Tell Me More about yourself.
I was born in Chicago and moved to California when I was eight years old because my step-dad wanted to pursue film. He wrote a couple screenplays and ended up making his own film. One time when I was eleven, this woman was passing out flyers about piano lessons and leaving them under the windshield wipers of cars in parking lots. My parents found one and asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons. I was like, “sure,” and that’s when I started piano lessons. After a while, we moved to a different teacher who taught choir and music theory at the middle school I attended. She taught me piano lessons until I left for college. I applied to a bunch of different places and ended up at Webster University, studying piano performance with Daniel Schene, who is head of the piano department. I studied classical piano for a long time and I taught myself how to improvise, which is a lot of what I do now. I started branching out of classical music last year, which has been great.
Was there a moment that made you want to pursue music or was it a process?
After middle school I went to Notre Dame High School, which was a prestigious catholic high school. After a while I discovered that I wasn’t really into academics (laughs) or anything. I don’t know, I was just finding myself during that time. I was into writing for a very long time, since I was ten years old. I started writing again and wasn’t getting into it. Music seemed to come more naturally to me than writing did. The results with music were more immediate than with writing. I started to develop a love for music then. In my spare time I would look up different composers on youtube which is how I discovered composers like Lizst, Rachmaninoff, who really blew my mind with their compositions. That’s what I wanted to do. I got my first full range upright piano when I was fifteen years old. Then I went to a charter high school for performing arts. The acronym was CHAMPS. It was a mixed media art school that had a lot of opportunities.
Who is your favorite composer?
I have so many. I like Lizst, Debussy, Shastakovich, Prokofiev. There are a few others, but those are my classical composers.
Have those composers really influenced your music?
Yeah. In high school I was getting really into compositions and was writing in a late Romantic style, heavily influenced by Rachmaninoff. I try to learn as many Rachmaninoff pieces as I can and try to compose in a genre that I love. Rachmaninoff really influenced my compositions. As far as technique and improvisation, I have to give Lizst the credit. I try to push what I can do and make my own exercises. If I can’t do it the first time I try to put it in a musical setting with rhythm, harmony, melody, run an arpeggio and see if I can do it. I’ve found most methods to be exceptionally boring, which is why I’ve pushed myself to improve my technique and improvisation. In high school I made my own variations of Hanon in thirds, sixths, three against two, four against three polyrhythms and try to do those in thirds, etc.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
I like opening people’s minds to music. You either get people who think music is a constant emotional pour out of things or if it’s just natural talent and you just do it. If you can’t do it then it’s difficult. Music is difficult. It’s very difficult. All the great musicians you can think of spent a lot of time practicing. And it’s not just the practice but also about the attitude and mindset of the music. Their sensitivity to the sounds and the rhythms, and the characteristics of those sounds combining and really pushing limits of expression. It’s also about how you practice. I love opening up their minds to that. I think a lot of people who don’t have backgrounds in music think about these things and don’t realize all that is happening. It’s fun to join them on the journey and discover music in different ways. It’s really something that can be done every day and can keep going. It’s also about creating goals and reaching goals. One of the most difficult goals to reach is that of technique. Technical goals are really hard to reach. Rhythm can be difficult to explain in words as well. Most of my inexperience is with adult students. Adult students like to have everything described to them and defined for them before they jump into something. Of all things, rhythm is the most difficult to do that with. Rhythm is an experience, it’s a feeling, it’s all these other qualities and traits that we have to explore. They have these effects and sounds, characteristics that are oftentimes very difficult to put into words when there are no words for them. That’s why rhythm is difficult. Technique is difficult because we approach the piano from a finger-centric perspective. Students have this idea that the piano is all fingers and hands (they definitely take on a lot of work at the piano), but students have no idea that the upper arms are involved in the piano playing as well. Getting students to focus and sensitize a part of their body that they never thought of before is new territory. It’s a lot of muscle training and physical training. It’s a different sensation to play when your upper arms are moving. As a student it can be frustrating if you can’t get it right away. Technical goals can be difficult because everyone wants to learn songs right away. You have to build quickly. I try to incorporate improvisation because I think it’s connected to exploring rhythms, harmonies, and techniques. You do it all at once.
What are some of your goals as an instructor?
