Finding Peace in a New Juilliard Yoga Collective

Nedra Snipes is a 2nd year M.F.A. actor in the Juilliard Drama Division and founder of J-Tribe Flow Yoga, a new wellness-based yoga collective for black women, women of color, and their allies. Fiona Robberson, co-editor in chief of the Citizen-Penguin, sat down with Nedra on Tuesday to discuss the origins of J-Tribe Flow Yoga in advance of their first official yoga session, which begins Wednesday morning, February 6th.

Photo by Chris Silvestri

Nedra Snipes is a 2nd year M.F.A. actor in the Juilliard Drama Division and founder of J-Tribe Flow Yoga, a new wellness-based yoga collective for black women, women of color, and their allies. Fiona Robberson, co-editor in chief of the Citizen-Penguin, sat down with Nedra on Tuesday to discuss the origins of J-Tribe Flow Yoga in advance of their first official yoga session, which begins Wednesday morning, February 6th.

What is the origin story of J-Tribe Flow Yoga?

It’s really new! We’re starting officially in the first week of February. The collective started in the fall of last semester, when Rosie Yates, a 2nd year drama student, was asked to do an event as an RA for the Juilliard Residence Hall. Melissa Golliday, a 3rd year drama student and fellow RA, decided to collaborate with Rosie – together they created a wellness event that became the first iteration of J-Tribe Flow Yoga. It’s specifically for black women, women of color, and OUR allies, which includes and extends to persons who identify with the male pronoun.

 

What was your journey to yoga?

After 1st year of my drama training, I was feeling outside of my body and outside of my yoga practice. I went to Core Power Yoga, saw a posting for teacher training and went before I knew what it was going to be about. I wanted to go deeper into my own personal practice. I studied Power Vinyasa Yoga, which in a nutshell, is about constantly activating your core. You’re building strength and breath, both of which increase throughout the flow. We start slowly, move through the series again, and move into one breath, one movement, which at that intensity, elevates your heart rate, your breath, your focus, and your strength. It’s a transformative experience when I get to share that transformation with other people.

 

Why do you feel yoga practice is necessary for black women and women of color at Juilliard?

For me, coming to Juilliard and trying to find some semblance of self-care in the midst of this training schedule, especially as a person of color, creates a lot of weighty forces that cause you to take big pauses, and could impede your training overall. J-Tribe Flow Yoga is specifically for black women, women of color, and our allies – the motivation behind that is for us to see others like ourselves in a room, striving for the same level of greatness that we all desire in this building. I want others to take ownership of their own bodies, even if only for an hour. And there is something different that happens when you share the same breath with other people.

 

What happens when you share that breath?

I truly think we breathe for the first time when we’re together. I’m currently working on bringing my full self into a room and feel that when I’m in a room with women of color, with black women, and with our allies who I know are supporting us, there’s a release that happens. And that’s important.

 

For someone who has never done yoga before, what should they expect from J-Tribe Flow Yoga?

They should expect peace and tranquility. They should not feel like they need to be a flexible person, or someone who has done sports all their lives, or anything like that. They just need to be someone who wants to commit an hour to themselves. In my teacher training, they said that if you want to stay in a single pose for a whole hour, maybe a resting position like child’s pose, that is your practice. That is yoga. It’s not a flexibility contest, or a social contest. For me, it’s more of a deeper, spiritual experience. I say come with your heart open and breath flowing. And bring a yoga mat, towel, and water!

 

How many times do you plan to meet?

We hope to meet 9-10 times over the course of this semester, starting this Friday. We anticipate having two sessions per month, depending on holiday and break schedules. I want for us to bond, not just by doing physical activity together, but to also have us grow mentally and spiritually together. It’s my goal that we can have conversations about what it means to be a person of color, or an ally.

 

Is it going to open up to elements of self care and wellness beyond yoga?

Yes! I’m excited about our upcoming BE Series in March – BE Powerful, BE Grounded, and BE Restored. The BE Powerful series will involve more of the core element of yoga through power vinyasa flow, to teach us about inner will and how to tap into our core strength at any point. BE Grounded will focus on sustaining fundamental poses for 4-6 minutes at a time. In this series, the yogi principle of Dhristi breath will lead us through each pose as heat is built within the body. BE Restored will finish out the year with a restorative yoga flow to our favorite records.

I’m also planning on an Abundant Gratitude Brunch at the end of the year to celebrate, break bread, and be together outside of this building. We’ll have guest instructors as well – friends from the area, local yoga teachers who are women of color within New York, teachers from the Harlem area and Brooklyn, where there’s another organization specifically for women of color, and more. It’s important that we’re showing leaders of wellness who are outside of the societal norm.

 

When I attended your first yoga/wellness session last semester, there were a lot of instances where in the midst of poses, you were encouraging students with affirmations and power phrases. Where does that come from?

Part of my teacher training includes setting an intention from the class that is close to you, that you can share with your students and those who are working with you. It has to be specific to you, and something that you can all work on universally. I have this thing about light – my first song in church was “This Little Light of Mine!” – and I believe light is something we all have within us. A quote from Marianne Williamson that has always resonated with me, goes: “We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

I just want to hone and cultivate a world like that, where everyone is shining their own individual lights, that you can shine yours in whatever way you can. It should shine big, which is why I reiterate it – at a certain point in the poses of the flow, at the challenging points, you can shift your focus to a higher power or a higher light which will help to lead you forward. This is also an important part of your life flow – when you take focus away from the negativity and stresses of your life and instead focus on what you’re learning in this moment, even if you’re feeling uncomfortable, you can share that sentiment with someone else in your space. We’re all so talented here – we’re inspired by others, but don’t compare yourself to others. You have your own light.

