January 15, 2017

Donald Trump/Steve Harvey/John Lewis/REALITY.....

Note:    this is an edited version of a Facebook post.

So....about that meeting between Donald Trump and Steve Harvey (and the President-Elect's statements against Representative John Lewis):

If I were to be petty:    let's remember that President-Elect Trump did not serve during the Vietnam War. While the President-Elect in 1968 enjoyed exemption from serving during the Vietnam War due to BONE SPURS IN HIS HEELS,   Representative John Lewis was probably still in ways recovering from having his skull bashed in more than once during the Civil Rights Movement.   After all, Representative Lewis, "who as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was one of the "Big Six" leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington, played many key roles in the Civil Rights Movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States."

Let's look at this:   After reading an article in which Representative Lewis expressed his sentiments about the "election" of President-Elect Trump and subsequent decision not to attend the Inauguration, the President-Elect went on yet another Twitter rampage during which he referred to Representative Lewis as "all talk, no action".

I need not list the arrests, the injuries, the grave injustices that Representative Lewis experienced as a young man who believed in true equity, equality, and social justice many years before the President-Elect was removed from the draft because of bone spurs.    Looking at Representative Lewis' record both from the turbulent 1960s and now, are those actions the actions of a person who is "all talk, no action?"   HARDLY.

With that, is President-Elect Trump's meeting with Steve Harvey, while simultaneously insulting a social justice warrior, an example of President-Elect Trump's desire to be "everyone's President" as his both he AND his wife shared during the Republican National Convention? HARDLY.

Unfortunately, President-Elect Trump is speaking from a very old and tired playbook, one that will resonate with anyone who is NOT paying attention.   For the record:   not every African-American lives in poverty, and this is exemplified by the FACT that hedge fund manager and Venture Capitalist Robert F. Smith was, this year, appointed the FIRST African-American Board Chairman of Carnegie Hall.   Additionally, not every inner-city looks like a battlefield, and if the discussion is truly to be had one has to balance that tired view of the "inner cities" (coded language) with the reality-based view of cities and towns that, once prosperous cities in the United States, are becoming ghost towns (there are myriad of recently published articles that support that statement, and I need not reference them because - because GOOGLE).

In the book Black Like Me - a fantastic and fascinating read, by the way - John Howard Griffin recounts a time during which he was being called across the United States by community leaders during the turbulent 1960s. Those community leaders were asking what they should do about the uprisings in African-American communities (and that's a WHOLE different discussion). When Mr. Griffin asked those leaders if they had really gone into neighborhoods and met with leaders in those neighborhoods (and he specifically referred to churches and barber shops), the response was one of dismay. The author's response: "That's why people are angry. You SAY you want to help them, yet you don't talk to them".

President-Elect Donald Trump HAS spoken to some people, yes.   However, has President-Elect Trump REALLY gone into communities and asked members of those communities what they need?

Yes, meet with Steve Harvey. That's great. Yes, Steve Harvey took a diplomatic stance on this, and that's great too.  Furthermore, it needs to be said that Steve Harvey is not just a comedian, radio host, and host of television's "Family Feud":   Mr. Harvey and his wife are the founders of the Steven and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, a foundation whose mission is "to provide outreach to fatherless children and young adults by promoting educational enrichment, one-on-one mentoring and global service initiatives that will cultivate the next generation of responsible leaders."   The Harvey Foundation's programs include both the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program for Young Men and Girls Who Rule The World:  Mentoring Girls, Creating Leaders.    Not shabby stuff, to say the least.

There are, however, scores of organizations, non-profits, and foundations that provide mentoring in the African-American community that were founded by people on the ground, one of those being Munir Bahar's COR Community, a group that focuses on keeping children both active and healthy.

