We are officially at the midpoint of our 8-session series of Digital Music Production classes held at Carnegie Hall's Weill Institute of Music in partnership with Building Beats. To mark the occasion, we were joined in class by a very special guest: Sarah Willis. Sarah plays french horn in the renowned Berlin Philharmonic and was eager to share her perspective on the instrument, performance, and the life of a professional musician.
Last Saturday's class began in similar fashion to prior weeks. P.U.D.G.E (Reginald Sinkler) and Matt Aronoff lead the class by asking the students to share a recent track or artist that they've been listening to. The class then moved into a familiar and favorite warm-up exercise: The Organic Orchestra. P.U.D.G.E started off as conductor by assigning acapella sounds to small groups, then directed the different groups to form a composition. He then turned the reins over to a student participant who directed the group and built her own composition by giving the small groups their sounds and rhythms. To cap off the warm-up, Sarah Willis lead the group, and used her hands to gesture different tempos and volumes for the individual sounds.
After a short introduction by Matt Aronoff, Sarah Willis took the floor for her demo. She covered a brief history of the french horn including some of the mechanics that make the instrument work. To exhibit the elemental theory of the horn she showed the youth participants how to make a basic horn using only a garden hose and a mouthpiece. She then demoed some french horn techniques including how players place one of their hands inside the horn to create different effects and even change the intonation. She was also able to speak about the rigors of being a professional musician. She covered physical aspects like controlling her breathing, psychological aspects like calming her nerves, and performance aspects centered on timing and body language. It was an interesting glimpse into the life of a traditional instrumentalist. To sum it up her relationship with the instrument, Sarah said it is “both my best friend and my worst enemy.”
The youth participants recorded a few samples from Sarah Willis' horn to use in their tracks later in the day. After lunch, the youth broke into small groups and started producing tracks in Ableton Live. Sarah Willis engaged the groups and discussed their methods of producing digital music.
As the afternoon came to close, the students grouped back together to share out their work. One of the groups ran short on time and was unable to record their lyrics, but instead of canning it or playing just the instrumental, they chose to free-style on top of the track as they presented. It was great to see the students feel comfortable not only presenting their work, but also pushing themselves to perform live in front of their peers.
A big thank you to Sarah Willis for sharing her experiences during the workshop! With the first 4 sessions complete, we're looking forward to building more beats and more connections in the second half of the 8 session class!
The next workshop session will be held on Saturday, March 14th.