The Last Repair Shop and Colburn Students Shine Bright at the Oscars

On a Saturday in February, Ismerai Calcaneo Lopez, a junior at Roosevelt High School and saxophone student at the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts (CSPA), joined a group of friends to clean out a garage as an odd job. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the afternoon, until she received a text message saying, “Congrats! You’re going to the Oscars.”  

Calcaneo Lopez was one of several Colburn students featured in The Last Repair Shop, which won this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary—Short Film. Community School students Dominic An, Genesis Garay, Esteban Lindo, and Amanda Nova were also featured in the film.   

“I’m still amazed,” she says. “I remember being a fifth grader in the rooms of Colburn and Dr. John Hallberg teaching me ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ and then here I was at the Academy Awards. It was crazy.” 

The Last Repair Shop was directed and produced by Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot, and co-distributed by LA Times Studios and Searchlight. It tells the story of four employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) musical instrument repair program. For 65 years, LAUSD artisan technicians have repaired thousands of horns, violins, cellos, woodwinds, percussion instruments, pianos, and more, all at no cost to students. Bowers, a CSPA alum and Grammy-nominated composer and pianist, was one of those students. 

“I spent every moment I could with the school’s piano. There, I found a safe place, and I found my voice. Those were the foundational moments that propelled me into the school band. To Juilliard. To the Oscars,” he penned in a letter to The Los Angeles Times last November. “The one person I never got to meet was the man who tuned that school piano.” 

That changed when he and Proudfoot met the shop’s supervisor, Steve Bagmanyan, to discuss their project. It turns out, Bagmanyan was that piano tuner years ago.  

“When I stepped inside the Los Angeles Unified School District’s central instrument shop four years ago, I was surrounded by incredible cinematic imagery: cascading ribbons of sawdust, blazing torches soldering brass, the grand choreography of the thousands of tiny pieces that magically coalesce inside a piano. I expected that. But what I didn’t expect was that every one of the technicians’ life stories would break my heart and put it back together again,” Bowers wrote. 

Indeed, the filmmakers discovered music has impacted each technician’s life in profound and personal ways. And now, they find satisfaction by enabling new generations of artists to experience the myriad benefits of playing an instrument. The Last Repair Shop delivers on that note, too. 

“I‘ve always been a kid who gets distracted easily,” says Calcaneo Lopez, who has been attending Colburn for seven years. “When I got the opportunity to play the alto sax, I had something to focus on. I learned time management. I learned more discipline. When playing music, you have to be on time, be presentable, and do the best you can.” 

“Music is a big part of my life. I listen to it every day and it helps me get through my life. It also makes me feel like I’m part of a community,” adds Dominic An, a Community School violin student who was also featured in the documentary.  

The Colburn students in the documentary were recommended by Susan Cook, Dean of the Community School. They auditioned for Bowers and Proudfoot via Zoom during the pandemic. Months later some of them received an invitation to be interviewed and filmed in Colburn’s Zipper Hall. Months after that, they were asked to perform with the LAUSD Alumni band to record a song written by Bowers for the film’s score.  

“That was a wonderful experience, to interact with the composer and be a part of history,” says An. 

Of course, one of the pinnacle moments for Calcaneo Lopez was attending the 96th Academy Awards ceremony on March 10th. While most stars arrive at the event via limousines, she and the other cast members drove up to the red carpet in a traditional yellow school bus.  

“We were representing who we are. We were representing our community and what the film meant to us,” says Calcaneo Lopez. 

And for this saxophonist, being a part of The Last Repair Shop has meant gaining a greater respect for the people music has brought into her life.  

“The whole experience helped me see Colburn School from another point of view,” she explains. “I’m grateful Colburn is not just a music school, but a family you create.” 

The Last Repair Shop is available for viewing on Disney+ and at latimes.com .

The Colburn Center is Ready for Groundbreaking

The Colburn Center is Ready for Groundbreaking 

After years of dreaming, planning, and designing, the Colburn School is ready to break ground on the new Frank Gehry-designed Colburn Center, a 100,000 square foot expansion adjacent to Colburn’s current campus in Downtown Los Angeles.  

These state-of-the-art performance venues and learning spaces will support students in all units of the School and make the Colburn campus an even livelier hub of artistic activity. The expansion builds on our mission of education through performance and will provide future generations of students access to world-renowned performance and rehearsal spaces,” said Sel Kardan, Colburn School President and Chief Executive Officer. 

Expanding Artistic Excellence 

Since the School planted roots on Grand Avenue 25 years ago, its number of students, faculty, visiting guest artists, and audiences has grown year after year. It’s no surprise the School needed to branch out. First was the addition of the Olive St. building, and now, the Colburn Center. The land was purchased in 2016, the building project was announced two years later, and in spring 2022, the architectural design by Frank Gehry was unveiled. Now with construction underway, expected to be completed in 2027, the Colburn Center will exponentially expand the school’s footprint in Downtown Los Angeles. Located next to two other projects by the renowned architect – the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall and The Grand – it will create the largest concentration of Gehry-designed buildings in the world. 

“With its Coburn Center expansion, the Colburn School is making a monumental investment in three key DTLA pillars—education, culture, and architecture—and helping to take the Grand Avenue cultural district on Bunker Hill to new heights,” said Suzanne Holley, President and CEO of the DTLA Alliance. 

“As an anchor civic and cultural organization, The Music Center looks forward to the new Colburn Center and the possibilities it will offer to students, artists, and the public. This innovative addition of another incredible building by Frank Gehry will further enrich the vibrant arts and cultural landscape along the Grand Avenue cultural corridor in Downtown Los Angeles, enhancing accessibility and fostering creativity for all,” added Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO, The Music Center. 

