Testimonial #20: Erin Yanacek, Classical Musician

depressed-artist1 Seeking the Love of Music That I Once Felt

I remember the moment when I fell in love with music. I was 12 years old, attending a high school orchestra concert. My brother was playing horn, and while the concert was anything but perfect, it was perhaps the first time that my budding adult mind witnessed a large ensemble in performance. Captivated and slightly embarrassed, I allowed myself to cry when the music moved me. It was as though I was both hearing sound and understanding tenderness for the first time. My lungs, it seemed, were filling with oxygen for the first time, and I could not have been more infatuated. Yet in the 12 years that followed, the story has changed.
Today, it is difficult for me to listen to classical music. I leave concerts at intermission, even when the performers are excellent. I insist that the radio be off while I drive, or at least turned to a pop or news station. And at home, I can only stomach the sound of jazz, if not only the chirping of birds or silence.
And yet, my profession is as a classical musician. I play the trumpet for a living and long to be furiously in love with this art form. Why does this awful feeling plague me?

The problem likely began with the decision to create a profession out of music-making. The standard first step was a successful audition for a university that offered a Major in music. My acceptance and matriculation into a program inspired the confidence that this would be the right step toward allowing my passion to mature.

The academic system, despite its well-intentioned faculty, was lacking. Numbers and test scores were easily quantifiable, while concepts like communication through music and aesthetic value were more difficult to grade. Emphasis was often placed on skills that contributed neither to artistic development nor to a helpful understanding of entrepreneurship.

As I developed, I began to participate in the local gig scene. Orchestras, chamber ensembles, and churches provided some opportunities to get paid to perform. Here I discovered an interesting set of unspoken rules related to hierarchy, ability, and camaraderie. It was crucial to network with the right people, and it was just as important not to step on any seasoned musicians’ egotistical toes. I learned to navigate the system, but I still squirm with feelings of guilt and superficiality when I paint on a smile for a potential boss, colleague, or patron.

As time went on, I discovered that classical music does not lend itself easily to a healthy salary. Capable musicians outnumber available gigs, and thus a battle for survival ensues, where more hours of practice per day will likely win in the end. It is amazing that any musician manages to keep creativity, musicality, or originality in mind with all of our modern-day challenges.
Now it is as though my initial love and passion for music, for creative, original, fascinating sound, is quelled. Difficulties persists in trying to juggle my own creative needs with the demands of a system that I had hoped would nurture my abilities. I am left exasperated, creatively frustrated, and unable even to hear classical music without facing a flood of conflicting emotions. And yet, I stay in the field—out of habit, perhaps, but also out of hope and trust that someday, classical music will somehow register with me once again.

The prospect of changing my career path arises… or I could simply continue to follow my mentors’ advice and practice my excerpts faithfully. Perhaps I will one day arrive at a point of happiness and understanding with the craft, and my original passion will return.

I recently stumbled upon a relevant piece of advice. Renee Fleming, who is arguably the most prominent soprano in the world, had an opportunity to sing for renowned mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani in her early 20’s. Fleming had arrived in the conservatory system by way of a humble background, with music infused as an everyday part of her family life as a child. DeGaetani, hearing Fleming’s natural and intuitive understanding of music, told her, “Don’t train all that naturalness out of your voice.” What a wonderful perspective —and one that I will certainly adopt from this point forward.

I long to enjoy music. To have the same uninhibited rush of the emotion, of tears, of clarity that I did in my first experiences of listening to ensembles perform, half of my lifetime ago. It is not entirely clear to me where to turn to achieve this, but I trust that the path will present itself over time. And in the meantime—back to the practice room I go.

This story was originally published in The Muse Dialogue

Testimonial #19: Lynne Harrington-Crick, Self-employed free lance photographer-filmmaker/ retired elementary school teacher

“Music is something people will always remember and be grateful that they had stuck it out learning to play or sing. It is something one carries with them all their life.”

