10 May 2010

Interview with Julie Ann Eggleston

This is the seventh interview of the ”Where are we now?” series. Please take a look at the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to this series. If you would like to suggest someone for me to interview, leave a comment below or email me:

Interview with Julie Ann Eggleston
over the phone
29 March 2010

IA: To our readers: Good afternoon, and I am interviewing Julie Ann Eggleston, who is a pianist and a piano teacher. Julie Ann, thank you very much for doing this. I really appreciate it.

JAE: Thank you!

IA: Why don’t we start with you just telling us your résumé, as it were; why don’t you tell us how you got into music and your history of where you studied and what degrees you have, to begin with.

JAE: All right. I have actually wanted to be a piano teacher since I was eight years old when I started taking piano. When I graduated from high school, I went to Gordon College and earned a Bachelor of Music Performance in piano. Then I did my graduate work at the University of South Carolina: a Master’s in Piano Pedagogy and a Graduate Certificate in Piano Performance. Since then, I have taught at community music schools in extracurricular activities for children all the way through adults learning music. All together I have nine years of teaching experience, private and class mediums.

IA: We’ll come back in a minute and talk more about your teaching and then about your home studio as well, but I want to stay on the performance aspect for a minute, if that’s OK. Why don’t you talk to me as a fellow pianist and to other people who are Classically trained. Why don’t we get kind of technical for a minute. You could talk about repertoire, you could talk about technical things that you learned as a pianist, you could talk about how historical scholarship informs your playing. What do you think about technically and historically with your piano performance?

JAE: You mean how I interpret [a piece] historically and how I would put that into my performance?

IA: Yes, absolutely.

JAE: OK. First of all, I have always wanted to keep a Classical foundation for my performances and for the pieces that I focus upon when I play, because I believe in a Classical foundation (“Classical” meaning the all way from Baroque through, probably, the Impressionistic period). I believe that gives an incredible foundation for piano playing and for musicianship. When I perform, I aim for the highest quality of performance and also to bring a message to the people who hear me. For however they would interpret the music. As far as who I bring that message to, that’s where some of the difficulty lies today, because there is not as much of an attraction to Classical music in general. There is much more fascination amongst the pop culture with jazz and with “easy listening” music (people would probably call it). So in pursuing the learning of Classical music myself, it’s been kind of difficult to try to figure out my calling in delivering that to the current generation, because there doesn’t seem to be as much of a desire for that amongst our peers and the younger generation. The elderly generation there is a little bit more of an attraction towards that. But in general the view seems to be that there’s Classical music—there’s kind of the intelligentsia of music—and then there’s music that the layman can understand and enjoy. There’s this big gap between the music that is quality—the Classical genre—and music that is played by bands and by the pop culture of today. I’m not saying necessarily that those type of music are not “quality,” but there’s a difference there. There needs to be more of a dialogue between all of the different genres.

IA: Do you think that if we look back historically at where “Classical” music came from, wasn’t it quite often the popular music of its time when it was being written?

JAE: Well, I’ve done some thinking about that. I don’t think so, necessarily. And the reason I’ve come to this conclusion is that when you’re talking about the Late Romantic Period all the way into the Early Contemporary Period, there was a string of popular music or folk music, but there was more of a dialogue between the two, the “Classical” genre and then the pop music, because there were composers who would research the folk music and take it into their style of music (such as Bartok). So I think that’s interesting because that doesn’t really happen today as much. We might arrange pop music for the orchestra, but that seems to be as far as it goes. There’s not a new genre, a new kind of music, created from the folk tunes of today.

IA: And what are the folk tunes of today?

JAE: Well, I don’t know that there are any! The folk tunes of today maybe are the little kids’ songs that everyone sings since they were kids. The pop tunes: I hear six-year-olds singing pop tunes now-a-days and that’s another new phenomenon that didn’t used to happen. We have pop stars who are twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old that are creating their new music. But it’s all in the style of “yesteryear.” It’s not new music. I don’t see any new strains of music that are high quality in the pop culture. It’s all neo-rock and roll, neo-pop, neo-alternative.

IA: Now do you think that this great divide between what, unfortunately, gets called “High” music vs. popular music is attributable to technologies? Because if we thought about, perhaps, Mozart’s time, shall we say, music was very pervasive, but it had to be performed live. So you either had to be a talented musician yourself or have musicians in your family if you wanted to have music in your home, or else you had to be wealthy enough to patronize the arts. Whereas now music is readily accessible to almost anyone and therefore is performed all the time. Do you think that this technological change has led to that division in music?

JAE: I think probably a lot of the technologically advanced venues—it used to be that even back in the mid 1900s we could turn on the radio and that’s about all we could do as far as accessing music or even the media, without hearing things live. That’s an interesting twist, because I was just thinking about what the media growth has done to the arts, as well. Printing books and poetry comes very easy today as compared to back when the arts were kind of a “high society” kind of thing. Just about anything, whether quality or not, can be printed. I guess the same thing goes for music.

IA: Since access is more readily available there is perhaps less vetting for quality?