A Blueprint for Creativity 

The Colburn Center will sit at 2nd and Olive Streets, adjacent to the current campus. Gehry’s vision blends artistry with function and distinct identity to create an original structural composition. The building consists of an ensemble of interlocking volumes built into a terrain that slopes down from Olive Street to Hill Street and clad in a pink metallic finish. The components are knit together by an expansive light-filled entrance and a pair of gardens planted at street and rooftop level. Of course, Gehry and his team kept performance at the heart of it all.  

For example the 1,000-seat hall named for Terri and Jerry Kohl won’t be just another concert hall. Audience members will encircle the performance platform for an immersive, intimate experience. The platform has room to hold more than 100 musicians, plus an orchestra pit large enough to accommodate 70 musicians. Even the space above has been carefully arranged. Gehry and his longtime acoustical engineer, Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics, have incorporated concrete sound clouds suspended from the ceiling to not only inject an intriguing aesthetic but function as an acoustic enhancement. In keeping with this airy atmosphere, two skylights will bring daylight into the space. 

“The main thing is that the engineering doesn’t overwhelm the personal thing, the human feeling,” Gehry stated last year during “A Conversation with Frank Gehry” event at Colburn.  

In addition to becoming the future home of the Colburn Orchestra, the flagship ensemble of the Conservatory of Music, the concert hall will provide flexible configurations to accommodate a full orchestra, operas, and large musical theater productions. As the only mid-sized hall in Downtown Los Angeles, it will provide much-needed performance space for the region’s established and emerging performing arts organizations. 

The Colburn Center also will become the new permanent site for the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, more than doubling its current space. A 100-seat theater dedicated to dance includes tiered seating that allows for a variety of configurations and vantage points. Four glass-enclosed studios of varying sizes give students, faculty, and guest dancers a bright space to learn, explore, and grow to their fullest potential.  

The outdoor space around, and on top, of the Center has not been overlooked. Intended to advance the greening of Downtown, students, parents, guests, faculty, and community members will be welcomed into a beautiful, lush, and abundant street-level garden that will showcase yet another performance space. A rooftop garden will be an idyllic setting for receptions as well as small performances.  

Investing in the Future 

The Colburn Center has been made possible through the transformative gifts of philanthropists from Los Angeles and around the world. The Building Our Future Campaign thus far has raised $315 million toward its $400 million goal. 

We are deeply grateful to the generous donors who have allowed us to reach this milestone. Our fundraising continues to push forward, and a seat naming campaign for our future spaces and as well as our current halls will launch soon,” said Kardan.  

To be a part of this important development in Southern California’s future, contact our Philanthropy Office at philanthropy@colburnschool.edu.  

How the Jascha Heifetz Studio Found Its Home at Colburn

Music has an incredible power to whisk you away to another place and time. It’s an entirely different experience, however, to be transported to another place and time by entering the intimate surroundings where an iconic musician composed, rehearsed, and spent his personal moments. That’s the surreal sensation people experience walking into the Jascha Heifetz Studio, located in the Colburn School’s Grand Avenue building. 

“I played for Heifetz in this room when it was at his house in Bel Air. My memories are that I walked into another world at that moment, and it was a special world,” recalls Robert Lipsett, the Jascha Heifetz Distinguished Violin Chair for the Conservatory of Music. 

“If someone told me at that time, this would be my teaching studio some day and it would reside inside a school that didn’t yet exist, I would have said that’s a bit too much to swallow,” he adds. “Now, it’s a monument, a sanctuary, a museum, and it’s where I work all rolled into one.” 

Securing History  

Jascha Heifetz is regarded as a preeminent violinist of the 20th century. A child prodigy, he made his formal debut at age eight, earning the awe of the classical world by the time he appeared in Carnegie Hall at age 17.  

“Nothing was ever the same,” says Lipsett. “He is the one who set the modern standard of violin playing.” 

Becoming a naturalized American citizen in 1929, Heifetz began calling Los Angeles his home. In the late 1940s, architect Lloyd Wright, who was also a friend of Heifetz, designed the hexagonal building that sat adjacent to the violinist’s Coldwater Canyon home. The original floorplan contained the studio, a bedroom-office, small kitchen, and bathroom. It’s been reported that Heifetz spent much of his retirement in these private rooms. 

After his death in 1987, actor James Wood purchased the property with the intent to demolish the existing structures. Before the first hammer came down, he let it be known that he would cooperate with anyone or any organization willing to assume the financial responsibility to physically remove and preserve the studio. First came the Los Angeles Conservancy, offering to sponsor a larger search. The Skirball Museum expressed a desire to house the studio and the Friends of Runyon Canyon envisioned it as a future visitors’ center. A Brentwood ophthalmologist even bid to have the studio added to his own Lloyd Wright home. Unfortunately, none of these offers panned out. 

The idea of preserving the studio as a monument to Heifetz seemed to be waning in the early 1990s when Hortense Singer contacted Colburn’s then-Executive Director Toby Mayman on the chance the School would step in. Recognizing the historical and architectural value the studio represented as well as the inspirational value the environment could provide students, Mayman immediately presented the proposal to Richard D. Colburn. According to a 1999 article in The Los Angeles Times, the School’s benefactor promised $40,000 only if Mayman matched the sum. She accepted the challenge and succeeded. Next came the unprecedented task of dismantling, moving, and rebuilding the studio entirely inside another building.  

Piecing Together the Future 

Architect Harold Zellman managed the “reverse engineering” of dissembling the studio. His team photographed, labeled, and painstakingly wrapped each one of the nearly 1,000 pieces.  

However, construction of the Grand Avenue campus needed to be completed first, so the dismantled Jascha Heifetz studio went into storage for years. Then in 1999, the pieces were unpacked and fastidiously reconstructed based on a computer model created during the dissembling. The challenge was to not only recreate the unique environment just as Heifetz left it, but also bring it up to current safety codes. 