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

I don’t know truthfully how to answer this question because the problem is here in San Diego and all over the state of California, as far as I know presently, the arts are not re-igniting anything in our community and are not sparking innovation and creativity in our local schools. This is why I retired ten years ago burned-out and stressed. Now I am ready to take a stand for a new possibility of what our community and the way our local schools could be by putting music back into the curriculum as part of the core.

Without music education, I see more students being deprived of a well-balanced education one which enriches and restores a love for learning. Backing up what music does for students and people of all ages are numerous current studies proving how beneficial and necessary it is to have music in everyone’s lives, not just for those special students who are deemed to be the only ones that should be provided a music education because of the born talents. By providing music education it is shown through studies how it develops the brain in all people that sparks that ability to think creatively bringing more creative solutions to any problem we are currently facing in the world today. In fact, it is my theory that we are dealing with so many problems because we need to expose more people to a well balanced education that includes the arts. This is what art does and I do believe most people agree with me already on this as I have yet spoken with someone who did not agree with me on this.

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

I have to go way back to my elementary-junior high school days to answer this question. Looking back on my life, I can see how I was in a way somewhat of a split personality if you can call it that, I don’t know. I definitely had become psychosomatic. Whenever I was involved in academic subjects in school that had nothing to do with music, I was very withdrawn, timid and shy, and most fearful particularly of people in authoritarian positions such as teachers. That changed once I started music lessons and I became so naturally outgoing and loving learning in school. There was one particular music teacher in my junior high school that was more inspiring to me in wanting to be a music teacher. He was such a fun teacher that involved all his students every day getting us to come meet in his classroom after school to learn a new instrument or music theory, etc. things that were extracurricular to the program. We were so automatically self-motivated to want to learn more. I blossomed in musical ensemble groups which contributed to why I was so attracted with such ambition to major in music education when I got to college level. Music is something people will always remember and be grateful that they had stuck it out learning to play or sing. It is something one carries with them all their life.

Music Moves Us is a film project to show how important music is, to start up a movement to bring about a change in our schools, our communities, as well as the healing arts. We encourage ordinary people who have a love for music to participate in this project in ways that they feel most comfortable doing. There will be new interviews posted every month of people sharing stories how music has impacted their lives, and people are invited to participate in another way by posting comments and/or testimonials.

Will less art and music in the classroom really help students soar academically?

Will less art and music in the classroom really help students soar academically?
By Tyleah Hawkins
Journalism students at Howard University’s school of communications were deeply engaged in this year’s presidential campaign as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney battled for the White House. The students wrote widely about the candidates and the issues. Some traveled to Ohio, a key battleground state, and wrote about classmates who canvassed voters there as volunteers for the Obama campaign.
Others wrote about college students struggling to pay rising tuitions after their parents had lost jobs and homes to foreclosures. One student wrote about black Republicans who supported Romney and their status as double minorities – minorities within the Republican Party and among black voters who largely supported Obama. Throughout the year, students reported on the economic and social challenges that working people and poor communities were facing, issues that were being neglected by candidates singularly focused on the needs of the middle class.
And on Election Day, the students covered everything from problem-plagued polling stations to election night parties and spontaneous street festivities in front of the White House. The Root DC is publishing some of the students’ work, starting with the story below by Tyleah Hawkins, a sophomore, about the impact of funding cuts to public school arts programs in poor communities.
Schools across the country have slashed their arts programs in the wake of major funding cuts by state governments struggling to balance their budgets during the economic downturn.

