Drawing Inspiration from Our Heroes
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
I've drawn inspiration from many musicians over the years. Seeing them in action naturally motivates me to become a better musician, performer, and teacher.
This weekend, I was teaching at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival when a special guest came along to talk to the kids!
Sierra Hull shared how her first time at Grey Fox was as a performer with one of her heroes, Sam Bush. (She was 16!) Her first music teacher was her father who taught her chords on the mandolin and encouraged her. She knew she wanted to be a professional mandolin player from a very young age so she practiced many hours a day, learning new tunes every week.
"Sierra said that one of the first tunes she learned was "Boil em Cabbage Down" - so I asked her if she would play it with us and the kids at the academy."
"I've really been inspired and moved by Sierra's music and particularly her songwriting for years (I find she speaks very sincerely and powerfully to young people, especially those making sacrifices and facing their fears to pursue their dreams)
Songs like "Beautifully Out of Place" and "Compass" were my guiding lights when making the big decision to quit my job and pursue my dreams as a performer and independent teaching artist.
After all this time hearing and loving her music, even something as simple as singing those silly words "Boil them cabbage down, bake them hoecakes brown" together for the kids felt special"
While studying Music Education at Western Connecticut State University, I attended several Mark O'Connor Teacher Trainings. I learned how to teach traditional American Music over the summers while studying Western Classical Music in University.
Here's a selfie with Mark O'Connor, his wife, Maggie, and other teachers at the camp!
I owe almost everything I know about Scottish fiddling to the amazing duo, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. Here's a picture with the two of them at Ashokan Music and Dance Camp. I learned from Alasdair the importance of being bold and courageous. His leadership presence always made people feel at ease and ready to tackle difficult challenges.
Christian Howes is a master of encouragement and inspiration. He has watched me grow over ten years and has been a constant source of positivity. He is that classic example of someone who sees greatness in you before you can see it in yourself. He's also had the biggest impact on my teaching:
Here's what I had to say about his teacher trainings:
" Whether it's working with electric strings, micing a soloist, incorporating diverse musical styles and instrumentation (drumset, electric guitar, keys, backing tracks) and more, Chris will model and coach you through the whole process. Now that I am a Creative Strings Workshop veteran I feel comfortable using many non-traditional teaching styles that University did not prepare me for. My students arrange in small bands, self regulate, improvise in a variety of styles, and feel equally as comfortable reading music in the traditional orchestra set up as they do in a circle when we learn tunes through the oral tradition as in Irish, Scottish, and many American styles. I am a middle school public school strings teacher and would strongly recommend Chris's workshops and residencies to any teachers looking to improve their craft."
Jay Ungar and Molly Mason have been mentors and inspirations for years. I learned many traditional music styles from them over the years attending camps like Southern Week, Western and Swing week, Bluegrass Week, the Old Time Rollick, and New Years Camp. I'm so happy to be returning the favor by teaching at these camps now!
I learned Old Time Fiddling and how to sing and play fiddle at the same time from Bruce Molsky. Bruce taught me how to really groove in Old Time Music- but he also taught me the value of being present with an audience. Every time I saw him perform, he flashed a heartwarming smile to the audience. I remembered how this made me feel and I try to do the same in my own performances.
Here's the man who started it all for me - the amazing David Garrett! I was about 13 years old when I "caught the fire" so to speak.
Before that I was a rather unenthusiastic violin player as a kid- starting up in 6th grade orchestra because "a kid on my bus played it and I thought that was cool". My private teacher at the time was pulling teeth each week getting me to practice - he told my parents one day "I think you might be wasting your money here" (He was TOTALLY right at the time haha)
I just wasn't that into learning "the Can-Can" and "Gavotte and Rondeau". Classical music was too far removed from the way I understood and related to music at an everyday level.
That all changed one day when my grandparents showed me a clip of David Garrett playing Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal on violin.
"The violin can do THAT?" I thought with wide eyes...
My father loved classic rock and often shared with me some great moments in the music's history. His enthusiasm was infectious and guided much of my excitement as a teenager. When I saw my instrument take part in the music I was most inspired by at the time, I went from only taking my violin out in the car to cram before my weekly lesson to practicing hours a day.
The transformation was instantaneous - I wanted to learn to play, inspire, and hold myself just like David Garrett! I saw him live, shortly after, and saw how he commanded the room with his presence. He often came in unannounced from the back of the room playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius right in the aisle next to the audience, sometimes kneeling down to be at our same level. He always moved with the music- a trait I loved having been discouraged from movement often in traditional classical music settings. And I loved that he would walk around as he played and wasn't afraid to break the band/audience barrier.
The biggest takeaway here? You don't have to force yourself to practice. Find inspiration and lean on it for natural motivation.
Find someone who you see yourself in- a musician who plays the type of music or moves and experiences music in a way that is inspiring to you. This will take some intentional time on the internet or in conversation. This person may change over time. That's okay. Derive inspiration from a few inspiring people at a time.