Friday, September 18, 2009

Hal Robinson comes to Peabody: Here's the Plan

Here at Peabody Bass Central Command we are in final countdown to our first day of lessons and classes with our new faculty artist in residence Hal Robinson. Hal needs no introduction to most readers of this site - he’s one of the top players and pedagogues in the country. Paul Johnson and I are both former students of his and he has played a big role in both of our lives and careers. It is truly a thrill and an honor to have him back at Peabody again, working alongside us in his new role here, and to say we are excited is an understatement!

But what exactly is his role? That is a question that he and we have been chewing over for some time. When we began discussing this appointment with Hal last year, we agreed early on on one thing: We didn’t want this to be a so-called “celebrity appointment.” Sometimes, music schools will bring on visiting faculty in a new, highly-touted role, but these faculty will often simply be signing on for a few master classes or other group teaching events. Hal wasn’t excited by the idea of doing a few master classes over the course of the year. If he was going to come to Peabody on a regular basis, he wanted his visits to be more substantial and to have more of an impact. That said, we knew that Hal would not be able to take on any additional private teaching commitments with his current busy schedule. We would have to develop a different format then either of these more traditional ones.

What we have developed for now are a set of teaching days that are oriented around different themes and that combine some elements of private teaching, classes and lectures. Here is how things will be going down for Peabody bassists on this Sunday:

10:00 - Hal will begin a lecture/demo to the students on sound and setup. Many students struggle to get an appealing, consistent, musically appropriate sound when they play. Hal will talk about how to approach making a great sound with a focus on how to get one’s instrument properly set up so that it is a help and not a hindrance in this process.

11:00 - ? Luthier Michael Shank from Shank Strings in Elizabethtown, PA will be joining us for the day to help us put some of Hal’s setup ideas into practice. He and Hal will look together at students’ basses over the course of the day and make suggestions on what if any adjustments could help get them in the best playing shape possible. Paul and I will assist in this process as we move into the afternoon and...

12:00 to 5:00 - Hal will begin meeting with students in small groups for group lessons. These will be in private rather than in the hall so that students can work with minimal distractions. Hal will be evaluating students’ sound and giving them suggestions on how to move forward in their playing between now and his next visit; Paul Johnson and I will be working with them in future lessons on how best to implement these suggestions.

5:00 to 6:30 or so - The final group lesson will take place in Griswold Hall and will be open to the public in a more traditional master class format. We encourage the wider bass (and music!) community to attend and see what we’re up to!

This format is a work in progress and we don’t know exactly how well it will work. We may need to tweak and adjust it as the year goes on to account for many possible issues: The students’ fatigue, Hal’s fatigue, how productive the group lessons end up being for everyone, and other unforeseen factors; we are holding off on determining the themes for the remaining classes until we see how this one goes and determine whether the topic is too broad for the amount of time available. If you attend the master class, feel free to talk to any current bass student (or me) and see what they thought of the day.

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