 

What do you anticipate being the future of J-Tribe Flow Yoga?

Nedra Snipes of J-Tribe Flow Yoga

Right now, we’re scheduled up until the end of 2019. I’m looking for us to have a wellness retreat that will happen before the start of the new school year which will help us to become grounded and centered before we start back up at school. I love that J-Tribe is starting here at Juilliard, but I do want it to extend beyond these walls. This is our first way that we’re connecting and communicating with one another, but it should spread like a spider web in how many women we reach through this. I’m hoping that after this summer, the women of this school will know that they have a support system – they will feel like they belong and that they have people to reach for in their times of need. I’m hoping that this tribe will continue beyond Juilliard to performances on Broadway, movie sets, composing endeavors, musical performances, dancers in their first company overseas, and that even in high-stress situations, these women will know they can call on these people to love and support them.

 

Finally, where does the name “J-Tribe Flow Yoga” come from?

Of course, the J comes from Juilliard. Tribe is ancestral for me and my cultural history. A tribe is something that cannot be broken, it is made up of a vast majority of people who have their own individual role in the tribe, whose job or role cannot be compromised or taken. We’re all doing that here at Juilliard, right now – if we were to switch or fulfill another purpose in this world, it wouldn’t work. In order for us to work as a tribe, we need to work together. Yoga speaks for itself – I wanted to start with that. In J-Tribe Flow Yoga, we’ll always start with a physicalizing of release to let go of the armor we all carry every day to protect ourselves from the world. Even the act of getting on the subway to come to school requires a bit of armor. By letting go of our basic survival instincts, we become aware of our thoughts and breath, which connects us to our mindful wellness practice and develop a sense of flow. I’d like for our collective to flow through this wellness program, flow through our lives, flow through this world.

And flow through this program at Juilliard! I feel sometimes through this training that I’m driving a stick shift car, and I’d like it to be more of a seamless flow. Things are coming at me. I’m learning new things, letting go of habitual patterns, gaining a stronger sense of consciousness of my craft, and all of that can happen with a flow. It doesn’t have to be a violent undoing. If I had flow while going through this program, I think I would feel like I’m on my first day of kindergarten. I would be curious, knowing no difference between learning and failing, having no physical or mental response that would make me want to hide. I would let my light shine. All the time.

 

J-Tribe Flow Yoga will have their first official session on the morning of Wednesday, February 6th. Time and location TBD. Please RSVP to reserve a spot. 

If you’d like to sign-up to attend J-Tribe Flow Yoga’s first official yoga session, have questions, or would like to send in song requests, please email Nedra Snipes at nrs4@juilliard.com.

Lúa Mayenco Cardenal – “When They Ask About My Summer”

Lúa Mayenco, a third year in the Juilliard Dance Division, recounts the factors that shaped her summer.

Editors’ Note: In August, we asked our readers to submit stories to the Citizen-Penguin about their summer opportunities and travels. Here, Lúa Mayenco Cardenal, a dancer beginning her third year at Juilliard, writes on the four factors that defined her summer.

In the past few weeks I had to learn how to transform my summer into a three-minute story. New York is bringing me back to its accelerating routine and I see myself carefully choosing the most energizing and unforgettable moments of the past few months to support me in the intensity of the new school year.

Cardenal’s home of Madrid, Spain

Home. That’s for sure the first thought that comes to my mind when I look back to my summer. Madrid, Spain, its heat, its magic evenings, its unique flavors. Family, of course. Without it, home wouldn’t be home. We sit around the table and acknowledge the little changes that time has left on us. Maybe work has been exhausting for her and he is stressed because his students are about to take their final exams, but we are all excited to see each other’s eyes and enjoy a meal in the same time zone.

Friends. That’s always an interesting one. I return to my city, or I think that I do so, and some friends recognize me and some of them don’t. We have all matured, but perhaps in opposite directions. Nevertheless, those who dare to get to know me again are worth all my energy, love and full attention. I rediscover my city, guided by those who stayed and kept exploring. New shows, secret corners, art exhibitions, and small restaurants. All of them an excuse to keep reinventing myself.

Budapest, Hungary

Curiosity. That’s the reason behind summer trips and crazy dance intensives. I fly to Budapest and fall in love with the simple pleasure of following a beat. I think I had forgotten how to dance for dance sake, how to let the pleasure of movement to take over me without explanation. Five days in that sunny dance studio, surrounded by the craziest teachers, their peaceful voices and their passionate movement, bring me back to life. Paris is my second destination. I really don’t know what I’m getting into. Physical theater, at least now I know what that means. Half dancers, half actors, both trying to put our hands in that grey space between our disciplines. Conclusion: there is ALWAYS a lot to learn. How humbling it is to realize that every individual has the power to introduce you into an entire new universe. I truly thank my classmates for sharing their perspective in life, art and darkness.

Paris, France

Rest. I forgot that was an actual thing. I get to the beach, turn off my body and the exhaustion of an entire year takes over me. I’m unable to move for 4 days. My mind uses the salt of the sea, the warmth of the sand and the secrets of the wind to find inspiration. A million ideas pop into my mind. Do I already know what I will choreograph next year? Wait, I remember that I was here to rest. Let it go… at least for a few days.

And then what? Time to say goodbye again? I don’t even know what home is anymore. New York, are you my new home? Suitcases are quickly filled up with clothes and my indispensable secret reserve of Spanish ham. I don’t know if I’m ready for my third year, but I guess we won’t know until it happens. I trust, I hope, I take my summer warmth and I go.

Matthew Liu – “My Summer of 2018”

Matthew Liu, a composition major at The Juilliard School, shares the many adventures of his summer.

