Indian Hill's Blog

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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Posted in Blog, Latest News, Music School

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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A Minute with Emily Marvosh

Boston contralto Emily Marvosh is a sought-after soloist, and a founding member of the acclaimed Lorelei Ensemble, which promotes new music for women. She has performed at Boston’s Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall, Jordan Hall, Disney Hall, Lincoln Center, Prague’s Smetana Hall, and Vienna’s Stefansdom, among others, and is a frequent guest soloist with the Handel & Haydn Society.  A proud native of Michigan, Ms. Marvosh created an award-winning chamber recital – The Michigan Recital Project – that celebrates the history and culture of her home state. Ms. Marvosh will sing Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the Orchestra of Indian Hill on Sunday, February 19, and leads a voice masterclass at Indian Hill Music School on Saturday, February 18.

As a contralto soloist, what types of roles do you usually perform? Are there any particular challenges for contraltos?

As a contralto on the younger end of the spectrum, there isn’t much for me in the operatic repertory, although I look forward to my sixties, when I can sing all the great contralto roles! I do mostly concert solos in oratorios and symphonies, which I absolutely love.

EMarvosh2When did you know you wanted to study classical / operatic voice?

I didn’t show any vocal promise until after I had already gone through puberty, and I only joined the school choir because it seemed like the least tedious of the electives available to me. But it turned out that I loved it, and I started taking voice lessons in seventh or eighth grade. I was very fortunate that my first two voice teachers had classical training themselves and the flexibility to offer me different styles. Because I had already been studying piano and French horn, the mental challenge of classical music and technique were most intriguing to me, and I’m still challenged daily by this demanding art.

Do you prefer to perform with chamber ensembles? Choirs? Symphony orchestras? 

Of course I love working with orchestras, but much of my work currently is as a chamber musician. I want to make sure we don’t limit chamber music to instrumental music; in the last 20 years we have seen the rise of the professional vocal chamber ensemble as well. A lot of my chamber work is in small vocal groups, which can’t really be called choirs because they behave like a group of soloists together, and that kind of singing is very satisfying. On the other hand, working with a large symphony choir, particularly with amateur singers, is one of my greatest pleasures in music making. Amateur singers truly do love what they do, and devote countless hours merely for the pleasure of it. How can I not love that?

We know from works like Enigma Variations that Elgar let his sense of humor pervade his music, and it’s really enjoyable to see how he uses different instruments and colors to illustrate the different ways the sea can make us feel.

Who are your favorite composers?

Favorite composers…that’s so hard! Any composer that puts text first will always be a favorite of mine. I love Bach for his dedication to music as service (and for his fugues!). I love Handel’s majesty and Haydn’s humor. I love Britten for his choices of texts. I love Mahler for his ability to create a completely transparent orchestral texture to support the voice. I love Brahms because he understood the alto voice so well.

What is your favorite solo of all time?

It’s one I will never perform: Mache Dich, from [Bach’s] St. Matthew Passion.

What’s on your playlist right now?

As a perk for a recent crowdfunding campaign, the Lorelei Ensemble made a fantastic playlist of music by women…all different kinds, from female mariachi to folk singers to a Pulitzer-winning composition. Check it out here!

What was the inspiration for the Michigan Recital Project?
It came about when I noticed many talented colleagues were (like me) from Michigan, but we had all chosen to establish our careers and homes elsewhere, for a variety of reasons. I wanted a reason to gather together, celebrate our home state, encourage Michigan composers by commissioning new works, and carve out a small part of the chamber music repertoire by putting a Michigan stamp on it!  I am proud to be from Michigan. It’s going through a bit of a tough time right now, but making art is an important way to remind ourselves of our shared humanity and cause for optimism.

What inspires you about Elgar’s Sea Pictures? What should the audience be listening for?

The poetry is by different people, and Elgar’s music reflects the different personality of each poem. We know from works like Enigma Variations that Elgar let his sense of humor pervade his music, and it’s really enjoyable to see how he uses different instruments and colors to illustrate the different ways the sea can make us feel. My favorite poem is Sabbath Morning at Sea by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She is amazed at the ocean and excited by her journey, but she misses her friends back home…I was going to quote my favorite line here, but I can’t pick just one, the whole poem is so masterful.

EMarvosh1What’s one piece of advice you would have for a young singer?

Everyone’s journey with music is different, so there is no one piece of advice that will work for everyone. For classical musicians (singers, instrumentalists AND conductors too) I always say take care of your languages early, when your brain is more flexible. More than diction, you really need to know the mechanics and grammar of as many languages as possible. Traveling is of course a very enjoyable way to improve one’s languages! Piano skills are also very important for any young musician. But my most dear piece of advice is: be flexible! A good, solid vocal technique will enable you to do anything: musical theater, opera, jazz, choral music, straight theater, early music, spoken word, pop, folk, etc. The characteristic I see most often in professional musicians is flexibility (think of the opportunities Audra McDonald and Kelli O’Hara have had because of their classical chops); they work often and happily because they have the confidence to try something different or new or be able to come along with a conductor or director without fear or hesitation. But in short, get lots of sleep, drink lots of water, and learn your languages!

Emily Marvosh will join Maestro Bruce Hangen and the Orchestra of Indian Hill in a program of Holst, Elgar, Frazelle, and Stravinsky on Sunday, February 19 at 3:00pm. Learn more and buy tickets.

Learn more about Emily Marvosh

Listen to performances:

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IHM Discovery Lecture: Berklee’s Dr. Bill Banfield to Speak on the Influence of Jazz, Jan. 10

bill_banfieldDiscover more about music history and culture at Indian Hill Music’s next Discovery Lecture on Tuesday, January 10, 7:00pm at 36 King Street, Littleton. Noted Berklee faculty member, Dr. Bill Banfield, will offer a lively presentation about the classical music of the present and future: “The Influence of Jazz and Popular Music on Contemporary Composers.” His talk will explore the places and periods of change across generations, from jazz to hip-hop, the Harlem Renaissance to Cuba, and how these popular music genres have influenced today’s composers.

“Bill Banfield is one of the most original voices on the music scene today.”
— Henry Louis Gates

Dr. Banfield is Director of Africana Studies at Berklee College of Music, as well as a composer, author, and recording artist. He previously served as Endowed Chair Humanities/Fine Arts and Professor of Music/Director of American Cultural Studies/Jazz, Popular, and World Music Studies at the University of St. Thomas, MN. Dr. Banfield also held the post of Assistant Professor, African American Studies /Music at Indiana University, where he developed the Undine Smith Moore Collection of Scores and Manuscripts of Black Composers, a permanent archives collection at the University. A native Detroiter, Dr. Banfield received his B.M. from the New England Conservatory of Music, a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition from the University of Michigan. His works have been commissioned, performed, and recorded by orchestras across the country.

Admission to the lecture is $10. Purchase online or by phone at (978) 486-9524.

Learn more about Bill Banfield:

Listen to lectures

Listen to original recordings

Watch video

Read about his latest book: Cultural Codes – Makings of a Black Music Philosophy



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