Women’s History Month Profile: Melba Liston

March feature! Each week I will profile a different woman or women in music who are particular heroes or inspiration for me.

This week is someone new to me but immediately important. Please welcome to the stage

MS MELBA LISTON!

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When I saw the trombone I thought how beautiful it looked and knew I just had to have one. No one told me that it was difficult to master. All I knew was that it was pretty and I wanted one.

Jazz trombonist, arranger, composer, and band leader, Melba Liston toured with Billie Holiday, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Lewis. She began playing trombone around the age of 8, and was largely self-taught. At 16 she started her professional career at the Lincoln Theatre in Los Angeles, and by her 20s was on the road with some of the biggest jazz performers of her day. Her career spanned 40 years, encompassing her own studio album, Melba Liston and Her ‘Bones, writing and arranging for Quincy Jones, teaching music in Los Angeles and Jamaica, and even a short stint as an actress in Hollywood.

A good deal more information about the life and career of this amazing, unsung woman from jazz history can be found here: http://www.randyweston.info/randy-weston-sidemen-pages/melba-liston.html

You can find her album on iTunes and GooglePlay, and listen to tracks on YouTube. Here’s “Blues Melba” featuring the true first lady of the slide trombone, Melba Liston.

Weekly Roundup 3/3/15

Reading: Keys To Natural Performance For Brass Players, Robert D Weast. An older book but a goodie.

Practicing: Red Dragonfly is still on my stand, as is the second Kopprasch book.

Rehearsing: Mozart Requiem with Exultate Choir and Orchestra. I’m playing bass trombone. See below!

Performing: 3 concerts of Mozart Requiem with Exultate, March 6, 7, 8. Various locations around the Cities! Come and enjoy.

Listening: M. Ward, End of Amnesia; Jenny Lewis, The Voyager; Heart, Dreamboat Annie; R&B songs (by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Thelma Houston, James Hunter, Etta James, etc) as research/arrangements for The Satellites, my soon-to-be-gigging soul/r&b group.

Teaching: Rhythmic recognition and dictation this week. Get ready. You’re going to clap and count.

Relaxing: Walked by the river last night with my friend Susan and her dog Maple. Signed up for 30 Days of Biking again (year 4 for me!). Dreaming about spring.

Why Students Really Quit

Why Students Really Quit Their Instrument (and how parents can prevent it)

An interesting look at what motivates young musical learners.

Some pertinent quotes as they relate to taking lessons:

Students don’t know how to get better.  Without the proper tools and practice habits to get better at anything, students will become frustrated and want to quit.  It is the role of music educators and parents to give students ownership over their learning.  Teachers must teach students why, how, where, and when to practice, and parents must obtain minimal knowledge about how students learn music in order to properly support them at home.

Most of learning an instrument is learning how to practice, and your private teacher is there to guide you to efficiency in this regard.

Students discontinue playing over the summer.  Statistics show that students who do not read over the summer find themselves extremely behind once school starts — the same goes for playing an instrument!  A year of musical instruction can quickly go down the tubes over the summer vacation if students do not find small ways to play once in a while.  Picking up an instrument for the first time after a long layoff can be so frustrating that a student will not want to continue into the next school year.

I offer summer lessons, and I think they can be some of the most fun. We get more opportunities to play fun things and grow creatively when we can guide our own studies.

The instrument is in disrepair.  A worn down cork, poor working reed, or small dent can wreak havoc on a child’s playing ability.  Sometimes the malfunction is so subtle that the student thinks they are doing something wrong, and frustration mounts.  Students, parents and teachers need to be aware of the basics of instrument maintenance and be on top of repairs when needed.

Instruments that are hard to play are not fun to play. Let me know if your horn needs help, and I will recommend a good repairperson (I know several)!

And parents, I am always available to help you understand what your child is learning from me (and why!).

Happy practicing!

2015 Upcoming extracurricular opportunities

Students, teachers, friends:

There’s a life outside of school band! I strongly encourage all my students, regardless of ability or level, to find additional opportunities to perform and practice their craft. This might be playing duets with friends, or putting together a chamber group. There are also several groups around the Cities that put together talented young musicians to create art.

For students interested in orchestra performance, I recommend looking into either Minnesota Youth Symphonies or the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony.

MYS Auditions for low brass are Saturday, June 13th.

GTCYS Auditions for low brass are May 30th, 31st, and June 6th.

For the trombone student who wants to dive deeper into the intricacies of the instrument, I highly recommend the Shell Lake Arts Center Trombone Workshop. My friends and colleagues John Tranter and Phil Ostrander run this week long retreat in Shell Lake, WI. There is a possibility I may stop by as a guest artist!

In addition to the Trombone Workshop Shell Lake offers a whole summer of wind bands, orchestras, and jazz ensembles! I highly recommend you take a look at their offerings.

For those who want to ROCK OUT this summer, West Bank School of Music runs three weeks of youth rock camps. I will have more information about this soon, including exact dates.  You do not need to know how to play a rock band instrument; we will teach you! And we’ll have plenty of opportunities for brass players to shine.

