Indian Hill's Blog

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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What’s your musical “bugaboo?” (Or, “How to be an exceptional musical parent.”)

By David Behrstock, M.Ed, Certified Practitioner of the Alexander Technique at Indian Hill Music School

Most musicians have a habit that chronically interferes with their music-making. This is true of musicians of almost any level or age.

Behrstock2Whether it’s poor posture, breath control, achy back, neck or hands, stiff movement, improper position/embouchure/ergonomics, jaw tightness  or performance anxiety, most players have some issue that consistently interferes with their playing. I call them bugaboos for short – persistent problems is really what I mean – and most players of all levels and ages have one or more.

What all those issues have in common is that they come from, or result in, unnecessary tension in the body. Too many musicians try to “push through” these things. Unfortunately, pushing through tends to make things worse over time. Trying harder = more tension. And it puts in place a cycle that tends to amplify over time.

So, what if there was a way to solve or prevent these pesky, on-going issues so that you or your child could truly play up to your potential – even find that “zone” more often?

At the professional level, even slight unnecessary tension or positioning can interfere with the precision and fluency needed to perform at the highest level. The point is to enable peak performance where very small adjustments can make a profound difference in sound. Because professional musicians play so much, the other place where the hidden bugaboo becomes a problem is with repetitive stress syndrome. The statistics on the number of professionals whose careers were ended or impeded by chronic pain are not pretty.

For non-professionals, the problem “bugaboos” are usually less subtle, but addressing them can dramatically improve tone, agility, or musicality. Unfortunately, the tools to fix these problems generally have not been available or even known about, by younger or non-professional musicians or parents of aspiring musicians – until now!

That’s why Indian Hill and I developed BodySmarts. Until now, the majority of my students have been faculty members or advanced adult students whose “bugaboo” was getting the best of them. In other words, these advanced players knew that they had an issue, whether it was pain, or positioning, they knew tension was getting in their way and they needed help resolving it.

For these students, the basis for BodySmarts — The Alexander Technique — taught at most of the elite conservatories around the world, represented a way to change these recalcitrant habits. The reason these problems were so difficult to address is because these seasoned musicians had practiced poor habits from the time they started playing (10, 20 or 40 years ago!). The habits were integrated into the very fabric of their technique, the fundamental organization of movement and they felt powerless to change them. We call these habits “poor use.” When you use yourself to make music in a way that is not consistent with the design of the human body, you set yourself up for problems and you won’t be able to play up to your potential.

BodySmarts is a class that introduces this powerful set of tools that help musicians (or anyone) change habits that are integrated into fundamental way that they organize themselves to play – or really to do any activity. We call these changes “good use.” I have become passionate in recent years about the need to introduce “good use” earlier in musical training so that we avoid the problems that I see consistently hurting more experienced and professional musicians.

Younger musicians need to be taught how to use their bodies well. Traditional music education for children focuses on technique and theory. If I know how to read the notes on the page and can make the proper bodily movement (including internal movements related to breath or balancing), then my playing will progress normally. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily so! Problems learned early can affect a lifetime of music making.

What this approach leaves out is coordination of the whole body. Playing music requires tremendous coordination of physical and mental activities and working hard at them naturally produces tension and strain that are the starting points of  “poor use.” So, if you are a parent of a young musician, I urge you to consider getting them BodySmarts training – it will speed up their progress now and prevent problems later.

BodySmarts focuses on the coordination aspect of music-making and it is a powerful set of tools, based on the Alexander Technique, Body Mapping and Breathing Coordination, to teach musicians how to use their body well to make music.
BodySmarts is appropriate for any student over the age of 10. As described above, by learning these techniques, a musician can both address the symptoms of poor habits (such as poor tone, speed or pain). Perhaps even more importantly, it is the perfect way to get a young musician (or beginning adult) off to a great start.

So, whether you are a musician yourself, or the parent of an aspiring one, you owe it to yourself or your child, to come to one of the free demonstration/open houses we are holding in March.

Hope to see you (or your child) soon!
David Behrstock Ed.M is a certified Alexander Technique teacher who has specialized in working with musicians for 14 years. He has a Masters from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is on the Board of Directors of Alexander Technique International. He will offer four week BodySmarts workshops for adults and children will begin March 23 and 25. 


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Faculty Spotlight: Meet Percussionist Jesse Stiglich

SME1Percussion Faculty Jesse Stiglich is a favorite of many of our young students.  He will lead our new Drum Club class for ages 4 – 5 this spring and teaches private lessons to all ages.

“…a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, drum-beating good time!” Drum Club is a great first music or ensemble experience for young beginners to build a foundation in rhythm and prepare for private lessons. 

Learn more about Drum Club and our other Spring Classes!

What styles of music do you teach?

I teach rock, jazz, and Latin styles on drum set, and also teach orchestral percussion on snare drum, marimba, and other percussion family instruments. I gauge the styles of music I teach around the student once they get to a certain point and have a basic understanding of most other styles.

Do you perform in a band?

I do! I’m in three bands: Professor Caffeine and the Insecurities, Red Evans Band, and Loving Cup. I play drums and sing back-up vocals.

Why did you choose to study music?

Music was what came easier to me than most other things. I remember I was debating between going to school for music and history and ultimately ended up picking music. I just always loved the feeling of performing something and playing with other musicians.

Watch Jesse in the recording studio

How long have you been at IHM? What do you like most about teaching here?

I’ve been at IHM since Spring 2014. What I like most about teaching here are the relationships I’ve developed with my students. Some of them I’ve had since 2015, and others are more new, but we’ve grown together and we have a blast.

JesseSWhat do you hope to do in your Drum Club class? What can students expect to get out of it?

Students can expect to have fun, learn some basic rhythms, and play music together with other kids who love music. We’ll create rhythms with hands, feet, coffee cans and other household items, and percussion instruments. Students will learn something that they can retain, and maybe recognize somewhere else along their musical journey.

What do you like to do when you’re not teaching or performing?

When I’m not teaching or performing, I really enjoy watching sports. I’m a diehard Patriots fan, and also love the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. I also enjoy the simple things, like reading, hanging out with friends and family, and of course, PRACTICING!

Drum Club starts Saturday, March 4, and runs for 10 weeks.  For more information and to register, visit our website!

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