Music Camp as Radical Catalyst

Music Camp as Radical Catalyst

So you’re back from music camp! At their best, music camps are radical catalysts for learning. Your mind brims with memories, teachings, discoveries, and good intentions for continuing your development. You’re determined to return the following year a much-improved musician.

Sadly, our best intentions for self-improvement often go unrealized unless we apply discipline, strategy, planning, and accountability. Let’s take some practical steps to ensure that we maximize our newly gained potential.

Note: if you’re still grappling with the transition to normal life, read Music Camp Withdrawal Syndrome – A Survivor’s Guide. Once your body, mind, and feelings have regrouped a bit, get to work!

Gather New Materials (and Start Using Them!)

The Berklee strings team performing and teaching at Interlochen Arts Academy! (L to R): Eugene Friesen, Maurizio Andre Fiore Salas, Bengisu Gokce, Samuel Draper, David Wallace

At music camp we often learn about supplemental materials for deepening our understanding, expanding our repertoire, and helping us to practice and improve. Although we may have obtained many of these items at camp, we seldom return home with everything we intend to investigate, read, or buy.

Make a shopping list, prioritize, and purchase. Get that recording app, those scale or etude books, that recording you want to study or transcribe. Borrow items from a library. If you missed details and need to contact someone for correct titles or more information, do so.

If you’ve already gathered your new materials, devise a plan for using them. Then, implement it before the week is over. Remove and discard any shrink-wrap, and put sheet music on your stand. Now, let’s get ready to practice. . .

Revisiting Music Camp Lessons

Next, revisit your daily schedules. Read any notes that you took, and listen to recordings you made of classes. -You did record classes and lessons didn’t you? If not, there’s a good chance that a friend or colleague did. Hunt the recordings down if you can.

Write out a summary each session, or recap them by recording a voice memo or video reflection. What did you learn? What were the “big truths?” List the exercises and studies you received, and write down everything you want to implement.

Berklee Music Camp Faculty

Berklee Global String Intensive Faculty. Back Row (L to R): Simon Shaheen, Jason Anick, David Wallace, Joe Walsh, Greg Liszt, Sandra Kott, Oisín McAuley, Stash Wyslouch, Darol Anger, Felice Pomeranz. Front Row (L to R): Patrice Jackson-Tilghman, Eugene Friesen, Natalie Haas, Mike Block, Mimi Rabson, Bruce Molsky. Not pictured: Beth Bahia-Cohen, Dan Bui, Bruce Gertz, Maeve Gilchrist, Jozef Nadj, Rob Thomas, Matt Glaser

I often leave music camp with very specific ideas for how I can improve, but unless I make a follow-up plan, nothing changes. To prevent that from happening to you, I suggest that you try the 100 Points of Awesomeness exercise. . .

A Hundred Points of Awesomeness

Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Music Camp

Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp & Music Festival’s entire crew!

In my late teens, I often wished that I could be better in certain aspects of my playing and musicianship. One day, I asked myself, “If I had a hundred ‘improvement points’ to invest in my musicianship, how would I spend them?”

I made a mental list allotting the hundred points to different aspects of my playing (I devoted ten points to tenths-  at the time I was wrestling with a couple of tricky Paganini caprices in my violin lessons). After specifying exactly what I wanted to improve, I adjusted my practice time strategically. Once I reorganized my practice schedule to include my new goals, I started developing my unrealized potential.

Music camp just gave you 100 Points of Musical Awesomeness to invest in your own development. Fantasize. What do you want to improve? What do you know you need to improve? Practice time is finite, so focus your energy by dividing your 100 points of awesomeness across just a few select topics.

Once you follow through, a year from now, you will be at least 100 points more awesome than you presently are.  If you achieve your goals sooner, give yourself 100 additional points to distribute.

Your distribution of the 100 points is totally up to you, but it could look something like this:

  1. 30 points: Play better in tune.
  2. 30 points: Improve my timing and rhythm.
  3. 25 points: Get better at improvising solos.
  4. 15 points: Develop better confidence and stage presence when performing.

So, let’s break that down.

Pursuit of Awesomeness

A Violinist's Guide to Exquisite Intonation#1:  Better intonation means committing to daily scale and arpeggio practice. Record and critique yourself; practice with drones. Research the topic using published resources like Barry Ross’s A Violinist’s Guide to Exquisite Intonation. While your technical regimen will naturally include intonation work, also focus on it in your repertoire practice.

#2: For improved timing, work daily with a metronome, drum machine, or accompaniment track. Moreover, play along with recordings by bands with great groove. (Try practicing your scales to Earth, Wind, & Fire songs in the same key).

Reading scores, conduct along with recordings, or practice rhythmic exercises away from your instrument. Check out Robert Starrer’s Basic Rhythmic Training or Rhythmic Training. Drumming methods such as Kim Plainfield’s Advanced Concepts: A Comprehensive Method for Developing Technique, Contemporary Styles and Rhythmical Concepts are also helpful. Because good timing means tapping into group rhythm, plan readings, jams, rehearsals, and concerts with others.

