Indian Hill's Blog

A minute with Alice Hallstrom: A Seasoned Finale with Vivaldi’s Classic

Orchestra of Indian Hill wraps up its season featuring some of Indian Hill’s best on Saturday, April 22! The program features Ginastera (Variaciones Concertantes), Tchaikovsky (Capriccio Italien), and Vivaldi’s classic Four Seasons with soloist Alice Hallstrom, OIH concertmaster. Indian Hill Music School 2017 Concerto Competition winner Justin Gu, 15, will also take the stage to perform the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No 2: Mvt I.

Alice Hallstrom has served as concertmaster of the Orchestra of Indian Hill for the past five seasons, and is an active performer in the Boston area where she plays freOIH_AliceHallstrom_CREDIT_AliceGeburaquently with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra.  She has also served as assistant concertmaster of the Portland Symphony and assistant concertmaster of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic.  As a featured solo performer, she has played concerti with the Southwest Symphony, Juilliard Baroque Ensemble, Purchase Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Orchestra of Tennessee.  She has recorded with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, BMOP, Josh Groban, Natalie Cole, Chamber Music Atlanta, Train, Ephraim’s Harp, and The Cartoon Network. Alice received her master’s degree from The Juilliard School and graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of music from SUNY Purchase.  She lives in Bedford, MA with her husband Michael and son Spencer.  She took a minute to give us her take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

How are you bringing a fresh perspective to the popular Four Seasons?

Vivaldi put many interesting nature sounds, programmatic elements, and visual images in these pieces.  It has been a lot of fun to explore ways to bring these out and really create an auditory picture with the violin.  Some of the musical decisions I have made for this performance will be different from past performances that the audience may be familiar with, but I hope that they will serve to highlight the effects that Vivaldi was creating through his music and the poems that he included in the score.  In my work on these concerti, I did a lot of thinking about how best to emphasize the sound effects, characters, and stories that are interspersed throughout each season.

How do you personally connect to the piece? 
In preparing to perform the Four Seasons this past year, I decided to work seasonally and focus mainly on practicing the season we were currently in.  Having Vivaldi’s view of the seasons in mind shaped my experience with nature, and my own experiences with the season shaped my interpretation of the piece.  For instance, Vivaldi portrays a much more harsh and stormy picture of summer than we typically think of in our day.  While we associate it with summer vacation, swimming, lemonade, and leisure, Vivaldi captured exhausting heat and fierce, terrifying storms.  Drawing on my own experiences of oppressive heat, no air conditioning, and the scary storms I’ve lived through put me in mind of the images that Vivaldi was evoking of summers in Italy in the 1720s.  I remember one day in particular last summer when a huge storm came up.  A tornado watch was issued for our area, and I found myself hunkered down in the basement with my son thinking of Vivaldi’s poor shepherd quivering with fear. And so on with the other seasons.  The thing that’s so wonderful about Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is that they invoke images, concepts, and feelings that we are all very familiar with, and put them into a beautiful and fascinating musical setting.

If you had to choose a “season” as your favorite, which one would it be and why?
If I had to choose a favorite season, it would probably be Spring for its bright, fresh and joyful melodies.  Although the drunkard in the first movement of Autumn and the icy sounds of Winter are also favorites.

What do you hope the audience will come away with from this piece?
These pieces are so fun to play and to listen to!  I would hope that audience members would come with their own experiences of the seasons and combine those experiences with Vivaldi’s vivid musical portrayal of his view of the seasons.  Most of all, I hope the audience will have as much fun listening to the Four Seasons as we have playing them!

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Meet Justin Gu: 2017 Concerto Competition Winner

Our 2017 Concerto Competition winner Justin Gu, 15, of Andover, March17 045 is no stranger to competitions, nor great stages! A student of Niva Fried for the past six years, Justin has already played in Carnegie Hall. See him perform with the Orchestra of Indian Hill on Saturday, April 22.

What was your first introduction to music?

