Sunday, July 18, 2010

Q and A with Dr. Erik Janners, part 1

I promised some questions and answers with the new Music Director of the Knightwind Ensemble. Here are the first 5 questions and their answers. The next 5 will be posted next week.

Milwaukee Community Music: How did you first get involved with music?

Dr. Erik Janners: My mom and dad enrolled me in Suzuki violin at the age of 4 or 5 - I don't remember my exact age. I did violin, guitar, and piano on and off before finally deciding on percussion in about grade 8.

MCM: What convinced you that music was a calling and not a hobby?

EJ: I loved to play, I loved to perform, I was never bored by it, and I was continually challenged by music. That last point, really, is what is still true today - there is always something new, something more to learn or to get out of a piece. I also really enjoy the interpersonal aspect of music making - as a player I much prefer chamber music to solo work, and as a conductor I love the interaction between the ensemble and the conductor. The special dynamic that it brings to what we do is a constant source of energy and fascination for me.

MCM: What music other than "symphonic" or "classical" are you especially interested in, and why?

EJ: Jazz music or rock music up until 1990. I find much of what is played on the radio today as "pop" or "rock" to be utterly vacuous - the performers did not even write their own lyrics or their own music, and they are sampling someone else's guitar riff or something - usually from that time in the 1970's or 1980's when hard rock music had melody (Queen, Van Halen, etc.). I find much of the current pop music unlistenable for that very reason. Jazz, of course, is an art form all its own, and is a lot of fun to play and to direct as a conductor. Jazz is one of those musical styles where the more you know about the style, the more you like it. Of course, for many people who know nothing about jazz, they like it less.

MCM: What is on your iPod or CD Player?

EJ: Van Halen, Queen, Led Zepplin, Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck, Miles Davis (Sketches of Spain album is a must have for every musician), Charles Mingus, John Coltrane. Unless I'm listening to wind band music - I have a collection of over 2500 CDs of wind band music.

MCM: Things sometimes go wrong at concerts. Can you share an interesting or amusing "something gone wrong"?

EJ: For one that involves me personally, I remember a time when I was still an undergraduate and we were at the dress rehearsal for a concert. I think we were doing the 1st, 4th, and 5th movements of something and the 5th movement was the slow movement. So at the dress the conductor told us to be ready to perform the movements in the order 1/5/4 so we would end on a fast movement rather than a slow. At the concert we finished the 1st movement and all of us percussionists continued to sit quietly in the back as the 5th movement was next and involved no percussion - all of us that is except for the young lady playing cymbals. She got up and walked to the cymbals. None of us noticed right away - well, the 4th movement if it HAD been next, began with an ff cymbal crash, and so this girl picks up the cymbals and WHAM!!!!! Plays the loudest solo cymbal crash ever to start a slow and lyrical movement. We all forgot to tell her about the switch - she had missed the dress rehearsal. The conductor, to his everlasting credit, did not stop and kept right on going with the slow movement. He was, however, turning purple - not from anger but rather from trying to hold back his laughter, as we all were as well. The young lady, to her credit, stood there holding the cymbals high in the air, letting the sound die away, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and the composer had written his slow movement that way. Needless to say, the rest of us percussionists got an earful from that cymbal player after the concert, for forgetting to tell her about that change.

Questions 6 to 10 are next week.

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