Monday, June 27, 2016

Mr. Ryan's Summer Adventure Part 3- Charlotte New Music Festival

Hi Everyone,

After a whirlwind two weeks at the Charlotte New MusicFestival (CNMF), the Beo String Quartet is now in the air and headed to Minot, North Dakota for Dakota Chamber Music!  Although the onboard entertainment is very tempting (Delta Studio!), I'd like to take a few moments instead to share some details about our activities at the festival...

First off, rehearsals!

Having lived with the music written by participants and faculty for several weeks, meeting the composers and playing their pieces to them for the first time was exciting.  For me, it was also a little nervewracking.  When a composer shows a deep emotional connection to their music, and they care so much for the sound and shape of their piece, I can't help but want to do my best!  Being able to speak with the composers in person was not only great for getting answers to questions that had really puzzled us, but it also brought us into contact with some really compelling ways to shape the music, many of which we simply hadn't thought of on our own.  

CNMF sponsored a string quartet composition competition, and out of ninety (90!)+ submissions from across the country, Beo selected Andrew List's piece Time Cycles.  Andrew (pictured with Beo, above) is faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston.  We were grateful for his fair and demanding rehearsals with the quartet, and we were also impressed by his commitment to teaching, often sitting down with student composers to see what they were doing and to offer advice on technical and musical problems.  Congratulations, Andrew!

In the same way the composers showed us new perspectives on the music they had written, Beo had the opportunity to give a two-hour talk on new music from the performer's perspective, focusing on expressive markings (tempo, slurs, dynamics, articulations, extended techniques) and how they change the sound of the string quartet.  We took a short musical example and, without changing any of the notes, played it five very different ways depending on the markings we saw.  I was surprised at how drastically different each version sounded!  There were lots of questions from the participants and discussion about the clearest ways for a composer to communicate on the page with a performer.  After all, most composers will never meet the performers playing their piece, so the written markings are what musicians rely on to communicate.

 These are views of the technical setup for Charles Nichols' piece At the Boundary.  For this piece, Charles takes in some of our instruments' sound through acoustic pickups and plays it out again through the speakers during the performance with different effects such as distortion, delays, phasers, etc.  We rigged up a metronome click in our ears to keep us on track.  I didn't want any doubt whether I was playing with Sandro or "Sandro's echo" by mistake!  

And of course, despite the intensity of the rehearsal and concert schedule, it's necessary to make time for fun.  After all, if we take a day to do interesting and goofy things and come back to rehearsal refreshed and rested, the music will be much better than if we had pushed ourselves too far.  Charlotte offered some incredible food, a beach, and movies!  We also celebrated with the composers at an open mic night and a very. long. karaoke!!!

Excited to begin working with students at Dakota Chamber Music!

-Mr. Ryan

Monday, June 13, 2016

Make Up Week is June 27-July 2, 2016


Make Up Week is June 27-July 2

  • Only make-up lessons happen this week. Lessons and classes must be reserved this week by calling our administration at 724-935-0505 by June 20th
  • Monday, June 27th is a make-up day for Memorial Day. All regularly scheduled lessons will happen as usual. If Monday students need an additional make-up, they may call to schedule an additional make-up for that week.
  • Group classes remain scheduled at their usual time, but will only be held if students have called to confirm their attendance by June 20. These group classes are only for students who need a make-up.
  • Lessons do not have to be confined to your usual lesson day/time after June 20th. You may schedule earlier/later times as available, but not after Friday, June 24.
  • For all students who are caught-up on their make-up lessons, please enjoy the week off!
Need assistance? Email or call 724-935-0505!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mr. Ryan's Summer Adventure Part 2- Eight things a musician needs to go on tour!

 Mr. Ryan packs his bag for the summer performance tour- what will he bring?

Mr. Ryan always needs his cello to perform- what else might come in handy?

As Mr. Ryan and his cello prepare for their journey, some very specific items end up in their luggage! Read on to learn which items come in handy when touring (and even in your own summer practice routine!)...


"Hi Everyone,

In my last entry, I promised I would say a little about how I went about preparing the music for the tour.  First, let's look at my "cello office" which I usually use when I am practicing on my own:

By my count, I have eight items here.  Each one has a specific purpose and may also help your own home practice!