My number one goal for students is to develop a love for music. It may be a strange thing to say because a lot of that is on the heart of the student. I want to help them fall in love with music and explore music, and to not be afraid. A lot of it is finding your identity as a human being in relation to music. I’ve had this problem with self-confidence and have realized how all of those things can relate to music. My number one goal is for my students to have an appreciation for music, including the hard work. The second goal is to give my students the ability to practice on their own and be independent. I can provide the tools for them to incorporate into their own music and practice time. They have the ability, background, security, and critical thinking that is required to getting them to play the way they want to play. To reach that goal, you need to love music first. If you don’t love music, it’s not going to be a fun ride.
Alex Van Klompenburg // Instrument Repair Technician
Tell me more about yourself.
I’m from northwest Iowa, more specifically, Orange City, Iowa. It’s a town of five thousand people, where everyone literally knows everyone. I went to public school and have a younger sister and brother. After high school I spent a year and a half at the University of South Dakota, double majoring in music education and music performance for trumpet. I decided that I wasn’t competitive enough for performance and I didn’t really like kids so music education was out. My dad is a diesel mechanic and I worked with him for a few years growing up. I combined both trades, being repair work and music. I decided to google “instrument repair school” one day and a school in Sioux City popped up. Luckily I lived forty-five minutes from Sioux City and so I decided to attend that school for two years. By the end of my schooling I thought, “Hmm…now is a good time to find a job.” That’s how I found City Music. I was told by my mother that I could only stay in Iowa, or go to the neighboring states. Not any further. (laughs) Turns out Missouri is a neighboring state of Iowa, and now I am in St. Louis, Missouri.
What was your degree in?
Band Instrument Repair at Western Iowa Tech Community College.
Who has influenced your journey in becoming an instrument repair technician?
My father is an auto mechanic and I got used to working with him on trucks. I enjoyed the thought of repair but not the massiveness of diesel mechanics. When I went into instrument repair, my father was very supportive of it. Every once in a while we compare diesel and instrument repair. I guess I am following in a family trade. We have a lot of similarities.
What makes a good instrument?
The quality of the materials made for the instrument is important, but another key factor is the endorsement of professional players. One of the most coveted saxophones in the entire world is a Selmer Paris Mark 6 Saxophone. People say, “It’s the greatest. It’s the best” even though the Busher 400s were of similar quality during that time. However, since the professionals were saying that the Selmer Paris Mark 6 is the greatest, everyone believed that it was indeed, the greatest. The most coveted trumpet is the Martin Committee Trumpet because Doc Severstein played it, Maynard Ferguson, etc. all of these big named players played these instruments. If a professional says, “Yeah, it’s a wonderful instrument. The best one I ever played.” That’s what makes an instrument good. Then people will want to sound like the professionals and will be more inclined to seek a good instrument.
What do you think people should be looking for when they rent or buy an instrument?
These days, the most important thing is the brand. If you are looking for a trumpet, go with a Conn-Selmer made Bach Brass or a King. Those names have strong roots. Conn-Selmer keeps up with improving them while also maintaining the original designs of the instrument. If you want a saxophone, I’d recommend a Selmer. If you want a flute, I’d recommend an Armstrong, Artley, or a Selmer. Basically any Conn-Selmer instrument is a good instrument. They own a lot of smaller companies now. Some people classify Conn-Selmer as a “land shark,” a company that grows and buys out smaller companies that could threaten their business. It’s all business. There are still some independent manufacturers out there.
“If a professional says, “Yeah, it’s a wonderful instrument. The best one I ever played.” That’s what makes an instrument good.”
I assume that as a technician you need to be well versed in all band instruments.
Well, a lot of people specialize in certain repairs. Some of my classmates went and got jobs a brass technician or a woodwind technician. Specializing in a specific instrument is decided by your customers. There is a guy I know up in Minnesota who only fixes french horns. That’s what he’s known for. I know a lady in New York who is known for flutes. Some people specialize but there are others that repair all brass and woodwind instruments.
Do you think it’s important to stick with one instrument or learn how to play a lot of different instruments?
There are just some people that are more gifted than everyone else. They can just pick up an instrument and run with it and say, “Ok on to the next one!” I have a friend who started playing violin, then moved to cello, picked up the guitar in two weeks, learned the banjo in one week, is also a percussionist and a vocalist. Everyone in his family is the same way. They can pick up an instrument and play it in two weeks. But there are other people who focus on one instrument and become the best at that instrument. It’s really just a personal preference. If you play the flute and want to play the saxophone, go for it. In school we had a methods class to learn how to play all the instruments, play test and be able to say, “This instrument is good and is ready to go.” I don’t think one is better than the other. It’s all personal preference.
