ASTA Conference Highlights Day 1


I wish I had taken a photo of the woman sitting on the couch in the convention center hall about noon on Saturday, the last day of the ASTA festivities. She was tightly wrapped around her oblong violin case with her head resting on the hard pillow that the top of the case made. The way I see it, my cat is the only one to make a violin case cozy. Anyway, if that sleepy woman felt anything like I did, I’m guessing that she was even drooling a little in the state of happy exhaustion that she found herself in on this last day of a really amazing collection of events with sweet dreams of better teaching and playing in her near future. These are the highlights of my experience.

My alarm abruptly woke me very early on Wednesday morning. I had what google said would be a three hour and sixteen minute drive ahead of me from Brooklyn, NY to Providence, RI. I had signed up for the pre-session of “Eclectic Strings, the Improvising Tool Kit.” I didn’t plan on the pouring rain and thirty mile an hour wind gusts that turned my drive into a long four and a half hours. In retrospect, if it had been snow, I’m guessing I would have missed the session all together so I guess I was lucky to arrive only half an hour late, without time to eat. The drive was not a highlight, but I thought I would mention it for added drama.

My first real highlight, besides making it there alive, was having several hours in this pre-session to gain ideas on improvising for myself and for my students. I was late for Tanya (with an A) Kalmanovich’s session, but I did see her exploring expression in drone form and presenting ways to open musical dialogues between players as they all sat in the comfort of a circle. Amy Marr had so much to say that I’m glad that she handed out a very specific four page break down of her ideas for improvising in a group setting. I can only imagine how much fun her kids are having improvising in their middle school orchestra. Amy also was a head cheerleader for the jam session that took place on Friday evening, handing out fliers and reminding people of the location every time I happen to be in the same room as her. She’s also probably wondering who I am if she ever gets to read this as we never officially met, but it just goes to show you never know who is out there listening, watching, and writing all about it. Luckily, I have all good things to say, opposite to my next blog about my experience in a luthier’s shop yesterday (stay tuned, if you want to read a rant).  

Christian Howes’ segment of the class was very interesting to me. Christian is a tornado of personality and expertise. I met Christian years ago when I serendipitously (wow, I spelled that correctly on the first try, yes I know it’s not that difficult but I’m still really tired so I’m impressed) bumped into him in a deli in Brooklyn. I had my violin case so he was eyeing me and about twenty minutes later he had run up to his apartment down the street to get me one of his CD’s and I was practically signed up to go to his Creative Strings Workshop a few months later. I did go and can recommend it to anyone who wants to be completely immersed in playing, learning, and hanging out with great musicians for five days straight. So back to the pre-session…I really enjoyed Christian’s because he was giving ideas that begin so basic and can be developed in many ways. He used the chords from Pachebel’s Canon (something very common) and stacked the notes for each chord of the progression, only using the notes in the first position on violin. You begin by using any root, third, or fifth note in the progression and can develop into voice leading and using different styles with the same chord progression to improvise. Here’s the idea

I really enjoyed it because years ago when I was first introduced to this idea at his workshop; I was a bit overwhelmed and was in a state of information overload with all the new amazing people I was meeting and all the information coming at me. This time I was more settled and it made so much sense.

The finale of the day was finally meeting Bert Ligon. My first attempts at trying to branch out from the classical world into jazz were made in North Carolina before I moved to NYC. That is when I first was hearing about this master teacher in Columbia, SC. I continued to hear about him in New York and about his arrangements for string players so I was really excited to finally be in the same room with him. He dissected the rhythm section for the class and then there was a considerable amount of time to play some of his arrangements and go around the room with 2, 4, and 8 bars solos, which is a very simple and non-threatening way to begin soloing. It was a really fun way to end the day to be playing with Bert Ligon after hearing about him for many years. He even signed an autograph as a surprise for one of my students. She is playing one of his compositions in her orchestra so I thought she would enjoy it, how is it possible that it is the only thing that disappeared from my piles of conference papers? I’m left with a student that will never know how awesome I am, darn!

Even through the hungry highway trials of getting there, this was an excellent start to my ASTA conference. After making my way out of the parking lot (I had a cheaper hotel ten miles away) I made it to Warwick, finally ate, and prepared for my next day of sessions.

Posted on March 12, 2013 .