Brian J. Harris Method
Colin Jones-Weinert Interview

Colin Jones-Weinert Interview, January 2, 2002

In November 2001, my student Colin Jones-Weinert, a 7th-grader at Orange Grove Middle School, was awarded second place and $100 cash in the Tucson Symphony Youth Concerto Competition. He played the first movement of the Bach Violin Concerto in A Minor on xylophone with piano accompaniment.

His hard work and success give us a great example of what can be done with persistent, patient practice. Earlier this month, Colin allowed me to interview him so that more students can discover some of the keys to being a successful young musician. This interview is pretty long, but believe me, it's worth reading!

After re-reading the interview and reflecting on the months of working with Colin on this piece, it's clear to me that Colin already has the keys to success in anything he chooses. These keys apply to life as much as they do to music:

  • Do what you love. (In music: Play the instrument and the type of music that you love.)
  • Commit to the long haul--be persistent.
  • Work consistently toward your goal, 5 or 6 days per week, in small doses.
  • Be honest with yourself about what needs the most work.
  • Go easy on yourself when the going gets tough.
  • Take breaks when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated.
  • Come back to the most difficult problems after you have calmed down.

Brian: Did you have any percussion experience before starting officially in band with percussion?

Colin: Yes.

B: What kind of things had you done?

C: Well, I played piano for about 3 years from 2nd to 4th grade.

B: When did you start playing percussion?

C: 5th grade, September 1999, in band.

B: Did your piano experience affect your decision to become more involved in percussion in band and lessons?

C: Yeah, because I was used to playing an instrument with my hands instead of blowing through it, so I think it might have been just a little easier than playing a wind instrument.

B: So you made kind of an easy transition from piano to percussion.

C: Yes.

B: What year and month did you start working on the Bach Violin Concerto?

C: I think it was late November in 2000.

B: And then how much time did you spend practicing when you got started on it?

C: I think I spent more than I usually do--maybe half an hour each day.

B: Just on that piece?

C: No, I spent about 15 minutes on that piece but altogether, I practiced for about half an hour.

B: Ok, so 15 minutes on the Bach plus another 15 on other material. And that was a step up for you?

C: Well, I guess the Bach was just a little more challenging than the pieces I had before, so I had to spend more time on it.

B: So that forced you to start practicing more right away, right?

C: Yeah.

B: Did you say that was five days a week?

C: Yes, I practiced 5 or 6 days a week then.

B: And then as the audition date got closer--

C: I practiced just about every day for about 30 minutes each day.

B: So still, it wasn't an incredibly mind-boggling amount of time that you were practicing.

C: No.

B: Were you ever practicing just the Bach maybe an hour a day?

C: Yeah, I did that sometimes; I didn't do it a lot. If I had a really hard part that I was working on and I had to get past it, I would work on that for a long time.

B: And what was the most you ever felt you practiced in one day on that piece?

C: I think it might have been near the end when we were wrapping up the piece and I had to finish the G section all the way to the end. That was bigger than what we had done before.

B: And do you know about how many minutes that was each day?

C: Um, I don't really know. That was a long time ago.

B: Did you ever feel like you were devoting an entire day to it?

C: Part of the day. It seems like I wasn't doing as much on other instruments, like snare drum, but I was mainly focusing on xylophone, so it seemed like that, but I don't think it was.

B: Ok--so you never spent an entire Saturday afternoon shedding [practicing] this thing to death?

C: No.

B: All right. The movement you performed was 6 or 7 minutes long--that's pretty long, right?

C: Yeah.

B: And how did you learn and memorize such a long piece. I mean, compared to all the other pieces you had done before, this was a huge undertaking.

C: Yeah, well, I worked on it in sections--the first section, and then the A section and so on and so forth--until we got all the way to the end. Each section was about 8 to 10 bars. So when I would get that I put it together with the stuff right before that, and when I had that, I would know I could move on. If I could play that comfortably, memorized, perfectly, 3 times, then I would move on.

B: So 3 times perfect was your goal?

C: Yeah.

B: Good. Did you ever feel like you were just so overwhelmed that you wanted to give up?

C: Yeah.

B: Really?