Editors’ Note: In August, we asked our readers to submit stories to the Citizen-Penguin about their summer opportunities and travels. Here Matthew Liu, a composition major now returning to Juilliard for his master’s degree, highlights his time away from Juilliard in a compilation video that features his own music.

In July, I had the incredible honor to write the processional music for my dear friend’s wedding in Mississippi. This same music is used to share with you the rest of my crazy, intimately memorable summer. They say “show, don’t tell,” so let me show you, with both my music and my memories, my summer of 2018, filled with people I love and places I long to be.

Bridging Two Worlds Through Art: Creative Borders 2018

Creative Borders is a three-time Juilliard Global Enrichment Grant awarded service project with a mission to promote arts education and help underserved communities around the globe. This summer, Creative Borders completed their third consecutive year of facilitating a cross-disciplinary outreach program in Gaborone, Botswana. Artistic Director and Juilliard Dance 2018 graduate Amanda Bouza reflects on her experience of working on this summer’s program.

Above: Creative Borders Artistic Director and Juilliard Dance graduate Amanda Bouza with students in Gaborone, Botswana.

Creative Borders is a three-time Juilliard Global Enrichment Grant awarded service project with a mission to promote arts education and help underserved communities stimulate their thoughts, emotions, and voices through art. This summer, our team at Creative Borders completed their third consecutive year of facilitating a cross-disciplinary outreach program in Gaborone, Botswana.

As artistic director of Creative Borders, I oversee and facilitate the program, and work as the leader of our NYC team meetings, travel coordinator, and even stage manager of our annual program performance. As I reflect on the incredible experience I lived this summer in Botswana, I will do my best to put into words the artistic, spiritual, and educational journey Creative Borders underwent.

This June, our program was hosted once again by the Maru-a-Pula School, the top secondary school in the country, and Maitisong Theater, the first professional theater in the city. These partnerships have given the Creative Borders’ team insight into local culture, customs, and traditions, and has aided Creative Borders to offer dance and drama workshops to teens, adolescents, and adults of the Gaborone community – all completely free of charge.

Juilliard students and graduates Amanda Bouza, Darryl Daughtry Jr, Sean Lammer, and Bianca Norwood with students from Creative Borders 2018 in Gaborone, Botswana

Three months prior to our departure, in the midst of creating enriching, colorful lesson plans that highlighted improvisation games and movement exercises, our team of teaching artists came to agree on an idea that was to be the driving force of this years program: “Your Voice Matters.” It was our goal to amplify our participant’s ideas, self-truths, and dreams, and to provide a platform where our students could express themselves fully. Whether it was expression through dance, drama, music, or writing, we aimed to encourage individuality and self-identity.

Our students in Botswana face a community where being an artist is deemed a childhood hobby, not a passion or a career. It was imperative that we break this social construct, and encourage our participants to believe anything is possible. To be an artist is to be a creative thinker, someone willing to stretch the limits of society’s comfort zone. Nonetheless, many of our high school senior-level students are on purely academic tracks, with hopes to be doctors and engineers. Our job was not to convince them to be artists, but to expose them to devices for expression through artistic means, and to promote art as a valuable, transferable tool that can enhance their individual characteristics in a multitude of ways. It is an emotional, expressive release that can, at the very least, aid with stress/anxiety, relieve self-pressure to succeed, and allow them the opportunity to meet new people.

This year’s program concluded in a two-night performance at the Maitisong Theater with over 170 participants – our largest company yet! With only fifteen hours of class and rehearsal, we created an evening of thought-provoking, unique, and inspiring work all driven from the voices and stories of our students. Our cast ranged from primary school children to adults and included pieces about equality, women’s rights, and finding one’s courage, culminating in a drama performance led by Darryl Daughtry Jr. entitled  “Art Manifesto,” where students spoke out about the importance of the arts and their impact on students’ daily lives. With two sold-out performances, our participants concluded each night with enormous smiles and bright eyes. As a teacher, it was so moving to see them proud of their work and effort. Our students knew they made a difference and that their stories were heard – maybe for the first time, but definitely not the last!

While this final performance was a huge highlight for our project, it was not our sole purpose for being in Botswana. We wanted to ensure that we included the Gaborone community as a whole. This ultimate objective was made possible through partnerships with the Ambrose Academy and the Botswana Teen Club.

Every morning, we would visit the Ambrose Academy to teach creative movement classes to children ages 3-11 living with various physical and mental disabilities. At the conclusion of our time with the Ambrose children, they fully memorized our songs, dances, and stories. In just two weeks, the kids excelled at ballet basics, rhythmic games and could perfectly recite our “Good-Bye Song.” An extraordinary feeling came over me when one of our students knew exactly how to execute an “échappé,” a beginner ballet jump. I asked the class who could demonstrate the step, and a young boy’s hand immediately shot up in the air. With an enormous smile on his face and gleaming bright eyes, he demonstrated the step beautifully. At that moment, the teaching artists and I shared a glance, one of happiness and fulfillment. Later on our bus ride back home, we spoke about this particular moment from class and were moved by the incredible progress our students had made in such a short period of time. The students at Ambrose Academy brought enthusiasm, brightness, and creativity to our lessons, and are living proof that students with disability are much more intellectually capable than the world thinks.

Teaching Artist Darryl Daughtry Jr. with students from Creative Borders 2018 in Gaborone, Botswana

On Saturdays, we worked with the Botswana Teen Club, an organization dedicated to providing positive role models and opportunities for teens and adults living with HIV/AIDS. In just two sessions, the teens grew willing and eager to create newspaper puppets with Bianca Norwood, to learn cross body improvisation techniques with Sean Lammer, and to be the directors of their own scenes with Darryl Daughtry Jr. Their transformation was outstanding. At the start of our first session they were all so hesitant to move, expand, or even sit on the floor. By the end of our first two-hour workshop, they were singing, dancing, and expressing their individuality. Resistant to conclude our sessions, the teens were craving more, asking for warm-ups, drama exercises, and dance stretches they could practice on their own!