Today, the Heifetz Studio remains a moment in history. The room still houses the musician’s blue-green daybed, file cabinets adorned with cartoon clippings, the custom-built desk designed by Wright, and even a built-in television and turntable. 

Because there are no right angles and the shape of the ceiling, I can’t imagine a more ideal acoustic environment to teach in,” says Lipsett, whose has conducted classes in the studio for the past 25 years. There is a golden element to the sound, an aura to the sounds. All the teaching spots in Colburn are great, but when I come into the Heifetz Studio, I have been transported to an older time. There is not a day that goes by that I am not humbled to work in this place.  

“But, I have never, and will never, sit in the chair behind his desk. That is Heifetz’s place, and out of respect, I cannot sit there,” promises Lipsett.  

Photos by Abby Mahler.

Colburn Participates in the California Festival Kicking Off November 3

This month, The Colburn School joins over 100 organizations in the inaugural California Festival: A Celebration of New Music. This two-week statewide festival was created by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony to celebrate new music. Criteria for music featured in the festival require that it be written within the past five years and be innovative and compelling. The founding organizations’ music directors Gustavo Dudamel, Rafael Payare, and Esa-Pekka Salonen sought to promote an event that “highlights the collaborative and innovative spirit that thrives in California.”

The 100 participating organizations include 15 youth orchestras across the state of California, and 24 nationalities are represented across the more than 180 works composed, including 36 premieres. Performances will take place across more than 90 venues. In a recent interview with San Francisco Classical Voice, Colburn’s Artistic Administration Manager Nick Gianopoulos said “At its core, I believe the shared goal of exemplifying the excellence of artistic creations of today is what motivates and inspires each of the participating organizations.”

From November 4 through 18, The Colburn School will be presenting four performances which span orchestral and chamber music, including a much-anticipated afternoon with composer, pianist, and Colburn alumnus Kris Bowers (Bridgerton, Secret Invasion, Haunted Mansion).

The Colburn School’s California Festival Line-up:

Colburn Orchestra: Shostakovich, Brahms, and Ogonek
Conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Saturday, November 4 at 8 pm, The Soraya
Moondog for Orchestra (2022) by Elizabeth Ogonek

Colburn Chamber Music Society with Flutist Jennifer Grim
Sunday, November 12 at 3 pm, Zipper Hall
Lakescape VII for Flute and Vibraphone (2019) by Lei Liang
Hide and Seek for Piccolo, Three Flutes, and Two Alto Flutes (2020) by Allison Loggins-Hull

Colburn Contemporary Ensemble
Thursday, November 16 at 7 pm, Thayer Hall
Sundial for String Quartet and Percussion (2021) By Samuel Carl Adams

Amplify Artist: Kris Bowers, Composer and Pianist
Saturday, November 19 at 3 pm, Thayer Hall
Selections from Violin Concerto (2019) by Kris Bowers
Selections from Horn Concerto (2021)
Selected Excerpts from Film Composition

Other local favorites performing include the Inner City Youth Orchestra of LA, Jacaranda Music, LA Master Chorale, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Performances will take place in concert halls, educational institutions, auditoriums, clubs, and alternative spaces, making access to broad audiences possible. The festival is grounded in live performance but aims to “give a voice to artists.”

While speaking with San Francisco Classical Voice and reflecting on what the festival might accomplish in the long term, Gianopoulos said “I hope that the California Festival further cements the West Coast as a major hub for innovative and thoughtful programming and paves the way for other artistic and academic institutions to develop similar programming initiatives.”

The California Festival is supported by the Association of California Symphony Orchestras. Learn more about Colburn’s programming and other participating organizations: https://www.cafestival.org/explore/colburn-school/

Norman Pfeiffer Created Harmony with Form and Function for the Colburn School

Twenty-five years ago, Colburn School opened the doors to its newly completed home on Grand Ave., in Downtown Los Angeles. Students walked into a carefully and considerately designed school for the performing arts. Of course, the facility contained modern classrooms and special sound-isolated practice rooms, but also welcoming common areas and the impressive 430-seat Herbert Zipper Hall. The debut of the building marked the culmination of a multi-year endeavor to relocate Colburn to its own permanent site.  

By 1983, enrollment was outgrowing the old, converted warehouse facility on the corner of Figueroa and 32nd Street. A team of School leaders, headed by Executive Director Toby Mayman (1980 to 1999) set out to provide a more appropriate and inspirational environment. Once the property on Grand Ave. was secured in 1994, the focus switched to design. Eighteen architectural firms were invited to present plans. Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer (HHP) won the job with founding partner Norman Pfeiffer spearheading the project 

This summer, at age 82, Pfeiffer passed away, but his legacy endures through Colburn.

  • The Grand Ave. groundbreaking ceremony ushered in the beginning of the downtown Los Angeles Colburn School’s permanent location.
  • Colburn School administration surveys onsite construction for the School’s Grand Ave. build.
  • View of the Colburn School’s site development from early excavation and foundation preparations.
  • View facing the Olive building from the Colburn Plaza which also features the Colburn Café that serves students, faculty, staff, and the general public.
  • Named after Herbert Zipper, a key figure in the history of the School’s development, the Zipper Hall seats 430 and resides in the Grand Ave. building of the Colburn School.
  • Named after former Executive Director Toby Mayman (1980 to 1999), Mayman Hall resides on the second floor of the Grand Ave. building.

Pfeiffer’s Footprint 

By the time HHP began work on the Grand Ave. campus, Pfeiffer had composed an impressive portfolio. He had a hand in designing several LA landmarks, including the Robert O. Anderson Building, which is the street-facing addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). He also contributed to the 1993 renovation and expansion of the Los Angeles Central Library. Additionally, Pfeiffer assembled a repertoire of several educational spaces around the globe. But it was his commitment to Colburn’s mission that stands out, according to many.   