#3: To get better at improvisation, you must be specific. What do you want to improve? Free improvisation, 12-bar blues, the 8-bar country music solo, navigating chord changes from a lead sheet? Using your camp notes to guide you, set some specific objectives. Write out a plan so that every day, you’re making strides.

#4: To improve stage presence, you need an audience. Make a plan for performing publicly on a weekly basis. Find a venue. Cafés, retirement communities, houses of worship, and public spaces are a few places where you can build your stage presence.

Start with a comfortable setting, and play repertoire that you know very well. If you don’t feel ready for the public, perform for family, friends, or even pets. Video your performances so that you can review, critique, and improve. If you wrestle with performance anxiety, check out my Conquer Stage Fright YouTube video series.

Establish a Music Camp Accountability Partner or Group

Once you have a plan, hold yourself accountable for it. Better yet, get an accountability partner or a support group to keep each other accountable and motivated. Share your goals for the month and the week, and check in with each other every few days. Make recordings and videos and give each other feedback. Always celebrate progress and encourage one another.

Online Learning Communities and Lessons

Online communities can further boost accountability. Consider starting a small online group to share and report back on a daily basis (twelve or fewer members; smaller is better).

Today, many music camp faculty members also teach with online subscription sites that offer lessons and a built-in learning community. I teach lessons focused on violin and viola technique, peak performance, memorization, and much more at MyTalentForge.com. Until Labor Day, you can use the discount code DocWallace for 20% off on your subscription.

Get Radical!

As you can see, it’s possible to carry the music camp experience across the entire year. Get your materials together, review your learning, strategize for improvement, make plans, and belong to an accountable learning community. May your music camp experience be a catalyst for radical improvement, growth, and change!

-Doc Wallace, August 5, 2017

Dr. David Wallace serves as String Chair of Berklee College of Music, and teaches online string lessons at MyTalentForge.com. During the summer, catch him at Berklee College of Music’s  Global String Intensive, Five Week Summer Performance Program, and Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp.

2016: Take a Career and Creative Inventory

2016: Take a Career and Creative Inventory

2016 was the worst year ever?!! Enough bellyaching. Set aside death, disappointment, and global chaos for a moment. Take a creative inventory of your life and career. Reflect on the good things that happened over your past 12 months. Document them, and celebrate!

At the end of each year, I take a “career and creative inventory.” To get a better perspective of what actually happened, I list all of my performances, publications, compositions, workshops, new repertoire learned, and any professional or personal highlights.

Get your calendar out and try it! You will discover just how far you’ve come (probably further than you think). When you write your accomplishments down, your dreams become concrete. In the process, you also keep your resume and c.v. up-to-date for that next big opportunity!

Once you’ve documented your year, start planning for the next. Here are select highlights from my 2016:

NEW RECORDINGS FOR 2016

Hat Trick trio debut album released in 2016

On December 9th, Bridge Records released Hat Trick’s debut CD, “Garden of Joys and Sorrows.”

This month, Bridge Records released Garden of Joys and Sorrows, the debut CD of Hat Trickmy classical trio with harpist Kristi Shade and flutist April Clayton. David Frost (multi-Grammy winner for Classical Producer of the Year) did a fantastic job of bringing out our best!

In addition to featuring beautiful trios by Claude Debussy, Toru Takemitsu, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Theodore Dubois, the CD opens with the world premiere recording of Miguel del Aguila‘s Submerged. We commissioned Submerged from Miguel in 2013. In our opinion, it’s a masterpiece.

Miya Masaoka Triangle of Resistance 2016

Miya Masaoka’s Triangle of Resistance: Heavy stuff!

Late August marked the release of Miya Masaoka’s Triangle of ResistanceReleased on Innova Records, this eerie, emotion-laden work explores Masaoka’s mother’s recollections of life and community during her detainment in the American World War II Japanese-American internment camps.

This CD instantly received a rave review from the Wall Street Journal.  Subsequently, Miya’s composition made the 2017 Grammy long ballot in two separate classical categories. Certainly, I am proud to be the violist in this world premiere performance and recording!

Finally, I am pleased to report that in 2016, The Doc Wallace Trio finished mixing and mastering Live at the Cornelia Street Café. We are embarking on the final stages of the liner notes and artwork. Hopefully, we’ll have the new CD ready by June.

NEW WORKS FROM 2016

Robert F Ryan and Qin C Ryan Foundation Composition AwardIf 2015 was the year of Personas for Rachel Barton Pine, 2016 was the year of Array of Irrevocable Light. “Array” is my new through-composed tone poem for six-string electric viola (or violin). Commissioned generously by the Robert F. Ryan and Qin C Ryan Foundation’s Award for Composition, I composed the work over the first six months of 2016.

Array of Irrevocable Light‘s program wrestles with Faustian bargains, the loss of innocence, and our world’s looming, growing nuclear threat. During its composition, I sketched and improvised some terrifying and mind-bending explorations using extended string techniques, digital delay, twelve-tone techniques, and jazz modes. The piece is entirely composed, but with a few aleatoric moments where the performer creates specific textures for set durations.

