In an era where the return on dollars pumped into the traditional university system has become questionable and the internet has made long distance learning easy and affordable, enter Peter Alexander. Actually, Peter, a seasoned music industry vet, has been working as an educator for some time. He invites you to visit his website, www.alexanderpublishing.com.
When did you first become interested in teaching?
I don’t think I became interested in teaching per se, but rather in studying and how people learn, and out of that, developing materials that enhance and speed up the learning process.
The process started in college when I asked myself the question, “How did the great composers teach themselves?” I asked that question because I was frustrated with having a different teacher and a new set of “rules” every semester. As I began reading composer bios I discovered a set of results driven books. What started as a personal learning quest grew into Alexander Publishing.
At this point I had the books and a pattern of the learning styles of the great composers. What was surprising was that from Bach to Jerry Goldsmith nothing had changed. The learning styles patterns were rock solid consistent for how composers learned the craft. The top two skills that emerged were butt power and the developed skill of self-instruction.
Butt power means the ability to sit a desk doing focused work for hours at a time. Self-instruction is the art of being able to understand how to teach yourself and apply what you learn. These are the core critical skills for making it as a composer, even a film composer. The learner that develops these skills puts himself on the road to long term career success-in music, and in most any field.
What does the full progression of Alexander University training entail?
Alexander University is the corporate name, and Alexander Publishing is the publishing imprint for the books. Alexander Publishing has in development a complete self-directed training series in counterpoint, harmony, orchestration and recording.
We have enough texts published in our Professional Orchestration™ series so that a school can offer either a minor or major in orchestration. Volumes 1, 2A and 2B are the beginning vocabulary for orchestration. The advanced How Ravel Orchestrated: Mother Goose Suite and Professional Orchestration: A Practical Handbook Series is pretty much graduate level work. I also have enough harmony and counterpoint to cover two semesters each for those subjects plus Music 100.
If a person was interested in buying the vast materials offered on your site, what would you recommend they start out with?
If it’s orchestration, they can start with one of our home study bundles that includes the book (or books depending on the bundle), workbook, MIDI files/MP3s from the Vienna folks, and tons of audio. The entire package, which can be accessed via the link that follows, is less expensive than either of the other main orchestration texts.
Our Writing For Strings downloadable course with video instruction can be found here:
For beginners, there’s the Applied Professional Harmony Series:
We’re just getting rolling on our revised Hit Sound Recording Course™.
Who was the first great orchestrator? Bernstein said that Beethoven was a poor orchestrator-was he right? What do you think of Mendelssohn as an orchestrator?
The French composers of the 1800s thought that Gluck and Weber were among the first. I think you have to keep in mind that every generation usually yields a great composer who pushes both composition and orchestration to the next steps. Bernstein’s comment makes for great press. But look at the giant leap from any Mozart symphony to Beethoven’s First then the Ninth, which Wagner, after hearing, got a copy of the score and copied note for note to learn from Beethoven. Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th overwhelmed Berlioz. Berlioz, rather than writing symphonies as we traditionally know them, writes programmatic works in a symphonic format like Symphonie Fantastique and Harold In Italy. From there we leap to Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky in Russia, later Mahler in Germany, then certainly Debussy and Ravel in France, and later Copland in America.
Each of these greats benefitted from both improved musicianship and better quality musical instruments, especially the standardization of the valve brass for trumpets and French horns.
Are the techniques required to capture the “Hollywood” sound different from orchestrating concert material in any way?
Are you talking about the Hollywood Sound derived from Beethoven, Berlioz, Bizet, Borodin, Britten, Copland, Debussy, Dukas, Mahler, Prokofiev, Puccini, Ravel, Resphigi, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams, and Wagner?
Or are we talking about the recording/production answer for defining the Hollywood sound which includes Altiverb, Bricasti, Lexicon, TC Works and Waves?
Or are you talking about the new Hollywood sound derived from samples, melodic themes, percussion, and ambient textures?
The so-called Hollywood sound changes every generation, sometimes twice within a generation depending on the composer, and how each approaches dramatic scoring. An excellent overview for seeing this is Tony Thomas’ book, Music For The Movies.
Is there a “typical” profile to the students you attract?
I don’t really think of our customers as students since most are adults. We look them at as people who have a desire to learn, so it’s a broad age range.
What kind of interaction with you or another teacher do students get when they “enroll” in Alexander University?
There’s no enrolling. I have two online seminars we’ve tested for several years. My current approach is first you buy the seminar, which are now being populated with video classroom-like instruction materials. After that, if you want to study privately, I connect the learner with a composer. Over Skype and email they engage in a mentoring relationship. But the learner has to be able to read music and score read to take advantage of this.
What’s the difference between orchestration and instrumentation?
Instrumentation is first and it’s where you learn the range, mechanics, and coloristic issues within each instrument’s range break. Orchestration is the act of taking a completed work and translating it to orchestra. Instrumentation is learned by seeing how the technique was scored and from that building a list of scoring techniques.
Can today’s sample libraries be used to teach orchestration effectively?
Sample libraries are a great tool which is why we cover MIDI mock-up insights in our books and new Writing For Strings course. But it has to be balanced with attending live concerts, watching orchestral DVDs, and lots of listening.