You can’t get much more dedicated than this month’s Teacher Feature, Anne. For those of you who haven’t met her yet, Anne is our recital coordinator, music teacher, and maybe most excitingly, our nonprofit coordinator. Anne has brought the Molly’s Music Foundation to Oakridge Private School, where she teaches in-school and after-school programs in piano, guitar, glee, and a variety of other disciplines. She has also been working tirelessly writing curriculum for future school programs. It’s hard to imagine a more devoted teacher, I can say without a doubt that when my son is in elementary school, Anne is the school teacher I’d love to see him taking classes from. All you’ll need to do to make the world feel a little more beautiful today is to check out her description of her favorite instruments in this interview. Read it and tell me you aren’t feeling musically inspired!
MM: What instruments do you play, how did you get started with each one, and how long have you been playing them?
AL: I am primarily a vocalist. That is where my main interest lies. But if I am given a string or percussion instrument, I can usually figure it out. I started out with guitar lessons when I was eight. My sister started taking them, and since she was older than me, I had to take them, too. I worked on mostly acoustic and classical styles, because that is just how I roll. Once I was in fourth grade, I took both band and choir in school. I played the clarinet all the way from 4th grade through 12 grade. Band was never my main interest, nor my main focal point, but if someone was going to let me play music during school, I was there. In sixth grade the school offered a string ensemble, and I wanted to play the violin so bad. So I played in the school string ensemble from 6th to 8th grade, and have taken private lessons in my adult years. I was in choir all through school, and began to take private voice lessons at 12, with a very classical bent. That was my choice. I was a weird child. I sang all through school, and ended up majoring in music with a concentration on vocal performance in college. I picked up piano in college, taking secondary classes and learning it out of necessity in order to play the music that I needed to sing. I sat down with books of “easy” Bach and played through them. Since the indie folk revolution, I found that banjos were easier to get my hands on, so I managed to purchase one after wanting one for the longest time. With 22 years of guitar behind me, it wasn’t too hard to figure out!
MM: Who has inspired you musically?
AL: I think the teachers I have had, my private and school teachers, are the ones who have inspired me the most. From the laid- back guitar teacher who must have lived off of coffee to my bow tie-wearing college professor who sang Bach in Boston every year, to the microtonal composer who had his studio and his amazing instruments in the basement of the theater, they all had an honest passion for music, and more importantly, for doing music well. They never cut corners, taught tricks, or advocated anything other than practice, analyze your music, know what you are doing with both your technique and interpretation. The composer deserves it, the music deserves it, and you deserve it. That being said, if it wasn’t for my parents’ record collection, I highly doubt I would care about their passion and honesty the way that I do.
MM: What are some of your favorite instruments and musical genres, and why?
AL: I love the banjo. I think the banjo sounds like the stars in the dark night sky when it is cold and the wind cuts through the mountains and they glitter cold and distant and beautiful. I love drumsets when they are played hard and fast and you got double bass drums going with the blast beats and just this steady drive forward. I love the deep rich sound of the cello, the way it sounds like it is telling you a story that is incredibly sad but also incredibly beautiful. But most of all, out of everything, I love the human voice. I don’t even have a metaphor for how incredible, how varied, how holy the human voice is. As far as genres, I find that the more I grow as a musician the more genres I tend to like. I started out, when I was really little, listening to only musicals. Seriously, nothing but musicals. And then one day I found my parents’ album (literal vinyl) of Led Zeppelin IV. And my mind was blown. I never, never looked back. I love classic rock, the bluesier and more Southern, the better. I love the straight up blues, soul, funk. I used to DJ death metal in college, spending 1am to 3am every Saturday morning playing Nile, Amon Amarth, and Otep. And I love bluegrass and folk. And jazz, especially bebop, like Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. But, honestly, there is nothing like Mozart, Bach, Sibelius, Rachmanionv, Debussy, and Ravel. You can hear the divine in their chord structures, in their melodies, in their harmonies.
MM: What are your current musical projects?