In fact, I recently received a message from one of the teens who mentioned he still did our exercises every morning and wanted to be the first to know about our return. As teaching artists, we believe so intensely in the power of our particular crafts and the importance of art education around the world – however, it’s moments like these, when a student reaches out weeks later still invested and interested, that make the work that much more meaningful. Art exposure gives teens involved in organizations like Botswana Teen Club the opportunity to grow and exceed the limitations that society has placed on them. My hope is that through continuous exploration, this student and others will not only discover new avenues of expression, but feel empowered to share their story with others.

Creative Borders: Botswana Project 2018 was an eye opening experience. Teachers, parents, and local community members came together to recount this as the strongest year yet, with hopes that we return next year. In just three short weeks we saw our students thrive, grow, and shine with passion, laughter, self-reflection, and strength. Our adult dancers began organizing classes so that they may continue moving beyond the Creative Borders Project. The success of the program would not have been possible without our incredible team of teaching artists, and I cannot express my gratitude and admiration for their willingness and dedication to the project. I also thank our Executive Director, Austin Reynolds, for his continuous work and enlightening vision.

I am so grateful to have made this dream a reality. With the help of The Juilliard School, our families, friends, and donors, Creative Borders has been able to push boundaries and spread artistic encouragement around the globe. Botswana will always hold a special place in our hearts as it was the home of our pilot program three years ago. We are elated with the success of our project and are so looking forward to our next endeavor!

Be sure to visit us at www.creativeborders.org for updates on Creative Borders 2019!

An Interview with Maestro David Robertson

Sumire Hirotsuru (MM ’18, violin) interviews Maestro David Robertson on the rehearsal process, tips for success, and his upcoming position at Juilliard.

Maestro David Robertson – photo by Sumire Hirotsuru

On a Tuesday evening, Sumire Hirotsuru (MM ’18, violin) visited a green room in the basement of the Metropolitan Opera, where Maestro David Robertson was eating a pre-show coleslaw. As newly appointed Director of Conducting Studies at Juilliard, concluding his 13-year tenure as the Music Director at St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) at the end of the season, Maestro Robertson is conducting the Juilliard Orchestra on April 2nd at Carnegie Hall. Sumire sat down with Maestro Robertson to hear his thoughts on the rehearsal process, tips for success, and his upcoming position at Juilliard.

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Sumire Hirotsuru (SH): How has your experience working with the Juilliard Orchestra been? Had you worked with them before this concert cycle?

Maestro David Robertson (DR): The first time I worked with the Juilliard Orchestra was actually 20 years ago, as a guest conductor. While the students had always been extremely gifted, I find that students take orchestra more seriously now than 20 years ago. There’s been a real increase in the basic understanding of what you need to do in an orchestra, and it’s been a lot of fun for me to work with the group.

SH: What’s the difference between working with professional orchestras and student orchestras?

DR: When one is playing in an orchestra, there is a certain shyness to really play out in a student orchestra. I have seen this over 13 years of many auditions in the SLSO, but my colleagues always tell them to play out more. It is very interesting to work on repertoire with a student orchestra, because in some parts where you are expecting to hear something quite prominent, it’s often not there yet with the full personality and projection that you expect from a group of seasoned professionals. It comes as a surprise when you see someone who is not playing out and realize “Oh, this person needs encouragement, they don’t realize how important their part in the orchestra is.” What is very gratifying about working with the students is that once you tell them, you get the results immediately.

SH: Do you think more students were looking for soloist career 20 years ago?

DR: There was a feeling that going to an orchestra rehearsal was a little bit like a visit to the dentist – you know you have to do it, but no one looks forward to it. Now it certainly has gone out of dentistry, and has become something much more interesting and challenging. But there’s a misunderstanding that you somehow have to become anonymous in an orchestra. In fact, it’s the opposite. You can absolutely hear the difference when 14 first violins out of 14 are really playing, or only 14 out of 16 are playing. Each person brings their own individual sound, style, and personality, and that’s what makes the whole beauty of the section and orchestra unique.

SH: I totally agree. When I played in the conductor-less Juilliard Chamber Orchestra last month, everyone was contributing so much to the rehearsal by playing and speaking up. I was totally able to feel the difference, being in the middle of the orchestra.

DR: Definitely – when I am working in an orchestra, I like people to suggest something. Whether I work with an orchestra in Europe or in America or in Australia or in China, I want to hear what they think about the piece, because I’m interested in putting that together with what I know about the piece, through which we make something that we can’t make otherwise. If I come to rehearsals and just tell them exactly what they have to do, it feels more like I work for Starbucks. It will be high-quality but it’s not the same as when people contribute – it’s not how music works in my opinion.

SH: In Dvořák (Symphony No.9) rehearsals, you sometimes suggest non-traditional way of playing and to change the way we play. Because everyone already knows the Symphony, there is sometimes a discrepancy between their own ways and your way. Where does your inspiration for the piece come from?

DR: Any famous pieces like Dvořák or Beethoven tend to start taking a life of their own through recordings and performances. For me, the original document that composers left us with the ideas is the score, and I find it continually fascinating.

Sometimes in Mozart, for example, when there are two different ways of articulations on the same passage in the opening and the recapitulation, people assume that Mozart made a mistake or they assume that it has to be one or the other. I find assumptions like that will hurt the clarity of the piece. Of course, a composer may make a mistake, but in the 500 pages of manuscript of Cosi Fan Tutte, which I’m conducting, there are maybe 10 errors in three hours of music. Before you just jump to the conclusion that what he wants here is this way, maybe you should think about why.

