I recently had breakfast with Interlochen faculty pianist Steve Larson who told me that he enjoyed reading my posts. So, since I know I have one devoted fan, I decided to write again after almost a year’s hiatus.
How to summarize another action-packed year? First, there were the academic developments. Another year of doctoral coursework down and only one to go. That being said, if anyone knows of a collegiate cello position opening up that combines with teaching responsibilities for a strings program or as an instructor for core music theory / musicology courses, hit me up. My spring recital, Bach’s Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 3 in A Major, and the Martinu Variations on a Theme of Rossini, went off without a hitch. I give credit to pianists Michael Stafford and Hsin-I Guo and the coaching of Dr. Jon Ruck and Prof. Stephanie Shames for our success.
In the area of teaching, my assistantship at OU has been advanced. Instead of grading for the musicology department, I’ll be teaching two sections of Understanding Music, OU’s non-major gen-ed music history class. This week, I returned from Interlochen’s Institute Week (my third summer) as an assistant to Crispin Campbell, Dr. John Marshall, and our special guests Dr. Melissa Kraut of the CIM and Portland Cello Project cellist Gideon Freudmann. These world-class musicians have been superb mentors since and I am constantly learning from their examples. I must give a special thanks to Dr. Kraut for her masterclass suggestions for my Dvorak Concerto and also to Gideon for his words of wisdom. And back here in OK at the Norman School for Strings, I continue to teach violin, cello, and group classes. Emily Stoops and Dr. Rob Bradshaw have their NSFS cello camp in July which I will also help with.
Performance opportunities in the greater Oklahoma City area and beyond have also picked up. Between playing for worship services at St. Luke’s Methodist Church of Edmond and being contracted for the Fort Smith Symphony’s 2016-17 and 2017-2018 seasons, I squeeze in the occasional quartet gig with the Norman School for Strings Quartet. One of the biggest performance developments has been working with concerti. Yet again, I made it to the finals of concerto competition but I still have yet to grasp that elusive title as “winner”. One must have many irons in the fire. Composer Gene Knific is writing a brand new cello concerto for my last doctoral recital this fall and just this last week, I performed the first movement of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Benzie Area Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tom Riccobono. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with former teachers and colleagues as well as perform this great masterwork.
This blog is now almost four years old. It has been (and continues to be) an effort to catalogue the accomplishments of my career. Another way of looking at it is that it’s just internet bragging. You don’t have to come to my website to know what I’m talking about: our Facebook and Instagram feeds are littered with photos and videos of who someone played with, what prestigious program where they went to study, or what incredible job they just won. I don’t mean to be cynical. These are all good things, and good things should be shared. However, it’s easy to become discouraged about your own standing in life by voyeuristically watching carefully edited and filtered internet avatars. Thus, it comes as no surprise that social media can sow the seeds of “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome.
What we don’t see behind the shared successes of social media is ‘the hustle’. When I was playing youth soccer in elementary school, my dad would always yell “HUSTLE!” from the sidelines. During both those failed attempts at child athleticism and today as a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-some, hustle means get your butt in gear and go get it. Hustle is what turns a chaotic schedule into a dynamic life. Hustle is what gets you the gig, gets you to the gig on time, and gets you asked back for the next one. Hustle means that you take every opportunity you have and if there are no opportunities, you make them yourself. And, most importantly, hustle translates into constantly thinking about what your next move (or moves) will be. All these hours of planning, practicing, and performing eventually add up to those photo-finish moments and triumphant feelings. The thing that social media and the limits of our human perception strain out is the process of the product, or, that is to say, the hustle.
With the uncertainty of today’s job market and the continuing trend toward a fragmented ‘gig economy’ (not only in music but in other disciplines as well), we have to sew together a patchwork of vocations to produce a functioning career. I’m painting in broad strokes here, but the vast majority of successful musicians, both contemporary and historically, have worked multiple multifaceted jobs and even changed those jobs often. Honestly, I can’t think of a single musician that only does one thing. Every one of my colleagues or mentors who is hammering out success on a daily basis is hustlin’ like nobody’s business.
This very human ability to adapt and respond to adversity or challenge provides fulfillment in our lives. Like Gideon Freudmann said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “people like watching other people do stuff.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s a caveman hitting two rocks together, a football game between two rivals, or a great musical performance. We are drawn to human-made spectacle. This brings me great comfort since the profession of performing and teaching music can’t be automated by technological advancements. Boom. Job security because robots can’t play or teach cello! I never would have considered that when I started this career almost 9 years ago. I hope to make year 10 the best one yet!