It is vitally important to note the work of Mr. Bahar and COR Community:   as President-Elect Trump has in his speeches lamented the blight and crime that in his view pervades African-American life, Mr. Bahar's organization is truly special as its focus is on physical health, and the organization is in the process of refitting a group of abandoned Baltimore rowhouses into a fully-equipped fitness facility (if there is anyone reading this who knows more about COR Community, please chime in).


So - and while I am hesitant to write this as it may be interpreted that I am giving President-Elect Trump a pass - the talk with Steve Harvey was one that may have been easy.  After all, they are both famous.
If given the CHANCE, however, would President-Elect Trump have a conversation with Mr. Bahar, a man who is unapologetic regarding his love for young people and the consequent profound distress we all feel when we look at SOME urban areas?

Furthermore:  insulting a civil-rights hero who happens to be of the same hue as the man with whom you've just met shows a GRAVE lack of concern and interest in doing REAL, substantive, and on-the-ground work, the type of work that has nothing to do with "meeting the stars". The lack of sincerity evident in the President-Elect's actions and choices is at best reprehensible.

SHOULD President-Elect Trump have been truly sincere and SERIOUS about wanting to help the African-American community, he would have immediately made a statement after the horrific shootings that took place at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
*but of course not, as that would have resulted in his disavowing the KKK and the legion of White Nationalist groups existing in the United States.  Dylann Roof, recently sentenced with the death penalty, is an avowed White Supremacist.   Mind you, there has been NO commentary about that from our President-Elect.*

He should have IMMEDIATELY made a statement about police brutality in the wake of the Baltimore Uprising in April 2015 or even in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri.
*but of course not, as that goes against his stated desire to institute a national stop-and-frisk policy and would have lost his the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police*

He should have gone to Baton Rouge and Minneapolis during the summer of 2016, and he did not.

*read statement about FOP endorsement and national-stop and frisk*

Instead, during that time period he was having "Make America Great Again" rallies during which he told security to "kick out" African-Americans and protesters, and also said that "In the OLD days, we would make sure that they wouldn't protest again".

That's all for today.....make with this what you will.   It's all so Shakesperian....

December 30, 2016

Which Song do I Post: Orlando, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Dallas?

The last time I posted something about relations with the police was not the best of times:   that was in December 2015 when the first of the six police officers indicted in the death of Freddie Gray was cleared due to a mistrial.   Well, if you've been paying attention, you know that now we're "three for three":  since December 2015 two other officers have been acquitted.

That, however, is not why I'm here.  Why AM I here, you may ask?   Well, while it's ain't exactly clear, there's something happening here in the United States of America.

This one, by Buffalo Springfield, seems to be the most appropriate.    Why?   Well, let's look at the last forty-eight hours in our great nation.    While I COULD recap, I'll simply start by reposting (of course, posts are now edited to include information SHOULD anyone have found themselves not paying attention).

1.   July 6, 2016.
So...Baton Rouge.   As we watch the videos, let's contrast the apprehension (and execution) of Alton Sterling to that of Dylann Roof.   Remember him?   Dylann Roof, the young man who shot and confessed to shooting - murdering - nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston last year.   While there are "questions" surrounding Mr. Sterling's dealings with the police (watch the videos - he was assassinated), let us not forget that Mr. Roof was apprehended alive, placed in a bulletproof vest, and taken to Burger King.

Apprehended alive.   Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge....

*that's all for today*

2.   July 7, 2016
So:    Falcon Heights, Minnesota.   Shall we discuss the fact that the deceased was obeying the officer's orders when he was shot WHILE IN HIS CAR, with both is girlfriend and a four-year-old child watching?   shall we discuss the fact that his girlfriend, a very brave woman, remained incredibly articulate as she shared footage LIVE via Facebook (if you're curious, the video in which this woman watched the love of her life BLEED OUT is still circulating)?

Shall we discuss that Louisiana is an open carry state and that the deceased in Minnesota WAS licensed to carry his firearm?  Shall we discuss that neither of the deceased at any time brandished their respective firearms at the policeman who, well...does it even need to be said atain?