C: Yeah. Once, there was this one part that I couldn't get. Ahhhh! I spent the whole day in my room trying to--

B: Wait, wait! The WHOLE day in your room?

C: Not the whole day, a couple hours or so, trying to figure this one part out--

B: Oh, ok.

C: It was so hard I couldn't get it. Finally, I think we worked it out in one of my lessons.

B: So just working on it kept you going. Did anything else help?

C: Well, sometimes I would take breaks between parts--a glass of water, you know--and then come back and work on the same part again and see if it had changed.

B: So sometimes you would spend hours on just a few notes?

C: Not just a few notes, but like 4 bars, trying to get the whole phrase together.

B: So that's really important--

C: There were only one or two parts in the piece that were that intensive…

B: Right, but hours on just 4 bar chunks. I mean, that's pretty impressive. And then how was it working with Andrea [piano accompanist]?

C: It added a whole new dimension to the piece. It seemed more complete when I was playing it with her, because with only my part it was kind of--not dull--but not complete, and it didn't sound full like a whole piece. So when I started playing with her, there was a background in places where I had certain little solos and things.

B: So she filled in the spaces for you?

C: Yeah.

B: Had you heard the piece before somewhere?

C: No, I hadn't.

B: You didn't have a recording of the piece?

C: Oh, yeah, I had a recording of the piece but I hadn't heard it [live] before I started working with her…

B: But I just mean, you had heard what it was going to sound like before you started working with Andrea, but you hadn't been able to really play it live with that happening. Did you ever practice it with your recording?

C: Yeah, I did that a couple of times--

B: Do you think that that helped prepare you for working with the accompanist?

C: Yeah, it got me up to speed [in time] a little more so I wasn't rushing. If I knew I was rushing I would stop the tape and play it again.

B: And then what kind of things did you learn or improve once you were working with an accompanist--a person with a whole lot more experience, right?

C: I think I was able to play a little beyond my level--it pushed me to work at that level--other than what I'm used to working at--and so I think I learned how to play it better--improve my dynamics, improve my timing.

B: What was one of the things that Andrea was on your case about?

C: Timing. We would march around the room stomping the beats until we got it and then play it. Sometimes we would sing it.

B: So she was making sure that you were staying right in time--not speeding up or slowing down? And I remember walking in a few times when you were rehearsing with her, and you would have the metronome going, trying to get everything to line up with that.

C: Right, the first couple of sessions we wanted to just get it in time, so we played it in time, we didn't really care about--sure, I hit a wrong note here, that's ok, it's the timing that is more important.

B: Right, so again, it's focusing on one thing, saying, "What is the big thing we need to accomplish this time?"

C: Yeah, because if your timing gets off on one part, the whole thing could go to pieces unless it is tight.

B: Were you nervous when you performed your piece for the judges?

C: Yeah, my legs were shaking. I was really nervous.

B: You played it twice, the first time for the judges--were you more nervous the first or the second time?

C: Um, I think I was more nervous the first time, because if I did bad here, then I would have no chance in the finals, and that would be my only time to play it. If I did OK and got in, then I would be able to play it again and I could do better if I made any mistakes.

B: Sure. When you felt nervous, was there anything that you told yourself or taught about to try to get over that?

C: I just thought about something else other than the piece, because if I thought the piece then I might start forgetting it, and then I would be like, "Oh no! What do I do after that?" so I just kind of thought of something else, what I was going to do afterwards. Or maybe just one or two parts that I was having trouble with.

B: So you came back and really focused in while you were in those spots?

C: Yeah.

B: But the rest of the time you were trying to kind of escape--?

C: Yeah.

B: So you just kind of let automatic pilot take over?

C: Almost.

B: Interesting. What surprised you most about this experience?

C: I was surprised that I played so well in the finals. I think those were the best times that I had ever played it. I nailed those 2 or 3 trills in the piece, and I was just amazed at how well I did.

B: Great! What was the single biggest benefit in participating?

C: It was kind of my first competition, so I could get a feel for what it would be like performing in front of judges and others and get ranked, so I think that was pretty good. And also memorizing a really long piece- 3 pages- so I can get a feel for how much you have to work on it to get it. You can't just work on it for 2 weeks and you have it. It's not one of the really short pieces you can get and if you mess up on a few parts it's ok, you need to do good on the whole thing.

