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A Year of Dance

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It was about a year ago that I learned of a dance school near me with a class in beginning ballet for adults, and with some trepidation left a voice message inquiring about this class, clarifying that I had no previous experience in dance. I soon got a call back from the director of the school; she assured me that this was something I could do, and answered my questions about clothes for class. My journey soon began with the adult beginner class once a week at MWP Art Institute, then continued in the spring with classes both at MWPAI at Hamilton College. I’m now one week into a two-week program for adults at the Boston Ballet School, and looking forward to another weeklong program for adults in Saratoga Springs.

Along the way I’ve had some revelatory and often emotional experiences, small breakthroughs imperceptible to everyone around me – the first time I found balance without straining, the first time I almost landed a pirouette and could imagine actually getting it, the first time (after half a semester of trying) I got the tombé-pas de bourée-glissade-jeté combination. I’m also acutely aware that many people learn more quickly than I do, or have more natural facility. One goal is to see how successfully one can learn a complex skill in midlife.

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A few days into the new year, I am excited by all the signs of reinvigoration I see around me, and by the shoots in my own life trying to emerge as I clear space for the new.

  • Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette introduces a new format where both print articles and blog posts will appear in a single, more streamlined place—this excites me, because I want to write more and to reinvigorate this space.
  • High school classmates and other contemporaries with whom I’ve recently reconnected similarly feel we’ve reached a point in life where it’s time to reassess and refocus on what’s important and essential, meaning identifying our true priorities and what gives us joy, and eliminating the less important and nonessential.
  • Stirrings of new beginnings—the excitement of a new semester of classes both to teach and to take, new projects to reorient toward.

Yet how many of us feel completely caught up and on top of things after the holidays? Continue Reading »

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Beginning Ballet, Part 2

My last post about taking beginning ballet class just scratched the surface. Now I’d like to attempt to write more about the background reasons for studying ballet, and the effects I am discovering.

As I mentioned previously, my initial reason for exploring ballet was to go add something to my physical apparatus to bring back to doing music, and to explore the ways in which all the arts are connected – particularly music and dance. The kinesthetic dimension of music – movement and flow and dance – is rarely discussed amongst classical musicians, yet it is critical.

The tactile sense of one’s body in relation to space is the sense of proprioception, and this somehow needs to be engaged in the kinesthetic process of music(Coincidentally, this week’s RadioLab episode addresses proprioception and what it’s like to lose it.) These two things – the kinesthetic in music, and proprioception – go hand in hand just like sound and hearing.

So dance has already markedly affected the way I relate to music. Continue Reading »

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Beginning Ballet, Part 1

The philosophy behind this blog, Shunryu Suzuki’s classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is something I have embraced in an entirely new way with my beginning to study ballet. Many times in the past I have peered into dance studios with class in progress, and while studying at Juilliard I even took a few classes in José Limon technique. Pondering what would be a good use of time and relative schedule freedom while on leave this fall, I made some inquiries about where I could where I could find a good teacher and class to study ballet as a complete beginner – and ended up at the Dance Studio at the Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute (MWPAI, or Munstitute as it is locally known).

Why was this important to me to do, why ballet? Continue Reading »

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Cross Pollination

Inspiration can come from many sources. In my younger days I was inspired by the artistry of players of instruments other than the trombone – particularly Mstislav Rostropovich, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, singers like Fritz Wunderlich, Dawn UpshawFrederica Von Stade (and again), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. These and countless others helped form my musical DNA; and of course this is not by any means an exclusive list, simply some of the first names to come to mind. It is stimulating simply to make this list and remember these early influences, so there is clearly something powerful about going through this exercise.

Lately, though, as I have been seeking to nourish my muse I have found inspiration coming from places outside of the music world. Continue Reading »

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This past year I have not written much at all, to which I will chalk up to life. At last I can take a breath, and begin to write again about the things that matter to me, the values which I am working on now with a particular focus. I am thinking of the idea that what we do with our lives is our ultimate work of art, that one can live in a way that’s creative and artistic and expressive of those deepest values. One of my favorite expressions of this is (appropriately) from Mary Oliver‘s poem, ‘The Summer Day:’

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

If we are to do something worthwhile with this life—the only one we know for certain that we have—then the driving impuse must be toward finding what it is to live with authenticity and ways to express our authenticity in how we conduct our lives.

Continue Reading »

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After a summer of relative blog quietude, the school year fast approaches – this year with the additional time pressure/terror from a summer more focused on moving into and fixing up a new home than on work. Inspired by Thoreau’s exhortation in Walden​ (originally from Confucius?) to “Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again,” I find moral help and encouragement from two sources. One is my recent discovery (thanks, AE!) of the cloud-based organization tool Workflowy, which is helping me sort through the mountain of tasks and projects facing me. The other is in having a morning routine that devoutly includes playing music. Continue Reading »

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Watching how great teachers teach is to take the study of a discipline (in this case conducting) to a meta level, studying teaching itself. Here follow some spontaneous and random observations of Leonid Korchmar’s and Oleg Proskurnya’s approaches to teaching.

  1. Good teaching is not about the ego of the teacher – ‘do things as I do.’ It’s strictly based on observable principles – i.e. ‘more intensity, less motion’ or ‘stay lower.’ Within that context, individual styles are accepted and respected. Continue Reading »

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It is always inspiring to reconnect with one’s craft, as I have the opportunity to do by observing the teaching of my mentors Oleg Proskurnya and Leonid Korchmar at the conducting workshop at West Virginia State in Charleston, June 18-23.

The principles of physics affect all forms of music making, but they are particularly visible in conducting, as are principles of anatomy and good body usage. Some people are natural at relaxed, expressive use of their bodies and at conveying a sense of fluidity and sonority, while for others this is much more of a challenge. The basic challenge is our tendency always to accumulate tension and never relax. Continue Reading »

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Last Concert

I am writing on the morning of the Hamilton College Orchestra’s last concert of the year, and it seems like the right time to draft some thoughts on what I hope my students learned in working with me this year – or 2, 3, or 4. It would be presumptuous to say I successfully conveyed all of these ideas – it is simply the work of rehearsing that points toward these principles. Continue Reading »

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