Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Boston Symphony Orchestra bassist Tom Van Dyck discusses his musical roots

Open positions in symphony orchestras are rare, and a spot in one of the best orchestras in the country is rarer still. At age 32, and after more than a decade honing his craft as a professional double bass player, Settlement alumnus and Boston Symphony Orchestra bassist Thomas Van Dyck stands at the pinnacle of his field.

Thomas with Boston Symphony Orchestra concertmaster
Malcolm Lowe after winning his double bass audition
Thomas says his initial interest in music came from listening to jazz and playing electric bass, but he was
exposed to classical music early on as well: his mother, Central Board of Trustees Chair Barrie Trimingham, frequently played classical recordings at home. He got his start playing classical music in Settlement’s Arco Chamber Orchestra, now known as the Trowbridge Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Peter Dundon from 1996-98. He also worked as an intern for the Kaleidoscope Arts Enrichment Pre-K Program with Martha Glaze Zook and played a senior recital accompanied by piano faculty and Lillian Kraus Felber Distinguished Faculty Chair Jeffrey Uhlig. After studying at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and at Boston University, he embarked on a career in music, playing orchestral and chamber music with ensembles and at festivals across the United States.

Now that he’s settled in Boston, he’s no longer crisscrossing the country for auditions or substitute gigs, but he’s still focusing intensely on his own playing. Even at the height of the profession, there’s always more to learn.

Q: What experience prepared you most for this stage of your career?

Thomas Van Dyck: When you get to a certain level of mastery, then you have to focus on developing that last five or ten percent of your playing. For me, I got that through a combination of studying with Ed Barker at Boston University and being at Yellow Barn, a summer chamber music festival in Vermont. It’s where I found the joy and motivation of being around a community of players, and that really inspired me.

Q: What does it take to be a professional musician today?

TVD: The big thing is tenacity. You have to choose where to audition, how you will travel, and how you will get around—especially if you play something big, like a bass! It can be pretty brutal after a while, and you have to commit to that lifestyle. You also have to truly love the classical repertoire. A lot of the sustaining power in a career in music comes from loving a certain piece of music. When everyone’s on the same page and playing with a ton of commitment, there’s nothing like it. Life as a musician is not always going to be perfect, but more than ever, musicians will seek out situations where everyone plays together and respects each other.

Q: What lessons from your past do you share most frequently when teaching?

TVD: What I like to pass on is excitement and an intense energy in the process of discovery. It happens when you are really in the zone and you have an extreme, selfless excitement about figuring out what you’re playing. You have this feeling of infectious enthusiasm, and you get to the point where you are no longer thinking about yourself while you’re playing.

Q: What specific lessons or memories do you take with you from your time at Settlement?

TVD: When I first joined the Arco Chamber Orchestra at Settlement, I said, “Am I really ready for this?” I thought that everyone was already so good and I had this sense of insecurity, which motivated me to work really hard. I remember thinking while practicing, “this is my own thing.” That’s where I really developed a sense of ownership: from figuring out things on my instrument and discovering it for myself. It became a process of working to get better day to day, month to month, and year to year.

This post is adapted and expanded from Settlement Music School's fall 2013 newsletter. Read more online here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Getting the band back together: Concert and Symphonic Bands at the Willow Grove Branch

Ask anyone who's played a brass, woodwind or percussion instrument where they got their start: band is the place to be. It might start with scales, or with Sousa, and the next thing you know, you're approaching seventy-six trombones, one hundred and ten cornets, and more.

The band program at Settlement Music School started last year at the Germantown and Willow Grove Branches, drawing a range of wind and percussion players. To continue the program this year, there's a real band evangelist on board, with experience in marching and concert bands. 

JoAnn Wieszczyk is now directing the Concert Band and Symphonic Band at the Willow Grove Branch and leading a band at Hardy Williams Academy, a Mastery Charter School in Southwest Philadelphia, through Settlement's new Music Education Pathways program.

