Powerhouse Topics and Self-Indulgence

So back in February, I read the “Why YOU Need a Powerhouse Topic” post at The Savvy Musician and it put into words things I’ve been developing for some years (if not decades) now.  Outside of the light (though not as light now that the school year has begun) teaching load and the semi-heavy gigging, I intermittently give talks about, well, being a musician in this day and age.  Well technically I give talks and lead workshops and present on a variety of topics some of which don’t have direct relevance to being a musician (though indirectly, as a musical career gets chosen by immigrants that’s in a style outside the mainstream).

But the idea of having a Powerhouse Topic isn’t just for the express purpose teaching which, in its own way can be as Self-Indulgent as Performing, as David Cultler says, this can be a life transforming experience.  He makes a list of bullet points:

  • Your expertise can lead directly to numerous professional opportunities: presentations, workshops, residencies, key note speeches, classes, media coverage, books, consulting work.
  • Those opportunities can add, perhaps significantly, to your income.
  • Your presentations around the powerhouse topic often lead—directly or indirectly—to additional work in your primary area(s).  For example, perhaps someone who sees your talk is so impressed by the way you interact with the audience that they book your group for a concert.
  • As an established authority, your network will increase appreciably, often with people trying to connect to you (instead of the other way around).
  • Being an expert in a particular area impacts the way you approach your art.
  • Having a powerhouse topic will keep you motivated and growing as a lifelong learner.

The drive implicit in having such a deep interest in a topic can lead directly to learning and modifying your own art (as well as your ability to talk about your art).  In many ways, this is how I’ve always approached music making–it’s not just an activity I go out and do for the benefit (o in some cases not for the benefit) of an audience’s pleasure.  Obviously entertaining an audience is relatively important, but entertaining doesn’t have to be an in-your-face presentation of a musical style you prefer.

And I think far too many musicians are intentionally or not doing precisely the latter.  We’re so confident of the value of the music we’ve grown up with that we sometimes will take offense if the audience doesn’t also appreciate our efforts.  Or we go into a performance with guns blazing intent on making the audience enjoy what we’re doing while never questioning that what we may be doing isn’t of much value.  That’s the Self-Indulgent aspect of performing.  We get so locked into an idiosyncratic way of doing things that we never question what it is we’re are doing and why we are doing it in the first place!

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Wednesday Teaching Reflections

As I mentioned in my previous post I spend most of the afternoon and early evening giving private cello lessons.  Wednesdays are much the same though I do start and end a bit later in the day (roughly 4:30 – 9ish).

I first started giving private lessons while I was still in high school.  Occasionally, while I was an undergrad at DePauw University School of Music, I did the same.  For a couple of years I was a “music assistant” to my cello professor.  Most of those duties involved giving technique lessons to other cello majors.  Also during those undergraduate years and following I would occasionally sub for some of the professors in theory courses or special topics courses. Continue reading

Monday Cello Coaching Reflections

Mondays are usually a cello coaching day for me–at least during the k-12 school year.  Nearly every afternoon I coach the cello section of the Floyd Central High School 7th period Orchestra.  This is a high school group that has gone every year for 21 (or maybe 22 or 23?  I lost count) years in a row to the state level.

This year 6 of the student cellists in this orchestra were members of the Indiana All-State Orchestra (a total of 13 students from Floyd Central High School were in this year’s All-State Orchestra) which, proportionally speaking (as well as from an absolute number standpoint) for the cello section (which I think had 13 members this year) and from the standpoint of the orchestra as a whole is the most students from one school to have privilege of being members.

Pound for pound, this is likely the strongest string section in the orchestra.

The repertoire that they will be playing for this year’s state contest, and with which I’ve been coaching them (since Fall of 2008), is the finale of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 8, Op. 46; Bach’s Air on G which is an adaptation of the second movement from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 (this is the Stokowski arrangement–meaning the cellos get the melody throughout the whole piece); and the finale to Shostakovich’s  Symphony No. 5 in d minor, Op. 47.

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The nuturing perfect pitch…

I’ve been following Diana Deutsch’s work for some years and had been really intrigued with her studies done on speakers of tonal languages (e.g. Mandarin, Vietnamese, and my native Thai) and the seemingly higher proportion of individuals with so-called “Perfect Pitch” (long considered to be a genetic rarity). Here’s a recent article chronicling her work.

The study described by the following was very interesting:

Deutsch then set out to investigate perfect pitch in music. In 2004, she found that students at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, all of whom spoke Mandarin, were almost nine times more likely to have perfect pitch than students at the Eastman School of Music in New York.

and as the article says, “That last study, however, left open the question of whether perfect pitch might be a genetic trait – since all the Mandarin speakers were East Asian.”

So the follow up is described:

The present study looked at 203 students at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, all of whom agreed to take the test in class (so there was no self-selection in the sample).

Deutsch and her colleagues found that students who spoke an East Asian tone language very fluently scored nearly 100 percent on the test, and that students who were only fairly fluent in a tone language scored lower overall.

Those students – either Caucasian or East Asian – who were not at all fluent in speaking a tone language scored the worst on average, said an UCSD release.

These findings were published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

I guess I’ll have to go find this article now!