If composers like Dvořák have a certain bowing, and you say “Oh you can’t play that bowing because the tempo is too slow,” then I would say “REALLY? Is your tempo not fast enough for this to work? Have you decided that you want to ignore the tempo markings at the beginning of the symphony because you think it sounds better?” Great works of art will probably sound good at any tempo, but at the same time I’m not sure that that’s the kind of respect you should pay for somebody who can write a piece of amazing music like that.

I believe that even if you stick very closely to what the composer wrote, there are still so many opportunities to express your own feelings about a piece of music. Whether it’s Bach or it’s all the way up to Elliott Carter, it doesn’t have to do with style – it has to do with interaction that we have and our feeling about the notes.

SH: You mentioned that we should always think about the reason why composers wrote in a certain way – in rehearsal, you also explain the reason why you want to perform your way. Do you have your own personal way of rehearsing that you keep to yourself?

DR: German conductor Otto Klemperer once said “Rehearsals are to play around with the piece and establish boundaries.” Boundaries mean that you will find certain passages faster, slower, louder or softer and you work out all sorts of things; you try different things to discover possibilities. Then, when you get into a performance, you can choose a lot of different possibilities because everybody knows where boundaries are. The performance doesn’t have to be the same way each time, so the rehearsal is for experimentation. I usually try to listen to how people are playing and analyze it – not just in terms of whether it is together or correct, but also what I see in the score, what you hear, and what kind of understanding and expression is coming across from players.

The other thing that I try to do in a rehearsal is to figure out the things that I can help people with by working together, and to leave things that people will have to do on their own. For example, in the Charles Ives piece (Three Places in New England), there is a very hard first violin part and you want them to practice it and realize, “Oh, now I know what to practice in what tempo.” We try the part as a group when they come back after practicing, which makes group rehearsals efficient.

SH: What do you think is the most important personalities or skills that they should have to succeed in this world?

DR: Firstly, you have to show up. Secondly, you need to be curious and constantly thinking about why something is the way it is in a musical phrase or why a piece is put together, so that you can get different insights and keep your curiosity alive. Then, the most important thing is not to give up when things look like they’re not going the way you want them. It’s very easy to get discouraged and to stop – and sometimes you don’t see that there are other opportunities right there.

SH: I have read an article that you stepped into SLSO when the conductor fell ill. Why do you think you were able to stay in the position, or did you even imagine you would spend so much time with the orchestra?

DR: There are certain people with whom you talk to for the first time and there’s a kind of immediate understanding and bond. I arrived in London as a 18 years old at the Royal Academy of Music, and the first student I saw was this crazy red hair trombonist parking his motorcycle at the parking. I had my French horn and he had his trombone, and we said hello to each other, and we are friends ever since. Likewise, it was a really deep immediate bond for me with the musicians in the SLSO; that was a kind of connection made at the first rehearsal that I had with them. When they invited me back, even though I had not seen them in 3 years, I remembered which instrument each musician played when I saw them in the hallway of Carnegie Hall. It’s just a great kind of bond right from the start, and you feel very lucky because sometimes you have good chemistry with people and it was spookily good at the SLSO.

SH: What are you most excited for as you approach your position at Juilliard?

DR: Interactions with the students. By the time they get to this level of the program at Juilliard, they are all remarkable, and I think one learns a great deal from dialogues with brilliant individuals. They will probably teach me more than I teach them because anytime someone asks you a question, it forces you to think and it’s the goal of what you want education to be. For me, the sense of constantly changing thinking about things is the important part, and I look forward to having a discussion about the Dvořák, where they may make me rethink what I do now. I first conducted the whole Symphony No.9 over 30 years ago, and I’m sure I do it completely differently now – not because now I’m good, but because I’ve learned so many things from people I worked with. What I’m looking forward to at Juilliard is helping the conductors discover who they are, and in the process, benefitting from all the things that they are going to teach me.

SH: Is there anything that is changing in the conducting world or classical music world compared to 30 years ago?

DR: The classical music world is changing a lot. But it always has, and there hasn’t been any time when it was completely stable. The question is, what does a classical musician want to do now, and the most important aspect of that has not changed – communication to an audience. One major aspect that has changed very much from even a hundred years ago is that fewer people now have direct contact with an instrument, and therefore the sense of what it means to listen has changed for them. It is essential for musicians to think that there may be people who have never heard an acoustic instrument – the instruments they’ve heard of always come through loud speakers. If you remember the fundamental idea that you want to communicate with the audience, then you might need to change how you present things to people. As I said, if people can keep their curiosity and ask questions then there will be the answers – although I am prejudiced, as my father was an engineer. For engineers, there is no problem for which there isn’t a solution, as they just have to think about it. And how I think about problems might be influenced by him.

SH: What do you like the most about conducting?

Maestro Robertson with Sumire Hirotsuru – photo by Sumire Hirotsuru

DR: It’s the inspiration that I get from people playing music, and I enjoy that I am able to shape a part of that. That’s why I am often smiling when I’m conducting.

___________________________

David Robertson conducts the Juilliard Orchestra
Monday, April 2nd, 8pm at Carnegie Hall
David Robertson, conductor
Tomer Gewirtzman, piano

IVES Three Places in New England
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 3
DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World”

Ticket information: https://www.juilliard.edu/event/130606/david-robertson-conducts-juilliard-orchestra

Matt Liu’s Kpop Cover

People think that to be a classical artist is to stuffy and disconnected to current culture. I appreciate kpop girl groups because of their sassiness, the high production values of their songs, and the intricate choreography. Even though I’m a composer, that doesn’t stop me from making dance cover videos of SISTAR’s 2014 hit “I Swear” — with me dancing ALL FOUR PARTS!

