Friday, March 12, 2010

Interview with Anthony McGill

Anthony McGill is well-known in the United States for his work as principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and as an accomplished chamber musician. He captured the attention of many around the world with his performance with Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Gabriela Montero at the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009. On faculty at the Peabody Institute and the Mannes College of Music, McGill recently developed an educational iPhone application for clarinet. He blogs, tweets, and posts YouTube videos, and we at Clarinet Cache spoke with Anthony McGill about how he uses new technologies to educate and communicate.

Clarinet Cache: Your newest project, the "Clarinet in Reach" application for the iPhone, was recently released by the company Music In Reach. How did you become involved with the application and what was the collaborative process like?

Anthony McGill: I was approached by John Ferland and his brother Dan sometime this past year and they told me what the project was all about. I thought this was an amazing concept and soon after agreed to work as a consultant on the project. The collaboration was great. They would provide an outline and I would fill in the blanks. It was very straight forward. I would provide all the musical data and they would work out the tech side.

The iPhone app currently has fingerings only up to altissimo G, and the instructional videos from your YouTube channel are for beginners. Do you have plans to add fingerings and other content to make the app more useful for professionals, or is it aimed at a younger student audience?

AM: Yes. We have decided to make it very usable for beginners and intermediate students alike. Since this is the first version we didn't feel the need to add super high notes for the segment that may use it right now. In the future we may have all kinds of advanced content.

CC: Many artists use blogging as a promotional tool, but you recently started a blog that seems to be more about your personal insights and experiences as a professional classical clarinetist. What inspired you to create the blog and what kind of audiences do you hope to reach?

AM: The website was the first step and I thought it would be nice to have a place to connect with people directly. The content that I have on it came from just sitting down and writing about whatever I felt like. I could go from announcing the new iPhone project to writing about how a rehearsal inspired me. I am letting it take me wherever it wants. 

CC: As social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter grow in popularity, do you think that the Internet has changed what it means to be a classical musician in the twenty-first century?

AM: I believe so. I feel that any chance I have as an artist to be a communication entrepreneur is great. And with so many avenues out there to do that, sites such as Facebook and Twitter have made it very easy for all of us to increase our connection and presence in the world. As musicians the more ways we can communicate, the better.

CC: Do you find that there are benefits (or drawbacks) from being able to communicate directly with your friends and fans?

AM: I think there are great benefits and I haven't noticed any drawbacks at all. Because in years past there was no communication whatsoever, I feel that being able to get emails or questions from young students about their playing, what repertoire they should be working on, all of these things without knowing them at all is awesome.

CC: At 30 years old, you are probably younger than many of your colleagues in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Do you think your age contributes to your openness towards blogging and other new forms of communication?

AM: I think that it does. I still feel like I don't know what I'm doing every day, but it has become something that I think is really interesting and new. I think that we are at the beginning of a new way of communicating and connecting. I jumped on the train and I want to be on it as an artist of the future.

CC: In December of 2006 the Met began releasing live performances in movie theaters and recently began the Live in HD program which offers transmission of live operas to select public schools at no charge. As a performer and teacher, do you think this approach to gaining wider audiences will affect the future generation's involvement in the performing arts?

AM: I hope these productions are reaching a younger audience. But I think the most important thing is for it to reach a larger audience. Old, young, or in between, I think it is awesome. If we could get them in more schools and then inspire the cities to invest more in music and not cut these programs, I think that would be the best thing. Connect the success of the program with the success of students in school.

CC: Many symphony orchestras and chamber groups seem to think that adding visual elements to performances, promoting concerts on Facebook, and "tweeting" during concerts will attract younger audiences. In your view, does this use of technology enrich the classical music experience, or cheapen it?

AM: I think that it depends. If the technology enhances the art form I'm all for it. If it detracts and takes focus off of the music then it is detrimental. This is my opinion, but fortunately it is debatable. Debate and differences of opinion are actually extremely helpful to keeping the art form viable. Without trying new things the creativity dies. So I think some use of this is good. Tweeting while playing may be a bit counterproductive though!

CC: Finally, many of us are curious about your experience performing at President Obama's inauguration. Can you tell us more about it and how you felt about participating in such a historical event?

AM: It was an absolutely amazing experience. I was asked by Yo-Yo Ma to play after having played the Quartet for the End of Time with him in Japan back in 2001. It was the biggest surprise of my life to get this call. Being able to play with those amazing musicians and be a part of such a pivotal moment in history was something I'll never forget. I would play in the cold over and over again, crack many clarinets, recorded or not for the rest of my life to get back to that stage again! I will never forget it.


Sean Hickey said...

Wonderful to hear about all of Anthony's happenings. He's a truly inspiring musician.

Olivia said...

Thanks for a great read