Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning

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A Blast from the Present

Ok, THIS Sunday, January 17 from 2-4pm at the Pickering Creek Inn in Phoenixville, PA, Sphere College is holding our first social fundraiser. Entertainment will be provided by Eastern Watershed, an exciting klezmer group from Pittsburgh. The cost? Pay what you can. We’re suggesting $10, but we really would prefer to have you come out to socialize and pay less, than to have you miss out on a good time.

What else is going on in the College? Well, Jonathan and Virginia Stewart are helping me develop a brochure for a new class ‘module’ (a short-term class on a topic of interest) called “An Experience of Music”. This class will be free to students currently in the College, and to raise money we will charge for others who just want to sign up for the module. More details will be forthcoming.

These music-related activities are reminding me that over the holidays I had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends from back in my musician days when I was studying to become a professional trombone player. And while reminiscing with one of them, it came to me just how much my experience at the Eastman School of Music has motivated me to create Sphere College.

Let me explain…

The Eastman School of Music has a very long tradition of producing fine trombone players, and the day I was accepted into the graduate program was one of the most gratifying days of my life. I had heard John ‘Doc’ Marcellus, the trombone teacher at Eastman, play an amazing duet with Charlie Vernon, now bass trombonist in the Chicago Symphony, years earlier. And I had heard about his teaching ability as well as his easy-going attitude, so I felt like I was on top of the world. My expectations of what it would be like to be at Eastman were very high, and upon arriving at Eastman they were even exceeded. Eastman proved to be an absolutely magical place. Each time I walked onto Main Hall I felt like I was joining an upward moving energy stream. Everyone seemed so excited to be a part of it. I had never been around so many amazing musicians my age all in one place. At first I felt like I was flailing around, waving my arms wildly as I tried to find my bearings. Soon I settled in, though, and found myself adding my own energy to the general flow.

Part of what really helped to set the tone was when, at a social event for new graduate students during my first days at Eastman, Jim Martin, a returning bass trombonist, said to me “You may think that you don’t belong here—that there must be some mistake, but that’s not true—you do belong here”. These were some of the kindest words anyone had ever said to me. He made me feel truly welcome, and this helped me be able to dig deep down inside to do my very best work.

Everyone at Eastman, and in particular the trombone students, provided the greatest support to each other. Somehow, and I’m not even sure how, we did not really feel as though we were in competition with each other even though we knew that upon graduation we would be seeking to fill the same jobs. Somehow we knew that only by encouraging each other to do our best could we ourselves become the best we could, and we were genuinely happy for each other when we had successes.

It was truly enjoyable for the trombonists to create such an inspiring and fun environment, and we had fun with it. On my birthday I was in my room and there was a knock on my door. I opened my door to see four trombone slides, two on each side pointing straight across. They proceeded to play a beautiful rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Did they do this for all the trombone students? I had been there for months and hadn’t ever heard of this happening. Was I the only one they did this for? I doubted it, but the answer didn’t matter; right now they were doing it for me, they weren’t getting paid for it and they were clearly getting great joy out of doing it.

Many of my fellow students at Eastman have gone on to create very successful careers. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that this is precisely the kind of supportive environment that I am attempting to cultivate at Sphere College. There are significant differences, though, and enormous challenges to overcome. We’re starting with a group of people who do not yet know what it is like to be at the top of their field. They haven’t seen their peers become recognized as world-class successes. They’re not even sure yet what it is that they wish to accomplish with their lives. And there is not yet a long tradition—a story—that the students feel they are becoming a part of.

It seems to me that it would really help the current students believe they are part of something special if they were to receive external recognition. So if you are so inclined, dear reader, then demonstrating your support for the students of Sphere College in their studies will go a long way towards helping Sphere College reach its greatest potential in the shortest time. And this could prove to be a very good thing. So come out and have a great time with us at the Pickering Creek Inn on Sunday, and show your support for the wonderful students of Sphere College.