Nine Plays You Should See by Black Playwrights in New York

IS GOD IS by Aleshea Harris, FAIRVIEW by Jackie Sibblies Drury, MANKIND by Robert O’Hara…

IS GOD IS by Aleshea Harris
SOHO REP: FEB 6-MAR 11

  • MFA, Playwriting, CalArts
  • Relentless Award for IS GOD IS (in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman)
  • Playwright-Actor-Singer-Songwriter
  • “Harris is developing new works, and seeking new ways to challenge herself and her community through conscious creation.”

“Is God Is is a modern myth about twin sisters who sojourn from the Dirty South to California to enact righteous revenge. Takingits cues from the ancient, the modern, the tragic, the Western, hip-hop and Afropunk, Is God Is irreverently explodes notions of morality while traversing a darkly-comedic landscape of perilous, full-bodied, unrepentant black young womanhood.”

FAIRVIEW by Jackie Sibblies Drury
SOHO REP: May 29 – July 1

  • Van Lier Fellow
  • Jerome Fellow
  • NYTW Usual Suspect
  • “I like actors, which feels like a weird statement to make, but there are playwrights who don’t. I like to try to make lines that feel good to say. Or where the words aren’t indicating so much as existing in the text. Where the play’s not creating things that actors have to do, but creating opportunities that performers can do things with. I also just—it’s totally compulsive—want to have the way that the words fit together to be able to come out of someone’s mouth in a way that seems not naturalistic, or realistic, but true…in some way.” —Drury in AMERICAN THEATRE Magazine

MANKIND by Robert O’Hara
Playwrights horizons: Dec 15-Jan 28

  • Writer: Bootycandy, Barbecue
  • Director: In the Continuum, Brother/Sister Plays

“Have you ever heard of the word…Feminism? It’s an old world term. Back when women walked amongst us.

Mark and Jason were keeping things casual until Jason got pregnant. But however unplanned the pregnancy was, nothing could be less expected than the chain of events it would set in motion. Robert O’Hara’s audacious, hilarious allegory envisions an uncannily familiar future – one long after women have gone extinct from centuries of mistreatment – where man’s capacity to f**k everything up soars to new heights.”

HE BROUGHT HER HEART BACK IN A BOX by Adrienne Kennedy
TFANA: Jan 17-Feb 11

Adrienne Kennedy: LEGEND.

Other plays: Funnyhouse of a Negro, The Owl Answers, June and Jean in Concert, Sleep Deprivation Chambers

“With Beckett gone, Adrienne Kennedy is probably the boldest artist now writing for the theater.” –Michael Feingold (1995)

Set in Georgia and New York City in 1941, this new work by one of America’s greatest living dramatists is a heartbreaking and nail-biting memory tale of segregation, theatrical yearning, and doomed love. The action, driven by lyrical parallel monologues and a chilling tour through a storeroom of charged images, braids together the indignities of Jim Crow, rising Nazism, sexual hypocrisy, Christopher Marlowe, and the lingering shadow of a terrible crime.

FIRST NEW PLAY IN 9 YEARS

PARADISE BLUE by Dominique Morriseau
Signature Theatre: April 24-June 3

Other Plays: Pipeline, Skeleton Crew, Detroit 67, Blood at the Root
Paradise Blue is the third play in her Detroit Cycle
“In 1949, Detroit’s Blackbottom neighborhood is gentrifying. Blue, a troubled trumpeter and the owner of Paradise Club, is torn between remaining in Blackbottom with his loyal lover Pumpkin and leaving behind a traumatic past. But when the arrival of a mysterious woman stirs up tensions, the fate of Paradise Club hangs in the balance. Paradise Blue is the first production of Obie Award-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau’s Signature Residency. Directed by Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson (The Piano Lesson, Jitney), it is a thrilling and timely look at the changes a community endures to find its resilience.”

SCHOOL GIRLS, OR THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY by Jocelyn Bioh

  • MFA, Playwriting- Columbia
  • Playwright: Nollywood Dreams, Ladykiller’s Love Story
  • Actor: Curious Incident, Neighbors, Everybody, An Octoroon, In the Blood

Inspired from actual events, School Girls tells the story of Paulina, the most popular (mean) girl in school and Ericka, the new girl with a unique background – both students at the prestigous Aburi Girls boarding school, who face each other in a battle of wits and beauty as they compete to be named Miss Ghana 1985.”

SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS by Donja Love
Manhattan Theatre Club: June

“On a plantation during the Civil War, a mystical tree stretches toward heaven. It protects James, a young slave, while he reads newspapers about the imminent possibility of freedom, as the battle rages on. When a brooding stranger arrives, James and his makeshift family take the man in. Soon, an unexpected bond leads to a striking romance, and everyone is in uncharted territory. But is love powerful enough to set your true self free? This lyrical and lushly realized play is part of poet, filmmaker and playwright Donja R. Love’s exploration of queer love at pivotal moments in Black history.”

THE HOMECOMING QUEEN by Ngozi Anyanwu
Atlantic Theater company: Jan 10 – Feb 11

  • MFA, ACTING – UCSD
  • Co-Producer of NowAfrica’s Playwright Festival
  • Other Plays: Good Grief, Victory Is Ours

“A bestselling novelist returns to Nigeria to care for her ailing father, but before she can bury him, she must relearn the traditions she’s long forgotten. Having been absent for over a decade, she must collide with her culture, traumatic past, painful regrets, and the deep, deep love she thought she could never have.”

