The return of the school year is an exciting time for teachers, students, and parents…sometimes the start of the school year is also a good time to think back on summer experiences as well. The past few months brought an interesting collection of workshops to the IfCM table--strings, jazz, improv, songwriting, recording, lots that we're excited to share!

IfCM co-Director and Teaching Artist Chris Teal was asked by Dr. John Fetter to be a guest for the Hochstein School of Music's "String Jam: Alternative Styles for Strings".  Dr. Fetter has been presenting this camp for over a decade to give bowed string players (for students grade 6+) the experience of working with new music and improvisation in styles varying from jazz, rock, fiddling, klezmer, Indian music, and other World styles.  It was a great joy to work with Dr. Fetter and the students on music by Bjork (Innocence), Radiohead (Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box), and Miles Davis/Red Garland (Blues By Five).  Dr. Fetter would present the material to students by wrote first to get everyone listening to each other as a group and mimicking the sharp rock and jazz articulation that is favored with this material.  The ensemble also worked with Teal and the rest of the band Quintopus (including Mike Kaupa, Mike Frederick, and Danny Ziemann) on improvising together as a group on these pieces and several students took great solos in rehearsal and on the concert.  The students had a big role in deciding on the final arrangements of the songs as well! Here's a video of the students and Quintopus performing a version of Innocence (including some group singing--a great idea for the arrangement!):

Kyle Vock (bassist for the Mighty High and Dry/Nazareth College) and IfCM co-Director Chris Teal coached a week-long (5 hours a day!) collaboration for the Little America Rock Camp, July 21-25th 2014. Little America runs cultural exchange programs between Europe and the US that focus on providing people to immerse themselves in a different language and culture.  What could be more fun for 5 Italian kids and one American to get to know each other than through forming a rock band! Kyle has the scoop:

We started the sessions with a conversation about what they liked to listen to, and jumping right into the familiar 'Twist and Shout' as performed by the Beatles as a nice first-day ice breaker to engage with them musically. The simplicity of the chords allowed everyone to concentrate more on playing with one another. Singing came in the form of a four-part seventh chord in the song, with emphasis placed on listening to each other and adjusting if necessary.

The second day stepped up a notch: choosing, learning and performing music after only a few rehearsals. Improvisation and laughter ensued from engaging in simply rhythm exercises and clapping games - using a metronome showed that the discipline of adhering to a beat or replicating a pattern could be easy for some but challenging for others, but the session made everyone feel comfortable playing and improvising around each other, developing patterns as they wanted in interesting ways.

Day three was more about sound: using the two guitarists, I showed the two the difference in sound you can get by either using bar chords or more open chord voicings, tailoring the demonstration to their relative ability.

We used the majority of the penultimate session to rehearse our four songs for the concert, stopping during run-throughs to ask if they could hear certain features in the music, like the drummer turning the beat around or the guitars rushing ahead. We also talked about microphone do's and don'ts - vital for performance. 

Finally, for the last session, I brought in the upright bass so I could play and talk about the history of the instrument as well as its various roles in different musical settings. None of them had seen or heard a bass up close so this was a new experience! I spent the rest of the session discussing jazz music and the fundamental roles of the piano/guitar bass and drum set, identifying twelve bar blues form and also demonstrating the difference between traditional blues changes and jazz blues chord changes. Additionally, we spent time talking about the concept of swing and compared it to straight 8th note feel. showing them visually what swing looks like on the staff.

I had a great time working with the Italian students. They were extremely receptive, and had both great questions and enough musical background to allow more breakthrough than overwhelm. 

Alan Murphy writes about 'Come Join the Band: Creative Music Making for Everyone', a University of Rochester Pre-College Program, July 14-25 that he instructed with Chris Teal:

This year I was happy that we could help meet the students’ requests for instruction in songwriting.  I used some examples and created some exercises around “writing from the title” and students all took a stab at writing.  We were able to record about a half dozen new songs/ideas, and I hope that students continue to develop that they started.  I also enjoyed watching beginners and more advanced instrumentalists really go head-on into practicing and expanding their skills at their instrument(s) of choice.