café on Thursday, September 12th at 6:00pm. $15 cover charge includes one drink; reservations are recommended.

A designated New York City culinary and cultural landmark, Cornelia Street Café combines great food with over 700 stimulating performances a year. The warm ambiance and professional sound system make it an ideal venue for the Doc Wallace Trio’s rollicking, jazzy, soulful music.

To get a better picture of the venue and its significance, enjoy this short documentary teaser featuring singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega, Tony award-winning playwright/activist Eve Ensler, jazz musician Gerald Cleaver, and other artists closely associated with Cornelia Street Café:

As you can tell from this Doc Wallace Trio performance at Lincoln Center, we play our best in the presence of friends and fans like you:

We hope to see you this Thursday!

-Doc Wallace 9 September 2013