Originally from rural northeastern Pennsylvania, Wieszczyk picked up the flute in middle school after being went on to play in the Pennsylvania Music Education Association All-State Band and All-State Orchestra, as well as the All-Eastern Band.

With experience as a flutist and conductor in concert and marching band settings, she's a leader who knows what it's like to be part of the rank-and-file, too. As a director, she stresses unity, both in the way her students play and the way they treat each other.

"The first thing I tell them when I'm front of them on the podium is that we're a family." She encourages young musicians to treat their peers like brothers and sisters because that's how she found herself and came into her own: "Wherever I didn't fit in, I worked it out through music."

From Wieszczyk's first day on the podium leading a group of any kind, she makes it clear: "If you have a problem, musically we'll solve it together." She also aims to boost not only the most talented musicians in an ensemble, but also the hardest-working and most persistent ones. Doing this helps create multiple leaders within the band: people who can lead sectional rehearsals or who can quiet things down if they get rowdy.

The goal is not just to make students love band, but also to create interest in music in general. Weekly rehearsals aren't just hard-core practice sessions; they're opportunities to explore music and different ways of playing and creating it. Wieszczyk cites her experience in creating song arrangements that spark interest; she can tailor songs to the specific instrumentation of the ensembles and even creates musical mashups: song arrangements that combine classical melodies with familiar pop tunes.

All of it -- developing leaders, creating a feeling of community, adapting music into forms that students will respond to -- comes from the same love of music. "There's nothing I want more than inspire and connect with students," she says.

The band program at the Willow Grove Branch consists of Concert Band for students in grades 4 through 8, and Symphonic Band for students in grades 8 through 12. Rehearsals are Tuesday nights: 5:30 to 6:30 PM for the Concert Band, 6:30 to 7:30 PM for the Symphonic Band. Click here and fill out the online form to receive more information, or contact Branch Coordinator Erin Doolittle at 215.320.2630 or by email.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Construction Near Willow Grove Branch

Allow a few extra minutes for your trip to the Willow Grove Branch of Settlement Music School during the construction on Davisville Road. The construction started earlier this week on September 25 and will continue through December as the water company upgrades their pipes.

Local traffic, for residents and businesses such as the Willow Grove Branch, is being allowed past the detour signs.One or both gates to the Willow Grove Branch parking lot will be open to Settlement students during school hours.

Some suggested alternate routes, courtesy of Branch Director Patricia Manley:

Church Street is parallel to Davisville Road. Turn onto Church Street from York Road (Route 611) at the light and take a left turn, past the detour signs, onto Everett, Forest, or Abbeyview Roads which will bring you down the hill in front of the school’s parking lot.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Announcing New Afterschool Program and New Classes for Infants and Toddlers

14-month old Elijah grabbed the egg shaker from the basket and started to march around the room, even before Ms. Martha started the hopping game. It was a cool day in early summer, when a small group of parents and toddlers gathered for a sneak peek at one of Settlement’s newest class offerings, Children's Music Playshop.

Early Childhood faculty member Martha Glaze Zook
leading a song during Children's Music Playshop
Ms. Martha, also known as Arthur Judson Distinguished Faculty Chair and Early Childhood faculty member Martha Glaze Zook, played along, declaring Elijah the “leader” of the hopping game, before passing the responsibility to the next child. Activities like this, which encourage both cooperation and creativity in a musical setting, are highly beneficial for very young children. Moving, interacting and exploring rhythm through simple games and instruments encourage mental and physical development before the preschool years. Children become oriented toward music, and often remain interested for life.

Children’s Music Playshop, an introduction to music for infants and toddlers, builds upon the curriculum of Children’s Music Workshop, which has been part of Settlement’s core program for more than 20 years. The new course will be structured as a music class for very young children, along with their parents or caregivers. The class is geared toward developing locomotor skills, word recognition and vocal expression through songs, movement games, and rhythmic and speech exercises.

Music Playshop will be offered weekly, with classes split between 6- to 18-month-olds and 19-month-olds to 3-year-olds, at the Mary Louise Curtis, Germantown, Kardon-Northeast, Willow Grove and Wynnefield Branches. Contact the branch nearest you for more information.

