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A Closer Look

Watch these three musical snapshots by Ensemble Connect alums Dana Kelley, Brad Balliett, and Laura Weiner, and hear them discuss their thoughts and intentions in their own words. See if you can pick out their entry point in each video and notice what audience their snapshot is geared towards. Then explore other examples from Ensemble Connect fellows in the musical snapshot gallery.

How Can Musicians Harness Vulnerability to Transform a Performance | The Connected Musician

Professional viola player and Ensemble Connect alum Dana Kelley shares her personal story of being inspired to pursue a career in performance after hearing this piece of music and the unexpected failure she experienced the first time she brought it to the stage in school. In triumph, she plays the work that caused her to reckon with an overwhelming sense of emotional connection for the first time in public.


Harnessing Vulnerability

What was your entry point and why did you select it?

My entry point was vulnerability in performance. I chose it because I think it is one of the most important aspects of a successful and fulfilling emotional connection through music, and one that I still find challenging to harness in my professional career.

Why did you choose that piece of music?

I chose Brahms’s E-flat Sonata because it is the first piece that made me fall in love with the sound and timbre of the viola.

Who was your intended audience?

My intended audience was students and young professionals who are at the outset of their musical careers and find themselves encountering moments of self-doubt.

Are there specific changes that come to mind if you were to present this to a different audience?

If I were to tailor this to a non-musician audience, I would try to focus on the shared experience of feeling underprepared or exposed. I would speak less of the technical challenges of performing music, and more of the emotional journey from a need to be in control to the freedom of expressing yourself without inhibitions.

What was your process for creating your musical snapshot?

I tried to think of a time in my musical journey that pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone and changed how I thought of myself as an artist. This moment felt like a turning point for me, and one I still think of often as I've grown older and have performed in many different settings.

Any advice for other musicians as they create their own musical snapshot?

Look for moments of unexpected joy or personal growth. These are great ways to use your musical skills to connect deeply with people you already know and those whom you haven't yet had the chance to meet!


The Horn as Actor

What was your entry point and why did you select it?

For my entry point, I compared a solo horn piece to an actor's solo performance. I chose it because I have watched a dear friend (and fantastic actor) prepare for solo shows. The vulnerability and creativity of watching her perform reminds me of how I feel when it’s just me on stage with my horn. An actor in a solo show typically uses minimal props, lighting changes, or sets, but still creates a wide variety of characters and a universe of expression. That’s my goal when I play solo instrumental music.

Why did you choose that piece of music?

The Esa-Pekka Salonen Concert Etude is one of my favorite pieces to perform because it shows not just the lyricism of the French horn but its technical virtuosity too. It's fun to play fast music and show audiences the variety of sound effects that horn players can produce, not just the pure velvety tone that is the French horn’s “signature look.”

Who was your intended audience?

I had in mind an audience of adults who have had some experience attending arts events. I live in New York City, which is full of people who love to attend a variety of concerts, plays, and art shows, even if they do not have specific musical training.

Are there specific changes that come to mind if you were to present this to a different audience?

Absolutely! If I were presenting this to any audience who could interact with me (not on a flat video), I would have us actually create the characters and the storyline that could go with this piece of music. I would take audience suggestions, and (especially with young people) ask brave volunteers to do some acting themselves! Perhaps we could even do some stage blocking to more effectively highlight the musical narrative.

What was your process for creating your musical snapshot?

Because this piece does not use a tonal musical language, I often find analogues to other contemporary art forms helpful. Many people have more familiarity with contemporary visual art, dance, theater, or non-classical music than they do with contemporary classical music, which I see as both a challenge and an opportunity. I brainstormed various artistic analogies before settling on one from the acting world. Then I simply tried to speak to the audience as though I was in an imaginary backstage dressing room, preparing to take the stage.

Any advice for other musicians as they create their own musical snapshot?

This process can be emotionally challenging, especially if you are not used to watching and hearing yourself without the relative security of your instrument. I have greatly benefited from speaking with actors about how they prepare for performances, how they train their voices, and how they quiet their inner critic while onstage. Actors are some of the most fearless people you will meet, and their training can benefit all of us in the performing arts.


Compositional Choices

What was your entry point and why did you select it?

