Gold Coast Chamber Players’ master class for young musicians
By Lou Fancher
In the Joaquin Moraga Middle School band room it’s impossible to tell who is more appreciative — world-class violist Ron Ephrat visiting from Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in South Holland or seventh-grader Alexander Yee, 12, from Moraga.
“You are the guide in the darkness,” says Ephrat, addressing Alexander and his peers before weaving solo violin lines of Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 6” within the young musicians’ steady string playing. “We depend on your stubborn eighth notes: don’t let the beat run away from you.”
Ephrat, along with Lafayette-based Gold Coast Chamber Players artistic director Pamela Freund-Striplen, participated in January workshops at Joaquin Moraga, Stanley Middle School in Lafayette, and Campolindo High School in Moraga.
ADVERTISINGThe guest appearances precede Gold Coast’s season launch performance, “Fantezie: a Musical Journey to Romania.” The concerts Feb. 2-3, in Piedmont and Lafayette (at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center) feature works by composers Georges Enescu, Bela Bartok and Eugene Ysaÿe.
Alexander said, “Having them in the room, you don’t take music for granted. They’ve devoted their lives to music. We can aspire to be like them.”
Midway through the workshop, he is enthralled by the history behind his cello.
“When I was little, I didn’t know it didn’t exist until the 1700s, or where instruments came from. Violins, when you’re learning them, make high, scratchy sounds. Cello is lower, smoother, so I picked cello.”
Even so, Alexander says mastering the instrument is “a hurdle.” And if you work hard? “There’s accomplishment,” he said. “You can smile to yourself when you’re playing.”
Many in the band room smiled as they learned about Bach’s “cracked mirror” composition that places two soloists apart by one eighth-note’s time to breathtaking effect, or gathered tips to avoid getting lost in repetitions in a score.
Band director Adam Noel said the digital era provides students with unlimited access to music, but at a price.
“There’s the Internet, every artist who pops up on YouTube, but it’s all compressed audio. It doesn’t sound like live music. There’s something captivating about having someone play just for you.”
There are also mistakes.
“Hearing a professional actually make a mistake, seeing the interactions, it gives them the reality of playing music,” Noel said. “It reduces their fear. Kids need that because when they play video games, they get a ‘You did it!’ We allow celebration of mediocracy. It ends up making them afraid of situations when they don’t get that accolade immediately. But there’s no shortcut to being a great musician.”
Neha Ravikumar, 13, said she was especially inspired because the workshop spotlighted the viola.
“The violin usually gets more attention, so it’s cool they play viola, too.”
Learning about the late 15th-century viola da gamba that was held between the knees to play and in ways a precursor to the viola and cello, she said was most interesting.
“I like how instruments were made easier to play. Over time, just like humans and animals do, an art form can evolve.”
As can — and they must to stay vibrant and relevant — professional musicians.
“Without fail, a student will ask an interesting question which sheds new light on something,” Freund-Striplen wrote in an email. “I find it inspiring to see the wonder in the student’s faces. It provides me with hope for the future.”
Ephrat said a student’s question about hearing focused attention on listening.
“Playing is only part of the job. This is like life; you have to listen to other people’s reactions to what you are saying. You’re not alone on the planet,” he said. “Music shows this from the beginning of training. Listening brings the performer to (completely express) what the composer puts into the score.”
The students’ questions were pointed and refreshing, Ephrat said.
“Unlike conservatory or university students, music is just one subject in their education. They asked unexpected things, like about mistakes onstage. Because everything can now be corrected, intonation adjusted digitally, they get the idea we’re all James Bond perfect. But no, we are human. In live performance, things happen.”