• Performing, Teaching, and Being Ready for Everything: Brian Ellingsen, Academy Fellow

    With summer festivals across the globe, many New York City musicians detox from the daily urban grind with some music making on the countryside. Ensemble ACJW is no different.

    Last week I had the privilege of playing Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in beautiful Norfolk, Connecticut. During this wonderful week, I reflected on a recent Interactive Performance tour where we played this very piece.

    Norfolk Chamber Music Festival: Sunset at the Lake, and Franz Schubert 

    Reflecting on composer Franz Schubert at Tobey Pond, near the grounds of the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. 

    These concerts are typically planned out thoroughly. With the “Trout” piece, we wanted to teach our audiences at five different schools—four elementary, one high school—what chamber music is, introduce them to a canonical work, and use the “Trout” Quintet to illustrate important musical terms like melody, accompaniment, and ensemble.

    It was a challenge to cohesively teach each of these topics in a single Interactive Performance. After much thought and rehearsing, we developed a script and a handful of fun activities to help our students internalize the music. The first performances went well. But we knew that the only high school on our tour would prove to be a bit more of a challenge.

    We expected to change some of our language and overall demeanor for the older audience—students at that age can sometimes be a bit “too cool for school” (pardon the pun). What ended up happening during the live show, however, was pretty magical. After working so hard on our plan for the concert, we decided to go almost completely off script. One group member instinctively jumped in with thoughts on a certain phrase. Others shared their favorite moments of the piece. One student asked a really interesting question and another group member seized that moment to help her better understand Schubert’s musical language.
     

    “We were instinctively gelling as a group, intuitively bouncing off of one another’s talking points to bring Schubert’s glorious masterwork into the fresh eyes and ears of America’s youth.”


    We were instinctively gelling as a group, intuitively bouncing off of one another’s talking points to bring Schubert’s glorious masterwork into the fresh eyes and ears of America’s youth. And the best part of all was that I could honestly feel that the students were really getting it and really enjoying it.

    I realized that in our line of work, whether you are performing or teaching, you always have to be ready for anything. As long as you share what you love about music, your students will come away with enthusiasm and a greater understanding.

    —Brian Ellingsen

    Pond photo by Brian Ellingsen.
     
    Related:
    From The New Yorker: Academy Fellow Shelley Monroe Huang at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival
    Academy Fellow Leelanee Sterrett on Interactive Performances 

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