Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Tribute to Diane McGee at the City Wide Concert

Dondero music teacher Diane McGee retires this spring, and the fourth and fifth graders (with a little help from some of Diane's former students) paid wonderful tribute to her in song.

The city wide concert for the Portsmouth Public Schools is a honored tradition. The elementary band and beginner string ensemble show off their newly aquired skills, a chorus from one of Portsmouth's three elementary schools is invited to perform, the intermediate string ensemble is featured, as well as the many high school performing groups - the percussion ensemble, jazz band, chorus, and concert band. The sheer number of participants in each group (all were quite large) is a testament to the excellent work our public school music teachers are doing.

It is a tradition at these concerts to recognize career milestones for our teachers, especially retirement. And with Diane McGee retiring in the coming weeks, the kids from Dondero pulled out all stops to honor their teacher. Wendell Purrington, with the help of Dondero's fourth and fifth grade teachers and Little Harbour Elementary School's music teacher Gina Brannigan, put together a farewell number for Mrs. McGee - "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music. Joining the chorus were many of Mrs. McGee's former students, who now sing with the Middle School and High School choruses. It was a touching send off - there were few dry eyes in the house by the time the kids finished. And it was an honor that Mrs. McGee deserved - for she dedicated thirty years to the Portsmouth Public Schools, and has been a community leader on issues of education. Bravo to the kids of Dondero, and thank you Diane. I hope to see you often around town, but know that the students of Dondero will miss your daily presence, mentorship, and teaching. Be well.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Unconventional Recitals: A New PMAC Milestone

This week two unconventional recitals were held at PMAC for the first time. They were so successful, we look forward to adding them to our regular calendar of events.

On Thursday afternoon, the PMAC Rock and Blues Ensemble held their first performance. This young group was just finishing their first ten weeks of classes at PMAC with instructor Randy Browning, and their repertoire showcased all they were able to accomplish in that small amount of time, having only met for one hour each week. We look forward to seeing this group develop over time. Formal instruction is an unconventional way for kids to learn rock, but it does accelerate the process (as compared to garage jams) and provide them with valuable knowledge about equipment and teamwork.

And yesterday PMAC presented its first-ever guitar recital. Organized by Chris Weisman and Randy Browning, the students performed for family and friends alongside their teachers. Chris set the mood by bringing in lamps and turning off the flourescent lighting of our recital hall, and for the event Chris composed several pieces for his students to play as an ensemble. It was hugely successful and I can't wait to hear what he writes for the next one.

I was speaking to a guitar teacher at another school recently about these performances and I learned that these are unfortunately a rarity. At the school this other teacher teaches at, they've never had a guitar recital - in the fifteen years of the school's existence! In fact, he was surprised at the idea of a guitarist participating in a recital at all. I am very proud of the leadership our faculty shows when making such unconventional events a reality. It is a testament to their dedication and wonderful teaching skills. And yet another reason for guitarists of all ages to get involved with PMAC programs. Never have recitals been more fun!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

No Spoiler Star Wars III Review

I don't want to spoil anything, so I will refer to all characters as XXX, all locations as YYY, and all events as ZZZ.

Being of the Star Wars generation, Katie and I went to see Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, on opening day. There is a lot of expectation surounding this film, as this is when George Lucas finally reveals how XXX finally becomes XXX. I guess I'll start with the visuals.

The computer animation folks at Industrial Light and Magic have once again raised the bar. I never knew YYY could look so realistic, quite beautiful. And XXX looked more alive than ever, especially when ZZZ. The ZZZ were more crowded than ever, and stunning in their detail. But there are problems. Like, I didn't follow how XXX could have ZZZ based on ZZZ and his relationship with XXX

UNNAMED ACTOR did a fabulous job as XXX. I was convinced of ZZZ. But ANOTHER UNNAMED ACTOR didn't come across as well on the screen. Unfortunate. But that is no reason to leave this installment out in the rain.

If you've seen the others, you know you must go see this last one. Trust me, when you see XXX at YYY with XXX during ZZZ, you might just be moved to tears.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Horizons Band/Seacoast Wind Ensemble Concert a Success

Last night's combined concert with the New Horizons Band and Wind Ensemble and the Seacoast Wind Ensemble was a hit. I am very proud of the way the NHB players are developing their performance skills.

It is hard to believe that the New Horizons Band has only been in existence for two years. The group is close-knit and has learned to play together with wonderful precision. I'd have to say that last night's performance was our best yet. Bravo!

We have not performed often (I think this was our fourth truly public performance), but the players are gaining performance confidence just the same. And it was nice to perform on a stage, even if it was situated in a school caffeteria.

Congratulations to all of the performers. It was a rewarding experience, especially the opportunity to play two pieces in a large collaborative effort. It has me thinking about what is next. Maybe there's a community chorus out there that would like to do a combined concert. That would be fun.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Sting Rocks Manchester

For Mother's Day I took Katie to the Verizon Wireless Arena to see Sting, who she had always wanted to see in concert, but never had the opportunity. As members of the elder end of Generation X, The Police were a mainstay of our teen years, and this show was essentially The Police minus Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland - and Sting rocked the house. If there was ever an argument for a reunion tour, this was it.