I don't think we have to be reminded that Dylann Roof was apprehended alive, fitted with a bulletproof vest, and taken to Burger King - do we?

Do we need to discuss that this was the SECOND in less than twenty-four hours?
*that's all for today*

3.   So:   Dallas, Texas.
Dallas, Texas.    One of the many cities in which there was a LARGE demonstration in response to the unreasonably vicious disregard for human life evident in the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille.  THIS one, however, ended with savage attacks against the Dallas police and has (at present writing) resulted in the death of FIVE officers , the injury of six others, and a civilian injury.

How many memories of Dallas do I have?   The most present and most gruesome being when, after five days in the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans Basketball Arena, and the basement of the Hyatt Hotel, I arrived in Dallas in a post-Katrina ten-hour bus caravan.   More on that at another time.   The second is from 2010 when I was able to attend the National Performance Network Annual Meeting.

All of that is a big WHATEVER, though, as I am deeply disturbed.    Someone - a group, perhaps? - found out about a Black Lives Matter demonstration taking place in Dallas and decided to take the law into his (or their) own hands last night.   Snipers.   Five police officers dead.   This was NOT the work of a "loose cannon":   with five policemen dead, it is more than safe to say that whoever the assailants were, they were well trained.  I shall not speculate, but I remember a poem titled "Earth" in which one of the subjects said "the fact that they did that shows that there were intelligent people living there".   I'll find the poem, but think about it.    What we just witnessed was NOT a part of the Black Lives Matter demonstration (as further evidenced by reports in the news).    This was a coordinated attack against the police by skillful, well-trained shooters whose intention was to besmirch the Black Lives Matter movement.
With that, we're WAY past gun control.   Far, far, FAR away....

While news reports are saying that three people in Dallas are in custody and a fourth suspect "neutralized", let's look at this - and let's look at it in the lens of what happened in Orlando and what COULD have happened in West Hollywood just a few weeks ago:

June 12, 2016:
Twice in less than twenty-four hours attacks against the LGBTQ community were brewing.   Fortunately, the one in Los Angeles was stopped before it could start.   Sadly, however last night's Orlando tragedy will stay in our hearts and minds.   

TWICE - in less than twenty-four hours.   Less than ONE year after the Supreme Court ruled that states must allow and recognize same-sex marriage.   It's time to revisit Larry Kramer's 2004 Cooper Union speech again (for those who are truly interested, the title of said speech is "The Tragedy of Today's Gays", and it's a darned good read.   Mr. Kramer pulls no punches, and everyone in indicted for good reason).
TWICE - think about it....and while Marco Rubio has declared the assailant in the Orlando massacre "the new face of the war on terror", shall we see an elected official call these premeditated attacks on the LGBT community exactly what they were?   Furthermore...will ANYONE step up and call these attacks exactly what they were to be - targeted mass murder of gay people?

December 6, 2016

I still love playing the violin, and the understanding and accepting of the clinical aspects of practicing have made it even more meaningful...

So, we've had an election, and while the world is still reeling (and many still hope that a looming Electoral College meeting will change the results)...what can I say?    Interesting times that we live in, and definitely enlightening times should one make the choice to become enlightened via reading.

THAT, however, is not why I'm writing, although I could.

A fascinating few months, months that included my decision - a difficult yet necessary one - to leave the Main Street Music Studios in Fairfax, Virginia.    What can I say?   I live in Baltimore and do not yet own a car, which means that getting to Fairfax involved a twice weekly 5 hour round-trip commute.   While I was excited about the work that I was doing with my students during the 2015/16 school year (during which I had seven students), this year the student load dropped from seven to three, and then to two.   It was after the drop to two that I decided to pull the plug.  

Thankfully, I still teach at another school, where I have fifteen students and many other opportunities, and I am still playing concerts, so this was not as painful as some transitions could be.   Ironically, one week after I stopped teaching in Fairfax one of my students there successfully auditioned for her Junior District Orchestra!  

