September 21, 2016

"Making America Safe Again"


Well...it amazes me that the dots did connect.    As I thought about last night's post I immediately thought about Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point.    The product of extensive research into numerous industries and fields, Mr. Gladwell's book is a fascinating window into how trends and movements grow - and fade.
At 10pm, Donald Trump will be on Fox News in a prerecorded town hall meeting filmed in Cleveland and hosted by Sean Hannity.   Reports detailing the content of this town hall meeting are already circulating, and this closed town hall meeting took place after a "Meeting on African-American Concerns" that took place at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights.

Before I continue, a recap from last night:   "...since the events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been intense discussion about the militarization of the police.    Last year in Baltimore we saw it in full force on April 27, 2015 and in the week that followed (which included the National Guard being deployed and a curfew).    More and more we are seeing law enforcement coming out in riot gear and riot formation in response to demonstrations.   We saw it this past summer in Baton Rouge (and I am so grateful to have been around a wonderful group of friends and colleagues when that took place - cast members of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, the Schubertiade could not have happened at a better time and we did ALL need that!).   We're now seeing it again - in less than a few hours after Keith Lamont Scott's death.


The Fraternal Order of Police just endorsed Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.   The Philadelphia Police Union also gave Mr. Trump an endorsement.   Mr. Trump has said that he is the only person that can "make America safe again", and has been speaking from a very old and if I may TIRED playbook that ignores the legislation and practices that resulted in the creation of America's oh-so-frightening inner cities.   We cannot talk about the "decaying inner cities" without talking about the historical practices of redlining and deed restrictions, both of which left Black Americans OUT of the "American Dream" for decades.

That's not the point, though.

For a while, there WAS discussion about the militarization of police.  That discussion seems to have died down, only to be replaced with story after story about Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.  Tonight, in Charlotte, North Carolina, we are again getting glimpses at what could turn into extreme police action.
We have a candidate who says that he's the only person who can make our nation "safe again". "

WELL....at 10pm this evening, we can all watch Mr. Trump's town hall meeting.    Please do.  Why?   Well, the Washington Post (as well as many other news outlets) have shared a portion of the content of that meeting, during which Mr. Trump "unveiled" one part of his plan to "make America safe again".

That plan?   NATIONAL STOP AND FRISK.   


That's right. The policy against which New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio campaigned.   The policy that was ruled both unconstitutional and a form of racial profiling by a federal judge in 2013.    

I am not anti-police.   However, consider again these things:
1.    Everything mentioned yesterday and highlighted today,
2.    Mr. Trump's incendiary comments about Mexicans and Muslims.
3.    The incendiary commentary - again by Mr. Trump - that resulted in the wrongful conviction of a group of men who will forever be known as the "Central Park Five."

While I am confident that there are journalists that can write about this with far more finesse than I do, the message is still the same.   IT AIN'T FUNNY ANYMORE.   We cannot laugh this off anymore.  We cannot joke about this anymore. 

That's all for today....


September 20, 2016

"Stop, Hey - What's That Sound..."


Charlotte, North Carolina - Realtime
photo credit:   Adam Rhew, Charlotte Magazine
many thanks to Shaun King for posting this photo on Facebook

As I type this, demonstrations are taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina in response to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a disabled man who was in his car reading a book.    Yes, witnesses say that he was reading a book while there are now reports coming from the police stating that
Mr. Scott had a gun.  Mr. Scott's daughter went Facebook Live immediately afterwards - much like Diamond Reynolds did this summer when her boyfriend Philando Castille was shot while in his car and obeying police orders in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

As far as Charlotte goes, what we know for is that the police were on the way to serve an arrest warrant to another person.

*we don't all look alike, folks*

Mind you, while the police are reporting that Mr. Scott was armed, we have seen many cases over the past few years "in which policemen have planted guns on victims.   I certainly hope that no one has forgotten that former North Charleston Police officer Michael Slager was indicted for murder after it was discovered that he planted a weapon on the late Walter Scott (after shooting him), and also hope that the news of a former St. Louis police officer planting a gun in a victim's car (after going after the victim with an unauthorized AK-47) reached everyone today as we all scrolled through "the Blue Pages".

Forgive me for the cynicism, but Keith Lamont Scott's murder took place TWENTY-EIGHT hours after the murder of Terence Crutcher, who was shot by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The reason I write this, however, is neither for the simple fact that tear gas has already been used against the demonstrators in Charlotte nor to highlight that again, like in July of this year, two deaths happened in such close proximity.  