(Oscar Perez/Associated Press) According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 95 percent of school-aged children are attending schools that have cut funding since the recession. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods that faced budget cuts were able to make up for their losses through private donations, while schools in impoverished neighborhoods have not.
As a result, schools in areas serving children from low-income families have reduced or completely cut their arts and music programs. These programs tend to be the first casualties of budget cuts in hard-pressed school districts already struggling to meet other demands of the academic curriculum, and they are rarely restored. Some school districts don’t have much meat left to cut from arts programs that had already been reduced to bare bones after repeated funding shortfalls over many years.
“The cuts that have been occurring for the past couple of decades … however, with this recession, many arts advocates such as myself do not have a clue when some programs will be brought back,” said Narric Rome, senior director of Federal Affairs and Arts Education at Americans for the Arts, a national organization that promotes the arts. “The entire system is very unstable; teachers are laid off one school year and brought back the next, or most times not brought back at all. If we are lucky enough to bring these programs back, they won’t be for a couple of years. Which means some students who are in school during these difficult economic times will completely miss out on the benefits of arts education.”
Although arts and music programs tend to be seen as less important than reading, math or science, research has shown that arts education is academically beneficial.
“Low-income students who had arts-rich experiences in high schools were more than three times as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students without those experiences. And the new study from the National Endowment reports that low-income high school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to graduate from high school than low-income students who earned many arts credits,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a report titled “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10.”
The arts have also proven to be a form of inspiration and expression for at-risk students, especially those in inner-city schools, and have been shown to improve their outlook on education.
According to a study titled “The Role of the Fine and Performing Arts in High School Dropout Prevention,” by the Center for Music Research at Florida State University, “Students at risk of not successfully completing their high school educations cite their participation in the arts as reasons for staying in school. Factors related to the arts that positively affected the motivation of these students included a supportive environment that promotes constructive acceptance of criticism and one where it is safe to take risks.”
Organizations such as ArtsEdSearch, an online clearinghouse that collects and summarizes high quality arts education research studies and analyzes their implications for educational policy and practice, have done private research about the issue. AEP Executive Director Sandra Ruppert said that the findings in the report point to the power of the arts to lead the way in helping every child realize success in schools
“This is especially true for underserved students who benefit most significantly from arts learning but are the least likely to receive a high-quality arts education,” Ruppert said.
Research has also shown that arts education helps improve standardized test scores. A study done by The College Board, a nonprofit association that works to make sure all students in the American educational system are college-ready, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 91 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1070 among students in arts educations compared to 979 for students without arts education.)
“Arts education gives children a place where they can express themselves and channel negative emotion into something positive. Students are well-rounded and required to be academically healthy in all subjects to perform. To be honest, what is learned in music education is truly immeasurable,” said Barbara Benglian, the 2006 Pennsylvania state teacher of the year. Benglian has been teaching at Upper Darby High school in Drexel Hill, Pa., for nearly 40 years. Her school was one of the many schools at risk of losing their arts programs due to low test scores. However, the arts programs at the school were saved after parents, students and alumni organized petitions and protests rallies. Even Upper Darby alumnus and actress Tina Fey jumped on board to help save the arts program. Other schools around the country are not as fortunate.
Several Howard University students who participated in music and arts education in grade school and high school speak fondly of the positive effect it has had on their lives.
“In elementary school, music sparked my interest and led me to playing the trumpet. It gave me the opportunity to travel to places I otherwise would not have gone, and most importantly, helped me become more culturally accepting by broadening my musical horizons,” said Joe Williams, a junior majoring in psychology. “Without music, I would not be as open as I am to learning about new people.”
Nate Shellton, a sophomore, chose to dedicate his life to the arts by majoring in acting.
“I think it’s absolutely outrageous that fine arts are the first to be cut in public schools,” he said. “It says a lot about what is important to education in America. Because math and science is what is being tested, tests that determine a school’s ranking is what is most important to the school, but the institutions’ ranking is not necessarily what’s in the best interest of the students as a whole person.”

Pilot Episode: First Online With Fran with Angelina Fiordellisi

“I think that one of our greatest responsibilities as theater providers,” asserts Angelina Fiordellisi, “is to sensitize the tribe . . . deepening our primal connections, our primal needs, our primal impulses and what Shakespeare calls ‘holding the mirror up to society’.” This poignant insight is particularly significant since the tragic course of events this past week in Newtown, Connecticut.