My dad had bought a grand Kawai piano when I was five years old. I was very excited when I came back from school in kindergarten and heard the sound of my dad playing the piano. I was very interested in learning how to play the piano. Everyday my dad would teach me and my brother as well. Often, I didn’t let my brother play because I enjoyed playing so much. After two years of learning with my dad, I finally got a teacher. After two years, I started with Niva Fried at Indian Hill Music School, at age 9. Today, I am still currently learning from her.

How often do you practice? When is your favorite time to practice?

On weekdays, I try to practice as much as I can, trying to fit in at least one hour. I would usually practice during the night after I finish all my school homework and projects. On weekends, I always practice piano right after I eat breakfast. I practice piano for at least an hour during the morning. Later at night, I practice at least another hour before I go to bed.

You live in Andover – what brings you to Indian Hill for your lessons?

I go to Indian Hill for my lessons because my teacher, Niva Fried, teaches here. Indian Hill is also a great music school. There are great teachers and students that bring life to the community. There are many recitals and competitions which give us chances to perform in front of others. Listening to other Indian Hill students is a great way to enjoy music and also learn. It is a great experience to be part of the Indian Hill community, and it is amazing to see students improve over the years.

As soon as I put my hands on the keys, it felt as if I drifted into my own world.

You have played in Carnegie Hall!   What does it feel like to perform on that grand stage?

When I was ten years old, I auditioned for the American Fine Arts Festival to get a chance to play at Carnegie Hall. I was so fortunate to be selected by the judges — it was the first time that I have ever played in front of such a large audience. The piano was one of the best pianos I’ve ever played in my life. Before I started to play, I was extremely nervous because of how many people were watching me. As soon as I put my hands on the keys, it felt as if I drifted into my own world. I felt much less nervous once I started to play and it felt as if the whole audience disappeared. Every second on that stage was such an amazing and memorable experience for me.

Who is your favorite composer?

One of my favorite composers is Beethoven. There has always been something about his music that fascinates me, and I can never stop listening to him. After understanding his personal life and some of the struggles he went through, it is just truly amazing what he could do. I have played many Beethoven Sonatas, and his works have always interested me in playing more.

What do you dream of pursuing in life?

Getting into a good college. After that, I do not know for sure where my path is taking me. In school, my favorite subjects are math and science. Some ideas that I have for when I grow up are becoming a computer engineer, or a doctor.

You have won several competitions in the past few years! How do you handle nerves and get into the mindset to compete?

My first piano competition was in 2011 in the MMTA (Massachusetts Music Teachers Association) competition. I remember I had a very tough time trying to sleep the day before. On the day of the competition, I could feel my heartbeat getting faster as I got closer to the piano. Even when I was playing, I still felt very nervous. Now, I still get a little bit nervous before a competition, but once I start playing, it seems like all the feelings of nervousness disappear. To get into the mindset before a competition, I only listen to my competition pieces and avoid listening to current pop songs. I start doing this a couple of days before the competition.

Justin will perform the first movement of Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 with Orchestra of Indian Hill on Saturday, April 22 at 7:30pm at Littleton High School Performing Arts Center. Buy Tickets


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Faculty Spotlight: Dan Masterson, Songwriting & Recording

Award-winning singer-songwriter Dan Masterson will teach a Songwriting Workshop for teens and adults, and Intro to Recording classes for teens beginning April 1.

DMasterson_IMG_4337 300DPIHow did you get into songwriting? Was there one teacher or program that inspired you the most as you were learning?
I started in high school. I had already taken to composition and arranging, and made the jump to songwriting when I moved to a new school. I’d say Matt Corriel, who primarily writes for musical theater, but has taught seminars on American Popular Song as a tradition of its own.

What are you currently doing as a performing songwriter?
My band and I were recently awarded “Last Band Standing in New England” in a regional competition organized the New England Music Awards. We will be returning to the studio in the very near future to begin recording our debut full length to follow the success of two EPs released in 2014 and 2015.

