Meet the Musicians: From Prodigies (or not) to Pros

Meet the Musicians: From Prodigies (or not) to Pros

by Amy Nathan
Meet the Musicians: From Prodigies (or not) to Pros

Meet the Musicians: From Prodigies (or not) to Pros

by Amy Nathan

Paperback(First Edition)

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The musicians of the New York Philharmonic were kids once too!

How does a kid who just wants to play baseball make the transition to creating beautiful music?

Musicians from many different sections of the New York Philharmonic share how they became involved in music as kids and how their careers have progressed since then. They also have some helpful advice, such as
• Break down pieces you're learning into small, reachable goals.
• Play it as beautifully as you can, even if it's just a scale.
• Make up words to go with the melody you're studying to learn it faster.

With exclusive interviews, helpful hints, and a kid-friendly approach, this book is an all-access guide to the world of classical music.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805097863
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 03/07/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Amy Nathan is the award-winning author of several books, including The Young Musician's Survival Guide. She lives in Upstate New York

Read an Excerpt

Meet the Musicians

From Prodigy (or not) to Pro

By Amy Nathan

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2006 Amy Nathan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3725-2




Age when he started cello: 12 (started violin at 9)

Pet he had as a kid: Dog named Randolph

Pets he has now: Cats named Ginger and Thomas

Favorite books as a kid: Horatio Hornblower books by C. S. Forester

Other activities as a kid: Running, sailing, swimming, taking flying lessons

Other activities now: Running, sailing, playing with his kids

Grew up in: Westchester County, New York

Education: Peabody Institute; Yale University

Before the Philharmonic: Cleveland Orchestra; freelance soloist

Joined New York Philharmonic: 1996 as Principal Cello

Music he listens to now when relaxing: Classical, jazz, pop, country

One day when Carter Brey was five years old, he was sick in bed with a bad cold. To cheer him up, his dad put on a new recording he had just bought. Carter's dad loved music. He wasn't a professional musician, but he liked to play the piano, just for fun.

The recording had a piece on it that had been written especially for kids: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra by British composer Benjamin Britten. It's a lively piece in which different instruments take turns being the main ones you hear. When it's the violins' turn to shine, they burst in with a fast-paced, rollicking tune. Their dazzling sound whizzes by, zooming up high and then sliding down low. Next come other string instruments: violas, cellos, and basses.

"I completely fell in love with the sound of those string instruments," Carter remembers. He decided he wanted to play a string instrument someday.

However, when he had his first chance to do so, things didn't work out right away. He was nine years old and in fourth grade. That's when kids at his elementary school could choose an instrument to play. He chose violin and joined a class with other beginners. Some beginners do well on violin right from the start. Not Carter. Instead of sounding like the wonderful violins on that recording he loved, for a long time he sounded very squeaky and scratchy. He was kind of discouraged. But he didn't give up.


"Violin is hard when you first start," Carter says. It wasn't like his dad's piano. With a piano, anyone can make a pretty good sound just by pressing a key. It's not so easy to make a good sound on a violin or other string instrument. You have to press on the strings with the fingers of one hand in exactly the right way — not too hard and not too soft. With your other hand, you have to hold a stick called a bow and get the hang of sliding it across the strings to make a sound.

"It was an uphill battle for me," says Carter. "I wasn't getting anywhere on that squeaky little thing." He kept at it all through elementary school, but he didn't practice often and didn't make much progress. When he moved on to junior high, he decided it was time for a change. He thought he might make nicer noises on something with a lower sound, such as a cello. So at age twelve, he asked the junior high music teacher if he could switch instruments.

Success at last! "I made a much better sound on the cello," Carter says. "I enjoyed it more than violin." But music still wasn't a big deal to him yet. There were so many other things he liked to do. He ran on the school's track team. He liked to go sailing with his dad and swimming with his friends. He spent a lot of time exploring in the woods near his house with his dog, Randolph. He and a friend even took flying lessons at a nearby airport.

"I continued with group cello lessons in school, using one of the school's cellos. I played in the school orchestra, just muddling along," he says. "But I didn't practice much. My parents didn't bug me to practice, either. Cello was just a mild interest — until I was fifteen. Then it became a passion."


What turned him around? "I discovered how great music for cello could be," he recalls. He was in high school by then. The school's music teacher divided the students into groups and had them play chamber music, pieces that are written for small numbers of players. "The pieces were way too hard for us," Carter says. But he loved the challenge of trying to master such great works.

"There was one piece we played that made me realize I couldn't live without music in my life." That was the beautiful String Quintet in C Major by Austrian composer Franz Schubert. It's written for five instruments: two cellos, two violins, and a viola. After he started learning to play this quintet in school, he bought a recording of it. "It was thrilling to come home and put that record on my little portable record player and hear the incredible sound of that piece. It was a mind-blowing experience. I decided that I was going to become a musician."

