New to Our Faculty

I always feel like the start of a school year is the real “new year.” Everything picks back up after our collective summer travel and special projects. September also marks the start of A Street Music Education’s third year teaching music. To celebrate, we’ve already chosen our first ever scholarship student, who will receive free tuition for a full semester of lessons. Read below to find out what else we’re doing to provide opportunities in music education to our community. First, however, I’d like to address the title of this post!

We’re happy to announce the addition of Benjamin Moniz and Sarah Troxler to our faculty. Benjamin specializes in teaching classical and folk guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and also teaches harmonica. We’re very excited to add banjo and harmonica to the list of instrumental lessons we teach here at A Street. Benjamin will be available to teach  lessons on Monday afternoons. Sarah is an accomplished pianist and music director, performing regularly around Boston and the South Shore. Sarah will be teaching our intermediate and advanced piano students, as well as providing substitute beginner violin lessons, on Thursdays. Please find more information about Ben and Sarah at the bottom of this post.

Now back to those music education opportunities to which I alluded. We’ll be providing monthly intro classes on a variety of instruments through the Spring. Thanks to generous donations to A Street Music Education, we’ve decided to provide these intro classes with a suggested donation instead of a fee. Call us at 617-328-3600 to inquire about registering for November’s FREE guitar classes.

About Our Faculty Additions:

Benjamin Moniz is a seasoned working musician in Boston and New England, performing almost nightly and teaching thirty private students each week. Ben received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where he studied jazz guitar with Jim Robitaille, modern improvisation with Andrew McWain, and classical guitar with William Riley. Ben has continued pursuing education on a variety of instruments including mandolin, banjo, dobro, bass, piano, harmonica (chromatic and diatonic). He is currently studying jazz and modern styles of guitar with Lou Cero and is enrolled in Tony Trischka’s online banjo lessons at the Academy of Bluegrass. You can see Ben perform locally with Grace Morrison and the RSO, The J.Kelley Band and The Marcus Monteiro Quartet (MM4).  He also enjoys a hobby of archiving bootleg jazz recordings and collecting folk, jazz and bluegrass vinyl records.

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As an artist, Sarah Troxler operates on the firm belief that any person can learn music from any age or background. Each student learns differently and grasps material in their own unique way. Sarah strives to guide each individual to utilize his/her strengths and interests, so that he/she is able to take ownership of their craft, even from a beginning stage.

Sarah is an active musical collaborator throughout the greater Boston area, having earned her Master of Music degree in Collaborative Piano at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA.  She earned her B.A. in Piano Performance at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, MA, where she is currently an adjunct music professor. She is active as a teaching artist throughout the greater Boston area, serving as a vocal coach for individual singers, choirs, and theatre groups.

Ms. Troxler is active in community music programs, serving on staff with the Quincy-based South Shore Performing Artists’ Concert Series and Quincy Summer Singers.  She serves as a collaborative pianist and vocal coach at Longy School of Music of Bard College and with Cambridge Summer Opera Company, as well as serving as Minister of Worship at North Street Community Church in Hingham.  Her instrumental arrangements of favorite Christmas tunes can be heard on North Street’s Advent album Coming Home.

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Rachel Massey Talks Suzuki Method

Today I’m posting a short essay that our violin teacher, Rachel Massey, wrote for our blog about her evolving views on the Suzuki Method, created by Shinichi Suzuki. For a long while, the Suzuki Method has been one of the “buzz words” in music education, and Rachel thinks there’s good reason for this.

A few notes before turning things over to Rachel: (1) you can find a short overview of the Suzuki method here, (2) Rachel’s biography can be found at the end of this post, and (3) give us a call if you’d like to schedule a lesson with Rachel.

Thanks for reading!

Growing up, my exposure to the Suzuki method was pretty limited. Despite the fact that my earliest violin lessons were in Boulder, Colorado, a hub for the Suzuki Association and Suzuki Training, my teachers chose instead to focus on more “traditional” European methods and pushed me to start reading music as soon as I began, at age 7. While we still used the Suzuki books, they were more a vehicle for graduated repertoire and less about the violin method. Suzuki for me instead became synonymous with ridiculously talented peers (most of who had started by age 5 or earlier), a few beloved pieces and a few less-beloved ones, and a circulating rumor among the non-Suzuki kids that the method produced “automatons” and students who don’t know how to read music.