If you’re interested in chamber music, I can put you together with other interested students! I currently have three students in a trombone trio, and I can connect with other teachers to create brass quintets, quartets, choirs, you name it!

Hey, I can tell when you haven’t practiced

Listen, I was a student, too, and I have gone to my share of lessons unprepared (but I only did this once for Jan at North Texas, and received a well-deserved lashing for it). I have also tried to hide this fact, or cram before the lesson, in order to not disappoint my teacher.

It never works. As a teacher now, I can tell you this: we can always tell. It would be much better for you to say, hey, I haven’t looked at this, I’m sorry, than to fake your way through something. Chances are I’ll be disappointed, but we can find a way to make the lesson productive: Either you can demonstrate how you WOULD have practiced it had you made the time, or we can work on some other aspect of technique or theory.

Now, that doesn’t mean we can spend every lesson avoiding what you didn’t have time to do. I expect that my students find the time during the week (it doesn’t have to be much; 20-30 minutes a day maybe, is better than bigger chunks with gaps in between) to work on what I’ve assigned. You take lessons because you want to progress beyond the skills you need for band, or to match them, or to get access to different music than you might otherwise. There are lots of reasons to take lessons, and lots of reasons for me to have certain expectations about how you will act upon them.

So, how do we get around this dilemma? How do you practice ‘enough’ to ‘fool’ me? Well, first of all, you don’t need to fool me. I am here to help you, and so that means if something gives you trouble, I should be the first to know. If you’ve worked for ages on these two bars and just can’t get them, maybe I can help you move beyond them. You don’t have to be perfect, just prepared.

Now, time management. Kids, and adults, these days, are BUSY. Does anyone know what free time is anymore? How does music fit when it competes with homework, athletics, clubs, friends, downtime?

You could always think of your music practice as homework. 30 minutes of something you have to do every evening even if you don’t have a class the next day. You could think of it as athletic conditioning, which is constant. You could envision it as a project you do for a club that ensures your participation is 100%. You could make music with friends or practice as a way to relieve stress from everything else.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. The only right way to go about managing your practice time is to make sure you’re focused and consistent. And if you’ve been focused and consistent in your personal practice, that will show in your lesson. That will give us something to move forward on.

Happy practicing!

Weekly Roundup 2/24/15

Reading: Taking a little study break for the week.

Practicing: Red Dragonfly, by Amy Riebs Mills, written for Megumi Kanda (of the Milwaukee Symphony). This was a house-warming gift from a friend and fellow musician. I’m excited to learn it and possibly perform it at next year’s Brass Chix!

Rehearsing: Thursday night I begin rehearsals for the Mozart Requiem with Exultate, a local choir and orchestra I have worked with before. Our performances are next weekend, March 6-8, so come see us if you can!

Minnehaha Repertory will be reading Franck:  Symphony in D Minor, Sibelius:  Lemminkäinen’s Return Op. 22 #4, and von Weber: Oberon Overture on Saturday.

Performing: Exultate Mozart Requiem March 6-8th, various locations around the Cities.

Listening: I have a big crush on Janelle Monae so pretty much her whole Metropolis cycle (so far). Also have you seen Jupiter Ascending? I mean, do yourself a favor. Seriously. The soundtrack, by Michael Giacchino, is real purdy, and over the top, and wonderful. He also wrote the music for Lost, the Incredibles, Star Trek, etc.

Teaching: Gearing up for a month of contest performances, so I’ve been encouraging my students to start incorporating performance runs in their practice sessions, and we’ve been doing the same in lessons.

Relaxing: I’m really dying to get outside and do some winter fun before spring, but negative degree days aren’t making that an option. Here’s hoping we’ll have some ‘reasonable’ winter so I can go for a hike in my new snow pants soon.

Weekly Roundup 2/17/15

Reading: Diving into The Musician’s Way, by Klickstein.

Practicing: I don’t think I’ve cracked the cover of my copy of the Kopprasch Vol 2 in…ten years. Starting with #1.

Rehearsing: M’haha rehearsed Franck Symphony in D Minor on Saturday, it was gorgeous.

Performing: Tonight’s Mardi Gras! I’ll be here.

Listening: Brand new Father John Misty!

Teaching:  Go. Slowly. Dang it. There are times when fast practice can be useful, but 95% of the time you should take things slowly so you can put all the pieces together. “Slow practice = fast progress; Fast practice = slow progress” -Per Brevig, Julliard School of Music

Relaxing: Getting friends together. Amazing how infrequently we do this in the winter, and how lonely it can get. Met up with a friend from college two weeks ago, and it was great to catch up. Had beers with a colleague last week, and enjoyed the opportunity to be a trombone nerd for a few hours. Brunch with another friend and colleague on Thursday. Hosted a gathering at my house on Friday night and it was a great collection of folks that brought positive energy in and left good vibes.