Is it important to be both a player and a technician?
Absolutely. My father, as a diesel mechanic, has customers come up to him and explain what the vehicle sounds like and he is able to say exactly what is wrong with it. Now, as an instrument repair technician, I have customers come up to me and tell me what sounds their instruments are making and I am able to tell them what needs to be fixed with the instrument. Being able to play the instrument is important. Even if I can’t figure it out right away in front of the customers, I can play test the instrument and say, “Here’s the problem. Let me check this area, find it, and fix it.” If I were just a technician and not a player, then I would have to go through every single part of the horn to try and figure it out.
Are many musicians today ignorant to the anatomy of their instruments? Younger players, yes. I think that if you continue to do music after high school, you’re playing on your own, majoring in music, and you actually care about it then yes I think you should know the make up of your instrument. If you are serious about it, you’ll learn. I don’t think it’s really ignorance, I think It’s either you care or you don’t.
What made you want to be a technician?
I enjoy repair, and I enjoy music so I just combined them and now I’m here. I kind of view myself in line with auto mechanics and what not. If something is wrong with your car, you don’t fix it yourself, you take it to someone who knows what they’re doing and can fix it. I like to think it’s the same for a clarinet.
Christy Lim // Piano
Tell me more about yourself.
I was born in South Korea and I started playing music because my mom is a pianist. She started teaching me when I was four years old and I have just continued playing since then. My mom was really serious about it. Since the first day I started playing piano, my mom would have me practice for three hours every day. She would sit next to me for two or three hours every day, except Sunday. We never missed a day until I was in fourth grade.
What was your practice regiment after that?
I just got used to practicing for that many hours and I just did it all by myself.
Has your mom been a big influence in your music?
Yes she has definitely been a huge influence. I haven’t considered doing anything else besides music because it was such a big part of my life at such a young age.
“Performing is a hard thing to do. Even the best musicians out there get fear for performing in front of a large audience.”
Do you appreciate the discipline of practicing?
Oh yes, a lot. I wouldn’t have been able to practice that much if my mom didn’t push me. Since I started middle school and high school I found that my practice time expanded. I couldn’t have practiced that much as a child.
Do you have expectations for your students when it comes to practicing?
No. (laughs) I mean, I encourage them a lot. Putting an effort into practicing is important but practicing is hard when a student is young. I think the parents involvement in practicing is very important. I don’t expect my students to practice by themselves, but encourage their parents to help them practice. I wouldn’t have practiced if my mom wasn’t sitting next to me, helping me practice. I think that’s really important so I emphasize that to parents a lot instead of the student.
What brought you to St. Louis?
My father wanted to continue his studies and gain a doctorate here, so we came to St. Louis. He brought us all with him. I was fourteen years old when we arrived. We’ve lived in St. Louis since then and I decided to go to Southern Illinois University. I’ve been in the area for ten years.
” Many people do separate accompanying and performing solo music but it shouldn’t be separated. Pianists view the performance as a duet, rather than accompaniment. You’d be surprised at how many people think of it that way, which is a problem.”
How much time to you spend on the piano now?
Since I’ve graduated, I haven’t practiced as much but when I was in college I was obsessed with practicing. I practiced a minimum of eight hours and maximum of fourteen hours every day. I practiced a lot when I was in college but when it comes to summer and now that I’ve graduated, I haven’t practiced as much.
Have you competed in any piano competitions?
I didn’t do many but I competed in some.
Did you enjoy that atmosphere?
No. (laughs) Performing is a hard thing to do. Even the best musicians out there get fear for performing in front of a large audience. I’ve seen a number of times that performers cancel or just don’t show up because they are scared of performing. We try to enjoy performing as much as we can but it’s a scary thing as a classical musician.
A lot of pianists are both performers and accompanists. Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer solo performance over accompanying. Many people do separate accompanying and performing solo music but it shouldn’t be separated. Pianists view the performance as a duet, rather than accompaniment. Soloists tend to think the opposite like, “Oh, I’m the primo and they are the secondo.” You’d be surprised at how many people think of it that way, which is a problem.
What are some of your goals as an instructor?