“Everything about Norman impressed me. He and his team came to the converted warehouse and observed us in operation. That made our discussions of what we wanted in a new campus more impactful,” recalls Joseph Thayer, Colburn School dean from 1983–98 and executive director from 1998–2008. 

“Norman was the only candidate who made an effort to fully get a sense and understanding of the function of the School. He had a basic understanding of the importance of what goes on inside the building, which was providing the highest quality performing arts education to as many young people as possible,” says Mayman.  

“For Norman’s presentation to the board members, he came with a full mockup of the mid-1980’s Grand Ave. neighborhood,” she continues “to aptly demonstrate the School’s surroundings. At that time, there was no Disney Hall, nor Broad Museum, although MOCA was next door to the site.  Height limitations were at three stories. An added element was the need to include the Jascha Heifetz studio which the School had acquired more than a decade earlier and had preserved in storage. 

Pfeiffer also appreciated the intrinsic value a premier performance venue added to students, faculty, and the LA cultural arts community. Decades later, Zipper Hall remains a prestigious venue for guest artists and audiences. It’s been named Best Small Venue by SF Classical Voice for the past three years, “easily outdoing the competition.” 

“Unlike a majority of especially prominent architects today, Norman fully appreciated the acoustical essence of Louis Sullivan’s mantra of ‘form follows function.’ His performing arts portfolio, and especially Colburn’s Zipper Hall, testifies to this keen attention to acousticians’ thoughts and design guidance,” says David A. Conant, FASA, principal of McKay Conant Hoover (formerly McKay Conant Brook), the acoustic consulting company enlisted for the design of Zipper Hall. 

“I remember a quiet, thoughtful, and consummate gentleman who, during interviews with prospective clients, spoke logically and clearly of the planning and design process and would regularly invoke the phrase that epitomized so much of his work, ‘Each important space should be considered as a unique design exercise,’” Conant adds.  

“It’s a striking design and adds to the wonderful variety of architectural design on Grand Ave. But for me, the No. 1 issue with any building is that it works and the buildings at Colburn work really well,” says Thayer. 

Pfeiffer and his team from Pfeiffer Associates (formed in 2004) applied that same expert attention to performance quality when designing the Olive Street building. Its doors opened in 2007, by which time Colburn had added the Conservatory. He also forged an inviting connection between the two facilities. 

“I think the design of the building around the central courtyard with the Colburn Café sharing the courtyard is a very important element of the School that was missing with the first building,” says Thayer.  

According to Mayman, Pfeiffer enjoyed the fruits of his labor. 

“I saw him at a number of concerts and performances after the completion of the Grand Ave. building,” she says. “It was a wonderful feeling that this was a man who exulted in the sense of accomplishment and watching the kids flourish in these surroundings. I think it was as rewarding to him as it was to me. 

Now, the School is writing a new chapter in its history with the groundbreaking of its latest campus addition. Frank Gehry leads the architectural team that’s developing the intimate Terri and Jerry Kohl Hall, a sophisticated 100-seat dance studio theater, as well as additional dance studios for instruction, and a study center, all of which will be highlighted by picturesque public and green spaces.  

Still, the impact Pfeiffer’s designs have made on countless students, instructors, guest artists, audiences, and community members will always remain a key component of the Colburn campus. 

“Norman had a major influence on what the institution has become, and by extension, the School has a bit of him,” says Thayer. 

Meet the New Instructors in the Community School

We are thrilled to announce that the Colburn School has hired four new outstanding instructors! Learn more about their musical backgrounds and what they plan to contribute to the Community School of Performing Arts in the coming years.

Dominic Cheli
Opening my students’ eyes to new possibilities and empowering them to become strong individuals with their own unique voice is my ultimate goal. Dominic Cheli

A native of St. Louis, pianist Dominic Cheli has performed with orchestras across the country and is the LIVE Director of Tonebase Piano.

Can you describe your teaching philosophy?

My mission is to discover, nurture, and promote my students in ways that allow them to be artistically independent, imaginative, and knowledgeable so that they can develop healthy, sustainable relationships with their instruments. I believe in being an advocate of all types of music: traditional, unconventional, contemporary, and multi-stylistic. Opening my students’ eyes to new possibilities and empowering them to become strong individuals with their own unique voice is my ultimate goal.

What lessons did you take from your mentors that you still carry with you today?

Some vital things I learned from my past teachers include having an obligation to honor the music through educated and courageous performances infused with a person’s individual expression as well as having a technique that is always at the service of the music!

What are you looking forward to most as a new member of the Colburn Community School?

I am looking forward to being a part of a community that has the well-being and advancement of the students as their primary focus!

Sofia Kim
While strong technique is necessary and important, I believe that the real goal is to have a flexible technique that will best facilitate expressivity and artistry. Sofia Kim

Korean-American, Los Angeles native Sofia Kim joins our violin faculty with a varied and diverse performing career as a soloist and chamber musician.

Can you describe your teaching philosophy?

My teaching philosophy aims to nurture my students into becoming exceptional whole beings who can express themselves freely and generously share music with joy, compassion, and empathy. While strong technique is necessary and important, I believe that the real goal is to have a flexible technique that will best facilitate expressivity and artistry. As a teacher, I take a deep interest and responsibility in the entire well-being of my students, not just musically, but intellectually and emotionally. Taking into account the unique qualities, learning styles, and temperaments of each student, I strive to keep my teaching approach fluid and adaptable so that I can develop each student mindfully and empower them as musicians.

What lessons did you take from your mentors that you still carry with you today?

