This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a University of Louisville Symphony Orchestra concert which I chose to attend primarily because my son plays the viola in that ensemble. My husband and I had debated whether or not to attend the concert because it was billed as a jazz concert. We aren’t big jazz fans and the concert was scheduled for 7:30 on a Sunday evening in a city 90 minutes from home. Plus, our son had reported that none of the musicians he hung around with were enthusiastic about the music. In the end we chose to attend (in part because we were already in town for a belated birthday dinner with son) and I am so glad that I did because the event was so much more enjoyable than anticipated and it gave me so much food for thought in regard to learning, living, teaching, and writing.
When I talked to my son early in the process of their concert preparation he was not at all enthusiastic about the music. Then after they began rehearsing the music under the direction of Orbert Davis, the Musical Director for the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, who arranged and composed the music they were playing, my son became much more enthusiastic about the concert. When we talked on Sunday before the concert he said it was fun to play. He also made a really telling comment: “It is a lot better playing jazz for a jazz conductor.” Noah loves playing for Kimcherie Lloyd, the Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Louisville, but as a classically trained conductor her approach to jazz was much different than Davis’. In her opening remarks at the concert, Lloyd herself noted that jazz was much different from classical western tradition. I am so happy that my son’s college education includes such a diverse musical training and it reminded me that we could all benefit from learning new things or twists on things we thought we had mastered.
When Jerry Tolson, Professor and Director of the African American Music Heritage Institute at the University of Louisville, opened the concert he shared how the institute had been formed to foster a better understanding of the musical heritage and influence of African Americans and the diaspora. It underlined for me how we need to make more opportunity to experience and consume music and culture that is outside our usual choices. While not every number was to my taste (but then the same is true for most traditional classical concerts), there was so much to enjoy about this concert. This concert experience reminded me that I just love music in so many forms and I am glad that there are people and organizations in my life that continue to push me out of my comfort zone. It is also healthy for me to spend some time doing something other than teaching, writing, or writing about teaching and writing.
Learning more about Orbert Davis through this experience has also reminded that there is no replacement for experience and enthusiasm and joy when it comes to teaching. No wonder the music students responded to him. I wanted to attend his masterclass too! By every marker I could see, Davis is extremely talented – as a musician, composer, and conductor – plus he created the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic because he saw a problem and invented a solution. But most important of all, he exemplifies the adage – be the thing you want to teach. There is no substitute for actual experience and knowledge of your content. Davis’ life is a study in teaching. I cannot express how inspiring I find him. Just to underline this point, listen to A Child is Born and picture Davis facing the audience to play his trumpet solos while the orchestra plays behind him with no direction (something that happened for every solo). I love to see a class or group work without the direct intervention of its teacher or leader, but I also know it takes a lot of groundwork to make that happen.
Listening to Davis talk about composing, arranging, and third stream (a fusion of jazz and classical music) inspired me as a writer as well as a learner and teacher. I really love multi-genre collaboration in all art forms and third stream is so interesting and exciting. It is not new but was certainly new to me. I just loved how the pieces that Davis composed and arranged for this concert pulled in so many different aspects of American music and influences on our musical heritage. As a reader, teacher, and writer I try to draw in a variety of influences, inspirations, and models and this concert experience encouraged me to redouble those efforts.
In the end, I am (perhaps) arguing for teachers to bring more music into their lives and to simply get out of our classrooms more often. While I attended this concert primarily as a parent, the entire day was an important escape for me. I attended church in the morning, enjoyed a meal with my family in the afternoon, and attended this concert in the evening. It was a welcome break from other life challenges and has provided much food for thought as well as music to savor long after the concert ended. Too often I am too busy living my life to enjoy the process of life, but this day at least I unlocked that achievement. I hope you enjoy (and forgive) the many links to the U of L Symphony Orchestra but I am a big fan!