Let's think about this for a moment:   since the events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been intense discussion about the militarization of the police.    Last year in Baltimore we saw it in full force on April 27, 2015 and in the week that followed (which included the National Guard being deployed and a curfew).    More and more we are seeing law enforcement coming out in riot gear and riot formation in response to demonstrations.   We saw it this past summer in Baton Rouge (and I am so grateful to have been around a wonderful group of friends and colleagues when that took place - cast members of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, the Schubertiade could not have happened at a better time and we did ALL need that!).   We're now seeing it again - in less than a few hours after Keith Lamont Scott's death.   However, all of that talk seemed to disappear during the summer of 2015 and the rise - albeit sadly being taken humorously - of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

The Fraternal Order of Police just endorsed Donald Trump's presidential candidacy.   The Philadelphia Police Union also gave Mr. Trump an endorsement.   Mr. Trump has said that he is the only person that can "make America safe again", and has been speaking from a very old and if I may TIRED playbook that ignores the legislation and practices that resulted in the creation of America's oh-so-frightening inner cities.   We cannot talk about the "decaying inner cities" without talking about the historical practices of redlining and deed restrictions, both of which left Black Americans OUT of the "American Dream" for decades.

That's not the point, though.

For a while, there WAS discussion about the militarization of police.  That discussion seems to have died down, only to be replaced with story after story about Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.  Tonight, in Charlotte, North Carolina, we are again getting glimpses at what could turn into extreme police action.

We have a candidate who says that he's the only person who can make our nation "safe again".

Pay attention, folks - and act accordingly.




September 19, 2016

So, about this pending election....

So...school has started and at the moment I am grateful to share that I have seventeen students for whom I am responsible.     Teaching has proven itself fulfilling in many ways over the past few years:   not only is it wonderful to share information, but I have also found that being the person who is reponsible for sharing the information has shaped my playing in incredibly beneficial ways.

Today, as I found myself on the edge of being late (good old Maryland Transit Authority), I called a taxi to school.   During the cab ride the driver and I started talking about the election.  

Mind you, a few years ago I wrote a post about voting.    Today's conversation made me rethink that post and here I shall share both the details of said conversation and my thoughts which, while they are the same, they are being expressed in a bit less incendiary manner.

This taxi driver, like many Americans, expressed both his frustration with and dislike of both candidates.    He also shared that he might forgeo voting altogether - "After all, our votes don't count anyway," he said.    "It's up to the Electoral College, and I don't even understand that."

My first response.   "Well, we live in an age in which information can easily be found.   I'm sure that you're not the only person, but we can all Google 'Electoral College' and find out for ourselves."  

"The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors who cast votes to decide the President and Vice-President of the United States. When voters go to the polls, they will be choosing which candidate receives their state’s electors. The candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes (270) wins the Presidency. The number 538 is the sum of the nation’s 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia."

As we continued our conversation, the driver shared that he was incredibly disappointed with Hilary because of something that she said recently (and no, it wasn't that "deplorable" thing).    He did also express the fact that he had been most impressed by Bernie Sanders.

Did I mention that this cab driver was African-American?

He and I did get into a somewhat heated discussion during the fifteen-minute ride to school, and I found myself speaking in a manner that surprised me as, well, many of you who know me know that I have the habit of flying off the handle.  This time that didn't happen.  The controlled, clear, and articulate response was this:

"You know, we have seen so much over the past year, that including the frightening reality that Donald Trump secured the Republican party's nomination (despite the warnings of many in the Republican party) and the fact that the DNC basically planned to run over Bernie Sanders.  Yes, we've seen it.  We've also seen the fact that Secretary of State Clinton may not be the most honest person.   However, we're at a choice point, and this choice point is so much bigger than 'personalities' or 'the lesser of two evils'."

There was more, of course, but please allow me to take a sidestep before getting to that "more".

A few days ago, President Obama spoke to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.   In that speech, he shared this:   “I will consider it a personal insult—an insult to my legacy—if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote. If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake. All the progress we’ve made is at stake in this election. My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot.”