During the many years I was studying with Almita Vamos, what struck me was how she was always learning, even after decades of impressive and impactful teaching. She never claimed to have all the answers and took so much joy and pride in learning and adapting. Her eagerness to improve and expand is something that inspires me every day.

What are you looking forward to most as a new member of the Colburn Community School?

So many things! I spent so much time here as a young violinist and look forward to experiencing this space and community as an adult. I hope to get to know my colleagues better and lastly, I am really excited to start working with my students here.

Ivana Malo
My piano teachers had a great influence on my life and love for music, and I hope to inspire the same in my students and help them reach their full potential. Ivana Malo

Croatian pianist Ivana Grubelic Malo has performed throughout Europe and the United States and is dedicated to inspiring a lifelong love of music within her students.

Can you describe your teaching philosophy?

I strive to inspire a lifelong love of music in my students, building on a solid foundation of healthy technique and musicality. In my mind, every one of my students is an individual so I shape my teaching to their unique needs – from psychology and motivation to the development of their technique. I take great care in finding the right repertoire for each student at every stage of their development so that they can not only develop and improve their technique, but also play music that resonates with them and helps them unlock their artistic sensibilities.

What lessons did you take from your mentors that you still carry with you today?

It was through my teachers that I developed my deep love of music.

The enthusiasm they showed when teaching me new pieces and revealing all the nuances that made each one so special heightened my excitement in practicing and strengthened my joy in discovering new material. They revealed a world of subtlety that I had not imagined, which made me realize that it’s when you reach beyond the surface that you can find your own unique expression and interpretation.

From a young age, my teachers taught me the importance of producing a beautiful tone and the use of arm weight in playing the piano, demonstrating that technique and musicality must always go together.

They emphasized the importance of playing without tension, which deepened my interest in the physical and psychological wellness of performers. Studying with Carola Grindea while assisting her at the International Society for Study of Tension in Performance in London is something that I still carry with me to this day.

My piano teachers had a great influence on my life and love for music, and I hope to inspire the same in my students and help them reach their full potential.

Dimitry Olevsky
My teaching principles are based on outlining the advantageous mental and physical practice techniques revealed through research in Sports Psychology. Dimitry Olevsky

Violinist Dimitry Olevsky blends classical technique with his own research in Sport Psychology to fine-tune the body and mind for performance.

Can you describe your teaching philosophy?

My teaching principles are based on outlining the advantageous mental and physical practice techniques revealed through research in Sports Psychology. These methods help my students strategically overcome the numerous psychological obstacles in order to develop a consistently high level of performance. High-level performance under pressure is the common goal among many students, and I apply my teaching methods to develop and increase control of muscular and mental functions, accuracy, precision, discipline, mental awareness, and overall coordination in violin performance.

Musicians ‘play’ music as athletes ‘play’ sports. Therefore, like sports, a musical performance is a physical activity with extreme demands on technical facility, training ethics, discipline, deliberate practice, structure, dedication, determination, motivation and inspiration.

What are you looking forward to most as a new member of the Colburn Community School?
I am looking forward to collaborating with other faculty as a violinist, and also for my students to have performance opportunities where they showcase their talent and be inspired by their peers.

Learn More

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Faculty Spotlight: Jeffrey Lavner

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

How long have you been at Colburn?
I first started at Colburn in 1981. I left for some years in the middle there, from around 1990 until I came back in 1999. We used to be in an old warehouse on the USC campus.

How have you seen Colburn change over the years?
The improvements to the facilities have been amazing. They are truly world-class now!

The funny thing that hasn’t changed is the level of the students. Some of the most accomplished students to date actually came through in those timeframes, in the early to mid-’80s. There was a big influx of immigration in the early ’80s—we got so many great students coming into LA, in addition to our existing student population.

How did you get started teaching?
I was getting my master’s in piano performance at USC with Danny Pollack. I was on a teaching assistantship there and got hired to teach at what was called the USC Community School at the time before it was the Colburn School. I actually started teaching privately when I was an undergrad.

What do you love about teaching?
We get to deal with music all day. It’s always fun, and always special to talk about music. It’s great to see students in person! We get committed students and parents at Colburn. We’ve always had fantastic students, and it’s really something special to see the level of kids that are coming through. Really, they’re like sponges, absorbing everything the school has to offer.

You teach in the Conservatory, Community School, and Music Academy. What’s it like having students across those three units?
I like it because they’re just such different personalities, and such different levels of musicianship. The Conservatory is at an incredible level. Anyone that gets accepted there is already an exceptional musician, but to just see the whole range of student development throughout the entire school is amazing.

The Academy is Conservatory-in-training, so they’re kids that are getting to that level. And the Community School is everything. It’s a little bit of that level. You still get some of the incredibly talented kids, but then you get a lot of kids that are playing for fun too, for the pure joy of music.

It keeps the day interesting. I’m not teaching the same type of student all day, so it’s always a lot of variety, which is just great for the teacher and student! You don’t get bored, and every student brings something different to the table. One of the great things to see is the professional levels students attain after leaving here. It makes me very proud to see that so many of my students have become top-notch professionals in the world with CDs and tours all over the globe, making their mark in the field.

It’s very funny because I have some of their practice tapes from when they were 12 years old, and they weren’t so famous then. I stumble across them all the time downstairs. “Oh, I forgot I had this tape.” They were cassette tapes back then.

What are your students working towards right now?
In this environment, it’s always a challenge. Last year we did a lot of online competitions because that was the only way to go. This year, it’s a little bit of a mix. I have one young man that just recorded From the Top for a broadcast in the next couple of weeks. He’s getting ready to play a concerto with orchestra, the Saint-Saëns Concerto. Hopefully, it goes on as a live performance.

And then we still have a lot of smaller things we work toward, like the Bach Festival and the contemporary competitions that are out there. I like to give my students performance goals.

