Sunday, July 7, 2019

Teaching | The Primordial Impulse to Create (Part 1)

My student Abraham Wojewodzki (Right)
joins my band at Bertha's in Baltimore
for a set of free improvisation (December 2018)

Alongside my career as a performer & recording artist

I've been a private instructor for saxophonists & improvisers in the Baltimore area for 15 years and counting. I maintained studios at several area music stores and even some private schools, from age 17-30. It was honest work, and was instrumental in establishing myself as a young professional musician.

Private teaching is a major piece of the puzzle for many of us. It offers the potential for some financial stability and an opportunity to articulate the experience of making music - for ourselves and for our students. This ends up being a big part of our path - learning to articulate the more abstract concepts of music, along with the fundamentals of music making. This necessitates a level of proficiency on our instrument, and holds us accountable for the work we hope to accomplish as performers. Any paid work which holds us artistically accountable is a great opportunity. We stand to gain a lot by doing this well. We stand to gain more by getting better as we go.

With that stated, there are many pitfalls in the traditional situations that many of us find ourselves teaching in...and if we aren't prepared to swim upstream, we may find ourselves joylessly punching the clock rather than carrying the torch we set out with on day one, thereby abdicating the primary responsibility we have to our students: Sustaining and enhancing the joy and wonder of music making. I nearly fell into that trap a few years ago, and had to reassess my intentions as a private educator. Several aspects of the environments I was teaching in made it difficult to relay the most essential joys of music. I felt stymied by the music store cubicles and the shared teaching spaces of private schools. 

Many of these students came to me hoping to ace an audition, or compete against other students, neither of which align with the idea that music is a healing force in our universe, which is really why I believe we are drawn to music in the first place!

In order to focus with greater intensity on the experiential nature of music, I eventually left these institutions, endeavoring to coach musicians on an independent basis. This allowed me to get straight to the point of WHY we are making music, connecting students with the essence of our practice:
  1. The physiology of bringing an idea to life in real time. 
  2. The practicalities of actualizing and organizing the sounds in our mind.
  3. The magic of making cohesive music with other human beings. 

Suddenly I found a much deeper reason to teach, leading me to pursue facets of music and the saxophone that I may never have learned about if I were exclusively a performer. This changed EVERYTHING for the better.

Ever since that big shift, I’ve worked closely with many students, ranging from “day one” beginners to professionals reaching to expand their vocabulary, deepen their tone, open up their ears, or get in touch with their own personal mode of musical expression. Lessons are mostly offered in my own home these days, and am working to offer more clinics and masterclasses to the public, having truly enjoyed the opportunities I have had in this context in my recent past.

My FAVORITE aspect of teaching in this new way is the dismantling of the authoritarian approach to learning. I do not pretend to know everything, and I do not expect you to believe every word I say. My objective is to EMPOWER every musician with the confidence to go all the way every single time the instrument is being sounded.

Another EXCELLENT aspect of teaching from my home studio is that we have no distractions, time restrictions, or preordained curriculum we need to follow. This is just you and me, developing the music together. 
This means no excuses or expectations. Simply student & teacher, here & now, freeing the music from within. 

My students are able to go as far that they want to in these lessons. This experience rivals or perhaps supplements the experience of studying at a college, since we can dig in as long as you want and as far as you want into any particular area of study. The lack of prescribed curriculum means you are practicing that which is most enriching for you 100% of the time. Fundamentals of music are constantly reinforced, and illuminated as the basis for revealing the creative process. 

All are welcome in my studio. This work that gets more rewarding the more I do it, and I am grateful for the opportunity.


The Primordial Creative Impulse

In my 15 years as an independent music educator I've nurtured the impulse that pushes us to make a lean in and create something.

This impulse is the same energy that pushes us to survive, grow, and evolve...or to examine the world around us, and the world that thrives within us. Creative work is our way of striving to connect those inner & outer worlds, and this visceral impulse is the primordial ooze from which all of our creative ideas are born. 

My mission as a performer, educator, and communicator is to introduce people to that impulse, and encourage folks to indulge in it. The NEED to create. The nuts and bolts of the artist's chosen idiom or medium are merely the tools with which this impulse is a gift to the community...

 All too often, the idiom is celebrated as a bigger triumph than the vitality of the impulse which brought the art into being.

My ultimate objective is connecting all humans with the source of this impulse, liberating a sense of wonder and adventure in everyday life.

We do this by revitalizing our experience of simple, actionable, experiential goals - in the present moment. When our life is aligned with this need, this source of vibration, each and every action and observation in our lives is experienced with greater intensity. Only when music and art of any kind is an expression of this, do we FEEL moved by these subjective creations. 

I am determined to realign the discussion of improvisation in music by placing primary emphasis on our creative impulse - thereby reintroducing the intellectual processes of form, melody, harmony, rhythm as extensions of this NEED to create. Form and idiom function as expressions of this primordial impulse.

To understand this impulse, simply ask yourself: "Why?" The feeling that accompanies that question IS where this impulse comes from.

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