My entry point is centered around compositional choices. This, of course, encompasses several other mini entry points, because a compositional choice could relate to the tempo, articulation, style, or any other detail that contributes to the overall impression that a listener receives when hearing a piece of music. My goal here is to pinpoint what a composer may decide to do musically in order to achieve a certain effect. By hearing the same material played in several very different ways, I hope to show that the raw musical material—the notes—are only one small aspect of what makes a piece effective.

Why did you choose that piece of music?

I chose this piece—my own Caprice for Solo Bassoon—because the musical material is extremely simple. The theme is only made of a few notes of the C-major scale; it is difficult to think of a simpler and more straightforward theme than the one presented here. From my point of view, this creates a wonderful opportunity for experimentation. What if we wanted to hear this theme the way a marching band would play it? Or in a prayerful way? The theme will stay the same, but the presentation will need to be quite different. In addition, this piece has become one of my favorite pieces to play, and I was happy for a chance to share it.

Who was your intended audience?

I structured this activity with a young audience in mind (and I have presented versions of this activity to many young audiences). I think of students in third or fourth grade as being an ideal audience. Students at that age can handle a challenging question and are quick to draw on their natural stores of creativity. That being said I’ve done this activity with adults as well, and it has been equally fun, interesting, and enlightening to hear their responses and requests.

Are there specific changes that come to mind if you were to present this to a different audience?

Nothing in the basic structure of this activity needs to change for an audience of adults, or teens, or any specific subset of audiences we may encounter. What may change is the pace at which I go through the steps, the number of examples we examine together, and the reflection questions, which can be more or less sophisticated and detailed depending on the listeners. As a composer and a performer, I am equally interested in hearing what a young person and an adult would like to do to transform the music.

What was your process for creating your musical snapshot?

I began by looking at the music that was on my stand—the music I was preparing for upcoming concerts. I reflected on my process of both writing and preparing the music and imagined how I could put listeners in the driver’s seat—to make a version of this musical material that reflected their tastes, preferences, and creative ideas. I shared the basic musical material—the notes—with a few friends and asked for ideas of how the music could be transformed. I put all those ideas into a box and drew them out one by one during the musical snapshot performance, thinking in the moment about how to transform the music. I wanted to be surprised in the moment by what I would pull out. That keeps the activity truly fresh and exciting for me and prevents me from getting too comfortable!

Any advice for other musicians as they create their own musical snapshot?

Choose a piece that challenges you in some way, and identify some aspect of the piece that you truly want to investigate. The best questions and activities uncover brand new ways for the audience to listen, but also for you as a performer to approach your art and craft. I always like to ask myself, “Is there a way for the listener to be in charge of what is happening?”

Musical Snapshot Gallery

How a Bassline Can Affect the Emotion of a Piece | Ensemble Connect Musical Snapshots

In this musical snapshot from Ensemble Connect, violinist Rubén Rengel leads listeners to discover how the movement of the bassline can impact the emotion of a piece in J. S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005.

Explore More

Welcome to Create a Musical Snapshot

Dana Kelley—violist and Ensemble Connect alum—introduces a Musical Snapshot and how she uses these skills in her career.

Part 1: Setting a Foundation

Eric Booth—teaching artist, author, and advocate—outlines the core components of being a connected musician in this three-part video series.

Part 2: Entry Points in Music

Brad Balliett—bassoonist, composer, and Ensemble Connect alum—applies the tools of teaching artists to music to engage audiences more deeply in this four-part video series.

Part 4: Create Your Musical Snapshot

Laura Weiner—French horn player, teaching artist, and Ensemble Connect alum—provides a step-by-step guide to help you craft your own musical snapshot, and Nathaniel Stevens, director, includes some helpful tips and tricks for making a great recording.

Part 5: Share and Connect

Show us what you came up with! Send us your musical snapshot and receive feedback from Ensemble Connect.

About The Connected Musician

Carnegie Hall’s The Connected Musician is a self-paced, interactive video series for collegiate and early professional performers. Inspired by the visionary mission of Ensemble Connect and featuring guidance from alums of the program and leaders in the field, The Connected Musician expands your toolkit to include new approaches to engage modern audiences and to spark joy and connection through music.

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