B: Right, and I've noticed that we've been working on a couple of new pieces lately, much shorter. Have you found that it's a little easier to memorize things now that you've worked through a long one?

C: Yeah, it seems like it's not really as hard as it was before I did the Bach. If I looked at the new piece and you said, "Memorize this," I would be like, "How do I memorize this? It has triplets and everything in it!" I don't think I would be able to. But now, after the Bach, it seems a lot easier.

B: Would you ever consider doing this again?

C: Yeah. It was really fun, I got to work with Andrea, and I learned techniques--how to improve your timing and dynamics and stuff--singing it. Yeah, I think it would be really fun to do it again.

B: What other kinds of public performances besides the TSO competition have you been involved with?

C: Well, after that, a couple weeks ago, I performed for the Family Faculty Organization my Bach piece.

B: And what was their response?

C: Well they wrote me saying they liked it.

B: That's good! What was the purpose of that event?

C: Well basically they find funds for general music and PE, and if they couldn't find enough funds, they would have to cut one of the programs. So I performed to tell them how important music is, because that would be the first thing to go if they couldn't find enough funds.

B: So you were there to support the music programs at the schools. That's great, and what do you enjoy most about performing for others?

C: To share how hard I have worked. This is the payoff for when you work hard. You get a good feeling about it. I like sharing the music. I'm playing this new piece, the Mink etude, and I played it for the people at my school and they thought it was such a cool piece; they wanted to learn it too.

B: And that's good. It spurs other people to get going too. And so your main focus on the marimba now is to…?

C: Well, basically I want to learn short pieces. Right now, this is my second Mink piece we're working on. I think we might be doing timpani later on and then get back into some snare drum stuff.

B: Anything else on marimba?

C: I'm working on my sight reading a lot, because after I've memorized all this stuff, now I have to get back into the sight-reading. I'm working out of a Goldenberg book for that.

B: And do you think that working on the Bach piece helped your sight-reading?

C: Yeah because I would read through it, and I had to get all the notes. I worked on it for a couple months. So at first it helped me a lot with my sight reading, and then as I memorized it didn't help, but whenever I would get to a new section it would help.

B: When you hear yourself make a mistake, what is your immediate reaction? What are some words that you say to yourself?

C: Well, if it were during a competition, I would think nothing of it because if I did then I wouldn't get back on track with the piece. But when I'm practicing, I just go on and say, "Oh, I'll nail it next time" and then I'll focus on that part when I go through it the next time.

B: So you make a mental note--"OK, I've got to remember that spot" and then go on?

C: Right. Sometimes if it's an important part, I go over it a couple times right there, but usually I go on.

B: What kinds of things do you tell yourself when you discover one of the nasty spots that you have to practice for 2 hours or so--are you upset about that?

C: Well, I basically say I'll come back to it and then take a break and come back just a little later--play a computer game or something--and then usually I'll come back and my mind seems a little more open so that I don't think it has to be just this one way. And I can change it a little, so that it's easier to play and then I can play it until I get it.

B: When you are in the middle of working on one section over and over until it feels like you want to quit, are the thoughts in your mind overwhelming at that point?

C: Sometimes I would get stressed out and it would be really hard for me to do it, and then I would just take a break and get back on track again.

B: So sometimes it's just a matter of calming yourself down and getting back to work?

C: Yes.

B: Do you ever hear yourself making any negative comments, like, "Oh, I'm no good," or "I'll never get it?"

C: Well, usually I didn't, but once or twice I did. So basically after that I would take another break and then come back and try to get it.

B: If you were to talk to a beginning percussionist who seems to be really interested in persuing percussion, what would you tell them?

C: If you were to come to a problem in a piece, just keep on going. If you have to skip over an entire part, do it, and then come back to it later. Make sure that you don't give up, because then you will never get to where you want to be. You should work on parts. Pick something that you enjoy--don't just pick drum set because it's cool, pick something that you enjoy. Pick something that you enjoy, because if you like playing it, you will practice more often.

B: So follow the thing that you most enjoy. That's great advice. Well, Colin, you've done a really nice job on this piece, and I really appreciate your taking a few minutes out of your day to chat. Thanks.

C: You're welcome.

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