At Colburn, the Friday Night Recitals are a great performance opportunity for kids that are ready. That’s the immediate first goal for most kids. I’ll say, “Okay, you’re going to play on a Friday Night Recital in three weeks.” It’s amazing how much more they practice getting ready for that because those are always special events.

So, competitions, concertos, and Friday Night Recitals are really the goals to keep everyone motivated. Music itself is enough to get everyone motivated, just to play for fun. External ones don’t hurt and get their focus going at an ever-higher level.

What’s your philosophy behind teaching?
It’s different for every level. For the younger ones, it’s really to try and keep it fun, but with definite expectations—at the same time, to give them a solid background so that if they choose to excel in music, they have all the tools. That usually means a good physical approach, a good technique, reading literacy, etc. But it should be really fun at an early age.

By the time you’re in high school, it’s a different world. There are the kids that might be music majors, and the kids that are going to be doctors, or lawyers, or whatever else they’re striving for. I prepare everyone as if they might be a music major, even if they’re telling me, “Oh no, I’m going to be an engineer.” You never know. I have gotten many emails from students late in December suddenly informing me they want to be a music major!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I also used to teach jazz piano at Colburn, and I’m proud of the fact that I have about a half dozen students out there that are pretty world-famous right now. We have a great jazz program at Colburn now with Lee Secard directing it, and Liz Kinnon teaching jazz piano. I love all music and playing the piano, so being at Colburn is about as special as it can get.


Central to the Colburn School’s commitment to providing equitable access to excellence, students in Mr. Lavner’s studio are generously offered scholarship support funded by our community of donors through their annual and endowment gifts. Such scholarships include the Herbert Zipper Scholarship program which offers highly motivated, deserving students the opportunity to engage in comprehensive music education at Colburn. Herbert Zipper Scholars receive instruction in music theory, private lessons, and ensemble participation, among many other academic and performance opportunities. The School would also like to show special appreciation for donors who offer students support through other avenues, such as instrument donations. Donors who give the gift of an instrument equip students with the resources they need to become thriving artists with access to the highest quality music education.

Michael Roberts Shares Highlights from a Life in the Performing Arts

Michael Roberts, Trudl Zipper Dance Institute’s Music and Technical Coordinator, began working at Colburn in 2005. A former London West End production stage manager, he has drawn from his background to help make performances a noteworthy part of the Colburn Dance student experience. We sat down with Michael to discuss the beginnings of the dance program, the importance of live music for dancers, and highlights from his 16 years here.

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

What is your background and how did you start working at Colburn?
I’m towards the very end of my second career. My first career was in England and I was production stage manager for Harold Prince, who you might recognize from the Phantom of the Opera. I did the original Broadway productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Steven Sondheim’s Company, and a lot of plays in London for the first 10 years of my career.

During the time in England, I was also trained as an accompanist for dance at the Royal Ballet School. And so I used that as an opportunity to come over here in 1975. I was very lucky and landed a job with the school called the Stanley Holden Dance Center in LA.

I stayed with him for almost 14 years and got to work with some of the greatest dancers in the world, including Baryshnikov, Anthony Dowell, Juliet Prowse, Margot Fonteyn, and that’s how this current career started.

From there I joined CalArts where I started out as an accompanist, and then became music coordinator and faculty member there for 22 years. And then right after that, I came to Colburn.

What makes the Colburn Dance program stand out to you?
The chance to collaborate [with other genres and music departments and guest artists], which I see here more so than at most schools. And the caliber of the musicians that we get to work with—they’re all phenomenal.

Also, the chance to perform in the venues that we do, like Walt Disney Concert Hall. Our dancers have been able to perform there, plus all the other major theaters. In the early days, we would do a collaboration with the Norton Simon Museum, and we did performances at MOCA.

Live music is a special aspect of the dance program at Colburn. How have you seen this important and unique component influence the programs in your time here at Colburn?
Many dance programs, schools, and studios are not able to afford live musicians for their classes, which is nice for me as many use my recordings for their classes.

There is a huge difference between live and recorded music in classes. Live accompaniment allows the musician to have a relationship with both the teacher and the student/dancer.

I always emphasize in my music for dancer classes that music is a dancer’s best friend. There should be a closeness between the two. The dancer should try to absorb the music letting it surround and flow through their bodies. A dancer can be a brilliant technician but if they are not musical and have little musicality then they are not fulfilling their full potential.

It is so important that the music and musicality is incorporated in all classes. Discussing the different meter and rhythms and then executing them with the music.

You’re the Music Coordinator. What does that involve?
I manage the musicians. We have eleven accompanists, nine pianists and two percussionists. I also co-produce and stage manage all the productions that we do, both on campus and off campus, and work very closely with our great production people, Victor [Pineda] and Francesco [Perlangeli]. I also accompany classes and rehearsals and organize all the music for the program, whether it’s live or whether it’s recorded.

Accompanying has been very different this year; can you talk about that?
Yes, it certainly has. The week after lockdown started, we began experimenting with me playing from my living room at home in Glendale and Jenifer Ringer giving instruction from her home in South Pasadena.

It was challenging due to the time lag with Zoom but we were able to adapt. When looking at the screen, you have the dancers all doing movement at slightly different times.

Some of our accompanists were not able to play their acoustic pianos in their homes due to noise/neighbor issues so we were able to supply them with keyboards from the Colburn piano lab.

It has also been challenging for our Tap program due to the live percussionist sound blocking the sounds of the tap dancer’s feet, but with perseverance, we have been able to modify and adapt.

You’re planning to retire this year. What have been some highlights of your time at Colburn?
Very recently, I heard Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the cellist who came over from England, play this piece of music. It was actually a Christmas carol, and I loved it and thought, wow that could be such a neat piece for one of our students to maybe dance to one day. We staged it, I did an arrangement of the piece of cello and piano, and we performed it.

