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Brewer in the Snow

January 29, 2018

Arts Learning Grant recipient

In the snow storm earlier this month when many schools had back to back snow days I headed off to the beautiful Brewer Community School. I arrived to find the parking lot so full of snow (and you know I love snow) I wasn’t sure where the sidewalks and parking lots started and ended. Not only was there snow everywhere but the wind was blowing and it was VERY cold!

Once I got inside the building and met up with Christopher Burk, founder and director of the Jazz Residency Initiative, (JRI) I soon forgot about the wind and cold. The Maine Arts Commission Arts Learning Grant assisted JRI with funding this year so I was excited about learning more about the program and seeing it in action. The weather could have shut down the program but the commitment to Brewer School’s music education was evident when the school opened in the afternoon so rehearsals and learning could continue.

Brewer High School jazz band

Brewer High School music teacher Brady Harris was having a lesson with resident jazz musician Mike Stern. At first glance from the center of the Brewer Performing Arts Center Mike looked like a high school student. Later I realized he connected with the students quickly and easily because he was in many ways much younger than his age. They went back and forth comfortably before the high school jazz students arrived for rehearsal and they all jumped right in to making music. I was so impressed! The middle school students followed for rehearsal and their first time meeting Mike (due to the storm). Led by Lanissa Nadeau the students were so well prepared and played amazingly! My only disappointment was that I couldn’t stay for the evening performance but I understand that it was a big success!

Brady and Mike

JRI BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Jazz Residency Initiative (JRI) is a Maine based non-profit dedicated to positively impacting the development of aspiring jazz musicians by facilitating artist-in-residencies with master musicians. Guest artists share their knowledge with student musicians through a series of masterclasses, rehearsals, and interactive workshops. The three day residencies culminate in Capstone Concerts in which the featured artists and the students share a stage and perform for their community. The Capstone Concerts also includes a Pro Set during which the featured artist plays with regional professional musicians, often providing the students their first opportunity to experience a live professional jazz performance. Through the residencies, JRI pursues its multifaceted mission of inspiring student musicians, improving their musicianship, providing quality listening opportunities for the students and their communities, showcasing regional professional musicians, and reenergizing local music educators.


PROGRAM PLANNING 

Planning for each residency typically begins 8 to 14 months in advance. This is partly due to the scheduling demands of the world class master musicians we work with. For example, our most recent residency in Brewer featured Mike Stern. Stern began his career playing with Blood Sweat & Tear and later Miles Davis, and went on to release 17 albums, earning 6 Grammy nominations. Another reason for the long planning cycle is that we want to empower local music educators to build the residencies into their curriculum for the full year. Repertoire selection is done months in advance in conjunction with both the teachers and the featured artist. This allows the hosting music educators to introduce the music to their students and be prepared to explore more of the artistic expression of the pieces. It also allows more time for the students to listen to the guest artists’ discography and alternate renditions of the repertoire. During the follow through phase of the residencies, the teachers guide their students to incorporate learnings related to the repertoire, and to utilize newly learned practice techniques.

Lanissa Nadeau conducting the middle school jazz band

DETAILS OF JRI

While JRI has honed the format of the residencies to be fairly consistent over the four years that we have been coordinating them, each remains as unique as the featured artists and the communities that host them. They are all hosted by high schools, but open to the public, and strive to include both younger and older students as much as possible. For example, in Brewer, both the high school and middle school big bands were included throughout the residency and Capstone Concert. During others, the middle school students will participate in workshops, but will not perform. While JRI will provide general guidance, we allow the guest artist to select which masterclasses they present, and run the rehearsals as they see fit. There are common themes that all of the featured artist touch on; I don’t think we have had one yet that did not tell the students to practice all twelve Major scales, in time, regularly. The different artists, however, clearly have different points of emphasis such as the importance of listening, time feel, music theory, and technical proficiency.

Mike working with a middle school student

MIKE STERN

During Mike Stern’s visit to Brewer he touched on all of these themes to varying degrees, but it may be his positive energy and encouragement to “Just keep playing. Keep music in your life regardless of if you intend to perform professionally, teach it or just enjoy it” that is best remembered. Stern also shared non-musical pearls of wisdom such as “learn to get along with others” and “don’t hold grudges.” One highlight was when the  64 year old jazz guitar master informed the students that he still has a teacher and that like him, they should all “practice what their teachers assign first and save the easy or fun stuff for the end of their practice time.” 

A great big THANKS to Christopher Burk for providing information for this blog post.

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