While this was Katie's first Sting show, it was my fifth (solo shows in 1985, two in 1988, and the final performance of The Police at the 1986 Amnesty International Concert at the Meadowlands - since then they have only played five tunes tunes together during two occaisions: Sting's 1992 wedding and their 2003 induction into the Rock 'n Roll hall of Fame). My first Sting concert was a stop on the Dream of the Blue Turtles Tour promoting his first solo album. Twenty years later, his concert featured more Police tunes - in fact, more than half the music he performed was written before that concert in '85.

He burst out of the gate with Message in a Bottle, followed immediately by Demolition Man, and Spirits in the Material World - three all-time greats by The Police. His pared down band of two guitars and drums, with Sting playing bass the whole night (like in his Police days) was the perfect vehicle to capture the raw energy and drive of The Police. Other classics of the evening included four tracks from 1983's Synchronicity, The Police's final album: King of Pain, Synchronicity II, Invisible Sun (one of my favorite songs), and Every Breath You Take, which was one of three encores to his 80 minute set. At one point he got the whole audience singing Voices Inside My Head while he simultaneously sang When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around. And his Police selections were rounded out by a personal favorite, Driven to Tears, a drawn out version of Roxanne (which regained some fame recently in the film Moulin Rouge), and the driving Next to You, dug from deep in the archives - it was the first song on The Police's debut album, Outlandos D'Amour.

Of course there were selections from his solo career as well. Much to my delight, he performed four song from Ten Summoner's Tales (in my opinion, his best solo album): Fields of Gold, If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, Heavy Cloud No Rain, and She's Too Good For Me. He answered the question of why, as an Englishman, he writes country songs (he apparently grew up watching Bonanza and Rawhide and playing cowboys and indians - He even played some of the Rawhide theme song for the audience on his bass) and sang two of his country tunes: I Hung My Head (which was recorded by Johnny Cash before his death) and Lithium Sunset, which was the final encore of the night and performed much more like a Police anthem than the country song, as it was originally recorded. Sting payed tribute to The Beatles with a thoughtful rendition of A Day in the Life, saying that if it wasn't for them, he wouldn't be where he is. Also included in the evening's fare was Why Should I Cry for You? and the lesser known End of the Game. Quite a set for the true Police and Sting fan, which we count ourselves among.

Even with the many great Police tunes featured on this concert, I was yearning for a dozen more. Remember, The Police only released five albums, but there are eight, yes EIGHT, Police Greatest Hits albums. That is how good they were. I can list many, many songs I missed hearing, and I do wish he played for at least another 30 minutes (make that 60), but that is for another time. For now, suffice to say, this concert was great.

Oh, and did I mention...We sat in the twelfth row, center!

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Value of Departmental Workshops

The week of departmental workshops has arrived. Half of those who are participating say "awsome!" The other half "why?" Here's why.

There are many reasons for our twice yearly departmental workshops. The first few that come to mind are:

Students get the opportunity to work with faculty members other than their teachers and teachers get to meet and work with all of the students in their department.

A mid-semester break from weekly individual instruction to interact with other students who play your instrument is a very good thing.

Workshops are often a great opportunity to get feedback on a piece you are working on outside of giving an actual public performance - feedback from teachers and peers.

It is the perfect opportunity for a teacher to present a topic they specialize in to all of the students, such as Chris Weisman's Blues Worshop this week.

Students are often inspired by the performances of their peers and teachers. In departmental workshops, students can hear others play (including teachers) and then immediately discuss the performance.

The instructors work hard to make every workshop a powerful educational experience for the students. One of the primary goals of the workshops is to help students build communication skills. Musicians (of ALL ages) need to be able to talk about the music they listen to, play, and write. Great discussions have formed during Departmental Workshops, discussions that go deep into the inner workings of the music being discussed. The importance of these discussions cannot be discounted.

One concern of parents is often the discrepencies between students' ages and ability levels. We address this in several ways. With piano, we do offer a workshop specifically for 5 to 7 year olds that is shorter (only one hour) and geared toward their stage of development. For students with more experience, we offer specialized workshops (such as the Blues Workshop mentioned above) to challenge them in specific areas of study. The topics for specialized workshops will change and be taught by different instructors each semester. But even with these offerings, most workshops will have a wide range of students. I view this as an opportunity for all involved. An opportunity for younger students to be motivated by the skills of the more experienced students. And an opportunity for the more experienced students to develop leadership skills and provide insight and advice to students who are new to their instrument.

We do realize, however, that it is difficult to hit a home run every time with every student. But that does not change my opinion that these workshops are critical to providing PMAC's students with a balanced and comprehensive education. Rest assured that the goal of each workshop is to leave each and every student with a better understanding of their craft.

The bottom line is that the entire PMAC faculty believes in the importance of these workshops. We've worked together to make them a meaningful experience for all and hope that each student brings an open mind and positive attitude to their workshop.