A BIG MUSIC DAY IN CATHEDRAL CITY HIGH SCHOOLIt seems that most of today’s iconic moments in public school music occur either at the pep rally or on the football field. That wasn't the case on March 8, 2008, at Cathedral City High School, just outside Palm Springs, California. Something of focused yet broad significance for the world of Music Education occurred, an event whose import extends far beyond the walls of the school and Music Director Greg Whitmore’s Band Room.
EVERY HIGH SCHOOL CAN HAVE AN ORCHESTRA
The occasion was a premier, the first working display of IVASI’s new series of video recordings for developing orchestral skills among pre-collegiate students, especially those whose school has no orchestral program. Since there are some 40,000 such institutions in our country, the implications are important for the field of music at large, as well as for music educators—especially in these days when music programs throughout the country are feeling the pinch of economic hardship. What it provides is an opportunity to participate in a professional sonic setting under the direction of a seasoned conductor, a program sponsored through IVASI by the Jupiter Brass Corporation in Texas.
For anyone unfamiliar with IVASI, it is the virtual “live performance” indoctrination system developed by one of the stellar members of the Los Angeles film and recording studio scene, French horn player James Decker, with his son Douglas, who is a recording engineer in the L.A. area. An up-to-date video spin off from the much simpler “Music-Minus-One series developed many years ago by Jamey Aebersold to undergird budding jazz improvisers, the system includes first class recordings by professional orchestras, these synchronized with the video images of professional conductor in action, performing key works from the traditional repertoire.
In this new wrinkle designed for groups in educational settings, the usual symphonic parts used by professionals are provided for a small ensemble. In the Cathedral City premier nineteen of the school’s talented young students performed before the TV screen, an ensemble in this case of 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, and a trio of percussionists. The day’s repertoire included Sibelius’s Finlandia and the 4th movement of the Dvorak New World Symphony. Anyone just outside the Band Room during this 90 minute session might have thought it was simply the L.A. Philharmonic in rehearsal on the road . . . with a few foreign notes along the way! In fact, it was nineteen high school kids working away with recordings by the Slovak Philharmonic and the Slovak Radio Orchestra. They were being led in both works from the Band Room’s large TV screen by the conductorial images of Maxim Eskhenazy. Quite a show!
The IVASI set up is not just a group playtime toy, something to help a music director pass rehearsal slots for some school days in relaxed fun. In fact, it engenders something as close to a professional symphonic experience as most young musicians will ever encounter—especially before entering the college/conservatory scene. Students in the Cathedral City tryout were visibly impressed by the seriousness of it all, the musical pressures imposed by what they were doing; during post-rehearsal chats they expressed their great enthusiasm for the hard-core approach represented by what they had just endured for 90 minutes. Their general consensus was that this was like “the real thing,” that their music-making under these circumstances, despite the pressures, was a new kind of experience for them—just hearing all of those strings as a part of the sound they were helping to produce was a treat!
This first-of-its-kind demonstration made use of the Band Room’s built-in television equipment, with Los Angeles professional “guest conductor” Richard Rintoul pacing the rehearsal spans, personally taking over between sections to add on-the-spot recommendations for greater performance precision. In some instances he conducted the group himself through difficult parts as a means for getting across playing tips. His role was precisely what local instrumental conductors would be in usual circumstances, guiding his charges through the motions of a genuine professional rehearsal in ways to amplify and improve upon what is gained directly from the taped images.
A classic real-world example cropped up when it became evident the three young trumpet players in the rehearsal were struggling in the Dvorak movement to figuring out what to do with their parts. They were professional parts: they were notated successively in three highly foreign keys, keys far-removed from the B-flat parts of the students’ normal lives. Especially baffling for them were passages written for trumpets in E! What were they to do with them? It was yet another milestone on the learning trail for any unseasoned brass or woodwind performer, something rarely encountered in the High School band rehearsal. In the words of Music Director Greg Whitmore, it was something they never expected to confront.
This film was directed by Joe Lamb for Shining Light Pictures www.shininglightpictures.com/
Interactive Video Audition System International ("IVASI"):
In the interest of helping serious classically trained musicians compete more favorably in the very difficult Classical Music job market, IVASI has developed this inter-active video guide.
