When the quarantine began, I gathered my students for what I hoped would become a meaningful experience for both them and me. In addition to teaching online lessons, I started two discussion groups that meet on Zoom, one for my high schoolers and one for my college students, to discuss whatever piece of music they want. We all listen in advance and then talk. After a few sessions I decided to invite some conductors as guests.
First, I reached out to Markand Thakar, Music Director of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and asked him if he would be our guest for my high school students. He led a discussion of the Finale of Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. At the end, when he asked for questions, one of my most unassuming students said "...um, can we do this again, because this is really cool?" I continued planning these classes, sending the students links to performances and full scores on YouTube to study. Eventually we learned how to share screens on Zoom in order to look at scores during the meetings.Sebastian Lang-Lessing spent two sessions with my UTSA students on Mahler's entire Symphony No. 5. Sebastian spoke inspiringly and encouraged us all to study the Bernstein rehearsals with the Vienna Philharmonic. Noam Aviel led us through Florence Price's Symphony No. 1, and Akiko Fujimoto discussed Strauss's Death and Transfiguration.
Longtime UTSA Orchestra Director Dr. Eugene Dowdy spoke with my high school students about Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Gene approached the discussion with an educator's viewpoint, instructing the students about musical terms and tempo indications, and even professional demeanor in rehearsals. When one of my college students requested Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, I thought of Alasdair Neale, wh
o had conducted it at the Sun Valley Music Festival where I play during the summer. Alasdair gave an insightful talk about a work that could easily take an entire semester to study.
Markand rejoined us to speak with my college students about Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6. After a lengthy discussion and analysis of the work, Markand said, "Nothing of what I have been speaking matters at all." Then he launched into a metaphysical discussion about the meaning of art that led to animated discussion about the thrill of a live musical performance. Soon, former SASO Music Director Christopher Wilkins will join us to discuss Copland's Appalachian Spring and former SASO violinist Suzy Perelman will discuss life on Broadway in New York City.
I am forever indebted to the generosity of these musicians. I believe this is an important way to both learn and teach that would not occur under normal circumstances. Whenever we go back to the "new normal," I will never forget the faces of young musicians thirsting for knowledge and being addressed by accomplished artists who are rarely available for such an intimate setting.