Now, it would be very easy to say that Mr. Obama was both speaking from his ego and many say that he has done nothing for the African-American community.    Think about this:  considering that sixty years ago the possibility of having a Black president was just a barely-expressed dream, the fact that he not only won but won TWICE is a symbolic advancement for the African-American community.   This is a fact that cannot be ignored.   "This is not about me, this is not about Michelle...we understood the power of the symbol," he said.


While there are people who adamantly fight the fact that every discussion about President Obama leads us into discussions about race, which many people - including the person who lost my friendship on Sunday - are deeply uncomfortable having, think about this:    we cannot ignore that President Obama has faced nothing but obstruction from the Republican party since he stepped into office in 2008.   In case you forgot, Mitch McConnell - the man who has been more than vocal about stopping a Supreme Court justice nomination during President Obama's term - was the man who said that the "single most important" thing to do was to ensure that Barack Obama was a one-term president.   For the record, Mitch McConnell is one of the many Republicans who has NOT taken a stance against Donald Trump.

The obstruction that President Obama has faced is nothing but racism.  Racism is not about dislike:   racism is about power and control.  Should there be any question about the obstructionist stance against Barack Obama and history, take a gander at Chapter Three of C. Vann Woodward's
The Strange Career of Jim Crow:

"Up to the year 1898 South Carolina had resisted the Jim Crow car movement which had swept the western states of the South completely by that time.   In that year, however, after several attempts, the proponents of the Jim Crow law were on the eve of victory.  The Charleston News and Courier, the oldest newspaper in the South and a consistent spokesman of conservatism, fired a final broadside against extremists in behalf of the conservative creed of race policy."

'As we have got on fairly well for a third of a century, including a long period of reconstruction, without such a measure, wrote the editor,  'we can probably get on as well hereafter without it, and certainly so extreme a measure sound not be adopted and enforced without added and urgent cause.'  he then called attention to what he considered the absurd consequences to which such a law might lead one the principle of the thing were conceded.   'If there must be Jim Crow cars on the railroads, there should be Jim Crow cars on the street railways.  Also on all passenger boats...If there are to be Jim Crow cars, moreover, there should be Jim Crow waiting saloons at all stations, and Jim Crow eating houses....There should be Jim Crow sections of the jury box, and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand in every court-and a Jim Crow Bible for colored witnesses to kiss.   It would be advisable also to have a Jim Crow section in county auditors' and treasurers' offices for the accommodation of colored taxpayers.   The two races are dreadfully mixed in these offices for weeks every year, especially about Christmas...There should be a Jim Crow department for making returns and paying for the privileges and blessings of citizenship.   Perhaps, the best plan would be, after all, to take the short cut to the general end...by establishing two or three Jim crow counties at once, and turning them over to our colored citizens for their special and exclusive accommodation."

In resorting to the tactics of reductio ad surdium the editor doutbless believed that he had dealt the Jim Crow principle a telling  blow with his heavy irony.   But there is now apparent to us an irony in his argument of which the author was unconscious.   For what he intended as a reductio ad surdium and obviously regarded as an absurdity became in a very short time a reality, and only that but a reality that was regarded as the ONLY SENSIBLE SOLUTION (caps mine) to a vexing problem, a solution having the sanction of tradition and long usage.   Apart from the Jim Crow counties and Jim Crow witness stand, all the improbable applications of the principle suggested by the editor IN DERISION (caps mine) had been put into practice - down to and including the Jim Crow Bible."

This was written in 1955, and was written to chronicle the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.

Now....regarding President Obama's sentiments:   he is WELL aware of the symbolism surrounding his presidency, and his awareness of the historical context is something to which we should ALL pay attention, especially now.   Never more than now.

"So", you may be asking, "what's Sam's point?"

First (and this is a BIG stretch for me), to the community of American citizens who are of the African diaspora that includes the profound and sickening horrors of slavery and Jim Crow:   WE CANNOT SIT THIS ONE OUT DUE TO PETTY PERSONALITY POLITICS!   We have watched, we have seen, and while Secretary of State Clinton is at best less than squeaky clean, consider the alternative.  

We have ALL fought too much over too many years to let this happen.    PERIOD.

While there is more that I could say, this is hopefully enough.   There's TOO MUCH AT STAKE for us to argue and denigrate the DNC for its shadiness towards Bernie Sanders.    Mr. Sanders himself has recently said that this is NOT the time to cast a protest vote.  The stakes are too high, folks, and as I said in December 2015, "If you don't get it by now, you ain't ever going to..."

