As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic. Even as society reopens, virtual concerts and social-media outreach programs are a phenomenon that have kept performers in the public sphere, since concerts, festivals, and other large gatherings remain largely restricted.
Strings caught up with David Wallace, a multi-style violinist and violist, award-winning composer, and master teacher who serves as chair of the string department at Berklee College of Music. His musical projects include the Texas-style fiddle band the Doc Wallace Trio (their most recent release Live at the Cornelia Street Cafe came out in 2018); the classical flute-viola-harp trio Hat Trick; and the symphonic rock, metal, punk project the Chuck and David Show. “One happy accident from this summer,” he explains, “I have a crazy project with Chuck Bontrager, former concertmaster of Chicago’s Hamilton. Since 2017, we have put together a crazy metal-punk-fiddling-classical-electric-strings extravaganza called The Chuck and David Show, for the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp and Music Festival. This year’s pre-recorded remote show unintentionally resulted in our debut album: The Chuck and David Show’s Ain’t No Christmas This July! (A Global Pandemic Spectacular). We’re preparing the record for digital release on Bandcamp.”
Wallace also is author of Engaging the Concert Audience: A Musician’s Guide to Interactive Performance (Berklee Press). He is quarantined in Boston, Massachusetts.
Tell me about your daily routine.
I haven’t had a daily routine for decades. Set routines are well-nigh impossible amidst the ever-changing demands of serving my Berklee students and faculty in this crisis. That said, each day, I try to exercise, make music, and reach out to loved ones. My days definitely go better with spiritual practices like prayer, reflection, meditation, and solo Bach.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player and teacher while working and living in solitude?
For me, self-discipline depends on setting goals. When life eradicates your objectives, you must make yourself some new ones. I thrive on collaboration and the interactive ethic of playing chamber music and in bands. Remote collaboration has gone a long way toward meeting those needs, but I sorely miss making music together in the same space with others.
How are you staying connected with your audience and students? Tell me about virtual sessions you’ve participated in.
I have participated in quite a few events and conferences through Facebook Live, Zoom, and good old-fashioned phone calls. My reliance upon email has increased substantially. I have been thrilled to teach for the first time at Julie Lyonn Lieberman’s Strings without Boundaries Festival and Sam Houston State University’s String Pedagogy Workshop for Music Educators. I was also able to present in Japan’s Music and the Society symposium on teaching artistry. Mark Wood’s MWROC Music Festival and camp went virtual this year for eye-opening and creative two weeks that achieved unprecedented results. Berklee’s five-week Aspire program is going strong, with equally staggering results, as I type this. The success of virtual music seminars and symposia gives me faith that great learning and teaching do continue unabated.
How have you selected your online lessons?
I have become much more cognizant that my goal is to give students self-directed learning opportunities. Their work with me must be a springboard to work that they do and continue independently. I have also incorporated more asynchronous instruction.
What is the response like?
Generally, students have gone above and beyond in all of their endeavors. Having students produce remote projects and record themselves more has led them to being more discerning as they evaluate and improve their work. I have also learned to be careful not to overburden students. We are all struggling. Some days, for some of us, just getting out of bed is a victory. We need to allow students space and recovery time to combat the increased stress. Sometimes, we need to adjust goals and expectations to something more realistic under the present constraints.
Can you talk more about the positive role of social media?
I’ve actually found it necessary to take even more frequent breaks from social media. The inherently unhealthy tenor of social media has only amplified and intensified over the past several months. That said, affinity groups, support groups, and fan connections have all been vital ways of staying in touch and staying on track. I believe that effective social media is never all about you, it’s how you can serve and connect other people. When everyone has that attitude, we celebrate one another, listen to one another, affirm one another, and find synergy. I have many young people who look to me as some kind of role model or mentor. I need to take that seriously . . . but not too seriously!
What have you learned about your audience and students?
I have learned that my audience and students are funny, creative, engaged, emotional, clever, receptive, and giving. Hopefully they feel same way about me.
How do you rate your experience with virtual education?
I’ve been holding Skype lessons and coachings since the early 2010s, and I joined MyTalentForge’s online faculty in 2013. I’m a longtime believer in asynchronous learning, and in the profound ways that technology can connect us and increase access.
I’m riding high from some extraordinary experiences teaching and performing at the MWROC Music Festival and Julie Lyonn Lieberman’s Strings without Boundaries festival. I’m cheering, “Yes! Virtual is amazing! You can do things in the digital realm that you’d never do in person! The possibilities are endless!” But next week, I’ll probably be on the phone with Apple frustratedly asking for help with latency issues in Logic and Mainstage, and grouching about my desire for life to return to normal.
Is this something you will continue even as schools reopen?
Without question, I will continue to use technology to increase my reach and effectiveness, and to supplement students’ in-person learning experience.
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
You must develop your media and production skills: recording, mixing, lighting, photography, filming, video editing, production. Learn about project management, too. Organizational skills are critical to productivity and success.
What are your goals going forward as performance venues and schools reopen?
Living alone these past several months has increased my appetite for collaboration. More than anything, I’d love to return to live ensemble projects and performances.
How will you continue going forward as a player and educator? Will the quarantine or limitations of the virus change your path?
Of necessity, I’ve needed to be more “in the box” and production savvy. I am grateful that the limitations have forced me to do more recording and to return to producing video content.
What projects are you working on?
I am preparing for the full premiere performance and recording of a new, three-movement solo-violin work commissioned several years ago by my dear friend, Dr. Nicole Cherry. Dr. Cherry is the longtime second violinist of the Marian Anderson String Quartet, and the new, full-time assistant professor of violin at University of Texas, San Antonio. Our work, The Bridgetower, is for solo singing, narrating, and rapping violinist, and can be performed in conjunction with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47.
The sonata, formerly known as “the Kreutzer Sonata,” was originally and rightfully dedicated to the Afro-European virtuoso, George Bridgetower, who premiered it. In The Bridgetower, our violinist-protagonist shares Bridgetower’s story, and personifies him, using poems from Rita Dove’s poetic novel Sonata Mulattica, based on Bridgetower’s life. Dr. Cherry is a fierce performer and formidable collaborator, as well as one of the premiere researchers and authorities on the life of George Bridgetower. She’s ready to shake up the world, and I can’t wait to witness it!
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
Keep the faith. Practice. Remember that your music exists to serve others.
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