The alarm went off way too soon again and there was not even time for coffee on this last day of ASTA. I was very excited to be playing one of the Choros that Catherine Bent had arranged for her session "Brazilian Choro: A Gateway to Improvisation," so I got to the Convention Center Ballroom at about 8am. It was so pleasant to have a recording playing of the warm Brazilian music over the speakers as you entered the room, it really made 8am feel better and set the tone for the rest of the session. I will call out the presider Joseph Alcocer, where were you buddy? Since he was a no show, I helped Catherine gather stands that were supposed to be in the room. It was really nice to run into one of the ASTA coordinators in this search for stands, she immediately took over and was very helpful at solving this glitch.
Catherine lead the crew that had gathered into a history of the Choro, broke down the rhythms used by having the group dance and clap a little, we presented a duo of the style with a tune called “Naquele Tempo,” and then she got everyone with an instrument to come up for a reading session of one of the Choros. It was a wonderful way to start the day.
The South American flavor continued for me with the presentation given by the Sweet Plantain string quartet. Their presentation was titled “The Laptop as the Fifth Member of the String Quartet,” but I didn’t care what they were talking about. I went to hear them play. The presentation covered how they incorporate electronic gear into some of their tunes and into their learning process. They played more hip hop based tunes rather than Latin, but as I expected, for me the highlight was just hearing them play. Not only are these guys creative and highly skilled artists playing fantastic music, they’re also super nice guys. When will they be headlining an ASTA event? Soon please.
My final, final highlight of a long list of highlights was hanging around after the Plantains were done with their session. I bought their CD (which made my drive home to Brooklyn much more enjoyable) and was talking with the guys and before I knew it the room had almost cleared out, but the cherry on the ASTA cake was about to happen.
Rachel Barton Pine had decided to try out a few bows for her small entourage, including her daughter that was delightfully dancing around the room. This experience was fantastic on two counts. First, I was sitting in a room with about eight other people listening to Ms. Barton-Pine play scales and then tidbits of concertos, that would have obviously been enough, but it was also fascinating to be listening to the nuances of the different bow sounds that she was pulling and to witness how someone of her caliber goes about the process. I won’t mention how she said that finding a bow is harder than finding a husband.
The bow taste test was an unexpected treat. Along with the mirage of amazing planned sessions that swirled around me for four days straight, often times forcing a difficult decision because I really wanted to be in three places at one time, it is also those unexpected turns of who you talk with, eat with, and play with that make it worth the price of admission. And how could I almost forget to mention the performance of the collection of Berklee harpists playing jazz, wow. I’m kicking myself for not remembering my roller skates to ride around that convention center to their version on "Rock with You."
Lastly, my big picture highlight is witnessing the classical world of training opening up to the possibilities of playing in alternative styles and embracing all these sessions that explore improvisation. I really think it is long overdue and I applaud ASTA for having so many fascinating sessions that are outside of the classical box. It’s a lovely box, but so much more beautiful when it is allowed to sing it’s own tune as well. Now that I’m home and finished with this blog I have the enormous task of putting to practice all the brilliant ideas that are overflowing from my black and lime green bag. Thanks ASTA, I’ll be back…