That was a big decision for a teenager who hadn't been practicing much, knew little about music, and wasn't even very good on his instrument. "I knew I could do it. Don't ask me how. I just knew."

Through friends, he found a private cello teacher to study with outside of school. He had his first lesson with her right after his sixteenth birthday. "I had to start over from the beginning," he says. "It didn't discourage me. I was ready to make the commitment to getting good on the instrument. She taught me how to practice. She started me on a steady diet of scales and études [technical exercises]. I didn't find it boring. I saw it was helping. I couldn't wait to get home and work on this stuff."


"People are amazed that I didn't start private cello lessons until I was sixteen," he says. Many musicians (including ones you'll meet in this book) start private lessons when they're much younger. "But sixteen is young enough that if you have a very strong desire to excel, you still can," Carter explains. "With a five-year-old, if the child isn't really interested, private lessons aren't going to have much effect. Yes, I was sixteen, but I was passionate and self-motivated. It was my decision."

He started practicing every day. "I would get up early and practice before school. I practiced during school, too, whenever I had a study hall period," he recalls. After school, he had a job cleaning up at a music store. Then he would come home, do his homework, and practice cello some more. His parents saw how serious he had become and bought him his own instrument.

To make room for all this extra practicing, he stopped his flying lessons. He dropped out of the track team, too. But he kept running on his own for fun, and he kept sailing. Running, sailing, and flying taught him things that wound up helping him with music. "Getting through a difficult cello performance takes concentration and pacing yourself, just like running a marathon," he explains. "Sailing is about balance and making judgments, a combination of art and science. So is flying. So is music."


When Carter was seventeen, it was time to think about college. He wanted to go to a conservatory, a special school just for music. His parents weren't sure that was wise. They weren't musicians. They didn't know if he was good enough to make it in the world of music. "When I won a scholarship to go to a major music conservatory, they realized I knew what I was doing," says Carter.

After studying cello at this conservatory — the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland — he did more cello studies at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Then he landed a job as a cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra in Ohio. Two years later, he won a prize in an important international cello competition. That gave him the courage to quit the Cleveland job and set out on his own as a soloist, someone who plays as a special guest artist with different orchestras. For fourteen years he was a soloist with some of the most famous orchestras in the world.

He was always traveling to different cities to play in concerts. That was fun at first. But after he married and had kids, he didn't want to be away from his family so much. Luckily, a cello job opened up at the New York Philharmonic. He tried out for it and in 1996 won the job of being the orchestra's principal cello. That means he's the leader of the cello section.

He still plays as a soloist now and then, sometimes with the Philharmonic or with other orchestras. The Philharmonic gives him time off to do this. But for most of the year he is with his wife and kids in New York City, performing with the Philharmonic. "I still practice every day," he says, "and I still love the cello's sound."




Age when she started violin: 5

Pet she had as a kid: Dog named Patches

Favorite books as a kid: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, and books by Judy Blume

Other activities as a kid: Gymnastics, roller skating, Brownies, water skiing, motorboat trips with her family

Other activities now: Gardening, playing with her kids

Grew up in: Los Angeles, California

Education: University of Southern California

Before the Philharmonic: Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra; Pacific Symphony; Cleveland Orchestra

Joined New York Philharmonic: 1998 as Principal Associate Concertmaster

Teaches at: The Juilliard School

Music she listens to now when relaxing: Classical

A dog named Patches made practicing violin tricky for Sheryl Staples. "He would howl when I started practicing," she says. Patches joined the family when Sheryl was about ten. By then she had been playing violin for five years.

Her mom recalls that Sheryl sounded great right from the start. Sheryl could tell if a note she played was a little out of tune, a little sour. If it was, she knew how to fix it by changing where she put her fingers on the strings. Many beginners can't easily do that at first.

But beautiful playing didn't matter to Patches. "There was something about the sound of a violin that bothered him," Sheryl explains. "If he was outside the window where I was practicing, he would howl like a wolf. I had to practice on the other side of the house from him. I liked playing violin as a child, but I can't say I liked practicing." That wasn't just because she had to switch rooms to keep her dog happy. "When I was ten, I was supposed to practice thirty minutes a day in order to get my allowance. Some days I practiced that much, but not every day. I wasn't that serious about it then."

Violin was just a hobby to Sheryl. But before long, she met up with some kids who inspired her to turn music into much more than a hobby.