I just really want my students to enjoy music, like their parents do. But just being able to enjoy the music is not a very productive goal to have. They are here to learn something, not to play. Students will be able to enjoy as they get better and better but I just try to set the base for them and then I try to get them fun music, learn what kind of music they like and fit their style of music.
Students Participate in Express the Music 2016
Students in the St. Louis area had the opportunity to participate in the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association’s Express the Music writing contest. This year, students listened to the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and expressed their thoughts and emotions through writing.
City Music and Education Center would like to congratulate all participants and recognize those who were awarded for Express the Music 2016!
1st Prize: Bridget Fitzgerald, St. Mary Magdalen School
2nd Prize: Brendan McLaughlin, St. Peter School
3rd Prize: Indira Kar, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque School
1st Prize: Bella Smith, Eureka High School
2nd Prize: Natalie Wimmer, Parkway South High School
3rd Prize: Matt Schnell, Parkway North High School
We are so proud of the students in our St. Louis community who are integrating music and the language arts! Thank you, St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association, for providing this opportunity to the students in our community.
Students Had a Rockin’ Time in Beatles Ensemble!
Gerry Liebmann, one of the piano instructors at City Music, led nine students in a group class during the months of February and March. Students jammed to iconic songs by The Beatles once a week and got the opportunity to record with City Music Studio’s audio engineer, Leo Chang. To recap the experience, we have collected moments from the class and compiled them into a little video for all to enjoy! Contact us if you would like to get plugged into our next group class here at City Music.
Rudy Torrini // Clarinet
Interviewed by Trina Harger
Tell me more about yourself.
I was born in Kansas City, but I grew up here in St. Louis. Not far away from City Music – I grew up near Grants Farm and pretty much as far back as I can remember music played a pretty big role in my life. When I was a toddler, I remember listening to “The Gypsy Kings” on the stereo and running around in circles. (laughs) That happened on more than one occasion. Very early on I was exposed to many different genres of music. One moment I could be listening to jazz music, and another moment I could be listening to oldies radio station – “oldies” being rock music from the fifties and sixties. I loved how music was accessible to me at an early age by simply turning on the radio.
Who has influenced your music?
The first music I listened to that really challenged me understand the world of music was the score from the Star Wars films. When you listen to the Star Wars soundtrack, there is an extreme dense variety of styles that are at work with that music. John Williams grew up as a jazz musician and had lots of training in composition and before long he got into arranging music for films. The jazz influence and the way that John Williams composes is really fascinating to me still today because the music has a lot of virtuosity, but is still a part of something bigger. There’s never one instrument becoming too big for the rest of the ensemble, it’s all very democratic. In one instance, John Williams seamlessly inserted a distorted electric guitar into the London Symphony Orchestra and I remember listening to it the first time, thinking, “Wow. Genres are really meaningless.” (laughs)
Sounds like you listened to a lot of diverse music throughout your childhood. Did your family have an influence on that or did it stem from your own curiosity?
Well, it was definitely both. I started taking piano lessons when I was five and very soon there after my mother took it upon herself to make sure my listening diet was really varied. Both good thinking on my mother’s part but also the behest of my piano teacher, which I find valuable. I think it’s beneficial to have a diverse musical palette because when it comes down to it, genres are very meaningless as far as how they relate to the purpose of musicianship. I always try to digest music on it’s own terms. I always look for what get’s it away from the easy idioms of it’s styles – and there is a lot of music out there that does that. The wonderful thing in listening to so many different types of music is that you start discovering music that you didn’t know existed before. You have a fresh, musical perspective.
“I think it’s beneficial to have a diverse musical palette because when it comes down to it, genres are very meaningless as far as how they relate to the purpose of musicianship.”
Was there a moment that caused you to pursue music or was it a process?
It was definitely a process. By the time I became a high school senior, music had become a really big part of my life. I was still playing piano at that point even though I discontinued taking lessons, which that had happened so that I could focus more on the clarinet. My senior year I had played the Holst quintet for Shandes. At the time I remember focusing on playing my part well. I listened to it a few years after and thought, “Wow, there was so much going on in this piece that I was so oblivious to before.” When my passion to pursue music hit me, I was on a summer vacation between my junior and senior year of high school and my family and I were driving through the western part of the country. The west coast of America is extremely picturesque and I remember losing myself in the imagery around me. At that moment I knew that I truly wasn’t going to be happy if I weren’t doing something creative involving music. At that point I decided to start composing music for myself. It didn’t take long soon after to make me realize that my life would be incomplete without music.
