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Greetings From New Zealand

First-year MM Jazz Bass



It’s well known that New Zealand is a beautiful country. You may have heard of Lord of the Rings, Flight of the Conchords, and if you’ve ever eaten lamb and liked it, it’s probably from New Zealand. It’s not a perfect country by any means, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Perhaps I should also mention the scenery?

When you run into people you know in New Zealand, you never ignore them. You always say hi, at least. When I arrived in Boston I soon found that this was not the norm. At first, I thought that people disliked me, and I also felt like an incredibly rude person when I found myself doing it to others. I’m used to it now but even so, I feel a certain sense of guilt for realizing that.

My bachelor’s degree is from the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington. They had a jazz program as well as a classical program, but the campuses were in different places. To make up for this, the school organized combined performance workshops, which all performance students had to attend regardless of major. These were basically concerts that included both jazz and classical performances. As a result, we now have a really great open attitude and dialogue happening between young jazz and classical musicians in Wellington who are, or recently were, in university.

At the organizational level, more work still needs to be done. There are countless more scholarships reserved for New Zealand’s classical performers and students of composition than for jazz performers. Although some jazz projects get support, money from arts funding bodies generally goes to established classical projects. There is a certain feeling of reluctance to accept jazz as a ‘serious’ music, or at least there was during my undergraduate years. In some ways, that’s actually a good thing, but not financially.

This attitude showed in the difference in facilities we had. The classical school did not have amazing facilities, and they had fewer practice rooms than we did, but at least their school was more than a square corridor of white washed walls. Ours seemed to be re-fashioned out of what was formerly a mechanic’s school. In one room, there was even a leftover garage door made of corrugated iron that lead outside. It looked like a prison, and it felt like one too.

For a long time, I felt that I had to measure up to classical musicians, that I had to prove that I was just as deserving of respect. I certainly felt this when it came to funding, but I also had a feeling of low self esteem whenever I participated in the National Youth Orchestra in New Zealand, even though there was no real reason for that and I don’t think any of the orchestra members thought any less of me. In fact, looking back, some people thought that my involvement in jazz was something really cool and yet, at least for as long as I was wearing a bow tie, I would not allow myself to believe that.

My own personal insecurities aside, another result of this environment is that a lot of jazz projects are constructed that incorporate elements of classical music, or involve classical musicians in performance. One example is “Mantis: The Music of Drew Menzies”, which is a CD by NZ drummer Reuben Bradley released in 2013.

It features the New Zealand String Quartet playing arrangements by John Psathas who, among other things, wrote music for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Drew Menzies was a jazz bassist and a good friend of Reuben’s who unfortunately lost his life too soon, but he was also a great classical bassist and a member of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. You can imagine how that might have made a pretty strong funding application for a jazz project. This year, I’m looking forward to attending a concert featuring the Wellington Jazz Orchestra with soloist Michael Houstoun, one of New Zealand’s leading (classical) concert pianists.

I don’t think this is a bad outcome. I think it is actually quite beautiful that such a conversation has arisen in Wellington, even though the circumstances that shaped it are less than ideal and still something I will try to change. It has certainly shaped who I am and what I do as a musician.

The piece I put forward for the UNESCO International Jazz Day concert has its roots in this conversation – it is a piece I wrote to open the first combined performance workshop in 2012, that would show everybody the possibility of jazz students and classical students playing together. It is certainly not the first piece of its kind, even in New Zealand, but I think it was important for us at the NZSM to see that performance and finally realize that connection that had been the whole point of those combined events, however briefly.

For me personally, there have been two great takeaways from this experience. The first of these is that I began a wonderful journey of collaboration across musical traditions. I think the fact that two groups of people from different backgrounds, different historical contexts and with different understandings of the worlds within and outside of themselves, are able to come together and make beautiful music can teach us something about how we might learn to create an environment of communication and cooperation across ideological boundaries, of which have always been many.

The second is that, in order to continue being a musician, both in financial and spiritual terms, I had to really think about why music is important, and what musicians have to offer the world. Hopefully, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me about this topic in the coming semesters.

I come to the New England Conservatory with my ears and eyes open. I am here to learn as much as I can, from as many people as I can. So far, each person that I have met at this school has left an outstanding impression on me. You are all very special.

Sometimes I wonder if we hear this word so often that we forget what it means. What I mean is this: each of us has beautiful and important things to say, and I really believe that we have a responsibility to share those things with each other. I am looking forward to sharing with all of you the perspectives that have been shaped by my unique circumstances and life experiences, and I especially look forward to hearing about yours. I hope you’ll come say hi to me, and let me know what you thought of this piece.

