Friday, November 23, 2012

The Great Artists -How Long (Or Short) the Visit?

Upon hearing of the recent passing of Elliott Carter, the unanswerable issue of longevity, or lack thereof, is one of fascination to this writer:
The career of Elliott Carter, one of America's most defining composers, was immeasurably enhanced by a life span of 103 years, allowing for an  unprecedented opportunity to promulgate an array of  tactics and approaches in the art of composition - how many composers have lived this long, writing veritably to within weeks of their passing?
And in the same breath, Mozart was given barely 35 years to establish his immortal signature  in the Book of History.
And Schubert, given even briefer a role; having left us in his 31st year.
Chopin, complaining of "a short life and a long nose" completing  his journey in year 39.
Or Schumann, at age 46.
In the world of performance, the giants Lipatti and Kappell in their early thirties...
While on the other hand, Artur Rubinstein, terminating his career at age 90, citing his being "tired" of  performing because of frontal blindness, even though his playing remained at world class level until the day he "retired."
Other examples exist; however, this writer has grappled long enough with the issue of Longevity and Brevity, as no answer can ever be made available to those left behind...


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Music and the Young - the Possibilities...

During my teaching days, I taught both at high school and college levels, in  the historical aspects of the art of music,  at high school level, and a scholarly divulging, at college level, of the glories of music as a language.
I very soon found that among the honor students at the high school, I came to realize that perhaps it would be time to put into action a reality that there was a small number of youngsters that could, perhaps,  reach upwards into a level that might not be, in traditional terms, expected of them.
And so I instituted a course that dealt with the very same level that I was involved with at college.
I chose a number of high schoolers, who used a text book written for the Yale college music majors by the great composer Paul Hindemith. At the end of the year, these youngsters averaged a low "A", and some of them expressed a desire to go on the following school year.
To make all this brief, over the next years I expanded the course into a full four year curriculum, and again the results were  more than gratifying; in truth, I was learning that there were youngsters who thrived on college level material.
I expanded my program by adding a counterpoint course, using a college text book out of Harvard by the eminent composer Walter Piston, who was a teacher of Leonard Bernstein when he was a student at Harvard. And again, the high schoolers devoured the material.
So here I was, in a rather interesting position, teaching the same subjects at both high school and college level, and with absolutely no compromising the standards and pacing at high school level.
Which led me to ask a principal at one of the middle schools if I could experiment with two carefully chosen youngsters who were involved in music performance, in order to determine if the very same college courses could be absorbed by them.
The result: these two middle schoolers  not only did well with the material, but also remained with me for the next six years until they went off to college.
What I learned from this protracted experience was, perhaps, more important than the courses I taught; namely,
Give a youngster the opportunity to exceed that which is traditionally expected of him or her...