What inspires you to create?
That could be anything. It could be something as fleeting and mundane or something big and life changing. I’ve composed music to go with films and have collaborated with people in St. Louis and Columbia. In high school, I composed music that followed the journey of Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh High School allowed that piece to be programmed in their spring orchestra concert. I remember learning a lot because my composition skills were very much in their infancy. I still try to learn as much as I can because learning makes the world seem bigger to me.
You are a musical composer and performer. Do you prefer one over the other?
I definitely have to confess that it’s more fun for me to compose than it is to perform. Now, it is loads of fun for me to perform, especially when I am performing something that I have composed or when I am improvising. Improvising plays a big role when I am composing music, probably more than a lot of composers would deem “wise” in the way that I would compose. Not to say that there is a better or worse way to compose, because everyone is entitled to their own preference, but improvising is something that I like to do.
It sounds like improvising is where the performance and composition bridge the gap for you.
Yes that is definitely true. These days improvising is the one thing that I am spending the most time focusing on – my ability to improvise and to have less bureaucracy between my mind and my instrument, which is probably the most satisfying thing. My favorite musical moments are when I am playing something that I have written or when I am improvising.
“There’s a good reason to apply yourself to something and it is important to recognize that there is pleasure and value that is inherent to doing your best. It really does make life better.”
This year you have taught at Crestwood Leader Academy. Can you tell us more about that program?
Absolutely. There is a music club within the Crestwood Leader Academy program at Crestwood Elementary School that meets once a month. Since it only meets once a month, I knew that it couldn’t be intensely cumulative because the kind of repetition and frequency of contact that one would need for that just wasn’t going to be there. I’ve tried to design each lesson as a selfcontained, really well-rounded exploration of some aspect of music. I’ve definitely learned a lot from every class that I’ve taught. It’s been a great experience because I have gotten to exercise my skills as a teacher. I structure my lessons first and foremost to provide a fun atmosphere, which is probably the most important part of facilitating a positive learning environment. A fun atmosphere is good for learning and is good for people in general.
How is your approach different for private lessons and a group class?
Well, with both you have to keep goals in mind. Private lessons are a lot more versatile because you are basically working with one person and so it is very easy to go through as many different approaches and try out as many different tools in order to help the student understand their challenges. With group classes it’s a little more difficult to do that because you have many individuals who may need a completely different perspective for something and so as an instructor, you have to be able to accommodate that. I definitely try to use as many modes or ways of learning as are possible when I teach group lessons, but usually the biggest thing I try to do with group classes is to make them hands on. There’s a term in educational psychology, called “authentic activity,” which is an activity that has to do with real world application. For example, an ensemble is an authentic activity because you are learning how to make music in a context that music is made in. I usually find that the best way to manage the classroom is to make the lesson active for everybody. I enjoy teaching private lessons and group classes both very much because any time that I get to be someone’s guide, nurturer, or helper I am extremely happy. And those are the things that I get out of teaching and made me want to pursue music education. Exploring music education has been really incredible and worthwhile. It has given me opportunities and continues to give me opportunities to be a guide, nurturer, or helper and I love that. It’s my solemn belief that all students really need teachers who care about their students and are intentionally doing that for their students. Caring for students will definitely prioritize their learning over anything else.
What are some of your goals as a teacher?
As a teacher, I want my students to know that they can do anything that they can apply themselves to. Learning is about empowerment and recognizing that there is more out there than you originally thought. I have always felt like my experience as a human being has gotten bigger, the world got bigger, and the universe got bigger after learning something new. The world is more amazing now than it was before, which is definitely a part of what I try to leave my students with at the end of the day. Like I said before, I also really believe that the things they do should be diverting, should be fun. It’s through those experiences that you really learn the true value of applying yourself to something. Then, when you are able to recognize that if you apply yourself and work harder, things are going to be so much better. I try to make that very worthwhile for my students just because it’s important to learn in life. There’s a good reason to apply yourself to something and it is important to recognize that there is pleasure and value that is inherent to doing your best. It really does make life better.
Win Tickets to See
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
at The Fabulous Fox Theatre!