What do you hope to do in your class? What can students expect to get out of it?
We will listen, analyze, and discuss a variety of recordings to illustrate different tricks and tools used by songwriters before breaking out to write. We’ll use structured exercises to help focus our writing and work with one another to provide constructive feedback and practice co-writing.

Can anyone write a song? 
Certainly anyone can write a song. Many military and sports anthems were conceived by people without the intention of being a songwriter. It certainly helps to have a background in music theory, or experience playing an instrument, but those are not prerequisites. I believe an ability to pick up on patterns and a willingness to take risks are the best assets to an aspiring songwriter.

How easy can it be to record your own music?  Do you need a lot of equipment?
Recording music can be as simple or as complicated as you like, but achieving a professional sound takes some technical skill and knowledge. There’s no sense in acquiring equipment without the knowledge that allows you to take full advantage of its capability, and there are many affordable, low budget options for the beginner/hobbyist.

What software will you be using?
I am a Logic Pro X user (Mac OS only), but will be focusing on understanding underlying functions and tools available within a variety of software, or even hardware recording technology. Garageband, iMovie, and Audacity may also be used.

Live+at+ONCEWhat should participants expect to come away with from this class?
Participants will leave understanding the basics of microphone selection, making the most of the equipment at hand, how to properly wrap cabling, understand signal path, understand basics of acoustics and the physics of sound, and techniques for low budget demos. We will also cover MIDI and its many uses for both recording and live application.

How has home recording helped your career as a performing musician?
I use recording software on a near-daily basis. I use a small midi keyboard to play in demo recordings for the band to hear before playing a new song. I use voice memos to save songwriting ideas. I’ve used a basic mobile recording rig to record my live performances for personal review or make those recordings available to fans. Understanding the basics also makes performers aware of the challenges posed to sound techs on stage and in studio so they can make sound check go smoother, or make efficient use of expensive studio time.

How can home recording help someone interested in fields other than music?
In a multimedia world, recording audio is now an essential part of communications, journalism, business presentations, even social media marketing. College students will find courses that expect them to produce mini-documentaries with voiceovers using software like iMovie, or podcasts using Garageband. Learning the basics of recording will prepare students with a set of skills applicable in a variety of fields beyond music.

What do you like to do when you’re not teaching or performing?
Outside of performing and teaching, I like to play Fifa 13, participate in civic life, attend shows, support locally-owned small businesses, and wonk out on housing and transportation policy.

Register for Dan’s Songwriting Workshop and Intro to Sound Recording

Learn more about Dan at



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Faculty Spotlight: Meet Paul Pampinella, Contemporary Vocal Ensembles

Pampinella2WebVoice Department Faculty Paul Pampinella will lead the new contemporary vocal ensembles for teens and adults, Wednesday evenings beginning March 29.

What vocal styles do you teach? 
Primarily contemporary styles: Pop/Rock, Jazz, Musical Theater. I also teach some guitar, piano, and bass guitar. I’ll be leading the Contempo Voices ensembles for teens and adults this spring.

Do you actively perform? 
I perform with two a cappella groups, Vox One (jazz) and Five O’Clock Shadow (pop/rock). I also perform with a group called the Vintage Vocal Quartet that performs close harmony music of the swing era (1930’s – 40’s). I’ll be performing with the Vintage Vocal Quartet at the Indian Hill Music Gala on May 13! I sing and play electric guitar in that ensemble. Beyond that, I sing and play acoustic guitar in a guitar duo that performs rock hits from the 60’s to 2000’s.


Why did you choose to study your instrument? 
I started taking piano lessons at age 6, mostly because my older sister was doing it, and I didn’t want to be left out. Both my sister and I were child singers in a New York City jingle house, and sang on a lot of ads in the 70’s. But I chose to study guitar when I was 12, and then took voice lessons at 17 just prior to attending Berklee College of Music. Voice ended up being my principal instrument, and I’ve been an Assistant Professor of Voice at Berklee for over a decade.