Fortunately, the MWROC Festival filmed the July 12th premiere.  When I have the video, I’ll share it with you in a future post. Meanwhile, check out the program note, which some have deemed a “powerful philosophical statement” in its own right.

Throughout 2016, I sketched new solo works for electric viola and for acoustic violin. Stay tuned. . .

2016 CONFERENCES AND MUSIC FESTIVALS

In September, I delivered a Talk 21 (“Becoming Village People”) at DePauw University’s 21CMPosium. In short, the 21CMPosium is a paradigm-shifting conference dedicated to defining 21st Century musicianship and training. Speaking of which, do you have the skills to become a “Village Person?”

Berklee String Faculty Global String Program Creative Inventory 2016

Berklee’s 2016 Global String Program faculty!

For the second year, I produced and directed the Berklee Global String Program. This is a wonderful, immersive week of concerts, jams, and intensive ensemble experiences with the phenomenal Berklee String faculty. Presently, there’s still room for you to join us for year 3!

Doc Wallace Rock Violist at MWROC Creative Inventory 2016

Doing my best to embody all of MWROC’s slogans for 2016! (Leave Your Comfort Zone at Home! Unleash YOU! Love, sing, play, rock!)

July is always one of my favorite months because I spend a full week teaching and performing at Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp (MWROC) and Music Festival. The faculty and students are a wild, boisterous, creative extended family; for this, I love them dearly.

Soon, I will have videos from my 2016 set uploaded to my YouTube channel. Join us in 2017! -If you them I sent you, you get a discount!

AMERICAN STRING TEACHERS ASSOCIATION 2016

Naturally, a career and creative inventory should include service. I rounded out my first year as Member at Large of the American String Teachers Association’s (ASTA) National Board. I’m a firm believer that string teachers must band together, collaborate, advocate, educate, and make this world a better place. Thankfully, ASTA members are succeeding in every regard!

At the 2016 National ASTA conference, I co-presented two sessions. With Trickle Up Stringonometrics (If you Build It, They Will Come), phenomenal educators Elizabeth Fortune, Bob Phillips, Kelly Barr-Clingan and I shared how to develop multi-stylistic string programs in secondary schools and higher education.  In Tools for the 21st Century Musician, Joe Deninzon, Sean Grissom, and I gave the standing-room-only crowd a whirlwind tour of looping, jamming, transcribing, and transposing.  So that you can benefit from our resources, practical advice, and lesson plans, I’m linking the session’s handout.

Don’t miss the 2017 ASTA conference in Pittsburgh! I’ll be co-leading a half-day pre-conference session (Cultivating Creative Musicians) with master artist-teachers Matt Turner and Darol Anger. I also look forward to joining sensational artist-composer Martha Mooke for Violists on the Verge.

On a phone call with the Chicago Symphony Creative Inventory 2016

I don’t get to post this on my door every day. . .

TEACHING ARTISTRY

In November, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago hosted me for a two-day teaching artist residency. To demonstrate principles of interactive performance, I led workshops and gave performances of Array of Irrevocable Light and Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia. Additionally, I coached orchestra fellows on their own interactive concerts. We immersed ourselves in Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos (-How can we share them with diverse audiences?). Afterwards, I enjoyed coaching their stunning memorized adaptation of Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote.

NEW [My] talent FORGE VIDEOS IN 2016:

My Talent Forge

Since January, I filmed 26 new video lessons for MyTalentForge.com. The lessons support four series: Secrets for Shifting Success, Shifting Practice, Left Hand Life-Hacks, and Quick Tips. To watch some of my MyTalentForge.com video lessons, click here. You can subscribe at this link.

BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC:

When you make your creative inventory, do not neglect your primary work. For me, that’s being Chair of Berklee College of Music’s String Department, which still feels like a dream. I’m incredibly blessed to work with a magnificent team of teachers, artists, and composers.  Consequently, I’m challenged and inspired create the best musical environment I can imagine each day.

Because our string population keeps growing, I hired three wonderful new professors in 2016. Joining us are cellist Natalie Haas, violinist-violist-multi-instrumentalist Beth Bahia Cohen, and violinist Sharan Leventhal.  Notably, Sharan is the first String Department professor to serve jointly on the faculties of Berklee and The Boston Conservatory, which merged in June.

David Wallace Bruno Raberg and Dave Tronzo Doc Wallace creative inventory 2016

Performing at the Equinox Festival with the Bruno Råberg Trio with Dave Tronzo on Guitar

Next year, you’ll find me performing frequently with my colleagues from other departments. I’m thrilled that my longtime collaborator, Richard Carrick, recently joined Berklee as Chair of the Composition. (As a side note, Rick conducted the recording of Triangle of Resistance).

Reflect on Your Creative Inventory

So, it has been a full year. -A good year. Take stock accordingly. Although 2016 may have been challenging, distressing, or disappointing, look closely. Because you surely can find blessings and accomplishments, you can settle the past and find hope for the future.  Take your creative inventory.

Wishing you all the best for 2017,

Doc Wallace, December 31, 2016