Families seeking quality arts-based aftercare in Queen Village and Germantown have a new option: This fall, Settlement will launch Kaleidoscope Plus, an extension of its award-winning preschool program that will serve students from preschool through third grade and their families.

In Kaleidoscope Plus, children will participate in age-appropriate arts activities, including music, theatre, movement and visual arts, and receive snacks and homework assistance. As an added plus, parents may be able to schedule group or individual instrument lessons or dance classes during the aftercare program, saving valuable time. Settlement faculty may also be able to escort children from nearby schools to Settlement as a convenience to parents. The program will run daily from 2:45 to 5:45 PM at the Mary Louise Curtis and Germantown Branches; other scheduling options are available, including four-, three-day and two-day options.

Call 215.320.2672 to sign up for the program at either branch, or click here to submit an online request for program and enrollment details. For families qualifying for CCIS, contact Tarrell Davis at 215.320.2670 or by email.

Adapted and expanded from Settlement's Fall 2013 newsletter. Read more here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Woodwind Center Renamed in Honor of Founder and Teacher

In order to audition for the Shirley Curtiss Center for Woodwind Studies, many talented young woodwind students will come to Settlement Music School for the first time this week. To help them understand the tradition in which they are following, as well as the hard work and dedication that has gone into shaping Settlement's woodwind program, we've featured Mrs. Curtiss and her legacy of teaching as the cover story for our Fall 2013 newsletter

Shirley Curtiss (center), with past members of the
Rosalie Magen Weinstein and Matthew B. Weinstein
Advanced Study Woodwind Ensemble
In the greater Philadelphia region, the name Shirley Curtiss is synonymous with woodwind teaching. In nearly 50 years of teaching at Settlement Music School, Mrs. Curtiss’ achievements have gone beyond guiding and instructing young musicians. She has shaped talented individuals who play flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon into cohesive ensembles. Many of these musicians have reached the top echelon of orchestral and chamber music playing—including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, and more.

Judith LeClair, principal bassoon with the New York Philharmonic, says that even after more than 30 years with one of the world’s great orchestras, her experience playing in an ensemble coached by Mrs. Curtiss were what helped her reach the top. “Shirley coached us to sound like a top professional group,” she says. “I loved every second of it and lived for our hours together, and I knew beyond a doubt that this was going to be my life.” Read more of Judith's tribute to Mrs. Curtiss here.

In recognition of and thanks for Mrs. Curtiss’ impact on the woodwind program that she founded in 1964 and grew to national renown, this program has been named the Shirley Curtiss Center for Woodwind Studies, encompassing every wind ensemble program at all of Settlement’s Branches, from introductory-level groups to students playing in the most advanced chamber ensembles.

Flutist Mimi Stillman will be
lead member of the Shirley Curtiss
Center for Woodwind Studies
Shirley and her husband Sid, another longtime faculty member and chamber music coach, have dedicated more than 80 years of combined service to Settlement, and they have made provisions for the Center to thrive in the future by the establishment of a distinguished faculty position, named the Shirley and Sidney Curtiss Distinguished Faculty Chair. Mimi Stillman, a noted flutist, Yamaha Performing Artist, and founder of the Dolce Suono Ensemble, will be the first faculty member in that position. As coach of many of the Center’s ensembles, Ms. Stillman will maintain and grow the program which Mrs. Curtiss established and which, since its inception, has grown to more than a dozen ensembles. “It is a great honor to become the Shirley and Sidney Curtiss Distinguished Faculty Chair, following in the illustrious tradition of wind chamber ensemble instruction Mrs. Curtiss has built at Settlement,” Ms. Stillman says. “I look forward to working with fellow faculty, staff, and the talented students at Settlement Music School.

