OSA Lecture

Friday, May 1st, 2009 by

This afternoon, I gave a lecture at the Oakland School for the Arts (OSA). Back in November, 2008, I was asked to participate in a choral competition as a judge. As someone who has both performed in and accompanied choirs, and loves choral music, I was thrilled at the opportunity, and immediately accepted the task. Although it was a pleasure to hear all of the talented young people who performed that afternoon, the students from the Oakland School of the Arts, directed by Cava Menzies , were superlative. Not only were these singers gifted with beautiful voices, but their intonation, musicianship, energy, stage presence and professionalism were unparalleled. Ms. Menzies had clearly worked very hard in training her students, and the results were ineffably spectacular. OSA easily won the competition that evening, and shortly afterward contacted Cava to congratulate her on a job well done. She, in turn, asked me to come and speak to the students in her music business class about life as a professional musician. Once again, I was thrilled at the opportunity. As a teacher myself, I relish being able to offer guidance, inspiration, advice, etc, to students in any way that I can. I live for the moment of epiphany when a student just “gets it”, and perhaps uses something I say as a catalyst for their art, education, life, etc. What greater joy is there than to know I’ve made a positive impact on someone’s life? Wow…

As the day for my lecture approached, I imagined what I might say to the students. I created a simple outline including important moments in my musical development, my work habits, influences, and music business insight based on my personal experience. Excited, I took off from home early, anticipating that I’d arrive at the school 30 minutes before my scheduled lecture time. However, on my way to the school, I encountered a major traffic jam. Apparently, CalTrans had decided to do emergency roadwork on I-880 North literally starting when I entered the freeway. So, I was stuck…for a while…a long while. While I appreciate those who keep our roadways safe and clear, it could not have been worse timing for my schedule. I exited the freeway as soon as I could, but then was stuck in street traffic because everyone else was trying to do the same thing. I ended up backtracking and driving through Alameda to get to downtown Oakland, which most of the other drivers didn’t know about as an option, therefore giving me clear roads, but even with my ingenuity and astute driving skill, I was 30 minutes late for my lecture. Oh well! What’s that old adage about making plans…

I finally arrived at the school, breathing deeply, determined not to be thrown off because of my tardiness. Cava met me as I parked and walked me around the building to her classroom. I entered and the students all applauded, which immediately set me at ease, and pushed the memory of extreme traffic out of my mind. Cava introduced me, and I began to speak about my life as a musician. I didn’t use my prepared notes. I felt inspired by the beautiful faces of the students in the room, and spoke extemporaneously, keeping the overall point of contributing pertinent information in mind (after all, I was there to offer guidance, not just spew my resume). Once I completed my lecture, which primarily focused on how discipline and determination are just as (if not more) important than inherent talent, with examples from my life, I took questions from the students. They had so many questions! It was great! Their questions included queries about the process of auditioning for superstars, my practice habits, what it’s like to perform in front of tens of thousands of people. Once the question/answer segment was completed, the students asked me to perform. I played a couple of classical pieces, and played and sang a couple of Stevie Wonder songs. After I performed, the students asked if they could perform for me. Exactly what I was hoping for!

The students sang “Blackbird”, “Zingela”, “The Color Purple” and a beautiful song composed by singer/composer Branice McKenzie “Angels Here On Earth”. I performed with Branice for the first time a few months ago in the Music, She Wrote concert at the Oakland Public Conservatory , and I’ve since become a fan of her work. After performances by each of the mixed choral groups, a group of young men asked to perform “A Ribbon In the Sky” for me. It was an awesome performance!

I had such a wonderful experience sharing my thoughts with the students of OSA. I am thoroughly impressed by their poise, work ethic, talent and excellence. Thank you to Cava Menzies, Branice McKenzie and all of the students who attended my lecture and sang for me. I encourage all of you to keep up the good work and keep being amazing!

This entry was posted on Friday, May 1st, 2009 at 3:24 am and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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