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Articles & Essays

This section includes published and unpublished writings. I welcome comments and responses.

Musical Activism

Working as a classical musician, I have often felt oddly distanced from the major issues of the day. While wars raged, I played chamber music. While innocents died in natural disasters or human-caused catastrophes, I played operas about tragic love. When riots and demonstrations troubled my racially and economically divided city, I performed with mostly white musicians for audiences that were mostly white and well off. Classical music may be full of drama and emotion, but whether old or new, it usually seems separate, even insulated, from the world’s current problems....

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Publication: Chamber Music magazine
Publication Date: June 2007

How to Enjoy a Live Concert

Read the full text on Naxos.

A Mindset for Playing​

A college bassoonist, James, began his weekly lesson by playing through the opening phrase of a piece as though he'd never seen it before. Wrong notes, wrong articulations, missing dynamics; the performance was generally clumsy and unsure. He had practiced, but somehow it didn't stick. He's a better player than this, so I was surprised...

The Ear of the Beholder​

Publication: Chamber Music magazine

Publication Date: April 2006

Music for All

At the turn of the millennium, the magazine American Music Teacher (Journal of Music Teachers National Association) asked musician/teachers "to share their thoughts, hopes and concerns about music teaching in the twenty-first century." A version of this essay was published in the June/July 2000 issue...

Notes for a Piece about War

John Steinmetz, War Scrap

For violin, cello, piano, and percussion

Commissioned by Jack and Florence Irving for Pacific Serenades

Composed with assistance from the Ragdale Foundation

First performances: Feb. 5, 6, and 8, 2000, by Pacific Serenades in Tarzana, Pasadena, and Los Angeles

Released on CD "War Scrap: that we may have peace" from Pacific Serenades

program note by John Steinmetz

Six Talks on Music, Teaching and Learning

Publication Date: October, 1994

I gave these talks at the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy, October, 1994. Richard Chronister, the director, didn't like long speeches, so he invited me to give six short speeches scattered through the four days of the conference. Since I am not a pianist, I came prepared to talk about music, using ideas from my article Resuscitating Art Music...

Interview: John Steinmetz and His New Bassoon Concerto

Interview by Carole McEdwards

Carole McEdwards is a bassoonist in the Los Angeles area. She plays principal with Opera Pacific and is a member of the Pacific Symphony and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. She interviewed John Steinmetz via email in autumn, 2002...

Resuscitating Art Music

One summer I taught music at a computer camp. After years of experience as music camps, it was a shock to be teaching kids who weren't already involved in music. I didn't know how to connect with them. My class of high school students had no music training and no detectable interest in art music. They weren't interested in new experiences. They were frighteningly incurious. For them, "I hate that" meant the same thing as "That's unfamiliar to me."...

An Email about Computers and Learning

For several years I was a consultant in a group of computer scientists, teachers, and artists working on a number of fronts including: computers as classroom tools for learning and creativity, simulation-building for exploration and understanding, and programming for non-programmers. Two of the major projects were Squeak, a programming language to serve non-experts as well as professionals; and Etoys, a system for children to build computer simulations. Squeak and Etoys found many enthusiastic users beyond the research group; this email responded to a question about using Squeak and Etoys even as they kept evolving...

Computers and Squeak as Environments for Learning

Computers, although promoted as an all-purpose educational panacea, certainly aren't. The machines do have potential to assist certain learners in specific ways. Computer scientists, software engineers, teachers, parents, and children are using Squeak to explore that potential.1 Some of Squeak’s features are designed (and are being designed) to help non-experts learn programming and to facilitate construction of environments and projects for learning about other subjects.

To promote more thoughtful discussion about computers and learning, and to provide some background before considering Squeak projects, this chapter will begin with general thoughts about children and computers. Part 1 presents some assumptions and persistent misconceptions about computers and learning...

Plays Well with Others (rehearsal techniques for chamber music)

Chamber music may be a model for the collaboration of equals, but rehearsals offer plenty of opportunities for friction and inefficiency. ​Here's a toolkit of rehearsal methods, also useful for coaching students and amateurs...

Conductors and Orchestras

Invited article in The Double Reed

After several decades of orchestral playing, I have come to believe that the power relations between players and conductors often prevent orchestras from reaching their potential. Conductors have too much power, and that power too often hampers players, orchestra organizations, and conductors themselves. The culture of communication in orchestras tends to allow musical and interpersonal problems to fester. To make matters worse, conductors generally receive little or no supervision; their superiors are non-musicians who cannot assess a conductor’s effectiveness.

Despite investing considerable energy in coping with these problems, orchestras don’t discuss them much. I want to encourage discussion so that orchestras can search for solutions. My purpose here is to stimulate conversation...

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