Was there one teacher or program that inspired you the most as you were learning?I studied music theory in New York City with a private teacher, Helen Hobbs Jordan, for two years prior to attending college. She had her own method of teaching which broke theory down into its component parts; pitches, rhythm, meter, and keyboard harmony. I learned effective and efficient practice habits from her. Whenever possible during lessons, I break everything down before expecting students to digest a whole concept.

How long have you been at IHM? What do you like most about teaching here?
I’ve been teaching here for over 10 years as well. I appreciate the diversity of students who show up at Indian Hill; from middle school to middle age, and beyond. There are lots of students interested in music simply for enrichment, and some that are interested in making it a career, or at least a very serious hobby. I think engaging in music at any level and any age is worthwhile, so I’m happy to teach anyone who has enough interest to sign up.

What can students expect to learn and do in your Contempo Voices classes? I’ll start with the end-goal; I hope to create a short program of music (2-3 songs) that can be performed at the end of the run of the class. The music will consist of songs that everyone in the class agrees upon (I don’t have a strict agenda – it’s based on what most people in the teen and adult classes choose to sing). We will look for songs that have lots of background vocals, and trade off lead vocals, so that everyone will have a part. I will accompany on guitar or piano, and if anyone in the class plays any instrument (guitar, piano, bass, drums, or even brass or woodwind) we’ll try to incorporate those as well.

What do you like to do when you’re not teaching or performing? 
I enjoy cooking (you want me to be a part of your pot-luck, trust me). I also love to watch documentaries — history, food/agriculture, environmental issues, etc. I used to play a lot of tennis — I don’t get the opportunity much these days, but I would if I could! And, I’m a dance dad – my daughter is on a competition team and that keeps us really busy!


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A Minute with Max Levinson


Photo: Liz Linder Photography

Known as an “intelligent and sensitive artist with a fearless technique,” Boston-based pianist Max Levinson will perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Orchestra of Indian Hill in their “A Story to Tell” program on Saturday, March 18.

What kind of story does the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 tell?  How does it make you feel to play it?
Rachmaninov suffered from depression and despite his genius went through periods when he didn’t produce any music as a result of the debilitating effects of this. This Concerto was dedicated to his therapist, and for me as well this piece feels like an opportunity to pour out emotion, ranging from tenderness and love to passion, regret, anger, both hope and hopelessness. It takes a lot out of me to perform this piece, both physically and emotionally.

As an advocate for nurturing young audiences, how would you say orchestral and chamber music are/should be relevant to today’s young people in such a tech-heavy culture?
Great music in what we call the “classical” genre speaks to a part of our soul that it alone can reach. It is also an important part of music to experience it live, with the musicians’ presence felt and some element of unpredictability — and even danger — in that live moment.

…this piece feels like an opportunity to pour out emotion, ranging from tenderness and love to passion, regret, anger, both hope and hopelessness.

Based on your experience as a performing artist and seasoned music educator, what is THE piece of advice you would give to an aspiring pianist/musician?
My advice to any aspiring pianist: practice like crazy, listen to the advice of your teachers and to the artistry of great pianists, and don’t be afraid to fail. Try things out, and see where they lead.  Read more advice from Max on how to practice.

Outside of teaching and performing, what are your favorite pastimes?
When I’m not playing or teaching, I most value time with my family. Also, I don’t have a lot of time for it, but I do like to eat at good restaurants.

What’s on your music playlist right now?
I love to listen to music that I can’t play on the piano, like music for orchestra or voice or string quartet. My desert island playlist definitely includes the Schubert C Major Quintet, Mahler Symphony #4 and Beethoven Symphony #7. And I can definitely get in to less weighty things sometimes, like Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, and Michael Jackson.

Listen to Performances

Watch Performance Videos

Buy Tickets to Orchestra of Indian Hill: A Story to Tell | Saturday, March 18 at 7:30pm

This concert is sponsored by Curry Printing and supported by Atty. Ray Lyons.

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