On November 19th, 2012 First Online With Fran featured Artistic Director and founder of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Angelina Fiordellisi. Listen to her reflect on the work at the Cherry Lane Theatre, most notably the 2013 Mentor Project, among others, and how they contribute to cultivating an urban artist colony, honor its ground-breaking heritage, create theater that illuminates contemporary issues and transforms the human spirit.

First Online With Fran was shot and edited by The New York Film Shop, Andrea Bertola, Artistic Director.

SUBSCRIBE NOW: http://www.youtube.com/user/FrancesMcgarry

Giving Thanksgiving to The Arts

“I’m a disabled woman who didn’t think I’d amount to much, but now I have an instructional hand drum DVD/Book published that just became an instant play on amazon.com. Carl Fischer Music published it in 2008.”

Jill Sager, a contributor to The First 100 Stories Campaign (Testimonial #17), lends her voice to validate the transformational power of The Arts.  We can be thankful for her tenacity, her courage, her contribution to our world.  And, why, on  this Thanksgiving celebration, we can all be grateful for the wondrous gift The Arts bestow on us as a people.

In thanksgiving, give yourself the gift of reading her inspirational story.  And then, let’s hear from you…Why are you thankful for The Arts?

Let’s keep The Arts the fabric of our existence.  Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Music and Me

by Jill Sager

I grew up in NYC and started playing piano at age 6 and loved it.   But I was also born with a disability and at age 9, I had surgery, which meant music, and just about everything else took a back seat.  From the age of nine to thirteen I was in and out of hospitals and spent 4th, 5th and 6th grades between home tutors and a segregated “Health Class” in a Bronx public school.

1966 was a time before a civil rights act for disabled people was even an idea.  It was a time before disabled children were mainstreamed in our public schools, and it was a time when being called “handicapped” was still the norm.  It was a difficult time for kids like me; kids who wore braces, used wheelchairs, or couldn’t sit still or stay focused in a classroom.

It was a time when I endured the gawks and shouts from my peers who yelled, “small fry, big shoe, and gimp” from across the playground.  I survived questions from adults, “what’s wrong with you?” and embarrassment from well meaning parents who scolded their children for staring at me.  I learned how to ignore the bus driver who asked if I was “mentally retarded” and learned how to cope with the deep hurt of rejection when my sister left for sleepovers without me.

My life as an outsider was sealed and so too were my worries about trying to compete in a world that didn’t accept me.  I spent hours alone pouring over album covers, listening to Beethoven, Joni Mitchell, and Ella Fitzgerald on a record player my mom traded Plaid Stamps for at the A&P.  Music was my sanctuary, my serenity, and my support.

At 14, the braces and crutches were finally gone and I took piano lessons again.  Playing music was something I could do.  It took focus away from all the things I couldn’t and all the things I had no control over, like the limp and disfigurements that remained.  By my last year of Junior High School I submitted an application to New York’s High School of Music and Art.

The world had been a challenging place and even today I have no idea how I found the courage to ride the subway into Manhattan and take that audition.  Even now I can remember all my fear, but I also remember that Music and Art represented freedom, and I needed to escape.

I waited for the letter and when it came I read it over and over.  The letter of acceptance from Music and Art helped me believe my life could be better and in the three years I was there I grew as a musician.  The real gift however, was how much I grew as a person.  Going to Music and Art expanded my awareness of the world and I was surrounded by people who valued unique expression.  I had new confidence and new hope.

I started to leave the Bronx for Manhattan on the weekends too.  I went to free concerts, museums, and galleries.  I discovered the library at LincolnCenter and the collection of instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I was still by myself, but it didn’t matter anymore.  With every new painting or score or book I found,  I was rescued from a world where I’d felt confined, to one brilliant with opportunity.  As I had expected, that time did bring a new beginning for my life and it did change my fate.

Playing music and all that I was exposed to couldn’t erase all my fears or self doubts as a teenager but I was lucky.   I had a place to go for High School where music and art were a revered common denominator.  A place where creativity, self-expression and individuality were encouraged.   I benefitted from that support and ever since, I’ve been the recipient of a life filled with that inspired grace.  A life where I do fit in.