DO THE RIGHT THING.  ANYONE who has been paying attention since 1965 has a moral and KARMIC obligation to keep things moving forward, and despite all of the CRAP that we have seen, the choice is now clear - and if I may, the choice ain't the man who will create a serious racist, xenophobic, and antigay police state that will be one hundred times WORSE that what we're experiencing at the present moment.

"That's all I have today..."



















May 18, 2016

Pedagogue Odin Rathnam

"Music and its needs are like a refining fire, constantly challenging us to re-evaluate our choices, our approach, and our tools. It is music that humbles me, day after day, year after year... But confidence in one's abilities to do music justice is just as important as humility towards music."
- Odin Rathnam

Finding a teacher is no small task.   We as musicians intuitively know what it is that we need at certain times in our development, and while the search can for some include numerous flights across the world for advice, there are others of us who are fortunate enough to have the teacher appear at the right moment.

My first experience of “the teacher appearing” was in 1994 when, as I was preparing my senior recital, I went to Houston for what was an amazing lesson with Fredell Lack.     On the day I arrived in Houston, I of course went to Ms. Lack’s studio, at which time she said “I’m so glad you’re here – come to my studio class today, my friend Kenneth Goldsmith is teaching.”   After having been absolutely floored by the level of playing exhibited by Ms. Lack’s students during the 1993 Texas Music Festival, I leapt at the chance – especially since I was in the process of making decisions.   What can I say:    while Ms. Lack’s studio at the time was world class (a studio that included current Oregon Symphony violinist Greg Ewer) and the lesson with her immensely beneficial, I was so stunned by the level of technical analysis and musical thought that Mr. Goldsmith showed in the master class preceding my lesson with Ms. Lack that I “made a choice”.   Fortunately, he took me on – and that story will be told at another time.

After graduating from Rice, I was again fortunate in that I was offered a fellowship with the New World Symphony.    I DID in that time of transition have some questions about my playing and approaching the “in between phase”, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask violist/pedagogue Donald McGinnes about which direction to take.   His answer:   "You take your time and find a pedagogue with whom you can work on your violin playing."

Those of you who have "followed me" over the past few years - which humbles me - are all aware of the friendship that I have developed with Odin Rathnam.  This is a friendship that started in 2010 when, out of nowhere, I received a message from him in which he shared his admiration of my writing.

At the time, Odin was actively maintaining his career as a soloist while also serving as the concertmaster of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.   Needless to say, when an opportunity came both to meet him in person and hear him, I took it - and wrote about it.

I the six years that I have known Odin, I have remained fascinated, humbled, and inspired as I have witnessed his continued growth as a soloist, musician and human being:  Odin Rathnam is a man who follows his inner imperatives and tirelessly devotes himself to the pursuit of his highest ideals both musically and personally.  While I COULD spend time here listing his resume and the platitudes, I shall not:   we live in a technological age, one in which there is a search engine powered by Google through which you can know more about Odin the concert violinist.   Furthermore, it must be said that Odin has remained a steadfast FRIEND and advisor over these years, one who anyone would be lucky to have.

In tandem with his growing concert schedule, Odin has remained a passionate, dedicated, and 
no-nonsense pedagogue.   His desire to share is unparalleled, and his teaching is built from the same love and fervent desire which are made evident through his recent master classes at the Starling-DeLay Symposium during which he brilliantly and clearly explained the modern bow technique espoused by the late Ivan Galamian.

Gavin Fallow, a Washington-DC based violinist who serves as principal second violinist of  the          Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra as well as both concertmaster and soloist with the Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra, is one of many who has studied with Odin.   When asked about his experience, Gavin shared deep gratitude for having developed a newfound freedom of expression in his playing.  "From our very first lesson together, Odin helped me solve problems I hadn't even identified, along with the problems that I was working on.  He was both very encouraging and very demanding, which was exactly what I needed.   I always had the sense the Odin expected more of me than I did of myself, which was a huge motivator when the going got tough."

