Sunday, September 13, 2015

PMAC Spotlight: Russ Grazier

Russ Grazier co-founded PMAC in 2002 and started the organization with a handful of instructors, one adult ensemble and dreams of becoming a hub for musicians and artists of all ages and abilities.

Today, PMAC hosts around 30 private lesson studios (including private visual art study), over 20 adult and youth music ensembles, music therapy classes, a digital studio for recording and digital art, the Haas Family Gallery and Recital Hall for gallery showings and performances, and visual art classes for youth and adults.

Russ continues to passionately run the organization while still maintaining a private studio and conducting a few of our adult ensembles. We've asked him about what lead him here and why he continues to do what he does!

Portsmouth Music and Arts Center: What is your teaching philosophy?

Russ Grazier: When working with a student, I always begin with the belief that we are all creative beings and my role in our relationship is to guide the student through their creative journey. Expressing our creativity, whether through music, visual arts, poetry, dance, or any other artistic discipline is a core part of being human. I am here to provide guidance, tools, and encouragement. It is important to me that the student connects with the art they create, so my instruction is tailored to the individual. That said, I believe it is important to learn new things, and venture out of our comfort zone on a regular basis, so I frequently introduce students to music that is outside of their existing knowledge and encourage them to think in new ways. Through music we can grow as individuals, and come together as a community.

PMAC: When did you start playing? How did that lead you to where you are now?

RG: I was introduced to music at a young age in school, singing, dancing and playing instruments in elementary music classes. At age eight I began to study guitar and would spend hours writing songs and learning music in my Roy Clark and John Denver songbooks. In the fourth grade I began saxophone in the school band and have never looked back. The key moment that led me on the path to my career in music was when my father took me for saxophone lessons with Kenneth Radnofsky in Arlington, MA. I was 15 years old at the time and Ken introduced me to the amazing world of classical saxophone music. He was my teacher at the Tanglewood Institute when I was 17 and I stayed with him through my Bachelors Degree at Boston Conservatory. I still consider him to be one of my top three arts mentors and we are friends and colleagues to this day.

PMAC:  What do you enjoy about teaching adults who are beginners?

RG: Adult beginners are so different than youth students. When a ten year old blows into a saxophone for the first time and makes a loud "HONK" their face lights up in excitement that they made a sound. An adult will often get a look of dismay and say "that's not how it's supposed to sound!" But it IS how your first note should sound. Adults beginning music study for the first time come with a lot of knowledge gained over a lifetime of loving music as a listener. They know what they like and what type of music they want to learn. And they get really excited about playing in groups with their peers. They express more skepticism than children, but they also tend to be more goal oriented, bringing skills from other areas of their life to their music study. Private lessons with an adult student are wonderful because they ask so many interesting questions and have a real curiosity about how everything comes together. It's one of my favorite aspects of teaching at PMAC.

PMAC: What are the benefits of making music as an adult?

RG: Too many to list, but the best ones are: more robust memory, increased verbal fluency, improvements in planning abilities, greater speed when processing information, plus many cognitive, physical and psychological benefits. Between the ages of 60 and 85, playing an instrument has a marked positive impact on quality of life and health. Plus it's fun. Do it!

PMAC: What would you say to someone who is hesitant to begin playing music?

RG: Too many people put off or avoid learning music out fear that they won't be good at it. Fear of being judged, fear of failure. At PMAC we have programs designed for everyone, including our New Horizons Band program for adults which comes with the mantra "your best is good enough." Think about that. It means that making music is about pleasing YOURSELF and growing as an individual. It's about fun and laughter, not how many notes you can play and how fast. If you love music (which includes everyone I've ever met) you should be making music singing or playing an instrument. Do it for yourself!

PMAC: Over the years, what is your favorite story of an adult music student?

RG: I have many, but one I like to share a lot is the story of a 75 year old baritone saxophonist in PMAC's New Horizons Band. We once did a combined concert with the Shapleigh Middle School (Kittery) and PMAC's adult student were integrated into the middle school band, which means our 75 year old player sat next to a seventh grade baritone saxophonist. At the end of the combined piece we were playing, there is a moment of silence right before the big finishing chord. During the performance, our adult sax player belted out a loud low note in the middle of the silence, and then the band finished the piece. During the applause, the seventh grader turned to him and said, "That was so AWESOME! If I did that I'd be in big trouble!" This immediately turned a brief moment of embarrassment into laughter and story he told for the rest of his years (and I'll continue to tell for the rest of mine). He played a note where there was none and the world didn't end. The audience still loved the performance and his best was good enough. And individuals separated by six decades connected over a musical moment.

PMAC: What are you looking forward to the most at PMAC in the upcoming year?

RG: There is so much to look forward to, but a highlight for me is Ken Radnofsky's visit on October 12th. He'll be presenting an afternoon master class for students, including some UNH saxophonists, and a recital that evening. Having studied with Ken for seven years in my youth, this is a big moment for me. It'll be his first visit to PMAC and I'm excited to share our community with him and vice versa.

PMAC: If you were a visual artist, what would your medium be?

RG: I draw in pencil. I even took drawing lessons from Anna Nuttall a few years back. I don't do it enough, but it's great to learn new art forms, especially ones I didn't grow up with. She's such a great teacher and I have kept everything I created under her guidance.

Thanks so much, Russ! Come by PMAC on September 15 between 6:30-8:30 for our Adult Ensemble Info Night. Chat with Russ and other instructors about what they do here and how YOU can get involved!