Aspen PALS Program

It goes without saying that the last 18 months have been tough. Professionals moved into their home offices, students logged on to classes from their computers, and musicians struggled to maintain their skills with zero concerts on the horizon. I frequently found myself daydreaming about my days at the Aspen Music Festival and School (AMFS) that were filled with inspiring rehearsals and frequent meetings with dear friends.

Earlier this year, I was excited to reunite with colleagues at the first meeting of the AMFS Alumni Association. The meeting brought together thirty alumni who were eager to move beyond the ongoing COVID situation. We discussed ways to continue making music while expanding and engaging with the AMFS alumni network and community. Our conversation sizzled with ideas about what we could accomplish, instead of complaints about what we couldn’t. I remember feeling challenged and inspired as a student at AMFS, and I was energized again to find that spark in the alumni association meeting.

The AMFS Passes and Lessons Scholarship (PALS) program was facing uncertainty about the summer and its ability to deliver high-quality music lessons. PALS needed a tool that was a trustworthy alternative to in-person lessons. Unfortunately, the commonly used online platforms are designed for conference calls and business meetings, not music lessons. I was excited to introduce the PALS program to a project I began working on during the pandemic called Forte.

Forte is an online platform designed for music teachers and their students. Essential ideas such as tone color, phrasing, intonation, vibrato, articulation, and dynamics are once again possible thanks to the enhanced audio experience of Forte Pure Audio. The ability to hear and share music, not just sound, allows for effective music teaching and learning. Armed with this tool, the PALS program could connect with its beloved students and those in otherwise unreachable communities. When the opportunity arose for me to teach the two trumpet students in the program, I jumped at the offer.

My younger student came to our first lesson with some basic knowledge of the instrument and played in his school band but hadn’t heard many examples of trumpet playing that he could emulate. We focused on fundamentals, and he and I spent time playing for each other. Once again inspired by my work through AMFS and equipped with a tool optimized for music lessons, I decided to push the envelope and see what was possible. What started as me sustaining a drone while my student learned how to blend his intonation and sound evolved into us playing simple Arban’s duets together. Over the course of the summer, his range increased and his ability to hear and produce a good sound was noticeable. We were both thrilled that these subtle changes could be heard and improved online!

My older student logged into his first lesson with a stalwart of the Classical repertoire, Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, and was happy to discuss the music theory behind its composition. He checked all of the boxes of a great student but lacked excitement and clarity about the styles of music he wanted to play. We began by analyzing parts of the concerto and listening for the changes in harmony. Slowly, I saw him realize how theory can inform his playing. We moved beyond the Haydn, listening to different recordings, watching videos we found online, and even learning some new pieces. I saw his face light up when he tapped into his interest in video game music. He was able to analyze the music and perform harmonically-informed improvisations over it. Finally, his theoretical knowledge and playing skills found a creative outlet for him to express himself.

Hard-working, focused students are a teacher’s dream. Internet challenges and platforms that obliterate music are infuriating. With Forte, the technology fades into the background, and my students and I are able to connect with each other and make meaningful and audible improvements in trumpet playing and musical understanding, all online.
The PALS program engaged 30 teachers who delivered over 500 one-on-one music lessons to 102 students. The challenges of COVID were plentiful, but with the right perspective, a focus on the positives, and a new tool built for musicians, the PALS program was equipped and able to deliver high-quality lessons to the young musicians who need it.

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