Casey and Julie
This is Doug Ashcraft again, Dean of the Arts and former Chair of Music.
With all of the attention that Casey and Julie are getting on American Idol, I thought that it might be worthwhile to comment a bit on what their training was like while they were in our school. I imagine that there might be some who come for our website looking for the “American Idol” major. As it happened, Both Casey and Julie were students in our music program. Casey was our student here for four years and Julie was here for one. During that time I was chair of the music department.
Since they were here for such different lengths of time, they experienced different things. Julie received a solid foundation in classical singing technique, breathing and diction. We believe that any jazz, classical, pop or any other type of singer needs the same basic foundation of technical singing health in order to go forward. What’s the point of learning to sing if you can’t keep doing it into your old age? So, rather than push what a student has, trying to force a teenaged voice into repertoire that’s too big, too loud, too intense, and risking damage to their very young and delicate instruments, we teach them how to breath, support, place, use the head voice, the chest and mix in order to give them options. Then, add to that a base of music theory, literature, class piano and you have a student who has a foundation of musical skills to take forth.
Casey was different. With four years, Casey had time to explore. Classical bass instruction, jazz ensembles and improvisation, music history and piano were his foundation. One year, there were too many bass players in the jazz groups, so Casey learned to play jazz piano. Always a helper. I only remember him singing a couple of times on our campus. “Nature Boy” springs to mind… But he wasn’t the type of kid to stay in a box. We kept him in boxes long enough to learn what he needed, but then he jumped out and would run somewhere else. The film department got him for a while, in a musical about a Jewish boy in a bread shop. He also learned to score films here, for a time was the “go to” guy for film music. For me, in the music department he was my go to guy for impromptu performances: Casey, I need 10 minutes for a board meeting. Casey, give me 45 minutes for a cocktail mixer, no drums—too loud. Oh and there’s no piano there… No worries, bass and sax. And I didn’t worry. Once, a PBS station called and needed someone to compose music for a TV series… I foisted Casey on them… Don’t quite know what happened with that one.
So here is a student whose bag of tricks and tools is very full. But really, skills are not all that, unless they’re informed by an awareness of culture, the people around you, and opportunity. I don’t know if he actually thinks about it, but close association with dancers, actors, painters and writers changes a musician. It opens the world of possibility, and informs a musical language and personality. This is a necessity in a world where our arts are increasingly intertwined, we talk less about classical music and jazz music and more about simply good music or bad music, and the world of opportunity is a close as the nearest computer keyboard.
Whatever happens on Idol, let’s keep watching and see where they go.
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