THE HOUSE THAT WILL NOT STAND by Marcus Gardley
NYTW: dates tba

  • MFA, Playwriting — Yale School of Drama
  • Other Plays: The Road Weeps, the Well Runs Dry, …and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, Dance of the Holy Ghosts
  • The heir to Garcia Lorca, Pirandello, and Tennessee Williams”- The New Yorker

“In the heat of summer in 1813, Louisiana passed from France to the United States. On the eve of the transfer, in a house in mourning, freedom hangs in the balance for a steely widow and her three eligible daughters, all free women of color. Inspired by Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba.”

Sumire Hirotsuru ’18 interviews Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen

Sumire Hirotsuru sits down with the famed conductor and educator Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen

In August 2017, a joint orchestra of The Juilliard School and The Sibelius Academy (SibA) performed in Helsinki, Stockholm and NYC under the baton of Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. During the wonderful tour where students found many different ways to explore music and culture from each other, Sumire Hirotsuru (MM’18, violin) interviewed Maestro Salonen about his thoughts on young musicians, his career, and the future of music industry.

The interview was conducted at The Juilliard School on September 5th, 2017, after both schools got united after the SibA students landed in NYC for the last concert of the tour in Alice Tully Hall.


Sumire Hirotsuru (SH): First of all, how was your experience working with two schools, Juilliard and SibA, from different countries and cultures?

Esa-Pekka Salonen (EPS): It’s been great. We often think it’s a cliche to say that music has no boundaries and that music is a language that everyone can speak, but it is true. I really enjoy “notations” that people from different background and schools can understand. So starting position was already positive. What I experienced from the conductor’s box is that communications between the musicians were becoming more natural in the course of concerts and rehearsals. Even after a few days of rest, they now look like an orchestra that has always played together. It is so nice to see everyone getting together after a few days not having seeing each other, and greeting each other all being good friends. Overall, it’s been an incredibly encouraging and rewarding experience.

SH: Is it very different to put together two orchestras, compared to work with just one orchestra?

EPS: I’m sure it’s different, but in this tour’s case, there is a kind of a spirit that both schools share; I think it’s an idea of openness and curiosity. There are some schools that have such a long, deep, and heavy tradition – what is important to them is that “we play things like this, this is the way it goes, and this is the truth.” I don’t think the Truth, with a capital t, is the most important thing in music because art is not about finding the Truth, but art is about creating experiences. Truth, for my point of view, is relatively uninteresting in terms of music making. I think the most important thing for me is the expression itself and a miraculous process from the printed page to living sound and experience. In this way, Juilliard and the Sibelius Academy share the same spirit, that is: we are about exploration, we are about the journey, but we don’t represent one tradition or one way of things.

SH: Do you think these schools are more open to collaborating with each other?

EPS: Yes, and open to adjusting. And open to new impulse as well. So the collaboration has been easier than anyone has expected.

SH: I was at a lecture by Deborah Borda (the former CEO of the LA Phil, now at NY Phil) when she told the audience that you discovered Gustavo Dudamel in a competition, and she decided to get him as a director of LA Phil. What do you think is the most important thing for young students who are trying to become professional musicians?

EPS: It’s personality. Of course, what goes without saying is their skills, but I would say that new generation of musicians, is by far the best ever in the history of classical music in terms of the skill set, education they receive, and so on. When the overall skill is at a very high level, what becomes important is personality – which is, willingness to take risks, to communicate, and to project beyond the edge of the stage. In case of Gustavo Dudamel, I was on the jury of the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition. I saw him conducting and I thought “Okay, this is something unusual and extraordinary,” because of his skill but also the way of communication. What’s important here is conveying something; it’s not only about the skill, but really is about interaction between people.

SH: What makes communication so crucial in conducting?

EPS: What conductors do is that we look at the symbols on a page, and translate those symbols into physical sounds. Physical sound itself is a tool that can be used in creating experiences that are emotional, intellectual, physical, you name it. But that process is incredibly complex and fascinating; it’s not only about the production of something that exists, but it’s really about giving life to something that more or less solely symbols at that moment. You translate symbols into something that is living. The more powerful you do that, the more convincingly you can convert that collection of abstract symbols into fresh blood – and it will lead to a good career, if you are talking about becoming professional.

SH: What do you like the most about working as a conductor?

EPS: Of course the music itself. I feel very privileged to be able to work on these masterpieces every day, and sometimes when I am studying the score, I am struck by how lucky I am to work with this music and work with some of the greatest orchestras in the world. It’s a great source of joy. I also feel privileged that I can experience musicians’ energy and talent from close range, and I can collaborate and communicate with talented people – I can really feel it because I’m in the conductor’s box in front of them, and it is a wonderful experience. I think about that every day.

SH: Do you have advice for younger colleagues or students on leading such a big group of people?

EPS: Just be yourself. Don’t think that you have to be someone different when you are on the box. Different from whom you are. You should be the same person when you are on and off the podium. Conducting is not anything like a magic cape that you wear. It’s nothing like Harry Potter or that kind of thing – you should be the same person. And don’t try to play in a robe.

SH: How do you view the future of conducting world?

EPS: Conducting is a strange profession in a sense that there is a lot of historic background. Of course this is an authoritarian aspect that has quite long even after the authoritarian society has disappeared, and that is one of the reasons why we haven’t seen many female conductors until now. That kind of an authoritarian thinking is typically male, although it’s a shame to say. Now I’m happy to witness the fact that as many talented female conductors are growing up as male conductors; wherever I go to conducting masterclasses, at least half of the most promising students are female. In 5–10 years, we might see a lot of—or I would say, normal healthy balance of—male and female conductors.