And then the following year, I heard that somebody was coming to Colburn to give a master class and it was him. So I got a hold of his manager, and I said, “What do you think the chances are of he and his sister performing this piece with our dancer?” By this time the dancer had already left and was in Indiana, I believe at the university. Long story short, James got involved and we made it happen.

That was a real highlight to have been able to make that actually happen at the School. I was very, very proud of that. It was a really special performance for our dancer and for Sheku and his sister [Isata]. They were just blown away because they’d never done anything like that before.

What has a life in the performing arts meant to you?
From my years in the West End, London working with such amazing performers like Topol, Elaine Stritch, Trevor Howard, and Dame Edith Evans to all the wonderful dancers, both well-known and students just starting out, a life in the performing arts has given me the means to perfect my craft and my playing. I have been inspired by all of these wonderful talents, along with all the amazing teachers I have had the privilege of working with at Colburn and all the other great schools and studios. I feel truly blessed.

And finally, after 16 years with Colburn, what’s your next chapter look like?
I have been working pretty much nonstop for the last 55 years, so it is time to slow down. I have been dealing with a debilitating disease of the hands called Dyputrans contraction for many years, having had many surgeries to keep me playing. It is time to rest my hands and enjoy the time have left. I hope to still play for master classes sometimes both at the Music Center and Colburn.

Faculty Spotlight: Benjamin Lash

This interview has been lightly edited for content, length, and clarity.

How long have you been on faculty at Colburn?
I’ve been on the faculty since the school year began.

So it’s your first semester? How’s it going so far?
Yeah, it’s been great! I really enjoy working with my students.

You were a Conservatory student here. When did you graduate and what was your path to becoming a faculty member?
I graduated in May 2013. I became more interested in teaching in my second year of undergrad when I started teaching a grade school student who was in YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles). This was my first exposure to teaching and I found it to be exceptionally gratifying.

I also participated in the Colburn Teaching Fellows Program, led by Robert Duke. As a part of the program, we learned about different methods and philosophies of teaching. For this class, we videotaped the lessons which we taught and in class, we would review and analyze these videos in great detail. This was a very inspiring experience and gave me a much deeper insight into my approach to teaching.

During grad school at USC, I had a few private students and also taught non-music major students at USC. I particularly enjoy teaching kids because I think you can make such a big impact on their playing and hopefully, on other aspects of their lives. I was very excited when I noticed the open teaching position at Colburn!

What’s it like being back here on faculty after a few years?
Of course the perspective of being a faculty member is completely new, but returning brings back many great memories of being a student here. Colburn is such a warm and supportive school. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to study with Ron Leonard, and to have chamber coachings with other great faculty members. It’s such a small school, but it has everything you could ever want. It is wonderful to return to Colburn!

Why did you originally decide to study at Colburn?
I was drawn to Colburn by the opportunity to study with Ron Leonard. My teacher prior to college had studied with Ron Leonard when he taught at Eastman. She had lots of wonderful stories about his teaching and artistry. I came out to LA for a couple trial lessons and it immediately felt like we would work well together. As a student, he challenged me to think outside the box and to learn lots of repertoire.

Besides what you’ve mentioned so far, how do you think the education you got here played a role in your musical development and career?
In addition to the great experience I had studying with Ron Leonard, there were many fantastic chamber music opportunities. As a Colburn student, I was able to perform alongside faculty and guest artists. I was a serious musician before I came to Colburn, but the high standards of the faculty and my fellow students inspired me to develop to another level.

How do you approach working with your students and figuring out what to teach them?
I try to focus on two major objectives in approaching an individual student. First, I personalize my teaching style to fit the student’s needs and learning style. Second, I strive to create a learning environment in which the student has fun while achieving their goals.

To accomplish this, I try to use strategies that develop both technical skills and artistry. I guide my students to become experts at practicing by actively teaching them healthy approaches to practice and encouraging them to look for their own creative solutions. Specifically, I emphasize breaking down problems into small, manageable components, creating a clear path to improvement.

To foster artistic development, I encourage my students to become comfortable expressing their musical opinions and often ask them to sing, which provides invaluable insights into phrasing and interpretation. Supporting students in the development of their own thought processes greatly improves the quality of their musicianship.

What else do you do besides teach here?
I sub with a few different orchestras, including the LA Phil and LA Chamber Orchestra. I also do some studio sessions for movie and TV music. Chamber music is an important part of my musical life. I am a member of the Sakura Cello Quintet. We arrange most of our own music and try to present it in a creative manner.

What’s it like building a musical career in LA?
LA is an exciting place for building a musical career and provides wide range of opportunities for orchestral playing, chamber music, studio work, and teaching.

What kind of advice would you give to students that want to do something similar?
My advice would be to focus on mastering their craft as much as they can and to really know what they want to say with their playing. In addition to mastering their instrument, it is equally important to develop strong interpersonal skills and to learn how to communicate and work effectively with others. Finally, I would emphasize the importance of maintaining balance in their life and learning to focus on fulfilling activities outside of music.

What’s something your students might not know about you?
I really like to play ping pong and during my college years, I participated in [Robert] Lipsett’s tournaments. I’m a big Chicago Cubs fan. Sorry about that Dodger fans!

Benjamin Lash Performs Bach's Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012


The monthly Saturday Spotlight series highlights our outstanding students, faculty, and staff from across the school. Read other spotlight interviews.


 

Faculty Spotlight: Lee Secard

This interview has been lightly edited for length, clarity, and style.

How did you come to teach here?
I taught for a couple of years when I was just out of college, and then I started touring. I went on the road, and I did that for about eleven years.