Of course, teaching is never subjective:   time spent one-on-one often results in teachers gaining profound understanding of their students.   Lorenzo Raval, a Philadelphia based violinist and member of the groundbreaking Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, echoed that thought when asked to speak of Odin:   "What makes Odin such a special teacher is his ability see the whole student - what their strengths are, what areas in their playing need a little more attention, and what makes each students unique and what makes them tick as individual musicians.    From there he is able to zero in and address specific aspects of their playing so that one sees measurable progress over time, which in turn facilitates overall improvement."|

The deep relationship between student and teacher is vital, and while it is the instructor’s job to focus on helping a student improve both his technical ability and musical understanding it is equally important for the teacher to be encouraging as there are many paths from which students come – and many paths that students later take.  Gavin Fallow has had a fascinating journey, and he shared that he found himself feeling both understood and encouraged by Mr. Rathnam.   "I have had a very unconventional path as a professional musician, and have often felt misunderstood.   Odin seems to be able to see way beyond the perspective of a typical professional violinist, and it is wonderful to work with a teacher who has no specific agenda for his students besides the music." 

On a personal note:  while preparing for the National Symphony audition in 2015, I jumped on the opportunity to have a lesson with Odin.  This lesson was in tandem with Odin’s visit to Baltimore during which he performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto as soloist with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and during the two hours with him he shared priceless insights that stem from his personal work and devotion to the very strict yet necessary nuts and bolts of violin technique.    During the course of our time, it was clear that Odin has no need to "impress the world" or me:    he was a man focused solely on duty, at that time duty being to impart both knowledge and wisdom.

Now based in Manhattan, Odin is more than available to musicians who, like myself and those quoted here, have questioned both their individual relationship to the violin and how they should approach the craft.   While the field is open – there are MANY people who “have the stuff” - it must be said that Odin Rathnam is one of a handful of people who will definitely bring any student back to "brass":  a teacher who will diligently and wholeheartedly offer support, guidance, and no-nonsense thought not only to violin playing but to how one approaches every area of life, and that has proven to be most beneficial in ways that I cannot articulate.

December 16, 2015

Tapping Out....

Well, those of you who have kept in touch with me over the past few months know that I have moved out of the shared apartment in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Baltimore into a stunning mid-nineteenth century building in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of the same city.    During the month of April - which included the gravely unfortunate death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent peaceful protests as well as the profoundly harrowing uprising of April 27, 2015 - as I looked at apartments I took a day to walk through Mt. Vernon and felt as if I were "home".

Home.   Yes.  After all, I did grow up in Charleston, and the acknowledgement of history that fuels downtown Charleston is the same as that which drew me to taking an apartment in central Baltimore.

While I COULD go into the concept of "home" and how August Wilson wrote that a sense of rootlessness is pervasive in the lives of African-American men, I shall not.   One of the wonderful things about being rooted - for now - is that I'm interacting with neighbors and members of my community, those neighbors including a chef who recently received her Rosette while working at a local boutique hotel that simultaneously received its Michelin rating (yes, this is a BIG deal - akin to winning an audition for a position with a major orchestra).

Anyway...talks with this chef have included the sharing of her desire to "tap out".

"Tapping out" is when a chef declares that he is done, and the act includes the literal tapping of a hand on the top of a greasy kitchen grill.

Well, folks....I'm tapping out.

Today, in Baltimore, a mistrial was declared in the first case involving one of the SIX policemen involved in the death of Freddie Gray.    While I shall not go into great detail, it must be said that in the videos of Mr. Gray's capture it is clear that he was incapacitated BEFORE he was placed in a police van and not restrained as is policy:  meanwhile, the cases here are focusing on the neglect inflicted on Mr. Gray during his time in the van (and not the grave and senseless brutality inflicted on him by the police before taken on what is known in Philadelphia as a "nickel ride"). Think about it.   No one, not even the "new sherrif" named Mosby, is paying attention to the fact that Mr. Gray was gravely injured before the fateful ride (note:   this is one of many videos available via YouTube).

I'm tapping out.

Since April, the atmosphere in Baltimore has been tense to say the least.    There are activists on the ground in West Baltimore - a region that has been labeled "unfixable" (think about that) by many in the city - who are very clear about what led to the uprising in April and are now expressing justifiably cynical curiosity as to why policemen from other counties were seen in Druid Hill Park training in "riot control" just a few days ago.    This is a city with systemic problems that FEW want to own up to and properly address, much like other cities in the United States, and the brutality that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray was simply a catalyst.

I'm tapping out.

From the moment of the uprising until now, many of my relationships have irrevocably changed and some have thankfully fallen away:   as I continue to speak my truth I simultaneously erase folks who are destined to remain stuck in their status quo logic.   Meanwhile, new ones have come in and for that I'm grateful.   Still....