  1. Pink tab - This is essential for my learning a piece well.  When reading music, it is very tempting to play and play and play (and play!) far past the point where I am comfortable with the music.  This kind of playing is a musical equivalent to junk food--lots of empty calories and not very healthy for your sound!  Therefore, I put a pink tab at the end of the small section I practiced the previous day.  Once I can play this particular section well (read: I hear everything I'm looking for: right rhythms, intonation, articulation, dynamics, vibrato, character, tempo, etc.) and my mind is comfortable and clear, I advance the tab to the end of the next "bit" of music, and begin constructing the elements of that section.  I am careful to never play past the pink tab. The independent practicers in the studio are used to hearing about the "musical sandwich".  This is a large, metaphorical submarine sandwich, usually as big as a piano.  I choose a "bite" of music--not too big, not too small--and ask the student to begin chewing it.  After they can swallow that bite, I ask if they are full or still hungry.  If they feel full, we move to a different activity; if they are still hungry, we learn the next bite of the piece.  Soon I ask the students to look at the music and choose their own size of bite, something they must be able to do at home on their own.  
  2. Stack of Notecards - Each piece I am working on has its own notecard, where I've listed all the musical "bites" that are present in a piece along with the metronome marking that I can play that bite well (again, I hear everything I am looking for).  This way I can gauge how quickly I am learning the piece and I can go right to the places that need the most attention.  
  3. Phone - It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's...a phone?! which actually hosts my tuning and metronome app.  I use the tuner to keep my cello tuned consistently, which is very important for young students.  For instance, think of a car whose steering wheel and the pedals behaved differently from day to day.  How confusing would that be to drive?  Consider then, how difficult it would be to play a piece on an instrument that is tuned differently from day to day!                                                                         Metronomes are more difficult for young students to use.  Like any tool, they can be used well or used painfully, and each student will need to learn to use theirs appropriately.  Students begin learning to use a metronome after they are well into their studies and pass through different stages.
  4. Binder - This keeps all of my music in one place.  Some of my studio parents photocopy their student's music and place it in a binder with music on the left, and a blank page on the right.  They will use the blank page for general notes and mark specifics (or trouble spots) on the music itself.  
  5. Music stand - Yes!  Although shown here a stand at school, I use a Peak collapsible music stand at home.   It adjusts to the height needed for the tallest violinist and also very low down for young cellists beginning their reading.  Also, it is sturdy enough to allow writing with one hand, a major expedient when you have an instrument in the other hand.  I picked it up several years ago for around $30.  
  6.  Pencil - Essential for taking notes!  I keep my pencil dull and I don't press too hard so that the lead doesn't cut the paper, allowing me to make better erasures.
  7. Score - A score shows you all of the different parts and how they fit together.  I will use it to understand the whole piece and often write my colleagues' parts into my own part so that I know what is going on when I am playing without a conductor. 
  8. Eraser - This is a HiPolymer from Pentel, the best eraser in the world!  Hey, we all change our minds from time to time.  

That's all for now.  The tour starts tomorrow!

                                                                          -Mr. Ryan"

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Mr. Ryan's adventures this summer with Beo String Quartet

Mr. Ryan and the Beo String Quartet
If you ever wanted to go behind the scenes to take a look at the adventures of a member of a touring string quartet, you're in luck!

We are excited to follow along with Mr. Ryan this summer as he performs with the Beo String Quartet
He says:

"Early last fall I had the opportunity to join the Beo String Quartet, a Pittsburgh-based professional quartet. For the last three months, we’ve been preparing for our summer residencies: two weeks at the Charlotte New Music Festival, followed by an additional week at Dakota Chamber Music in Minot, ND. I couldn’t be more excited to be able to participate in these programs…summer festivals were the most meaningful musical experiences I had growing up, not only because of the powerful performances and incredible teaching I experienced, but also for the lifelong friends I found along the way.

Now I’ll get to see a festival from the other side, as a performer and teacher. At the Charlotte New Music Festival (CNMF), the quartet is performing thirteen new works composed by the festival participants: a mixture of faculty, doctoral, and masters students. Over the course of the festival, the quartet will meet and work with each student composer on the interpretation of their piece, and give a two hour presentation on composing for string quartet. Similarly, students at Dakota Chamber Music (DCM), ranging in age from ninth grade to college, will form temporary chamber groups and receive daily coaching from the Ying Quartet, Luminous Piano Trio, and Beo. Beo will also give two interactive presentations for the students, the first on “rhythm and intonation”, and the second titled “Everything But the Notes: Expressive Markings in Music” (my favorite).

My kitchen scale tells me that I’ve been learning 3 lbs. 4 oz. worth of music for these residencies! I’ve also been warned that CNMF includes a speedwriting event; composers are given 48 hours to complete a new work and the performers will have the same timeframe to learn them all, upwards of thirty pieces. Because most of it is written in an entirely new style, featuring complex rhythms, unusual harmonies, and extended playing techniques, I feel as I imagine many of my pre-twinkle students do: at first utterly confused and overwhelmed, but finally separating out the different elements needed to play, learning one element only at a time, putting it all together, and breathing a sigh of relief as my mind eventually clears. More on that process later!

CYM has asked me to give updates on our trip through the month of June. Hopefully the information I share can help out our own students’ musical studies right here in Pittsburgh, and perhaps inspire some of you to attend a summer program of your own, either here in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in the country. All the best for your summer practicing!"
                                                                      -Mr. Ryan Ash, CYM cellist
Learn more by connecting with Beo's Social media here.