AL: Currently, I have two major projects. The first is teaching myself the clawhammer technique on the banjo, which is different than the Earl Scruggs/bluegrass style on the banjo. I played classical guitar and did finger picking, so having to use just my thumb and the nail of my pointer finger, which is the clawhammer technique, is very challenging. I keep wanting to use all my other fingers. My other major project is to continue working on my vocal technique with coaches. This is a never-ending project! I am looking into the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Handel, working through their repertoire. There is such an elegance and grace in their music, and since I have all the elegance and grace of a bull in a china shop, it takes a fair amount of work!
MM: How do you practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students to practice?
AL: I practice anywhere I can. Since I live in a house share, and work a lot, it is difficult to find time. I make due with what I can. If it is too late to practice violin with the bow (which can be quite loud), I practice just the finger placement and pluck the strings, which is very soft. As for voice, I tend to find time between students if I am in the studio, or just read through my music, listen to many other people singing it, listening to how they sing. Practicing is more than just shutting yourself in a room for half an hour and saying, “I’m not going to do anything except read these notes.” Since music is pretty much my main life goal, I just spend most of my non musical teaching working hours impatient to get home and play the banjo or guitar. I help my students to practice by explaining to them good methods and techniques for practicing. The main thing I tell them is to take the music apart. Work on it measure by measure so that it isn’t a huge daunting project, but just a measure, just four beats, and all they need to do is play those four beats. And then they can move on. I do expect them to practice, and I do let them know that I do. Music is hard. It is very hard, and it takes a lot of time and effort and frustration to get it to a good level. But then again, anything worth doing is hard.
MM: What’s your favorite part of running the music program at Oakridge?
AL: The most rewarding things about working with the non-profit and the after school classes so far is when the kids or their parents tell me how excited they are. I had a parent tell me that her daughter loves Thursdays because that is when we do Glee, and she looks forward to that. And I know that feeling. And I love that they are excited and they want to be there and they have an opportunity to do something that they love. I love the ability to introduce them to new things as well, like the third grader who discovered that he really likes the Beach Boys, or the kindergarten girl who strummed the banjo I brought in to show them and said, “That is so beautiful.” I am looking forward to the expansion of the non-profit so this type of experience can be had by more students, especially the ones who might not have the opportunity otherwise, who may not have parents that can afford to give them private lessons, or ones who don’t get the chance to experience singing the Beach Boys or strumming a banjo or learning to play the drums.
MM: What are your goals for the non-profit?
AL: My goals for the non-profit is to help it grow and to help provide a good backbone with the curriculums that I have been writing. I would love to see the non-profit grow and expand and reach out into different types of schools so that a lot of different children can get an introduction to music and hopefully develop a passion for it. That is really what I hope the non-profit is able to achieve, a lot of students gaining a passion for music, not necessarily wanting to pursue it as a career but to know that they are able to create it, to have that knowledge and that outlet and that experience that helps to inform them as adults.
MM: How does teaching in schools and working with the non-profit differ from working with private students?
AL: There is a massive difference, for me at least, between teaching in the non-profit and in-school and teaching private teachers. The main difference is that in my private lessons I am one-on-one with each student. I can individually cater to them and the way that they learn. With the non-profit and the in-school teaching, lessons can’t be as catered. You have to find a happy medium so the quicker learners aren’t bored but the kids who maybe struggle a little more are able to keep up and participate. The discipline is also very different. One student isn’t so hard to handle, a whole bunch are. Your approach to them has to be different. The pay off for having more kids is that the energy is different, and you can work with it in a very different way. Music is a group activity in many respects, and having that opportunity to play or sing with others, to create something bigger and louder and more complex than yourself, is such an incredible experience. And students learn such important skills such as listening, paying attention, patience, all these skills that are imperative for a performer and for pretty much everyone else.
MM: If you were stranded on an island and only got to choose one album, which would you choose?
AL: That is one of the hardest questions anyone has ever asked me. Probably Led Zeppelin IV. It’s that album’s fault all this got started anyway. I’ll take it down with me.