Arts4All Blog

Get to Know The Hurd Ensemble

Posted November 29th, 2016  |  By A4A.admin

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CSMA welcomes The Hurd Ensemble for a free Community Concert in Tateuchi Hall on Saturday, December 3 at 7:30pm.

Get to know George Hurd, the group’s composer, as well as Anton Estaniel, the group’s cello player, and a teacher in CSMA’s Music4Schools program. They discuss the role that music education played in their lives and careers, as well as share advice for young musicians.

George Hurd, Composition & Electronics

How did you begin playing music?

I started playing guitar when I was 10. My family had a piano, but for the most part it sat unused. The piano just didn’t call to me as a child. My parents loved music on a lot of levels but never took us to live performances and didn’t really embrace it as an art form or dedicated activity. My father had a broad taste in music that definitely had an impact on me. I would hear him listening to things as diverse as opera, blues and rock. Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, The Doors and Pavarotti were fixtures in the house. My mother was and is a huge fan of doo-wop, as well as a lot of other popular music from from the 50s and 60s. The sound of Motown or Phil Spector still gets me - gorgeously produced vocals with incredible harmonies, string orchestras, and massive echoing walls of sound.

I didn’t start playing an instrument until the age of 10 when I asked for a guitar for Christmas. I loved it. And the music that drew me into playing guitar seriously was the band Nirvana. It was beautiful and raw, but was also simple enough to be learned and played at any age or skill level. Prior to that it had been outside of my world to even consider playing classical instruments or composing - I honestly didn’t even know it was an option. So this simplicity opened things up for me and many of my friends, showing us the magic of live music that didn’t require years of dedication to unlock.

From there, I started playing in bands with friends and just practicing and playing as much as I could. What was great about that was it exposed me to a huge variety of instruments and I got obsessed with percussion. When I was 14, I heard the electronic music artist Aphex Twin and realized the enormous possibility within electronic music. It was a sound world unlike anything I have ever come across. I realized there was more to music than I ever thought - more opportunity for exploration than any other medium I’d ever been exposed to. I had a very similar experience with classical music around that time as well, and it was that exploration that has kept me curious and enthralled with composing ever since.

Did you have you access to arts education in school? How did you find your way into music?

I didn’t have much in the way of access to music in school. I had some standard music classes (singing, playing xylophones and recorders, etc.), but I never really had a chance to delve further into music other than the school band, which I wasn’t terribly interested in at the time. In fact, we didn’t really have any music in my home growing up either. Other than some casual listening it simply wasn’t a part of our lives. (My first musical memory is of helping my Dad smash an old upright piano with hammers. Good lord, what a sound that made!)

I did have access to painting and drawing both at school and at home. In fact, I was so into drawing and sculpture that I almost majored in them in college. There are many great musicians who started off as students of visual art, and I am certain that finding expression in those mediums helped me translate my creativity into music later on. The simple act of creativity and finding the desire to express myself opened things up inside me. Without that I wonder if I would have found music at all. I’ve always been equally interested in science so I could easily see being a chemist or engineer in another life! That dichotomy has played a major role in my life as composer, too. The endless exploration of music that involves electronic sources has to do with art as much as it has to do with science. If you aren’t into tech on some level, working with machines in any creative capacity probably wouldn’t be much fun.

Tell us about a great music teacher you had.

I haven’t had much formal music education. I had a few lessons here and there when I was younger to learn a few instruments - viola, marimba, drums, piano - but it was always short-term and completely divorced from composition. I’ve taught myself everything about music from just reading, studying scores, playing, experimenting, and listening, listening, listening. From reading music to playing instruments to using music software to the science and art of composition, it’s always been a part of my life - studying music continually and remaining endlessly curious about it. I might be a more proficient musician and composer had I been formally trained, but I also appreciate the fact that it doesn’t have to come from an external source. The love of music comes from within, but the understanding and appreciation of it comes largely from without, often awoken by the most unexpected things. I love music desperately and never questioned whether I wanted to dedicate myself to it, but it took a series of unpredictable music experiences to show me that it was a thing worthy of lifelong dedication.

But for most people, young and old, music education is wildly important; not only to show you how to do it but also to show you that it’s an option for life. Had I been presented with the chance to compose as a child, I might be a completely different person and artist today. I’ve taught composition classes to young students and it is absolutely amazing to see them create music for the first time. It stuns them. You can tell that most of them never thought that they could be a composer, or even more that they never even considered it as an option. But that moment when it happens, when they conjure up this fantastic little bundle of harmony and melody, that it ignites something deep inside them. They surprise themselves with that they can do, like they just discovered magic was real. Man, that’s an amazing moment.

How often do you practice and/or rehearse?

I compose every day, for as many hours as I can. I’m always writing in my head, jotting things down, coming up with ideas whether I’m in the studio or on the go. As a group we rehearse as often as possible when we have a new piece or a concert, and those moments practicing alone and rehearsing as a group are essential. You need it not only to familiarize yourself with the notes, but to unearth the hidden structures within it, the ideas it contains, and how to become someone who is capable of communicating those things to an audience. Music is an act of expression and you can’t express what you don’t understand. Time and dedication is essential to great music, plain and simple. Luckily we’re fortunate enough to do something we love, and the act of playing is a joy even when it’s hard (and it is). Not everyone can say the same about their jobs.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring musicians?

Listen to everything you can. Don’t think for a second that any music is beneath you or not worth your time. I’ve avoided whole genres for years because I didn’t think I liked it, despite having never given it a fair chance. Suddenly I stumble upon a piece of music at random and it changes everything. Discovering music that moves you is earth-shattering, it moves the ground beneath you, makes you reconsider your place in the world. So give it a chance. Don’t just turn it off after 5 seconds, fully pay attention and see what it contains, because once you find the music that truly moves you, it can consume you for your entire life and give you that reason to keep coming back to your instrument day and and day out. Finding that music that you love - no matter what it is - will be the motivator that makes life as a musician possible.

Anton Estaniel, Cello
CSMA Music4Schools Teacher

How did you begin playing music?

I started in middle school. I wanted to play sax, but I enrolled in the wrong class. Cello was the closest sounding instrument to saxophone in my strings class, so I stuck with it.

Did you have you access to arts education in school?


Tell us about a great music teacher you had.

Well, fortunately I’ve had many! One of them was my high school teacher, Ralph Siemsen. He was a jack of all trades that taught several classes, a very hard worker who was dedicated to his craft. He helped me realize how important it is to put special care and work into playing music.

How often do you practice and/or rehearse?

All the time.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring musicians?

My advice to young musicians? Keep an open mind, understand that working on the craft translates into success, no matter where someone is in their development. Accept the tough times as much as possible, and enjoy the process. When performing, remember to say “I get to,” rather than “I have to.”

As a music teacher and a performer, what can students learn from attending live performances?

Inspiration and fresh ideas, appreciating beauty.

What are some tips for learning to be a good audience member?

Keep an open mind, focus on the performers, stay in the moment.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Always appreciate the value of music.

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