Until recently, I could include myself among the skeptics of Suzuki’s violin school. This wasn’t so much because I had any proof that my Suzuki peers were in any way insufficient. On the contrary, it had more to do with the violinistic trait of competition. From the very beginning, I was jealous of the effortless technique of these Suzuki kids. When I heard that they might, in fact, be flawed, I was all too eager to believe it, a consoling thought that offered a possible one-up on the Suzuki clan at long last.

The Suzuki Method emerged in Matsumoto, Japan out of Dr. Shin’ichi Suzuki’s belief that “every child can.” Suzuki himself didn’t begin to play the violin until his late teens (a very late start for anyone hoping to make a career out of music), and because of this had a greater chance to observe the earliest processes of learning an instrument with an adult eye. Suzuki’s first observation had to do with a child’s mother tongue: barring anything extraordinary, every child is able to speak the language of their parents at any early age. If children can pick up language so easily by listening and mimicking, why couldn’t they do the same thing with music?

The whole question seems elementary, but in effect it turned musical pedagogy on its head. Up until Suzuki’s revelation in the mid-20th century, Traditional European methods were the way music was taught. These methods encouraged a later start, early sight reading skills, and, quite often, rigid obedience and discipline. Many pedagogues of the European school intended their teachings to make great concert artists. Suzuki, on the other hand, intended his to make great people: “I want to make good citizens,” he said. “If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”

My own journey with Suzuki started as I began pondering how best to teach my students. I’ve been teaching for many years, and for many years did so in the same way I was taught. Recently, teaching has become a much bigger focus for me, and with that shift came a reevaluation of my methods. I was accepting more children into my studio, and I found the toolbox I had with which to teach simply wasn’t big or broad enough; I wanted to find ways to engage the kids, to relate to the way in which they access music, and to make the violin into a joy rather than a chore.  Because of this, I enrolled in Suzuki Teacher Training at Suzuki School of Newton. At the end of May, I will be certified in Book 1. While at the school for class and observation, I have witnessed two boys so excited about their violins and music that they insisted their mothers wait while they played their repertoire together in the hallway, all giddy and without an ounce of competition. I have also seen students come to their lesson each week with grins on their faces, not dreading their lessons but excited for what the thirty minutes ahead might hold. And I have heard 4, 5, and 6 year olds play with beautiful tone, great intonation, and, most importantly, with genuine expression. Not once have I encountered an automaton nor a child incapable of reading sheet music as well as she uses her ears.

I’m very excited to incorporate my Suzuki training into lessons with my students at A Street, as well as in lessons in my private studio. I would be hesitant to imply that any one method works for all students, but I’ve been very pleased with the emphasis in Suzuki on finding how best to reach a particular student rather than making the student bend to you.  I’ve been able to teach both children as well as adults using games, tools, and concepts from the Suzuki method. Perhaps most surprising, though, is how I’ve been able to teach myself.

Biography:

A student of Yumi Hwang-Williams, Sally O’Reilly, Joey Corpus, and Mark Lakirovich, Rachel Massey attended high school as a violin major at Denver School of the Arts, and furthered her violin and viola studies at Denver University and Longy School of Music. She has played under the direction of noted conductors David Zinman, Julius Rudel, Michael Stern, James DePriest and, most recently, Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic. Rachel has also performed by invitation at Music on the Rhine in Dusseldorf, Germany, Aspen Music Festival, and on viola at the Las Vegas Music Festival. Currently, Rachel is a member of the Boston Philharmonic, associate principal for the Mercury Orchestra, and plays traditional and classical styles with cellist Daniel Hawkins in the Driftwood Duet.

Video From Our November Concert

Happy Holidays! It’s fun looking back on our last year of business at A Street. For the education program, our biggest changes are becoming a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. We’re gearing up to fund raise in Quincy so that we can offer financial aid for lessons and free/inexpensive instruments to people who need them. We’ve produced two concerts for our students, and hopefully a third to come soon. I’ve managed to streamline communication with students and teachers about student progress and learning. In 2012, I’m excited to start our financial aid and group classes. We’re also gearing up for a customer referral program, where current customers can recommend A Street to their friends and get deals here at the store on instruments, repair, and lessons. Overall, not too shabby!