SH: I also remember when Marin Alsop (Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) talked at Harvard, she mentioned that she was upset of the fact that she receives a lot of question regarding being a female conductor, because the question itself shows there are only few female conductors.

EPS: Yes, the question implies something that is essentially unnecessary. The question should be “how is it to be a conductor” without the definition. But I think we have turned the corner, and it will be a number of years.

SH: At the panel discussion in Helsinki, you said that many people say classical music is dying but there is no worries about that. Do you think music industry itself is changing, or classical music will keep going as it is now?

EPS: I don’t think we can assume that anything goes on forever exactly as we know. That will be actually unhealthy. We will be seeing institutional change in the next 10-20 years; funding models, infrastructures, classical institutions will change and morph into something else, which are fine because changes happen anywhere – why not in our industry? Music itself is going to do fine.

I think that a mistake that has been made in public discourse about so called “future of classical music” is that people look at the balance sheet of some institutions that are not looking well financially, and they say, “okay, the future of music is doomed.” Once you are confused with the institutional health with the health of the art form, that’s a big logical mistake to make. Yes, some jargon-logged institutions are struggling at the moment, that is too bad. But music itself is not going anywhere. It is just infrastructures and forms that will evolve, like they always have evolved. I’m not thinking that we have to cut everything down and build everything from scratch again, but it would be also very wrong to expect that no change will be happening—because it was only 1995 when I got my first internet connection, and at that point nobody could imagine where we are now in 22 years. Therefore, we will not be able to say at this point where the music industry will be in 20 years from now, but what I can say for absolute certainty is that music is going to be fine.

For more information, visit Esa-Pekka Salonen’s website, or follow the maestro on Facebook or Twitter.

Go see Juilliard alum–packed thriller GET OUT

If you have not seen Get Out twice already, get out to your nearest AMC or independent movie theater as soon as humanly possible. Don’t worry, though: this message has been crafted to be spoiler-free.

If you have not seen Get Out twice already, get out to your nearest AMC or independent movie theater as soon as humanly possible. Don’t worry, though: this message has been crafted to be spoiler-free.

Get Out takes the all-too-typical jump thriller genre to a new level by mixing in a component of cultural critique—combining psychological horror, humor and unflinching wit, creating some darkly pertinent social satire.

After less than a month in theaters, Jordan Peele’s Get Out has crossed the $100 million box office mark and has scored the rare, nearly perfect 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But this is certainly not a box-topper you want to wait for until Netflix or DVD snags with greedy hands. Wake up and get woke with your local movie theatre audience. That communal experience is of upmost importance to director and writer Jordan Peele.

“I always want to entertain more than anything else. So I hope that they go to the theatre and its a loud experience, they laugh, they’re titillated… After that, I hope they have a discussion about race or horror films that they haven’t had before,” says Peele in an interview with IMDb.

Peele’s story is of wider scope than even Chris Washington’s (David Kaluuya) wide-eyed hypnotic glare can imply. Get Out is most pertinent to our work as Juilliard artists because of the pressing politics at play.

Peele brilliantly manages to challenge not only conventional genre barriers but also racial role barriers. In typical Hollywood-bound horror films, black actors are all too often marginalized into supporting characters. “As the last couple of years unfolded and the country got woke to a certain extent, the movie became less about identifying the fact that racism exists and much more about giving us a hero,” Peele insists in an interview with Washington Post.

David Kaluuya’s Chris Washington (I would say along with Moonlight’s characters Little/Chiron/Black, actors Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively) IS that outstanding hero-protagonist. Chris Washington solves situations as they arise left and right with bravery and quick-thinking strategy. Most importantly—unlike conventional horror film victims—Chris does not allow his fears to overwhelm him. He fights proud and he fights loud.

Chris has taught me why I must vocalize my curiosity and concerns as opposed to settling in silence. If I do not begin to raise challenging questions, of myself and of others in this world, I may become the first to be eaten by the evil monster inhabiting some less successful horror thriller out there somewhere.

Peele is another model for posing those brave questions. He casts doubt on the well-worn narrative that racism can only exist in the red South by intentionally setting the chilling story on blue ground, which itself bears another well-worn narrative, one of complacent liberalism.

“It was really important for me to not have the villains in this film reflect the typical red state type who is usually categorized as being racist. It felt like that was too easy. I wanted this film to explore the false sense of security one can have with the, sort of, New York liberal type,” Peele told the Washington Post.

Chris travels to rural upstate New York to meet his girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (Allison Williams) family. Rose soothes Chris’s initial anxiety, “Do they know I’m black?” with a light hearted “My dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have… The love is so real.”

The overarching paranoia behind his question soon morphs into something more than mere fear. We journey alongside Chris as he delves into the radical unease at the Armitage’s and attempts to demystify its puzzling inhabitants: a supposedly liberal, open-minded family, including Rose’s neurosurgeon father, Dean Armitage (played by Juilliard alum Bradley Whitford of Group 14), her cool and collected tea-drinking hypnotherapist mother Missy (Catherine Keener) and her unpredictably rambunctious brother (Caleb Landry Jones). Chris immediately notices something a little off with the black people he encounters in and around the Armitage home, particularly the groundsmen Walter (Marcus Henderson) and maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel, a recent Juilliard alum from Group 43) who both seem strangely unaware of and even at ease with the palpable racial tension. Chris makes one shocking discovery after another, and his initial wary interaction with the family must grow into a heroic confrontation. (There’s the most vague synopsis manageable without spoiling it.)

Get Out is a must-see. It masterfully explores racial paranoia in a thrilling, chilling, stomach-churning journey spanning only 103 minutes. See it, talk about it, then let’s all of us GET OUT, get woke, and create some similar politically pertinent art like Peele!