I'm tapping out.

There are so many things that I COULD say: however, I shall simply refer to the writer Taylor Caldwell (ironically, Ms. Caldwell was a confirmed conservative and a member of the John Birch Society) who, in the preface of her 1972 historical novel The Captains and the Kings, wrote a dedication to the youth of America who were protesting.   In that dedication Ms. Caldwell shared her thoughts on the "plot against the people" and very clearly detailed the ingredients of said plot  (if you want to see it, get the book - it's available via Amazon).

I'm tapped out.  I'm tired.    I'm existentially tired of the media-driven hype, of "protestor" becoming a part of the lexicon of coded language to mean a certain type of person.   Heck, I took part in a demonstration back in April - does that mean that I'm a lawless thug to people?  Think about it.

I'm tapping out.   I'm tired.   Ask yourselves how it feels - really - to live in a society where a young White man with a bowl-cut can walk into a church in my hometown, ASSASSINATE nine people and be apprehended alive (let alone be taken to damned Burger King after being apprehended alive because he was HUNGRY?!?) while scores of so-called African-Americans can be viciously murdered by the police with no thought.   As a toss to the legacy institutions known as orchestras, I'm tired - the assassination of which I speak in this paragraph happened just across the street from the newly-renovated and reopened Gailliard Center, home of the Charleston Symphony.

I'm tapping out.   I'm done - The fact that there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people in the United States who STILL, while viewing the gross atrocities and inequalities sit back and say that Black people would be okay if they "simply obeyed the law", is reprehensible at best.

This is just the beginning - and should you choose to click the superficial "unfriend" button, please do so.  That will say more about you than it does about me and about reality.

"If you don't get it by now, you ain't NEVER going to..."

Tapping out,
Sam















October 15, 2015

No-Judgement Zone

So....I have seen many students this week, but this post is about two of them, both of whom are students at public schools that have pretty amazing orchestra programs.

While these two young people are very different, their similarity is that both of them are now plagued by upcoming "seating auditions" that are called "playing tests".    In these two lessons, I found both of these students talking down on themselves.

On Wednesday, I was able to tell a student to simply focus on practicing, taking the advice of his teacher, and being unattached to the outcome.  

On Thursday, however, I found myself confronted with the issues of self-esteem that really do plague students who are in high-level, competitive environments.    Here's how it went down:
Teacher: Why did you stop?
Student: Because it sounded really bad.|
Teacher: Okay - first, it didn't sound bad, you simply made a mistake. Second. Do you watch television? Do you see commercials and advertisements?
Student: Yes.
Teacher: So you've seen the ads for Planet Fitness, right?
Student (starting to laugh): Yes.
*Teacher goes to the dry erase board, picks up the pen, and starts writing*
Teacher: Like Planet Fitness, this is a JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE! Stop judging yourself!
*student laughs*

Interestingly enough, these encounters with students have reminded me of a time at Rice University when, after playing the Fourth Sonata of Eugene Ysaye (at that time, the most difficult piece I had played in my life) in a lesson, my teacher made my lay down on the floor.

Teacher:   "Well, you got through it..."

Me:   "Yeah, and it sounded like CRAP!"

Teacher:   "No, it didn't sound like CRAP.   Breathe a little and then we'll get to work."

Teaching, while a noble profession, is also a HEALING profession (at least for me).  How many years during high school did I hear that I have to practice hours and hours because of people in another city?   How many years of hearing the competitive rhetoric did I experience, which shaped me years ago yet led to (as may of us have experienced yet refuse to acknowledge) a warped sense of self-esteem?    

It's about the work.   It's about the day to day that we do.   THAT's what we have to impart as educators, and maybe that is what we as educators need to remember....the results are secondary, yet they come from the day-to-day focused attention to the craft....

More soon,
Sam

October 8, 2015

On Teaching

“Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself.”
- Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

Well....here we are.    A few weeks ago I found myself itching to write after reading an NPR article about the latest release from a duo known as Black Violin.   While I MAY still write that - after all, I'm still thinking about it - I'm choosing not to at this time because, well, I'm tired.   Tired.   Existentially tired of the accepted narrative that Americans of the African Diaspora cannot have a true place in the field of classical music, and that the only viable way that we can have a face in the world of musicmaking is to delve into "classical fusion".   Furthermore, I am still thinking of a way to write in which I shall not belittle or patronize the work that these men have done - after all, they have released recordings, and I have not, and it is not my intention to write in a manner that invalidates their work as all creativity is valuable and should be recognized as such.


