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Making a Leap Forward!
What “sparks” our performing?

I find myself constantly seeking out people, places, and opportunities that can facilitate a musical leap in my abilities as a performer: travelling out to Vancouver to get a few hours of playing in with a great tuba player, getting a chance to perform with a different orchestra, or heading off to an intensive program hosted outside of my stomping grounds. All of these musical settings present the chance to surround myself with people who are not only talented musicians, but amazing people who are eager to share their thoughts about their approach to making music.

Early in July, I had the opportunity to attend the Pokorny Low Brass Seminar, held at the University of Redlands in California. It has been many years since I last attended a summer program of any sort. Now in its 9th year, this well organized, week-long program provides an intensely rewarding experience. Prior to arriving, the prospect of meeting such famous performers and teachers was both exciting and mildly nerve-racking.  This festival brings in a number of skilled and successful low brass players such as Randy Hawes (Detroit), Mick Mulcahy (Chicago), Tim Higgins (San Francisco), Gene Pokorny (Chicago), Sergio Carolino (Portugal), Scott Sutherland (Redlands), and Andrew Glendening (Redlands).   Spending numerous hours listening to solo and orchestral recordings of these players over the years made seeing and hearing these icons of low brass in person even more valuable. Nightly performances by the faculty, daily masterclasses and sessions, lectures on teaching and performance made for an intensive week full of performing, listening, and learning.

It wasn’t simply the immersion into a great group of faculty and attendees that made the experience so unique, it was the attitudes of these people: generous with their time and knowledge, fostering musical development, and creating a climate of growth for each individual. I came away with a renewed sense of energy towards making and teaching music.

Andrew and Gene work with Nick Sullivan. #bach #cellosuitesarethebestsuites — with Andrew Glendening, Gene Pokorny, and Nick Sullivan at University of Redlands School of Music. Photo courtesy of Julia Broome-Robinson.

At the end of the week, my mind travelled to the desire for such an opportunity to be present closer to home. Wouldn’t it be awesome for our students to get the chance to be inspired by such a calibre of people? Well, of course!  There is such an event in Alberta for our Middle and High School students at MusiCamp Alberta.

I have written previously about the great things that happen at MusiCamp Alberta and after my experience at Redlands I am reminded that there is something special about a music camp experience at any age or ability.  I have the honour of being a member of the MusiCamp faculty that strives towards the same goals: being musically inspiring, caring, supportive, and generous in the service of creating musical individuals who are working towards the next level in their own performance. After two weeks in Red Deer, it was amazing to hear what these students accomplished. The conductors, Gareth Jones and Dr. Milt Allen (The Music Guerrilla), facilitated ensemble performances based on a culture of friendship and collegiality with these young players in a matter of hours. The attitude and approach by these master conductors and teachers ignited a musical maturation that is nothing short of shocking when compared to when the students first arrived at camp. This dedication to the music and the collaboration towards a rewarding performance created an atmosphere of camaraderie that shouldn’t be possible in such a short period of time. These students leave armed with an attitude of excitement towards performance, energized by the music and their growing desire to continue elevating their own ensembles, and counting down the weeks until the next MusiCamp.

It’s not just the music, but the people we surround ourselves with, that make these experiences so valuable. Seek out individuals who can inspire through not only their talents, but their approach to music and people. Keep in mind the flip side: we are also the individuals that other people want to associate with to help themselves elevate. Just as we want to surround ourselves with people who can inspire us, be sure to foster in ourselves that attitude of support, of generosity, and of service to the music, so that the experience for all is one of finding the spark in music.

– Nick Sullivan

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