JAE: And another side point to that is that there’s a very good thing about that. That is that so many people can have access to music and to reading and to so many different many aspects of the arts, whereas they didn’t before. And there’s been a new growth in the area of music education called “Recreational Music Making” and that’s developed over maybe the last ten years or so. It’s generally adults who did not learn how to play piano or some other instrument when they were young and now they want to dabble in it. Not become some incredible pianist, but just be to able to make music for themselves. I don’t think that necessarily happened very often back in Mozart’s time, for example, or Beethoven’s time. It was only those serious musicians that were able to benefit from music instruction and music performance.

IA: And there was perhaps a class division as well. I’m thinking now of the “Regency” period, the early 1800s: any fashionable young lady had to know how to play the pianoforte, and yet that was a mark of a certain social status. Well, why don’t I pick up on something else that you said, then, since you started bringing up education. The whole other aspect of your work in the arts is as a music teacher. So why don’t you tell us about your home studio and some of your teaching experiences?

JAE: Well, first of all, let me start with the whole community music school. I have been teaching at community music schools for about six years now. That aspect of music education is very different than teaching from your home or taking lessons from a college professor even if you’re younger. Generally the attitude or the mentality of parents who enroll their kids in a community music school is that they want their kids to have fun. That is their primary goal in enrolling them for music lessons. This new development has happened in music education over the last ten years, because kids are involved in so many activities they don’t have the energy or even the time to be able to devote to practicing. They used to choose one particular trade or activity. This kind of new way of music education has grown up. I don’t think they had community music schools even twenty years ago. Within this little community of young musicians there develops a camaraderie and an ability to perform in front of one another. It’s kind of this environment that’s very encouraging, very uplifting: but if you took any of those musicians and transported them into a different environment that was not a community music school and compared their level of performance and musicianship to those who go by the old school of practicing however-much a day and hard work, they’d be nowhere near that level. Even though they’re deriving a lot of enjoyment out of playing.

IA: So do you think that the recreational aspect is perhaps taking precedence over a good, solid foundation of technique and of Classical training?

JAE: Yes. Definitely. That’s why a lot of pianist-composers have made a pretty good living on creating educational music for the piano and perhaps for other instruments (but obviously I know more about the piano end): there are so many, so many! pieces of sheet music being composed for very elementary levels of piano playing. The goal is to fascinate and keep the young pianist intrigued without too much work on the pianist’s part! To look showy even though you put in a very minimal amount of practice. But there doesn’t seem to be as much of that when you transfer over into a home studio situation. Teachers in home studios are devoting a lot of their time. They only want however many hours of teaching and so there seems to be an attraction for more serious students in that environment.

IA: So you think that students are more likely to get the good, solid, technical Classical training in a home studio, or from taking from a college professor, than they would in a community music school?

JAE: Yes. Well, community music schools. And of course we’re making a huge generalization here; I can’t evaluate every community music school out there. There’s one community music school in this area where I've taught for the past two and a half years. And then there’s an academic school in our area: Arizona School of the Arts. And they are not a community music school: they are an academic school with a focus on the arts, which I think is an incredible idea. Maybe schools should be aiming towards more arts. This school in particular takes a serious look at the fact that the arts are a necessary part of education. They require music classes and they require art classes as opposed to other schools where it’s an elective. The arts are they’re looked at today as a recreational thing, an extra thing, but mathematics and reading and English, those core educational areas, are looked at as a necessary thing. Which I’m not saying they aren’t, but I’m saying the arts are just as important as that. But people have lost sight of that.

IA: Perhaps then for just the last few minutes, let’s take what you’re saying and see if we can paint some broader brushstrokes about the arts in general. Let me ask you a few things and see if you think I’ve got it right here. Perhaps one concern, then, in Postmodernism (or in whatever we want to call the contemporary phase) might be a potential loss of history or of tradition. Do you think that’s right, that maybe if you were to give advice to people working in the arts in general it would be not to lose their traditions, because in their tradition is the good scholarship and the well-practiced techniques. Am I accurate with that, do you think?

JAE: Yes, I think so. I think that we can’t lose sight of what the greats have done in the past. If you look at every great composer, pianist, and performer of the past, they’ve always taken quite an interest in the artists and the performers that went before them and studied them very particularly and knew their works very well. That’s why you see a common thread between Beethoven and Bach, for example. They borrowed each other’s techniques and then went further themselves, using their own talents. I think it’s very important for us as performers and as educators, like you said, our students are not going to advance technically and in their musicianship if we don’t take a look at history.

IA: The other side of that, I think, besides history, is just hard work. Perhaps the recreationalism is more wide-spread than you’ve been saying. There have been books with titles such as Amusing Ourselves to Death and other books of that nature discussing contemporary American society: that we’re a society that likes immediate gratification and that we don’t want to do the hard work. That studying history and that practicing scales are hard work. I imagine that if we had more time, we could talk about how this might be specifically endemic in the Christian arts. That perhaps the Church has been as guilty as any other institution of doing easy works of quote-unquote “Art” to get a message across rather than doing the hard work of history and technique.

JAE: That’s a good point. And maybe that’s where a lot of the worship environments are coming from in churches. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing, but there’s not a whole lot of study and respect for the traditions of the past in the worship arena in Evangelical churches today. So they end up with low-quality music that does not enhance worship to the extant that it could.

