Jazz ensemble promotes musical empathy

Many musical performers I know – myself being one of them – no longer play once they get to college. Among the numerous excuses for band-geek dropouts, confidence or the lack thereof seem to be the prominent reasons most do not continue. Practicing was a zero-sum game for me. I was absolutely terrible if I didn’t practice (as most are, unless you are Yo-Yo Ma) and I was so nervous when I did practice and went to perform that I figured I might as well not practice. Obviously, my trajectory with the clarinet didn’t last past high school.

But for those who do continue through college and even beyond, that anxiety can still be a factor, so says adjust lecturer of music and jazz ensemble conductor David Gibson.

Oftentimes, students of music become engrossed in a “feedback loop” in which they are taught by a teacher who doesn’t perform or they do not interact with a real audience, according to Gibson. The result is a learning experience that doesn’t incorporate a less obvious but universal and essential skill: awareness, particularly of the present.

“You are not responsible for what you don’t know; you are only responsible for what you do know. The audience doesn’t know what you don’t know. They only know what you tell them,” Gibson said. “So if you are secure in what you are telling people, then they will feel secure – and that’s the goal. No one comes to a show feeling afraid for you.”

Frankie Mandracchia/Knights' Life Editor

Frankie Mandracchia/Knights' Life Editor

The ensemble meets every Monday for an hour and a half. Between that time, Gibson is a full-time New Yorker, writing and performing music and working at Columbia University and the New School as an adjunct music instructor. Every Sunday, the musician travels by track or air to Western New York.

Gibson describes his week less as a rote sequence of frenzied events than a regiment with which he applies diligence and attention. Getting to the stand at rehearsal at 7 p.m. on a Monday night, he addressed the jazz ensemble, caught up with the group and tuned each section.

“It’s about having fun – and not fun where we are disregarding details but having fun where we’re all committed to the details and holding each other accountable. There’s a resonance to this program,” he said.

The students, too, describe the program as an enjoyable but committed endeavor. Senior Steven Rosenzweig said the program is “high caliber.”

“I want my students to develop … empathy – to think of something other than themselves,” Gibson said. “As a performer, when you start thinking about yourself, you are really dealing with your own fear because you are starting to make choices on your fear – instead of a spirit of sharing.”