Teaching Outside the Box with Brian Ellingsen, Academy Fellow
The Academy is more than a collection of talented young musicians who put on great concerts in venues across New York City. We’re also an enthusiastic group of arts advocates and teachers who believe that to be a musician in the 21st century, you have to think outside the box.
Twice a year, the Academy fellows take part in a one-week residency at Skidmore College. Our most recent visit was last month, and I was fortunate enough to take part. For me, one of the best moments of the week was when I took part in a workshop with a painting class. Together with the professor, we decided to explore how music can inspire painting. We used a piece of mine created for solo double bass that explores an array of different sound colors, textures, and energy levels. I started playing different sections of the piece, then had a discussion with the class about their thoughts. If the music were a color, what would it be? If it were a texture, what kind of brushstroke would you use? If it were a story, what would it be about?
The class had some very insightful interpretations of the piece; thoughts that even made me see and perform the piece differently. After playing the piece a number of times while the class took diligent notes, it was time to get to painting! As I continued to play the piece, the students in the class put their brushes to their surfaces and created their visual interpretations of what the piece meant to them.
The painting class interpreting Brian's piece while he performs
At the end of this intense three-hour session, there were eleven newly created works of art inspired by the same piece of music. Each work was great, and no two works were the same. This is the brilliance behind interpretation, no two are ever the same, and neither is wrong.
As a performer, I feel that cross-media collaborations such as these are crucial to all art forms in the 21st century. In addition to creating grand-scale, unified artistic projects for all to enjoy, there is so much we can learn from each other. I also feel that it is equally important to promote this kind of creative “outside of the box” thinking in all students. It opens up their minds to an entire world of creative opportunity. As teaching artists, we remain hopeful that we are enriching the lives of students, creating future generations of musicians, artists, and lovers of all things creative.