ASTA Conference Highlights Day 3

My Friday morning began in Eugene Friesen’s “Releasing Your Creative Intuition,” session. The next two hours were a clear highlight for me of the entire conference. First of all, his ideas are tailor made for classical players that are intimidated by improvisation. Secondly, this was not a session whipped together in whatever moments are to be found in a musician’s busy schedule. You know the sessions where the presenter is asking if there are any questions about forty minutes in, proceeded by an almost uncomfortable lull while they come up with a creative way to fill the rest of the session. No, Mr. Friesen’s session was two hours that flew by in a deeply profound and constructive way. 

He began with thirty minutes of a speech that he had written out word for word. I know that he wrote every word out because he was kind enough to send me a copy to add to the several pages of notes that I couldn’t seem to stop taking in an attempt to remember all the wisdom he was sharing. Rather than trying to recreate his speech, I will just advise my readers to keep a lookout for the book that he will hopefully write on the topic as suggested by myself and other attendees. A summary of his speech would some how dilute the depth of it so I won’t even try, but as you can imagine it was rich with ways to “Release your Creative Intuition.” Here are just a few threads, not the quilt by any means.

 Mr. Friesen invited us to return to a great performance that we have experienced in our memory, to return to that world where you could feel the electric power of intensity that the musical artist had tapped into. I personally remembered hearing a dress rehearsal of Joshua Bell playing Tchaikovsky violin concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra. Some how the intimacy of being one of a few in a very large concert hall intensified the experience for me. I was there with my quartet coach from college who knew him and when we were introduced shortly after the end of the rehearsal, so soon that the music created was still fresh in the air with him on the stage, I couldn’t even speak because I was so overcome by the visceral power of what had been created and was still alive on the stage. So great! And a sarcastic "great:" the one time I meet Josh Bell, I can’t even talk, great!

The power of that moment is what he was suggesting we return to. Being in the presence of an artist “in the zone,” of creative intuition where they have elated themselves and their listener to a world of pure expression is more natural and more powerful than the dialogue of fearful thoughts that can prevent that process. His speech outlined several ways we can return to the raw creative essence that oozed out of each of us when we were seven years old, which is a fantastic place to create music and really our duty as teachers, in terms of passing on a torch of a positive experience. Mr. Friesen suggests that we all have the ability to release this creative intuition that is innately natural to us when we venture into the world of improvisation.


After his talk, we all got in a circle to try some of his ideas that he has in his book titled “Improvisation for Classical Musicians.” He set out a few parameters to make the classical non-improviser feel comfortable and then he invited a cellist who had never done any improvisation to play an improvised duet with him. I wish I had recorded what transpired in the moments that they were playing. It really could have been a premier of a well-paid commissioned piece. It was remarkable. He suggests that music is love and we, the classical players that were sometimes trained away from our natural instinct to create through improvisation, should let go of those fear based thoughts and get into the love of music via improvisation. The opportunity to deepen our musical experience is there, waiting for us through the ideas he demonstrated of immediate improvisation. As we travel through the rigorous stages of learning the language of the music that we are drawn to, we will be able to add to our conversation in new ways, but in the meantime Mr. Friesen shared ways to experience how our voice is relevant without any improvisational training and ways to create real beauty just from our competency of being able to play our instrument. This fact somehow did lighten the fear that I carry as a residue from my early training in the classical world and I found the information that he shared very helpful in my own personal pursuits of how to go deeper into improvisation. Thanks Eugene Friesen!

My Friday afternoon highlight was Janet Farrar-Royce and her session on “The First Twelve Lessons, What to Teach.” I already knew what I was getting into before entering her session, as I was blessed to have her as a conductor in my youth symphony years ago. By blessed I mean, big time way incredibly blessed and extremely lucky! Her enthusiasm for teaching is unstoppable and it’s based on decades of experience and a lot of love. Oddly enough, she really does look exactly the same as when she was jumping up and down on her podium thirty years ago on Saturday mornings in Norwalk, Ct screaming “Watch Me,” with her light blue T-shirt on that spelled out in large velvety iron on letters, “Watch Me!!” I know I liked violin when I was ten years old, but I don’t know if I would still be playing today if I hadn’t been exposed to the force of Mrs. Janet Farrar-Royce.


Her session was brilliant as well. Why not turn each beginning major song immediately into a minor song, training the second finger to get used to moving into low or high position right away. It is truly amazing that I have not come across one Book 1 of any system that does this. So once “Hot Cross Buns,” is played, why not create a story for the student that starts off with a perfect breakfast of tasty hot cross buns, and then the boy is sent off to school all day, but he spends it dreaming about when he gets to return home for another hot cross cinnamon (added drama) bun. The boy walks into his kitchen and is so excited to find the buns and he puts it in his month and is shocked to discover that he has modulated into the minor key of a very sad and slow, “Cooold Crooosss Buuuns :( " And so the story goes, one two three through twelve songs and the kid knows minor and major second fingers for the rest of his life and the teacher is not faced with getting him to understand that after a long time of playing high second fingers, there is a low second finger as well. I love Mrs.Farrar-Royce!

As a side note, I was astonished by one woman who sat a few rows in front of me and I know I was not alone here. Of course, people forget to turn their phones off and then scramble to turn off the ringer when it rings in a session. Well, this lady proceeded to answer her call. The call must have dropped pretty quickly because she really didn’t get past hello. So I figured she would turn the ringer off then, but no, the phone rings again in a minute and she proceeds to talk quietly for a few moments, all the while people turning around and giving her the stink eye. She hangs up and then takes up a lot of time asking Mrs. Farrar-Royce questions about what she had missed and degrading her with her responses. Needless to say, she did not have me at hello and I just wanted to punch her in the face. She was like the evil witch trying to challenge Mrs. "Glinda" Farrar-Royce. I guess there is a bad apple in every crowd. My friend and I found it ultimately amusing as we waited in a line to sign a sheet so Glinda could email the handouts she had to anyone who didn’t receive one. Low and behold, who cuts right in front of us, non other than the cell phone witch. She signed her name and in parentheses put (string destroyer).  What? We couldn’t help but laugh. Luckily, the force that is Janet Farrar-Royce was not affected in the slightest by this intruder and I left feeling all warm and fuzzy, knowing that I would soon be making a batch of cold cross buns for all my little students.

On Friday night I finally got my foodie fix at Al Forno, mushroom pizza, baked pasta, spicy salad greens, and exquisite malbec. Finally good food! Thanks for that evening Catherine Bent. The food was worth the long walk in ballet slippers by the dark,cold, and unpopulated riverside. As a side note, I think we kind of knew what we were doing when we almost walked through the kitchen door instead of the front entrance, that kitchen could make a nice home, ha.

After dinner I stepped into the jam session going on in the Providence room at the Omni. Of course, all the heavy hitters were all there. It was fun to listen to a few rockin solos before finding my way back to the lobby for a quick phone call with my husband for my nightly attempt at updating him with all I had experienced since the night before. I was glad to be staying at the Omni for my last night of the conference, minus the artificial weird hotel smell that seemed to permeate the halls. I would be up early for Catherine Bent’s Choro session the next morning at 8:15am.

Posted on March 14, 2013 .