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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: college advice

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: Played for Every Professional Player That Passed Through Town (4 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Something I was taught at a very early age was to try and play for every single professional that came anywhere near my hometown.  Sometimes this was in master classes and other times this was in private lessons.  Performing in front of as many professionals as possible was immensely important in me gaining the confidence to play at my best in a wide a range of circumstances.

Master classes are the easiest place for a college student to gain access, even if only briefly, to a professional traveling through town.  It was my experience that a visiting artist could say the exact same thing that my teacher had been saying all along but in just a slightly different manner and it would make everything click in my mind.

I am always telling my students that all performing and teaching, both good and bad, counts as “data” that helps to mold me as a musician.  If I hear a concept put in a way that makes a lot of sense I am of course sure to share that with my students.  Likewise, if someone teaches something in a manner which doesn’t click with me or that I disagree with it only serves to strengthen my own point of view.  Keeping this in mind, any master class that I ever attend is worth my time.  Always.  And any great teacher will address exactly what you personally need to hear if they hear you play.

When I was a young student I was taught a great trick when someone was listening to multiple students play in a master class.  Always volunteer to play first.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, when conducting a master class it can be very difficult to keep track of time when working with students. If a teacher does not manage their time well the student playing at the beginning of the class will always get more time and not less time.  It is very difficult to stick to time slots as a teacher and the people playing at the end are always the ones that are affected.

Another equally important reason is that it is natural to be distracted and nervous until you get in front of the group to play.  You are going to retain very little information that is given to the players who play before you.  If you volunteer to play first, you can simply relax, take notes, and learn from all of the people that come after you.  Sometimes the information that is shared without you being on the hot seat can make the biggest impression.

I always raised my hand immediately in every single master class whether I felt like playing that day or not.  As a result, I played in every class, got at least as much time as everyone else that played, and was able to focus on the teaching and not myself for the remainder of the class.

Finally, it is great to be able to get a private lesson with someone passing through town.  Speaking from experience, my schedule rarely allows time to meet with people individually but there is a trick to increasing your chances of hearing a “yes” when asking for a lesson.

First of all, contact the person before they come to your town or school.  This has never been easier with email, twitter, facebook, etc.  If you can’t find them through any of those channels then simply ask your teacher if they might know their info.  It is a lot easier for me to schedule my day around giving a student a lesson if they contact me ahead of time.

Second, you should always offer to pay someone for their time.  Frequently, when a student asks a traveling professional for a lesson and offers to pay them they will teach them for free.  This is not always the case but it definitely sends the wrong message to not offer to pay someone for their time.  Even if you are very up front in stating that you have no money and understand that you wouldn’t expect them to be able to teach you, this will be received well.  It might not get you a lesson, but you will leave a good impression in a business where are impressions are imperative.

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: See Lots of Live Music (2 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Any music student knows that it is their job to listen to music.  This will not be news to anyone.  Along with practicing, this is the most basic level of homework for any musician.  Listening to great music both reminds us of what is possible and of why we do what we do.  These are great lessons that even the best musicians in the world must be reminded of from time to time.  Listening to music live is the best way to learn these lessons.

Seeing live performances has been a passion of mine from a very early age.  While listening to a recording of great music is a wonderful and valuable experience, there is something special about watching that music being made right in front of your eyes.

Any great performance that I have experienced is a conversation between the artist and their audience.  The conversation may look quite different at a Larry Combs recital than it will at an AC/DC concert but they are both conversations.  All great performers feed off of the energies of both the audience and the moment.  This is something that is very difficult to write or talk about and yet incredibly easy to understand when experienced.

Seeing live music is the best way for music students to be reminded that their performances are in fact collaborations with both their fellow performers and the audience.  My number one criticism of students performing juries tends to be that they are not speaking to me as an audience member.  Many students, through lack of experience, walk on stage and have a musical conversation with themselves while the faculty watches.  Frequently, the conversation doesn’t even include the piano player!

During my time at both Northwestern and Arizona State I literally saw a few hundred live concerts. Some of them were life changing, like the first time I saw the band Phish.  Others were average at best and nothing that I ran home to tell my roommates about.  At one point in my life I felt that only witnessing great music would directly influence my musical personality in any significant way.  This is not true! Every time I hear anyone play any note or phrase I am filing it away under something I want to sound like or something I don’t want to sound like.  A bad performance can only reinforce your musical opinion and that is a very good thing.

I also found it beneficial to occasionally take a step back and analyze a performance for such things as programming, stage presence, program notes, etc.  You can use all of that information, both good and bad, to help you with everything from how you conduct yourself in a jury to how to plan a recital program.  The best performers in the world have put a lot of time and thought into every aspect of their performance.  This is much easier to experience and truly grasp in a live setting than read about in a blog like this!

Finally, money is certainly tight for just about any college music student. But if you aren’t doing your homework, someone somewhere is.  I made some sacrifices in college that enabled me to spend quite a large percentage of my disposable income on seeing live music.  This included occasionally traveling a very long distance to see it as well.   My first trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were three days that shaped my musical personality in ways that can not be described.  Sure, I was eating bagels without cream cheese and steamed broccoli with rice for a month afterward because I was so broke but I would do it all over again a thousand times over! Sitting 10 feet away from Lionel Hampton was worth checking the couch for loose change when I got home!


Next: Treat Every Rehearsal and Concert Like It Was a Paying Gig