Jason CurleyAssistant Professor of Music
Where are you from? Where did you go to school?
Home is where the heart is. I've moved more than 30 times in my life, so I have come to be an adaptable person. I am from a family of many children, limited means, but all very musical and hard-working. When my family shows up to Karaoke parties we close the place! I finished high school in rural Wyoming, completed two majors and minors in 3.25 years at a quality liberal arts college in Bismarck, ND. After some time teaching music, physics, math, and special education, I headed to Tucson, AZ to complete my masters in one year and my doctorate in three. Gumption!
Your path to Hartwick hasn't exactly been a straight line. How did your gigs get you ready for Hartwick?
As a special education teacher, I brought music into the curriculum. I turned off the florescent lights, brought in lamps, and put on Glenn Gould Plays Bach. It really chilled out the hum of the whole room. It helped change the environment so it was more focused, more relaxed.
When I conducted the national tour of Camelot, I had to teach a new orchestra the whole show every week. We had one five-hour rehearsal with a show every Tuesday, so my approach to rehearsals had to be extremely focused and positive.
Both of those experiences – awareness of environment and a fast-paced, positive work ethic – prepared me for teaching at Hartwick. The students know I mean business when I walk into a room, but we have a lot of fun doing it.
How do you bridge the gap between learning and doing, between theory and practice?
I work very hard to find paying gigs in the region for our students. That might be the most effective thing I do here, giving them experiential learning with a paycheck. This isn't just going out and observing; this is pursuing.
I want their art to be more purposeful than mere performance. Every performance we produce has intention. I throw in a lot of outside activities for the wind ensemble so they become more of a community instead of just showing up for rehearsal or for a gig. Karaoke parties, trips to Albany, NYC ... we are a community.
I maintain an active, positive presence in the department. I'm here all the time with my door open. The personal practice space, the "fish bowl," is glass-walled, so they can see into it and I'm in there playing for hours every day. I want them to see that I'm still hustling on my instrument in preparation for the next engagement. I am extremely charismatic on the podium and I think I'm funny; that helps.
How do you and your students connect?
Our age proximity is a big deal. I think they can relate to me. They seem to be able to speak with me comfortably – not to raise their hand in the classroom to ask a question, but really talk about things. If they feel safe enough to discuss their concerns, either about curriculum or their personal life, they will be more accessible. It becomes a genuine, respectful working relationship.
I just came out of the chute from what they're experiencing. I've just had my first round of everything – grad school, teaching, professional gigs, and now I'm back in academia. I can turn around 180 degrees and say "OK, I've just done this. I know how to get you into this life and business if you have the drive for it." They've got to want it very badly.
I went to a small liberal arts college in a town a little larger than Oneonta. It focused me terrifically. Everybody practiced six or seven hours a day. I'm trying to instill that in the students here. It takes a lot to do that, to get up and practice in the morning.
What captures you? What is your spark?
It's hard to put into words; it's instinctive, intuition. It's the goose bumps you get when you listen to your favorite song or a song that reminds you of a boyfriend or girlfriend of your past, or a parent, or just a time in your life. That is a constant feeling within me with almost anything I conduct. When I'm in the zone, that energy is flowing so hot through me, it's like lava. It moves from the score to me to the ensemble to the audience and back to me and the performers. Id' like to say that I choose pieces that make me feel good, but sometimes I have to pick something I don't know very well. I'm here to learn, also. Part of my research is learning and sharing new music with the students. But almost any piece of music can bring that to me at some point, even if it's just for a second.
What's on your iPod?
I don't own an iPod. I've never liked concentrated sound on my ears – I don't use headphones unless I'm editing a sound file. But there are thousands of songwriters and composers students should experience: Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, Thelonious Monk, Lady GaGa, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Soundheim. It's almost impossible for me to narrow to even five composers in a genre. There are so many, it's unfair.
What research are you doing?
I am writing two music method books. One is on the art of conducting, focusing on advanced ambidexterity and expressive techniques. The other is a French horn method for an advanced high school student or early college student. In other musical terms, I'm always researching musical scores, including jazz, rock and pop music.
What are your most recent publications, scholarly works, exhibitions, performances?
I have been a guest conductor for the Schenectady Symphony, Albany Pro Musica, Albany Symphony, and Catskill Symphony; and, many fantastic All-Counties and Area All-State Festivals, including residual recordings/DVDs. I have also arranged more than 75 scores and parts for full Symphony and Rock Orchestra, beyond a plethora of chamber music arrangements.
What is your most valued Hartwick experience?
Rock Orchestra. We work SOOO hard to produce it, and the students and families are more elated from the experience every year. Many high schoolers participated again this year, and their parents were in tears.
What do you consider your most important contribution to Hartwick?
Enabling the students to discover and exploit their own potentials, musical or otherwise, and seeing the living proof through their achievements here and when they succeed Hartwick.