P.S. If you have trouble finding me, I have been previously been referred to as the ‘Pants King’ 😉

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How The Mandolin Led Me To NEC

First-year MM Mandolin



“What’s in the case, a ukulele?” This is a question all mandolin players will encounter at some point in life. It’s not always a ukulele. Sometimes mandolins are mistakenly called banjos, fiddles, or even balalaikas. At times it can feel frustrating having to explain the differences between my instrument and every other string instrument, but I don’t mind. It’s fun sharing my passion with anyone interested.

  For those readers who have never had the chance to see a mandolin up close and personal, I’ll give you the sales pitch I’ve developed over the years. It has the same tuning as the violin: GDAE. Unlike the violin it has eight strings, but the strings are tuned in pairs. Instead of using a bow to create sound, mandolinists use a pick to pluck the strings. Its sound is very clear and has surprising volume for such a small instrument. To me the mandolin is incredible because of its versatility. You can hear it being played in bluegrass, folk, Brazilian choro, jazz, rock, and every dog food commercial on TV.

The mandolin’s popularity continues to increase; however, there are very few programs around the world where students can pursue playing it at the collegiate level. NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation (CI) Department is one of the few programs welcoming to mandolinists. As soon as I discovered CI I knew I wanted to be a part of the department. I just needed some time to get here.

As a high school senior I had an incredibly busy schedule full of classes, play rehearsals, exams, and college visits. Though very busy, I enjoyed school and liked many subjects. This made it challenging for me to decide what path I wanted to take in college. Of all my interests, I knew music was my true passion. It was intimidating to consider a future in the arts, but my parents were incredibly encouraging and supportive. But NEC and CI were not on my radar as a high school student, so I decided to enroll at a conservatory closer to home in Wisconsin.

I had been playing mandolin for a few years at that point, but pursuing it as a college student seemed like an impossibility to me. Instead, I focused on my other passion in music: singing. During my undergraduate degree I trained as a classical singer with a very knowledgeable professor. He helped me grow as a musician and refined my voice into a much more versatile instrument.

During a relatively rough transition as a freshman I discovered a promotional video about NEC’s CI Department. This five-minute overview made me very excited about and envious of the students in the video. I wanted to be a part of that world, but didn’t think for a second that I could get in. So I committed to becoming a professional classical singer.

By my senior year of college, I felt burnt out. I didn’t fit in with my peers in my department and I began to focus more and more on the mandolin. A few of my friends and I formed a contemporary bluegrass band and started gigging around the area. Suddenly I felt the musical fulfillment I had been hoping to find in classical singing. We gained more and more popularity until we became a big part of the conservatory’s culture, even getting the opportunity to play a concerto with the university’s orchestra.

After graduation I did some much needed soul-searching and knew that I at least had to try to get my master’s degree in the CI Department. I made my prescreening recording, collected my materials together, and sent them to NEC. I said to myself, “It would be nice just to get an audition. If that happens I’ll be satisfied.” After I received my audition invitation I was ecstatic and nervous. My mom and I flew out to Boston in February for my audition. The morning of auditions, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat. That day was incredibly stressful, but when I think of that time I remember all the amazing people I met. Their talents floored me and I was just proud to be part of the group of potential students.

I waited to hear from NEC for what felt like an eternity. When my acceptance email came I was speechless. I eventually mouthed the sentence, “I got in.” In my previous fantasies about this moment, I always envisioned a sense of pride and achievement would be at the forefront of my emotions. My acceptance email did make me proud and happy, but my first thoughts after reading it were of all the people that I had met on audition day. I couldn’t wait to start making music with them.

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Communication And Liberation

First-year MM French Horn



Knock Knock!

A rapping on the door brought us out of our trance, a state induced by speeding through a jungle, throwing bananas and the inevitable blue shell as we raced in the Lightning Cup on Mario Kart-Wii. Finally Papa John’s pizza delivery arrived and I seemed to teleport to the front door.

It was that friendly Papa Johns delivery guy. I didn’t know his name, but we ordered enough pizza to be familiar with the delivery staff. This one always sported a genuine smile.

With the warm pizza boxes balanced on top of my left arm, my right hand juggled a two-liter root beer in a plastic bag hanging low to the floor. It banged against the door as I tried closing it with my knee.

Then another bang as it tumbled on the kitchen counter.

We plopped the pizzas on the dinner table, not bothering with plates. Four musicians rooming together who enjoy a night of food and video games after a hard week of work instinctually gobbled down pizza at first sight. Then came the beverage.


Pizza NOT made from penguins.

With little attention, I opened up the root beer and out erupted a sea of carbonated water and sugar like a broken fire hydrant. A loud hiss and a yelp at the moment of explosion drew my roommates’ attention to the mess that flowed on the counter and beneath my feet…

At times, we may all feel like a shaken up bottle of soda, ready to explode at any moment. Every little bump adds up, sometimes causing an uncomfortable internal pressure seeking an escape. It’s never fun to feel this way, and containing this pressure for an extended period of time can lead the mind into a spiral of negative thinking. “Why can’t I get this right? … I must be no good … I’m a terrible person.”