IA: Do you see that changing at all? Are you optimistic at all that either in pedagogy or in worship music there are some of these realization being made?

JAE: I think that there are some, but I think that a lot of people in certain parts of the country become isolated in their own communities. For example, over here in Arizona, in the Valley, I think a lot of churches are going for the newest thing, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true for the rest of the country. But there’s this fascination with the new and the latest music in churches. And so that takes precedence over any traditions. As soon as anybody hears a hymn they just dismiss it as old music and they don’t want to hear it. But that’s what I’ve seen in the churches I’ve attended. It’s not necessarily over in the New England area or the East Coast. There are probably pockets in a lot of the U. S. that still very much value the traditions of the past. Hopefully those pockets will start to spread and there are enough people that are interested in preserving our church traditions that it will get better.

IA: I think so, and I see some of those trends. OK, well, we’ve spent a good deal of time already, but do you have anything you really wanted to say that we didn’t cover, or any final thoughts that you wanted to share?

JAE: Well, for a general statement: I’m talking as much to myself as to anybody else. We to not become discouraged with the negative aspects of music and the arts today. We need to stay positive and look for the role that we as Christians in the arts arena should play and try to find the little things that we are doing to make a difference and be encouraged by those steps of progress.

IA: Absolutely; I agree. Well, thank you!


Mehitchcock said...

I liked your metaphor about how musical education should continue the conversation we have with music. There really is a clear and beautiful line from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven and beyond and it is a conversation worth hearing.
But it seems like pop music really has completed that particular conversation and distilled it to it's fundamental lesson 1-5-4-1, as it were.
To stretch the metaphor, what should we do if a particular conversation has been settled, everyone agrees, and now the creative heavyweights have gone home to rest and the conversation is now dominated by the insipid and limited?
This is approximately where I think music is today, I have not settled the question to my satisfaction.

Andrew said...

Interesting thoughts and opinions. I know i may seem like im generalizing but it seems to be common that anyone who is more experienced in music reaches to the past (more intricate) and the less experienced reach for the new the present what i like to call the auto tune era, haha. I do not consider my self to be an expert of music, but im quite good from an production stand point, in other words i play a lot of instruments poorly and play my computer well.

The humorous thing about classical music, is the traits are still around, i don't know if Nick would still back me up or not (we used to talk about this a lot) but oddly enough Metal has a lot of classical backing. its humorous because it the last place and classical theorist would look. if you look past the screams and the blast beat drums and listen to some of the guitar solos it's pretty impressive. one song to check out would be "arpeggios from hell" - its kind of like taking classical music and throwing on distortion to make it seem "cool". another band that is really impressive, if you can get past the death lyrics, is trivium which is basically the definition of metal.

An another side i still do agree there isn't much classical around. honestly there isn't much music around anymore. words put to a beat is talent and rhythm but it's not music. in my opinion if it doesn't have a melody then it cant be music. but then again there are artists such as Nine Inch Nails that are really just trying to do something that hasn't been done before. Still musical, still talented, just different. And yet theres another side the pop-side or the hannah montana side. the side that i still believe has little to no musical talent. pop music just recycles its self, if one thing proves to be successful then everyone else does it until its painful to hear. call me gereist but pop is just awful.

Iambic Admonit said...

Michael: I think you could be right about the historical progression of "tonal" or "diatonic" music -- but what about the other attempts that have been made to establish systems on other foundations? What about the 12-tone row composers? Or aleatoric music? Or music that uses other modes, semitones, etc, from other cultures? Paul Barnes' interview, which will be posted in the near future, deals with this a bit. I'll be interested to see what you think of his perspective.

Iambic Admonit said...

Andrew: I think Nick would agree; did you read his interview? And I agree that the most intelligent artists (in any field, not just music) reach into the past to discover vocabularies, forms, modalities, traditions, conventions, and then employ, modify, or rebel against those as they see fit. The result depends on their talent and hard work, but talent and hard work won't produce something "revolutionary" unless the creators knows what needs to be revolutionized. Yes?

Can you explain to me technically what Nine Inch Nails is doing that's new?

Andrew said...

i did not get a chance to read nick's interview yet. but i will at some point. and i totally agree.

Nine Inch Nails (AKA Trent Reznor) has basically taken advantage of the computer. The easiest way to explain it is transforming noise into music. sounds like scraping metal to banging on random materials to over compressed drums (basically things that would some times even be painful to hear) and turns them into something that actually sounds good. incredible stuff if you can get into it.

Nick said...

Andrew, I completely agree. Metal and Classical are closely related. I think this is because most of the metal guitarists (oddly enough) know their theory, and it shows in their music. However, I would say that metal is rather limited compared to classical. 99% of the time this music is in a minor key, (I know some guitarists have utilized the modes, but only the ones closely related to Aeolian) and it focuses on simple melodic ideas that often go along with some very virtuosic work on the guitar. Now I could listen to this music all day, but for me, Classical music is something I can’t live without. There really hasn’t been anything quite like it since the despair of the 20th century.