Happily, Mrs. Curtiss’ presence at the School will continue this fall, as she will remain as coach of the Rosalie Magen Weinstein and Matthew B. Weinstein Advanced Study Woodwind Quintet in this upcoming school year.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A woodwind tribute by a member of the New York Philharmonic

On Thursday, September 19, talented young woodwind students from throughout the Philadelphia area will audition for a spot in the newly renamed Shirley Curtiss Center for Woodwind Studies. News of the Center, the appointment of Mimi Stillman as lead faculty member and Shirley and Sidney Curtiss Distinguished Faculty Chair, and the dedication by longtime faculty members Shirley and Sid Curtiss that it reflects, have resulted in tributes pouring in from many of Mrs. Curtiss' former students. Here's the most in-depth reflection we've received to date; it's also the most touching. It's from Judith LeClair, Principal Bassoon with the New York Philharmonic and a member of the Settlement 100, a group of 100 eclectic individuals honored and recognized during Settlement's Centennial in 2008.

Judith LeClair, principal bassoon
with the New York Philharmonic
I started studying privately with Shirley when I was just 14 years old. At one of my first lessons, I said I wanted to play the Mozart Bassoon Concerto. She told me that you needed to be either 14 or 40 to play it... so started my lifelong endeavor of trying to master this wonderful piece!

Shirley was very particular about working on orchestral excerpts, something that has been extremely beneficial for me. She demanded that I learn to double tongue and, being quite stubborn, I refused. Shirley prevailed after a few months, and now I silently thank her every time I have to play Figaro, Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, or the Haffner symphony! I remember one time I brought in the Berceuse from The Firebird. One slur just wasn't clean, and she turned to me and said, "Don't you like to perfect anything?" Harsh words, but they forever changed how I practiced.

I was fortunate enough to be placed in a dynamite quintet for my three years at Settlement. The highlight of my week was taking the train on Saturdays to Philadelphia -- I lived in Newark, Delaware at the time -- and rehearsing with my new found friends and colleagues. I knew I was sort of the "runt of the litter" and needed to learn loads of repertoire pretty fast. I think playing with my woodwind quintet in Shirley's studio at 4th and Queen are some of the happiest memories of my life.

Our group won an audition to play Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with the Philadelphia Orchestra the following year. I think Shirley coached us to sound like a top professional group, well beyond our tender age of 15. I loved every second of it and lived for our hours together. I knew beyond a doubt that this was going to be my life.

After playing Principal Bassoon with the New York Philharmonic for 32 years, I still feel that my early chamber music experiences with Shirley were what got me there. We have had over 40 years of friendship and love, of cooking, drinking great wines, and training Airedale Terriers together. I send my love and best wishes for the continued success of Settlement Music School.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Settlement Alumni Offer Tributes to Shirley Curtiss

Last month, we announced that our woodwind program is being renamed in honor of Shirley Curtiss, founder of Settlement's woodwind program and longtime faculty member and chamber coach. The announcement has prompted many of Shirley's former students to write in with stories about what they learned from Shirley, how her teaching has shaped their lives and careers, and what woodwind players who come to study at Settlement can expect. 

This one comes from an oboist who went on to a career as an orchestral musician. She said that coming up with a tribute to Shirley was a daunting prospect, but her memories of Shirley's high standards and down-to-earth words of wisdom certainly ring true. Look for more tributes to Shirley over the next month in our Fall 2013 newsletter and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Emily (third from right, next to Mrs. Curtiss) as a member of the
Weinstein Advanced Study Woodwind Quintet in 2001
Mrs. Curtiss demanded that I have high expectations of myself and of those around me, even as a scrawny 10 year old oboist. To this day, when I hear myself playing something that wouldn't have been up to her standards, I can hear her voice in my head: "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades!” “That crescendo was between you and God, and even HE'S not sure!" 

She taught me to work hard in order to have pride in my performance and to demand excellence at every turn. To this day, the woodwind quintet program at Settlement is still one of the best chamber music experiences I've ever had -- a sentiment that I've heard echoed many times from other Settlement alums through the years.

-- Emily Brebach, English horn and oboe, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Emily was a member of the woodwind program at Settlement from 1993 to 2001.