But the real reason for this post is to show you what happened at our last A Street concert, on November 19, 2011 at Keep it Moving Studio.

A big thanks to everyone for making it such a fun event, and particularly to Keep it Moving Studio for having us!

Making Instruments and Music at the YMCA

We led a music camp for campers at the South Shore YMCA Quincy Branch from August 1-5, 2011, and we had a whole lot of fun! I was there every day, and Nick Dinnerstein, Chad Gray, and Ken Freeman (all A Street faculty) came out to help on different days of the week.

By Day 5, I was absolutely impressed with the progress all of the campers had made in understanding their instruments, keeping a beat and a rhythm, singing, and understanding basic composition. All of the campers (10-13 kids depending on the day) were entering first through third grade.
On Monday we built claves, an instrument important in Afro-Cuban music. Claves consist of two fairly short wooden dowels, and are therefore a very easy first instrument to make and with which to begin exploring concepts like tempo and rhythm. We cut the claves to different lengths and different widths so that each student’s set of claves would also have a slightly different pitch and a different texture. We had YMCA counselors help us every day, and you can see one counselor helping a camper use her claves in the picture on the right.

On Tuesday we made scrapers. Students cut one very thick dowel to a length between 8″ and 12″, and then filed numerous ruts down the length of the dowel. They cut another very thin dowel to about 8″ and used that to scrape over the ruts in the larger dowel. On Wednesday, students made the instruments that they were perhaps most interested in: funnelphones. This is my favorite instruments, too, since it’s a lot like a brass instrument. It consists of a length of hose with a funnel attached to one end, and a makeshift mouthpiece made from duct tape on the other. Kids were encouraged to “buzz” their lips to make sound, and some had quite a bit of trouble putting the instrument down. On Thursday and Friday, students who were not assigned to the funnelphones were quick to protest. On Thursday, we made flowerpot bells, or flowerpots suspended from a thick dowel. These instruments are played by gently hitting the suspended bells with claves. With the exception of the flowerpot bells, each student was able to take home their instruments at the end of the week.

Until we ran out of these storage cubbies, campered stored all of their instruments here in the art room during the week.

When the campers weren’t building and decorating instruments, they were involved in activities that focused on one or more of the following: matching pitches, keeping a steady beat, practicing using dynamics (loud or soft) and pitch at the same time, or learning some of the basics of musical composition. In our warm ups, we would focus on saying each other’s names and something about ourselves in rhythm. This grew exponentially better from Monday through Friday. We also sang “whale songs,” as one particular campers liked to call them. This was a vocal warm up where one person would move her hands together from close to the floor to high above her head to indicate pitch, and from close together to far apart horizontally to represent loudness. Each student loved to conduct the group in this manner, and it was a good way to quickly teach words like high and low, and piano, mezzo forte, and fortissimo.

On Monday, Nick Dinnerstein finished out the day with the campers by performing movements of a Bach Cello Suite for them. Students had to let him know when he was playing loud or soft, and we also learned how to repeat the rhythms he was playing. This performance inspired some interesting artwork when students decorated their journals, which they wrote in daily.

On Tuesday, A Street teacher Chad Gray and I introduced the students to some important new concepts, including scale degrees and rhythmic notation. These two things are really important and complex ideas. Scale degrees (from 1-7) indicate different pitches in a scale. Over the course of the week, campers learned the “Navajo Song of Happiness,” a song using one and two syllable words (in English, syllables that don’t have any meaning) We picked this song because it is relatively easy to learn, and because it has a history of a celebratory song. Students began to learn the song on Tuesday in terms of it’s scale degrees. They had a little trouble in the beginning understanding the concept, which is actually very difficult for students that young. However, they seemed to perform much better with respect to singing scale degrees by Thursday.

