Audience enthusiasm proves success of Jacobs teachers’ lively show

By Peter Jacobi Bloomington’s First United Church was pretty close to filled Sunday evening with friends and fans who consistently … Continue reading

Memorial foundation brings big names to IU’s Jacobs school

By Peter Jacobi   You may have noticed in the flow of musical events an influx of master classes labeled … Continue reading

Jacobs premieres its newest opera production

By Alison Graham   A gentle snow falls onto a young man standing center stage. He stands shivering outside on … Continue reading

Nemanja Ostojic accepts faculty position at the University of Indianapolis

Doctoral student Nemanja Ostojic has accepted the Adjunct Lecturer position at the University of Indianapolis Department of Music.

Dangerous Thinking: A response to “Practice Does Not Make Perfect”

Joey Tartell

Joey Tartell

By Joey Tartell, Associate Professor of Music in the Jacobs School of Music

In last week’s article published on entitled “Practice Does Not Make Perfect,” the authors investigate two very different kinds of studies in an effort to find out why people succeed in, among other things, music. Their conclusions are as wrong as they are dangerous.

The first study used was on musicians from an elite Berlin music academy.

This was the result: “The major finding of the study was that the most accomplished musicians has accumulated the most hours of deliberate practice.”

Next, the authors examined 88 other studies that they found relevant. The results: “With very few exceptions, deliberate practice correlated positively with skill.”

The second study examined involved measuring twins. They had twins estimate the time they practiced music, then had them take a test on basic music abilities. What they found was: “…although the music abilities were influenced by genes- to the tune of about 38 percent, on average- there was no evidence they were influenced by practice.”

From that, the authors make the leap that, although practice and other factors are important: “…it does imply there are limits on the transformative power of practice.”

No.  It does no such thing.

It implies that we all start from a different place. As a teacher, this is not surprising. Having taught beginning musicians to professionals, letting me know that not everyone starts from the same place seems obvious. Some kids have a beautiful sound from the moment they start playing. Others have the coordination that gives them better technique from day 1.

There is no correlation proven in this article between where people start and where they end.  The authors do concede that there are many factors that lead to success.  

But when they write: “There is now compelling evidence that genes matter for success, too.”, they have made a conclusion that can’t be backed up by their studies.  

All they have proven is that, as humans, we’re all different, and that includes what we’ve learned about music up until the time of the tests given.  

Let’s go back to the first studies, done on students studying at an elite academy, and the other 88 studies referenced by the authors. They consistently found that deliberate practice leads to higher skill. But in none of those studies were the students given tests before they started playing. Are we to assume that all of the studies show that students with “bad genes” are being weeded out?

And let’s also look at the second studies. After testing these twins, has there been a follow up on those that have gone on to study music, and their success measured against the level of deliberate practice they put in?

Here’s why this kind of wrongheaded misuse of science is dangerous. First, it could encourage students to use the greatest of all excuses: ”they can’t possibly succeed; they don’t have the genes necessary!”  

Second, it could encourage teachers to dismiss students who don’t make progress fast enough: “Clearly those students just don’t have the right genes!”  

These are just variations on things that have been said for a long time: that person was “born with it,” or that person “just doesn’t have it.” Both are dismissive and wrongheaded. Saying one is “born with it” doesn’t recognize all the work that person has done to succeed. Telling a student they “just don’t have it” can destroy that person’s opportunity to succeed.  

These studies have taught me two things:

  1. Each student is an individual with individual
    strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Deliberate practice leads to higher skill.

Given these studies, I’ll continue doing what I’ve done my whole career as a teacher: work with each student as best as I can to help them become the best they can.  

Joey Tartell
Associate Professor of Music (Trumpet)
Jacobs School of Music
Indiana University

Minute to Win It!

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Betsy Burleigh’s Mendelssohn Choir lauded for Carnegie Hall performance

Preview: It’s Beethoven and Brahms for Mendelssohn Choir

By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


When the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall this spring, the chorus showed it was not simply an accompanying ensemble but also a partner in the PSO’s music-making process. That the evening began with an a cappella performance of Bruckner’s “Ave Maria” — with choir members singing alone — speaks to that relationship.

Michael Pettersen joins others from the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh as they rehearse at the Benedum Center for the program "Faith & Fate."

Michael Pettersen joins others from the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh as they rehearse at the Benedum Center for the program “Faith & Fate.”

“They totally surpassed their previous level and set a whole new standard,” said Robert Moir, the PSO’s senior vice president of artistic planning and audience engagement.