Auditions for all Center ensembles will be held Thursday, September 19 from 3 to 9 PM at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch and are open to musicians between the ages of 12 and 18 and who play flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. More information on the Center and auditions is available at

Friday, July 19, 2013

Quintets and more: Announcing the Shirley Curtiss Center for Woodwind Studies

The woodwind program at Settlement Music School dates back to 1964. The woodwind quintet -- the unlikely but popular grouping of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn -- has been around for much longer, of course. Ever since then-Executive Director Sol Schoenbach enlisted his student Shirley Curtiss, former bassoonist for the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Pennsylvania Opera Theater and now Josef Roismann Distinguished Faculty Chair, to start a woodwind program, it's been a fixture among the School's offerings, and Mrs. Curtiss has shaped the lives and careers of hundreds of young musicians. Graduates of the woodwind ensemble program are regularly accepted and offered scholarships to the top conservatories, colleges and university music programs across the country, and alumni can be found in major symphonies around the world.

Shirley and Sidney Curtiss,
longtime Settlement
faculty members
In recognition of Mrs. Curtiss' nearly 50 years of dedicated teaching, Settlement is proud to announce the creation of the Shirley Curtiss Center for Woodwind Studies. This dedicated center for woodwind chamber music and ensemble playing within the Joseph and Marie Field Chamber Music Program represents the school's ongoing commitment to chamber music as a vital part of educating young musicians.
Mimi Stillman, the new
Shirley and Sidney Curtiss
Distinguished Faculty Chair.
Photo by Vanessa BriceƱo.
Mimi Stillman, a noted performer, educator, music historian and entrepreneur in the arts, will be lead faculty for the new Center and will serve as the first Shirley and Sidney Curtiss Distinguished Faculty Chair. Ms. Stillman is one of the most celebrated flutists in the concert world today. She is a Yamaha Performing Artist and Clinician, a frequent guest soloist with orchestras and chamber music festivals across the United States and throughout the world, and founder and Artistic Director of Dolce Suono EnsembleThrough teaching and building ensembles through the Center, Ms. Stillman will build upon the exceptional instruction and care of students that was the hallmark of Mrs. Curtiss' teaching.

Ms. Stillman also maintains a very clever and insightful music blog on her personal website. She has been recording and uploading a video performance of a single piece -- "Syrinx" by Claude Debussy -- every day for nearly a year, trying out many different interpretations and locations for her recording. During a recent visit to Settlement, she made a recording in the chamber music studio where Mrs. Curtiss' woodwind ensembles typically rehearse. Check it out below, as well as on her site.

Auditions for all Center ensembles will be held Thursday, September 19 from 3 to 9 PM at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch and are open to musicians between the ages of 12 and 18 and who play flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. More information on the Center and auditions is available at

Over the next two months leading up to auditions, we'll be posting stories and reflections from alumni of the woodwind program. They'll tell us about what they've learned from Shirley, how her teaching has shaped their lives and careers, and what woodwind players who come to study at Settlement can expect. Look for them here, as well as on our Facebook and Twitter pages.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chamber Music Conversations and Make Music Philly: Open to All Adult Musicians This Friday

Lessons and classes for the 2012-13 season may have ended, but music at Settlement continues this week. Join us on Friday, June 21 at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch for Make Music Philly, a free day of music across Philadelphia on the longest day of the year. Our contribution to this day of music is Chamber Music Conversations, spotlighting our Adult Chamber Players program and chamber music faculty, but adult amateur musicians of all kinds and in all genres are welcome.

3:30-5:30 PM: Informal ensemble sessions for chamber music, jazz, folk, rock and Taiko drumming - play or sit in and observe

5:30 PM: Wine and cheese reception for all guests in Field Recital Hall; performance hour featuring soloists and ensembles in PNC Bank*Presser Recital Hall

6:30-8:30 PM: Informal sessions continue

Bring an instrument and take part in ensembles playing all of the following genres, or come be a part of the audience and meet like-minded adults who share your love for music. You do not need to come with an instrument to enjoy the evening with us and to learn about Settlement's programs.

