Our favorite way to start the weekend is with a Faculty Friday post! For first time readers, our Faculty Friday blog is a series of questions and responses meant to feature instructors from Luzerne Music Center in a unique light. Focusing not only on their professional career, we ask faculty questions that give students and readers a glimpse into their daily lives.
Desmond Bratton stands in this week's spotlight- a freelance bassist and pedagogue, and also our Junior and Senior Session double bass instructor. Passionate about community engagement through the art of musical conversation, Desmond has his Masters of Music from Ithaca College and currently holds a guest lecturer position at Cornell University. He also teaches at Ithaca's local music school Opus Ithaca and spends part of his summers as a guest performer and teacher with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, and the Miami Youth Chamber Music, with members of the University of Miami Music Faculty, San Francisco Opera, and the New World Symphony.
Desmond's passion for musical community engagement has since continued through workshops in middle and elementary schools and youth detention facilities, where he emphasizes the use of improvisation; a necessary life skill to resolve conflict, generate communication, and build community. Desmond actively performs and records within local music scenes in the genres of jazz, classical, and folk music, as well as theater and even the local circus!
Tell us a little bit about your history with LMC- how did you get connected and how many summers have you been on faculty?
Well, I am a fairly new kid on the block in the LMC neighborhood. I was recommended by a great bass pedagogue and friend, Paul Ellison, the department chair at Rice University. This upcoming summer will be my second year with LMC, and I am excited because I think I will be more settled with the routine, know what to expect, and be more able to sink even more deeply into an immersive musical summer.
We hear that you recently moved! What is the music like where you are now?
Ha! Yes, I am back now, but I was living in the pueblos of Morelos Mexico a couple of hours outside of Mexico City. Well, in regard to Mexican music culture, in Mexico, almost every day there is some kind of festival, which is 75 percent of the time celebrating some character from the bible. With all of the festivals there is always a full band, usually brass and winds, who come together to make music. Traveling to these little towns is a bit like traveling back in time in a way, and with that historical journey is the reminder of a time when people hired bands rather than DJs for most parties.
While the street and party music scene are extremely vibrant, there is also a mariachi scene with all the great traditional folk songs, mostly love songs, which are constantly filling the streets with song. You can even take boat rides in places like Xochimilco (called the Mexican Venice) and have other boats come up to your boat to deliver handmade foods, and you can request any traditional song that comes to mind and the band will play it for you while you dine!
Finally, the classical music scene is vibrant, with many places that will have city, state, national, or international orchestras. My last day there I saw Gustavo Dudamel Conducting Vienna Philharmonic at Mexico Cities' Palacio Bellas Artes ( Palace of Beautiful Arts)! So, In short, music is everywhere and of every sort in the beautiful land of Mexico.
What do you think is the best way to bridge cultures?
Wow, this is a deep question that is quite too difficult to sum up in a format such as this, but I think that many times we hear language like tolerance and bridging cultures, and we don’t realize the gravitas of such statements. I think terminology like bridging cultures is firstly an indication of a gap, and that this gap and why it exists needs to be thoroughly examined and explored before the bridge begins to be built. As in a bridge in the physical world is never built before examining the soil, and the distance that exists between two points, so too, should such an examination of social distances take place, and why they exist should be a required prerequisite for people trying to bridge cultures. This process means a true vulnerability in one's mind, meaning one must enter a new cultural situation without the idea your own culture has it right or knows how to live, so to speak. Only when we enter into a situation with this type of humility can we really listen, understand, and begin the process of understanding our fellow human. I think a more simple or perhaps standard answer would have been the use of music to bridge cultures, but the language of music, just as any other, can be presented in an arrogant way that doesn’t fully facilitate human connection between ourselves and our fellow musicians. So it seems humility is the most important and primary component.
Is there something that you try to do every single day? If so, why?
Speaking of humility, I try to find different ways daily to say thank you for my time here on the planet, and remember that my life is nothing more than a temporary gift. I find that if I can find ways to do this regularly, I am protected from mental states like anger, fear, aggression or sadness. Acceptance and appreciation are the key for me, and I try to cultivate these attributes in myself though seated meditation, taking care of my body, and bass practice, which I also consider a form of meditation.
Do you have a favorite thing about working with young students?
Working with young students is quite interesting and enjoyable for me because it reminds me to not give myself such a hard time, and that the key to development is a continued return to working on the basics. I see so many great students, who have so much potential and work so hard, and are so good, but who have trouble seeing how great they really are because they are always wondering how they measure up to their peers. I recognize my own tendencies toward comparison and competition, but it is becoming more and more clear to me as the years go on that music is more about finding a way to express your heart in a unique way rather than winning.
I am thankful to have the privilege to work with passionate young folk who remind me, through the outside perspective of their musical journey, that music is just that, a journey and not a race, and it always comes back to working on simple basic techniques and self-acceptance to achieve true mastery.
What was one of the most meaningful music learning experiences you had as an adolescent or beginner musician?
I think the message that making unhurried beautiful sound that is never forced will carry you a long way--and that other aspects of technique, like left hand facility and ability to play really fast or high or whatever "high wire act" you are into, are all secondary to the sound that you create. Also this idea that if things look and feel easy they will sound this way as well, is a very important lesson. When I practice I use these ideas of ease, relaxation, and purity of tone as guideposts to approaching all types of music making and passage work.
What do you look forward to most when returning to LMC for the summer?
I really look forward to morning bass scales class (open to all) that I created last summer. I really love working on and talking about technical exercises that I have learned and have made up in the process of learning music. This class gives me a chance to talk about and share my technical discoveries, and make up new exercises too. Sometimes I freestyle rap over the morning exercises too! Be ready for that!
Snack wise, do you prefer salty or sweet?
Not much of a sweets guy, so I would have to say salty if I must choose, but I kind of just like to snack on carrots and fruit ideally. Boring I know!