So, when that ended, there happened to be an opening for a saxophone teacher. So I applied and auditioned, and I was fortunate to get that position. And so that’s how I started; I started with one student.

I had an idea about what the school could be, and my timing was impeccable because those years were when Joe Thayer [former Executive Director and Dean Emeritus] and Toby Mayman [Founding Executive Director] had the idea to [build the school into what it is today.] I was very fortunate in that the deans that I worked with, Joe Thayer, and then Bob McAllister, were really supportive of our ideas.

What was your plan for the school?
I had the idea that we could be a center for jazz education in Los Angeles. So, starting with one class and four students at the old school on Figueroa, my thought was that we needed to diversify and add classes. I tried to proceed with a plan and some basic values.

The basic values of the jazz program, as I saw it, were the encouragement of original music, composing, an emphasis on aural hearing, aural skills, and aural acquisition of the music. This is a heard art form, and it’s imagined through rhythm and creativity that happens in real time.

What has it been like teaching here?
The first thing about my experience here is that I am always stunned and inspired by the talent of our students. I’m very, very fortunate. I can’t imagine a teacher more fortunate than me in terms of who I get to work with. So, I’m very aware of that.

The other thing is, I’m very aware of who they’re going to be. One of the things I have said to parents quite often is, “I feel like I know these guys, I know who they’re going to be.” They’re incredibly talented, and they’re going to be amazingly accomplished, and that’s proven out.

How did you get into jazz?
By the time I noticed it, I was already in it. My memories from very early in life are of wanting to be a musician. It was a difficult process to make it happen, I have a bit of an unusual early history. But, I think like most musicians, it’s what I always wanted.

In those days, Columbia Records was selling duplicate quarter-inch masters of recording sessions, so these things had an unbelievable sound coming off the tape; it was one generation removed from a master recording. I heard Paul Desmond’s E-natural on his alto, basically the way he sounded in the studio, and that changed everything. I had that sound in my ear from when I was nine years old. From that point forward, I didn’t really ever consider anything else.

What was your journey like from finishing school to building a career?
When I was in school, I wanted to play. I had the idea that I wanted to be a performer. It was a struggle, of course, but I was fortunate when I was out of school for about a year to start playing with a really great jazz big band, the Bill Watrous Big Band, that has become significant by virtue of who came out of it. I did that for three years, and then I started touring.

When I started touring, I had a lot of different experiences along the way. I think if you’re going to be a professional player in Los Angeles, you’re going to be doing a lot of different things, and so in my playing career I’ve done studio work, I’ve done theater, of course I’ve done jazz performance, but my big ambition during the years when I was traveling was to compose.

So at the time that I started teaching here, I studied composition as a graduate student. I had some wonderful teachers doing that. My composition teachers were Stephen Hartke and Don Crockett. Along the way earlier, I had some amazing teachers. I was able to study with Warne Marsh and Charlie Shoemake who were both master jazz teachers. At a certain point around 2000, I became part of the Luckman Jazz Orchestra and I wrote a lot of music for them, every concert for five years.

My goal was to be musical. I always had an ambition to be improvising, to be playing at a high level, and to be the fellow that showed up with all of the music under his arm that everybody was going to play. That was my wish. So, as a teacher, that’s the type of experience I want to create for my students.

How has that manifested with the jazz program here?
Fast forward through the years, we have wound up with eight bands. We have a Big Band, we have seven combos that serve different levels of development among our students, and to some degree they serve different ages. Over the last few years, we’ve gotten a lot of honors and awards.

I’ve been fortunate to be in a position to assemble a really fine faculty. We just hired a bass teacher, Katie Thiroux, who was our student here. We have two wonderful jazz drum teachers, Jerry Kalaf, who has been here as long as I have, and Ken McGrath. My assistant is Dr. Walter Simonsen, who is our jazz trumpet teacher and the Assistant Director of the Big Band. He’s a phenomenal teacher. Walter and I are both involved informally in advising students in composition and arranging. Our jazz piano teacher is Liz Kinnon, who also directs the adult ensembles.

Your students participate in the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival and the DownBeat awards every year. And this year, 11 of the 17 Music Center Spotlight Award jazz instrumental semifinalists are Colburn Jazz Workshop students.
Those are big efforts every year. We’ve been to Monterey for five years in a row with three bands. I don’t think that’s ever been done up there before, because it’s an invitational festival. Last year, our Thursday Night Band won Monterey Next Gen, and they played at Monterey Jazz Festival last fall.

Over the past however many years, we’ve won about 50 DownBeat awards, and that’s also a pretty phenomenal result. And this year, Dario Bizio, jazz bassist and composer, is one of two Spotlight Award finalists performing on the final concert at Disney Hall in June.

What’s the importance of having them participate in these festivals and competitions every year?
The culture needs to go on. This is our music. This is American culture, this is American music. It’s the best of what our culture is about. It’s not inherited from anywhere else, it happened here. So it absolutely needs to go on. We feel pride and ownership, and want to sustain it and make it grow.

How do you think the world of music has changed for students today?
It changes every five years completely. I recall something that Glenn Frey said, of the Eagles. He said, a few years ago, “I don’t even know what a record is, I don’t know what a hit record is anymore.”

Now it’s at the point where artists emerge from YouTube. They all know each all over the country because everybody posts their audition videos from everywhere.

When I started paying attention to music, there was still a pretty thriving club scene, people would tour, you’d have long tours of guys, different people would be on the road a lot. Now when people go out and tour, it’s for a few days here and there. A lot of our students still want to move to New York, now a lot of New York guys are moving here.

Music always changes. By the time our best students are in the 11th grade, they have the finger completely on that pulse, and they know exactly where it’s going.


The weekly Saturday Spotlight series highlights our outstanding students, faculty, and staff from across the school. Read other spotlight interviews.