Ah, auditions and auditioning.    The fact that permeates any attempt to reach a new horizon is that the true benefit of preparing carefully and really paying attention to EVERY detail of both the music and one's technique is in one's preparation.  The reward may NOT be "the win", although that does feel good (and we can all admit that), but the feeling of having approached a Herculean task with all of one's self can serve as intrinsic reward.    In fact, violist Kim Kashkashian shared a similar sentiment.

Over the past three years, I have had the opportunity to coach students for some auditions.    As an educator, the most rewarding work has involved "serious" orchestral repertoire, and I still find myself amazed that there are both junior and senior high school students in the DMV who are required to learn repertoire that regularly appears on audition lists both for regional and major orchestras throughout the world (Prokofieff Classical Symphony?!    Brahms #4?!   Franck D Minor Symphony?!).    The work with my students was incredibly clinical - I remember Larry Rachleff referring to this type of work as "flossing" - but MAN!   When you're the person responsible for imparting the information, the responsibility itself can change your approach in ways that are first beneficial for the student but later PERSONALLY beneficial.   Yes, it's clinical, but the results of that kind of deep looking are something that we should all be proud of.

Which brings me to this recent Washington Post article, an article in which a Julliard-trained violinist shares how her relationship with the violin and music went from one based on love to one based on "duty", and how that sense of "duty" made her fall out of love with the instrument.

Again, what can one say?    There are so many quotes, including the one in which a person said "When it become a job, you lose your heart", or something like that.   (NOTE:   I shall find the original quote and post it here).

This can be true:    the love of music and musicmaking CAN disappear when one realizes that one has to become a dentist of sorts to reach the heights while also realizing that "those" heights may not be reached.    It's sobering.  Unnnerving.   Humbling.   At times frustrating but in the end so rewarding.

While I am in no ways discounting or dismissing the thoughts shared by the writer of this recent Washington Post article, I have to say that a part of my journey has included both embracing and truly enjoying the clinical aspect of refining repertoire, with the real focus being on improving my violin playing at every turn of fortune's wheel.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day with a former teacher.   It was during that time that I asked him why, considering the level of playing exhibited by many of the young people auditioning for spots at that specific school, he chose me.    I am still humbled and floored by the fact that he said "I chose you because it was so clear from listening to you and watching you play that you loved music."  This led into a conversation about "love and genius".     Side note - it need not be said that after we parted, tears started to flow and did not stop for the rest of the day.

In 2011, violinist Odin Rathnam published a note on Facebook in which he shared this sentiment: "Music and its needs are like a refining fire, constantly challenging us to re-evaluate our choices, our approach, 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 and humility towards music."

A refining fire, indeed.    Yet, Mr. Rathnam also said the other important thing, that being "confidence in one's abilities to do music justice is just as important as humility towards music."

So?    How do we balance the combination of the scientific and Dyonisian minds?  

In a 1999 Strings Magazine article, Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider  spoke quite candidly about the continued searching for technical and expressive discipline that lead him to study with Boris Kuchnir.  Praising Mr. Kuchnir for articulating his personal dissatisfaction, Mr. Znaider embarked on a course of study that included weeks playing open strings and an entire year studying Camille Saint-Saens' third Violin Concert, the result being "an entirely new way of think­ing about sound pro­duc­tion, artic­u­la­tion, inton­a­tion, phras­ing-exactly what I want to do, to really think it through, also to be able to defend it.”

More later, but the metronome ticks.... 

October 24, 2016

It was the summer of '93...

"...the violinist will be revisiting his own memories and making his own discoveries.   He too is continuing...a path going back decades...." 
- Paul Griffiths
This "broadcast" comes to you from the comfort of my Mount Vernon (Baltimore) apartment, where I now sit after having gotten out of a train at 8am this morning and headed straight to school to meet the young people that I teach.   While it was good to be away for many reasons, it was also good to return to the familiar.