City Music is partnering with The Fabulous Fox Theatre to give away two tickets to see this Grammy-award winning musical. Shop in our store and enter your name into our ballot box to be eligible to win two tickets to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Tuesday, February 23rd at 8:00pm. Drawing will take place on Tuesday, February 16th and the winner will be contacted immediately following.
For the next month, download cards are available to City Music customers that contain three tracks from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Performances run from February 23rd to March 6th at The Fabulous Fox Theatre.
Cooper Minnis // Tuba
Interviewed by Trina Harger
Tell me more about yourself.
I grew up in Clayton and went through the Clayton School District. I was first introduced to music in fifth grade, when I started playing the trumpet at Meramec Elementary School. As I grew into adolescence, I got braces which made playing the trumpet more difficult. They let me try instruments with larger mouthpieces in hopes that it would help a little bit so I ended up with the tuba for that reason. I ended up sticking with it because I thought it was really cool and I was the only one in the band who played it.
So it all started because of braces?
Yes, that was the initial factor. (laughs)
Was there a moment that made you pursue music or was it a process?
If I were to pin it down on a single moment, it would be an evening in seventh grade. I took an interest in composing in seventh grade and I wrote this piece for a chamber wind ensemble with percussion. My teachers were kind enough to program it in one of our concerts. It was very exciting. So they performed my composition and I got to play tuba in it and it got a standing ovation. Obviously in seventh grade, an experience like that – premiering something publicly and then receiving a standing ovation for it felt pretty good. If I were to choose any specific moment, I would say it was that evening that solidified my long-term interest in pursuing music.
“My goal is to become as good a teacher as I can so that my students can become as good as they can be.”
What is your process like when you are composing music?
There’s not really a specific step-by-step process that I take. It’s kind of different for everyone. I often start at the piano, which a lot of people do, the reason being that the piano has such a wide range and so it can easily translate into all sorts of different instruments. As opposed to just playing a few notes on the tuba, that can only inspire so many different sounds for a limited number of instruments. So the piano is an incredible tool that I use. I also use the Finale notation programs to engrave the music, to create the manuscript, the score, and the parts.
What inspires you to compose music?
The vast majority of the time there is something specific that inspires it. And what that usually results in is something called programmatic music. Programmatic music is music that represents something specific, whether it’s story or a character, an object, landscape. It is something specific that is meant to evoke. For my junior recital in college I wrote an orchestral piece, a tone poem based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe entitled “The Black Cat.” The music follows the storyline of that story so that’s programmatic music right there. In that case, I was inspired by the story. Most recently I wrote a choral piece and I was inspired by a specific text. Sometimes when a person passes away I like to memorialize them with music. Nature is inspirational, different situations that evoke an emotion can be inspirational as well. Quite frankly, different composers that I listen to – I hear their music and think, “That is inspiring and I want to use what I hear there to try something different.”
Who are some of your favorite composers?
My favorite composers tend to be old and dead. (laughs) I like a lot of nineteenth-century German stuff: Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Strauss who is a little bit later. In terms of orchestral music, that is what I like.
Do you try to attend classical performances in the St. Louis area?
I try to but don’t often enough. I try to go when I can. I just went to The Messiah the other day at Powell Hall, which was very nice. I saw Back to the Future in concert by the St. Louis Symphony a few months ago which was pretty cool.
What do you think the attitude is towards classical music for people in our generation?
I think that the passion is still there but is hard to come by. The greatest challenge is to keep classical music relevant in the twenty-first century because it is so easy to fall into the trap of saying, “That’s old, dead music by old, dead composers. How does it relate to me? How is it relevant to society?” The unique position that I’m in as a composer is that I get to decide what people listen to. Not just me, but anyone else that composes as well. That’s a very exhilarating and intimidating position to be in. Of course, teaching music is where it all starts.
Do you think there is tension between different genres of music or do you think there is a relation between the different genres of music?
I haven’t noticed any rivalry or personal tension, there are differences and maybe not enough communication between classical and commercial music. What we call classical music today was at one point was popular music so in that sense they are similar. I think the topics that are discussed in Mozart operas are maybe not as relevant today as some of the topics we hear in popular music but at the same time they are. You still have disparity between class systems discussed, which is still on people’s minds today. Love stories and love triangles, I mean I think it’s all still relevant but is also a challenge to make it come through sometimes.
“The unique position that I’m in as a composer is that I get to decide what people listen to. Not just me, but anyone else that composes as well. That’s a very exhilarating and intimidating position to be in. Of course, teaching music is where it all starts.”