The students also started looking at rhythm through the guise of a matrix. A table was drawn on the board, and each cell indicated a beat of music. We continued to understand musical composition through this guise for the next few days. On Wednesday, Chad Gray had the campers perform on their various instruments short compositions at the same time. I found it really impressive that in three days, students were playing multiple parts. This is a concept that grows in musicians through many years.

Ken Freeman came to help on Thursday and Friday, and he was a huge help in leading the kids to a performance of the “Navajo Song of Happiness” with their own instrumental accompaniment. On Thursday, Ken helped the students better understand how to sing the song. We split the campers into two groups, and while I was working with them on rhythm and creating their own music notation matrices, Ken worked diligently until the campers all sang beautifully in tune.

On Friday, students were separated into groups and chose one accompaniment for each instrument. This was very difficult for some students, but by Friday afternoon, they were all able to perform their parts. To the right is an example of an accompaniment for flowerpot bells. The smaller Xs represent using a small and high pitched flowerpot, and the large Xs represent using a large and lower pitched flowerpot.

Also on Friday, Ken led the students in a really fun song-writing activity. He had all of the students sit in a circle and write down a positive descriptive word about another student in the room, without naming the student. Then Ken played the guitar and had campers sing a phrase using one of the words about the person next to him/her. The students really loved this activity, and it got them ready for their final performance. The entire week provided a great experience for me, the A Street faculty who taught at the camp, and we hope for the kids as well. I was truly impressed with their growth, and I hope they all continue to develop a passion for making music.

Before I sign off for today, I will make a few suggestions for anyone interested in building the instruments we built in camp. (1) building the instruments in an art room was a blessing and a curse. The students had a lot of fun decorating their instruments, but they also had a bit too much fun with glitter, which proved a distraction sometimes when we needed to make music with our instruments. (2) the scrapers need a sufficiently sturdy smaller scraping stick so that it wont break when you play loudly. (3) Do not cut the hose on the funnelphones too short. If you do, it will be difficult to role them into a horn-like instrument. (see picture of funnelphones above). (4) Make sure you get fairly thick and sturdy ceramic flowerpots for the flowerpot bells. If they crack, the sound changes and does not provide a nice bell-like ring.

I’d like to thank Warren Senders, a music educator and performer in Boston, for providing me with the instructions to create these instruments, and for a lot of great advice on how to teach and have fun with the campers. If you have any questions about camp or any of our other services here at A Street Music, feel free to write me at astreetmusiclessons@gmail.com!

Video From Our Concert

Our concert last Saturday was a huge success! It was inspiring to see the progress our students have made, and to hear the artistry of our faculty members. The video below is a compilation of various performers.

I hope that our students take pride in their performances, and that, provided with video of their full performances, our students can continue to grow from them.

I’ll post more soon, but for the meantime, please enjoy the video!

Practicing Now

Hello blog readers!

This particular update is a little different than anything I’ve done before on the blog. Bülent Güneralp, A Street’s piano, voice, and drum teacher, approached me a few weeks ago to share an article he had found, written by Wayne Dyer.

Dr. Wayne Dyer

Bülent suggested that this article, “Resolve to Get Real,” could very easily be applied to the way we practice music. I’d never heard of Dyer before Bülent showed me this article and another book with information about Dyer, so I can’t speak to Dyer’s body of work at all. However, I think that Bülent has a great idea regarding how to apply some of the ideas in the article to our students’ practice. The following is Bülent’s idea:

As we entered 2011, I happened to check Dr. Wayne Dyer’s website where I came across “Resolve to Get Real,” a short article on his blog. I read it and thought, “This approach could be helpful for many people in many different ways and areas.” I thought that students could apply the idea to their practice and may get wonderful results. I thought, “It would be wonderful if the parents and students themselves read and analyzed the article, and expressed in their won words how they could apply the idea to the students’ practice.” So here we go. Let’s consider this as homework: What does this article by Dr. Dyer mean to you? I look forward to hearing what our students and parents will say.

Dyer’s short article has a very simple thesis; in general, it’s better to live in the moment. He wrote it at the beginning of the year to explain how “living in the moment” is a better philosophy than making long term resolutions. I’ve seen similar negative outcomes from friends who have vowed to quit smoking or to start exercising, as well as some positive ones. I was younger, I would vow to practice through the summer, and I would habitually break that vow. It doesn’t make sense, because I’ve always loved playing the French horn. Perhaps if I’d approached it in a different way, I would have progressed more quickly.