Learning to catch these moments as we feel the pressure rise is a mindful practice that directs our attention inwardly to see clearly how we’re feeling. After observing our feelings, the next important step is to choose how to alleviate the internal pressure.

How about a chat?

Just by talking with another person, whether it’s a family member, friend, or teacher, relieves us from any sour feelings. It’s a healthy way to reflect and learn from a situation, connect with others and strengthen a relationship.

It always surprising to experience how much better I immediately feel when I reach out to people. There’s nothing to lose or be shameful about. We are all part of a larger whole and connected to every person on Earth. When one piece of the puzzle is damaged, the whole is affected. What we gain is more insight, a new perspective and a huge weight off our shoulders.

By slowly turning the bottle cap with care, as it releases a soothing sizzle, there will be no mess to clean.

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New Boston – Chapter 2

Third-year BM Viola



The following is the second chapter of a serialized story. Check out Chapter 1 here!

Chapter 2: South Station

Halfway through the ride to South Station, Caela suddenly stopped crying.

It wasn’t the stares of the passengers around her, first sympathetic and pitying, then impatient and condescending, as the minutes of uncontrollable sobbing stretched on. It wasn’t the hypnotically repetitive view out the hovershuttle’s windows, a snowscape of wind-blown drifts undulating far into the distance interrupted by the awkward corners of what used to be roofs. It wasn’t the soothing loop of evacuation instructions wafting over the crowd on the shuttle, lulling them into compliant silence with the voice of Maureen Johnson, City-Secretary of Housing and Relocation.

None of the sounds and sights around her seemed real enough to get through to her anymore. She simply couldn’t believe that her sister was not beside her. But that only made the tears fall faster and the sobs stick deeper in her throat.

What stopped Caela’s crying was the crumpled ball of paper she discovered in her pocket as she desperately grasped around for another Kleenex.

“What the—?”

Caela clumsily grabbed at the wad of heavy paper and opened it, flattening out the wrinkles as best she could on the door of the shuttle.

She rolled her eyes as she laid eyes on a battered copy of the now-infamous posters that cropped up all over the city at the beginning of last summer, advertising a utopian vision of Boston as it once was, an underground safe haven from the storms that incessantly battered the Atlantic coast. According to the poster, “New Boston,” the City-State of Boston’s brainchild of ten years, is an exact physical replica of the city and its surrounding towns, located twenty miles to the west and two miles underground. The self-contained nuclear sun—“THE FIRST OF ITS KIND,” proclaimed the poster in gold lettering—shone at the top of the poster in brilliant Technicolor like the yellow orb in children’s drawings, illuminating crowds of smiling two-child families promenading in front of restored Back Bay brownstones, and sleek maglev bullet trains that looked like they’d been pulled straight out of an old-school sci-fi movie.

“No idea how this even got here,” she muttered as she folded the poster in quarters and stashed it in her backpack. At that moment, the hovershuttle began to decelerate and the driver’s voice boomed over the intercom again.

“Entering South Station. Doors will open on both sides. South Station.”

Caela reflexively checked the two feet of space around her for anything she might have forgotten. “You good, Shannon?”

When she heard no response, she looked up in a panic to search for her sister. Suddenly, the memory of Shannon standing over a body smiling flooded her vision, and she cried out softly. She closed her eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath to keep the tears from pouring out again, and slowly inched her way forward through the crowd on the shuttle and into the shadows of the ice-covered bus platform.

Caela clutched her backpack closer to her chest as she followed the swarm of humanity pressing further into the bowels of South Station. She caught glimpses of the posters again, faded and splattered with mud or covered in swooping scrawls of graffiti. Over the roar of hundreds of voices, she caught snatches of conversations drifting over the crowd.

“Mama, is it really the sun under there?”

“It must be a HUGE cave!”

“Honestly, I think this whole this is a scam.”

“Maybe so, but I have the kids to think about, ya know?”

“I’ve seen enough snow for three lifetimes.”

With a jolt, Caela realized that this was probably the last time she would ever see snow. She tried to turn back and get a glimpse of the white powder that covered all of her memories, but the crowd pressed in around her and pulled her closer to the maglevs.

She barely got a glimpse of streamlined silver steel before someone pushed her up another set of metal stairs. She shot out a hand to grab the thin titanium railing and yanked herself upright, sprinted through the now open doorway into the train car, and threw herself into the closest empty seat.

Caela sat still for the first time in five hours, panting.

“Caela Farr?”

She whipped around to find the source of the surprisingly deep voice, and her eyes met with those of a statuesque older woman with dark, wiry hair. The woman smirked.

“So you made it. Good. Now we can get started.”

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