Last night, I had the distinct pleasure to attend a program performed by my colleague and friend Michael Linert. Michael is a true renaissance man who works as performer, a scholar, a composer, and an educator. I first met Michael when he was my supervisor at the Fairview Violin Project and I assisted him in the classroom. I later came to learn that he, like me, was not a violinist by trade but a cellist with a passion for string education. While he was teaching violin and completing his masters of education, I also saw him perform opera. Michael sang the countertenor role of Arsamene in the 2012-13 IU Opera Season production of Handel’s Xerxes. Truly, he is a very talented individual!
Micheal’s concert was titled “Veiled” and this title served as the theme of the evening’s program. Some of my favorite selections included movements of Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major (performed on baroque cello), his arrangement of the John Dowland Flow My Tears (played and sung by Michael), and some of his own compositions. Besides playing great repertoire, Michael also took time during the program to address the audience. He shared many meaningful anecdotes, interesting historical tidbits, and poetry to prelude the pieces. He had all of his translated text for the songs memorized. Each stage of the program was engaging and entertaining.
After the last piece, he unveiled his final prop: a sign that said “what did you expect? J”. This is the question I have been meditating on for a long time. What do audiences expect? Do the majority of concert goers want large, multi-movement works without introduction? Or do people prefer a musician to also practice the art of rhetoric from the stage? Is it even possible to program effectively for everyone’s individual tastes? How can musicians effectively give an audience what they want?
So I asked myself, “what did I expect?” I’m not sure that I had any expectation but what I received was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Michael has a great talent for making things accessible to many different audience members. His cello playing, singing, and speech show great conviction and honesty. His sense of humor puts people at ease and allows them to enjoy the music.
I believe that concerts such as “Veiled” demonstrate that musicians can perform their music to a larger audience without having to compromise their artistic integrity. If you are interested in exploring new concert formats and programs, contact Michael or me for more information!
My friend and colleague Joe Fortin of EEC of Petoskey Michigan gave me a true “antique” of the instrument world.
It's not a Stradivarius or Amati but a “Kay”. The information that I have found tells us that the Kay Musical Instrument Company was an American instrument manufacturer that operated for the majority of the 20th century. Along with guitars and basses, they also made violins, cellos, and banjos.
The cello itself lacks a hard-wood maple back. What usually serves as the instruments “heart” is, for all intents and purposes, plywood. I commissioned one of IU’s string-tech assistants to cut a new bridge to make it playable. Unfortunately, when the bridge was finished and we began to tune the cello, the downward force of the string tension started to warp the face of the instrument with cracking noises. The bass bar, the structural beam that reinforces the face of the cello, had come off. They took the face of the cello off, glued the bass bar back on, re-glued the face, and voila, the “O-Kay” cello was reborn! It doesn't sound like a million dollars (more like $19.95) but its playable.
A big thanks to all who helped in the process.
This new cello needs a name (preferably male since my other cello’s name is Sophie). If you have a good one, send it to me!
Begin with an assortment of young string players ages 12-16.
They should be a diverse group from all corners of the globe and you should house them in a college dorm.
Have them practice for at least 4 hours a day while also attending rehearsals, masterclasses, and concerts every night.
Cook in a town that is about 83 degrees Fahrenheit, basting with scattered thunderstorms and rainstorms intermittently.
After four weeks, they should be ready to return to their respective homes with a new outlook on their musicianship and personal development.
Recipe serves at least 100.
While my “method” is fictional, the facts are all true. As a counselor for IU Jacob School of Music Summer String Academy, I am living in the dorm with the students. There are 6 counselors working in the dorm with about a dozen students per counselor (4 female and 2 male). And while this may seem like a recipe for disaster, things have been going relatively smoothly (thus far).
What is the secret ingredient for success? I would say it is willingness. Individual initiative always helps cut the bitterness that can spoil a team effort. If someone insists on getting their way, either to not have to do a task or only doing the things they feel like doing, flavors conflict with each other. If everyone always steps forward to pick up the slack, passive aggressive undertones are strained from the mix and the result is a cohesive team.
Willingness also applies to our musical endeavors. Richard Aaron, cello professor at the University of Michigan who gave a masterclass, told the students about a quartet violinist that he worked with. Mr. Aaron would always ask him, “how do you want to play this part of the music?” and the violinist would respond “whatever way you want to play it”. Mr. Aaron would retort, “but how do you want to play it?” and back and forth it would go. Finally, the violinist explained that, while string players tend to demand to do things “their own way”, he found it much more interesting to try other people’s way. It was his willingness, a capacity to take initiative and listen to others, that made him a great musician. Appreciate the people that make your life easier and try and help them too!