Sheryl started violin almost by chance. Her parents happened to have an old kid-size violin stashed away in the closet. It had belonged to Sheryl's aunt when she was a little girl. Sheryl's parents had begun to realize that their daughter really liked music. She was always singing songs. So when Sheryl was five years old, her dad pulled the tiny violin out of the closet and showed it to her. "It looked kind of exciting," Sheryl remembers. Soon she was taking lessons on that little violin from a teacher who lived near their home in Los Angeles.

"I did well for a few months," says Sheryl. "Then I quit!" Her teacher wanted Sheryl to learn how to read music, and she just couldn't get it. Luckily, her mom found a new violin teacher who used a different way of teaching — the Suzuki method. Suzuki teachers don't have kids read music at first. "You start playing by ear, imitating what the teacher plays," Sheryl explains. "The Suzuki method saved me." She made good progress. Before long, she was not only playing well, she was reading music, too.

Unfortunately, there weren't good music programs in the first schools she attended. She didn't have the fun of playing in an elementary or middle school orchestra. "I performed a solo at our sixth-grade graduation, but mostly I was taking private lessons and playing pieces by myself," she says. Even so, she thinks it's "good to do something like music at an early age. It gives you a feeling of self-confidence."

She was also doing some other confidence-boosting activities, such as being in a Scout troop and taking gymnastics classes. "I loved gymnastics, especially tumbling," says Sheryl. She liked to water ski and roller skate, too. She and her sister, Deborah, liked to make up skating routines to songs from the movie Grease. They would put on shows for visiting relatives. They also performed on TV, not doing skating routines, but playing music. Her father played trombone in a band on a weekly TV show. At Christmas, families of band members had a chance to perform on the show. Sheryl and her sister did this a few times, with Sheryl playing violin and her sister playing piano.


By the time Sheryl was thirteen, she had a new private violin teacher who was helping her learn a better way to hold and play the violin. He also helped her win a scholarship to a private high school that specialized in the arts. It had an excellent music program. "That school totally changed my life," she says.

"Suddenly I was around kids who were serious about music," Sheryl explains. "I hadn't known many kids like that before. I wasn't the best one at the school, either. The school attracted talented kids from all over the Los Angeles area. I wanted to play as well as these other kids. So I started taking more interest in practicing."

At this school, she finally had a chance to play in a school orchestra. She loved it. "We played really difficult pieces. The conductor was very demanding. It was exciting. I loved the challenge. When we played concerts, people couldn't believe it was a bunch of kids." In the summers during high school she wanted to keep working on her violin skills, and so she went to special music camps that were just for string players.


In addition to improving as a violinist, Sheryl learned something else: how to listen. She picked this up partly from a boy who went to her high school. Sheryl and the boy both lived far from the school and carpooled there each day. "He had tons of cassette tapes of classical music that we listened to on the long drive to school. He knew so much about the music. I didn't know anything. We didn't have many records at home. I hadn't heard much classical music before. I listened keenly to his recordings and his comments. It was a huge education for me. I started going to music stores and convinced my parents that I needed to buy recordings. Soon I was listening all the time — in the car and at home. Listening is so important. You not only learn about the music, you also hear what professional musicians sound like on your instrument. Once you get that sound in your ear, that's the first step to being able to produce such a sound yourself."

Her private teacher also stressed the importance of listening. He took Sheryl to concerts and asked what she thought about what she heard. "At first, I didn't know what to say. Everything sounded good," says Sheryl. Her teacher had her focus on details, such as what she thought of the violinists' tone, how in tune they were, how they handled themselves on stage. "Live concerts are so different from recordings. You can watch the musicians, see their technique, learn from them." She also learned to listen carefully to her fellow students when they played music at school. And she learned to listen carefully to her own playing, to hear both what was good about it and what could be better.


After high school, she took a year off to spend time practicing and playing chamber music. She also joined an orchestra of college-age musicians. Then she studied music at the University of Southern California. While there and for a few years after graduating, she played lots of chamber music and performed with several local orchestras, both as a soloist and a concertmaster. The Cleveland Orchestra invited her to try out to be its associate concertmaster. She won the job.


Excerpted from Meet the Musicians by Amy Nathan. Copyright © 2006 Amy Nathan. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Introduction - Catching the Beat,
Carter Brey - Cello,
Sheryl Staples - Violin,
Christopher Lamb - Percussion,
Cynthia Phelps - Viola,
Jerome Ashby - French Horn,
Mindy Kaufman - Flute,
Philip Smith - Trumpet,
Sherry Sylar - Oboe,
Judith Leclair - Bassoon,
Joseph Alessi - Trombone,
Hai-Ye Ni - Cello,
Pascual Martinez Forteza - Clarinet,
Hae-Young Ham - Violin,
Jon Deak - Bass,
Harriet Wingreen - Piano,
Musical - Teamwork,
Copyright Page,

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