Friday, December 30, 2011


I thought this might be a good way to end the Teacher's Log for this semester and the last post on the blog for 2011. It was a poem I sent to all my students at the end of the semester who are in my studio at New England Conservatory, New England Conservatory Prep Division, The Boston Conservatory and Longy School of Music. I hope there is something in it for everyone. I wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Meaningful New Year!

Dear Students,

As the semester comes to a close,
realize that there is a chance to recompose
In the midst of your holiday cheer
I hope you find time to strengthen your possible careers

By practicing those things you know you ought
To enjoy the wonderful opportunity you've got

Dig into your Art
It's there for you
Waiting for the moment you say "I do"

It is a marriage of you to It and It to you
But it needs your Love, Devotion and Passion too

It cannot do it on It's own
It gave you talent at the get go

But now you need to activate it
otherwise your talent will only be latent

Jump on board and sail full steam ahead
Drop your fear, it's all in your head!

I know you can if you really want It
It needs you.. a lot.. more than you know..

It's not about a job as the first important thing
It's you providing It with a way to be free

You are important, never doubt that
I'm on your side, always hoping for your best!

My very best wishes to you all!

Mr. Bolter
Mr. B
but NEVER Norm :-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


What is Best for the Students?

In a conversation with someone recently, they told me they just want to do what's best for the students. I immediately thought to myself. " What is BEST for the students? A good question to ask that takes some probing to come up with some insightful answers.

I think the first thing to clarify is, what is a student? To me, the student is a person that is interested in a learning process that has it's goal developing a skill or gaining knowledge that will be used for a productive purpose in their life or career. If it is a 'skill', it will take knowledge, experience, dedication and guidance to be achieved.The greatest driving force towards that development is the student's own passion and intensity of desire to keep going through all the various challenges they will encounter. To have all this happen, an environment of support, trust, encouragement, honesty, and friendship is very important on the personal level. The school needs to have teachers who have a high level of mastery not only with the subject matter, but with working with students

The school needs to provide an ecology which would best foster this development. But if it only has a 'manufacturing plant' mentality, then the development of the student- person, is going to be short changed and possibly suffer.

There is not a 'generic' student. What is useful for one student is not useful for others. This is where skill in teaching comes in. Not all freshman are the same, neither are all graduate students the same. Attention to the individual is important and vital in my view.

If someone is taking a class on American History, should the class be run by 5 teachers? This is a question I have about instrument classes. Do you have all the faculty contribute to the instrument class? Are tons of views good all the time? Is one view good for 6 years? It depends on certain factors. Here are a few on the private studio level.

1. Is the student and the teacher in a relationship that grows deeper on a continuing basis with noticeable quality in the students work? If so, why should the student change teachers after 2 years or 4 years if the process is really connective and continues to bear fruit?

2. If the student and teacher really cannot get along and after a period of a semester not come to any terms of agreement or mutual understanding, it seems the best thing might be for both of them to part peacefully. Private lessons are very personal and close circumstances that can become quite toxic if things get to far out of balance in a negative direction.

3. A student can be exposed to many ideas and viewpoints at school and the city they are in. If the student is really taking an active role in their own development and not just waiting for the teacher to say do this or that, they will try things, go to other workshops, concerts and master classes and naturally incorporate things into their own work.

4. I think it is important for some classes to have one teacher with guests who come in every now and then. This gives a continuity and structure to the class.

5. Private studio teachers at anytime, should feel free to give a studio class to their own students. They should not worry if the other students of the same instrument in the school are not included.

A student can learn from various teachers that are not even playing their own instrument. Learning is very dependent on the student's own curiosity, need and application of what they are given and/or observing. I notice many students going from teacher to teacher and not making lots of progress because they are not sticking to something and seeing it through. When they get bored or run into a sticky point, some like to run to a 'new' situation for the 'kick' or' high' that gives them in the beginning of doing something different. Meanwhile avoiding the very things that they probably need to work on including their attitude.

So what is BEST for the students? To be given an atmosphere and ecology that provides them the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions with excellent guidance, expertise and humanity from caring teachers. A look at the word teacher is interesting for it has the word 'heart' in it and well as the word 'care.' 'The care' is a full anagram of the word teacher.

It also needs to be said that teachers are humans too who need to be treated well. Maybe our schools need to spend more time helping people become good teachers? Just because someone has great skill and/or knowledge and a high profile job, does not mean they are good with people or really even care about the well being of a person. This kind of teacher needs to have students that are very mentally tough that can withstand a certain level of rough treatment. If the student has that nature and knowledge to get what they can from such a teacher, then it possibly will be productive for them.

In the end, it is one big process that students and teachers are in that goes way beyond learning a skill. The circumstances in a school can help one to learn about oneself, others and how to deal with different kinds of situations. Sometimes rough situations can push a person into greater depth and challenge how much they really want to pursue their chosen work no matter what the odds are.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4 years ago today....

Yup. It has been 4 years since my last concert as a member of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestras. My last concert was a Christmas Pops concert. I really did love playing principal trombone in the Pops for so many years. There was a certain freedom playing Pops as well as being very challenging.