Yesterday, the fourth annual Colour of Music Festival came to a close.  This festival, started in 2013 by Lee Pringle, takes place in Charleston, South Carolina and its mission is to honor the participation in and contributions to western classical music made by people of the African Diaspora - and is not limited to participation from African-Americans.    Last week we had the great pleasure of hearing French violinist Romauld Grimbert-Barré share one of the most elegant and sincere readings of Max Bruch's Op. 26 Violin Concerto, and that was followed one night later by the premiere of American composer Ahmed Al Abaca's Across the Calm Waters of Heaven  A Piece for Peace, a work for string orchestra that rightly deserves a permanent place in the string orchestra repertoire alongside Barber's Adagio for Strings, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.    Furthermore, if one is a "fan" of Ralph Vaughan Williams, one will find that one of the distinctive features of Mr. Al Abaca's captivating work is the feeling of unease found in the Cavatina of Vaughan Williams' eighth symphony, that feeling of spaciousness and emotion heightened by the very sensitive piano playing of Sakura Myers.

But why the reference to memory, you ask?

The festival program also included two works that have been with me for much of my life, including Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.    I first heard Carmina Burana in 1983 when, as a youngster, I accompanied my violin teacher to a rehearsal of the Charleston Symphony and Charleston Ballet.

My love of and fascination with dance - and still-burning desire to collaborate with dancers - was lit on that morning in 1983:   that performance included a choreographed portrait of Fate ("O Fortuna") as he, cloaked as the Grim Reaper, revealed both beautiful and tragic destiny to the characters circling him.    Memory shows me that the reactions of those characters went from muted joy (after all, if you know the work you know that "O Fortuna" is a sinister and bombastic D Minor journey) to abject terror, arms rising in fear and falling in fruitless pleading bows to Fate for some sort of intervention (they all died at the end!).   How fitting, with this profound memory, that I would play this work with orchestra on the stage of the Gaillard Center thirty-three years after seeing these images on the same stage, albeit during a time that the newly renovated Gaillard Center was the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium.   the memories of going into the orchestra pit at break, and still so much gratitude to the dancers who let me stand in the wings of stage and ask questions that only an inquisitive eleven-year-old could ask!  

The second memory takes us back to 1993, when I stepped into the world of "real" violin playing and musicmaking via attending the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival at the University of Houston.   The first week of that festival featured the late Sidney Harth both as conductor and master class instructor (who doesn’t remember this man who in his seventies tackled Lalo Symphonie Espagnole and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the energy of a twenty year old combined with the wisdom of a veteran!), and what a time!    Participants that year included violinist Anabel Ramirez (of the Mexican musical Ramirez family), violinist Beverly Shin (she and I reconnected four years ago in Philadelphia), and violist and Ojai Music Festival executive director Abhijit Sengupta (in addition to many others who have remained great friends and colleagues).  

Mr. Harth was the conductor during the first week, during which we performed the eighth symphony of Antonin Dvořák, and it was during that first week that we were all moved to tears after playing his fingerings in a very tender moment of the fourth movement.   

How can anyone forget us playing this passage and having Mr. Harth in his matter-of-fact yet sensitive way talk about a most beautiful glissando on the G-string, a glissando found in the middle of a passage which left all of us in tears?   Revisiting, it was during that moment I could only think about Mr. Harth and that special summer, yet in reality moments are meant to be savored and remembered.

I can only hope, however, that at some point my five-year-old niece remembers the final concert of the week.   At the end of that concert, she came on stage and said “I want to play the harp”.

The fact that this little girl had the opportunity to touch a harp for the first time, guided by another person of the African diaspora, means just as much as Mr. Harth’s diplomatic yet attentive and sensitive acknowledgement of my twenty-two year old response to one of the most beautiful and meaningful moments of the symphonic repertoire….

…and that’s all for today.


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'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,

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,