-Chamber music: anything from duos or piano trios to string quartets or wind quintets, depending on instrumentation available. The Adult Chamber Players program, established in 1992, has been a staple of Settlement's adult programming at the Mary Louise Curtis, Wynnefield and Willow Grove Branches. One program member recently reflected on several years spent playing and making friends through Adult Chamber Players.

-Rock and folk music: It's been a big year for guitar at Settlement, with our newly launched Adult Rock Band program at several branches and the continuing popularity of group lessons for beginning adult guitar students. This Friday, classic tunes and modern-day favorites are all welcomed!

-Jazz: Adult Jazz Bands were active this year at the Mary Louise Curtis and Germantown Branches, and there's a new one starting at the Wynnefield Branch in the fall. Winds, brass, guitar, bass, percussion, piano -- the genre known as "America's classical music" embraces all sorts of instruments.

-Taiko drumming: One of Settlement's most popular adult program, our Taiko drummers were featured during our contribution to the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. The drums are big, and the music can be loud and intense, but Taiko can be a vigorous workout as well as a calming, meditative experience. This is one you won't need to bring your own instrument for!

Also, look for a live demonstration by Kyo Daiko, our Taiko ensemble formed through a partnership with Shofuso Japanese House in Fairmount Park, at 30th Street Station at 8 AM on Friday! Catch it on your way or take a detour to check it out. It'll be the kickoff to a day full of music across the city. We can't wait!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A moving experience: Adult programs and chamber music at Settlement

For some insight on musical opportunities for adults at Settlement and the connections they make as a result, we turn the blog over to Anne Hopkins, cellist and member of the Adult Chamber Players program for three seasons. Her dedication goes way beyond getting together to play every other week.

I heard about Settlement's Adult Chamber Players program several years ago when I lived in Hershey, PA, two hours away. Too far away, I thought. But I drove to the Willow Grove Branch for a "courtesy" session, thanks to the wonderful program director, Marka Stepper. I thought I owed it to myself to go to this one time, knowing that it was much too far away for anything regular. I arrived after the two-hour drive, played quartets -- Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn -- and I was hooked.

The Willow Grove Branch, one of three sites for the Adult Chamber Players program

I signed up for a season, knowing that this meant a two-hour commute each way every other week. The great thing about Settlement's Adult Chamber Music Program is that you get to meet other people who love playing this kind of music. I signed up for a second season, and in the afternoon met with a group of three new friends to play quartets. Each session made for a very long day, but I remember so well driving home late, tired and happy, enjoying the sunset as I headed west towards Hershey. The next year, I signed up again, and in addition to my afternoon group, I met up with others at my friend Linda's house the night before to play chamber music. It was wonderful. Sleeping on a couch at my daughter's house, on the other hand, wasn't so wonderful.

An Adult Chamber Players ensemble rehearsing at the Willow Grove Branch

For my fourth season, I signed up for a coached group in the afternoon. Marka, the program director, is also a violist, and she served as our embedded coach. We played a Mendelssohn quartet, going over the piece in depth and with incredible sensitivity to nuance. It was a powerful and very rich experience. It was during this year that I began to talk with my husband about maybe moving to somewhere near Willow Grove so that I wouldn't have a long commute (and wouldn't have to sleep on a couch) and could meet more often to play chamber music with my new friends. Well, it so happened that we found a house that we liked in Wyndmoor, 15 minutes from the Willow Grove Branch, bought it, sold our house in Hershey, and moved here in May.

Thanks to the other musicians I met at Settlement, I have so many opportunities to play -- every day, if I could manage it. In short, I'm a big fan of Settlement and the Adult Chamber Players Program. Next year I want to play in all the Settlement programs in the Philadelphia area!

Learn more about Settlement's adult programs at Chamber Music Conversations, an open house and evening of music for adult musicians, on June 21 at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch. Bring your instrument and we will organize an ensemble for you, whether you play classical, jazz, rock, or folk music, or come be a part of the audience and meet like-minded adults who share your love for music.