What I write about today is teaching.

In 2012, the Delaware Symphony ceased operations for half of a season.  This of course sent many of us on a scramble, and while that was stressful it has been truly delightful to see the unfolding of new directions taken on by my colleagues.    Sometimes destiny is the result of "overwhelming necessity".

For me?    That was a strange time in many ways, and to earn money I decided to start teaching.    This did NOT go well at first, as my first assignment turned into something both fractious and unprofitable.    One year later, however, I began teaching in Baltimore at the Arti-st Learning Center, and it was during that year that I discovered that I love teaching and working with young people.   It was during that year that I started sharing Facebook posts that chronicled conversations between teacher and student, and was again reminded that the art of teaching is not subjective.

Flash forward to 2015, and while I have left the Arti-st Learning Center and am now teaching both at the Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore and the Main Street Music Studios in Fairfax, I find myself with sixteen students, all at different levels.   This has been a journey, one in which I find myself having a much deeper appreciation for those teachers who were patient with me for so many years as well as understanding the "no-nonsense" way of being that a few of them possessed.   Furthermore, as I have stepped back a bit from the performing world to focus on teaching and rebuilding my violinistic foundation, I have found that teaching - and not teaching simply to earn my keep - is one of the most rewarding, revealing, and enlightening professions, one through which I can see my own weaknesses and address them while helping a generation of young people look critically yet lovingly at themselves in the spirit of continuous improvement.

More from the studio,

Sam




August 27, 2015

Ten Years Later.....


Okay - I have been wary of posting this as I realize on the most profound levels both that Hurricane Katrina is a sensitive topic and that many of us who were directly affected are still dealing, riding the wave of life changes. Nevertheless, here I go:
Two months before Katrina I was given a most beautiful painting by David Harouni. It has been one of my life goals (yes) to find the perfect place for that painting, and I am now living in that place.
While I do find myself conflicted, I would like to take this time to share some gratitude as over the past ten years I have encountered people and had life experiences that have been tremendous:
Peter M. Webster and Mary Lou Aleskie: thank you. It was through the two of you that I was introduced to Alternate ROOTS.
Saddi: the man whose mission is to make us (as people of the diaspora) see ourselves beautiful again. There are too many words....
Voice: Uknowhowwedu...
Carlton: one of the most brilliant minds that I have ever encountered.
Margo: I love you.
Linda: I owe you another day of out of tune singing. Thank you - being a part of Carpetbag Theatre changed my life.
Deborah and Peter: I will never be able to thank you enough....
Kimberly and Ertan: you housed a tired, weary man, did the right things and made the right calls.
Tom: Bless you.
Keryl: "Make sure that you live life and don't let life live you." Wise words said in 2009 that I carry to this day.
Lisa, S.T.: thank you.
Renee: how many "mamas" do I have? You're one of them, and all I can say is keep doing what you do and keep sending the advice.
Michelle: I've only seen you dance once, but long to see more.
Evelyn, Kelly, Madeline, Odin: thank you all so much for the past year and the reworking of the bowarm. I only hope that I can continue to take your advice and continue to grow stronger.
Laurie: thank you for your compassion and for having startedviolinist.com.
Chris: *fistbump*
Tayloe: Thank you for taking two chances.
Mei; When can we play together again, eh?
Michelle: When can we play together again?
Jeri: For all that you are and all that you do in the world.
Robin: For being all of who you are, and for teaching through your life and recent experiences about true love.
Elena: Carpools to Delaware...and more.
Sage: your steadfast friendship, love of House, and a particular walk at Lutherridge in 2009.
W Terry: your friendship over the past ten years and especially during this transitional year.
Ari: for cooking, showing me how to let go, and showing me how to ask for guidance.
Evangeline: for doing the right thing
Tracy Steele: for remaining a steadfast friend....
Tanya; for bringing me to Toronto...
Thomas: I will always love you.
Barbara: Thank you for always encouraging me to follow my heart.
To the one who left: Thank you Would my life have opened up so much had I stayed with you and you with me?
To the other one: Deepest apologies, as we met during a time that I was not clear.....but I'm clear now....
Mildred, Steven, Gemal: thank you for taking the time to show real concern and for doing REAL work!
Jorja: you told me to keep writing - did we have any idea that I would become a "blogger"?!
Luca: The future is still unwritten, but you've been 100% spot on since we met.
Alternate ROOTS: thank you for making my trip to Italy possiblie.
Kari: my friend, my love, my trainer, my coach, my inspriation
Lauren: you saved me in 2009.....thank you.
Katie: Great Noise, Great Noise.....
David: so many talks....
Craig: Yoga is a part of my life again....
Jazzy and Aisha: What can I say? You are both tremedous and I'm humbled to be included as a part of the family....
Dasha: how one meeting during which you spoke directly to my soul resulted in "Almost Crimson"...
Paul: Need I say anything?
Stephanie: for January 2014 and teaching me about the apartment approval process.
Stephanie: your light, your dancing, and the reopening of the Circle market. YOU are a heroine!
Armenta Hummings: thank you for understanding.
Lee: for the opportunity to have made two debuts in Charleston.
Drew and Holly: such great people, always willing to lend ears and share thoughts on the business.