Young people and parents often become frustrated by practice. Well, young people by practicing and parents by a lack of practicing. Practice is a very strange thing. Often music teachers don’t give clear cut homework like students would receive in school. Students of music are often forced to direct their own learning, which can be a huge challenge. The way we teachers approach music teaching has to help students learn how to teach themselves.

We’re going to share this article with parents and younger students at A Street, and record their response through a short survey. I’ll be back to the blog soon, hopefully with some interesting ideas from our students about how to practice. I wanted to post the Dyer article here on the blog to avoid any confusion, but the terms of use on Dyer’s website forbid republication in any form. Please follow this link or the link above to the article.

Update 2/21/11: Anyone out there reading the blog who wishes to complete the survey as well, feel free! You can find the survey through this link.

Chad Gray: Composer/Performer/Teacher

Chad Gray, A Street Music’s primary bass guitar teacher, told me about his career as a composer and arranger when I approached him regarding the Artist-Teacher series on this blog. While Chad has extensive experience performing, his degree from Berklee School of Music is in jazz composition. Chad composes and arranges music for a number of groups around Boston in which he also performs, as well as for groups in which he doesn’t perform.

In private lesson settings – like our program at A Street – the main emphasis is almost always on performance. We like to provide students with entry points into composition, listening, and critiquing music as well as performance, but in my experience it’s not common to find a teaching-artist who is as much a performer as a composer. It’s important for students to dedicated a lot of time to thoughtful practice in order to develop as performers, so one could argue that it’s not important to have a teacher who is interested in composition. But Chad’s musical experience show really important entry points into music that some students might not find in their musical educations.

Chad was originally self-taught on guitar, and “played in a local jazz band” once he switched to bass. He told me that he “learned by figuring it [guitar] out from recordings and from having [his] friends show [him] things here and there.” After studying music in California, he moved to Boston to study at Berklee, where “being immersed in an environment with so many different musicians around really allowed [him] to grow and start to figure out [his] own voice.”

Today he performs in and composes for a number of ensembles, including the Beantown Swing Orchestra and the Boston String Players. He also keeps up to date on modern music, adding, “I research about 20 different blogs almost every day and discover amazing music I would have never found on my own.” Chad also keeps himself alert and learning when he’s performing and composing:

Performing tests a lot of ideas I have to see if they work and what kind of reaction I get from an audience and other musicians… Composing also helps as a performer by allowing me to think about the person who wrote the music and what they’d want. It’s important to try and understand both perspectives simultaneously.

What I gather from all of this is that Chad was drawn to composition and performance as one complete musical experience. The two different musical ‘hats’ are intrinsically linked. While this isn’t wholly uncommon, I think it’s important because it exhibits a well-rounded application of music in one’s life. As a classical player, I’ve seen a lot of people who view music education and competitions as necessary pit-stops on the way to a performing job, rather than viewing them as opportunities to explore different aspects of music. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Chad’s explanation of his musical development suggests a more experiential and intrinsic approach to music.

What excites me about Chad is his instinctive motivation to explore new aspects of music, whether through his blogs (chadgraymusic.blogspot.com and talesofwestland.blogspot.com), compositions, arrangements, performances, or teaching. His constant exploration has provided him with direct correlations between music and life: “[J]ust being alive and breathing influences my teaching because with every experience you have a new metaphor that you can relate to music somehow.” The following is a video of Chad’s jazz composition recital that I found to exemplify connections between music and other disciplines:

Chad’s students benefit from his exploration of musical fundamentals, including “rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, and form,” and from the connections he’s made between music and life. Music might not have a point in our lives if it didn’t connect with something inside of us, and Chad’s study of music stems directly from music’s effects. Chad told me that “[M]usic connects people, so I try to connect music.”

Chad emphasizes that “teaching is only showing you [the student] what has already happened,” but his personality and love of music will inspire students to discover novel aspects of music throughout their lives.