An interview with musician Aaron Robinson
Periodically individuals are featured on the Maine Arts Education blog as part of a series called “Another Student’s Story”. Their “Arts” stories are shared with you, the Arts Education community. Please share with others. If you know of anyone who should be sharing their stories, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Robinson is an award-winning composer, conductor, musicologist and best-selling author. He has written for television, film, radio and the theatrical stage. Aaron has recorded several best-selling albums including ‘They All Played Ragtime’, ‘Black Nativity – In Concert: A Gospel Celebration’ and ‘The Legend of Jim Cullen – A Dramatic Musical’, among others. He is the author of the best-selling memoir: ‘Does God Sing – A Musical Journey’.
Aaron attended Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro and graduated in 1989. He attended the Boston Conservatory of Music and studied Composition with John Adams and Thomas Lawrence Bell and Film Score at Berklee School of Music with John Williams.
Aaron was kind enough to answer the following questions for the Maine Arts Education blog readers.
What do you value most from your arts education?
The greatest gift I received from my education at the High School level was the validation, support and advocacy from teachers and administrators who realized that my talents were not academic but instinctively artistic. They could see that not all students fit a cookie-cutter assembly line form when it came to receiving a High School education and that my goals and dreams for furthering my secondary education in music did not necessarily puzzle piece perfectly within the curriculum of the standard student. Lucky for me.
Name three skills, ideas, or life-long tools that you have learned in your visual or performing arts classes/courses?
I am a huge proponent of stepping back and approaching any situation from a “Zen” standpoint: taking it all in from a larger perspective and combining all the little elements that so many only focus on one at a time without being able to see the entire picture. I learned this from watching Matisse drawing on the walls late in life with his famous extended paint-stick. The tip touched at a very small point, but his eye and view point encompassed the entire work as a whole at all times and never lost sight of the painting as a whole. In all forms of art it is the same. Even in cooking, a good chef will not prepare one dish at a time, but like a skilled plate-spinner, create the entire meal all at once and go from dish to dish, bringing it all together masterfully. Too many people focus their attention on one part, finish it, and move on, only to find that at the end they have a bunch of little pieces of a puzzle that not only do not fit together, but do not make a completed, understandable picture because they never took the time to step back, Zen the experience, and take it all in as they were creating it. When George Gershwin wrote, “Rhapsody in Blue” on a train from New York to Boston, even though it is made up of short little 16-bar musical vignettes, he heard the work as a whole, instantly … and that’s how we hear it. That’s how I compose and write: as a whole.
I am a different person due to my involvement in the arts because…
I never stop learning. I am fully against Academic exclusion. When I first entered into the musical world in the 1990’s, everyone greeted me with: “Where did you study? Who did you study with? Where did you get your degree?” If you didn’t answer correctly, you were not accepted. You were not seen to be worthy in their eyes. A degree was everything. Without it, you were nothing. It didn’t matter if you had talent, knew what you were talking about or if you could walk the walk or talk the talk. This disturbed me to no end. Four years of study from years eighteen to twenty-one does not and should not allow one to be seen as an expert or professional in any field. Not only that, talent can’t be taught. So, I never rest on my laurels or achievements or credentials. Fortunately we live in a day and time now that degrees, more so in music and the arts, do not speak as loudly as they did … and rightly so. One never stops learning.
If you could change any part of your arts education, what would it be?
I wouldn’t have spent so much time in the classroom. I would have hopped a train and spent it more in the concert halls … the jazz clubs … the musical theaters … the film studios … the street corners … making music rather than studying it. I’ve had all the time in the world to study music on my own time at home, but those experiences that come but once in a lifetime … those I miss most of all and feel that’s the education that can’t be taught, created or bought.
What’s the most creatively inspiring experience you remember?
All of them.
Why is making art or music and/or performing so important to you? Why can’t you live without it?
Absolutely 100% impossible to put into words. If I could, I’d be signing copies of the New York Times best-selling book right now …
Thank you Aaron for taking the time to answer these questions. I was fortunate to have Aaron as a student during his middle school years.