There are many music schools that do not provide a comprehensive orchestral repertoire discipline.
As a demonstration of this process, IVASI has prepared several works to use in the horn studio. These same books and DVD discs have been used very successfully at many International Horn Society workshops.
Bowdoin Summer Music Festival
Music Academy of the West at Santa Barbara
From California Music Education Association Magazine - March 2007
iVasi - The Video Conductor
By William Thomson - Emeritus Professor and Dean
Thornton School of Music University of Southern California
The iVasi system is one of the most thorough educational tools created for young performers. It is a direct and powerful means for the talented musician to develop the abilities demanded for a modern symphony orchestra audition.
An interesting and vital bit of information was learned during mock auditions held for twelve master classes at the University o Southern California. The three members of the audition committee were all members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They stated emphatically that musicians must know more than just the excerpts to be performed in order to win an audition. They must be aware of the whole composition, of how their single part fits into the entire context. Following each audition student were asked if they had ever performed the work in its entirety. Most said “Only the excerpts.” Their most obvious shortfall was that their performances did not reveal an approach that would be true for a real performance; they were not aware of the rhythmic subtleties demanded for a real performance, a comprehension of what was going on in the rest of the ensemble while they were playing their particular part.
Using the audition lists of over thirty orchestras iVasi has created a full series that employs professional conductors simul-syncing on Naxos CD recordings. Searching through lists of compositions requested most often in the preliminary rounds of auditions - Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, et al. - it was found that many of the same works were repeated for all orchestral instruments. And thus those works had a priority in the sequence of the iVasi recording schedule.
iVasi uses an approach and technique begun more than sixty years ago in Hollywood recording studios. In a filmed version, a conductor synchronizes conducting gestures for a particular work with recording made of that work. With the resultant “Video Conductor” shown on a screen, the product enables the young musician to perform masterworks along with a conductor and the complete orchestra. This leads to learning one’s part in a work, with a feeling for the whole but without having to join a live orchestra.
When using iVasi, a conductor rehearses the group first. At the end of that session, a video projector with a state-of-the-art sound is turned on, rendering the full sonorities of gthe orchestra following the conductor on the screen. Since the iVasio materials use DVD format for its recordings, the process is especially helpful, since searching for rehearsal points to repeat difficult passages is a matter of gthe touch of a button.
There are thirteen iVasi systems currently available for use, as well as a Master Series method for French Horn. Master Series will also be available soon for Trumpet and Trombone. Since the “Video Conductor” enables musicians to perform with a conductor and a complete orchestra, it is by no means just another “Music-Minus-One” format: the total required ensemble is present in the recording. And yet, when the young live performer is playing synchronized in pitch and rhythm with the audio track, following the conductor, the part being practiced is actually masked out from the recording, leave only the auditioner and the remainder of the orchestra to be heard.
The iVasi systems are prominent parts of our current California education scene. “The Video Conductor” will be demonstrated at the CMEA Conference as an integral part of the brass clinic of the WestWind brass session on Thursday, March 15. Then it will form a large segment of the Long Beach State Symphony Orchestra concert on Friday, March 16.
Praise for iVasi programs have come from a broad array of users. Erik Raiske of the New York Philharmonic has said: “Bravo! I will pass this along to the powers at Manhattan School and Mannes and encourage them to buy the set. I think it would be a great asset for the schools to have. I particularly like the edited scores for brass to help in sectionals as well as raise the students’ awareness of how the parts fit together. In addition, while faculty members (like myself) certainly have something to offer in running rep classes and sectionals, we’re not professional conductors. Also, the kids can get together on their own with your system.”
Student Erika Binsley of Thousand Oaks, California, has said: thanks so much for sending my iVasi System. It works great and I look forward to using it! I really liked the audition forum on the second disc, and those tips have helped me a lot on recent auditions.”
And from Music Educator Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser of Ball State University: “You certainly have put together a first-class program that has potential only at the limits of the imagination. Bravo! This clearly could be a template for every aspect of the musical world and beyond. I watched the DVD and was mighty excited about what was put on the video.“