When Top Performers Engage Aspiring Young Artists — A Catalyst to Even Greater Musical Achievement?
by MISSY MCTAMNEY
Ernest Hemingway once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” That may be just the motivation needed for professional musicians to continue their artistic growth by mentoring.
For much of history, apprenticeship was the way a new generation of practitioners learned an art form or skill set. It exposed them to accomplished professionals in their field and let them learn while working for a genuine master. For rising young musicians, this model of learning is no longer common. But having access to a variety of accomplished professionals still plays an important role in students’ education, exposing them to different interpretations, techniques and a networks of contacts.
The University of Maryland’s (UMD) School of Music is partnering with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in a powerful collaboration that is largely unique in higher education. The Center is focused on developing its presented season around visiting artists willing to engage with School of Music students, creating opportunities for short- and long-term residencies, master classes, joint on-stage performances and other types of interactions.
Why would a successful artist take time out of a tour to spend in the classroom? Why carve out time when you’re still building your own musical career? The Grammy Award winning sextet eighth blackbird recently visited UMD for a one-night performance, but spent three days working with School of Music students in one-on-one sessions and open rehearsals, culminating in a side-by-side on-stage performance of “Double Sextet”, the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece by American minimalist composer Steve Reich.
When Tim Munro, eighth blackbird’s flutist is asked why he believes it is important he works with students, he smiles mischievously and says, “Seeing the initial terror in their eyes turn into curiosity and then into sheer joy.” But even, Munro adds, “Challenging students to get the most out of a performance and sharing with them the technique of creating a show is one way we can give students a bigger picture.”
Kronos Quartet, another Grammy-winning contemporary classical music group and visiting artist at the Clarice Smith Center engages UMD School of Music graduate composition students across an entire academic year. Kronos coaches them as each student composes a new work, with feedback sessions at both UMD and in Kronos’ home base, San Francisco. The program culminates in a Kronos performance of the new compositions at the Center, with students receiving a live recording of their own work performed by the internationally known quartet.
What value does Kronos gain from doing this – or from their five-year old Kronos: Under 30 Project? They would say that beyond supporting the creation of new work by young artists, it helps Kronos cultivate stronger connections and develop lasting artistic relationships with the next creative generation. A plethora of personal reasons are likely play into this as well.
Windscape, the renowned Ensemble-in-Residence at the Manhattan School of Music who bring extensive teaching experience to motivational residencies, is engaging with UMD music students for four days this week, leading up to their side-by-side concert on Thursday, April 4. Windscape has undertaken such residencies with accomplished young music students around the country culminating in collaborative performances that share the group’s sparkling performance style onstage with their student partners.
Perhaps the performers’ motivation in collaborating with students is about creating a legacy, or about paving the way for the next generation of artists. Or it could be just because it’s fun, but clearly, when professional musicians engage with music students, it’s meaningful and valuable for both. The UMD School of Music and the Clarice Smith Center are becoming nationally recognized as catalysts for bringing those musical talents together, for all those reasons and more.
Music may be an art form where few actually become a master, but working with aspiring young musicians seems to be a catalyst to that pinnacle.
MISSY McTAMNEY is Communications Manager at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. A flutist, choral vocalist and an enthusiastic student of ancient Roman history, she
spends her day engaged with extraordinary artists. Her job, she says, “is to shine a spotlight on the talents of some truly remarkable artists and programs. It allows me to provide value to them with the added benefit of deepening my own arts experience.”