Category Archives: musings

A random chat

Re: Diving into the Lilacs, abstract and story ballets

J: the “diving into the lilacs” title reminds me of driving miss daisy
J: seriously, if there was a lilac bush and guys diving into it… i would have been highly disappointed
Friend: well, it sounded like a very evocative piece, as you said
Friend: i feel like i would like that more than trying to follow giselle, for example
Friend: where there is a plot
Friend: but that i can’t follow
J: oh really?
J: it’s “whatever you make of it”
Friend: yeah
Friend: that’s why i think i would like it better
Friend: whereas you have to explain giselle to me
Friend: i guess rather than trying to guess at the blanks of a story
Friend: maybe i’d just like to lose myself in the emotive aspects
Friend: and not worry about following the story
J: but it sucks too b/c in abstract ballets, they don’t explain anything
J: and if they’re doing so evocative, like holding up two fingers, and then putting it to their heart, i’m like, ‘what the heck’
Friend: hahaha
Friend: is that the scientist in you
J: do u think?
Friend: crying out for a logical explanation
J: i’d rather it be totally abstract, if it’s going to be
J: rather than halfway storytelling
J: hinting at a plot
J: without telling it to you
J: like, i know something you don’t know
J: at least a story, you can read in the program notes
J: and make the dance fit the story they’re telling you
Friend: ah
Friend: right

Which do you prefer? Abstract or story ballets?

The Creme de la Creme: Artists and the Ivy League

Clockwise from top left: Harvard grad Stefan Jackiw, Columbia grad Alisa Weilerstein, Columbia grad Alicia Graf, and Stanford grad Jon Nakamatsu

It seems to be a trend these days – elite artists graduating from equally elite colleges. Some examples are in the picture above – rising stars and recent soloists with the San Francisco Symphony Stefan Jackiw and Alisa Weilerstein who has a degree in Russian history. Van Cliburn piano competition winner Jon Nakamatsu received a bachelor’s in German studies and a master’s degree in Education at Stanford University, and he was a full time working high school German teacher before winning the Van Cliburn competition. He surprised everyone by winning without ever attending a conservatory. Alicia Graf is a superstar dancer in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who graduated with a degree in history from Columbia University.

What changed? It’s a comforting trend in a society that values all around personal development. Yet at the same time, the trend seems to be a risky one. An Ivy League education seems to be fitting for an artist who wants options, who isn’t sure about a full time commitment to a field that’s notoriously tough to stay afloat. However, the risk is a less-than-full development of a very specialized art and competition with conservatory trained artists who are all striving to stand out from the crowd. It makes sense to me that if an artist knows that they want to pursue music or dance as a career, they throw all their eggs in one basket and go to Juilliard to train with the best teachers in the world.

At the same time, in a post performance Q&A with the San Francisco Symphony last year, there was a second violinist on the panel who attended Juilliard, but admitted that if he could change one thing, he would have attended a college with broader options. I was curious about his answer, especially coming from a musician who devoted his career to his art, and is making his living off of it. Is the cost that comes with a richer education worth the risk of possibly not being where you are now?

What are the advantages of an academic education that can further artistry? Does studying Russian folk history help you dance a more nuanced Giselle? Does the study of Tschaikowsky’s life and cultural history help you interpret his music better?

The lovely Alicia Graf, with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Let me know in the comments if there are other Ivy League educated artists that I’m forgetting.