The Mendelssohn is riding the success of that experience, which occurred during the hall’s lauded Spring for Music Festival, to a concert on Sunday featuring works by Beethoven and Brahms. The choir’s music director, Betsy Burleigh, will conduct the chorus and the PSO in the performance.

The Mendelssohn offered the best choral performance in four years at Spring for Music, in the view of Mary Lou Falcone, one of the festival’s founders. The chorus’s tradition of excellence was established under former music director Robert Page, Ms. Falcone said, and it has been maintained under the leadership of Ms. Burleigh, who came on in 2006.

“It was an extraordinary performance of great subtlety, great musicality and simply great singing,” said Ms. Falcone, who said she thinks the Mendelssohn is one of the top three choruses in the country.

Most singers of the 110-member-strong chorus are volunteers, with 20 paid singers. Roughly half are 40 or younger. The majority of them don’t have day jobs in music — among their ranks are a software engineer, a barista, a casino dealer, nurses, students, teachers, retirees and lawyers.

“The Pittsburgh Symphony is made up of extremely highly trained musicians who come from all over the world … the Mendelssohn Choir is made up of everyday Pittsburghers who just practiced, practiced, practiced and made it to Carnegie Hall and did the city proud,” the PSO’s Mr. Moir said.

“Other than that, these people are just classical music nerds,” he said.

At a recent choir rehearsal, “there seemed to be an unspoken acknowledgment that we had indeed raised the performance bar to a new level in New York,” said chorus member Larry Wright. “By the end of our retreat and first rehearsal of the fall season, it was obvious that the choir had reached out to grab that bar set in New York and had already begun pulling ourselves to a new level for this coming year.”

Sunday’s concert, titled “Faith & Fate,” features Brahms’ “Schicksalslied” (“Song of Fate”) and Beethoven’s Mass in C major. Several choir members will be soloists.

“The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is the Mendelssohn Choir’s primary artistic partner. Usually this means that the Mendelssohn Choir that performs with the PSO as a ‘guest artist.’ What makes [this weekend's] concert so thrilling for us is that the tables are being turned; we are producing the concert, and the PSO is performing for the Mendelssohn as its orchestra under Betsy’s baton,” said chorus executive director Mary Ann Lapinski. “This ‘role reversal’ speaks to the mutual respect that the PSO and MCP have for each other’s artistic excellence and vision.”

“We’re having dinner in our house this time,” Ms. Burleigh said.

While Ms. Burleigh selected the Beethoven based on the size of the chorus and orchestra and on the concert space (East Liberty Presbyterian Church), she was later surprised to learn the Mendelssohn has never performed the work in full.

The Mass’s Kyrie opens with the basses briefly singing alone, “and then it all begins. There are just some lovely intimate touches that are very moving,” Ms. Burleigh said. It also bookends well with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which the ensembles will perform together in June. “I like that symmetry,” she said.

“Faith & Fate” also provides another concert opportunity and revenue stream for the chorus, which had been tapped for PSO performances of “Daphnis et Chloe” and film music from “Gladiator” that were canceled, Ms. Lapinski said.


The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh
Program: “Faith& Fate: Beethoven’s Mass in C and Brahms’ ”Schiksalslied“ with music director Betsy Burleigh and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Where: East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 S. Highland Ave.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $10-$30, free for children under 12, or 1-888-71-TICKETS.


Alumnus Michael Berkowitz (’67, ’71) to Conduct Star-Studded Pops Concert

With next season’s star-studded line-up, SRS and Wells Fargo Center for the Arts will celebrate the 10th anniversary of their successful collaboration. The Symphony Pops Series of four Sunday afternoon performances continues to be helmed by conductor/drummer/raconteur Michael Berkowitz, who has proved himself an extreme audience favorite.

Pops concerts begin on October 26, 2014, with
The Way They Were: A Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch and Barbra Streisand,featuring guest vocalist Haven Burton. Pops tickets must be purchased through the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts Box Office at (707) 546-3600 or

Eötvös awarded Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation commission

melody_sizeMelody Eötvös (DM ’14) has been selected by the League of American Orchestras and Earshot for an orchestral commission supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

The Toulmin commission is a part of a new program to provide commissions and premieres for scores composed by women. Eötvös was selected from among six composers who took part in EarShot’s series of rehearsals, career development workshops and mentoring sessions with orchestras around the country.

More Information Here:

OPERA REVIEW: IU’s revival of Rossini’s ‘Italian Girl in Algiers’ ‘awfully good fun’

By Peter Jacobi The downer on both Friday and Saturday evenings was that there were too many empty seats in … Continue reading