Monday, October 29, 2012

Faculty Blogpost - Jay Nugent - We Build Musicians Here

This week's blog post is by Simpson College Adjunct Professor of Music, Mr. Jay Nugent


“We Build Musicians Here”

Many years ago, as a senior in high school, I came to Simpson College to audition for a music scholarship as an instrumental major. My aspiration was to be a high school band director. After playing the third movement of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, members of the faculty asked a series of questions about my background and what I wanted to do with my music. At the conclusion of this discussion, one faculty member stated, “we build musicians here”. This one statement described Simpson Music then and is still true today.

Music at Simpson is all about training students to become better musicians through challenging course work, private instruction and performing in a variety of large and small ensembles. In a nutshell, Simpson encourages music students to explore all aspects of music as an academic pursuit, as a soloist and as a member of outstanding ensembles. Each part of the curriculum is designed to challenge students to mature as individuals and as musicians. But this is just one aspect in the development as a musician - the greater responsibility lies within each student to train themselves as critical observers and listeners.

Simpson music students are expected to attend vocal and instrumental recitals. Use this opportunity to become active listeners. Train your ear to hear faulty intonation, listen to how the soloist phrases, especially in slower movements or selections, and pay close attention to how the accompanist enhances or distracts from the overall performance. Listen for the nuances in the accompaniment and how these musical lines play off the solo lines. When attending large ensemble performances, watch the conductor closely as you engage in active listening. Watch how the conductor, through his or her conducting technique, shapes the musical lines, balances the ensemble and enhances the musical experience. Note how the inner voices are interwoven throughout and if these voices are brought to the forefront when appropriate.

When listening to an instrumental ensemble, do not overlook the percussion section. Listen for rhythmic accuracy and how the performers approach the overall musical presentation through proper playing technique. When attending a jazz concert, pay close attention the rhythm section. Listen for and watch the interaction between the drummer, bass player and piano player as they work together to lay down the time (groove), set up the horns and propel and inspire the soloists. Go to opera performances and sit where you can see the orchestra and also the performers on stage. Watch how the conductor communicates visually with both the instrumentalist and vocalists to create an inspiring performance. Also, pay close attention to staging. The lesson is: what the audience sees greatly influences their overall perception of what they hear.

Finally, as a student, take full advantage of all the musical opportunities that are available at Simpson. It is here that one sets a pattern for a successful musical career. Observe closely how faculty members approach their music, practice their art and motivate their students. These four years will go by quickly, but the musical foundation gained here will last a lifetime.

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