I love the orchestral literature. It was a wonderful opportunity to play in those great orchestras. Times have changed. The whole brass section is totally different with new players and style of playing from when I joined. When I joined it was near the tail end of when the character and uniqueness of a persons playing was really important as a musical component in the ensemble. In a way, it was filled with very individual players. Maybe it wasn't a 'perfect' blend, but wow, when it was happening it was really potent!!

My life is busier in a sense now but without the 'weight' of the orchestra. I choose to play in other kinds of musical ecologies at this point in time. There is no doubt in my mind that different orchestras have different ecologies. But hearing so much of how musicians are having physical, mental and emotional tension from the job, and oftentimes have to resort to taking drugs to ease the pain of nerves, saddens me. This of course was happening when I was in the orchestra. If the ecology was different, and the humanity and going for the spirit of the music was the most important thing, there would be no need for this stress and drug taking.

The High Art of music making needs an environment that is invitational to the essence of the music and the soul of the people who are being instrumental for it's appearance. I can only hope, pray and do what I can in my own way, that the values and deeper meaning of music and human life can be the most up-front feature and this other stuff just melt away in the brightness of that TRUTH.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Discernment is an interesting property. This property of discernment with most people develops with age. Sometimes younger people can have quite a developed sense of differences between concepts, styles and approaches. Other people younger or older, have this concept of everything is equal or valid. Well, in my experiences and looking at things, there are VERY CLEAR DISTINCTIONS in concepts, styles and approaches. Sometimes subtle differences can be the most profound.

Oftentimes if something feels good or is easy and comfortable, it can be viewed as more favorable. The real question is, is 'real' life comfortable and easy all the time? There is a difference between stupid sacrifice and going for something you really believe in all the way, blood sweat and tears, if it is worthy.

I would hope that having an atmosphere that is clean , respectful and allowing, can be the platform for the real intense work to have a place to happen where it is supported. Making something happen is not always easy. Helping people to grow is not always fun. The attainment of our goals is only done through Love, Dedication, Passion, Effort and continued reevaluating in an upfront, allowing, but very honest way.

A great mentor of mine said, "Be your own person, but love the truth." That is a real process and a journey, to me totally worth pursuing and not always easy or comfortable.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Grading... for me it is actually a bit of a pain. I can't fit it into that system of letter grades. With a number system you have more spectrum but it still can't fill it out in all circumstances

What do I consider in a grade? A combination of work ethic, love of the territory (passion), talent activated and potential not realized, attitude, progress or lack there of. The other consideration I wrestle with at times is, do I compare a student to all the ones I have had to make the grade? That would lower a lot of peoples grades because I have had some pretty extraordinary students!

So now we get into levels. If someone is a freshman at a music school like a conservatory, (I know this is general), and they have a certain goal in mind, the question, is are they working at their full or close to it capacity to get that to happen? Or, what about a senior that has a terrific potential but really has not significantly improved? What about the student that maybe wasn't given a terrific first stage (the potency of the natural talent) but has worked extremely hard consistently throughout their schooling and has made very good improvement but still is 'behind' in certain areas that will hold them back in a performance career?

So the subject matter can get very complex at times, but for me, it does come down to the person owning up to the fact that they are the ones that have to work for it. Not to please me, their parents or anybody else. But for themselves because they are moved to do so from the core of themselves. Even this level has several variations to it, but effort + talent + attitude + work achieved = grade, in most cases.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Discipline. The crock and the flail. The yin and the yang. The allowance and the resistance. The balancing of certain apparent opposites create a gate which will cause an environment and ecology for the life to thrive in, be challenged in towards a specific target, or one that will foster anything goes without a lot of development, or one that can be harmful and choking of the life. There are also many that can form an atmosphere of varying degrees and combinations of the ones already mentioned.

When a student is singled out because of some disruptive behavior, there is a combination of feelings that happen in the ecology. If the other students are not clear why the person is being singled out, this causes confusion and uneasiness. If it is clear why the person is being singled out and reprimanded, there can be a sense of relief in the other students because they are irritated with the disruptions themselves. These are just a couple of scenarios.

To have an ecology that wants growth and development towards a specific goal, there are balances to consider. How should one behave? In the case of the student, is making regular smarty pants remarks useful? I should say not. For when remarks diffuse and make a mockery of very important points, it infects the living organism that the ecology is. The ecology is only as strong as the person who is in charge is. But what can be stronger, is an ecology that is maintained by mutual agreement from everybody involved. In this case, students and teacher.

It is important to have humanity and allowance for all sorts of things. But it is vital for a teacher to be observant of patterns that cause to disrupt for the sake of disrupting whether it is conscious or not in the student. For any environment to sustain a level of cohesiveness and provide the optimum for opportunity, inspiration and growth, basic standards are needed. The teacher needs to uphold them. Not everyone, meaning the students in this case, will be able to understand all things if they have not been in serious pursuit for a prolonged period of time and have had the chance to get experience in dealing with many situations that arise. This is where the vital A.R.T. of the student comes in which is Appreciation, Respect and Trust. The A.R T. of the teacher in this case is Accomplished, Rsponsible, Tacticis.
More on this soon..