I have just finished my stint teaching at The Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara, California. The Music Academy has always had terrific trombone teachers. Keith Brown did it for years, as did David Finlayson. Mark Lawrence has been doing it for the last few years. This summer, for the final two weeks of the Academy, Mark had to be away to do a Four of a Kind tour to Korea. I was thrilled and honored to be asked to teach and play for the final two weeks.
I think the Academy is actually in Montecito, but adopts the name of Santa Barbara as its home. The actual location is a bit confusing but what happens at the Academy couldn’t be more clear. I was so wonderfully impressed with every aspect of the Academy. My first official duty was to attend a reception at the home of the president of the festival. I met many of my fellow faculty members, administrators and members of the board. Everyone couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. In my mind I was a substitute for one of my mentors, yet they welcomed me as though I had joined the faculty. It was a terrific feeling and one that continues.
I had four trombone students and a tuba student. One trombone each from Curtis, Juilliard, Northwestern and Yale and a tuba from Rice (by way of the Cleveland Institute). I cannot say enough good things about these gentlemen. They are everything that I would want young players to be. They have desire. They are committed to being orchestral musicians. They are aware of what is going on with the upper levels of trombone performance. They have great humor and camaraderie between them…and did I mention they play the absolute crap out of their instruments? Well, they do. Alex, Aubrey, Mike, Nick and Shachar, if you read this, please know that I had a great time coaching you. I look forward to seeing you, in any setting, again.
My fellow brass faculty members were also wonderful. Paul Merkelo, Principal Trumpet in Montreal was the trumpet teacher and Eli Epstein was the horn instructor. Both of these gentlemen are very accomplished in their respective fields and are so easy to work with. I had the wonderful experience of rehearsing and performing the Stravinsky Octet, with Paul and I being the only faculty. Paul took the lead in the rehearsals and did a wonderful job of balancing the ensemble while encouraging input from all. As I continue to develop as a teacher, I pick up so many hints from others. What a great gig I have!
One of the aspects of the Academy that is unique is the contact that the young artists have with their ‘compeers.” The compeers are sponsors who graciously give their time and financial support to the members of the Academy. At one of the dinners given by a compeer, Jim Self and Bill Booth attended. These guys are really among the cream of the crop in the LA studios and it was great to meet them and chat.
For one of my masterclasses, I invited my buddy, LA heavy, Alex Iles to play the first movement of the Bach Double Violin Concerto with me. We blew through it twice and it was good to go. I wish I had Alex around more often as I could hear my approach change to fit his ultra-smooth and even-handed articulation. It was great to see Alex and hear what is going on in LA. He was a terrific resource for the students and they asked great questions.
Speaking of LA, there is an upcoming audition for Principal Trombone in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Ralph Sauer set such a wonderful standard. His solo albums were such an inspiration to me when I was in high school and college. I first learned Mahler 3 from the LA Phil recording with Zubin Mehta conducting. I think we all have a soft spot for the recording of major works that we “cut our teeth on.” It will be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming audition…it is a very big job. I will go on the record and say that they will choose someone…from ONE AUDITION! Different orchestras do it different ways. I have a hunch that LA isn’t quite as picky as some orchestras and that is no comment on the quality of the orchestra…I guess a better way to put it is that they are more likely to be reasonable about the audition process. If they prove me wrong by not taking anyone, I will admit it here.
Okay, more entries to follow…
Practice. Be gentle with yourself while pursuing the highest level you can!