What are some of your goals as a teacher?
My goal is to become as good a teacher as I can so that my students can become as good as they can be – whether they end up being a performer, educator, or composer. Inspiring a student is one of my main goals and I think I’m doing that pretty well so far. I’ve seen my tuba student gain more interest in the past couple months. His mom emailed me and said, “He wants a tuba mute for Christmas. Can you point me in the right direction?” (laughs) I can totally remember being that age and wanting one too.
How long have you been teaching at City Music?
About five months or so.
What do you do outside of teaching?
Outside of teaching I compose, I follow sports. I’m a big baseball and hockey fan. I draw pictures occasionally and admire on my own.
Students Perform and Record Songs
in Holiday Jazz Ensemble
Elementary and middle school students learned some holiday jazz tunes arranged by Austin Cebulske through our three-week Holiday Jazz Ensemble course. By the end of the course, students got to record “Winter Wonderland” and perform for City Music’s December recital. We are so proud of these blossoming performers!
Harmonica Workshop a Success!
We were very fortunate to have Sandy Weltman teach a Harmonica Workshop here in our store on December 1st. Participants got to learn a few techniques and some blues songs, Scarborough Fair being one of them. Shannon Keithley had a lot to take away from her experience, “Playing the harmonica was more difficult than I initially thought before taking the workshop. I have a completely new perspective for playing the harmonica than I did before. Now I have more respect for the harmonica as an instrument and have a greater appreciation for harmonica players. I’m so glad I attended the workshop at City Music.”
Sandy Weltman is available on Tuesday evenings here at City Music to teach harmonica lessons. Feel free to contact us with more information!
Austin Cebulske // Saxophone
Interviewed by Trina Harger
Tell me more about yourself.
I’ve had a fascination with music for as long as I can remember. I don’t really have a musical family – my dad played drums in rock bands when he was a kid but I started taking guitar lessons when I was about eight-years-old. That’s where my musical journey started. My guitar teacher was really cool. He would let me bring in cassette tapes of rock and pop songs that I wanted to learn and then he would just teach me on the spot. That was basically what all the lessons were about, which have both their advantages and disadvantages. I never learned how to read music from him. Never learned how to play scales, or any of the basic rudiments but he taught me how to play music by ear. After a year of lessons, he had me ﬁgure out the songs on guitar and bring them in. If I ever had questions, he would ﬁgure it out. After a certain point, I stopped taking lessons but I learned through him how to teach myself by ear. He showed me the basics of chords and then I started ﬁguring out pop songs on my own. That was super helpful later on in life when I started learning jazz, which is mostly executed by ear. So that is how it all started.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Swansea, Illinois. Right next to Belleville, Illinois. It’s a really small town in a bigger town. It’s like a province of Belleville.
When did you start playing the saxophone?
I began playing saxophone when I was eleven. I wasn’t really into it until the end of my high school career, when I started actively listening to jazz music. I just got bored with the same formulas of pop music. Pop bands with a progressive edge kind of eased my way into jazz music. Bands like Steely Dan or The Beatles. Once I started listening to jazz music, saxophone became my main instrument. At that time, I gained a deeper appreciation for the quality of sound that the saxophone produced. I fell in love with it that way. I took a year off after high school and went back to school and didn’t know what I wanted to do. One day I just thought, “Well, I’m not really good at anything else but music, so why not?” I got my undergrad at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in jazz saxophone performance. Then I went up to Northern Illinois for my Masters degree. I got an assistantship, which allowed me to teach a music appreciation class to a hundred kids, which was scary at ﬁrst but a great experience for me. I learned a lot through teaching that class. My second year in Northern Illinois, I ran the big band up there which was a fun experience as well.
How long have you been playing gigs?
I started gigging my freshman year of college. I would take wedding gigs that my teacher couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. Been gigging ever since. I played with a rhythm and blues band around here called Al Holliday & the East Side Rhythm Band. Played with them for three or four years before I went and got my Masters degree. Came back to St. Louis and luckily enough got the position with Funky Butt Brass Band.
Was there a moment that motivated you to pursue music as a career, or was it a process?
It was kind of a process. Ever since I started learning music I ﬁgured out that I have a talent for it. When I started playing guitar and began to play by ear easily I just thought, “Well…I’m kind of good at this I guess, so I might as well pursue this. If I can get paid doing it, then that’s awesome.” Playing music is the most fun part of my life right now.
