When I first started this blog in January 2010, my friend and fellow teaching/performing artist, Shannon Day, suggested I write about my process; how stuff gets up on the stage, so to speak. At the time it seemed like who would want to read that? But I am realizing that the information I take so easily for granted has a value.
I look around at all the musicians I admire. Oh, for example, like the hot-shot players I hire as sidemen when I perform in New York. Don’t you think these guys all teach? They do. (or else they sub for Broadway shows in the pit.)
After teaching a master class in France last Spring, and having a few choice conversations with big-time singers like Clairdee and Faith Winthrop, I FINALLY have come to realize that my working life is going to be sustained in the long run by continuing to be a teaching artist.
Oh, I fought the idea. My father was both a working musician and a lifelong credentialed music teacher. I remember thinking he was only teaching because he had to support a family. (well, yeah, right?) But I learned MANY years later, from my mother, that he loved to teach and regarded it as a mission and a privilege.
September has been wild, and has strongly reinforced my role as a teaching artist. I have many projects.
I’m creating and teaching a program in Musical Theatre History and Practice for the Albany (CA) School District, in which I teach close to 150 fourth and fifth graders every week on what came before High School Musical and Wicked, starting from 1911, Irving Berlin, and Alexander’s Ragtime Band. I have learned to use an LCD projector (my triumph!) and I show them video, photos, we sing, we discuss how national and world events influenced the creation of musicals and how they evolved. Broadway Theatre expert, Joe Marchi, would approve, I think. I was lucky to consult him as I was planning the curriculum. Input also came through the very knowledgeable Mike Ward and his generous posting of a discussion item about the 10 Most Iconic Songs in musical theatre history. Fabulous pianist and singer Dave Miotke helped me introduce the song literature to the kids through a series of classroom concerts. And they still look at me as if I am speaking Sanskrit. But we’ve just begun. Soon I’ll have even the shy ones singing and swinging.
I’m directing a project at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Again, fourth graders. They wanted a piece about California History with a part for everybody. Now I may be wrong, but the best scripts for kids to perform usually come from the UK. But not on the subject of California History. Enter Candace Forest, my producer-friend-composer-writer, in whose chamber musical, Viva Concha! Rose of the Presidio, I performed in 2006. Based on a true San Francisco love story and set in the Presidio of the 1800’s, it seemed like a perfect fit for this theatre project, except for the fact that a youth performance version did not exist. We adapted the 2-act musical into two shorter pieces, part one to be performed in December and part two to be performed in March, by the second group of students. The first read (and casting) is this Friday. The kids have a great attitude; I think it will be fun, and the theatre in which we will perform is IMMENSE. (see the photo)
The San Francisco Opera has been my constant companion through the last 2 months. I’ve been working both backstage as a studio teacher (credentialed teacher required by Dept. of Labor for professional kids) and also in the SF Opera Education Dept., both attending and presenting professional development on opera, with a stellar group of colleagues and teaching artists. They are about to assign me to Rooftop Elementary School, where I will work with several classes. I feel lucky to have an assignment here. Rooftop is so committed to the arts that this is part of their mission statement: We believe that when the arts are thoughtfully integrated into the academic program, students’ opportunities to think critically and problem solve creatively significantly increase. Yeah.
And, perhaps most importantly, I am re-opening my San Francisco studio to teach master classes for singers. FINALLY (after how many years?) put some content on my website www.newperformancegroup.net, to explain about what I do as a teaching artist and specifically about the classes for singers, which will start on October 11, 2010. I’m thrilled that the music director for my band, Jason Martineau, will be at the piano to teach with me. My experiences on tour last spring convinced me that having the ability to count off and lead a band are VERY important skills. Like I would never have gotten through my shows in France or L.A. without that ability. And who taught me? Jason. So we’ll add that to the curriculum, which includes song interpretation, mic technique, patter, stage presence, style, audience contact. And to make it a band, we’ll bring in one of my favorite bass players for the final class and the concert, to be held at Thick House theater, which is downstairs from the studio, on November 21.
It’s the Fall and it is Back to School time. And in addition to my own performances, I freely pour my energy into mentoring the current and next generation of performing artists. Technology helps a lot, but I still believe our skills are handed down person to person in this field. And I’m glad.
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