Encouragement, Role Models, Perseverance and Joy!
In fifth grade, Masaki Kleinkopf wanted to play an instrument -- any instrument. His school’s band director suggested he try trombone, and he took to it immediately.
“I played just for fun in elementary school, but by high school I practiced at least 2 hours every day,” Masaki told me.
His perseverance paid off. Today, at age 20, he had just finished his performance at the Telluride Jazz Festival. It’s one of many venues he plays across the country with the Telluride Student All-Star Jazz Ensemble, an acclaimed jazz-immersion program that inspires artistic development and motivation in students ages 13 and older.
Like Masaki, Alex Heffron, 19, from Denver, was also inspired by teachers to pursue music. An exceptional guitarist, Alex cites several accomplished musicians as his role models. When I asked Alex and the other band members about what fueled their love for music, they told me that in addition to their instructors, support from their parents and inspiration from other musicians played an important role.
Robert Vega-Dowda, of Miami, began playing the trumpet when he was 10. “I didn’t really like it until I heard Freddie Hubbard play and was inspired.” Today, at 17, Robert attributes his success to consistent practice and support from his family to follow his dream. “Whether it’s music or sports, or anything you pursue, it’s important to identify what you like and go after it.”
Lachlan Hamilton, who calls Australia home, is currently entering his third year of college. After meeting All-Star Jazz directors Bob Montgomery and Dr. Josh Quinlan, he was invited to tour with the group. “My mother introduced me to the piano when I was 5, and I started playing the saxophone at 13. I feel I can express my voice through music,” Lachlan says. “To me, music is joy. It stimulates the mind and your emotions.”
Lachlan’s advice for parents is to let children find their own way when it comes to music lessons. “It’s important to practice, but don’t pressure kids during the early stages. Let them discover what they are truly passionate about.”
That reflects what the pros say. “The motivation to play must come from within and must be born out of a love for music,” according to Dave Stoltzfus, founder and director of the Malvern School of Music in Pennsylvania. “As an owner of a music school, it may sound like blasphemy to hear me say that we often put too much emphasis on practicing!”
Stoltzfus says mastering the technical aspect of an instrument does create a necessary foundation, but it does not ensure that a child becomes an accomplished musician.
“Our driven society often overlooks the softer, more artistic aspects of becoming a musician, which should begin and end with listening,” says Stoltzfus. “If you ask any accomplished musicians what their key to success is, they will quickly list the masters that they have listened to and studied. If I had my choice between having one of my guitar students tell me they spent two hours playing scales or that they spent two hours listening to and comparing Wes Montgomery and Chet Atkins' performances of ‘Misty,’ I would go with the latter any day! If a student develops a deep love for the instrument and the songs, you won't be able to pry them away from their instruments.”
To learn more about the Telluride Student All-Star Jazz Ensemble, which holds annual national auditions for teen boys and girls, visit http://telluridejazz.org.
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