If I really thought about everyone, there would not be space to write and the Interwebs would crash....

June 17, 2015

At The Top of His Game: Odin Rathnam and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

In one of the many interviews that photographer Peter Lindbergh has given during his life he spoke of the group of five women that became known as "supermodels" and his continued work with those women over the last twenty-five years, commenting on both the fact that they (Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz) have all become more multifaceted and interesting people over time.  

As musicians, we are particularly lucky in that as we form and maintain friendships, we have opportunities to witness all of the highs and lows that make up "this thing called life", and that witnessing includes moments during which we find ourselves so pleased to see tremendous musical and spiritual growth.   May 10, 2015 was definitely that kind of day, as it was on that day that I went to hear the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, one of the finest ensembles in the Northeast Corridor.    

The first surprise of this day was seeing Tatiana Chulochnikova, a violinist whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing in 2009 at the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute.   During those two weeks six years ago, Tanya (as she is affectionately known to her friends) showed herself to be an eager, humble soul, playing in every master class and later having a last-minute opportunity to play as concertmaster for the last concert of the session - which included, within twenty-four hours, studying repertoire and being able to improvise cadenzas for large baroque orchestral works.    Now living in the Washington DC/Baltimore region, Tanya is a member of the Four Nations Ensemble and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra in addition to playing concerts throughout North America.

My reason for going to this concert, however, was to hear violinist Odin Rathnam, a man who I have known since 2010 via Facebook and "real-time" since 2011 when I heard him play the Korngold Violin Concerto with the American Youth Philharmonic and Philadelphia Virtuosi music director Daniel Spalding.    From that time until now, Odin and I have spoken about violin playing, musicmaking, psychology and countless other subjects, and I must say that I am pleased to be included as one of his friends – a friendship that is both dear and definitely not built on "public relations".   Over the past five years Odin has not only championed my writing and shared advice on how to approach this stage of my musical life:   he has generously and earnestly helped me to understand and integrate bow arm principles taught by Boris Kuchnir that Odin learned from his longtime friend and collaborator Nikolaj Znaider.

In the years that I have known Odin I have heard him perform the concerti of Korngold, Brahms, and Beethoven in addition to this day’s Mendelssohn.    There is no denying Mr. Rathnam’s commitment to the craft of music making:   the praise that he has received for his “captivating temperament” and “brilliant technique” is not empty, and I am continuously impressed by the profundity of Odin’s grasp of the totality of any composer’s musical language.    This Mendelssohn concerto was one of the most technically complete and well-conceived readings that I have heard, a performance highlighted by a most spacious second movement and a brilliant yet controlled final Allegro.  Odin Rathnam showed himself to be at the height of his violinistic and musical powers on that Sunday afternoon, and Markand Thakar and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra were the perfect partners on that journey.



March 19, 2015

From Charleston Today....

While I thought that this was posted in November 2013, well, here we are:

What a surprise it was to come home and find that one of the concerts at the Colour of Music Festival was reviewed!   Many thanks to writer Peter Ingle for taking the time to come, and especially to Hassan Anderson, Audrey Harris and Kenneth Law for what was a wonderful performance of the Britten Phantasy Quartet during the inaugural season of the festival!

You can read the review here:  Charleston Today