What inspires you to play music?
That’s a deep question. I don’t know how to answer that. I guess the music that I listen to or hearing someone great inspires me to play music.
“When you’re improvising in a jazz setting you have to be more selfless than people initially think.”
Who are some of your musical inﬂuences?
In terms of saxophone, my inﬂuences are Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Coltrane, basically the standard jazz players.
What do you like about jazz improvisation?
I love that there are certain times in a performance when I’m playing and I get into this moment and everybody feels like nothing else exists. It’s as if this moment is happening and we’re creating something that we are all a part of, but not a single one of us is directing the music. It’s just creativity happening. It’s hard to explain. You have to be selﬂess, really. When you’re improvising in a jazz setting you have to be more selﬂess than people initially think. A lot of people think that you’re playing a solo but if you want to play music, you have to be engaged with everyone around you. Playing jazz improvisation in a band is a collective thing that everyone is a part of.
What have you learned from being a part of an ensemble?
I’ve learned so much from being in an ensemble. Musically, I’ve learned how to play with dynamics, how to listen to other people. I used to hate playing with people who were better than me but after a while, I realized that the best thing in the world is to be the worst member of the band. As the weakest link, you’re absorbing everything and it’s especially great if you have mentors. The people I’ve played with who are better than me are so encouraging and so nice. I’m grateful for them. It’s the best learning curve you can get if you’re the weakest link of the band.
“It’s the best learning curve you can get if you’re the weakest link of the band.”
Why do you enjoy teaching music?
I love empowering other students. Teaching a student how to learn is the main goal. Teaching students how to ﬁgure it out on their own is important too. Figuring it out on my own is how I learned so I want my students to experience that. I had someone who was guiding me in the right direction so that’s how I view my role as a teacher. The student should be able to pick the material that they want to study. If it’s not something they want to learn, then they’re not going to want to practice. I feel like the student should be the guide of the material in the lessons, and I’m giving them extra tools and pointing them in the right direction. And then they have to put the work into it. I’m also a stickler for rudiments – like scales, tone production. Those are parts that I touch on in every lesson no matter what. I think those things are important. But mainly I want the student to be the guide in what we study and where we go.
You teach at City Music and you play for the Funky Butt Brass Band, what else do you do?
I also put together my own jazz groups – sometimes trios, sometimes quartets. I try to book various clubs in the area once or twice a month. I probably do jazz gigs four or ﬁve times a month. I do a monthly gig at Cigar Inn in Belleville, Thurman Grill in St. Louis, and Layla’s in the Grove. Those are the main spots I’ve been playing at recently.
What was your favorite gig you played?
Playing at Missouri Botanical Gardens was one of the top gigs just because I played in front of thousands of people and they were all so supportive and nice. I was grateful to be playing there and to have so many people showing support. That was easily one of my favorite gigs. It was in a beautiful place too. Playing at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York was another one of my favorites. It’s a popular jazz club in the United States. We were playing in front of some of the greatest jazz players that I know. It was really humbling to be doing that. Even though I felt like I was playing really terribly, it was a good experience for me.
What do you think sets the jazz music in St. Louis a part from other cities?
I think the community here is really important. It’s small enough that everyone knows each other. If you’re new to St. Louis and don’t know how to play, everyone is super encouraging. There’s maybe a couple great jazz musicians on each instrument here in St. Louis, but there’s enough in the area. Some of the greatest jazz players I know are in St. Louis and it’s a small enough community that some of them are not nationally recognized and I think that’s one great thing about it. Whereas, in New York City there are a thousand people who are amazing at their instruments and it’s too large of a community to feel tight knit. It doesn’t feel like family in New York City. Here in St. Louis, the jazz community feels like family.
What do you enjoy outside of music?
My other main hobbies involve being outdoors. I like to go on backpacking trips when I can for like a week at a time. Go out in the wilderness. The last backpacking trip I went on was in the Grand Tetons. I’m also an avid bicycler. I love being surrounded by nature.
Do you think there’s a correlation between your hobbies and your love for musical improvisation?
Yeah I think so. It’s hard to explain. I love to wander and explore. I mean, there’s gotta be some kind of connection. I’ve never thought about it, but there has to be some kind of connection because those are all the things I love to do. They make me feel good and they’re fun.