Yesterday was EXACTLY the day that I needed.
After what can only be described as a mentally exhausting week last week, I had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater yesterday, the Ithaca College School of Music. This was the first time I had been back since October of 2012, and the 7 1/2 years is the longest period of time I’ve ever had between visits.
As I hadn’t told anyone in advance of going, I didn’t know who I’d run into, or what to expect. I went with the goal of seeing the new buildings on campus, and to hopefully see a rehearsal or two. From the moment I stepped into the music school at around 10:30 yesterday morning, I felt a sense of being back home, as everyone was very welcoming. I had the opportunity to reconnect with professors I haven’t seen in many years (one since I graduated 30 years ago), and I had a chance to make connections with newer faculty members as well. One of the current faculty members oversees the “Career Orientation” class for music majors, and she’s coordinating to have me come as a guest speaker next year. I hope this comes to fruition, as it would be an incredible way to give back!
I was truly blown away by the different ensembles and different styles of music I heard throughout the day. There was a faculty audition recital yesterday which featured different styles of African-American music (including some funk with a Hammond B3!). The school now has an African Drum and Dance Ensemble…I saw this group perform at the Cortaca game last fall, and thought that the group was a separate entity not connected to the School of Music. It truly warms my heart to see how the school has embraced these different styles of music, and that the school now has an annual Gospel Music Festival and Competition. In 1990, I was the ONLY person of color in the School of Music graduating class. I can’t put into words how appreciative I am of the progress that has been made.
I got to spend some quality time with one of my favorite professors yesterday, who without question is one of the greatest teachers that I’ve ever had. Steve Brown is the retired Professor of Jazz Studies at IC, and he was the founder of Jazz Studies at the School of Music. I was fortunate to play in the IC Jazz Ensemble throughout my time as an undergrad, and in addition to studying jazz improvisation with Steve, I had the chance to gig with him on many occasions, including Steve accompanying me on jazz guitar for my performance during a voice master class. If not for Steve and Dave Riley, I would not be playing music professionally, as I learned so many valuable lessons (both in jazz and in life) from them, and these are lessons I still use to this day. Steve and I are hopefully going to record this summer, as I would love to record our arrangement of “Someone To Watch Over Me”, which I performed in the master class 32 years ago.
I had the chance to listen to the Choir rehearsal as well as a voice studio repertory class yesterday afternoon. This brought back wonderful memories of being a voice major, and to see the students getting the same instruction and feedback that made a positive difference for me so many years ago was truly inspiring. I also got to sit in and watch both the jazz ensemble and vocal jazz ensemble rehearsals last night. These were two of my favorite ensembles to perform with as an undergrad, and it was fun to listen to both groups and sing with vocal jazz last night!
Throughout the day yesterday, students asked me what it was like to be a student in the School of Music 30 years ago. Even though there are a ton of technological advancements since I was there, in a good way a lot of things are still the same. I told them all the same thing – these are the years that will lay the foundation of your life – you will become a professional musician in your musical path (education, performance, composition), you will make lifelong friends and connections, and you will look back on this one day as one of the best experiences of your life….embrace EVERY opportunity. Hindsight is 20/20….there are things and experiences that I wish I had done all those years ago, but to see these things vicariously through the eyes of the current students yesterday means the world to me. I’ve never been more proud to be an alumnus of the Ithaca College School of Music than I am today.