What are your first memories of music?
My very first memory was at the age of 5 ? it was my first piano recital, held in the basement of a piano store in San Francisco. I remember playing my first song, then turning to look at the audience, asking dad to bring up the music, because I couldn?t remember the second piece. The audience laughed. ?
When did you start pursuing music seriously and what got you interested in pursuing it as a career??
I continued to study music, and by the 6th grade, I was doing piano competitions, playing at retirement homes, doing solo recitals, and so on. It started to get to be a bit much for me at that age. I remember sitting at the piano and hearing my friends outside playing in the street. I wanted to be out there with them having fun too. So I ended up taking a break from music, which my parents weren?t too pleased with.
In tenth grade, I started playing piano again in Jazz Band, and joined the symphonic band as a percussionist, then in 11th grade, joined the Bay Area Wind Symphony (BAWS), where I played percussion as well. The summer after my senior year of high school the BAWS went to Australia, which was amazing. We got to travel half way around the world, with 50 of our closest friends, for three weeks, staying with host families, performing, and seeing some of Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef. That year I had taken Advanced Placement Computer Science, thinking I was going to go into computers. But I realized in that class that computers were not for me, and was trying to imagine what else I could do.
Eventually it occurred to me that I was pretty good in music, so why not try that? In college is where it began to feel real. But it was a slow process. My freshmen year I did not make an ensemble. The following summer was also my first summer as a counselor at Caz. I found myself giving the kids all the advice I wasn?t taking myself. I returned my sophomore year with greater focus. My first semester I made it into the lower band, and spring semester I made it into the top band.
You were the Boys Dean at Caz this summer, and you are the Directorof Bands and Orchestra at Will C. Wood High School in Vacaville. Why do you feel music education is so important??
Not all kids are great in English, math and science, and sometimes it?s the electives that keep kids engaged. There are also a lot of lessons learned in music that prepare you for life. You learn how to work with a team. You learn how to be part of something bigger than yourself. You learn leadership skills. You spend time honing your craft, then you come together in an ensemble setting and work to bring the ensemble together. And on top of it all, you are making music, which is enjoyable!
In school a lot of people learn how to work well by themselves, but they can lack social and teamwork skills. In life however you are asked to work with others. Yet there just aren?t a lot of outlets in high school for that, except sports, music, and the performing arts. I have a student now, for example, a senior who I?ve worked with since she was a freshman. She began as a rather typical 14 year old girl who played flute and piano. Then she tried percussion.She now plays piano in the jazz ensemble, flute in the Jazz Band, and percussion in two other bands! There was one instance at a recent football game where the drum major and assistant major could not be there, and she stepped in and did a marvelous job. She?s become a leader without even realizing it. It was a natural progression. This is what she got from music, and these are qualities that you don?t see reflected in a report card.
What do you get out of teaching music to kids?
First of all, it is fun. I tell my kids, ??and they actually pay me to do this!? They pay me to come in and have fun all day. I enjoy the whole thing - the process of teaching music that the students don?t know how to play, the rehearsals, and all this growth that you see, not just over the course of learning a piece of music, or even over a year, but over the course of multiple years. This is my fourth year at Will C. Wood High School, and I?ve seen tremendous growth in my students. They do so many things well, and their attitude is great, which makes it fun. It feels like there is no limit to what they can learn.
What got you interested in Caz, and what keeps you coming back?
Travis Davison was my band teacher in high school, and I had come back to help out the band over winter break. He approached me one day and said he knew of a musical summer job I should consider. So I applied, and the summer of my freshman year of college I worked at Caz as a counselor. In the beginning it was cool simply because it was a summer job that involved playing music. The second summer at Caz, I returned because it was such a great summer job. But as I thought more about teaching music, I realized this was an amazing opportunity for me to learn from 21 different conductors each year. I realized that there was a wealth of information there, and that it was a great way to learn about teaching. I was pretty good at teaching percussion, but had no idea how to teach an entire ensemble with myriad instruments to play a piece of music. And I got to learn how to do all that at Caz, discovering what I liked and didn?t like. It was all very helpful, and gave me so many ideas to work with.
What do you feel makes the Caz experience so special for these emerging young musicians?
With Caz it?s that you can shows kids that music can be fun as well as a serious endeavour. At other camps you are making music under pressure, non-stop. At Caz you work hard at music, but then you also get to go and play around, make friends, and enjoy yourself. I think that is the best kind of environment to learn music in, because ultimately music ought to be enjoyable. Caz does a lot of things well. It can get kids started in music, it can generate a new level of interest in a student already engaged, and it also provides an opportunity for serious students to learn and grow. You can make it any experience you want it to be ? you can try out different types of music ? for many students they are trying out a full orchestra, or jazz band for the first time. They get to try it on, and see how they like it.
Any closing thoughts?
Caz has become what I do. I?ve been there now for nine summers. Somewhere along the way it became my summer home. I go every summer, get to see all these people who?ve become very important to me, get to work with the kids, and get to continue to learn new teaching techniques, as well. It is something I really enjoy.